Black and White

I have had the pleasure of watching the taping of The Martha Stewart Show a few times. My sister-in-law worked on the show and was gracious enough to get me tickets. Each time we received an email saying…show up on time, wear bright colors, no black clothing. Um, that is a problem for me. I tend to wear black, with a touch of black, and then maybe a sprinkle of white. A huge pair of fun earrings, some hot pink lipstick, a pair of fun shoes…done. Finding a vintage mint green sweater to wear for taping, I was set, mission accomplished…flexibility is good.

I love black and white…stripes, dogs, bathroom tile. Growing up my parents had a rental house on Fire Island, a wise investment, it paid for our college educations. It was also a ridiculous amount of work…that they did themselves. Fall and spring meant we kids entertained ourselves while the parents scrubbed, painted, and fixed the house for the next rental season. As I ran in and out of the house with questions and wants…I experienced visual joy each time I entered…black and white checked floors, white modular hand-built wood daybed couches, and red metal fireplace in the corner. The 1960 Barbie Dream Home come to life. Black and white with a touch of color. Swoon.

Black and white… spectacular for clothing, decor, design…not so good for life. In life I aspire to be more gray. It is oh so hard. I am so firm in my beliefs but so are others…and a world in black and white just doesn’t work. I wake up daily trying to be more gray, trying to be understanding, trying to see the goodness of the blend. Flexibility is good.

Art, frames, shirts, shoes…black and white spectacular. Swoon.

Warm Hearts

Weekends in my early twenties were pretty glorious. I would run to Penn Station after work and stand in the sea of people staring at “the board” in the Amtrak waiting area. Weekend bag clutched in front of me, cause you know, New York. Discman on, listening for the click click click of the board announcing trains, avoiding eye contact with yucky businessmen. Weaving through bodies to my stairs, my train, my weekend. Greg, Philadelphia, and nothing to do but chill. Sleeping in, futon on the floor, sun coming in the window…picturing our futures. What would our kids be like? He wanted them to have my complexion, eyes, and smile. I wished them his smarts, tush, feet…and most of all, his amount of body hair.

I am Armenian. I state this a lot because well, being Armenian somehow takes up a big part of your being. Food, stubbornness, warmth, and…hair. Lots of hair. My son was born pretty bald, when his hair came in it arrived perfectly coiffed, a living Ken doll. People used to ask us where we got it cut. We didn’t, it just did that perfect hair thing. As he aged he got cuts, sitting in a little race car sucking on a lollipop while the hairdresser cut, and cut, and cut, wow, he has so much hair…a comment to be repeated throughout his life.

After a year of no professional haircuts due to the pandemic Jacob finally decided to bite the bullet. His hair was huge, his beard was out of control, he had resorted to wearing hats…a beast. He will soon be back in the office and I send him texts with hearts, kisses, and comments like “dress for the position you want”, “first impressions matter”, and “you are so much happier when you feel confident”…so, he got a haircut.

Jacob knows how to make me swoon. He sent me a picture from the chair, wearing a mask instead of sucking on a lollipop, hair cut short short short…perfection.

FaceTiming last night he fessed up that the barber only trimmed the sides of his beard, he did the rest…he didn’t want to take off his mask and he was over the reaction his Armenian neck usually gets from barbers “you have the hairiest neck I have ever seen”. Sigh sigh sigh. Oh my dear child. I get it. Your uncle gets it. Hairy faces, chests, backs, tushies, legs, toes. We are hairy people, but as Grandma says, hairy people have warm hearts.

One thing led to the next and somehow I found myself saying Oh my gosh, have I ever told you about my first waxing experience? Young, new cute 90s (very high cut) bathing suit, Fire Island, and co-worker convincing me to get “it” taken off, I was ready. Walking into the room with a magazine, figuring if one has to have a stranger up in their business, one might as well pretend to read. Leg up, very up, ankle at my ear…a former gymnast. The Eastern European woman in a lab coat goes directly to the “work area” and with a very thick accent says something like wha da mess, why you wait so long, when you have done last, oh my god dis take forever. My husband and daughter cracking up from the bedroom they were refinishing down the hall…my son laughing, eyes popping out of his head…3000 miles apart and we were together.

Sometimes oversharing connects people…and my mom is right, I do have a warm heart.

Scope 25

Want to have a fun exchange with people? Post a blast from the past picture on social media. Looking back and connecting, brilliant. I am fascinated with the human brain…we live a life, then we create a past based on what we choose to remember. Like most, I was pretty lonely in my adolescent years, friend groups changed and people went their separate ways, completely normal teen stuff. I try to remember the happy (I don’t forget the assholes…and I am sure they don’t forget my nasty) but just like when someone dies, remembering the good is much healthier.

Recently someone posted my 8th grade class picture. Man that was a rough year. Big time changes in the friends department. I don’t know about boys, but with girls it becomes very clear who wants to grow up and who wants to cling to their childhood a bit longer. I was a clinger. Not interested in partying, heavy metal music, or the guys from the next town…I resorted to babysitting until I found a group more my speed. It all worked out, it usually does.

By 9th grade I had connected with a different group and found a passion…the yearbook. I spent hours taking photographs with my mom’s Canon AE-1. I so loved that camera. Photography…a wonderful way to be involved and disappear at the same time. Chat people up, take their picture, and walk away. Win win for an outgoing introvert.

The yearbook. The middle school art room. Mrs Smith. She was tiny. Her designer jeans were so tight she had to pick things up off the floor by squatting straight down…while balancing in her high heel leather boots. There was no bending at the waist in those jeans. Flipped back thick brown hair, flawless makeup, dreamy. She could draw like no other and had the patience of a saint. Middle school art teachers deserve a special place in heaven.

She let me know she “needed me” on the yearbook staff. That is a good teacher. Not in a million years would I have offered, she gave me a purpose. We sat in her room after school cutting and pasting, illustrating, typing. We even drew the advertisements…by hand…then we signed the advertisements like they were a piece of art. So odd, dated, and precious. A time capsule of a computer free existence.

I learned how to delegate, collaborate, and work on deadlines. Amazing life lessons. What I did not remember until looking at the book recently, is how many of the people on that yearbook staff…are still connected today via social media. 40 years later we are back together. Maybe teenagers know a thing or two.

The day I designed the collage below my mom picked me up from school, there was no walking home via “the back road” in the dark. I went on and on about my collage of a hundred heads. My mom listened then said Kitkat, I need to tell you something, the President was shot, people died, we don’t really know what is happening right now. We drove home with the radio on, then we watched the news…endless news at a time before there was endless news.

I don’t remember any other yearbook meetings. I assume we did not spent time discussing politics and assassination attempts…we waited 40 years to have those chats on social media. We are artists, and creatives, managers, and business people who come together…no longer in a bright and sunny classroom but via something none of us could have ever imagined, the internet and our glowing screens. Swoon.

One Year Later

How it started… Well this is embarrassing. Me. Writing a blog. I barely passed English in high school. Not because I didn’t like to read, I did. Not because I couldn’t write, I could. I just could not be bothered, it was not important to me…

Today… we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and I seem to be more connected to the world than I ever was. In one year people from 46 different countries have read my blog…my rants, my joys, my sorrows. Waking up to find out that someone from Malaysia has read a swoon about wacky American customs makes my heart burst. Knowing that a tribute to a local man reached more people than any other post reminds me honoring good people does not go unnoticed. Words count. Memories that seem like they can only be mine…shared by so many others. Feelings are universal.

I write this Swoon with so much appreciation for…the lovely comments, the swoonie private messages, forgiving typos and punctuation errors that I know can be like fingernails on a chalkboard, and most of all…the quiet weekly clicks. You have given me so much encouragement. Strangers. Friends. Family. Swoon. I never thought I would be able to write a blog consistently, and the pandemic has made swooning a little challenging to say the least…but things happen when they are important to you.

This past year as taught me that we have no idea how strong we are…how stepping out from ones comfort zone does not kill us…that people from all over the world want to connect, that we need to connect…that trying new things is wonderful… and that life can have joy mixed right in with fear and sorrow.

Today is a busy day, a new start for my girl as we clean out her childhood room. Cherished memories packed up, things outgrown given to others, wall preparation, color choices, and a fresh coat of paint. Life is about renewal, doing things that are hard at the moment, then looking back and thinking how was I ever scared about taking on that adventure.

Swooning, it actually was very embarrassing at times…but worth every word. Thank you for reading, I appreciate every one of you, from Romania to Qatar, we are all in this together. Swoon.

Not me… but man, look at those knees…vintage stock photography is the best.

Play Time

I love to make stuff. I love problem solving. I love creating. When you make props for high school theater…there is a lot of magic involved. Kids watch as you enter the auditorium holding puppets that will fly to the stage from the balcony, 8ft jellyfish, cannon balls, wedding gifts, and plates of delicious food. All fake but looking so real, ready to be used to transform a performance. They run up the aisle to help carry everything to the stage…taking off their masks of boredom…sharing a glimpse of who they once were, and who they will be again.

My former business partner has two kids, both older than mine. We live in the same town, across the street from each other, weird but true. Watching his kids grow up, I had a preview of the goodness that artistic parents could get involved in. Lesson one, help with the high school play. A community event of creative adults supporting creative kids. It is glorious. My husband started painting sets, I started making props, we both helped with costumes. Making 6ft knives, forks, spoons…to be worn by dancing prancing teens…a glorious Ziegfeld Follies spectacular. Down the center stage steps, heads high and arms extended, avoiding the spinning kitchen utensils…not your average high school show. Wicked witch legs that actually rolled up and disappeared. Cotton candy made from hundreds of pink cotton balls. Pies of all flavors and picnic baskets filled with treats. Insulation foam, glitter, paint, cardboard, bubble wrap, paint, clay, Mod Podge and hot glue…I love you.

Date nights at a hardware stores in neighboring states to secure beach fencing…in February; calls to California for bamboo gates; stopping at roadside citrus stands in Florida for coconut heads needed for a tropical trinket cart; asking neighbors to save their clam shells normally discard after Christmas Eve feasts; saving boxes and more boxes; making trays of cocktails and Hors d’oeuvres. It was endless, it was exhausting, it was spectacular.

Sigh, swoon, sigh, being around my kids…my daughter helping behind the scenes, my son on stage. Trying to be invisible so they had their space. Not always easy when your kid is playing Luther Billis. Putting bronzer on my shirtless kid in the halls of the high school at the request of the director…to quickly realize this was a TERRIBLE plan, quickly switching to the professional spray tan route. Figuring out the right size coconut bra… fun fact, coconut bras come in many sizes.

I never thought my kid would be nervous about being on stage in a bra and grass skirt…he had mastered performing in his underwear in his 1st grade school play. We don’t know our kids as well as we think we do. During a rehearsal he called me, whispering, “mom, can you bring up the practice coconut bra and meet me in the wing…be really quiet”. I watched him walk on stage in only a coconut bra and grass skirt, everyone else in their street clothes. Right on cue…he took his peers by surprise, they could not get in his head because he controlled the moment…such a good life skill.

It is prop season, but my kids are long graduated and my connection to the show has retried, the few props I have made over the last few years have been scaled down to none. I realize it is the end of an era, and that is ok, time to move on. I have heard many of my props from productions past were thrown away, people felt they just took up too much space…the hours of planning, producing, and love…discarded.

During strike we were supposed to make sure props did not go missing…no souvenirs. That always bothered me, props help actors create the magic, actors have relationships with them. I often made duplicates of iconic props, slipping them to their actors after the run…a little keepsake for a job well done.

While cleaning up South Pacific, my son’s last show, I lifted the boars tooth bracelet he wore in performances. I paid for it, I made it, I took it. Please note, I did leave the two practice bracelets, which were also beyond high school prop quality. To this day, the bracelet happily sits in his room, thankfully protected from anyone Marie Kondo-ing the prop room.

As I sit remembering the past I am filled with warmth holding this bracelet…masking tape, shoe polish, rope, thread, sculpture wire, glue…and so so so so very much love.

Memories, creations, theater…swoon.

Boars Tooth Bracelet worn by Luther Billis in South Pacific…Pleasantville High School…March 2014

Super Women

I have a few ongoing group texts with friends…my daily lifelines. There is My Girlies!!! (college ladies); ChrisAnn Mary Diane (girls from Douglaston); Noeeeelllllleeeee, (public school bestie); and Pville Ladies: where any thread is the right thread (Pleasantville crew). There are college groups and family threads…but my lady threads are the ones that keep me sane.

Today I heard the symphony of beeps…an alert that someone created something, did pushups correctly, shared an article, was being supportive, or was just sending love on this bright crisp day. What I saw was a delicious memory that had popped up on a friend’s FB feed. A life-changing trip to Boston to support one of our daughters. Five women of a certain age watching a performance by talented and daring young women…a show about embracing, learning about, and loving…our vaginas.

Vagina, basement region, wa-zoo, hoohah, the purse, girl business…all names I have used for my vagina. The magical vagina, it is so complex it needs a million names. I am not into the nasty ones, or referring to my lady parts as animals, when I hear those terms I assume a man is speaking. Someone who fears their magic. Fear. When I called my mom minutes after our Olivia was born I said, mom, it’s a girl. After screaming in delight she said “you know Kat, with a boy you only need to worry about ONE penis, but with a daughter you need to worry about EVERY penis”, sigh. Fear. One should not need to fear for their newly born daughters body parts.

Young women today seem to speak openly of their hardships, challenges, and abuses… much more than my generation did at their age. They celebrate their gifts with no apologies. They express themselves through writing, art, and performance, no waiting in the wings. The production of The Vagina Monologues we saw at Boston College that weekend was produced and performed by a remarkable group of young women…to them a show…but to us, so daring. We listened, we reflected, we learned, and we admired their honesty. We felt their pain and we celebrated their joy. There was not a dry eye in the house as they took their bows. The few men in the audience applauded their daughters through their tears…and their worst fears. We stood frozen, in awe of goodness we had just received, with a new appreciation of our super powers…powers that we always had but needed to be reintroduced to.

I walked away that night owning my body…my beautiful body that I can be so harsh on. The body that housed my babies for nine months, just us. My body that dances, hugs, and can stand so much taller than its actual measurement. The body that cares for so many. We can learn so much from the younger generation…we just need to listen.

I am so grateful for the incredible women in my life. Swoon.

Would You Rather…

I was recently interviewed on a friends podcast, and after some fumbling with technology issues…she came out full force…“Would you rather people not show up for your funeral, or your wedding.” I think I was supposed to be a little flustered by the question, but it was easy…my wedding. I love that people were at my wedding, but it was really about me and my guy. If nobody showed for my funeral…ouch…that would be rough.

In whatever grade it is that you read Death of a Salesman, I did. Since I was not a super achiever in school the fact that I remember it so well is some kudos for Arthur Miller…he married Marilyn Monroe and he wrote something that struck me to the core. I really felt for Willy Loman, I totally got that he wanted people at his funeral.

My Grandma Muench (seated in photo) was a piece of work, she was rarely happy, she was opinionated, and well, she was difficult. That all said, I adored her…we were roommates and each night she would take my little cold feet and warm them in her hands so I could fall asleep. One day after school she said, you know Katharine, nobody is left, I have nobody left, I went to all of their funerals and nobody will be at mine. Holy smokes that is a lot for a kid who just wants an Oreo and some Brady Bunch, but she was right, her contemporaries were gone. She had mourned for them, who would mourn for her?

There is so much death these days. My besties husband was put in hospice care for cancer. Not being there with her in person to help is making me nuts. My mom’s friend just passed of COVID, we “attended” his service on Zoom, feeling a bit lost for the rest of the day. Another friend is putting her mom in palliative care, just watching her drift away. This week our sister-in-law lost her brother and uncle, a one two punch. So much mourning…when we can’t be together to mourn, to hug, to be present in our grief.

Funerals, memorial services, obits, they are are such a huge part of the death process. The beginning of remembering, of telling the stories, of sharing special moments, of creating the after death persona…where the beauty of a person is wrapped up and preserved. Like weddings where you reflect on your relationship…a funeral is where you think about those that you have lost. Remembering. Someone once asked me why his kids only remembered the good stuff about his wife…because she was far from perfect. He was right, but why focus on that, I told him I promised they would do the same for him, he smiled, relieved to be forgiven for his own imperfections.

Being at a funeral is one of my first memories. It was for a friend of my Grandma Muench, a friend who clearly would not be able to attend HER funeral many years later. Waiting in line. Everyone looking at something in a dark wood box with a really fancy shiny white skirt. White tights and my black Mary Janes. People were crying and laughing. So many yellow flowers.

Crying and laughing…such an odd mix of emotions…a purge of hurt and healing all at once.

I am so looking forward to those innocent days where we could go weeks, months, even a year at a time without hearing that someone we know has passed away. In the meantime I will remember the happy times, the stories, the moments where people shined…and preserve their goodness. They might not have well attended funerals but they have our attention, and our love, and that is all that really matters…they are not forgotten.

Family photos from the 70s…gotta love it.

Good Morning Sunshine!

Twenty three days in. I am twenty three days into my latest recipe for disaster…namely Kat’s New Years Resolution Countdown to Failure. My past projects for attaining perfection have included: returning to my wedding day weight (which I might add was “accomplished” for only one day…out of the 19,860 days I have been on this earth); exercising daily in order to complete a half marathon by spring; cancelling amazon prime and only shopping local; writing a novel; organizing every room in the house; reading a book a week; mastering 12 new crafts in a year; journaling every morning and evening; and having a unbreakable once-a-week date night with my guy…you get the picture, a yearly recipe for disaster and disappointment.

This year, thanks to my pal the pandemic, I have been forced to slow down…to spend time in my head, to forgive my faults, and I have many of them. I talk too much, I eat too much, I judge too much, I give too much, I plan too much, I care too much…it is just all way too much. When you are running a business, raising kids, keeping up your house, helping your man run their businesses, over volunteering, and the extended family holiday maven…being “too much” is how you survive, because if you slow down or stop…you might not be able to start up again.

Given the gift of time, of quiet, and of calm I have learned that maybe it is not about getting rid of my faults, but about calming them a bit…maybe it is just time to lose the “too much”.

This morning, while my people enjoyed a cozy weekend alarm-free sleep in, Jasmine and I went for a walk. Dogs understand the concept of living in the moment…with a bounce in their step they appreciate every smell, poop, and furry creature they meet. We set out on our journey with no deadlines, no agenda…just out to enjoy the world. We discovered some chalk art and a lucky penny. We experienced many 2021 smiles…no teeth, all eyes. We received a text with the most glorious picture of a friend’s parents…who now feel a bit more safe and are everything I hope to be at their age (seriously, look at those smiles and heads of hair…goals). Jasmine and I arrived home refreshed and invigorated…greeted by our happy refrigerator…covered in rainbow art and butterflies. Being content is delicious.

Twenty three days in…my resolution was to accept that it is ok to just be just enough. I wake up grateful for my healthy family and for the chance to create my day. Days where I declare three attainable goals…and if I don’t reach them, that’s ok…because tomorrow there will be another shot.

Exercise (a long walk with my Jasmine)…doing something sweet for someone (leaving my lucky penny on a bench for someone else to find)…and writing a swoon…a successful day already. Goals that in no way lead to perfection…but they made me happy, and that is enough.

My Girls

To my most amazing girls…my daughter, nieces, and Girl Scouts. To my kids’ friends and my friends’ kids. Today…today is what I have been talking about. Today we saw that hard work, goals, talents, smarts, and dreams…will not be squashed by people who fear your strength.

To my most talented girls…you are everything and you can be anything.

To my most badass girls…there is no place you can’t go, there is no person who can outshine you, take what you want, you deserve it. Sonia. Gaga. Amanda. KAMALA….badass brilliance.

To my most thoughtful and tender girls…in the past four years, when everything we preached about your potential seemed like lies…you became stronger…we told you the truth, you are the change, the change we need.

To my most brilliant girls…I love you so. Today is your day. Swoon.

Amazing, talented, smart, badass Girl Scouts…who have listened to girl power preaching for so many years…the world is your oyster.

DC Swoon

This is in no way shape or form a political post, nor is it about Batman or Wonder Woman…it is a love letter to a place I adore.

We began using DC as our go to vacation spot when our kids were little. Inexpensive, drivable, culture, lots of walking, history, science…and an Embassy Suites with a pool and 4 o’clock cocktails and munchies. Score. The joy of a weekend with a king size bed, kids on a pull out couch, two tvs, a different restaurant each night, food choices from all over the world…with the bonus of meeting family and friends from the area…swoon.

Memories.

Toddler Jacob sitting before the waterfall of inscriptions at the FDR Memorial…quote after quote touching our hearts as he asked us to read another, read another. Olivia following a map to finally reach Bert and Ernie…who had clearly been awaiting her arrival. The Women’s March and Climate March…days of connection, compassion, and love (that is as political as I am getting and I hope beyond hope it is not too political for you). The museum exhibition of crime scenes, all made as little doll house displays, used by forensic scientists as teaching tools. Portrait after portrait of leaders…those we feel lead us well, and those we think failed us, hanging right next to each other…for eternity.

Spaceships hanging with the Spirit of ’76, living together with the constant smell of french fries from the cafeteria. The Holocaust Museum, Daniel’s Story, a gentle way to teach a horrific subject. Olivia so overwhelmed she napped on a couch in a lobby between floors. Too short to see the really graphic images, she still felt the evil.

Renting bikes to experience cherry blossoms…returning bikes because there were so many people there to see the cherry blossoms. The glory of the pink carpet of petals. Olivia taking a photograph…of someone painting a picture…of someone painting a picture…pictures within pictures, a never ending loop.

Feeling the power of positive leadership and respect…monuments blanket the horizon. Name after name…touch them…watching men find their fallen friends, tears, gifts, a prayer and a goodbye. Awe for the young woman who understood that a memorial for those lost…should be about every single one of them, not a chosen few. A place for families to be with their loved ones, a place to reflect and note the volume of humans lost. Memorials. Walking through the path towards the unfinished marble…white and so very tall, reaching the sky, so very blue. Around the front MLK Jr is emerging from the stone pillow…defiant yet so tender.

Together time…mini vacations, 4th of July, weekend breaks from college, a vacation instead of a Sweet Sixteen…family. One year ago today…our last trip to DC, our last vacation, just the two of us. Museum after museum. Bourbon bar. Lovely meals. We had no clue what was ahead, no understanding of masks, no appreciation for holding hands while we ate a meal in a restaurant. No appreciation of the freedom we had…to travel, to see family, to explore our favorite places…to just be us.

Wishing one of my very favorite places strength and peace.

Cherry Blossoms by Olivia Nemec