Category Archives: City living

My __________ Valentine

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Contemporary art isn’t pretty. At least not always.

It need not be beautiful but rather can be judged by its power. Its message. The feelings it stirs. The universal truths it exposes. Any loveliness is fortunate but may be purely incidental.

This is the case I made to Randy, and why I needed to own a piece by Amberella, a Philadelphia street artist who has been wheat-pasting her hearts all over the city’s fringes. Her poignant slogans peek out from their backdrops of graffiti and urban decay, projecting messages that may warm your heart or stop you cold.

Either way, they have impact and connect you to your urban environment in a new and exciting way. Crumbling paint and rusting metal frame heart-shaped messages you’d never find on real candy hearts. Valentines for the human condition. A perfect V Day treat.

So when Amberella expanded her web shop for February, and I was all too happy to open my wallet and own one. But I leapt without thinking…

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I love the irony of this one, the melodrama and implied violins. The delicious nihilism of the thought and the way it mocks the heart that contains it. But even with my tongue in cheek, I feel a real power in this one fueled by a silent fear. Like it is a bad luck charm or curse, something to hide or bury. This one is a powerful work of art, and isn’t that the point?

Even before it was delivered, I knew Randy would overrule it. So I hid it in its frame. And when I finally did have the guts to hang it, just after Valentine’s Day, he objected.

But it was OK, because I had ordered another to hang in its place.

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This one is loaded, open to a couple interpretations. And that’s how I realize that context is such a critical part of this sort of art. And even in a happy middle class home, this brings some of the street with it. I’ve cut my teeth on Banksy and Shepard Fairey, so I shouldn’t be surprised. Trying to own street art is a fraught thing. 

I want to support an artist. But just like someone who rescues their first stray animal, I am a little overwhelmed by the power of her art in my own home.

Context is everything. Do I want to be drinking coffee with my husband and son with a FOREVER ALONE heart peeking over their shoulder?

ALL I EVER WANTED works well in our breakfast room, feeds a sense of familial contentment. “…all I ever wanted.” But imagine the feeling it would evoke in my office. “All I ever wanted…”

As someone who writes for a living, I should be the last one to be surprised by the power of this artwork. These words are chosen here. Owned. And they don’t fade quite like the ones that wear down or peel in the urban landscape, time and elements slowly reclaiming the public spaces they occupied.

These ideas are captured behind glass in my tidy home, nailed to the wall, domesticated wild things.

FOREVER ALONE now hangs in the quiet solitude of my office, where it better fits the mood.

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Requiem for Joy

After my big bummer of a 2017 recap, here’s a happy little family holiday album, my own little meditation on all that is right and good. I’ve thrown myself into the Christmas spirit this year with untarnished abandon and have chosen to be unapologetically happy. Turns out, I am ravenous.

When in early December I found myself feeling mocked by the tissue box in my bathroom that proclaimed “Joy!” to me in some very swirly font, I knew it was time for a reboot. Is joy dead? Only if we let the stupid orange man with the small hands and bad hair kill it.

Anyone who knows me and reads this blog knows that I am a big fan and practitioner of reframing. So no more moping. In truth, this year was pretty good for me personally, though my heart has broken a thousand times. I’m sending 2017 out with a festive bang!

Here’s to family and friends, to neighbors and community, to cioppino and other meals, to cookies, to snow, to parties and bubbly toasts, to candle light, to pets and children, to Center City traditions, to the glorious innocence of that unshakeable belief in Jesus, Santa, and the future.

In Gratitude for My Sabbatical

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” – Ferris Bueller, on school truancy

“They’re giving you time off for good behavior?” – A former colleague, upon learning of my plans

A sabbatical. Three weeks off, and then a week away at a work-sponsored conference/retreat. A full four weeks out of the office.

To be sure, I checked my email ten times a week and kept basic marketing functions going, but for no more than a day each week, on my own schedule, as if my employer were my client.

Everyone deserves an extended break in the midst of a loyal, long-term commitment to an employer. Sabbaticals, I am realizing, are a thing outside of academia. Some forward-thinking employers (with more staff and resources than mine) offer paid sabbaticals of 3-4 weeks to employees in addition to their paid vacation, and after only 7 years of employment.

It inspires loyalty while giving staffers space to nurture passion projects, projects that can enhance their skills. There’s space to pursue exciting new ideas and scratch creative itches without needing to leave the company.

It also staves off burnout, kindles creativity and self care, and refreshes an employee’s thinking. I needed a reset for sure, and I was damn lucky to have the vacation time banked up to get paid for this.

So what did I do? Let me get it down quickly, before the bliss evaporates completely.

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Yoga, 3-4 times a week
I found a favorite new teacher at Twisters, stretched with friends, and spent happy hours on the mat at Tara.

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I set up a website. It ain’t gorgeous, but it is presentable and gathers my portfolio together neatly for those who might hire me for freelance gigs.

Weekly lunch dates in Center City
I miss the life of the city, and I miss dates with Randy. I was able to connect with both, spending my morning writing at Elixr, running Center City errands, and then lunching out with my hubby.

I wrote, a lot
I wrote blog posts for this little rag, for Andrea Sz Communications, for Spotted by Locals, the Untours blog, Private Access Journeys and a couple clients. I banked up content to share throughout fall.

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I volunteered
I worked for Project HOME, writing a profile of a brilliantly inspiring resident of theirs. I helped Weaver’s Way. And I volunteered at Robin’s school for the Book Fair, cashiering for my first time since college.

The beach
It was only for a long weekend, but Strathmere was a wonderful chance to spend time with my family, and to take long sandy walks and think.

I celebrated Septivus
That includes my birthday, Robin’s birthday, and our 15th wedding anniversary. I had space to honor our family milestones, enjoy my favorite month, plan celebrations, and ease us into the school year.

The B Retreat
I capped it off with the B Corp Champions Retreat in Toronto, a party of progressive business thinking, deep and thoughtful conversations, art and ecology, music and wine, and all in a glorious city, in a sane country.

These four weeks gave me time to digest the enormity of this fall’s relentless string of tragedies: natural disasters and man made carnage; I had time to feel the appropriate sadness. To let it sink in.

I also enjoyed long walks, lazy Sundays reading, off-peak errand running, tweeting, beers with friends, stalking paintings on Chairish, and discovering new spots in my city.

I would urge anyone who can to take a sabbatical, and to use it as such: not just as a staycation, but as a time to reset, build skills, nurture your mental and physical health, and take on personal projects that feed your vocation.

Use your talents for good. Reconnect with your gifts and your calling. Revel in the doing.

Sweet & Sour Summer Scrapbook

It was the summer of Charlottesville. Of the steady continuation of political madness. Of spending lots of money and yet somehow not going anywhere interesting. Of piled up work deadlines in a badly understaffed office. Of my best friend moving to a different hemisphere. Of family obligations. Of other people traveling. Of sheetcaking and weight gain.

And yet there were these moments…

New York with the Cousins

When my in-laws, niece, and nephew visited us for the first time ever, we hit the road! Center City, Lancaster, Hershey, and New York. Here’s Rockefeller Center with the gang.

  

I made my pilgrimage to Hamilton (the theater, anyway) and Jessica’s Nintendo Store pilgrimage went well. Randy’s Eataly pilgrimage, not so much. (Turns out there is pizza kids hate, and it is rather expensive!)

Tourist excess and counterfeit heroes in Times Square, a perfect way to introduce Robin to Manhattan.

Chicago with Dena

Hanging with Dena, my dearest friend from college and one of my favorite people on the planet. I got to see her beautiful newish house (a bungalow with a garden and lots of character), drink margaritas, and see a Paul Gauguin show at the Art Institute.

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Sweet city excursions with my boys.

Urban walks with dear friends.

Chill out time on the banks of the Delaware.

Family Time

Weeklong visits from Papap…

…and Granny.

The Eclipse

So nice, in the wake of Charlottesville, to have a massive and monumental, nonpartisan distraction like this one. Science is real, and we all share the same sky!

Art Acquisitions

   

I found a new obsession with street art this summer and an overall renewed interest in art. Plus the purchase of three new paintings and the perilous discovery that you can buy art on eBay, much of it quite affordable.

Grand Camp for Robin

   

Lots of good time with pap and with grandmas: swimming, Birthday date at Eat’n Park, chasing rogue soccer balls, and a preseason Steelers game!

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Drinks up high at the Skygarten. Followed by blissfully sound, uninterrupted sleep.

Lunches and happy hours at cool Center City joints. And lots of housecleaning, overtime, and errands as well.

The Kesters’ 50th Anniversary

We shared quality time together in Milwaukee. Plus a trip up north to Marshfield to attend mass at the church where they were married, 50 years to the day after.

There were pleasant and meaningful visits with extended aging family, roadtrip antics, fresh and squeaky cheese curds, and a little multigen baseball in between.

Glasses

I bought new glasses the same day I got to meet Seth Godin at a conference. I will always associate my new look with my favorite marketing guru in glasses.

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Parties and playdates and pizza! Oh my! We enjoyed multiple block parties, spontaneous gatherings, lots of beer drunk curbside with fantastic people. Yoga classes, trips to the pool, corn hole, and other local pleasures.

Baseball

In Philadelphia…

   

…and Milwaukee and Pittsburgh. Lots and lots of it. Five games in total!

All in all, not a bad summer. The world is still off its axis. As Harvey retreats, Irma approaches, hovering over fall beach plans. The rebuilding begins in Texas, Trump tweets his small-minded hatred, and we write our donation checks. I text my friend in New Zealand, and life carries on…

Entertaining Parents

“When are the first customers arriving?!” Robin’s question came right on time, at noon.

“Honey, they’re guests, not customers. And no one shows up at the beginning. People are shy about being the first ones here.”

And so began the litany of questions. An avalanche of chicken nuggets slid from the oven. A dozen people descended at once, and our house turned into a happy, chaotic hive of convivial conversation.

Even at 78 guests, there were people who couldn’t come or came stag. When we set a guest list these days, we count by fours and fives, so numbers add up quickly.

What a wonderful mix! The living room buzzed with talk of city politics travel while new neighbors and old friends mixed in the family room. Travel, Trump, and the ham were all hot topics.

Kids were everywhere.

A neighbor texted to say she would come with their 5 but stay only briefly to leave room for the “out of towners.”

I told her to stay as long as she could stand. “We wanted a bigger house because our old place couldn’t hold all of our friends. I never imagined we would double our circle when we moved. It’s a blessing, not a problem!”

“Talk to me again after you’ve had 30 kids tearing around your house for 2 hours.”

Though it was too cold to be outside, the kids stayed busy upstairs and down.

Our friendships have multiplied mostly because of Robin and the high quality adults who come with his playmates. As the kids scatter for school and lose touch, I want to keep their parents around!

Five pounds of chicken tenders, three bandaids, and a little insanity is a small price to pay.

So we survived our big party and enjoyed the chaos of wrestling and coloring, snacks and wine. We cleared a few juice boxes from the guest room and a tater tot from Robin’s nightstand. Two kids lost teeth.

Here’s the lost and found below. (One front tooth still at large, possibly swallowed! )

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Summer Camp for Grownups

Barnes Foundation

Grand Camp is the best kept secret of parenting, if you have engaged and bodily able parents like I do. A remote location like Pittsburgh helps. Robin is at sleep-away camp this week, spending 12 days with my parents, bouncing between their households and visiting the driving range, baseball games, amusement parks and the pool. Want to see some pictures?

Randy at Gran Caffe L'Aqila

Here’s us on an epic date night. Happy hour at Caffe L’Aquila to start…  And an art opening at the Barnes. We took illegal selfies in the permanent collection, which was eerily empty. We swayed to reggae in the crowded main hall, and even got to talk to the artist, Nari Ward, who is brilliant and down-to-earth. And no one interrupted our conversation to announce he had to poop! No one called it boooooooooring.

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I get to work 9 or 10-hour days like a normal person. This was a treat. For real. I’m super glad to be able to do it, finishing projects completely and getting serious traction after 5:30pm. And then stopping off at Saks Off 5th or Marshall’s on my way home. And dining after 7. And only washing myself before bed. Only brushing one set of teeth.

There have also been bars, like Mermaid Inn and Bar Hygge. And Tired Hands. Refreshingly, it’s a clever name, not a state that accompanies sore feet and weary body. I will work though. I’ll spackle and paint. Clean the house. Harvest radishes from my garden. I won’t even need caffeine to do it as I slept until almost 8 this morning. I will wash three loads of laundry and get it all folded in a single day. Then blog about it. I feel downright superhuman!

We’re hosting friends for dinner and watching R-rated movies. On weeknights.

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Of course I do miss my guy, more than I had imagined. I enjoy the text messages and photos my parents send. He’s taking in all of Pittsburgh’s pleasures with the only people on this planet who come close to loving him as much as Randy and I do.

And while I savor the freedom of spending a whole morning writing and reading entire articles in the newspaper, I feel a small wave of sadness. Life before my Robin was fun and free. But I can’t imagine a life without his love and raw energy. I miss the warmth of his little busy body and the chaos he leaves in his wake.

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I am painfully aware that these days are fleeting. The years are stacking up. Our time together is short and beautiful, if hectic and tiring. In his week away he will probably lose that single front tooth, his precious hockey player smile transitioning to something else.

Domestication

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We retreat to the mountains for Memorial Day, our Prius silently easing into a parking spot at the mountainside timeshare condo. We have to shoo away the deer as we unload.

We all have our roles to play.

It happens gradually. We get comfortable in our job. The mortgage kicks in. A couple extra pounds. A drink each night. A quiet release of expectations.

The deer loiter out back, inches from our deck rails. They periodically retreat into the shallow woods behind our unit, more out of boredom than fear.

Our 20s were bold and transient, lived on instinct. Our 30s were sensible and fruitful, laying foundations. The 40s are routine and comfort.

The neighbors fling kibble and the deer gather.

Birds built a nest in the hanging plant on our back patio. There are strollers and squirrels and SUVs and the near constant hum of a lawnmower from somewhere.

Cardinals fly past, brown females or males the color of our throw pillows. Bunnies eye our garden with envy. Hedgehogs dodge cars and we build fences.

Deer dash through our backyards there.

I envy their determination.