About Erin

A bunch of things happened when I turned 30. One of them was a blog.

Tanna Fluff

Tanna was the embodiment of everything I wanted to be in my twenties. I got a dog for somewhat selfish reasons. But that is the thing about the love of a dog… you may go in with one expectation and come out with a whole world of understanding that you didn’t even know existed.
When I was growing up my Mom had some close friends who we spent quite a bit of time with. They had a German Shorthaired Pointer named Gus who was an awesome dog. GSP’s are a hunting breed well known for being obscenely high energy, smart, trainable, and loyal. I knew that one day when I could have a dog of my own, that I would get a Shorthair who was just as wonderful.

 

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Our first moments together.

 
I met Tanna when she was five weeks old, and I was 22 years old. She was one of eight puppies that were piled together sleeping on a dog bed in Longmont, Colorado. I said I wanted a dog that would be my running companion, and she immediately picked up a petite female who they called Arrow (because of her markings), and handed all five pounds of her to me. She was sweet and soft, wrinkly and wriggly. Of course she would be mine. When I went to visit her a week later, all eight puppies ran to the fence when I walked over… and five seconds later all of them ran back to the dog bed. All except for little Arrow, who sat at the fence looking up at me. It was one of those things that was meant to be… destiny smiling down upon us. Two weeks after that little Arrow would become my beloved Montanna, or Tanna for short. I drove my Jeep home, with her on my lap, and started our life adventure together.

 

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Those eyes.

 
She had a pretty normal puppyhood. She was all spinning circles, bouncing jumps, and flapping ears. Her tiny puppy bark like laughter. In her adulthood, Tanna was everything a dog should be: smart, loyal, loving. Everyone whoever met her called her “regal.” And yet, when you looked into her eyes you could see there was something inside her that could not be tamed. She was beautiful and slightly aloof, but with a fierceness and spunk that would make me smile and surprise people who didn’t know her.

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Cuddling and snow were surely her favorites.

Shorthairs are an extremely high energy breed, but I have always been a pretty high energy chick… which is why Tanna and I were meant to be. We ran together, swam together, hiked together, snowshoed together… she was pretty limitless in activity. Her need for exercise kept me accountable. I couldn’t drink too much at night like a normal twenty something because she would need to go running in the morning before I went to work. When I was single I never went home with weird dudes because I needed to let out my dog. And I didn’t need to go home with anyone because I had someone who depended on me, and loved me unconditionally waiting for me at home. She moved with me all over the country, was my constant through many jobs, a few horrible bosses, hundreds of shitty customers, and a couple of crappy boyfriends. Her love and loyalty transcended the occurences of everyday existence.

 

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Near the summit of one of the 26 Colorado fourteeners she climbed.

I hope that everyone gets to love/receives love like this at least once in their lives. To love something that is all your own. Or maybe it is just a time in your life when you have something that makes you feel confident, safe and independent, in a world that is always so volatile and uncertain, especially for women. And something that isn’t the love of a partner with their own agenda. That is what unconditional love is to me. It is not just that you have the love of a being that doesn’t care who you are… but one that loves you without a care for what the world is. A love entirely free of all judgement and expectations. That type of love allows you to learn how to channel anger without resentment.

 

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The outdoors were kind of our thing.

The short truth is that she protected me emotionally and physically until I got my shit together. Stayed by my side through some pretty rough storms until I really learned to love myself.

 

I can’t even say Thank You because that just won’t cut it. She was more than wonderful. She was a life saver. In a time when we are calling millennials self-centered narcissists, I think the reality is that any 20-something has the opportunity to become that (although it is much easier now than it was 11 years ago). Having to care for someone other than myself during a time that can be rather self-centered has undoubtedly made me a different, and better person. I am honored that she chose to spend her life loving me. When I had her tags for her collar made years ago, the front of her tag had her name and my phone number on it, and the back said: Tanna fluff is loved by Erin. After 11 years the tags are so worn you can hardly read the writing. And I feel like it should have been the opposite: Tanna fluff loves Erin. Those stupid tags just don’t have enough letters.

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Sunset in East Hampton, NY.

Maybe we should start a program to adopt dogs out of all the overcrowded shelters to narcissist millennials.
It has been a big year for me. I had a baby, had to give up a job I loved, and just said goodbye to a most wonderful companion. It is a lot of change all at one time. And even though my tendency is to be quiet, solemn, and more solitary than usual… that isn’t an option anymore, and it isn’t the right path these days. So rather than be resentful or sad about loss, I am going to choose to be grateful. And not in an Instagram montage, or a hashtag train. I am going to live it every single day. When I start to feel out of sorts for whatever reason, I will think of the love, light and stability I got from Tanna every day she was alive. And I will choose to pass that forward whenever I can.

 

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Her favorite lake in Coventry, RI.

We buried her by the lake, a mere fifty feet from Hendrix. I don’t know about the afterlife, but every time I walk around the lake I will see them tromping through the woods and swimming in the lake with such joy, like they did when they were alive.

 

 

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The wild Yeti at Tanna’s headstone.

I will always love you sweet girl. Thank you for everything. We will see each other again one day.
 

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Our final moments together.

Rest in Peace.

Montanna Bernard 12.7.04 – 12.11.15

 

My love letter to LUSH

I came to LUSH a little broken. Broken by my last job at lululemon. Broken by  complicated relationships, broken by decisions I had made and outcomes that left me on unsteady ground. Definitely not my most confident self. Which is why I was surprised during my first phone interview that when I was asked an unusual question I had never been asked before, that the answer popped out of my mouth like it had been waiting to escape my mouth for years. And it left me standing on solid ground for first time in a while. The interviewer asked:

“If you could be any drink, what would it be and why?”

Without a moment of hesitation, the answer that fled my mouth was this:

“I would be Champagne, because I am bubbly and the life of the party.”

For anyone who has looked to hire a retail manager, especially at LUSH, that answer is the definition of “Nailing it,” and I didn’t even know it. Because despite that I had shopped at LUSH before and thought it was cool, after living in rural New York  and suburban Colorado for several years I hadn’t retained much of the in store experience.  But it was a truthful answer, and if you ever came to my LUSH store (because I totally got the job) you would know why.

I have asked that interview question in every single interview I have done at LUSH in the last 3.5 years, and I know that it often trips people up. So even now my confidence on that average, grey October 2011 morning surprises me.  But I had no idea the amount of surprises that would be in store for the next three years.

I came into a store that was, for all intents and purposes… a political shit storm. The person who would be working as my MIT (kind of like an assistant manager for the retail inclined) had applied for my position and not gotten it, and the person who used to have my job had been promoted but still worked in my shop as a trainer, training many of the externally hired store managers to LUSH (such as myself). In other words, political fucking shit storm. It was kind of like being Switzerland except for you don’t speak any of the language and 50% of the people actually hate you. The other 50% might hate you but won’t tell you to your face. The jury is still out.

Despite all the cards being stacked against me (and occasionally being thrown in my face), I made the commitment to be fun, firm and fair with everyone. And that saved my ass. And slowly but surely I got  my footing in the shop and took over.

I had no idea the cool situation that I was walking into. Despite that being a training shop is a huge pain in the ass for special reasons (because housing three extra people in a store that is the size of an altoids tin is another type of shitshow), meeting new faces that are coming to the company  is like recharging your battery all the time. It is like being a goodwill ambassador but without the threat of landmines. They often come to your shop like a deer in the headlights, and are overwhelmed by the amount of questions they have, and by the experience they see happening in your shop.  But I feel so lucky that I get to meet these folks when they are so green, and so vulnerable. Because after ten days of training they will go back to their own shops. And they will hug you and thank you. They threaten to take your staff back with them to their own shops. They will think of your team as their own team… and they will be part of your work family. But that isn’t the truly amazing part.

The amazing part is when you see them at their first conference. I won’t deny that being in a training shop makes you feel really popular at conferences. You are often the only other person a trainee knows from LUSH, so they are so thrilled to see a familiar face among hundreds of unknown faces. But the most amazing part is watching them evolve from a vulnerable, green, LUSHie to a manager who has a group of friends after  three days at a conference. Becomes someone who raises their hand and asks questions. Becomes someone who teaches you at a conference two years down the road. Over the course of three years I have seen these “green beans” become trainers, support staff, corporate staff, meeting planners, and most of all… amazing managers themselves.

Eventually I became a trainer, who traveled and trained outside of my own shop. It was so interesting to be on the other side. To watch your staff listen so intently to what I was saying, to want to watch me sell so they could learn from me. To see their faces light up when they achieved a goal. It was like magic in real life. I truly loved it all.

I guess what I am saying (rather inarticulately), is that if you ever trained in my shop, or if I ever trained in yours, I consider you part of my family. Thank you for the moments we spent together learning and laughing. It has been an honor to watch you become beautiful butterflies in the LUSH world.

Once upon a time I went to my first conference. And being in a training shop is one way to expand your work family, but being at a conference is a whole other animal.

I went to my first conference about two months after being hired. And despite being relatively terrified, they welcomed me with open arms. I hugged my interviewer with reckless abandon for hiring me. I met tons of new people who wanted to know about me and cared about my success. They sent me on a charitable environmental conservation trip to build owl habitats in Arizona.

I met people who were so passionate about things that they would cry in your presence just talking about them. People who would take their whole team to march in a gay pride parade, support protests against Sea World, put on graphic demonstrations to end Animal Testing in cosmetics (which is the basis of LUSH in case you don’t know), etc. If there is one thing I can say about the people who work for LUSH, it is this:

These people actually give a shit about the world.

And none of these people, those who work in the store or the executives in the company are perfect. But they don’t pretend to be. They smoke and drink, they curse like sailors, cover their bodies in tattoos, piercings, and display an array of rainbow colored hair. And they are the most approachable, confident people you will ever meet. It was a vast difference from the hard bodied, smoothie drinking, cleanse-worshipping, stretchy pants job where people said they made mistakes but never looked like they made a single one. Who talked about mistakes with rhetoric and smoke screens.

I am so thankful that LUSH made me confident in my own imperfection. I came in feeling like a failure because I wasn’t perfect, broken by a million different mistakes. But their acceptance and campaigning for diversity in all parts of life and the world finally made me learn to accept my own diversity. I wish more people understood that this concept applies to everyone.

Campaign for and accept diversity… it will make you love and accept yourself.

So to my tattooed and dangerously beautiful friends, I say thank you. I may not have a single mark on my body but you have left tattoos of love and experience upon my heart. I will never forget the time we spent together learning, crying, dancing, drinking excessively, laughing, inspiring, eating poutine, and  being imperfect and beautiful all at the same time.

And to my beloved team:

I wrote a post a while ago about my life in retail… and how it has continued to change my life in a great way for ten years. It is here: https://yournewgirlfriendsnameisstupid.com/2012/12/16/for-anyone-who-has-worked-in-retail/

Unfortunately, my transition from Store Manager to Mom has been unexpectedly challenging. Daycare unfortunately only supports couples where at least one person has a more traditional schedule. And sadly for me, Ralph’s career trumps mine. It is a choice that has been made by many different life  circumstances.

What I didn’t realize is how much my career has defined me, and the vacuum it has left behind. I work daily to fill that vacuum, and some days are easier than others. I have fought some pretty heavy feelings of letting my team down. But the reality is that those feelings really just mean that I loved my career, and that I loved my team. And to be brutally honest, they are doing amazing without me. Which means that I invested time and energy in the right people. People who also give a shit about LUSH, and give a shit about the world. It is the end of an era for me. Maybe not forever, but at least for a while.

So for my team in PVD:

I am forever grateful to anyone who was ever a part of my team in Providence. Thank you for learning through our success, and learning more through our failtures. I have never laughed so hard or had so much fun being a part of something that grew and changed everyday. We worked hard, and learned some tough lessons. But the most important one is this: Unless you are physically on fire, there is no crisis in skincare.

I am forever changed by the life I had with you. You are the golden shimmer that highlights my hair in the afternoon sun. I shine again because of you, and I take you with me wherever I go. Thank you.

All Dogs go to Heaven.

So part of the reason I have been thinking about mortality (and therefore my epic grandmother who was posted about a few weeks ago), is because one of my dogs, Hendrix (who is really Ralph’s dog) was diagnosed with Lymphoma a few months ago. And after months of steroids and him looking like a victim of the holocaust, Hendrix spent his last day on earth with us today.

But Hendrix lived a life more active than a lot of humans do. He swam in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans… and weathered many a hurricane on the gulf coast. He climbed several 14,000-foot peaks in Colorado, and lived in five states. So since writing is my way of letting go, consider this Hendrix’s life story… and dog obituary.

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Hendrix, who was nine years old when he died today, was born most likely in Pensacola, Florida… but we don’t actually know that. See, Ralph and I moved to the land of abandoned redneck strip malls also known as Pensacola, shortly after college graduation so that he could start flight school while he was an officer in the Navy. We both had childhood dogs that we loved but were now deceased, and as we were starting our life together… we wanted to get a dog.

So naturally, we started looking for rescue organizations for dogs in the area. We found a German Shepherd rescue in the area and went and chatted with them. Their list for adoption was long, and they said that if we really wanted a dog that we should visit one of the 17 kill shelters in the area. Because rednecks really like strip malls, strip clubs, and not neutering their pets.  Keep in mind that the panhandle of Florida is called the Redneck Riviera.

So we drove to the first shelter and wandered through the aisles. The place was fairly well kept… except for the fact that there were probably four dogs/puppies to a pen. So we wandered around for a while and Ralph found an older dog that had a scar over his eye who he thought would be great. I had my heart set on a puppy… and about two seconds later we walked past a pen that again had about four puppies in it… one of which looked like a black lab that was avidly chewing on the excess skin of a shar pei puppy. It was love at first sight. He wandered right up to us and that was the end of my dog-less existence.

We were just babies ourselves (at the ripe young age of 21), but we took our puppy home and scared the shit out of our parents by sending them a baby announcement via email hallmark. The animal shelter thought he was about 12 weeks old (we made his official birthday 3/14… because Ralph is a math nerd), but I wondered if he was someone’s dog that got lost or some random thing because he was the easiest dog on the planet.

He was housetrained in like 2 days. And other than randomly eating the trash while we were gone, he never had any behavioral issues. Since we lived by the water, we taught him to swim on the Fourth of July… on which he got so tired from all the activity that he fell asleep before the fireworks. So we playfully buried him in the sand while he slept through the fireworks.

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We took Hendrix everywhere with us… which made him the most amiable dog on the planet. Except for when you tied him to things. One time when he was about six months old, we were getting sandwiches at a strip mall (no shocker), when the guy behind us in line asked, “Hey, is that your dog?” to which we all turned toward the windows to see Hendrix dragging a wrought iron table behind him via leash… across the parking lot.

He loved to dig holes in the sand… eat lots of dried seaweed… drink lots of saltwater… and then have explosive diarrhea on the way back to the car.

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He dug holes so large in the backyard while living in Corpus Christi, Texas that Ralph didn’t get all of that security deposit back.

When Ralph was a bicycle mechanic in Boulder, Co, Hendrix was the beloved “shop dog”… where the local kids would request to see “The Big Black Beast of the Bikesmith,” when they walked in the front door.

He was sprayed by three skunks, hit by one car, spent one night lost in the Florida woods, and smiled his entire life through.

And while he wasn’t the sharpest tool in the shed (he spent a large majority of his youth afraid of trash cans and fire hydrants)… he was the most loving of dogs… who would have followed Ralph to the ends of the earth with no questions asked.

There is a facebook meme out there that says something along the lines of “Dogs have shorter lives than humans because they come into this world already knowing how to love unconditionally,” which is one of the truest sentiments out there… and Hendrix had this in spades.

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Despite his illness, we always knew that putting Hendrix to sleep would be the hardest thing because he was so happy… I always said that he would die wagging his tail. And today, Ralph held his head and I petted his ribs as he took his last breath.  And he still smiled the whole way.

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Ralph had his heart set on burying him by lake where we always take the dogs swimming. At first I thought this seemed lonely… because Hendrix would be spending his resting days alone (Also, if you ever want to feel like a truly useless human being… try and dig a five foot deep hole in the woods… it is not that easy). But I am choosing to think about it like the book “the art of racing in the rain” (which is like Marley and me part II). In that he believes that his dog is reincarnated in another being at some point (who the dog’s owner meets later in life). And while I may never get to meet the person who gets Hendrix’s soul… they are a damn lucky being. Because they will be full of insatiable curiousity, endless love and devotion, and a strong love of good cheese.

His endless devotion to Ralph and I as we have taken so many ridiculous adventures in this life is what astounds me the most. It is because of his devotion that I know for certain, that when I die one day and go to my final resting place in the cosmos… that Hendrix will be the first face I see as he comes bounding out of the gates to find me and lead me home.

There was an epic sunset in Providence today, which I think was Hendrix’s way of saying goodbye… and his way of telling us that he understood that it was time for him to go too.  

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Hendrix, we were blessed and honored to know you and have your in our lives. You taught us lessons about love and life that will serve us in years to come. I wish we could have had you for a hundred more years. Rest in Peace our dearest friend. 

 

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That time I joined a cult… called lululemon.

Ok fine… so it isn’t really a cult. But what do you know about lululemon?

For some people it is an addiction, an obsession, a case of branding so seamless that even the thought of it can make you close your eyes and suddenly you are enveloped in world of wonder (of possibly good and bad).

If that isn’t you, you most likely have never worked for lululemon. For everyone else, this is probably what you know about lululemon:

*They make absurdly expensive yoga pants.

*These absurdly expensive yoga pants make even the most obese of women’s butts look like two peaches hugging.

*A short while ago, these yoga pants were accidentally made sheer-ish.

*The possibility of sheer yoga pants is the only reason a lot of men now go to yoga class (or the reason men now peer into the windows of workout class).

*Their stores are typically full of hot women in tight yoga pants (pants that may or may not be sheer!!).

I used to be one of these women in tight black pants… I once managed a lululemon store. And I have realized in hindsight that the experience has taken years to come into focus after what seemed like a blurry haze of a certain time period in my life.

I recently had the opportunity to meet tons of young female professionals, one of which currently works for lululemon. Upon finding out that I used to work for lululemon, she asked me the following: “Well are you glad to be out? I find a lot of people are so thrilled when they leave.”

For most people who work for lululemon, the thought of leaving is like thinking of leaving Mormonism; you will probably be shot down by some terrible lightning bolt from the sky… not to mention your butt will for some cosmically unknown reason no longer look like two peaches hugging in your tight black pants. This wonderful young woman I met might have been trying to be nice (for which I am utterly thankful… because the conversation with people still working with lululemon can sometimes be awkward)… or maybe she was serious. But it made me think quickly about what I really thought about the entire experience. Usually when we are asked such pointed questions about a really complicated situation (which is how I used to think about my time at lululemon), our immediate thought is often the most honest and most correct… and this conversation was no exception. And this is what I told her:

Lululemon was good for that stage of my life. But I wouldn’t go back. It brought some really great things to my life that I carry with me to this day, but again… I wouldn’t go back.

Here is a very truncated version of the journey I took… the two most important things I learned from lululemon… and why they are also the reason I left the company.

One good thing I can say about lululemon is that they are generous with their people… and they are generous with the communities around them. Lululemon believes very strongly in the assertions of a group called “landmark.” I was lucky that the people at lululemon sent me to landmark really early on in my time with them. Some people believe landmark is a cult, and some people believe that lululemon is a cult. If you would like to research either, I will let you make your own opinions on that subject. But Landmark is definitely one of the reasons lululemon can seem cultish.

So what is Landmark? To give the short answer… it is a three day intensive workshop (literally from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Fri, Sat, Sun) where you are asked to look at why you aren’t achieving what you want in life… and they tell you that it is largely your fault (or at least the construct you have of yourself in your mind which has been formed over the years by your experiences both good and bad).  It brings up quite a few topics on the way to the ultimate end point of “I can make my life anything I want, because the construct I have created of myself isn’t real (which is totally true)”… one of which is:

1. “Personal Responsibility”- which is actually super important. It is a large idea that to put simply means you are responsible for all things in your life because of the decisions you make. Were you late to work because you missed the bus? Nope… it is because you didn’t get up early enough, or you spent too long making toast. But you made that choice. Hate where you are in life? That is probably because somewhere along the way you made choices that weren’t the best. But the idea is not to dwell on it.  The idea is to learn from it, learn that those bad decisions don’t define you, and to go forward armed with new knowledge. This concept from a personal perspective is actually very true and very important if you want to be really successful in both your personal and professional life. It is a no excuses and take no prisoners kind of philosophy… but the times when I have really employed it I have seen some amazing results.

The other aspect that is discussed briefly at landmark but is a cornerstone of lululemon is:

2. “Living a life of possibility.” This concept is fairly straight-forward. Whenever an opportunity comes up… do you think about it from the perspective of why it won’t work… or why it will work? It needs to be the latter. It is the idea that if you put a thought out into the universe and put in the hard work associated with it… that it will happen. This shit is for real. It is almost scary how well this works. Come at anything from a positive perspective, set goals, do the legwork… and watch it happen. That is how I got my job managing for them in the first place. It is also a huge part about how I transitioned out of lululemon and found an amazing opportunity just six weeks later working for an even more amazing company in a terrifying economy. Don’t believe me? Try it.

So how did personal responsibility, and living a life of possibility, two seemingly amazing things, play a part in my leaving lululemon?

Personal responsibility is amazing in the professional setting because it really allows for your teams to trust that you will do what you say you will (that is a very short answer… but it will have to do). However, from the stance of decision making in the personal realm in regards to your professional life choices… personal responsibility also absolves the company of any responsibility in your success or failure. Is the company taking responsibility for any of it’s actions, or just blaming the failure on your leadership?  If a company makes the decision to open a year round shop in an extremely seasonal community that is really tough, and you try your hardest to succeed by the standards set before you and can’t… is it your fault as a leader? When you ask for help and the two most common responses are: “I don’t know, you tell me” and  “I don’t know what to say… you do have a really tough community”… is that is my lack of personal responsibility or a point to where upper leadership is copping out? I will leave that for you to consider. I shockingly, don’t have an opinion on the subject. I am just so glad to be out of it.  Regardless, it is super strategic move on the part of Human Resources. You will pretty much be given the choice of being fired by HR, or you can fire yourself.

One funny point: I had the honor of spending several meals with the founder of the company throughout my employment, and the first time I met him and told him which shop I would be managing…. His immediate response was: “Oh, so what are we doing there?” I somehow took it in stride and immediately responded with “Well Sir, we are starting over.” An expression of foreshadowing or not, his statement made it clear that I was not the first to take on an untamable beast and fail quite miserably.

Living a life of possibility is amazing because it means there are no bounds. It is true that if you put something out into the world and work hard… that the universe will make it happen for you. However, living a life of possibility will make you question if you are “settling” all the time. And yes, I am talking about your personal life. I think people can sometimes get lost in a breakdown, a moment of unhappiness over something that isn’t working, and choose to say that it ‘wasn’t the right personal choice.’ Perhaps in reality… maybe we just needed to exercise patience and put it out into the universe that there would be a light at the end of the tunnel and work harder/communicate more to see that light.  This isn’t necessarily applicable to my situation, but I have tons of friends involved with lululemon who have gone through this pain in their personal relationships.  In the midst of a breakdown in communication (which happens in all relationships at some point), they chose to side with the company’s thinking and move forward… leaving their loves behind. And when they finally leave lululemon, the veil is lifted… and they realize that their love has been there through it all… even if now they are just friends. Some get back together and some don’t… for those of you in that place… I wish you the best.

When I left, my boss told me over the phone: “lululemon thanks you for your contribution,” which was vague and not connected. It eventually made me ask the question, exactly what did I contribute to a beast that no longer remembers me? Here are a few things:

I am the reason that cool racerbacks went up to $42 from $39. To consumers… I am sorry. For lululemon’s profit… you’re welcome.

I also coined the name Escape to Yoga Island… an event that lululemon ran for a couple of years in New York.

But my only meaningful contribution to lululemon came about a year after I left the company, when one of my friends/former teammates called me during her landmark (you are asked to call people on your breaks to connect with them over various things).  She simply called to say thank you for believing in her and giving her the chance to grow into a leader… because she had continued to grow with the company. Despite that there wasn’t any crying or earth shattering revelations (which these calls can sometimes produce), she was someone who was always genuine… and her very small gesture meant that my time with lululemon hadn’t been just a growing experience for me… it had also been a growing experience for someone else.  And that is enough for me.

Cult or not… the truth is that lululemon won’t be with you forever. But some of their teachings/ideas/motivational tools will. One day you will leave, and you will be left to take the pieces you want from it… and leave what you don’t. lululemon advocates for throwing your whole self in… which I still agree with. My only advice is to be good to those who will be there when you leave. Because nothing is permanent… except for the true love of family and friends. Namaste bitches!

Dru Goes out of This World Like a Boss.

*I would like to preface this post with this: My grandmother has been dead for over 10 years… and she would want me to post this… because she would also think it was funny… maybe.

Whenever I am faced with mortality… I am reminded of my Grandma Dru.

Since so many of my family members died when I was young, I have an abnormal zen when it comes to death. I still get sad, but I understand that death is part of life.  It is also because grandma Dru talked fairly often about it… in a completely non-chalant manner.  I specifically remember a time when I was about ten years old when I looked at my grandma’s glasses, that had been taped together at the bridge for about a year, and asked:

“Hey grandma… your glasses have been taped together for a while. Why don’t you just get some new ones?” In a traditional, nosy, 10 year-old fashion.

To which she replied: “Oh honey, I am going to kick the bucket soon… so I don’t really need new glasses.”

For the record, she didn’t actually die until I was nineteen. That is 9 years of taped together glasses (not to mention telling a nine year old that you are going to kick the bucket… so much for letting me down gently Grams).

Though this lack of new glasses (and therefore no eye exam) does explain a lot about how in her later years… another piece of her car was damaged or missing each time I went over to her house. One day it was a side mirror… a piece of bumper… a smashed headlight. 

One day, when I was 16, and therefore driving myself around on my own… I went to my grandmother’s for a visit. When I got there and walked passed her garage… I noticed there was an actual orange road cone (one of the big ones) jammed underneath her car. Upon further investigation… I found that it was actually wedged into the undercarriage of her car and covered with a fair amount of road rash. So upon entering the house, I asked:

“Hey Grandma, couldn’t help but notice the latest construction site fatality stuck underneath your car. How long has the poor old bastard of a road cone been living in the undercarriage of your car?”

Her genuine shock was the best part though: “There is a road cone under my car? So that’s where that scraping noise was coming from.” I have since become a strong advocate for eye testing in the elderly.

Grandma Dru was a huge advocate of travel. Throughout my youth my 75 year old GRANDMOTHER frequently went on cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean… BY HERSELF.  So when I was fourteen, shortly after her return from her latest vacation cruise to Mexico… my dad got my sister and I together and said we needed to have a serious chat.

I mean… I can’t say I was surprised that this specific conversation about the mortality of my grandmother was coming. I mean… she was almost 80 and her skin was the color and texture of a saddlebag from spending waaaaaay too much time in the California sun. Skin cancer was inevitable… even for the most Czech skin on the planet.

So I was surprised when the conversation went a different direction:

My dad solemnly said…“So while grandma was on her latest Mexican cruise, she passed out from drinking too much (which at her weight was about half a margarita).  And the doctor examining her found a lump in her breast.”

 Now call me crazy… but it seems odd to me… in my later life… that a doctor examining a woman found in a bar would need to examine her breasts. No less a woman who is clearly out of her prime. But then again… this is Mexico and anything goes.

My father then continued: “So since she returned from vacation we have taken her to several doctors and it has been determined that the breast cancer has spread to her liver. Unfortunately, she probably only has six months to a year to live. But she doesn’t really want to talk about it… and she doesn’t want anyone to know… so we are just going to wait a while and see how it goes.”  Which is a totally normal coping mechanism, right?

Another thing the Bernard folks are really good at is not talking about their feelings. So even though she was sick… we didn’t really talk about it. We kept on living our lives… seeing each other every once in a while… and on all holidays because this is a good excuse for communal drinking. I remember being sad after the initial conversation, but sadness doesn’t last long when you are all expected to ignore it.

However, my Grandma definitely made her feelings known… just with actions more than words. About six months after her diagnosis I went over to her house to find her DNR (do not recessitate) order taped to the front of her refrigerator door. The white envelope with giant red DNR letters seemed to scream out, “I ain’t going to stop living… but I sure as hell ain’t going to stop myself from dying either!” Geez… thanks for letting me down easy Grandma.

Fast forward to Christmas break of my sophomore year of college. I am 19 years old and resting peacefully on the sofa in Colorado, enjoying a break from the horrid rainy D.C. winter. My sister had gone to visit my dad and grandma for the afternoon, and returned in the early evening to my Mom’s house in quite the flurry. She then told me some long, drawn out version of this reality:

“So Dad and I heard the garage door open and we heard grandma pull in the garage, but after about five minutes we noticed that grandma never came in the house. So we went into the garage to see what was the matter. Turns out she was still sitting in the car… because she slipped on some ice when getting out of her car to go to shipwrecks for a drink (at 4:00 in the afternoon).  She told us she didn’t think she could get out of the car by herself because she thinks she broke her leg. So we put her in a chair and carried her into the house and put her in bed. I don’t really think she broke her leg though… I mean… she wasn’t even crying. Anyway… you are going to see Dad tomorrow right? Well… can you be there early in the morning so that you can help take her to the doctor?”

She was right. I was going to see them tomorrow, so I might as well take Grandma to the doctor to see what is up.

So I get to my dad’s house the next morning to see that everything Allie has said is pretty much true. So we put Dru back in the chair, then in the car, and drive to the oncologist where they take some Xrays. The Xrays don’t take long too come back, and her oncologist pops back in to share with us the results.

So she holds up the Xray in front of the light so we can all see it… and it is really easy to see what is broken. So the doctor says: “So as you can see, the Pelvis is almost shaped like a heart. Typical breaks happen in one spot along the pelvic wall. But Dru here has managed to break her Pelvis in two spots… both in the front and the back… so that her Pelvis is actually free floating in two pieces.”

Holy shit. This is the only thought that ran through my head.

You are telling me that my grandmother managed to fall on some ice, get back in her car, and drive a manual shift transmission three miles down a windy road with a broken pelvis? And she didn’t even cry. She didn’t cry or even yelp when we moved her in and out of the car today.

Now that is hardcore.

My Grandmother’s oncologist, God love her… was really down to earth and real about it. She said, “Dru, this is a quality of life issue for you. We could do surgery, and you would probably live through it. But you will probably never be able to walk without a walker again. Not to mention that driving a car would probably be out (which,  after the road cone homicide three years back would probably be safer for the general public anyway). I think you should think about it for a day or two and let me know what you want to do.”

And even though my grandma said she would think about it… I knew before we left the office that she had already made up her mind. Her DNR on the fridge was also pretty clear on how she felt about it. So we drove home in relative silence… and put grandma back in bed.

And in true Grandma Dru style… she then stayed at home in bed and drank nothing but Vodka for two weeks until she died.

Now that… is going out like a boss.

At least we got to say goodbye. It was fairly stoic… with no crying. She had lived life just like she wanted… and she died just like she wanted: uncomplicated… and with a bit of a buzz.

And she was epic… even in her post life. While she initially wanted a simple end, she was far from a simple woman.

She didn’t want a funeral (she hadn’t even told half of her friends that she was sick), and she just wanted to be cremated in a cardboard box with no ceremony. However, she did want her ashes spread in two very specific places.

So one beautiful California day… my dad and sister spread half her ashes on a beach in Carmel, CA.

Then two nights later… after waaaaay too much wine… the rest of her ashes were snuck and dumped in the middle of night… with barking dogs and roving security lights…  onto the lawn of a mansion where her house once stood in the Arcadia suburb of L.A.

Now that’s what I call claiming your territory. You got a fancy family name plate on your mailbox that is at the corner of your lawn to tell people it’s your property?   How nice. I dumped my dead grandma in your yard. Which used to be her yard. Winning.

While writing this initial post I had to call my dad to verify I couple of timeline questions. When I told him that I was writing this blog based on my grandmother in the context of her life and of her death, he not surprisingly felt like he had quite a bit to share with me. But he told me that as I have gotten older, I have started to look like Grandma Dru (despite that I have been taller than her since the fourth grade). Moreover… he said that she was the strongest person he had ever known, and that in my life, he has seen that I value my individuality and strength just like she did.  For those of you who really know me, you know that this is a pretty huge win… since my father… quite like my grandmother… is not one to compliment freely.

This post represents 1/100th of my actual grandmother. There are a million things I don’t know about her. I’ve heard rumors of lots of hard times in her life. And while she wasn’t the most open book, she sure wouldn’t let you forget that she grew up in the depression. And while I have forgotten many of the stories I heard from her or about her… maybe I internalized more of her strength and gumption than I can recall.

Maybe who we turn out to be is genetic, or maybe life is entirely learned (it is most likely somewhere in between)… but I do owe much of my strength, independence, and outright stubbornness to a woman named Druscilla.  May she rest… in vodka-loving peace. 

What’s in a name… Druscilla? For Real?

My friend Gina recently posted something along these lines on her facebook page: “I just want an older lady who will give me millions of compliments, cook me fabulous healthy meals, and clean my house. –Feeling like I want a grandma. “

This does sound quite lovely. However, it brought me to thoughts of my own grandmother, who would have done absolutely none of those things… unless she was being held at gunpoint by Martha Stewart.  

My maternal grandparents both died before I was 10, which is sad because they were definitely the more normal of the grandparents. My grandma Sally would have loved doing my blond hair like she wore it in the fifties (she was the only other blond in my family) and made me cookies. And despite that I didn’t know him long, I do remember my grandfather giving me bear hugs and snuggling with me while we watched the sound of music.

My paternal grandfather died before I was born, so that left me with only one grandparent to really get to know: my maternal grandmother. Here is a brief bio:

Maiden Name: Druscilla Eileen Roach (that shit is for real). Not much improved when she married my grandfather to become Druscilla Eileen Roach Bernard.

Nickname: Dru

Occupation: Socks and Sandal wearing ex-Californian and retired secretary.

Height: 5’ on a good day.

Weight: 85 pounds… maybe.

Vehicles: 1969  red Jaguar, which was purchased with cash most likely hidden underneath a mattress for 30 years. Once in Colorado, Subaru legacy was purchased.

Drink of choice: Greyhound

When I was about nine years old, Grandma Dru moved to Colorado from California so that she could be closer to my father/her son in her older age. Although, I think she would have much rather stayed in her ancient ranch style home in L.A. that smelled so permanently of dog that even the entire world’s stock of febreeze could not solve it. But she made a fortune off her house, which was promptly demolished and a small mansion was built upon the desirable Arcadia site during the reurbanization of LA in the early 90’s. Hopefully they were able to get the dog smell out of the land too.

I only have one or two early memories of Grandma Dru (I don’t think I even knew her full name until I was in high school… I once told someone her real name while she was in another room and when she found out she grabbed me by the wrist and told me she would never speak to me again if I ever told someone her real name) in California. And each person could have a different account of a single person… but there are some pretty interesting things that made my grandma unique.

Like most old people, she had the most ridiculous eating/sleeping schedule. She woke promptly at 4:00 a.m. and drank coffee. She most likely had to wait for the newspaper to get there because NOTHING… not even a raccoon on a post-rabies high from the night before… is up that early in the morning. She usually ate lunch around 10:45 a.m. and dinner at 4:30 p.m. She watched Golden girls in bed from about 6:00 p.m until she fell asleep at 8:00 p.m. Like a lot of people… I watched the golden girls with her in my youth and had no clue why it was so funny until I watched it again in my 20’s.  Oh Blanche… you saucy whore.

She was one of the least maternal human beings on the planet. I was obviously in school during the day (and we didn’t live with her except every other weekend) so I am not quite sure what she did for the hours between the two bites of food she ate at each meal… but there was certainly no baking of cookies going on. She could cook approximately one meal… and it was some sort of goulash with spinach soaked in mayonnaise on the side.  I think she only made it one time… and that is probably for the best.

For a while I thought she was a lesbian, because she had issues of playboy in a weird magazine stand in her bedroom. My mom thinks she probably “had them around for the articles,” but regardless it is good to know that my crazy grandma would have voted for Obama.  This however, comes into strict contrast with the occasional visits from her California “boyfriend” named Bud… who largely stayed smoking cigarettes indoors and rested the cigarettes between drags on an extremely loud electric ashtray that actually sucked the smoky air back into itself. Where did the air go grandma… where did it go? Rumor has it Bud asked Dru to marry him, so that they could be part of the three-letter first name club (fine… that’s not true). She apparently told him no, and they (Bud, Dru, and her independence) dated until she miraculously outlived him.

One thing we Bernards are really quite adept at is drinking wine. And while she drank wine at night with dinner, she also drank a lot of grapefruit juice… often at 3:30 in the afternoon… which is not really juice/breakfast time. So while I wouldn’t technically classify her as an alcoholic… it is entirely possible. Largely because when you weigh 79 pounds one strongly poured greyhound could get you through a large majority of the day with a good buzz. They don’t even have alcohol consumption guidelines for people that small because people that small are usually under the age of 12.

She was someone who truly did what she wanted… when she wanted. She was an avid member of a terrier rescue organization, and dearly loved her Scottie named Freeway (because he was rescued from an interstate) and her terrier named Sweet Pea. She wore her retainers at night… well into her 80’s. She had what I like to call, “Pirate Hair.” At 83, she still refused to cut her hair, which at that point had never fully grayed and fell halfway down her back. She looked kind of like a grayed version of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, but without the beads. She drove a manual transmission Subaru legacy until the day she died. She frequented a bar called Shipwrecks… which for your reference is nowhere near an ocean. And she went along day to day doing her thing like a woman two decades younger than her actuality.

This was her life… which even in my youth I found comical. Tune in next week to find out how I learned the most important things about her… which was actually in death. And it’s pretty damn hilarious. 

There is no whining in dating (or baseball).

Let me set the scene for you:  It is a random Thursday night and you are on your first date with someone. You spent hours obsessing over your hair, your clothes, and whether to wear lipstick or not. And it must have worked because the date is going really well. You are in a coffee shop, perched on a stool next to your date… laughing and smiling and drinking your chai seductively. You have moved to the coffee shop after having dinner for hours… and your chatting about life continues. And then inevitably, the dreaded question comes up:

“So why are you still single?”

I feel like whenever anyone asks that question they are playing a game of chicken. “Are you going to give me the real answer?” or “Are you going to give me the stylized and socially acceptable version?” But in the end, everyone loses because even the real answer is often something we are unaware.  For me, I have often used the “I haven’t found the right person,” which really means… I am afraid to get married. And while one could suggest this stems from being hurt in the past… I am actually more evolved than that.

I am a self-professed commitment-phobe.  For example, when I can’t decide between two handbags… I just buy both. I can’t lease anything for longer than a year. Buy a house? No way. To cut my hair or keep it long? Keep it brown or go back to blond? Decision-making can be quite the fucking mess.

 Women being afraid to get married is a newer phenomenon. In the past (like 1900), getting married for women meant a lifetime of security, largely because your gender roles were set. You would stay home wearing uncomfortable corsets while you bore children as the result of having sex only in the missionary position, while not enjoying it (this might not be entirely true, but this is how the Victorian times come across to me). If you didn’t choose option A, option B was to become the spinster Aunt who lived in the attic with several cats and extremely dour clothing (because being a true cat lady is never out of style).

Men in the Victorian era, didn’t have to give up as much. Men still got to galavant around town wearing top hats, smoking cigars, and many had affairs where they were lucky enough to have sex not in the missionary position (because being a loose woman also never goes out of style… and option C, prostitution, is the oldest recorded profession).

Nowadays, women have so many more options. But they still fit in between lines or categories…. Even if the lines are a bit blurred. Here is how I see it rolling out for me personally:

If I were to choose a modern version of option A, here are my fears:

I am afraid that I too, will become a mom who posts on facebook about every gross bowel movement that their child has. That’s right friends, I said it. I know how hard every mom works to raise their child, but let’s get real here: We may have gone to high school or college together, but I don’t know your middle name, or even what street you live on. But I know when your kid’s diahrrhea was “OMG soooo gross. Had to change Hunter’s clothing three times today because of so much poop.” I know that we all want to share our lives, it would be quite hypocritical of me to say otherwise. But let’s hope that things stay interesting enough that I don’t have to write about bowel movements.

I can’t choose option B because I hate cats.

Most men think women’s minds and romantic inclinations have been hijacked by romantic comedies and chick lit novels. Not true. You think I want a romantic comedy? You think I want you to show up outside my house in the rain and profess your undying love for me? Guess what, I don’t. I had a fairytale, and it too went up in flames. Like NASCAR fucking flames. Also, if you show up in the rain to profess your undying love, be sure to bring a taser… since I don’t live in the nicest of neighborhoods. Nothing says I love you like a good mugging.

Pretty much every single woman over the age of 27 has had some sort of fairytale or deep romantic love that went south (and I don’t mean that he moved to Australia). And while what most women want is varied by lifestyle, sexual preference, and varying levels of “daddy issues,” there are a couple of common themes:

*We want someone who is not a sociopath. Because I don’t want to find out in five years that you are hoarding weird dolls in a secret basement closet or have some strange anger issue (because after I read “Gone Girl,” I literally called all my close family and friends to make sure they weren’t sociopaths). I get that everyone has their baggage… just talk to someone about it. Like a licensed professional who can report you to the police if you are really nuts.

*I want someone who has normal addictions… not fucked up weird ones that will end up on the Jerry Springer show one day.

-Acceptable addictions are as follows: Coffee, microbrews, exercise, reading national geographic, being pathological about buying large textbooks, crosswords, cars, nice Gucci loafers, etc. Normal things that you can talk about with your friends that won’t prompt them to call the police and have your family and pets removed from your home.

-Non-acceptable addictions: porn, gambling, kinky sex practices that require any sort of protective gear or electrical current, hoarding of any type, alcohol or drug issues,  obsessive discussions about your mother or third grade teacher, etc.

And here is the truth about option C: Women can now have sex outside of the missionary position and they are allowed to enjoy it! And we don’t have to be labeled as prostitutes! So guess what guys… we too are scared to give up the freedom of sleeping with several people.  We are scared of giving up an eternally clean space that will become dirty once you enter it. We are afraid to give up our designer floral print chair cushions, and our well furnished homes so that you can hang a lighted Budweiser sign in the fucking living room.  I have style, good taste, and I respect myself enough to admit that to myself and to you.

Believe it or not, this was supposed to be a pro-marriage  post… but it sounds everything but that. I guess what I am trying to say is… Guys, get over yourselves. These days, women are giving up just as much as you when choosing to enter into a marriage. A relationship with someone should be about gaining something you lack. Being with someone who makes you laugh.  And realizing that you will have to sacrifice a part of yourself/your life to be with someone. But you should be gaining something in return.

Go forth and love people!