SELF CARE

SELF CARE

Happy Friday everyone! More importantly, happy Small Lights Friday! I gotta tell you all, I missed being here while I was gone. I can’t stay away from my love for writing. So, I’m back in it, full of piss and vinegar and chicken salad, which brings me to our Small Lights topic for today: Self care!

If I ever run for public office, This will be my campaign poster.

I know – there has been a lot of self care buzz all around us the past year. It almost seems like the topic has been infused into our lavender bubble bath or hidden in our peanut butter. (Is it in the vaccine? Do you think telling people that would help?) But I do think it’s important to talk about, especially after the collective trauma we’ve all experienced with Covid-19. Especially since we may be facing another mask mandate.

I wanted to use this Small Lights to talk about the difference between self care, and self medication. Believe me, baby, I’ve done both, and I’ve labeled it all as “self care.” Grab your Pinocchio dolls, ladies. Today, we’re gonna get real. 

Content warning: substance abuse. This is a judgement free space, and I will never use this platform to promote any sort of ignorance about addiction, nor will there ever be even a drop of judgement. However, we will be talking about it, and if you are sensitive to the subject, you may want to skip this week and wait for the absolutely incredible piece I have planned for next Friday. 

Self care versus self medication

Wine is a big hit right now, perhaps for the first time ever in the history of the world. Women everywhere (and men – scandal!) are discovering this incredible and 100% brand new trend – the elation elixir. I’ve seen everything from doing wine push ups, to straight up promoting alcoholism.

Look, I drink. I used to drink a lot. When I was younger and unsure how to navigate my genetic disposition, it was a topic I discussed with my therapist often. Alcoholism is incredibly common and, with the pandemic, drinking has increased even more. Nearly 15 million Americans over the age of 12 suffer from Alcohol Use Disorder. There is no shame in this. We have all been through a wild time. I actually started drinking gin during this pandemic. Gin! Have you ever had gin? Gin is a watered down pine tree sat overnight in a hamster cage. And I drank it, hamster wheel and all (citation needed).

What I have noticed is the normalization of drinking as a form of self care. I feel a personal responsibility to address this, as someone who used to self medicate quite often. Binge drinking is not self care. And in that same vein, smoking an 8th of pot a day is not self care. It may feel that way in the moment, but we all know, deep down, it’s not. We are not bettering ourselves with this behavior. (Okay, maybe sometimes, an 8th of pot in one day is self care. But these are RARE occasions). Self care should propel you forward, not halt your progress (or worse, move you in the wrong direction).

Shabangover* over Hangover 

*Okay, I know we need to address shabangover before we move any further. It’s a word I made up, okay? I literally just made it up; it wasn’t even in the outline of this piece. Because you know what’s better than a hangover? Anything that would call for someone saying “Shabang!” So just accept it, alright? I mean, come on, you probably accepted Inception. You can accept Shabangover. You’re welcome. 

In the meat of the Shabangover lies its true benefit. The bliss of the hangover antithesis. Waking up bright eyed and bushy tailed, having set your alarm early enough to squeeze in a good stretch, your morning skin care routine, and a hearty breakfast. I’m a big fan of staying away from high horses (back off Clydesdales), and I’m not going to tell you not to drink. I’m just going to advise that it’s always better when you don’t drink every night. 

Your heart will thank you, your head will thank you and, eventually, your liver will thank you. I know what it feels like – at the end of a rough day, you want to pour a drink, feel the warm burn, and numb those feelings. But I have bad news that you already know: just because it’s numbed for now, doesn’t mean it’s gone away for ever. Ask any dentist. 

Maybe don’t ask this dentist.

If you had a really bad day, and you have to pour yourself a glass, by all means pour that glass. But be mindful that glass does not become your nightly routine. Long term drinking exacerbates depression, can cause cancer and diabetes. It can also lead to embarrassing situations, which are almost always funny later, but never funny in the moment. In this world of instant gratification, we simply cannot afford to wait for something to become funny. The Earth is on fire; we do not have time. 

So what is self care, genius?

Thank you so much for calling me a genius; I’m doing my best. Let’s focus on what truly is self care. 

I am using myself as an example here for two reasons. The first is that I think it’s important we are open about these issues in order to break the stigma against them and, secondly, it’s too good of an example not to share. I do depression expertly.

The picture on the left is my desk when I’m engaging in the self medicating side of self care – you know, the wrong one. You’ll notice a dirty ashtray, a PBR (gross), medications strewn about, trash, Dante’s the Inferno (WHY?), just a total mess. This is what my nightstand looks like when I’m having an episode of what I like to call the Big Sad: Hey, I’m so sad, I deserve a drink. Why should I have to feel like this? I can make myself feel better. Anything is better than this.” 

Sound familiar? The left picture is the result of drinking to cope. That’s late night munching (without cleaning the trash), unorganized meds, and an open tube of lipstick. Again – why?

The picture on the right is when I am truly engaging in self care. (I still don’t have an answer for Dante’s the Inferno.) And yes, my self care almost always includes bubble baths and a favorite comfort food, but there is much more to taking care of yourself than bundling up in a cocoon. 

Real Self Care

This Monday, I engaged in self care. True self care. Let me paint a picture: It was a Monday morning and I knew it would be a busy day at work, and I also had business with both my bank and my job.

I did not drink the night before, as much as I wanted to. I was anxious about the Monday that lay ahead. I did my best to suck it up and go to sleep anyway.

I woke up early and spent some time stretching. Afterwards, I did my skin care routine, even though I was tired and I’d much rather have been browsing my phone. Once I was back to looking like I was 19, I went to feed Queen Dolly and make a smoothie for myself.

The Queen, next to her portrait

Throughout the day on Monday, I experienced a few stressors. Instead of telling myself to walk away from the situation, I chose to face the situation. After all, we choose how we can react to situations and make the best of them. This took years for me to learn, and I am still learning every day. There are still a lot of days I choose to walk away, but self care is a learning process.

Forcing myself to stick through the stressors, recalibrate my attitude towards positivity, and taking reality head on was my self care for that day. Yes, it was hard. And no, it was not comforting. But I gained so much. I gained confidence in myself, I gained the pride that comes with overcoming obstacles, and I am in a much better headspace as a result. 

Self Care is different for everyone

Everyone leads a unique life, so of course, not all self care will look the same for everyone. I found this helpful information chart on the CDC website:

I would also encourage everyone to look into practicing mindfulness. I practice mindfulness almost every day, and it’s like an instant quick fix for small stressors. And it’s a much healthier quick fix than a shot of whiskey.

Are You Self Medicating?

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re engaging in self medicating. Take a look here to see what forms it can take: 

This resource has a lot of helpful information. You can check it out and go over the signs of self medicating. If you find that you are, I want you to know that’s okay, and nothing to feel bad about. It’s something we all do. However, I hope that sharing my personal experience on the matter will bring you comfort, and the knowledge that you are not alone.

If you need outside help, there are resources: 

SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357

Peer Recovery Support Centers in Massachusetts

National Suicide Prevention: 1-800-273-8255

Be a Small Light for yourself this weekend. Engage in some real self care. Nature is beautiful in July, and so are you.

ALLISON BAMCAT

ALLISON BAMCAT

Let’s talk about art. Art is subjective. Art is a personal journey. It is movement, pressure, hesitation, and release. Art is the cartilage surrounding our joints, giving nuance to the rigid and allowing flexibility within our perceptive reality. No one I know personally knows this better than Allison Bamcat, one of the most spellbinding muralists of Los Angeles. A pop surrealist, Allison is pushing the boundaries of reality and testing the waters of the whimsical. Her pieces are fantasies of pastels and double-takes. If I could step into one of her murals, I just know I would be standing under the warmth of an enormous sun.

Early Interpretations

“My earliest memories are coloring and eating construction paper.”

There was an immediacy in Allison’s pursuit, from the very beginning. Like many of the women I am privileged to meet and talk to, she’s always known what she was meant to do. “I have been an artist basically since I was a little kid, ever since I was probably five or six…My earliest memories are coloring and eating construction paper.” As a fellow supporter of the 6th food group, parchment, this resonated with me. I ate a lot of paper. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is pictured-my-breakfast-this-morning.jpg
pictured: my breakfast this morning

Allison had an itch for art, but she couldn’t scratch it at school. There was no art curriculum within Allison’s elementary school. They had an art day once a month, something she was always looking forward to. “If they ever skipped it I remember just like, sobbing. I was so disappointed because all I wanted to do was art.” Thankfully, where the curriculum fell short, her teachers stepped up. Like a four leaf clover, she was plucked from the crowd and ushered into her dream world. “When I was…in third grade, my teacher actually told my mom that she should consider putting me in art classes. And she did, and I ended up doing those on Saturdays for a few years.”

Those Saturdays were all she needed. “I decided during that time that I really wanted to go to art school, and I really couldn’t picture myself doing anything other than professional art.” Her parents were supportive of her choice, which, to me, is just so important and so delightful. Pursuing art as a career is fiercely competitive and demanding. The majority of those who chase paint find themselves in a cubicle working data entry, quietly scribbling their true love within the allotted margins. 

Allison was and is different. I like to think her parents were not afraid, but excited. I imagine them enthusiastically telling her, yes! not just because of Allison’s innate skill, but because they knew she would put her feet to the proverbial pavement. And, with the blessing of her parents, she was immediately agitating gravel. “I actually skipped my senior year of high school and went to the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I just met all my credits in advance and was just so determined to make this my life path.” Seriously – that is what she did. My time in high school was spent trying to squeeze into skinny jeans and crying about skinny jeans. How many teenagers are that determined, that focused, that clear minded? The answer is one, and the answer is Allison. (Well, it was Allison. She’s grown up now).

Allison’s education was more than vanishing points, still life, and color theory. The pursuit of her illustration degree led to a deeper understanding of herself and, congruently, her work.

PUT ON A HAPPY FACE 

“I think the catalyst for me wanting to talk about my life story and my life journey [through art] was my college thesis.”

Allison’s take on clowns and clowning in her thesis, “Put on a Happy Face,” was simply bewitching. I sit firmly in the fear camp when it comes to clowns, but even my view has softened upon hearing her personal exploration of that famous corner in Uncanny Valley.  “I actually always like clown imagery and clown stuff. I liked the dichotomy of someone painted to look happy who was just a regular person but they’re an entertainer.” Allison peers behind the mask and uncovers the human. “These people are like, maybe struggling with a divorce, or trying to reconnect with their young children…and then working all night as a chef and then working the weekends too. That kind of complexity…you’re painted up to look happy but you’re really struggling on your own to be an artist, and an entertainer, and a performer.” Having fought her own battles with depression, you can see how it’s easy to relate to. 

Looking at her work, you wouldn’t guess she’s had her own personal struggles with depression. Her prints inspire delight; looking at her art makes me smile. “Why do I want to paint with bright colors? Is that a distraction from what I’m going through, or is it an interpretation of that? I’m still kind of exploring that in my work.” Through the lens of a certain strangeness, somehow both jarring and comforting, I find intrigue in her color palettes; her wide open window into surrealism provokes exploration in us all. 

a splash of color

If you haven’t already noticed, Allison has a style. Her unusual creatures are always brightly colored, against bright backgrounds. “I’ve always just found this magnetism to wanting to use bright paint and things like that…like, colored pencils my favorites were always the neons.” Eliciting joy from just about everyone in her audience, the bright pastels bring her otherworldly animals to life.

“I consider myself a pop surrealist”

Allison Bamcat

Allison is happy to tell me about the joy she finds in her creative process. “Being able to use paint- I’ve used acrylic wash and I also use spray paint the majority of the time. I also airbrush a little bit. But learning how to show different surfaces on a flat painting and make things really recede and protrude in space, being able to figure that out is a really fun challenge for me.

“As well as, like, making something metallic. How does that look by using only a 2D medium? How do you make that apparent? Or fuzzy, or feeling the texture of a leaf…I really strive to be able to portray that to people who view my work and I love the challenge of just using flat paint to do that.”

Bamcat works on one of her murals

Allison’s work takes her around L.A., working on commissioned murals while also doing artwork in the fine art gallery circuit.  “I [also] do some custom illustration things like that, and sell my own paintings.” She told me about mural festivals, which I had never heard of before but now desperately want to attend.

A mural festival, she tells me, is a celebration where a bunch of different artists’ murals go up at the same time. I want to go to one of those so badly, it sounds amazing! “Everybody’s sweaty and tired by the end of the day but we all get to watch each other build up our pieces and get tips and tricks from each other…it’s a great way to build relationships and comradery, and also develop new relationships with other communities.” So, that sounds incredible. But you don’t have to be at a festival to catch Allison putting up a mural. She’s more than happy to share her joy with anyone who stumbles upon her mid-project.

Graffit-She

One of her favorite parts of working outside on murals is getting to meet different people she wouldn’t otherwise run into – especially when it’s someone who doesn’t expect to see a woman out doing street art. “It’s like the first time somebody saw a girl using spray paint,” she says, and the reaction is overwhelmingly positive. “Maybe it’s a woman in her forties who’s like, ‘oh that’s so cool that you spray paint,’ I’m like, cool, do you wanna help me fill in this part?” The idea of bringing women together through street art is the most heartwarming thought I will have in my head today. 

Actually, nevermind. This is the most heartwarming thought I will have in my head today: This is the gas mask Allison uses when she is out spray painting. 

Now imagine again, a woman in her forties seeing a female street artist for the first time, wearing this incredible gas mask, and being so excited to be a part of it. That is the community I want to be a part of. 

coming into focus

Allison has plans. “We’re developing a mural festival called Spracy C LA which is in accordance with SPRAY C MO.” she tells me, in regards to her neighborhood council’s ad hoc committee, of which she is a member. When it comes to her professional work, she stays true to herself. “I try to really keep it to my style… The more pieces that I create that are in my style and authentic to the work that I do, the more examples I have of what I’m able to do if you kind of let me run with it…I have a pretty beefy portfolio when it comes to that.” Through her social media marketing, Allison has set herself up for success through myriad avenues in the art world. 

Allison always knew what she was doing, ever since she was young. She trusted her instincts and chased her dream. She got her education in illustration and from there blossomed into a creator of warmly bizarre, unusual, gorgeous and unapologetic Lisa Frank inspired pieces. Now, living in L.A and creating full time, she is in her happy place. Her painted creatures are inviting, her surrealism is haunting, and through all of her creations, she is still exploring. Allison describes her art succinctly. “The purest reflection of me.”

You can check out Allison Bamcat’s Instagram here, and you can buy her prints and original paintings here. Now get outta here and go live your life in full color!

MARSHA P JOHNSON

The Results Are In: You ARE The Small Lights!

Happy Small Lights Friday! I am so excited and grateful for all of the amazing contest entries received over the past few weeks! I’m also very pleased to announce our winners. First and foremost, everyone who entered will receive assorted stickers, magnets, and twinkle lights! Our Second and Grand Prize Winners have been announced on my Instagram; head on over to see their shout outs! 

Small Lights has been focused on giving back and how to give back in ways that work. Today, I want to highlight someone with such a big story, they might not fall under the category of a Small Light. I know, I know – I’m breaking my own rules here – but in honor of Pride, I want to look at one of the brightest souls. Happy Pride!

MARSHA P JOHNSON

I’d like to take a moment to thank my dear friend Steve for introducing me to the Marsha P Johnson Foundation, which of course led me to Marsha P Johnson! Thanks, Steve! Marsha P Johnson self identified as gay, a transvestite, and a Drag Queen. (Let me point out that the term transgender was was not broadly used in her lifetime, and the term transvestite is considered derogatory today). I will be using she/her pronouns, as that is how she is identified within her foundation. It should be noted that Johnson did not consider herself transexual, which she defined as someone who was on hormones or having surgery (think of some of our transgender community members today). Johnson left a stunning imprint on Queer history. To understand her impact, you need to understand who she was.

The Mayor of Christopher Street 

That’s how Johnson was known to the locals in Greenwhich Village, New York, once she had staked her claim on the street. She was a welcome presence. She was an AIDS activist. Her Drag performances were comedic and political; she was a member of Hot Peaches, a Drag performance troupe. She was photographed by Andy Worhal. She was known for wearing crowns of fresh flowers.

Marsha P Johnson’s Drag was, according to her good friends, an artform. She didn’t have much money at all, and when she did get money it was usually quickly given to someone else who she thought needed it more. As a result, her outfits were plucked from thrift stores or received as gifts. Her Drag style was, in essence, what she could afford.

Pay it no Mind

While she was born Malcom Michaels Jr., Johnson took the moniker Marsha P Johnson. Her new surname was borrowed from a restaurant on 42nd St, Howard Johnson’s. The P stands for “Pay it No Mind.” I love this story: Apparently, Johnson had quipped this to a judge who found it amusing enough to let her off after one of more than 100 alleged arrests. This incredible and very cool sounding number, 100, is claimed by Johnson, who found herself in trouble with the law frequently for sex work. 

Regarding her treatment by the police, Marsha said that they treated her like she was one of the “worst murderers.” Being trans in 2021 is hard enough; being trans and black in the 80s and 90s was a completely different ballgame. “We thought of her as a patron saint,” said Sasha Mcaffrey, a friend of Marsha’s.

Johnson was arrested often for her sex work but she also had a different thorn in our governments’ side, one we can all relate to these days.

stonewall was a riot!

Marsha P Johnson is a recognized veteran of the Stonewall Uprising, the now well known riots that erupted spontaneously after a police raid at the Stonewall Inn. In fact, even before the uprising, Johnson was one of the first patrons to show up in full Drag. The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar and now national monument, is the birthplace of Pride. The Stonewall Riots is widely regarded as the biggest event in our country’s history regarding the civil rights of the LGBTQ+ community. Any guesses to who started it? 

The shot glass heard round the world

“Pay It No Mind” documentary

According to those who were there, it was Marsha who was in the forefront. She shouted, “I got my civil rights!” and threw a shot glass into a mirror. One friend remembers it being coined as “the shot glass heard round the world.” If not for the Stonewall Riots, the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement would most certainly not be nearly as powerful or as progressive as it is today. Gay rights did not just happen. No one woke up and decided, hey, you know what? I’m not going to oppose gay rights anymore. I’ve changed my mind. That’s not how we work. Stonewall was a necessity, an imperative, a mandatory precursor for the fight that lay ahead. Without it, where would we be now? 

I GOT MY CIVIL RIGHTS!

Johnson was involved in far more than just Stonewall. She also founded STAR, a shelter for homeless LGBTQ+ youth. It stands for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionary. And, I’m sorry, I just need to take a moment. That is an amazing acronym. How much relief one must have felt, having been kicked out of their homes for being gay only to find that there was someone like Marsha, ready to make you feel valid and loved. 

She marched in the first gay pride rally. She participated in sit ins fighting for gay rights. She joined the Gay Liberation Front and was an active member in The Drag Caucus.

She was a friend to everyone, she knew everyone, and was always there to help (unless she was servicing one of her ten day prison sentences – then you would need to wait ten days).

It was who she was, to be loud and out and just be Marsha. 

proud

Johnson’s body was found floating in the Hudson River shortly after 1992’s Pride Parade. Despite fervent protests from family and friends who all insisted there was reason enough to suspect foul play, police ruled her death a suicide.

“Marsha paid the price for who she was.”

Michael Lynch, member of Hot Peaches 

On July 4th, Johnson was seen in an altercation with a neighboring resident. This resident was later seen at a bar bragging about having killed a drag queen named Marsha.

The police ignored this information, and no one was brought to justice. It would be 2 decades before the police were convinced to reopen the case as a possible homicide in November of 2012.

When you go outside today, or tomorrow, or any day, live your full truth. Celebrate you. And if anyone has anything to say about it? Pay it no mind.

Pay It No Mind Documentary

Donate to Marsha P Johnson Foundation

BACK TO BASICS DAYCARE AND PRESCHOOL

BACK TO BASICS DAYCARE AND PRESCHOOL

With any piece I write for this blog, I’m always wondering where to start, and I feel like that goes without saying for almost everything humans do. Where do we start, where do we begin building our foundations? I ask myself where I’m going to start when I try a new recipe, and when I have a BIG idea, like buying rollerblades when I have no business experimenting in balance. I ask myself where to start when I want to do something good.

How you begin something, be it a project, a new job, or even a bar fight, is an integral step in your process. Everything you expand upon in the future needs to rest on the foundations you’ve built. Hopefully you are using something concrete, like, say, concrete. And while everything in your life innately has a beginning, how about the foundation of your life in itself? Where do we begin?

There is a preschool teacher in Medway, Massachusetts who is laying a concrete foundation for her students every day. And now, in a world with increasing technology, increasing standardization, and decreasing opportunities for children to socialize appropriately, she is always walking uphill.

Wendy Kilty, owner and teacher of Back to Basics Daycare and Preschool, has dedicated her life to educating and shaping the minds of children. Over Zoom, Wendy tells me about why she made her transition from Operations VP at a bank to opening her own pre-school. Let’s be real: That is a pretty drastic career shift. 

Source: Facebook

Accounting for the Kids

For Wendy, it truly is all about the kids. “[I] started having children, and then realized what am I doing? I need to be home with my children.” Wendy sounds so sure and secure in her decision to leave her career when she speaks to me. The more you talk to her, the easier it is to understand why. Her love for teaching and helping children is big and loud and bright. She is matter-of-fact when she speaks, always mindful and in control. Someone that speaks with such determination and focus surely has always known what she wanted to do, but that’s actually not the case. She found her passion accidentally: “I decided to go into early education. At the beginning [it] was to work the schedule that my kids were in school. Being a single mom at the time, it worked out great.” 

Wendy is the kind of teacher you used to wish for as a kid. She is calm, in control, and truly, genuinely enjoys being around and teaching children. While you’d think that would be the norm for most elementary schools, I would like to point you to one of the most famous teachers.

So, where is Miss Wendy molding minds?

Preschool Paradise

Wendy recently found a new space for her school, and it’s very exciting. Just as finding her passion was a bit of an accident, so too was the blessing of this new facility. “This February I expanded, and it was quite by accident…I took over a childrens indoor play place and cafe…Now it’s Back 2 Basics Preschool and Daycare.” When she went on to describe her new building to me, I found myself wondering, am I too old to attend a daycare? “It’s got the ball pit, and slides, and jungle gyms, and ziplines, well, one zip line, and little saucers…We made classrooms. I opened February 1st, and started with two little classrooms, and we’re building up and by June 1st I will be at full capacity, so I’m excited.” At the time of this piece, Wendy has reached her full capacity for her school. And she’s right: this is so exciting!

This school sounds like any child’s dream. These interactive play spaces rival Chuck E Cheese, and this is a school. Wendy has curated a space that caters specifically to our youngest community members which is, again, a surprisingly rare find in our education system. What really makes Back to Basics Preschool and Daycare so special is the incredible level of empathy demonstrated by its main teacher.

A School to Vouch For

Wendy tells me about a state program she signed up for through the State of Massachusetts. “I branched out to the voucher program, so I work with the state to bring in the less fortunate.” This voucher program allows students to attend her daycare when their parents are otherwise unable to afford it. Childcare is, after all, prohibitively expensive. In fact, Massachusetts ranks number one for the cost of center based daycare in the country – and not in a good way.

Now, there are certainly benefits for schools that are a part of the voucher program. During a 3 month Covid-19 shutdown, Wendy was able to use the funds from the program to keep her school open, and thank goodness for that. But Back to Basics really shows its true colors here. Wendy didn’t sign up for the voucher program just because she should, because Wendy does everything with specific intention. “Another reason that I started the preschool was that it just seemed like…I know I struggled when my kids were little to put them in preschool. I didn’t have the money to do that. So when I opened Back to Basics way back when, one of the other things I said was ‘I’m gonna keep the cost low and I’m gonna help these parents that are struggling and more so single moms.’ So it was an affordable preschool.”

It’s so refreshing to hear someone talk about how they remember how hard something was for them, and instead of taking the attitude of “I did it, so can you,” Wendy is actively doing everything she can so that other young parents, or single parents, do not have to experience the hardships she experienced. And if we’re staying on the theme of Miss Wendy encompassing attributes that should not be rare in the teaching world but are anyway, yes, it is rare to find someone with this attitude. So many of us choose to pull the ladder up behind us and forget where we came from, but not Wendy Kilty. Wendy extends her hand, again and again, as demonstrated by her motives behind her teaching. 

“I can do this,” she tells me of taking on the burden of childcare and education.  “I can really start learning more and be able to help kids overcome a lot of these [unhealthy behaviors] like anxieties, and depression and wild behavior and all those fun stuffs that go along with childhood.” 

Record scratch.

Hang on. Depression? Anxiety?

I asked Wendy if there really are a measurable amount of young children experiencing these symptoms. Not only did I get a solemn yes, but apparently this has been getting worse. But why? What’s going on?

2021 Is A Scary Place

Honestly, yes, that’s kind of the answer here. 2021 is a much different world than 1995 when I attended kindergarten (shout out to Mrs. Hunt, sorry I got everyone to tie their shoelaces together that one recess). Our lifestyles have really changed in the past couple of decades. With the introduction of the internet and, not long after, affordable technology, we’re seeing the results of a dramatic cultural shift in our children. 

“I’m not mom, and I’m not dad.”

A big part of it, it seems, is lack of quality time at home. In 2021, it’s rare to find a family where one parent can afford to stay home and take care of their children. Day care is becoming more and more necessary. “Some of these kids I have from 7 o’clock in the morning to 5:30 at night, that’s a long time to be away from your home.” And while Wendy does focus entirely on creating a rich and engaging atmosphere for her students, she sums up her one shortfall succinctly: “I’m not mom, and I’m not dad.”

Long hours at the daycare center are not going to measure up to quality time at home, but let’s focus on the key phrase here, quality. As noted above, things are different in 2021. Drug addiction has skyrocketed thanks to the Opiate Epidemic, which can lead to infants needing to go through detox upon birth. And while divorce is not anything new, it isn’t any less traumatic for a young child just because they can now zone out on their iPhone. These are just two examples out of a countless array of variables that could stunt a child’s development.

Wendy paints a pretty clear picture. “[For the] first three years [of life] either they can crawl around and roll around and touch things and feel everything, or they can sit in a high chair in front of a television, or in front of a phone. I’m the first way: I want everyone to be able to experience everything. Roll around. Touch things. And that’s where I think they become a well balanced child.” Of course, I’m not about to sit here and demonize parents who sit their kid in front of a tablet now and again. Women are raising children in more isolated settings than ever before; if you need to plop your toddler down in front of Paw Patrol so you can scream into your pillow for 22 minutes, I’m not going to mount a high horse and gallop across your moral compass. But when your child’s only source of entertainment is one screen, there can be physical consequences as well as emotional ones. 

“They’re only using one side of their brain, the other one’s sitting dormant,” says Wendy. The internet provides us with limitless knowledge now, so one might presume that it would provide benefits to growing children. However, we have to think about things in terms of human development.

Scrolling through a tablet using only your thumb instead of running around outside, collecting sticks and berries or climbing trees, have children not developing the way humans have been developing for centuries. Fine motor skills are not being developed. 

This isn’t just happening at home, and the problem is not concentrated within too much screen time. Wendy talks about the detriment caused by systemic changes in our education system. “We’re drilling in these kids the MCAS, all the pressure we put on them now of learning, learning, learning, but it’s all academic learning. It’s not real life learning.” Personally, if I had a dollar for everytime I threw my hands up in frustration and cried to my cat WHY did I not learn about finances in school! I would be in a much better financial position, especially considering I did not learn about finances in school. “I do think that we’ve taken a lot of stuff, like gym class and shop class, and home economics, and all of those life skill classes have been taken away. I think it’s… I don’t think it’s good.

“Woodworking [for example]… You’re still doing numbers, and measurements, and hammering, and cause and effect, all that fun stuff. Basics.” When she spells it out like that, it does become obvious, doesn’t it?

Basics seems to be the operating word here, and for good reason. “I’m still old school. We don’t have electronics, we don’t have televisions. I think with kids being able to do hands-on [learning], that anything can be taught.” How is Wendy combating screen time, long hours away from home, and rampant standardization? You don’t have to look far for the answer; it’s right in the name. 

Back to basics 

“We’re teaching compassion.”

Wendy’s school takes a step back from the bells and whistles of new tech that seems to hurt more than help. She tells me it’s important in early childhood education to take into account every stage of development. “For the first 3 years you’re trying to get to the different milestones. Getting to those milestones, and being creative getting to the milestones and adapting to how each child is going to learn, I think that’s the biggest thing. There’s different ways of learning. And not everyone learns the same way.”

The basics of storytelling, of time spent outside, of curriculums built to engage, not just keep busy. The basics of simply being around other children. The basics of having a small enough facility where your teacher:student ratio is more than acceptable, and every child gets enough attention. These seemingly simple basics we do with and for our kids have a tremendous impact on their lives, for the rest of their lives. Wendy knows this from experience. “I have parents that I can go into the grocery store and their kids are like 21 now, and they’re like thank you, thank you so much for starting that beginning foundation.”

There are a lot of adults walking around Massachusetts with a solid foundation, and they have Miss Wendy Kilty to thank for that. There’s one lesson that’s always being taught at Back to Basics, no matter where you are developmentally: “Kindness.” Wendy didn’t miss a beat when I asked her to describe Back to Basics in one word. “We’re teaching compassion.”

Check out Back to Basics Daycare and Preschool Facebook page here. You might not be young enough to attend next semester’s class, but we could all use a lesson on compassion. Wendy Kilty is a lesson in compassion. You don’t have to be a child to learn from her.

DONATE SMART

Donate Smart!

Happy Small Lights Friday, everyone! As promised in our last Small Lights post, I’m dedicating today to sharing everything I know about being a well informed donor. In honor of our month-long contest I thought we could educate ourselves and make the most out of our monetary donations by being armed with information! Who doesn’t love weaponizing knowledge? Maybe add that to your weapons inventory, original Doom II on DOS.

Let’s take a moment to review the contest rules! Winner is being announced June 25th. We got a lot of entries already but I bet we can get even more!

Memory refreshed? Awesome! Let’s go!

Where To Start?

Where to start is the most important question in almost every endeavor we embark on in life. Informed donations are no different. Not all nonprofits are created equally, and sometimes a donation you make goes towards different expenses than you intended to support. We’ll get a chance to look at some great charities, and then one REALLY bad one, just for fun.

So, what are your passions? What does your heart bleed for? For example, anyone who knows me knows that my heart bleeds for just about everything. I’ll be using one of my favorite charitable organizations, Amnesty International USA, as an example in this post to guide us on how we can be smart contributors.

I love Amnesty International USA and it’s one of the very few organizations I contribute to monthly (I’m not made of money, go ask Jeff Bezos for more. Oh wait, you can’t, because he’s going to space). Here’s a quick overview of what AIUSA does around the globe. Now, do keep in mind, if I were to list everything this organization does, this blog post would go on forever until you find yourself in a vintage painting and realize you’ve actually been here all along. Here are their top priority campaigns right now:

  • Freeing people from ICE Detention Centers 
  • Ending gun violence
  • Refugee and Migrant Rights

They are also working to abolish the death penalty, combat police violence climate justice, and defend the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, just to give you another small sample. Are you in love with this charity yet? You can sign up to be a sustaining donor here! Every year I get a pamphlet from AIUSA advising what my contributions helped pay for, who they were able to release from detention, and much more. But hey – this isn’t a pitch for AIUSA, as much as it may sound like one.

So how did I decide I wanted my money to go to this charity? Let’s get into it.

CIVIL RIGHTS NERD ALERT

In another life, I fundraised for different nonprofits, so I had a bit of a head start when I finally had enough money in my own budget where I could eke out an extra $15 a month. (Bezos? Can you hear us from space? Send money). I knew I liked Amnesty International USA, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to contribute monthly. Once you know what cause you want to support with your dollar, you have to ask yourself: is the money I’m sending going to the programs and services provided by this nonprofit? Where, exactly, is my money going? 

Let’s check out Amnesty International USA’s front page:

There’s a LOT going on here – and their main page is a slide show, so there’s even more going on than I could grab in one screenshot. Let’s take a closer look at their menu:

When you hover over the “About Us” tab, notice the second to last link: “Financial and Legal Documents.” Let’s give that bad boy a click!

Once you follow the link to their financials, you will be taken to a page where you can download all of their reports, their audits, and their 990 forms. They’re so transparent you can actually see through your entire computer when you look them up. Try it, it’s absolutely true.

Most nonprofits have very similar menus on their website. See the ACLU main page:

All you have to do is hover over “About” and it will direct you to their financial information.

If you don’t have the time to download and read an entire financial report, I’ve got news for you: nobody does! The only time I ever dig this deep is if I’m deciding whether or not I want to make my contribution monthly. 

While it’s always best to get your information straight from the source, there are much quicker ways to find it. Let’s stick with Amnesty International USA as our example.

Show Me The Money

There are a number of websites you can go to that rate charities based on their financial performance, their transparency, and more. My personal favorite is charitynavigator.org; it’s the one I use most often and I’m familiar with the layout. You can also use givewell.org or charitywatch.org. These sites do the heavy lifting for you.

For our journey today, I am utilizing charitynavigator.org for my source, and all data has been pulled directly from the site. Let’s take a look at AIUSA’s overall score:

Looks pretty good to me, better than any report card I’ve ever received anyway. While there are 4 star charities that score higher than AIUSA, they are still my favorite organization because of the work they do, and because of their fiscal transparency.

Let’s take a little swim through their expenses. You’ll notice 77.3% of their expenses are for the programs and services they provide. There are organizations who’s percentages in this category are measurably higher, but before you balk at the number, take a look at the second highlighted portion. 10.3% goes towards their programs’ growth. Not bad at all, especially when you take a peek at their administrative expenses. And let’s not let the transparency score of 97/100 go unnoticed! For me, transparency is a huge indicator for whether or not I choose to donate. 

What I love about this website is that you can click on every metric and it will lay out the formula used for calculating their numbers. You can also search for charities on this site, filtering by cause, rating, size, and more.

Alright, now that we’ve covered how to research our contributions, and provided a couple examples of some stellar nonprofits, I think it’s vital we take a look at a low scoring nonprofit. Not just because it’s important to know how to spot questionable financial reports or other red flags, no, there is far more to it than that. We need to look at this low scoring nonprofit because I hate Citizens United.

How To Spot a Bad Apple

Citizens United v. FEC, everyone’s favorite SCOTUS case. For those unaware, Citizens United v. FEC is the case that defined money as free speech. It is currently playing a huge role in dismantling our democracy, but that’s a story for another time. 

Let’s take a look at their home page. 

So far, so good. Let’s see what happens when I hover over “About”:

Seriously, folks, visit this site at your own risk. It made me ill.

Notice the drop down features “Who We Are,” “What is Citizens United,” “Fulfilling Our Mission,” “CU V FEC,” “Contact Us,” and “Internship.” I perused this entire site for the sake of this week’s post (you’re welcome), and I could not find a single financial report, audit, or 990 form. That is not to say they aren’t available on the site, perhaps I just didn’t know where to look. But if the information is on the site, it is incredibly difficult to find. So, let’s check it out with our charity navigator tool.

Now that, my friends, is what I like to call a Big Yikes. CU spends over half of their budget on fundraising expenses and only 40.3% of their programs. What are their programs? It’s hard to say – visiting their site was like walking into a Hollister at the mall. I left almost immediately because the smell was giving me a headache. I then became lightheaded and needed a pretzel. Literally two completely identical experiences.

I now understand why this information is difficult to locate on their website. Let’s take a look at their overall score: 

That looks like my high school chemistry grade average through the semesters. For just as I am unable to understand anything beyond “the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell,” so too fails Citizens United Foundation in both financial and transparency measurements. Thank you, Charity Navigator, for always being there for me. 

TAKE THIS EVERYWHERE

Take this knowledge with you everywhere. Your deep dives don’t have to end with nonprofits. Journalistic integrity is being challenged now more than ever, and false narratives are being passed as official news. We need to work together to arm ourselves against misinformation.

The best thing we can do is to simply check our sources. You can utilize mediabiasfactcheck.com, a nonpartisan website dedicated to fact checking news organizations and journalists. I use this every time I visit a website I don’t already trust. Or maybe you trust the source, but want to go further? Who wrote the article? What are their expertise and what other publications have they contributed to? Do some digging of your own and find out for yourself. 

Another way to spot misinformation: If something is misspelled in an article, that‘s a big hint to you to do some independent fact checking. If someone isn’t proof reading their work, their integrity can come into question. Of course, do not write off every article with a comma splice, or perhaps a misspelling of the word lieutenant. No one is perfect, and no one can spell lieutenant. However, if you see something like, “The Unitted States of America,” you’re going to want to do a little research. And yes, we have seen errors that blatant

And finally, the best way to get your information? It’s the same way you’d get your nonprofit financial information. Go straight to the source! Seeing a bunch of headlines about a controversial or complicated bill? Don’t wait for a journalist to tell you what to think about it. You can go to the house website and read the bill yourself!

The truth is always available, and it’s usually a lot more boring. 

You are empowered. You got this! Share your knowledge with those you love, take care of your people and provide them with these tools. The world will be a better place for it. 

SHED

SHED

This past year has been, to put it lightly, a whirlwind. The pandemic has exposed so many cracks and crevices in our social norms, our leadership, and ourselves, it’s not surprising many people have made drastic changes in their lives. Some of us started paths to healthier lifestyles or are breaking out into new career fields. We have, in many ways, metamorphosed. While the isolation that comes with a global pandemic wasn’t exactly the cocoon I was looking for, I am definitely coming out of this a better person. I have, like so many of us, transformed. 

You should take note, however, that something else has emerged from its cocoon, and the result is unspeakably beautiful.

Jocelyn Travers and Kerri Micheletti are not new to the hairstyling scene, but their brand and image is completely new to me, and likely you as well. Our Zoom conversation was alive with heart, soul, and sass. Jocelyn and Kerri play off each other like ping pong balls, batted by the paddle that was 2020, bouncing dreams. They describe themselves as yin and yang-I had no idea how true that was going to prove to be! Kerri is strong, fierce and joyful; the sun personified. Her passion spills into every word, her animated hands are individual rays of light. Jocelyn, while appearing quieter, reminds me more of the moon. Cool and calm, but brimming with hunger. She is a powerful woman, unapologetically taking her space in the world, an admirable trait. Combine the two? The world needs to prepare itself, because SHED is already here.

When I asked them to tell me how they came to open SHED, both women had a lot to say.

“Oh boy!” Jocelyn is already laughing; her voice is thick with joy. “It was always a dream that we would talk about after work when we’d be making dinner together here, in this exact room….There was not even, like…”

At this, Kerri cuts in: “A plan!”

Jocelyn and Kerri are not joking when they describe themselves as yin and yang. They are completing each other’s sentences, reassuring each other and encouraging each other throughout the entirety of our interview, and it’s undeniable how strong their bond is. Like a nautical knot, intertwined with intention and intensity, their grip on their world tightens with every breath. The longer we speak, the more I am convinced these two women have this strange, unmatched ability to know me better than I know myself –  as long as I am sitting in their chair. Having had my hair cut by Jocelyn before, this was not entirely a surprise to me. In October of last year, Jocelyn stole two things from me: Ten inches of my hair, and my heart. I will never go to anyone else, and I mean that sincerely.  

Both Jocelyn and Kerri are excellent stylists. What makes this duo so irresistible is the energy they give off when they’re together. It’s hard to resist their joy. I felt nothing but positivity and excitement listening to them speak to their work. As Kerri put it, “We share passion for our craft… [Jocelyn’s] super talented…I would not have been able to do it without her.”

Jocelyn allows no space for self doubt.  “No, you would’ve, you would’ve!” 

Apparently the only fresh “after” photo I have is one from the Boston Herald. Bae caught me protesting. But look how beautiful she made me!

Jocelyn and Kerri redefine art in the salon. They set atop a pedestal the needs of their clients, a promise of empathy that takes your experience to new heights and challenges conventional beauty standards that typically only prompt for a simple explanation of ‘what’, disregarding the journey of ‘why’. Neither one of these women are willing to lose the ‘why’ for the ‘what,’ and that’s a value that truly makes SHED stand out. But before we get to the why, let’s take a closer look at the what.

BETTER OFF SHED

Opening their own salon had been a long time dream for Jocelyn and Kerri, but it wasn’t until the pandemic they were allowed the space and time to breathe life into the idea. 

Rather than setting these two women back, the pandemic was a propeller forward to their end game. On the origins of the space they’ve acquired, Jocelyn remembers her thought process. When Kerri asked her to come and visit the space, she couldn’t say no. “It’s quarantine, I haven’t left my apartment in like 3 weeks, I’ll come with you!…Once we went to go see the space we were just like, so excited…If it wasn’t for the pandemic I don’t think that this would even have come about.”

Kerri was quick to jump in and expand on this. “I think that the thing that really ignited the fire is the uncertainty of not knowing.” Ah, yes, the thrill of a big risk; I know it well. And while a lot of the unknowns had to do with CDC guidelines for operating during Covid-19: occupancy requirements, PPE, and appropriate distancing measures, these two stylists had some pretty impressive curve balls thrown at them even without considering the global pandemic. 

Jocelyn may have understated it when she said: “We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into!”

Whether it was navigating the red tape required to open up shop, ordering the wrong sinks, or overpaying for permits, these ladies took everything in stride and kept working towards their dream. They were certainly asked to take quite a bit in stride.

COMING IN HOT

The night before they were set to sign their lease for their new space, it caught fire. I will say it again: their new space caught fire. This is the wrench of all wrenches. This wasn’t even a wrench, this was the whole toolbox! You might take it as a sign from the universe that maybe this was not to be. Perhaps the fire was the universe’s way of saying, “not yet, not now.”

Well, the message was received loud and clear. The property owner happened to have a different space available. Jocelyn told me, “When we stepped into that place there was such a vision of what we could do with it; it was much bigger…We thought [the fire] was a derailing but in the end it was so much better than what we thought was going to happen before.”

Kerri was also pleased with the square footage. “Just so much potential…Let’s just say the universe kind of was favoring I think Jocelyn and I a bit more.” 

The only better feeling than the thrill of a big risk is the feeling you get when that big risk pays off. And the payoff was sweet for these women. Quite literally, as a phoenix rises from the ashes, so too does SHED. Having scored a larger space than originally anticipated, they set to work on setting the mood of their salon.

Jocelyn and Kerri have curated a space that absolutely represents the culture they are cultivating; one of mindfulness and peace, resurrection and rebirth. And to that end, let’s get to the ‘why.’ 

TRANSFORMATION WITH INTENT

When I visited SHED’s website and read about their core values, I was immediately looking to book an appointment. I was so drawn to their mission; it was somehow all inclusive while also catering specifically to me. 

Kerri is ready to speak to this. “Basically, you know, really understanding the reasons as to why we want to do something, and making sure it’s purposeful and it’s going to lead…both of us in a direction of creativity where the fluidity of what it is we’re trying to build and structure… has that purpose.” She gets more specific, adding, “They’ll come in for a haircut, or a hair color, and the way [I] look at [the craft] is that it is a passion. I like to know my clients’ backgrounds and their stories. When somebody comes in with hair down to their knees and they’re like ‘I want a pixie,’ I’m like ‘what are you going through?’”

“Snakes shed their skin, we shed our hair so we can have new growth and purpose.”

Okay, at this point, I have to admit we are all laughing. That kind of story rings true for all of us to some extent. Jocelyn adds through her laughter, “There’s always a story!”

And to that end, again, these women are living their truths. Kerri stands by her philosophy. “I want somebody to really want it, and I want that to be a shared vision, and I want to see it come to life.” Hearing Kerri speak to her art lit a fire within me.  “Traditionally, cutting hair used to mean actually letting go of something, hence the name SHED. Shed for us is the act of letting go and coming into the new. Snakes shed their skin, we shed our hair so we can have new growth and purpose.” 

Jocelyn is quick to agree. “I love…somebody just completely transforming themselves and just feeling good when they walk out that door…it’s absolutely everything in the name.”

There is so much more to what they do than just cutting your hair. Beyond the physical result, you have to consider the emotional benefits that come with higher self esteem, higher confidence, and the sense of a clean slate. Jocelyn and Kerri are here to make sure you feel the same way.

Kerri very eloquently summed up what it is they do: “We are day makers.”

Day makers. Sit with this. It’s very true. As human beings, we share a lot of the same physical components. What are our biggest identifiers? Our first names, and how we choose to present ourselves. Jocelyn and Kerri are in the business of humanity, empathy, and self discovery.

To this point, we touch on the intimacy shared between stylist and client. “It’s an emotional thing.. When someone sits in your chair you’re touching them and you’re talking about their personal life, and I think most people tell their hairdressers things they wouldn’t necessarily tell their best friends.” Jocelyn continued, telling me “I just genuinely want you to love your hair as much as I do.” 

Knowing that my stylist has my best interests at heart is such a comfort; I’m sure we all have our horror stories. I once asked for long side bangs (this was 2007, don’t get on my case) and ended up with blunt kitten bangs. After that incident, I didn’t go to another salon for over ten years. Jocelyn was the first woman to cut my hair after KittenBangsGate, and through her skills as a stylist and, more importantly, her innate ability to make me feel comfortable, I had regained my trust in she who holds the shears. 

GROWING IT OUT

Staying on the yin and yang theme, Kerri and Jocelyn have very different marketing techniques, and combining their strengths has been excellent for their business. For Kerri, it’s all word of mouth, which is always good news if you’re in the business of making people feel good about themselves. “I’ve been in the industry almost 20 years. With that being said, I have a really large network of people, especially in Rhode Island. I’ve built that network, and now…it’s constantly blooming.” Kerri tells me how she’ll give her card out anywhere – the grocery store, the gas station, wherever she can put herself out there. 

 “The biggest thing is social media, which is really hard for me to get a hold of,” Jocelyn tells me regarding her social media campaigns. “It’s a huge part of this world, especially in the beauty industry…Most of my marketing is through social media. I can’t tell you how many messages I get a week just on Instagram.” Jocelyn tried to tell me she struggles sometimes with crafting her posts, but Kerri is quick to remove any self doubt.

“She’s not giving herself enough credit! She kills it, nails it!” Again, their chemistry is absolutely infectious. Neither one of these women leave any room for the other to feel any self doubt, constantly building each other up and encouraging one another. The world needs more Kerris, more Jocelyns. But, since we only have one of each right now, let’s not take them for granted. 

“We don’t do anything like groupon, we don’t do articles in newspapers…We’re in a business that’s very personal,” says Kerri. “The minute you make contact with someone, that’s when that reporte starts to be built. If you’re flipping through a magazine and you see an article, you’re gonna be looking at like a 20% off. We’re artists- it’s not that we’re not looking to give people deals, but we give people deals in different ways. I don’t want people to just come to our salon because there’s a 50% off on groupon…As people with integrity with transforming…It’s an art…That’s what we wanted to cultivate, a sense of community.” 

It’s a very special, almost sacred feeling, isn’t it? That feeling you get when you know you are right where you are supposed to be. Jocelyn and Kerri are right where they are supposed to be. Building their business from the ground up, building a community with the common denominator of self love and self expression, throwing themselves to the wolves. It’s beautiful – it’s the only valid beauty standard out there. The beauty of honest self expression. The beauty of living your truth. These women are living theirs. 

START YOUR ENGINES

There has been a transformation in Providence RI. Out of the cocoon, through fire and flame, Jocelyn and Kerri have staked their claim in the beauty world – And they haven’t even shaken off their new wings yet. Fresh, fierce, and hungry, this duo is reshaping our view of visiting a salon.

“We have so much more going on inside of our heads with what this is gonna be. It’s just the beginning.” Kerri tells me about so many incredible ideas she and Jocelyn have up their sleeves, and I cannot wait to see what they do. I cannot wait for you to see what they do. They’re constantly brainstorming new ideas in their journey to forge this community.

“Like Pringles right? We just popped open the clear lid and we still have that huge tube to go down. Once you pop you don’t stop!” Kerri’s eyes are alight with excitement.

Jocelyn ads, laughing, “And the crumbs are the best!”

Yin and yang. I am so excited to experience everything SHED has to offer as they grow their business. Get ready, folks. The lid’s off.

Small Lights Friday

Happy Small Lights Friday!

It’s Small Lights Friday again, and we are not messing around! We are going big this week and all month long to raise awareness for Small Lights, and that means a BIG contest with BIG prizes!

I want to raise awareness for Small Lights so we can widen our impact, and what better way than a fun challenge where everyone has a chance to win big? Being a Small Light means injecting a small amount of positivity in the world that yields a much greater emotional return and so we are going to stay on theme. That means easy entries and guaranteed returns! What’s better than that?

What Can You Donate Challenge!

Rules

Contest will run through June 24th with the winners being announced June 25th.

Any donation of any size, small or large, has an equal chance of winning the Grand Prize!

Donations of different types will be considered additional entries.

Every single entry will win a prize – we are all winners here!

How To Enter

Take a picture of your donation, and share this blog post on your social(s) and take a screenshot. Email both pictures to awomansworkma@gmail.com. (Instagram DMs work as well!)

(If you are submitting multiple entries, you only need to share this post once)

What Can You Donate?

Any type of donation to the greater good is a valid contest entry. I’ve listed some examples below:

Clothing 

Canned Goods 

Time/ Labor (picking up trash, planting a tree, volunteering, etc) 

Small monetary donations to the nonprofit of your choice

What You’ll Win

The Grand Prize Winner will receive:

1 “Small Lights” mug, 1 “A Woman’s Work” notebook, assorted stickers and magnets (to spread the love!), assorted organic candles and (of course) twinkle lights! Oh, and a $25 gift card!

Second Prize Winner will receive:

1 “Small Lights” mug, assorted stickers and magnets (spread that love!), and twinkle lights

EVERY ENTRY WILL WIN:

Assorted stickers and magnets, and twinkle lights

Stay Tuned for the Tricks and Tips!

As I said before, we are going big this week and all month long. That means that next Small Light’s Friday is going to be all about donor tips and tricks, how you can choose where you want to give, and where you can find information that will lead you to those answers. I have a few favorites of my own that I am absolutely dying to get into, but I can’t get ahead of myself!

We’ll also talk about different social causes, what they stand for, and what their programs specifically do; who knows, maybe you’ll find a new cause to be passionate about! As in the stated rules, every donation, no matter the size, counts as a separate entry! So shine those lights everywhere you can!

And if you don’t want to do it for me…Do it for Queen Dolly

Let’s Go Light Up The World!

Love Your Home

Love Your Home

I love everything vintage. The clothing, the furniture, the tableware – if it’s over 20 years old and can go in my kitchen or on my body, I want it. So, going through Katie Donovan’s Instagram without a bottomless wallet was akin to torture for me. I’ve spent hours scrolling through her shop, salivating over wicker baskets and bewitching tea pots. I got a chance to sit down with Katie over zoom so she could tell me more about her charming collection. 

I had a lot of fun talking with Katie. She wore a huge smile throughout our entire conversation, and it was apparent she genuinely enjoys thrifting and is delighted to talk about it. Katie is excited over more than just her one shop, however. This is a woman who sees true value in building a community, and sharing the love of all things vintage and antique with everyone around her. When I ask her how she got started, Katie tells me about all the other thrift shops that she visits and how wonderful their selections are. She isn’t one to want to hog the spotlight, choosing instead to talk up other thrifters who influenced her own page. Katie really is living a Small Light life without even trying. She sips from the cup of inspiration. Joy seems to permeate from within her, and she sets it forth into the world, through herself and through her pieces. 

Her thrifting page is an absolute delight, with items ranging from cookware to home goods. Beautifully staged and intentionally styled to reflect her own unique look makes pouring through her selection a small adventure. Her choices are pleasantly rustic.

It was not surprising to learn Katie’s shop was born from a day out with her friends. She comes off as fun loving, breezy, and real. She tells me about a day she went out with some friends antiquing, and how she fell in love with it instantly. “I found this super, super cool antique wine rack…[I thought] this is so fun, I could totally do this.” I find a little bit of myself in Katie when she talks about how instantly she was hooked. “I feel like that day catapulted me.” I can relate to that love at first sight feeling – it’s what led me to writing, and it’s what led Katie to open her own shop. 

An ever-inspired forager of the imaginative, she did not waste any time in getting started. “I immediately started the Instagram…the name I just got from my other Instagram…and then made the logo.” Oh, that’s right. Katie has another area of expertise. Did I not mention she’s also an illustrator? Having created even her own logo, Katie is a one woman operation from start to finish.

Katie slipped seamlessly into the thrifting world. After all, it does involve some of her favorite activities. “It kind of has this great mixture for me where I can go shopping, because I love shopping…And I get to take pictures and I get to edit them and I get to present them in a way [I want to present them].” Luckily for Katie, her well of antique shops and thrift stops does not run dry. As a travelling Covid-19 tester, her work leads her all across the state of Massachusetts, from Worcester to Boston, the South Shore and beyond. “Sometimes I’m in Watertown and I’m – if I have a 2 hour break or if I’m done at 3 o’clock…I’m instantly on my phone… [searching] ‘thrift stores near me’ or ‘antiques near me’.” Add bravery to Katie’s already impressive resume; conducting Covid-19 tests and navigating the streets of Massachusetts cities? I usually just cringe and hope for the best when it comes to those intersections (you know the ones). And let’s not ignore the fact that she’s working the front lines as a tester. Thank you, Katie, for everything you do.

Antique Critiques

“I need a lot of time in a thrift store.”

She also gets buys from a little help from her friends.  When it’s too tough to pick just one, she’ll employ her more honest pals for feedback and grounding. It’s easy to get lost in the thrill of the thrift. Katie laughs as she tells me “sometimes I’m clouded by my own preferences.” While it’s tempting to stock up only personal favorites, she soldiers past those feelings. (Side note: I do not know how anyone does this). The love and care she has for her community extends to her selection of antiquities. So what is her process in choosing how to stock her space? 

A big part of her process is just the allotment of time it takes, she says. “I need a lot of time in a thrift store.” If you’ve ever been to a large antique shop or thrifting spot, you’re probably picturing towering china bowls, assortments of nutcrackers and vintage ornaments, and prints of vintage ads, to start. And then of course there’s the rooms of kitchenware, gorgeous furniture, and racks of clothing. The different avenues one can choose for their specific niche are endless, but Katie has honed in on her spot in the thrifting space. Her page features charming home goods that remind me of an old farmhouse, or a quiet autumn morning. 

On item selection, there’s a few things that run through her mind. “Is it worth the money? Do I think it’s gonna sell? Is it gonna be marketable?” Deeper than that, though, Katie is looking specifically for items that strike something within her. “I think about it all the time when I’m picking up the item, what it’s going to look like posted so I want the item to have this…impact, almost.” As a photographer as well, she has an eye for style and beauty. Her photography degree plays a tremendous role in what elevates her thrifting shop from the others. “[The items] just kind of speak to me…I know that sounds so silly.” Personally, I don’t think this sounds silly at all. It’s very intuitive to be able to hear the world around you and receive something, anything, back.

Don’t we all have things that speak to us? In a world where we’re trying our best to be a light for someone or something, we all make connections. Those connections are with each other, or with a passion, or an art. For Katie, it’s photography, and the community she has found in the thrifting world. When we’re true to our passions, we all benefit. For the big reasons: community, positivity, light and art, and the smaller reasons: I bought the most adorable vintage item from Katie’s store, and I wouldn’t have it without her. 

Her photography skills come in handy not just for staging an item, but also as a creative way to infuse her own personality into her shop. Staging items in ways she personally finds visually pleasing in lieu of standard stark white backgrounds creates a connection between the buyer and the seller that wouldn’t otherwise form.

Katie also runs her Instagram like the pro she is. Her skills in creating eye catching posts is paramount to the success of her shop. She knows just one loud post isn’t always enough when you’re trying to disengage the autopilot of a user’s scrolling thumb long enough to grab their attention. “Whenever it comes to marketing, like a drop or something like that, I always make sure to make it really well known to my followers that something is coming up.” That means multiple posts and stories as she builds anticipation. “I have a post that I make for it, I have a story that I make for it, I make sure that on top of the story I have a countdown for it…I try to do little sneak peeks.” Her marketing strategy is a winning one; I was drawn in like a baby sea turtle instinctively crawling towards the sea.

For me, it was the vintage teapot that stopped my thumb. I am addicted to green tea, and this vintage addition to my kitchen is a new favorite of mine. I also loved opening the box and finding a hand written thank you note with my teapot. Small gestures like that bring me so much joy. The bond we form with each other over hand written notes is something I’ll never understand, but it is tangible. 

Ship Happens

Curious about the challenges one might face in this business, I ask Katie for her thoughts, and she is eager to talk about it. The first that comes to mind is cleaning an item. That was a learning experience for her- what should be restored, and what should be maintained as is? She has learned how to properly clean brass versus sterling silver, or choose when something is better left untouched to maintain its vintage charm. That’s the kind of thing you have to have an eye for, which again speaks to her affinity for art.  Beyond that, however, is her biggest challenge and the one she is most eager to tell me about.

This is kind of nice I get to talk about this

“I hate having to charge shipping,” she tells me. Even as she says it, I can tell from Katie’s body language she really does anguish over postage. “This is kind of nice I get to talk about this.” Unintentionally revealing even more of her generous spirit, the only reason she doesn’t like the shipping portion of her business is because she just wishes she could ship for free! “Shipping supplies [are] expensive… everything. Tape, boxes, packing [material], thank you notes, all of that is expensive.” Bottom line? Katie doesn’t like making her clients pay for shipping. “It hurts me,” she said. 

Katie worries about giving her customers the best experience, and her stress over the shipping costs really speaks to that. Of course, her item selection and presentation speaks for itself, and I was more than happy to pay the shipping cost for my teapot (which I thought was quite reasonable- I paid less than $10) because I knew I was getting a quality product. I can’t speak for every thrifter, but I’m sure I’m not alone in appreciating the extra care given.

A Passion Nurtured

What I love about Katie’s shop is the energy that created it. Katie went out with her friends one day and fell in love with thrifting. That same day, she set up shop. There is something to be said for that kind moment. I think we all have those moments, rare as they may be. We might get the urge to push them down; there’s too much cleaning to be done to sit down and write the poem, or take the photograph. Katie is one of the rare few in the world who instead consciously takes hold.  Let us nurture the magic that stirs within us, cherish the chills that run up our spines, and seize these moments whenever we can. We can all learn a lesson from Katie. She nurtures the magic within her, that much is abundantly clear when you speak with her, or look at her art, or scroll through her thrift shop. “It’s my pieces that I’m picking. Someone else could pick the same item and market it a different way, and give you a different idea on how to style it or place it…It’s unique to me. You’re going to see the piece that I picked out and why I like it and how I would style it in my house, you know what I mean?”

Katie is generously offering her magic to the world, and I am grateful to partake. Check out her Instagram here, and happy thrifting! Take your moment. Find something that speaks to you. 

Small Lights Friday!

Small Lights Friday!

Happy Friday everyone! And Happy Small Lights Friday! I am so touched by all of the responses I got from everyone over the past two weeks! It was such a joyful experience for me to see people participate and spread their kindness. So, to kick it off, I would like to say that every single one of you is a light just for sharing these little stories with me and warming this gray haired 30 year old’s heart! 

Before I highlight all of the lovely lights you’ve all so beautifully lit, I would like to share one of my own from just the other day. I hope that by sharing this with you, it will help contextualize exactly what our goal is when we aim to be Small Lights, and the benefits these small actions bring to ourselves and to each other.

Everyone is Friends on the Bike Path!

On Wednesday of this week, I was not feeling myself. Living with depression and anxiety can be difficult, as I’m sure so many of you know. I decided to take a mental health day to get a grip on my feelings and sort myself out. For me, going skating is the best way to ground myself; I can listen to the birds chirp and I can smell the fresh air and I can feel the wind against my skin. Nature has always been a reliable quick fix for getting back in touch with myself, experiencing the Earth with all of my senses. (Okay, I didn’t eat a dandelion, so let’s just say most of my senses).

Photo evidence confirming my unhealthy obsession with trees.

On my mid morning skate, I came across a group of 3 people, one of whom was on rollerblades. I’d actually seen this same group earlier in my ride and we’d shared a laugh together over a runaway skateboard, so I waved hello. The gentleman in the rollerblades waved me down, and through his laughter, asked me for his help. “Please!” he said, as we started giggling in unison now. “I want to play indoor hockey and I’m trying to learn to skate! Can you show me?” I smiled wider than I had in days when he asked me that! Immediately my fog began to lift.

He’s probably fine, right?

I said “Of course!” I told him what I knew, all the while joking that I was also still learning as we laughed together.

“Bring your feet together!” 

“Like this, right?”

“Yes! You’re doing it, yes!! Now just keep it up!”

The woman he was with wore a beautiful, happy grin as she cheered him on. “Now go down the hill!”

I called after him as he disappeared down the slope.. “I’m sorry I didn’t teach you how to brake!”

The woman he was with chatted with me for a few moments before I wished them a good day and continued my skate. 

After that experience, my mind felt so much clearer and calmer. Being able to help someone, even just a little, even if I didn’t teach him to brake (he’s probably fine, right?) was enough to bring my mind back to reality, and significantly helped me with feelings of depersonalization. I couldn’t stop smiling for the rest of my skate! 

This small interaction benefited everyone involved. The gentleman I helped was skating better when we parted ways and was thankful for my help. I was probably even more thankful to him, for flagging me down, and doing me the incredible kindness of seeing me not as I saw myself in that moment, but as I would want the world to see me. 

I really wanted to share that with all of you because it was just the most perfect example of what being a Small Light is. The man I helped was a Small Light for me, and he didn’t even know it. And then, he gave me a chance to be a Small Light for him.

Me and my husband taking in the view on one of our latest rides!

Let’s Talk Triumphs!

Now, that’s more than enough about me! Let’s get to the good stuff – all of you!! Check it out – look at all the good you’re all spreading!

Again, I was blown away and thrilled with the responses I received. I also noticed a trend in these acts of kindness that I think is worth diving into. A lot of what you’ve all done has either had to do with food, or our senior community! There may be a reason why the results are trending this way. 

Loneliness comes like a cup of tea left forgotten

For the past 14 months, we have been enduring an incredibly challenging situation. Covid-19 was hard on every one of us, but it was particularly hard on the elderly. As a high risk demographic, our older population was, and to some degree still is, unable to go about their daily lives. Beyond that, not being able to visit a grandparent or elderly parent has been so painful for all of us. 

I have experienced loneliness in my life, but the past year plus has redefined this word for me. Loneliness settles deep inside your heart, embedded, unwilling to relent. It clenches its fists around your gut and pulls you downward. Loneliness comes like a cup of tea left forgotten on the counter, starting out piping hot, slowly losing its steam, until finally settling at room temperature. No one wants to drink that tea. No one wants to feel alone.

I can not begin to imagine the loneliness our elderly community is still currently challenged by. And so, my Small Light Triumph for today, Friday, is to provide resources for helping our elderly friends and family. This demographic is essential; they cast a torch towards the past and provide wisdom unmatched. I want them to be celebrated. I want them to be in the warmth of our light. So, grab your flashlights, your lanterns, and your Himalayan salt lamps. Let’s be lights!

I’ve included some great resources for helping our elderly community!

Get Lit

Here you will find the vast array of governmental resources for assisting our elderly community in Massachusetts. (If you’re not in MA, your state’s website should have these listed as well). It covers everything you’d need to know to assist a senior family member or friend with anything from prescription assistance to reporting elderly abuse. It has resources for housing, health insurance counselling, and much more!

Here is a fantastic program called Meals on Wheels. This in particular is very close to my heart; my mother used to volunteer for them and I was always excited if I had the chance to go along with her and help! When you volunteer, there is a central location where you pick up the meals you are delivering, and then you simply go and drop them off! A meal, a friendly face and a smile. What more could anyone ask for?

This volunteer program connects you with hospice patients and you can read to them. I love this one so much; it’s such a compassionate and kind effort.

Ah yes, AARP, tried and true and already sending me mailers. They have a lot of different options on here and it’s all virtual for now due to Covid-19. Now, for this resource, do keep in mind the opportunities to volunteer run the gamut, so you may find something for seniors or you may find something else you’d like to learn more about! Personally, I think their Digital Fraud Fighter volunteer position looks really cool; you can help seniors avoid getting scammed online or over the phone.

Utilize these resources, share them with a friend, or just keep them in your back pocket and know you are armed with information to help our senior community. 

There’s one more thing, and I truly believe this is the best thing we can do to be Small Lights for our seniors, because it’s so effortless we can do it every single day: When you see a senior walking down the street, or shopping next to you, or in line next to you at the coffee shop, acknowledge them. Smile at them, wave at them, say hello. See them. Just see them. And in that same vein, let’s make sure we always see each other too.

 

Ultimate Barre and Pilates

Ultimate Barre and Pilates

Some young women, like me, have no idea what they want to be when they grow up. Some grown women, or perhaps just me, are still struggling. Toni Manzon is not one of these women. She is a firecracker, and the owner of Ultimate Barre and Pilates, one of the best studios in the area. It’s hard to resist the big personality of Toni Manzon as she lifts the women around her to a higher physical and mental place, in cadence with an upbeat tempo. In a lot of ways, Toni is the upbeat tempo in her sessions both in and out of her studio. She is that light.

Toni Manzon (left) pictured with her daughter

Her physical studio closing due to Covid-19 was no deterrent to this tenacious trainer, who’s classes have simply moved to Zoom without much of a hitch. Now a seasoned instructor, she joins me on a zoom call while sitting on a tree stump. A testament to her ever forward moving lifestyle, there’s paint on her hands from an unmentioned home reno project.

A Match Made in Heaven

Toni is passionate about her work- and her work suits her perfectly. There are benefits to being a fitness instructor aside from just the daily workouts. She’s glad she doesn’t have to deal with office politics, or spend every weekday in a building where people complain about nothing over the hum of a vending machine. (I agree with her on this. I never want to hear about the privacy fence your angry neighbor is installing). She’s grateful she can get people when they’re in their best moods, away from the conference calls and data entry sheets. “They’re not at work, they’re not with their kids…they’re doing something good for themselves,” she tells me.

Toni Manzon has always known what she has wanted to do. “My mother belonged to this little woman’s fitness club- tiny little whole in the wall place in Wellesley. And she used to go every day and I was intrigued by it…I went with her one day and I took one class and I remember driving home with [my mom] saying I think I’ll do that when I get older… I can do that.” So, she did do that. 

It took years of dedication for Toni to earn her license and start teaching independently. While she walked me through her journey to become certified, one thing became clear: Toni is not one to follow for the sake of following. Of her mentee years, Toni speaks of rigid practices and unwavering, by the book instruction. Everything had to be done “a certain way.” she says. But then, when it came time to put this into practice, she quickly found this stiff way of doing things was doing a disservice to herself as much as her clientele. People are not rigid or unwavering. Human beings are anything but “by the book.”

Instead of focusing on inflexible routines, Toni felt it was best to go by the vibe of her room. While reading the energy of her class might be the best avenue towards a successful and endorphin rushing session, it is the last step in a seemingly endless array of training certifications, years of determination and sustained forward movement. After all – how can one be expected to read a room if you’re not already owning the atmosphere? Toni speaks specifically to this challenge: “Getting your feet wet, getting that comfortability of walking into a room…you have to walk in the room with the attitude of – not ‘I’m controlling the room,’ but ‘I’m controlling the class.’” Spend just a few minutes with Toni, and you’ll find she’s mastered that one long ago. Throughout our conversation, she spoke as much with her paint covered hands as her voice. It’s easy to tell this woman is very go-go-go.  Juggling a dozen tasks on an ever lengthening to-do list appears to be her modus operandi.

Today, her classes brim with positivity, encouragement and joy, as well as with clients. “I’m a firm believer that if something isn’t fun, people aren’t going to stick with it. So I try and bring my personality into it.”

The Right Routine

Toni excels in marketing herself, almost unintentionally, through her steadfast zeal and infectious laughter. She is someone you want to be around. She makes you laugh. She makes you feel bigger than your insecurities. The popularity of her studio speaks volumes not only of the sweat you get, but of the magnetic pull of Toni. “I’m my product,” she tells me. “And I can kill it wherever I bring it.” This much is a fact. Can a workout be so intense, it’s a felony? Or am I just that out of shape?

I know several people who attend Toni’s classes, and they all express with such gusto how challenging her routines are, and how good they feel after. Having experienced one of Toni Manzon’s sessions personally, and the exhilarating flood of endorphins that followed, I had to know more about how she curates her workout routines. I’ve been to my fair share of fitness classes (well, maybe not my fair share, but a share anyway), and nothing has left me feeling like I could rip the Earth up from underneath my feet and then conquer it. Nothing, of course, until Ultimate Barre and Pilates.

Toni tells me, “That goes back to experience and doing it for years.” In or out of the studio, instructing a diverse class takes extreme multitasking. “You gotta do the public speaking, you gotta be encouraging, and then you physically have to do it and make it look like it’s not affecting you at all.” We laugh together and she adds, “That’s a tough one.” Toni’s classes are filled with women of all ages and all skill levels, so on top of managing the class as a whole, she needs to ensure she is monitoring her individual students- and right now, that’s all happening over Zoom. “I should be able to make sure that person gets a good workout, but it needs to be safe for them. It’s really reading your audience and that can take years to know. You have to know it mentally but you also have to know it physically.” And as for ensuring that over the internet? “We were all awkward in the beginning and we all kind of got over it. We adapted [after a couple of months].” As someone who once had a panic attack in a library because the cubicles were rearranged, any amount of adaptability is awe-inspiring to me.

Above all, Toni is especially proud that she has been able to create an environment that felt safe for women who might otherwise not be comfortable going to a larger gym.

“I really realized there were a lot more people than I thought – women – that were intimidated by going in.”

 Naturally outgoing and confident, Toni strives to instill her virtues in all of her clients. Upon reflection she tell me, “I really realized there were a lot more people than I thought – women – that were intimidated by going in.” What I think is so great about Toni’s classes is that she is aware of this reality, but she doesn’t force change on anyone. She does not outright tell you, “Be confident;” she does not outright tell you, “Be comfortable with yourself.” Toni knows this is something that comes from within, so instead she manifests it from you and before you know it, you’ve realized it yourself. This is truly what makes Toni Manzon a light. “When the studio was open-and I didn’t really plan for this- but this is what was told to me from the first few months that I opened until the day I closed [her indoor studio space] was people saying ‘I feel so comfortable here. It’s like a little community.’ And it just kind of morphed that way on its own.” 

Here’s the thing: it didn’t morph that way on its own. Self effacing even in her own creative space, Toni separates herself from the credit that belongs to her. She gives space for other women to share in the creation of her community, and that’s really what makes her classes so special.

“It made me really proud and happy that people felt that they could come and do something good for themselves and they felt like they weren’t being judged and it was safe and it was supportive.”

Now we’re seeing a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel, and one might presume Toni will be reopening her Millis location. Toni, on the other hand, ever true to herself, has other plans. Looking back on the stress that came with operating in a physical space – the insurance, utilities, and other overhead – “That’s all gone,” she says. She has found happiness and peace in operating at a smaller capacity, either through Zoom or – hopefully soon – outdoors again. “I will always teach at some capacity,” she tells me, even as she gets older (or in her words, “Father Time marching across my face”). She speaks of the changes in her life, initiated both by the pandemic and the passage of time.

But as she sat with me on Zoom, on her log in her backyard, communicating mostly through gestures from her painted hands, I did not see or feel any passage of time had taken place. Exuberant, affable Toni Manzon is as go-go-go as ever; I’m guessing the moment she was first certified, she cartwheeled all the way home and never really stopped. Figuratively speaking, of course.

Her parting words to me, and to you, are indicative of her motivational spirit, determination, resolve, and light: “Give it a try, you’ll be amazed at what you can do.”

Check out what Ultimate Barre Pilates is up to, follow here. If I were you, I’d stretch for 15 minutes before clicking. Toni Manzon really is that good.