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 are people 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.

My Easter Peeps

Renew. Rebirth. Hope and light. Spring celebrations, bright colors and flowers…sheer joy. I love Easter. To be honest I love all holidays, but Easter is pretty delicious. Happiness galore, great music, flowers. What’s not to love?

This morning I was watching church while doing my exercises, the beauty of Zoourch. Feeling the need for some more music I put on the Apple Music Easter Mix. Good stuff. The classics, Ride On, Ride On In Majesty, Thine Be the Glory, then…The Old Rugged Cross. And with that…the waterworks came.

The Old Rugged Cross was one of my boyfriends favorite songs. My guy Lew had many girlfriends, basically every woman who knew him. Lew passed a few years ago, he was over 90. A WWII vet, brilliant, decent to the core, a man of conviction and honor. He was a collector of music, a collector of knowledge. He loved my Olivia and I loved him. Sigh. I think I loved Lew so much because he reminded me of another one of my loves…my Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill grew up in a two-family home in Queens with my dad. Note: did you know it is no longer politically correct to say two-family home, the correct terminology is now multi-unit home. Please also note I am ignoring that advice. Uncle Bill and my Dad grew up as brothers, both only children, they were more like siblings than many siblings. My Uncle Bill loved collecting music and knowledge just like Lew. Uncle Bill also served in WWII, liberating one of the camps. Uncle Bill loved music, walking into his home each Easter meant a mandatory lesson in classic hymns and wine. Men of a different generation. Really good men.

This is a ramble. Holidays are emotional for me.

I am both embracing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel…and mourning yet another holiday without my family. We are scattered and we miss. We wait, we wait to be together, to sing loud, to have egg hunts, to be one. My Easter Peeps.

Wishing you a beautiful day…no matter what renewal you are celebrating, embrace it and enjoy it. We have been given the gift of learning how to miss, and with that we will appreciate each other so much more.

Oh… and if you want to experience the goodness of Lew, just search his name…Lew McKinney and Veteran’s Day…at pctv76.org you will be blown away.

Easter Basket found in the pantry… black jelly beans rule.

Bathrooms

Last night on a book club Zoom I was joking that responses to my swoons can be pretty random…an entry about Post-its might get more comments than a gut-wrenching topic. I was kidding of course, there is no Post-it Swoon — yet. The point is, you just never know what will grab people. We shall see how “Bathrooms” goes…

I have joined a mid-century interiors FB page, a friend is the queen of reposting swoon-worthy older homes and I took the bait on this site. I now live for this FB page. No more trolls or politics for me…give me groovy bathrooms and kitchens. Pink, black, teal, yellow, bright and uplifting with a touch of ridiculous. Joy.

Bathrooms.

My Grandma Muench lived in a two family home in Glendale, Queens, a German neighborhood where you could eat off the front stoop of any home. Spotless. Her apartment was bright, beiges, pinks, mint greens, meticulous. Snack time meant Sara Lee pound cake and tea served on the blue and white china. We sat at the table under the gaze of the big black iron bull holding the “for show” pans. There was a lot of “for show” in her home. The elegantly shaped couch (the settee), the tall back chairs and drum tables…little sitting areas for polite conversation. Hummel dolls (“pre-war” which was noted every time Hummel dolls came up in conversation, which oddly was quite often, considering I was 6), porcelain dancing figures, and tiny tea cups, Depression era glass filled with tiny pastel colored stones. A little girly girl’s dream. It smelled of JOY Perfume and Clorox. Her bathroom was everything. Pink and black tile, bright window at the end, glistening, extra toilet paper protected by a plastic pink cover, towels you would never dare to touch. The closet just outside the hallway leading to it was filled with powders, perfumes, towels folded so tight and square. Structure, beauty, and not an inch of give.

By the time I was old enough to remember, my Grandma Bohjalian lived in an apartment in Washington Heights. Visiting her meant circling the block for parking, sometimes double parking leaving a note on the window that said “honk if you want us to move”, there was a lot of honking. Walking into the building, high ceilings, intricate tiled lobby, racing to push the black shiny elevator button. The smells…dinners being prepared by people from all over the world. The sounds…elevator clinking at each floor, nothing smooth about it, conversations and tvs from various apartments. Elevator door stalling, then opening, phew, turn left, turn right…Grandma. The long hallway, past the “back bedroom”, the bathroom, the kitchen, into the light filled living room. Dusty rose couches against each wall, intricate fringed rugs covering every inch of the floor, the old wooden radio with the backgammon set and Grandpa’s spittoon underneath…open, airy, perfect for a dance party. I was a bit late for the dance party days, when Grandpa played the oud and my mom belly danced. I would have loved it so.

Grandma Bohjalian’s apartment was all about warmth, the colors, the ability to do cartwheels across the living room, to bounce from bed to bed. The lack of a need to be “proper” meant my favorite painting of a cow was hung on the wall…off center and an inch from the ceiling. Bizarre and wonderful. Dinner around the tiny kitchen table…no room to fit us all until we actually sat, then the magic of a gracious host made it work. Before each meal was the best part of a visit to Grandma’s…the wash up. Her bathroom was black and white. Hexagon tiles, huge square-top pedestal sink, black tiles around the base of the room and 4 feet up to perfectly define the space, deep clawfoot tub, perfection. The only place in the apartment sans warm colors, but to me the warmest place in the world. It was where I had my special Grandma time. Hoisting me up, her belly leaning against my back, my belly against the sink, feet dangling…she turned on the water, once the perfect temperature she rolled the Ivory soap in her hands…then washed my hands in hers…around and around, bliss. Then she dried our hands together in the towel on the sink, and with a little tap, we went back to our lives.

I recently designed the bathroom of my dreams. Deep soaking tub, lots of storage for lovely smelling perfumes and creams, black and white with a bit of adorable in the floral tile pattern. Influenced by my two grandmas…memories…swoon.

On the bright side…

It was a pretty nutty week, my work load is increasing, we had numerous appointments for more X-rays, an MRI, and follow up visits for Olivia’s broken bones. Getting films from the ER visit proved to be like being part of the Hunger Games…and like Katness, I won. The work week ended with us getting takeout food and watching America’s Next Top Model, College Edition. I am not proud, but it is most fascinating. A perfect evening despite the crazy.

Beautiful girls, tall and thin, and competing in crazy challenges…we will dress you like a zombie and you need to look like a zombie but also like a model but not too much like a model or a zombie… go! There are all kinds of prompts and pushes from the producers to create drama, and drama comes out full force. The interesting thing is, watching this as a 54 year old woman I saw a pattern, people who consider themselves the victim, who believe things should be fair, who feel cheated… always lose and get sent home. Their mojo, their essence, gone…poof. The old Tom Brady thing, he doesn’t give a hoot how much people hate him, he is just going to focus on the game…and he ALWAYS wins.

The bright side… focus on the bright side.

I saw this post from my sister-in-law the other day “Has a bee ever landed on you, and instead of getting scared, you appreciate the possibility that you got confused for a flower.” OH MY GOSH I love this so much.

The bright side…

Today we went for a walk on the paths overlooking the Hudson River. Jasmine spent her time sniffing and leaving her scent, I imagine the conversations between the dogs who never get to see each other something like this HI! I’m Jasmine! I just wanted to let you know I think you smell sooooo good and I wish we could have met, but I am leaving a bit of myself here so we can be forever friends, all the best! So sweet, like a pen pal but a pee pal. Towards the end of our hike we ran into another Havanese, they greeted each other, sniffing and wagging tails. Pure joy. Pure pure joy. Do you know what dogs do to me when they are happy I am in their presence? Mouths open with huge grins, tails wagging, they approach me, and they…pee on me. The owners were horrified, Greg and I immediately tried to make them feel better. Don’t worry, this is the third time, the first was a Newfoundland, then a German Shepherd, this is nothing, imagine how much a Newfoundland pees, like a shower, the German Shepherd christened my new Doc Martens, this is nothing…no worries.

The bright side? I appreciate the possibility that dogs confuse me for beings that they want to communicate with, connect with, be with…a forever friend.

Have a great day!