Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.

Awesome

The big 8-0: the Right Way

Me and Gramps*

Me and Gramps*

It’s official.

Gramps turned 80.

It’s been a long awaited affair that started with frantic calls from my brother a little pre-planning, had some tears thrown in (I love family planning) and included a grand finale (we come through in the end!).

We went all out for him.

The original idea was to take him fishing – his favorite activity. As a kid, my family would go up north for a little cabin-living during the summers and gramps would catch the fish that would feed us for weeks.  Days were spent watching Bewitched Re-runs swimming and trying to grab the fishing rod being grandpa’s little helpers.

At the last minute though, the wish to make this big milestone unforgettable took us away from the lake and had us putting on black-tie appropriate attire.

5 days before the big day, my grandma and I engineered a plan that involved live music, pretty dresses, dancing, toasts and mountains of our favorite Ukrainian food.

80, after all, deserves more than a trip to the lake.

Once the night of the big event came, it was time to begin our favorite tradition: toasting the person of honor.

I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was that little bro and I were prepared to bestow love on Gramps.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has been through a good bit.  There have been divorces, re-marriages, riffs, deaths and re-organizations of sorts.  It’s been a long road.  When I’m not busy filming them for my made-for-TV-movie (MTV are you reading this?), I’m sitting around like a cocker spaniel with my head cocked to one side in disbelief.

My life is kind of like Modern Family.  The traditional family unit we are not.  But serious undeniable love there is.

Good thing this band of misfits is really good at pouring it straight from the heart.

My dad was up first (always) and delivered a speech about the make-up of the family unit and that regardless of life’s changes, my grandpa and he will always be family.

Little bro gave a speech inspired by Will Ferrell in Old School during which he yelled “you are a legend” multiple times and pointed at Gramps.  I have no comment.

Uncle began his toast by giving a summary of every major event that occurred around the world in the year 1933.  He ended the toast by likening Gramps to Christopher Columbus and reminding everyone that without Grandpa’s pioneering efforts, we would have never immigrated to America.  According to the story, after Grandpa’s first trip to the U.S., he came back and announced “one can live there,” after which, my immediate family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, great grandparents and cousin colonized the USA in mid-1991 (and subsequently learned to live off the new land by shopping at Kmart, Farmer Jack (R.I.P.) and CVS Pharmacy).

I spoke last.  I reminisced about the forts Gramps and I used to build out of pillows in Kiev, the 8 AM Saturday morning wake-ups during my competitive figure skating years and the adamant stance he takes on loving grandma and making them one unit.  Grandpa was always my hero as a little girl.  I thought he could move mountains.

There were tears.  There was laughter.  There was caviar.  There was love.

Gramps was beaming all night and even stayed up partying past midnight.

Not bad family.

Awesome.

*Note: Clearly I had a momentary awkward stage as a baby before I became this 4-year old beauty.  OK I don’t want to hear anything more about it.

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