Balance

Balance

To have equality or equivalence in weight, parts etc. A state of equilibrium.

I am sure you have heard the term “work-life balance.” Is there such a thing?

I have been thinking a lot about this lately and I think it is because my age and work status has given me permission to do so. At almost 71 I have the luxury of managing my time between work and rest or work and pleasurable activities. I am still learning to be better at creating balance, and I have a long way to go, but looking back I shudder at the lack of balance and ensuing stress I endured because I did not understand how to balance my life, or maybe I was just too busy to sit down and think about it. Or, maybe given the circumstances it wasn’t possible.

We certainly help to create our own imbalances by defining at any given moment what is important. As working adults, intent on moving forward, growing in our chosen careers and being successful, we often add the one wonderful thing that challenges our work-life balance to the max, we add a family to the mix.

No matter what the composition of the family looks like it adds a level of complexity so great that to achieve regular balance is daunting.

I remember having a conversation with a friend long ago when I was in single mother mode, trying to balance a new and exciting job and the lives of my two young children. My thought at the time was that our retirement years should be when our children are young and our work lives should begin when the children are closer to being able to care for themselves. During the years when my children were young I had fleeting moments of balance, mainly because I worked for employers that understood the importance of work-life balance and afforded me some flexibility in my schedule. Still, it was a struggle for me.

Watching all of my friends wade through the same issues was a bit of a comfort and it became “just the way it is.” Some handled it better than others and I often wondered if there was something they knew that I didn’t. They didn’t let on.

Back in the 1970’s women many times received flak for leaving the home and joining the workforce. Some people berated women for leaving their children with a sitter or in day care to selfishly create something of their own outside of the home. Subtle and sometimes “in your face” admonishments helped to create a large number of women who wanted to show themselves as Superwomen, able to tackle full time work, a household and a gaggle of kids in one fell swoop. If women complained about the lack of balance in their lives they would hear remarks like, your place is in the home or I told you it would be too difficult for you. Remember, not everyone had or has the luxury of hiring a nanny or housekeepers, or has a participating partner and they truly do it all on their own. Suffering in silence with a smile on our faces we waited for moments with other women to recount our experiences and talk about the elusive balance lacking in our lives. I don’t want you to think that I or any of the women I knew were not having good times. We had an abundance of grand times at home, at work and out in the world, but the balance factor was always lurking around the corner.

Even as I got older and my children were no longer at home I still had trouble creating optimal balance. I had moved up the ladder in my career and had a demanding job, one which many times took precedence over family time. I often equate that time to being on a fast moving train, stopping occasionally to get off but always knowing I had to hop back on soon. Balance was intermittent. I talked about this with colleagues and they had similar feelings. I was so envious of the ones that seemed to have it all. Did they?

Getting off the train was a good thing for me. It has offered me the opportunity to think about the need for balance in my life and challenge all of the things I do that may get in the way of creating balance. Being older and being able to dictate what kind of work I do and when I do it sure helps.

Aside from work and family obligations there are other factors that may eat into the balance quotient. One important one, that a therapist I know always brings up, is negativity. Whether it is negative people or situations you experience, you need to remove those encounters from your life. The negativity will drain you and throw off your balance completely. Surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people and removing as much negativity as possible creates immediate relief and will surely give a boost to your balance quotient.

I wouldn’t say I have achieved ultimate balance yet but I am acutely aware of what it means and what it feels like on days I seem to have it, so I will continue to strive for it. I know it is necessary for my physical and mental health.

What are your experiences with creating balance? Please share!

Peace and Love and Balance,

Melissa

Audience

Audience

The assembly of spectators. We have all been a part of an audience. If you are like me, maybe a thousand times or more. There is nothing more exciting for me than sitting in a packed theatre (pre-Covid) experiencing whatever unfolds on the screen, with strangers around me. At that moment in time we are all connected. We are all there for a similar purpose, maybe to be entertained, or to learn something new, or to be taken away from our day to day routine. Without audience where would films be? How would we, as filmmakers, know if our creation proved its point or evoked the emotion we felt?

When creating Beyond Sixty we assembled a couple of small focus groups to test our ideas and get feedback as to what could be improved upon. Even though the film was not complete it needed an audience. And, different audiences gave different feedback, all thought provoking and very helpful.

Once the film was completed I spent a year screening it for audiences at eight film festivals around the country. Some audiences were very small and some were sold out. By the end of the festival run, I confirmed that there were spots in the film where everyone laughed and then spots where they became emotional. They were experiencing the same feelings I had when I first interviewed the women for Beyond Sixty. They confirmed with their comments that storytelling is important and we can learn a great deal from the stories we listen to.

There is something safe, maybe a little warm and fuzzy about film festival audiences. They seem to be a very positive and forgiving group, highly supportive of independent film and the creators. I often felt I had a bit of a leg up on the competition, being a first time filmmaker and an older woman. Were they easier on me because of my status?

If you are a documentary filmmaker you likely make films for yourself. Films that resonate deeply with you in some way. There is always the question as to whether your creation will draw an audience. I have yet to meet a Documentary filmmaker that says they are in it for the money. They all, however, hope for kindred audiences. Whenever I doubted my film’s ability to interest and inspire people I was bolstered by the comments of a new audience member.

When the dozens of new audience members, all unknown to each other and me, had the same or very similar reactions to the film, they began to confirm the validity of the messages I was trying to capture.

The audience for Beyond Sixty has just shifted and we are about to find out how the film will resonate outside of the focus group and festival cocoon. Anxiety producing? A little.

Beyond Sixty was picked up by Rolling Pictures and Gravitas Ventures at the end of 2020 and was released for public viewing on April 6th. Since that date it has been available to rent or purchase On Demand and on most streaming platforms. The BluRay and DVD can also be purchased through Amazon. I have to wait patiently, for months, to find out how many people are watching it.

As the audience grows, I am most excited about the number of groups showing an interest in having its members watch the film and then organize a zoom meeting with me for Q&A afterward . In the near future, we hope to add one or more of the women from the film to the discussion to offer a more robust experience. So far we have interest from book clubs, film clubs, library groups and senior organizations. I am looking forward to a group meeting tonight. It is a fantastic way to connect with this new audience.

If you know of a group that may be interested let me know and I can walk through the options with them.

Thank you for being my forgiving, encouraging and loyal audience throughout this journey. Enjoy the show!

Peace and Love,

Melissa

Full Circle

Full Circle

2020 was a long blur.

For those of you who were affected by Covid-19 in any way, I send my sincere condolences. I was a spectator, like most people, enclosed in my bubble watching this history from the comforts of my home. My husband was able to keep his job, moving his office into our second floor home office. He is still there today. My children and grandchildren weathered the storm fairly well with only one little unit contracting Covid, none requiring hospitalization, and everyone maintaining their jobs. My mother, who I have not seen since January 2020, made it to her 95th birthday unscathed. My siblings and extended family remained healthy. We are all so lucky. Most of us are now fully vaccinated or half way there and are beginning to see a light at the end of this long and winding tunnel. With boxes of masks at the ready we will soon begin to re-enter society and have some long awaited reunions.

2020, for me, was to start with a number of private screenings of my film which were all cancelled due to Covid. It was easy to accept as I was in a very large boat with crowds of people also on hold. My plan, after a successful film festival run in 2019, was to screen in as many places as possible while researching distribution opportunities. Everything stopped. Watching the news about Covid and the political shenanigans took center stage. Before I knew it we were headed into the last quarter of the year and I hadn’t even cleaned out a closet. I did bake bread though!

Then one day, out of the blue I got an email from a filmmaker/producer/distributor at Rolling Pictures asking me what I was going to do with Beyond Sixty. I lamented about stalled opportunities to distribute and he asked if he could take on the task. He had seen the film at Washington West Film Festival in the fall of 2019, liked it a lot and felt he could help. I was comfortable with him and was encouraged by his enthusiasm so I said yes. We managed to get all the legal contracts in place quickly, just in time to take it to the American Film Market where buyers/distributors peruse thousands of films in hopes of finding the right ones to complement their offerings. I tried not to get too excited as my film is a documentary about older women, not at all as exciting as so many of the films being made by incredibly talented filmmakers.

Then it happened.

Gravitas Ventures, a film distributor, called Mark at Rolling Pictures saying they were interested in picking up Beyond Sixty. We would have a couple months to meet all requirements on the deliverables sheet (I am talking pages) and if we could do it we would see a Spring 2021 release date. I overnighted the hard drive to Rolling Pictures (critical to address things on the deliverables list) and it arrived 3 WEEKS later after being mishandled by the US Post Office. Time was running out for the deadline and my anxiety level was rising. I called in my Expressway Productions Team, who were now closed for Christmas holidays, and made two separate trips into Philadelphia to pick up adjusted hard drives and drive them to an off road location between Philly and Washington DC to hand them over to Mark. This is the short version of the events.

A month ago we were told by Gravitas that Beyond Sixty had a release date: April 6, 2021. That’s tomorrow.

Full circle. It has taken years to get here. It takes patience and persistence to wait this long. A lot of it. I have always been pretty good with persistence when it comes to creating and launching projects, but not so much with the patience end of things. I like things to move quickly. This has tested me and I believe it has been good for me. When I started this I was 65, now I have passed the 70 mark.

What an incredible learning experience this has been. I am in love with the filmmaking process and know I want to continue to bring stories to life through film. I am working on another story idea now hoping it comes to fruition.

I am so grateful to the women in my film. Sara, A’Lelia, Susan, Karen, Celeste, Peggy, Paula, Pat, Greta and Gloria; I could not have done this without your stories. The fact that you were willing to open yourself up to a total stranger and trust me with your story is staggering. I learned from each of you and will always remain in awe of your stories. I must also shout out to the young women who graced the film at the beginning and end. What great conversations we had.

To Mark at Rolling Pictures, we both know the same bartender in Burbank, CA. That was our initial connection. Who would have thought that years later you would be representing my film. I am a big believer that paths cross for a reason. Thank you for being the kind soul you are and for seeing something in my film that encouraged you to contact me when you did.

To Expressway Productions/FormatTV including all of the crews, thank you for the years of collaboration, counseling and instruction. I learned a great deal from you and have missed our regular interactions. Our film is ready for public consumption.

To all of the podcasts, radio shows and print interviews promoting the film, I am forever grateful.

To my dear friends and family I thank you for sticking with me and encouraging me along the way, especially when things got hard and I became discouraged. There were a few of those instances.

It feels really good to be here on the eve of release. I hope you get the chance to watch Beyond Sixty and are inspired by the stories you will hear.

Full circle.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

Grandparenting in Times of Covid

Grandparenting in Times of Covid

It’s different, isn’t it?

As a Grandmother to three boys, aged 15, 12 and 9, I have had a few months to adjust to the initial shock of knowing we would have to be socially distant for possibly months to come.  I am close to all three boys and although our time together has begun to change due to their ages and proximity I always knew I could see them pretty much any time I wanted.  This I took for granted.

February 2020 began and ended at totally separate ends of the spectrum. Can you relate?  My husband and I began the month in Italy. Little did we know Covid was dancing all around us. We had a wonderful time in Soriano, Florence and Rome, returning in time to celebrate our first grandson’s 15th birthday.  He and his 12 year old brother live 35 minutes from us. Still shaking my head wondering where 15 years have gone.

The day following the party I packed up the car and drove to Vermont where our 9 year old grandson lives. I was looking forward to watching him traverse Suicide Six on skis. It’s a six plus hour drive but pretty easy and I have visited a few times since my daughter and her family moved last August.  Knowing I could jump in the car whenever I felt like it was another thing I took for granted.

My visit to Vermont was cut short as I got sick and figured I better head home.  I am not sure if I had Covid but I had what I will call “the flu” and ended up on the couch for two weeks.  That was the beginning of my quarantine and the last time I have seen my Vermont family. It is also the last time I visited my hairdresser!

March, April and May came and went and I did more FaceTime calls with the boys and their parents than I normally would.  I have to admit it is an effective way to stay connected and seeing their faces filled a void.  I think about how much more difficult it would be if we did not have iPhones and Zoom.

My attempt to create something meaningful to improve our connections was a bit short lived.  Not finding anything of substance on the web designed for kids aged 9, 12 and 15 I decided to create “Grammy’s Home School.”  The idea was to FaceTime everyone once a week to do trivia games, some educational based discussions and any fun stuff that would bring us together.  The first week went great.  All three joined and participated. Our time ran an hour longer than planned!  By the second week I had lost my eldest grandson…the content was not sophisticated enough for him and I realized that creating fun, educational sessions for all three age groups was not easy.  The younger two hung in for a couple more weeks and even worked on some cool projects that we shared and discussed.  Then my middle grandson decided to “quit school” so he could do some on-line games with a friend. My 9 year old hung in with me while we read a chapter book. I think he knew I needed it more than he did!

Then, finally, each of the boy’s schools set up their distance learning programs.  I was toast!  We made the shift to phone calls/FaceTime “on demand” and talk about anything but school.  Grampy has maintained a weekly on-line Roblox session with the youngest and sometimes the middle grandson joins them. Just staying in touch with them and asking them how they are doing and letting them know we are here for them has become our SOP.

When May came along, we had been in quarantine since end of February.  My husband had been working from home and the kids had all been sequestered in their homes.  We had some holidays and birthdays coming up and we wrestled with how we could see each other face to face.  I have to admit we were concerned. We dipped our toes in the water on Mother’s Day.  My son, his wife and our two oldest grandsons came for a visit! My son’s birthday was right after Mother’s Day so we had a combo party.   I got up early and baked a cake and prepped for a Covid-safe party.  We have an outside courtyard in between the garage and house.  Our plan was to have our visitors enter through the garage and stay in the courtyard while Grampy and I sat in the dining room, doors open to the courtyard.  It worked!  It almost felt dangerous. We were all careful to stay ten feet apart and no one sneezed.  It was so good to see them.

There were two more events to celebrate and it is interesting how much more comfortable we became as we neared the end of May.  We celebrated Grampy’s birthday here, had it catered and this time set up in the dining room. We took things a step farther and everyone came in and sat at the table.  No hugs but it felt almost normal.  By the very end of May we wanted to join our middle grandson for his 12th birthday, so we ventured out to his house and had a little party outside.  Still no hugs, but we were all together and it was so good to see his big smile as he opened gifts and blew out his candles.

Here we are in June and while I am watching the Covid numbers rise in states that “opened early” I am feeling fairly confident that we can spend time with the grandsons knowing they have not had contact with anyone other than family members.  A transition to the new normal hit this week when our eldest grandson came over to hang out and stay the night.  The boys have spent overnights with us since they were babies.  Sometimes all three at once or two at a time or just a single getting all the attention.  It is an important event for us each time it happens. Having an overnight visitor for the first time in four months was a real treat.

The picture above was taken behind the Inn at St. Peter’s Village (PA).  My grandson and I took a drive out there just for a change of scenery.  There were a lot of mask-less people in the river.  I guess masks and swimming really don’t pair well. The message on the rock caught our eye.  Seemed the perfect sentiment given the last couple of weeks our country has had.  It was good to be able to talk with a 15 year old about all the world happenings and know that he is making it through OK.

I know the local boys are a bit bored and miss their friends and playing team sports.  I hope they will be able to get back to regular routines soon.  Our guy in Vermont has been luckier.  He lives on a street with several friends his age and all the families pretty much quarantined together.  He has always been able to get out on his bike with friends or kick the ball around in the park or take a hike up Mt. Peg.  He seems the least affected and my conversations with him are upbeat and silly.  I miss being able to hop in the car and head up to see him.

For the most part kids are pretty resilient. Sometimes more so than their grandparents.  If you are a hands-on grandparent, as I believe we are, there is a finite period of time that you get to be with them.  The time gets naturally shorter with more infrequent interactions as they grow and move forward in life. I have to admit I have been struggling with that a little in the last year or so.  Being socially distanced from them because of a pandemic is something I never anticipated. It takes some adjusting and a commitment to creating special ways to stay in touch with each child.

For now I will continue to stay connected to them via FaceTime and occasional overnights with the local boys.  With face masks we can venture out to places that don’t have large crowds.  We can do curbside pick up and eat burgers in the car. We can plan an outing to the closest Drive-in movie theater and make a night of it.  And, as soon as it’s safe, we can all hop in the car and drive up to Vermont for a reunion.  Maybe by then I will be able to hug everyone without any doubts.

To all the grandparents out there, I know your routines have been changed. To the brand new grandparents, I imagine some of you have yet to hold your new grandchild.  For many of you family vacation plans have been cancelled.  How this will play out is unknown right now but I hope you are finding ways to stay connected to your grandchildren.  I would love to hear what creative things you have done to maintain your special connection.  I might steal some of your ideas!

Spread the Love,

Melissa  a/k/a Grammy

Where Does the Time Go?

Where Does the Time Go?

I find myself saying that more often as I get older.  May sound a bit cliché but it’s true.  My blog has suffered, not from lack of things to share but because the time got away with me.  I admire bloggers that I follow who have a faithful routine of posting important and interesting happenings.

The last five months have been a whirlwind, in a good sense.   Beyond Sixty Project premiered at the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival in March.  It is a small festival but that is probably a good thing. I was nervous. I had never seen the film on a big screen, as in Regal Cinema size, and I pretty much tortured myself the night before by imagining the worst.  But, guess what?  It looked good and about five minutes in I started to settle down.

I was very touched by the people who showed up for me.  I have past work-related connections in and around LA, including a number of women that I love but hardly ever get to see.  They showed up.  Some from as far as Orange County.  Anyone from LA knows that’s a big deal. I am forever grateful to them for their interest, feedback and ongoing support.

I got to see some wonderful films and met some truly talented filmmakers at this first event.  I loved watching their films and studying their style of filmmaking.  If you have never attended a film festival you should go!  Some of the best films out there are independent films and the filmmakers are usually there to answer any questions you have.  Supporting indie filmmakers is a good thing to do.  They want an audience and your feedback.

I got home from LA long enough to do the laundry and re-pack for my second film festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas (of Bill Clinton fame).  I had not been there since 1984 when I went down one summer to hang out with my best friend Judi who had recently moved there from Vermont.  It is coincidental that all these years later, one of Judi’s younger daughters just happened to be living a couple hours away and she came to my screening with her husband and his parents who live in Little Rock.  Another much needed very warm embrace.

The Hot Springs International Women’s Film Festival screens in the historic Central Theatre.  Rumor has it that it is haunted.  I sat in there for two days watching films and only turned around twice to see who was tapping on my shoulder.  There was no one behind me. Beyond Sixty Project won the Audience Award.

The film went to Calgary, Canada for the Third ACTion Film Festival in June. I received some great reviews from Calgary.  I was unable to attend that one as I was traveling through Iceland and Norway for a couple of weeks on a pre-planned vacation.  If you ever have the chance to see either or both countries I hope you do.  It was truly spectacular and so different from other destinations I have traveled to. If you want to know about my itinerary get in touch and I can fill you in.

In July Beyond Sixty Project made it’s PA premier at the New Hope Film Festival in beautiful New Hope, PA.  This was my favorite so far because it was the first time my husband, children and grandchildren got to see it.  For three years they had only heard me talk about it.  I thought I was nervous in LA but New Hope brought my anxiety level up a couple notches. Not only was my little family going to see it but I had friends and family that came all the way from MA, CT, NY, NJ, DE, VA and DC.  I was really surprised that so many people would come, especially during the hottest week of the summer.  Back to the anxiety level.  It was all fear based, I know, but it was still there.  What if  they didn’t like it?   Relief set in when they laughed in the right spots. They liked it! The positive response was wonderful. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming all that way to show your support.  You helped to sell out my screening a week before the event.

New Hope Film Festival awarded Beyond Sixty Project the Audience Choice Award for Best Documentary and the Female Eye Filmmaker Award.  I admit I did get a little teary-eyed when they announced the second award.   I met some incredibly talented filmmakers in New Hope.  It is a class A festival with tremendous emphasis placed on working with and supporting the filmmakers.  It was a great experience and I was amazed by the level of talent from all over the world.  One of my favorite films, Union, by Whitney Hamilton, is a must see.  It has been picked up and is playing in select theatres now.  Let me know how you like it.  Another is Second Samuel.  Not in theatres yet, but watch for it.

In addition to prepping for next film festivals (there is a lot to do to get ready for each)August has been spent reviewing potential distribution offers and helping my daughter and her little family move to Vermont.  Another teary-eyed moment but good tears. Oh, and good old August let me check another year off the calendar!

Next up, Catalina Film Festival in CA which I will not attend because I will be in Vermont attending Judi’s youngest daughter’s wedding.  I sure wish she was still here with us so she could be at the wedding.  I could regale her with my stories from Hot Springs, a place she called home for only a short time, but a place with shared memories.

Then on to Washington West Film Festival, Washington DC.  That festival runs October 24-28 in and around DC, based out of Reston, VA.  What I love about this particular festival is they give 100% of the festival proceeds to struggling communities.  Check out their website at http://www.wwfilmfest.com.  They will be posting their line up of films, including Beyond Sixty Project, on September 19th.  You can purchase single tickets for any movie or purchase packages for the entire event.  Come to the festival.  You might see Robert Duvall.  You will definitely see me!

I hope your summer has been a good one and you enter the Fall in good health and with good cheer.

Peace and Love,  Melissa

 

 

 

 

 

A Journey of Stories

A Journey of Stories

It has now been three years and two months since I became a filmmaker.  I didn’t have anything to legitimize the title until the end of the summer when we completed the editing of the film.  We had a feature length documentary that told the stories of a number of remarkable women beyond the age of sixty.   We had traveled around the country on this wonderful journey of stories.  We had spent years, months and days editing and re-editing, trying to capture the essence of each woman and her unique story.  The self-doubt and anxiety of “getting it right” ran circles around me at times.  Maintaining a budget when there is no longer a paycheck to support it brought out my creative side.  I did as much of the work I could possibly do myself in order to  manage the production costs.  It worked out.

At the end of August I began submitting the film to Film Festivals.  There must be a thousand or more, so trying to find the right fit wasn’t always easy.  I never thought the film would be accepted to Sundance or Cannes or a host of others. I was correct and this was confirmed when speaking with a film consultant.  She told me that first time filmmakers with no connection to the festival had an almost impossible chance at any opportunity for selection.   As I cast my net a bit wider and became friendly with filmmakers and producers around the country they echoed that sentiment.  Waves of  fear washed over me occasionally and I would wonder what would happen to this passion project of mine.  Are there filmmakers that make movies that others never see?

Like anything you create it takes commitment, patience and time.  I reminded myself of that regularly and worked closely with my production partners to set up calls with agents, distributors, marketers and the like.  We let a number of them view the film and the feedback was very positive.  The film community is very supportive and nurturing so they always had an idea or two as to where we might land.  I am so appreciative for their time and guidance along the way.

And then it started to happen.  It started with a small nod from an online juried festival that selected our film and gave it a special mention.  Then it was quiet, for what seemed too long, until I heard from the Los Angeles Women’s International Film Festival. They selected our film which will have its Premiere Screening on March 24th.  Shortly after that we were selected by the Hot Springs International Women’s Film Festival in Arkansas.  We will screen there on March 31st.  Then last night we received an early acceptance into the New Hope Film Festival in Pennsylvania that runs in mid July.  It feels like traction and I am pretty much over the moon as I help to prepare for each festival.  Sometimes I shed a tear or two.

A young woman interviewed me recently for a paper she is working on.  She asked me a couple of basic questions and I will share my answers with you because so many people ask me two of her questions.

Q.What was the hardest thing you have had to deal with while learning to make this film?

A. Being sick for more than a year with recurring/chronic Lyme Disease.  There were times I could barely make it through the task of the day and many days I worked between napping.  I honestly never found the task of learning the process or directing and collaborating that difficult. In fact, all of the learning and creating was exciting.

Q. Why did you pick storytelling, or a Documentary, for your first attempt at film making?

A. I am not a screenwriter so figured the easiest way for me to get started in the business was to start where I would be comfortable. One of my strong suits in business was the ability to build relationships with colleagues, employees and customers.  I have spent my life listening to stories and telling my own.  I have always been fascinated by people’s journeys and inspired by so many of their stories.  When I started the film I was 65 years old. I was making a big change in my life at a time when many people were thinking about traditional retirement.  I had met many strong women throughout my life and career and I was curious about what they were doing with their lives as they neared or surpassed retirement age.  I found there was no shortage of resilient women who are continuing to make their mark on the world despite their age.  Inspiring others by documenting their stories is what I wanted to do.

I hope you will get to see the film at a screening or when the right platform for distribution is found.  Stay tuned!

Finally, thank you to all of the people who have supported and encouraged me over the last couple of years.  Your friendship, love, advice and constant interest has been felt and appreciated every day.

See you at the movies!

Love and Peace,

Melissa

 

 

 

Grandtravel

Grandtravel

I started a tradition with our eldest grandson three years ago.  I had told all three of my grandsons that we would take them on their own special vacation, to a place of their choice  once they passed their ten year mark.  Our first grandson chose San Francisco and we have great memories of our visit to the waterfront, the Golden Gate Bridge, Muir Woods and Yosemite.  Ten seemed to be the right age and we tested that again in early August when we took our middle grandson, pictured above, to his chosen state of Oregon.

It is interesting that the brothers both chose the west coast, however Luke had a clear plan when choosing Oregon.  He wanted to spend at least one day visiting the University of Oregon in Eugene where his Dad, my son, went to college.

Starting from our home base in Portland we enjoyed the city and a stop at the original Nike Store for some KD’s.  Basketball fans will know what the initials refer to.

Our week included a great day at U of O where we found my son’s brick in the walkway on campus. If you have never had the opportunity to visit the campus and you find yourself in the area, it is worth the detour. We shall see if Luke’s current plan to attend college at his Dad’s Alma Mater materializes.

We then traveled to Washington to see Mt. St. Helen’s. Near the volcano we made a long climb down into Ape Cave where the temperature was 42 degrees.  It was 85 degrees up above.  We saw a lot of the Columbia River Gorge  including Multnomah, Bridal Veil and Latourell Falls.  The sights were spectacular and Luke enjoyed taking pictures with Grampy’s adult camera and hiking the trails to get as close to the waterfalls as possible.

One of the unexpected highlights of the trip was finding a 50’s style Drive-In Movie Theater about 45 minutes from Portland.  We had a great time eating dinner in the car and giving Luke his first experience at a Drive-In.  As luck would have it our return flight was cancelled a day early so we headed for the Drive-In again and planned our bonus day excursion to the amazing Oregon Zoo in Portland. That’s where I lost my brand new prescription sunglasses, maybe in the monkey area.

Multi-generational travel with the entire family is very popular but there is something extra special about traveling with a grandchild.  A break from siblings and parents can be good for everyone.  With the advent of Face Time it is so easy for the child to stay connected to home and check in daily to share their adventures.  Luke proved to be a great traveler,  not minding the long flight and always eager each day to scout out something new.

I feel so lucky to be able to offer this to each grandson and get that very special alone time with them to focus on their interests and help build that sense of wonder and curiosity that comes with travel to new places.

When we got back to PA Luke seemed a little more confident and excited to share his new stories with his family.  His older brother took me aside and said he thinks we shouldn’t stop these special trips at age ten, but maybe 15 should be the next milestone for a second solo trip.  By the way, he will be 15 in one and a half years!  I think he is on to something.  If a 15 year old boy is still willing to go with his grandparents on a trip I say we should make that happen.  In the meantime, our third grandson who will be ten in about two years is up next.  We are curious to find out where he will want to go.

Have you traveled solo with your grandchild or are you thinking about it?  I highly recommend it.  If you have any questions about the San Francisco and Portland areas for kids please get in touch.  I would be happy to share more of our itinerary details.  I would also love to hear about your Grandtravel adventures!

Until next time, Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

 

Almost There

Almost There

I am approaching the finish line.  I knew it was coming but it still feels surreal.  The film is done. It is now with the color correction and sound mixing experts.  While they are performing their magic I am working with the team to create the movie poster and the electronic press kit that will be a part of each film festival submission.  We will likely submit to ten or more film festivals around the country. Then we will wait.  It will be late fall or early winter before they contact us with a yay or nay.  Pins and needles time.

Two and a half years. I have had a few misses during this time.  The picture above was one of them. I was being filmed for a possible opening sequence in the Beyond Sixty Project.  It was scripted.  I just couldn’t do it.  They were my words, more or less, but I couldn’t string them together and sound like me.  I would make a lousy actress.  I cannot imagine ever learning to memorize a script.  Maybe I am selling myself short, but I don’t think so.

What I have confirmed is that I do best when I am in conversation with people or when I am just talking naturally, about any subject.  It was the same way in my previous job. When giving presentations to groups, small and large, I would usually have note cards to ensure I covered the necessary topics but did best when talking from my heart.  As long as  I was passionate about the subject it usually went very well.

There has been a tremendous amount of passion associated with this film.  I feel so lucky to have production partners that share the feeling with me. I still work best in collaboration with a team of highly talented people. I could not have done this without them.

Several people have asked me what it feels like to be at this juncture.  It’s hard to explain but I can tell you that when I watched the last cut of the film I became very emotional when the credits rolled. It was the first time I had seen the credits and it was an overwhelming sensation to see all of our names scrolling to music that gets me every time I hear it.  It may sound corny but it’s true.

The biggest lesson learned through this process is that we are never too old to try something new.   I am in awe of all the women I interviewed for the film.  They have such unique stories and I am better off for spending time with them.  Their commonalities are clear.  They are resilient and they are continuing to remain relevant as they age.  They are not willing to call it quits and hunker down into their golden years.  They have a confidence that allows them to say no to things they do not want and a boldness to step out and try new things.  They expect some failures along the way but chalk that up to experience which adds to their resilience bucket.

Where we all go from here is unclear, but as my friend Sara says, if you are open to the unknown things can happen.

Back to work. I hope you have a wonderful day.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

 

 

Inspiration

Inspiration

By now, if you are following my story, you know the short version.  That one day I took a detour from my usual routine and the end result was a day on a movie set with M Night Shyamalan.  Seemingly, the main impetus for leaving the comfortability of my corporate career and becoming a filmmaker. But there was more to it than that.

The grainy picture you see above was my true inspiration.  Let me explain.

When I won the bid to spend the day on the set of Shyamalan’s The Visit, I was contacted by the young woman in the middle, Jenn.  At the time she was the Shyamalan Foundation’s Executive Director. She and her colleague Joanna, who is not shown above but also plays an inspirational role in my leap, were the first people to contact me about the logistics of my upcoming day. They hung out with me on the set and our conversations were rich. These conversations have continued since that first meeting in March, 2014 and today I consider each a good friend, despite our age difference.

Shortly after my incredible day on the set I received an invitation from Jenn to come to an event that would feature a young woman they supported through the foundation. Eager to learn more about the Shyamalan’s work I jumped at the chance. That evening I met the third woman in the above picture, the one on the right, Katie Meyler.

The Shyamalan Foundation supports the grassroots efforts of emerging leaders as they work to eliminate barriers created by poverty and social injustice in their communities. Katie Meyler is one of those leaders.  Katie is the Founder and CEO of More Than Me (MTM), a leading education network in Liberia.  She started MTM in 2009 in an effort to find the most vulnerable girls in Liberia and get them into school. She was 27 then.

That night at the foundation event I sat in the front row listening to this thirty-something woman tell us her story and her dreams, through her poetry. We connected that night in a big way and it was at that moment that all the little fears I had about jumping ship and becoming a filmmaker were washed away. I have never been inspired as much as I was by this woman. We have remained close and have had deep conversations about life and love and dancing…she is always dancing!

Since starting MTM, Katie has not only helped to transform the educational network in Liberia, but has gone on to work with the Ministry of Education to add 8 private partners running over 200 schools impacting over 50,000 children.  She was named 2014 Time Magazine person of the year for her efforts on the front lines of the Ebola crisis.  The list goes on.  Her story is inspiring not just because she has achieved so much but because she achieved it on her own, with no money in her pockets, just a lot of love, fierce energy and big dreams.

Katie makes you see that any obstacle or fear can be overcome, and that with true passion you can move mountains. I thank her for reminding me of that regularly.  I thank Jenn for knowing I needed to meet this woman.  I thank Joanna for bringing me to Zac, my film Director for the Beyond Sixty Project. I thank all of them for encouraging me, supporting me and offering regular doses of inspiration. They give me a deep and important connection to our marvelous younger generation.

Back to the picture above.  It was taken May 27, 2018, late at night in Rincon, Puerto Rico. After Katie’s marriage to Theodros, also known as Teddy the Bush Doctor. Teddy works along side Katie and MTM to develop school-based healthcare programs in Liberia.  They are one dynamic duo. I remember when she met Teddy and said she thought he was “the one.”  He was and he is.  I have never met two people so perfectly matched. I am sure the universe was waiting for just the right time to place them in the same location. I look forward to watching them as they continue to make their mark on the world.

In my lifetime most of my inspiration has come from people I have read about. Usually people who were older than me and for the most part, people I would never meet. But then one day back in March of 2014 I took the detour and all that changed. I still look back at the chain of events that day and all that has come after it and wonder.  What would I be doing right now if I had not made a change in my routine that day?

I hope you always take the detours.  You just might find your inspiration along that unknown stretch of road.

Peace and Love,

Melissa

 

Move Over Martha

Move Over Martha

Martha Stewart is a name almost everyone knows.  Maybe not the younger generation but certainly everyone in my sphere. I spent many an hour reading her magazine, watching her old cooking shows and leafing through her many books on how to set the perfect table or how to bake the perfect pie.  Martha has been around for a long time and has remained a well-respected brand despite the fact that she went to prison for five months for lying about her sale of ImClone stock.  I’m not sure that bothered me as much as three things that have always bothered me about her.  Well, maybe there are four.

The first was during a show when she was demonstrating how to make a special decoration.  She actually looked into the camera and directed me to go up in the attic and fetch the box of buttons I had been collecting over the years so I could pick out some gold and silver ones.  At the time I was living in an apartment with no attic access and I did not have a box of collectible buttons anywhere in the apartment.   The second time Martha was in her home in Westport, CT showing the viewers how to make the perfect Christmas wreath. She suggested we go into the backyard to cut some pine boughs from a tree.  You guessed it, I didn’t have any pines or firs, just maples and birch.  I was in trouble again and I remember talking back to the television that time. The third time I was in New York City on business and while I was waiting for my meeting to start I was looking out a window in the high story building I was visiting.  Lo and behold, there was Martha Stewart in one of her studios getting ready for a show. The buildings were close so I could get a pretty good view.  I watched as her staff prepared the set for whatever it was they would be making and caught a minute of an animated Martha yelling at the staff about something I could not hear.  Something was amiss and it gave me pause. It made me think about the fourth reason I had been turned off by this tremendously successful business woman.  She seemed to have a bit of a mean streak and an air of indifference about her. Not warm and fuzzy.   I hear she is hanging out with Snoop Dog now, so maybe all the above has improved.

Now let me get to the reason I am saying move over Martha.

Who watches HGTV?   They have given us a variety of how-to shows focused on home renovation. I became a fan of Fixer Upper for the five seasons it aired.  You may know the show that starred Chip and Joanna Gaines, a young couple from Waco, Texas.  He’s a real estate pro and builder and she is a designer.  They are parents to four, soon to be five children. They take houses that need a lot of help and make them into someone’s dream home.

Chip and Joanna both graduated from Baylor University in Waco.  They say fate brought them together and they began remodeling homes immediately after they were married. They didn’t have much money and they were frugal with their choices, slowly beginning to build a business.

Fast forward several years and they have built a brand named Magnolia that includes a real estate company, construction company, design firm, residential subdivision, a couple of bed and breakfasts, home store, bakery, warehouse store, restaurant, seasonal magazine and have both authored books, the most recent being Joanna’s cookbook, Magnolia Table, named after their new restuarant.  I failed to mention they have a homeware line in Target and now have their brand on rugs, pillows and furniture.  All this, in a short time, while raising four children with a fifth due in several weeks.  Out of breath yet?

I was so impressed with them and that I began to look for cracks.  I mean, could they really be as loving and funny and real as they seem to be ?  I was struck by the Magnolia brand and how quickly it had grown.  Knowing a little bit about running businesses it amazed me that they could be so successful in such a short period of time.

My husband, who watches little television, did watch this show with me, also in awe of what they could do with each of the homes they remodeled. You couldn’t help but enjoy an hour with Chip and Jo. Their quirky personalities and obvious love for what they do and for each other draws you in.

I wanted to experience the brand first hand so my husband and I flew to Waco, Texas to check it out.  We stayed a few days and really enjoyed our visit.  The bluebonnets were popping up and the weather was pretty nice. The food was good and they have a Mammoth dig site.  Pretty cool to see. Waco is situated about halfway between Dallas and Austin. Home to Baylor, it has about 130,000 residents and sits on the Brazos River.

We hit the Silos District first because it was mid-week and I wanted to get into the Magnolia Home Store before the weekend crowds.  Chip and Jo bought the Silos, pictured above, and an adjacent warehouse which is the store.  It is fantastic. Very large, beautifully decorated and well managed.  It was late morning and I would guess there was a crowd of about a couple hundred people milling in and out of the store.  The main check out line had at least ten registers with two employees per register.  Same scenario at the front registers.  And get this, in the back of the store FedEx has set up shop right next to the shipping bays.  The FedEx truck is there throughout the day picking up the hundreds of boxes to be mailed. How smart is that? If you spend $100 or more Magnolia pays for the shipping. I forgot to mention the greeters at the door as you enter.  I hear if you go Saturday morning Joanna’s mother may greet you.

I needed to find someone to talk with and I settled on a woman behind the jewelry counter. She was about my age.  There was more than one “senior” working in the store. She was lovely and she was more than willing to answer any questions I had.  She loves working for Magnolia and says Chip and  Jo are very interested in employee suggestions to improve the business and overal customer experience.  While I was looking at the jewelry she noticed I had to lean down to look at the pieces and asked me what I thought about the antique wood display table.  I told her I thought it was too low and would take away from people’s view of the jewelry.  She agreed and said she would make a suggestion to Jo to add height to the table or change it out. She also said, what you see on tv is real and the couple is authentic and caring and have been a tremendous asset to the city of Waco. I bought a leather and brass necklace.

If you do get to go to Waco and you are at the Silos you will notice there is a very large grassy area in between the store and the silos.  It is a community gathering place, a theme of Joanna’s, with permanent food trucks, dining pavillion, and garden shop.  They have lawn games for the kids, music playing and comfortable seating.  We hung out there twice and were amazed by the friendly atmosphere and the number of people that use it.

Then on to Magnolia Table which had just recently opened.  Chip’s dream of owning a breakfast joint has come true.  They bought the historic Elite Diner (Elvis ate there) and transformed it the way Jo transforms old buildings. Perfectly.  There was a wait to get in, but while you wait you have choices. You can go to the Take Away Market at the end of the restaurant or stay outside and grab a coffee from the Magnolia Coffee Kiosk and hang out at community tables under the pergola until they text you that your table is ready.  The food was fantastic, the service excellent and the organization of the staff was like that of the Home Store.  We went into the Take Away Market and I struck up conversation  with an employee there, a woman older than me and very interested in learning where I was from.  She gushed about how blessed she felt being able to get a job at her age in such a wonderful place, and like the woman at the store, told me that Chip and Jo treated everyone like family and took very good care of them, always seeking out their ideas. She went on to tell me about the countless things they have done to improve the community. It was definitely a theme.

Then we found Waco Tours.  In one of the Fixer Upper episodes they renovated a house for a bachelor from Waco. His name is David Ridley.  Do you remember that episode?  Since then David got married and opened Waco Tours.  He credits Chip and Jo for the opportunity. Since Fixer Upper first aired tourists have been flocking to the city. There was no organized tour operation to showcase all Waco has to offer, so David took a risk and started Waco Tours.  The tour runs 2 1/2 hours and was great.  We got the lay of the land, lots of history and confirmation that none of us would be there on the tour bus if Chip and Jo had not made the impact they have since Fixer Upper first aired.

These two people have created hundreds of jobs, given back to their community ten-fold and maintained a fairly private home life.  I am impressed with them as people and with their brand.  I think Martha has some serious competition.

If you haven’t seen HGTV’s Fixer Upper check it out.  They are showing re-runs of all seasons.

Peace and Love,

Melissa