March 5, 2020

The house was freezing, it was still dark. I jumped out of bed 10 minutes before my alarm went off, I always seem to wake up before the alarm. It was going to be the best day. I turned up the heat so the house would be cozy. Packed some seltzers, muffins, and bananas…just in case. Walked the dog, hurry Jasmine, do your thing, I don’t want to be late. Checked arrival status, all good. Off to Newark.

Classic rock, The Pretenders, I love The Pretenders, they remind me of Greg. Potholes galore, must be in the Bronx. Growing up my parents would announce “we’re home” every time we hit the Queens border and the potholes began. George Washington Bridge, lower level, winter filth still coats every surface. I love NY. Twists, turns, side roads, thanks Waze, you have saved me once again. Newark arrivals, pull over on the curb until the cop makes me move. “WE ARE HERE”. They are here. I love the red-eye…an extra full day together. Driving slowly, so so slowly…allowing them to get out of the building…I will do anything to avoid looping around.

I see them, weaving through traffic, laden with their maxed out carry-on bags. I scoot out of the car in the middle of the road, open the hatch, hugs while people beep. The cop does not dare to say a word.

Chatting, whining, laughing. He is here and I can give him a squeeze anytime I want. Bliss. What’s the plan mom? So many plans. Sleep this morning, lunch with friends, dinner then the play in the city. Dad can’t come, he is painting the high school set. Opening night at the HS is tomorrow, oh, and a party, a huge party at our house for everyone involved in the show. I have tickets for you and your friends. Sunday we will have a chill day. Monday we can have your birthday party. Invite who you want. If you meet friends in the city please take the car, no public transportation because of this virus. Just wash your hands…a lot, it will be fine. Don’t hug anyone at the parties. Only hug me.

It’s been a year since those spectacular few days together…before the world changed. Today, there is light at the end of the tunnel, it will not be another year…I am thankful for our health.

Those People

Those people that change your life…strangers…maybe you meet them once or twice. Those people that changed your life because they meant so much to someone else. Because they were such good role models, such good teachers, such good givers of advice. You hear story after story. You feel like you do know them, but you don’t.

I am forever grateful for Ms. Stasi, the famous Ms. Stasi, so many stories. She taught my husband to draw, to see, to create…but most of all she gave him the confidence to reach for the stars, to get out of his comfort zone, to take big risks…to brave the world.

Without Ms. Stasi I would not know my husband or my children.

I am…forever grateful.

I am not a crook…

We were driving our Olivia to a precollege summer session in Vermont. I was anxious, my baby was going away for the first extended period of time, and we had started a little late…I hate to be late. Driving through Connecticut I did that thing…that gradual and clueless acceleration that leads to 88mph in a 65mph zone. I did this on our honeymoon too, in Wyoming. I had never seen a straight flat road with no other cars before…I clocked at 100mph that time. Anyway, back to Connecticut…I was pulled over. The cop came to the window and asked me if I knew how fast I was going. The poor man, what should have been no sir I didn’t…became…oh my gosh no, how fast was I going, we are taking our daughter to a college summer session and I am so nervous and upset, it’s a mom thing, I am a nerd, I teach Sunday school, I am so sorry, I am just so nervous…I did not get a ticket. The fact that I did not get a ticket annoys my husband. You played the Sunday school teacher card, that is shameful. But to be fair, I am a serial oversharer and I had no idea what was coming out of my mouth…it just came out…and do note, the Wyoming cop did not find it remotely charming, he slapped me with a huge ticket.

My first run-in with the law was when I was 16. The gaggle of kids in my universe would wander the neighborhood with cases of beer and loud music blasting from a boombox. One night we ended up in front of my house and the police drove up asking us to disperse. I walked up to the officer saying something like you can’t make us disperse, this is my house…bad move. My parents were asked to come outside and I learned a very valuable lesson…never talk back to law enforcement. I have never seen my father so angry. The color of my skin allowed me to walk away with only embarrassment. Privilege.

I currently have very little design work, so when word that the second round of PPP loans for small businesses came out, I was pleased. My accountant offered to apply for me, no brainer…yes thank you. I was denied. Why? I have all the right paperwork, I filed my taxes in February, and my business was down enough to make me poster child for a loan. What could the problem be? Then I heard back from the accountant, he asked, do you want the good news or the bad news? Good please. We figured out the problem. Bad please. They say you have a criminal record.

I am not a crook! I am a Sunday school teacher…remember?

I have spent the last two days doing criminal record searches, getting credit reports, visiting my bank, asking the local police department for my non-existent criminal record, and finally…visiting my lawyer.

Things I learned…
• My credit was not breached. Woot woot.
• Getting your own criminal record (or lack thereof) is not as easy as it should be.
• Your local police chief can write a letter declaring you a good citizen with no convictions—in your hometown, which is amazingly adorable, but not so helpful.

The official letter stating I am not a felon has been sent to the powers that be. Now I just wait…but I wait with dear friends texting me positive thoughts, amazing accountants jumping through bureaucratic hoops, and wonderful lawyers who go above and beyond at the drop of a dime. I might not have a loan but I have an amazing support system.


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.