Something to Smile About (Or I Accept the Liebster Award)

I just wanted to take a minute to thank all of for hanging in there while I turned Dogs Dishes and Decor into Dogs Dishes and Death for a minute.

You’re here for stories about sparkles, sprinkles, and glitter. Not sadness. Sorry about that.

It’s hard to switch gears from, “I’m so sad I want to smash things” to “Hey everyone, look at these super pretty Caitlin Wilson pillows!” Luckily, I don’t have to do that today.

See, Tracy of Bits N Pieces recently gave me the Liebster Award, and I’m really honored. So, instead of trying to make some awkward segue seem smooth, I can just say, “Thank you, Tracy.”

Seriously. Thank you.

The rules for accepting the Liebster Award can be found at the end of the post. Naturally I am breaking a bunch of them because I’m me, and well… I don’t do well with rules.

Eleven Facts about Me:

1. I had an eating disorder in college. My need to feed everyone and make them happy with food is my way of turning a painful obsession into something positive. The insidious thing about an eating disorder is that you can’t give up food like you can stop shooting heroine or huffing glue or whatever else people abuse. So dinner parties — and this blog — are about taking food back.

2. I think therapy is helpful… to a point. And then it’s time to move on. Nothing has been more profoundly healing for me than forgiveness. For real.

3. I think there are usually two sides to every story. Life is complicated. And sometimes it’s just a matter of shifting your perspective. Or changing your story if it doesn’t serve you. For example, I could look at my mother’s desire to redline my short stories and poems with editor’s notes as harsh and critical. Or I could look at it as someone who saw potential in me and wanted to make me better. Someone who took the time and cared enough to push me.

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I was not the Poet Laureate of Greenfield Parkway at 11, but this poem hung (proudly?) on the refrigerator with all of its editor’s notes.

4. I think life is about creating a dance floor where there wasn’t one before.

5. I don’t really like cupcakes. I just make them because other people love them and tell me I’m fabulous for making them. I do lots of things because I want people to tell me I’m fabulous. Who doesn’t? I’m human.

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I played cupcake fairy last weekend and delivered these to my friends just to say, “I love you.” Just ‘cuz.

6. People tell me things — like super personal things. All of the time. Strangers on hikes. Random guys on chairlifts. Coworkers. My sorority sisters. My family members. I know things I probably shouldn’t, but it’s probably because I believe we all need to let go of the shame associated with “shouldn’t.”

7. The first time I fell in love I was 15. It was a spectacular mess. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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Love makes you do weird things. Like draw pictures of people.

8. I started another blog called This American Mess because I didn’t want Dogs Dishes and Decor to bring people down. I can’t shut my head off, so I needed to do something productive with the stuff that screams between my ears at all hours. (I’ve been an insomniac since I was four, but I’m not mad about it. Napoleon didn’t sleep much either, and we have the same personality. Or so says the Myers Briggs type indicator test.)

9. I always wanted brothers when I was little, so I tried to find them anywhere I could. For some reason I convinced the little boy next door to run away with me when we were four. We even told his mother about our plan before we carried it out, but she didn’t believe us. That was probably the last time either of our mothers failed to take us seriously. (He wrote his Harvard application essay about our adventure. He got in.)

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Family is what what you make of it. I have always tried to make my own everywhere I have gone.

10. Iron Eagle is one of my favorite movies of all time, and the producer used to call my office to speak to my boss when I worked on LOST. He passed away last year, and it’s a lasting regret of mine that I never told him how much I loved the movie. I really should have told him how much this scene speaks to me.

11. I went by Ana for a while in college because I was tired of people not being able to pronounce my name. Then I realized I wasn’t myself without a weird name, so I went back.

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This was the page I created for my sorority’s pledge book. I went overboard. Obviously.

Random Questions for the Nominees:

1. Tea or Coffee? COFFEE – espresso, actually.

2. Are you a morning person or an evening person? Both – I actually hate afternoons and think we should all embrace siestas.

3. What would be your ideal job? I’m doing it.

4. If you could do volunteer work, what would you choose to do? I used to be a sorority advisor at USC. Now I volunteer with the University of Michigan Alum Club.

5. What is your favorite sport to watch? Football

6. Are you a cat or dog lover or neither? Dog lover. I feel used by cats.

7.  Who is your favorite music artist? I can’t pick one, but my short list includes Yeasayer, My Morning Jacket, Beyonce, Rihanna, and U2 (up to and including Zooropa. I even forgive them for Zooropa. For real.)

8. Do you have a bucket list, if so, what is one thing on your bucket list? I do. And it includes cage diving with Great White sharks.

9. Do you like to eat seafood? LOVE – particularly when it’s raw.

10. What is your favorite food to eat? I live for burritos, sushi, pasta, and all kinds of pig. LOVE pig.

11. What is your favorite smell? Maybe lilac, gardenia or mint, hmm. Can’t decide.

My 11 Questions for the recipients:

1. Chocolate or vanilla?
2. Favorite books?
3. Favorite movies?
4. Favorite albums?
5. Best concert you’ve ever attended?
6. Favorite artist (painter/photographer)?
7. Biggest fear?
8. Who was your first kiss?
9. Are you facebook friends with him or her?
10. Last thing you ate?
11. First thing you do in the morning?

The (not 11) blogs I want to recognize:

LindO Designs – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Angela is seriously talented. You HAVE to check out her blog. And her Etsy store.

Hey Gorgeous – Not only does Rhiannon live in Michigan (give it up for the mitten state), but she creates some seriously lovely events. You MUST check out her blog. She glitters unicorns. I mean, really….

Peppermint Bliss – I haven’t missed a single post since I started reading Peppermint Bliss last year. In the rare event that Bailey takes a day off from posting, my life feels incomplete. She’s funny, and she is beyond talented. So beyond.

Yammie’s Noshery – It’s rare I make anything from another blog, and I make things from this one. For real. Besides, it’s delightfully written.

Cookin’ Canuck – Again, it’s pretty rare I find a recipe on a blog that makes me abandon my back issues of Bon Appetit, but Dara’s blog did it. Her fish soup is amazing. Make it.

Rules for accepting Liebster Award are:

1.      Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog and link back to the blogger who presented this award to you.
2.      List 11 random facts about yourself.
3.      Answer the 11 questions from the nominator.
4.      Present the Liebster Blog Award to 11 blogs who you feel deserve to be noticed.
5.      Create 11 questions for your nominees.
6.      Leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been chosen.
7.      Copy and Paste the blog award on your blog.

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Remembering Kathy Fogg (Or My Stark Family Mourns the Loss of Our Matriarch)

My friend Suzie* once said, “Some people are poems. Others are symphonies.” And I absolutely believe it to be true.

Both art forms can bring tears — or elation. Both can move you beyond measure. Both have the power to transform. One may be briefer than the other but that does not diminish its impact. Not in the least.

My grandfather was my symphony, maybe the most influential and inspirational I’ve ever known.

Kathy Fogg was my poem. A poem that changed my life.

Kathy was the Associate Director of the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California for 23 years, and during that time she launched (and nurtured) innumerable powerful Hollywood careers. She passed away on Friday, and upon learning this news I have been reflecting on all I have in my life because of her.

My grandfather gave me his DNA — and the family that made me the person I am today.

Kathy gave me a chance — and the industry family that has been by my side through the soaring highs and immeasurable lows of my career.

I first met Kathy in 2000 when I was applying to the Peter Stark Program. I still remember what I wore to our meeting that day. I still remember our conversation.

After telling me about the curriculum, we moved on to talking about ourselves. Amidst other small talk, she mentioned she had made a student film with George Lucas as an undergraduate. She smiled, shrugged rather nonchalantly and said, “He’s moved on since then.” Looking at the smiling faces in the family photos lining her bookshelves and her desk, I replied, “So have you.”

Not only did Kathy have her own wonderful family, but she also created the family feeling of the Peter Stark Program. (A program named for the late son of legendary producer, Ray Stark.)

I am sad to say I hadn’t seen Kathy since she retired, but I feel her impact on my life. Daily. She (and prolific producer Larry Turman) gave a girl from Michigan the chance to sit in a room with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. And she gave me the friends who have been by my side in a business not necessarily known for loyalty and integrity. The people who have given me jobs, hugs, support, and big bottles of wine — the people for whom I have done the same. The people who understand the moments of torment and triumph everyone experiences in the crucible of show business.

Kathy saw something in me. She believed in me. She made the call that changed my life that winter day when she told me I had been given one of the 25 coveted spaces in the program.

During the two years the 25 of us spent with Kathy, she made us cookies. She gave us hugs. She made us laugh. She helped us find the jobs and internships that took us to the next level.

The Producing Class of 1994 was so powerful it inspired a New York Times feature in 2002. And that powerful class? Still remembered where they came from. They hired three of us from the class of 2003. Because Family? Takes care of their own.

Some have called the graduates of the program the Stark Mafia. To that I would say, “Isn’t a mafia just a really powerful family, anyway?”

Larry Turman has often told me they select the people who would have been successful without the program, and that may very well be true. But our lives are all much richer for having each other in them.

Kathy Fogg may not have had a Film Produced By credit on any Oscar-winning films. But she has countless Careers Produced By Credits. Lives Changed By Credits.

As I remember Kathy, I am grateful for the chance she gave me, but most of all for the people she brought into my life. Because I can say with absolute certainty that without those true friends and my faith I would have left this business long ago.

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Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to the batting cages to hit something. Hard. Because I need to do something with my sadness. At least today in remembering what Kathy saw in me, remembering the friends she gave me, I feel strong enough to hit balls by myself. Strong enough to hit a home run. Even if it is with tears in my eyes.

*Suzie is one of those true friends I wouldn’t have if it weren’t for Kathy. And Suzie said that when we were at SXSW with Melissa, another true friend and fellow member of the class of 2003. 

I Dedicate This to Bumpa (Or I am Grateful to Receive the One Lovely Blog Award)

I am one of those terrible people who sometimes checks her phone while hiking. It should be a sin when one is among trees to consult a miniature computer, but sometimes it beckons from the pocket of one’s purse and it must be consulted so that the racket will stop.

Yesterday it was beastly hot by LA standards and it was actually even a bit humid. It was almost humid enough to make me happy, but not really. See, when you live in the desert and it wreaks all kinds of havoc on your dry hair and skin you, too, will wish for moisture in the air. And those of you who are enduring 107 degree heat with 99% humidity, I would feel sympathy for you except that your mortgages are less than my rent and the men in your state wear baseball caps instead of fedoras.

So anyway, I was having this weird hike in Griffith Park, keeping to the shady parts so my dogs didn’t die of heatstroke and whatnot. There were these two old Asian ladies singing songs at a picnic table for no apparent reason, Albus was trying to pounce on tiny lizards, Woodley was straggling behind sniffing for squirrels and other prey, and there was basically all kinds of chaos everywhere. Meanwhile, my phone was making the mail sound.

I checked it and, lo, it brought glad tidings of a blogging award! There I was among the majestic trees feeling all humbled and proud to learn that I had received the One Lovely Blog Award. Seriously, thank you Kenley of Beyond the Green Door! You are like my young Fairy Blog Mother with the Awards! I adore you!

Now I am supposed to tell you seven things about myself and nominate other bloggers. Since I am terrible at following rules I haven’t personally made up, I am going to start by telling you eight things about myself.

So here it goes:

1) I would die without music.

Here I am DJing in diapers and basically being fat.

My momma raised me on Motown. Marvin GayeAretha, and the Four Tops were the soundtracks of my childhood.

Here we are with her older sister being fabulous hippie types in the grass.

Her little sister contributed a bit of Barry White, Miles Davis, and Arthur Prysock to my musical education.

My mom’s little sister introduced me to great music and gave me my first Cuisinart.

And her baby brother rounded it out by covering Patsy Cline and the blues.

My uncle’s dog, Decca, was named after Patsy Cline’s recording label. Patsy and Decca were amazing.

All of us can trace our love of music and our brown eyes back to the Patron Saint Everything Tremendous, my Bumpa, Harold Lawrence Russell. (I couldn’t say Grandpa when I was little, and the Bumpa bit just stuck.) He taught us to love darts, dancing, and the better things in life, like cocktail hour. He is my hero, and both of my dogs are basically named after him.

Woodley Russell and Professor Albus Lawrence sit nicely for biscuits in Coldwater Canyon Park.

2) Speaking of which, I have always loved dogs.

Here I am in Athens, Georgia with my cousin, Abbott. He would later sail to St. Croix on a tiny sailboat with our Bumpa because his mommy and daddy were moving there to study coral reefs at the NOAA Hydrolab.

3) I worked in the writers’ office of LOST for seasons 3 and 4, and Carlton Cuse is hands down my favorite boss ever. He is funny, smart, talented, and a true mentor in every sense of the word. (I’m super excited about his new show, Bates Motel, on A&E. You should be too. You should also read his article about college sports here.)

My old LOST office in Bungalow 23. Note: we were NOT in Honolulu. The writers’ office was on the Disney lot neighboring “What About Brian?” instead of the beach.

I wore my NOAA Hydrolab shirt into the office during the writing of the Hydra Station episodes because it seemed like the right thing to do.

Hurricane Hugo destroyed my uncle’s lab in 1989. This shirt is a collectors’ item now or something, but I wear it to bed.

4) I psychotically LOVE football.

I am a Green Bay Packers fan because my dad grew up in a super remote part of Michigan that is actually connected to Wisconsin.

Here the Kohon cousins are keeping it classy in a fine establishment called The Rusty Saw Blade Bar. What else?

My true love is college football, though, and the Wolverines are my second religion, you know, after the Presbyterian part.

Only my friend Melissa wears a cashmere Hermes hat to the Big House. I love Melissa.

5) I quit being premed when I had about six credits left and decided to get my MFA in film producing from USC instead.

Because THIS:

is more fun than THIS:

6) There is a road called Kohon Road in Michigan. It’s not one of those coincidences — it’s actually named after my dad’s parents. It’s very weird putting your own name into the GPS. Truth.

Here I am on the side of a highway posing with a sign. It’s not weird… honest.

7) I love absolutely everything about trees.

Sitting in them.

There may be some truly questionable parenting at work here… because this limb? It’s nowhere near the ground. (Just kidding mom and dad.)

Planting them.

Bumpa planted a tree for each of his grandchildren at our cottage. This is my blue spruce as a baby — and also me as a baby.

Decorating them.

Here’s my Bumpa bringing me a Christmas tree.

Hauling them.

Here I am being an amazing helper. I exceed at helping Bumpa.

30 years later, still hauling…

And burning them.

We could sit by a fire absolutely for hours. It’s one of the few things that actually made us sit still.

We lost him in October of 2010, and nothing will ever be the same again. Ever.

I stenciled trees on my hallway wall in remembrance of him.

My birch trees are the first thing I see when I come home.

8) I spoke on behalf of the family at his funeral, and I still don’t know how I did it without crying what with Danny Boy being played in the church and all.

A year later we gathered to plant trees and scatter my Bumpa’s ashes at the cottage. We popped the bubbly and toasted the man who made all of our lives happier, richer, and so much more fun by being by our sides.

I would like to dedicate the One Lovely Blog award to him because I would not have returned to writing if it were not for his courage, his faith, and the legacy his integrity left behind, but that’s a long story for another time.

So now, I’m supposed to nominate 15 other blogs, and it’s not that I don’t want to follow the rules, but I want to be truly heartfelt today. I’m still new to blogging and I’m slowly amassing a list of blogs I love. These are the four blogs I adore right now, and I want you to read them. They speak to my soul and stuff.

But before you do that, you should listen to In the Mood by Glenn Miller because it’s a happy kind of song, it was my Bumpa’s favorite, and it’s good for dancing in your living room during cocktail hour. Even if your only dance partner is your dogs.

Peppermint Bliss. I discovered Bailey’s blog because her home was featured in a Design Sponge tour, and it was quite possibly the most amazing home tour I have ever seen. Never have I pinned more photos from a single spread. Ever. Her playful, colorful, yet sophisticated style epitomizes the aesthetic I aspire to create for myself. Plus she’s really funny, she’s a talented designer, and she has a Cocker Spaniel. You must check out her blog. She has a fresh voice, which is more rare than you might think in the blog space.

Living Luxe for Less Bucks. Sarah is hysterically funny. You will laugh at her anecdotes about ugly undies and awkward body waxing incidents, but you’ll also learn lots of money saving tips on her blog. She has not let her kidney transplant limit her life or dim her spirit. You should know about her. She’s truly one of a kind. Her courage, individuality, and beautiful spirit come through in her writing.

LindO Designs. Angela is a gifted architect and artist. She transforms furniture, knows how to install her own chandeliers, and she’s doing all of this while running a business and running after a miniature Michigan football player in waiting. (No, really.) In addition to her furniture business, she also has a prop company. She’s presently doing fabulous things involving Dr. Seuss for her prop company. I mean, who doesn’t love Truffula Trees?

Dirty Centaur Pictures. John is beyond funny. Last year, he and his writing partner wrote a web series that I produced for a compact car company that will remain nameless for a whole host of reasons. It was absolutely the most fun I have ever had at any job ever. You need to know about John because we all need more laughter in our lives.