Miss Kat

There are those who look back and remember all the hurts, problems, and pain…others who choose to remember the goodness…and others who remember nothing at all. I like to remember the goodness. I do not forget the hurt, I just file it further in the back.

When my daughter was in Kindergarten a flyer came home in her backpack. This was back in the days where “being green” was a reference to Kermit the Frog and there was no such thing as communicating via email. Be A Daisy! For those not in the know…a Daisy is the lowest rung on the Girl Scout ladder. A place for fun and exploration, where girls learned to be strong and self assured. Learn to camp, craft, and do good deeds for others in a supportive group setting! Well that sounded fantastic, sign her up! Catch, they needed leaders, of course there was a catch. I worked full time, was class mom for two of my two children, and taught Sunday school, there was no time for another commitment…not happening.

So that is how I became a co-leader of a Daisy troop.

Walking 12 tiny, squeaky, brightly dressed little pipsqueaks from the school to the meeting used to stop traffic. It was the human equivalent of Make Way for Ducklings. We quickly learned that we were not the camping and whittling wood while sitting in dirt type of troop…we put on plays, did crafts, baked, hosted events, learned art history, participated in singalongs, had professional women come speak, and did service project after service project. No Veteran in our town was without a card or candy dish. No service people overseas without a Valentine or bag of travel size toiletries. No woman with breast cancer in need of a cozy pillow to rest on. We were doers.

Remember the good.

There was plenty of drama, girls left, new girls came in. Some girls strutting their stuff and others not sure of who they would become. Times were tough, teenagers are tortured souls…but as long as my daughter wanted me there, I was there. We stuck it out. We started with 12 in kindergarten and ended with 13 by senior year in high school…with a total of 23 different girls coming in and out. Four girls, who had been involved since day one achieved Gold Awards. Remember the good.

Miss Kat…I just received a thank you note from a local troop addressed to Miss Kat. The leaders knew my husband and I had been involved in a community scavenger hunt and asked for some advice. My advice…oh can I please do it for you? I love planning, I love events, I love that I will not have to actually be there. Please! Creating the clues, the searches, the box of props (essential when the hunters are tween girls with cell phones)…such joy.

Joy. I became Miss Kat on a yellow school bus heading into Manhattan for a Girl Scout overnight…sleeping under the 94 foot blue whale at the American Museum of Natural History…my kind of camping. The girls were beside themselves with glee, Kat can we do…Kat when will we…Kat…Kat…Kat, when the head of the local council whipped her head around and glared at me, “are they calling you…KAT?” Oops, in trouble with council again. I was really not into the militant aspect of scouting so I had become known as “that woman” in council headquarters. Now I was really in trouble. Yes, I don’t really go by Mrs Nemec, there is someone who already has that name, she is 78 and lives in Iowa. That is where I learned being called by my name was not ok…the girls would need to call me Miss Kat.

Deal, and if I am being honest, I could not love being called Miss Kat any more than I do. To this day, if I run into any of my girls, who are now working adults…I am Miss Kat, emphasis on the Miss. An inside joke that brings us right back to being on that bus, and sleeping under that whale, and remembering the good from a very difficult age.

It’s Kinda Funny

Evidently Mother’s Day is a bit controversial. In the last few days I have seen articles and essays by some pretty vocal Mother’s Day haters.

What I have learned…Mothers are not all that; being a mom is not a career and should not define you; some moms suck; not all women can become mothers, a day celebrating moms makes some feel sad; buying chocolate and flowers once a year is an inconvenience; mothers do not raise kids alone, why only celebrate the mom; some moms have passed away, it is really hard to celebrate someone you no longer have.

Here is the thing, I agree with all of those arguments.

Here is the other thing…seriously? I really wanted to say something a bit harsher but thought better of it. I’m still on the fence about my decision.

When I was little little and asked what I wanted to be when I grew up, my response was “a mom”…a don’t think just answer, answer. This want lead to a lot of anxiety after overhearing a phone conversation my mom was on. It seemed that not everyone who wanted to be a mom could be one. Mind blown and the anxiety about not being able to have kids clock started. I think I was like ten. My heart and every bit of my soul goes out to people who wanted kids and it did not work out for them. Most of these women are the best Aunties, Stepmoms, and advocates for children that I know. They have fur babies, they volunteer, and they help raise the children of others with grace. I applaud them, I thank them, and I do not think they want to cancel Mother’s Day.

Newsflash…some moms do really suck. Being a mom is insanely hard. I cherish it and it exhausts me. I have moments of being a really good mom and moments I beg for forgiveness at the harm I have done. Like weight loss, where there are 30,000 methods and only 1 or 2 might work with ones brain and body type…there are millions of ways to mess up a kid…and one needs to remember that what works with one human might be the worst thing for the next. It is endless worry, problem solving, and as my mom sad recently…it never every ends. Whether your kid is 2 or 62, your kid is your kid. A career with no retirement date…forever.

I am blessed to still have my mom and mother-in-law on this earth, I will celebrate them. I am surrounded by a glorious group of women who did not give birth but who give 110% of themselves to the children in their lives, I will celebrate them. I will celebrate the women in my life who have passed away too soon with a toast, a tear, and a smile.

I admit, I do expect some token of appreciation from the humans I created. They spent months inside my body dancing on my bladder…send me a card. I don’t give a hoot if it is called a Hallmark holiday…there is also a National Orange Juice Day (May 4th), I saw no nasty essays about the Orange Juice Lobby. It will be interesting to see what happens in the weeks leading up to Father’s Day. My guess is there will not be one OpEd article calling out the injustices of that “holiday”…just dads with golf clubs, fishing rods, and new bottles of bourbon, taking the day off to relax and be appreciated.

Reach out to that woman who made you a better person, write them a note, kiss their cheek, or kiss the sky. Celebrating others is fun if you let it be.

…and to all the wonderful mommies, aunties, babysitters, stepmoms, grandmas, girlfriends out there… Happy Mother’s Day. It takes a village. I applaud you and appreciate you. Swoon.

Being in the car with my crew… one of my top ten mom moments!

Dye It

My first time was about 38 years ago, I was around 17. Bored, creative, why not. Hello Henna. A deep eggplant natural color wash seemed like a good plan for my dark locks. Girlfriends over, an afternoon of laughing, mixing the mud, spreading the swamp-smelling glop on our heads, and topping them off with hand-crafted tinfoil hats. Time to kill, no internet back then…the perfect time for a photoshoot, in a boat, on a table…never try and figure out the minds of teenage girls.

I used Henna for years, mostly purple, sometimes black… it only really showed when I stood in the sun, a very safe statement. I am Mediterranean, olive-toned…green. Most hair colors do not work on me, so I spent years sticking with a splash of color on my dark and crazy abundance of curls…sigh…I had big inflexible hair.

Ohhh did I envy my sister…she was blessed with “mousy brown” hair, (her description, not mine) and white porcelain skin…think Molly Ringwald. She could sport any hair color or style…blonde in the front/black in the back, electric red, or Peter Frampton gold, perm and all…a beautiful blank canvas. My brother, who had similar coloring to me, not so much. He bleached his hair blonde one afternoon. He walked in the kitchen and my father had a stroke. His hair was comic book orange, (his girlfriend failed to understand the concept of double process). Orange hair and green skin…he was a mishmashed Oompa Loompa. While feeling massive amounts of relief that I had never taken that plunge, I felt for him. He looked ridiculous. My father was beyond furious, almost in tears. My mother crossing her legs laughing while repeating relax, hon, relax, it is just hair, it’s just hair. So, my brother shaved his head, problem solved.

After a year of going back and forth between embracing and hating my gray, I dyed my hair…no jobs coming in before noon, I prep, I paint, I wait, I rinse.

It is DARK…holy smokes. Nothing subtle about that head of hair! I am startled every time I pass the mirror. Who is that? My mom doesn’t notice till I point it out, she says Good Girl! Thank God! It must be hard having a daughter who goes gray the same time you do…note, she embraced gray at 83. Olivia does not notice, but we stand eye to eye, that girl has little chance of seeing the top of my head. Greg does not notice without a prompt…we are cooking together, he is a foot taller than me, he should notice. Hellooooooooo I say while pointing to my roots. He smiles, big smile. It looks great! I didn’t notice because that is how you always look to me.

Swoon.

Taking the Leap

Yesterday we worked on our potted gardens, planted the lettuces and some tomatoes, and put annuals throughout the flowerbeds…a liddle pop of kul-la. A year ago I was not a gardener, now I find the dirt comforting. Next, an outing with my guy where we ended up eating falafels in a quaint town, in the sun, just us…an odd sensation after a year of masks and distance. Spring Saturdays are reaffirming for me, it doesn’t matter if I am cleaning, playing scrabble, or planting, I feel alive. It is so good to feel alive.

This morning I started my seasonal ritual of no processed carbs or sugars until my birthday. Embracing the season, debulking, unpuffing, and a way to feel good in my little summer dresses. In addition to this dietary cleanse, I push myself to get out and exercise. To some this comes naturally, not me. I woke up knowing today was the day. Take the leap…earphones, sports bra, sheer glee at not having to wear a mask while in wide open spaces, Green Day…check.

Green Day’s American Idiot is my spring into Spring exercise go to. The musical lover in me enjoys the pace, the progression…the story. Raising my arms and pounding the air to the beat of the music…walk, run, walk…move it. I am flying high and I have not dropped from exhaustion, win win.

I used to laugh at myself, an old woman trying to shed winter indulgences while using Green Day as her exercise mix…they would be horrified…until I saw the documentary Broadway Idiot. Do you ever love something so much, that when you try and explain it to people your enthusiasm is just oozing out of every pore…and they just want you to stop talking so they can run away. I feel like that is my experience every time I tell people to watch this documentary. Eyes rolling so far back in their heads…they may never see again.

Have I mentioned that I love this documentary? Oh I do I do…it is all about the creative process, collaboration, trust, and the ability to take a leap. It’s about opening doors to a whole new world. The crazy thing is, it is a world Billie Joe Armstrong knew as a kid…and probably the reason my gut told me American Idiot had the pace of a musical…well well before it was one. He embraced appealing to a completely different (old) audience, and he fell hook, line, and sinker into the world of musical theater.

Billie Joe Armstrong’s entrance as St. Jimmy in American Idiot on Broadway is a goosebumps galore, sheer bliss moment. The electricity in the room was beyond. He was humble, he was scared, he was stepping out of his comfort zone…he was human…taking a leap into the unknown. He was also big and bold, he owned it…enjoying every moment of feeling alive. Swoon.

My Olivia, she was always the first to take the leap, adolescence changed that a bit, but I see her spark coming back lately. Swoon.

106 Years Later

April 2015…the 100th Anniversary marking the start of the Armenian Genocide was approaching, it seemed like a good time to overshare the story of my mom’s family on social media. I began doing daily posts…trying to string together the bits of information I had overheard growing up. Archiving our history for the next generation, because who sits around telling family stories anymore? People were fascinated, looking forward to the next chapter in the lives of Haigoohi and Levon. My mom would pipe in, filling in holes and expanding facts. People she never met were asking her about making Armenian and Turkish foods, an interactive bit of history and culinary arts. Swoon.

The very short version of the story is my Grandma Haigoohi Sherinian was a young Armenian girl living in Constantinople (now Istanbul), her daddy was a calvary horse trader, her mom a stay at home mom. She had two sisters and two brothers, just a normal happy kid, in a fairly well off family. Until things went bad, her dad disappeared…leaving for work one day and never returning, the horses all taken by the Turkish government. My Great Grandmother sold off their possessions in order to be hidden by a Turkish family. The boys in a secret basement passage, the girls working for the family as domestic help when not hiding. A complete change of life for my Grandma…but she was alive.

My Grandma used to sit with us after school as we watched tv and did our homework…Brady Bunch, Oreos, homework…GenX to the core. Anyway, one time when I was in 4th grade she picked up my text book. It was 1976, a big year for American history. She began reading, sounding out words, asking for help without any embarrassment. She loved learning, she appreciated history and fact.

It was about two seconds ago that I realized…I was ten when this happened. She was ten when she was pulled out of school…pulled out of life as she knew it, and her father murdered. Haigoohi was a gracious woman, not once did she say, do you know how lucky you are Katharine, do you know what I was doing the spring I turned 10?

I am not always a very gracious woman. I tend to get a little unnerved when people are bystanders. I exist, my kids exist…because of upstanders…people willing to take a risk in order to help others. I understand that this Turkish family made money protecting my ancestors, but they also took a huge risk. I’d like to think they would have done it for nothing.

This is a long-winded way of saying thank you. Thank you to President Biden for finally calling the Armenian Genocide…THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE. You might say what is the big deal, it is a word, genocide…a word. But to me and to my ancestors who were forever changed because of it, it is a word that really counts.

And we are back at another common Swooning theme…words count. Let’s hold people accountable please, we all need to be upstanders…truth must matter.

Far left: Haigoohi (my Grandma); man in hat with little girl on his lap: Leo (my Grandpa); little girl on lap: Rose Mary (my mom),
rest of crew are my mom’s siblings, aunties, and cousins.

Those Who Teach

I have always hated the saying, those who can, do…those who can’t, teach. How about, people are able to do…because they were taught by someone who loved the challenge of creating a better world. How about, sometimes people don’t need to be in the limelight, they want to nurture the talents of others. How about, being thankful there people are willing to take the abuse that comes their way, in order to better future generations. There is no future without teachers.

My husband received tenure last night, on Zoom, a sea of screens. People who already put in nine or ten hours at the school and would probably put in another few at home…waiting to receive words acknowledging their hard work, and the trust the district has in their abilities. They deserve to be seen. They deserve our appreciation.

It was a winding path for my guy, going back to school in his 40s for his Masters in Art Education. He had taken on a few part-time teaching jobs and found he loved being with kids. Teaching 2-year-olds and college art majors…he found his calling. I think it would be fair to say he gets his calm from illustrating and his joy from teaching. A doer and a teacher.

Tenure acceptance speeches…where no music plays you off. I was proud of his few but gracious words that started out something like this…I am a third generation teacher, my Grandma was a teacher, she taught in a one-room school house on the South Dakota prairie. My dad was also a teacher…

It is in his blood.

Greg’s Grandma Elizabeth grew up in a sod house (like the people who had it really rough on Little House on the Prairie). Not an easy life. She became a teacher, then a wife, then a mom of 17 children. This woman knew how to do it all. When chatting with her grandkids, it always comes out that they were Grandma’s favorite. Can you imagine the magic and love of a woman who could make hundreds of kids feel they were the most special person alive?

That is what good teachers do.

Elizabeth Nemec on her wedding day, a teacher, a mom of 17, a doer.

Tulips on My Mind

I woke up today ready to make it a good one. Some days are like that…no second sleeps, no social media binges while cuddling under the quilt, no getting lost in endless internet searches on my “subject of the moment”. My current infatuation is The Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. Only knowing it from Dorothea Lange images of warn women and dirty children, I am obsessing as I read The Four Winds…read a few chapters then Google images so I have visuals. A visual learner.

Tulips.

As I did my morning FB catchup of night owl and early bird posts…three color-drenched pictures of tulips popped up…standing tall, leaves so Georgia O’Keefe in their lady-like curves and goodness. Swoon. The photographer…my favorite teacher ever. The man who taught me to push myself, to explore, to research, to think, and to keep a neat desk…great lessons for a graphic designer…even better for a human. His post, a little present to start my day. Being able to have a little “chat” with one of your heroes while they walk through the grasses of Switzerland, and you lie in bed…um, thank you FaceBook.

Tulips.

We have them coming up all over our property right now. I bought 75 bulbs from a tulip farm last fall because you know, pandemic insanity. After giving many away, I was left with about 50 to plant. When I say that they were left for me to plant, what I really meant was, I assumed my mom would swoop in and plant them. I am not the gardener. I am the purchaser of supplies, the mover of dirt, the hole digger, the helper…my mom is the gardener. By the end of fall, as the ground was getting colder and colder, and the bulbs sadly sat on the counter…it became clear that I would be planting them. Fair is fair, her garden fed us all summer, I could and should, plant my own stupid tulips.

I am not a gardener but I do have the internet. A few searches and tutorials later I was digging up almost frozen ground to plant bulb after bulb. Hands caked in dirt, knees filthy and sore, back reminding me of my age…dig, plant, cover, stomp…and again. Little mounds of hopefulness filled every spot in the property that had been preapproved by the actual gardener. The ground froze, the snow came, then more snow, then one last dump. My poor babies buried, I had just left them out there. Sigh. I am not a gardener. Gardeners are patient, I am not.

The other day I noticed little spurts of green popping up all over. My tulips. They are everywhere. One or two of them already trying to burst open to show their colors and strut their stuff. It is glorious!

My swoons keep circling back to the same realization. Hard work, patience, growth, renewal, it all works out…just like the life of a tulip.

Swoon.

Morning walk in Belp, Switzerland. By the extraordinary Hans-Ulrich Allemann.

Feel the Joy

Kinehora…Pooh pooh pooh…knock on wood…break a leg.

Why is it so hard to celebrate the goodness in our lives guilt free? Why can’t a selfless 90-year-old woman receive a box of presents…and enjoy it without any baggage? Why do I feel a little nervous when receiving amazing news?

Soon after we moved to my childhood home, my mom found a little glass bead pinned to my crib, a “God’s Eye”. A little gift from my Grandma Bohjalian…keeping the evil away…thank you Grandma. Growing up we did “God’s Eye” crafts, rainbow yarn wrapped around and around x-shaped twigs, hung in the window to keep away bad stuff. I am not sure what that bad stuff was, but we did not want it in the house. Having Jewish friends and family we have adapted to saying Kinehora after sharing good news. Googling it to make sure I was spelling it right, I learned Kinehora comes from three Yiddish words…Kayn (not) Hara (the evil) Ayin (eye). Three, the number three…to ward off jealousy and bad luck. Slip up and express some joy? Three knocks on wood, or spit spit spit, or our family favorite, Pooh pooh pooh. Phew. We are safe.

After a year of trying to look on the bright side, even with deaths of really amazing people and not seeing my son for 13+ months…we received a lot of good news this week. I am taking the advice of a friend of few but always very wise words…listen to what the universe is telling you.

I am listening to the universe. It is telling me it is ok to be joyous. It’s ok celebrate my mother-in-law turning 90 by showering her with gifts and a tiara. It’s ok to be exuberant about my nephew’s college acceptances. I will continue to cry happy happy tears while planning the reunion with my newly vaccinated son.

The ability to just feel our feels without any guilt or worry…what a concept. I hope to be able to get there someday. Until then, I will settle for…swoon swoon swoon.

My mother-in-law Evie, who wore her birthday sash and tiara all day, as it should be.

Siblings

This is one of my favorite pictures ever…a moment. My kids, siblings, a blip in time that only the two people in that very hug understand. I like to think it’s about letting go of annoyances…and just experiencing one emotion…love.

Happy National Siblings Day.

Siblings, a loaded subject, there is just so much there. Bonding, joyous memories, and tons of baggage. Siblings are the people who know you better than anyone else, and…who don’t know you at all. There was one moment in my twenties, on the deck at Fire Island, when I realized my family only knew me in the role I played in our family pod. I no longer only identified as the middle child, the peacemaker, the fixer…and had no desire to go back there for family weekends. I was strong, I had opinions. It used to drive my husband crazy to watch me go back to being a pleaser in order to avoid conflict. The beauty was my siblings and I spent many weekends at the beach…and were willing to embrace the grown versions of each other. Swoon.

I watched my husband go through the same thing during visits back to Iowa. Because trips back were only once or twice a year, it was even harder to bust out of family roles. The calm smart one, the snarky artist, the sweet jock, the good girl, and the imp who disliked art. It was hysterical for me to watch these people I knew as individuals go back to their roles in the family. I mean really, the “non-artist” teaches 400 or more kids art each week and does stained glass in her spare time. In their 40s and 50s they are all who they are meant to be…complex multi-faceted people who share a common time period…and parents.

This picture. It gives me hope. I always worried about only having two children. I love having both a brother and a sister. People always say three is a dangerous number…but as a kid, watching other families, having two kids always seemed to cause conflict. Why didn’t they like each other, why were they so competitive? I repeatedly told my kids you have a choice…be careful with your feelings, be careful with jealousy. You have one sibling, one person who gets what you have been through, one person who was raised by the same flawed people.

Siblings…so so complicated.

I adore the ones we made, and I adore the ones I have. It’s good to think about this stuff. Have a lovely day.

Being Ridiculous

A few months ago I was interviewed about my blog, then the story got pushed back and I kind of forgot about it. I found out it was in print when my phone exploded with well wishes. As I said to a friend, it was both lovely and horrific to be in the spotlight. My fifteen minutes of “fame” have passed and that is just fine with me.

I so appreciate those who took time to share kind words about the story…people like that are of another era, I bet they write thank you notes too. The most touching nod came on my husband’s fb post…he did a wife brag…which was super delicious because he saves them up. The comment was: Awesome! I love your line, “People who are willing to be ridiculous…are gifts to the universe.” Brilliant!

I read this comment and I cried. I cried because of who it came from. This woman knows ridiculous from playing many nutty roles on tv…and because her extremely fun husband passed away before all of his talents could be shared. He embraced ridiculous, he taught joy, he lived his life to the fullest…he was a gift to the universe.

I only know of Mark Ritts because I know his daughter. His daughter is my daughter from another mother…that isn’t as catchy as sister from another mister, or brother from another mother…but you get the point. Google Mark Ritts. Did you find a picture of him dressed as the large rat…that is only a small part of his brilliance. There are many people I wish I could have met and he is one of them. I did not know Mark Ritts, but I know his essence…because every time I am with his talented, funny, brilliant, and full of life daughter…I am with part of him. People live on.

Being Ridiculous.

My kids had some super fun birthday parties. The event planner that I never became… came out in full force about 6 months prior to each celebration. A dinosaur dig, teenie tiny party, dance extravaganza, horror makeup with Dr. Blood, Silly Billy and an evening of being wacky. It was go big or go home, and we always went big. Tiny hamburgers and 3 foot playing cards, kids leaving with oversized nails through their heads or dressed like they were at a 1950s photoshoot. It was ridiculous.

I miss having little kids, the excuse for fun dulls as they mature…unless you are lucky enough to have my sister-in-law. Jodi is crazy fun…she is a blogger (check out supermakeit.com), crafter, curator of all things good. A million years ago, Jodi worked for Martha Stewart Living, and as a young hip New Yorker sans kids…she would use the lives of her niece and nephew for story ideas. After Olivia’s Wacky Birthday Party….she asked if I could get together a group of her peers for a Martha photoshoot. It became a thing, who do you choose, how do you not hurt feelings. Then it was suggested that all of girls should be Olivia’s height. Brilliant. We were sent a town car and into Manhattan this gaggle of peanut-sized girls went…their job…to be ridiculous. Clothing and hair were styled, the girls were given crafts to do between shoots, so professional and so well behaved. The girls reenacted the party they recently attended in our home…pink bouffant wigs and sticky mustaches, posing with pizza (cookies and icing) and cupcakes (mini meatloafs with mashed potato “frosting”)…experiencing so much joy.

Being ridiculous at a party…or for the camera. Being a ridiculous daddy…or remembering your daddy by being ridiculous.

Life. Is. Ridiculous! Embrace it…it’s a gift to the universe.

Beautiful little peanuts…all grown up now…embrace your ridiculous.