Friends, after DIY’ing it as entrepreneurs are known to do, I’ve finally put on big-girl pants after nine-years and have a “real” website!
All blog posts from now on will be posted there (don’t worry, all the past blog-goodness has migrated over).
So please, come join me in Big Girl Land!
1/2 a block from this non-descript, gritty, urban corner, in the heart of vibrant, noisy Pilsen…
is a door that leads to…
The Secret Garden.
Aka where we’re getting married September 1st.
We had dinner there [well, at Honky Tonk BBQ down the street, the Garden's owner] last night, our first time back since we chose the space in December. We loved it then, snow, bare trees, brown grass and all. On our way there yesterday, I got nervous that perhaps we loved it because we were DONE with the venue-search and the “When’s the date?” inquiries, that perhaps it was everything we wanted because what we wanted was to not be looking for a wedding-space anymore. Perhaps it was a huge mistake.
Nerves for naught.
It’s exactly what we want because it’s us.
From the mismatched china to the odd-shaped yard to the simple yet beautiful white lights to the wild greenery that isn’t too manicured to the bikeablity [if any of our guests ride bikes to the wedding, much LOVE!!!] to the tasty and unpretentious pulled pork to the “Whatever you want!” staff so not like the traditional “You must use our photographer, our staff, our everything!” wedding-venues to the endearing worn and faded fences, floors, and tables from not neglect but from love.
And bonus, its name is a sentimental, tug at heart strings aspect, as as a young lass with mind of its own biracial hair and mismatched homemade clothes, I read and re-read The Secret Garden over and over. I so enjoyed rediscovering this literary gem –
Mary Lennox is a sour-faced, sassy, 10-year-old girl, who is born in India to selfish wealthy British parents who had not wanted her and were too wrapped up in their own lives. She was taken care of primarily by servants, who pacify her as much as possible to keep her out of the way. Spoiled and with a temper, she is unaffectionate, angry, rude and obstinate. Later, there is a cholera epidemic which hits India and kills her mother, father and all the servants. She is discovered alone but alive after the house is empty. She is sent to Yorkshire, England to live with her uncle, Archibald Craven at his home called Misselthwaite Manor. While exploring the gardens, Mary finds a key belonging to the untended garden. She asks her maidservant for garden tools, which Martha has delivered by Dickon, her twelve-year-old brother. Mary and Dickon take a liking to each other, as Dickon has a soft way with animals and a good nature…
Just like Fiancé.
And bonus bonus, as we sat with the Honky Tonk coordinator last night, recounting how heart-warmed we’ve been by all the folks willing to partner with us and make this an almost 100% bartered wedding, after we listed the few holes we were still looking to fill [rehearsal-dinner caterer (main course only, dessert taken care of), flowers, and wedding wine and liquor], she completely surprised us with “We’ll take care of flowers for you.” What the what?!?
It’s as if this next step in our lives has been blessed by the Fairy of All Things Good. Which, when you’re marrying your best friend, the person who loves you flaws and all, seems apt.
The Secret Garden except is from Wikipedia
When my first film, dating rubik’s cube, made with $150 [mostly tape-stock] and with me wearing the hats of videographer, producer, editor, distributor, sound engineer, and lighting-tech, won Best Short Documentary at a film festival months after I started my “Oh shit! I just got fired, what am I going to do?!?” company, the seeds of one of the smartest business decisions I’ve ever made were planted. Simplicity and Content is king. If you provide a good product, people will ignore /forgive oopsies; like a cat walking in and out of a shot or lighting that casts menacing shadows on your subjects. And you’ll be able to enjoy your project as you won’t have spiraled into debt or made impossible promises to realize your dream. The reasons my film was well-received were the topic [who doesn't love a good dating story?] and the cast with their hilarious, insightful, open-book reflections, and the reason I had so much fun with it was that I had nothing to lose and no one to answer to.
My Simplicity and Content realization came front and center on Sunday when I took Mom to the fabulous, you need to go to this next year! Listen To Your Mother (LTYM).
Tired of the traditional brunch, Botanic Garden stroll, A Midsummer Night’s Dream matinee, and wanting more than a card and flowers, when I first heard of LTYM, I immediately knew it was the perfect Mother’s Day gift. Even if it was a week early.
Seventeen women, let’s say average age of forty, from office manager for an electrical construction company to stay-at-home mom to owner of a boutique ad agency, of the city and the suburbs, of all shapes and hairstyles, of all volumes and patterned-dresses, oh so courageously took the stage one by one to share stories of motherhood. Cracked nipples to farting in Target. Hating the Perfect Mom to miscarriages. Screaming matches with your child to the death of your child. We, the audience, laughed and cried, and most wonderfully, collectively nodded knowingly. There was something for everyone. I’m not a mother, but I can certainly relate to ill-projected disdain for Size Two women and parents whom you love on Tuesday and want to strangle on Wednesday.
While I throughly enjoyed the plethora of entertainment of the afternoon, it was the entrepreneur, not the audience member, in me that was scribbling furiously on the program throughout the ninety-minutes. By the end of the show, as you will often find me, I was drunk on entrepreneurial kool-aid. Because LTYM reinforced and made cohesive the all-over the place musings I’ve had for years on event curation. And really, on life in general.
Reading the founder’s [Ann Imig] note pre-show got the wheels turning -
I created LTYM because I found myself searching for a bigger audience for my voice, and the voices of other mothers online. In 2010, I directed the first LTYM Show in Madison, Wisconsin. When I shared videos of that first performance online, I heard request after request from women wanting to produce LTYM in their own communities. The groundswell was undeniable, inspiring a national expansion–with performances in five cities in 2011, ten in 2012, to this season’s twenty-four city lineup.
She goes on to use words like humbled, movement, phenomenal stories, resound around the world, celebrate.
Those are the exact terms and sentiments I use when elevator-pitching Mac ‘n Cheese Productions (MnC). More importantly, that others use when elevator-pitching MnC. So much so that I had to create a Mac ‘n Cheese World Domination form to keep track of all the outside of Chicago inquires.
You know that feeling you get when someone articulates exactly what’s in your head/journal/heart/dreams? That feeling is what started pin-balling around my insides on Sunday. While I’ve achieved most of my professional goals over my eight years of self-employment, there are two not yet crossed off the list:
- Travel for work
- Be able to say Yes! to people in San Francisco, Boston, and Birmingham who ask, “Can you bring Mac ‘n Cheese here?!?”
LTYM uses the guaranteed to succeed formula for curating a sold-out, feel-good, scalable event. It’s a formula I’ve been using for years, without realizing it was a formula –
Fill A Hole
+ [Mass Quantities of] Everyday People
+ Universal Topics
+ No Bells ‘n Whistles
= Event Success
Fill A Hole
Imig wanted more exposure for herself and her mommy-blogger cohorts. I wanted fun, lasting, face to face, comfortable, economical, meaningful opportunities to meet potential friends, clients, and dates for myself and my “there has to be another option other than bar happy-hour” cohorts; I wanted the summer-camp environment, for adults. Not seeing the solution offered, Imig and I filled the holes in our lives ourselves.
Chances are if you want something that doesn’t exist, others want it too. If you can provide it for them, you catapult into cult-leader status.
[Mass Quantities of] Everyday People
One of the reasons we’re able to fill the 700+ seat Park West with each Fear Experiment [FE], one of my MnC offerings, is that the participants are NOT dancers, improvisers, singers or steppers. For most of them, this is their debut and encore performance. We all have those professional-creative friends who invite us to a show of theirs once a month if not more. There’s no urgency to go as you know there’ll be another chance next month. Not so with the FEers. One night and one night only. That’s how we’re not only able to sell out but to get out of towners from New York, Seattle, Arizona to come see those billed as “bad” performers. The audience is filled with friends and family. Of the 3200+ FE audience members over the years, I would guess that about 13 of them didn’t know someone in the show.
So it was at LTYM. The Everyday Woman from your street, your church, your book club butterflying into a storyteller. A kickass storyteller at that. Most will probably not stand before a packed theater again. Knowing this, their cheering sections of loved ones came out in droves and went wild when they took the stage.
Every FE has about forty non-performers. The LTYM I attended had seventeen non-storytellers. Selling out a theater doesn’t seem so insurmountable when each person just needs to sell seven, ten, sixteen tickets. As Obama learned in the 2008 campaign, a lot of people doing a little can take you far.
Fear Experiment fills voids we’ve all experienced -
- I am stuck in a rut and need a challenge
- I want to make more friends, friends who are positive, up for anything, from all walks of life, and open-minded
- I’m sitting on the sidelines and life is passing me by
- I’ve always wanted to _____ but never had the guts
When each LTYM woman walked onto the stage, the claps were friendly and supportive; when each woman walked off, the claps were deep, appreciative, thankful. This is because the storytellers not only bared their souls, they did it via situations that’ve touched us all.
There is nothing more powerful than a room full of strangers nodding knowingly, as each is transported back to their own memories yet is never more aware of morphing into a square in the community-quilt sewn together by shared-experience.
Get someone to laugh or cry, they’ll remember you. Get them to both laugh and cry, they become a member of the kool-aid drinking cult.
FE and LTYM audience members laugh and cry. Heart-breaks during a woman’s sharing that she joined FE as part of journey back from alcoholism turned into heart-leaps when the same woman belted out a solo in the Beatles’ Somebody to Love/Help. During a story about teenage abortion, the woman across the aisle from me who had just been cracking up at the recounting of a black lesbian trying to adopt, streamed such tears and had such a look of knowing-pain on her face, it was all I could do to not lean over and give her a squeeze.
Standing in front of 700+ radiating support your way or sitting before people being incredibly vulnerable is the most magical, heart-lifting atmosphere of goodness. Because the participants are not professionals and are doing something that admittedly scares them, the audience is rooting for them from before they even step on stage, and you can feel that reverberating throughout the theater.
No Bells ‘n Whistles
I subscribed to this way of thinking from the start not because I thought it was a fantastic idea but because I didn’t have any money for bells and whistles. Blessing in disguise.
There’s something refreshing about shows that don’t have smoke-machines, curtains-pulls, and strobe-lights.
Materials needed for LTYM
- Printed story for each participant
Materials needed for FE
- Folding chairs
No props, costumes,or set-changes [as FE has grown over the years, we've had some of these things but they're absolutely superflous; the shows would still kill without any of it]. Sometimes less is more. And wonderfully, usually less costs less.
In this day in age of having fourteen tabs open in your browser, popular quick-fire presentation formats like TED and Pecha Kucha, and needing to check your phone constantly, our ability to stay focused for any amount of time is quickly degrading. FE and LTYM address this societal stumble by producing tight, fast-paced shows that leave no room for checking texts.
FE is a 2.5-3 hour show! but no segment is longer than ten-minutes. Stepping, song, video, stepping, talking, song, and so the back and forth goes. Despite its length, audience members often comment on how fast the night is.
Brief intro of each LTYM speaker and a six-ish minute story, x 17. No curtain, no lights-out, no intermission. Quick quick quick.
He/she doesn’t need to actually love spreadsheets [though why wouldn't you?!], the curator just needs to be organized, a good communicator, and efficient. I don’t know Tracey Becker or Melisa Wells, the producers of Chicago’s LTYM, but gauging from the seamless transitions, the well-thought out order of speakers, the quality of the stories in terms of arc, detail, and timing, and the lack of any production downtime or tech-snafus, I would bet that Becker and Wells are organized, good communicators, and efficient.
I majored in English and Sociology. I have no formal business or theater training. Before the first Fear Experiment, in 2010, I had never produced show. When searching for a venue, I pretended I knew what “proscenium” and “marley” meant. The fact that I produce two three-hour, forty+ participant shows a year for an audience of 700+ continually makes me stop and say, “What is my life and how did I get here?!” Well, via a lot of spreadsheets, google docs, and other tools that keep the life of a curator as sane as a curator can be. Besides the thanks from those in the show, the comments that mean the most to me are those from the audience and the venue regarding how professional and smooth FE is. I’m just a girl who likes boxed-wine and flip-flops! I keep thinking someone’s going to arrest me for fraud. But until then, I’ll keep wearing this disguise of Producer, behind the veil of spreadsheets.
If you’re not only professional but also a nice person to collaborate with, so much the better. Sponsors, vendors, and just general people who love you go a loooooong way. Whether it’s volunteer ticket-takers or videographers, or a venue that says thanks with comp’d tickets, reserved seats, and free drinks at a sold-out show, life is made a lot sweeter when folks are on your side. Divas need not apply!
And so that’s the formula for event success that became clear to me after all these years, sitting there watching these fabulous LTYM women –
Fill A Hole + [Mass Quantities of] Everyday People + Universal Topics + Emotions + No Bells ‘n Whistles + ADD-Friendly + Spreadsheet-Lover
A bonus addition to the formula – Mommy Bloggers! LTYM was sponsored by BlogHer and many of the storytellers were bloggers. The blogging community in general is tight; the mommy-blogger hemisphere? If there was ever a group that epitomized community… A thumbs-up from them is like an Oprah Book Club seal on the cover of your book. If you can get in the good graces of a large, active, and influential community like Mommy Bloggers, your event will have no problem garnering attention.
A bonus bonus addition to the formula – both LTYM and FE have Do Good components. LTYM donates of portion of ticket proceeds to a non-profit. FE incorporates an under-served community, from students at a low-income elementary school to adults affected by homelessness, into the three-month experience. Besides being awesome due to the helping one another’ness, Doing Good also often opens more doors as far as press, ticket-sales, and sponsorship opportunities.
Imig took LTYM to twenty-four cities three years after her baby’s birth. Let’s see where Mac ‘n Cheese and I will end up – LTYM has encouraged me to spread my wings! Sunday’s outing with Mom + the release of my TEDx talk Monday, which has garnered me lots of outside of Chicago attention = okay Universe, I hear you; I’ll stop making lists and start DOING.
**Plea to audience members of these types of shows
Chances are you’re coming to see one person in the show. After your loved one gets his/her time in the spotlight, please don’t leave! I was appalled at Ignite Chicago a month ago when someone’s entire cheering section left after their rockstar was done; the same thing happened on Sunday. People leaving is heartbreaking for the presenters that have yet to spotlight and heartbreaking for curators who’ve spent countless hours sending emails, promoting, pep-talking, editing, taking care of a bazillion little details. Stay for the entire show.
**Of note from the LYTM website
“Do I have to be a mother to participate? NO. Write about your mother, write about a grandparent or another person who raised you. Write about your desire or difficulties becoming a mother. Write about single-fatherhood. Whatever you write, as long as it’s your authentic story and a tribute to mothering, it should be appropriate for auditions.”
April 22nd – After ridiculous, “is this really happening?” success creating an almost 100% bartered-wedding, I decided to see what seven minutes on Twitter could do. We’re batting almost 1.000 with local folks we know, from friends to acquaintances, so I was curious to see what’d happen with corporate cold-call shout-outs so to speak.
Some didn’t respond at all. Most of the responses were similar to:
Very nice. But let’s be honest, not the free flight or 1st class upgrade I was hoping for. (I’ve never been in 1st class, is it as amazing as I dream it to be?!?! One of these days. Friendster stock will be taking off soon, right?)
And that’s how on April 26th I found myself on the phone with a friendly Canadian (is there any other type?) giving us free stuff.
I tried my hardest to make this a bartership, as opposed to a freebie, bullet-pointing all the awesomeness we could offer. Perhaps doing things just because and not for anything in return is Canadian-law. Well, arrest me, I’m going to at least publicly thank you! (I also tried finding a snail mail address to write a thank-you note but I guess internet-sleuth is not a title I can claim.)
Due to childcare and illness issues, earlier this week, three! of my five speakers on a panel I curated cancelled last minute. That and bad weather are an Event Planner’s worst nightmare. All of the planning, the promotion, the webpage creation, the logistical emails…oy. Ironically, I had created the event four months in advance so as to save any scrambling (patted myself on the back a few times for being such a long-term visionary) and it was a panel on balancing life as an entrepreneur, delving into time-management, efficiency, and organization. So much for any of those!
The continual stream of inquiries I get from strangers and friends alike, asking me some version of the questions “How do you stay so organized? How do you juggle everything? Can I pick your brain about _____?” combined with the speaker cancellations resulted in me jumping on my own panel at the eleventh hour; luckily, it was still a fab evening. I wasn’t stoned by the masses who had come to see not-me, folks enjoyed drink and food by Chocolate Shop Wine and The Cooking Chicks, and discussion, both informal during the un-networking and formal during the panel, was thought-provoking and collaborative.
Steered by Miki Johnson, Tricia Meyer of Meyer Law, Bryn McCoy of Citizen Made, and I of Mac ‘n Cheese Productions shared personal stories about being proverbial wearer of many hats female small business owners, and tips and tricks that’ve made our lives easier. Since there were so many ohhh’s and ahhh’s when I mentioned some of the simple ‘n free tools I use, thought I’d share them with you, dear blog-reader, in hopes that you may find some calm in any chaos you may have in your life. Even if the chaos is just an inbox with an overwhelming number of unread emails.
Some of the list inclusions have nothing to do with time-management or the like, but are entities that’ve enriched my life via personal development or saving a buck or two. If you have your own life-savers, do share!
Fifteen Life of Yes! Loves
- Rapportive – Rapportive shows you everything about your contacts right inside your inbox. Photo of them, their title, where they work, and links to their social media accounts, so you can link to them right there, without having to leave gmail.
- Boomerang – If you’re looking for a simple system to send off emails at a specified date, Boomerang does the trick wonderfully. It also tracks emails to remind you to follow up with someone, and reminds you if someone doesn’t get back to you.
- Buffer – Buffer makes your life easier with a smarter way to schedule the great content you find. Fill up your Buffer at one time in the day and Buffer automagically posts them for you through the day. Simply keep that Buffer topped up to have a consistent social media presence all day round, all week long.
- LastPass – This free password manager and form filler relieves the stress of trying to remember a slew of passwords. If you regularly move between multiple computers, devices and operating systems, LastPass securely stores and gives you access to any of your account credentials.
- Swizzle – Subscribed to tons of newsletters you no longer read but still get? Swizzle helps you easily unsubscribe from unwanted commercial email and rolls up the emails you do want into one simple daily digest.
- HelloSign – no more printing out a document, signing it, scanning it, and sending! Digitize your signature and do it all in Gmail.
- ToDoist – online ToDoList. I love always having access to my list! (And Fiancé and I are using WeDoist to plan our wedding)
- Doodle – If you’re trying to find a convenient time to meet several people. No more 23 emails back and forth trying to find a time that works for all!
- Canned Responses - If you’re sick of typing out the same reply every time someone emails you with a common question, now you can compose your reply once and save the message text with the “Canned responses” button. Later, you can open that same message and send it again and again.
- Airbnb – Our fave travel-lodging site! If you’d rather stay in a home than in a hotel, this is for you. We had a gorgeous condo for $37 a night in Asheville, NC, and just booked our Hawaii honeymoon with them.
- Prezi – stop using Powerpoint for presentations! Easy, fun way to make you look like a creative genius. Just don’t go overboard on the zooming.
- Lifehacker – my go to resource for all things random yet useful, from technology reviews to DIY projects to how to save money tips.
- Power2Switch – Power2Switch is the easiest way to switch your electricity supplier and save money on your electric bill. Since I switched in the Fall, have saved over $80, for doing nothing but saying no thanks, ComEd!
- Uber – request a cab ride anytime anywhere using this awesomely simple app! No cash is exchanged, even tip, it all goes on the credit card linked to your account. I usually get rides in five minutes.
- Dabble – Whether learning a new skill, dusting off a rusty one, or finding a new pastime, Dabble makes it easy to try something new. Or you can be a teacher instead of a student, and earn some extra income doing what you love!!! [I've had 20+ students at all my How to Design a Life of Yes! classes thus far; was going to take a break for awhile but so energized by awesome last class, added another!]
When then-Boyfriend first asked me about rings, my romantic response was “If you spend more than $100, I’ll be mad.” And I meant it. It wasn’t one of those “Don’t worry about getting me a gift Honey, your love is all I need” comments when you really DO want a gift and get mad at him when he doesn’t decipher your true meaning [I LOATHE those games and the lack of them in our relationship was one of the key ways I knew he was the one].
I’ve never been into labels or caring if an item is “real.” I’m much prouder of a pair of $35 Canolo Flahnik’s out of a dude’s trunk than a pair of $965 Manolo Blahnik’s out of a Lincoln Park boutique. When someone compliments something of mine, if I can add “And I got it on sale for ____!”, all the better.
When it comes to jewelry, I’m a Claire’s girl, not a Tiffany girl. So I didn’t think I’d care what others thought of my ring. But since getting engaged last May, starting immediately with reactions to my engagement Facebook post -
Holy shit! Congratulations and WOW!
CONGRATULATIONS!!!!! I just screamed at work. The order of seeing things was gorgeous ring, Batman, Saya!!! and [Fiance]!!!!!
OMG, that’s so awesome, congrats SAYA!!! AND wow, look at that rock, GORGEOUS!!!
Holy crapolie!! Congrats!!
Love everything about this post- the partnership, the photo, the RING!
Holy bat ring! I like your rock. Tell Mr Hillman he’s the man.
Sorry, did you post some text with this picture? i was in a trance with the beautiful shiny rock on your hand. congrats, guys!! awesome-sauce!!
Is that at least 3 carats total weight or a good camera angle? And what’s the cleavage angle on her?
Congrats and I have to agree with so many others- that ring is gorgeous!!!
Damn girl that ring is BIG!!!! Congrats!
That ring looks massive! Well done!!
Yay, Saya!!! So happy for you and , of course, the ring ain’t too shabby.
Oh My Gosh!!! Congratulations!!!!!!!! Nice rock!!!!!!!!!!
Whoa–there’s a rock! So happy for you!
That’s a rock alright! Congrats!!!
HOLY AMAZING — we could serve a meal on that ring! Congratulations!!!!
Congrats, Saya! And nice bling.
– and continuing on through today, when people take my hand in their hand and bring it uncomfortably close to their eyeballs, twisting and turning my appendage like a chicken on a rotisserie spit, making comments like “Fiance done good!”, feelings of discomfort surface. I was/am (naively?) surprised at all the comments on its size and implied cost.
I know nothing about rings but I assume that if mine was real, it’d be about a gazillion dollars. I became horrified that people thought my engagement ring was an expensive ring.
- I’m the girl who wore $3.50 Old Navy flip-flops to her Commencement Ball!
- I’m self-employed; frugality is my oxygen!
- I don’t wear make-up, heels, or nylons!
- I’d so much rather travel, technology, a class, fine-dining than jewelry!
When Fiance told me he had no clue what to look for and asked for direction, we smooshed our shared-love of efficiency and organization; I created Dropbox folders, one marked “No” and one marked “Yes,” with about twenty images in each of rings I didn’t like and rings I loved, as well as a document called Ring Thoughts, my very important opinions on all things sparkly [Dropbox is awesome! If you're not using it for online storage/backup/sharing, you should; it's free!]. Then I promptly forgot all about the topic. Until he turned me into a girly-girl on top of an Asheville, North Carolina mountain and gave me the most gorgeous thing in the world.
It was a little big as he had stolen one of my rings from my jewelry box for sizing purposes, unaware that I enjoy wearing my rings on my middle finger and thumb, which are bigger than the ring-finger. When we were chatting about this back in our sweet [and amazingly affordable] Asheville Airbnb.com condo; $37 a night!, and he said he’d get me a different size, I was expecting to wait a week or two or three for the exchange, not the thirty seconds it took him to give me a new ring.
Turns out, he wasn’t confident in his size choice. And the price being whatever it was made it easy to have a Plan B AND a Plan C. He told me what website he got the three rings from. I could go see how much he spent. But I feel like that number is much like the other number conversation couples have that does no one any good; what positive will surface knowing how many people he slept with before you? So it goes for what he spent on the ring. All I care about is that a) he didn’t spend a fortune and b) he wants to marry me. Little did I realize that my Claire’s-ness would result in a huge-ass cherry on top of the proposal-sundae.
“Since I didn’t spend a lot on your ring(s), want me to get you an engagement Mac Book Air?” [faint] Most romantic statement ever! Yes!
And so that’s how I ended up with three engagement rings and an engagement Mac Book Air.
Just like we’ve got our fat clothes for when we accientally gain five, ten, thirty-pounds and can no longer fit into our jeans, I’ve got fat rings; bring on the Poutine! AND I get a beautiful new machine of entrepreneurism?!?! I couldn’t imagine a better scenario. Except for if Apple heard our story and was so smitten that they decided we HAD to be America’s Apple Couple and asked us to be in their ads and test-drive their products, showering us with free iPhones and Mac Books. I am not above wearing an Apple logo on my wedding dress.