A Favorite Lesson

This is one of the best things that I have ever learned in regards to personal relationships! It would have been handy to know about in, say, my teens or early 20s…but we’re all on our own path, right?

When Introverts and Extroverts Mingle

More episodes available from your favorite podcatcher or here!

Let’s be realistic…

I honestly have zero desire to post on here every time that I drop a new episode, that’s twice a week and I’m not that motivated, and am- at my core- lazy. If you want to listen and be updated when new episodes drop, please subscribe on your favorite podcatcher. If you want to contact me, see the contact page on here; if you want to follow me on social media–yeah, do that, I would love to meet you.

What I will do is post the audio of those episodes once a week, in a pair. I know that there are a lot of people who listen via websites (although I do have a Libsyn page that has them as soon as they drop and you can follow that HERE.) I know, social media managers are cringing…or thinking I would make a great client. Here’s the thing: I know what “best practices” are; I know better what “best Susan practices” are and if I add too many commitments to this project it will start to feel like work and that is the last thing I want.

Fighting For Exclusive Ownership of Pens and Mules

Thanks for listening!

Episode #One for realzies!

The first episode of the podcast was just an intro. In the PodWorld (gag, I hate “pod” even though I felt compelled to use it on my social media accounts) you have to have an episode for Apple to approve a new show and get into the system. Apple works on Appletime so the date of when that actually happens is a big mystery, so a lot of people drop an Episode #0, then podcasters can begin their schedule when they choose.

My episodes will drop on Mondays and Fridays…so naturally, I posted my episode #1 on Wednesday. (Welcome to my non-logical logic.)

This one is called Tales From a Non-Hugger: What Was Your Last Hug Like?

Congratulations! It’s a podcast!

Look for this on your favorite podcatcher! (It was vanilla cake with St. Germain, cream cheese frosting.)

I just launched a little project all my own, it’s a podcast called A Slice From The Middle, one woman’s sometimes clumsy, often touching, frequently funny adventure through life starting in the middle of everything: Age, parenting, career, marriage, and the US. 

For this first season I’ll be reading some of my columns that have done nothing but sit in a big ol’ plastic tub for over ten years. I wanted to get them out of the box and…somewhere. In addition, I did wonder if there may be a future for me as an audiobook narrator, but I need a lot of reading aloud experience; I need to master some better breathing techniques, and I have a lot to learn about voices. I thought this would be a good place to start exploring that as well as getting my writing work”out there.” I do plan to create some original content along the way, maybe I’ll dig out the novels or short stories that I’ve written and have not seen the light of day, and maybe I’ll invite other Middles to share their work.

Each episode will be less than 10 minutes long, my columns are under 650 words which is pretty short and I’m not a fan of babbly podcasts so I’m sure as heck am not going to create one. The format is this: Just a little context, maybe an update, or lessons since learned, then the essay, then done! Just long enough to take the dog into the back yard to do her business, go get the mail, empty and stuff the dishwasher, mop the kitchen floor, brush your teeth…okay, you know where you have 10 minutes a day to spend with me, right?

I always thought of my columns as slice-of-life essays. The situations, foibles, and lessons learned were mostly something common and relatable but as seen through my lens. Like a middle cake slice: essentially like any other slice just…different. An “Oh, I never thought of it that way,” thing. Although sometimes also a “Better you than me,” thing. Or an “Oh please tell me you didn’t…damn, you did,” thing.

If you would like to listen on this website, just click the play arrow below; if you would like to subscribe (I would love for you to subscribe) just find A Slice From The Middle on most (I’m still working on that) podcatchers!

Still here and doing…stuff

Hi! I’m still around! I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been as excited to hear that from friends as I am this year… after this year and a half going on two. Knowing that people I care about have made it this long is something to celebrate.

I’ve been plugging away on the podcast, taking care of my family, baking –so much baking– and when Covid took a little vacation this spring; when the world opened just an itty, bitty, teeny, tiny bit, I did what a lot of people did: went through on the plans I made for, “when this thing is over.”

First off: I lost the weight all that baking and stress packed on my hips, ass, stomach…everywhere.

Beckett and I were interviewed for some History Channel shows (nbd…just kidding, VERY bd) and I went on a family vacation to the East coast with my born into and born family. I gardened, saw some friends, ate out, went into stores, realized that I don’t like going into stores, and the therapy that I had started in 2020 because I didn’t even know what the hell this pandemic was doing to me continued.

But then, Covid came back from its vacation and, living in the middle of the country in a state that never shut down in a town with very few who took Pandemic, Part One seriously I stopped doing all that stuff again.

I’ve spent a lot of time examining my life (who hasn’t?) and what the next steps are. I LOVE working with Beckett to create The History Chicks podcast, but since getting laid off from The Star in 2019, I haven’t had anything all my own. I’ve been floundering, wondering if this is it? Starts and fails…will I ever have any other project stick?

But, I have an idea, a path to try and I’ve been doing the background work and hope to be able to talk about very soon. It might not amount to anything, but you know what? Even before I share with anyone, just creating this for myself feels like something stuck.

Only in 2021 would “stuck” feel so good.

Part of what I’ve been working on. Hell yeah, I made that cake and it was delicious! Vanilla with St Germain Buttercream frosting. If that slice in the middle is bothering your visual sensibilities, I hope it makes sense when I explain. And I will.

Things I knead

It’s science, people! Smell and memories are connected on a biological level. That’s why, when you smell tomatoes warm from the sun, you think of your grandfather; when you smell Lysol, you ask who’s sick; and when you smell new electronics you get happily excited. Just me? Okay, memories are personal, so go sniff something–a cardboard box, any of the spices in your kitchen, maybe some Ivory soap…eventually, you will land on at least one scent that triggers a memory of an event or person.

Science will also tell you that smell connects us with the associated emotions of those memories. That’s why some love the smell of low tide while others find it disgusting; why a cologne you liked at first may, later, make you scared and want to throw up because it reminds you of an abusive boyfriend.

Again, maybe that’s just me, but you get the point.

Have you ever smelled bread baking? Of course you have, it’s the scent that hits you when you walk into a Subway sub shop. But the smell of bread baking doesn’t make me think of grinder shops, I think of my father.

Dad didn’t cook often, but when he did he tackled a recipe until he mastered it. Because of that, the man knew his way around pasta, eggnog…and bread. On winter weekend days he would haul out the big bowl from under the stove, the flour bag from the pantry, the yeast packets from the fridge, the sugar bowl from the counter, and set to bakin’. Hours later, when we had forgotten that he had even started making bread, the smell would hug us.

One day when I was young, maybe five or six, I had dug a fort into the snow that had drifted against our house during a storm. I loved being in my fort, it was cold but cozy; quiet but not lonely. The sun had already set and the view outside the Susan-sized fort entrance was mesmerizing: A porch light created glittery sparkles on the fallen snow and lit up the still falling flakes which all contrasted with the country-darkness beyond the light glow.

It was a gentle baking-bread scented wave sneaking outside (through the same cracks in our very old house that let mice inside) that made me eventually leave my fort. Everything about me was cold and damp from a full day of sledding, tromping, and forting, but I had refused to end the magic…until the bread smell invaded my snow fort. I’m grateful to Childhood Susan for snapping a smell-and-sniff memory photo of the moment. Kids are wise, we don’t always give them enough credit for that.

Many…many years later I live half a country away from my Connecticut childhood, my father passed away five years ago, and I’m not as tolerant of cold weather as I was as a kid–but the smell of baking bread still brings back that snow-day memory and emotions of being cozy, loved and cared for.

Despite the warm memories, Adult Susan never baked bread. I should amend that: back in the 90s we had a bread maker and I used it a few times but the shape of the bread was weird and while it smelled like 70s Connecticut, it didn’t taste like it.

This past spring a Facebook group that I’m in began a baking challenge based on a shared, weekly theme. (Full disclosure: it’s our podcast Facebook group and all the themes are former subjects.) Each week we bake something that the subject inspires, take a picture, and share it on Sundays with our path from subject to photo.

Like a lot of people this year, I’ve learned new-to-me skills, and thanks to that weekly bake challenge, one of mine is making bread.

Babka and pierogi from my childhood Easters? Made ’em for Polish-American creator of the Barbie doll, Ruth Handler.

This tied me to my own past, taught me to bravely try complicated recipes, and that even when the reality doesn’t physically match the memory, it can be very delicious.

Conchas like the ones Frida Kahlo made for Diego Rivera? Why not?

This tied me to a world not my own, and taught me to try new recipes even if I’ve never had (or seen) them before. Mom always said, “If you can read, you can cook.” She’s right.

Milk bread for…honestly, I don’t remember who was the subject, but I had never had it so I made it.

This was a very different recipe –eggs, butter, and warm milk–and the one that made me realize the therapeutic powers of kneading; it was also a great success, I’ve made it several times since.

French bread for Coco Chanel? I was scared of this one because the recipes all included a step where you put the shaped loaves in the oven and, at the same moment, you throw a handful of ice cubes in a heated pan on the rack below the bread. They all warned to take care as the move could crack the oven door glass.

Braved it!

This is the bread that taught me to mix with my hands (also, the success gave me a lot of confidence.)

When yeast was not available in our grocery store, I ordered the big bag online and keep it in the fridge…it’s more than half gone, I’ve made a lot of bread. Early on, I used the dough hook on my stand mixer, but the first time I used my hands like Dad would have, the tactile aspects thrilled me so I changed my ways. When I was able to visit my mom this fall, I made her bread several times; I did a FaceTime with a family friend on my phone and mom nearby in a chair while I made French bread for the manyth time.

French bread crouton for homemade onion soup for Mom. Yes, it was as good as it looks.

After almost 10 months of bread baking, the smell still reminds me of that magical winter evening and of my dad. Kneading each batch makes me think of the generations of women-both on my family tree and off- who would have made their family’s bread the same way, and the physical activity of it keeps me grounded in my own present moment.

Each time I get my own big bowl out, flour, water, yeast, and a little sugar combine to give me things that I need: nourishment and confidence, sure, but also the ability to transport to my own past, entwine me with history, and prepare me for whatever is next.

Hi!

Hey, how have you been? I mean, besides “managing.”

If I was the writer I thought I was in March I would have started a journal or, at least, written some short and quippy relatable observations as we slogged through the pandemic.

I should have talked about the baking I took up and the massive amount of yeast I’m still going through.

Italian Rum Cake. I made that!

I could have documented a trip to the grocery store in March then compared it to one now with a sidebar on how I used to enjoy shopping and now abhor it.

I should have talked about how it first felt like a snow day until the numbers started rising, moods started flaring, and sides of Mask/No Mask were taken.

I could have done several hundred words, some in bold text, on how maddening it is to see some people conducting life as usual, during a very unusual time.

The nesting every person in my house did had to have been duplicated elsewhere.

I could have shared that our path of emotions and the tip-toeing around button pushing topics within our family was perfectly normal.

Oh! Procrastination! How it’s been amped up since March and how the ability to focus on one particular thing has become weakened. I could totally bullet point a post about that.

How about a piece on outside time and how precious it’s become?

I could have written reams about the treatment of our elders in this country and what isolation has done to them.

The steps my brother and I each took so we could see our mom would fill a long essay

The story of how I broke my solid brand loyalty and traded my beloved Galaxy for an iPhone just so I could FaceTime people I missed very much.

But I didn’t. I think firing this site back up is a good sign that maybe my brain is reactivating itself; that I’m rediscovering the joy of writing (not so much re-writing, but that does bring a certain thrill, too, I suppose.) How seeing words on a page makes me feel visible in a time when I’m feeling quite the opposite.

I could have written a nice essay about the adventures of my asshole fish, Elton, who doesn’t play well with others…or, at the very least, a running gag.

A valuable lesson oft-repeated

Image may contain: text that says 'Heidi Stevens @HeidiStevens13 When saw Oprah interview Michelle Obama Oprah asked how Michelle got over feeling intimidated sitting at big tables filled with smart, powerful men and Michelle said, "You realize pretty quickly that a lot of them aren't that smart." think about that quote every single day.'

Yes!

I learned something similar when I was in my 30s and a stay-at-home mom. Back then, successful days meant getting to the end with the house still standing and at least one kid still talking to me. Extra points if no one complained about dinner.

I was already boarded for a rare solo flight to visit my family when a tall, beautiful, finely-coiffed woman dressed in an expensive power suit came down the aisle. Silently I started willing her to another row, “don’t sit next to me, don’t sit next to me…” Not necessarily because I like having the row to myself– who doesn’t?– but she didn’t look like anyone I would have anything in common with and I was in the mood for in-flight chit chat.

Of course, she was seated next to me and a tasteful cloud of expensive perfume settled in around her. She was confident and impeccable, I felt small and frumpy. When she told me what she did for a living my brain translated it to “Upper Management, Financial something, Impressive Degree.”

If my emotions at that moment were described as my perfume, “small and frumpy” would be the base note, with “unaccomplished” as the top note, and a heart note of “intimidation.”

BUT!

Within fifteen minutes she was asking for life guidance. She may have been professionally successful and confident, but she was personally very insecure. That flight made me realize that most people are great at something, but most people also have parts of their lives that are a mess…just like the rest of us.

That fact became my mental equalizer.

I don’t know about you, but I often have to relearn lessons. I don’t forget them as much as I misplace them, it makes me feel better about myself if I think of it as relearning them for emphasis–like a life exclamation point.

Maaaany years, an actual career, and a new definition of personal success later, I was at a professional conference cocktail hour. Along with my co-workers, we were planning an exit strategy so that we could head out for our collective dinner plan when we spotted someone we knew of: a person who was at the top of the game in our industry. The person who had lived the dream of rapid and overwhelming success in the field–so successful that people outside of it would know his name. (Yes, even you; no, I’m not spilling the name.)

And this pinnacle of success was standing alone, nursing a clear plastic glass of a clear liquid, ice cubes, and a lime wedge.

As the designated extrovert in the group, it was quickly established that I would go over, break the ice then the rest of the group would join and invite him to go to dinner with us.

Crossing the hotel’s ballroom-turned-networking-club, I did feel nervous. Just because someone is extroverted that doesn’t mean they are confident…or at least it doesn’t in my case. I am not very good at networking events, I say really stupid things and always manage to find a couple people and stick with them the whole time which totally negates the purpose. That night I had seen this guy in several group conversations, although I hadn’t been in any of those. I thought to myself, “He looks so serious, he’s probably sick and tired of people ‘picking his brain.’ ” When I passed the point of no acceptable social-detour and he made cautious eye contact I thought, “Holy crap, I’m intimidated.”

I mumbled an introduction and invited him to come with my group to dinner and, as per the plan, my pointing brought all of them over. Chatter began, not business chatter but a talk about anything but our industry.

His face melted to a sincere smile and his quiet demeanor took over his previously intimidating stance. I realized that while he earned his professional confidence, personally he was as awkward as me (only less animated about it.)

He couldn’t join us for dinner, one of those earlier, better at networking groups had invited him, but when we parted his, “Nice to meet you” was very sincere.

As was mine.

I’ll probably have to relearn this, again–my life needs a lot of exclamation points–but I’ve not allowed myself to feel intimidated since.

Impressed, yes, but not intimidated.

The end is now the beginning

This column first ran in The Kansas City Star on November 22, 2019. Here’s proof! (As long as the link works, anyway.) It ran almost to the day that my very first column was published in 2010, but this particular column was an end, not a beginning. 

I was very sad when I wrote it and tried to put on a happy face with my words. I may have done too good of a job. When I posted the link on Twitter and Facebook, people congratulated me. People seemed excited for my writing future. I wasn’t excited, leaving wasn’t voluntary and I have no firm plans for any new published writing. Like a lot of journalists and freelance writers associated with newspapers, I got laid off. Why me? I was given a reason that has to do with geography: where I live and where my columns ran didn’t match. I understand, it’s business and I’m grateful for the many years that I had with the Star. My editor sincerely seemed sad, too. Among many nice things that she said was that my “prose was often poetic.” I may get that as a tattoo, what a lovely thing to hear.

The column below ran right before I hosted Thanksgiving which was rapidly followed by Christmas hustle so I was relieved to have no deadlines…until today.

Thanksgiving is over.

Christmas is over.

New Years is over.

2019 is over.

My run as a weekly Star columnist is over.

All this hit me this morning. 

My last editor wasn’t the only one who has said nice things about my work and work ethic, so they must be true. They have told me that my columns were their favorite to edit, that my pieces weren’t self-indulgent but honest and not always happy. I took on tough issues; I taught them a few things. I made them laugh and cry; my topics were relatable. My copy was clean…and I am adding this because, now, I’m in self-promotional mode. I’m not comfortable doing it, in all these years it’s never become easy…but I need a new gig. A new paid gig. First-person, slice of life columnist for hire.

One woman’s exhausting and clumsy journey through American life.

This ending column is the beginning of something new…now what?

*********************************************************************************

Please step into my time machine, won’t you? We’re headed back to 2009 and visiting a stay-at-home mom who just sent her last child off to kindergarten. After her celebratory brunch wore off, she said, “Now what?” She had been putting off this conversation for a while, but it was time for a heart-to-heart…with herself.

Simply put: The life change staring her in the face in 2009 was daunting. The career she left 13 years earlier to stay home with the kids had been outdated into oblivion and her marketable skills list was really short.

Some people think best through exercise or talking things out, she thought best at a keyboard so she began her own blog. It was the heyday of the Mommy Blogger and, damn, she had fun! Was it possible to turn this into a paying job?

She came up with a plan: Write regularly scheduled, amateur essays on a large website, become a featured blogger on that site, make the leap to Professional Writer and, then, world domination.

No one was more surprised than she when the plan (mostly) worked. Within months she stood in front of a blank wall in her house and snapped a selfie to use as a featured blogger; within a year she stood at her mailbox and cried when she got her first paycheck for something she wrote. She had always considered herself a writer, but making this leap proved that others considered her one, too. She scratched “world domination” off the list and replaced it with an equally ambitious plan to have a book published.

Because life tends to bundle changes, the very same month she began to call herself a professional writer, a friend asked her to co-host a women’s history podcast. “We’ll call it The History Chicks,” her friend said. “Just us drinking coffee or wine and telling the stories of historical women.” So what if she had gotten a D in AP History in high school? AP History was about wars and treaties and memorizing dates, but this history was about people. She loved people.

For the next nine years, she kept pinching herself that this was her life; she thrived…I thrived, you’ve figured that out, right? During those years, my two older kids went from grade school to college, one’s graduating this spring. The kid who entered kindergarten in 2009? He’s a high school freshman. For nine years of family life, of social life…a slice of my life went into this space. I got to talk about my failures, successes, and lessons learned; I got to whine about being a non-sporty mom with very sporty kids. When I sat down to write each column during those nine years, I did it with pride and care like it was the last one I would ever write.

And now it is.

I’m not hanging up my keyboard, I’m just saying good-bye to this special space.

Thank you to Jennifer Brown who had this column before me and gave me a heads-up that she was leaving, to the now-darkened but then fabulous Mom2Mom KC website that gave me my first blogging gig. A grateful hug to all my gentle editors at The Star who corrected my “creative punctuation.” The biggest thank you to you, the reader, who has had this one-sided conversation with me. One of my friends once told me, “You put emotions into words.” If you gave me a nod of someone who relates, cringed because something happened to me and not to you, smiled, laughed, or cried—thank you.

Ten years ago, I stood in front of a blank wall in my house and took a selfie to run with my blogs on Mom2Mom, that photo still runs in the physical versions of this paper. Today I stood in front of that same wall and took another selfie to say, “I’ll miss you, but we’ll meet again.”

xo,

Susan

LAST COLUMN GRAPHIC

Who Said That?

Life is hard; citing sources is sometimes harder. -Susan Vollenweider, 2018

I believe in research, I’m also practitioner of due diligence so when I asked my Facebook friends for their favorite, life motivating quotes for a column I was writing (See: Kansas City Star) I also asked them to cite the source. Due diligence sent me to confirm those sources and that’s when I ran into a few walls.

Those walls worked like a maze and redirected the original premise of the column. I had thought it would be a nice, easy way to share hard-learned wisdom from some of the wisest people that I know (ie: I could fill the space with someone else’s words for a change), but research sent me down so many rabbit holes that the project took four times as long as it usually does and the end result wasn’t close to my original premise. (Pro tip: It often isn’t.)

BUT I did learn a lot and can’t consider that time wasted. These are all quotes given to me by my friends that filled more hours of my day than I care to admit trying to track down the sources.

The Google box is only as good as the search words you use, and even then, you have to dig deep to get the answers. Fortunately, there are people who love doing this so much that they have created websites of quotes and try to trace them back to whomever said them in the first place. My favorite, methodically researched website for learning the origins of quotes is the Quote Investigator.

The people who formed the words into a profound sentiment SHOULD be credited for the work they do, and no one knows this better than creatives like writers, photographers and other artists.

BUT for a lot of us, the message is what is important. I got so busy searching for the source that I began to be numb to the message of the quote in the first place. There has to be a happy medium here: equal parts joy of learning and reflection on the message.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, come sit here next to me.”

This is credited to Alice Roosevelt Longworth, but the exact quote seems to be: If you can’t say something good about someone, sit right here by me.” According the website, Quote Investigator, Alice didn’t say it as much as she had the witty taste to have it embroidered on a pillow. If she made the pillow or had it made for her based on something someone else said—we’ll probably never know.

Speaking of Roosevelts, one of my friends loved this quote and attributed it to Eleanor Roosevelt. Don’t let anyone determine your self-worth.” The actual quote (which means exactly the same thing) is No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” According to the Quote Investigator, Eleanor probably said it. Not definitely, but more than likely. (Read more about that here.)

“Be the change the you wish to see in the world.” 

Ghandi is usually given credit for this one, and he may have said it in essence but not in the order of the words. His actual quote, per Quote Investigator: If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards himRead more about that here at the Quote Investigator.

But not all quotes have already been investigated and we have to do a little work on our own to find the source. Some are easy and Google will lead you right to the original document:

Lewis Carroll didn’t write in Alice in Wonderland, “I can’t go back to yesterday – because I was a different person then.” What he did write was “…it’s no use going back to yesterday, because I was a different person then.”

But Anne Frank definitely said, “I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Be strong and courageous……for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Is, indeed, found in the bible- Joshua 1:9 But that gets a little tricky. There is a whole subset of deep, academic study that I am not qualified in the least to explore about who actually said what in the Bible. Was it a direct quote from the writer, from someone else, or had it been twisted around in oral histories like a game of Telephone into a version that was pretty close to either?

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou

Maya was very, very wise and this does sound like something she would say, but the quote was originally published in a book of quotations and attributed to, Carl W. Buehner, an official in the Church of the Latter Day Saints. They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Some of my friends pulled quotes from their real lives, but even then my friend Jamie wasn’t sure if he, or his wife had said, “It isn’t enough to be nice or think good thoughts. You have to fight for what you believe in, and when you’re faced with systemic oppression and suffering you have to directly confront it. We can’t hug our way out of this.”

They are both very, very smart—it could have gone either way.

It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and minute to destroy one.” She also warned, “Don’t strain your arm patting yourself on the back.” -Marc’s mom

Don’t worry, Marc’s mom, I’m not. For ones that I had to dig and dig to find, I still feel like a failure;still fuzzy about the source even after a lot of searching.

 “Enough is as good as a feast is attributed to Sir Thomas Malory but I can’t yet find the exact source and may have been “Enough ’s a feast, content is crowned” by Josua Sylvester who lived a full 100 years after Malory but it’s in one of his poems.

Rules for happiness: something to do, someone to love, something to hope for.”

My friend Kathleen told me that she often quotes this and had first read it in a book by former Vice-President, Joe Biden. She, and Biden, attributed it to Immanuel Kant. But in trying to verify its origins, I also discovered sources that attributed it to that Essayist Joseph Addison (who died five years before Kant was born) and Clergyman George Washington Burnap who was the baby of them all.

Tricky stuff this citing business, but it can’t (or Kant) distract from the message which is solid life advice. All of these quotes are wonderful ways to look at life. We can all learn from them, and while discovering the source is a rewarding learning experience of its own, taking that message into our lives may be the most important part.