Sunday, August 17

Grand Religion

Grand Rapids may be well known for its breweries, but out in the 'burbs where we live it's much less about beer and much more about Jesus. I read somewhere that Grand Rapids has the most churches per capita—that's a truth to believe in.

Ben and I were joking once while driving through town that Grand Rapids can take any building and make it into a church. It was silly at first, but the funniest thing was that every example we traded was a true one.

“Grand Rapids loves their churches so much they can turn a gym into one.”

Right near our apartment was an old school turned gym with a workout facility, indoor rock climbing wall and pool. Now, it's a church. You think the pastor preaches while suspended from carabiners and cords?

“Oh yeah? Well Grand Rapids loves their churches so much they can turn a drive-in movie theater into one.”

This is my favorite. There's an old drive-in theater parking lot tucked off Brenton and 28th Street that long ago was converted into a church. Attendants drive up, tune their radios to the right station and listen to the sermon in their car while the pastor delivers it under a sheltered awning a few yards away.

“Psh, who cares about the drive-in theater church when there's a grocery store church!”

No joke. What was once an old Kroger grocery store is now some sort of weekend church. “Baptism in aisle 7.”

And of course there are all the new construction churches dotting the city every corner you turn. I'll tell you what, it may seem like overkill but it sure makes my Sunday morning errands a breeze. But wait... do you think those old-Kroger-now-church attendants are picking up their pantry needs while getting their praise on? Man, that would be multi-tasking worth worshiping.

Tuesday, August 5

Let There Be Cake

...and salads and cheese trays and dips by the dozens. And mushroom turnovers, mozzarella sticks and a platter of salami. And meatballs, hummus and Mexican bean dip. Plus beer, wine, iced tea and a Mai Tai punch that accidentally turned out blue. And cake.

Two big, glorious cakes. One for the guy I've happily agreed to live the rest of my life with, and one for me.

This was the scene at the beautiful family engagement party my mom threw for us last weekend. My grandparent's condo clubhouse was full of food, extended family, beautiful flowers and a lot of fun. Fun like watching my brother, who takes after my dad in his ability to befriend any living or non-living organism, re-tell the story of the passed out drunk man he found in a hospital elevator while at work last week. Fun like hearing aunts and cousins tell us they have trips planned to Grand Rapids soon and that we'd meet up on our side of the state soon. Fun like seeing all the people we love in a room together, without a moment of silence among them. Our party was truly filled with a lot of love.

And it was filled with a temporary power outage when a particularly nasty storm rolled through. And the sound of my 93-year-old great uncle's throat clear so forceful it could have knocked out the power again. And my great aunt's high-pitched husband-call aimed at getting uncle Manny to step away from the strudel plate after one too many trips there. And Ben's grandma reuniting with another great aunt of mine, who she graduated from high school with. And Ben's aunt and my cousin—two ladies who are truly cut from the same cloth—becoming newly fast friends.

It's hard not to feel the love when every group we chatted with was happy and excited and eager to hear what we were up to. And with everyone's quirks—my grandma's infectious excitement, Ben's great uncle Bert threatening my dad and uncle Manny in strudel consumption, my mom fluttering around like a relaxed/effortless host when she spent so very much effort organizing this whole thing—it's hard not to fill up on all that love and still have room for cake.

Somehow, Ben and I managed.

Monday, August 4

The Queen of RICE

Next year I hope to celebrate my work anniversary with a little less of a bang.

On my one-year anniversary two Tuesdays ago I was in a rental van with coworkers headed to a cross-state meeting when we were rear ended on the freeway. Quite intensely. Everyone is fine; bruised and sore, but fine. I was in the back so I’m extra bruised and sore—but also fine.

Because of the bruising and soreness (a.k.a. a muscle contusion), I’ve spent the last two weeks getting my RICE on.

How much have I been RICE’ing? I’m resting so much Ben hasn’t gotten a seat on the couch since mid-July. I’ve been icing so intently that I found a thawed package of peas hidden on the floor under a bath towel. I’ve compressed my way through three rolls of athletic tape and made an embarrassing purchase of three more rolls at MC Sports last week. I’ve elevated my left leg high enough perform as a Radio City Rockette.

I’m limping a lot, fighting an injured calf muscle that just wants to rest when so much of my daily movement calls on it to work. There are good days where I joke about hooking one of my crutches (from the med center) to the ceiling fan, holding on and going for a spin. There are bad days where I hobble home from work, pass out from exhaustion and wake up only to eat a slice of pizza and pass out again.

In two more weeks I’ll heal to a point where it seems like this never happened. Until then—Ben, can you pass me the remote and refill my water bottle, please? It'll be another four weeks until he heals from hearing that phrase every hour.

Wednesday, July 30

The Sunrise Side

Alpena is just as charming as most northern Michigan towns—time ticks slower, wildflowers grow taller and even with its big ol’ cement factory on the shore, Lake Huron’s vastness is still beautifully impressive. But unlike other northern Michigan towns, Alpena is a humble working class city. On a weekend trip with my family we found out the locals, just like the city, are pure gems too.

Like the older woman who owns an alpaca farm down the street from my brother’s apartment. Being the curious and audacious folk that we are, we wandered up to her property to oogle over Tuffett and Frosty the alpacas. In any other town you might be chased away by an angry, get-off-my-lawn kinda townie. In Alpena we were met by the friendly, may-have-some-screws-loose, Mrs. Alpaca Owner who would have pinned us up all dang day talking about the wheat based diet she’s got her seven alpacas on and how she’s trained her hens to raise baby peacocks.

Ok then.
Frosty and Tuffett

We also met a nice bird-fanatic grandfather while hiking around a local nature preserve. In any other town Bird Man (not to be confused with this, this or this bird man) would nod a ‘hello’ and go on his way, in Alpena he invites you to play a Saturday afternoon game of Name That Bird Call with his extended family. We essentially crashed the family reunion and watched them rattle off the correct full names of local birds based on the calls played from Bird Man’s 2005 model iPod.

Ain’t no reunion like a bird watching reuion ‘cause a bird watching reunion don’t stop.

Family photo courtesy of Bird Man
Equally as charming as Alpena scenery and Alpena townies is my brother’s summer apartment. Walking inside was like entering a time capsule of the Blinder family circa 1990—the same brown sectional, the same Formica coffee table, the same dishes my parents registered for for their wedding.

On top of that are punctuations of E—his high school pottery displayed on every horizontal surface, spider plants thriving near every window, and so many pillows/blankets/sweatshirts one could drown in comfort. He’s all grown up (and a real balabusta when it comes to hosting, if you ask my grandma). I’m a proud, proud sister.

Tuesday, July 22


One day you can’t find the drinking fountain and boom—a year passes. Today’s my glorious, fire the confetti cannons, one year anniversary at Steelcase. It’s been fun, it’s been hard, it’s been an adventure.

I was lucky enough to do some traveling in my first year. I went to New York for a SEO conference, Boston for a meeting and today to Ann Arbor for another meeting.

In my first five months, I tried to bury myself in my responsibilities and tried hard to measure them. No one was pulling regular referring traffic from search engines reports, so I started tracking that to measure our SEO progress. We didn’t have an easy way to gather sales that came in as a result of email marketing efforts, so I worked with a coworker to start tracking that. I led a project to redesign the site and started capturing conversion rates, which has helped us get a better idea of overall site health.

That’s all been easy potatoes compared to the last seven months. Now I’m diving deeper—mapping our customer’s purchase path, analyzing tools we’re using and determining their worth, and talking with vendors to leverage our relationships.

One huge lesson I've learned this year: not being an expert in something doesn’t mean you can’t become one. In some areas I needed to become one, and in those cases it's better to cannonball in instead of hanging back on the pool deck cautiously.

This next year is going to be a big one for my team. I’ve been tasked to think like a business woman (which I’m not), a tech nerd (which I’m not), an ecommerce expert (which I’m not) and an online shopper looking for high-end furniture (which I’m so Ikea’ing not). There are plenty of pools to jump in to.

There’s a lot of opportunity for growth within my position and team—and that’s thrilling. There’s a lot of room to stretch myself beyond what I was hired on to do—and that’s scary and exciting at the same time. No two days, two months or two quarters are the same. I have a feeling by next July I’ll report no two years are the same either—you know, except for the location of the drinking fountains.