Sunday, May 25, 2014


No, I guess I don't need one more navy blue dress...

The family and I enjoyed a Saturday afternoon searching for treasures by driving the countryside in search of barn, yard, and garage sales. What gave me pause was the woman at the last house.

She was a large, lovely lady who was eager for conversation as she boxed up her wares for the day. Guilty at stopping without really finding anything, I nonetheless picked up a bathing suit for Will. She shared with me she used to own a small children's clothing boutique, and waving a hand over the vast amount of belongings covering her front lawn, she said "I'm from Uganda, where I grew up with one dress. This is overwhelming. I don't need this stuff. My sons didn't need this stuff."


I did my seasonal closet purge a few weeks ago, eliminating those things that were soiled, ill fitting, tired or just not worn. I then went about setting up some arbitrary rules: "no more than 31 tops on hangers," the same rule for t-shirts. Then set a limit to 20 dresses. 20!

The horrible reality is I had a difficult time paring my wardrobe down to these set numbers, and even then, after going through registration for the River Bank Run, ended up with three more shirts. What was interesting is the sense of freedom that resulted in this purge, I knew everything that was left in the closet were things I definitely liked and looked good in.

But still! I'm looking at a vast trousseau that includes over 60 tops and 20 dresses. These numbers do not include the bottoms or sweaters folded neatly, or the purses and bags and totes and belts and scarves.

I'm not willing to pare it down to one dress of course, but what is the magic number to the essential wardrobe? As I'm packing for vacation, I'm curious to see what will be the bare minimum I would need to get by and still feel like a million bucks.

The first thing I plan on doing is skipping a few rounds of thrift shopping the next few months. Let's see if I can get through the summer with what I have. And see what I can part with at the end that I didn't need.

I love stuff, I love new stuff. But when met with the invitation to a fancy dinner/fund raiser, I immediately decided to start shopping for a new dress. Then I remembered the 20 I already had a home. I need to to take a break from acquiring to enjoy what I have.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What's Right in the World: Pseudo-Swagger

Relying on an old giggle from Married with Children: "I! Am! A! Model!"

Still living by the phrase "do something that scares you." What this time?

Women's Running magazine is holding a Cover Model Contest.

I'm 44 years old, short, with a few extra pounds. Besides, I do not currently sport a brunette ponytail to bounce magically about my head.

Yet, I am still going to enter, submitting for their consideration a body shot from Adult Nationals, the Detroit Marathon, the River Bank Run, and a head shot from a party.

My one-liner is: A West Michigan wife and mother, Melissa is a freelance writer and graphic designer who runs and figure skates competitively. I also described myself as fun, determined and creative.

I know I'm not pretty, which of course excludes me from being cover model material. So why do it? I'm thinking back to all my encounters with beauty queens. I have had working relationships with not one, but two former national title holders, Shandi, a Ms Missouri turned Ms. USA, and Kirsten, a Ms Michigan turned Ms America. Throw in a Mrs. America, a Miss North Carolina and a few more Miss Michigans I have also known socially. I was a gargoyle in their shadows.

And yet not.

Shandi was my first beauty queen, a local celeb who was a VIP for Catholic Charities at a Go to Bat for Kids event I helped create and promote. Like any girl without a crown, I was prepared to be a bitch, except she looked so miserable and lonely in the suite, her date off working the crowd, so I sat with her. Damned if she wasn't the nicest girl on the planet, and we bonded over beers, baseball and girl talk. She was eager once her reign as Ms Mo came to an end to take me up on learning how to skate, then she won the national title, wrote a book, and became a game show hostess.

Kirsten was a gal who approached me while I worked at a pysch hospital for a little publicity before the national pageant. While we couldn't use her there, I suggested she talk to the girls at the figure skating club. This was a doozy, she talked about mental health and eating disorders, confessing to having developed issues while a teenager. By putting aside any of my own insecurities and defenses, I was able to bring this girl to an eager population that wanted to hear what she had to say and in a few cases, probably helped turn a few girls around.

Looking back on my chance encounters with these beauties, I see my own successes, radiating a little light on what I have accomplished for myself and others. While my hair may not bounce, it certainly puffs with the energy of a gal that has a lot to offer and maybe I too can preen through pictures and phrases. It's important that magazines such as WR know people like me exist and while not maybe me, but someone like me deserves to be celebrated on the cover of their magazine.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Why Art Matters: Documentaries

My newest, latest binge watch.

Being trapped inside this winter meant lots more television than I'd rather watch. This has led to a marathon watching of documentaries on Netflix.

What makes them so interesting?

It's compelling storytelling with the purpose to inform the viewer about something that maybe isn't that widely celebrated. In the case of the recent documentary on ice shows, it was a beautifully packaged 80 minutes chronicling the rise and fall of the shows, from Sonia Heine to today. Knowing some of the players made it even more real and also more magical a time for my sport.

It introduces people and characters you may not otherwise meet. As a fan of Andy Warhol, I was aware of his entourage dubbed The Factory, yet had no real knowledge outside of Edie Sedwick. Then I watched a documentary on Candy Darling, the trans actress celebrated in Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side." It was a very sad tale of a boy who grew to be woman, who in turn became an actress, a performer who performed every second of her existence. All I could think is the line from Courtney Love, "I fake it so real, I am beyond fake," even to the point of demanding full makeup during the final days in the hospital. And the Oscar winning 20 Feet From Stardom was simply magical.

They touch on real life. The documentary Trapped dealt with the subject of politics and societal norms clashing over the subject of international adoption. It was like reliving the years 2003 - 2005 again, as we were jerked around by both the Russian and Bulgarian governments  during our adoption quest, which drew to its end when Dave accepted a job in Michigan while I was in Missouri. This opportunity negated our home study, and also put the Catholic agency in a tailspin because they considered us "separated," even if it were for business. But we were lucky: we were only out $5,000 whereas the families in the documentary pumped $100,000 or more to be reunited with their child. Still, 10 years later, I wonder what our little Beatrix or Katarina is doing on the other side of the world, and hope she is ok.

This has also led to some consumer indignation on my part, watching in horror on the subject of GMOs, fast food and mega-super stores and their effect on economies both great and small. Hard to say not shopping at WalMart makes me some sort of activist, but it's a start.

And simply opening the world around me. CNN is the home to not one but two recent favorites, Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown and Morgan Spurlock's Inside Man. Both shows are part two in both men's television career, Bourdain's No Reservations and Spurlock's 30 Days. Yet different, of course. The first season of Bourdain's PU finds him exploring the more challenging corners of people, food and culture, like Libya and Detroit. What he finds time and again is people are people and local cuisine is amazing. He doesn't sugarcoat issues, like abandoned buildings in Detroit or the uncomfortable culture clash where he was allowed to eat with the men, while the women were regulated to what he called "the kids table." Spurlock again immerses himself as a local to experience societal problems firsthand, like teaching in an inner city school or working the orange groves alongside migrant workers.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Typing Out Loud: #Bring Back Our Girls

My girl is #136: Tabitha Silas

There are days when the subjects and interests of note are lighter than air and fluffier than a fresh from the package marshmallow.

This is not one of those subjects.

A militant group known as Boko Haram (which sounds much more fun than they are) admits to kidnapping a group of girls in the name of religion. Their crime? Going to school, educating themselves.

As more and more information is coming to light on how they were kidnapped, why they were kidnapped, and what their fate may be (rape, forced marriage, murder), I get angrier at how history as a whole treats women, and how groups justify this horrific treatment.

But what can I do, all the way up in Michigan? For one thing, exercise my freedoms here in the US. Vote. Vote for people who will accept a world view where it's not acceptable to treat women this way. Care less about Kardashians and more about girls who are brave enough to get up in the morning and attend their physics final.

I'm praying for you Tabitha. I hope when you are found again, it's as a freshman at MIT in the sciences, wearing a Katy Perry concert tee.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

May Playlist: Adult Nationals

These are my people.
When I discovered adult figure skating, I discovered my tribe. I was heartened and humbled by the cheers and tossies for me when I knew next to no one at my first AN in Kansas City in 2005. The competitor party was a special memory, as a solitary hug between Maureen and Kristin enveloped me, then Dee, then began to absorb every adult skater in its path, leading to an impromptu hokey pokey dance party and an all night champagne toast.

Along the way, songs have been added to the lexicon of skating, either because they capture a certain moment in time, have become go-to anthems at the party, or simply a signature.

Total Eclipse of the Heart, Bonnie Tyler: random pop up on an iPod while traveling through Canada on our way to Lake Placid, it became THE song of AN08. It was on repeat well on our way to Niagara Falls, at the grotto at our hotel, and "bath towel optional" hotel room dance party. Oh Sue, such a good look.

Celebration, Kool & the Gang: isn't this universal at any party?

Carmen Suite, Bizet: an overused piece of skating music, it is key element to drinking games and Skating Bingo.

Everybody Have Fun Tonight, Wang Chung: on our 10+ hour road trip to Minnesota in 2010, the WMAS (West Michigan Adult Skaters) girls got a little punchy in Chicago commute traffic and this song sent us over the edge, and shouting WANG CHUNG! became a rallying cry picked up by the competitors and US Figure Skating's coverage of the event.

Eye of the Tiger, Survivor: figure skating is a sport and of course we have a get pumped up go-to tune. Watch Becky lose her mind when it's played.

Never Been to Me, Charlene: Pathos from a woman who lived the high life warning a stay-at-home mom that the highs weren't so high. Oh the discourse in this song is hilarious, so camp. Jen and I will occasionally throw a line from this song at each other just to see if we are paying attention.

Hold On, Wilson Phillips: It came on the radio on our way to the Cape, and what started as a quiet singalong turned into a raucous chorus of girl power. It reappeared in the movie Bridesmaids, which we watched the morning before competition, and then it reared its head again on the way to the rink.

Back Dat Azz Up, Juvenile: this one was added this year, as the gang loaded into the van for the final day of competition. We responded accordingly.

Jessie's Girl, Rick Springfield: This one was adopted when Becky wished she had Stacy's spins or her jumps.

Evergreen, Barbra Striesand, Nothing Takes the Place of You, Toussant McCall, Dog and Butterfly, Heart: There are some times when it's just a duet between me and Michelle that gets on Jen's nerves. These are three songs off the top of my head that send Michelle and I into our parallel high school alternate universe where we were thick as thieves, in some sort of Square-Pegs-meets-Misfits-of-Science-MTV-video reality.

(Usually May is River Bank Run playlist month, but I haven't gotten around to it yet! Next month, I promise...)