Authenticity Matters

wim-van-t-einde-589443-unsplashI’ve never been one to toot my own horn. But a couple of times in my career, I found it necessary to hire someone to help me rethink how I present myself and how my body of work and accomplishments are shared with others. I hired a consultant, a business coach, to help me with it. In plain English, that means I hired a resume writer. I’m not actively looking for a job, but I need the sort of independent critique of my career that I can’t really get from people vested in my day job. 

She gave me a self-assessment that took over five hours to complete. We then spent an hour talking about it and how I want my career to progress from here on. One of the keystone questions she asked me is what I am known for and what I want to be known for.

After considerable thought, authentic is one of the words that came to mind. Let me tell you what this means to me.

I take my day job and professional career very seriously. My reputation, integrity, and ethics have always mattered. Thanks to an enormously influential undergraduate college professor in an honors accounting program, I learned early on that if we lose people’s trust in us as professional accountants – if we give them any reason to doubt our ethics – we were done. He taught us that unquestionable ethics, trust, and integrity were foundational elements in the field of public accounting and auditing where he coached all of us to start our careers. While I can’t say that I was naturally drawn to public accounting and auditing from an early age, this call toward high ethical standards was something that resonated quite well with me because that is fundamentally who I am.  

Fast forward, I began my professional career with one of the Big Eight world-wide accounting firms. Not one to want to screw things up, I was a pretty serious chick in my early work life. Always the arm’s length professional, always formal, and frankly, always a little bit stiff because I thought that’s who I needed to be. I didn’t want to ever destroy someone’s trust in me. But the real me is witty, and likes to use humor. It was exhausting to always be totally on guard, pleasant, and formal, because the real me is not overly formal at all times. 

At one point, I picked up an awesome client, my favorite place to work of all the places I had advised over the prior 20 years, and that’s saying a lot. One of the blessed things about that place was how much their culture values a sense of humor. To this day, the company hangs plaques on the wall to remind employees of what they value, but the thing is, it isn’t just words on a page, or a plaque in their case. Leadership, and therefore the employees, lived it and showed it, every single day.

It was there that I learned how to integrate the real me with the professional me. Totally,  authentically me. I found I could credibly be both trustworthy and light-hearted, yet fully able to deliver the gravitas that is needed whenever it is needed. All of these things are important because as an auditor, you are sometimes required to deal with some pretty heavy stuff, very serious business issues, and you need an outlet to laugh or you’d go mad.

What surprised me is how well people responded to the authentic me. Authenticity feeds integrity, something my husband and I try to teach our kids. What you see from me is what you get at work, at home, at church, with friends, wherever. I am the same person.

If you’ve paid attention to my posts, you may have learned that it drives me crazy to hear a leader say one thing but do another, or talk a lot of fluff or nonsense just to obfuscate a lack of substance. Our country has a dearth of leadership in that regard, and it’s something I can deliver, certainly on a smaller scale, so it’s time I talk about that.

What’s is your “brand”? What do you want to be known for and are you delivering it now? Is it coming across clearly in the ways you network, in the work you produce, and in the life you lead? What steps have you taken to hone what you present about yourself to the world? And how well-aligned are your work and personal lives? Do you want them to be?

Photo by Wim van ‘t Einde on Unsplash

Blog Milestone – 100 Followers!

katya-austin-554633-unsplashHey everyone! I just wanted to send a special shout-out to those of you who took the monumental step of following my blog. Thank you! In just a little over year’s time I have 100 official followers worldwide, in addition to slightly over a dozen email followers.

I realize that not everyone reads all of my posts, and that my blog topics can vary wildly from one to the next, but I appreciate that you take the time, and toss a few likes my way. For that I give a hearty thumbs up back to you, as much as I am still green at this, still very much a newbie. 

I would love to hear your feedback. What drew you here in the first place, what topics speak to you the most, and what would you like to hear more of? I’d even love to hear from you guys with a quick country or state roll call. 

Thank you again, from the bottom of my heart.

~Denise

 

Photo by Katya Austin on Unsplash

 

I Get That

A friend of mine and I make it our thing to visit a local vineyard a few times over the summer and dish about life. I look forward to these leisurely afternoons, outside on the piazza overlooking a serene lake circled with weeping willows and dotted with white swans. I feel like I’ve been transported to another world.

One day this past summer, I opened up to her like I rarely do with people anymore.

It was the week that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives and it seemed like all of America was reeling from the news. How did these two people, with so much going for them in life, do such a thing? Were they in pain? Why, oh why, did they do it?

But as I told my friend Amy, I get it.

Her face fell. She was floored. Wholly disturbed by my answer. Made me promise on the spot that I was ok and not feeling suicidal.

I’m ok. I was then and I am now.

But I get it. Of course, I’m assuming a lot here about what led these two wildly successful, talented, and beloved people to take such drastic measures. Maybe it was a moment of insanity, but maybe it was loneliness or despair.

I get that.

I understand feeling so utterly alone you fully believe that your life really doesn’t make an impact on anyone. I know exactly what it’s like to dismiss how other people might feel if I was gone.

It’s times like that when Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote isn’t very helpful:

You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.

On a broader scale, it’s not like I’ve made any major contributions to the world. I haven’t cured cancer. I’m not an entertainer. I haven’t run for office or served my community in any meaningful way. My career was a very big part of my life at the time but the reality is I was expendable. I traveled extensively for work. For years my best friend lived in New York while I lived in Ohio, so close, local, sustainable friendships were not my forte.

So, I get it.

I spent 34 years trying to find someone I loved who could love me in return, someone willing to spend their life with me. No one was interested, including a guy I dated for three years. He broke up with me mid-way through the relationship, then wanted me back. I grilled him on his intentions before I considered rekindling the relationship, and he made it clear that marriage and kids was something he wanted. It gradually became clearer, to him and me after 18 more months, that he didn’t want that with ME.

Everyone I knew was getting married. There were a couple of years there where I had six, then seven, then eight, then nine (!) weddings to attend, until they started to wind back down in subsequent years the same way they ramped up.

None of them were mine.

The lowest point was being asked to sing at the wedding of a family friend five years younger than me. I watched as my family’s anticipation and excitement grew over this wedding; the bride and groom were, and still are, adored. I didn’t even have a date for the reception so needless to say, I wasn’t in a great frame of mind leading up to this event. I wanted to be happy for the newlyweds. I really did. But what I saw was life passing me by in the most visible of ways.

It stung. No one noticed.

As I sang the last note of the final piece after the ceremony ended, I closed the music binder, walked out of the church past the crowd eagerly awaiting the bride and groom, got in my car, and drove straight home while the throng left for the reception to celebrate. I could not bear to witness people’s lives move on, toward togetherness, love, belonging, community. All the things I didn’t have.

dennis-kummer-171041-unsplash

It reminded me of the hundreds of times I flew for work, often at night. I’d look down at the landscape, thousands of little streetlights and houses as far as the eye could see, thinking about how each light represented a family, or at least a couple of heartbeats inside each structure. And yet my heart was not among them. It was the perfect metaphor, in a way. There I was, separated from all of that by quite a distance, that vast, beautiful, twinkling, interconnected web moving past me in slow motion, punctuating how far removed I was from all of it.

I felt like a freak. To celebrate this wedding took an inner strength and grace I just didn’t have. They say you should call upon family or friends to guide you through times like that, but I didn’t want to complain. What was the point? I was living through a chronic condition and complaining wouldn’t change the situation.

Besides, not one family member noticed I was missing from the reception. No one checked on me, not that night, not at any point. I fell asleep full of despair that night, convinced that something was inherently wrong with me. I honestly didn’t want to wake up the next day.

Yet I awoke to a gorgeous, sunny morning while the world learned the news that Princess Diana had died in Paris the night before. I wondered why it had to be her and not me that night. The world misses her, and still does, while I have yet to make an impact of any meaningful kind.

It’s been over 20 years since that day but I remember well those feelings of loneliness and despair. I didn’t marry for another four years or date my husband all that long before we married. I have children now. I love them and they love me. They are my world. While I may not cure cancer or leave any kind of significant mark on this world, maybe I make an impact of some kind on them. I do know I am utterly devoted to them, and God willing, I’m not going anywhere.

But make no mistake: when it comes to feelings of loneliness and despair? I get that. I wish that sort of loneliness and invisibility on no one. If I ever made anyone feel that way, I’m sorry. And if I ever failed to reach out to someone who feels loneliness and despair, for that too, I deeply apologize.

And if it’s you feeling this way, please keep going. It gets better. I would give you a virtual hug of belonging if I could. One day, you will wake to a gorgeous sunny day when life gets better. I can’t promise when. It may take longer than you want. But it will get better.

May we all find a way in the coming days to connect with someone who is lonely and hurting. Check on them, even if you have never given a second thought to whether they’re ok. Let people know they matter.

Photo by Dennis Kummer on Unsplash

Yes, Virginia, The World Has Changed

sergio-souza-796530-unsplashI work in the consumer products industry which is going through a tremendous amount of upheaval. I’ve heard it said more than a few times at work how “the world has changed” that it’s become cliche to say it.

Today our chief marketing executive briefed us on what we’re doing in the midst of all this disruption. Something about the way he made his point made me reflect on how I agree that the world has changed, pretty drastically if you ask me, and not just in the way consumers shop for things today. Somehow the pace and degree has accelerated to an unprecedented level.

But what exactly has changed? And was there a critical inflection or turning point when it happened, or were there more than a few? There’s the obvious change relative to US politics. There is the aging of the Baby Boomers and the rise of Millennials. I could go on but I want to know from your perspective: what else?

I genuinely want to open this up to all of you to answer. Now I want to caution you: it will be very easy to answer in the negative, to say, “this happened on X date, and it was much better before.” Let’s try to be neutral or certainly civil in the tone of the responses, so we can hear and learn from one another.

Let me play Virginia O’Hanlan in a sense, and ask you in your words, do you think the world has changed drastically? In what ways has that happened, big or small, in any aspect of life, and what or when was the turning point or turning points? I’d love to hear your thoughts, and yes, I welcome the perspective of the global audience I am lucky to have.

Thanks in advance for your insights!

Photo by sergio souza on Unsplash

500 Thoughts

hans-peter-gauster-252751-unsplashSometimes the inside of my brain feels like this photo here → 

I seriously have about 500 thoughts running through my head tonight, these being the first few:

  1. At least three blog ideas (actually way more) where I simply need to find the time to write
  2. The packing and prepping for my daughter’s first dance competition of the season, tomorrow, which involves a weekend away and a desperate need to pack healthy snacks so I don’t feel like loser mom for not properly feeding my artist-athlete with a nut allergy
  3. Wondering how our powder room remodel is going, why our front porch is still torn up from some foundation work that needed to be done months ago, and why both of these things are taking longer than expected
  4. Why I hear a clicking noise inside Roxanne (my relatively new Jeep) and whether that’s just marginally annoying and I can live with it or if it’s actually something bigger I need to get looked at
  5. How to “market” myself better professionally internally or externally should it be warranted, and why this is getting more important than ever before
  6. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on LinkedIn and what I should write about if so
  7. Whether I should be posting/blogging/whatever on Yammer which is our internal social media tool at work to “market” myself better professionally with my colleagues
  8. Music I want our little family of five to make for Christmas (a really “out there” idea even they don’t even know I want to do this year but we have the equipment and our own studio to pull it off)
  9. What Christmas gifts and donations are needed for
    • Immediate family
    • Extended family
    • Colleagues, Secret Santa and charitable donations at work
    • Teachers, friends, and charitable donations for our three school kids
    • Church charitable donations
    • Other coaches and teachers for our three kids and
    • Anyone else I’ve forgotten, because yes, there are years I have forgotten and I feel horrible about it
  10. When the shopping for all of the above needs to be done, when I’ll have time to wrap it all and deliver it
  11. How much anxiety I feel about going to CrossFit tomorrow because I have missed quite a bit this last month due to travel
  12. When in the world we’re gonna get a tree or see Santa, and both of those need to happen sooner than later
  13. Whether we will EVER get Christmas lights hung on our house but that depends on when the front porch slab is returned to its proper position and the yellow tape over our front yard is removed so the people hanging lights don’t fall into a foundation hole 8 feet deep
  14. When in the world the front slab of our porch is gonna get returned to its proper position so that UPS and Fedex can deliver packages to our front door, which is gonna happen a lot this month
  15. When I’m gonna get around to cleaning the house, because even though I actually hired someone to help us earlier this year (because, uh, duh: see all the above), she fired US for being slobs, telling us she is not our maid, even though “maid” is literally part of the name of her business: go figure on that one
  16. When I should start planning our trips for 2019, because planning is half the fun for me
  17. When I can start making the small health and behavior changes I learned about after reading The Blue Zones and taking the quiz mentioned in the book, because I have the potential to live healthfully to age 97 if I do
  18. Whether I have enough money saved for retirement to live until 97 (and I think we all know the answer to that one)
  19. Will any of my kids be in a position to take care of me or want to while I live to 97
  20. When in December I can invite every cool woman I know to my house for good wine, delicious food, and laughter
  21. Wait: when are the kids’ Christmas concerts?
  22. Oh shoot: I have no more vacation this year
  23. Whether my oldest understands how to use a planning calendar to stay on top of his assignments and goals
  24. Why am I worried about anything when I’m healthy, we’re happy, and we have everything we need when so many people don’t.
Pretty sure I need a glass of wine.

Absolute Heartbreak

Over the years, I’ve learned the importance of self-care. I take to heart the airplane analogy to put the oxygen mask on myself first before I try to care for another. Maybe it comes more easily to me precisely because I had been alone for so long. Then again, maybe I was alone as long as I was because I cared more about myself than anyone else.

I don’t know which it is.

I just know that I’m having a tough time of it. It’s like I’ve lost the ability to administer self-care. Death and senseless violence are coming from every angle and I can’t take it anymore. I want to reverse it, but I can’t. The pipe bombs, the synagogue shooting, then the Thousand Oaks shooting.  Those are just the most recent big ones.

My oldest son couldn’t believe that some people survived the Las Vegas shooting last year only to become victims again, both dead and alive, of the one in Thousand Oaks. He was looking to me to confirm how insanely coincidental it all was. Sadly, I wasn’t surprised at all. I explained it was a matter of when, not if, we’d know a shooting victim. The only question would be how close it would touch our inner circle. I told him to be prepared because it was coming.

I wish I had been wrong about that.


After a joyous Sunday celebrating our church’s feast day with liturgy followed by a banquet with our bishop, we started a new week of work and school this Monday. I came home after my 6am CrossFit class to find my husband on the phone.

It was immediately clear that something was really wrong, and my heart sank with first thoughts of my elderly mother-in-law but it turns out she is fine. As Ryun wrapped up the phone call, I discovered he had actually been talking to our priest, which was highly unusual. Then again, Ryun is just a couple months into his tenure as our new church president so he’s bound to get phone calls at strange hours from here out. Given that our priest was on the other end, my thoughts drifted to our bishop, and I feared that he got in a bad car accident on his return trip home.

What Ryun told me next was beyond comprehension: one of our deacons and his wife were murdered – shot to death – in their own bed, just hours after we had dinner with them Saturday night. As of Monday morning, we didn’t know exactly what happened or who did it.

The air was sucked out of my lungs while we both sobbed over the news. It was totally incomprehensible. Who would do such a thing to such kind, upbeat, unassuming people? It was absolutely frightening to think they were targeted. How could that possibly be? Another senseless shooting? How could they be with us one day and gone the next? How?


Saturday night, a group of us gathered for vespers since our bishop was in town, and we all went to dinner with him afterwards: our two deacons, our choir director, the board of trustees, and all spouses. 18 of us in all. Our reservation was messed up and we had to wait an extra 45 minutes to be seated so some of us grabbed a cocktail and chatted at the bar. Then when it came time to sit, the restaurant prepared a table for only 16 of us, so they had to scramble to find another table to tack onto the end.

There is something poetic about initially there only being a table for 16 but we made special accommodations for all 18 of us.

Ryun was really flustered and embarrassed. He felt it was a reflection on him, how disorganized it all ended up being, especially since this was personally our first time to meet the bishop. Ryun was equally concerned about the optics and finances of hosting such a big dinner when we’re struggling to balance our church budget. We don’t have enough revenue to cover a growing body of expenses, so this dinner felt especially frivolous and completely counter to the financial objectives Ryun communicated to the parish. Our priest insisted that we host the bishop in this manner especially since he himself could not attend due to a prior commitment. Ryun went forth as instructed, uneasy as he was, and didn’t want to make a big stink of it that night as it would be crass to do so in front of that whole group.

We ended up having a wonderful time with lots of lively conversation and laughter. You could feel a really lovely, positive energy among us, so much so that I suggested to Ryun that we get a photo of us to commemorate the night. So we did.

In retrospect, I’m so very grateful. It all makes a little better sense to me now why that large group of us ended up together that evening, and what a blessing it was to share a meal, to be in communion, together with each other one final time.

Our entire church community is reeling in shock and disbelief. As of this writing, their son has been charged with their murder. We can’t imagine the pain and suffering that led him to take their lives. We grieve for the kind people we’ve lost and the family they leave behind, including several relatives within our church community. We grieve for the fallen world we live in. We grieve for each other.

We are numb. I am drifting aimlessly through the week. I can’t begin to fathom how we’ll overcome this as a church community. I want the horror to stop but it keeps coming. I don’t know how to administer self-care or group-care. I don’t know anymore.

Why is our world falling apart? I feel every last bit of it, every day, with every incident.

mike-labrum-151765-unsplashI will miss Dennis. He was my choir buddy, and always complimented my singing and writing, both on Facebook and this blog. It was so comforting to know I got a big thumbs up from a deacon who supported my feisty, liberal, open-hearted beliefs. He loved Ryun’s music and enjoyed a rapport with him, musician to musician. We were both so tickled that they came out to hear him perform. I will miss Helen and wish I knew her better. I remember walking away from our conversation Saturday evening impressed by her youthful curiosity, particularly admirable from someone who was 72 yet looked and acted nothing of the sort.

Memory eternal, Protodeacon Dennis and Matushka Helen. You are loved and missed so dearly by your entire church community. Vechnya pamyat. And God willing, I will see you again and greet you with great joy even as much as I wish you were still here with us right now.

Photo by Mike Labrum on Unsplash

Total Magic

Oh you guys: as I mentioned in Eternal Memory this past week, we celebrated Dia de los Muertos at our house Friday night. Yeah, yeah…we’re not Mexican. I know. My oldest kinda rolled his eyes and said the same thing. The teenager in him was skeptical about my plans at first but since it involved doing something together as a family, he was game.

jarl-schmidt-557318-unsplashWe gathered in our family room, brought a bunch of candles in and lit them. Three on the fireplace, three near the fireplace, and three more scattered throughout the room. I love candlelight and it made our little gathering feel sacred.

We really didn’t know how to begin so my husband Ryun started off with a brief prayer. I made a comment about how those we know in heaven are gathered around us, at which point our oldest remarked that if he saw an extra face in the TV or in the corner of the room, he was outta there, which made us all laugh.

I didn’t know where to start, but I brought in several picture albums that my sister made for us siblings, copies of the photos my mom had in her stash. And then I started to talk about my dad, how he was one of seven kids who made it to adulthood, and how three had died as babies. I talked about his character, his parents, who he was close to, what he did in WWII, what he did for a living, and his courtship with my mom. How he had a booming, nasally singing voice such that I felt bad for the woman who sat in front of him in church as her ears had to be ringing by the end of service! How I’d stand next to him in church every Sunday, not much taller than his kneecap, and he’d peer down at me during the sung responses to say, “I can’t hear you”. Dad was the one who expected me to sing from the moment I could.

I told of how he was indebted to his older sister Sue for getting him his job at the local steel plant, a job he kept for 40+ years, and he repaid her year after year for decades by spending his vacation time traveling to Cleveland and working on whatever needed done at her house – like tiling the bathrooms. How he was laid off for a time before I was born and painted houses to get by and provide for his family of four at home. How he never advanced to foreman despite his obvious intelligence and work ethic, because he made the bold mistake of telling his boss that he was a liar….and I have no doubt his supervisor must have been all that and more for my dad to say so to his face. How proud he was to get a watch from the company upon his retirement.

I told our kids how dad broke his collarbone in his early 50s before there was physical therapy and had a hard time getting his arm above his head ever since. How much he hustled and worked hard. If something broke in our house he was ON IT immediately, tearing apart an entire washing machine, for example, until he could find the mechanical piece that wore out so he could run to the store for its replacement. My dad had a work ethic like NOBODY I’ve ever seen.

He was strong, quiet, sensitive, stubborn as hell, smart, hard-working, but a big old softie too. The first time I ever remember seeing him cry was my aunt’s funeral where he broke down sobbing. He had a genuine soft spot for kids too. He preferred to rent the little house behind our home to single mothers as he knew they’d be safe under his watch and they’d take good care of the place. He always kept the cookie jar in our kitchen filled to the brim and the kitchen door unlocked during the day so little kids could help themselves any time they wanted.

I told our kids that once dad made up his mind, you would not change it no matter how compelling your case. How he really disliked conflict but he would still make effort to right a wrong. How when he was in the hospital for the final time, he was unfailingly kind and grateful for the care he received.

Telling these stories was so cool.

Then I did the same for mom, who was one of eight kids. I talked about her twin sisters, her divorced, unapologetically bachelor, gambling, drinking brother Andy with the jet black hair who everyone called Blackie, her adored kid brother named Louis (Louie), a guy who loved to draw, who died way too young at 32…and it’s not lost on me what my last name is. How all her siblings were good-looking, well-groomed, and well dressed even though they didn’t have a lot of money to their name.

I talked about the Cut N Curl beauty shop that my Aunt Mary operated with her twin Nancy and mom during the war. Three tiny, drop-dead gorgeous, oh-so-feisty, lively women engaged in riotous laughter with the customers/friends – how that salon had to be THE place to be. Women worked in the factories while the men were gone off to war but the women didn’t sacrifice beauty: they got their hair done every week no matter what. How my beloved Aunt Nancy would squeeze my cheeks to give me a kiss followed immediately by a full-on bite, leaving a big old wet imprint of teeth marks that would hurt for a full minute after. So gross. Our kids begged me to demonstrate so I did, and they were as horrified as I always was when I was done. We broke down in a fit of giggles.

I told them how the best memories of my mom were when somebody would grab her at a wedding to polka. She loved to dance but dad didn’t know how. How I can still picture Sundays in our house, the sun pouring through the windows, and mom in our big kitchen heating up dinner in the early afternoon after church with the Polka Party blaring on the radio and the Steelers playing on TV in the living room. She’d walk in to tell my dad something and stop right in front of the TV, blocking the view every single time, and we’d all have to yell at her good-naturedly to move since she was completely oblivious to the game unfolding behind her. I can still picture her with a bandanna on her head and a giant heavy ceramic bowl on a chair while she bent over and kneaded dough for nut roll or pierogies a couple of times a year. It was always an all-day endeavor but these specialties of hers were delicious.

Unfortunately with mom comes very sad memories, like the time her sister Nancy died when I was all of ten years old. My mom never overcame her grief. So many of her siblings died too young. They had made it through the Depression, through life with a violent, alcoholic father, through the war, through weddings for most of them, and through an accident that left their mother invalid and wheelchair bound with my mother as her caretaker until grandma died. After making it through all of that, life was supposed to be grand but then tuberculosis, heart attacks, cancer, and cirrhosis took her siblings one by one.

My mother spent the last 10 years of her life crying virtually non-stop, head in hands at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee before her, or laying on the sofa, trying to sleep her life away. Society didn’t talk about mental illness or depression then in any sort of positive way – there was such a stigma – and the only sort of treatment for her condition was Valium, which I am pretty sure she took. She couldn’t focus on her husband, her kids including me, or her grandkids no matter how much joy they inherently brought. Her mother and her siblings were the most important part of her life and the joy of that life fizzled out for good when her best friend, my Aunt Nancy, died. In a year’s time, I was the only child left at home, with my brother off to college and my older two sisters married adults on their own at that point.

I told the story about how my grandfather ran a still during Prohibition, had horrific anger issues, and tried to kill his wife and kids on Christmas day with a shotgun, leaving them all to hide in a barn for their lives. The only reason I even know that story is because my godmother, his youngest daughter, shared that news in a rare moment of honesty in her elder years. Over the years in hushed tones, I learned how he ran off to New Jersey where he may have done something unspeakable. Who really knows.

My other grandfather hurt himself in the mines and couldn’t work after that; he couldn’t walk without the aid of a cane. There was no rehabilitation or social security at the time. He asked to borrow money from my dad under the premise it was needed for the family, and then used it to buy alcohol. My dad really never forgave him for it.

Not surprisingly, neither of my parents drank a sip of alcohol, and neither one ever spoke of their fathers. It was only at the end of my father’s 80-year-old life that I got him to tell that story of his own father, and he had a difficult time sharing even that tiny bit about him.

Their mothers, on the other hand, were revered, absolutely adored, practically worshiped. I told the kids how my grandmothers couldn’t have been more than 4′ 9″ tall. Our 10-year-old daughter is probably taller than they ever were and yet these women popped out how many kids? There’s a picture of maternal grandmother with a twinkle in her eye, one kid hitched to her hip, and a few of the others gathered around her, the oldest maybe 13 and as tall as she is. My dad is positioned in front in shorts, maybe three years old, and he looks antsy. This photo astonishes me and makes me laugh whenever I look at it. It is so unlike other photos of the time, nearly 100 years old at this point, taken outside, in a very candid and casual pose. Who would have taken this photo and under what circumstances?

I would much rather remember my mother in happier times, so I mimicked how my mom would hop on my dad’s lap, hug him, rub her hand on his face and bald head, and say “oh honey”, and dad would shake his head and admonish her, “You’re gonna break the chair!” but he wouldn’t push her off, and our kids giggled in fits. How I found my dad’s WWII love letters to mom one holiday gathering. My dad threatened to ground 10-year-old me if I read them, and I defied him by saying, “It’s worth it” and proceeded to do so so my sisters and brothers-in-law would hear. He was so mad he gathered up every last letter and burnt them! This was the same dad who crouched in the back of a car to surprise my mom who was asked to go on a car ride. He presented her with a rose-gold watch…one I believe I still have. This is the same man who wrecked his car for the first of only two times in his 80-year-long life, when he craned his neck to look at a pretty woman and hit a parked car. He was staring, apparently gobsmacked, at my mother.

We then started flipping through the albums. And the pictures came to life. My dad in his Army uniform, wearing an apron, drying dishes at my grandmother’s house while my mom, his girlfriend, washed. Mom is standing at the sink with long, wavy brown hair casting a silhouette that could just as easily been me. The pictures show that same house, the one I grew up in, before and after my dad remodeled it with his own hands, as well as the little house behind our house that my parents lived in at first. The pictures show my kitchen growing up, my grandparents, godparents, aunts and uncles, my parents, and my siblings and I when we were younger. Uncle Andy, or Blackie as they called him because of his jet black hair, dressed to the nines. My grandmothers side by side at my parents’ wedding. Our yard when it was my grandmother’s house and she made it into a huge flower garden. My mom, with her giant smile and dimples, and how much she looks like my sister and my niece today. Mom and Dad’s wedding day, kissing in front of the church.

The kids ate it up. Every last bit. But one of our kids had returned from an overnight camp and slowly began to drift off, so we had to call it quits for the night and resume later in the weekend when we could celebrate my husband’s family later on this weekend. We had planned to watch Coco… to cap off the night because it’s about music, and family, and well, that’s us too. We ended up watching it later that weekend as well. Next year we’ll build up it more, prepare some ancestral foods like Eastern European kielbasa and pierogies, or maybe some Chinese and Hawaiian food to celebrate.

As we wrapped things up, our youngest suggested we close with a prayer so Ryun asked him to do it. He didn’t want to at first, being unsure of what to do. But instead of succumbing to embarrassment, he gave it a go. That little heart inside of him thanked God for all that we have and then he closed the prayer by asking God to bless “all the souls in the world”. OMG. The tears. The pride inside my heart. He’s EIGHT. He gets it.

We don’t know what we’re doing as parents but we’re gonna keep doing it.

This was, hands down, the coolest thing we’ve done in a long time. I suggest you give it a whirl. You see, we pray for the dead all the time at church, but we don’t often celebrate them. And we Louies don’t live around a lot of family here in our part of Ohio, so the stories my husband and I tell are one of the only ways our kids will ever know about their family history. Ryun and I had huge extended families, and certainly on my end, there are so many stories that make me chuckle, and cry, and everything in between.

I plan to do it again this coming July, but focus entirely on my dad as this coming July would have been his 100th birthday.


There’s another reason I wanted to celebrate Dias de los Muertos. I’ve watched Mexicans get a bad rap in this country with this ridiculous political climate we’ve been in these last two+ years, the whole “they’re rapists, murders, etc.” claim which is false. My friends know how much that ticks me off but you, this blog audience of mine don’t necessarily know that.

I think what Mexicans do with this holiday is amazing. I have always thought we can learn from each other and borrow the best of what each of us has. For heaven’s sake, we turned St. Patrick’s Day into its own thing that even the Irish don’t recognize! We’ve hijacked Cinco de Mayo too and we Americans don’t even know what that’s supposed to be. Maybe I can be accused of cultural misappropriation here, but I think what our neighbors to the south do is remarkable. It reminds me of when we visited my mother in law’s hometown cemetery in Hawaii right after Memorial Day. The Hawaiians set up lawn chairs and flowers on the graves and hang out there all day, eating and telling stories about their loved ones who died.

Let’s embrace beautiful traditions we have and the stories about our loved ones on the other side of the veil. One day we just may learn that the thinnest of matter in the universe actually separates us from them at this moment in time.