Category Archives: Personal

Remembering George

Next of Kin

Dad was born in Monticello, NY in October of 1937 and spent his entire life in Sullivan County where he thrived on the small-town hunting culture. At the age of fourteen, he lost his only sister, Betty, who was just twenty-one and passed during childbirth. Then, in his mid-thirties he lost both his parents within days of each other as the result of different illnesses that hospitalized them simultaneously. Because of the early passing of his immediate family members, he always expected to die young and prepared for that possibility when making many of the decisions he and my mother made during their marriage.

Finding Extended Family

To fill the void of his lost family members, he and my mother began seeking out extended family members that resulted in a wonderful, life-long connection to cousins in Ohio who he remained in close touch with for the rest of his life. Family vacations to Ohio to visit the DeWitt clan were, for a time, annual events that I remember fondly. The cocktail parties with accordion playing by Don, crazy antics by Helen, and firefly catching to make mason jar lanterns by all the kids. Over the years, this zany group expanded to include other cousins from Long Island. The weekend-long family reunions became so big, they required the rental of hospitality tents and RV’s to house twenty-plus overnight guests. During this time Dad also dabbled in guitar playing so singalongs went late into the night and included sessions of dirty joke telling – Dad’s specialty.

Limburger Cheese

My Dad was a lover of food and one of his stranger favorites was Limburger cheese, raw onion with mayonnaise sandwiches. We used to joke that he had a cast iron stomach because most people would shy away from the pungent and extremely spicy foods he preferred. Somehow, when I was five or six, I got to be Dad’s Limburger cheese sandwich buddy. My mother found a block of cheese and when lunchtime came, she vacated to avoid the stench. Dad unwrapped the cheese and make us sandwiches. He thought his was best with a beer so we did this on a day when he could imbibe. I remember Dad proudly telling Mom when she returned that I ate my sandwich and liked it. I don’t really remember the taste, but I do remember feeling special to have been included in this activity.

Ambition

Dad has always been a BIG personality that sometimes overshadowed meeker family members like my mother. Our family centered around Dad’s needs and schedule. He worked hard and held down two full-time jobs for many years. He was the sole proprietor of Wagner Plumbing and Heating during the day, with my mother as his bookkeeper, phone operator and scheduler. Dad would sleep for a few hours at the end of each day and then work the midnight – 7AM shift as a Correction Officer. This crazy schedule took its toll on his health and he eventually shuttered his plumbing business to become a happier person. He focused his ambitions on making a career with the Department of Correction (DOC) where he rose to the level of Deputy Superintendent of Security. There were stories about his indoctrination into “the job” as a Correction Officer that involved some “showing whose boss” incidents. He was told that this demonstration of “bravery” was necessary to earn the respect he needed to lead in the prison environment. I don’t believe this behavior came naturally to him, but he did speak about these encounters with a kind of pride for having survived them. Dad claimed that his time with the DOC was the reason behind his xenophobic views, but I think it ran deeper than that. He and I always parted ways on issues of race, poverty, guns rights and freedom of sexuality and expression. We were almost always endorsing different political candidates.

Sheriff

Retirement from the DOC at age 54 helped him realize that he wasn’t ready to step back, and his further ambitions led him to run for sheriff of Sullivan County in 1993. This campaign involved the whole family and thrust us into a schedule of spaghetti dinners and pancake breakfasts where we met and talked to voters. I think this “always-on” schedule was particularly difficult for my introverted mother, but she dutifully supported him by parading my younger siblings and I around, reminding us of our manners and encouraging us to give strong handshakes while making eye contact. Dad didn’t win the election, but we still have the baseball caps and pencils to commemorate his bid for sheriff.

Carpentry

With more ambition to channel, he turned his attention to carpentry. He refined his woodworking skills by making increasingly intricate pieces of furniture. He gifted each of his children a cradle when our first babies were born. The cradle he made for me was placed at our bedside when each of our three children came home from the hospital. It was a low-to-the ground, traditional cradle that you might see in a Little House on the Prairie episode and allowed me to reach down and rock the crying baby back to sleep in the middle of the night. It was my favorite gift from him. Once the babies transitioned to their own rooms, the cradle became a bed for dolls or stuffed animals.

Cherokee

As a second generation member, Dad’s involvement in the Cherokee Hunting and Game Preserve was always an important part of who he was. We were raised around deer hunting and fishing. Dad taught us each to load and shoot a rifle and a pistol. He also taught us to fish, sometimes in the dead of winter. We always ate what Dad shot, thanks to Mom’s willingness to prepare it. My memories of Thanksgiving are forever tangled up in deer season. On Thanksgiving morning, the men would get up at dawn and hunt all day while the women prepared Thanksgiving dinner. Hunters would return to eat the feast and then fall asleep on the couch while the women cleaned up. It was Dad’s idea to create a reason for Cherokee club members to meet during the summer months – which was considered off-season for a hunting club. He pitched the idea of an August chicken BBQ to bring everyone together to the club leaders. This now has become a 46-year tradition that my brother took over a few years ago. Dad had always been very invested in the Club’s 22.5k acres and its 44 members, although he wasn’t able to hunt the last several years of his life. He thrived on watching other hunters from his kitchen window as they came and went during deer season. This time of year meant extra visits from his comrades with tall tales of their daily hunt and an excuse to share a cocktail.

Decline

Dad’s 2011 lung cancer diagnosis triggered years of ongoing breathing issues. Initially, he tolerated his chemo treatments well. His longtime companion, Janet, took him in as a roommate for a few months while he gained the strength to live alone again. They enjoyed traveling and playing golf together and Dad was even well enough to go through double knee replacement surgery in 2015. He continued living alone until January of 2020 but became quite shut-in during his final months requiring assistance from friends and family (mostly my sister) for many tasks. We siblings began having discussions about in-home care options after observing a health decline. As we danced around this topic with him, he let us know he was not interested. We covertly continued investigating options anyway and found that in his rural location there was a shortage of reliable, skilled care providers. Despite our many daily phone calls to check on him, Dad became sick with pneumonia requiring a trip to the ER on January 9, 2020 and was hospitalized. He had been secretive about how ill he was until he was in respiratory distress. Perhaps he knew this was the beginning of a downhill spiral and that life changes were likely. Doctors prescribed a stay at a rehabilitation center for physical therapy to gain back some strength and independence. Many other health complications were starting to mount and he struggled with physical therapy for a few weeks before refusing to continue. He was tired and was giving up. The only option became long-term care where he could receive the 24/7 support he needed.

In late February COVID-19 closed in on New York State, and Dad’s facility stopped allowing visitors on March 6th.

He died on Mother’s Day, May 10, 2020.

Don’t Forget Where You Came From

My relationship with Dad was always complicated. In temperament, I am a lot like Dad and my husband reminds me of that when I’m being tenacious or pushy. Once Dad accused me of forgetting where I came from. Since I had moved to an urban area in my early twenties, our perspectives became quite different. Initially he struggled to understand my need to leave rural NY State and since I was single when I did, he was concerned about what people would think. This feeling of being smothered and judged by others is precisely what I wanted to shed. I was also looking for experiences and opportunities that I knew I couldn’t have if I stayed.

I guess it was tenacity and ambition that gave me the desire and strength to pursue a different lifestyle. So in this way, I’m remembering where I came from.

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A List Maker’s Way of Coping During COVID

All of us are floundering during this pandemic. My priorities have shifted, and I’m conscious of new habits forming. I’ve started searching for ways to make sure that I don’t get through another day without accomplishing something meaningful. There have been too many times over the last six-plus weeks where I’ve taken inventory of my day and I can’t figure out where the time went. In my case, I’m also managing my elderly Dad’s health decline from afar, as well as declining client work that impacts my remote team. It’s all very stress inducing and I’m trying to maintain some control.

I’ve long been a list maker, mostly because it feels so good to complete a task and check things off. It’s rewarding to reflect on how much I’ve accomplished at the end of the day. This habit had slipped in recent weeks and I decided to resurrect and refine the use of the ongoing task list.

The Franklin Covey Method

I was a Franklin Covey devotee from way back. I used to love the colored papers and customizable binders and forms that allowed you to organize and track different aspects of your life. I also loved wandering through their retail stores to stay abreast of the cool tools they had for binders of all sizes. Their ruler/calculator/page divider was a favorite of mine and I experimented with all different sizes of binders. FC also had an education business unit and their trainers would come into corporate offices to help employees become more ‘productive’. While their message and approaches felt a little cultish, it resonated with my goal-oriented personality. I became slightly obsessed with all their products in the days before cell phones helped us do it all. But FC had a philosophy that was revolutionary for me early in my career.

The idea was to mingle the list of personal and professional tasks into one because we have multiple dimensions to our lives. Your task list should reflect all aspects of your life.

Before connectivity made the concept of working from home very normal, there was a hard line separating our personal and professional lives. Things like being a few minutes late due to a personal issue demonstrated a lack of professionalism, strength, self-control. There was little room for fatigue or insecurity or even sickness. Appropriate clothes, makeup, hair was all part of a mechanical corporate performance. The planner was perfect for keeping us all on task and on time. There was a sense that we “planners” had a leg up. The planner helped me manage my clients, my out-of-state wedding, the purchase of our first house, the planning of our first child, my return to work after giving birth, my department during a large company merger.

The Method Falls Apart

In times of great change, my devotion to the wonders of the FC method fell apart. For example, during my maternity leave, I shelved it. Who was I kidding? I was not in control of my own time anymore. Taking care of an infant requires you to acknowledge that you are not in charge of your own time. This is not part of the FC philosophy. For months I struggled with setting goals for the day, only to be thwarted. My husband recalls coming home to find me with #1 baby asleep in a backpack on my back while I maniacally vacuumed the house. I was able to accomplish the goal of cleaning but was exhausted at the end of the day because the moment I stopped moving, the baby would wake and be ready for his next activity. When #1 baby was around thirteen weeks old, I cracked. I was so exhausted; I couldn’t fake it anymore. The planner wasn’t part of that phase of my life.

This pandemic seems similarly chaotic and out of control by a factor of ten. The news is constant, fear inducing and often contradictory. Sleep is not normal or restorative. I am now tracking death and infection rates like I used to track the stock market. Friends’ businesses and economic situations are tenuous. Dad’s nursing home now has COVID positive patients and their daily briefing calls keep families informed about patient status and their contracting staff. Dad’s dementia has affected his ability to answer his phone, so I am reliant upon staff members for reassurance. Thankfully he is not COVID positive, but he hasn’t had visitors since March 6th when outsiders were prevented from coming in for safety reasons. It is a stressful time and I’m not in control of any of this. My FC method of planning isn’t useful here.

Or is it?

The Method Modified

I’ve made my ongoing task list mingling personal and professional tasks as always – especially since I become more forgetful during times of high stress. But I have also incorporated a few new techniques to make this more rewarding:

  • Restorative Tasks – Including things that are restorative like a few minutes of exercise, drinking the right amount of water, or taking a vitamin. This makes restoration a part of my day and is likely to be an easy win since they won’t take more than a few minutes to complete and it feels so good to check them off!
  • Patience – Demonstrating patience with myself when I do not complete as much as I had hoped. Not only am I more forgetful during times of stress, but I am also easily distracted. That combination means I will be a little less ‘productive’ – and that’s OK right now.
  • Not All About Me – Adding things to the list that brings joy to others. I check on a friend or family member that I have not spoken to in a while to make sure they are OK. My husband baked and we shipped biscotti to the healthcare workers taking care of my Dad.

I read this morning that maybe this could already be our new normal. I’m sure we will all get more comfortable in this uncertain space but, in the meantime, we continue to struggle to find new ways of coping.  I’ll continue to share my ideas here but I’d love to hear from others’ too. Please share in the comments section below!

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Sons and Daughters and Sexual Assault

I think it’s because my first daughter has gone off to college. As I was preparing myself and her departure and trying to fit in all the last-minute words of wisdom , I found that the issue of sexual assault on college campuses was a bit of an obsession. We have all become highly aware following the media attention around the discredited Rolling Stone article. But my anxiety was originally triggered by an even older story I read about Erin Cavalier being raped by an acquaintance after she had too much to drink. Her story raised all sorts of issues about responsibility and judgement that get very clouded when alcohol is involved. I shared this story with my daughter as a great example of how easy it is easy to get yourself in a situation where you are vulnerable if you have too much to drink. Erin was asking for help from a friend to get home after a night of partying and she thought she could trust him. My warning to my daughter was to have fun but to stay in control. She should remember she has the right to say “no” at any point but saying “no” only works if the other person is respectful and capable of understanding.

I’m also the mother of a college-age son who spent three years as an RA in freshman dorms. I shared Erin’s story with him as the basis for discussion about the issue of consent. He had been told during RA training workshops on this topic that a person is incapable of consenting after three drinks. Since women don’t wear a tally sign on their forehead, we talked about the responsibility if both parties and how it really comes down to common sense and good judgement. He has told me stories of finding partially dressed, passed-out women in bathroom stalls during his rounds as an RA. I worry about the vulnerable position this puts him in because it again requires that the other person is respectful and capable of understanding what’s going on.

Now, amid all the Bill Cosby accusations, another article caught my attention titled: It should never be too late to tell your story of rape. Abigail Hauslohner’s story was disturbing because she was rendered out of control by something her “good family friend” put in her drink. I was struck because she admitted thinking that this kind of thing didn’t happen to smart, progressive, informed people like her. She was so young when her attack happened and because this was someone she trusted, her first reaction was to question herself. Just like Bill Cosby’s victims did. I empathized because I could  absolutely see myself in a similar situation as this young woman when you are finding the

So now what am I telling my son and daughter?

  1. There are no hard-and-fast ground rules
  2. Girls are inventing products like date rape nail polish because drugs are being used on college campuses to incapacitate women and you should never put your drink down
  3. You may find yourself in situations that are not black-and-white and you should trust your gut. We are all born with a sixth sense and you need to trust it. I couldn’t always articulate why something didn’t feel right but when I doubted myself, I regretted it later.
  4. Watch out for those with a sense of entitlement. This is not just an unappealing quality, but a dangerous one too.
  5. Life is messy. Mistakes will be made. Let’s make sure they are mole hills and not mountains.

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Communicating with Grown Kids

Blanche and Stella

Blanche and Stella

My husband and I just sent our second child off to college. We were familiar with the unsettling feelings of whether you gave them all the tools to be successful as they head out the door. With both kids, we tried to have the conversations about sexuality drinking and drugs, relationships, taking good care of your health, eating right, the importance of exercise for relieving stress, managing your money, taking appropriate precautions. These conversations never happened exactly as planned but I’m not sure perfection is necessary in these circumstances.

With our son, we had to coax him out of his room to have these conversations. We awkwardly requested time to talk which he now says felt like he was being summoned to the board room for an inquisition. Now he has a sense of humor about it all and has joked that these conversations prepared him for oral arguments in college classes because they provided early attempts to manage stressful situations. My husband and I found ourselves having to remind  him that we were on the same team so clearly our messages had to be polished. We hoped to do better with our second child.

Our daughter kept herself SUPER busy during the months before heading off to school. I think this was her coping mechanism and we tried to create occasions where opportunities to talk would more naturally present themselves. On one occasion, I had planned for a long car trip to be the perfect setting but she clearly had other ideas. A disagreement over the type and volume of music during the drive zapped my ability to have a productive conversation. On another car trip, I decided not to let the opportunity slip by so I forced out what I wanted to say but it was not the exchange I had hoped for.

She is now off at college and we made it through the difficult separation process. We now have one final child at home with opportunities to have important conversations because we aren’t juggling so may schedules. The fact that this daughter has watched us send off the other two kids has made her wise beyond her years. We seem more able to find time to connect on important issues more easily. Granted, she still hasn’t reached the dreaded age where sass is a daily occurrence. We find that our dogs Blanche and Stella provide a calming influence and a new focal point. We added Stella into the family more recently and as a way of easing the blow for all.

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September 1, 2015 · 11:30 am

Final Stretch on the Logo but Need Help Once Again!

I’ve been silent for a while because I’ve finalized the name for my company and I’ve been working on a logo.  The company name is 3Ways Digital: Communication, Content and Monetization strategies for growing businesses learning to rely on the Web. 

I’d really appreciate your help in voting on the final version at 99Designs .

In case you have trouble, with the link, here’s the URL http://99designs.com/logo-design/vote-tfevbg

Thanks for all your support!

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What’s in a name II?

Now I know why I’m not a branding expert.  This is hard!  Incorporating the word “Digital” into any name limits the choices considerably. Even Digital13.com . . .  and every other number from 1 – 100 has been purchased!  FYI, you can buy Advance Digital for a premium price of $13,000. 

Anyway, upon advice of counsel and due to some issues with GoDaddy processing, my original list needed to be modified.  I’d like to get a second round of votes on a new pool of names.  Please cast your vote!

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Perspective on Yesterday’s News

Yesterday was filled with mixed emotions.  The news of Osama bin Laden’s assassination was shocking to everyone. In my family’s case we found ourselves having to explain America’s reaction to our sixteen year old German exchange student who has been visiting for the last month.    This was his second dose of world events seen through the American news media given that Gaddafi’s son and his family had also just been killed by NATO forces .  

Our student came home from school yesterday asking why people were chanting and celebrating.  He was taken aback by the tone of President Obama’s speech which they watched in history class. He was  shocked to see the news footage of the rowdy crowds at Ground Zero and the White House. 

I did my best to help him reconcile how Americans got to where we are now but I didn’t feel I convinced him that we aren’t a vengeful country.  Then this morning, while reading the Washington Post, I came across Petula Dvorak’s article in which she did an eloquent job of capturing the emotions of those we didn’t see on the news yesterday. 

Thanks Petula!  Your article is going home with him tomorrow:-).

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Context Anyone?

As a Digital Media person, it’s high time that I started a blog of my own.  I’ve done a lot of writing but always on behalf of someone else.  Now it’s my turn to share some of my own thoughts with ‘yall.  I intend to use this space as a place to share opinions, make observations and keep track of what I’m finding interesting. 

But first some context . . .

I’m a mother of three children in the Fairfax County public school system.  It’s a great school system and I’m a HUGE fan of the language immersion program.  Having grown up in a town-based school system, the model in Fairfax County took some getting used to.  I’ve learned to appreciate the breadth of opportunities available to my kids because of the County’s size and diversity.  (I like to be involved in my kids’ education so you’ll hear me talking about this).

I’ve been working in digital media since the mid 90’s getting my start with a marketing communications firm that was bought by AOL in 1995.  My ten years at AOL was an amazing professional experience that I don’t believe could ever be replicated.  I was able to be a part of AOL’s Green House project that brought companies like Motley Fool online.  I was also able to be a part of a fledgling start-up organization within AOL called Digital City.  I now know how unusual it is to be part of a well-funded start-up in an industry that was in its infancy.   We were establishing a business model, getting our arms around user behavior and experimenting with how online content was different from other media.  We Digital City folks like to think we taught AOL a thing or two about the importance of user-generated content;-).  Consequently, several DCI folks were interested in migrating to AOL’s Community group.  As we mined AOL’s forums to capture public sentiment, we found new ways to package this content up for AOL’s “Channels”.   (We did some groundbreaking stuff and I’ll be taking note of companies who continue to do this particularly well).

My consulting business and start-up experience lead me to become more intimately involved with the non-profit mindset and resources.  I’m told I’m a bleeding heart always looking for my next cause and I guess that’s true.  (You’ll hear me expressing opinions about social issues that bug me).

Finally, my extracurricular interests usually revolve around my kids.  My son is into Scouting and music.  This has led me to an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into becoming proficient in either.  One daughter rides horses competitively as a hunter jumper.  I have come to adore horses but the horse world is full of interesting but CRAZY people.  They are loads of fun to hang around though;-).  My youngest daughter is just finding her thing but right now it’s gymnastics.  (You’ll see me talking about the life lessons I’m learning from my kids.)

Welcome to the realm of a working online Mom!

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