Author Archives: Colleen Sparks

Simple Lessons Can Boost a Business

I’m ready to dive into 2017 fueled by some valuable lessons I learned about running a small business last year. In 2016 I took the jump and decided to devote 100% of my time to the journalism, website content writing and marketing/public relations company I started back in 2008, The Communication Connector, L.L.C.

The lessons I have learned about operating a business also apply to my personal life, and I hope they’ll help others who are entrepreneurs or thinking about starting their own company.

Without further adieu, let’s say sayonara to 2016 and ring in the New Year with some fun tips!

1. Follow Your Passion.

I know it’s a cliché and it sounds like a corny line in a romantic comedy, but I’ve found it to be true. When I work on projects I care about and feel a spark of creative energy, I’m more likely to keep pursuing assignments and less likely to feel tired and frustrated.

I enjoy coming up with ideas for blogs, landing pages and newspaper stories, and my love of finding something new and different comes in handy when pitching a proposal to a client or editor. Though I’m hired by clients in a wide variety of fields, the common denominator is all the work I do involves writing, researching topics and meeting new people, three things I love!

2. Get Social, but Work some Old-School Style.

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other social media sites offer great, free ways to market a business and find and reconnect with clients. They also make it quick and easy to tap into the latest news so you can develop pitches and story ideas. I love Facebook’s PR Pros page as I have found many great sources for news stories within seconds of posting a request for people to interview.

But don’t forget what you learned in elementary school or from your parents. Personal touches pay off. Send handwritten thank-you notes and meet someone to break bread face-to-face over lunch or coffee. These old-school networking techniques have helped me build connections.

3. Keep it Simple!

I’m not a brain surgeon so when I explain what I do to potential clients and editors, I keep it simple. I tell them I write newspaper and magazine articles, website content, press releases and any other written material for online or print outlets to help them share their story.

The goal is to educate and inform the public about a product, service or interesting person. If it’s on the PR side, I’m helping them attract and retain more customers. If it’s on the journalism side, I’m trying to help them get and keep readers’ attention (and hopefully increase the number of subscriptions!)

4. Don’t be a Perfectionist.

This is a hard one for me because I tend to be a bit OCD with my writing and editing, but sometimes it’s important to let go of all the over-analyzing and focus on getting the work done.

That doesn’t mean I cut any corners when it comes to making sure the content is accurate or skip last-minute checks for spelling and grammatical mistakes. But striving for perfection can actually get in the way of quality when you forget to look at the big picture. It can also keep you from taking action and keeping on schedule with your deadlines and pursuing new clients.

5. It Takes a Village.

Not just to raise a child, but also to grow a business. A great lead singer in a band can perform even better with awesome back-up singers, and a president needs a strong Cabinet to make good decisions for the country.

If you work for yourself, you don’t necessarily go to an office every day where you exchange ideas and cheer on your colleagues. You need to form your own posse virtually and in-person to generate support and camaraderie to keep you confident and energized when dealing with the challenges of entrepreneurship. Don’t waste time with haters, who criticize your decision to work for yourself.

I like going to the Society of Professional Journalists – Valley of the Sun chapter and Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Phoenix chapter events, workshops and happy hours. I love meeting informally over coffee or lunch with other small business owners. Meetup.com offers lots of entrepreneur groups for networking, too, and I plan to check out more of them this year.

Growing a business can feel like a rollercoaster ride, with lots of ups and downs and twists and turns. You can’t plan everything and there’s no rule book to guide you through everything you’ll encounter.

But if you have faith in yourself and your product, work hard, surround yourself with positive people and aren’t afraid to take chances, you can create your own successful business and enjoy the joy, freedom and financial benefits of being an entrepreneur.

 

 

 

 

 

Decluttering my Home Frees my Mind, Reduces Stress

I searched desperately for one of my favorite T-shirts to wear to the YMCA the other day, looking in the hamper, multiple dresser drawers and odd places like the bathroom and old purses. Eventually I gave up, deciding logically a ghost had stolen it, as it had some of my socks.

Later I uncovered the shirt buried deep in the chest (where I had also looked earlier) under several layers of clothes. I realized some spring cleaning was long overdue.

Getting organized and figuring out what clothes I have for workouts, professional outings and social events in the scorching hot Phoenix summer was my main motivation behind filling bags with things to donate to the Salvation Army.

But I have another, just-as-valid reason for wanting to declutter my home. The task has helped reduce my stress over bigger life issues by giving me a sense of control over something, however small as it may seem. Unloading old, worn-out clothes I no longer need has also allowed me to focus more on the present and let go of old emotional baggage, too.

Actress Vida Ghaffari told Experiencelife.com her house was cluttered and she often would show up late to auditions because she couldn’t find the right makeup or clothes. Her packed closet made her feel overwhelmed and tired. She finally decided to donate 20 bags of unneeded things to Goodwill and to give her friends many shoes and clothes.

Cleaning up her domestic act helped Ghaffari professionally. She said shortly after the decluttering, she was cast in a supporting role in the pilot for TV show “The Mindy Project” with actress Mindy Kaling. Casting directors and producers found her more serious about her career.

Author Tisha Morris told Experiencelife.com, clutter is like “stagnant energy.” She wrote “Feng Shui Your Life: The Quick Guide to Decluttering Your Home and Renewing Your Life” and says homes reflect our emotional states. She says an ancient Chinese proverb claims to change things in your life, you have to move things in your home. Morris says color, lighting and simple objects can generate good energy flow.

Gretchen Rubin, in her book “The Happiness Project,” wrote about the great joy she found cleaning out her closet and leaving a blank space in it. She says it might sound superficial, but getting things organized on the outside makes people feel calmer on the inside. I felt like a new woman after creating a blank space on my kitchen counter!

In her blog last month, Rubin urged people not to save things for a “hazy future.” I felt better getting rid of things from a blurry past, as well. By shedding old shirts I rarely wear anymore, I’m making room for a wardrobe better suited for my life right now.

I also took Rubin’s advice in deciding to get rid of some clothes I could wear, if I lost a little weight, or if I ever found the right shirt or pants to go with them. After several years of not wearing them, it was time to give up the fantasy. Besides, as Rubin said, if I lost a little weight or needed something new for an occasion, I could always go buy it.

Rubin in her book said it’s okay to keep some things in your closet for sentimental reasons, but not to go overboard trying to reminisce about happy occasions. I decided to keep several old Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure T-shirts, though I rarely wear them, because they remind me of how far my mom has come in beating cancer 14 years ago. The shirts remind me of celebrating cancer survivors at the Race for the Cure every year with my mom and other family members.

However, I only saved two of my high school yearbooks and one from middle school after multiple moves because I have lots of other ways to remember old friends, some of whom I connect with on Facebook. And let’s face it; some memories from high school aren’t exactly heartwarming, including wearing braces and struggling through geometry tests.

Getting rid of old paperwork, coupons, magazines and mailers also helped me let go of unrealistic and unwanted expectations for the future. Am I really going to study the fine print in a thick brochure about investments from my bank to become a financial guru or drive out of my way to save a dollar at a dry cleaner’s rather than going to the one just up the street? Probably not.

I still have a ways to go on my decluttering journey. I know I will enjoy selling old books back to a bookstore where I bought them so someone else can enjoy them. Then I will have more room in my home office for my expanding company, for a bookshelf to hold cherished books and a guest bed or two for my niece and nephew, or friends to come visit.

While getting rid of old clothes, books and other things isn’t likely to land me a part on a sitcom like actress Ghaffari, I believe it will create more energy and keep me even more focused on all the possibilities of my future. And I won’t have to blame an innocent ghost for stealing my socks anymore.

 

Taking the Stage Boosts Kids’ Self-Esteem, Real Life Skills

Musical theater has the power to uplift and inspire me, especially when it’s performed by children. I loved seeing my niece and nephew and other children singing, dancing and acting in a Phoenix Theatre Summer Camp performance recently.

Not only was I proud to see my precious niece and nephew confidently sing solos and duets from the musical “Matilda,” but I was thrilled to support the performing arts, which I believe boost confidence and self-esteem in kids and teens. Performing in front of an audience gives children the skills to succeed in the real world.

I didn’t take theater classes as a child, but I did dance in many recitals and concerts as a kid. As an adult, a few years ago I took some theater classes for fun and performed monologues in front of family, friends and talent agents. I know how nerve-wracking it can be waiting in the wings, hoping to remember choreography or lines before hitting a stage with bright lights, watchful eyes and no safety net.

Musical theater and other creative forms of expression force performers to step outside of their everyday comfort zone to project words and dance confidently. People, who are shy, as I was as a child, learn to find their bold side and project a self-assured air even if they’re shaking and afraid.

Hiccups occur on stage often. Actors forget lines, costumes get tangled up, performers move to the wrong area on stage, but the show must go on. My nephew said his group of young actors didn’t know until the day of the performance whether they would be singing one of the songs because their instructors weren’t sure if they knew it well enough. But they nailed it!

Excitement was in the air as the lights dimmed and my niece and nephew, along with about 30 other children, took the stage beaming and energetically singing a humorous song “Naughty” about the reasons kids should misbehave sometimes. Audience members laughed, beamed and tried to capture the fun, lively atmosphere on stage with their cell phone cameras.

I was impressed with how the children learned so many lines, dance moves and songs in just a week. Not surprisingly, studies show learning to perform on stage helps youths academically. The American Alliance for Theatre and Education says students involved in drama performance classes or experiences did better than non-arts students on the 2005 SAT by an average of 65 points in the verbal section and 34 points in the math part of the test.

Many studies have shown students who participate in drama often show better reading comprehension, earn better attendance records, and stay generally engaged in school more than their non-arts peers.

I know from my youth experiences as a dancer, spending two to four nights after school going to dance classes forced me to stay on top of my homework. I knew having the chance to pursue extracurricular activities I loved was a privilege and I had to focus on my academic assignments and earn decent grades or I wouldn’t be allowed to keep dancing. Simply put, having less time after school to do homework, meant I had to focus more and not waste minutes procrastinating when I tackled my studies.

Besides the academic benefits, performing arts also help boost children’s self-esteem. Cheryl Lock, with ArtsEdge.org wrote in an article for “PBS Parents” participating in arts-related activities helps improve kids’ self-image. I know any time I faced my fears and performed complicated steps as a teen or delivered humorous or dramatic lines in front of an audience, I felt a high unmatched by anything else.

Knowing I could throw myself into a stressful situation and swim, rather than sink, gave me more confidence. I also bonded with other performers, who were in the trenches with me, forming friendships with people I might not have crossed paths with otherwise.

When I hugged my niece and nephew after their Phoenix Theatre camp show, I could tell they felt the same performance buzz and pride in their accomplishments I had in the past. Other families left the theater with smiles on their faces, talking animatedly about the experience. I don’t know if my niece and nephew will continue taking musical theater classes when they get older or even seek out careers in the arts, but if they’re anything like me, the camp will help them happily pursue their passions, create precious memories and launch them into adulthood with confidence and the ability to tackle any challenges.

 

Nodding Off Gets Harder as We Gain Sleep Baggage

On a recent episode of the new sitcom “The Odd Couple,” Felix and his new girlfriend, Emily took a big step: spending the whole night together. They had already been intimate but had never revealed their less-than-sexy overnight sleeping habits including drooling, snoring and using sound machines to catch some Z’s.

I laughed a lot at this episode because it rings true for me and many other adults I know, who have developed bedtime quirks as we have gotten older and the stress of our daily lives piles up.

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Felix packs enough luggage for a week out-of-state to prepare for a night in Emily’s apartment.  He reveals his sleep mask, a sound machine he says will play ocean noises and a humidifier. Tension builds when Emily reveals an anti-humidifier at her bedside and they negotiate over how to keep the bedroom air neither too dry nor too humid.

When she thinks Felix has fallen asleep, Emily pushes a chair up to her bedroom door. He hears the noise and asks what’s going on. Emily reveals she’s trying to keep murderers out of her bedroom. Later Felix grumbles about her asking him to sleep on the side of the bed closest to the door and potential killers.

Felix and Emily’s nighttime neuroses and fear about revealing their eccentricities made me giggle because over the years I’ve developed my own seemingly high-maintenance nighttime rituals, as have my friends and relatives.

I’ve been using a sleep mask to drift into dreamland ever since I started working overnight several years ago. I don’t work the graveyard shift anymore but I’m addicted to the dark mask blocking out sunlight and streetlights.

Like Felix, I’m also obsessed with a sound machine, which I use to listen to the calming noises of seagulls and waves crashing on a beach. Also like the fastidious sitcom character, I plug in a humidifier every night to combat the dry, desert air that makes my nose stuffy.

Some of my friends who are mothers tell me they wake up at the sound of a pin dropping, probably because they’re used to keeping their ears on high alert for their children.

Other friends say they can’t make it through a whole night in bed, but often get lulled into sleep on a couch.

Many of us also rely on reading to fall asleep and catch a REM cycle and I’ve never met an adult who can comfortably nod off on their back, most have to lie on their sides.

Finding the perfect mattress to support the back has become like a science as people study their “sleep numbers” and try to find the right fit to tune out their snoring partner and keep their body temperature not too hot and not too cold, but just right. Like Goldilocks.

Just getting ready for sleep takes more preparation once you hit your 30s, 40s and beyond. I can’t stuff my face with sauce-laden pasta or rich seafood right before bed or I’m a bloated mess, who can’t doze.

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Gone are the days of my teen and college years when I could fall asleep on any friend’s couch with just a thin blanket and beaten-up pillow or with my head grazing the ceiling in a dorm-room loft. I could tune out the sounds of friends’ drunken, late-night conversations, phones ringing and cats crawling over me.

I had no problems eating pizza, tacos, hamburgers or any other number of carb-heavy meals right before I went to sleep and snooze for at least eight hours.

Could it be our physical ailments are making it harder to fall asleep in adulthood? Or is it more psychological, as we try to take our minds off our growing to-do lists, which include paying bills, tackling difficult work projects and taking care of family members?

I’m no sleep expert, but I believe there’s no shame in doing whatever you have to do to up your sleep game even if it means drawing laughs or eye rolls from your partner. Recently I followed the advice in an online article to sit on the kitchen floor and read until I got uncomfortable, then go back to bed. It worked!

Sleep is apparently one of the most important things we can do to stay healthy so it’s worth trying all the tricks we need to drift off.

As for trying to hide sleep eccentricities from a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse, I wouldn’t bother because everyone has their quirks. As Felix on “The Odd Couple” told his roommate, Oscar, his girlfriend, Emily, was a nut bag but she’d have to be crazy to date him.

 

 

 

Shedding the Nerd Stigma, Embracing My Inner Geek

I was recently told I have a “nerd girl vibe” and at first I was upset, thinking it was an insult. After all, I keep up with pop culture and I don’t wear pocket protectors. But when she said it was a compliment, I felt better because I realized she was right. Geek culture is chic nowadays.

The Rise of the Nerd

Throngs of devoted fans (me included) have made CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory,” a show about nerdy but smart scientists, the top-rated sitcom on TV.

The much-anticipated “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” busted box office records last year. And the popularity of Comic Con events around the country is growing.

Supermodel Karlie Kloss is kicking off her own coding camps this summer after she took private classes to learn about computer programming.

I know many people who choose to wear glasses, not because they need to correct their vision, but because they like how the frames look.

On the “Thicker Than Water: The Tankards” reality TV show on Bravo recently, new father Marcus Tankard held a fashion show to reveal his handcrafted bow-tie line, Brikkhouse. Two decades ago, bowties, suspenders and knee-high socks would have made cool fashionistas cringe.

The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth

Back in my teen years in the late 80s and early 90s, being called a nerd would have made my friends and I freak out. The implication was nerds (sometimes called geeks) had zero or little social life, they wore dorky clothes, their heads were buried in books all the time and they didn’t know how to have fun.

The only time they interacted with the popular kids was when they helped a cheerleader do her math homework or write an essay.

The nerds’ devotion to tackling software and solving physics problems weren’t effective ways to land dates to prom or invites to parties with the in crowd.

However, those same former “nerds” are now heading successful start-ups and tech companies, having a blast dressing up at Comic Con events and buying mansions in trendy neighborhoods. They share their knowledge and passion for comic book and sci-fi characters with pride on Twitter.

Their intelligence, single focus and dedication for tasks we might have found daunting in high school are driving their success as entrepreneurs. Showing quirks helps them stand out in the crowd and even attract romantic partners.

Getting My Nerd On

As for me, I don’t have some of the typical nerdy qualities (i.e. I’m bad at math and I don’t read comic books), but I definitely embrace my inner dork in other ways.

I geek out over old videos of David Bowie and Journey on YouTube, typing in comments with fellow classic rock nerds and learning fun facts about my favorite 80s bands. I know most of the words to the majority of The Beatles’ songs.

Rather than waiting in line at a club on the weekend, you’ll find me dancing and screaming when I see Duran Duran in concert. When I saw Holy Holy, a band with musicians who performed with David Bowie, play Bowie’s songs recently, I geeked out getting a picture with the band’s drummer, Woody Woodmansey.

I can be silly and raise the roof sometimes and I feel the running man is one of the best dance moves. Ever.  There’s no shame in dancing in my car when disco or 80s pop songs play on the radio, either.

Happy hour for me involves enjoying a tea or coffee at a small business with friends or talking about great passages in novels with fellow members of my book club. I love matching my socks to my shirts and wearing Big Foot socks, too.

I’m a “word nerd,” who gets excited when I find just the right word to use in a blog or article and my fellow journalist friends and I love to poke fun at presidential candidates.

Sure, I like to use Twitter and Facebook, watch reality TV shows and buy trendy clothes, but the nerdy side of me will always shine. I’m more comfortable with it now, because I have come to realize it’s important to be true to yourself and enjoy your life, rather than trying to achieve a certain cool status.

If being nerdy means expressing enthusiasm for people, things and places I love, then I’m happy to embrace the nerd label. But you won’t find me wearing suspenders any time soon.

 

Sisterhood of Support Helps Me Take Risks

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” is one of my favorite expressions. I’m not a skydiver, flamethrower or globe-trotter who eats international cuisine that could wink at me, but I do believe in taking chances and stepping outside of my comfort zone.

What pushes me to do things that make my palms sweat and butterflies stir in my stomach? The amazing, fearless women in my life, who push boundaries and challenge themselves.

The Buck Stops with Me

A big risk I took several years ago was leaving a less-than-satisfactory job and starting my own business. I had thought about being an entrepreneur for a few years before that, but it seemed daunting and unrealistic financially. The recession was starting, many of my colleagues were getting laid off from newspaper jobs and I felt like I had nothing to lose.

My sister suggested I form an LLC, which I knew little about at the time. I made my own flyers and walked into unfamiliar businesses to pass them out, sometimes getting them handed back to me. Other times business owners were receptive to the idea of getting help with marketing/public relations, but reluctant to spend any money on it.

I knew I had a great product to offer: My many years experience as a journalist and ability to share stories to attract people to a business. I also had some public relations experience for a large company under my belt and lots of connections. Still I had never been my own boss before.

It was scary but very empowering, reaching out to hard-working business owners who put their trust in me and pitching news story ideas to editors I had just met. The best part about running a small business has been having the freedom to find and work with amazing people and to stay true to my beliefs and passion.

I know I’m not alone and I have admired and tried to emulate some of the practices of other female business owners. Several of my friends have also started their own companies, sticking it to the man, so to speak, as they market their writing, editing and public relations talents, to make livings. I take their advice and admire their spirit and strength, supporting them and reaching out to share war stories and laughs.

The Power of Sisterhood and Friendly Pushes

The women in business I know are not the only ones who inspire me to take chances. My mother motivates me every day with her wisdom, strength and ability to embrace the many changes in life. She went back to the workforce when I was in middle school, learning a new profession after several years of being a stay-at-home mother. She’s also taught me, as hard and scary as it can be that it’s better to leave a bad relationship, than stay in a negative situation. Her belief in me fuels me to take professional and personal risks.

Besides starting a new business, recently while I interviewed some jazz singers for a story I was working on, I did something even scarier. I sang in front of a group of people! The jazz ensemble director urged me to join in an improvisational song the singers made up, each adding a line as a pianist played a bluesy tune.

I am a horrible singer and rarely sing in front of anyone. When she said I’d be singing with them, my heart plummeted and I thought I’d rather jump out of a plane. But somehow I came up with a few somewhat funny lines I sang, off-key, but loud enough to draw smiles and laughter from the other singers.  It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, and I had fun with it.

My girlfriends, all in their own unique way, have fun with the risks they take. One of them runs marathons and bravely travels to other cities, getting up at ungodly hours of the morning to cross finish lines. Another friend has traveled around the Southwest as an archaeologist and ventured to Europe and other faraway destinations.

Comfortable in my Own Skin

I like to try my hand at creative ventures, too. A few years ago, I decided to take an acting class. I signed up at a studio and anxiously walked through the doors, not having any idea what to expect.

As part of one skit, the teacher assigned me to portray a sexy wife pretending to be a stranger seducing her husband in a restaurant. I didn’t think I could pull it off. I was way out of my comfort zone, and felt my heart race as I read the lines.

When we performed the skit in front of the class, my legs got weak as I walked across the stage. But I pushed myself to dive in wholeheartedly and as soon as I heard the audience members laugh at the funny lines, I got an adrenaline rush. I experienced a new kind of high and realized I’d grown more comfortable in my own skin.

And speaking of skin, I had the opportunity a few years ago to feel the skin of an animal that scared me, a snake. I was at a Mother’s Day brunch at the Phoenix Zoo with my family, including my niece and nephew. A staff member there displayed birds and other animals, including a snake, available for petting.

My niece and nephew knew I was afraid of snakes and urged me to touch it anyway. With clammy hands, I slowly approached the reptile. It was dry and motionless, with its head kept safely out of hand’s reach for any of the visiting public.  I wasn’t nearly as repulsed or frightened as I thought I’d be as I gingerly petted its rough skin.

I’ve found in recent years often things are not as scary as I think they will be.  And other women in my life say the risks I have taken inspire them to take leaps of faith. When you have a great safety net of friends and family, jumping isn’t as hard.

Holy Holy Concert Lifts My Spirits, Celebrates Bowie’s Music

I saw the band Holy Holy perform at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale recently and it was truly a spiritual experience. The group of seasoned, talented musicians channeled the late, great David Bowie by performing many of his early songs.

Holy Holy, named after a song Bowie released in the early 70s, has strong ties to the beloved British artist the world has been mourning since he passed away in January.  Its bassist is Bowie’s long-time producer Tony Visconti, who also performed on Bowie’s 1970 album “The Man Who Sold the World.” And Holy Holy’s drummer is Woody Woodmansey, who played in Bowie’s band, The Spiders from Mars.

The band’s mission is to honor Bowie and celebrate his artistry by performing his early songs from 1969 to the early 70s. Holy Holy formed and started touring before Bowie’s death. I was born in 1972 so I was too young to remember “The Man Who Sold the World” at the time it came out, but I’ve been a huge Bowie fan since I was in middle school. When my sister asked me if I wanted to see Holy Holy in concert, all I had to hear was “Bowie” and I was in.

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Bowie’s Influence on My Early Years

Seeing the charismatic, blond artist belt out the soulful, catchy lines of “Let’s Dance” in a video on MTV in the early 80s was probably the first time I got a good look and listen to the former Thin White Duke. Later, I remember jamming to “Golden Years” played on a boom box in a classroom while I processed photos and wrote stories as part of my middle school yearbook staff.

As a shy and insecure teenager in high school, I found comfort and joy listening to Bowie’s “Space Oddity” on a tape my sister made for me. I was creative, taking dance lessons and playing the trumpet in the school marching band, and I loved escaping through any artistic outlet. Hearing the harrowing tales of Major Tom leaving his wife behind to venture into space, then “floating in a most peculiar way” inspired me to follow my passions, even if I didn’t fit in with some of the cool cliques in school. Bowie made me feel like it was okay to be different, follow my instincts and pursue friendships with diverse groups of teens, not trying to fit into a cookie-cutter mold.

A Heavenly Journey through the ‘Golden Years’

Holy Holy brought back cherished memories of finding my own voice and identity, but also introduced me to Bowie on a newer, deeper level by performing songs I hadn’t heard before. I felt the euphoria and sense of escape I enjoyed as a teen while the band played other-worldly songs, the kind that made me feel like anything is possible and it’s good to dream.

The band got off with a bang, cranking out “Width of a Circle,” with lead singer Glenn Gregory beaming and capturing Bowie’s swagger and charisma. He kicked his leg in the air and swiveled his hips, delivering lyrics with ease and style. I got goose bumps and I was transfixed by the eerie vocals and hard-rocking guitar solos. I couldn’t take my eyes off the super-group as I bobbed my head.

Holy Holy made me want to jump out of my seat with the funky “Black Country Rock,” also from “The Man Who Sold the World.” I felt like I was inside a tent at a psychedelic circus as Gregory in his British accent sang “After All” with his band mates adding haunting back-up vocals. The band took us all on a journey with unexpected twists and turns, chord changes and a kaleidoscope of different instruments and diverse voices.

I felt a lump in my throat as I heard the familiar guitar chords of “Ziggy Stardust,” one of my favorite Bowie songs. Gregory captured the piercing, in-your-face style as he sang the lines about “Ziggy” playing guitar with the Spiders from Mars. I remember liking the clever line, “Making love with his ego, Ziggy sucked up into his mind” from the first time I heard the song.

When Holy Holy played “Changes,” it felt like coming home. I couldn’t stop singing and I could feel the smiles from my sister and other audience members around us. I loved hearing Visconti’s daughter, talented singer Jessica Lee Morgan (who also performed in the opening act at the concert) nail the saxophone solo at the end of the song. During the encore, I felt my heart skip a beat and I jumped to my feet to dance as the band played the rousing “Suffragette City.” I remember how amazing it was when I saw Bowie sing it in a concert I went to at The Palace of Auburn Hills in a Detroit suburb back in the early 90s.

Getting Close to Greatness

After the show I bought a CD of Holy Holy performing “The Man Who Sold the World” in London and I had the great pleasure of meeting Bowie’s former drummer Woodmansey. He was sweet, soft-spoken and modest and told me performing the show felt like “Christmas Day” for him. Watching the show for me was like Christmas, my birthday and the wildest, most fun rollercoaster ride I’ve ever been on rolled into one blissful experience.

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I never had the honor of meeting Bowie but his music and life have touched me in so many ways throughout the years, as I know they have millions of other people. His music cemented a bond between my sister and I and other family members and friends over the years.

The songs not only bring me joy, but inspire me to create, embrace change and evolve, while being courageous enough to stand out in the crowd. Bowie expressed himself fearlessly with his fashion, sexuality and innovative songwriting and vocal style. He’s inspired me to take chances by starting my own small business, writing about new topics and starting new relationships personally and professionally.

As I face the strain of major changes in my life, Bowie’s music makes me realize once again it’s great to create my own path and not to try to be a cookie-cutter woman. No matter how old I get, I hope I will always be true to myself and explore new worlds, experimenting and creating like Bowie.

Planet Earth is blue and there’s nothing I can do to bring Bowie back, but his music and spirit will always be an important part of my life. And I bet Bowie is looking down from heaven with his contagious smile and nodding in approval of Holy Holy’s performances.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reality TV Offers Life Lessons in Tasty Morsels

Watching reality TV shows is one of my guilty pleasures. “Vanderpump Rules,” “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” and “Southern Charm” are like candy for the mind. They’re fun to consume and a great escape from the meat and potatoes of life.

However, by studying these shows closely, beneath the sugary glaze of fun, wacky antics, the stars’ actions and words do offer some life lessons for everyday “real” people. Some of the lessons might be as obvious as “look both ways before crossing the street,” but hey, at least the producers are trying.

Here are some lessons viewers can snack on:

1. Don’t Cross Your Boss

On “Vanderpump Rules,” Kristen was known for stirring up drama at the trendy SUR Restaurant & Lounge. She tried to get her ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend fired a few times. That didn’t work.

The icing on the cake was when Kristen got into an argument with a co-worker and her manager, Diana, tried to get her to leave the restaurant. Kristen told Diana to “suck a dick.” Bosses tend not to like that.

Kristen was fired shortly afterwards. She had the balls to say what was on her mind, but sometimes biting your tongue is a better way to keep your paycheck.

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2. Show Some Work Ethic

Another good life lesson is when you’re paid to do a job, show up on time. Just showing up at all is a good start.

Craig, a former star on “Southern Charm,” took a more gentile approach to his job at a law firm than Kristen on “Vanderpump Rules.”

He didn’t lose his temper with his superiors. Craig even demonstrated an ability to argue his case when he tried to defend a late-night golf cart outing on Jekyll Island with Kathryn, his friend’s girlfriend. He said it was an innocent affair as they lost their way back to the hotel and had to spend the night on the beach, sleeping in separate sand holes.

Sand holes aside, Craig’s ultimate downfall was deciding to eat, drink and be merry with friends until the wee hours of the morning on weekdays. Then he wouldn’t make it to his job at a law firm until the afternoon, if at all.

Craig couldn’t have his cake and eat it too. His boss fired him.

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3. Don’t sleep with your ex

It will come back to bite you. Or bash you on the reunion, if you’re a reality TV star. There’s a reason you broke up with them.

Kristen on “Vanderpump Rules” finally broke up with James after a volatile relationship with claims of infidelity and her slapping him at a wedding.

After James spat on Kristen’s apartment door, it seemed the cookie had crumbled for this couple.

However, James later tried to win back Kristen, stealing her away from her date when he crashed a party. She kicked him to the curb, but after he sent her many texts with romantic emojis, she finally agreed to meet him at a restaurant.

James tugged on her heartstrings and they hooked up later that night. Shortly after that, though, James ignited Kristen’s anger once again when he flirted with hostess Lala, in front of Kristen, even allowing Lala to bite his tongue suggestively.

After James kissed Kristen “goodbye” on the cheek, Kristen said she felt like she “just got an STD” on her face.

On the “Vanderpump Rules” Reunion, Kristen said being in the same room as James made her skin crawl and he said she had been his “sugar mama.”

Lisa Vanderpump brings new blood into SUR's shark-infested waters. Kristen must decide whom to believe after hearing that James has been unfaithful. Jax brings in a new girlfriend. Scheana feels the heat over her friendship with Kristen. Best known as one of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Lisa Vanderpump opens the salacious kitchen doors of her exclusive Hollywood restaurant and lounge, SUR. Declaring it the sexiest establishment she's ever owned and the place you take your mistress, Lisa rules over her lively and mischievous staff with a platinum fist. Starring: Lisa Vanderpump, Stassi Schroeder, Scheana Marie, Jax Taylor, Tom Sandoval, Kristen Doute, and Katie Maloney

4. If you want your bestie back, take baby steps

Maybe just crawl. If someone did you wrong, you would probably be hesitate to take them back. You’d want them to get their just desserts.

On “Vanderpump Rules,” former SUR waitress Stassi was like a scorned lover stalking her ex as she tried to get her former friend, Katie, to see her again. Previously Stassi had cut Katie and the rest of their circle of friends out of her life.

Stassi strategized how to win Katie back, sending her numerous texts and crying to Katie’s fiancé about missing her former BFF. Katie finally sat down with Stassi for a heart-to-heart in Palm Springs. Stassi broke down in tears and they hugged.

Katie told Stassi they could start out small, with Stassi coming to Katie’s engagement party. Stassi acknowledged it would take time to earn Katie’s trust back after a year of alienation.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA: February 29, 2016 – Vanderpump Rules Against Lisa's advice, Katie surprises Stassi in Palm Springs. James convinces himself that Kristen is the answer to his problems. Scheana worries about losing her friends. Jax, Tom Schwartz, and Peter try their hands at babysitting Best known as one of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Lisa Vanderpump opens the salacious kitchen doors of her exclusive Hollywood restaurant and lounge, SUR. Declaring it the sexiest establishment she's ever owned and the place you take your mistress, Lisa rules over her lively and mischievous staff with a platinum fist. Staring: Lisa Vanderpump, Stassi Schroeder, Scheana Marie, Jax Taylor, Tom Sandoval, Kristen Doute, and Katie Maloney

5. If you have a beef with someone, take the bull by the horns.

Sweet-talk them in a one-on-one conversation.

Often in the “Real Housewives” franchise, two people who have a history of feuding are egged on by others in their circle of friends. Words are misconstrued.

Atlanta Housewives co-stars Kenya and Phaedra used to throw a lot of shade at each other. Phaedra accused Kenya of hitting on her husband. They also butt heads over a “donkey booty” video. They ended up releasing competing butt-shaping videos

But praise the Lord for small miracles, when Kenya and Phaedra finally sat down to talk in a hotel room in the Philippines, they shed tears and agreed to work on their friendship. They held hands and prayed together.

They didn’t exactly braid each others’ hair and exchange friendship bracelets, but it was a start.

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So the next time you’re bored and feel like you should check out a documentary on PBS, but you really want to satisfy your craving for a sweet treat, remember reality TV shows can be like free life hacks.

Finding the Key to Unlocking the Heart Gets Trickier With Age

Valentine’s Day is only a few weeks away, and we’re being inundated with heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and cards in stores. The message for this holiday seems to be that if you keep an open heart, you’ll attract love, friendship, fulfillment and fun.
However, as we get older, it can be more difficult to keep an open heart. We’ve been burned by lovers, friends and even employers. We’ve pledged our undying devotion to a partner, friend or company, only to be disappointed and find we can’t stay with that person or in that situation for a second longer.

After having survived a few relationships and worked at several different companies, I have come to realize there’s not always a fairytale ending to a story. I landed my dream job in journalism several years ago, eager to prove myself in a fast-paced newsroom. The seductive combination of competitive pay, time off for holidays and a seemingly unlimited supply of resources lured me to this large company. It was fun, exciting and challenging, like the early days of dating someone new. But after a few years, the reality of lay-offs, long hours, office politics and growing demands with a shrinking staff started to wear me down. I realized, even a big, well-recognized company can’t offer unlimited security and fulfillment for the rest of my career. It was time to take better care of myself and move on.

Later I worked for several years for another company that didn’t exactly entice me with its pay or glamorous assignments, but it offered something I desperately needed during the recession: A steady paycheck. It was like my rebound relationship after leaving the newspaper industry. I was also attracted to what seemed to be a collegial environment with a sense of family. After a few years with no raises and watching long-time colleagues get laid off, I realized despite the familiarity, I was just another dispensable reporter, working for Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde. My good rapport, strong work ethic and professionalism didn’t mean anyone was looking out for my best interests or showing me the respect I knew I deserved.

Friendships can be as disappointing as jobs and romantic relationships. I’ve met friends who tugged on my heartstrings with their angst, open talks about relationships and seemingly limitless loyalty. It seemed we were platonic “soul mates,” who would defend each other to the death and I’d always have their ear for fun and serious conversations. But sometimes after one of them switched jobs or got into a serious relationship, they “ghosted” on me, leaving me feeling used and confused. Another friend seemed to be addicted to drama and hooked on negativity, leaving me feeling drained like I was bitten by a vampire and questioning my own self-worth. The friendship was one-sided, and I was taking on the role of unofficial therapist/cheerleader/substitute girlfriend for him. As I realized with some of the companies I worked for, it was time to move on and take care of my own needs.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I realize it’s not always easy to sing “Kumbaya” and join hands with a new date or friend when I’m feeling skeptical. But I have found it’s good to keep an open mind. No matter how old I get or how many disappointing experiences I have had, people can always surprise me. Surprises can be good, like finding the inside of a chocolate has a delicious peanut butter filling.

Politicians like to say they are “cautiously optimistic,” but I like to think of welcoming new people into my life as being present in the moment. When I meet someone new, often they will remind me of someone I knew in the past. But the truth is I really don’t know this person and what they’re thinking or their values, goals and experiences. I try to really listen and pay attention to my thoughts and that nagging feeling, whether it’s good, bad or indifferent in my heart, and sometimes I discover a fun surprise about a new acquaintance.

A few years ago I met a woman in a meetup who was fairly quiet and not as animated and eager to embrace or latch onto me as women I had met in the past. I thought maybe she wasn’t friendly or just not interested in me, but over time I realized she’s a very genuine, slightly introverted person who likes to get to know people before jumping in. She’s become a great confidante and one of my biggest emotional cheerleaders. I’m glad I took the time to get to know her and I have a great, new friend.
I don’t want to forget about my previous experiences with friends, boyfriends and companies, even if some were bad. They’ve helped me to notice red flags so I can avoid a potential disaster and protect my heart. But I realize I can’t expect the same script to play out that did in my past relationships.

Timing can be everything, whether it’s involving a new relationship, friendship or job. As I grow and mature, a person or company that might not have excited me in the past might be calling my name this time around. For instance, now that I’ve realized I’m not sure if I want to have children, I’m open to dating men who also haven’t decided whether they want to take this big step in their lives. In the past I might have chosen to ignore any potential dates that weren’t already fantasizing about domestic life with a little one.

I might not walk into dates or potential friendships with the doe-eyed innocence and high expectations I had in my 20s or even early 30s. I bring some cynicism with me, but as long as I show up, listen and truly experience being with new people, I might find something even better, richer and more lasting than my heart could have ever imagined. It might even be better than chocolate.

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A modern look at a classic!

Some things are always good, no matter how much time passes. Classic rock, classic jeans and literary classics including “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain are just some of the things I love.

The book club I’m in chose this book to read and we discussed it today. I had read it more than 20 years ago as a high school student in Michigan. I wasn’t sure if I would still like it or find it relevant in today’s day and age of texting, Twitter, reality TV and “helicopter” parents. The world’s much more complicated, more enlightened in many ways, but more dangerous in other ways.

I was happy to find I loved the book as a modern woman, reading it merely for pleasure and not so I could come up with a snappy, five-paragraph essay as a 15-year-old girl back in the day.

There are few authors who are as eloquent and humorous as Twain. I love how he made me laugh with passages about sad situations that should have made me cry, including Huck’s father’s drunken rants and escapades. Twain had a talent for weaving humor and tragedy together in a way that’s realistic and insightful. In one chapter, when Huck was taken in by the Grangerford family, he was looking at morbid pictures and poems created by Emmeline Grangerford, who died as a teenager. I was struck with the sadness of her untimely death, when I read Huck in his trademark, straight-shooting manner saying “I reckoned that with her disposition she was having a better time in the graveyard” and I laughed out loud. Twain knew how to use dark humor years before we were inundated with it in today’s vampire movies and the 1988 film “Heathers.”

Besides the humor, Twain touches on racism in this classic. As one member of the book club wisely said, “Huckleberry Finn” is an “anti-racism” book. The dialogue and references to slaves’ lives and how they were treated are disturbing and made me cringe. I think that’s just what Twain wanted us to feel to realize how unjust life was for African Americans at that time. Twain smartly used the character Jim and his friendship with Huck to show how getting to know people from other backgrounds can erase stereotypes and fear. He created a beautiful tale of friendship between Jim and Huck.

“Huckleberry Finn” touches on so many topics important today. I can relate to the boy’s spirit of adventure and feeling like he doesn’t quite fit in given societal expectations. The topics of racism, family relationships, loneliness and struggling to make a living are as relevant today as they were in the 1800s.

I can only hope I could write something some day that will be enjoyed and analyzed more than 100 years from now. Until then, I’ll keep enjoying the classics.