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Big Girl Land!

July 9, 2013

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!

Wedding: Six months later, still a great decision. Phew.

June 12, 2013

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1/2 a block from this non-descript, gritty, urban corner, in the heart of vibrant, noisy Pilsen…

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is a door that leads to…

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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.

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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

The formula for curating a sold-out, feel-good, scalable event, over and over

May 8, 2013

DRC

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).

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.

LTYM

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:

  1. Travel for work
  2. 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

+ Emotions

+ No Bells ‘n Whistles

+ ADD-Friendly

+ Spreadsheet-Lover

= 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.

LTYM

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.

Universal Topics

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.

Emotions

FE tweet

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.

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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/HelpDuring 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

  • Mic
  • Podium
  • Printed story for each participant

Materials needed for FE

  • Mics
  • Folding chairs
  • Music

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.

ADD-Friendly

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.

Spreadsheet-Lover

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.

PW VIP

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!

LTYM

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.

Mac 'n Cheese Productions | Fear Experiment 3 - The Show

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.

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**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.”

What seven minutes on Twitter can get you

May 2, 2013

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.

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Some didn’t respond at all. Most of the responses were similar to:

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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?)

But, then!

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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.

perksNot bad for seven minutes on Twitter.

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.)

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15 Things That Bring Joy to My “Type-A, Frugal, Glass Half-Full” Life

April 25, 2013

Panel

Photo by Angela Garbot Photography

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!

More photos from the panel.

Fifteen Life of Yes! Loves

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. HelloSign – no more printing out a document, signing it, scanning it, and sending! Digitize your signature and do it all in Gmail.
  7. ToDoist – online ToDoList. I love always having access to my list! (And Fiancé and I are using WeDoist to plan our wedding)
  8. 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!
  9. 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.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. Lifehacker – my go to resource for all things random yet useful, from technology reviews to DIY projects to how to save money tips.
  13. 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!
  14. 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.
  15. 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!]

 

How I went from pig roast at abandoned convent to my wedding

February 7, 2013

You may notice a HUGE difference in this post than in all previous posts since I started this blog three years ago. I’ve been doing something wrong for basically my whole life, ever since taking typing classes on those slick Commodore 64s in Chairavalle Montessori’s “lab” [it was more of a broom closet at that point]. Who knew?! Sorry future leaders of America, I steered you wrong. Luckily, I’ve only taught hundreds of kids over the years.

Anyhoo, onto more important things than education. My wedding.

Back in July, I posted “Our Ridiculous Wedding Wish.” The summary?

Fiancé and I ARE –

Fiancé and I ARE NOT –

  • hotel ballroom
  • swanky restaurant
  • church/synagogue/any house of worship
  • dry chicken breasts and limp green beans
  • anyone dictating we must use this caterer, this florist, this photographer…
  • this day has to be huge!, perfect!, a real spectacle!

We wanted a wedding that reflected our AREs and our ARE NOTs and that came nowhere near the average Chicago wedding price of $53,000. To be honest, a wedding that costs $10,000 is hard to swallow for us; the website design, the travel, the updated Quickbooks we could buy with that money!

So, we thought, a pretty house! A backyard wedding! Economical, little stress, comfy, us. We know a lot of folks, for sure we can find a pretty house backyard for free or a barter!

After the wedding wish post, amazingly generous offers of “I don’t have a house but I do have ______ which I’d love to offer you!” flowed in. And so did the pretty house. Two in fact. No strings. Just here, we like you, here’s our house.

House2

House

But the more we discussed details and talked to people, the more it became apparent what we thought would be simple and frugal could actually turn into a ton of work and money. When you piecemeal, the time and money add up. Fast. Rent chairs from this place and plates from that place. Where do we put the caterers? Do we want people traipsing through someone’s home to use the bathroom? Do we need to rent a tent? An AV system? Get a special permit to serve alcohol? How do folks get to the house way out here in the ‘burbs? And on and on.

I curate events for a living. I did not want to clipboard, headset-mic, and armpit-sweat my wedding.

So we began to rethink our vision and investigate other venues. Too pricey. Too overdone. Too formal. Too inclusive. Too un-inclusive. The “Let’s just be done with it…” vibe began to reverberate.

And then, lo and behold, we got our Fairy Godmother wish. Just like that. It’s nothing like what we wanted and it’s exactly what we wanted.

Funny story.

An acquaintance of Fiancé told him months ago about a restaurant in Pilsen that had this cool outdoor space that wasn’t your typical ridiculously-priced wedding venue. When Fiancé described it to me, I didn’t go ga-ga. I had been to the restaurant – Honky Tonk BBQ – and while I had enjoyed the pork, coleslaw, and indoor ambiance, I couldn’t picture an affiliated outdoor space that fit our vision. So I told him to spreadsheet it and promptly forgot about it.

Sometime down the road, I recalled an event that I went to as part of my Solo Life, where I’d go to one thing a week by myself. The title of the event was what caught my eye – “Pig Roast at an Abandoned Convent.” Ohhh. That sounded intriguing. So I went. And blogged about it, in September 2009. Remembering the uniqueness, intimate yet large size, comfortable yet urban hipness, adventure-going obscurity, and fairytale white lights, I thought, hmmm, maybe. As a Plan G. And spreadsheeted it.

Fast forward four months. We were so ready to have an answer to “Where are you getting married?” “Have a venue yet?” “What’s the date?” I re-examined the now ridiculously long spreadsheet. “Uh Fiancé… I think that place your friend told you about and my pig roast place are the same. That’s small-world’y!” A few minutes later, on a Tuesday December night, we were driving down the highway to Pilsen. Dinner. View it through wedding-glasses. See what happens.

The waitress brought our check. Fiancé asked about the space, thinking she would just chat it up with us. A few minutes later, the event coordinator was sitting at our table. She was jeans, gym shoes, long brown pony-tail, ankle crossed over her knee as she leaned back in her chair. She oozed laid-back. As we started chatting details, she oozed laid-back professional. Fiancé and I started to fall a little bit in love.

Everything she mentioned was exactly what we wanted to hear —

  • brisket, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes
  • easy parking
  • come in to decorate whenever you want
  • we’ve got vases, tubs, platters, lights, tables, chairs, AV you can use
  • capacity 200
  • we’ll handle all the food and service
  • sweet-tea and lemonade
  • feel free to bring in your own alcohol; we can serve it
  • only thing you might want to rent are linens
  • it’s never rained on any of our weddings
  • whatever you guys want, let’s do it

A few minutes later, we were walking to the Abandoned Convent a block away from the restaurant. It was as I remembered it. Fiancé loved it immediately. I loved the idea of not having to rent stuff or worry about set up and tear down immediately.

We were surprised to learn there were only three weekends left in the whole year. Labor Day weekend, our weekend, someone had already booked. Sad face. But she just booked the catering not the space, and multiple catering can happen! Happy face. We thanked Event Coordinator and said we’d be in touch. As we drove home, we went over the pros and cons, likes and dislikes. Pros and likes went on for awhile. Cons and dislikes, we had none.

A few minutes later, after running in the house to grab the checkbook, we were driving back to Pilsen. Thirty-ish minutes after we told her goodbye, we presented our deposit check to Event Coordinator in the overflowing basement of a neighborhood BBQ joint filled with mismatched vintage dinnerware and vases. She added us to the bulletin board of couples and we said goodbye. Again.

We finally have an answer! September 1st. The Secret Garden.

HTB

HTB01

For environmental reasons [and perhaps one or two other reasons], I hope that’s the only check we end up writing. The way things are going, it very well may be. In exchange for what Fiancé and I do well, from social media marketing to teaching improv to non-improvisers to referral-giving to curating events, we’ve got some of the best talent in Chicago a part of our wedding day for a whopping price tag of $0.

Barters

Freebies

Wedding is shaping up to be a powerhouse of local, independent, creative, socially-conscious, passionate, mostly-female Chicagoans.

Can’t wait to continue adding to the arsenal [Beer Brewer? Baker? Florist? Wine or Liquor Purveyor? Rehearsal Dinner Caterer? Day of Coordinator? We’d LOVE to chat!].

A fairytale wedding CAN be begotten without credit card debt, arguments, check one: chicken or steak, and constrictive under-garments.

A fairytale wedding CAN be low-key, non-wasteful, affordable, and fun.

A fairytale wedding CAN be nothing like what you envisioned and yet everything you envisioned.

How I ended up with 3 engagement rings and an engagement Mac Book Air

January 7, 2013

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 –

Asheville

If one is going to get engaged, it might as well be in front of a waterfall, elevation 2450, in the Land of Subarus, Craft Beer and Hushpuppies, where super-heros hang out… — in Asheville, NC

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.

Engagement

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.

How getting fired ‘n rejected can be rainbows ‘n unicorns

October 1, 2012

Proof you can have a successful business with a sucky logo (or two or five)

On this eighth anniversary of the birth of Mac ‘n Cheese Productions, I would like to give you a gift and thank:

1) My ex-boss who fired me in 2004

Didn’t know what I wanted to do, just knew I didn’t want “boss” to be in my vocabulary any more.  Sat down on my couch and made this list of things I wished I could get paid to do no matter how ridiculous they sounded.  Fast forward to 2012: every bullet point on that list is somehow incorporated into what I do for a living.  And I pinch myself daily that my “job” is to meet, connect, and support amazing people from all walks of life.  Even got a random guy in my kitchen turned best friend turned Fiancé out of self-employment.

2) My gut

Which told me to ignore the “experts” and just Nike the bejeezus out of life —

  • Instead of spending time making a business plan, I decided to make a business
  • Instead of waiting to launch until I had a good website or logo (I’m still waiting on both), I announced Mac ‘n Cheese Productions to the world and said I’d figure stuff out as things came up
  • Instead of spending money I didn’t have on top-of-the-line equipment, business cards, and other “must-haves,” I bought the cheapest good-quality video camera I could find on a Best Buy payment plan that accrued no interest if paid off within a year, bartered my time and network for a copy of the $1000 editing software Final Cut Pro, and got free business cards via Vistaprint that left much to be desired design-wise but did what they were supposed to do which was tell clients how to reach me
  • Instead of creating a strategic plan and reflecting on where I wanted to be in five years, I focused on where I wanted to be that day and perhaps the next day, living in and for the now
  • Instead of continuing down the safe-path of doing what had been my financial bread ‘n butter (video production and teaching), because I had lost passion for both and found passion elsewhere (infecting others with the Life of Yes! disease), I took the scary leap of leaving consistent, guaranteed money for “who the hell knows how I’m going to pay rent next month, but who the hell cares cause I’m having so much fun and feeling like I’m doing good” money
  • Instead of bemoaning my dislike of the traditional ways of finding people to date, people to friend, and people to client, e.g. bars, classes that end when the class ends, and networking events, I created alternatives which became business ventures because as it turns out, others were dissatisfied too and willing to pay for value-packed solutions
  • Instead of bemoaning the lack of summer-camp’esque options for adults, where we unearthed our creativity, discovered ourselves, and forged deep relationships with people we had just met, an environment I missed greatly from my days at Boston College, I rented a bunch of cabins in Michigan and a fifteen-passenger van, and crossed my fingers that people would sign up for my Life of Yes! Retreat (they did)
  • Instead of letting fear and doubts paralyze me when I read the bios of the other speakers at CUSP 2012 (a conference on the Design of Everything) – inventor of the touch screen, author of three books, gold-medalist, child prodigy, Oxford and Harvard, testified before Congress – I chose to act confident and embrace the opportunity.  Resulted in a note from one of the conference’s curators, Without a doubt… your talk was my (and many others) most memorable and favorite. Priceless!, and tweets like —

  • Instead of getting the wind taken out of my sails when I got rejection notices from Excelerate, Impact Engine, the Unreasonable Institute, TEDTalks, IDEO, and a bazillion other things that I’ve applied for, when fellowship and grant RFPs made me feel like I’m not providing an impactful service because I’m not ending world-hunger or putting shoes on South American children, when traditional angel investors/VCs/businessmen in fancy suits made me feel small, stupid, and like I don’t belong at the adults table, I realized I don’t want to try to fit in someone else’s box, that my box is AWESOME and that “businessmen” could use a bowl of Mac ‘n Cheese

3) You

I wouldn’t have lasted four months, let alone eight years, without your incredible support.  Thank you for allowing me to continue to travel the self-employment path when my unemployment benefits ran out, when I kinda had no idea what I was doing (that feeling seems to never quite go away), when people were telling me I had to do it one way but that way didn’t sit well with me.

You coffee’d with me.  You attended my events.  You offered your services and skills.  You sent encouraging emails.  You referred me.

You made the ridiculous possible.

I haven’t spent a dime on marketing/advertising.  You share Mac ‘n Cheese with your friend who just went through a nasty breakup and needs some goodness in her life, you share Mac ‘n Cheese with your nephew who just moved to Chicago and wants to meet others, you share Mac ‘n Cheese with your blog readers who are the type who want to Nike the bejeezus out of life.  Your word of mouthy-ness is a gift I can’t even begin to attach a value to.  Priceless.

You send me the most heartwarming thank-you notes with sentiments like “Fear Experiment was the most transformative experience of my life” and “The world is a better place because you’re in it,” when in fact it’s you being a gift to life by being open and vulnerable and supportive, often times with complete strangers.

As a small token of thanks, I wish I could give you a $100 bill and a carrot-cake cupcake.  Or a can of Daisy Cutter if that’s more your thing.  But I don’t have that cash and the logistics of mailing you a pastry/pint of beer aren’t favorable.  What I do have is a large network which for some reason listens to my referrals and suggestions, and answers my calls for help.

So I’d like to offer you a shout-out.  An event you want to promote, a job opening, a job wanted, a service you provide, a car for sale, a charity you want others to know about, a call for a keyboardist to join your band, a book of yours you want people to buy…. whatever you want to share with the Mac ‘n Cheese network, I would love to share for you!

How to Redeem Your Shout-Out

  • Via the Mac n’ Cheese website, send me a blurb (a few sentences) for my newsletter and a tweet (140 characters or less)
  • Make sure to include links and/or contact info so people can find out more details/get in touch

And Bonus, Pass It On!

NextDoor Chicago has initiated an awesome Do Good movement, where they do good for someone, in hopes that that someone will do good for someone, and the Pay It Forward model will ensue.  If you redeem a Mac ‘n Cheese shout-out, consider joining the movement and

  • Buy your receptionist/boss/coworker a latte
  • Offer to wash the dishes for a week for your roommate
  • Give flowers to the postal worker behind the counter
  • Let someone who looks like they’re in a hurry go in front of you in the Jewel checkout line
  • ?????

Then share your Do Good on the NextDoor Facebook page and/or via Twitter using #NDdoGood @nextdoorchicago.  And here in the comments section!

Here’s a Do Good from Fear Experiment participant Sara Collins, in thanks for getting pizza and a journal from NextDoor when she started her Fear Experiment journey:  “While getting my car serviced today a man who was applying for a job there asked for my help filling out his application, since he had recently hurt his arm. I sat with him filling out some 10 pages of the application, spelling out his references’ names letter by letter…”

Deep deep thanks to ex-boss, gut, and you!!  You make me happy.

Why UPS Would Deliver a Drawing of Yourself to Your Door

July 18, 2012

**If you have your images turned off or are reading this in an RSS feed, you may want to head to the actual blog to see  the pretty images**

UPDATE: I’ve gotten tons of inquiries about where the caricature of us below was made.  Here you go!

While our ridiculous wedding wish has yet to find a Fairy Godmother, we a) are sans-stress, as neither Fiancé nor I feel the need to have to get married by a certain date so are plugging along with an optimistic, things have a way of working out attitude, and b) have been so surprised and incredibly humbled by the “I don’t have a mansion but I’d like to offer you ______” goodness from friends and strangers.  Truly truly heartwarming.

Sample of Goodness Others have Offered

  • Update – bride and groom teeth whitening
  • Update – wedding photography
  • Engagement photos photo session
  • Custom-made beer labels for wedding favors
  • Curate and host a fundraiser with proceeds going to the wedding fund
  • Custom-made wedding invitations
  • Downtown venue for a shower, bachelorette/engagement party, any smaller-type wedding affair

It’s also been heartwarming to see the reactions from people, like these from strangers who saw a Facebook post of a friend –

“I read this and love them even though I’ve never met them! I hope they get it!”

“(NAME), I don’t suppose you still maintain any ties to some really open-minded North Shore folks who think these people sound as fantastic as I think they sound, do you?”

And then this arrived in the mail, from a college friend of mine –

We couldn’t stop laughing and loving.

This whole uniting with your best friend thing is pretty nice.  Even if we end up getting hitched in our living room or the Trader Joe’s parking lot (I do love Trader Joe’s), the amount of goodness that’s already been showered upon us is enough to make the simple act of putting our wish out in the ether completely worth it.

Thanks Nice People.

Our Ridiculous Wedding Wish. Please share.

July 5, 2012

*If you’re viewing this in a reader/have your images turned off, you might want to head to the original post to see the pretty pictures*

If you’ve spent any time with me, you’ve probably heard me say, “No matter how ridiculous it sounds, just put it in the universe.  You never know.”  That’s how I’ve lived my life for the past eight-ish years, starting with me sitting on my couch after being let go from my last 9 to 5 and making a list of things I wished I could get paid to do [playing board games on my couch with strangers, what?! Resulted in a job that’s not a job and is the best thing that ever happened to me].  And continuing with Housing Criteria [resulted in a converted toy-factory loft], Boyfriend Criteria [resulted in a best-friend turned Fiance and a custom-made cologne], putting on my website that I’m a speaker not because I am but because that lifestyle of traveling to talk about what you love sounds amazing [resulted in two days later getting my first speaking gig in front of 300 at the Museum of Contemporary Art] …

More often than not, not only do things work out, they exceed expectations.  Here’s to hoping that can happen again.  Because Friends, we need us a miracle.

Engagement party invitation created by the sweetest, most creative person in the world (who is also an amazing real estate agent!)

I am recently engaged.  It’s the traditional tale –

And thus the wedding planning begins and where putting ridiculousness out in the universe comes in.

Our wish – to find a privately-owned gorgeous North Shore North Shore or Chicago house for a low-key backyard wedding 

The Sticking Points 

a) we don’t know any owners of gorgeous North Shore [Evanston to Lake Forest]/Chicago houses,

b) we’re paying for the wedding ourselves and don’t have a lot of disposable income, don’t want to incur any debt, and don’t want to/can’t spend ANYWHERE near the average cost ($27000 nationally!  $53000 Chicagoly!)

Ridiculousness We’re Putting Out in the Universe – an angel to say, “Sure!  I’ll let strangers use my house for their wedding!  For free, for a barter, for a low low price!”

What We Can Offer 

  • Chicago Bike ‘n Beer Tour: visit breweries, take a class on home-brewing, sample beers unavailable commercially 
  • Workplace Improv: Pete comes to your company and uses improv as a tool for professional development, team building, ideation and problem solving, improving client relations…
  • Event in the City: whether it be a night of comedy or inspirational speakers, a hands-on cooking experience or an underground supper club, Saya curates an event for you and your friends in a converted toy-factory loft
  • Inpsirational Speaking: Saya comes to your group to talk about how you can live your passions and live a Life of Yes!
  • Retreat: Saya curates an opportunity for rejuvenation, escape, learning, connections-making, and inspiration
  • Opportunity for you to speak at Potluck!, Ignite, or any other Mac ‘n Cheese/TeamPete offerings
  • Marketing: use of our expansive networks to promo your business/your cause/your ______ via e-newsletters, social media, and blogs
  • Money-ish
  • What else?!?  Let’s brainstorm!

Wedding Wishes* [*beggars can’t be choosers; we’re very flexible and open to creative suggestions] 

  • Date: ideal timeframe Spring 2013 to Fall 2013 (ideal month September 2013)
  • Number of guests: 120-180
  • Backyard to hold late-afternoon into evening ceremony and reception
  • Access to kitchen and bathrooms

Getting to Know Saya & Pete

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  • Pete
    • 33 years old
    • Director of Financial Aid at University of Chicago’s Business School and Founder of TeamPete
    • From Monroe, Louisiana, where his parents still live
    • Undergrad: Vanderbilt; Grad: University of Illinois
    • Has one brother, a professor of African-American history in Georgia
    • Passions: improv, biking, tech tools that increase efficiency, craft beer, college football, hugs, and chubby animals
    • Accolades of which he’s most proud – Read the Most Books Award, 2nd grade, Jack Hayes Elementary and Takes Care of His/Her Horse the Best Award at Horsey Day Camp
    • Proof you can trust this guy: LinkedIn, TeamPete testimonials
  • Saya

So there you have it.  Ridiculousness.  If you’re an angel, please get in touch!  If you’re friends of an angel, please share!  If you have any DIY/budget tips or resources, we’d love to hear them in the comment section.

If this doesn’t work out, we’ll go to Plan B or Plan C, without tears or curses, reminding ourselves that it’s not about the day, but about being with your best friend for the rest of your life, regardless of venue, shrimp cocktails, and empire-waists.  But thought we’d try.

Thought he was going to pass gas; instead, he proposed

June 1, 2012

*If you’re reading this in a reader/have your images turned off, you might want to head to the original post to see the pretty pictures*

It shouldn’t surprise me how many folk have been asking for “The details!”  I immensely enjoy how you met, the first time she said “I love you,” how he proposed-esque stories.  And so it seems many others also find pleasure in hearing those awwwww moments.  And so to placate the billions, er twenty-three, here is how Boyfriend recently morphed into Fiance.  If you’d like to read our journey from when we met to when he moved in, relationship backstory here.

Leading Up to the Engagement

Back in December, after an unusual and unsettling stressful period when I was a finger-click away from hightailing it to random Costa Rica, then-Boyfriend and I looked at the upcoming busy months and planned a We know we’ll need this! getaway.

Why we decided on Asheville, North Carolina

  • Neither of us had been before
  • Everyone who had been shared nothing but glowing reports
  • Promise of warmth after a Chicago winter
  • Mix of stuff we like: urban activities like shopping and yummy restaurants, nature activities like hiking and biking, craft beer, yoga, quaint neighborhoods, easy to get to and to navigate, old friends [girl I used to work with] and new friends [we’d heard that it was a very friendly, liberal, welcoming, creative community]

And so on December 28th, we booked.

January through April toppled over with goodness.  But as can happen when there’s an abundance of something, even if it’s positive as it was for us, tiredness, frustration, not enough hours in the day, and getting caught up in the nitty-gritty at times clouding the big picture, can wear you down.

Fear Experiment began, with thirty-eight strangers challenging themselves to do something they admittedly weren’t great at (in this case, dance or improv), by themselves (no security blanket of signing up with your bestie), and rehearsing for three months in preparation for showcasing their skills at the famous Park West [where the likes of Adele, Tom Petty, and Ricky Gervais perform] in front of 750.  For me, this meant the onslaught of spreadsheets, nagging – RSVP!  Fill in your tshirt size!  Update your contact info! – answering lots and lots of questions, and making sure ticket sales happened so that renting a “This is a bit out of my league, perhaps we should have the show at the YMCA” venue wouldn’t be my professional demise.  For him, this meant teaching improv four hours a week to a wide-range of skill-levels, who were not only learning something new but learning each other at the same time [plus he continued to teach the improv group from last year’s Fear Experiment for another three hours of improv a week].

 

Via my Mac ‘n Cheese Productions, I continued to teach digital media in under-served communities, dialing it down a bit this year by only being in three schools instead of the six, nine, ten of years past, grow CRAVE an organization the supports female entrepreneurs [including hiring two interns and hosting and moderating a talk for fifty the week of our trip], and shoot and edit video for clients.

      

Via his TeamPete, he continued Bike ‘n Beer Tours, Workplace Improv, and Improv Workshops for Non-Improvisers.  He continued his 9 to 5’ness as UIC’s medical school Director of Financial Aid.

     

We continued smooshing Mac ‘n Cheese with TeamPete, collaborating on Minglers, Potluck! (A Smorgasbord of Ideas), speaking engagements

Fear Experiment the Show arrived on April 28th, along with his parents from Louisiana.

[Note to self: don’t host guests, especially Boyfriend’s family, the same weekend you’re coordinating a show that encompasses thirty-eight adults, nine students, and an audience of seven hundred and fifty.  Dealing with last-minute Staples-runs, folks not following instructions, and ticket requests does not make for a good host.]

[Note to self x2: don’t start a new job four days before a show that has you leading eighteen nervous nellies and MC’ing the evening in front of seven hundred and fifty.  Boyfriend started a position as U of C’s business school Director of Financial Aid on April 24th, which also happened to be Dress Rehearsal day, requiring him to be at new job 8AM-5pm, and then at the Park West 6pm-10pm.]

The weekend after the show, two friends from college came in from Boston, which was all sorts of lovely, but prohibited catching up on any of the backlog of work that had amassed over the previous weeks, leaving me with twinges of “I shouldn’t be having fun, I should be at my computer.”

All that said, Fear Experiment and the BC Eagle mini-reunion were fantastic-ness on so many levels, and I loved them both!  And then it was off to Asheville for eight full days!  Sooooo needed.  Hello email vacation-response, voicemail vacation-greeting, and an almost-complete removal of spreadsheets from my life [curating a Mingler, a Potluck!, and a fundraiser all within five days after our return made it impossible for a complete removal].  Boyfriend and I met at O’Hare, jumped on one of those tiny planes, and in two hours, were in the South.

The Engagement 

We rented a cream of the crop* car!  I didn’t realize this but oh how I missed automatic transmission and new car cleanliness.  And oh how I now yearn for a sunroof, a beep-beep door-opener [as opposed to the ol’ key in lock concoction], a USB port, separate driver and passenger temperature controls, and fancy buttons that do what, I have no clue, but that make you feel luxurious and rich.

[*Note to self x3: you fell illogically in love with a Ford Focus.  Imagine if it was a BMW.  Can’t. Even. Fathom.]

We found awesome lodging for $32 a night!  We enjoy staying in homes over hotels, but homes where you have privacy and aren’t sharing the bathroom with other guests or being trapped into afternoon tea with the owners like can happen at bed ‘n breakfasts.  Enter Airbnb.com, a community marketplace for people to list, discover, and book unique accommodations around the world.  Wonderful experience, from start to finish.

         

We ate and drank deliciousness!

   

   

We were surrounded by beauty!

      

We got engaged!

It rained for six of the eight days [you know you’re in a good state of mind and with good folk when crappy weather elicits a simple “Ehh” and you revise plans and move on].  On the first day that it looked like it wouldn’t rain [it did, around 5pm, for about thirty minutes; we were indulging at Hershey’s Ice Cream, on a covered outdoor bench, and thus didn’t care], we ventured to Chimney Rock State Park, a forty-five minute drive outside of Asheville.

A random May Wednesday, the Park had some visitors — enough for pleasantry smiles, listening to accents, and Hey, want me to take that photo so you don’t have to do the awkward backwards hold the camera yourself offers along the trails — but not so many that you cursed all things tourist.  80ish degrees.  Sunny.  Hiking of varying levels of difficulty.  We did some easy trails and enjoyed the surroundings.  We did some hard trails and second-guessed our decisions.  Our last trail of the day was Hickory Nut Falls.

After months of being busy, stressed and neglecting myself physically, I was twenty-ish pounds heavier than I wanted to be [and I think he felt similarly about himself].  After five days of deep Vacation-I could care less mode, my hair was pulled-back and frizzy, my eyebrows unruly, my legs stubbly, my overall appearance a hot-mess.  After a morning of stairs, steep rocks, uneven paths, and lizards, we were in athletic-garb and perspiring profusely.  The perfect scenario to propose.

Because if you tell someone when she’s fat, sweaty, hairy, and probably smelly that you want to be with her for the rest of your life, that means more to her than any bouquet of roses, five-star restaurant, or ring ever could.

We neared the end of the Hickory Nut Falls trail, rewarded with a gorgeous waterfall.  I said something about taking a photo.  Mr. I Usually Never Care About Photos said, “Why don’t we go up there?”, pointing to a small fenced-in overlook a bit above where we were standing.  I shrugged and said ok.

With the long-lost sun finally radiating down, the calming sound of rippling water, and a breathtaking view of North Carolina from elevation 2450, Boyfriend and I rested our forearms on the wooden banister and silently enjoyed.  Then he began looking around, the kind of looking around you do when you’re about to participate in something you don’t want others to know about.  Oh great, I thought.  He’s about to fart.

He did a few more checks over his shoulder.  Over my shoulder.

“I like taking trips with you.  Will you take more trips with me?”  He  smiled his goofy, beautiful smile and pulled out a ring.

I leaned way back, as if the ring was kryptonite and I Superman, unable to say anything, smiling my own goofy smile, my eyes filling but not spilling.  I don’t remember if I said yes.

I remember –

  • him holding the ring and me recoiling for what seemed forever
  • me taking the shiny-ness and putting it on my hand, then in my head cursing “Oh shit, he was supposed to do that…”
  • a hug and more goofy smiles
  • Hey, can you take this photo so we don’t have to do the awkward backwards hold the camera ourselves inquiry to a couple who had climbed up with us

  • joking photos with our Smart Water bottle, chuckling at how great it’d be if they sponsored our self-financed/we have very little money/this may be a potluck/bring your own chair wedding
  • walking back down the trail, holding hands, him squeezing, me fiddling
  • chattering about when he bought the ring [a few months earlier], when he decided to propose [he put the ring in his pocket that morning and told himself if the moment is right…], when we wanted to have the wedding [sometime Spring to Fall 2013]…
  • me in a this is surreal, I didn’t think I could be happier than I was on the walk out here but so am! daze

   

  • joking, but a little less joking, photos with our Eagle Creek bag and REI bag, chuckling (kinda seriously) how great it’d be if they sponsored our self-financed/we have very little money/this may be a potluck/bring your own chair wedding
  • lunch at an outdoor cafe, with a menu that offered up Jesus-quotes and a Chicken & Chicken Combo
  • wandering along a river path and through cute small-town stores filled with tshirts, birdhouses, beads, and fudge
  • the girl at Hershey’s Ice Cream giving me two cheeries on my sundae
  • it starting to rain yet again but us not caring because we were eating ice cream, on a covered outdoor bench, in beautiful North Carolina, where we had just gotten engaged


How a smart dead man makes me vow to get smarter

May 2, 2012

This post is a part of a collaborative project for the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, called happybirthdayshakespeare.com, where bloggers worldwide wish the Bard a Happy Birthday! and reflect on his impact on their lives.  @ShakespeareBT // #happybirthdayshakespeare

Last year, I penned a post, How Shakespeare Made Me Feel Thin, about the time in elementary school when I was a lead role in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and its illogical, perhaps sad, long-lasting impact on me.

This year, with a mushy-brain leftover from curating Saturday’s Fear Experiment [750 people watching non-dancers dance and non-improvisers improv] and a weekend hosting Boyfriend’s parents, I found myself at a loss for a way to celebrate Sir William save for a Big Willie Fist-Pump.  I also found myself woefully unable to conjure up facts about the man past surface, every eight-year old knows this trivia –

  • Writer.
  • Englishman.
  • Bald yet with long hair.
  • The Globe Theater.
  • Stratford-Upon-Avon birthplace.
  • Sonnets.
  • Star-crossed lovers.
  • To be or not to be.
  • Poison.

Other than that amateur-drivel, Shakespeare is like NAFTA, annuities, blanching, and the Louisiana Purchase.  I don’t really know what you’re talking about, let alone have anything to contribute, and should know more.  Thus when trying to think of a way to celebrate Romeo & Juliet’s creator, I had a How am I a thirty-three year old Boston College English/Sociology BA celebrating eight years of successful self-employment yet don’t have any prolific Shakespearean-knowledge moment.  The kind of horrifying moment when you realize you can list Macie, Amber, Caitlyn, and Farrah as the original cast of Teen Mom but can only muster a fake-genuine nod of concern (or is it excitement?) when someone brings up Myanmar.

That got me thinking — what would I really want to know about William Shakespeare?  What would remain in my brain, ready to be recalled at a stuffy gathering with sparkling water and mini-quiches to dazzle Mr. Potential Investor or Mrs. Potential Client?

Shakespearean Tidbits I’d Like to Know –

  • What were Shakespeare’s pet peeves?
  • What was his favorite meal?
  • If he rode a bike, would it be an upright cruiser, a mountain bike, or a speed racer?
  • Whom would he invite to an intimate dinner party?
  • What dating services would he use?  Is he more a Match.com, speed-dating, or get set-up kind of guy?
  • What would be in his RSS feed?
  • Who would be on his Pandora station?
  • Would he too be diagnosed as ADD or needing to maintain a gluten-free diet?
  • Would he find Twitter suffocating or liberating?  Whom would he follow?
  • Mac or PC?  Cubs or Sox?  Creamy or chunky?  Taboo or Apples to Apples?

Because I would hate for you to read a post on a literary-genius without learning anything of substance, here are some facts for you to share at your next mini-quiche outing –

  • Shakespeare’s dad was a glove-maker
  • Shakespeare had three children, two of whom were twins.  One of the twins died of unknown causes at age 11.
  • He married an older-woman, at age 18 (she was 26, and three months pregnant).  His wife’s name is the same as a modern-day actress.  No, not Whoopi Goldberg.  Anne Hathaway.
  • He invented over 1700 new words and phrases in his lifetime, such as cold-blooded and skim milk

How lack of furniture and mp3s can enhance your life

March 29, 2012

Passing trays of unknown items – Saya thought forceps, Allie thought eyeglasses – back and forth at Fear Experiment

When I first heard about The Minimalists (Ryan and Joshua), I was intrigued as they focus on how we can add value to our lives via relatively simple ways, one of my passions.  They  choose to add value to their lives by getting rid of TVs and paring down iTunes libraries; I choose to add value to my life, in the spirit of being challenged and scared, by doing an improv scene in a gynecologist’s office, in front of 700 people, when the audience suggestion was in fact “optometrist” and Nervous Saya misheard said suggestion.  But regardless of how we exist fully, the overarching theme of living an enriched life is the same for both.  So I dug a little further to learn more about Ryan and Joshua.

I stumbled upon their post Quitting Your Job is Easy.  As someone who has drunk the entrepreneurial kool-aid and can’t imagine ever ever ever going back to 9 to 5, I began clicking link after link of theirs.  I was hooked.

Next logistical step?  Interview Ryan and Joshua of course!  Check out their story and mantra below, and see if/how what they say can relate to your life.  Would love to hear steps you’re taking to add value to your life, big or small — they’re all moving forward, and that’s what counts! 

*****************************

Give me the skinny on you guys. Where you’re from, where you live, where you went to school, your age, any data points that’ll make you more of a person and less random internet guy.

Answer: We’re both 30 years old. I was born in Knoxville, TN but have spent most of my life in the Cincinnati and Dayton regions of Ohio most of my life. Joshua has been in Ohio his whole life. We both graduated from Lebanon City Schools which is a small town smack dab in the middle of Cincinnati and Dayton. Joshua and I both reside in Dayton, OH. He lives in the city and I live in a suburb of Dayton.

What is “minimalism”?

Answer: Here’s my minimal answer: Minimalism means living with less. What I mean by that is minimalism is living in a more intentional way, avoiding the clutter of life so you can focus on the important things in life.

What brought you to minimalism?

Answer: This is a very long story, but I will try and sum it up in a few sentences. Joshua and I both reached a point in our life where we started wanted more than a fancy paycheck. We realized the old cliche of “money doesn’t bring you happiness” is true. We weren’t happy with ourselves even though we had everything society told us would make us happy. Once we realized this, we were unsure of what the important things in our lives were. Then we found minimalism. We saw it as a tool to use to help us prioritize our lives.

Any surprises along the way?

Answer: The biggest surprise was the amount of difficulty it was changing our routine from having to wake up and go to our corporate jobs to waking up and being our own bosses. It took us longer than we had originally anticipated to get comfortable with our new way of life that didn’t include any particular routine.

Why should I strive live a minimalist lifestyle?

Answer: When people ask me this questions I like to preface it with saying that minimalism is not necessarily for everyone. You can throw out all of your possessions and still lead a very miserable life. Minimalism is a tool that can help people focus on what is important. Its too often in our busy lives we let the important things (i.e., health, relationships, etc.) slip and loose focus. Minimalism can help you gain focus back in your life where you need it most. Plus it helps you to be way more appreciative of the things you do have.

You mention you “were fortunate to establish an audience of more than 100,000 monthly readers in less than a year.” Why do you think your words resonated with so many?

Answer: I think we were successful in obtaining a large audience in such a short amount of time because of our authenticity, our writings where we’ve never published anything we wouldn’t want to read ourselves, but the most important thing we did was add value to peoples lives. Ultimately we knew that if we didn’t add value to peoples lives we wouldn’t have gotten anywhere.

I’m already pretty darn happy in life and don’t feel like I need a change.  What can I get out of minimalism?

Answer: I think minimalism can only increase the happiness in one’s life. This doesn’t mean you can’t be happy with applying minimalistic principles in your life, but it does mean that applying these principles in your life can help you have even a deeper appreciation for the things you have.

What’s a typical day for you?

Answer: This is a question we get asked all of the time and we don’t have one specific answer. We wake up and take care of what we need to each day regardless if that means doing website stuff, responding to readers questions, running errands etc. We have no specific routine.

What’s been the hardest thing to give up?

Answer: For me it was T.V. I had no idea how much I relied on it for an escape until I went without it. For Joshua it was his identity associated with the big corporate title. Getting rid of it was difficult for him because we live in a world where people continuously ask you “what do you do?” Based upon the answer you give them they will generally make predetermined judgements, especially when the answer includes words like “director” and “senior manager.”

What was the best financial decision you made?

Answer: Getting rid of as many loan payments as possible. I sold my new car for a used one and rented out my condo (only because I wasn’t able to sell it).

How do you make money now?

Answer: We published three books last year, we do speaking events, and we also get donations here and there. We don’t make nearly the amount of money we used to with our corporate jobs, but the cool thing about being a minimalist is having fewer bills.

You’re partners with your best friend.  Pros/cons to a) having a partner and b) having your best friend as a partner.

Answer: Crazy thing is we don’t have any issues working with each other. There are only pros. Joshua’s a little OCD, I’m a little ADD, we balance each other out well. We pick up the slack for each other. I wouldn’t be able to do this with anyone else. Joshua is the best guy I know, and our friendship over the last 20 years has grown into a family relationship where we feel more like brothers. We work great together. I’m not sure either of us would be able to handle criticism (helpful of course) as well from anyone else. Keeps us honest and helps keep our content meaningful

Do you have romantic partners?  If so, are they minimalists too?  How does being a minimalist affect your love lives?

Answers: Yes. I met my girlfriend of three years before I dived into minimalism and there was a growing period for us. We’re still growing together, and I didn’t give her the ultimatum of choosing minimalism or else. Joshua has no comment (he’s way more reserved than I am).

If you’re single and someone reading this blog wants to get in touch for the purpose of wining and dining you, what sayest thou?

Answer: Taken, sorry.

“Can’t Live Without” Resources —

Answer: Food, hygiene products, roof over our heads, clothes on our backs, internet connection, electric, and coffee.

What’s next for you?

Answer: Currently Joshua is getting ready to teach a writing class and I’m working on a book club type program designed to help improve ones happiness and help people live a more meaningful life.

Many folk in the Mac ‘n Cheese network are considering going out on their own, which can be a very scary thought/action.  What advice do you have for them?

Answer: Have a Plan. Don’t just quit your job and start blogging. That’s silly. Recognize there is going to be a transition period and its going to be uncomfortable as hell, but that means your doing the right thing. Also make sure to set yourself with the right expectations. Not every blogger becomes millionaire.

Mac ‘n Cheesers are always looking for new ways to challenge themselves and to make new connections.  Suggestions for how to meet people (professionally, socially, romantically) that are perhaps a bit off the beaten-path (not online dating, not traditional networking events, etc.)?

Answer: Twitter. Seriously. Another place is local coffee shops.

Any parting words to share?

Answer: Keep it simple, don’t live outside your means, and be true to yourself no matter what.

$2500 in cash for your fear!

February 17, 2012

What people who are taking risks look like

Who likes cash?  $2500 sound good?

Combine that question with these questions about the past year —

Did you experiment? Take risks? Did you highlight a failure from your past that’s helping shape the future? Share a big idea that will inspire others to dream big? Were you… Fearless?

…and if you answered yes, and you’re a non-profit, you need to enter this contest!

The Case Foundation, via the DoGooder Awards, shines a spotlight on all the innovative ways that nonprofits use video.  The contest is about moving the field of nonprofit video forward and encouraging cause-video creators to try new approaches that make their work different.

You know I love trying new things.  You know I love taking risks.  You know I love helping others try new things and take risks.  So much so, I curate a program called Fear Experiment.

And wow, look at that, kismet — Fear Experiment tickets just went on sale!  Don’t miss this opportunity to see the magic that happens when people push themselves and embrace the quote “If you are not willing to look stupid, nothing great is ever going to happen to you.”  (I wish I could attribute that nugget to Aristotle or Maya Angelou but the wisdom is from the TV show House.)

Regardless, it’s gold and spot-on.

So, enter the DoGooder contest (hurry, 2/29 deadline!), come see non-dancers and non-improvisers perform in front of 750 at the Park West on 4/28/12, and do something a little scary today yourself!  Even if it’s just ordering whole instead of skim in your cinnamon dolce latte this morning.  Who knows?  The guy behind you might be so attracted to a girl who doesn’t count calories, he’ll ask you out on the spot, you’ll get married, and you’ll have fearless babies together.

If that in fact happens, PLEASE report back.

Baring your soul is easier when everyone is in slippers

February 11, 2012

Had a lovely event last night at Mac ‘n Cheese that resulted in the renaming of this blog.

A group of people, most of whom didn’t know each other, spent a snowy Chicago evening chatting all-things dating.

We began with nibbles, sips, and intros, while sitting in a circle on couches and armchairs. An accountant to a teacher to a glass-blower to a financial-aid director to an electrician.  Bridgeport to Uptown.  Mid-twenties to mid-forties.

We watched my sixty-minute documentary dating rubik’s cube [sixty-second trailer below]


and then led by “this gal knows what she’s doing” Keri Christensen of Spire Coaching, had a very open, funny yet deep, educational discussion on relationships.  How you meet people, loneliness, your ideal partner, must-haves, dealbreakers, oh my god! how will I be able to live with someone I’ve been on my own for so long…

It was refreshing for strangers to share themselves so freely.  No judgement.  No hesitation.  Uber-support.  Genuine interest.  And in slippers!

Strangers in slippers.  I like that.

I asked everyone to keep me/us updated on how their dating lives progress; can’t wait to hear what 2012 has in store for these quality-folk…

When life gives you clusterfucks, pedal gratefully.

January 29, 2012

Theme of the past two weeks — Clusterf*ck.

Fake Snow Clusterf*ck

I visited Seattle for the first time recently.  Quite lovely!  Their coffeehouses really ARE cool.  I thought the Chicago java-scene was pretty good.  Oh man, we have a lot of catching up to do.  The variety, the natural wood, the hanging art, the mismatched furniture, the sleek yet comfortable design, the walls of colorful books, the quaintness.  We do that.  But they do that better.

This is a Starbucks that serves beer on tap and is trying out the bar/coffeehouse vibe.  That patio come summer is going to be people-watching central.  Boyfriend complained that they served beer in a chilled glass, I guess that’s a no-no?  But the important part of the photo is the snow.  Or the lack there of.  Starbucks baristas were jumping up and down, squealing, and snapping photos of the “snow.”  There was half an inch.  I chuckled to myself.  Cute Seattle-ites.

Then Boyfriend and I tried to find a watering hole later in the day.  Business after business, block after block, everything was dark and shut down.  At first, we thought they just really loved Martin Luther King (it was MLK Day).  But then we saw —

On door after door after door.  It stopped being cute.  More than one sign said, “For the safety of our staff…”  Oh Seattle.  You don’t know snow.  This?  This is someone with a mild case of dandruff sneezing lightly.  But the city quickly became a deserted madhouse, with closed streets, illegal sledding, and pig-noise baristas.

Made me appreciate snow plows, salt, and hearty Midwesterners.

Real Snow Clusterf*ck 

Heavy backpack, sleep in an unfamiliar Starbucks corporate housing bed, slushy, steep hill walks, and an 11:35pm flight back to Chicago led to a re-aggravation of the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.  I lay in bed my first couple of days back from Seattle with back spasms of an eighty-three year old.  While I wanted nothing more than to indulge in a Daily Show marathon, I had so many projects to catch up with.  One was a presentation that I was giving at Lean StartUp later in the week.

I pushed aside all of the “Must do this now!” items on my To Do List and diligently crafted my How To Make A Living Doing What You Love story.  Creating a Prezi is not easy when groaning, horizontal, and typing on a laptop propped up by pillows.  But I finished just in time.  And then it started snowing.

The thought of trudging downtown through the wintery mess 6pm on a Friday night with a screeching back was not appealing in the least.  I hadn’t showered or been out of pajamas in two days.  Maybe I should back out?  But as a constant host and event planner, I know how frustrating it is when people cancel last minute, either as participants or as audience members.  So a few hours after I got the 2:48pm email telling us the event was still on as scheduled, I winced, slowly cocooned myself in outerwear and an I feel great! smile, and headed out.

A thirty-minute train ride and a twenty-minute frustrating IKEA moment — you can see the huge blue and yellow store right there but can’t get to it due to a maze of confusing driveways and highway exits; construction had the building where I was going completely blocked off save for a ridiculously hard to get to unmarked entrance — I arrived.  Weird-sweaty (hot in freezing weather), I signed in, got a badge, rode up to the seventeenth floor, and introduced myself to the hosts.

“I’m sorry.  Due to the weather, we only have time for Kevin to speak.”

I didn’t know who Kevin was but I immediately hated him.  I leaked my best That’s ok, I know it’s not your fault, what good is it going to do anyone for me to be annoyed? sentiments and trudged back into the snow.  Two-hour, $4.50 trip that took me from my house to my house.  Awesome.

I arrived home to find Boyfriend.  Decided to let go of my annoyance and view the situation from a “Now I get to hang out with someone I really like!” stance.  We playfully walked a few blocks to Riverview Tavern (thank you Chicago businesses for remaining sane and open during snow!), hand-holding and climbing snow drifts, and talked about how to world dominate via entrepreneurism over burgers and fries.

What Happens When People Are Open to Scary Yet Fun Clusterf*ck 

The new Fear Experiment class started.  (Recently featured on Gapers Block!)

Twenty non-dancers and eighteen non-improvisers sign up alone to work with a group of folk they don’t know and a teacher for three months learning their non-craft in preparation for performing in front of what last year was a sold-out 700 member Park West audience; gaining a few more seats due to not building out the stage, 750 are expected this year.

Would you have guessed that these people met just ninety-minutes before this photo was taken?  Positivity, energy, and laughter has been radiating since Day 1.  Incredibly uplifting to witness.

Public Radio Clusterf*ck

WBEZ had a wonderful idea to host a free Make Your Own Job event, where you could pick up some tax, legal, and funding tips along with a helping of inspiration.

WBEZ had a not-thought out idea of no registration required.  I biked up to Catalyst Ranch and saw a line about sixty deep hopping from foot to foot outside the front door.  After about twenty minutes, I made it inside the lobby and was greeted with “We’re at capacity upstairs.  You can put your name on the wait-list.  There are about eighty people ahead of you.”

I hung out in the lobby for another twenty minutes or so.  All of the work I had to get done weighed heavily on my mind; I decided to go home.

Another wasted two-hours.  I pedaled steeped in annoyance.

As I diagonal’ed it up Elston, I recalled the numerous people in line holding leather-portfolios of resumes and dressed in obvious I’m trying to make a good impression; please hire me! suits.  I went to the event to take a break from work.  To have fun.

I thanked the universe I wasn’t one of the suits and continued pedaling the rest of the way home steeped in gratitude.

Can being happy really be that simple? I think so.

January 6, 2012

The website where I saw this said “Thanks Gustavo Vieira!” in attribution; not sure if he’s the creator or the pointer-outter, but Thanks Gustavo Vieira!

This image resulted in a head nod and an aloud “Amen” from me this morning.

Which resulted in a recollection of a David Sedaris quote I stumbled upon around Thanksgiving — “I just looked at the pattern of my life, decided I didn’t like it, and changed.”

Which resulted in me questioning, So many people are unhappy in some area of their life – social, professional, romantic, physical, spiritual… – why can’t it be as simple as them making a change to bring themselves happiness?  What’s the roadblock?  What do people need to take that seemingly simple, yet obviously not, step?  Though perhaps fuzzy to see through my gripes about skinny jeans or people thinking me giving them my business card is permission to add me to their mailing list, I’m ridiculously happy.  In every aspect of my life.  Things pop up that cause me stress, pain or disappointment.  I’ve got flaws, vices, and annoying traits.  I don’t have everything I want.  But somehow I continually navigate past negativity and unattained-desires and end up in Life is Greatville.  Why is that?

Thanks to Sedaris, my turkey-consuming family was consequently subjected to a trip-over-words excited “I have no idea what I’m doing and am making things up as I go but it feels right” brain dump of ideas centered around stupidly scarily moving away from what’s been my self-employment bread and butter over the past seven years, video production and teaching, towards focusing on using my own path to help folk live fuller lives.

I spent the post-Thanksgiving Friday revamping my website to reflect this lightbulb moment.  Throw something up there, take the next few months to hash out what exactly you’ll offer, maybe then convince a friend to let you guinea pig the new service on him/her…  That was the plan.  Two days later, I had my first sign-up.  And then another.  And another.  And another.

Life is wonderfully, oddly, randomly amazing.  You just need to participate in it.  And not worry about the What ifs.

Do something out of your proverbial comfort zone.  Do something you’re not “qualified” to do.  Do something that scares you.  Do something.  Just Do It.

Fantastically, there are vehicles out there to help you Nike life in the face.  Like The Leap Year Project.  Like Fear Experiment [starts in seventeen days!  Sign up for the wait list today!].  Like _______.  What other vehicles exist that encourage people to live full and engaged lives?  I’m ready for more leaps and more fear.

How Charmin toilet paper almost ruined my Christmas/life

December 30, 2011

Have you ever tried to stop the remnants from an overflowing toilet with your hands?  On Christmas Day?  At Boyfriend’s parents house?

I just returned from my second trip “down South.”  Last year provided an eye-opening week of foreign customs, some which I quickly ran, er drove (you must travel by car down South) from and some which I’d like Chicago to adopt.

This year was to be less-stressful, less “must impress mom, dad, nieces, nephews, brothers, step-brothers, college friends, high school friends, church friends, the entire town.”  I knew to expect deer sausage, deer heads and a gun safe.  I knew there was no kneeling or rosaries at Mass church (am I the only one who didn’t know Baptists don’t call it Mass?).  I knew where to find my bedroom, Coke Zero, and the toothpaste.  I knew we’d play Trivial Pursuit, I’d feel like an idiot and not get any pie slices.  I knew there’d be times people around me would be speaking English and I wouldn’t understand what they were saying.  I knew activities would be worked around football and that the TV on all the time and at max volume wasn’t rude.  I knew how to work the shower.  I knew that the Christmas sweaters worn were not ironic, hipster, going to an Ugly Christmas Sweater party outfits but I’m going to genuinely celebrate the season with this bedazzled reindeer emerald green knit-top.

I knew all this and still managed to almost have possibly the most embarrassing moment of my life.

Christmas Day in Louisiana.

Menu

  • Biscuits
  • Green-bean bundles
  • Mac ‘n cheese
  • Squash
  • Brisket
  • Sweet tea
  • Sugar cookies with orange icing and cranberries
  • Spice cake

Roster

  • Me
  • Boyfriend
  • Boyfriend’s mom and step-dad
  • Step-brother #1
  • Step-brother #2, wife, nine-year old daughter and seven-year old son

Two things you must know –

  1. Step-brother #2 is the last person on earth you’d want to do something blush-inducing in front of.  There’d be no “she’s a guest” mercy.  There’d be retelling of the story for the rest of my life.
  2. When my stomach started grumbling from indulging in too much Southern goodness, everyone was at the table.  I knew it was just a short while until the group moved to the couch and la-z-boys, which so happen to be directly across from the bathroom.  Dumb architect.

Stuff happened in the bathroom.  But I blame the toilet paper not the stuff for the heart-attack inducing, lose all ability to have a rational-thought scenario that ensued.

I buy Scott because it’s cheap.  It also happens to be very thin.  Boyfriend’s mother buys Charmin, probably because she’s very sweet and likes her guests to experience comfort from head to toe.  It also happens to be very thick and quilted.  Without thought for where I was or what resources were at my disposal, I grabbed the usual amount of TP that I use and flushed.  Swirl, swirl, stay in bowl.  I stared.  Sometimes the Toilet Gods just take an extra few seconds.  I stared.  No movement.  Bowl halfway filled.  No worries, just get the plunger from next to the toilet.  Not there.  No worries, just get the plunger from under the sink.  Not there.  Teeney panic.

Use toilet brush to move stuff around.  Use it irrationally like a plunger.  No movement.  Medium panic.

The big decision.  Do I flush again in hopes that equipment-powered movement will unclog the clog?  We all know what will happen if it doesn’t unclog.  Overflow.  Which basically would mean I’d need to breakup with Boyfriend, hitchhike back to Chicago, never again cross the Mason-Dixon line, and join a convent in the secluded White Mountains of New Hampshire.

Life has been good to me lately.  Everything is falling into place.  The Toilet Gods will take care of me.  Flush.

Rise, rise, rise.  Oh shit.  Literally.  Rise, rise.  Rise.  I start to open the bathroom window so I can climb out; it’s too bad I have to leave my macbook behind, I’ve got some big client projects on there.  And Boyfriend is really nice, I’ll miss him.  Rise.  I irrationally position my hands next to the rim to catch the horribleness.  A millimeter from utter disaster, the liquid stops.

I stare.  I wring my hands.  I sweat.  I hear everyone chatting and laughing just feet from the door.  I send Boyfriend a mental message of Help!  He doesn’t get it.  I look at the silver knobs on the pipes.  I take off the tank cover and stare.  I wish I had read a DIY plumbing book on the flight down instead of a book on how to be a more effective leader; motivate people my a**, I need an empty bowl!  Staring and almost-crying surprisingly accomplishes nothing.

I open the door.  There everyone is.  Save for Boyfriend’s mom!  While this will be mortifying, it’ll be less so if it’s just her.  I find her in the kitchen and utter words you never want to say to your pseudo-mother-in-law.  “Hey Carol, do you have a plunger I can use?”

I could feel her embarrassment for me.  She went in the back bathroom, retrieved The Savior for me, and said to my quickly retreating back, “If you need any help in there, just let me know.”  Pray to God it doesn’t come to that.

For once, I was happy to be chunky as I walked through the living room; perhaps my extra rolls would shield the plunger from all those eyes.  For once, I was happy the TV was on and everyone was zoned in.  I wasn’t sure, and am still not sure, if I made it through undetected.  Boyfriend said he saw me pass through but didn’t know I had a plunger in hand.  I can only hope the same for the rest of the family.  And thank Baby Jesus no one got up to go to the bathroom while I was on the plunger hunt.

I slipped back into the Room of Horror.  You may not know that delicate plunging is a thing, but I mastered that skill.  With only a millimeter to play with, this was the ultimate test.  Soft plunge, soft plunge.  Nothing.  Soft plunge and a promise to be a better person.  Nothing.  Soft plunge and the hardest wish I’ve ever wished.  Gurgle, gurgle, swirl, swirl, glurg.  OH MY GOD, THANK YOU.

I make this promise to you today, America — I will never have a plungerless bathroom.  AND if my dream of building my own house is one day realized, the bathroom will be nowhere near the main entertaining area and in fact, might have a secret “avoid embarrassing moments” tunnel to the outside.

Happy holidays all –

Do all financial planners inspect your ovaries?

November 29, 2011

I’m lucky.  My mom has never been the type to do the annoying, “So you seeing anyone?  You gonna get married?  I’d loooove to have grandbabies someday….” [voice trailing off in a passive aggressive way]

You know, the questions one inevitably gets asked over the course of his/her single-dom.  From relatives, friends, coworkers, your hair stylist, the CTA booth guy at the Addison El stop —

  • Have you kissed yet?
  • Have you had the “I’m not seeing anyone else, are you?” discussion?
  • Have you made it past the three month mark?
  • Have you said “I love you”?  Who said it first?
  • Have you slept over?
  • Have you slept together?
  • Have you met his family?  Has he met yours?
  • Have you farted in front of him?
  • Have you cried in front of him?
  • Have you gone on vacation together?
  • Are you going to move in together?
Today I coalesced with a financial planner.  Pre-meeting, I assumed he’d have me squirming, but because of my sad 401(K) and my confusing NASDAQ for a candy-bar name.  I did not expect to spend a portion of our sixty-minutes together emitting nervous squeaks because I wasn’t sure how to answer relationship inquiries.

Financial Planner: You’re dating someone?

Me: Mm hmm.

So, how’s that going?

Great, really good.

Yea?  How long has it been?

Almost two years.

Ya think… Are you heading…  So… [raised eyebrows]  Do you think you’ll get married?

[squeak][squeak]

[chuckle] Ok.  What’s your housing status?  Rent?  Own?

Rent.  Neither of us have an urge to buy. [bracing self for rent vs. own lecture]

Good, good.  I rent too.  [surprise!] I think that’s a good decision.  For metropolitan dwellers, just makes sense. [listed cons of owning]  And kids, what about kids?

Ick. [squeak] [oops – reminded myself that not everyone shudders upon seeing couples with babies.  and toddlers.  and tweens.  and teens.]  I mean, not any time soon.  I’m selfish with my time and money, I just want to spend it on us.  [almost referred him to this blog post on how I think my womb? my eggs? my ovaries? are on indefinite vacation in Nigeria or Brooklyn or Schaumburg, but the way his eyes lit up when he talked about his two year old, the way he tried to convince me that parenthood is “the best thing ever,” I just smiled.]  Maybe.  Down the road.

That’s it.  I have no poetic wrap-up or insightful insight.  Just caught me off-guard.  I’m not a nervous-squeaker, so the number of high-pitched noises that escaped my body today has me a bit unnerved.

Being in a room with Kevin Bacon stopped me from committing a heinous crime

November 16, 2011

*If you’re reading this in a reader/have your images turned off, you might want to head to the original post to see the pretty pictures*

I’ve wanted to strangle many people recently.  I actually researched sun ‘n sand get-away deals, because as I told Boyfriend, “I need to be in a different country than ______,” and if I had found a “too good to pass up” deal, I might’ve been typing this from a Costa Rican beach.

But Responsible Saya won out over Spontaneous Saya, and so I type from exotic Chicago.

Usually this is where I’d list all of the sufferings suffered by me.  The reason my last post was on September 11th is because I’ve been nutty-busy.  Most of it has been nutty-good.  But too often, what’s stressful and frustrating clouds all things lovely and requires an expenditure of energy that just isn’t worth it.

So I’m trying a new tactic – Positive Venting.  Focus not on my clenched fists but on the awesomeness that has sprinkled my life as of late, in hopes that recognizing why life is glorious, no matter the size of the glories, will dissipate all negativity —

Why I love life!

  • Sticking it to the IRS
  • Sticking it to Jesse White
    • For the first time in eleven years, I got to ignore my license plate sticker renewal form because when Boyfriend moved in, we decided we didn’t need to be a two-car household and so I sold Rosita last Spring
    • $99 to buy more must-have bags and fake-diamond jewelry
  • Helloooo Financial Planner!
    • While I’m financially-proud in some ways in regards to my seven-years of self-employment – I don’t live with mom, have no debt, and am able to occasionally supersize a meal – I’m not proud that ATM withdrawals and random checking deposits are about the extent of my financial planning
    • I’ve taken small steps: opened a health savings account, reopened a savings account, hired a tax-guy
    • But my 401K is covered in dust, I have a feeling I should be IRA’ing, CD’ing, or NASDAQ’ing it, and I throw my statements into the file cabinet without unfolding the tri-folded paper
    • So I made an appointment with a financial planner.  And wow!  The Taking Charge of My Future Crown sat atop my head instantaneously, and felt fantastic.
    • And it was studded with rubies no less because Financial Planner focuses on sustainable and responsible investing, and 10% of his profits are donated to local community non-profits
  • Dining with strangers
    • I attended a Grubwithus meal, where you choose to attend a meal based on the restaurant, the date/time, or the other people attending
    • It’s a fun way to explore the city and restaurants, as well an interesting way to meet others
    • I spent a Tuesday night at Logan Square’s Gosu with five guys and two girls
    • Lots of yummy food at a reasonable $27 price (taken care of pre-meal, so no dealing with cash night-of)
    • And folk say nice things about you on the website: Saya is definitely the hostess with the mostess! She took charge of the table introductions and kept the conversations flying, all while making it look easy and effortless! Its one of the few times I’ve seen where the far ends of the table were sharing stories and laughs. Don’t hesitate, if you get the chance to grub with Saya, do it!
  • I was one of five finalists in CRAIN Chicago’s “Day in the life of an entrepreneur” contest
    • My high-school students claimed the person who won won because of his “tug at the heart-strings” music
    • Noted.  Need more Yanni.
  • In my after-school program, I’m teaching entrepreneurship to 5th and 6th graders
    • Choose a business, name your business, research your competitors, write a business plan, create a logo, create a commercial, meet with funders, etc.
    • In our ninety-minute “board meeting” on Monday, the kids diligently wrote in their journals, discussed what makes a business successful, and did mock pitches (practiced eye-contact, firm hand-shakes, articulate speaking, professional body-language)
    • Darius, who plans on opening a restaurant, replied to “Who is your target clientele?” with “I won’t let people in whose clothes don’t match.”  Be warned Chicago.
  • Fear Experiment
    • Selection of the next round of Fear Experiment’ers occurred and what a group!  A rapper, a lawyer, a social worker, a biologist, an interior designer…
    • New crop of non-dancers and non-improvisers will rehearse January – March and perform at the Park West April 28th
    • Can’t wait to a) introduce them to each other and b) introduce them to the rest of the FE-family, now at sixty-three alum
    • If you think you might want to meet new folk and/or challenge yourself come the new year, it’s not too late to sign up for the wait list
    • Can’t believe how in two years a desire to “dance a hip-hop routine on stage” has turned into a two-times a year extravaganza at the Park West
  • Boyfriend and I were asked to co-present at one of Chicago’s premier events to help celebrate a big milestone for the organization (being mum on the details as it’s ridiculously soon and we have next to nothing prepared; worried about sucking — me not him.  The downfall of dating an improv guy, he’s ALWAYS funny and on-point)
  • TEDxMidwest
    • I attended this two-day gathering of folk who’ve climbed Mt. Everest, won MacArthur awards, invented stuff, and convicted klansman, and included random celebrities like Kevin Bacon, the “I’m a PC” guy, and Wes Craven
    • TEDxMidwest brings together a remarkable line-up of fascinating, innovative and influential speakers whose talks challenge, move and inspire.  TEDxMidwest brings together some of the most amazing people working across of a variety of disciplines, who all share a common bond of curiosity and strong desire to make a difference.
    • Though it was pricey, $100+, it was worth it
    • They had an open SWEETS-bar!  Cookies, the good kind of trail mix with M & Ms, movie theater boxes of candy..
    • Learned how UGGs became so popular via Kevin Bacon – actresses needed easy on and off shoe-ware when going from their trailers to movie sets, so they’d put on UGGs; when photos of them appeared in the press wearing these silly boots, the rest of the world had to have them.  A weather and efficiency statement turned into a fashion statement.
    • Disclaimer: I took away much more than candy and the history of UGGs, it really was an eye-opening experience
    • Discliamer #2: I love my UGGs
  • A happy Mac ‘n Cheese client
    • I wanted you to be one of the first to know.  I had my first paying client for travelightly!  The company was a random idea last December and I only had the guts to do something about it after going to your Coffee session and listening to you encourage others to start their own business.  I can’t thank you enough for always being supportive of people with crazy, random ideas and telling people that it’s okay to take a chance.  Without you, and Dance Experiment, I probably wouldn’t be where I am right now, and I have to say, I’m extremely happy where I am.  Thank you thank you thank you.
    • Note: Dance Experiment was the predecessor to Fear Experiment
  • One of my life highlights was being awarded the Martin Luther King Scholarship in college, which paid for 75% of my tuition senior year and put me in a group of people with whom I’m humbled to be connected
    • I was just asked to participate in celebrating thirty years of the award which brought back tons of great memories
  • Birthday celebration
    • I meant to have an intimate, hanging out on couches evening in honor of turning thirty-three, but “Oh this person should meet that person!” after “This person should meet that person!” resulted in twenty-two lovelies sharing pizza, wine and pumpkin ice cream at our place
    • Boyfriend gave me a pair of Boston College yoga pants I eyed back in April when we visited BC, a set of Lock ‘n Lock tupperware, and a premium subscription to Pandora (no ads!  unlimited playtime!).  A frugal, type A, efficiency-loving trove of treasures.
    • Friend from college sent a box that reminded me of those awesome summer camp carepackages –
      • candle
      • magazines (Entrepreneur, Inc., and Ode: intelligent optimist)
      • silicon oven mitt
      • baking pans
      • a pumpkin bread recipe that her husband made and brought to my dorm in college when I was sick (he even went as far as to bring it warm out of the oven, with butter and a knife, and then proceeded to fix my futon couch)
      • note to have Boyfriend bake the bread while I relax on the couch reading the magazines
  • Chicago Ideas Week (CIW)

    • Inaugural year of this gathering of speakers and innovators, at venues all over the city
    • I attended sessions on Social Entrepreneurship and Creativity, as well as Ignite, a platform where folk get five minutes to talk about whatever they want
    • Wonderfully executed, fantastic range of topics, and an accessible price-point for most of the events
  • The infectiousness of fear is catching on!
    • If you’ve followed Mac ‘n Cheese over the years, you know I’m a huge proponent of doing things that scare you and that push you out of your comfort zone, a la doing things solo (The Solo Life/Mac ‘n Cheese Minglers) and doing things you’re not great at in front of an audience (Fear Experiment)
    • Just learned of The Leapyear Project which asks, “What risk will you take to change your life, your community, or your world for the better?” and encourages people to document that risk in 2012 (a leap year)
  • Women’s Innovation Network (WIN) event
    • I biked down to the Fairmont Hotel for my first WIN Spa ‘n Cupcakes, a nice 2pm break in the day
    • Mingled with about forty others, mostly women, mostly business-owners
    • Regina Taylor, actress from I’ll Fly Away, Law & Order, and Lean on Me, spoke about her career and offered advice

        • What I do is dream and make my dreams concrete
        • You have the power to name yourself
        • Be both teacher and student
        • Expand yourself through creativity
        • There are 10,000 people in this room, via the circles within our circles; connect with one another
    • Favorite takeaway: new friendship with an uber-positive gal name Dawgelene Sangster, who is the founder of Think Royally, a non-profit that supports women in leading positive lives.  Quite a mission from a survivor of domestic violence, molestation, and rape.  I was so impressed with Dr. Dawj, as she’s called, that I selected her to be in CRAVE Chicago, a book featuring our city’s need-to-know female entrepreneurs due out soon!, and asked her to present at Potluck! 2.0, an evening of Chicago’s finest talking for six-minutes each on whatever they want
  • Self-Starter Supper Club
    • Hosting an evening of food, drink, and entrepreneurial-folk as we get inspired by speakers Mari Luangrath of Foiled Cupcakes and Paul Lee of Lightbank
    • Guests are encouraged to come solo
    • Meeting new people surrounded by couches, inspiration, and the Avett Brothers, yes please!

Strangle who?

Easiest way to grow your business? A Dutch bike, a prezi, and laughs.

September 11, 2011

If you’re reading this in a reader/have your images off, head to the original post/turn those images on!!  Pretty pictures.

Thought

If iTunes spent as much time and money releasing a cure for _____ as it does releasing new versions of iTunes, there would be no more _____.

Rant

I have tired of people needing a “click here” after a brightly colored underlined phrase.  Color underlines = “this is a link, click on me if you want more info.”

Thought #2

AOL/yahoo/hotmail accounts are to gmail as powerpoint is to prezi.  Old school vs. welcome to 2011; stop listening to your discman!  Gave my first prezi last week, so fun to create, hopefully fun to watch.

Lessons Learned After Seeing Seven Presentations in a Week

You think that by talking fast you’re doing the audience a favor, that you’re communicating “I know your time is precious, I’ll get through this quickly so you can go on with life.”  But all you’re communicating is that your words aren’t worth the audience’s time, which makes the audience feel like you’re wasting its time.

Not only do you get winded by fast-talking, the audience gets winded by it as well.

You think by saying “Please interrupt me, ask questions” that it’s ok to speed-talk, but no one does or feels they can.

Don’t apologize.  It makes you sound unprofessional and like you’re not an expert.  You are skilled and wonderful and full of goodness, that’s why you’re up there.  Own it.

Why has talking during presentations become so prevalent!?!?!  People were talking during an instructor trying to teach a class and during a facilitator trying to lead a discussion.  Whispering doesn’t make it ok.  Leaning in close to the person you’re talking to doesn’t make it ok.  Jot down the amazing thought! you had so you can communicate it at an appropriate time.

Phones on vibrate are as disruptive as phones that ring.

I need to take heed of these lessons learned, especially that of the fast-talker.

Business Tip

I’ve noticed an interesting yet random yet I’ll take it! business trend sweeping Chicagoland.  Regardless of what type of business your business is, place a Dutch bike [aka a cruiser or an upright] in a prominent position [aka the front window].  I first noticed it with Homemade Pizza a few years ago and since then, various others in the city.  Folk are catching on to how awesome the Netherlands are.  Let’s be honest — I’d definitely pick the tax-attorney with a Dutch bike in his lobby than the one without.

Laugh-Filled Info Session = Laugh-Filled Thing the Info Session Was Giving You Info On

If the information sessions about a service you offer look this fun, that service has GOT to be pretty amazing.  I’m pretty stoked to be offering a ridiculously fun and unique way for strangers to meet others, challenge themselves, perform at the Park West in front of 700, and make genuine, life-lasting relationships.  Fear Experiment [FE] info sessions this week and next week [attendance at one is mandatory to participate].

FE Participant: “I’d probably rank my experience in FE as one of the top 5 best experiences of my life.  It’s very rare to meet so many amazing, adventurous, open-minded, and accepting people when you’re an adult.”  Amen sister.

Two Jobs I Would Like

Live-tweeter and live-artist.

The former, you get paid to go to an event and tweet about it as it’s happening.

The latter, you get paid to go to an event and sketch about it as it’s happening.  The above was created by an attendee of Potluck 1.0, an event Boyfriend and I threw a couple of weeks ago.  Smashing success!  Keep an eye out for 2.0.

The crazy thing is these ARE real jobs.

Have a lovely week friends!

Bikes, geeks, beer, tweets: why I want to hug you all

August 29, 2011

If you’re eyeing this in a Reader, you may want to head over to the blog to see the pretty pictures

Two very different events this weekend but both with the same outcome – increased love of humanity and this city!

 

Someone compared me to a virus, infecting folk with the entrepreneurial-strain.  Some websites resulting from my pricks – Little Piggy: Sweets by CC, TeamPete, Debbie Hillman: food consultant.  More coming!  [Hmm… wonder if About.me would send me to an entrepreneur conference or send me a Starbucks gift card for every referral?]

Nothing pleases me more than people getting paid to do what they love and I got to experience this live! this weekend.

As one of my dreams is for Boyfriend and I to workshift, taking our offerings to Amsterdam, London, San Francisco, I’ve been encouraging him to take a stab at making a business out of his passions and skills.  And guess what?!  You can create a successful business plan out of a love of  bikes, beer, and improv!

Ways To Turn Your Love of Bikes, Beer, and Improv Into A Business

1. Some of the Fear Experiment participants [FE] hired Boyfriend to continue as their improv teacher post-adventure; two and half hour class once a week, going on three months

2. He was such a wonderful FE1 instructor, I hired him back for FE2.  [Info sessions in September!  Come learn how you can be a part of an adventure of a lifetime]

3. He’s been accepted as an improv instructor for Dabble, one of the hottest startups in Chicago  [Upcoming class!  Good for those who don’t want to commit to a full program/just want to stick toe in improv water]

4. At the companies requests, he’s submitted various proposals for workplace improv — inject fun and hands-on’ness to staff development!

5. We co-curated a Brew Mingler, where folk learned how to brew beer via Brew Camp and board game’d it with strangers

6. On the heels of successful “just for fun” forty-mile rides to Three Floyds in Munster, Indiana, and Two Brothers in Warrenville, his first TeamPete bike excursion was Saturday — huge hit!

Saturday Morning – Bike Tour of Chicago

1. 10AM – homebrew class at Brew Camp.  Bonus!  Homemade just out of the oven cookies made with beer ingredients!

2. 10:43AM – detour to our place to get our extra bike for a girl whose bike got backed over by a car that AM.  Yay for strangers helping strangers!

3. 10:53AM – eleven-mile ride to The Plant, a nonprofit dedicated to promote sustainable food production, entrepreneurship, and building reuse through education, research and development.  All of its power and heat needs will be met via food waste from landfills!  Home to the New Chicago Brewing Company.  What a way to see Chicago, going from Irving/Damen/Lincoln to 47th and Racine.

  

4. 12:15AM – as the crew starts a tour of The Plant, I hop on my Dutch baby and ride up to Lincoln Park for the second event that made me want to sing Kumbayah

5. 2PM – TeamPete meandered Back of the Yards, Bridgeport and Greek Town, then onto Haymarket Brewery for lunch

6. 5:30PM – Final destination!  Local Option, a good beer bar, to enjoy new friendships, new experiences, and tired quads

Saturday and Sunday Afternoon – Social Dev Camp[SDC]

I attended SDC last year for the first time, having little clue what it was but intrigued by the idea of learning amongst creative strangers.  And by the word “camp.”  Though they talked in a foreign language most of the time – cloud, API, CMS – it was a wonderful experience, so it was a no-brainer that I return this year.

SDC Loveliness

1. Something for Everyone – Lectures in a huge auditorium.  Unconferences in intimate classrooms.  Panels.  Q & As.  All-night Hackathons.  Hanging out on couches and armchairs.  Diet and regular Pepsi.  Uber-geeky, techy topics [HTML5 and Beyond] to big picture, flowery topics [The Importance of Being Awesome].

2. Caliber of Speakers – from the founder of Reddit to a guy who had a NY Times best-seller within two days of launch to local must-knows, they knew their stuff and wanted to share their knowledge

3. Smooth Operation – mics, clickers, projectors, and wireless internet that worked.  Central location, easily accessible by CTA.  Easy registration.  Snacks and lunch.  Effective moderators.  After-party a few blocks away.  Not even Hurricane Irene could bring SDC to its knees!  Keynote speaker Alexis Ohanian’s flight was cancelled, but thank to Skype and tireless organizer efforts, we still got to enjoy the message of and interact with someone who is now my new fave!  [Alexis, just sent Mr/Mrs. agent a request for you to be an underground supper club speaker cause you rock it hard!]

4. The People – from the organizers to the attendees to the speakers to the volunteers, this is why I love going to events like SDC!  Familiar faces from last year, familiar faces from an event the day previous, new faces introduced to me by the Queen of Connecting Heidi Massey [check out I.C. Stars, the amazing organization she works for!], new faces introduced to me by virtue of sharing a power-strip.  Common thread amongst them was friendliness and a desire to help one another.

5. What I Heard/Learned [thanks to  Jeff Cohen, Chris Courtney,  Jonthan Ozeran, Julien Smith, Sundeep Kapur, Emile Cambry, Alexis Ohanian]

  • When you can take your own ideas and bring them to life, it’s empowering
  • If you want to join a community that is the epitome of community, Ruby on Rails! [if you don’t know what ROR is, neither did/do I, really; but jump in anyway!]
  • Development can be funny
  • Red Eye’s traffic to its Missed Connections app is rivaling the traffic of “when is the next train coming” app; yea priorities!

[Tangent: check out this Chicago Reader Missed Connection — guess who it was for?!?  Always wished that relationship had worked out, what a great How We Met story]

  • We’re the 1st generation of folk who consume/create/own media at same time
  • Give value that no one else can deliver
  • Your audience is your best asset; make them work for you, which they’ll do if you do above
  • People need more connections and unity, not more advertising and technology
  • Want venture capitalist help?  Get someone else to tell a VC about you.
  • Purposefully insert a mistake into internal communication and give a $5 gift card to first employee who finds it; they’ll find other mistakes too
  • Be willing to disrupt yourself
  • Social Entrepreneurship – get on this train!
  • Social Change film festival coming to Chicago
  • Turn regular joe’s into fans by giving them nuggets [this is the foundation of my e-newsletter!]
  • Write actionable subject lines in your email [story of how someone accidentally left a note to himself of “insert witty subject line here” on an email he sent to his network, and that ended up getting a gazillion helpful responses]
  • You don’t have to spend a lot on advertising to be successful.  Reddit total advertising budget = $500.
  • People will not love crap.  So don’t make crap.  Start with a product people actually want.
  • Great user experience = great [free] marketing
  • Website buttons with amusing names work well
  • Your product should feel like it was made by human beings [the design, the copy, etc.]
  • Whatever you create, create it around community
  • Don’t only drink the start-up kool-aid, spill it!!

Random Musings Post-SDC

1. It took me a year to “get” Twitter.  SDC last year was my first experience with live-tweeting, where you tweet about what you’re experiencing in the moment.  At first I was appalled that people were laptop’ing and iphon-ing during talks; how rude!  But I realized, no, that’s not rudeness anymore, that’s reality.  Most of us can handle doing multiple things at once and ironically, while it looks like you’re totally disengaging, in some ways, it makes engaging with others that much easier.  And fun!

And now I would like to be paid to be a live-tweeter.  Anyone want to hire me to live-tweet their wedding?  Bat mitzvah?  Family reunion?

2. If you still use Internet Explorer, don’t admit it.  People will snicker.

3. You’re at something good when you need to clone yourself to be in two places at once.  Where to go,where to go, Social Media unconference or Thick Value for meaningful, ethical enterprises!?!?  Oy!  Which child do you love more?

4. It’s lovely to see folk who are so proud of their love of dungeons and dragons.  Arms shot straight up when asked who had the D & D love!

4. I would like to be paid to be a speaker.  Even if payment was just airfare, hotel, and a nutter butter.

Anyone want to hire me to talk about things that really matter, like why your bed shouldn’t be in the corner if you’re over twenty-five, how to transform your inability to dance into cash and laughter, and the best ways to find that someone you want to wake up with for the rest of your life?

Remedies for When People Rip You on Your Blog

August 25, 2011

Yesterday was a not-great day that can best be summed up with how it began –

Meeting Instructions: Please arrive no later than 8:30 a.m.

Left a bunch of must-do! work to rush to meeting on opposite side of the city.  Nothing was set up.  Lights off.  We arranged the tables and chairs.  Sitting around.  Meeting did not start until 9:20.  One of the main reasons seven years ago I decided self-employment was for me.

Will bypass all the other not-greatness that occurred between 8:30am and 6pm because who wants to dwell on bleh!.  The point is, if you asked me this morning about yesterday, I would say it rocked.

Last night was the inaugural Potluck!, curated and hosted by Boyfriend and I –

Potluck! brings together several of Chicago’s best and brightest, funniest and handsomest, wittiest and engaging-est for an evening of rapid fire musings on whatever they choose to muse upon.  In the vein of Pecha KuchaIgnite, and TED Talks, each presenter will stuff 10 pounds of awesome into a 5 pound bag…er, into a six minute talk.

When you’ve had a bad day, the last thing you want is forty-seven people over.  Or so I felt at 6:53pm.  And then they started to trickle in.

Remedies for Bleh!

  • Strangers and your friends meeting, liking one another, and exchanging info to keep in touch
  • Learning new things [i.e. internet dating is a great source of inspiration for launching a start-up and an auger is a drilling device used in farming]
  • Jock Jams a la Pump Up the Jam
  • Photos of men in suits doing the splits
  • Folk being introduced to a fun new presentation tool and collectively whispering “Prezi” every time it did something cool
  • Seeing a couple that met via her and Boyfriend
  • The name “Bliss Brown”
  • Do something for the first time, worry it may crash and burn, and it not only going great, but exceeding all expectations
  • No tech issues
  • A BYO event where folks share their goodies with strangers
  • An audience filled with people who came solo, with friends, with significant others
  • Presenters who are calm, cool and collected
  • Presenters who are nervous
  • Presenters who are sick and dealing with serious family stuff, yet still manage to not only participate but to knock it out of the park
  • Presenters who change their topic hours before go-time and still rock it
  • A woman filling a sketch book with things inspired by what she was experiencing
  • Live tweeting at an event of yours for the first time and ensuing tweets –
    • @iLive40: I found inspiration and had some good laughs at #potluck 
    • @mjwex : New people, new ideas, contagious energy! 
    • @sarahjindra: Thanks to @sayahillman and @goteampete for organizing a fun and inspiring night of talks!! Awesome #Potluck
    • @brandon_weiss: No guest towels in the bathroom? Wtf? #potluck 
    • Twitter lesson learned – make your hashtag specific unless you want to be reading about stuff that has nothing to do with your stuff, i.e. #potluck1.0 instead of #potluck
  • A tweeter sitting next to a sketcher
  • A room full of laughter, engagement, friendliness, diversity, and comfort

So thank you to Megan, Arnie, Sarah, Griffin, Marcy, Heather, and Drex for setting the Potluck! bar so high.

Thank you Boyfriend for being the bestest collaborator.

And thank you Audience for being so fun, nice, and not storming out when you had to use toilet paper to dry your hands because we forgot to put guest towels out.

Nights like last night makes you shrug at musings like “Not a fan of how Saya does business so I won’t be attending any of these events,” part of a reflection on my life from someone commenting on my last post.

Onwards and upwards!  I love my life.

See more Potluck! 1.0 Photos

That bit*h stole my business idea! How I’m going to get her back.

August 18, 2011

If you are reading this in a reader, you might want to head over to the original post to see the image.

I received this in my inbox this morning:

Wait!  “Have Coffee with Jill”?!?!  That sounds exactly what I’ve been offering for a year now!  She stole my idea!  Her webpage is almost word for word my webpage!

I’m so mad, so incredulous, so about to go all Johnny Cochran on her…

Except that I’m not.  Any of those.  In fact, I was the one who not only convinced her to do it, I’ve been helping her along the way —

Jill: “Do you paypal invoice each person individually when you are ready to invoice for coffee?”  Ensuing instructions from me to her on my process.

Our first conversation, at Schuba’s a few months ago, was Jill being incredulous that I charge people to have coffee with me.  People seem to think “Let me buy you a beer” makes it worth it to me to give up time I could be working on a paying-project.  Change that to “Let me pay your health insurance for the month,” you’ve got my ears.

“Don’t people get offended when you respond to ‘Can we grab a drink?’ with ‘Sure, sign up here and pay me $12’?”

I’ve never had any blow-back, so to speak.  Most people sign up.  As soon as I put it on my website, touted it as a service I offer, made it official, any weirdness I felt dissipated.  I used to say yes to every request.  I just don’t have the time any more.  I need to make a living.

So, why aren’t I hopping mad that now someone is making money off of my idea?

Number one, I like Jill.  She and I are similar in that we both cobble together random ventures that oddly and wonderfully provide us a salary.  We’re planning a joint event come October.  I already have, and will continue to, benefit from having her in my life, benefits that far outweigh the money that may go to her instead of me on the off-chance that a person only has $12 to spend, has to choose between the two of us, and ends up in a coffeehouse sitting across from Jill instead of from me.

Number two, my response to all the inquiries I get about expanding, partnering, franchising Coffee, the Minglers, Fear Experiment, is “Go for it!”  I don’t own the ideas.  And the world would be a better place if there were more fun, challenging, affordable, unique offerings.  Enough with the guarding of goodness!

Number three, a major part of most of the services I offer is the man behind the curtain — me.  While I’m not everyone’s cup of tea, many people seem to enjoy sipping me.  The personality of the curator is key in “experience-based” services.  And I don’t think everyone is cut out to play that role.  I’m pretty confident that a good portion of society couldn’t have sold seven-hundred $24 tickets to the Park West last April to see bad dance and bad improv from a bunch of amateurs, nor have twenty-five people pay $15 to bring food and drink to her house tomorrow to play board games.

I must say, seeing my baby touted so in a prettily designed email that went out to hundreds, thousands?, makes me feel all MBA’y and LLC this and VC that, even though I’m just an English/Socoiolgy BA with no business plan, no power-suit, and a savings account a week-old.

So world, take my Coffee idea and have your way with it.  No revenge will be administered.  If you become a millionaire off  it, maybe offer to buy me dinner.

You too, Little Fish, can be in a Belmont el stop ad, & other stuff learned at Media Day

August 8, 2011

Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending The Chicago Innovations Awards’ Media Day, which was a wonderful experience even though I almost killed myself multiple times and sadly couldn’t ride my Dutch bike home.

The Chicago Innovations Awards [CIAs] shines a bright light on the creative spirit of Chicago. We focus attention on the most significant new products and services, regardless of sector or industry, introduced in the region.  A bunch of local folk doing awesome things are nominated, i.e. the CTA bus tracker and Groupon, and a group of judges selects ten winners.

Media Day resulted from the CIA asking last year’s nominees “What are your three biggest challenges today?”  They expected the answer to be money; it was awareness.

Not only did the CIAs listen to their constituents but they offered up a solution that was:

a) free of charge (and thus accessible to all; as a little fish with not a lot of cash to spend, I really appreciated this!)

b) well-organized (welcome table, name tags, printed program, breakfast/snacks/lunch, appropriate AV accoutrements/set-ups, signs, schedule that was adhered to)

c) fun (held at the not-yet-opened Museum of Broadcast Communications, a very cool space!  And they were very open to folk poking about.  I rode down in the elevator with the President, who gave me his card and seemed very interested in engaging with the community.)

d) informative

e) diverse both in formats and in speakers

Media Day was billed as a way to educate Chicago ’s top innovators about how to gain visibility in the marketplace, and will feature panel discussions, talks, and interactive seminars with media experts who represent a cross-section of today’s ever-changing media landscape.

And it did just that.

Here are some of my take-aways –

 

Moderator

Dan Miller, Co-Founder, Chicago Innovation Awards, former Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times

  • nothing is more annoying than getting a story pitch that’s not appropriate for your medium/outfit
  • nothing is going to happen if you keep your ideas in your computer/in your desk drawer >> make the ask!!!
  • marketing/advertising can be affordable

 

Editorial Panel

Michael Arndt, Managing Editor, Crain’s Chicago Business

  • prefers email for initial communication
  • subject line should says entrepreneur/something new
  • tell your personal story
  • don’t just say that you’re celebrating two years; have it be human interest, overcoming obstacles, something that’s different/unique
  • writing from aol or hotmail, it’ll likely end up in junk/spam’; get gmail
  • insists that its content be first; if Trib/another media outfit runs it first, Crains won’t run it
  • Trib and SunTimes aimed at business consumers, Crain’s aimed at businesses
  • better to go to Crain’s if want VCs, investors, etc.
  • exploit us; it’s a two-way exploitation.  Media want your stories, you want their reach.
  • startups don’t have a home in Crains print, as it usually focuses on bigger companies; startups should pitch to Ann Dwyer who focuses on entrepreneurs

Eric Benderoff, Tech PR Firm, used to be Chicago Tribune Technology Reporter

  • you are your own media company and that’s never been around in history
  • it’s your ability to be creative that’ll get you noticed
  • be consistent with social media message and with what’s going on in your industry
  • if you’re starting a company, you need to start a blog
      • hire someone to write you blog (at least $400-$600 a post, or negotiate a monthly/yearly fee since writers like to budget/know what they’ll be making)
      • do at least 1 blog post a week, 3 is ideal
  • must have Facebook/Twitter presence
  • email headline/subject: be direct, to the point, keyword rich
  • PR Newswire is good to post on if you want to be high in GoogleSearch

Sandra Guy, Business Reporter, Chicago Sun-Times

  • paint a picture, tell a human story; “just show me the human face” (Dan Hewitt)
  • tell story as someone no one knows about and as someone who is local/part of community
  • wants to talk to my customers to find out what do I do for my clients; line up a few of them
  • helps if you agree to have photo/video taken, as an image is a reader-hook
  • professional associations are great to hook up with because you can network while you’re learning, i.e. Association for Women Journalists
  • what catches her eye on a website is creativity and level of expertise
  • traditional media picked up by so many aggregators so still worth it to get in a paper though some say it’s dying
  • play up in a press release/email: that you’re local, your expertise, your creativity
  • have your friends tell your story

 

Marketing and Advertising Panel

Cher Ames, Director of Marketing/Promotions, WBBM 780

  • radio is always effective as it always has been
  • have to be consistent, takes time to build a brand
  • radio is intimate/engaging
  • chances are when you’re listening to radio, that’s all you’re doing
  • demographics of listeners: males 35-55
  • they can do all the production in-house

Greg Green, Director of Agency Strategy, Google

  • 97% of people research online before they buy something
  • search ads should be complementary to other mediums
  • just focusing on demographics (age, gender, etc.) isn’t enough, it’s interests and timing too

Joe White, Chicago Sales Manager, Titan

  • handles advertising on CTA
      • digital screens at CTA allows for immediate messages
      •  a couple of hundred dollars a month can get you an ad at the Belmont Station

 

Social Media Strategies

David Armano, Executive VP of Global Innovation & Integration, Edelman

  • 2006 started blogging and in a year and a half, was in Business Week as best of 2007
      • 70,000 followers
      • immersed himself in the space and participated
  • rule for presentations > always insert a slide last minute to keep presentation relevant
  • Dell is doing some of most advanced things in social media, has a social business intelligence plan in place
  • in a connected world, participation trumps broadcasting
  • “For brands today in this fragmented world, getting us, as multifaceted people, to take action and engage is one of the biggest challenges marketers face” Christina Smedley, Edelman Global Chair Consumer Marketing
  • Best Buy does a great job with their Twelp Force (twelp as in help on Twitter)
  • for the first time, this year’s trust barometer shows trust and transparency are as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services (2010 Edelman Trust Barometer)
  • community management = the act of engaging members of a specific group in a participatory fashion
      • “Community is at the core of social media. It’s about sharing ideas, connecting people and creating together.” Suzanne Marlatt, Community Manager for Edelmandigtal.com
      •  the five c’s of community:
        1. Content – can’t start a community without bringing something valuable to the table
        2. Context – way you talk to members, being knowledgeable about how they want to engage with you
        3. Connectivity – matchmaking folk who can help each other
        4. Continuity – have to grow/sustain it, keep them vibrant and healthy, seed it – feed it – weed it
        5. Collaboration – great indicator if a community is doing well; are they working together to benefit each other and you?
      • businesses that have lean budgets often use community managers
      • community manager traits: most are already working in those roles,  represent an organizaiton but have own personality, understand how to produce content
  • social media challenges
      • unclear objectives
      • measurement and ROI
      • underperforming social initiatives
      • misaligned skills and competencies
      • lack of coordination and integration
      • closed business culture (example of Apple embracing people making their own apps for iphone instead of fighting it)
  • if you comment on a business page, company will take notice
  • social media empowers the individual
  • customers make your company better
      • example: Starbucks green stick in coffee cup lid that makes it spill proof for when you drive/walk; that was a customer suggestion that got tons of support
  • Stages of Social Business

1. Crawl: monitor, listen, establish infrastructure

2. Walk: leverage platforms, produce contests, participate

3. Run: Engage, respond, leverage employees

4. Fly: Scale, systemizing and integrating into all biz functions

  • twitter and blogs make up 65% of all conversations; majority are positive or neutral in tone, with only 11% negative
  • what to measure: attention, engagement, authority, influence, sentiment

 

Crafting a Message

Tom Thomson, Content Specialist, Disney Institute

I wasn’t able to stay for this session, but stemming from the energy pouring out from the Disney employees setting up what looked to be a hands-on, group activity, it looked to be an engaging experience.

I also missed the tour of the museum, which looks like it’ll be an amazing space upon completion.  They rent out the raw space for events, in case you have something that’d fit with the cement-ducts-wires-unfinished scenario.

A big thanks to all the speakers, sponsors, and coordinators.  In a culture where little is free or without hidden agenda, it was refreshing to attend a well-put on event whose participants simply seemed to want to be of service and share their knowledge.  That’s nice.

How my narcissism/frugality almost killed me today; a great day!

August 4, 2011

If you’re reading this in a Reader, head to the original post if you’d like to see the photos!

I attended an event this AM [more about the event in a future post] around which three awesome things occurred —

1) I gave an elevator pitch in an elevator!

The Founder/President/CEO of the Museum of Broadcast Communications and I rode down together.  I thanked him for providing the space, he asked what I do.  I quickly learned I need to hone the Mac ‘n Cheese Productions mission statement.  When it was just video production, no sweat.  But how does one fit underground supper clubs – bad dancers/bad improvisers facing fears and performing in front of 700 at the Park West – people coming to one’s home for an evening of meeting others with the caveat that they must attend solo – entrepreneurial chats in coffeehouses – connecting female business-owners via a Guidebook and non-networking networking events – into a twenty-second spiel?

While I love what I do, sometimes I wish I was a dentist or a receptionist or a welder.  One word and you know exactly how I spend my days.

Well, now that I write that… maybe that’s exactly why I love what I do.  It’s so varied and rich and ridiculous, it’s impossible to one-word it.

 

2) Unexpected universe-love!

Last night I brainstormed with Boyfriend ways to get his business off the ground.  I thought of companies that seemed like they’d be the type of company that would be open to corporate improv as a new twist on staff development.  Two of the companies that came to mind were Edelman and Google.  Today’s event had nine speakers — one was the Director of Agency Strategy at Google, one was the Executive VP of Global Innovation & Intregration at Edelman.

Stars aligned.

Just like a few weeks ago, when after Boyfriend was hit by a car on his bike [shake of fist at bad lady driver at Damen and Division!], I took his bike to the Dutch Bike Co. to get a tune-up and ended up chatting with the owner about the Bike the Brewery tours Boyfriend leads, to which said owner exclaimed, “Let’s talk partnership!”  And later that week I was introduced to a woman who a mutual acquaintance thought would be a good feature in the guide I’m producing on inspiring business-owners [still looking for more submissions!  Brick & mortar, online, blogs, social networks… ], and turns out she’s the owner of Roscoe Village Bikes!  She ‘n hubby are also interested in Boyfriend’s bike events [even suggested a Tour de Fry!  As in riding around Chicago to the best french fry establishments.  Um, yes please].

Just like, after a brainstorming session I had with myself yesterday about how to meet more high-powered women for my various projects, the phone call I got post-event today when a fellow Boston College alum called to share the news that I was invited to join the Council of Women of Boston College.  The Council is a hundred or so women across the country who are CEOs of this and VPs of that, in possession of resumes peppered with phrases like “supreme court justice” and “global head,” and with lots of acronyms and ampersands, which we all know stand for success and being well-connected.

Maybe I should go buy a lottery ticket.

 

3) I infected another person with Entrepreneurial Disease!

Two items currently in my living room:

 

 

Which beg the questions –

1) What does a thirty-two year old do with twelve school photos of herself?

2) What does one do with an incredibly large photo of herself?

3) Is it possible to transport an incredibly large photo of oneself on a Dutch bike?

Disclaimer: I did not order the school photos.  A school where I teach digital media had me pose for the yearbook and four months later, these pictures showed up in my mailslot.  Nor did I order Large Saya.  A wonderful writer did a piece on me and various other entrepreneurs, and decided to photograph some of the folk he spotlighted.  These portraits were then hung in a conference room at TechWeek, which just concluded; he emailed us to say we could pick them up and in my ever-love of efficiency, with the event this morning being just a few blocks from his office, I thought, bike smike!

 

Answers –

1) What does a thirty-two year old do with twelve school photos of herself?

Mom and Boyfriend’s Mom got three of them.  Nine of them still available!

 

2) What does one do with an incredibly large photo of herself?

Undetermined.  Suggestions?

 

3) Is it possible to transport an incredibly large photo of oneself on a Dutch bike?

No.  I don’t suggest you ever try it.  I almost died three times today, as I attempted to bike home from River North with Large Saya and the wind almost blew us into traffic.  I gave up and train’ed it.  This led to many stares, a few comments – “Nice face!” – and one in-depth conversation with a CTA employee who was riding home from her shift at Merchandise Mart up to Paulina to get her car.  She asked why I was carrying my face around the city.  I explained, she asked how I came up with the idea for my business because she wanted to start her own as well [turning recycled goods into art projects] but was nervous to take the leap, and we spent the next twenty minutes discussing self-employment.  By the time we reached Paulina and she gave me back my face after carrying it down in the elevator, I had convinced her to leave turnstiles and walkie-talkies for birdhouses made of construction scraps.

 

Lessons learned at TechWeek by someone who perhaps should’ve been barred from entering

August 1, 2011

**If you’re reading this in a reader, you might want to head over the to actual post, so you can see all the pretty pictures!**

Before I get into today’s post, a mention of my last post, Five fights I had before 8AM.  Someone sent me the message “I read your blog from yesterday. Sounds like you had a crappy morning. Hope things are looking up.”  From the majority of comments received, i.e. “Your latest blog made me smile,” it seems that most people got that our “fights” weren’t really fights and that all of my gripes were just silly, inconsequential reflections on living with someone, but just in case there are folk running around the world thinking Boyfriend and I experienced tension over a loaf of bread, it was all in jest!  No actual anger transgressed.

Ok, onto today’s post.

Much like Social Dev Camp and BarCamp last summer, I once again recently found myself at an event where I wondered:

  • What am I do doing here?
  • What language are they speaking?
  • When will security escort me out for being a fraud?

That said, there were plenty of things that happened that made me think, maybe I do belong at TechWeeka week-long festival, conference & expo celebrating the technology, web, and interactive communities —

Though TechWeek is well, a week, I only went down to Merchandise Mart on Monday, to attend the sessions put on by SPARK Women.  SPARK Women was touted as a conference designed to encourage women to get started and make the leap into entrepreneurship while understanding their unique advantages and challenges.

Session #1: Jill SalzmanRockstars, Babies & the Mothership

I learned that one need not spend six weeks creating slides.  Jill’s slides – “2009,” a photo, a two sentence quote – perfectly complemented what she said and allowed the audience to mostly focus on her and her words.  When it comes to presentation slides, simpler is better and very effective.

Jill wove together personal stories with six business lessons.  I found myself laughing and nodding/swaying/amen’ing in agreement throughout [my “Stevie Wonder/black woman in Church” state as Boyfriend calls it].

How to be a Serial Entrepreneur

  • Lesson #1: make it up
  • Lesson #2: sleep
  • Lesson #3: give yourself the promotion
  • Lesson #4: tell your cousin
  • Lesson #5: tell your dentist
  • Lesson #6: tell everyone

Jill opened a music management firm and discovered she was great at publicity and booking, so she added those services.  When I started Mac ‘n Cheese Productions, “productions” meant video production.  But then I discovered I was good at identifying unique, fun, comfortable ways to help others make connections, so I added board games in my living room and dancing awkwardly in front of a sold-out Park West audience of 700 to my services.  When you find out that you’re good at something, brainstorm ways to turn your likes into cash.  That way, when you’re spending hours “working,” you won’t feel that you’re working at all.  I don’t feel I’ve worked a day in my seven years of self-employment.

Jill’s cousin sent anklets from Bangkok for Jill’s kid and everyone kept asking her where she got them, so she had her cousin send more and started selling them.  Long awesome story summarized: Jill found out another cousin of hers was living next door to Gwen Stefani’s parents, so sent said cousin a set with a note to give to Gwen’s parents, hoping they’d give them to Gwen.  Two months later, this picture was taken, Perez Hilton wrote “Stylin!” and had it on his show, which resulted in a People Magazine mention.  The business blew up.

I love that Jill very common-sensically observed a money-making opportunity and didn’t let the fact that she didn’t have an MBA or a background in imports or accessory-ware experience stop her.  She also didn’t go crazy and order a gazillion Bumble Bells.  She placed orders as needed, always with a few extra on hand, but never a warehouse full of dust-collecting baby anklets.  AND Jill has optimistic balls!  She frickin’ sent Gwen Stefani’s parents a handwritten-note.  What are the odds that that would actually turn into something?  Huge proponent of this type of thinking — go big.  If you shoot for the stars and fall just short, well that’s still pretty darn good.  So, Tim Ferriss, Jill and I are hosting an underground supper club for entrepreneurs in the Fall; I know you usually charge a million dollars for speaking engagements, but would you consider a free dinner, unlimited Franzia, and hanging with cheeky girl-hosts instead?

I can’t remember what story this relates to but at some point Jill said, “I didn’t spend a penny, not a penny.”  Oh, the resonation!  It’s the stories of everyday people who successfully start businesses not with a $500K loan from dad, lottery winnings, or savings they accumulated making Ridiculous Amount of Money at some corporate job, but with bartering sessions, a camera purchase with a payment plan that allowed for a year to pay for it with no interest accrued if paid on time, and having no shame in telling everyone and anyone about your business that resonate with me.  I had enough in savings to buy a Venti skinny vanilla latte when I started Mac ‘n Cheese.  My mom helped me buy an iMac.  An aunt gave me a $3000 loan.  The rest of the help I received was people referring folk to me and/or hiring me themselves.  I quickly realized the art of networking, the huge pay-off to going solo to things [you’re forced to meet new people or  you look like an idiot standing by yourself at the punchbowl], and to sign-up for a range of activities that I wanted to do anyway [guitar, improv, volunteering, alumni club], with the thought that if nothing comes of the activity other than you have a good time, that’s great; if you get a client out of it, cherry on top!  And more often than not, the latter occurred.

Jill, and most of the speakers I heard at TechWeek, is a huge fan of tell everyone your idea.  Don’t be worried about people stealing it.  I’ve been approached for years about franchises, trade-marks, copyrights, most recently at Fear Experiment when a patent lawyer came up to me post-show, pressed his card in my hand and said very sternly, “You need to call me right away.”  I don’t know, naive perhaps, but my thought has always been, if someone wants to steal one of my concoctions, more power to them.  I kinda stole the Mingler idea from others, tweaking it to fit my interests and needs.  It’s the curator of the events that drives the events’ success or failure, and call me crazy, but a six-foot biracial kinda-Jewish with a Jesuit-degree girl who wasn’t named for the first year of her life, didn’t get immunized until she was a junior in college, raised by a self-taught organic gardener single-mom, and grew up sans TV, microwave, tupperware, and car is hard to replicate.

Jill talked about how no one ever showed up to her online events, like webinars.  She learned the power of face to face.  And to that, I say amen!  People are hungry for opportunities that get them away from the computer screen, texts, and TVs.  Which is why I have an ever-growing list of folk who want to pay money to do something they’re bad at in front of A LOT of staring eyes.  Speaking of which, Fear Experiment Round Two mandatory info sessions coming soon, make sure you sign up to be alerted to dates/times!

Session #2: Kerry Knee and Mahlia Mustafa, The Fundamentals of a Winning Pitch

Kerry, the co-founder of Flirty Girl Fitness had many slides that scared me, due to the graphs, numbers, and vocabulary not in my vocabulary.

But she obviously knows what she’s talking about, with a very successful business that is thriving in an economy where many are failing.

She said to diversify your offerings.  Besides pole-dancing [and many other types of] classes, she also sells DVDs, clothing, poles, instructor certification [2500 people pay $40 a month].  A pal of mine once suggested I create “Minglers in a Box” and sell them to people interested in starting Minglers in their cities.  A Fear Experiment [FE] audience member asked at the show where he could get an FE tshirt.  Wheels spinning of stuff to sell in the Mac ‘n Cheese online store…

Kerry also pointed out that the investor is investing in YOU more than your idea.  If you’re passionate and likable, that’ll take you far.  I learned this recently when I had a practice session for the MIT Whiteboard Challenge [a whiteboard, a marker, an idea, and five minutes to convince a panel of judges to give you prize money] and knocked it out of the park, so said the panelists, with my personality, but then fell flat on my face in the actual competition when I lost that nervous, infectious energy.  And also ran out of time before I got to describe the success and money-making potential of my project, the two most important facts.  Oy.

Session #3: Funding Basics: What options are available?   Are they right for you?

This was a panel, wonderfully moderated by Desiree Vargas Wrigley of GiveForward [like Kickstarter but for medical expenses].  I used Kickstarter to raise money for the Fear Experiment program, over $5000 in a week; imagine doing that for a “real” cause!!

There were a lot of interesting bits, here are a few things that stood out —

Matt McCall, venture capitalist

  • When you go into the board room to ask for money, act like “you are lucky to be talking to me, maybe I’ll take your money”
  • Girls of working mothers are more independent and resilient than those of stay at home moms

Cliff Turner, angel investor

  • If you don’t get funded, ask why you didn’t get money
  • Don’t forget to ask for money; sometimes it truly is as simple as just asking

Jessica Kim, business owner

  • Raised a couple hundred thousand from friends/angels with a minimum of $10K to invest
  • Tell friends and family “If there’s a chance you will ever feel bitterness towards me, I don’t want your money”
  • Worst meetings were when she tried to fit a certain mold; just be yourself!

Rona Borre, business owner

  • Started with a $100K loan from dad and a promissory note
  • By month two, was cash flow positive and able to pay back Dad
Kurtis Trevan, Silicon Valley Bank, was also on the panel and said good stuff.  I just neglected to write specifics.  Sorry Kurtis!

Session #4: Penelope Trunk, Keynote Speaker

Penelope is a writer, mostly about careers, has a very popular blog, and is married to a Wisconsin farmer.

Many people did not like her message, or lack of a message they said, and were appalled that she was the Keynote.  Penelope doesn’t have a filter, is very crass, and often says what others will not [she has Asperger’s Syndrome].  She’s blogged about her abortions, her miscarriage in a boardroom, what it’s like to have sex with someone with Asperger’s, and lots of other really personal and controversial topics.

That said, while I may not have agreed with everything she said, I enjoyed her randomness, her un-pc’ness, and her humor.  With seemingly most of the people I know who saw her upset in the aftermath – a girl I rode down in the elevator with commented, “I was so inspired by today, [Penelope] really took the wind out of those sails” – I second-guessed myself and wondered if the fact that I wasn’t offended meant I was a horrible and/or dense person.  And then I decided not to spend any more time reflecting on the subject.  I thought she was weird and funny and out there, I chuckled, covered my eyes, and “Oh no’ed…” various times, and when I got home, I subscribed to her blog and asked the SPARK organizer how I could get the free copy of her book I had won.

Penelope started off saying she was going to list 7 Things that People do in Startups that Annoy Me.  I may have missed one, or she may not have gotten to seven as she was all over the place, but there’s what I gathered –

1. People who go after funding when their company shouldn’t be funded

2. Worry that people will steal your idea — pitch everyone!

3. Don’t ask for help

4. Horde equity

5. Go to all women stuff

6. Aren’t nice

Random Penelope Thoughts

  • Own your idea, say it’s your company, take ownership of it!
  • Funders are always rich white guys with a yacht and two families
  • Don’t have cursive fonts on your resume
  • People who like your idea will want to share it with their most connected folk
  • Women who are 29 have to get pregnant and women who are 35 want to work part time, so women want to be with men because men are willing to make work their lives
  • As a general rule, you never want to be in a room full of women
  • Investing is a people business so be nice
  • You need help from everyone
  • Follow-through with investors, entrepreneurs, employees
  • Be the humble, kind generous person because you’ll need it
  • For a tech conference, a room of ½ and ½ men and women is ALL women
  • It’s crazy how bad your eggs get when you’re 35
  • You have to be married to your company when you’re a startup
  • Every sector where it’s all women sucks (teacher, nurse)
  • No matter how much women make, they all want to be with a man who makes more
  • You should always have a partner [female is best if you’re a female]
  • Trait that unites all startup founders: ability to understand weaknesses and find those to surround you to compensate
  • Divorce rate for entrepreneurs is through the roof

She recounted how she put on her blog that she’d have a book for sale in three months, without having ever written a book and not having started this one, and made $25K in two weeks with pre-orders.  Wow.

So my take-aways from TechWeek, where I felt like I kinda belonged and kinda didn’t:

  • Things will fall into place if you’re proactive and start the wheels turning
  • Small steps can lead to huge things
  • Go big even if it seems unrealistic
  • Use simple slides
  • Tell everyone you know about what you’re doing
  • Be passionate
  • Get people to pre-order something I have no experience making and haven’t yet started
  • Elston is a great street for biking; Elston is a horrible street for walking one’s flat-tired heavy Dutch bike six-miles home after a long-day TechWeek conference

Five fights* I had before 8AM today

July 26, 2011

1. Soap

The soap in the shower has become a sliver.  Do you use it up like a good-economical person should do, or do you open a new bar and leave the sliver, willing it to somehow disappear?  Obviously, you suck it up and use the teeny soap for a few more washes, saving you billions.

Boyfriend retorts: “At that point, there’s so much hair on it, it won’t stick to the big soap, which is what you do with teeny soap; you stick it on the big bar.  So I can’t use it and have to open a new one, and use just that one.”

2. Bread

He opened a new loaf.  When there were still two pieces left of the old loaf.  But he refuses to eat “the butt.”  So again he leaves it, for the Magical Elf who tiptoes in at night to use soap slivers and eat bread butts.

3. Peanut Butter

“This is the worst thing ever.”  Boyfriend’s reaction to the amount of peanut butter I left in the jar, unwilling to believe there was enough to make his breakfast.  “You want this toast?”

I took the jar and scraped just the right amount of peanut butter onto each slice, and the then empty jar went into the trash.  More billions saved.

4. Dishwasher

“Nice knife placement.”  Boyfriend insists that if you put the knives all the way to the right in the dishwasher silverware-holder, they will cut through said-dishwasher.  I place the silverware in whatever compartment I see first and do not subscribe to the Knives of Ridiculous Strength & Power school of thought.

5. Sleep

I was entrepreneuring at 2:34AM.  Not in the I stayed up late sense, but in the I went to bed at 10pm and got up naturally at 2:34 sense.  I’ve been known to do a 4:30, a 6:23 before; this wakeup was an early one!  But I can’t control the entrepreneurial spirit within.  When it calls, I listen.  And that’s why I’ve been able to cobble together a living playing board games, hanging in coffeehouses, meeting interesting folk in my living room, and doing bad improv in front of a sold-out Park West.

“I can’t even describe my anger level right now.  This is the worst thing ever.  Can we talk about your sleep habits?”

While I’ll give him that routine and consistency is good, is healthy, Boyfriend just doesn’t understand what happens when you do what you love for a job.  Yet.  He’s on his way to becoming a passion-based entrepreneur too.  Check out his shiny new website!  He’ll be excitedly Macbooking at 3am in no time, as he finds a way to cobble together a living on (good) improv, beer, bikes, and connecting creative-types.

*Fights = sarcastic barbs lovingly thrown at one another; no actual material items thrown at one another

Does everyone want to entrepreneur on their laptop in Amsterdam?!?!

July 8, 2011

As I finished a book this morning in bed, Craving Success: a startup junkie’s path from passion to profits, I had one of those moments where you feel like someone is living inside your head as he/she shares your exact thoughts with your exact words —

You know how people always ask that question, “if you could change anything about your life right now, would you?”  I’m happy to say I wouldn’t.  I have a working life that allows me to practice a style of doing business that is engaging and motivating.  I do what I want, when I want to do it.  I don’t use an alarm clock because I live naturally.  If I can work ’til 2am and get up everyday at 10am I am happy.  If I can travel to Amsterdam with my husband and a laptop and continue my business (or start a new one there) I am even happier. – Melody Biringer, founder of the CRAVE company

In the past almost seven years of self-employment, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cited the fact that I wake with the sun not with an annoying beep as one of the great perks of being one’s own boss.

Ever since our trip to Amsterdam, Bruges, and Paris last summer, and our first professional collaboration [smashing success!  Sold out 700 seats at the Park West], I’ve wanted nothing more than to travel the world with Boyfriend, entreprenuring in London, mingling in Germany, Fear Experimenting in New York.  Me leading underground supper clubs and adult summer camps, him leading corporate improv sessions and bike the brewery tours, as we grow our businesses and perhaps start some news ones via our Mac Book Pros*, seated in a European coffeehouse booth in jeans and flip-flops, preparing for a day of sight-seeing followed by a night of connecting folk to folk.

A great travel blogger recently asked me about what my dream is for a post she’s working on, if I’m living it, and if not, what’s holding me back.  My answer was basically that yes, I’m living my dream; my one tweak would be to add more travel.

I’ve been kicking around adding that component for awhile, as I’ve been approached numerous times about taking my world to the rest of the world.  This morning, after reading Melody’s thoughts on scalability and her ideal work scenario, I had one of those just do it! moments.  Too soon to say if it was life-changing, but the wheels are turning and the adrenaline is rushing.

Excited for Mac ‘n Cheese On the Road!  Mac ‘n Cheese International!  Mac ‘n Cheese Remote!  I’ll work on the title.

But weeeee!  Exciting.  And scary.

*No, he still doesn’t fit Boyfriend Criteria, stubborningly refusing to go Mac over PC.  Working on it.

Four days in the woods with three guys – what a lady learned

June 28, 2011

If you’re reading this in a Reader, head over to the website so you can see the slideshow!!  The stench is palpable.

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What I learned after a Thursday-Sunday backpacking trip to North Manitou Island, Michigan, a place about six hours from Chicago with no cars allowed, the lone lady in a group of four —

  • One need not spend a bazillion dollars on the bestest equipment REI has to offer.  Wearers of expensive hiking-boots 0, Blisters 2.  Wearers of $30 gym shoes 2, Blisters 0.
  • Who knew you could be bad at stuffing something into a something?  There is an art to rolling a sleeping bag.  I do not posses the skills to do so.
  • “Do you like to hike?” is not the whole question.  “Do you like to hike with 20 lbs on your back?” is the whole question.  Two very different answers.
  • Men love euphemisms for “going number two” and can fill many an hour creating/discussing/laughing at them.
  • If you’re the type of person who constantly wants to know the time, bring a watch.  Asking “What time is it?” every three minutes is grating.
  • There is an adorable, sweet Ranger on the island – Ranger Phil – who looks to be early 30s, single, no kids [I asked].  Ten days on, four days off.  Ladies, who’s ready to uproot from civilization and become Mrs. Ranger Phil?  I think I saw a taser-gun!
  • Port o’Johns and Woods Bathroom’ing truly underscores that the way women and men are constructed is really really unfair.
  • A lady gets an illogical sense of pleasure when three men not only eat but hard-core enjoy PowerBar Pria 110 Plus nutrition bars, specially formulated to help fuel active women’s lifestyles without weighing them down.
  • I am at an age where being the odd-one-out because I’ve never been divorced is becoming common.  Divorcees this trip – 3, non-divorcees this trip – 1.  Weird.
  • I never thought that I’d turn down a food-item with “sausage” in the title.  Fish Sausage.  Bleh.
  • The wilderness makes hair grow abnormally fast in places on your body that you didn’t even know hair could grow.  If someone were to open a waxing stand on North Manitou, he/she would make a killing.
  • I don’t know if there was a big sporting event or Charlie Sheen moron’ed it up again or if someone’s best friend stole her boyfriend this weekend, but birds gossip A LOT.  Whatever happened to water cooler afternoon chit-chat?  Enough with the 4:30AM gossip-mill, Birdies!
  • Being without cell phones/email/internet is crazy-frustrating when not planned, crazy-nice when planned.
  • I have never loved anything as much as I loved the zipper on our tent; what power, what muscle, to keep the most annoying creatures on earth [mosquitoes and flies] at bay.
  • Naming state capitals and major league baseball teams a) is a great way to pass the time when climbing mountains with a small yak on your back, and b) can make you feel stupid and/or a little maniacal.
  • Axe-wielding, eye-patch’ed lunatics love to lurk around your tent all night, but for some reason, choose just to mess with your mind and not to chop you into pieces, and then disappear with daylight.
  • Trees as laundry racks are fun.
  • Phantom Bugs keep biting two days after you return to civilization.
  • It’s really really nice camping with people who’ve actually camped before.  Things on the trip that I wouldn’t have thought to bring: toilet paper, a shovel [bathroom holes], duct tape, rain tarp, headlamp, summer sausage, sleeping pad, bungy cords.
  • Follow your gut, it’s almost always right.
  • Never follow your gut, it’s rarely right.
  • A car that you can only open with a beeping key-button thingy is annoying in real life, and uber-annoying when in nature.  Sorry fellow campers — I kept forgetting stuff in the car!  At 6AM.  Oops.
  • Having to tie your food in a tree before bed is annoying.
  • I still feel weird getting naked outdoors, even if I know no one is within eyeshot.
  • Freeze-Dried Food in a Bag ain’t all that bad.  Hello Chicken Vindaloo, Katmandu Curry, and Chana Masala.
  • New favorite Bachelor Party idea — to the wilderness, Boys!  In matching t-shirts no less.
  • Poorly drawn maps suck.
  • When you’re around others who smell bad, you don’t really smell that bad.
  • It is not a backpack if it doesn’t have a hip-belt.  Do not fool yourself into thinking you are camping-ready just because your “backpack” is of the Eagle Creek variety.
  • Rain Insurance should exist.
  • I’m as obsessed with people who do stuff alone in the woods as I am on the mainland.  A guy took the ferry over with us on Friday, alone; I eyed him, very curious as to his story.  On the return ferry Sunday, aha!  We sat next to each other and I found out he chose to celebrate his 21st birthday backpacking solo for a few days.
  • Lake Michigan doesn’t have to have be ecoli-laden.  Lake Michigan can be as crystal clear as the water in the Caribbean.
  • It takes three minutes of not being able to find the campsite at 3AM after a walk to “the bathroom” for my panic button to be pressed.  Thank god for the reflectors on one of our backpacks in the distance as I wildly swung my head-lamp’ed head around in certainty I was about to die.
  • Going to bed at 9pm is odd enough.  Add into that equation full daylight, surreal.
  • Wooden signs reaffirming you made the right turn are the best things ever.
  • Taking your shoes off after a day of hiking is the best thing ever.
  • Seeing the small dot of a ferry coming to rescue, er, pick you up, is the best thing ever.
  • You can still be a hardcore backpacker if you bring along a French Press.
  • You can still be a hardcore backpacker if you bring along wine.
  • Camouflage comes in many many many different styles.
  • Camping is the ultimate bonding experience.
  • A Dairy Queen Blizzard in South Haven, Michigan at 3:30pm is not quite enough ice cream in a day.  A Scooter’s Concrete Mix-In back home at 8:30pm is not quite enough either.  Another Scooter’s Concrete Mix-In at 8:32pm, after accidentally taking from the walk-up window, and then eating a few bites of, someone else’s order, is just right.  So what if his was vanilla and you ordered chocolate, making your mix-up pretty incomprehensible.  His fault for not claiming the treat fast enough.

How a lovely relationship has closed my womb

May 31, 2011

It’s always been a given that I want to have kids.  That is, until I came into a loving, healthy, fun, stable, invigorating, hilarious relationship.

My interest in and experience with tykes began for not the most noble reason — as a freshman in high school, I needed ten hours of community service to become a member of the National Honor Society and was looking for a quick way to fulfill the requirement [my life was very busy with watching A Different World and ashamedly shopping at Lane Bryant; not a lot of time to spare].  The flyer read – “Do arts ‘n crafts with kids in an afterschool program Wednesdays.”  Cutting and pasting for a couple of hours didn’t seem daunting, and so that’s how I found myself on a school bus from Evanston to Cabrini Green.

After my ten hours, I kept returning.  My interest in public housing and all-issues inner-city was piqued, the immediate love and rockstar status the kids anointed me every week was intoxicating.  A year later, I was coordinator of the program.  That plus my standing Saturday night babysitting job for two kids, both until graduation, cemented children into my formative years.

While in college, I mentored a teen, created a pen-pal program between my freshman residents when I was an RA and kids who lived in public housing, was a summer camp counselor, and interned at Teen Voices Magazine.  Post college, I coordinated a Saturday morning volunteer program at an Englewood elementary school for five years, taught and continue to teach digital media to hundreds of Chicago Public School students in under-resourced neighborhoods, and continue relationships with various kids I’ve met over the years.

All this is to say, other people’s kids have been a constant in my life and I knew that one day, I’d complement [replace?] your kids with those from my own loins.

Over the year and half that I’ve been dating Boyfriend, of course I’ve done the obligatory girl-thing, where you write your first name and his last name, where you envision what type of food on a stick you’ll have at your wedding, where you conjure up images of the results of a DNA-smushing, where you think “Wow, Boyfriend will be such a good dad!”…

But weirdly, as we’ve gotten more serious, my urge to procreate has lessened.  To the point now where I don’t know if I want to have kids.

We bike thirty-five miles to Three Floyds Brewery in Munster, Indiana.  We Trader Joe’s at 9:30PM.  We go on two-week European vacations where we fly by the seat of our pants, pack light, and eat street food.  We go to late-night improv shows.  We do bar trivia.  We get to Millennium Park hours early to get good seats for Iron & Wine.  We have a GoogleDoc of eateries we want to try, many of which are bars/pubs, none of which are Chucky Cheese.  We cringe when we see large families or tiny-beings within a year or two of each other.  We already have to schedule get-togethers weeks/months down the line.  We have dreams of European bike trips, more professional collaboration [do you need someone to lead your office in team-building/improv activities?!?  Contact me!] and the creation of Boyfriend/Girlfriend LLC.

I don’t want to spend my money on diaper-genies and jars filled with mashed peas.  I don’t want to spend my time car-pooling other people’s critters, baking for school fundraisers, or devising discipline scenarios.  I don’t want our conversations to revolve around sitters, field trips, tap class, and report cards.  I like an empty backseat that we can fill with doughnuts or six-packs or bike accessories.  I like that we can leave for an outing carrying nothing but keys and a wallet.  I like that we don’t fight.

I’m sure there are parents who answer questions about the ’80s at Riverview Tavern on random Tuesday nights, who talk about TV shows that aren’t brought to you by the Letter R, and who have tons of energy and are always up for whatever.  It just seems few and far between.

For now at least, I choose spontaneity, light backpacks, and 3AM Golden Nugget pancakes.

New Address: Saya & Boyfriend, Chicago, IL

April 28, 2011

There are two car households.  Are there two refrigerator households?  My food fills mine, and I’m just not sure there’s room for any beer and chicken fingers.  Crossing fingers Boyfriend brings his own when he moves in on Saturday.

I’ve lived with guys before, but never of the romantic variety.  I have many thoughts and questions.

Are there two peanut-butter households? [heavenly creamy & why would you do that to yourself chunky]

Two toilet-paper households? [Scott just makes frugal-sense 1000 sheets per roll & Charmin waste of money thick-cut bacon depth 3 sheets per roll]

Two bread households? [refrigerated* or pantry-ed]

*I do not like cold bread, but a) it stays fresh longer and b) I always warm up my bread anyway.

I ate a pint of ice cream in one sitting earlier this week.  I have not done that in…years.  But a voice at Trader Joe’s said to me, “This is the last time you can consume a pint of ice cream in your home and not be judged.  Buy it!  Do it!”  Here’s to those days being over and that voice hopefully silenced; she’s stupid.

In my love of efficiency, I do not stir drinks that most others stir.  Hot cocoa?  Powdered mix in mug, hot water on top of mix, drink.  Lemonade?  Powdered mix in jug, cold water on top of mix, drink.  Coffee?  Coffee into cup, powdered creamer on top of coffee, drink.  Boyfriend hates this and makes a face to prove it each time I do it.  I hope he can internalize his gags and just accept my adorable tendencies.  The amount of time I save…

Exciting news!  You may know my strong feelings about beds, placement of and design of.  If you’re over twenty-six, your bed shouldn’t be in the corner; the only part that should touch the wall is the headboard.  Which of course you should have.  I’ve been able to complete those two parts of the Bed-Trifecta for years, but alas, the final segment has eluded me.  Size.  But with the ousting of my ten-year old IKEA full-size eyesore in exchange for Boyfriend’s queen-size adulthood splurge, I will finally be a card-carrying member of my own club.

I have lived alone for eight-ish years.  I’m an only child.  I’m self-employed and work from home.  I’m a Scorpio.  I’m the biggest fan of Saya-Time.  And Saya-Organization of Items.  And Saya-Chore Schedule.  And Saya-Fall Asleep with the Radio On.  And Saya-Adjust the Thermostat.  And Saya-Pull the Shower Curtain All the Way Open When Done Showering So Mildew Doesn’t Grow, It Doesn’t Make Sense to Do it Any Other Way.

Yet, the only thing I’m nervous about is that I’m not nervous.

Dear Life: Next Chapter, I’m ready!  And don’t tell Boyfriend, ready to compromise.  And giddily-excited.

How Shakespeare made me feel thin

April 23, 2011

Check out others’ musings on William Shakespeare’s impact on their lives, as bloggers around the world chime in in celebration of his birthday

I visited Stratford-Upon-Avon, Shakespeare’s birth place, a few years ago.

[attempt to conjure up story about how while I walked down the cobblestone paths that his lyrical feet pitter-pattered upon and while I stood in front of his childhood home, a bolt of inspiration struck and was the impetus of my now best-selling, award-winning novel]

Nothing of significance happened.  I bought an apricot jam for my mom and for myself, a British flag knit-cap that I wear to and from the gym, ate an expensive lunch, meandered in a musty-chapel, and took the train back to London.

My Shakespeare Moment occurred not in England, but in Evanston, Illinois at Chiaravalle Montessori School, where in second grade, I was cast as Titania, the queen of the fairies in Midsommer Night’s Dream.

I have no recollection of the actual play – rehearsals, fellow actors, lines, audience reaction, any of the story beyond a mischievous elf? named Puck.  What I do remember is that I wore what in my seven year-old mind was the most breathtaking dress in the entire world (probably more appropriate for a 1973 disco-queen than for a 1593 fairy-queen – full-length, billowy, A-line, with silver sequin along the top, and made of the brightest fuchsia material known to mankind) and that I felt important and girly and beautiful.  And that I haven’t had that feeling many times since in my thirty-two years.

I started growing, upward and outward, in third-grade, so the feminine roles always went to Ashley, Jessica, and Jennifer.  Leading roles always went to, well, those who could act.  Acting is not one of my skills; the Fear Experiment audience members a couple of weeks ago witnessed that train-wreck as I attempted to challenge myself by doing something that I’m bad at [improv] in front of many [700], and I opened the three-hour show with a scene in a gynecologist office when the crowd suggestion was “optometrist.”  So needless to say, I have not been a part of many theatrical performances in my life, let alone cast in a lead role.  But there I was, Titania.  Queen.  Someone with a name.  Someone with servants.  And because I have no memory of tears or running off stage or peeing in my pants, I can only assume that I rocked the role.  As Titania, I was appropriately-sized and oscar-worthy.

I’ve achieved many things and have a lot to be proud of and thankful for.  Graduating from a good school [Boston College], celebrating six years of self-employment, living in a wicked cool converted toy-factory, belonging to a supportive family, dating a Southern boy with cute cheeks and a sweet heart.

But a second-grade play of which I remember little is what I point to as a life highlight because it made me feel like a pretty girl.  That’s weird.  Sad.  Makes me take pause.

It is a powerful force how we feel about ourselves physically and how we see ourselves fitting [or in my case, not fitting] into stereotypical gender roles.  Powerful enough to make us lose perspective and become a tad irrational.  But oh how lovely I felt.

Thank you Sir William for allowing a big-boned Midwestern girl to feel like a tiny-boned pink princess, even if that sounds superficial and really not that important in the grand scheme of things.  Queen Titania curtsies before you.

So that’s what a panic attack feels like

April 9, 2011

You might think my panic attack yesterday had to do with the fact that I’m performing at the Park West tonight in front of 700 people, as Fear Experiment has finally arrived.  And coordinating the event.  Which entails a silent auction, dinner, a slideshow, playbills, ticket-taking, music playlists, reserved seats, two films, thirteen volunteers, a photographer, two videographers, a makeup artist, fifty-five nervous nelly non-dancers and non-improvisers dancing and improvising, and a bunch of other stuff my brain can’t process anymore and refuses to articulate at this moment.

But my panic attack had nothing to do with Fear Experiment.

While chatting with my yoga teacher before class yesterday, she nonchalantly said, “We’re moving to Santa Barbara in October.”

What?!?!

We’ve been together for about two years now.  She was my first.  I’ve been with others, five, six, maybe seven; none of them compare.  In fact, most were horrid.  We see each other one to three times a week.  She’s been with me through fat-days and skinny-days.  She’s seen me progress, she’s seen me struggle.  She’s stepped in my sweat puddles and inhaled my stinkyness.  She’s witnessed me in heartbreak, she’s witnessed me in love.  She’s given me the ability to do half a push-up after a lifetime of no push-ups.

I really don’t know what I’m going to do.

No, there is no other yoga teacher in the entire city of Chicago!  No, I will not embrace change or give someone else a chance!

If I freeze or start crying on stage tonight, it’s a good bet that it’ll have nothing to do with the fact that I just made a joke nobody laughed at or that I just fist-pumped left when I was supposed to fist-pump right.  It’ll  be because I’m envisioning life without Yoga Teacher.  My own personal Fear Experiment in the middle of the real Fear Experiment.

When you look in the mirror, who do you see?

April 1, 2011

I was driving home from one of my schools yesterday, blasting silly pop music, window slightly open, about to get on the highway at 45th, when a red light slowed my homeward-progress.  I made a small groan.  Not because of the stoppage but because of the pan-handler advancing my way.  Just came out of a very rough class with some very surly teenagers [who doesn’t love ending the quarter with a “Fuck you, old lady!”] and wasn’t in the mood to play the avert my eyes-feel like a horrible person for being annoyed by someone in a not so wonderful position game.  But steadily she came.

A woman, about sixty, long brown well-worn trench coat, brown knit cap, tan face smothered with wrinkles.  She stopped at the first car and shook her cup.  The driver ignored her.  She shook her cup once more, with a steady gaze into the window.   C’mon light, c’mon light, change.  Oh no, quick do something, maybe she’ll pass you.  Suddenly adjusting my ponytail in the rearview mirror was the most important task in the world, compelling all of my attention.  I could feel her advance.  I work hard for my money, why should I have to part with it?  How do I know what she’s going to do with it?  She can’t get a job?  Ugh, I’m the worst person in the world.  Give her a dollar.  I just bought a purse I don’t need at Target and I can’t give her a buck?  The worst person ever.  Oh man, I wish my window wasn’t cracked.

She shook her cup at me.  I shook my head in her general direction, tight-lip smile, and continued to stare straight ahead.  Is this the longest light in the world?  She mumbled something, my Katy Perry was too loud, I couldn’t hear her.  Was probably something about hunger or the lord or having a heart.  Usually I would continue to stare anywhere but in her direction, with a what I hoped was a “I’m really sorry for your circumstance but I’m not going to give you money so please go away” look.  She mumbled again.  For some reason, I made eye-contact and allowed a much bigger than usual smile.  She grinned and started talking again.  I turned down Katy Perry.

“What’s that?”

“You know who you look like?  Julia Roberts.”

I sputtered in surprise, she turned back to the curb, and the light changed.

I still don’t get this oft-cited comparison.  But if someone who has a lot more significant issues to deal with in her life than frivolous People magazine celebrity chatter deems it so, ok, I’ll take it.

I’m sorry I asked you not to clap for me

March 24, 2011

If you’re reading this in an RSS reader, you may want to head over to the site to see the pretty slideshow!

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Continuing on the Solo Life, where I try to do one thing a week/month by myself, and continuing on the scare the crap out of myself journey, last night I was a part of Ignite Chicago.  Ten-ish people get up and talk about whatever they want for twenty slides, each fifteen seconds long.

Now you may be saying, Saya, this sounds exactly like Pecha Kucha, which you presented at in September 2009; why would this scare you?  While very similar – can talk about any topic for an allotted amount of time with an allotted amount of slides – there were four major differences.

1) No notes!  This was not an Ignite-rule, but a Saya-imposed rule.  I’m in complete awe of people who are effective no-notes presenters.   I thought I’d get in some practice last night.  I wasn’t worried I’d forget what I wanted to say, but notes are a security blanket for me.  So in essence, I presented naked.  Not pretty for you or I.  But accomplished.

2) Five minutes!  Pecha Kucha was much much longer at six minutes forty seconds [aka twenty second slides instead of fifteen second slides].  The amazingness I could’ve spewed with that extra time.

3) Life!  September 2009 was a long time ago.  I’ve done so much since then – traveled to Amsterdam/Paris/Belgium, snared a boyfriend, sold-out the Park West for a little dance ‘n improv show of mine, eaten at a Chick-Fil-A [and many other Southernesque things], added Coffee to services offered from my business, been featured on a bike blog with my Dutch baby, accepted a position as the Chicago partner for CRAVE Chicago, eaten sushi, and pushed a shopping cart around Chicago for seven hours – how can I be expected to talk about my life in less time than two years ago?!?

4) Preparation!  Or lack thereof!  I’m a planner.  I like to create, revise, take a break, revise, break, revise.  For Pecha Kucha, I had, and used, three months.  For Ignite, I had five days to create my slides and my words.  During a ridiculously busy period.  At first I was irked to be given such little time.  But then I embraced it as a challenge.

So, I was nervous.

Ignite took place at one of my favorite venues in Chicago, Catalyst Ranch.  Exposed brick, mismatched comfy furniture, free gum balls and jolly ranchers, every bright color in the universe, high ceilings.

I was second at Pecha Kucha, second to last at Ignite.  Definitely prefer the former.  Being towards the end only furthers the amount of time you question yourself and the amount of people who leave [though I only saw two early-exit’ers last night].

Wide range of topics – how to get rid of your crap, how to make bacon, a person finding solace in driving, how to get and keep customers, myths of the cosmetic industry…  my title was “How to Get Paid To Do What You Love.”

Wide range of presentation skills and approaches, from seated reading from an iPhone, to juggling while talking, to steady eye-contact with the audience to steady eye-contact with the screen.

I’d like to improve in two areas –

1) Speed.  I become a motor-mouth at these things.  I marvel at those who get tons of info out in a controlled and non-frenetic pace.

2) Fluster.  I get flustered when a slide changes before I want it to, which results in sweat, babbles, ums, uhs, overall incoherence.

I learned that sometimes less is better.  Though the presentation could’ve been better in various ways, and perhaps would’ve been if I had more prep time, I got a great response.

Ran out of business cards, line of folk to chat with me afterward, lovely tweets and emails!

“@sayahillman @IgniteChicago Your #ignitechi presentation was great – Who knew you could make a living that way – incredible”

“@sayahillman #ignitechi great talk Saya, to-do lists can be strategic as well as tactical.”

“@timjahn @startupstella Much Thanks for #ignitechi last night – especially liked how personable it is for people that go alone @sayahillman”
“@caseyfictum thanks for coming! @sayahillman is my hero :)”

“I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation and speaking to you last night at Ignite Chicago, Saya.  A lot of what you said will greatly influence the way I’ll navigate independent employment moving forward.”

Great time!  Worth the extra deodorant I had to apply.

Tip: don’t tell the audience not to clap for you.  Upon hearing we sold out the Park West [700 seats!], they all very nicely hooted and clapped.  I replied, “Don’t clap, I don’t have time for clapping!”  Classic smooth move.

Girl’s post on the internet has brought Boy & Girl to this

March 11, 2011

The First 18 Steps in a Relationship

1. December 2009 – Boy meets Girl, bearing a six-pack and wearing slippers, in her living room filled with thirty-nine other strangers, after he sees a post about Mac ‘n Cheese Minglers on an improv message board; he sticks around at the end of the evening and piques her interest with talk of BBQ and spreadsheets

2. January 8, 2010 – Girl has plans to stop by Boy’s improv show and then jet off to a friend’s moving away party; she stays four hours later than planned and doesn’t arrive in Bucktown till 1AM [note how she calls Boy a “new friend” in the post]

3. January 23, 2010 – Boy asks Girl to a neuroscience workshop and BBQ; they end up at neuroscience workshop and the Hungry Brain for drinks.  They have fun.  After a few hours, her contacts bother her, and she says, “My contacts are bothering me.  I should go home.”  Boy thinks Girl is making up an excuse.  He drives her home.  They sit awkwardly in his car for twenty-minutes.  Weird side hug.

[Girl finds out later that Boy felt deflated after contact comment and thought it meant Girl wasn’t interested.]

4. January 27, 2010 – Girl asks Boy to improv show.  Boy and Girl sit on couch post-show and share their lives.  Girl is clued into maybe this is a date after Boy rubs the same spot on her left calf for two hours.

5. January 29, 2010 – Boy in Wisconsin for bachelor party.  Girl texts him while out for drinks with a friend that the bar she’s at has Cribbage, a game they had just discussed.  Girl comes home to change before heading out for a friend’s birthday.  Boy texts her.  Flurry of texts back and forth.  Girl never makes it to birthday party, instead choosing to lay in bed, waiting for her phone to vibrate.  Boy admits he likes her and that he can’t help go against the advice he was given of not contacting Girl over the weekend.  Girl admits, to herself, that she likes Boy.

6. February 14, 2010 – Weird Valentine’s Day timing, early in the relationship, is it even a relationship?  What do you do?  Girl gives Boy a collage of inside jokes/photos, and a mix CD.  Boy gives Girl a vase filled with Fig Newtons [she loves them].

7. February 2010 – Boy installs a movie screen at Girl’s home.  Boy takes Girl out for her first sushi.

8. March 2010 – Boy and Girl throw a Taboo game night party, half her friends, half his friends.  Boy and Girl buy airline tickets to visit her friends in Amsterdam.  In July!  Girl falls asleep at dance rehearsal and Boy almost drives off the road en route to Peoria due to weeks of going to bed at 4, 5, 6AM.

9. May 2, 2010 – Boy meets Girl’s family.  Everyone loves Boy.

10. July 3, 2010 – Boy says “I love you.”  Girl says “I love egg mcmuffins.”

11. July 14 – July 28, 2010 – Boy and Girl go to Amsterdam, Bruges, and Paris, and have the time of their lives.

12. September 7, 2010 – Boy gives Girl key to his place.  Girl gives Boy key to her place a few weeks later.  Girl brings up living together at some point down the road, Boy agrees it’s a good idea, down the road.

13. October 1, 2010 – Girl meets Boy’s mom, when she comes to visit from Louisiana.

14. October 31, 2010 – Boy and Girl go to Mumford & Sons concert.  Best concert of their lives.

15. December 23, 2010 – Boy and Girl drive fourteen hours to Louisiana for Christmas.  Girl’s first time in the South. Eyeopening.

16. January 2011 – Boy and Girl embark on first professional collaboration, he improv teacher, she improv student.  It’s great.  They discuss future collaboration opportunities.

17. February 2011 – Girl says how about moving in end of May.  Boy says how about end of April.

18. March 11, 2011 – Girl reserves Uhaul for end of April.

Prescription for your headache

March 3, 2011

If you read this in a Reader and can’t view images, you might want to head over to the actual blog to see the slideshow

Venue-search, spreadsheets, deadlines, nagging, lower-back pain from computer-hunching, working weekends, working for pennies — this makes all the headaches worth it.

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How often does one get to be in a father/son scene, in what starts as a seemingly innocent game of catch only for the game to quickly deteriorate into a shouting match of son not living up to father’s expectations and father accused of being fake, from the women he dates all the way down to his mustache, with a super-fun partner surrounded by a super-supportive crowd of adventurous, diverse, intelligent, and fearless people?

Just another Thursday night.

Photos courtesy of the Amazing Rich Chapman

This is rehearsal for Fear Experiment: the Show, 4/9 at the Park West.  Info on how to get tickets.

Eating chocolate blind

March 3, 2011

I was chatting with a teacher at one of my schools early one morning when I noticed his eyes darting back and forth between my eyes and my chin.

“You have a little bit of chocolate right there,” he said, pointing to the nether-region of my face.

Embarrassed to a) be a chunky girl with food on her face and b) be a human being with anything on her face, how hard is it to look in the mirror?, I nodded knowingly – of course there’s chocolate on my face –  quickly wiped my hand across my chin and replied, “Oh yeah.”  Giggle giggle.  I can’t believe I left the house like this, though not surprising.  I love chocolate.  And feel bad when I eat it, so often consume it in odd ways.  Quickly.  Eyes closed.

But as we parted ways, I perplexedly walked to the studio.  I hadn’t eaten chocolate in… days?  When was the last time?  A pudding.  That was like, last Wednesday.  Did I leave the pudding lid in bed and roll in it last night?  In a stress-coma, did I not only swap chocolate-peanut butter with my lotion, but proceed to moisturize with it?

And then I had the same feeling as when I walked home from Schuba’s one night, after a few drinks, and stood in front of a business on Southport for ten-minutes staring at the words painted on its window – Blind Cleaning Service.  Wow!  That’s such a wonderful thing they’re doing, giving jobs to people who can’t see.  And what an undertaking, cleaning without the ability to see!  I wonder how they do that.  How do they see where to dust?  If they’ve gotten all the lasagna out of the pan? That training must be fascinating and really in-depth.  I’m not sure I’d hire a blind maid.  But kudos to people who do.

The next morning, I popped up in bed and exclaimed, “Ohhhhh!  Blind Cleaning Service.  Like blinds.  On a window.”

And that’s how I felt when I realized the teacher had said, “You have a little bit of chalk right there.”

What kind of life does one lead when she’s told at 8AM on a Thursday that she has chocolate on her face and it doesn’t phase or surprise her?

Why I had an amazing experience yet still want my money back

March 2, 2011

I had a most wonderful evening a couple of weeks ago, climaxing with tickets to the sold-out Decemberists show at the Riviera.  It was a great concert, with high-energy, a crowd who was there to actually listen to the show, new and old songs, an easy to get to and easy to see in venue, non-ridiculous ticket prices, and a nice boy next to me.

So, why do I want my money back?

I was driving to one of my schools yesterday, a twenty-six-ish minute drive.  I listened to Sons & Daughters on repeat the whole way there.  And home.  Singing at the top of my lungs.  I do not know why I love this song so much.  Weird lyrics.  Amazing harmony.  Guitar-picking that makes the heart melt.  Rounds – who doesn’t love rounds in songs?  Boyfriend says it’s the crescendo.  Whatever the reason, I love it.  And the Decemberists didn’t play it.

I’ve gone to concerts before where there was a song I really wanted to hear and the artist didn’t play it.  But I’ve never not gotten over the fact, usually just shrugging my shoulders and saying “Oh well.”  Yet here I am.  Three weeks later.  Upset.  Fist waving.  Cursing Colin, who I’m sure is a perfectly nice man who doesn’t deserved to be cursed at.  Demanding he repay me.

Or at least give me a private in-home concert.  Playing just that song.  Over and over.

Spending Friday night calculating last year’s mileage makes me make bad choices

March 1, 2011

You know how everything will be ok if you can just reach 120, 150, 200?  That random, elusive, magic weight-number.

My number has always been what it says on my driver’s license, so I can stop living the lie I’ve been living since I was sixteen [well, I got down below it a couple of years ago.  For seven minutes].  Re-attained today!  180.  178.8 in fact.  Which is great.

But.

I was at Target on Friday.  Healthy healthy week.  A good week.  A bit stressed at the end, with my CPA tax-meeting looming [and I never wish self-employed, home-business, 1099s from a bazillion different companies taxes on anyone!] thus having to get all my financial papers in order, plus walking away from a great-paying job because the client has been a huge source of stress for months, plus having a really important part of my current baby Fear Experiment [FE], crumbling and potentially being a disaster, plus having tons of editing and teaching projects to do, the projects that actually pay my bills, yet spending most of my time on FE which nets me enough to buy a venti latte.  And so I went to Target for Kleenex and shampoo, and left with those things and a bag of Hostess donuts.  My nemesis.

I waited to check-out behind a thirty-something woman, who looked to have just come from the gym across the street.  Black leggings, ponytail, flushed face, sweat-spotted t-shirt.  And oh my, such a healthy selection in your cart [I love looking in people’s carts!].  Yogurt, GoLean, bottled water, greens, mushrooms, Cliff bars… I could tell, she meant business.  She power-walked out of the store.  Those quads, that ass.  <—— jealous.  I put my stuff on the belt and hoped the cashier wouldn’t guess I was going to inhale every one of those donuts as she swiped them across the scanner.

I got in my car.  Groceries in the trunk.  Except for my nemesis.  She sat in the passenger seat.  I got a couple of blocks away.  Pulled up to a red light in front of Diversey Rock ‘n Bowl.  Stuffed a donut in my mouth.  The. Best. Ever.  Ate another one.  And another one.  Looked over to my right.  There was Athletic Lady from the store, in her fitting SUV; I bet she hikes on the weekends.  Ugh, she’s so perfect.  But then, oh no, oh wait… you’re not…

She cracked her window, inhaled deeply, and let her hand hang heavily on the glass, cigarette ash falling to the street.

There I was, making such wonderful choices all week, with my salads, whole-grain bread, green tea, and daily sixty-minutes of cardio.  There she was, filling her cart with longevity, clear skin, and light-yellow pee.  Yet there we sat, undoing all that goodness that took so much effort, in just a few seconds.  With donuts and cancer-sticks.

 

And this is how much I weigh two weeks later.

February 21, 2011

Just like my life has been a rollercoaster of emotion the past month, so has my attempt to shed pounds, er, be healthy.

Unlike the typical peaks and valleys format of The Life Rollercoaster though, The Be Healthy Rollercoaster was mostly all speeding downhill, arms waving, huge smile, yelling in excitement.  Started at 187.  Got down to 181!

But then these things happened –

Saturday shopping at IKEA.  Damn you delicious Swedes and your buns.  Saturday Fear Experiment potluck.  Damn you good and ridiculously-generous cooks.

Ended at 184.

That’s ok, I’m not terribly upset because besides the Swedish Experiment hiccup, it wasn’t terribly hard.  I didn’t alter my exercise regimen at all, just limited myself to three regular-sized meals and a couple of healthy snacks per day.

According to random Ideal Weight and Height Chart, I should be 176 [no comment on how I’m ignoring that it says “144-176,” I can’t fathom anything below 170].  So that’s what I’m striving for.

Come April 9th, the date of the big Fear Experiment Show at the Park West, when I’m going to be hysterically funny in front of 700, I’m also going to be hysterically svelte.  I’m not sure what that means.  I hope it means less jiggle and being able to fit in the size 8 shorts that’ve been sitting in my closet, tags on, untouhced, for a year.

Onwards and upwards!

I Hate/Love/Hate/Love My Life

February 18, 2011

This past month has been a rollercoaster of emotion, where I’ve teared up out of happiness and out of frustration, numerous times…

Where’s My Power Suit?

After seeing an interview of me on Beyond the Pedway, a guy asked me to be a participant in a project of his —

I convene a roomful of senior business folks.
On behalf of a non-profit or government agency.
For a 3-hour, full-contact, pro-bono strategy session.
To begin to solve a single intractable, fundamental challenge.

Innovative idea!  I was tickled to be considered “senior business folk.”  I can’t reduce a fraction, none of my clothes are by Italian designers, and I’ve never eaten at Gibson’s Steakhouse.  I’ll try to be business-y regardless.

On the Air

While I’ve been interviewed many times, for newspapers, magazines, radio, and TV, I’ve never been live.  I had my first “oh god, what if  I say Nazi or poo or reveal _____’s secret I swore I’d never tell” experience when I was interviewed on WGN-radio about being an entrepreneur.  The interview took place in the showcase studio, overlooking Michigan Avenue.  I felt bad for the passersby who saw the mics and headsets, and felt the 90 billion watt soundwaves emanating from the Tribune Tower, and thus eagerly pressed their faces to the windows to get a glimpse of Angelina and Brad only to see a 6′ frizzy-haired ball of nerves who finds it impossible to only make one piece of toast in a two-slot toaster regardless of how hungry or not hungry she is.  But overall, it was a very enjoyable experience.  All six minutes.  I slipped in something about Fear Experiment, which was my only real goal.  And I must not have sounded like a complete fool, as I got a bunch of new sign-ups for the Minglers, my newsletter, and my business, who said they heard me on the radio.

The Trouble with Turning Fun into a Job

While last year’s Dance Experiment was pure fun, this year’s incarnation has not been.  When I’m actually improv’ing, it’s wonderful; the other stuff?  Bleh.  Most of the stress is rooted in high-class problems, like an increased size and performing at the prestigious, and very expensive, Park West, but that doesn’t make the twenty-hour plus weeks spent on something that’s garnishing me financial peanuts easy to swallow.  If I do this again, it’ll have a higher participation fee to compensate me for my time.  And I’ll make sure to clearly state expectations of participants at a mandatory pre-adventure meeting.  Learning experience.

Due to the popularity, I added Improv Experiment to Dance Experiment, which resulted in Fear Experiment – forty-one adults, and fourteen students of mine from a high-poverty community, pushing themselves in dance and/or improv, in preparation for a show in April; that more than doubled the participant numbers, which has made for much more time spent on coordinating.  The annoying type of coordinating.  Like sending an email titled “Here’s the Date of the Show!”, and then getting nine “What’s the date of the show?” messages.  Or sending “please send me ____ by _____” messages once, twice, five times.  Being put in the role of a nag is not fun.

Hugs!  From Friends and Strangers.

One source of stress has been trying to find a printer who’ll donate the printing of our playbill; if we don’t get it donated, we don’t have a playbill.  After two months of many of us reaching out and getting rejection after rejection, I came up with the idea to make our need a Kickstarter project.  Kickstarter is an awesome website which gives little-fish a chance to get their creative projects funded.  You ask for an amount, you have a deadline in which to raise said-amount, and if you get enough people to pledge 100% of the amount by the deadline, you get the money and the pledgers get cool rewards; if you fall short, you get nothing, they get nothing.

The outpouring of pledge-love has been overwhelming.  It looks like we just may pull this off.


Mom On-Line!

My mom and I have had a consistent relationship since I was a child where I’ll suggest a genius idea, she’ll hear it but not be ready to embrace it – she’s a big “on my own time” person – and five years later, will follow-through on my genius suggestion and usually end up very happy with her decision [Exhibit A) switch from PC to MAC, Exhibit B) back up your computer].  After retiring from the landscape and garden business about five years ago, she became an “equitable food and farm economies” consultant.  While very rewarding, interesting, and much-needed, it’s proven tough to generate a consistent cash-flow.  A year or so ago, I suggested she create a simple website as a possible way to help increase income.  Four years earlier than tradition, with little help from me, my non-techy mother created a website!  And it looks great.


A Little but Much Needed Pick Me Up

I accidentally stumbled upon a recent blog post by one of the Dance Experiment participants from last year, which made me smile.  Thanks DJ Sparklebomb!


Really Universe?  Do You Hate Me That Much?

On a Sunday when I was up against multiple deadlines, and had already spent all Friday and Saturday working, I began working on my e-newsletter at 6AM.   Worked on it until 5PM-ish.  Was about to hit send and noticed that my logo was an old version.  I selected the logo and pressed delete.  Or so I thought.  I must’ve selected the text box of the entire email.  Everything disappeared.  And the auto-save that is usually a blessing decided right then to enact itself, saving the just updated version, so no undoing my last action.  In one second, I undid a day’s worth of work.


Helping Others Be Able to Shop at Trader Joe’s Tuesday at 10:30AM

There’s a huge tech conference this summer in Chicago and I was asked to be a part of a committee to put together a workshop for women entrepreneurs.  Fun!  Collaboration with inspiring people!  Helping others do what they love for a living!


Generosity Exemplified

An extremely-skilled photographer is driving into the city from Algonquin – it took him about two hours last night – at least once a week for three months to document Fear Experiment.  For free.  And sharing the photos with all the participants to do with what they please.  Improv rehearsal at one location, dance rehearsal at another location, the elementary school at another location.  Heartwarming.  Thank you Rich Chapman.


A Night On the Town

I went to the sold-out Decemberists concert!  Indian dinner beforehand, no reservation yet seated right away.  Arrived at the Riviera just as the opening band finished, and found two great seats.  They didn’t play Sons and Daughters which causes me to react in weird ways, and was the only song I really wanted to hear, but it was still a lovely evening.


A Week in My (Tired) Shoes

I was asked to be a guest blogger on my alma mater’s career center website, for their RealJobs project, where alum give insight into their professional life, blogging once a day for a week.  It couldn’t have come at a worse time as far as “I don’t have time for this!”  But I blearily typed up a post around midnight each night, recounting the days activities.  Now, looking back and hearing the feedback from others, I’m glad I made the time and glad I said yes.  Always have to remind myself of all the support I’ve gotten from others who are equally as or more busy than I am.  Not all about me, not all about me.


Reminder to Keep Plugging Along

And on that note of having perspective and realizing your life is pretty darn good, regardless of people who don’t follow deadlines and of drivers who block intersections so that you have to sit through three green lights before you can go, these two recent occurrences remind me, deep breath!  You’re fine.

One, the blog posts by my Fear Experiment students.  Adorable!

Two, my Fear Experiment students learning dance from their Fear Experiment partners.  Adorable!  Both the actual moves, and the bringing together of these two groups.  Busy adults taking time out of busy lives to give back.  Isolated kids opening themselves to new people and new experiences.

Let’s see what this next month brings —

This is how much I weigh.

February 7, 2011

I’ve been of the more-robust variety since third grade.  At my highest weight, I was sixty pounds heavier than I am now.

But I find no consolation in that.  That was a long time ago, this is now.

Two years ago, I worked really hard to get in shape.  Revamped my pantry, discovered yoga, stuck to workout and eating goals, and dropped twenty pounds in a common-sensical and healthy way.  Became the lightest I’ve been my entire adulthood.

Yet, I’m now ten pounds heavier than I was a year ago.

Nothing I’ve been doing is working, probably rooted in eating spoonfuls of dark chocolate peanut butter straight from the jar, with the justification that I bought it at Whole Foods, so it must be healthy.  My drive and will-power has dissipated.

So, in the spirit of a craving for health and all the positivity that comes with that, and in the spirit of a project I’m currently entrenched in, Fear Experiment… I’m 187 pounds.

See you in two weeks.

Why I Cried at the Gym Last Night and Cheated on My Boyfriend

January 21, 2011

A few months ago, Boyfriend mocked me by closing his eyes, making his best “Yeah, I’m grooving to jazz” face, and rocking back and forth in his chair; he said I looked like I was in church, feeling the power of the Lord.  We weren’t listening to jazz nor in God’s house though, we were at a literary event at the Hideout.  The host talked about his job and the professional world in general, around the themes of find ways to do what you love for a living, that it’s more important to be fulfilled than to be rich or prestigious, and various other anti-cubicle sentiments.  I know I was in agreement with him at the time; I didn’t realize I was Stevie Wonder at the time.  Whatever.  Boyfriend was probably just upset that I was going to cheat on him a few days later, at a very swanky downtown venue.

Last night at the gym, not only was I Stevie Wonder, I was hormonally-unstable pregnant lady; I laughed one minute, cried the next, praised Jesus/Allah/Michael Jordan, made love to the TV screen with my eyes, held my hand over my palpitating heart, and felt at peace, understood, and saved, all while elliptical trainer’ing [and then stationary biking, I couldn’t leave without seeing the end].  And it was all because of Other Boyfriend [the one I cheated on Boyfriend with].

Ricky Gervais, fresh off hosting the Golden Globes and the ensuing controversy about whether he was too mean, was on CNN’s Piers Morgan show.  First of all, he’s British.  So that means he could call me a chunky, ignorant bitch and I’d say, “Thank you.  More, please.”  Second of all, he’s completely right.  About everything [I’m not referencing the Globes, I hate award shows so didn’t watch; but whatever he spewed, spot on I’m sure.  Here, I’m referring to his CNN interview].  During which I Stevie Wondered the hell out of him.

I read Chris Brogan, Chris Guillebeau, Tim Ferris.  They’ve all got great philosophies about being an entrepreneur and doing what you love and life priorities and time management.  I nod, highlight, and copy and paste.  I watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.  I chuckle, forward, and “So true!”  But Ricky, man.  He’s just the perfect combination of wit, philosophy, honesty, and everyday-ness.

In the CNN interview, he said, “I do this for me, really… My strategy is to make me laugh. If there’s anyone in the world like me, that’s a bonus. I’m very Darwinist about this.  You do your own thing, and then you see if you survive. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because if you start second-guessing and you’re trying to find people that are like you, or change it to make certain people like you, you’re finished.”

This reminds me of a George Bernard Shaw quote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.  Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

I realized that my professional life has become very Gervais/Darwin/Shaw-ist, and it’s the best!  I find something that I want to do, like badly dance a hip-hop routine on stage, play board games in my living room, help inner-city kids, and hang out in coffeehouses, and turn that something into rent money [though I definitely need to take an Appropriate Pricing class; the amount of time I spend on these projects is in no way appropriately compensated].  I feel so lucky that my nutty ideas are not only fun, amazing experiences for myself, and not only have they allowed me to remain happily self-employed going on six years now, but that they also bring personal growth, laughter, and new relationships to a large group of others.

Participants in Fear Experiment, my latest venture, recently shared the following sentiments:

  • “8:30-10:30 on Thurs [Fear Experiment time] = one of my favorite parts of the week.”
  • “It’s awesome to have an instant new circle of friends in the city!”
  • “So damn excited and having a blast.”
  • “A challenging, yet enticing experience that is making me face my fears head on.”

To think that I had some part in bringing such feelings to others is utterly gratifying.

Ricky reflected, “If you start trying to be cool and sexy, you’ve lost it…there was a Roman emperor, apparently, who used to walk the streets…and he hired someone to whisper in his ear, ‘You’re just a man, you’re just a man.'”  Of course it’d be great to be cool and sexy.  But I don’t want to force it.  I’m about comfort, no make-up, crystal-light, cheeseburger and fries, low-key, low-maintenance; I dress up by wearing flip-flops with sequins or making my hair part on the side rather than the middle.  I just want to do the things I enjoy doing, and hope cool and sexy comes with them.  I constantly remind myself, “I’m just a man.”  Well, you know what I mean.

“[The Ricky Gervais Show is] another passion project. Everything I’ve ever done has been a labor of love. The Flanimals box that is now being made into a movie, I used to make my nephew laugh, you know? ‘The Office,’ I used to work in an office and people watch. ‘Extras,’ I was just thrown into this new life, and I made notes and poked fun at it.  And this was me in a room with Karl Pilkington and Stephen Merchant, just chatting.  As a comedian, what you try and do is be as funny on stage or on telly or in a film as you are in a pub with people you know and trust and drink with.”

He takes his life experiences and interests, and turns them into projects.  Bill-paying, laughter-inducing, universally-loved projects.  That’s wonderful.

“I enjoy the hard work. That’s what I enjoy. I enjoy this. I wake up and it’s a privilege that I can have an idea. Nothing gives me an adrenaline rush like an idea. What a privilege that I can have an idea and start working on that…And Bob Dylan said, ‘A man can consider himself a success if he wakes up in the morning, goes to bed at night, and in between, did exactly what he wanted.'”

Exactly.  I work hard.  Really hard.  I spent last Friday night, all day Saturday, and all day Sunday working.  But it wasn’t work.  I loved it.  I had to make myself take breaks to eat.  I bypassed a party because I wanted to Photoshop and Dreamweaver.  Absolutely it’s a privilege that people want to join me in my adventures; without them, the adventures wouldn’t be anything.  And absolutely it’s a privilege and an adrenaline rush that I can have an idea, like gather together random strangers who suck at improv for two months of improv class and then perform a show, and a week later, have twenty people signed-up and paid for the experience.  And two weeks later, have the Park West booked for the show.

Ricky also made comments on religion and being an atheist , he and his girlfriend of twenty-five years choosing not to marry or have kids, spirituality, and the secrets to a successful romantic relationship, that I won’t go into now, but that I totally Stevie Wondered.  I actually printed out the transcript from the show.  What the heck am I going to do with twelve pages of a TV show transcript?!?  It just seemed the right thing to do.

I haven’t cried in public since the Starbucks incident.  It was weird then, it was weird last night.  But Ricky SPOKE to me on so many levels.  So there I was, sweating on a stationary bike, with tearing eyes and a snotty nose.  It felt so good, like someone engulfing me in a huge bear-hug, to hear someone say exactly what I think.  With a British accent no less.

This has nothing to do with any of the above.  But it made me laugh.  And laughter is a great way to start a Friday.  And I’ve got to put this transcript to use somehow.

MORGAN: Last year, “TIME” magazine listed you under the “100 Most Influential People” as an artist.
GERVAIS: I couldn’t keep a straight face.
MORGAN: When you see lists like that, you must laugh, don’t you?
GERVAIS: Oh, I love it. I love it. I complained. I said, “Why is Nelson Mandela above me?” I said, “He did nothing for 25 years.”

Pizza en route [shhhh!]

January 4, 2011
To thank Boyfriend’s parents for hosting us over the holidays, we sent something that each of them mentioned loving multiple times while we were there, a Giordano’s pizza.  Of course, that may have just been to make us Chicagoans feel better about our corrupt Governors, our frustrating residents who “save” parking spots via old furniture, our hapless Cubs, and our bone-chilling cold, but I think the love was genuine.
    When I got the below tracking update in my inbox this AM, I shook my head in one of those “Wow, technology!” moments.  Yesterday at 11:13AM, Chicago FedEx was notified that there are two people in Louisiana who enjoy deep-dish; today at 8:32AM, Louisiana FedEx is driving to Boyfriend’s mom’s school to deliver said deep-dish.  And if all goes well, today at 6:23PM, Boyfriend Mom and Boyfriend Dad will be slicing into a piece of sausage-deliciousness.
      I complain about slow-servers, spam, down-Twitter, junk-mail, post-office lines, ever-rising stamp prices, Farmville-status updates, people who recklessly Reply All.  Not today.  Big WHAT UP, technology!  You rock.
        • Jan 4, 2011 8:32 AM, On FedEx vehicle for delivery, MONROE, LA
        • Jan 4, 2011 8:29 AM, At local FedEx facility, MONROE, LA
        • Jan 4, 2011 5:13 AM, At dest sort facility, SHREVEPORT, LA
        • Jan 4, 2011 4:22 AM, Departed FedEx location, MEMPHIS, TN
        • Jan 3, 2011 10:57 PM, Arrived at FedEx location, MEMPHIS, TN
        • Jan 3, 2011 8:15 PM, Left FedEx origin facility, ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL
        • Jan 3, 2011 3:03 PM, Picked up, ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL
        • Jan 3, 2011 11:13 AM, Shipment information sent to FedEx

        How do you choose how you part with your money?

        January 3, 2011

        I had the privilege of traveling to Rwanda a few years ago to shoot footage for a non-profit that’s helping to rebuild the country post-genocide.  My host when I was there, a Rwandan nun named Sister Anna, shared with me some of the atrocities she, her family, and her religious order endured in ’94, and introduced me to many of her orphaned nieces and nephews.  One of the nieces has two children, Patience and Benin, who though we could not talk, as they spoke no English and let’s just say my Kinyrwandan is a bit rusty, captured my heart.  Patience loved learning how to use my camera and Benin serenaded us with a never-ending round of “Jesus Loves You.”  Their mom, who still suffers from depression relating to the genocide and thus finds it difficult to work, shared biscuits and orange pop with us, biscuits and pop that Sister Anna had bought on the way to their house, discreetly slipping the goodies to her niece so that she would have something to offer the guests.

        Upon my return to the states, Sister Anna asked if I’d be able to sponsor the education of Patience who was then age nine.  There is no public education in Rwanda and to attend a year of school costs $400, which in one of the twenty poorest countries in the world, is astronomical.  I couldn’t pay that amount on my own, so decided to reach out and see if any one in my network would be interested in a joint-effort.  Three years later, thirty-eight people have donated once, twice, three times an average amount of $10 to $20 resulting in us being able to send Patience to school.

        This generosity is on my mind now as on December 29th, I sent an email to past donors, and on December 31st, included an ask in my e-newsletter.  Just three days later and with very little effort on my part, our goal has been reached and we’re able to sponsor Patience’s education for another year.  What really got me is the range of participants – liberal, conservative, single, gay, married, New Yorker, Bostonian, Chicagoite, rich, just getting by financially, corporate, artsy, white, Puerto Rican, Asian – that many of them are more distant friends than close friends, and that some ,who heard about the opportunity via friends, are people I’ve never met before.

        What makes people decide to jump on board one good cause versus another?  What makes someone decide to give money to a total stranger to help a boy she has no connection with?  What makes you decide to part with $20 in this way?  Whatever the reason, it’s a marvel.  Truly.

        Thanks Louis, Donna, Erin, Julie, Lindsay, Yanira, Megs, Beth, Lee Ann, Erin, Ed, Julie, Cortney, Julie #2, Lauren, Laura, Shannon, Dan, Kim, Doug, Leslie, Raj, Marcy, Megan, Gary, Lori, Aditya, Megan, Mike, Erica, Ted, Karen, Michelle, Rhonda, Pam, Dana, Nancy, and Heather!!  Good karma your way in 2011.

        A Northerner’s perspective after a trip to the South

        December 30, 2010

        Whenever I’d say that I’ve been to Florida and Texas, people would respond, “Oh that’s not the South!”  Well, now I can say I’ve been to the South.

        I visited Boyfriend’s family in Smalltown, Louisiana over the holidays.  One of the few positives of the fourteen hour drive is that I really bulked up my “States Visited” list, adding Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana.  The other positives of the drive are being able to throw anything you want in the car and not be charged a checked bag fee, and… well, that’s it.

        Upon our return to Chicago, I chuckled to myself as I felt like I did upon our return from Europe this summer; what strange customs these people have, some ridiculous, what are they thinking?, and some enlightening, why don’t we do this?

        The South wins:

        • Friendliness.  The accent, the instant love of strangers, the hospitality.  On one of our three Chick Fil A stops, as we were buckling up and about to pull out of our parking spot, a guy knocked on our window.  Of course my initial thought was what is he selling and how do we get rid of him?  Turns out he’s part of the Metropolitan Biking Association or something to that effect; he saw our bikes on the back of the car, and invited us to come sit with him so he could tell us the best trails to try.  And what could’ve been an awkward, painful, and long experience, staying with Boyfriend’s parents and being with his family 24/7 for five days, was anything but that.  They were the ultimate hosts, cooking us delicious food, taking us out to eat, letting us use them for their Sam’s Club membership, planning activities like excursions to Moon Lake, the Coca-Cola museum, Antique Alley, and Christmas Eve mass. [Yes, I went to church!  And yes, I enjoyed it!  Probably because it was heavy on the singing and light on the sermon, and I didn’t have to stand and sit and kneel and stand and sit and kneel – learned that Baptists don’t move as much as Catholics.]
        • Dress.  Jeans and tshirts.  Was sure I’d have to wear ruffles and taffeta to church, but no, jeans and a sweater!  Wardrobes based on comfort are wardrobes I can get behind.  I often felt like the most dressed up, which never happens, and that was just because I had on a shirt that didn’t have a collegiate or professional sports team monogram.
        • Waffle House.  Like an IHOP but better.  You order hash browns smothered, covered, chunked, diced, peppered, capped, topped, and/or country. And they’re everywhere.  I usually hate chains but this is a chain I can get behind.
        • Y’all.  C’mon.  Miss _____.   Miss Sue Ann.  Miss Alice.
        • Incredibly strong bonds of friends and family.  Sunday night, Boyfriend’s mom got together all of Boyfriend’s childhood friends and their parents at Johnny’s Pizzeria.  Even though lives have taken many divergent paths, everyone acted as if they had just been playing mudball in the yard just days previous, instead of thirty years previous.
        • Subdivisions.  I hate them, but I like that kids can play in the street due to lack of traffic.  And many of the subdivisions we drove through had houses that were all different, as opposed to the cookie-cutter ones you often see.
        • The Big Green Egg.  A better way to grill.
        • Dessert pizza.  Cinnamon pizza, pineapple pizza, brownie pizza.
        • Sweet tea.
        • Biscuits.  Specifically Sister Schubert’s rolls.  Serve these at your next soiree!  Instant hit.
        • People’s names.  Crew, Bishop, Madison, Jackson, Cameron.
        • Integration.  While Chicago is diverse, it’s segregated diversity.  It was cool to see restaurants and stores filled with different races.  Though neighborhoods seem to be segregated, like it is here.
        • Option to flavor your pop with syrup [chocolate, vanilla, etc.]
        • Straws in drinks.
        • No tolls!  We didn’t pay any tolls the entire trip.  I can’t cross the street in Chicago without paying a toll.
        • Green bean bundles.  Green beans wrapped in bacon and covered in brown sugar.
        • Everywhere you go, someone knows you.
        • Chick Fil A.  The food was fine, but it was more the culture that enamored me.  The employees seemed to genuinely mean it when they said, “My pleasure” after each interaction.  And they were old and young, black and white, male and female; the most diverse fast-food employee range I’ve seen.  There was a woman dedicated to walking around to tables asking if people wanted free refills [see below for thoughts on refills].  Free mints and cheerios.  Uber-clean.  Soothing background music.  Closed on Sunday for God.
        • While I think I would miss snow and seasons, I think I could get used to sixty-degree December days.
        • Bayous.  More exotic than ponds and lakes.
        • No one wears bike helmets [much like Amsterdam].  Though no one bikes either [see below; not much like Amsterdam].
        • People in general.  We could use some of their warmth up North.

        The South loses:

        • Must. Drive. Everywhere.  No sidewalks.  No bike lanes.  We saw three bicyclists and boy did they stick out.  We had to bike on the highway to get where we wanted to go.  No train.  A bus but it doesn’t seem to go many places.  I would feel incredibly suffocated, isolated, dependent.
        • One car per person per household.
        • All pop is Coke.  “What kind of Coke would you like?”  “A Sprite.”  That’s weird.  I could handle it being called soda.
        • Confederate flags.
        • High fives.  They high-five everything.  My wrist still hurts.
        • Subdivisions.
        • Car choices: SUVs, mini-vans, and pickup trucks.
        • Rotel dip.  It’s not that I don’t like it, I do.  But isn’t it just cheese dip?  Why the need to call it something so exotic?  After all that hype, I was disappointed not because it wasn’t good, but because it was something I’d had but with a different name.
        • Instances of stereotypical man as the dominator and woman as the submissive.  Cringed a few times upon hearing husbands talk to wives or wives tell stories of big life choices being made by the male with little if any input from the female.
        • Lack of blocks, lack of a grid system.  I like being able to say, “Go two blocks east and one block south.”  There you’d have to say, “Go to the first Waffle House, turn left, and go until you see the Love’s gas station, then take the first right.”
        • Strip mall central.
        • Yards are too big.  The vastness of the yards bothered me.
        • Animal heads in the living room.  In the bedroom.  Anywhere but on the body of a living animal, really.
        • Pepper jelly.  A greenish-yellowish jelly with peppers, spread on cream cheese, as a cracker dip.
        • Spitting tobacco on the floor of a bar.
        • Most houses are ranch-style, with only one level.  They have the space to build out, as opposed to us who must build up.  I like me some stairs.  Same for schools, malls, etc.
        • Grown-ups getting mad at kids who don’t say “Sir” or “Ma’am.”  I felt bad when I asked an eight-year old a question and she got in trouble because she didn’t Ma’am me in her answer.
        • Driving stick for the first time in eight years in Memphis, Tennessee, which is basically a clusterphuck of clogged highways.
        • Camouflage clothes.
        • Christmas ribbon.  Common to frame your home’s entrance with bright ribbon and plastic balls.
        • Lack of coffeehouses.
        • Caked-on make-up, bleach blonde hair, fake tans, and the most unnatural looking highlights.
        • Gravy.  On everything.
        • Not being able to buy ice [or anything for that matter] after 10PM.  Used to our 24-hour stores.
        • Obsession with sports, high school, college, and professional.  If I never see the color purple [LSU’s color] or a fleur de lis [the Saints’ symbol] again, it’ll be too soon.  Lawn signs like “Connor, Neville Panthers basketball” and “Haley, River Oaks cheerleading” are everywhere.
        • Pizza cut in long rectangles.  Pizza should first be in triangles and if necessary, in squares.

        Things that don’t win or lose, but that stood out:

        • Free Refill Culture.  People make decisions based on refills.  Servers at fast-food restaurants come to your table, ask if you need a refill, and if you do, take your cup up to the machine.  Boyfriend once got up and got his own refill, the server looked horrified.  It’s common to ask for a To Go Cup and as you’re leaving, to fill up one last time; we’d finish our meal and all line up at the machine.  If the machine is behind the counter, it’s natural to ask the cashier.  People carry around Styrofoam cups everywhere.  I had more Diet Coke in the past week than I’ve had in the past year.
        • Hugs.  I like to hug.  But I like to hug people I’ve known for at least two minutes.  I’m not a hugger of strangers.  The South is a hugger of strangers.
        • Churches churches everywhere.
        • Cats and dogs roam free.  Tons of them wandering the neighborhoods.  We had two dogs follow us a mile when we went out for a walk; ended up having to drive them home.  I guess it’s cool that they don’t have to be chained up like in Chicago, but it still seemed odd.
        • Carports instead of garages.
        • Hunting is king.  I would never do it [I almost died cooking last year’s Thanksgiving turkey] and don’t like the concept, but I guess I could tolerate other people doing it.  Couldn’t believe how prevalent it is.  We had a car filled with deer meat on the way back, courtesy of Boyfriend’s Dad.  The first thing I was shown at their house was the as tall as me gun safe.
        • They love to talk food!  Eyes lit up when I said I’d been to Magic Grill, the Creamery, Johnny’s Pizza, Waffle House.  They excitedly wanted to know what I had, what I thought of it, how it compared to Chicago.  If you ever want to break the ice quickly, talk restaurants, grilling, or sauces.
        • Garages used for boats, lawn mowers, and freezers [to hold the deer you just shot]; cars parked in driveways.

        A wonderful trip.  I appreciated how I was raised and the perks of big-city life, and I appreciated small-town ways and Southern culture.  I would definitely like more South in my future – the Carolinas, Alabama, Georgia.  Sounds like Nashville may be next on the list for a wedding, though I wonder if it’d be more fun for Boyfriend [and me?] sans moi since it’ll be his gaggle of closest friends, from college, with tons of inside jokes and references I don’t get and having to explain this and rehash that, but that’s another post for another day.  As a true Louisianan would say goodbye, Go Tigers! [high-five]

        What do the homes you’ve lived in as an adult say about you?

        December 18, 2010

        I recently peeled back how I came to make a new acquaintance, whom I met in blind-date type of situation; that unearthing took me back ten years and brought up people and times and visions of myself I haven’t thought of in forever.  That got me thinking about where we live and how that changes over the years.  Just as I found it fascinating to retrace how I came to know this new person, it was also a fun journey to retrace dwellings.

        Think about where you’ve lived since you became an adult – any smiles come to your face?  Groans bubble up inside your throat?  Wistful for something?  Proud of how far you’ve come?

        For each residence, some questions to reflect on –

        • What did you do for a living?
        • Who were you dating?
        • How much money was in your checking account?
        • What was your happiness level?
        • What activities made up your social life?
        • Who were your friends?
        • Who did you live with?
        • What were your priorities?  [in housing, in life, in love, in work, in family]
        • Why’d you choose this place?
        • Why’d you move?

        Below are the six apartments I’ve lived in post-college, in chronological order —

        1. Fremont Street, August 2000 – August 2001, age 21 to 22

        After graduating from Boston College in 2000, I was supposed to go to Kingston, Jamaica to teach English at a boys Jesuit highschool, where I had stayed as a junior on a community service trip.  A month before I was supposed to leave, the program was canceled due to violence.  And so I found myself living back home with mom, in a too small 1-bedroom Evanston apartment, working at Cafe Express.  In order to be an adult, I had to get a downtown job to which I traveled via the El, I had to get an apartment in the city by myself, and I had to buy a couch.  Luckily, all three were realized within a couple of months, and I soon found myself with a Wacker Drive work address and a Wrigleyville home address.

        One evening in my living room, I heard a loud buzzing and thought I was being attacked by locusts.  It was the crowd at Wrigley reacting to the Cubs game a few blocks away.  That was cool.

        I learned that courtyard buildings, while pretty, are not for me; I don’t like looking directly into my neighbor’s apartment.  No more of those.

        2. Sheffield Avenue, September 2001 – December 2002, age 22 to 24

        I can’t believe I paid what I did in rent that first year out of school.  My non-profit salary definitely did not encourage a Wrigleyville one-bedroom.  But I was very into being “normal,” which is why I lived in that neighborhood and why I had a gym membership at LPAC; after an abnormal childhood, I was ready to be Ashley who drove a Jetta and shopped at Whole Foods and Anthropologie.  I decided I could give up the living-solo life if I could stay mainstream and with-it by remaining between Irving and Belmont, Halsted and Clark.  Three roommates and I [one was a friend of a friend and two were Craigslisters] moved into a four-bedroom, two blocks from my first place.

        While there were many wonderful things about having roommates again, I eventually came to realize that the roommate phase has passed for me, and adopted the saying, “My next roommate will be my husband, if and when that happens…” and began the search for my own place.

        3. Seeley Avenue, January 2003 to December 2006, age 24 to 28

        When I first moved to Chicago, I couldn’t believe that anyone lived west of Ashland.  “Out there” was so far, so foreign, so not on the redline or close to the Lake.  After two years in Wrigleyville,  I couldn’t wait to move to the other side and my housing criteria did a 180.

        • Within walking distance of stuff, but not in the armpit of congestion
        • On the brownline
        • Building with only four to six units
        • Quiet street
        • Easy parking
        • Neighborhood feel with mix of families and young folk
        • No drunk fratties screaming outside your window at 2AM or peeing on your lawn

        I loved loved loved this place.  It was huge, I talked the landlord down $200 a month so was getting it at a steal, and it was in Roscoe Village, which I’ve come to view as the best neighborhood to live in in Chicago.  So many warm memories here, one of which is making the huge transition from being a 9 to 5’er to being self-employed and working from home.

        After four years, a dishwasher, laundry in the building, and a non-enclosed porch became important.  I also dipped my toes in the “buying a place” water, and unfortunately, pricey Roscoe Village was out of the question for that endeavor.  So I moved to Ravenswood Manor where one-bedroom condos were more in my price range, to try it out and see if I wanted to take the homeowner leap.

        4. Wilson Avenue, January 2007 to May 2008, age 28 to 29

        Amazing how much more space you can get if you move to a neighborhood a little further out!  Huge two-bedroom for the same amount as my previous one-bedrooms.  Dishwasher!  Laundry!  Porch!  But hated living on a busy street, especially one so narrow that everyone parks half on the curb and half off, and even that way, my mirror was knocked off three times.  Also did not feel the safety I felt in the other neighborhoods, nor did I enjoy running outside due to the cat calls, or walking around due to a lack of cuteness that the other areas had.  And it was just too far.

        Every time I drove through Roscoe Village, it whispered sweet nothings in my ear and I felt a twang of wistfulness.  I had to move back.  Even if it meant staying a renter, paying more, and having less space.

        5. School Street, June 2008 to July 2009, age 29 to 30

        There was nothing great about this place except it was in Roscoe Village.  And it had a completely rehabbed kitchen; the faux-marble countertops and the faux-cherry wood cabinets seduced me.  I knew it wasn’t permanent so dealt with the lack of character, too many units, just graduated-college tenants, low ceilings, long-haul to the train, and horrid closet space.

        By this time, the Minglers were really taking off.  One hot, sticky July Mingler, as forty guests wiped sweat out of their eyes as they tried to make good first impressions with potential dates, employers, friends, I knew it was time to find somewhere more conducive to what had become a real part of my business.

        6. Ravenswood Avenue, August 2009 – current, age 30 to ?

        I never wanted to be that person who moved every year and swore to myself, this would be the last one for awhile.  By this uprooting, I was VERY clear on what I desired in a home; people laughed when they saw how specific I was and said dismissively, “Good luck!”  But here I am, living in utopia, a Roscoe Village converted toy-factory, and the happiest I’ve ever been.  Besides deciding to become self-employed, moving here was the biggest business risk I’ve taken in the six years on my own.  Signing the lease was very scary as it’s a bajillion more than what I’ve ever paid.  But a main reason why I moved here was so that I could do more revenue-generating activities, and thus far, it’s worked out even better than expected.

        Where have you lived?  What have those homes said about you?  What’s your housing criteria, and how has it changed?

        Tip for meeting strangers in public

        December 12, 2010

        I was chatting with a lovely group of people yesterday at one of my Coffees and the topic of meeting strangers in public came up, more specifically, how awkward it can be and how easy it can be to avoid said-awkwardness.  This seems a very applicable topic in this era of relationships birthed via social media rather than in person, and of bar/coffeehouse-gatherings.

        One of the Coffeemates recounted an icky experience she had with a Meetup group.  She decided to join a Meetup for a Bears game watch, so she could meet new people and share her love of sports with other fans.  The group was to convene at a bar, which of course, was packed.  She wandered around for awhile looking for the group, but couldn’t distinguish the Meetup fans from the regular-folk fans, so ended up watching the first half by herself at the bar and the second half at home.  First off, we all know how awkward that feeling is of being in a social setting searching for someone; you feel like everyone is staring, everyone is judging.  And second, how disappointing for her!  She had taken time to travel from Wrigleyville down to the Gold Coast, and had expectations of a fun day of new connections and rah rah rah! spirit.  Stories of people pushing themselves out of their comfort zones and challenging themselves only to be thwarted by others’ lack of foresight are frustrating and twinge of the heart-inducing.

        I myself encountered a similar situation last weekend, when I went to a CommuniTeach event at a coffeehouse.  I’m very comfortable in situations where I know no one and have no qualms about going up to strangers to start a conversation; in fact, I thrive on such scenarios.  That said, I had a very uncomfortable and awkward five minutes at Leitza’s.  I arrived at 3PM, right when the event was supposed to start.  Twelve or so people had RSVPed, so I scanned the tables for a good-size group.  They were all individuals or groups of two or three.  I discreetly peered at faces, looking for visages that looked like they’d meet at some random coffeehouse with a group of random strangers to talk about a random topic.  I walked to the back, I walked to the other room.  I asked a barista if there was another location, thinking perhaps I had written down the wrong address.  I hung out in the bathroom and stared at my overgrown eyebrows.  I walked outside and looked for another entrance.  I went back inside and ordered a drink, this time not caring that a small non-fat latte with sugar-free vanilla syrup takes a half hour to make, this time hoping he’d actually have to travel to Ethiopia to go get the needed espresso beans.  Everyone was whispering about me.  I knew they were talking about how lost and lonely I seemed and my acne scars.  About the time I got stood up for a date because I was chunkier than he had thought I would be.  About the time my front-closure bra popped open and broke as I was racing to an interview, leaving me with the choice of go home to get another bra and be late to the very important interview, or be interviewed with two boobs flopping around and possibly hitting the interviewer in the eye.  About my inability to do simple math.  And just as I was about to chalk it up to a failed attempt to try something new and return home with my tail between my legs, I saw a group congregating at the end of the bar.  I went over, asked if this was the CommuniTeach, stuck my hand out, introduced myself and sat down.  And had a lovely time.

        All this is to say, for the love of god, when you’re meeting strangers in public, if you’re the creator of the group or if you initiated the meeting, a) you should get to the location at least fifteen minutes before the start time to stake out an appropriate space, both in size and in visibility, and b) you should tell people to look for a distinguishing something [for Coffees, I tell people to look for a red pipe-cleaner flower in a Cola-Light bottle] so that they’re not wandering around, kicking themselves for every stupid thing they’ve done in life and wondering if this was Stupid Thing #307.

        Know these folk, they make life good

        December 4, 2010

        Days like today make me thankful to be a human being.

        I led my second Coffee this morning, the new service I rolled out a few weeks ago in response to the myriad of “Can we grab coffee?” requests I get, usually from people who want to talk “how to make a living doing what you love” shop.  Three coffeemates met me at 11am at Bean ‘n Bagels in Lincoln Square.  One wants to start a life-coach side business, one wants to explore staying within her field but tweaking it to better align with her interests, and one is quitting her job and giving up her apartment in the next few weeks to do who knows what!  I think she put it – “To do something that doesn’t suck my soul.”  We had a lively, supportive sixty-minute discussion that was a nice balance of talk about yourself, ask questions about others, share ideas, get motivated.  As happens with all my ventures, this arm of the business was an accident, as I just do what I love to do, in this case hang out in coffeehouses, facilitate new connections, and converse with passionate people, and surprisingly, people not only want to come along for the ride, but are willing to pay for the ride.  One of the coffeemates commented, “This is exactly what I needed.  So invigorating and motivating.”  Heartwarming, and a motivator to keep plugging along as health insurance rates rise and paying for heat in a converted toy-factory sucks and friends talk about this Caribbean vacation or that Master’s degree.

        At 3PM, I headed to Leitza’s Bakery in Bucktown for my first LearnIt.  It’s part of this awesome site called CommuniTeach, where you teach a skill or learn a skill from people in your community, for free.  Skill can range from cooking to yoga to photography to Spanish to magic.  How to do Good in Chicago was the topic this afternoon.  There was the facilitator, Sarah, who is also the founder, and six “students.”  It was informal and informative, low-key and comfortable.  Everyone came solo.  A great way to meet people.  A great way to share knowledge.  I’m considering being a LearnIt teacher, though I’m not sure how many sign-ups I’d get for Boxed Wine, Bacon-Wrapped Anything, and Board Games.  The only “issue,” which I’m running into in Minglers and Coffees as well, is being someone who can, in a non-bitchy way, keep people from monopolizing conversation.  It’s definitely a skill, as is being self-aware enough to realize when it’s someone else’s turn to talk.  Unfortunately/fortunately, I had to leave early because of my next engagement, an interview for one of the coolest projects I’ve come across recently.

         

        Tony, Melissa, and AJ are driving across the country – 45 cities, 65 days, 55 stories – for their Rise of the Cubicle Farmer endeavor.  Described as “an epic journey to discover the changing landscape of work,” their primary goal is to “tell inspiring stories of entrepreneurs who walked away from conventional lives and started using technology to share their art with the world.  We are hoping to educate and empower aspiring entrepreneurs and small business owners to follow their lead.  To show them that the tools are out there, they just have to start leveraging them.”  And so that’s how I found myself being interviewed in my freezing [the heat was too loud] dining room.  I’m nervous about the interview as they plan on making it live without much if any editing; I’m used to the security blanket of the delete button.  But they were so fun and easy to chat with, and so excited about how they live their life, that I’m pretty sure their positivity infected me in such a manner that I don’t come across as a total knob.

        Definitely check out both Sarah’s project and the Leons’ project[s], some uber-creative people doing some uber-amazing things!

        And now I’m on my way to a Latke Party.  What other way could there be to end such a day than with crispy potato patties.

        Life is good.

        How I beat my jiggly fat and wound up on a blind date

        November 22, 2010

        As I was riding Daisy, my new love, to the Belmont El stop on Saturday, to meet a girl I had “met” just days previous and only “spoken to” via Facebook and email, with a plan of spending the rest of the day with her traversing the streets of Chicago, I retraced the long route I had taken to find myself in such a situation.

        • Winter 2001: Met Laura when I moved back to Chicago from Boston post-graduation and was looking for a way to meet new people; I joined the Lymphoma and Leukemia  Society’s Team and Training program for the San Diego marathon; Laura was in my pace group.
        • Spring 2004: Met Katy when Laura invited me to join a volleyball team.
        • Winter 2006: Met Katie when Katy brought Katie to a New Year’s Eve party hosted by friends of mine.
        • Summer 2008: “Met” Brad when Katie e-introduced us because we’re both in the video, non-profit, entrepreneurial realm, and then met Brad when he came to one of my Mac ‘n Cheese Minglers.
        • Summer 2010: “Met” Patty when she reached out with a “I’m friends with Brad and was introduced to the work you do through his participation in the Dance Experiment” email, explaining that she worked for Groupon and was spearheading a new initiative that she thought I might want to collaborate on, and then Fall 2010, met Patty when she came to one of the Minglers.
        • Fall 2010: “Met” Leah when Patty posted something about the Minglers on her Facebook page and invited me to do the Sadie Hawkins bike ride; Leah saw the mention of the ride and chimed in that she wanted to go but that she needed a date [you had to participate in “couples”]; Patty suggested that Leah and I be dates.  After a few FB posts, messages, and some emails, we solidified plans.

        And that’s how I found myself riding down Belmont Saturday for a blind date.  Would she like me?  Would we have things to talk about?  Would the date end with a handshake, a high-five, an awkward hug?  Would there be a second date?

        It’s an interesting exercise to map out how the people in your life come to be in your life.  Such random connections, small-world incidents, seemingly minuscule decisions that turn out to be life-altering choices.  If I had decided to let the fact that I had never run more than a mile in my life and that I was slow and that I had lots of jiggly fat and that I knew I’d be surrounded by Lincoln Park trixie girls who showed up to training in the most expensive ‘n cute athletic wear, who never sweat no matter how much they ran, and who had muscles and abs and ate organic, if I had decided to not show up that first day and instead stay on the comfort of my couch, which almost happened, my life would be very different today.  And I’m pretty sure, not for the better.

        Now, the real capper to this meandering down How Did I End Up Here Lane would be if I play Leah’s birthday in the Lotto and win a bazillion point two gazillion dollars…

        On the prowl, but in a friendly way

        November 10, 2010

        One of the oft-discussed topics at the Minglers is how to meet people once you exit through the gates of dormitories, activity clubs, cafeterias, and homecoming dances and into the sphere of rent checks, 401(k)s, and TPS reports, and I’ve noticed the subject come up in various scenarios as of late.  A recently-made acquaintance has a blog-eventually-going-to-be-a-book dedicated to her search for a friend.

        Work is where you spend most of your hours so it’s great to have 9 to 5 buddies with whom to grab lunch Chipotle or off of whom to bounce an idea.  But having friends outside of the proverbial cubicle is a good thing.

        Here are ways I’ve met some Grade A folk since moving back to Chicago after graduation –

        Improv: There’s nothing like having your toes sucked by someone within ten minutes of meeting him, on stage, in front of thirty eyeballs, to form a kinship.  I took improv because it scared the bejeezus out of me, and it was horrible and wonderful, and a goldmine for making new connections.  Not only do you befriend the people in your class, it’s highly encouraged that you attend shows on a regular basis [for free if you’re a current student!], so you end up getting to know other audience members.  Bonus, we live in the best city in the world for the art form, with a range of options – io, Second City, Annoyance, Playground to name a few.

        Guitar Class: Old Town School of Folk Music [OTS] is utopia; I think they pump wafts of cotton candy, 2 for 1 sales, jeans that fit just right, and snuggies through their vents.  Everyone, from the staff to the students to the performers, is warm and welcoming.  Much more than guitar is offered, from yoga to hip-hop dance to Irish drumming.  I would recommend group classes rather than private lessons, if your goal is to meet others.  And I would recommend the Lincoln Square location over the Lincoln Park one, as it’s more adult-centric.  I spent many a Tuesday night at the Grafton with my classmates post-strumming.  OTS also has a very generous and easy to apply for scholarship program.

        Volunteering: Nothing like building volcanoes with kids from not-so-nice neighborhoods or serving food in a homeless shelter to foster community.  Chicago Cares and One Brick provide schedule flexibility, diversity of area of focus such as environment, AIDs, and literacy, and opportunities conducive to meeting other volunteers [sometimes, such as in one-on-one tutoring, interaction with other volunteers is limited].

        Gym: When I’m squeezing my thighs together and grunting on a resistance machine, or feverishly sweating on the stair climber, that’s not the time to chat about whether the British or the American version of The Office is better.  But before/after spinning or yoga class, absolutely.

        Church/Temple, etc.: I don’t do this so can’t speak from experience, but stemming from the hoards of twenty- and thirty-somethings streaming out of the buildings on Sundays, and from friends’ Facebook pictures of retreats and outings, it seems that if you go to houses of worship hoping to find a friend in God, you’ll probably find some flesh ‘n blood friends along the way as well.

        Alumni Group: Check to see if there’s a local chapter of the college you attended.  My group has athletic, social, volunteer, spirituality, and networking events.  Being so far from campus [Boston] creates a nostalgia-bond.  Most of my BC Chicago friends aren’t people I knew while in Chestnut Hill, but ones I met post-college.

        Interactive Activities: events that encourage discussion and interaction in a relaxed manner

        I also highly recommend doing things solo.  Go to a concert, gallery opening, poetry slam, cooking class by yourself and emit your best Officer Friendly vibe [arms uncrossed, brows unfurrowed, mouth unsneered].  Don’t go with the expectation of meeting someone, go because you want to see the band or learn a knife sharpening technique.  That way, you won’t be disappointed, and anyone with whom you make a connection will be the cherry on top of an already yummy sundae.

        Many more ways to expand your social circle, but those are the ones that immediately come to mind.  I posed the inquiry to one of my go-to websites to keep my life filled with adventure and got some interesting responses, some of which I had never considered.

        What have you found as successful avenues to adult friendships?

        Not every reference needs to be from the WSJ

        October 27, 2010

        I would like to steal and claim as mine a line from a well-written and fascinating article about public radio,  specifically about the show This American Life – “It’s about life the way most of us experience it, where heartbreak or lunch is as important as stock prices or distant revolutions.”

        That description resonates deeply with me.  I always say my interests are Seinfeld-esque.  Those every day routines and actions, performed by people with frizzy hair and acne, who drive Honda Civics and have homophobic Uncle Joes, that aren’t anything special singly but become fascinating because they’re universally experienced by us regular folk.  When you’re at a party and the conversation hits one of those awkward lulls, throw out an opinion about on-line dating or people who stop at the bottom of an escalator to tie their shoe or Trader Joe’s mango chicken sausage or loud grunters at the gym.  Chatter will commence immediately.

        Not to negate discussions on the Sudan and healthcare.  But sometimes it’s nice, and ok, to rehash storylines from Teen Mom – how will Maci adjust to Nashville now that she and Kyle have broken up? – or discuss the secret gold-mine that is the Wholesale District, where you can buy adorable yuppie purses, jewelry, hair bows, and scarves at back alley prices.

        It’s the most wonderful time of the year

        October 24, 2010

        It’s one of the best times of year for those on the “school year” calendar.  Time to look for a 2011 planner!  Or if you’re like me and incredibly stoked about the prospect, time to buy your 2011 planner!  The downside of such nerdy passion is that the selection is currently limited – no cute designs or energetic colors to choose from, as the main crop has yet to come in.  But the post-it I have stuck on the last week of December in my 2010er with all the “transfer this to new calendar” notes has run out of room, so I decided to bite the bullet.

        It’s not just the intoxicating fresh, blank pages and the opportunity to fill them with beautiful penmanship – though like a New Year’s diet, the attempt for neat and pretty quickly dwindles to a good intention – but it’s also the promise of what’s to come, what will fill the lines.  Looking back at the past ten months, I shake my head at the randomness, unexpectedness, and goodness.

        From dancing horribly in front of three hundred and fifty people to traveling for the first time to Amsterdam, Belgium, and Paris to improving horribly on stage at one of Chicago’s improv institutions to being a girlfriend to a sweet boy who unexpectedly appeared in my kitchen one evening to being a first-time sushi eater to beating out one hundred other teams to win the DFL [Dead Fucking Last] Prize in the Chiditarod to being rubbed down in my first professional massage to seeing Ray LaMontange, David Gray, Counting Crows, Steve Martin, Ricky Gervais, and Mumford ‘n Sons live to witnessing a mature young lady whom I met as a wild third grader via a volunteer program walk across the eighth grade graduation stage to the creation of a cologne based on my Boyfriend Criteria — I didn’t plan on any of it.

        I can’t wait to see that which I don’t plan on come to fruition in 2011.

         

        Maybe I don’t have to run for mayor now…

        October 19, 2010

        Disclaimer: this post is spurred on by excitement and passion, rather than actual vetting and factual knowledge.

        I’m in a position I’ve not been in before.  After hearing a radio interview with the guy, and reading about him, I think I found a candidate for mayor of Chicago that I’d actually be excited to vote for.  Someone I’d plant lawn signs for.  Someone I’d man a phone-bank for.  Someone I’d wear a button for.  Someone I’d host a coffee for.  President & CEO of Urban Prep, a network of all-boys public schools serving low-income neighborhoods, Tim King.

        As someone who’s been entrenched in the public school system since I graduated college ten years ago, as a program manager at a non-profit that taught literacy, as a volunteer, as a board member, and as a digital media teacher, I’ve heard Tim’s name various times over the years, all in positive contexts.  None more than this summer, as his school achieved a wondrous feat — 100% of the 2010 class, the school’s first graduating class, is college-bound.  Considering where these young men started academically [only 4% of them were reading at or above grade level freshman year] and considering all the hurdles that come with their home circumstances [85% come from low-income households situated in struggling communities], that’s an amazing accomplishment.  My eyes teared up when I saw the photo above of the young men finding out that they were ALL going to college.

        From the surface, it seems like he’s done a wonderful job at Urban Prep and has created a public-school model that should be replicated nationally.  In the radio interview, he came across as a balanced listener and speaker, a leader people respect and want to follow, and an intelligent, innovative, caring, and warm human being.

        When asked if he’d consider running, he didn’t say yes.  But he didn’t say no.  Typical politician.  Except that that’s the only way he seems to be a typical politician.  A breath of fresh air.  Which is what Chicago desperately needs post-Blago, and Ryan, and Stroger and…

        “Mayor King, City of Chicago” — I like it.

        Give all the angry people Dutch bikes

        October 13, 2010

        I have never had so much fun traveling to a meeting downtown, the bank, and the dentist.  I smiled at Republicans.  I whistled church hymns.   I winked at men attached to their iPhones and their football games.  I high-fived girls in skinny-jeans.  I hugged PC-users.  I saw my reflection and Halle Berry stared back.

        If you want to inject giddiness, carefreeness, and love-for-all’ness into the mundane, the routine, the everyday, do yourself a favor — get a Dutch bike [also known as an upright or a cruiser].  I fell in love with them when I borrowed Uncle Dan’s in Denver and college-friend Erin’s in Amsterdam this summer.  But I already had a bike.  A Lady with Two Bikes?  Who am I?!?  Someone who lunches at Gibson’s, sips cosmos, and buys jewelery somewhere other than Kohl’s?  I resigned myself to being a wistful Lady with One Bike.

        But then last Friday, I was hurriedly and weirdly shooed out to Boyfriend’s garage.  An early birthday present!  And our Amsterdam friends, in town for the weekend, verified it as authentic-Dutch.  Bliss.

        New Dutchies are expensive.  Troll Craigslist [“criusers” appears to be the best keyword to search with]; there are a lot of seemingly good deals out there.  If you already have a bike, sell it.  Give it away.  Or become You with Two Bikes.  On a cruiser, you’re ten pounds lighter, your teeth are whiter, and everyone wants to be your friend.

        Will you elect me Mayor of Chicago?

        October 7, 2010

        I may throw my hat into the ring for Mayor of Chicago.  I in no way think I’m qualified, nor do I have any interest in being Mayor Hillman.  That said, the disheartening story after disheartening story of a politician done wrong makes me think that a) I don’t want to vote for any of the current options, b) I’d rather elect someone who’s never been in politics, and c) I may have a chance with the simple platform below.

        If elected Mayor of Chicago, I promise:

        • To not do anything bad with money – embezzle, launder, counterfeit, steal
        • To not cheat on my boyfriend
        • To not hire Uncle Marvin to do the city’s taxes or Cousin Glen to design the city’s buildings
        • To not take money from people who want favors
        • To not spend any money on my campaign; I have no money to spend and think it’d be an awesome challenge and accomplishment if someone without gazillions could win
        • To step down if it’s evident I’m not a good fit or there’s someone who’d do it better
        • To not plaster my name all over the city via street signs, highway signs, park signs, building signs
        • To say “I’ve screwed up” when I screw up
        • To say “I need help” when I need help
        • To have a salary that lets me pay my bills, not incur debt, save for retirement, and have an occasional trip to Michigan, dinner at the Purple Pig, and pedicure – but no more

        You’re skeptical.  People have promised this all before.  Well, let me ease your fears the way I let people know I was serious back in the nineties, back in the Bulls’ heyday – I swear on BJ Armstrong.

        Well, if you can like me when I look like that…

        October 5, 2010

        Imagine the worst possible scenario EVER —

        • You win the lottery but accidentally throw away the ticket
        • You spend six months editing a film, only to lose everything when your hard drive crashes the day before you planned to a major back up
        • Huge pit stains on your way into a job interview
        • You chat with a guy online over a few weeks, find yourself falling for him and sharing intimate details, only to meet him in person and discover that “Juan” is actually “John,” your brother
        • The tattoo you get, what you thought was the Chinese symbol for “peace,” is actually the Chinese symbol for “I heart Rush Limbaugh”

        All wrong.  The worst case scenario EVER is one I found myself in last Friday.

        Boyfriend’s mom was in town from Louisiana, and I was supposed to meet her for the first time Friday evening.  I had a text and voicemail from Boyfriend when I left the gym at about noon – “If you get this in the next five minutes, call me.”  They were down the street and had Giordano’s leftovers that they didn’t want to go to waste or cart around on their downtown adventure, so he wanted to know if I was home so he could throw them in my fridge.  Five hours before the agreed upon time.

        I may not be a supermodel in regular-mode, but I am a sight for sore eyes post-workout.  Hair frizzing out in ways you didn’t know was possible, flushed face dripping with continuously-forming sweat beads, faded spandex clinging to rolls and bulges,  stench waves that I can only imagine smell like raw onion, vinegar, liverwurst, diesel gas, and rotten eggs emanating from my pores.  And my place was a disaster, with random dirty dishes, Percy the handyman droppings, Chicago alley acquisitions, and bras strewn about.  But what am I going to do, say no?  And so that’s how I found myself meeting Boyfriend’s mom for the first time looking [and smelling] like a tore-up street tramp in a tore-up trailer park.

        Memories of the following evening up at my mom’s in Evanston, with the combination of comfy Italian food at the dining room table in comfy jeans and flip-flops, Pictionary, and Molly’s cupcakes, I hope replaced images of the day previous.  My invitation to Christmas in Louisiana was not revoked, so there’s hope…

        Laughter and creativity is all around, Chicago

        October 1, 2010

        A couple of new installments to the Solo Life, my attempt to take advantage of all Chicago has to offer while also pushing myself out of the proverbial comfort zone —

        A week or so ago I went to Write Club at the Hideout [with others].  Highly recommended!  Time Out’s take: Set up like a boxing match with three rounds, the night features dueling writers who are assigned two opposing themes (e.g., Fate versus Free Will or Mind versus Body) and are given exactly seven minutes to expound on the topic. Afterwords, I chatted with the host and he mentioned a few other literary events in bars he thought I might like.  And that’s how I ended up at Ricochet’s this past Saturday afternoon.

        What first intrigued me about Paper Machete was the time.  3PM on a Saturday.  Odd times and unique venues have become draws for me [which is why I found myself giving a presentation at ING Direct a few weeks ago; a bank with no tellers that’s a coffeehouse?!?].  It was different and fun to be heading out to such an event during the day.  Unfortunately, Apple Fest, whatever that is, was going on a few blocks away, and a requirement to get in was that you have the ugliest dog dressed in the ugliest dog-sweater and the biggest, most obnoxious baby-stroller and a lack of care for others around you.  I had about twenty minutes to kill before the show, so found myself weaving in and out of that minefield.  Quickly regretted that decision.  Ricochet’s had been on my list of bars to check out for awhile.  It’s small, low-key, comfy, unpretentious.  The back area was full when I sidled up to the bar.  Billed as a live magazine and parlor show, Paper Machete has guests comment on current events.  The host dazzled the audience with a few songs and remarks, and then welcomed up the guests, including a guitarist.  The styles and topics were all very different, but all witty and interesting.  From Glenn Beck to Apple Fest to abortion in Mexico to being an aspiring playwright to homosexuality.  A fun and cheap [it’s free!] way to spend an afternoon.  I’d definitely go back.

        Wednesday I headed the opposite direction, both literally [downtown] and figuratively [expensive], and went to see Ricky Gervais at the Chicago Theater.  Of course, as often happens when I’m trying to be by myself, I ran into friends within two seconds of stepping in the lobby.  Caught up with them and then excused myself to go be solo.  I first became aware of Ricky as the original Michael Scott in the original The Office, across the pond.  A Brit, of course I loved him instantly.   And then throw in wit, political incorrectness, and a willingness to laugh at oneself – I loved him passionately.  I haven’t been to a venue like the Chicago Theater in a long time, and never for a comedy show, always for a play or a concert.  What a great time!  The opening act, Tom Something or Other [sorry Tom], was hilarious.  Ricky was a natural, so comfortable on stage in front of a packed house, no um’s and ah’s.  He talked about Noah’s Ark, fat people, fear of flying, Africa, telling jokes at dinner parties, gay marriage, and how rich he is and we’re not.  Used a few props to complement his stories, a huge pointer-stick and a huge TV screen with shots of a book he won for “regular attendance” in elementary school, but other than that, it was just him, dressed in all back and running shoes, with a large can of some kind of drink.  I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.  And it’s a weird wonderful feeling to belly-laugh along with hundreds of strangers.  What a majestic venue and a majestic entertainer.  Fully worth the ticket price.  I wish he’d come over and play some Taboo with me.

        Calvin Klein, Axe, and me!

        September 28, 2010

        I remember sitting in Lower Dining Hall in college and a friend pointed to a guy in line with a backwards baseball hat [a requirement to get into Boston College for males; for females, your name has to be “Jenn.”  Or “Jen.”  BC let me slip through so they could fulfill their 1996 “exotic” quota].  “That’s Mike Gabelli.  As in Gabelli Hall.”

        I don’t know what it’s like to have a dormitory named after me.  No one has ever dedicated a book to me or acknowledged me in a film’s credits.  It seems like everyone in Chicago has an honorary brown street-sign but me.  I don’t know what it’s like to go to a restaurant and be able to order “the Saya April Reuben.”  A musician did once give me a shout out at his show – “Thanks to Saya and her crew for coming out!” – which I took to mean he wanted to marry me, but it turned out he had no such desire so I don’t count that, and still sigh every time I hear Train’s Drops of Jupiter.

        But I now DO know what it’s like to have a custom-made cologne, inspired by yours truly, created, and it’s pretty damn cool.

        I [stupidly?] gave a presentation a few weeks ago to an audience of techies, as part of the Solo Life and as a challenge for myself.  Though the forty-eight hours leading up to and including the presentation were stressful and horrid, one of the resulting goodies was that little vial above.  I shared some of my various lists, including my Boyfriend Criteria; number one is “Smells like Campfire.”  When I shared this with the group, a few chuckles rippled through the crowd and a guy raised his hand and asked, “Do you want him to always smell like campfire, or just occasionally?”  Perpetually, of course, I responded.  After my talk, the question-asker found me in the hallway and said he was a chemical engineer always looking for fun projects, and that he could probably create a campfire scent in an afternoon.  I thought he was joking.  But his various ensuing phone calls, texts, and emails, including a “Can you come be in the presentation we’re giving to a grant committee about creating the scent?” showed me otherwise [they won the competition by the way!].  And when he showed up at a Mac ‘n Cheese Mingler a couple of weeks ago with this vial and I sniffed the liquid, I knew he was for real – oh my goodness, yum!  It totally smelled of acoustic guitar, s’mores, jeans and hoodies, and John Denver songs.

        If you’re interested in Smoque [the sassy name of the campfire cologne] or some other amazing scent [he’s also trying to perfect a bacon-scent], you can sign up to be kept abreast of the project’s progress.

        Saya-inspired scent, check.  Now, how does one get one’s face on a stamp?

        Grape-Stuff this, suckers!

        September 24, 2010

        Things of which I’m moronically proud:

        • I always wake up before the alarm clock
        • The number of compliments I get on my iTunes playlist at parties/Minglers
        • When I’m able to refrain from touching my temperamental hair all day and I have non-frizzy, in-tact ringlets as the sun sets
        • I don’t have cable
        • I own no make-up
        • Ratio of Facebook friends I’ve friended vs. who friended me; I haven’t friended anyone in… a year?
        • The number of Facebook friend requests I ignore; usually limit “friends” to people I actually know, not open season for every Tom, Dick and Harry I meet at a party or an event
        • When I’m able to say “Oh, I haven’t watched TV in weeks [months]”
        • When I can bypass traffic with an array of shortcuts/alternative routes
        • When sweets can stay in my house for more than twenty-four hours
        • I drink coffee black
        • When my old UPS guy from five years ago sees me and gives a honk and wave
        • When tellers at my bank waive away my license because they know me
        • Using the last of shampoo/conditioner and throwing the bottle in the trash
        • When I know what lane to be in to avoid merging cars, potholes, slow spots, blinding sun, etc.
        • Sixty-minutes on the stairclimber sans the need for music, TV, or magazines
        • The number of entire scores of musicals I can sing
        • I don’t have to walk up any stairs to enter my home
        • The number of links that come up when you google my name [though this is also scary and a little TMI]
        • I was the 1989 Camp Echo Grape-Stuffing Champion; forty-three green grapes in my mouth
        • When I bump into random people I know in random places
        • How often I have to reorder business cards
        • Always having extra toilet paper, kleenex, and paper towels in stock
        • Ratio of people who ask for my business card vs. people I ask for their card; I haven’t asked for anyone’s in… forever
        • When someone mentions a more obscure NPR host/reporter and I know who they’re referencing

        Things of which I’m not proud/things that are weird and I probably shouldn’t share:

        • I love the MTV show Teen Mom and schedule gym-time [cable!] around when it’s on air
        • An hour or so before every Mingler, I hope everyone will cancel so I can spend the evening at a coffeehouse noodling around on a creative project [But as soon as the first guest steps in the door, that feeling immediately evaporates and I’m in hostess heaven!  Weird cycle.]
        • I have an always expanding list of names for my unborn children
        • The extremely high-level of satisfaction I get from 409ing my doorknobs after the last Mingler guest leaves
        • I cross the street and hide behind traffic-light boxes to avoid the Save the Environment people

        It was a first date. He said he hated immigrants. There wasn’t a second date.

        September 23, 2010

        The various reactions I’ve gotten to yesterday’s post solidify my thoughts that dating is the universal’ist of all universal topics.  We’ve all got steps to celebrate [When did he bring a toothbrush over to leave at my house?  When did I assign him a speed dial number?], wounds to lick [minimal if any in this current adventure but tons of past unreturned phone calls and attempts to love], stories to share [my contacts really were dry and bothering me, it wasn’t an excuse to end the evening as he defeatedly thought!].

        I love hearing your highs and lows, how you met, pet peeves, what you’ve learned about others, what you’ve learned about yourself.  Hmmm, maybe I should make a film on the topic.

        Mine is an off-brand Crystal Light type of relationship; do I miss the days of champagne?

        September 22, 2010

        I was cleaning out my text message inbox the other day and came across a bunch of texts from January, from the beginning of relationship with Boyfriend.  And all of a sudden my eyes started leaking.

        What is it about that time frame?!

        In many ways, the honeymoon period, as it’s often called, usually in reference to the first three months of a relationship, is horrid.  The uncertainty, the uncomfortable clothes, the awkward placement of arms and/or mouth at the end of dates, the not knowing if it was in fact a date, the deep longing for a piece of bread-basket bread yet the self-denial out of fear of appearing piggish, the hours spent straightening hair because you know he’ll be disappointed if he finds out you have curls, frizzy curls, the pressure to do things together rather than just be together, the game of not being the first to suggest the next hanging out, the wondering if he/she is still dating other people…

        But the honeymoon period is also delicious.  You can’t stop smiling.  You think about the other person.  A lot.  You see the other person.  A lot.  Till 5AM one day.  Till 6AM the next day.  On a school night.  Your goodbyes start with a hug and “I’ll miss you,” and thirty minutes later you’re still standing in the middle of the room, clutching, and swaying, and not leaving.  You are flawless.  He/she is flawless.  You never question his/her feelings for you because it’s diarrhea of the mouth with how wonderful you are and how appreciative he/she is to have you in his/her life.  Friends are giddy to hear about and meet this shiny new object, so excited that they internet stalk, combing Facebook and blogs and websites.  Fueled by deliriousness and happiness, you consistently work out and choose broccoli.

        And then you stop making the bed when he/she comes over.  You wear elastic waist-band pants.  You inhale a mammoth 10PM two-scoops of ice cream.  You fart.  You talk about bowel movements and what iPhone apps you utilize during said bowel movements.  You don’t say yes to every invitation extended.  You act irrational.  You choose other people over him/her.  You cry.  You make him/her cry.  You pretzel on the couch and listen to impassioned tirades about entrepreneurship or football instead of lovey-dovey dinner at Nightwood.  You see flaws.  You have flaws.  And the honeymoon period ends.  And I miss it.

        But yet, the next stage, whatever this is, well, it’s got its own niceties.  I like that some of our nights are made up of mesh shorts and homemade chili and iTunes and off-brand Crystal Light.  I like that one of us feels comfortable enough to fart in front of the other [the other would like to get there but is not yet there].  I like that we have ten billion shared Google Documents, from restaurants to try, to costs form our Europe trip this summer, to places to take his mom when she’s in town, to our current weights and minutes of exercise a day.  He’s met the family, I’m about to meet the family.  He’s seen my stretch marks [which in itself is not nice, but the fact that he still tells me I’m beautiful, that’s nice].  We’ve had tense moments and we dealt with the tense moments in a way that reassures me we can deal with stuff, whatever stuff.  He said I love you.  I said I love you.  I have his key, he has my alarm code.  He’s Cheeks and I’m Sweatshirt.

        I can’t delete some of the texts from January.  Or February.  Or March.

        Does wistful mean something’s wrong?  I feel it implies a longing, a void, a sadness.  Is it possible to be wistful, whilst happy?  Because I am, and I am.

        **Update** As I was penning this post, this text came in from Boyfriend: “Life with you is so much better than without you.”  Or September.

        Jazz Boyfriend

        September 16, 2010
        tags:

        I feel you, girl.  I once balked at a third? fourth? date with a guy because he became Mr. Jazz when we went to hear the god awful “music.”  Squinty eyes, head bobbing in a meaningful way that saved dolphins caught in tuna nets and taught ESL to inmates, sucked-in cheeks, pursed lips that demonstrated a love and gentle understanding of humanity, one eyebrow arched left, one eyebrow furrowed right, tapping fingers to beats that vibrated in parts of his soul he didn’t know existed, passionate yet constrained collarbone glistening from beneath his open button-down shirt in the flicker of a red-glass candle.

        Best blog post title ever

        September 15, 2010

        I added blogger to my repertoire a little over a year ago. It seemed appropriate timing that the article How to Grow Traffic To Your Blog appeared in my GoogleReader recently, as it caused me to celebrate this “milestone” by reflecting on the 365 days of its existence.

        The article’s list of eight tips and how Mac ‘n Cheese Lifestyle stacks up —

        1. Great titles help – mine aren’t amazingly witty but they’re not uber-dry either
        2. Graphics don’t hurt – occasional use of photos and video
        3. Brevity is the game – eek.  Some of my posts weigh as much as an encyclopedia.
        4. Share your blog – when I post here, the post is automatically shared on Facebook.  I’ll include links to certain posts in my e-newsletter [400+ readers] and my Mingler emails [700+ readers], as well as in pertinent comment sections on other’s blogs.
        5. Subscriptions or no? – I’m happy that just one person subscribes.  And I find the subscription list intriguing.  Random family members, random friends, strangers, random acquaintances, boyfriend, boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend.

        (I like to joke that my mother and I are the only ones to read my blog.  But my mother doesn’t read it.  The one time she did, it was because a) her sister forwarded her a post, and b) the post was about her.  To my knowledge, she’s not been back.  I don’t take it personally.  There is no rule that parents MUST take an interest in their offspring’s activities.  I put the shoe on the other foot and concluded I probably wouldn’t subscribe to her blog; I just can’t get jazzed about dream analysis, life-changing ketchup, and food policy.)

        6. Guest posts – never asked anyone.  I wonder what Ricky Gervais’ boyfriend criteria would be?

        7. Consistency – I’m consistently inconsistent, does that count?  I like the once a day school of thought but life has a way of getting in the way.  And I don’t have something amazingly interesting to say daily.  Sometimes not even weekly.

        8. Market your blog – the article suggests business cards or postcards with your blog address.  I can’t imagine ever spending money on this irrelevant tool of narcissism.  The time spent already boggles my mind.

        I’ve also read in numerous places that encouraging dialogue via asking readers questions is key.  Often a blog’s comment section is more interesting than the actual post.  Not doing very well in that area, the question-asking.

        So all this begs the question, why do I blog?  I’m not really sure.  It’s kind of like journaling.  Kind of like therapy.  Kind of like a soapbox.  Kind of a way to connect.  Kind of a way to stay on people’s radar’s.  Kind of a way to pretend I’m a writer.  Definitely a procrastination tool.  For now, I’ll leave it at I blog because blogging is what all the cool kids are doing, and since I wasn’t a cool kid in middle school [read 250 pounds, clothes ten sizes too big and only in hunter green or navy blue, front teeth you could stick a finger in between, frizzy hair, and a fear of having a personality], this is my time to wear Girbaud jeans, strut around with my yellow Sony Walkman, and sit at the popular table at lunch.