swoon 10

I was listening to the radio the other day and someone was describing their grandma as having the strength of an ox. They said she was selfless, she was a giver, and she never needed anything. Swoon. Swoon. Swoon. Later that day I had a coffee with a friend. She told me about her sister. Her sister was selfless, and that this behavior was actually difficult on both her sister… and the rest of the family, because nobody ever knew what to do to help her. Interesting.

I am proud that I am a person that others can count on and I have always thought that not needing help was a good thing. Lately though, I am learning that when I say it’s all good, I got this… it isn’t always true. It is tricky. There are times when it is not only ok to need help, it is important to ask for it… and most of all, it is important to accept it. I realized this at a doctors appointment recently where I wrote the passage below. I felt better after writing it and decided I would never publish it because it was super personal and very not amusing… and because it might make my family sad. But in the last few days friends have posted their kids hardships and battles, others post about walks in honor of their child lost to suicide, others talk of depression that seems never ending, others about death of a beloved parent. I should be strong enough to post the truth. Life is not just one amusing little story after the next. Life is hard. Our strengths are our weaknesses, and realizing that is so important. So, with that…

When you’re the strong one you always go to scary doctor appointments and minor surgeries by yourself. When you are the strong one you do your mourning alone so you can make decisions at hospitals and run memorial services. You became the strong one as a child. Watching after younger siblings, being the one willing to go last, never getting the window seat in the car. You learn to say it’s ok, I don’t need help…because being easy, responsible, and self reliant gets you praise. You watch as others get taken care of wondering what it feels like. It looks really nice. When someone does reach out it is so foreign, you resist. “It’s all good. No need.” So there you are, in a waiting room alone. Again. They call your name and ask if anyone is with you, you smile and say no, they are at work, but they will be here to give me a ride home. You get the look. Men, women, anyone who figures out you are alone gives that same look… pity, confusion, a bit of both. Nurses become much nicer, they walk with you, arm on your back. You change, lie down, prepare for the battle of your tiny veins verses the needle. Cold. Scared. Wishing someone noticed you were not really so strong. 

Rule follower on the left.

swoon 9

There are things you learn in college (and grad school if you go that route), but I think it’s at your first job… real money making, 401K, and paid vacation job…that is where you can really learn the ropes. If you do it at your first job, you hit the lottery, if it takes a few so be it, keep hunting. Learning from professionals in a work environment…priceless.

I was recommended for my first design position by my favorite (swoon) professor during senior year of college. I trained up to NY from Philadelphia looking very late 80s in my interview outfit (Benetton long stretch black skirt with black scoop neck tunic — thanks mom, black Capezio jazz shoes — thanks Allison, bright red lipstick, and ridiculous amounts of bangle bracelets with huge hoop earrings — I have only myself and Madonna to thank for that). Dragging a ridiculously large portfolio I marched into the 5th Avenue office, showed my work, answered a few questions, was offered the job, then went back to finish school. Done.

A week after graduation I show up for my first day looking like a funky private school kindergartener… short dark blue Kikit linen skort, white scoop top, white ankle socks with Doc Martens (yes, I remember it, I loved it, I purchased it with my soon to come salary at Bloomingdales). Arriving early (on time means 5 minutes early, late means any time after 5 minutes early… mom wisdom) with my packed lunch (never spend money on coffee or take out lunch… dad wisdom), and I was welcomed by Peter. Peter was pretty old (30), lived crazy far from the city (in upstate Pleasantville, NY), he was going to be a dad (?!?) and he seemed very chipper (singing old man chipper songs like…”Mairzy doats and dozy doats and liddle lamzy divey”). He was also a really amazing teacher, he knew mechanical production, and he knew how to teach it. Being a designer is one thing, being a designer that knows what it will take to actually produce the design is another. It was worth gold. I learned more about production from him in a week than I did in 4 years of college.

My boss was a “do it all” kind of woman well before most women did it all. She did undergrad and graduate school at Yale, sported her Izod collars turned up and khakis. She did not own any Kikit skorts or Doc Martens I can assure you. I give her much credit for hiring someone so out of the office Preppy Handbook vibe. Working full time running a very successful business she also had two kids and somehow could run ten miles each day and do marathons. She was gracious in her ability to hand off jobs to the newbie and even more gracious in her ability to steer this newbie in the right direction. She taught me some priceless rules of business. 1. Keep a book by your side and jot all notes, estimates, phone numbers, everything… in one book. You will never be looking around for important info… because it is all in one place. Save these books forever. 2. Keep track of all hours spent on jobs in 15 minute increments… it will teach you how long things take to design and aid in estimating future jobs. Time logs keep you accountable, how much time did you waste today? Well, since you only billed 4 hours… you wasted a LOT of time today. 3. Remember, it is just a brochure, or a logo, or an invitation… don’t fall in love with a design, your client gets the final say. Design it, take criticism, and get it out… then bill it. 4. People are not reasonable and are not trained designers… and if they are paying you it is part of the deal to accept that. The banana company who hates the color yellow… ok, think out of the box, solve the problem (note that this one is still hard for me, why on earth don’t people take advice from someone who has been designing for 30+ years, do you tell the chef at a restaurant how to cook the potatoes… this is clearly a different rant). 5. You should be able to get all your work done between 9-6pm. Focus, work, get it done. All of these tips… gold.

Why do I write this… because I adore a lot of 20-somethings out there… and some of them are finding out that full time jobs are not always fun, and that maybe it is time to move onto a different job that is more interesting or maybe they want to try a different field. Because maybe they are still looking for that wonderful mentor that is out there ready to lead them on a different path. Because I wanted to share the great stuff Heidi taught me, because I use those tips to this very day.

So, my advice is to find a job where you learn, where you grow, where you thrive. Find a place where there are people you like enough to spend time with but that are not your everything. Jobs are not perfect, that is why it is called work. If you like waking up in the morning, you feel inspired at least some of the time, and you have money to spend at the end of the week… consider it a win. Work really really hard then live your life to the fullest once you walk out that door. Keep looking, keep trying, keep growing, and making connections… those connections get you everywhere. One connection got me on the path to owning my own business “upstate” in Pleasantville, NY (where I raised two kids and I umm, listen to show tunes while I work). You got this… you can only hit the lottery by working, creating, and connecting… waiting and wishing does nothing.

I love this graphic.

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My daughter is my hero… she makes me completely insane, we fight like crazy, she is both my protector and my gray hair. My steadfast soldier, my voice of reason, my reminder that even when dealt a shitty hand, you can rise up again. During her junior year in college she decided to reach out and get a summer job in the hospitality industry. One phone call and she had a full time job at the front desk of a hotel. That’s how she rolls, she just goes for it, and if it doesn’t work out she goes for something else. Deciding that you are not so into your major second semester junior year of college puts one in a difficult situation. Do you finish up, spending a year doing something you do not really like, spending crazy money for something that is not remotely a passion… or do you take some time to figure out what you want to do? She took the time. My hero. Six months living pretty much on her own on an island at a seasonal hotel was a good way to do some self reflecting, but then it was over and it was time to come home…back to her hometown, where people were not always so kind. Back to living with dad, mom, and grandma — three generations of adult women in one house (my husband is a saint). Well meaning people around town asking the same question… what are you doing home? Here is a tip for people: that is not the best question. How are you…What’s new? Those are better. Anyway… my hero needed a job after her daily workouts at the gym so she applied to the local hardware store. The thing is, for someone looking to blend in and not have to answer too many questions, our local little mom and pop hardware store is NOT the place to fade into the background. She discovered this after a few days of coming home and reporting the 10-15 people who greeted her with warmth and glee. The best way to take medicine is to just swallow it… working in this hardware store was like wearing a billboard saying…”Hi, yes, it’s me, Olivia, I am taking a break from college, and I am feeling pretty good with my decision, people do things in their own time, and I am ok with taking the longer path”. Sigh, my hero. So why this post (other than to daughter swoon)… because I so adore those who take time from their shopping for nails and paint to give her love and encouraging words, big smiles, and supportive advice. Because it is fun to hear stories of adorable old men giving her (and her fellow cashiers) tootsie roll treats. Because wacky characters do things like write her name in calligraphy on the back of their receipts then leave them with her as little gifts. Because it is a good reminder to be encouraging to those who might be taking a different path. Because kindness counts and is noticed. Just because.

Above… three generations of roommates wearing llama pajamas

day seven

Being right outside the doors of our national chain craft store before it opens is key. If I do this, and I don’t shop for unnecessary (but very coveted) glitter and crafting supplies, I might only have to wait on the line for 30 minutes. I am not sure how these stores stay in business, in every single store, no matter what state I am in (art supplies are needed on many a vacation), the lone cashier is left doing sales, returns, and answering the phone calls.

A few days ago, the lone cashier was doing a complicated return involving many tiny jars of paint, each needing to be scanned in individually, with an ongoing explanation of what was wrong with each jar… “too blue, too orange, not enough sparkle”. At the same time she had the privilege of talking to a man on the phone…a very loud man… who she seemed to be talking off a ledge. He was hysterical. “Weights not magnets! Weights for cars.” Giving measurements, colors, nothing was helping her to understand what he needed. He became louder and louder, until he said the magic words. Pinewood Derby. This man, at 10:03 Sunday morning, was out of his mind about his child’s Cub Scout Pinewood Derby car. Ha. Poor guy.

Want to see a bunch of competitive dads? Attend a Pinewood Derby. Our son designed his car, painted it (a lovely sophisticated gray), hand lettered a number on it (making his mama the graphic designer proud), weighed it in at the pre-registration, and he was happy. He lost in round one. OUT. For rest of the derby the dads of the newbies (losers) analyzed the cars. Which cars were winning, where were the weights placed (the back), what was the perfect width, height, wheel to body ratio? Dads of older kids chimed in… it can’t weigh more than this, but it needs to weigh more than that, “we” worked on “our” car for months. The new dads listened intently, taking notes… next year would be different.

To be fair… 1. I know women who behave the same way about nursery school graduation dresses for their daughters. 2. The newbie dads (let’s be honest, my husband and his co-leader) put in a request to the higher ups in scout land. In the future, could there be different categories of winners? This way it would not only be the kids who had eager aerodynamic space engineer dads (if that is a thing) that won. Celebrate the creativity too… a great paint job, a great character “driving” their car, the best named car, the most interesting interpretation of a car… for the kid who attached sails to make a pirate car (dragging it down so much that it almost went backwards). They lobbied that scouting should celebrate the many aspects of good design… because being fast is not everything. Bravo dads… bravo.

Watching someone lose their shit over something like a Pinewood Derby weight is very entertaining. It also made me realize there are many times when my momentary irrational breakdowns must be very entertaining to others. May we support each other during these moments, may we celebrate all aspects of good design, and may we chillax and just let kids create the goodness they are meant to create…it might not be fastest… but it will ALWAYS be cooler than what we adults could ever do. Swoon.

day six

I am getting a fish and I am naming it Harriet. I recently saw the movie Harriet and am now a super fan. I do this. I know nothing (due to my resistance to actually learn anything during my formal education years), then I see a movie, read an article, or see a play… and from that moment on, I cannot learn enough. I learned American history from becoming obsessed with the musical Hamilton. I am currently in my Underground Railroad/Harriet Tubman period. Since there are no plans for more children, and we already have two cats and a dog, I will get a fish… because I must name something Harriet.

Harriet the fish will do fine in our home, we have a pretty good track record for fish. Carl the fish was won at a town fair many moons ago. One of those events where clubs, sports teams, boosters, non-profits all sell something or run games in order to make money. The Boy Scouts sell sausage and pepper sandwiches in a tent run by parents and kids… it is a throw back to small town life at its best. Back to Carl the fish. One year, after running a booth for some cause all morning I needed to fill in for my husband grilling at the Boy Scout tent. Our daughter who was probably 10 or so was on her own, checking in every once in a while in person, those lovely days before cell phones. Midday she came flying up to my grill. “Mom! I am leaving this here ok? Bye!” A wave and a smile and she was off. Her stuff on the curb, halfway under a grill, on the first really warm day of the year. Hours later, the sun going down, exhausted and covered in grill grease, I went to grab her stuff to head home for a cozy night. I was sickened to find…. a fish…the poor thing had been boiling in the sun, under a grill, in a barely tied plastic bag and a few dribbles of water. The bag was so hot it felt like it would melt away. Oh. My. Gosh. Olivia came bopping over excited to introduce me her prize… “his name is Carl, we have to go to the pet store to get him food and a bowl”. Well it was a no brainer this fish would probably not last the walk home, let alone the night, but she would have none of it. She knew he would be fine, she just knew. So, we went to the pet store, mostly to avoid this becoming a session with her therapist when she turned thirty, “my mother was too cheap to buy fish food for my first pet, and THAT is why I have trouble forming relationships”. Anyway, we put the bowl with poor half cooked Carl on a shelf in the kitchen… and we waited for him to die. He didn’t die. He lived for years. People would forget to feed him, he lived. The cat found him, he lived. Carl the fish was immortal, until we told the poor cat sitter not to worry about Carl, “just give him a sprinkle of food, we promise… you cannot kill Carl”. And with that assurance, Carl died. Ever the fish to do the opposite of what you said, he died as soon as we were sure he couldn’t. And now, after writing all of this… I am getting a succulent and I am naming it Harriet.

Not actually Carl.

Harriet the succulent showed up in the mail today… a bit worn from the cross country trip… she will be saved. Thanks to Ella and Jacob for this lovely valentine.

fb flashback

My little man and I used to do a lot of reading before I walked him to school. I had an hour between when his mom dropped him off and when we needed to get out the door. Avoiding screens and trying to engage with him, Dr. Seuss became our buddy. Getting the little guy to laugh was always my goal… a connection, a win. Crazy voices, odd accents, pacing the rhymes correctly… it all helped. One day we were reading Go Dog Go. It’s pretty tame, none of the crazy drama of Green Eggs and Ham, but some fun moments. There was the hat schtick. “Doooo youuuuu like my hatttttt?” In a pompous voice. “No, I do not”, in a flat bored voice. Cute but not the best. The best section… the part that got him hysterical every single time we read it was the one with the crossing guard. When that little bird screamed “STOOOPPPPP the light is red” making the cars screech to a halt… it was beyond hysterical. Looking at the picture below, it seems tame enough, but not the way I read it. It was over the top screeching, yelling, a most dramatic moment, producing milk out of the nose hysteria. Turn back the pages so you can read it again… hysteria. And every single time he reacted with tears in his eyes, gasping for breath, I felt I had won the lottery. Connection.

We still walk to school each morning. My little man is now almost as tall as me. Besides some cuddling while he plays legos, he mostly does his own thing. We have a few quips back and forth but he is growing up, as kids do. I am no longer hysterical. When I feel the need for some old time silliness I wait for our walk to school when we will see Doris our crossing guard (who clearly studied at the Go Dog Go Academy of screaming). We hit her corner and wait for her to put up her stop sign… as we pass I bend down and pantomime “STOOOPPPPP” and he cracks up, snorting, eyes twinkling, and repeating the next few lines from the book. Making eye contact, skip in his step. Connecting. 

day five

I am a Survivor fan… I have watched every single season. Watching the new season’s first episode of all winners really struck a nerve. Amber a mom of four young daughters said the very thing I thought to myself many moons ago… when I was filling in my application for the show. “Being back on Survivor will be a vacation, no kids, no laundry, no wondering what to cook for dinner”.

I think my kids were 6 and 8 when I decided to apply. I filled out the form (which includes a box you check that they are not liable if you die), I storyboarded my video concept (a day in the life of a mom… working full time, class parent for two kids, Sunday school teacher, Girl Scout leader of eighteen… my video would show that being on Survivor would be a walk in the park, a vacation). I was ready to take the plunge. When I expressed this plan at dinner the excitement was over the top, the kids were thrilled, mom would be on TV! Thrilled until one of them asked if I could tell them all what happened each night at dinner… they thought I would be coming home nightly after my “Survivor work”. You know, traveling back from Fiji each evening to make dinner and chat about my day. Needless to say, after explaining that I will be gone for 45 days, and after witnessing the flood of tears flowing onto their dinner plates, I did not apply.

My generation of moms made these kind of decisions all the time. Being one of the first working mom generations, we still insisted on doing everything for our families ourselves, and in doing so we missed out on some opportunities. When I watched this young mom of four little girls say she would be “on vacation” as she prepared to race, starve, climb, solve puzzles, hunt for idols, and basically live off the earth, I got a bit teared up. I am so proud of these super moms… they know it is ok to hire cleaning people, exercise daily, get groceries delivered… and even leave their families for a bit. It is dreamy that they can afford these things, two high paying jobs needed to do so, but there is no shame in outsourcing and enjoying your life if you can afford it. It is ok to follow your dreams. I am thrilled for Amber’s little girls who get to see their mom win physical challenges and try and outsmart competitors. I am impressed that these young moms have the strength to get out there (in bikinis), and kick some ass. And (spoiler alert) if they get voted off the main island, they can show their kids what it is like to fight their way back… because it isn’t over til it’s over. Teaching their kids that if they get tossed aside, to walk away holding their head high while figuring out a plan b. Grit, self preservation, me time. All I can say is swoon…you go girls. I bow down to you.

day four

Today I saw a post on FB from a friend who just lost a bestie to cancer. These two ladies met at a bereavement group as raw young widows. They became friends and supported each other at the worst time of their lives. One of them remarried. The other died from cancer. Life is not fair, life just is. Below is the story of the wedding, the happier of the two endings. We are on this earth for a blink, let’s try and enjoy it.

April 2019: We just attended a wedding. People our age (or so) who had both lost their spouses in the last few years. They met at bereavement group, became friends, became more, became married. Attending a wedding of people of a certain age is enchanting. Everyone is comfortable in their skin, no spray tans or 6 inch heals. Vows are wise and funny. Mistakes happen and they are laughed off. Butterflies are to fly out of a beautiful silver box representing the new beginning… but when the box is opened they are in individual glassine envelopes, looking very dead. We wait and watch as the bride opens an envelope with hope. We applaud in relief as the butterfly flies in a circle and lands on the brides dress… keeping her company for a bit. The groom hands out butterfly envelopes and it soon becomes an interactive experience, a community. A happy surprise that would have left a young bride in tears. We watch as the friends from the bereavement group dance, dance so big, so hard, so full of life. They dance for the happiness of their friend who found a new start, they dance for the partners they lost, they dance because they can. I could not get on the dance floor with my guy, it felt selfish. Looking back of course we should have danced with the widows. No wasted moments. Life is short. Weddings always teach us to remember who we love, a renewal of why we are with the ones we are with. This one reminded me to live. 

fb flashback

I really dislike Valentine’s Day. It is torture. Even for the little ones…drama over what themed cards to give out, are they cool characters, is there candy attached, is it cool candy? Did mom write them out? Does your child have fine motor skill issues, if so writing them takes days, with illegible results and many tears. It is just another “holiday” to emphasize who has more money, who has more time, who has more advanced kids. Ugh. I am glad that is over. My most embarrassing Valentine’s Day was in high school. Chubby and the invisible bestie to one of the most popular girls in the school… It. Was. Brutal. Roses were purchased and delivered during classes throughout the day. The longest day of the year. Perky, adorable, and loud student council members standing in the front of the classroom delivering the red popularity markers. My friend had so many roses she couldn’t carry them. It was a living rose piechart of popularity. One year… in a delicious and thoughtful gesture… my bestie made her boyfriend buy me a rose. He signed it in a clever way, so I had no idea it was from him. I was thrilled to receive a rose and hopeful it was from one particular boy. Confusion ensued. I am sure you can guess that it did not end with the person of my dreams showing up to declare their love while great 80s music played in the background… no John Hughes movie moment here. It ended with her boyfriend yelling “why did you make me buy her a rose, she doesn’t even know it’s from me!” in a very crowded auditorium. I’m not sure what happened next. I probably ate a pack of Lindys chocolate chip cookies. What I do know is I hate Valentine’s Day to this day. I’m still hoping there might be a day when someone sweeps me off my feet in some ridiculous romantic gesture… but I don’t have high hopes about it. I married someone who hates Valentine’s Day more than I do. Go figure. 

day three

I am kind of afraid of an upcoming wedding. This June, my first ever nephew… someone I adore to pieces, who is all things good, and talented, and funny, and kind. His fiancé is beyond adorable, smart, and appropriately sassy. Family will congregate and we will be joyful. They are an amazing group of people. I should be so excited. The problem is, it is in South Dakota. Did you know it costs as much to fly to South Dakota as it does to fly to Paris? I was afraid of Paris for a long time too, then I went and I completely adored it. I have been to South Dakota numerous times and loved it every single visit. I spent much of my honeymoon in South Dakota and it was glorious. I should not be afraid. My husband is one of 5 kids, his mom is one of 9 kids, his dad is one of 17 kids. I kid you not, 19 births, 17 survived. Small South Dakotan farm, many kids to a bed, many hands to help with the work. It blows my mind. The extended family in South Dakota have always been extremely warm, and beyond inviting, I have felt very loved. On our honeymoon hundreds of aunts, uncles, and cousins welcomed us with open arms at the yearly family picnic in Pierre, SD (pronounced pier, not Pierre… as in the boy who did not care). They got me on a horse for the first time (ride would be a huge exaggeration), they created a cozy honeymoon tent for us in the middle of the park (proof below). We slept amongst the offspring of the amazing Elizabeth and Edward Nemec, the parents, grandparents, great-grandparents of the crowds sleeping around us. The youngest cousins outside our tent listening and giggling at what might be happening inside the tent… I assure you, given the setting, it was beyond a G-rated situation. Many relatives have since come visit us in NY, such fun times. Until Fall 2016. In Fall 2016 lines were drawn, labels became tattooed on, beliefs were spouted and anyone who differed in thought became “the other”. People (on both sides) behaved poorly and I became scared of South Dakota. I would joke with the South Dakotan snowflakes… “they will tar and feather me if I step foot in your state”. Nobody disagreed. Hmmmm. Nobody disagreed. A few said “don’t worry, we will have your back”, which is lovely and reassuring, but having a posse is not the way I attend most weddings. One said “don’t worry, they are scared of you”, again, not exactly what I was hoping to hear. Sigh. It will all be just fine. The conflicts are yesterday’s news. I am thinking I should have been a lot less outspoken, less Queens, NY (an ok delivery for the President but not a 5 foot woman also from Queens). I am thinking of course they are the same kind and giving and loving people I met on my honeymoon. I am thinking I am being ridiculous. I am thinking I need to keep telling myself this because I really want to enjoy every second of this wedding… an amazingly joyous occasion where two completely delicious people declare their love for each other. Swoon.