Monday, August 30, 2010

Tribute #6: Melissa Bowen

City life can be wonderful, but it can also be hard. What I learned early on is that in order to not get swallowed up and lose myself I had to surround myself with good people. I've been fortunate enough to have Melissa Bowen as a good friend in NYC and now in Chicago, too.

Those who know me can attest to my weird sense of humor, and those who first meet me don’t always get it. When I first met Melissa she not only got my sense of humor, but dished it right back in my face. It was a sarcastic match made in heaven. The times we hang out are often filled with good food, great drinks and a few delicious hookahs. Melissa has such a positive attitude and zest for life that you can’t help but be happy when you're with her.

Melissa is driven to be the best personal trainer ever, but that doesn't mean she has no life outside of the gym. Melissa works hard and plays hard, finding the delicate balance between each. For someone who is admittingly lame, I admire her for never passing on an opportunity to be around friends and fun no matter how tired she may be.

Melissa, thanks for being awesome and encouraging me to get out and let this Windy City whip through my hair. You definitely make life more fun and I promise to try my best to not be so lame and to take you up on more of your invites out. 

Melissa = Fun

Friday, August 27, 2010

Tribute #5: Liz Ribby

If Liz Ribby were to be persecuted for being a saint I'm pretty sure she’d volunteer to be burned at the stake, or maybe even choose the rack just so she could cry, “More weight!” To put it simply, Liz does well, and I mean really well, pushing through pain. I dare say she even thrives on it.

As one of my oldest friends, I’ve had the privilege of seeing Liz grow from a tiny little third grader all the way up to a Clerk at the Supreme Court of Michigan. Throughout the years we’ve experienced a lot together. Some of our best-shared memories include being partners during drivers ed (we named our car “Lucille”) our hysterical prom picture, and running cross country together. During sophomore year Liz finished as one of the top regional runners, which is impressive unto itself, let alone the fact that she ran the entire second half of the season with a stress fracture!

The will and determination that Liz showed during high school carried her all the way through MSU and onto Cooley Law. Ask anyone who’s been through law school and they’ll attest to the sheer hell of it. There were more times than not that Liz seemed overworked and rundown, but she pushed through. In the end my little Liz not only excelled, but graduated #1 in her class. Even today, working for the Supreme Court, Liz continues to drive herself. Setting personal goals that seem impossible until she squashes them.

I admire Liz for her ability to push through pain, but more than that I look to her as an example of how to love. The woman who fights her way through life took off her gloves when it came to finding love. For I would say that loving Brian is the easiest thing I've ever seen Liz do. No pain, no effort, just pure happiness.  

Liz, thanks for proving that there are some things in life worth pain and suffering, however, when it comes to love, and finding true love, you’ve shown me that it is meant to be the easiest, most painless experience in the world. 

Today's Musical Selection 

Liz & her Betrothed Brian

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Tribute #4: Nancy Quasarano

Few people warrant being described as “Larger than Life.” My Grandmother, Nancy Quasarano is "Larger than Life."
Maybe it’s because she was born in the midst of the Great Depression, or maybe it’s her feisty Sicilian attitude, but my Grandema (as her grandkids lovingly call her) has a fighting spirit unlike anyone I know. Grandema doesn’t waste time on attempting the possible things in life, as she tends to show us that doing the impossible, although challenging, is much more rewarding.
I could go on and on about my Grandema’s magnetic personality, her boundless energy and beauty, her sense of humor, or her amazing strength to battle cancer head on and come out on top. I could also write about her musical talent and how she can bring people to tears when playing the piano. However, what I want to let Grandema know today is that as a woman navigating my way through corporate America I often draw strength from her.
Grandema never had the privilege of graduating high school, but that didn’t stop her from using her intelligence and wherewithal to start and run her own very successful company. (Did I mention this was in the midst of raising 6 kids?) At a time when women were just starting to break out of their traditional roles and fighting for equal rights, she was burning her figurative bra by entering a business world ruled by men.
One story that illustrates the inequality that my Grandema experienced was when she attempted to apply for a corporate American Express card. When asked for the owner of the company’s name she replied, “Nancy Quasarano.” The person on the other end asked again, thinking they had misunderstood, and when they got the same reply simply said, “I’m sorry we don’t issue cards to women!” Because of women, like my Grandema, who paved the way for me, I am happy to say that would not fly today.
Though I don’t yet have a family of my own I hope to one day. I know then I will gain a whole new understanding and appreciation for just how amazing Nancy Quasarano truly is.
Grandema, thanks for showing me that although at times it can still seem like a man’s world, that doesn’t mean a woman can’t rule it. Because of the example you’ve shown me, I intend to do just that.

Today's Musical Selection 

My Red-Haired Beauty

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Laughing at Death

I have always loved art associated with Día de los Muertos (The Day of the Dead). I think the juxtaposition of morbid skulls and vibrant colorful patterns is really amazing. I knew a bit about the origins of this holiday, but when I learned about the meaning behind the iconography, I appreciated the art that much more.

My Mom explained that the reason the skulls are so fun and playful is because death is not something to fear, yet something to laugh at. Various faiths teach that life here on earth is not the end, and the best is yet to come.

In contrast to this outlook on death, our culture brings us up to fear it. We dress ourselves in depressing black to attend funerals. We don’t like to talk openly about the dearly departed as if somehow death is contagious. And more often than not our reaction to death is sadness, not joy.

Though I’m definitely not at the point where I feel I could laugh death in the face, I hope to be one day. If on the other side there’s laughter I think I may be less afraid to get there. In the meantime I intend to live, love and laugh my ass off here on Earth. 

Shiny, Happy, Laughing Skulls


Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Tribute #3: Thelma Kynalis

Blood is thicker than water, and I’m pretty sure Mediterranean blood is the thickest. Maybe that’s why Thelma Kynalis and I felt so close right away. She was one of my first friends in NYC, and our friendship only grew stronger over the years. She was the grigio to my pinot and is someone who I fondly referred to as my wing bitch. (Think wing man for guys.) 

Don’t let Thelma’s good looks fool you into thinking she’s a girly girl. She played hockey in college (and still does) and on more than one occasion I saw her throw a good ‘bow when making her way through a crowded bar. As someone who can definitely be a pushover I respected this aggressiveness and would happily follow in the open path she created.

Thelma, thanks for teaching me that it's ok to push through the crowd if it means standing up for myself, and for proving that you’re never too old to make a lifelong friend. Oh, and for turning me onto the magical healing power of Schweppes. Miss you, wing bitch. 

Pinot & Grigio

Monday, August 23, 2010

Tribute #2: Allison Hicks

During high school I remember seeing Allison Hicks quite a bit during marching band season. While plodding around the field in my brown polyester playing Fleetwood Mac I would often stare at the color guard team and watch their graceful movements. The poise and grace that Allison displayed on the field shone through later in life, too, but during a much harder time.

Through facebook I learned that Allison lost her Mother to Lupus. As we hadn’t talked since high school I felt funny about reaching out and sending my condolences, and I’m sorry about that. We should never pass up the opportunity to let someone know they are in our thoughts. I can’t even begin to imagine what Allison went through and I know it wasn't easy. However, in keeping up with her posts I see a woman determined to live life to the fullest.

Allison, thank you for showing me what grace looks like. You are an amazing example of it to all who know you. 

Allison honoring her Mom during the Lupus Walk

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Tribute #1: Annie Weaver

As a kid I loved listening to the Annie record and would always sing along to The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow. Being 4 I had no idea what optimism meant, and probably figured only orphans were the ones down on their luck. Many years later I understand the challenge in believing in those lyrics, and I feel nobody more appropriately embodies the spirit of that song than Annie Weaver.

Annie is the type of person that always sees the glass ½ full, and her huge smile makes everyone feel at ease. Annie had the dedication and smarts to pursue a million career paths, but now that I know Annie works with college student organizations I can’t imagine a better career fit. It’s not the easiest to motivate and organize any group, let alone one comprised of coeds. I’m sure her great sense of humor helps in that arena, too, as laughter can unite everyone. 

Annie, thanks for reminding me to look on the bright side. Too often a cynic, you can bet your bottom dollar that I will strive to see that glass as ½ full, or at least slightly less empty.

Annie's Electrifying Personality 

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Happy Reaper Cometh

Two of the books I read this past year dealt with death and dying.

Chasing Daylight, by Gene O’Kelly, is a biographical account of being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor at 53. Gene was the CEO of one of the Nation’s largest accounting firms, and at the top of his game. That all changed when he was told he had less than a year to live. Reading his account of coming to terms with this death sentence was transformative. It taught me that if there’s something important that I want to accomplish in life I must, “Move it up!” I’ve moved up quite a few things in 2010. Leaving Brooklyn and venturing back to the Midwest to be closer to my family being the most important.

Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom, is the true story of Mitch’s relationship with his beloved professor, Morrie Schwartz. Morrie suffered from ALS and during the last few months of his life Mitch met with him once a week for an invaluable course on life and death. This book taught me a lot, but one story in particular spoke to me. Morrie recounts a story he had heard about a small wave seeing the waves ahead of him crash on the shore, disappearing into nothingness. He suddenly brims with fear upon the realization that he too will soon 'crash on the shore' and die. This little wave confides his fear in another wave who comforts him with the news that he will not crash and die, but will instead return to become a small part of the larger ocean.

Both books drove home that life is fleeting. We need to celebrate what we love and appreciate about each other now. I believe if you have something nice to say, say it.

The culmination of these reflections on death pushed me to start “The Happy Reaper.” Each day, or so, I will randomly select a facebook friend (by literally drawing a name out of a hat) and eulogize them on my blog. I’ll throw a few other names in there, too, as some that I love i.e. Noni aren't necessarily chatting it up on fb. I’ve been reluctant to jump on the blog wagon, but I feel that this venue gives me the best way to share my living eulogies.

Death is a topic that many people are uncomfortable with. I’m not trying to make you come to terms with death. I’m just letting you know that in this life you mean a lot to many people, me included.

Why this sudden pull to face my mortality head on? Maybe it’s because unlike Kurt Cobain, Jimmy Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the many other cursed 27-year-old rock stars I made it to 28. Or maybe it’s just my attempt to better understand life.

Stay tuned, The Happy Reaper is coming for you.

Today's Musical Selection

Morrie enjoying life to the fullest