Category Archives: Family

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.

Andreasz-communications.com
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.

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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…)

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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6 Words I Despise

2016, you’re only half over, yet your verbiage is already making me weary. So well ahead of the year-end glut of vocabulary lists and before Webster crowns its Word of the Year, I’ll submit my own list.

To be fair, these are not words that have emerged this year. They have been around, growing slowly, like a cancer. It’s only this year that they’ve hit the tipping point to full-blown annoying.

Pivot – I used to like this one, but let’s give it a rest. Or switch / rotate / move / shift to some other word.

Disruption / disruptor – Some new language for entrepreneurs and the peer economy, please? Anyone? Makes me want to bring the word “maverick” back.

Hack / hacker – I just saw a job listing for a Growth Hacker. Translation? Marketing Director. Middle-aged people need not apply.

Space (as in field, segment, marketplace or sector) – “We’re disruptors in this space.” Too vague and knowing.

Mic drop – I hope this one is as short-lived as “Talk to the hand.”

Impactful – As if the overuse of “impact” wasn’t bad enough. Is this even a word? I can google a definition, but spell check says no.

In the so-glad-they’re-dying category, words:
Epic, orientate, awesome, ninja (especially in job titles),
psycho(verb) – psychocheck, psychocall

And phrases:
____ is the new ____, beef up

Words I overuse to the point of annoying myself:
Leverage, traction, win-win, actually, crap

And then there is a whole new crop of words and phrases emerging in our politics, but that’s for another post.

In the meantime, what are your least favorite words and phrases?

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.