Monday, December 31, 2018


Don and I have a lot to learn about how to set up our luminaria. For the past three years (see 2017 and 2016 pictures) our luminaria look drunk, while everyone else's look perky and upright and shine the path for Santa. If we weren't already on Santa's good list I might be more worried.

Our candles:

No, it shouldn't catch on fire

See the gaps?

The thought is we'll put more sand in each bag next year. Maybe then the candles will stay upright and not blow over? We have the largest amount of curb, and order a small and large packet each year (40 candles, using about 32). We have 12 cobblestones between each bag, and always set on the curb instead of the street. Maybe one of these days a neighbor will stop by and kindly offer us some guidance to do it right in the future.

2019 will bring our fourth attempt. Fourth time is the charm?

City Sidewalks - 2018

Most years we find a chance to go into New York City to see the window displays with millions of our new best friends. Mommy Poppins, a New York City blogger I tend to enjoy, liked the windows a lot more than I did. The pictures featured on the New York Post's site are better than mine (as in less crowded). I wasn't feeling the magic in the windows this year. Possibly because my perennial favorite, Lord & Taylor's, had store closing signs instead of classic holiday scenes.

And this cheesy electronic in another window.

Over the years the window displays have become more interactive and technology-driven than imagination-driven. Makes me almost miss the quaint window displays I saw in Paris department stores in 1990 where the strings were visible -- a technology the windows in NYC had long abandoned by that point.

We were already in New York seeing Head Over Heels, and hoping to get reasonably priced tickets for an evening show, so in-between we walked past windows.

We started with Macy's, which seemed to be the first department store window to become interactive. 

I later read I was supposed to notice all the details in each window. I will admit the ones inside the burrow were cute, and filled with too many details to notice as I tried to stay out of the way of people taking pictures, while also trying to snap a picture without strangers in it.

That's when we turned the corner and faced the disappointment in front of Lord & Taylors. *Sniff sniff* In 1989 Don first told me he loved me in front of B. Altmann's when they were having their last holiday windows (the same as the ones they had the year before). Bitter, not sweet.

The tour continued with a horde of people in front of Saks 5th Avenue. I didn't appreciate the grown-up theme of "women who love to shop." I yearned for the nostalgia of 2017's theme celebrating Snow White. To me the windows looked like advertisements for overpriced wares for sale inside. I suppose the windows are really supposed to be advertisements to buy their merchandise and not free entertainment for people like me who will never go inside their store.

Our "tree picture" took place the day before Thanksgiving when it was much less crowded, but (alas) also unlit.

A view of "the tree" from the crowded other side of 5th Avenue.

Here we parted. Ashley went to see Kinky Boots. Don went to our seats at King Kong. I raced around to see more windows since I knew we'd all be too tired to make the trek after our shows.

Up to Lexington and 59th to see the Grinch-themed windows at Bloomingdale's. These were probably the closest to what I wanted in windows, but the mention of Whoville Karaoke and take your picture here inter-activeness discouraged me from loving them.

By now I had to hoof it if I wanted to be in my seat before King Kong started. I was loving walking in the City alone and being able to enjoy the sights at my own pace without constantly counting 1..2..3 to make sure the three of us were near each other. Cell phones do help allay my fear of being separated.

On 60th I saw a building advertising French Book Arts. Must look into that another time. Good thing they were closed for the night.

Keep going. Keep going.

Made it back to 5th Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman's windows. There is a lot of detail in each window. Hard to absorb it all.

Tiffany's I saw the month earlier.

And into my seat with five minutes to spare.

2019 Resolutions / Goals

For the past couple of weeks I have been struggling with creating my list of resolutions / goals for 2019. Looking back at my 2018 Resolutions, seems I had three holdovers from 2017, and then added six more. I reserve the right to add more over the next few days.

With the exception of trying new low-carb recipes and hosting an exchange student (a goal Ashley did not support, and it had to be a family effort), I was successful with all my goals.

First, the holdover from the past two years. If it wasn't so important to me, I'd give up on it. Truth is, I'm bored with what I am eating and need to eat low carb in order to keep my A1C numbers low enough to continue without medicine. 

1) Try new low-carb recipes. I had great success when I made add a vegetarian recipe a week to my repertoire. "Try new low-carb recipes" was too vague.

2) Visit a new (to me) city. Other years I've said I wanted to go to a new (to me) country, but international travel is far from glamorous these days, so I'll amend that to any new city,with Charleston and New Orleans currently in the lead.

3) Make a new friend, or make stronger an existing friendship. I miss my daily back and forth messages with Carin.

4) Keeping to races between 4 and 10 miles, though I am toying with the Rocky Run (3.1 mile race immediately followed by a 10-mile race). Strongly considering the Paris to Versailles 16.1 km race in late September (10 miles). Shorter distances are too much hurry-up-and-wait. Longer races take too much training.

5) Do some public speaking. I am already signed up to talk about Honey Bunny's art work in Hopewell (February 27) and Ewing (March 10). I'd like to talk to a networking group about my experiences with job hunting after a long gap in employment.

6) Spending more time with friends and having photo proof it happened.

Shall I keep the list short, or add to it? Time will tell.

What are your goals?

Top 10 Posts of 2018

Happy New Year's Eve! Each year I enjoy doing a final tally to see which of my posts garnered the most interest. Typical posts are seen by about ten to fifty of my friends. When something goes "viral" it is because it was shared on a more public site. If you look at last year's list, this year I had a lot less clicks on most posts, and A LOT more on one in particular. None of the posts about our 25th anniversary cruise made the list, but if I combined them they would have. 

Based solely on clicks, here is my Top 10 List of most popular Pillsbury Press posts in 2017:

10. Mandir: a Place of Paramount Peace (150)
9. Knoebels Amusement Park (158)
(tie) Gun Violence Hitting Close to Home (158)
7. What Hidden Talents do Each of Us Have? (176)
6. Community Conversations (205)
5. Pet Update (269)
4. 30 Plus 1 (365)
3. Art All Night Turned into Barely Art 12 Hours (392)
2. Best Friends are Hard to Find (533)
1. Wedding Dresses at Howell Farm (1434)

Many of the top posts are ones I know were shared, or are political in nature. Notable exceptions are the Pet Update and writing about Carin's death and what it means to me. The irony is, I nearly did not write about Carin because it was so personal. On the other hand, the words were bubbling up inside me and had to come out. Each day I have a new reminder of something I want to tell her about. Miss her every day.

As always this started as a way to share our family news with our friends. It started as a Christmas newsletter and has grown into a way to communicate throughout the year, not just in December.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Job Hunting After a 16.5 Year Absense

About a year ago I started a push to find steady income. Though there are plenty of benefits to freelance, especially as a parent, the reality was I did not become good at selling myself, and even after finding a client I hated spending so much time begging (or so it felt) to be paid. It had been 15 and a half years since my last permanent position with a steady income. I had a long list of requirements / wishes in a new position. Part of me knew even in November 2017 this would no be an easy search process.

Last November I heard about an entry-level opening at a local library; since I have my library science degree I sent in my resume and was asked to interview for the position. I thought the interview went well, but since then I have honed my interview skills and could have done a lot better, possibly even landing the position. I noticed the same position was available about four months later. No I did not apply again. It was not meant to be.

Spoiler alert: earlier this month I started as the part-time Director of Development for a small school located two miles from my house. The position is everything I dreamed about, and a whole lot more. 

So how did I get to this point and what advice can I offer others?

Some of the advice in what I hope becomes a presentation to a job seekers' group is specific to women, particularly those who landed on the "mommy track." I hope everyone who attends this future presentation can take something away from the talk. For now, this blog post is a space holder for my thoughts. Once asked to make a presentation, I will turn it into a PowerPoint presentation.

Step 1: Identify your goals.

What do you want in a new job? For me, I recognized I wanted a part-time position with a non-profit that I believe in. Ideally I wanted flexible hours. The list morphed over time. I wanted to be able to dress up a bit for work. I wanted something semi-professional. Your goals will be different. They will change. Keep them in mind as you continue to search. There were times I thought I wanted to be a librarian (because I returned to school to become a librarian) and times I wanted to work in development (because that is what I did before leaving professional work). 

Step 2: Get a suit.

You might think "I'm only interested in a part-time position, I don't want to overdress," and to some extent that makes sense. One of my worst interviews happened years ago (ironically for that librarian position that became available again last November). The children's librarian who was interviewing me wore a bathing suit because it was the last day of the summer reading program and she knew she would get wet. I wore a suit. Talk about feeling awkward. I did ask for a second interview when we could both be dressed professionally. The librarian thanked me, but I still didn't get the job.

I used to think it didn't matter. Then I started volunteering at Dress for Success (a point I will return to). Many of the women came through the social services network. As a volunteer I helped dress them in a suit. The transformation was AMAZING! I wanted that Cinderella moment for myself. One week when I had four interviews lined up (none of which I landed) I asked for a suit, and they gave me one. I felt so much more confident on those interviews. I was certain I would land one or more. I was wrong, but the suit still felt great and I did wear it on the interview I did land. I also bought two more suits at Good Will and Dress for Success in case I was called in for a second interview (which I wasn't). 

Dress to impress. You'll notice your posture improving and your confidence rise. I've bumped into friends post-interviews while wearing the suit and people's eyes pop out -- they can't believe it is really me (in a totally good way).

Step 3: Brush up your resume.

Women Dress for Success offers resume help. It is free. Find friends who have jobs in the field you want to enter and send them their resume. Look at your resume. Discuss how you can fill in those gaps in service. 

During my 16.5 year gap I earned a masters degree in library science. I wrote for the local papers. I helped an entrepreneur with her business. I helped authors write books. I volunteered. Some of these random actions became talking points during my interviews.

What have you been doing? Keep revising your resume.

Step 4: Create a freelance business.

It can be mighty fledgling, but it looks nice on the resume to say you created your own business. Even better if you can earn tons of money through it, honestly, though, no one asked me how successful my business was but it gave us something to talk about. One real bonus, is your business will help you establish people you can use as professional references. Much more solid than using people who only know you as a volunteer, though that is also a great way to go.

Step 5: Volunteer.

Volunteering is a great resume builder, or so they say. While volunteering led me to some fabulous interviews, it did not lead me to a job. What you do as a volunteer matters. Find something that fits with what your dream job would entail. Try to avoid anything related to your children or place of worship, though that is where many of us do volunteer. In the end, I focused my volunteering in two places: Dress for Success and Voices of Princeton. The first gave me the confidence I needed. As I helped women, they gave me pep talks and hugs. They helped build me up. The second was a direction I was thinking about pursuing -- recording family histories. It was the focus of my freelance business and a passion.

Volunteering is also cheap as it doesn't cost you anything to do it. You'll get out of the house and meet interesting people.

Step 6: Tell everyone you are looking

This might sound simple, but you'd be surprised how few people do it. Shout it from the rooftops. Blast social media with your search. Tell random strangers. One thing I have heard over and over again at PSG meetings, people land jobs more through word of mouth than applying on job boards (though you have to do that, too, to feel like you are doing something). My story came to a happy ending after I reminded my friends (after many months of not saying anything about my search) that I was still looking. A friend of a friend was surprised I had not already been "snatched up." I told her nope, lots of interviews, but no offers. She sent me two strong leads. The first one I was certain was going to lead to an offer as it ended after 90 minutes with a tour of the facilities. The second led to a preliminary interview on a really hot day in July, and not much over the summer. I wasn't even sure what position I was applying for since they were subdividing a position and didn't know how it would pan out. I followed up a couple of times over the summer. Went on vacations. Then on my birthday in September (now THAT had to be a good sign) I heard their search slowed down and the opening wouldn't happen until December. I wrote back immediately that the timing was perfect for me because I had just started a 7-week temp job at Princeton University and wasn't looking at the moment, but I was still very interested. After the temp position finished I followed up with the school. I had an interview a week later and was offered the job two days later. Wham! When it happens, it happens.

Tell everyone. You never know where the job lead will come from. Likewise, as you hear about openings, share them with people who are better suited than you are. The karma game.

Step 7: Temp

I kicked and screamed and postponed temping for as long as possible, but after enough people suggested I temp as a way to keep going on vacations without ticking off a new employer, I agreed to it. I only had one temp assignment -- 7 weeks in Princeton University's Firestone Library, but it was awesome. I loved being in the library. I loved seeing that I did not want to do that as a career, but really enjoyed it as a temporary position. I realized I wanted more than clerical. I wanted ownership and not just push books from one pile to another. The library is closed to the public and I enjoyed being inside. After the position, I also realized I really only wanted part-time, and shared that with the agency. As I landed the new position a couple of weeks later, I did not go on another temp assignment.

Step 8: The Interviews

While having fun temping and volunteering, try not to forget that your goal is still to land a job. Send out those resumes -- making sure you only apply for positions that are within your goals.

Over the year I sent out 44 resumes and had 20 interviews. At the time I would have been happy with any one of those positions. I realize now, many did not have what this position has. I applied for full-time jobs, and tried to convince employers they don't really need a full-time person. That didn't work. I heard new questions and developed new answers. Interviews show you where your potential weaknesses are. Use the opportunity to figure out better answers for next time. 

Step 9: The thank you note.

I have heard anecdotally people do not always send a thank you note after an interview. Why not? Nowadays you can email a thank you note for timeliness. You have absolutely nothing to lose by sending a thank you note, and everything to lose. Include something that excites you about the position and things you thought about on your drive home. It doesn't have to be long, but it does need to be grammatically correct and within 24-hours.

Step 10: Follow-up.

It is more than okay to follow up periodically with potential future employers. I credit my follow-up skills for landing my new job. Gently remind them and ask where they are in the process. Try not to push when you want to scream at them for taking so long.

Step 11: A story.

Those of us who have fallen on the "mommy track," or have taking time off to take care of aging parents, or military spouses, or any other reason why there is a strange gap in your resume need to prepare a story for why. It doesn't matter your answer, but own it. Don't apologize or over-promise. Be prepared because the question is coming. As you go on interviews and stumble on questions, make notes and be better prepared for next time. And yes, I know I said this already, but it bears repeating.

As my girl is now in high school my friends and I are in the same boat. Some landed jobs seemingly without trying. Some went back to school and then landed a job. Some took a circuitous path like I did -- with soul searching, and roller coaster-like emotions. I tell people if I can do it, and I was super fussy, there is hope for everyone.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Caroling, caroling now we go...

'Tis the season to go caroling. Fa la la la la laaaa la la la la.

In the past week I had three opportunities to go caroling. I say opportunities rather than the active "went" caroling because for the most part I did not sing. Instead, I took pictures.

Let me back track, the first caroling event was a week ago following Princeton Theological Seminary's annual Carols of Many Nations service. It is a beautiful service we have enjoyed for many years, and ends with caroling, most likely because they are trying to kick us out of the sanctuary in order to fill it for the next sold out service. The 90-minute services are held at 3:30 pm, 6:30 pm, and 8:30 pm. They have become so popular last year they issued tickets for each service. The free tickets were "sold out" within hours. My parents, Don, Ashley, and I were doing good to get tickets to the 8:30 service. That makes for a long evening on a school night. After the service we waited our turn to be able to exit from the balcony and headed to the car rather than caroling. I didn't even pause to take a picture of everyone caroling in front of Miller Chapel. Some years I have captured one from the round window upstairs, but this year the window looked especially smudgy and I did not.

Three days later Lindsey invited me and a bunch of her friends over for what is

now a seven-year tradition in its current iteration. Friends gather for breakfast before heading out to St. Mary's at Morris Hall (a local nursing home) to spread good cheer. Some come just for breakfast. Some come just for caroling. Most, though, come for both. We sing downstairs before heading upstairs to their Grace Garden Memory Care (as in those whose memories have shifted). My sister, Melissa, kept the group in tune with her violin accompaniment. I took Lindsey's camera (and also used my own) to capture the event.

Sunday Heidi and her family invited us over to see Santa and go caroling. Unlike Lindsey's party, Heidi's friends go outside and carol for their neighbors. As usual we showed up late because first we went to our 5 pm WiNK service. Usually we arrive around the time everyone leaves and have a quick visit with Santa. As they caroled inside, I took pictures, making Heidi quite happy as I did so before I even took off my coat. 

Wonder if more caroling opportunities will present themselves this week.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, November 30, 2018

New Job

When Ashley was little, I used to attend MOPS (Mothers of Pre-Schoolers) programs in a Princeton church. This would have been around 2002 to 2004. The kids played together and us moms had a speaker or some encouragement in how to raise our children as Christians. Of all the programs I attended, one has stayed in my heart. I don't remember her name, and I don't remember the specific topic. The message that stayed with me was to always tell God what is on your heart.

The speaker was a single mom trying to change her life. She told God exactly what she wanted in a new relationship -- he must be a man of faith, and he must love her children as much as she does. I remember her list was much longer and detailed than that. Basically she said "God this is what I want, now I'll sit back and trust you to work it out." She did not want to waste her time with a man who was not worthy, who would not treat her or her daughters properly. At some point she went to a wedding as a friend of the bride. During the reception she met a man (a friend of the groom) who was a pastor. Ding, ding, ding. She was still cautious until she realized he also loved her children and met the other items on her lengthy list.

Why am I sharing this story with you under the heading of "New Job?" It is because I applied her wisdom and advice when looking for a new job. In the past year I sent out about 44 resumes and had 20 interviews. I would have been happy with any of the positions, but ecstatic over the one I did land.

As the search continued I honed my wish list and shared it with God.

I wanted a part-time position working for a company I could believe in with a short commute, flexible hours, encouraging of women (added after I interviewed for a company that was encouraging of women), allowing me to dress up for work (but didn't have to). 

Last night someone told me she tried to be encouraging when I told her my list, but really thought I should expand my options geographically, hours-wise, etc. She is stunned I landed something so close to that list.

Now that I've been hired, I would add I want to work for someone who believes in me more than I believe in myself and who is asking for heart over perfection, as these are traits I see in the new place.

As of Monday I am the Director of Development for The Bridge Academy, a small private school helping students with language-based learning disabilities. Since sharing my news with my Facebook friends, I have discovered nearly a dozen connections to the school from families of students, to a teacher, to a board member, to someone who did her student teaching there. It truly feels Spirit-driven.

Yes, I did look for a year. As much as I wanted to be ready, I wasn't. This summer I took three long vacations. I temped full-time at Princeton University (reinforcing that I am not ready for full-time work with set hours). I met lots of neat people on the journey. 

I hope someone reading my story feels inspired.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

"Head Over Heels"

The day before Thanksgiving we decided to get tickets to see "Head Over Heels" on Broadway. The show features 80's music by The Go-Gos with a story loosely tying the music together into the same theme. Think Abba music turning into "Mama Mia," or Billy Joel's music being the inspiration for "Moving Out."

Meanwhile, my sister Melissa and her family decided to try for Broadway Roulette to see a Broadway show on the same night. You can follow the link to see the details about how it works, but basically you agree to a price and it spins the dial and chooses which show you'll see. In theory you save a bunch of money because you gave up choosing the show. "Hamilton" and other higher priced shows are in the mix, along with ones that often have coupons. They scored orchestra. We were pretty excited to be upgraded from balcony to front and center in the Dress Circle. I think we had the better seats because we had no one blocking our view.

The show was campy, filled with energy, witty dialogue, and lots and lots of singing. 

The fun for me, though, came after the show when Ashley and her cousins (Hayden and Aimee, but mostly Hayden) collected autographs. Hayden (14) loves theater. Aimee loves it, too, but by 10:30 PM the thought of a warm bed was more endearing.

The cast could not have been nicer. Many added "please tell your friends and have them come" as they were signing autographs. Less than a week later we learned the show will be closing in January after 188 performances. 

We are doing our bit. Thanks to a sale on TodaysTix (an app that helps you get cheap tickets up to 30 days in the future), we are seeing the show again on December 26.

Sing along with me ... "Vacation, all I ever wanted...." and if you are a fan of 80's music, see the show before it closes.