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Ring My Bell, 2014

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

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.

Giveaway: Taste of the World

Congrats to Kelly H. for winning the pair of tickets to the Taste of the World event! Message me your mailing address so your tickets can be mailed to you!

I have always wanted a Round The World plane ticket.

We have a family friend in Connecticut who was gifted one of these tickets after graduation. He spent months traveling in one direction around the globe… working on farms in New Zealand and exploring European towns.

He showed up one day in Hartford and called his mom, asking if she had time to pick him up.

The wanderlust in me is always thinking about a dynamite trip, and the RTW ticket is one of the highest status symbols among travel junkies.

But they’re pricey.

And that’s where food comes in.

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society is hosting its 10th annual Taste of the World event on Saturday, November 9 at 7:30 pm at Newport Aquarium.

A destination event for local foodies, this event will serve up some of the best bites in the region from restaurants including Stone Creek Dining Company, Taste of Belgium and Pit to Plate. Guests will also enjoy libations from the city’s most accomplished mixologist Molly Wellmann, as well as beverages from partners including Four Roses Distillery, Cutting Edge Selection and Chas. Seligman.

Around 700 people are expected to enjoy event details like club-style seating to soak up Cincinnati’s skyline, live music and of course the wonderful underwater world of Newport Aquarium.

This event is a great substitute for those of you itching for a jaunt to somewhere far.

Tickets are $150 per person, and a portion of that ticket price goes to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Leukemia runs in my family and I am happy to promote a cause that is helping people with blood cancer.

Interested in going? I’m giving away a pair of tickets to the event. You have two ways to enter:

  • Leave a comment below telling me about your favorite animal at the Aquarium
  • Re-tweet this blog post and cc: me in your tweet (@kate_the_great)

If you leave a comment, please be sure I have a way to reply to you – either a registered profile with an email address, or an email address in your comment.

The contest will close at noon on Friday, November 1; I will randomly select a winner shortly thereafter.

Good luck and I hope to see you at Taste of the World!

Are You Pleased?

Who makes you happy?

I mulled on that question while dining in Over-the-Rhine. I heard a server approach a table with a genteel inquiry: “Are you pleased?”

A former server with seven years of schlepping plates and glasses under my belt, I immediately recognized that I’d never used those words while serving a table.

I’d asked before, Can I get you anything else? Do you need anything? How is your meal? and a variety of other vernacular meant to accommodate my diners’ whimsy. But never Are you pleased?

The phrase underscores the intent of a server’s job; as a server, you are hired to make someone happy. Whether they want heaps of crushed ice delivered every fifteen minutes, or their steak cut before it arrives at the table, a server’s job is to see to it every need and want is met with pleasure.

It’s a vocation of complete selflessness, and I think most servers forget that.

I started thinking about that expression, Are you pleased?, and my train of thought expanded it to many relationships.

Our closest relationships – maybe our best relationships – excel when we put the other individual ahead of our own needs or wants. It’s when we look at relationships as an opportunity of personal gain that dynamics get dicey.

This is not to say that the best relationships expect us to live in servitude to others, but rather that a perpetual state of mutual giving is the greatest way to grow a relationship.

Adam Grant appeared as the keynote speaker at this year’s Bold Fusion event in August. The youngest-ever professor at Wharton, Grant has written a book describing how the most successful people in life are givers, not takers. Give and Take uncovers the dynamics of Givers vs. Takers, and also Matchers, who strive to match giving and taking behaviors.

The book focuses on these exchanges in a professional capacity, but it’s important to think about these behaviors in a personal scope, too.

Sometimes it takes a lot of effort to be selfless. We’re forced to put everything out there, think about another person’s needs, and make the effort to meet those needs before our own, if we can.

Looking back on my relationships, the ones based on selflessness are the strongest. The connections that involved a level of reciprocity haven’t lasted as long or maintain diminished bonds.

But I know I could do better.

Like the server at Zula, I need to start approaching my friends and family with a sense of service, a goal of making someone feel happy and complete.

Are you pleased?

Happy Ending

Everything happens as it should.

When life serves up a difficult experience, we can forget it is bound to end sometime.

Getting out of the thick of difficulty doesn’t just happen. It takes determination, commitment and a lot of effort to make it to the other side. And all that hard work usually happens simultaneously with feelings of self-doubt, insecurity and defeat. That’s when your dearest friends come into play.

And sometimes those dearest friends are people you wouldn’t expect.

Losing a job can be a major shock to the system, and I am grateful I spent only seven weeks in that nebulous, income-less limbo.

Three weeks ago I started a new gig – an amazing opportunity with tremendous growth potential and exciting challenges.

The job brings with it a generous raise, an extra week of vacation and a talented and kind group of colleagues. They are experts in an exciting industry that perfectly gels with my personal priorities.

And none of this would have been possible if I hadn’t lost my job.

Like I said. Everything happens as it should.

So, some of you might wonder – how exactly did I land a gig seven weeks after a layoff? The act of finding a job became my full-time gig. Here’s my short list of suggestions to find your next opportunity.

1. Every day, schedule a meeting with a business connection or personal contact. Initially a reason for me to get out of bed and talk business, my daily meetings ensured my personal network was actively helping me – connecting me to job leads, mentioning me to third-party contacts, and otherwise remembering me as an available and eager job candidate. Every weekday of my unemployment I had a phone call, coffee meeting, lunch or happy hour scheduled to suss out hot job leads and glean suggestions from others who had been in my shoes once before.

2. Seek out recruiters – they are incredibly helpful. I worked with two different recruiters, both of whom turned up solid leads that led to interviews, including the position I eventually accepted. Recruiters are good at determining what kind of person you are and which kind of job would best suit your skills and natural talents. I am very grateful for Shari at Professional Staffing Solutions for leading me to my new gig. She was engaging, optimistic and very encouraging – just what you need when you’re trying to put your best foot forward amidst worries about paying rent and buying groceries.

3. There is some truth to the whole fake it ’til you make it philosophy. I didn’t feel awesome, but I tried my best to look like it. Whether I was sitting in Coffee Emporium or on the terrace at Via Vite, I did my best to look like I had it pulled together. You never know who you’ll run into – a potential employer or influential business contact – and I wanted to make sure at least my outward appearance would sell my employ-ability.

4. Accept every job interview. Even when I was unsure of my interest in an opportunity, I knew the experience would be good practice and help me determine what I wanted out of my next position. The interaction with a potential hire helps you craft your elevator pitch – in 30-second, two minute, five minute and 20 minute bites. What skills do you have? What are some of your greatest experiences? What challenges have you overcome? What gets you excited? Each meeting helps you develop your professional narrative.

No matter your plan of action, stick with it and stay positive. Your outlook on the opportunities ahead far outweighs the frustration or despair you feel while coping with unemployment.

And it will all work out. Promise.

Fake It Until You Make It

Looks can sometimes be deceiving.

The executive who looks like she stepped out of a fashion catalog. The actor crossing a stage with swag and confidence. The volunteer running a boardroom meeting like a boss.

Sometimes there’s well more working behind the scenes, but in many cases, these people have learned the carefully crafted art of perception.

The day after I lost my job, my parents both tag-teamed a phone call intended to pump me up with vim and vinegar. My dad, a retired marketing executive himself, detailed a litany of skills that make me valuable to my next employer. My mother, while she has no official PR or marketing experience of her own, offered what could be one of the most valuable points I’ve heard in recent weeks:

“Don’t leave the house unless you look like a million bucks.”

She went on to offer that my hair should be perfectly coiffed, my makeup well applied. I should forgo the yoga pants-and-tank tops uniform for a wardrobe that implies my professional stature.

I initially dismissed it. What does it matter how I look? What a superficial premise, I quipped. But then my mother reasoned a valuable point about appearance. Whether we like it or not, our outward appearance speaks volumes about what’s happening inside us.

And while inside I might vacillate between abject devastation and unwavering confidence, the world only needs to see me happy, optimistic and eager.

Make no mistake about it, I am excited about my future. This unexpected vacancy has made me available for unknown opportunities and rich experience.

And those unknown opportunities may not reveal themselves if I’m in a perpetual state of slovenly sweats and greasy hair.

I have taken my mother’s advice to heart. That in itself is practically a miracle.

With the exception of my almost-religious morning exercise routine, I’ve made an effort to fix my hair and belabor the finer points of eye makeup. Call it trivial if you will, but there’s something valuable about going through the paces of normalcy.

Months ago I changed the home screen of my iPhone to an old Elizabeth Taylor quote. The Hollywood grand dame once said, “Pour yourself a drink, put on some lipstick, and pull yourself together.” There’s something to be said about gathering your druthers to change your disposition.

Marketing is sometimes all smoke and mirrors. A company jockeys to appear larger or more successful than they really are. A professional spins yarns of thought leadership to develop a position of expertise.

Every company is working to change perceptions and cultivate new opportunities of success.

The same goes for regular folks.

We’re each developing our personal brand, whether we want to admit it or not.

As much as we may protest, the photos we post on Facebook and the missives we Tweet can sometimes speak louder about our personal brand than a face-to-face interaction.

And so I am working to cultivate a personal brand that projects optimism, creativity, determination, adventure and curiosity.

I guess that rules out sweats.

Here’s to lipstick and cocktails and Elizabeth Taylor.

Belly Up

The Middle East is a study in contradictions.

Many women are covered to the hilt in black, their faces and forms obscured from anyone who falls outside of the family unit.

Modesty is a way of life in this culture, so it is a bit jarring when you get a chance to see an Arabian belly dancer.

A few months ago I mentioned our exciting desert safari through the dunes outside of Dubai. After our trek in the armored truck, we made our way to an Arab oasis for a rustic Middle Eastern barbecue.

Our hosts invited us to the compound for savory grilled kababs, camel rides, and other entertainment typical of the arid locale.

The camel ride was fun, but the dismount left a bit to be desired.

When the camel wrangler tells you to hold on to the harness, you hold on to the harness. I didn’t think about it ahead of time, but apparently camels have to kneel to let its passengers dismount.

We held on and didn’t fall off, but I cannot guarantee I dismounted with grace.

After our delicious dinner of grilled meats, couscous salads, and a variety of savory vegetables and freshly sliced fruits, we were treated to two performances, the first involving a whirling dervish.

This dance is a form of meditation that can be found in many Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. It is mesmerizing. Just a few minutes in to the dance, I thought the performer was going to draw me into his trance.


The dancer wore layers and layers of colorful skirts that would spin as he revolved around the dance platform. As he danced, the performer would peel off his skirts, layer by layer, and twirl them in the air above.



The performance led to an unexpected and very lively light show of sorts.

After the whirling dervish, the audience was treated to a performance by a traditional Arabian belly dancer.

I could only hope to have a few of these moves.

There are several companies in Dubai that offer these desert safari and barbeque packages. We enjoyed the services of Desert Safari Dubai.

Should you embark on your own Arabian adventure, may I suggest wearing pants and comfortable walking shoes! A skirt would not do well on the camel ride, and stilettos would not do well in the dunes.

You Got to Have Friends

Life seems like a test sometimes.

Let’s put aside religion and philosophy for a moment; let’s table the heavy stuff and only think about this existence.

I know. It’s a simplification of sorts – only thinking about our time on this big, blue and green marble for a minute, and not considering what comes next. For now, let’s only explore this moment. This 70-to-100-year instance.

Life. It’s pretty damn hard.

It was good when I was young, and I know that in itself was a gift. While other people elsewhere were dealing with abuse and loss and genocide in the world all over, I was worried about Laffy Taffy. That was what I wanted at the swim club, and it was an outright heartbreak when my mom wouldn’t give me any money to buy candy at the pool snack shack.

My childhood was good.

But age has a way of a revealing depth and perspective. I got my first taste of reality in my 20s; I learned that hard times come and, while we may sometimes rely on the support of loved ones, it’s with our own volition that we discover how to survive the hard times.

All these years later, not much has changed.

I have loved ones who have buried children, severed ties with dear relations. Friends who have tragically lost partners and those who have weathered shocking and very public heartbreaks. I’ve seen relationships end and people fall at the mercy of public and social scrutiny.

We’re all the same, really.

Each of us is trying to get by with what we have. Each of us is trying to find some meaning to this existence and a few people with whom we can share the journey.

Like I said. Life is pretty damn hard.

When these hardships happen – when we suffer trials and tribulations, moments of self doubt and moments of bitter challenge – it is a blessing and a curse of reveal. People unveil who they really are. Friends display their truest selves in the hardest moments. Acquaintances forsake a long connection. But others join us to walk along and offer love and encouragement.

It’s unfortunate that we have the opportunity to discover our relations’ truest selves when we fall on hard times. The phone calls that aren’t accepted. The invitations that are never extended. The parties that intend to exclude.

It’s easy to forget the rough stuff.

During our best of times, it’s simple to ignore life’s hardest challenges. We grow complacent and comfortable with being, and we avoid murky entanglements that would force us to feel, sticky encounters that would require depth.

Job loss. Divorce. Grief. Failure. There are so many reasons why the living wounded walk among us. And yet, during life’s high times, we all seem to forget we’re sharing a collective experience.

As a PR professional, I know moments of crisis are not an if, but a when.

And it’s in those darkest personal moments, the hardest times of challenge, when we discover our truest friends.

Friends are the ones who stand by us, include us, love us and accept us.

It’s easy to cast judgment. It’s easy to draw lines in the sand and separate ourselves from challenge or drama or complication.

It’s hard to be loyal.

It’s hard to be a friend.

But it is sometimes the greatest gift we can give someone.

Try as we might, we cannot survive this experience, this life, without others. No matter how strong we may be, we each need some support or camaraderie.

We each need a friend. Maybe a few of ’em.

I’m so grateful for mine.

Something To Look Forward To

We all need a golden carrot from time to time.

Travel tends to be my golden carrot – the thing that hangs off in the distance, a rich experience that is just sweet enough to convince me to plod along with head down and heavy yoke.

I know I am not alone in this perspective.

The past month has been quite serendipitous; the weekend after I lost my job I jetted off to Southern California with one of my dearest friends. The trip was just what the doctor ordered – R&R, sunshine, and poolside beverage service.

It was better than any medicine.

Two weeks later I hopped back on a plane to head south to Atlanta to see my two Georgia peaches. Nora and Liam, my niece and nephew, celebrate birthdays during the same week in August. A Four-and-two joint birthday party beckoned, complete with a wild and woolly petting zoo and pony rides in the cul-de-sac.

Again, a perfect respite to wash away my worries. Nora and I talked about my globetrotting adventures (aside: I had no idea four-year-olds can hold their own with critical questioning and curiosity aplenty) and Liam was reminded why he often says, “Kay Kay fun.” He’s typically the strong, silent type but has the stunning looks to go with it.

This coming weekend gives rise to more travel. Scott and I are hitting the road with our sights set on Pittsburgh.

Well more different than our last trek to Dubai and Bangkok, I’m excited for another opportunity to get out of dodge and dwell on the distraction of travel.

I’ve gathered a short list of things to explore in Pittsburgh – the Warhol museum, the Mattress Factory Art Museum (thank you for the suggestion, Margy Waller!), the Frick Art and Historical Center, the Duquesne incline and Primanti Bros.

Ever the planner, the time I spend researching a trip is sometimes a greater distraction than the adventure itself. It gives me something to look forward to, something to lose myself in, something to focus on that’s positive.

And sometimes that’s all we need to keep going – a distraction from what’s distracting us.

Seeing Shiva

You find yourself with quite a bit of free time when you lose your job.

That was my first discovery after surviving a downsizing two weeks ago. Whereas my time used to be counted by green, gridded logs of billable hours, these days I count time by filling washing machines and emptying dishwashers, running miles along the Ohio riverfront, and making coffee dates and cocktail catch-ups with good friends and business contacts.

Some of it is quite nice, to be sure, but it isn’t exactly what I had in mind.

I have always enjoyed hard work.

From my days of hauling sticky, dripping bus pans to running breaking news situations in a broadcast control room – I have always relished the task of tough labor.

I like the pressure, I like the challenge. I like the opportunity to conquer an obstacle.

I gave a lot to my most recent post. Long hours, personal sacrifices, thoughtful strategy and execution. But each of us are replaceable, and I found myself in a place of replacing.

As unexpected as it was, I should have known better.

The day after the layoff, my dearest friends bandied about and insisted on an evening of celebration.

Bottles popped and glasses raised, I found myself surrounded by some of the most successful women of my age. A publishing strategist, a pharma saleswoman, an attorney/entrepreneur, a published photographer.

These women have received countless professional accolades and have the hardware to prove it. They’ve been covered in national and local publications. They are trusted sources for professional and community-based information.

These women are rock stars.

And yet, I was surprised to discover that every single one of them had been laid off once before.

Each woman said her moment of termination led to an opportunity for growth and greatness. Yours will too, they told me, as we clinked champagne flutes to toast new beginnings.

Two years ago I went to India. It was a life-changing journey that opened me up to many new perspectives, including an introduction to the Hindu god, Shiva.

Portrayed in a several traditional forms, one of the more popular symbols of Shiva involves a human figure with four or more arms. The Cincinnati Art Museum has a great sculpture of Shiva just beyond the main entrance, cloaked behind some black nylon fringe. It’s a muscular form and a beautiful example of the statues you’d see in New Delhi and elsewhere.

So, Shiva. In the Hindu faith, Shiva is a paradoxical deity. He is both the god of destruction and rebirth.  Shiva is typically seen holding a variety of symbolic objects including an hourglass-drum and a tongue of flames. The fiery symbol references the destruction of the world. The hourglass-drum symbolizes creation and the unfolding universe.

Destruction and rebirth. Like the phoenix of Greek mythology, Shiva reminds us we can become a newer, better version of ourselves when we rise from the ashes of our destruction.

A bit heavy, but it’s a philosophy that resonates with me.

We can’t be our next self, we can’t discover new opportunities and challenges, until we close a door on the past. Sometimes that change is our own doing, other times it’s not.

As with every other moment of my past, I’m grateful for what has transpired thus far. I’ve learned a lot, I’ve discovered new interests and talents. I’ve met some wonderful people.

But I’m excited about what tomorrow brings.

I’m excited about the universe unfolding before me.

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