Sunday, November 22, 2015

Happy Ohio-versary to Me!

Today marks exactly 365 days since I loaded up a UHaul with a studio apartment's worth of belongings & headed back to the Buckeye State for good.

I always suspected I might end up back here, but at some point, in my seven years away, I began to wonder if it would ever really happen. When I visited home last October, I just felt it in my bones - that the time had come. I put in my 30 days' notice as soon as I got back, & in just over a month, I was living with my mom again.

I wasn't always sure it was the right decision. In the beginning, my mom & I did our fair share of arguing, & I couldn't help but second-guess my choice to move home. I knew it was a short-term stay, but it was tough to lose my space & my sense of independence after so many years of living alone. (I just wrote about this for xoJane, if you're interested.)

On top of all of that, I briefly questioned where I even liked Cleveland at all. What if I'd moved back for a city I hated?!

But from that very first day, 365 ago, I knew that coming back to Ohio itself was the right move. I missed my friends back on the East Coast, sure; I miss D.C. as a city, yes. But I don't miss living there. I don't miss the astronomical rent or the tiny apartment or the high cost of living or the unreliable buses or the sweltering summers. I loved living there, but I am a Midwesterner at heart.

As it turns out, this last year in Ohio has been one of the best of my life.

I grew closer to my mom. I got some quiet time in the suburbs. I reconnected with old friends. I started to get my finances in order. I met the love of my life (yep, I said it). I moved into an incredible apartment in Cleveland. I adopted the cutest cat in the world. I solidified my love for this city. I got a handle on my anxiety & became uncharacteristically zen & found more happiness than I have seen in a long, long time.

I loved being an East Coast girl, & I feel fortunate to have spent seven years growing, learning, experiencing all that D.C. & New Hampshire & New Jersey had to offer me. I wouldn't trade that time away for anything.

But my heart has always been in Ohio - & it's so damn good to be home.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

When Your Favorite Company Falls Out of Your Favor, Or Why I'm Done with the POPSUGAR MustHave Box


I've been singing the gospel of the POPSUGAR MustHave Box since 2012, when I discovered it on my friend Suki's blog & decided that it was, well, a must-have. Every month, they send me a box of goodies, from snacks to home decor to fashion to entertainment. I look forward to my monthly box of surprises, an ongoing treat to myself.

In fact, when I moved over the summer, I realized just how many of the items I own came from  MustHave boxes: my Spongelle loofah with the built-in soap, the Judy Blume book I was reading, my favorite coffee mug, my everyday wallet, my Too Faced eyebrow kit, a decent percentage of my scarf & stationery collections... POPSUGAR has turned me on to all kinds of products & brands that I've grown to love, & because of that, I've long been brand-loyal to the box itself.

It's been a fun ride, but I think that love & loyalty has come to an end.

As much as I hate to admit it, the company has been falling out of my good graces for awhile now. Though I still enjoy receiving a monthly box of surprises, I've started to dislike the actual company so much that it doesn't feel worth it anymore. Why?
  • Customer service: Their customer service - only available online - is notoriously slow & frustratingly robotic, the kind of responses that give you the impression that nobody is taking the time to read the words you send them. I've repeatedly had to resend my requests to note that they haven't actually answered my questions. To top it off, they are frequently short, snippy, & bordering on snarky. Not appreciated.
  • Spoilers: They recently started posting spoilers for upcoming boxes on social media - like, multiple spoilers. If you like them on Facebook or Instagram, there's no way to avoid these posts - & even after I unfollowed them, I'd get spoilers in the ads they targeted at me on both platforms! I don't want your effing spoilers. I order a box of surprises for a reason - to be surprised. They could easily make the spoilers opt-in click-throughs, yet they choose to ruin the experience for a large swath of their customers just for the sake of, I assume, good-looking online engagement numbers.
  • Content: Their products used to be the best, all kinds of stuff I'd never find on my own. But lately I feel like they just grab whatever overflow junk they can find & try to pass it off as worthwhile. Example? This month's box included a goddamn bingo set 
  • Price: When I first became a subscriber, this box cost $35 flat. My last box, after shipping & whatever else they've added on, was $43.1. To ship me, in part, a goddamn bingo set.
  • Issue resolution: Countless comments on social media show that items in other boxes have arrived damaged or haven't arrived at all, & the company responds online to encourage customers to contact them by email. That didn't prove helpful to me when, a few months ago, my box was missing one of the main items, a voucher for three months of a free online yoga program. When I contacted the company, they eventually apologized & told me they'd put a replacement in the mail. It never arrived.
And finally, my biggest issue: POPSUGAR MustHave recently changed their referrals program to that, in my view, borders on being hostile to their longtime loyal customers. Upon their site relaunch, they reset all past referrals to zero, nullifying my ongoing efforts to achieve the holy grail of referrals: a few months of free boxes. I was just a couple referrals away &, but now, all my existing referrals have been nullified - they don't count for anything, I get nothing for them, & it's like they never happened at all. What a nice thank-you for telling all my friends!

Their new referral program is whatever - one free box after three referrals (starting from zero, of course), followed by $10 off per next box for every referral thereafter. Yeah, not quite as compelling as multiple free boxes, but I would've been fine with it had they not made all my past referrals disappear.

Today, I cancelled my subscription & sent POPSUGAR an email telling them I'm done with them. I love the boxes themselves, & I know I'll miss receiving them, so maybe I'll be back eventually. For now, though, I need to acknowledge my ongoing frustration with this company & stop giving them my money, my loyalty, & my referrals.

That means I'm on the lookout for a fun new subscription box, preferably one managed by a company that gives a damn about its customers. Any recommendations?

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Secret Service Escorted Me to the Bathroom & Then I Took a Selfie with the Veep

Titles are supposed to be a teaser of the content within, & I know, the title of this post really gives it all away. But come on, did it not catch your attention? Did you not read it & think, "God, Kate has all the weirdest stories"?

That's what I thought.

Let me back up. I have basically been too busy to breathe lately, & when I'm not busy, I'm relaxing as much as humanly possible, because I seem to be very all-or-nothing these days. I worked 18-hour days at my organization's major biennial convention (this was my fifth one with them!), & when I got home, I slept for 18 hours. That basically sums it all up.

But while in Orlando for that very-busy convention, I still had the opportunity to squeeze in a couple little adventures.

My job at this event, as is my job in everyday life, was to maintain our organizational social media presence - tweeting, posting to Facebook, blogging, etc. On-site social media is a lot of fun to do, & I love the fast pace of it. I confess that I also love sitting backstage at our big plenary sessions, watching what goes on behind the scenes & seeing all the VIPs walk by, practicing their speeches.

One of our plenary speakers with New York Times columnist Nick Kristof, an incredible advocate for global human rights, including women's rights & health issues. Winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, he's renowned for writing that gets people to pay attention to & take action on global crises. 

I bought Kristof's book after the session & stood at the end of the autograph line. With no one behind me, I shamelessly asked him for a quick selfie. He was kind enough to oblige, & it was only mildly awkward.

I figured he'd be my only brush with celebrity during the week, as I rarely get to meet them while sitting backstage in the dark - but just being there, live-tweeting, is enough of a rush.

Our final speaker was a heavyweight keynote - Vice President Joe Biden! Late Sn Saturday night, I settled in for the long haul backstage with a trenta latte & a bottle of water.

But there was a problem. I have a pea-sized bladder, & I soon discovered that my reliable backstage bathroom was closed - because, you know, the veep rolls deep with a squad of Secret Service folks. Long before Biden's address even began, I found myself nearing uncomfortable liquid levels.

I contemplated my options: Run to the far-away hallway bathrooms, missing live-tweeting opportunities? Or... ask the nearby Secret Service dudes for help? I chose the latter, timidly approaching the three burly, suited men who guarded the room where the VP awaited his stage debut. 

"Hi, uhhhh," I started brilliantly. "I really have to use the bathroom, but just realized I can't get to the one backstage..." Nothing like rambling to make your point.

They looked at one another as if to say "NOT IT" until one guy somewhat begrudgingly asked the other, "Want me to take her?" And off I went with my very own Secret Service bathroom escort, through the heavily guarded back doors & into the behind-backstage area, which is a weird kitchen hallway...

...filled with massive, shiny, black presidential vehicles being hand-polished by more men in suits. Indoors. It was like some scene out of a movie.

I tried not to make eye contact with anyone, lest I get kicked out before I could empty myself out (sorry). My Secret Service pal made awkward small talk, finally posting up outside the bathroom door while I willed myself to be the world's fastest pee-er. I was so fast, in fact, that when I exited, he asked, "Did you even have time to wash your hands?!" (I did, I swear.)

The vice president's address began as soon as I got back to my seat - whew it! I settled in & took to social media to live-tweet his speech & interact with audience members who were doing the same.

As Biden spoke, my boss approached me in the dark. "Would you like to meet the vice president?" he whispered. I wanted to keep my cool & be a professional, but instead I just smiled like a dope & uttered, "Yes!"

When the VP exited the stage, he & his entourage made their way toward the backstage doors - but not before my boss diverted him toward where I stood with a few coworkers, watching expectantly. "Is this your staff?" Biden asked, walking toward us. He started with others, asking their names & hometowns, bantering about sports & kissing one of my coworkers on the head. He was in a hurry by the time he got to me, shaking my hand & starting to move along, when I basically sort of blacked out & acted on an idea.

"Mr. Vice President," I piped up, his staff & my coworkers all turning toward me in surprise, "I run our social media feeds. I wondered if I might get a selfie with you for the big screens?" 


That's when Joe Biden, vice president of the United States of America, gave me a good-natured laugh & flung his arm around me, smiling for a series of three dark, grainy selfies as a dozen expectant staffers looked on. And then he gave the rest of us a wave & swept away, headed off to be... you know, the vice president of the United States of America. 

And that, my friends, is the story of the time the Secret Service escorted me to the bathroom & then I took a selfie with the veep. Did the title blow the story? I hope not. Because it's one of my new favorites.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Byline Worth Humblebragging About


As always, I have plenty of things to say, but for once, I am too tired to put together any words. My big work conference ended on Sunday, & I slept for 18 hours when I got home - & counting! I'll be back soon with a pretty cool update (you might've already seen it on social media, but I want to write about it, too), but in the meantime, I wanted to share another cool little update.

If you're one of the folks who's been following along with this blog since way back when: A) thank you, & B) you might remember my semi-regular posts about "grandmaisms," documentation of some of the many ridiculous things my beloved grandmother said during our times together. When my grandma died in 2012, a few readers told me that they grieved for her because they felt like they'd come to know her through my blog posts.

Today, I'm honoring my grandma's memory & part of the legacy of gratitude that she passed down to me in an essay for Country Living magazine titled "Why I'll Never Let Emails and Texts Replace Thank You Notes."

I'd love for you to check it out - &, as always, thank you for your support & love & readership. (If you want that handwritten, I'm happy to oblige!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Curmudgeons & Pigeons: My Friend is Making a 3D Animated Short Film!


I met Dmitry in 2011, when we were on the same trip to Israel through URJ Kesher & Birthright Israel, which organizes free trips for Jewish young adults. Honestly, it was not a trip I really wanted to go on - but it was free, & a friend was coming with me, & I had never been abroad before, so I agreed.

I was fortunate to find myself among a group of about 40 other Jewish young adults from all backgrounds - people I'm still in touch with, people who changed me, people who influenced my perspectives on life. One of them was Dmitry, a friendly, outgoing Russian-American film student with the kind of unexpected wisdom that sticks with you. On a hotel roof on our last night in Tel Aviv, Dmitry gave me a hug & whispered to me some quiet insight about loving myself & not letting myself be my own worst enemy; I haven't forgotten it.

The trip changed all of us in so many ways. For Dmitry, it was the inspiration behind Curpigeon, a 3D animated short film. Though I've never done an interview-style post on this blog before, I thought it would be a fun way to share a little bit about his project, which is running a support campaign, & for you to learn a little bit more about what goes into the making of the kind of quirky, adorable 3D shorts we all love. Bonus? This one has a socially conscious message designed to help kids cope with life's tough moments.

I present you: An interview with Dmitry Milkin, director of the upcoming Curpigeon!

Let's start with the basics: Tell us a little more about Curpigeon.
Curpigeon is a 3D animated short with some really unique and lovable characters. The story centers around a community of park pigeons & their old men pals, who help one of their own get through a great loss. It's really a film about community support. More specifically, it focuses on a window of grief that is one of the hardest to deal with - when everyone has moved on but you.

The goal is to really show kids a way to deal with a loss without falling into resentment or isolation, & instead reaching out to their community for help. I worked very hard to make sure that it is as hilarious as it is sweet & sincere. The short is packed with goofs & gags that will register with every age viewer - & really, that is the only way the message of the film will connect to the audience. I call it "hiding the peas in the mashed potatoes."

What inspired you to do a film about old men & pigeons, of all topics?
It's one of those relationships everyone is already familiar with. Everyone has seen old men feeding pigeons in the park. The image is iconic - not Superman-iconic, but iconic in a more intimate way.

For me this story was always a socially conscious mission. I'm horrified at how often & how randomly we've seen mass violence in the last few years. I can't get used to it, & no one should be used to it - doesn't matter what your politics are. After the shootings at Sandy Hook, I felt like it was impossible to shelter children from all of this, so I wanted to tell a children's story about dealing with death. It's a difficult task to even comprehend how to do, & I wanted to do it in a way that is much more natural & sentimental.

My girlfriend is a PhD candidate in clinical psychology, which came in very handy. I consulted with her & some of her colleagues & professors to make sure I was handling this subject matter responsibly & accurately. Each of the old men were designed to remind anyone of their grandpa. I think I spent way too much time coming up with different backstories & individual characteristics for these guys, who we never hear talk - but those are also the things that make them come to life. 

Curpigeon is basically the cutest name ever. How did you come up with that?
The title is a play on my favorite word, "curmudgeon," which means a cranky old man. I was so proud of myself when I came up with it. I mean, I'm doing a story about a cranky pigeon & old men, and it fit so perfectly! I patted myself on the back for that one - as my girlfriend rolled her eyes. I just like puns. It's a writer thing.

How did your - our! - trip to Israel impact your decision to make this film?
Oh, man, so much! I don't even know where to begin. Everyone loves their Birthright trip, so it may be a cliche to gush about mine (& clearly you're a bit biased, too, since you were on it) but ours may have been the best Kesher group of all time. Greg, one of our two group leaders, never led a group again because he felt nothing could top it!

Now, four years later, you're interviewing me, & another friend from the trip, Josh, brought it to his boss at Segars Media, which is now sponsoring the film. The sheer amount of support that I still receive from our 40-strong group is just incredible - so it's no wonder I came back from the trip & wrote a story about community support. That Israel trip made me feel connected to something bigger than myself, while instilling in me a deep sense of confidence & self-worth. That's really a priceless gift. I guess this film is my attempt at saying thank you.

What goes into the making of a 3D animated short film? What's the work process, how many people does it take, etc.? Walk us through it.
It takes not knowing what you are getting yourself into, even though everyone warned me that making a 3D animated short with 12 characters near 10 minutes long was an almost impossible task as an independent filmmaker. My background was in screenwriting, so I really had no idea what technical challenges I would face.

Now, I have so much respect for all the technical artists who are the behind-the-scenes wizards in all those large magnanimous feature fi;ms. It takes an army, & I encourage everyone to really watch the end credits to some of your favorite animated films from Dreamworks & such, just to really see how many people something like this takes. Last I counted, the Curpigeon team was 150+ strong - just the team of animators was 40 people over the course of a year and a half.

The support for this film has been really amazing from the start, & I think that's because people truly connect to the film's message. If I were to really explain everything that goes into the process, I would ramble on forever, but the main thing that has been essential is knowing why you're doing it, & holding on to that when big challenges get in the way. Putting four years of your life into a 10-minute experience is difficult to do. You need to know why it's worth it -& then never stop.

What's the next step for Curpigeon?
Festivals! Right now, we're raising money through our Rocket Hub Campaign, so we can do a final polish on the film & send Curpigeon to film/animation festivals around the world (including Israel). That way we can reach a global audience and promote Curpigeon as a brand of socially conscious storytelling. Then, who knows? Maybe Curpigeon the feature!
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