"As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over again the kind of thought we wish to dominate our lives."
For a lot of people the phrase "8-to-5" just means a typical workday. For drum corps people, it’s part of a typical practice day. I joined the Westshoremen Drum and Bugle Corps in the winter of 1981. I had just turned fifteen and I had no business even trying out.
Thanks to my friend Karen, who introduced me to marching band in high school, I had marched in a drum line for a year or two. Some of the older kids in marching band were also members of a local drum and bugle corps and I was intrigued. When I went to my first drum corps rehearsal having no idea what I wanted to do, or was even qualified to do, I said I could play cymbals. You must understand that playing drums for a year or two in marching band and trying to do the same in drum corps the following year is like trying to compete in NASCAR the year after you learn to drive a car. Suffice it to say I just didn’t have the experience or chops for a drum corps drumline, but I met so many awesome friends there I was determined to stay. I just had to find a place to fit in.
You might surmise by the name that drum and bugle corps also has bugles. Yeah well. With even less experience (like zero) playing a horn than drumming, there was only one thing left for me to try if I wanted to march. Color guard!
The flag line would have been a much better choice for a color guard newbie, but nooooo I joined the rifle line. Go big or go home right? LOL. When I tell you I wasn’t very good, believe me I wasn't very good. Granted, I had never spun a rifle before, so I guess I could have been a lot worse! In love with marching and determined to get a spot on the rifle line, I took my rifle to school with me every day and practiced spinning, tossing and catching it in the gym during study halls. I practiced spinning in my bedroom at night and I practiced tossing and catching by throwing from my knees. Thank goodness my bedroom ceiling was heavily textured.
I met my BFF Beth in Westshoremen and we’ve been inseparable for 35 years, despite the physical distance between us. My first season in drum corps proved to be not only a huge learning curve but also an intense learning experience! I participated in every hot, sun-soaked rehearsal the whole season but never officially had a permanent spot in the rifle line. I served mostly as an alternate but I didn’t care. I was immersed and I wasn’t about to quit.
What the drum and bugle corps spectator comes to see is the final result. Sitting in the stands watching a huge ensemble march in complex patterns while performing intricate musical scores and throwing objects in the air with stunning precision is thrilling. What the spectator doesn’t see is the year of preparation that goes into producing a finished 13-minute show.
The season begins in the winter with weekends of indoor rehearsals learning marching basics, music basics and color guard basics. The drum line, horn line and color guard sections all work separately, each learning their parts. Indoor rehearsals go on until the weather outside is nice enough to begin learning drill moves. Once outdoor rehearsals commence in springtime, things move pretty fast. It’s time to begin pairing your individual music, flag or rifle routine with the drill movements that the designer has created for each number.
Spring turns to summer and the start of competition season. While other people are going on dates, roller skating and heading to the movies, drum corps people are going to Friday night rehearsal. During competition season, Saturday morning rehearsals are followed by a contest, usually out of town, which is followed by all-day Sunday rehearsals in the blazing sun. Sunscreen? We don’t need no stinking sunscreen!
Eric Kitchenman, one of the most intense and effective instructors I learned from was famous for saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. PERFECT practice makes perfect.” And practice we did. We’d run full show drill time and time and time and time again. We did sectional rehearsals, perfecting our music or guard routines. If we showed a lack of intensity or we were a bit off our game, we’d find ourselves marching basics blocks up and down the field for what seemed like hours.
Hot, stinky, and sweaty are par for the course for any corps member but you do it all for the love of performance. Long bus rides to competitions, stripping down to your skivvies in the parking lot to change into (or out of) your show uniform, living on fast food, running drill after endless drill, and giving up every weekend is all worth it when you hit that field.
For thirteen glorious minutes, you cease to be an individual. You’re one part of a single unit, coming together to do the thing you’ve trained so hard for all year long. One moment you are an amorphous, seemingly chaotic mass of humanity on a sea of green and the next moment you’re a phalanx of arrow-straight lines and perfect angles, before dispersing into flowing arcs, all done in synchronicity with the music.
Brightly colored flags swoop, dip and twirl, riles and sabres spin and fly high into the air, thrown and caught with military precision. Fueled by commitment to your team and the roar of the crowd, you glide your way across the field, hitting mark after mark after mark. You march and play and drum and spin through one song, then the second, then the third, fourth and finally the closer, with an intensity and focus rivaled only by the energy coming back at you from the cheering crowd. Those thirteen minutes go by in a fleeting moment and feel like nothing you’ve ever felt.
I only marched four years, but my drum corps experience taught me things I’ve used over and over in my life and my career. For example, there are eight steps from one 5-yard line to the next on a football field. This comes in handy in real life when measuring distance.
He: "How far do you think it is from here to the corner of the yard, honey?"
Me: "I dunno, let me step it off and I'll tell you.” #DrumCorpsLifeSkills
I know I’m not the only person who hasn’t set foot on a marching field in decades but still uses the 8-to-5 regularly. Stepping off an 8-to-5 is like riding a bike; no matter how long it’s been, it comes back in a flash.
Drum corps also taught me excellence. An excellent team is made of excellent individuals and to be an accountable member of a team you can’t expect to simply show up. Showing up doesn’t win. Instead, you show up and you push yourself to be better every week, for your own benefit but also for your team.
My time in corps taught me the value of hard work, commitment and delayed gratification. It takes focused, serious practice every weekend for the better part of a year before you can turn out a polished, finished, field-worthy show. It’s not magic, and it doesn’t just happen. Drum corps isn’t something you can half-ass. You skip a show and it affects your whole team.
In drum corps I learned the value of patience and pacing for success. The marching season is a project and you have to sequence it properly in order for it to work. You can’t rush it. Before you put a moving ensemble on the field each section has to know its own parts. Once the drums and horns know their parts separately, you rehearse them together until it becomes cohesive. At the same time, the color guard begins rehearsing their routines with the drums and horns. One step at a time, each piece becomes solid before you move to the next, and you make adjustments as you go. This is the very same skill set I use with my clients to this day and teach them to do for themselves.
Finally, marching drum corps taught me about leadership. Steve Rook, Kitchenman, Rob Robinson, Frank Dorritie, Joe Pellegrino, Bill Herr, Dan Brown, Dave Rohrer, and so many others taught me either directly or by my observation, that a good leader doesn’t pull excellence out of someone by force. Neither do they encourage success by making work easy.
Good leaders teach by example. They challenge you and push you to the edge until you swear you can’t go one more minute, but then you do. And that’s where growth happens. Good leaders make decisions you don’t like, ask you to do things you don’t want to do, and through it all, inspire you to be the very best you can be.
They say the clothes make the man. I disagree. I think the parents make the man. In the case of my husband Ed, his parents Jan and Ed King are the Babe Ruths of parenting, because their son is a walk-off grand slam if ever I met one.
I’m fond of telling people that my mother-in-law is the sweetest woman the Lord ever made. She truly is one of the kindest most loving people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. She’s a wonderful mother and the kind of grandmother all kids wish for.
My father-in-law is equally wonderful, although rumors are that he’s not the man he used to be. Like fine wine, we human beings mellow over time, and as the legend goes, the sweet and loving man I have the pleasure of knowing today was, as a younger man, a bit less mellow. All I know is that since I became part of his family, he has treated me like I’ve been there from the beginning.
Despite the popularity of In-laws jokes, I've never had a single complaint about my in-laws. I liked them the first time I met them and thank God they welcomed me with open arms and an open mind. I’m sure they had no idea what to expect when their innocent baby son brought home a divorced woman five years his senior. Eek! Older AND divorced. What a combo! I'll bet they bent our beloved Aunt Doris' ear over that one in the beginning.
I did my best to get in their good graces and so far it's been nineteen years and fingers crossed I think I’m in the clear! A quality human being like my husband isn’t the result of crappy parenting. Ed’s character, work ethic and kind nature are a testament to the effort and commitment of his parents and for that I am forever grateful. In fact, I couldn't ask for better in-laws in the world than the entire King family. Everyone has been amazing to me and I am glad to feel so welcome.
When I started my business in 1998, I had no idea that seventeen years later I’d still be doing it. Granted, I do some different things now than I did then, but I’m writing about my clients today because even all these years later, I’m still amazed that people will pay me — a total stranger -- to go through their things.
When we go to the doctor or the dentist we're at our most vulnerable yet we’re willing to be, because although it’s usually not fun, the work they do is important and worth the discomfort. The fact that people DO invite complete strangers to go through their things and help them sort out their chaos speaks to how important OUR work is. That our clients bring us in to assist them puts them in a vulnerable position and for me, it is an honor and a privilege. I don’t take it lightly.
Our work as organizing professionals can be very personal. Even though a good portion of my own work is with business clients these days, digging into someone’s business process and information can still be personal to them, especially in the case of solopreneurs.
As many of my colleagues will tell you, we’ve seen it all. Especially folks like Dorothy, Matt, Cory and Standolyn who work with clients who hoard. But even those of us who work with everyday clutter and chaos have seen some pretty interesting things. Not that we discuss it or disclose it, because all our work is confidential, but like professionals in fields such as medicine and mental health, we are privy to the hidden parts of people’s lives.
One of the requirements to be a true professional in our industry is the ability to remain neutral. To not judge. To not label. To not gasp or recoil in disgust when you walk into a home and a life that’s been neglected for far too long. Being a true professional in this work is to recognize that the chaos and clutter we help our clients overcome is always the outward expression of an inner challenge and to approach it first from a place of compassion.
We see the tumult and sadness that chaos causes. We observe the shame in a client’s face when she shares why she thinks her house or office got "this bad." We hear the pain in her voice as she bares her soul and confesses that everything was fine until her husband left. Or died. Or hit her.
We witness the frustration of a small business person with a dream who just can’t seem to figure out how to take the next step to grow past where he is today. We comfort the client who cries in the middle of every session because the work we do is dredging up memories of her painful past.
Thanks to the important work we do, we also witness profound growth, change, strength, victory and triumph. We see people change their spaces and their lives. We share in their joys, we cheer them on, we give them the tools, information, resources and often the courage they need to begin untangling the knots of physical and emotional chaos.
I’ve had clients say to me, “I accomplish more with you than I do with my therapist” which is truly a compliment. I’ve had clients use the words “life-changing” and “cathartic” about our work together. I’ve gotten heartfelt emails that say, “Your counsel is invaluable to me” and “ You have been more than organizer to me but a counselor and motivator as well.”
I'd like to think that in the seventeen years I’ve been in business I have facilitated powerful and positive change in the lives and businesses of many people. That has been my ultimate goal. However, my work has also been a tremendous learning experience for me, one that has humbled me, has made me grateful and has helped me grow in ways that would not have been otherwise possible. To the hundreds of clients I’ve worked with, I thank you and appreciate you letting me be of service.
Black truffle. Bleu cheese. Wagyu. Lychee. Yuzu. Pork belly.
These are just a few of my favorite flavors and ones I learned to love thanks to many years of working with talented chefs in the restaurant business and dining out with an open mind. Food is an adventure, a journey, and a story of its own. While some people are in love with cars, while others love watches, flowers, or books, I’m in love with everything about food.
Food is God’s artwork expressed by man. There’s something wondrous to me about the symmetry of a freshly halved lime and the curious dangling cluster of seeds inside a bell pepper. I adore the bold purple and gold hues of shaved beets, and the deep crimson of blood orange supremes on a bed of fresh spinach leaves. The nearly magenta of sashimi tuna in contrast to the cool vibrant green of wasabi entices my eyes like a stargazer lily lures my nose. I believe God gave food the potential to be beautiful so we would see it as one of life’s great pleasures.
Along with the incredible visual appeal of food comes its aromas, which can take me on a journey to my past and to places I’ve yet to go. The smell of fennel sausage transports me to my great Aunt Lizzie’s house where there always seemed to be homemade surprises lying in wait for anyone who dropped by. The cozy aroma of roasting meat reminds me of past and present holiday dinners with family and friends. The warm note of anise in the air after making Pizzelles brings me back to my grandparents' house at Christmas time. Tomato leaves and their unmistakeable earthy, delicious smell drop me in the middle of a childhood garden where we would pull warm, sun-ripened tomatoes off the vine and eat them like apples. I imagine Italy to smell like all these wonderful things and more.
The texture of food is another reason to love it. What a heavenly and simple pleasure to take note of the snap of a well made sausage, the silken feel of a sous vide young chicken breast, the crunchy firmness of seaweed salad or a bite of smooth-as-glass orzo tossed in quality butter slipping past your lips. Food’s texture, temperature and overall feel is as important to me as the smell and the taste, because together, they create a fleeting, multi-sensory experience that can only exist for a moment.
The freshness and joy of food must be savored in the moment because its existence is fleeting. The same can be said for life. Enjoy it, savor it, and delight in it, because life, like a sublime and perfectly crafted bite, is precious and fleeting.
"We are all inventors, each sailing out on a voyage of discovery, guided each by a private chart, of which there is no duplicate. The world is all gates, all opportunities."
I am the first of my mother’s children. I grew up with a half-brother and two step-brothers (see 1/50 "The Green House on the Hill” posted July 7, 2015) in the green house before my mom took my younger half-brother and I and moved out of the house when I was about eleven. She was a single parent for most of my life, and a hard working one at that.
One July day in 2000, my mom called me on the phone. I was living in Atlanta by that time so our communication was exclusively by phone and sometimes email. Shortly into our conversation she said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”
I remember feeling physically ill for just a second, bracing myself for the impact of “I have cancer” or “I have a brain tumor.”
Instead she said, “I was contacted recently by someone from my past." I was confused. Relieved that she wasn’t about to tell me she was terminally ill, I relaxed a bit and wondered what she meant. My sense of relief was short-lived however when she finished her sentence.
“It was my other daughter.”
Whoaaaa Nellie. I did NOT see that coming! I could practically see her words hanging in the air in front of my eyes and my brain churned out a multitude of thoughts at once. "Huh? What? Wait! Did she just say, 'my other daughter?' No she couldn’t have, because I’m 30 years old and I’m the first born and certainly the only daughter. I don’t have a sister but now I think I might because I’m sure she just said ‘my other daughter.’ OTHER DAUGHTER? What the….?"
As my brain was spinning with all these thoughts, I calmly said, “Mmmmkaaaay…” and let her finish.
To be honest, the rest of our conversation is a blur. But by the time we hung up, sitting in my office chair on a summer day, at the age of 35, I learned I had a sister.
When I was two and a half years old, my mother got pregnant. As a single mother already, she knew she was in no position to raise another child on her own, so she made what I’m sure was the most difficult decision of her life. She would give the baby up for adoption.
Partway through her pregnancy, she left Harrisburg and relocated to a small town outside of Philadelphia to live there until the baby came. In early October 1968, she gave birth to a baby girl, turned the child over and moved back home to Harrisburg and resumed her life. I’ve never been pregnant or had a child, but I imagine it must have been the hardest thing she had ever done.
When she was just a few days old, my sister Amy was adopted by a family in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, the small town where she was born and thats where she grew up. Seventeen years later, I moved to the Philadelphia area and from for eleven years I lived within 15 minutes of the sister I didn’t know existed. At one point during my marriage to Joe Ricci, Amy and I lived in the same town, just a few miles apart. Neither of us knew about the other then, but I sometimes wonder whether our paths crossed in those years.
Through a clerical error, or perhaps divine intervention, my mother’s full name appeared on Amy’s birth certificate. Because of this oversight, Amy had known our mother’s name for several years but it was the Internet that made it possible for her to find and connect with her mother. And that’s when I got the surprising phone call.
Less than a month after I learned about Amy, she was on a plane to Atlanta. Ed picked her up at the airport while I was at work and when they arrived back at our home, Amy and I met face to face for the first time.
They say the apple doesn’t far fall from the tree and in some ways, Amy is more like my mom than I am. I see my mother in every photo of Amy, in her expressions, in her voice and in her mannerisms. She has her laugh, her intelligence, her sharp senses of hearing and smell, and her fierce independent streak. She even has her parenting style.
My life is better today, thanks to a clerical oversight made 27 years before a sister I never knew found my mother. Her mother. Our mother.
"Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." ~ Thomas Edison
My first attempt to earn money, like many other kids, was through a lemonade stand. I was probably seven or eight years old, and I remember setting up my stand in front of our house (see 1/50 "The Green House on the Hill” posted July 7, 2015) and peddling both lemonade and fruit punch. It’s important to give your customers a choice, you see. If they don’t like one option, maybe they’ll go for the other. At a reasonable quarter per Dixie Cup, people could often afford one of each flavor.
Around age ten, I wanted to be able to earn money, so I took a babysitting certification class. Because I was a very mature and very responsible kid, my mom’s friends allowed me to babysit for them. I believe taking on the responsibility of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of young kids at such a tender age myself was one of the contributing factors to my being child-free by choice.
When I was eleven or twelve I had a paper route. I delivered the Harrisburg Patriot News every day after school and on weekends. Every day, the white newspaper delivery van would drop a bundle of about forty to fifty newspapers on the sidewalk in front of the Green House on the Hill. After I got home from school, I would unbundle them, insert the day’s coupon supplement into each one, stack the papers into my dingy ink-stained cross-body newspaper bag and set off walking. Weekend papers started out with a typically thin Saturday paper but I’m not going to lie, the Sunday paper, thick and heavy with a full set of comics and coupons, was the bane of my young existence. I can't way I enjoyed the job, but it was my first experience working for someone else, and even then I thought I might prefer to be self-employed.
Through my adolescence I worked. I mowed lawns, I cleaned houses, I did pet-sitting and when I turned sixteen, I was finally able to get a real job. I opted for McDonald’s first and Burger King after that. Working fast food taught me the importance of cross-training and customer service and the “fast” part taught me how important having a sense of urgency when serving others.
Although I only worked at McDonald’s for a short time, I remember their training program being excellent. They stressed the importance of speaking to co-workers politely and respectfully, not yelling at each other and treating customers kindly.
During my adolescent and teen years, I also worked in and around our house. My mother, a single parent most of my childhood, believed that giving kids chores and household responsibilities was a vital part of their growing into maturity. We should have been the most mature kids on planet Earth by the time we left home. LOL… I’m not complaining. To the contrary, I am grateful that we were put to work.
My brother Jeff and I weeded and tended our garden and we learned to freeze and can fresh fruits and vegetables. We cleaned our house, cooked meals, washed, dried and folded laundry, we ironed and took out the trash. During the summer, we would spent several days cutting trees, and splitting and stacking logs for firewood for the coming winter. The firewood days were some of the most physically demanding ones all year, but getting to spend time with our Pappy in the woods was a small consolation.
As kids, we disliked having chores, partly because hey, kids are inherently lazy and don’t want to work unless forced to. We also hated our house jobs because we knew good and well (or so we thought) that our friends didn’t have to do them. This fact made our mom The Meanest.
In her ultimate wisdom, she never let up. I think my mom's philosophy was that kids are like baby birds. They are to be loved but not coddled, protected from danger but not sheltered from pain or disappointments. Baby birds must learn to fly and challenging them enables them to use their own wings.
My immediate and extended family's work ethic and culture of work has served me well. I learned do do my best regardless of the job, because everything you do has your name on it.
I also learned that work just for the sake of work, is a valuable and important part of our humanity. It doesn’t matter what you do, working in and of itself develops your confidence and self-esteem. Work teaches you to strive to win but to lose graciously and perhaps most importantly, it reinforces the value of individual contribution. These are vital lessons for kids to learn and I’m so grateful to have grown up in a family who expected me to work.
Yesterday’s post was about getting married early and today’s is about blooming late. I was a cute baby. I was a cute toddler. I was even a cute kid in elementary school. Then I hit what they call an "awkward stage” except mine lasted about 12 years. Thank God.
Being an unattractive kid isn’t easy but at least in those days most everyone was just average looking. Sure you had a small percentage who were exceptionally attractive kids, but most everyone was on a spectrum of average to really unattractive. I’m just gonna say I wasn’t at the ‘average’ end of that scale. Don’t feel sorry for me though.
Being an ugly duckling was one of the biggest blessings of my life. Oh make no mistake, it sucked at the time. But having bad hair, glasses, zits, a retainer and frizzy perms builds character in an adolescent girl. When you aren’t graced with good looks you learn to rely on other things to get by. I’m just grateful that I was smart and had an outgoing personality and lots of friends, or things could have really SUPER sucked.
As much as I wanted to be a pretty girl at the time, I’m glad I wasn’t, because I was waaaaay too into boys for my own good. Growing up in a broken home, and without a consistent, solid father in my life made me vulnerable. My maternal grandfather was the most amazing man I’ve ever known and he and my four awesome uncles were the most constant and consistent male role models in my life. I’m grateful for them all, however for a child, having solid, upstanding men in the periphery isn’t the same as having one at home every day.
The blessing of ugly served me well. Had I been pretty, I would likely have gotten male attention and had no idea what to do or how to handle it. I simply didn’t have the tools that I pray my nieces and my friends’ kids have today. The tools of self-esteem and confidence were not always present in my life the way they are today. In my adolescence I had no idea how to set boundaries and I could easily have gotten entangled with just about anyone who had paid attention to me and ended up in a very bad situation.
I now have nieces and my friends have daughters. Reflecting on myself and who I was at their tender ages is what made me realize that being an ugly duckling saved my life. And if that’s a bit too dramatic for you, it sure as heck kept me from going down a path I might never have recovered from.