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Give and Take

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“Nine times out of 10, I would never put that thing in my mouth.”

So went the one-line monologue careening in my head as I passed a downtown cupcake shop.

Some folks are sweets freaks. They stash Fun Size Snickers bars in their desk drawers, scoop handfuls of brightly colored, cellophane wrapped candies out of the jar on the receptionist’s desk. They might have a rock hard frozen 3 Musketeers bar buried in the freezer between their Lean Cuisines and frozen grapes.

Not me.

Given the choice between the most delicate, confectioners sugar-dusted dessert and a smartly plated cheese tray, I will always choose the cheese.

We all have preferences, and mine typically do not include sweets.

I mulled on the twee cupcake shop with the pink-and-brown frosted treats in the window and knew with conviction what I’d prefer, given a choice between cupcakes and almost anything else. A martini. A bowl of guacamole. A margarita. Bacon.

The cupcake always loses. Always.

The decision between the aforementioned items isn’t as easy.

And that’s the difference between preference and choice.

Life is full of preference and choice. With preferences, we tend to stick with what we know. We know the taste and feel of what we want, and we know how that selection makes us feel. We know what happens when that chemical reaction confronts our own physiology.

We can predict what happens if we sip from the bottle that says DRINK ME.

Preferences are almost always bankable.

Choices – and I’m talking now about something a bit more broad than a red velvet cupcake – are a bit more complicated.

Choices sometimes fly on the wings of whimsy. Choices involve decisions that are not always derived by reasoning. Other times choices are very calculated and intend to move us closer to a goal.

Sometimes we choose the unknown.

Regardless of the motivation, choice always involves giving up on one thing to have another.

Each of our lives are full of choices. I choose to invest in travel over buying belongings. I choose to live in a loud and dense urban community over the vast (editorial: scary) quiet peacefulness of the suburbs.

I choose investing over driving.

The thing about choices – they each present an either-or scenario, meaning you forgo one to have another.

I can’t choose the margarita if I order the martini. I mean, not really. And if I do, for the love of God, please ask me if everything is okay, because it most likely isn’t.

The beautiful thing about this opportunity is that in many cases we get to revisit the proposition. Who knows… Right now my 401(k) gets a healthy injection every paycheck. Maybe someday I may choose something with fuel injection and a steering wheel.

Someday I’ll choose the margarita. Never the cupcake.

We give up on something when we make a choice, but it doesn’t have to be something we lose forever.

The server will always be back around to take your order.

In my case, I prefer he skips the dessert menu.

Booty In the Black Dress

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Life is hilarious at times.

I have a penchant for Little Black Dresses, or LBDs, as they’re called by my female brethren. I like them because they are appropriate for dates, weddings, funerals, job interviews, galas, auctions, awards dinners, horse racing (well, the viewing part), conferences, family functions, church, traveling, and pretty much any other occasion you can consider.

My closet has maybe 12 LBDs – some for summer months, some for winter. Some are dressier than others. These dresses are my go-to body armor when I need to look my best.

This morning I chose a cute sleeveless version. It has a peplum that conceals my shrinking tummy and a grosgrain bow at the side of my waist. I love this dress. It fits like a glove and looks like dynamite.

I can channel my mojo with this dress.

Accessorized with one of my favorite Murphee scarves, I feel like I am polished and ready to deal with the highs and lows of Cincinnati humidity and blasting air conditioning.

My recent running jag and related FitBit obsession has encouraged me to add steps to my day whenever possible, and that means stepping away from the desk at least once an hour to fill my Tervis tumbler with water, run to the restroom or check my mailbox in the office.

All of the little trips add up to about 1,500 steps a day, or about 10 percent of my daily goal.

While in the restroom I checked my side profile, as most ladies do, and noticed something most unfortunate.

I had a hole in my dress – in the seam right around my bum.

The fabric puckered out a bit on my behind, and I knew that beyond standing stick straight, there was a good chance this niggling hole could gape open into a great game of peek-a-boo.

Does this happen in real life? Yes, why, yes it does.

I thought about running home, walking to Walgreen’s – a number of solutions to mend this situation. None of them were speedy and all of them were an opportunity to give someone a sneak peek of my posterior.

A colleague of mine and I scrounged around the receptionist desk and found one needle and a tiny spool of white thread. I grabbed a Sharpie and headed back to the restroom-cum-seamstress shop and stitched up the hole, drawing marker on any noticeable white stitches.

LBD back in fighting form and ready for whatever the day serves up.

Tomorrow evening marks the start of Summerfair and the always enjoyable ladies-only Little Black Dress event. Tickets are going quickly; click here if you’d like to join Molly Wellman, Ginger Watson and me for a night of fun and fashion with some of your favorite ladies. See you there!

The Long Run

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Ever get the sense the universe is talking to you?

No gentle nudges, no hushed whispers. I’m talking shoulder-grabbing, ardent and arresting conversation.

The universe gave me a talking to these past few weeks, and it prompted a long pause.

The first agenda item involved my lifestyle – the one without a family and kids. A casual comment by a stranger reared up some hard feelings I’d buried in the wet and mealy sand covering my forgotten hopes and dreams.

The fact I do not have children is a census data point I wrestle with at every GYN appointment and during each new introduction. Yes, I am a 37-year-old singleton. No, I am not a member of one of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys. Yes, I am a fully grown grown-up.

I make money and pay bills and manage a bunch of responsibilities like everyone else.

For some reason, this is a popular inquiry when women meet other women; I can’t be certain but I don’t think it’s something men lead with. I suppose women ask in attempt to find an olive branch of commonality or commiseration, but sometimes my reply makes me feel less than adequate and, dare I say, less of a woman.

While so many women are quick to ask about my procreation history, I am painfully apprehensive about asking another woman about her profession. I worry about appearing dismissive or superior because I have a career; I know plenty of stay-at-home moms (my amazing sister Brigid is one of them) and am impressed by their ability to handle what may be the hardest job on the planet.

Moms werk.

And so, when in the company of a bunch of women I’ve never met, I tend to rely on the vaguely generic and hopefully benign, “How do you spend your time?”

Sometimes working women and SAHMs don’t even mention their daily vocations, and instead lead with tales of wild athletic adventures, fascinating investment opportunities and Martha Stewart-worthy crafting talents.

And that kicks ass.

Because at the pith, we are a hell of a lot more than how we spend our days. I am not a marketer/PR pro. I am a world traveler. I am a fervent urbanist. I am a champion of the less fortunate.

That’s how I hope people describe me long after I’ve turned back to dust.

Which brings me to the second agenda item for my deep conversation with the universe.

Our time on this rock is a long game.

I have the propensity for anxiousness and eagerness. I worry now about what will happen later, and sometimes I want now what I deserve later.

The universe offered up a few occasions recently that reminded me that life is a game with a long lead time; easy pay-offs prove to be fool’s gold or uninformed disappointments.

Sometimes I have a running monologue in my brain that is peppered with a bunch of trite expressions like this one and this one and this one. They’re strings of words I use to remind me to pace myself.

At 37, I’m in the middle of the second quarter of life. I can see half time, but there’s plenty more to play before I get there.

My life might take the same path as my sisters, friends and neighbors. Or maybe not. But I am certain this journey is unique and will give rise to amazing adventure, unique opportunities and plenty of rich memories.

No better, no worse. Just different.

I’m ready.

The Enemy of Good

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I like getting my own way.

Most people, save for the martyrs, the masochists and the most sacrificial among us, probably feel the same way.

When things go as we expect or plan, we are prepared for the consequences. The road map takes us on a journey and to a destination we’ve chosen.

But in many ways, life rarely goes as planned. Instead, we’re called upon to roll with calamity and divergent actions. We’re forced to deal with someone else’s preference.

And sometimes that sucks.

Last night I had the pleasure of hearing a German diplomat talk a bit about the narcissism of minor differences. The premise, coined by Sigmund Freud, says that people sometimes let the smallest of nuances act as a barrier between developing partnerships.

Germany’s Minister of Economic Affairs Peter Fischer discussed the concept and how it sometimes acts as a barrier between Europe and the United States; it’s a concept that sometimes acts as a barrier right here in Cincinnati, too.

With the narcissism of minor differences, it’s possible to be blinded by our own plans, our own ideas, our own priorities. That blindness conceals the bigger picture and hides from us the many other angles and facets at play.

We fail to realize that another solution is a worthy one, even if it isn’t ours.

I, for one, have been guilty of letting subjective preferences lead my drive.

On a few of those occasions, I’ve had to step back and let my passion subside so that I could look at an issue objectively and rationally. Those moments usually led to the admission that compromise was the best way to move forward.

I won’t say it didn’t sting, but it did feel good to commit to a decision the entire team could celebrate.

In politics, in our communities, in our work and in family – ego has a way of thwarting a connection. A strong person champions an idea or effort, but reason stands an even stronger person has the capacity to relinquish a bit of pride and lead a compromise that serves the cause over the person.

“Perfect is the enemy of good,” is one of my favorite expressions for endeavors involving team work.

So often a group can get sidetracked by minutia when they should be focused on the end result. In many cases, the finished product is all that really counts, not the process that led the team there.

Fischer’s talk reminded me that my own personal agenda can sometimes serve as a road block, when instead I should commit to looking at the bigger picture and the commonality I can find with others.

Wunderbar.

Wrap It Up

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Sometimes a woman needs a coat of armor.

Whether it be work, dating or other sticky matters, situations arise that require confidence and grace, and sometimes we need to fake it until we make it to survive the moment at hand.

It’s in situations like this when I turn to a few well loved items in my wardrobe, one of which is celebrating a monumental milestone.

Diane von Furstenberg’s iconic wrap dress is turning 40; it was designed when more and more women were entering the workforce and seeking styles that were comfortable, professional and also flattering for the female form.

dvf

After the traditional LBD, the wrap dress is my favorite frock.

The classic design looks great on nearly every body type. Willowy women look sleek and slender. We curvy girls look dynamite in the dress that skims our shape and pulls together our well blessed chests.

The dress requires little maintenance, and can be untied in a jiffy on occasions that require quick undressing. It goes from day to night beautifully and is the perfect canvas to style with jewelry, jackets and jaunty scarves.

The wrap dress is a symbol of liberation and opportunity and beloved by women everywhere.

I wore a new wrap dress today, quite coincidentally (Banana Republic always has amazing wrap dresses and right now many are on sale), and was greeted with a compliment from a colleague first thing this morning. The props more appropriately belong to the dress than me; it is a great form that makes me feel like a million bucks.

Modern fashion dynamics typically don’t involve chainmaille or breast plates made of steel, but we women sometimes still encounter situations that require suiting up for battle.

Thank goodness for DVF.

Five Minutes To Lend A Hand

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Ever struggle with burn out?

It’s the sensation you feel when your soul is exhausted. Just like a sore body after running a marathon, your emotional self can run out of gas when you feel like you have nothing left to give.

Burn out almost snuffed out my sparkle two years ago. My volunteering had hit a fever pitch just as I was training to run three half marathons and had embarked on more demanding work duties. My body ached, my spirit was defeated. I felt dull and weak, with no fire inside to keep me going.

I began to shut down.

So I made drastic changes.

I withdrew from all of my volunteering endeavors. By the end of it, I’d actually become a horrible volunteer because I wasn’t committed. My sweet spot is life balance, and I found myself with a career and service obligations that both wanted a little bit more than what I could give.

Any good young professional keeps a hearty social calendar, too, and mine had been full of events – obligations with loose ties to philanthropy or politics. I love a good gala – the fun dresses, the cocktails. But the chit-chat can leave me feeling a bit empty. It may be a surprise to some, but I am a textbook introvert; I’d rather spend quality time with a solid group of 10 people or so and dig in to conversations that probe a bit. It’s hard to do that when you’re trapped in ballroom with 300 of your closest friends.

So I started weeding out the “have to” events and committed to the “want to” events.

Stoking the coals. That’s what I did. I needed to find my fire.

Outsiders might surmise it looked like I was pushing people away, but rather, I was retreating to take care of myself. I guess it goes back to that introvert thing: I crave a little bit of downtime so I can ignite my light and shine a little bit when I’m with others.

I made a few changes and it led to a healthy harmony in my life: good professional efforts, short civic stints that don’t burden and offer meaning, and social engagements that keep me connected to people and causes I adore.

But I still find myself wanting to do a wee bit more.

Enter the Five Minute Favor.

Adam Grant touched on this concept at last year’s Bold Fusion event. The thought is that we can each afford five to 15 minutes to help someone – whether that be by making a connection, advocating for a cause, or otherwise doing something that is helpful but not burdensome.

adam_grant-1

Right now my career doesn’t allow me to devote a lot of time to a given cause, but I can rock a 15 minute favor like it’s my job. I love connecting two people who would benefit from each other. I can easily spend five minutes crafting a meaningful thank-you note to someone who has made an impact on my life in some way. I can meet with someone for a drink to brainstorm their next great idea.

I wish I could save the world.

I wish I could nurture a thousand, meaningful relationships.

But for now, I know I can count on myself to deliver five to 15 minutes to help someone, and that 15 minutes could maybe, just maybe, mean the world to someone else.

My Obsession

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My mother picks her cuticles until they’re bloody.

I remember watching her pull at her skin while we were on family vacations – long road trips with plenty of time to stew over one’s troubles.

She is a nervous person, my mother. And I surmise she tugged at those dry and ragged bits of flesh out of absent minded worries. My supposition comes because these 25 years later I find myself doing the exact thing, pulling skin away from my nails until they’re rimmed with raw and red flesh.

Nervousness is something I cope with.

Nail biting, scab picking. I have strange ways to physically cope with nervous energy when it creeps into my psyche.

I think at some point I realized there are things I can’t control; I am quite deliberate with occasions I can manage.

I know full well there’s plenty more of the former than the latter.

Control is an interesting thing. I don’t think it’s a learned behavior. I can go through my genealogy and single out relatives both older and younger who cope with control issues.

Some of us inherit freckles or a gaping overbite. Other ancestors pass down quirky behavior traits.

My relationship with psychology is confined to a Psychology 100 class way back in 1995 with Dr. Golding at UK. I’m no expert, but my hunch tells me many people with control issues also struggle with OCD.

And a little bit of that lives in me, too.

I have rituals. After showering, I dry off the exact same way every time. Face. Arms. Hair in a towel turban. The second towel takes care of everything else.

Apple’s ear buds cause me trouble daily. No matter how hard I try, I can’t let myself put the right-designated bud in my left ear. It’s a quirk I’ve come to accept.

Every morning when I leave my apartment, I search my purse for my keys no less than three times. One time right after the other. Sometimes people in a rush don’t like waiting for me, but I need to check to make sure they’re there.

I don’t know if it’s my financial sensibilities (ringing up the landlord on the weekend to unlock the door carries a $75 fee) or the threat of inconvenience, but part of me suspects it’s my OCD.

My ears likely present my greatest obsessive experience. I clean my ears maybe two, three times a day. If I don’t have a q-tip handy, I’ll resort to using a bobby pin. Intellectually I know this is not a healthy behavior, but I can’t help it.

My worst moments of OCD typically involve losing something. Yesterday I double-backed two blocks to search for a missing glove. Sunday I tore apart my house for 20 minutes to find a missing scarf; my frantic search sidetracked me for an appointment with a friend.

I don’t talk about my mental health often, but I know full well there’s a great big world of other folks coping with their own idiosyncrasies, too.

My nervous ticks have been bothering me lately, and I thought a little bit of transparency and sharing might make me feel better, helping me remember everyone is dealing with their own brain gunk.

A friend reminded me this weekend that everyone has issues; the power is in owning them and figuring out how to overcome them or at the very least working to ensure they don’t control us.

A perfect challenge for a control freak, eh?

Thank You, You Know Who

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It sounds so Hollywood.

The working woman arrives at her desk after a heady meeting and discovers a stunning floral arrangement.

Blood red rose petals, snowy white hydrangeas. A card. A mystery.

“Katy,

Every smart, beautiful woman deserves flowers on Valentine’s Day!

Enjoy the day…
A friend.”

My head swirled yesterday afternoon, running down the candidates who could send such a kind and encouraging message.

  • Someone I’ve kissed
  • Someone I want to kiss
  • A dear gal pal
  • One of my favorite, fabulous gays
  • The ever-present best guy
  • My parents
  • My sisters
  • My niece and nephew (with the help of their mother)
  • An admirer from afar
  • A friendly gentleman

I thought about ringing up the florist. A Spanish inquisition of sorts centering on the source of sentiment. But who sent it? I’d ask. A plea with the intention of returning such generosity.

But no. This kind stranger brought joy to me on a day that is wrangled with so many emotions and challenges for us single types. It can be quite difficult at times, seeing couples canoodle, and suffering through the berating in commercials cheering, “Every kiss begins with K.”

Valentine’s Day is great for lovers. It smites for those still seeking their one and only.

So thank you, mysterious benefactor of my bachelor girl heart. Thank you for making me feel just as special as someone who has another to call their own. You can’t know how much it warmed me up.

The truth is any number of people could have sent me this lovely display of affection, and that reminds me I’m already loved well enough.

How do you express the gratitude for that?

vdayflowers

Ring My Bell, 2014

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There’s an old wives’ tale that says the year ahead is dictated by how you celebrate New Year’s Day.

And that’s something I can get behind.

The clock struck midnight and I found myself wrapped in an embrace with a handsome, mysterious man. There we were in our party clothes, surrounded by hundreds of people in a casino ballroom with thumping music and flashing strobe lights, enamored with each other’s lips.

If the kiss is an indication of what’s ahead, I expect this year to fare far better than the last.

Shortly thereafter, I had an interesting conversation with an old friend. We talked about this blog. He said no one reads it anymore because it isn’t as raw and real as it used to be. And he’s right. I worry a lot about what I say, what people might think, and what I want to disclose.

But I shouldn’t.

So – one of my resolutions for the year is to be a bit more transparent, a little bit more revealing, a little bit more open when I write. Every day I think about things and experience random situations that deserve sharing, and I shouldn’t hold them in.

Brace yourselves.

After the ball dropped, I grabbed my coat and found a $5 poker chip on the floor near the escalator. A sign of riches to come in the new year? I strode toward a roulette wheel and was grateful the pit boss allowed me to drop the chip at a table with a $25 limit.

My bet on evens didn’t work, but Lady Luck gave me a second chance.

I walked toward the exit when a man approached me. The Saudi was visiting Cincinnati with some of his friends and they hoped I’d join their table.

In 2014, one of my resolutions is to do more – and in broad strokes that means more exercise, more experiences, more travel, and more time with people I love.

Why not? I mused.

I’m always up for an experience that brings on new friends, and I especially like experiences that turn into a good time or a good story.

One of the gentlemen gave me his seat and took my coat. They smiled, offered warm hellos, and then dropped a stack of chips in front of me.

“These are for you to play,” a man from Dubai mentioned off-hand, his friends’ eyes simultaneously giving me a once-over as they watched the little white ball.

The $200 in chips caught me off guard. My trip to the UAE revealed how much Middle Eastern men love blondes, especially buxom blondes with Chanel red lipstick. I didn’t mind standing in as the table arm candy, but I didn’t know they were going to pay me for it.

The wheel spun and we all dropped $25 bets, the men explaining the rules of the game, as if it’s hard for a woman to understand the dynamics of a ball spinning around a wheel and landing on red or black.

Every time I placed a bet, I lost.

I was good luck for the visitors from the Middle East, though. The men took their winnings and said they wanted to play poker. I smiled, offered my goodbyes, and then asked the dealer what to do with my leftover chips.

He gave me four $5 chips and wished me well.

And that brings me to another resolution – saving more. I need to get even more aggressive with my financial goals and have started a plan for both short term and long term savings. I don’t think casinos will help me sock away a pile of cash, but hopefully the stock market is kind to me in the year ahead.

Another resolution on the books for 2014 – reading more. I need to feed my brain with less Netflix and more Nabokov.

I’m excited about the year ahead. Here’s to longer embraces, more lucky poker chips, new friends from near and far, and riveting authenticity.

I dig.

Season, Reason, Lifetime

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For some reason, the friendships shared between women are bereft of simplicity.

I don’t know why, but I suspect it’s because we ladies are in many ways more emotional beings than our brawny counterparts.

I started thinking about this a few weeks ago upon hearing several different stories about best friends that had grown estranged. I’ve had my fair share of these bitter experiences and discovering it happened to other women gave me an odd sense of solace.

It seems any good gal pal duo can suffer a setback from time to time.

Suffering a split with a best friend can feel a bit like a break up. Missing that deep connection, that trusted confidant can feel like you’ve lost an arm or a leg; life isn’t the same, but you know it will go on.

The hard part about breaking up with a best friend is thinking about what kept the friendship together. Did you bond over a period of your life, like meeting and surviving college together? Did you connect because you both shared a fleeting hobby like tap dancing?

It’s a trite phrase, but I really do buy in to that reason, season, lifetime philosophy. Some friendships just aren’t meant to last. Enduring friendships are hard work and require a deep commitment from both parties, and not everyone is up for that dedication.

It’s fair to let a relationship wane when you make the discovery your connection wasn’t as solid as you thought it was.

I’ve had male best friends and female best friends. My relationship with my male best friend is rock solid. He is my greatest cheerleader, my biggest confidant. He is reliable x infinity. He’s also the one who pushes my buttons and challenges me to think differently or be better than I am.

And I think our relationship is pretty straightforward because he’s a dude.

We’ve primarily hit bumpy spots when I’ve let my emotions get the better of me; he is pretty pragmatic and doesn’t shrink away from my emotional moments. He knows I will turn into a five alarm bitch if I don’t get enough sleep or food when we travel.

Friendships with women are trickier. Both parties think about things we never say. We feel things we never reveal. We hold on to past wounds we never heal.

Those offenses have a way of hijacking an otherwise solid relationship.

I am grateful for my closest female relationships. I’ve gotten to know women who feel as close to me as my own sisters, and those relationships can make a woman feel safe and stable when she doesn’t have the reliability or foundation of a spouse and family.

Over the past few months I’ve reacquainted with one of my oldest, dearest friends. She and I live very different lives and grew apart, even though only six miles separate us. We spent almost three years with nary a word between us, but only Facebook ‘likes’ and sparse status comments.

A personal heartbreak revived our friendship, one that is founded on support, openness and a mutual adoration of fashion trends.

I am glad to have this friend back in my life. A really painful situation brought us back together, but I know more good memories and fun times are on the horizon.

Reuniting with a dear, old friend gives me hope for all of the estranged relationships out there – the strong ties that lay dormant, waiting for a reawakening.

Anything is possible when friends are involved.

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