Monthly Archives: December 2011

Imagine Angela on Reality TV

I wonder how I would fare on reality TV. I tend to be pretty shy, so I would likely present myself as nervous and stressed-out, but there is a slim chance I could muster the coolness to work with quiet diligence toward victory. My fixation with these programs lies in the psychology of how participants react to the contrived scenarios. The challenges presented to the contestants are so preposterous, that their true character ultimately bubbles to the surface, for better or for worse. More often than not, it is for worse. That makes good television. But when it is for the better, the results are truly inspiring.

My curiosity about reality television began with VH1’s most successful show ever, the first season of “Rock of Love”. Rocker Bret Michaels had twenty women in a house who competed for his affection. I watched, mesmerized, as the women finagled a way to approach him. Some sat like wallflowers, while others bordered on stalker behavior. If I had been on the show, I would have been one of the wallflowers, probably cleaning up the dirty dishes to avoid snaking myself between four other girls to make conversation with a stranger. I would have been eliminated the first episode. I can see my exit interview now: “I guess Bret just didn’t get to see the real me. Oh well, his loss!” I like to think that my intelligence or charm would help, but who knows. I can get along with others, so I would have made friends with the other contestants, except Lacey and Heather, who hated all of the nice girls.

I can usually call out the winner from the first few rounds of these shows, or at least which players will become the top contenders. I know which designers Heidi, Michael and Tim will like on Top Design. I sense which Chef will make it to Kitchen Stadium. And I knew from the first episode that there was something special about Jes, who ended up winning Bret’s heart on that first season of Rock of Love. Jes kept her cool. Despite the drama, drunken craziness, and temper tantrums all around her, she maintained her dignity and confidence. 

Ultimately, the confidence is what separates who gets to stay and who is told, “Auf weidersehen”. You have to have an enormous overflow of self-esteem to believe that you can cook a masterpiece in 30 minutes, create a designer-quality gown in one day, or get a rock star to fall in love with you in 9 weeks. Almost every contestant on these shows has at least enough confidence to try out for the program and pass the producer’s screen tests. I cannot even imagine how many people must try out, only to betray their nervousness with a shaky voice or sweaty forehead. You rarely see people who are super-nervous on these shows. Those people get weeded out before the camera even rolls.

On one episode of “Chopped”, however, there was a young female contestant who must have snuck through the screening process. This girl was visibly on edge. New to the cooking scene, fresh out of culinary school, her only real expertise was as a pastry chef. She was evidently out of her element, and her confidence was extremely rattled. She was a wreck, and could barely put together the appetizer needed for the first round. After the judging, backstage with her competition, she began to cry. She was actually half-hoping to get cut, so that she could end her misery and go home. It was painful to watch.

Nervous girl made it through the first round, however, and was less shaky during the main course. (They had to make a meal using snap peas, oatmeal, goat chops and horseradish root.) She held it together, figured out how to manage this bizarre amalgamation of ingredients, and survived to compete in the last course: dessert. She worked with laser-sharp concentration, and finished her plates before the timer went off (something that rarely happens). With 20 seconds left on the clock, she ran back to the kitchen. Everyone was wondering what last-minute touch she was going to throw on her tomato-peach crumble with emu egg soufflé. She had a bottle of liqueur-I thought she would drizzle it over everything. But no, with 10 seconds remaining, she grabbed 2 shot glasses, set them out before her competitor, poured a shot for each of them, which they both swallowed before the timer buzzed. Nervous girl was celebrating. She conquered her fears and won the battle of her own insecurities.

In the end, nervous girl was victorious.  In the span of 30 minutes, she went from borderline-breakdown to ultimate champion. Whether her crumble was truly more sublime than her competitor’s dessert simply does not matter. The judges saw some gumption as she pushed herself that far out of her comfort zone. Nervous girl will never be the same, and I was inspired. For a moment I wondered how I would do on the show….

Well, maybe not. Anyone who knows me knows that cooking is not my forte. I don’t want to cook anymore than I want to capture Bret Michael’s attention or design a cool outfit for the runway. What captures my interest is how to push myself toward a seemingly unattainable goal. I imagine how I can harness my inner spark to take an overwhelming situation and truly conquer the moment, and not just sneak through on the merit of “failing less badly.” Or, as Chef Caswell said in one season of “The Next Iron Chef America”: “I hope some of the others sucked more than me”.

Teacher becomes the Student: the first date

From the moment I heard about Kevin’s divorce, my interest was piqued. I had known him for about 10 years, and although our interaction had been limited (we used to work at the Saturn dealership together), I had always been impressed with his humor and values. So I called him to extend my condolences about the news. It sounded like a harmless gesture of support, but my intentions were not honorable. Then I dropped a seemingly innocent sales pitch to lure him to the dark side: “You are new to the single world, and I have always been single, so who better than me to show you the ropes? I know the cool things to do, and can be a good friend.” Despite the logical approach and caring facade, it was pretty obvious that I wanted more than friendship. He wisely rejected my offer to mentor him on how to have fun, wondering to himself why a co-worker from his past would be so bold.

Over the next few months, I continued my attempts to woo Kevin, with no success. He has so much integrity that he wanted to wait until the entire legal process was complete before starting anything with anyone. While this was very admirable of him, it was very inconvenient for me. We now call these months “the time when Kevin was blowing me off.” Finally he acquiesced, and we arranged to go together to check out the First Friday festivities downtown.

I didn’t hold back: I bought a new outfit and set out to look hot. I had high hopes for this date. I was still stinging from the burn of my past relationship (a word I’m using loosely here) and was anxious to start hanging out with someone new. I’ll go ahead and admit I even shaved my legs for the occasion.

Kevin brought flowers, which was incredibly sweet. I have received alot of flowers in my time, mostly for my birthday and Valentine’s Day. But when I try to picture someone bringing me flowers for a date, my mind draws a blank. It seems like an old-fashioned but incredibly romantic gesture, one that has fallen out of fashion. I was touched.

Unfortunately, the evening took a nosedive from there. You can imagine how much Kevin’s head was spinning; he was in courtship mode for the first time in over 20 years. His heart was still hurting from the failed marriage, and he was having a hard time thinking of me in a romantic way. Ever since he had known me, I had been in the category guys normally reserve for females who are relatives, or best friend’s spouses. To steal a phrase from the second Clerks movie: I was “persona non-nookie”. This combination spelled disaster, but I didn’t know it yet. At this point I was just putting the flowers in a vase and hoping for the best.

We went downtown, walked around and tried to get caught up on each other’s lives since I had left Saturn to work at Lexus. We ran into a few people who seemed confused to see us together, including a former Saturn co-worker who was unaware of Kevin’s divorce. Mostly we just walked and talked, until we finally landed at the Pizza Joint, where we talked some more.

Perhaps I should say Kevin talked. He went into great detail about Forrest and Melissa and the marraige and the break-up. He told me how she had asked him to move out of their house on Valentine’s Day, and other heart-wrenching details that are too personal to share here. Sitting across from him in the Pizza Joint booth, I saw an amazing man with a broken spirit and confused heart. I realized that my intentions for this evening were totally different than his intentions, and I felt superficial and guilty. I had not considered the possibility that he would need me to be the friend I had promised to be in my sales pitch. I hadn’t considered it because I was in my selfish, single-person’s bubble, just looking for the next fun thing. But this was real to him, and it was a big deal. Kevin wasn’t ready for dating yet, and he certainly didn’t need to date a 41-year-old with a track record of causing nice guys like him to turn into emotional puddles of mush. I didn’t know how to fix people’s damage; I only knew how to cause it. He was scaring the shit out of me.

He knew it, too. At some point, I think I completely stopped talking and just let him ramble. In addition to feeling afraid, I also felt sad. Sad for him going through this pain, sad for me having caused it in others, sad for both of us to be on a date during such different times in our lives. I felt horrible that he needed to talk, and realized that he had probably not had an opportunity to open up about his heartaches for many years. I kicked myself for not being more sensitive when I was hounding him for a date for the past 4 months. Of course he didn’t want go out with me sooner! He was still in love with his ex-wife and harboring hope for a reconciliation. All he needed from me was an ear and some friendship, and I was ashamed at myself for chasing after more.

In the end, I spent four hours listening to his sadness, and it was clear to me that our first date was going to be our last. There was no way I could have romantic interest in someone that fragile. We hugged at my apartment door, and I watched through my second-story apartment window as he walked back to his car. What a shame, I thought. There is so much I could have taught him about relationships. Little did I know, that in a very short time, Kevin would teach me about relationships. Instead of me teaching him how to be single, I would be his student, learning how to open up to someone in a real, honest way.

The first lesson he had to teach me was about communication-not being afraid to say the tough things. The day following our tragic first date, he called to invite me to lunch. Over Barbaritos burritos, he asked if our date had scared me, and I admitted that it had. So we talked about my fears, and his fears. In that one conversation, he showed me more raw honesty than I had ever seen before. He said he was not looking for the next Mrs. Maskey. He just wanted to take it slow and see where this would lead us. He thought we should give it a try. I was impressed by his courage and his forthright approach.  Kevin was not fragile, after all. Kevin was smart, and honest, and strong.

As a result of this conversation, I decided to at least open myself to the possibility of some kind of relationship with Kevin. He made me realize that I had jumped to conclusions too quickly.  I was blown away by his ability to initiate a healthy conversation, something very few people-myself included-can do with ease. In the course of one shared lunch, he showed me the potential for the Kev-Ang story, and opened the doors I had shut so firmly at the end of our date.

So when he asked me out again, I agreed, and the lessons continued from there. The education of Angela would turn out to be an amazingly fun adventure. Stay tuned!

A look at “Hoarders”

This past Thanksgiving, Kevin and I became ensnared into a Hoarders marathon. Fans of the Emmy-nominated A&E reality show will understand how we found ourselves in a trance, watching episode after episode of people who have accumulated such a massive assortment of personal belongings that their homes and their lives became dysfunctional. The stories are presented in a powerful, compelling way, showing detailed interviews with the hoarders, their families, and the counselors brought in to facilitate a resolution. The images of their rooms are shocking, as are the attempts of the people to navigate through the piles of accumulated objects, trash, food and –disturbingly-pets, alive and dead.

 

Often the featured hoarders suffer from serious mental illness, most notably obsessive-compulsive disorder. Many of them have experienced traumatic loss, such as the death of a child or spouse, and the items they cram into their spaces are an attempt to fill the holes in their hearts. Still others seem to just have some serious housekeeping issues, like the mother of two with the house full of toys who spent her time moving items from one room to another, mistakenly assuming she was actually doing something productive. The mountainous collections often leak out into the yards and storage sheds, and the functionality of appliances fall by the wayside, leaving the residents to find other ways to cook or tend to their personal hygiene.

 

Sometimes I wonder why we love to watch this show, or why it is so successful, outside of the obvious perverse fascination with people living in extreme situations. We become mesmerized, wondering how the hoarders can adapt to such revolting habitats. I’m sure it comes down to the adage about how a person can get used to just about anything. What started out as a few stacks on the dining room table, evolved into a few stacks on the rest of the furniture in the house, which morphed into stacks on every spare foot of space on the floor, which mutated into gargantuan amalgamations of debris filled with petrified food and dusty rodent carcasses.

 

The power of show, however, is the power of transformation. We love to see the gag-inducing “before” footage, but we also cheer for the hoarders with their charming and carcass-free “after” footage. What appeared to be inhumane living conditions are converted into homey, comfortable spaces. Most of these hoarders have some really nice furnishings, they just have too many of them. With a little guidance, a lot of psychology and a well-organized cleaning crew, the atrocious abodes receive the ultimate make-over. The final challenge is the make-over which is done to the person behind the hoarding: has the counselor been able to address the root of the flawed behavior? There is generally a 6-month follow-up comment at the end of each segment, reporting on the hoarder’s improvement, or lack thereof. For the most part, the process seems to be successful, but the results may be presented with a positive spin. The show would be just too depressing otherwise.

 

We tend to compare ourselves to others, so some viewers may feel better about their own organizational skills while watching the show. Some viewers may feel inspired towards a little extra house-cleaning after watching an episode or two of these bizarre profiles. My fascination is with Dr. Robin Zasio, the most frequent psychologist brought in to help the hoarding patients. I find myself wondering how I would fare in her shoes: could I handle the over-dramatic, irrational behaviors? Dr. Z manages these extreme personalities with grace on the set; I have never seen her get rattled.

 

I am pleased to see that the A&E show’s website has an extensive listing of treatment centers (including Dr. Z’s), as well as professional organizers and animal rescue resources. So despite the fact that we all have different motivations for watching the show, at least we are all left with a sense of hope that some value is coming from the entire endeavor. At the end of our marathon, Kev and I can switch channels and know that at least some of the hoarders were truly helped, and their families can enjoy an improved quality of life. The next logical step for A&E would be to film an episode featuring the reformed hoarders, who have been recruited to help clean-up and give advice to other hoarders homes, as a way to “pay it forward”. Now that is a show I would watch.

Adopting my first Choos

Behold my first pair of designer shoes. Kevin gave them to me on our second Christmas together, and I proudly proclaimed them my first pair of “Choos”. People were amazed that he could pick them out for me, but I was a loyal fan of “Sex and the City” at the time, and must have done some casual label-dropping. I just didn’t realize that he was paying close attention. The fact that he also picked up on my preference for Mary Janes just made the gift that much more impressive. I felt like an animal-lover who had stumbled upon the opportunity to adopt a full-bred, fancy dog. I was not and am not a snob about shoes (or dogs); I just found myself face-to-face with magnificent beauty and couldn’t resist.

I certainly never expected to own a pair of shoes like this, much less have them purchased on my behalf. Unwrapping them was overwhelming: they were swaddled in a Jimmy Choo velvet bag, which was nestled into a pristine Jimmy Choo box, which was packed with care into a fancy Neiman Marcus box, which was gift-wrapped and adorned with an elegant keychain. The packaging alone made me feel like a princess.

I will go ahead and admit that I went online the next day and figured out how much Kevin spent on the shoes. I will not be rude enough to post the amount here. If you know shoes, you know how much. If you don’t know shoes and are curious enough, you can look it up on your own. Suffice it to say that I was humbled and almost embarrassed, feeling unworthy of the magnaminous gesture.

You may think that shoes of this caliber would remain safety enshrined in the aforementioned bag/box/box packaging, until an occasion of some merit arose during which I could justify wearing them. You would be wrong: I was happy to wear them to work on a regular basis. The first time I wore them, I thought about the price with every step, keeping a keen eye out for stray puddles which would mar the flawless finish. On subsequent wearings, I still thought about the price and the puddles, just not as often. I was most often acutely aware of the shoes while traipsing through the shop, walking underneath cars being repaired on a lift. I knew it was wrong to be wearing them to a car dealership, but trying to keep them at home in a box proved very difficult.

So on a regular basis, (although not daily), I continued to wear the Choos. What started as simple rationalization (I have to wear them today since I just got them, or I have to wear them today since I have an important meeting) eventually became the mentality of the masterpiece art owner who insists on displaying the coveted work in their home instead of locking it up in a safer place: “the shoes were made to be worn and enjoyed!”

Finally the sad day arrived when I realized I may have rationalized one too many times. They were starting to show their wear; the tip of the heel was almost gone. (Yes, even the tips of the pricey shoes work down to nubs.) The problem with this situation is the lack of high-end shoe repair places. I couldn’t imagine taking them to Hakky shoe repair in the mall. I had once been reticent to trust them with my $100 pumps; how was I going to trust them with my precious Choos? With my $100 pumps, they had insisted that I leave them in the basket on the counter and return “in about an hour”. I told them I prefered to watch and wait. They argued that there were many shoes in line ahead of mine. I reluctantly left, feeling like I had just allowed a stranger to pet-sit for me. I sadly strolled through the Mall with visions of returning to the Hakky counter, where they would force me to take someone’s Payless shoes and insist that they were the same ones I brought in. It didn’t happen – my shoes were fine –  but until I can find a way to entrust my Choos to a reputable Choo-repair establishment, they will remain on temporary hiatus in their fancy velvet pouch.

I have received other designer shoes from Kevin since then, including a pair of the “urban shoe myth”, a reference only SATC fans will recognize. While I realize that this likely qualifies me as officially spoiled, I try to remain in humble awe of any designer shoes, recognizing them for the works of art that they are, and appreciating all of the shoes that I own, regardless of their pedigree.

“Be a Rick” Results

After my year of incredible blessings, I promised I would take the spirit of holiday giving to new heights.   (See blog “Be a Rick” http://volunteeraugusta.wordpress.com/2011/11/23/be-a-rick  )  So now is the moment of truth; it is time to admit if my actions covered the big check my words wrote. The final report for Project Holiday 2011 is simply this: Mission Accomplished. But I gotta tell you, I am utterly exhausted.

My mantra for the season echoed the movie “Yes Man”. I would say yes to each opportunity that was presented, and seek out different ways to help. For example, every retail store cashier asking for a charity donation got my money. One shocked cashier at Publix, after selling me a $5 bag of food for the needy, yelled at his co-worker across the store, “I finally sold one!” In truth, his sales pitch had been so flat and quiet, that I barely understood what he was asking. I believe it went like this (imagine an almost inaudible voice): “Would you like to buy a something-something for something-something?”  I learned that he had tried all day with no success, and his discouragement had contributed to a selling style I now affectionately refer to as, “half-hearted mumbling”. My positive reply to his request is what we in the car business refer to as a “lay-down”, meaning that the sale was going to happen no matter what. You have to really make a major faux-pas to alienate a lay-down buyer, nothing short of cursing or spitting will cause them to say no.

I was a lay-down for volunteering also. Every request for donating my time was answered in the affirmative. Ring the bell for Salvation Army? Sure! Help sort donated toys for needy families? Absolutely! Deliver food to elderly shut-ins? You bet. I also sought out the chance to work at the soup kitchen a couple of times. At the mention of any charity needing help recruiting volunteers, I would start sending email blasts and making facebook posts. My poor friends were probably thinking, “Enough already! We get that you like to volunteer, but do you have to always drag us into your reindeer games?”

My co-workers were recruited into the reindeer games, as well. They joined me in the toy-sorting and bell-ringing volunteer gigs, and were all amazingly generous and helpful. When asked to sponsor needy kids, and they stepped up to the plate. Normally my dealership is good for 3-4 kids, tops. This year we covered 18. There was some last-minute scrambling to get it pulled together, but we did it. One of them even told me why our efforts meant so much to him: 35 years ago, he was on the receiving end. He knew what it was like to have a shoe box of donated toys. When you realize that each toy, each volunteer hour, each donated dollar, makes a difference to a real child on Christmas day, it hits home. Sometimes when I am shopping for an adopted kid and think that I have enough, I visualize that child on Christmas morning. Perhaps just one more small gift will be the item that really makes them happy. Maybe they will be excited to receive some play-dough, or some markers, or a slinky, the way I always was when I was that age.

Finally, I convinced my company to take the typical donation drive to the next level. This was not hard to do, as Jim Hudson Lexus is passionate about community service. But I’m not sure even they imagined what I had in mind. While we had frequently held a toy drive, or food drive, or a collection of travel-size toiletries, we had never coordinated a full-on effort to collect everything at once. That is what we did with our “15 Gifts of Christmas” campaign. We found 15 charities who needed various items, and agreed to help recruit those donations. We promoted the need for the community to donate everything from socks for Rape Crisis, to diapers for SafeHomes, to tshirts for Hale House and crayons for the Art Factory. All totaled, 15 non-profits asking for a combination of 30 different items. We set up a huge Santa Sleigh display right at the front door, and pushed for donations for a solid month. Every time a customer or friend (or my mom!) came in with more items, we were thrilled. These were all items these organizations needed, and by getting them donated, it was one less thing they had to buy.

In the end, I am very pleased with the 2011 Christmas charity campaign. Of course, the downside is that I have not done one thing for my own holiday, so there is some catching-up to be done with my personal shopping and decorating. But overall, despite the exhaustion and the personal delays, I am proud to report that I was able to reach my goal of aggressive giving-back activities. Who knows, when my shopping is done, I may even take a cue from the generous K-Mart shoppers who are anonymously paying off stranger’s Christmas layaways. Seems like lots of people were blessed in 2011 and wanted to give back, too. It is, after all, what Christmas is all about.

Wine Stories

Wine-lovers are so ubiquitous these days, that to declare oneself a fan of wine feels something like a cliche. I almost don’t want to write about it, because everything I want to say sounds like I am ripping off a line out of the movie “Sideways”. My brain goes to the conversation between Miles and Maya on the porch, waxing poetic about the wine-making process. Miles elaborates about the winemakers who truly understand Pinot Noir’s potential and “can then coax it into it’s fullest expression”. Maya imagines the details surrounding the day the wine was made, wondering if it was sunny or rainy when the grapes were harvested. She loves that every bottle of wine changes with each day, making it a living thing with it’s own story.

Maya is right, of course, in saying that wine is alive and has a story. But the story I am interested in is not the one set in a vineyard the day the grapes were harvested, starring the people who picked them. I am interested in the story set the day the wine was opened, and the main characters are me and Kevin. While we are not obsessed with wine by any means, it just always seems to pop up in the journey we have been on together. We have a courtship filled with wine stories, a wedding at a winery, and plans for the wines that will be opened on our anniversaries. We certainly didn’t plan it that way; it’s almost as if the wine chose us.

Early in the relationship, touring the new world of wine was something we could do together. Neither of us knew anything about wine, and really stumbled upon our interest accidentally. We fell into a habit of eating chinese food and wine every Monday night, and because those conversations were pivotal in the process of opening up to one another, we promised each other to always make time for what became known as “Mud Puppy Chicken” night.

There is no such thing as Mud Puppy Chicken, a made-up name that Kevin gave for the Kung Pao Chicken at the Chinese restaurant in Daniel Village. The place has since changed ownership, so even we can’t get the original Mud Puppy Chicken, a spicy concoction with peanuts and veggies and rice. They have changed the recipe since the days when the employees would immediately recognize me or Kev as soon as we walked in. One of us would pick up a large to-go order of the dish that we would take to my apartment or Kevin’s rented home, and we would share the food with a bottle of red. Relaxed with the wine, we would ease into the conversations about our relationship fears and hopes, the kind of dialogue that always seems to be the difficult but essential foundation to a healthy relationship.

Our wines of choice for Mud Puppy Chicken night were Bitch and Evil. We chose them using the official wine novice selection process known as “it sounds like a fun wine”. We stayed with them for the spicy earthiness that matched the food. Bitch, a Grenache from Australia, is very hard to find anymore. We’ve heard that they stopped making it. But the iconic round pink label is etched into the Kev-Ang history forever. Evil’s black and red label is also on our memory wall, with it’s upside-down V. (It is an Australian Cabernet Sauvignon). I’m not sure how well these wines age, but think it would be cool to find a bottle of each from 2008 to put aside for a future anniversary. Back then we used to try not to choose any wine made in 2005 (a bad year for me) or 2007 (a bad year for Kevin). We each wanted to forget the years we got our hearts broken. Wine was a way we could move on together.

In addition to Mud Puppy chicken night tastings, we would often attend local events to try new wines throughout our courtship. In 2008 we had the opportunity to attend a wine festival at Chateau Elan, and we were all over it. This event at the resort in Braselton, Georgia offered a great value-for $75 you could enjoy tastings, grape-stomping, music, food, classes and more. We were given our etched wine glasses when we checked in, and went off to begin our viticulture adventure. The main sampling room was a tremendous banquet-hall with a literal mountain of bread chunks in the middle. Everywhere we looked were buckets next to pitchers of water for rinsing our glasses in between samples.

It didn’t take long before we were a little giddy with from the sampling, and decided to attend a wine class, both for the education, and the chance to sit down and rest a bit. The seminar was very informatiive, reviewing topics such as “old style” and “new style” wine. Imagine our delight when the instructor suggested an affordable new-style wine called Evil.

Once home, we were officially hooked on the world of wine and continued to try new kinds, using the aforementioned scientific wine selection process, a method that we continue to use to this day. I’m sure that on some level it is self-fulfilling prophesy, but we have it in our heads that any wine with an elegant name such as “Rothschild Estates” will not be as delightful as oned with an irreverant moniker such as “Arrogant Frog”. (By the way, if you google “wines with funny names”, you will find that Bitch is #2. I also notice one called “Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush”, which may be taking things a bit too far.)

When we got engaged, it was fitting to get married at Chateau Elan, and even more to ask for wine from the people who encouraged us to register for gifts. Kevin and I declared that we didn’t want wedding presents, but that if they felt strongly about making a gesture, that either a charity donation or a bottle of wine would do just fine. Wine entered the wedding story again when I read about a popular new ceremony activity called the “wine lock box”, which entails the bride and groom putting a bottle of wine into a box during the ceremony, locking it up, and promising to open it at the 5th wedding anniversary. At that time, the couple can enjoy the wine (hopefully one designed to age well) and renew their commitment to each other. We loved the idea, and were thrilled when Kevin’s dad made us the most amazing hand-crafted wood box with our names and the date on it.

Shortly after the wedding, I stumbled upon a book called the Wild Vine, about the history of an American wine called the Norton. This book struck me by it’s engaging readability and interesting topic, but also because the central setting to much of the book is Hermann, Missouri, which is 20 minutes from where Kevin’s parents live. Kev and I had done the wine tour at the Stone Hill Winery in Hermann on my first trip to MO to meet the parents, so I was thrilled to be reading about a place that was already a part of the Kev-Ang story. The author, Todd Kliman, speaks about Stone Hill and the family who brought the winery back to prominence after prohibition, as well as details about the little-known American grape that holds an impressive ability to age from a subtle fruity flavor to a robust spicy one.

Kev, Forrest and I traveled to MO for a family holiday dinner this weekend, and so Kev and I snuck over to Stone Hill. We were curious how much their employees would know about the Wild Vine book, and so we mentioned it to our server while enjoying lunch with Norton at the winery’s restaurant. She blinked at us with no recognition when we title-dropped, so we decided to pop over to the gift shop and see if they had heard of it. Sure enough, in the book section, the hard-backed version was proudly displayed on the first shelf. On a seperate table, the Norton enjoyed a full display of its own, with accolades shown for each of the vintage years. We grabbed a 2008 for our 10th anniversary. I told Kevin that I hoped when we opened it, that I would be able to remember exactly what that bottle tasted like today, with all it’s grape-y smoothness. When we drink the Norton in 10 years, I want to be able to travel back to the lunch we had today, the trip we had this weekend, and all of the wine stories that make up the journey of Kevin and Angela.

The Former Clinique Consultant

I have a recurring dream that I am selling cosmetics and it is going horribly. There is chaos: too many customers, the products are in disarray and I cannot find what I need. I am unsure what to do and I scramble through the drawers trying to find a lipstick, or a cleansing cream. My hair is a mess and my make-up is faded. My co-workers are unwilling to help me, and my frustration builds until I wake up.

I don’t know how to analyze dreams, but I suspect that this one does not have an underlying meaning that relates to my career. It has been almost 20 years since I left the cosmetics business, so it is not a part of my daily thought process. When I have the dream, it is probably more a reflection of what I ate that day, or the temperature in the room. Still, I cannot help but think that I harbor some subconscious connection to the days when I wore the white lab coat with the silver “C” pinned on it.

Back then, in my 20’s, working for Clinique was a dream job. I had been promoted to cosmetics from the men’s department, and immediately took a liking to it. While not a superstar sales consultant by any means, I did well overall because I worked hard and offered good customer service. I liked staying busy, organizing everything and studying the new products. I quickly learned that everything in the famous light-green box with silver C emblem was a high-quality product: Clinique, after all, is the number one prestige skin-care line in the world.

When Clinique began in 1968, they were pioneers. It was un-heard of at that time to talk about exfoliation, sunscreen, and facial soap at the fancy department store make-up counters. Even today, the strength of the brand is that it is always unique and innovative. I was proud to be affiliated with that. Despite standing on my feet all day, and working through holidays and weekends, there wasn’t much I didn’t love about the gig. I especially loved the product and the customers.

The best thing about my job, however, was the training. This company was impeccable in their consultant education. They had Account Coordinators to visit stores and share product knowledge, and a Training Manager to facilitate comprehensive, hands-on classes. My training with Clinique is some of the best I have had in my career- and that is saying something, considering that I have worked for some impressive companies, including Hilton Hotels and Lexus. I still recall Melanie and Nancy, the trainers during my 7-year tenure in the industry. I admired their sharp presentation, their confidence in the product, and their dedication to the company.

The lessons I learned from my Clinique training would stay with me forever. I once had an Account Coordinator (LeeAnn) tell me that she bled green-that is how much she loved the company. At the Macy’s store in Athens, I can still remember how she responded when we made a comment about a new eye-shadow color. The shade was Yellow Moon, but it should have been called Obnoxiously Bright Lemon, because that is what it looked like. It was color #50 and I can picture it to this day. We were concerned about our ability to sell this color, and she told us, with complete conviction, that “everything Clinique makes is wonderful”, and that we would grow to love Yellow Moon as much as Bronze Satin or Silver Peony or any of the other top sellers. Now, you need to understand that Leeann wasn’t selling us a story, and the lesson wasn’t even about Yellow Moon as a color. The lesson was that we should ALWAYS be positive about EVERYTHING. If Clinique does something, it is awesome. Period. I realized then that if you tell yourself that something is great enough times, you will eventually believe it. This was a lesson in “The Secret”, decades before any of us would hear anything about the power of positive thinking. I would never, from that point on, say anything less than enthusiastic about a Clinique product.

I rarely said anything less than enthusiastic while away from the Clinique counter, either. It became a mind-set. That concept of keeping things positive would eventually bleed into the rest of my life, and years later, when people would comment about my proclivity to see the glass half-full, I would tell them my Yellow Moon story. I wish I could find Leeann today to thank her for the heart-felt company passion, and for her faith in a color that should have really been reserved for ice cream or wall paint. Color #50 was, of course, discontinued within a year, but it certainly was not from a lack of Leeann’s attempts to save it.

Another concept I picked up from Clinique was the power of the open-ended question. Clinique knew that the secret of successful selling was a healthy dialogue with the customer, and the way to do that was to ask them a question to which they could not give just a short “yes” or “no” answer. We all came up with open-ended questions designed to keep the conversation going. “What do you like about this Balanced foundation?” “How long have you been using this Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion?” and “Tell me more about your skin care goals” were some of my favorites. When I began selling cars in my 30’s, I would use this skill again, and later came to realize that healthy conversations and open-ended questions are at the core of all productive relationships. The key is to show a genuine interest in people, let them talk, and care about what they say. This is not a selling technique, it is a life technique.

For Clinique, though, the technique was a rule, along with the positive outlook axiom. I like to think that their rules were a large part of Clinique’s success. The rules all seemed like common sense, but they were good habits for us, and we were held accountable to them: always look polished, no earrings larger than a dime, long hair pulled into a ponytail, always use full product names, always capture customer information on a file-card, always offer your customer a sit-down consultation and always skin-type your customer on the Clinique Computer. Successful companies set expectations of their employees, and this clear structure worked well for Clinique.

I say “worked” because I really have no idea if any of these rules still exist. I tend to think that they do not, because I have been purchasing the products for the last 20 years and rarely have anyone offer to put me on a card file, or skin-type me, or sit me down for a consultation. That’s not a bad thing, cultures change, and maybe those strategies don’t apply to today’s busy consumer. But in my heart I know what the person in the white coat should do when I ask to purchase some Balanced Make-up, and I’m disappointed when they don’t ask me what I like about it. I’m dying for someone to get to know me like I knew my customers, remembering their names and their favorite colors, and where they worked, and what their skin-care goals were. It makes me think that if I could do the job again, knowing what I know now after growing up, and working for places like Hilton Hotels and Lexus dealerships, that I would completely rock it. I fantasize that I would rise to the top as a Sales Consultant superstar, following all the rules and breaking all the sales records. And just when I start to become convinced of my enormous potential, I have this recurring dream…..