The Circle

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It was one of those summer days that heat ups early in the morning. I was lucky to spend the whole day in my little flower garden, weeding on my hands and knees with my  transistor radio fuzzing away in the shade (stop sniggering…I bought it at a garage sale years ago and I can’t part with it..I know I’m out of touch and I SO don’t care).

The day was finished and the sun was just starting to set.  As I stood there in the warm, low light admiring the roses and the angel statue my husband and kids had surprised me with for Mothers Day, my phone rang. It was bad news.  A much loved friend…a real angel in our small town…had been killed in a tragic accident. Thud.

She left behind a husband and three children..an 11 year old boy and two lovely teenage daughters.

I stood there, bathed in the glow of that light, surrounded by flowers and all I could feel was that thud in my heart.  Thud.

The first call I made was to my best friend…we decided that the thing to do would be to go to our little church the next morning and offer up a prayer for our friend and her family.  Now…I don’t know what you believe, but I happen to find a lot of solace in thinking that I’m not alone in the universe and somebody with a lot more clout than I have is keeping an eye on things. Just sayin’.

When we showed up the next morning at church, we were surprised to walk into a packed to the rafters service. On a hot, Thursday morning.  The church was filled with all of the women from daily life in our small town. The women who we had walked into the first day of kindergarten with…all holding the sweaty little hands of our children….the women we saw every day at the grocery store and in the parking lot at school….the women we saw reading Cosmo when we were sitting in a chair waiting for our hair color to process at the local salon.   There were about 60 of us who all showed up spontaneously that day.  We hugged, we cried at the loss of one of our own, and we made a big circle and held hands and each said something poignant about the one we lost. It was touching in a way that’s hard to describe.  It was healing…but it was what happened AFTER that, that was the part that struck me as most special.

Standing outside the church at the end of the impromptu service, my friend and I looked at each other like “what now?”.  We didn’t feel like being alone.  As we talked about our options, a couple of other women approached and shared our sentiment.  We decided to pile in our cars and trek out to the country to my dirty house. The plan was to sit on the old back porch and drink coffee. I warned them that if they were bothered by a mess to prepare to take off their glasses.

What happened when we got there is what this post is about.

We sat in a circle on that dusty old porch, filled with mismatched furniture and spiderwebs. We talked. And talked. And talked. Our lost friend was on our minds, and we talked about her.  About her boundless generosity (she was a  “first person to show up with a hotdish ” type of woman).  We wondered about the motivation for her seemingly selfless giving, and asked each other if we REALLY knew what was going on in her harried, but perfect looking life.  None of us really knew. We knew about the things on the surface…the remodeling project, the non stop running of the kids to and from sports and and music lessons….the quest for a lactose free diet and the volunteering. We saw the pictures on Facebook of her with the neighborhood girls on Bunko Night. But we didn’t know what was burning in her heart when she lay awake at night. What was on her mind?  What was she thinking about when she died?  We were sad to admit that we didn’t know.

I was a little bit mortified when all the coffee we were drinking resulted in many trips to the bathroom. Let me just say that the bathroom was a mess. Have I mentioned that I share my house with three teenagers, three cats, two dogs, a husband and an octogenarian?  Well, I do, and it’s very rarely a pretty picture as far as a neat-and-tidy-house goes. Not to mention that at the time of this meeting, I had been on a full blown “Strike of the Matriarch”. There were dishes in the kitchen sink, and there were hairballs under the couch that had more hair in them than I currently have on my entire head. The house was a wreck. But no one seemed to notice.  This was going to be a day of brutal honesty.

The women in the circle didn’t all know each other well….we were there because of a mutual friend, but it felt like we had been together forever. We laughed and cried about our loss, but then as time passed, some real truth started to emerge. We all had things going on deep inside our private lives that were hurting us and keeping us awake in the night. Things we weren’t sharing with ANYBODY. We lamented to each other with such rare honesty, I still find it amazing when I think about it. One of the women had a husband who was pushing their athletically gifted daughter so hard that she was afraid for her daughters well being and didn’t know how to talk to him (or her) about it. It was absolutely killing her.  One had a college aged son who was smart, funny and handsome but had such terrible skin problems that he was hiding himself inside his room, not wanting to address his crippling feelings of embarrassment. This woman cried such heartfelt tears for her son, that we all had to get up and hug her.  Another woman had had her hip replaced and simultaneously had a major back surgery and felt she wasn’t healing, and was in constant pain…not able to care for her family or do her work as an illustrator…we had both also recently lost a parent and shared those sad, raw feelings (she actually braved the hairballs and spent a good portion of the day laying on the floor doing stretches, which I commend her for…she is fearless). I admitted that I still wasn’t able to get over the fear and guilt of having a son with chronic health problems who was in remission, but who could get sick again any day, and how I struggle with spreading my time and love between my other children, my husband, my husbands 91 year old grandfather, and still perform my job…and clean the house?

After about 6 hours of this, we reluctantly parted ways. We felt better. Cleansed. (Yes, in that sea of dust and hairballs we felt cleansed. Don’t judge.) I know I felt better. I had shared. And listened. And it wasn’t the ‘normal’ having coffee kind of woman talk.  This was some REAL emotion. Truth.

This was our Circle of the Porch.

A few weeks later, one of the women texted me and asked if we could have another Circle.  The house was still messy, so I figured it was perfect timing. The Circle  was made up of different women that day but it was just as open and honest. We all felt that it was the start of something really special. …Much better than the fake book club I had started a few years earlier. (If you want to start your own fake book club, stayed tuned. I’ll post instruction on the how and why on another day.)

My bff and I have subsequently had quite a few Circles since that first day, and we’ve solved literally ALL of our own problems and quite a few of the worlds (full disclosure: not true, we still have so many problems..and the world? Seriously.)…..  I keep running into women who have heard about the Circle and ask me if they can come.  The answer is, of course they can come!  And in reflecting on all of this, I’ve been struck by a “Big Picture Moment”.

As women, are we so concerned with appearing to have everything under control…work, family, health, finances, immaculate houses….that we have forgotten how good the truth can feel?

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Start your own Circle.  Don’t clean the house (don’t even pick up), brew a pot of coffee or ice some diet coke and welcome some women into a place where they can’t say anything wrong.  You will feel refreshed. You will also become a cult hero at the grocery store, because everyone will want to come to your dirty house, to the “Circle” and do the coolest new thing……tell the real truth and bask in the feeling of not being alone.

 

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Dress For Success

I remember having a job as a waitress in college at a supper club owned by two middle aged sisters. One sister was quiet and nice, the other sister ran the show. The ‘other’ sisters name was Billy which gave the staff (made up of all college kids) the pleasure of calling her “Billy Goat” or sometimes during the Friday night fish fry, just ‘The Goat”.  The Goat had various means of torturing the wait staff, like not allowing us to drink anything, even water, during our shifts…but the thing we hated the most was to hear her say “that uniform needs some heat”.  If she said that to you it meant you had to go into the way back room behind the fryer station, take off your clothes and use the ironing board and iron that stood alone in the small, greasy paneled dark room and apply some ‘heat’ to your clothes. At any time, one of the cooks could walk in and see you standing there in just your bra and underwear…this was part of the game. It was The Goats use of this particular form of psychological humiliation that made us all run out and buy our first iron.  Nobody wanted to hear those words. We came in freshly washed and pressed. Every. Night.

Fast forward to yesterday.  I was at the bank making a deposit.  The friendly young teller who greeted me was wearing a dingy, used to be white cotton shirt. It had obviously been in a heap, rolled in a ball, with one of those cast iron sandwiches presses on top of it for a few days before he put it on that morning.  Before I could even process what was happening the words had already come out of my mouth.  You know what I said.  “That shirt needs some heat”.  Now, I’ve been known to deposit my foot firmly in my mouth before, so for me, it was a quick recovery.  I started to explain that he was a handsome young guy who clearly wanted to get ahead and he wasn’t going to get there by not wearing a pressed shirt.  Oops.  I was doing it again.  I backed up and said…”Have you ever heard the phrase ‘dress for success’?”  “No”, he said. (The look on my face probably said it all….I mean really. You’ve never heard that?)  So I explained it to him.   I told him to look around the bank at the executives…do they come in with wrinkled shirts? “No”, he said again.  Do you want to be a teller forever? “No”, he said again.  I told him where to buy an iron.

So maybe you think it was mean of me to point that out.  Maybe you’re calling me ‘The Goat’ right now.  I don’t care.  I look around and I think we need to start being a little more politically incorrect if we’re going to turn this ‘wearing sloppy clothes to work boat’ around.  Or wearing sloppy clothes to school…or wearing sloppy clothes to anything (other than a Saturday night at home on the couch watching Netflix with the cat).

I was still reflecting on the whole bank experience while I drove across the street to drop my watch off for a new battery at the local jeweler, who happens to be a beautiful, young Russian woman.  As I walked into the store, she got up from her desk to come out and greet me wearing a red silk sheath dress with impossibly high Christian Louboutin shoes….hair done..makeup done.  Beautiful.  I looked around waiting for someone from the academy to announce her name and present her with a trophy.  I asked her if I was there on a special day.  “No, nothing special today”.  I asked her why she was so dressed up….and you’ll never guess what she said.

She said “I dress for success”.

This honestly happened.  I almost died.  I thought I was on Candid Camera. She started telling me that she wanted her customers to know that they were important enough for her to wake up and take the time to really look her best.  For them.  She explained that it makes her ‘feel’ more professional, and therefor behave in a more professional way all day.  When she gets home, she takes off the ‘uniform’ (her words) and puts on her pajamas and fuzzy socks to relax.  One uniform for work, one for home.  I think this is how it used to be.

So all this got me thinking about my grandma.  I remember her having to change out of her ‘house dress’ into something more special to go downtown to McCrory’s department store in our little up north town.  She wore gloves.  I’m serious.  It wasn’t even winter.  These were ‘going shopping and out to lunch gloves’.  And sometimes she wore a really cute little hat.  She wasn’t a professional and she wasn’t going to church, she just CARED about how she looked and what other people thought of her.  When did that change?

Throughout the day, we encounter hundreds of people who will never meet us or hear our voice or know our thoughts.  The only impression they have of us is what we look like.  The first impression is also the last impression.  At what point did we decide as a society that it doesn’t matter what other people think of us?  What do your clothes say about you? What do they say about how much you care about the people who are looking at you?

Whether you’re a stay at home mom, fat or skinny, a student or a business executive, a guest at a wedding or a bank teller….are you dressing for success?

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The Things I Think About When I Cant Sleep

So I’m not a good sleeper.  I suppose I never have been.

While the rest of you (well, maybe not the menopausal in the group)…are sound asleep, I am awake.  Fully awake…at 3 am. expecting the birds to be singing and the coffee to be brewing. Of course, none of this happens at 3 am.  It’s just me and my thoughts.  Typically, I’m wrapped up in a blanket, still in my nightgown (yes, I wear a nightgown)…waiting….waiting for inspiration to strike.

What most of you do know about me is that I’m a woman entrepreneur.  I’ve been working at growing Allure for 11 years now, with the help of The Man Behind The Curtain, my sweetheart husband, Peter.  What almost none of you know, is who I am, REALLY. The woman behind the idea of great bras and underwear and incredible (hopefully) service in my stores….is not all there is to me.

I’m the mother of three teenagers (that right there should make you feel a little mercy for me) and we also live with and care for my husbands 91 year old grandfather.

The other night Grandpa and I were talking and he was saying how much easier and simpler life was when he and his wife were raising their kids.  He went to work as a family doctor and she stayed home and was the Sargent (that’s what he called her) on the home-front.  Their roles were very clearly defined and it worked out beautifully.  They’ll be married 71 years in May….and although she’s now living in a home for Alzheimer’s patients, they still see each other every day.  Every.  Day.

This conversation was what got me thinking.  How many of you are doing double and triple duty by being mothers, caregivers, and professionals all simultaneously?  Are you as tired as me?  Are we really so clever to think we can be superwomen and do it all?

And another thing…who put this in our heads?  Was it our mothers who thought we could break out of that very defined ‘role’ and have a more fulfilled life?  Was it the feminist movement, who wanted us to realize our full potential as human people; worthy of the same opportunities and pay as our male counterparts?  Was it the media whose agenda it was to sell magazines?  Who told us that we had to be Superwoman?  Why was it so easy to believe and so hard to actually achieve?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining to you about my circumstances.  I love that I’m a mother, and I love that I get to work side by side with my husband all day on a business that we’re both so passionate about, and I love my 91 year old roommate. I’m just laying here wondering how many of you are out there thinking the same thing. namely..how am I going to do it all today with no sleep?

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The Woman I Met Again Yesterday…

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I don’t plan on saying too much on this blog as I think my wife really wants to share the beauty, strength and power of women, from a woman’s perspective.  A mans perspective isn’t, nor can ever be, that of a woman’s and I respect that. I was compelled, however, to share the beauty and story of a woman I met again yesterday. This is a wonderful woman I’ve known all of my life. Now that she is in the later stages of Alzheimers, I say I met her “again” for a specific reason.  I see her every other week or so, and when I walk in her room I can tell she doesn’t know who I am, but there is something in her eye….a twinkle of familiarity.

My name is Peter but she started out yesterday by calling me Bob and asking me things that were neutral type questions like “How is your crew?” She answers questions about memories or events in her own life with “Isn’t that nice but we don’t have to worry about that now.”

Pego, as we’ve always called her, is my grandma. One of the coolest people I’ve ever known.

Pego was smart and tough.  Having been the captain (and catcher) of her high school baseball team back in 1940 and the president of the “posture” club at Downer School, Pego was clearly in charge.  She dressed and carried herself in such a way that people around her knew when it was time to assist, stand up, or prepare for her command.  The beauty of Pego was that she didn’t usually have to do it forcefully or in a way that seemed like she was asking too much.  Sure, there were times when she had to raise her voice or be a little more direct but Pego knew it had to get done, and ultimately, so did you.  To her core, she was a perfectionist. A job didn’t get done unless it was done well and then honed until it was perfect.  When you made your bed, if the sheets weren’t tucked in so tighty that it was difficult to get in, the bed wasn’t made correctly.  The pillows had to be fluffed.  The crease in the turnback part of the sheet had to be straight and true.  The bedspread had to be even around the floor with every seam meeting up with the bed corners.  When I was a boy, it was a hassle…. But after a long day of running in the neighborhood riding my bike, swimming, shooting hoops and playing flashlight tag, that bed was like heaven.  You’d pull back the crisp sheets after a cool shower, your head would hit the pillow, you’d smell the fresh scent of summer on those sheets and fall into a deep, magical sleep.

Pego taught me how to tie my shoes. The correct way.  She taught me how to sail and say things like “Coming About” out loud, every time…even though we were on a tiny butterfly sailboat in the middle of a deserted 20 acre lake.  The sail had to be taut and your posture trimmed and true if you were steering the rudder. And you should be smiling.

She taught that while eating soup your spoon goes ‘out with the waves and in with the tide’.  Never vice versa (which she would also point out was a latin word).  You never blow on your soup to cool it off and you always place your spoon next to the bowl, not in it, when finished or taking a break from eating it.

Pego and I had many long conversations together.  A lot of times when people are having conversations these days, they tend to multi-task or maybe think too hard about what they’re going to say when its their turn to talk.  When she and I would talk, if I said “What?” to something she said, she would ALWAYS say “You heard me.” with a smile.  She would rarely repeat herself.  More often than not it drove me crazy, but she was right….I heard her.  It was her way of teaching me to listen to other people.  Pay attention.  While I can’t say that I’m a good listener because of it (my mind wanders for sure!), her message was a good one. I’ll never forget it.

The most important thing she did for me though, was teach me about optimism. Her positive energy was buzzing all around her. When she finished her 7th round of chemotherapy for breast cancer and I asked her how it went, she said  “Oh, it was just wonderful!” And she meant it. Yes, she had all the side effects of the chemo, but her perspective was that she met amazing people…doctors, nurses, fellow patients, relatives of other patients…..that she would have never encountered without the cancer. She felt blessed for all the new opportunities and friendships….and she beat the cancer.  Her positive nature affected everything she did and everyone she met. It still does.

Thinking about her attitude towards life drives me every day.

I’ll probably go and see her today. She’ll call me Bob, or Rick and ask me about my crew….I’ll remind her that she taught me how to tie my shoes and she’ll diplomatically point out that my grandpa still ties his shoes the wrong way.

dicko & pego

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Would You Chaperone the Junior Prom With No Eyebrows?

A few days ago we had a woman in the store who was treating herself to something nice, which is always so good to see  (so few of us do that often enough). While she was shopping and having her fitting, she told the story of her brave fight against cancer.

She is a high school teacher. Rather than leave work temporarily throughout her treatment, she chose to stay at school, teaching the kids about living with cancer and..surviving cancer.  With her positive energy (and from what I heard, you could feel it in the room) she taught them that adversity in your life doesn’t have to make you stop living. (What a great lesson for those kids! ) Her proudest moment was when she chaperoned the junior prom with no eyebrows. I think that would take a lot of courage, don’t you?

So I wanted to say that just hearing about her made me feel so proud of her. I also thought it would be worth mentioning that one of the great beauties of all time did not have eyebrows either, but because of her smile no one ever noticed.AdobePhotoshopExpress_2013_02_08_13:29:43

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Mermaid or Whale?

http://25.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_lk2qzpNSVf1qcl5svo1_r2_500.png                               This parable recently went viral on facebook.  I’ve been thinking about it ever since I read it and decided that I would ask for your thoughts…..

 

A while back, at the entrance of a gym, there was a picture of a very thin and beautiful woman. The caption was “This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?”

The story goes, a woman (of clothing size unknown) answered the following way:

Dear people, whales are always surrounded by friends (dolphins, seals, curious humans), they are sexually active and raise their children with great tenderness.  They entertain like crazy with dolphins and eat lots of prawns. They swim all day and travel to fantastic places like Patagonia, the Barents Sea or the coral reefs of Polynesia.  They sing incredibly well and sometimes even are on cd’s. They are impressive and dearly loved animals, which everyone defends and admires.

Mermaids do not exist.

But if they existed, they would line up to see a psychologist because of a problem of split personality: woman or fish?  They would have no sex life and could not bear children.  Yes, they would be lovely, but lonely and sad.  And, who wants a girl that smells like fish by his side?

Without a doubt, I’d rather be a whale.

At a time when the media tells us that only thin is beautiful, I prefer to eat ice cream with my kids, to have dinner with my husband, to eat and drink and have fun with my friends.

A beautiful woman

We women, we gain weight because we accumulate so much wisdom and knowledge that there isn’t enough space in our heads, and it spreads all over our bodies.  We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated.

Every time I see my curves in the mirror, I tell myself: “How amazing am I ?! “

(The girl on the picture is French model Tara Lynn)

So…what do you think?

 

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You Are Never Too Old…

Two funny things to share from Saturday at Allure. First, a 72 year old woman came in to buy some sexy lingerie to ” Get her mojo back”. Then, a 92 year old (yes, I said 92) woman came in to look at the Hanky Panky thongs because “You’ve got to keep up with the times!” this just kills me…I had to share. Sometimes we have so much fun at work it’s positively sinful.

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