Thursday, May 7, 2020

This Unprecedented Blah Blah: Working in Marketing During the Pandemic

Wet hair, don't care: Work from home style.

If you donate to charity, you may have received an email that I wrote. It would have opened with grave concern ... something like, "We hope you and your loved ones are well" ... and then went on to acknowledge "these uncertain times."

For a day or two, I actually thought I might be the first copywriter to put those particular words together. Then came the onslaught of marketing in everybody's inbox.

For every "We're here for you" email that you've received, there's a copywriter behind it who's (trust me!) just as sick of the sentiment. But still, I have clients who send my copy back to me with the same request: "Can you add more language about these unprecedented times?" 

And I do.

Because I am grateful ... and frustrated ... and overwhelmed ... and worried ... and grateful again ... to be working as a writer during the pandemic.


The coronavirus didn't seem real to me until Sunday, March 15. I had friends who were already staying home and social distancing, but that day, my husband and I had just come home from the mall.

That's when I got an email telling me not to go to the office the next day. We'd been planning an office-wide work-from-home trial run to start soon, but our company President had decided that we should all start working from home immediately, for an indefinite period of time.

I was glad, but suddenly nervous. Just like that, the world outside my house seemed weirdly treacherous. We were all just being cautious, right? Two weeks later, the governor would issue a statewide stay-at-home order.

That first week at home was a blur of video conferences, urgent deadlines, and frantic re-writes. I write fundraising copy for a number of charities across the US, and suddenly, nothing was relevant anymore. I'd already written campaigns for April, May, and June, but they all referenced things that had become obsolete overnight: kids in school, summer vacations, communal gatherings.

And my clients were scared. As more people got sick and others lost wages, charities were challenged to serve many more people — without volunteer labor, while sanitizing spaces, without putting their staff or the people they serve at risk.

I wrote about hungry families. I wrote about little kids with cancer who could no longer have their mom and dad with them in the hospital. I wrote about people who were already battling a life-threatening illness, only to find themselves crushed by a new health and financial crisis.

Sometimes, my heart would break for them so much, I'd start to cry at my desk. Or I'd walk downstairs and tell my husband how horrible everything was. I'd go on and on about how our world was coming apart. After a while, he'd want me to stop, but I couldn't. Every day, for more than eight hours straight, I'd write emotional appeals about human suffering, and how my clients could barely keep up.

For a few days, I thought I was sick with coronavirus. I finally realized that I wasn't shivering from a fever, but rather, trembling from anxiety. It was all-consuming. I'd work until I couldn't any longer, then drink wine and fall asleep on the couch.

It might sound ridiculous, and yes, I felt ridiculous. I knew I wasn't on the front lines. I wasn't saving lives. And I felt guilty. The pandemic put countless people out of work. So many people were desperate to earn a paycheck and I was jealous of the people who suddenly had free time on their hands. I wanted to be like everyone else and clean out my closets. I wanted to bake banana bread!


Aside from dog walks and a few curbside pickups, I have now been home for 53 days.

It turns out that the stay-at-home life suits me. I'm getting more sleep, more exercise, and I'm more productive. I love being home with my husband and dog. And as unemployment climbs, I'm endlessly grateful that I'm able to take care of my little family by writing. But I'm worried for my clients, not just because they do good work, but also because I need them to keep paying me.

I did clean out my closet, AND make banana bread.

My summer fundraising campaigns have all been re-written, some with alternate versions waiting on the sidelines, because we don't know what our world will look like next month. We really have no idea.

Almost everything I write now acknowledges our "new normal," and "these uncertain times." Sometimes, my clients ask me to lean harder on the COVID-19 messaging, and I feel like I'm forced to dip into a well of overused phrases. "This is an unprecedented situation," I add. "Together, we will get through this."

Because we will.
I hope.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Fierce and Loving: My Abigail

 We had an empty dog bed and a hole in our hearts. We offered them both to her.

Abigail was a Beagle who needed a home. That was all we knew about her when we agreed to take her in. We drove to the shelter to pick her up and brought her home to our apartment, which was a mess of cardboard boxes. Everything was in a state of change. We were newly married, mid-move, and I was crying, constantly, over the sudden death of our previous dog. I was in pieces.

Abigail, the skinny little stray who'd bounced from one shelter to another, took it in stride. Within minutes of moving in, she crept up beside me, studied my face, and pressed her body against mine. I cried, again. She cuddled in closer.

* * * *

It's funny to think about that day now. What happened to that Beagle, so demure and compliant?

Billy, Abigail, and I moved into a new home together. Before we knew it, Abigail was running the household. She asserted her preferences and we learned her routines. She ruled with an iron paw — conveying her demands with impatient sighs, defiant yips, breathless and happy hops, frustrated barks, stern glares, or a loving and contented gaze.

Abigail had an intellect that was humanlike. She always knew when we were talking about her, even if we tried to do it in secret. She'd lift her head from her pillow and fix us with a narrow-eyed stare, letting us know that she hadn't been sleeping, but rather, listening in the entire time.

Her grasp of vocabulary would put the brightest toddler to shame. Abigail even knew what day of the week and what time it was, as she let us know every Wednesday (her least favorite day of our week) and every night at dinnertime, sharp.

We never bothered to teach her commands, as we understood that pet tricks were beneath her. We were lucky to have a roommate who chose to behave so well most of the time, and she knew it. Abigail respected us and expected the same consideration.

In return, Abigail gave us her whole heart. 

She was my loyal shadow, and insisted that we touch at all times. Wherever I sat, she stayed pressed against me, and permitted herself to doze only lightly so she could get up and follow me to the kitchen or bathroom and back. She slept curled in my arms like a teddy bear at night and woke only when I did.

While any human relationship cools and normalizes over time, Abigail's adoration never faded. She'd wait, desperate and frantic, for my return each day. Then she'd throw herself at my feet, surrendering herself to our joyful reunion. Every single time.

Abigail hated cheap cheeses, bright lights, and women with ponytails and yoga mats. She loved kisses, sleeping in together on Sundays, and she was always proud to wear clothes. She refused to participate in a SnapChat, but was surprisingly fine with wearing a wig.

She was only 19 pounds, but her presence was enormous. She was part of every conversation we had. I spent my days holding her, petting her, doting on her, and basking in the joy it gave her to simply be loved. She would suffer for love — even enduring blinding sun on a hot deck rather than let me suntan without her.

When we passed another dog (or even a big truck) on the street, Abigail had to be restrained from defending us with her life. She would have died for me.

* * * *

I wish you could negotiate with death, for even one day. I would give anything to spend one more afternoon with her.

I miss her so much.

We only got to love Abigail for four years before her bad back lead to a fatal injury. Billy was out of town when I realized I had to let her go. Abigail, as brave and fierce with her love as ever, tried not to leave me. She fought the pain until her final breath. It was devastating to watch. But that was who she was.

I've finally stopped crying every day. But out of nowhere, I'll start missing her, and it will hit me all over again that she's never coming home. And it seems unfathomable. I wish I could have one more afternoon to lay with her. To smell her warm Beagle belly. To give her the one thing she lived for: loyal and unyielding love.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

The Days Were Just Packed

When women gush about how much they love Fall, deep down, it feels like they must be lying. I just don't get it.


It was a lovely summer at our house. Well, we spent any extra vacation money getting our chimneys repointed (ugh!), replacing a crapped-out air conditioner (ugh!!), and continuing to pay off three floors of new windows (!!!) so we spent a lot of time just relaxing at home.


But it really was lovely, especially after a stressful year in 2018. This year, a pair of song sparrows made a nest by our front door, and I was lucky to discover the nest the moment their first baby hatched from an egg and stretched his little neck towards the sky. I got to watch its siblings grow from helpess pink newborns to fuzzy-headed babies to fully-feathered birds, who blinked at me for a few days before flying off. I cried when they left.

day 1 - day 12

Our butterfly garden attacted monarch butterflies, friendly tigertails, iridescent red spotted purples, and — jackpot — hungry little hummingbirds.

My husband Billy taught me the joys of sitting on our deck. Previously, I couldn't understand why anyone would choose to sit where it's hot, but this summer, I soaked up our sun. I discovered how time slows down with a good book in the sunshine, and how lightly toasted skin feels loved and luxurious even hours later. Also, the smell of suntan lotion makes me instanty happy.

I walked our dog Abigail, slipping into sandals and heading out, free from the burdens of boots and bulky coats. I ran into neighbors who were happy to be outside and happy to share the latest news. I befriended a neigborhood kitten, and a guinea pig who gets to go for evening strolls. (The guinea pig belongs to Joan, a woman who's lived here long enough to tell me the history of my house.)

The sunshine greeted me with my alarm at 6am. It shone brightly through my 6pm commute, then stretched daytime well past dinner and into perfectly pink-and-purple evenings. On the fourth of July, Billy and I realized we could sit on the steps on the side of our house and watch fireworks light up the sky. No traffic, no crowds, just Billy, me, and the fireflies.

I bobbed in the wave pool, decorated the inside of my house with flowers from my yard, and made jugs of sun tea. I made one batch on my birthday, and imagined that the tea was my personal elixer of pure birthday joy.

My potted jasmine, which threatens to die every winter, rejoiced outside, filling the evening air with its perfume.

It rained sometimes, and I discovered that our deck is perfecly perched on top of the best hill for seeing rainbows.

But now summer is ending, and with it, the music festivals and fun events, escaping from work while it's still light out, and roaming the world free from socks and layers.

But I guess some people like dark mornings, wet dead leaves, and sweating inside a coat in line at the pharmacy. As much as cloyingly sweet lattes and back-to-school traffic and empty pools, dismal and drained for the season.

I love summer, and I miss it already!

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

New Mantra: I Can't Believe I Get To Do This

I had a daily ritual that wasn't serving me very well. So I changed it.


Every night, I would touch the box the holds Porter's ashes. I would picture him in my mind and tell him that I loved him.

My intention was to keep him close, and to keep his face sharp in my memory. I was so scared it would fade.

But too often when I pictured him, my brain would reach into the shadows and return the scene of Porter's death.

I meant to keep a happy ritual, but instead, it kept me locked in grief. It kept me tethered to death.

Every single night.


One day, I realized this was happening. And I realized that my ritual wasn't serving me well. So I don't say goodnight to his ashes anymore. Instead, I hung a picture next to my desk, and I look at it.

This picture.

This is Porter, enjoying his walk, at the very moment he realized that I was taking him to his favorite place: Frick Park. His eyes are brimming with excitement. I can just imagine that he's thinking, "I can't believe I get to do this!"

That's how Porter, who survived a lifetime of violent abuse, seemed to approach our life together: "I can't believe I get to do this."

He couldn't believe he got to sleep on such a comfy couch, or enjoy so many delicious foods. As my little rescue dog grew plumper and happier, he seemed to be grateful and eager for every moment.

That's the feeling that I want to keep close to me. So I don't say goodnight to ashes anymore. Now, I make myself say,

"I can't believe I get to do this!"

And I really can't. I can't believe I get to come home to the man of my dreams, and the delicious salad he prepared for me tonight. I can't believe we get to sleep in on weekends, and take naps if we want, and stay up late watching old TV shows together with our devoted dog. I can't believe we have as much as we do.

I can't believe my family survived so much, and loves me so steadfastly.

I can't believe this summer is so sweet.

I'm grateful and eager for every moment.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Thank You, Dad, For My Love Affair With Coffee

It’s no surprise to me that caffeine addiction may be hereditary.

Just check out this text conversation I had with my mom this morning: 

I know where I got my coffee addiction: from my dad. I also start longing for my morning coffee the night before.

My earliest coffee memory dates back to when I was 10. My dad got an espresso machine for Christmas and spent the rest of the day perfecting his espresso shots and frothy cappuccinos. The kit came with something I had never tasted before — hazelnut syrup. I loved the nutty new taste and stayed glued to my dad’s side as we giddily bounced our way from lattes to frappes.  

I just remember being really, really excited.

The next thing I remember is watching the sun come up. I couldn’t sleep a wink and didn’t understand why.

“It was the caffeine!” my mom realized when she found me bleary-eyed in bed the next morning. I think she felt really bad. (I didn't.)

It would be a few years before I’d succumb to full caffeine addiction. When I was a junior in college, I transferred to the University of Pittsburgh. I was fresh off a trip to Italy and convinced myself that I really wanted to take a Renaissance Art class, even though it took place at 8am on Saturday mornings.

8am! Saturday mornings!

Worse even, I didn’t live on campus. I took the bus from the suburbs to school, and on Saturdays, I had to get up extra early to account for the weekend’s limited bus routes. That’s when I discovered Starbucks.

I remember marveling at my first rich, bittersweet mocha. The way its fragrant steam seemed to soothe the puffy bags under my eyes. Back then, when I was young and new to the coffee game, I thought to myself, “Why, this is a perfectly good substitute for sleep!” I was hooked.

That was a long time ago. Now I need several coffees just to achieve a state of “mostly awake.”

But getting there, by drinking my daily coffee? It’s pure joy. Every time.

Thanks, Dad!

-->  -->

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Grieving & Healing By Transforming a Room in My House

I found my cat Firefly when we were both just kittens kids: she a tiny, fuzzy stray and me a teenager in college. From that day on, she was my constant companion.

She moved everywhere with me, outlasting apartments, boyfriends, and jobs. She wasn't an aloof cat who kept to herself. This girl liked to be talked to, sung to, and cuddled all the time. She liked to be included.

By the time my husband and I bought our house, my little kitten was 16 and battling kidney disease and high blood pressure. She was slowing down. I let her have the run of the house, but I also set up a bedroom just for her. From the litterbox area in her closet, to the placemat with food and water in the opposite corner, to the comfy furniture and window access, I dedicated the room to her and her needs.

Over the next four years, Firefly left her room less and less. So I made sure to dedicate more and more time to visiting her there. I could tell that she loved Thursdays, the day I work from home and could give her at least eight hours to nap in my lap.

Then one day, with little warning, my Firefly's kidneys failed. I had to say goodbye. I spent her final nights sleeping with her in her room. Her vet came to our house. We sat on the floor of her bedroom, and my loyal friend passed away in my arms.

And suddenly, I had a cat room with no cat. Just walking past it and seeing her chair, empty, broke my heart. I sent my friend Madge a tearful video and a plea: help me transform this cat hospice into something new.

So that's what we did. We threw ourselves into designing a brand new office for me — in Firefly's honor.

First, I painted the walls the pale butterscotch color of her fur. As I moved furniture and climbed ladders, I thought about her and how lucky I was to have loved her. It was physically taxing and emotionally cathartic.

Meanwhile, Madge found a new rug that represented all the colors of Firefly's fur, plus her tiny pink nose and paw pads. (The pattern also makes me think of fangs or claws, which suits my feisty girl very well!)

Madge also encouraged me to declutter and organize, suggesting that I get rid of at least 50% of the stuff that was filling the small room. I scrubbed and painted the litterbox area and turned it into a space for books and storage, and grouped my crystal collection by color.

Then I added some special touches to remind me of Firefly, like a firefly-esque lamp, a furry pillow for her lounge chair, and a photo tribute wall.

Most importantly, I gave myself new views. I moved the lounge that Firefly and I spent hours and hours (not to mention her final nights) snuggling in. Now, it faces a completely different corner. I moved the desk we worked at together and bought a chair that feels brand new and doesn't remind me that my lap is conspicuously empty.

I still need a big piece of art on this empty wall — something that reminds me of the way my loyal companion made me feel. I'll know it when I see it. Until then, I'll keep working on filling this room with love.

This project turned out to be excellent medicine for grief. I got to spend time with Madge, sweat as I painted and rearranged, busy myself with shopping and planning and treat myself to something special and new.

Today, the room my cat died in is gone. But her spirit — so familiar and sweet — is alive in every detail.

Firefly portrait by Alternate Histories!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Exercise: What is Your "Money Memory?"

I just started listening to a new (to me) book: The 9 Steps to Financial Freedom by Suze Orman. I'm already learning a lot.

The book starts with an exercise. She asks you to think back to your earliest memory about money. She says that everyone has an early memory that holds clues to what shaped your relationship to money as an adult.

For example, she writes aboout a woman who, as a child, had to move every time her dad got a promotion. Every time she started to get comfortable somewhere, she was uprooted again. To this day, the woman associates gaining money with chaos. Other people associate money with shame or early traumas of not having enough.

I thought and thought about it, and couldn't think of a single defining money memory.

I realized, right away, how lucky that makes me. How fortunate I am to have grown up not thinking much about money. I felt secure, and I am endlessly grateful for that.

In fact, I had no idea how much money my parents had or didn't have at any given time ... until we went to the Outer Banks each summer.

As it turns out, my parents worked hard and made smart financial decisions. But nothing about our lives really changed with my parents' income. For much of my childhood, I wore my neighbors' hand-me-down clothes and my parents shared one car.

But when we went to the beach, our accomodations over time went from a hotel room ... to a cabin ... to a beach house ... to an oceanfront property with an inground pool.

The annual vacation splurge was one of the only things that ever changed. For 51 weeks in between, we kept a lean budget.

So I guess my "money memories" are about my family living, day-to-day, below their means. Those are the habits that define the way I try to live today.

It taught me to appreciate things. It was exciting when my mom let me pick out a new school supply, or bought me a new outfit (always at TJ Maxx) that didn't smell like someone else. But it's why I feel so confused (and often defeated) when I see friends living so much more extravagantly than I do. Maybe they make more money. Or maybe they just worry about it less. (Maybe both.)

I still have a lot to learn about money, and this book is teaching me that. It's also inspiring me to dig out the 501k rollover paperwork I have shamefully ignored for 5 years (!!!).

But right now, at this moment, I'm thinking about my smart parents and the habits they instilled in me.

Thanks, mom and dad.

Sunday, June 2, 2019

That Time Michael Dukakis Wrote Me a Letter

Fun fact, if you're into nerdy 8-year-olds: 

In 1989, I wrote Massachusetts governor and 1988 Democratic Presidential candidate Michael Dukakis a letter.

I remember that I worked on it for a long time, starting over several times. I told him that I'd gone to see him give a speech at Market Square in Pittsburgh, and that he'd done a very good job. Once I was satisfied,  I added a portrait of him in crayon on the back. 

This was before the Internet, so when I asked my mom for Michael Dukakis's address, she didn't know. Somehow, she figured out that we could just address my letter to the Massachusetts State House, but that still left us without a zip code. So, she took me to the post office and we asked the clerk for help. A very nice man took me perfectly seriously. He brought out an enormous book, and together, we found the zip and shipped my letter off to Boston 02133.

A few weeks went by, and nothing happened. I wasn't expecting a reply, but I'd hoped for one anyway, and as time passed, I deeply regretted sending him that crayon portrait. I realized that it must have made my letter look so childlike. I filled with shame!

But then, one day, Michael Dukakis wrote me back. 

He wrote,

"Dear Jolene:

Thank you for writing. I'm glad to know I have such a good friend in Pittsburgh. Judging from the mail I've been receiving from all over the country, if we could have lowered the voting age to 8 we would have had a landslide victory!

I did enjoy the campaign. There were some good days and some not so good days, but I will never forget the beauty of this great country or the kindness, hospitality and decency of its people.

I remember the speech in Market Square, and I'm glad you were able to attend. I hope you will always remain interested in public affairs and that you will consider a career in public service. It is very important for our citizens to be informed and involved; you're off to an excellent start!

Thank you for taking the time to write to me.


He hadn't just sent me a form letter. He'd noted my age, my hometown, and the speech in market square. I was over the moon.

This weekend, two decades later, I dug through important papers and this letter surfaced. I wasn't sure what to do with it, but it seemed too important to throw away. So now, among a stash of treasured Valentines, concert tickets, political bumper stickers, birthday cards and condolences is my letter from Michael Dukakis.

Monday, May 13, 2019

I'm really sad today.


My brain: Your cat lived for 20 years. She suffered only briefly. You were blessed to love her for so long.

My heart: It's not fair that such a sweet, loving creature would get kidney failure and die. It's not fair that you're hurting. This pain is too much to bear. One of the sweetest blessings in your life was wrenched away from you. Why do you put yourself through this over and over? No matter what you tell youself, she's gone, and you'll never see her again because she's dead. Where there used to be life and and endless supply of love is just emptiness now. This hurts.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

How Happy Are YOU, On a Scale of 1 - 10?

Recently, I joined my mom and dad for dinner at their house.

I looked across the table at my dad.

"How are you feeling?" I asked him. "On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the best?" It was a question his doctors asked him a lot when he was hospitalized last year.

My dad thought for a minute before he replied. "Eight," he said, with a satisfied nod.

"That's pretty good," I said, at the same time my mom cried, "Eight?!" 

"What's wrong with eight?" he asked.

"Why not ten?" my mom countered back. "What could be better than this?"

My dad motioned to the room and the plate of Chinese take-out that was getting cold in front of him. "Well, there's got to be room on the scale for feeling better than ... this," he said.

"Not me," my mom said, happily digging in to her noodles. "I've got my family with me and I'm eating my dinner. I'm a ten!"

She smiled at us, her eyes sparkling. And I knew ... my mom was being sincere.

We chatted some more as we ate our meals, and then we rinsed our plates and push them in the dishwasher.

"I think I'll go home now," I said, putting on my shoes.

"Oh," my mom said, her smile fading. "Now I'm an eight."


I thought about that a lot over the next couple days, feeling happy that my mom was so content.

And I thought about it weeks later, when my mom and dad's sweet dog Winnie got sick and had to be put to sleep. I watched my mom say goodbye. She got down on the floor with her dog, wrapped her arms around Winnie's shoulders, and wept into her fur. On a scale of one to ten, I was watching my mom sink down to a one. It broke my heart.

I knew it would take her a long time to climb back up to ten. I know she's still working on it.

That's what makes my mom's heart so beautiful and so brave. I love my mom, and her great, big feelings. And I love the way my mom loves. She loves with all she's got.

If you're lucky enough to be loved by my mom, you get all of her. On a scale of 1 - 10, my mom gives a 10 every time.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Worst Kind of Dude to Run Into at a Bar

I am alone at the bar, enjoying myself and watching my husband play guitar for the crowd, when a guy stumbles forward and requests a Pearl Jam song. I merrily compliment the guy's choice.

But within moments, it's all too clear.

I am now tangled in a conversation with The Worst Kind Of Dude in the World.

Let me count the ways.

1. He is explaining to me how good Pearl Jam is.
(Ok, so this dude doesn't know he's talking to the foremost Pearl Jam scholar in America, so I decide to let the mansplaining slide for a minute.)

2. Hold on. He then tells me that when he grows a beard, he looks JUST like Eddie Vedder.
(Game over. I'm sorry, scrawny dude with weak cheekbones and no chin, but this is impossible.)

are you for real with this?
3. He keeps screaming Pearl Jam lyrics and then forcing me to high five him.
(I don't want to keep doing this.) 

4. He keeps lamenting that even though he’s been to TWO THOUSAND concerts (as demonstrated by holding two fingers in front of my face repeatedly), he hasn't been able to see Pearl Jam yet.
(It's almost as though they haven't been touring the Northeast extensively for nearly 30 years. I refrain from mentioning that I've seen them 53 times because I'm afraid it will prompt him to tell me something that he thinks is more impressive than that.)

5. Now he's sitting at the bar, just bellowing "PEEEEEARRL JAAAAAAAAM" over the songs my husband is playing.

6. He just came back to my table and made me fist bump him.

7. He tells me "I'm feeling generous. Very generous," with a cocky smile before tipping my husband a single dollar. 

8. He wants his buddy to join us so now he's just sitting at my table and yelling "MY BRUTHA," over and over to the bar.

9. He's trying to describe the song "Wonderwall," but doesn't believe me when I tell him he's thinking of Oasis.

10. And finally, when my husband tells him he won't play any more Pearl Jam songs for him, the dude fishes his dollar bill back out of the pile of tips and mopes away.


Short of date rapists and serial killers, every woman knows that this is, truly, The Worst Kind of Man to Run Into at a Bar. (And even though he's probably not one of them, I'd still carry my drink to the bathroom with me before I ever left it alone near him.) He will continue to splash around the shallow end of the dating pool until he decides to settle down with a lady who deserves far better.

Be careful out there, ladies.

Monday, October 29, 2018

My Heart Breaks For the People in Squirrel Hill

As soon as I could afford to move out of my parents' house, I went to Squirrel Hill.

I was entranced. I didn't have a car, and I didn't care, because I felt like I had the whole world right outside my apartment. I was steps away from any kind of food I wanted, my library, little markets, and family-owned businesses that sold items from all over the world. (And even my own family's guitar shop.)

Squirrel Hill stayed open late, and I felt safe there, always sharing the sidewalk with someone making a late-night Korma run or families capping off their night with bubble teas and a peaceful stroll. And there were always neighbors who were happy to hang out at the spur of the moment. 

One night, I found myself sitting around a coffee table with a group of people from different age groups and backgrounds. The conversation turned to the day each person at the table had received their US citizenship. I had nothing to add to the conversation except my wide-eyed wonder, because I had never considered any of the feelings that my new friends were describing with teary-eyed pride and passion. I just felt lucky to be able to hear their stories and laugh at their jokes, all told in different accents. 

Squirrel Hill, and its community, and any place that fosters a melting pot of people, is SO special. I realize I am fortunate to be looking at Saturday's shooting from the outside in. But it breaks my heart that the community where I felt so safe and so exhilarated is grieving today. 

We must do better than this. ️

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Ode to My Helpful, Healing Gemstones

They might relieve my headaches, boost my courage, and soothe my worries. Or they might just be pretty.

I loved crystals and gemstones when I was little. Now, as an adult with a paycheck, it delights me to drop thirty dollars on a bag of rocks on my way home from brunch.

My friend Christy rekindled my love of crystals when I was suffering from grief. When my dog passed away suddenly, Christy gave me love, sympathy, and a small green gemstone. For months, whenever the pain and loss seemed overwhelming, that little gemstone helped me stay grounded.

Whenever I felt crushed under a fresh wave of pain, I'd roll that gemstone in my palms and feel the cold contrast of the stone against my skin. I'd close my fingers around it, feeling it absorb my body heat and turn hot in my hand. I'd search for the tiny rainbows that bloomed inside it, or I'd close my eyes, reassured by its familiar weight and the knowledge that Christy cared about me. It interrupted my panic and brought me back to a gentler, more bearable moment.

That powerful little gemstone has another story, too strange and magical for most people to believe, so if you want to hear it, you'll have to ask me about it. But that gem reminded me that crystals make me feel good. The same way salt lamps give my home a cozy glow -- and may even purify the air, for all I know -- they feel good to have around.

Now I start each day by choosing a couple pretty gems to accompany me. Gems are thought to have metaphysical qualities, so I'll choose a milky white gem for its ability to inspire creativity, or my favorite purple-and-black gem, traditionally known to give strength to people with sick loved ones.

Since I've been in 10 (yes, 10) car accidents (that's another blog), I started keeping gems with protective qualities in my car. Maybe they're helping. They definitely make me a calmer driver. I rub their smooth, silky surfaces when I'm stopped in traffic, and I feel my driving-anxiety subside.

A lifelong sufferer of headaches, I started wearing blue goldstone around my wrist for its anti-migraine properties. That and my Excedrine help turn my panic to reassurance when I feel a first twinge of pain. That alone helps me feel better.

I love how every gem has a different weight, a different texture, and looks completely different depending on how it's reflecting the present light or whatever it's sitting next to at the moment. Held at just the right angle, a plain black sphere might explode with sparkles ... then go right back to being a modest little rock in my pocket. It gives me moments of pure joy.

And I like thinking about everything each little gem has been through to get to me: the product of ancient processes, tremendous temperatures, pressure, time, and space many miles underneath the earth's surface. Tectonic plates collided and centuries-old magma delivered the the shimmering little specimen I can place next to my laptop.

That's magic, if you ask me.

Friday, October 6, 2017

My Love Life in 6 Tom Petty Songs


Free Fallin': I'm 9 years old and Free Fallin' is on the radio every time I get in my parents' car. I'm  entranced from its first airy strums. Scenery rolls by, but in my imagination, I'm a good girl who loves horses, and a handsome boy writes my name in the sky. My little-girl mind paints a music video set in a kingdom called Racida, and I feel deliciously secret longings about freeways and boys I haven't met yet. 

At school, a popular girl asks me what music I listen to. She is wearing a New Kids on the Block jacket covered with pancake-sized pictures of the band members' faces. I tell her I love "Free Fallin'," and she snorts, "You like Tom Petty?!" in a way that instantly tells me that I have given  the wrong answer.

I listen to "Free Fallin'" the next time it comes on the radio. Again, I'm swept away. Already, the line "The good girls are home with broken hearts" speaks to me in a way that New Kids on the Block never will.

Free Girl Now: I'm 29, and I'm fed up. The boyfriend I've adored with puppy-like devotion has let me down for the last time. I call my buddy James and tell him I've decided to break up with my boyfriend, for real this time. James makes me a celebratory playlist, and "Free Girl Now" is the track I play again and again.

It's hard to stay broken up, especially when my ex keeps trying to come back, but Tom Petty makes me feel like I can -- like I DESERVE --  to "Dazzle, dazzle the moon above." So I try.

Change the Locks: I fail. That same ex and I are on-again-and-off-again for several dramatic months. All the while, my dear friend James listens, rolls his eyes, and offers me the frustrated sympathy I need. Until one day, the break-up sticks. I'm ready to move on. James makes me a new playlist. This is the song I like best. The songs clangs into my apartment, blaring its mix of rage and sheer delight. I changed the name of this town! 


Walls: Some days are diamonds. Some days are rocks. I am in my early 30s, and I am devastated. Recently dumped by someone I trusted, I come to the conclusion that I did not get the life I wanted. It seems cruel and unfair because I believe, with every fiber of my being, that I was born to love. 

Sometimes I have dreams at night that I've found true love, and when I wake up and realize the man in my dream wasn't real, I cry. I feel certain that I could love a man with a fire and loyalty no one's ever seen.

Instead, I go numb. I cry some more. I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up. I play this song on repeat. "You got a heart so big/ It could crush this town/ And I can't hold out forever/ Even walls fall down." 

Angel Dream (No. 4): It finally happens. 

"I dreamed you, I saw your face.
Caught my lifeline
When drifting through space
I saw an angel
I saw my fate
I can only thank God it was not too late."

American Girl:  I'm 34. I'm wearing white and sparkles and everyone I love is there. My best friends and I are on the dance floor. My wonderful family has come from far away to be with me. With us. Outside, I see my groom  standing with his friends. 

Billy floods my vision as the DJ pulls up one of the songs I wanted to hear today. Good old Tom Petty. Billy beckons me outside to pose for a wedding photo, and I dance for one more moment before running outside, through the most perfect day I've ever had. 

Make it last all night.

R.I.P. Tom Petty.
Thank you for the music.  

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Nothing I Can See But You So Keep Dancing

I have a confession. Every time I hear this song, my imagination provides a music video. It's simple but vivid: just me and my Beagle Porter, dancing in our tiny kitchen without a care in the world.

The video is a scene that happened plenty of times in real life: me grinning and spinning, swinging my arms awkwardly and with happy abandon. Porter is prancing on his feet, ears flapping, his face radiating blissful devotion as he gazes up at me -- the way he always did.

I think the song strikes me this way because of this line:

"Nothing I can see but you."

That's how Porter loved. Porter had been abused, rescued, and nursed back to health, and he seemed to give me credit for all of it. He adored me. And judging by his clingy devotion, he didn't think he could live without me. Friends laughed if I asked them to hold Porter's leash as I dashed inside a coffee shop. Porter's whole world would grind to a halt, and he'd stare after me, frozen, panicked, and unable to function until I returned to him.

But the rest of the time, Porter was joyful. That was his gift to me: sunshine and joy at a time when I needed it most.

I will never stop feeling like I was robbed when I lost Porter. His accident was brutal and cruel and it pops back into my mind to remind me of the doom that waits around every corner, ready to take away everyone I love. Some days, it's a lot of work to fend off this feeling.

That's why I'm happy for this silly Justin Timberlake song, and all the memories of my little angel dog. Today I'm working in my yard, playing this song on repeat, crying a little, but letting my heart ache with gratitude and joy.

Can't stop the feeling, so just dance, dance, dance.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Just an Update

Me, horrified:  "We have a hole."

My living room, currently.

Billy, helpfully: "Well, one of your favorite bands is called Hole!"

I'm feeling overwhelmed this week. We're waiting for an insurance adjuster to come look at the big, soggy hole in our living room ceiling. The plumber said we may have to tear up our bathroom to get it fixed.

Our house has pretty much been under construction since June, which has been mentally and financially exhausting, making me miss the days when I just paid my rent and bought another designer handbag, without checking my bank balance. 

We celebrated our dog's second anniversary with us, and days later, came home to find her panting, trembling, and unable to walk. It looked like she was dying. Two vet appointments later, we found out her spine is dropping, or degenerating. She needs pain medicine every 12 hours and a new, gentle routine.

There are plenty of bigger, actual disasters to put things in perspective. Seeing those horrible headlines and heartbreaking photos is overwhelming, too.

In the mean time, here are some things I love right now:

  • Downward Dog, which I didn't discover until after it was cancelled, but I am enjoying watching a TV show about a woman who lives in Pittsburgh and works in marketing and loves her dog. Just like me! The scenes when she walks him in Frick Park break my heart and make me long for Porter so badly, I ache. But the show still makes me happy.

  •  Weekend dinners with my parents and husband. Today we went to Mindful Brewing.
  • Big amethyst clusters like this one on my Instagram. I have 6 of these now and I can't stop buying them. I read that they have properties that help you sleep well so I put two next to my bed.
  • Sending and receiving zine-style mail with my best girl, Madge. We've been packaging up treasure troves of collages, mini paintings, stickers, handmade booklets, and letters. A great mail day is a great day indeed.
  • The butterflies in my yard. They are so beautiful, and inspired me to dust off my real cameras. I took this picture and hope to get to blown up some day for our walls! 

That's all I had to say for now.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Life With My Husband

Billy: "Boy, I loooooove watching videos of animals falling asleep. There's one that's so funny. Have you seen it? It's one of those ... what are those animals you like? Lemurs?"

Me: "I like meerkats."

Billy: "Then what's a lemur?"

[ We Google "lemur." ]

Billy: Okay, then I was talking about meerkats.

[ Billy shows me this video ]

Billy and me: [ Fits of giggles. ]

Billy: I'm serious though, Google "Animals falling asleep. I've done it. It's the best!"

Saturday, August 19, 2017

That Pillow Fight in Wal-Mart: 4 Years Later

Four years ago today, my (future) husband and I went on our second date.

The night grew long, but Billy and I didn't want it to end. We drove around looking for something to do. We found that Wal-Mart was open, so we went inside, roamed the aisles, and found ourselves in the pillow aisle having a slaphappy pillow fight.

I already felt different with Billy than I ever had with anyone else. I found him exhilarating and exciting, but I felt perfectly comfortable with him. Like I could leave all my worries and hang-ups and insecurities at the curb and just enjoy him. Us. The feeling of sharing space with someone who could turn me on, calm me down, challenge me, and take care of me. 

I could surrender to this man. But this time it was different, because I wouldn't lose myself. Billy adored me too, and made me shine brighter than I did alone. Only two dates in, I was already certain that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life.

Fast-forward to four years later. This morning. We're doing one of our favorite things: watching a cooking competition on Hulu and debating who should win, and who actually will. Billy made me a big plate of eggs and fresh tomatoes, just like I wanted, and I try to finish them all so he'll know how much I liked them.

As he reaches out and drapes a hand across my leg, I sizzle with excitement.

Still true:

Saturday, August 12, 2017


Tonight, at a party, I chatted with my dad and two other women.

A man came up to us, inserted himself into our circle, and interrupted the woman next to me.

"Looks like they're beating up on you," he said, and waited for my dad to laugh.

My dad looked at him, blankly, and turned back to the woman who'd been speaking.

"It's just you and three ladies," the man continued, poking my dad.

"Yes, and they're all so nice," my dad,
                                                    my wonderful dad,

Sunday, April 30, 2017

This is What You Married, Buddy

Scene From Our Marriage:

Billy:     What are you doing?

Me:        Um. [ holds up phone]