Women's History Month

She Said It: Week Four


"The future depends entirely on what each of us does every day; a movement is only people moving."

--- Gloria Steinem


Gloria Steinem

Earlier this week, Gloria Steinem celebrated her 80th birthday.  How awesome is that?  (Click here to read my story about meeting Ms. Steinem.)


March is Women's History Month.  Celebrate the legacy of women's words with me here each Friday during March.

Paradigm Shifts

Last week at the Chicago Flower & Garden Show, I was thrilled to find this year's exhibit* from Women's Journeys in Fiber --  Paradigm Shifts: Impressions of Change.

Each artist was to create a shift-style dress as a canvas to represent a paradigm shift in her life, science, politics, or religion.  The results were stunning!

This artist (who we got to meet and chat with at the show) created a "shift" to show the "shift" from 50s housewife (her mom) to today's woman (her daughter).  The front of the shift told the story of the 60s through the present . . .


While the back of the dress told the story of the 50s housewife. . .


A gardener told the story of her shifting garden -- from generic lawn to lush flower beds!


And a life-long seamstress depicted her shift from dressmaking and tailoring (on the back) . . .


to an exploration of quilting and experimental stitching techniques (on the front)!


There were several weavers . . .



a knitter . . . 


and many fascinating looks at history, and several poignant political statements. . .


This one contrasts images from fashion magazines with newspaper articles about the textile factory fire in Pakistan that killed more than 300 people.

One of my favorites . . . 


was completely made of words!


Her shift told the story of the power of love (in both English and Korean).


So many shifts!


So many stories!


Such a powerful exhibit!


For me -- surrounded as I was by flowers and gardening ideas, and inspired by color everywhere -- the shifts were the best part of the the day!

Click here if you'd like to see more of the shifts and read some of the artist statements.


*Last year's exhibit featured shoes, and the year before, it was aprons.

Driving Ms. Gloria

"Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities.  Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning."

--- Gloria Steinem

It's March -- which makes it Women's History Month.  And today - March 8 - is International Women's Day.  An appropriate time to tell you a story.  About the day I was the driver. 

For Gloria Steinem.

Gloria Steinem

It was 1992 when Gloria came to town.  I was 33 years old.  Living in Grand Rapids.  Working for a women's foundation.  Mommy to a toddler and a baby.  And a huge fan of Gloria Steinem since my teen years!

To further set the mood and tone, consider this.  Gloria Steinem was coming to town on the day after the 1992 Presidential election.  The election Bill Clinton won.  The timing couldn't have been better for the organizers of the Big Event!

So Gloria came to Grand Rapids, and she gave a rocking, rolling, inspriational talk for a standing-room-only crowd.  It was awesome.  The next day, she was going to speak at the Council of Michigan Foundations conference in Battle Creek -- just a little over an hour drive away -- and then on to the Kalamazoo airport.

I got the call.

Kym, how would you like to drive Gloria to Battle Creek?

In my mini-van?


And so it was.  I was going to spend the day with one of my personal (s)heroes!  I was going to drive Gloria Steinem!  I scrambled to clean the kid-detritus out of my mini-van.  (Except for the car seats.  They had to stay.)  I stressed about what to wear.  (I wore black.)  I worried that I would say something stupid.  Or babble.  Or that my mouth would gape open.  Or that I would get a ticket.  Or get lost.

But, really.  It was all just fine.

I met her for breakfast.  She was . . . just like you'd expect Gloria Steinem to be!  Smart.  Astute.  Confident.  And completely engaging and easy to talk to.  Very down-to-earth.  Very . . . comfortable.

Since we had plenty of time, she asked if I'd show her around Grand Rapids.  So we hopped in my mini-van, and off we went.  As we passed the local offices of Planned Parenthood, she asked if we could stop in.  So we did.  She just walked through their offices and said hello.  And thanked them for their important work.  And then got back in my mini-van and we headed for Battle Creek.

Part way there, as we were hurtling down the highway south to Battle Creek, Gloria Steinem asked me if I'd mind if she took a bit of a nap.

Oh, no, I said.  Not at all, I said.  And I began explaining how to put the seat back.

But, no.

Gloria Steinem was climbing into my back seat!  Where the car seats were.  She unbuckled them and tossed them into the "way back" (as Erin called it).  Brushed the crumbs and cheerios and crumpled dinosaur stickers onto the floor.  And laid down on my mini-van seat for her nap!

(While I was driving down the highway.)

I was sort of mortified.  (Who knows what you'll find under car seats!)  But, like I said.  Gloria Steinem was completely down-to-earth.  Very easy and comfortable to be around.

And there she was.  Napping on the back seat of my mini-van.

The day went like clockwork.  We arrived in Battle Creek.  She gave a keynote presentation.  I took her to the airport.  She hugged me and thanked me when I dropped her off.

I'll never forget it!  My stint . . . Driving Ms. Gloria!


Vernis, Twink, Leila, Judy, and Esther


"Aging is not lost youth, but a new stage of opportunity and strength." -- Betty Friedan


Over the years, I have had the great fortune of knowing many strong, powerful, big-hearted women from the generations before me.  Watching them move through their lives with grace and integrity, with good humor and a sense of beauty, have been a gift to me.  Because they have shown me that "aging" is not something to dread or fear.  No.  They have shown me that "aging" can be a new beginning, a time to GO and DO, a time to speak out and take a stand, a time to do the things you want to do!

So today, at the end of Women's History Month (and a couple of days before I turn a year older myself, I might add!) I'd like to honor Vernis, Twink, Leila, Judy, and Esther.

Vernis, who showed me that you should never stop advocating for the things you care about.  (Also, that you can really rock the wrinkles and that "pink" is a good color, no matter your age.)

Twink, who showed me that you're never too old to try something completely new and different.  (Also, that grey hair can be incredibly cool, how to throw a great party, and how to employ the "squint test" when matching colors.)

Leila, who continues to show me how to bring beauty to outdoor spaces with her amazing gardens.  (Also, that you should never stop learning, even if you have to buy a "got-dam" computer to do it!)

Judy, who continues to inspire me to keep moving and stay fit.  (Also, that you, too, can wear a smokin' swim suit at age 75 if you swim 3 miles each day.)

Esther, who I really don't know, but comes in to the knitting shop frequently for more projects to work on.  She's in her upper 80s, and claims she "doesn't like crosswords" but knitting and cross stitch keep her mind nimble.

They have all helped me see that aging truly IS a new stage of opportunity and growth.  What a gift!


Carol, Kate, Colette, and the UltraSound Technician


"The moment a child is born, the mother is also born.  She never existed before.  The woman existed, but the mother, never.  A mother is something absolutely new."  ~Rajneesh


Today I continue my month-long reflection of the legacy of women who've played a role in my life.

Mothers day 1992

I always wanted to be a "good mom."  I tried hard; I read parenting books; I asked for advice from my own mom; I had many a long conversation with my sister (who was a mom before I was) and trusted friends.  I spent all my energy on "mothering" and I was (well, still am!) devoted to my kids.

Still, there were many times when I struggled.  Sometimes, I worried about small things.  Is it a long-term problem to reward your toddler with M&Ms?  What message am I sending if I allow my child to continue designing and building elaborate weaponry with K'nex?  Is "Star Wars" too intense for a 6-year-old?  Other times, the stakes were much higher.  Will my kids be better off in another school district?  What to do about a particular pal who really IS a bad influence?  Am I too involved in problems they need to work out for themselves?

It's always something.  When you're a mom.

I couldn't have gotten this far without my mom and my sister and my own good friends!  They helped me think through, and talk through, and even drink through (!) the rough spots.

But, every once in a while, advice showed up unexpectedly.  Unsolicited.  But just what I needed to hear.  At just the right time.  From the mouths of other moms I didn't really know all that well.

Today, I want to pay tribute to women who've influenced my "mothering" in huge ways -- but not through the day-to-day support that my own mom and my sister and my friends provided.  No.  Today, I want to pay tribute to the well-timed, perhaps even off-the-cuff statement that just . . . rang true. . . for me at that particular moment in time.

Little snippets of advice. . . that came when I least expected it . . .  that stayed with me and shaped the kind of mother I became through the years.

There was Carol. . . who wisely counseled that "Being your child's advocate is NOT the same as running her life."  Carol's words - spoken to me in the earliest days of Erin's elementary school days - were instrumental in helping me support Erin (and, later, Brian) through their school years.  There is a difference between "advocating for" and "managing" your child.  Carol turned that little light on in my head.  And I am pleased to see that, far from being "managed", each of my children is now an advocate for themselves.  Thanks, Carol!

And Kate . . . who called my office on a day I was struggling mightily with a big parenting decision.  I ended up spilling the beans to this woman I barely knew (it was one of those days), and she quietly advised, "Listen to what's in your heart; trust yourself when it comes to your children.  You know what to do."  And, with that, my decision was clear.  Kate helped me realize that I knew all along what was right -- I was just struggling to DO it.  Thanks, Kate!

And Colette. . . a workshop leader who just made a chance comment.  In a presentation, she said,  "Can you imagine how powerful it is for your children to hear that you are delighted with them?  Delighted.  Just the way they are."  It was a moment that gave me a little tingle.  An epiphany!  And, lucky for my kids, I heard those words when Erin was only 4.  Both my kids have heard, through the years, that I am "delighted" with them; not just when they do something "delightful," but every day.  All the time.  Thanks, Colette!

And the unnamed Ultrasound Technician. . . who assured me, in the first trimester of my pregnancy with Erin (when there was a threatened problem that ended up being nothing) that . . . "Worry is what being a mother is all about.  It never stops.  Get used to it."  I have no idea who she was, but she was reassuring and helpful at the time.  I have thought about her often over the last 23 years.  She was right.  The worry never ends.  Thanks, Ultrasound Technician!

Chance suggestions. . . from amazing women . . . who just happened to bring me words of wisdom when I needed them most!

Miss Helzer


"All my scattering moments are taken up with my needle."  ---Ellen Birdseye Wheaton, 1851

Today I continue my month-long reflection of the legacy of women who've played a role in my life.


In seventh grade, I was excited to have home ec class in my schedule.  I already knew how to run a sewing machine (a little), but I was eager to learn how to put together pieces to make a garment.  And I couldn't wait to learn to put in a zipper!

I remember being a bit totally intimidated by Miss Helzer when I first stepped into her classroom.  She was tall and imposing.  Somewhere in her 40s.  Impeccably dressed and made up.  Always.  She sewed her own exquisitely tailored suits.  Everything matched.  She was VERY put together. 

You always knew where you stood with Miss Helzer.  She had a certain . . . look.  With one eyebrow raised and one eye kind of squinted . . . that just said, "You CAN'T be serious."  She could stop you dead with A Glare.  She didn't put up with any shenanigans.  You did things her way. . . or you were on your own.  And. . . she hated things that looked "home spun."

There was a huge sign on her bulletin board; kind of a sampler of sorts.  In big letters, it said:

So shall you sew. . .
So shall you rip!

Miss Helzer?  She was a Pain in the Ass teacher.  A stickler.  She was totally By the Book when it came to following the Rules of Sewing.  As a 13-year-old, this was not welcome.  I just wanted finished products.  What did it matter . . . if the grain was straight; or what my "back waist length" measurement was; or - for God's sake -- whether my pattern pieces were pressed before laying them out on my fabric???  Was it really THAT important if your plaids matched up?  If your tension was properly adjusted on your sewing maching?  If you understitched your facings?

And what WAS that sampler about?  So shall you sew. . . so shall your rip?  What did that even MEAN?

In her class, of course, I towed the line.  I graded my seams.  I placed my pins perpendicular to the cutting edge.  I pressed my seams open using a tailor's ham.  I followed proper protocol when wielding my seam ripper! Begrudginly, I learned the "right" way to sew.   Despite my irritation with Miss Helzer's "pickiness," I wanted to please her; I wanted her to like me; I wanted to avoid her looks of disdain.

But in private, when I sewed for myself at home, I was sloppy.  And lazy.  I took shortcuts.  (And it showed!)

Over the years (and long out of home ec), I started to care much more about my finished products.  I really wanted to avoid that . . . homespun. . . look.  I found myself adopting more and more of Miss Helzer's lessons; her techniques; her "proper" methods of doing things.

And you know what?  My projects started to look a whole lot better!

So, thanks, Miss Helzer!  Every time I put in a proper zipper, I think of you.  Whenever I take the time to prewash my fabric and straighten the grain, I think of you.  Whenever I understitch. . . or hem a pair of pants. . . or put in a buttonhole, I think of you. 

And, by golly, whenever I rip (which is often), I think of you!  So shall you sew, so shall you rip!

Helen, Donna, and Nee-Cie


"You can't just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream.  You've got to get out there and make it happen for yourself." 
-- Diana Ross

It's March.  Women's History Month.  I typically acknowledge this special month. . . even though I have a problem with women's history having to be assigned a month.  I know.  I know.  I've struggled with this over the years, and I've just decided to go with it.  A month is better than no month at all. 

So.  Women's History Month.  A time to celebrate the legacy of women.  This year, I've decided to acknowledge and honor those women who've had role in my life; women who've contributed to who I am today.

The other day, I started thinking about . . . music.  As you've probably figured out, I always have a song running through my head.  I listen to music in my car.  When I work at my computer.  In my kitchen.  When I work out.  Heck, I even work for music organizations!  And I wondered where this came from. . . when did that Soundtrack of My Life begin? 

My sister is like this, too.  Some of my best memories of our earlier times are of the two of us, huddled around some radio or another, waiting to hear one of our favorite songs.  (Procol Harem, Di?)  My sister even had one of those rare and coveted part-time jobs in high school -- working for the local record store. . . spinning vinyl. . . every day!

So, where did this come from?  Not our parents.  No.  The influence of music started early. . . and came from other sources.

Hit it, Supremes. . .


When we were little girls, my sister and I had two sisters as our babysitters:  Helen and Donna. I used to get pretty excited when Helen or Donna came over to babysit us (although Di hated for our Mom to go anywhere; she wasn't happy about babysitters) . . . because they were nice.  And cool.  It would have been the mid-sixties when Helen came; later in the sixties when Donna came.  They had bubble-flip hairdos.  They wore paisley dresses.  Donna had real go-go boots.  When you see the screaming girls who loved the Beatles or the Stones. . . well, that could've been Helen or Donna.

Helen used to come over and tune in the radio.  She loved Motown.  Diana Ross and the Supremes.  The Temptations.  Martha Reeves and the Vandellas.  The Four Tops.  She listened.  We listened.  I loved it!

I remember that Donna was more outgoing than Helen.  Very bubbly and giggly.  She was our sitter one summer, when my mom had just gone back to work part time.  She would come over and tune the radio to Larrrrry Luuuuuujack, a DJ in Chicago.  She loved Freda Payne's "Band of Gold."  She would listen for it all day on the radio, and then we'd all dance around the house whenever it played.  Donna had a little '45 record carrying case, and she would bring her carefully-organized record collection to our house sometimes to play on my little record player.  Donna taught me to dance.  The Twist.  The Freddie.  The Monkey.  The Pony.  She was awesome!

Donna and Helen provided my introduction to "rock-n-roll".  So different from the music of my parents!  So cool!  So hip!  They introduced me to Motown and Top 40 and popular radio stations. . . so much a part of my own love of rock-n-roll and pop music.  The very beginnings of . . . the Soundtrack of My Life!

And, then. . . there was Nee-Cie!


"Nee-Cie" (short for Denise) was the youngest daughter of some friends of my parents.  Nee-Cie was probably about 3 or 4 years older than me -- and I felt so lucky to be able to spend time with her.   She was So. Cool.  Nee-Cie would invite me into her room. . . her teen-ager room. . . her cool-beyond-belief teen-ager room! . . . and let me catch a glimpse of her totally-groovy 13-year-old existence in 1968.  I remember just . . . breathing in her coolness. Posters on her wall!  Make-up carefully arranged on a dressing table!  SEVENTEEN magazine!  A pink fuzzy rug!  It was like . . . having face-time . . . with Marcia Brady!!! 

Nee-Cie was far beyond a '45 record collection.  She played entire record albums for me!  Nee-Cie introduced me to the Stones.  Jefferson Airplane.  The Doors.  But, mostly, she shared her love of the Beatles.  I remember sitting on the floor in her room - on the pink fuzzy rug - as she carefully instructed me in all things Beatles.  She filled me full of Beatle-lore, showed me pictures, relayed stories, played me songs, wrote out lyrics . . . and then quizzed me on all of it.  Just to make sure I really understood.

And me?  I just sat there, playing with her Spirograph, taking it all in -- thrilled, feeling pretty cool,  and adding to the Soundtrack of my Life.

Easter circa 1970

And so today, all these many years later, I acknowledge the Legacy left me by Helen, Donna, and Nee-Cie:  A love of pop music and a constant awareness of . . .what's playing on the radio!