Category Archives: Family

Eulogy for Gem

Gem

I found this recently, the eulogy I wrote for my grandmother’s funeral. I miss her, especially as her birthday rolls around. So for posterity, here is how I remembered her…

Losing my grandma is losing a little bit of childhood.

At the playground, who else would have known that wax paper on a hot metal slide makes the slide go faster? Lauren and I passed many summer days at your house, Grandma. We loved those walks to the playground.

Who else would quench my thirst with cream soda over ice, served in a big bright blue aluminum tumbler? I remember sitting on your small porch drinking it. And picking flowers from your colorful garden, so many snapdragons.

Who else will give me cute money? (Anyone?)

Losing my grandma is losing an incredible woman.

Who else would have loved my grandfather so well? You smoothed his rough edges and set his heart aflame. You weathered so much together, and remained true in your love to him through his last long days in the hospital. Please bring him our love now. (Give him a kiss for me.)

Who else could keep up with my Aunt Noreen and Uncle Bob at 500 bid? You were sharp for so long, and always up for adventure. You shared my aunt and uncle’s love of the lake, happy to sit at the bonfire but also game for a golf cart ride to the docks or a pontoon cruise up into your last years. Are there corn roasts in heaven?

Who else could have held my mother through all the trials and triumphs of her long life? You have been a constant source of love and strength for her. And I know you will remain with her for the rest of her days.

Who else could change with the times, understanding and digesting all the complication of the people around her? Who could watch Andy Williams on Youtube with me or observe me on a Skype call, and help me understand how truly miraculous our new technologies are? You are Thoroughly Modern Tillie.

Who else would have inspired me to be a mom? I wasn’t sure I wanted a child until the night you, mom and I sat on my couch in front of the fireplace talking until late in the evening. That night I felt the power of our friendship, and the importance of the generations.

Losing my grandma is losing an anchor.

Who else could hold together our constellation of families? You are the sun around which our holidays revolve. I’ll always remember you quietly holding court on Sharon and Robin’s couch at Christmas, an extra mild mimosa on the table next to you.

Gathering around you in your final days, I felt such love and kinship with my aunt and uncle and cousins. Aside from the love, we really like each other. We are a small but powerful family, and we will remain so.

Who else could have represented your generation so well? You were one of the last, an adopted mother to cousins and family friends. So gracious and unassuming in your role as matriarch.

Who else will drive the red sports car? You are my son’s beloved Gwandma Tillie, and you will remain part of our story time, as he assigns you vehicles to drive in his story books. He always includes you, and you will live on in his memory.

You are a love in all of us.
A gentle kindness and sweetness that informs who we are as your family.
I hope to carry some of your humility and grace with me.
I know you are a part of me and of every one of us who loves you.

Thank you, Grandma. I miss you.

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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.

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.

Philadelphia

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!

Grand Camp for Us

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.

Neighbors

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…

Lessons from Mt. Airy Baseball


While Mt. Airy is known for its racial diversity, 13 years of living there produced very few cross-race friendships. Tribes hang together and like attracts like. Except in Mt. Airy baseball, which is the most racially integrated experiences we’ve had in our neighborhood. Teams transcend race, economics and zip codes. This is the deepest diversity I have ever experienced, something I have valued enough to drive back to now that we are no longer living in Mt. Airy.

The first year was a no-brainer. Robin was in his second year on his T-ball team, which was coached by a friend of ours and included a number of Robin’s buddies.

But his past year was a harder decision. You see, we live in a new neighborhood with a strong sports culture, lots of athletic and highly engaged dads, and a robust little league of its own. New friends and neighbors are involved and coaching, the same dads who pitch to my son in the street. Naturally they would like him to join the league and play with his neighborhood friends.

I would too. I relish the idea of bonding with the neighborhood moms on the bleachers and cranking hot dogs with them in the concession stand. Everyone is so nice. There’s only one problem. This neighborhood is homogenous and so like its community, the little league is almost completely white and middle class.

It’s no one’s fault, and most people would never notice this all, much less think it a problem. But we’ve seen another way and come to value it! Our time in T ball was enlightening, even as conversations with other parents were sometimes shallow.

When I asked our coach about snacks he confided that not everyone on the team could afford to take a turn buying snacks for everyone. That and other moments were eye opening for me and extremely valuable. They forged a deep loyalty in me to the league, the equality of the baseball diamond, and the rich and diverse experiences these kids bring to the team.

So we signed on for little league again. And this year the more intensive schedule brought use more deeply into the various worlds of the players’ families. What a rich, rich experience, sharing perspectives on schools with a single mom from Germantown. Or hearing about the congregation where our coach was a preacher. Or meeting older siblings who helped coach.

We also got more involved, with Randy assistant coaching and me scoring and helping staff the dugout. There I became a “dugout mama” with Jen, another mom I knew from Robin’s former school. We juggled her son’s needs with other dramas of the batting order. I got to know the kids’ names and their backstories. We heard of family dramas and respected that throughout these ups and downs, the kids made it to practice and games. Baseball was the constant.

We also laughed at one dad and his vivid and creative commentary. we later found out he was a writer for a Netflix series. “Put some mustard on it!” We would laugh and laugh at his expressions. Meanwhile all the practice was turning our team from on of the worst I t he league to one of the better ones. With effort, the kids turned it around.

And some funny notes about race. I realized that the African Americans struggled to tell us white people apart. Robin was mistaken for another white kid ont he team around on, even though they had different hair color. And Jen and I were mistaken for each other, though really calling any white woman my age Jen is a good bet. Half the time you will be right.

And on the flip side, I had my own struggles distinguishing kids. But after long conversations with their moms, I could see traces of them if their kids’ faces. I came to know and recognize them. This exposure and intimacy is rare and so needed in our world.

As we get more entrenched in our new neighborhood and life outside of Mt. Airy, our decision next year will be all the harder. But this type of diversity is so real, organic, and valuable. It is impossible for me to imagine giving it up.

Planet Mrs.

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There are as many differences between urban and suburban culture as there are varieties of each. Endless ways to experience city living, and many varieties of suburban culture, each with its own norms.

Around here, that norm includes calling adults Mr. and Mrs. I tell outsiders I live on Planet Mrs. I try to conform, to ask Robin to show his respect to adults by addressing them as they wish to be addressed. But for over a year now I have been thinking one thing. Wishing to yell it in all caps like a Mo Willems character:

PLEASE DON’T CALL ME MRS. KESTER.
It makes every cell in my body contract when I hear it. It makes me feel less like me.

1. My name is not Kester.

I am only Andrea Kester in Facebook, where I use this false name to hide from creepy old boyfriends and curious clients. This anonymity allows me to post political viewpoints with impunity and dodge potential employers’ searches. But I do realize it is genuinely confusing, especially for new friends and acquaintances.

When I hear Mrs. Kester, the first thing I think of is my mother-in-law, and I cringe. Not because my mother-in-law is disagreeable. To the contrary, she is a delightful woman so unmalicious, my sarcasm genuinely confuses. Rather, it reminds me of the days when I called her Mrs. Kester instead of Barb, when I was too bashful to ask if I could be less formal and she was too embarrassed to invite me to be.

I was Szyper for the first 30 years of my life and never considered changing it when I married. And to hyphenate a name like Szyper would be ridiculous, we can all agree on that. At our wedding I told my father-in-law that though I did not take the name, I was proud to be in his family. He smiled and told me he completely understood. Meanwhile his son liked to tell people “Andea is keeping her name and I am keeping mine.”

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2. I am Ms. not Mrs.

I claim the right to separate my marital status from my identity, as men have been doing since the start of such things. He can be Mr. and I can be Ms. As you get to know us, our status will be revealed to you at our own discretion. Ms. is indeed more than a euphemism for Miss after all.

But at the same time, please do not feel threatened or judged. Understand that I completely respect and honor your wish to be called Mrs. just as I accept your choice to take your husband’s last name as your own. It is a fantastic choice, and I am so excited to live in a world where we have options as women, and where we can follow the path that feels right and natural for each of us.

We need to spend less energy feeling threatened and more energy supporting each other and honoring these choices. There are endless ways to be a woman today, and each deserves respect, even when it isn’t the way we would choose for ourselves. More than anything, we womenfolk have got to stick together and hold each other up.

3. I hate formality.

I bristle at the formality of titles in general. I know this makes us somewhat unique in all sorts of circles. I used to insist Robin call his preschool teachers Ms. Lorna and Ms. Drew. But parents in our old neighborhood went by Heather and Allen and Cheryl. (Still do!)

The Quakers are intrinsically anti-hierarchical, so it should come as no surprise that at Friends school students called their teachers by their first name only. Robin’s teachers included Kathie, Azizah, Lois, and Cornelia.

I never expected this to carry over to a mainstream public school. In that setting, the titles make sense. But what surprises me is when adults identify themselves to me as a Mrs. It creates confusion when Mrs. Smith calls from the school office and she is not Miss/Ms. Smith, Robin’s classroom teacher. Can’t we go by first names, at least among adults?

Poor Robin is confused. When we hang out with closer friends, grown ups are called by first names, but at the bus stop he must jump to the formal. And when I tell Robin’s neighborhood friends to call me Andrea, they say that their parents wouldn’t want them to. I insist Robin call their parents Mr. and Mrs. as they prefer, to show them respect. I get it.

But can I choose too?
How about calling me Ms. Andrea?

(If only I had the guts to just politely ask…)