Monday, February 24, 2014


Champagne has become an interesting theme in my life.  The moment my husband and I wrote the check to build our first home together, a champagne bottle inexplicably broke in his parents' basement.  Not knowing what the loud BANG! was at that moment, we thought it was someone breaking into his parents' home, we called the local police.  Guns drawn, the officers came into the house and two minutes later came out laughing.  They told us it was just a champagne bottle in the basement.  We trekked down to the basement to find a dribbling soppy pool of sparkling wine all over the concrete floor.

 Some might say it was a coincidence.

I say it was an angel.  I believe my father who I lost when I was a teenager was cracking open the bubbly to celebrate our first home together.

Shortly thereafter, I was dying to buy a vintage art print of advertisement for l'instant Taittinger champagne featuring an image of Grace Kelly.  I had researched it and plainly it was just too much money.  Would you know that same week we attended a fundrasier where they had the very same print on auction donated by the same company I had wanted to buy it from?  I won the auction for it for a whole lot less and money went to a great cause.

Champagne is for celebrations.  Duh.

It most certainly is.

Even for the unexpected and less obvious ones.

*   *   *   *   *

Once upon a time, I was a sales and marketing gal with MTV Networks.  A trendsetting company and I felt lucky to be part of it.  It was pretty awesome working for the some of the biggest brands in television...  Nickelodeon, MTV, VH1, Comedy Central, I could go on.  And I got to meet some pretty cool people too.  Colleagues who were crisp and cool.  Clients who were surly and smart.  Bosses who were intriguing and inspiring.  The mix of people I collected during my years at MTV Networks is pretty special, and I am so happy that many of those folks are still part of my story years later.

That life far behind me, I can't help it lately, but I keep thinking about one particular person in my collection.  Amongst that blur of the marketing meetings and all the strategy sessions and planned pitches, it is a short two-day event that leaves an indelible mark.  I sit in small room of 1515 Broadway in the center of the world with a few colleagues and the most fascinating presentation coach ever.  Caroline is a funny, charismatic woman with a thick Scottish accent, a shaved head, and the most clear and intense eyes.  She is striking and everyone immediately pays attention when she begins to introduce herself.

Over the two days, Caroline spends her time and talent with us, a small group for two days exploring our talents, finding our true selves and ultimately our unique voices.  She just has a knack to help people achieve great things by simply and authentically being themselves.  Her coaching, her spunk, and her inspiration still grabs me today though our time together was twelve years ago.

It's the typical conference room setting, but with lower, softer lighting.  No windows, no distractions. There are about five of us and Caroline and we all go around and tell a bit about ourselves.  "Blah blah blah, My names is Mary.  Blah blah.  From the Chicago office.  Blah.  Blah.  I am getting married in a few months.  Blah blah blah."

The session moves forward.  Caroline schools us in different ways to approach sales pitches.  We develop our best argument or most persuasive story we can.  With her help, we flip those ideas upside down, shatter them apart, and begin to see at our stories differently.  And over the course of the first day and recalibrating our mindsets, there is an obvious surge in our creativity and boldness ready for the next day of work.  I become more confident in my abilities.  As we wrap the first day of sessions together, she hands each of us a list of words.

She delicately hands the folded card to each of us -- a secret between only she and each of us.  These are our unique qualities written down on a tiny scrap of paper that are meant to help us deepen our connections in the world.  Words that tap into our authentic selves.  So, you might be saying, so what?  It's a piece of paper and a corporate sales lesson.  What's the big deal?

It was during a time in my life when I was engaged, newly promoted, and building our first home.  I was a bit, er, bright-eyed, shall we say.

But for me.  For then.  Even now.  It is a big deal.  This woman commands a room.  She speaks and everyone is compelled to listen.  She has made a business about of getting the best out of people -- very successful people, no less.  So, whatever her secret formula, I am all about listening and receiving the message.

For the life of me, I cannot recall the other words on that card she hands to me, but there is one word that simply jumps off the page.



I had worked for a handful of years in a fine jewelry department in Marshall Field's for some side money during my college years, so I know a thing or two about sparkle, but not quite in this way.  Sparkle?

Later that night, another friend in the same pitch class and I head out and grab some dinner and a drink in busy NYC.  Bustling city streets and honking taxis.  NYC was always a blur of lights and noise to me.  As the night continues, we somehow later meet up with a few other colleagues who happen to be out at a posh spot with none other than the lovely Caroline.  I recall everyone smiling and shifting to make room so we can join the table.  As the server comes over, I start to order a glass of wine.  Caroline stops me mid-sentence and says, "No. You must have a glass of champagne."  She smiles coyly at me.   I wouldn't have thought of a glass of champagne...?  What a great choice, I think.  Everyone should have a little champagne once in a while.

As conversation meanders, Caroline leans in and says quietly, "You have a very powerful voice.  I am interested to see how you use it...  And I really think you should make a toast at your wedding."

I am a little confused as to what exactly she does mean.  Powerful voice?  How I'll use it? I am pretty certain that she doesn't mean for tomorrow's final day of presenting in her class.  She has a grace and builds trust immediately with people, but even with that my inner monologue snorts, "And I am most certainly NOT making a toast at my wedding."

I never made that toast at our wedding.  There were, however, six other very memorable speeches.  Mine would have been simply superfluous.  But, looking back on that interaction with Caroline, I now wonder if she was not just intuitive, but quite possibly even psychic.

Those experiences and meeting the mystifying Caroline become crowded in a busy life.  My role at MTV evolves for seven years.  Then as technology sharpens and my sales division fades at MTV, motherhood emerges.

But that word, "sparkle"...  it lingers.  I find it sprinkled throughout my life in different ways and the theme endures.

Once we were blessed with children, we had taken the boys to one of Chicago's treasures, The Field Museum.  Dylan was just three years old and I will never forget how his dark eyes danced as his feet scurried through the famous Hall of Gems.  His feet would stop at one case and he'd point firmly at a gemstone, "Mommy, I get this 'parkly for you...  AND DIS 'PARKLY...  "AND DIS 'PARKLY..." and he'd move on to the next case.

He, of course, was the most precious gem in the exhibit that day.

And most recently, in this most drab, ugliest of Chicago winters, it is the allusive sparkle that finds me but in a notably different way.  When words like "polar vortex" and "worst recorded January" spew from the TV, I curiously notice the diamond-like glitter of each snowfall.  As I focus my attention on navigating the wintery, dangerous road, I hear Dylan pipe up from the backseat.  He has the same observation as we are running errands, "Hey Mommy, did you know that snow sparkles?"  I grin at him in the rear-view mirror.  "It does," he nods firmly as he assures me.

*   *   *   *   *

It's Friday night amidst another Chicago blizzard, and I find myself among the glitz and glamour of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Grand Chef's Gala in Chicago at the Fairmont Hotel.  A black tie affair and a fun foodie night.  Some dear friends are joining us and we are thrilled to have a grown-up's night out.  My hubs looks dapper and dashing and I am painted and pinned up, dress and diamonds.

As we settle into the cocktail hour, I am particularly excited to make my donation for one of the night's raffles.  A donation in exchange for...  you guessed it -- a glass of champagne.  As part of the raffle, the flute has a tiny satin bag attached to the stem.  Supposedly, there is a little gemstone hiding inside. Most likely a crystal, but for one lucky winner of the raffle, a colorless, very valuable diamond.

As I sip the champagne, I smirk.

Weirdly, in that moment looking around the bustling cocktail hour with all the champagne bottle balloons floating overhead, I remember Caroline's words.  I realize that THIS IS EXACTLY what she meant.  It's taken years for me to get it.

My story.
My mission.
My advocacy.
My writing.
My voice.

All now aimed at finding a cure for our two beautiful sons.

I swirl the gold, shimmering liquid in my flute.  It's the perfect effervescence.  I hold in my hand some of life's ironies and inexplicable events.  Every little step along the journey, led me to just where I am right now, where I am supposed to be.

Our night would speed on including laughs with amazing friends around our table, generous donations going to a cure, and even some dancing and camaraderie by the end of the evening.  In all of the commotion and fun, I would forget to get my glittering gemstone checked by the certified gemologist at the event to confirm if it's the real deal or one of the many crystals handed out that night.

The next morning, I am groggy and hung over.  Maybe I had a little too much fun.

I sit at the edge of the hotel bed in my trusty yoga pants and dull fleece jacket.  I stare at the lively gem in my hand.  I gently roll it around in the palm of my hand to examine at it from all angles.  It catches and throws the light of the bedside lamp.

A glittering glass of champagne...  A beautiful gemstone...  Or the fire that ignites us...  Taking the light of life and recasting back into the world.  If you ask me, it's one of the things that make life beautiful.

Sparkle is sparkle.

Sometimes, it's about finding around you.  Sometimes it's about finding it within you.