About Us

Sometimes You’re the Windshield, Sometimes You’re the Bug


And, this past month, I tended more towards the bug.

May was a difficult month for me, which included tough life events and just having a lot going on. Part of it may be considered self-inflicted, and the other part, the universe working its magic.  Here’s the highlight reel:

1. I decided to move. After living in a place I haven’t been comfortable in for almost a year, something inspired me to (finally) act. So, I talked with my landlords, and began the quest for a new castle.

And, like many things, this was easier said than done. I’d conveniently forgotten that the process of apartment hunting isn’t exactly rainbows and butterflies. In fact, the moving process in general kind of sucks. I’m not much of a planner, and ended up packing everything in my kitchen without considering how eating was going to work out for the next week and a half.

In the end, I reached out to a close friend, and will be living in new place that I’m really excited about. The moral here: it’s okay to admit you need help sometimes. People’s generosity will surprise you.

2. There was a death in my family. In my adult life, I haven’t really encountered death, and especially not the death of someone I love. Pain and hurt (and lots of tears) are all natural to the grieving process, but I also discovered the roses that come with these thorns.

Spending time with my family, even in sorrow, made me realize just how much I love and need them. Plus, I was reminded that my great-aunt was a kind, loving and overall wonderful human being who inspired many people. And maybe, that’s what life is all about.

3.  A couple weeks ago, I ran my second marathon (which had been planned since New Years). While I finished in the time range I’d wanted, I still felt a little disappointed in myself, wondering what I could’ve done differently, done better. It was almost 80 degrees that day, and toward the end, I was struggling. Luckily, an awesome friend jumped in, water in hand, and helped me get through the last push (over a mile).

After the race, I drove back to Bowdoin College to hang out with my brother, and wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to how my body was doing. I hadn’t really eaten anything, or drank nearly enough water. A few hours later, my brother and his girlfriend graciously took care of me when my body started, well, shutting down due to dehydration.

Driving home later that night, weak and exhausted (maybe a little delirious), I felt incredibly frustrated. I’m still not sure what was more upsetting: finding out the hard way what my limits are, or the knowledge that I have them at all.

4. Steve’s Graduation: Last but not least, my little brother graduates from Bowdoin this weekend (woohoo!). The only negative thing here is Bowdoin (as a Bates alum, this caused some tension during the holidays), but I can look past that, I suppose…

All of these things, good, bad, in-between, made me realize a few things. First, I had the opportunity to reevaluate some things in my life (big and small), and gained some invaluable perspective on what it is I want. Hint: it basically boils down to love and happiness.

Second, you may have noticed the general theme in all of these events: friends and family always bailed me out. Time and time again, it amazes me how many wonderful people surround me. After this month, its a blessing I’m grateful for. If you’re struggling with something in life, even if you think it’s “too trivial” or not worth “bothering” someone over, go ahead and reach out. People can be pretty amazing, and there’s someone out there who’ll take your hand and help.

I lost my debit card and spilled unholy amounts of coffee on myself in the midst of all of this, but hey, maybe in June I’ll be the windshield.

What I Learned Not Drinking For A Month

howtodrinkAbout a month ago, I decided to take a break from booze entirely.

No, I’m not pregnant. No, I’m not suddenly self righteous. I just wanted to see how I’d feel.

The seed started in my brain New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve I went out with friends and had two drinks the entire evening (8 pm until 1 am). I left home sober and arrived home the same way. But most of the next day was spent violently ill.

“It’s like over the last year I’ve suddenly turned allergic to alcohol.” I mused to Derrick while slumped on the couch. And since then I’ve wondered if healthwise, alcohol was a good idea for me.

Sometimes abstaining from something for a period of time can give you some perspective. Just about every religion has a period where people abstain from something (food from sun up to sun down, some vice for 40 days, etc.). Sure, there are some ‘I quit forever’ scenarios but few people are ready for that.

So this month, I quit booze. And it was kind of interesting.

Our culture is pretty ingrained with alcohol use.

While listening to a Freakonomics podcast this month (the title: What’s More Dangerous, Marijuana or Alcohol?), it was interesting to find that generally, alcohol is more dangerous but when the hosts were discussing which one they preferred their kids do, one of them said alcohol since it was so ingrained in American culture and much more accepted. (That link is to the podcast if you want to listen, interesting stuff.)

I’m sure people in AA have figured this out long before me but it’s been interesting to be a bit outside of all this.

We don’t put much thought into non-alcoholic drinks.

I once downloaded an ebook called ‘How To Drink’. Sure, parts of it were about booze but she had whole chapters on coffee, tea, picking the correct glass for the correct liquid, and more. Most impressive: a whole chapter about ice. (If you want to know how to stock a bar in a tiny space or are looking for a host gift, this book is great.)

The whole premise of the book: we’ll spend hours cooking a delicious meal, shopping at markets for the best ingredients, etc. but we give almost 0% thought into what we’re drinking except occasionally for a bottle of wine.

So this month I’ve been perfecting sweet tea and bringing fixings for Italian sodas to my book club (the actually pregnant member in the book club is excited I think). I am trying to put some thought into what I’m drinking: how do I make it fun, what is a complementary drink to an activity or meal. It’s kind of made me more thoughtful.

I have been avoiding certain situations.

The one downfall I’ve seen with my plan is I’ve been decidedly less social. I haven’t put myself in situations where I have to say ‘no’ to booze because, honestly, I have a hard time saying no when other people around me are doing something. Also as a woman, everyone assumes if I’m not drinking, I’m pregnant which is another annoying thing to have to explain. (“No really, I’m not.”)

This whole month has made me wonder: am I a 100% or nothing at all kind of person? I’ve been told by a few people that if I give up gluten entirely for 3 months, some of my health issues will go away. But it’s a tough row to hoe: saying no at the kid’s birthday party when cake the grandmother made is passed around. Saying no when your friends want to split a pitcher of margaritas at happy hour. It makes you feel kind of lame. Like is quitting alcohol for 30ish days significant? Does it help to do this on occasion? Or would I be just as healthy if I had continued my normal 1-2 glasses of wine/week?

I clearly have more questions than answers but I am choosing to think giving up something for a period of time is valid. You learn about yourself, your body, other people, and your relationship to the thing you gave up.

I learned that drinking booze less for me is probably a good idea… but even more important is being thoughtful whenever I put something in my body.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Google some ‘mocktails’ now…

Buy your own copy of “How To Drink” on Amazon (this is an affiliate link)

When Someone Else’s Kid Is Sick

A little over a week ago, my sister gave birth to what we all thought was a healthy baby boy named Drew. He was very cute and soon, I saw pictures of friends and family members taking their turns holding him over my Facebook newsfeed, which you expect with a Facebook friend has a new baby.

speakofthedeadI had scheduled a workshop for this weekend in my hometown (where my sister and her family live), thinking I’d get to see the baby and write off the mileage.

Within 24 hours of Drew’s birth though, something was wrong. He was sleeping… a lot. And while babies do sleep a lot, this seemed abnormal so the hospital released my sister and kept him for observations.

After all tests the local hospital could do were exhausted, it was decided Drew needed transport to a regional hospital so he went, by special baby ambulance setup, to a big regional hospital. Derrick and I were close enough to visit, if only to show our support and try to distract my 3 year old niece with novelty for a little while.

A few days later, he was flown to Boston Children’s Hospital where he saw specialists, had even more tests, and got a life threatening diagnosis. He passed away in his parents arms on Friday night of a rare metabolic disorder affecting 1 out of every 60,000 people. (This disease was so pervasive organ donation was only possible with his heart valves. That my sister and brother-in-law thought of organ donation at a time like this should just show you the kind of people they are.)

So I’ve been super distracted at work last week as I get news via phone calls and text messages. Derrick and I also dropped everything and headed to Boston on Friday to be with my family to spend time and say goodbye to Drew. We are both back at work today, trying to pretend everything is normal. And so far I’m not doing a great job with it.

If I was a stranger, I might wonder why the aunt of a brand new baby was so upset when he died.

I am upset because, for this pregnancy in particular, my sister and I have been a lot more in touch, via morning text messaging and getting to see her a lot more than usual in person the last six months than I normally do.

I am upset because I know how much this child was loved and wanted before he even was born.

I am upset because it was a roller coaster week of good news and bad news, with a final terrible diagnosis. (I won’t lie, there was some relief with knowing what it was.)

I am upset because I wish I could be there with Michelle and Justin during the coming days but I know being there wouldn’t necessarily help anything.

I am upset because I am facing project deadlines at work and, while people have been relatively understanding this past week, that understanding will wear out at a certain point.

So I’m sitting here, doing what I can at my computer workwise and ready to head to my hometown for a memorial service. Not entirely here, not exactly there.

Who knew having a family member with a sick child was so stressful and hard? I didn’t. And I certainly hope if you’re reading this, you never have the opportunity to find out firsthand what it is like to lose someone who should have gotten to be around a lot longer.

If you do know someone with a sick child, or something that has just lost a child, I urge you to reach out to them. And in case you don’t know what to say, here’s some ideas.

To those who have reached out to me with phone calls, text messages, social media messages, emails, and cards, thank you. Despite having been through several major losses the last few years, this one feels very unique.

And to act like it didn’t happen seems disrespectful, and honestly kind of weird.

So thanks to Baby Drew for teaching me this week a lot about love and life.

Thanks to those who dedicate themselves to the medical field for everything from entertaining my three year old niece while her parents meet with doctors to specializing in obscure disorders enough to give answers to puzzling diagnoses.

And thanks to my family for being strong, loving, and supportive of one another.

Hug your loved ones close. Some of us don’t get much time here on earth so making them feel love while they are here is that much more valuable.

Update: If you want to read a very moving obituary: http://bangordailynews.com/2014/01/20/obituaries/drew-isaac-dubois/

Goodbye Alice

“I got a job offer.”

It’s a phrase you hate to hear from someone you like working with.

And it’s even harder to hear from someone you consider your best friend.

I knew while Alice was 99% settled into a Bar Harbor life, there was a 1% chance something like this may happen. And now, we are in that 1%. I am not sure if knowing that makes it harder or easier.

When Alice told me that Moving Picture Studios made her an offer in the exact job she’s always wanted to do in Montreal, the exact kind of place she wants to live, she said what I was thinking. “If I don’t take it, I’ll never know.”

I thought about myself a few years ago, writing a resignation letter while scared out of my mind. Hoping I was moving onto somewhere better than I was, yet liking where I currently was. Knowing that if I didn’t do it right then, I would always wonder about how my life might be different. I know what it’s like to take that leap, and hope your parachute and judgement are working.

When you think of those times in your life where you’ve made a bold move, you know how important they are. And when someone tells you they are making this big but good for them change, you want to react well.

So here is my reaction.

I am happy for Alice that she gets to take an opportunity she didn’t think she’d ever have.
I am sad for me that I won’t get to talk to her everyday.
I am happy for the people Alice will work for and with, because she’s smart, fun, cooperative, talented, and hardworking.
I am sad for Breaking Even clients because, while she will still be involved, it will be on a very small scale.
I am happy that Alice will get to live in Montreal, especially since I myself have always wanted to live in Quebec City.
I am sad that Bar Harbor will not have Alice to make the town more colorful than it otherwise is.
I am happy that Alice wants to still do the kind of work she’s started at Breaking Even on a limited basis, because it means the Breaking Even clients and I won’t lose access to her talent.
I am sad that this business will run without her.

So please leave comments on this post to encourage Alice and tell her what she means to you, as a website developer, as a friend, as someone whose updates amuse you on social media.

She will certainly be missed by Breaking Even. But more than that, she’ll be missed, so very much, by me.

Joomla Day Houston

JoomlaDayHouston-250x250-05About a week ago, I went to speak at Joomla Day Houston. This was the first Joomla Day in Houston and about 100 people turned out, many from Texas but many definitely from farther (I might have won the prize for farthest traveled!).

A few useful resources from this event you might like:

What’s on your menu(s)? by Robbie Adair

Robbie was one of the conference organizers. I saw her presentation about this topic at Joomla Day Boston in March and thought her explanation was not only easy to understand but gave me some new perspectives on Joomla menus (you know, even though I’ve been using them for fiveish years).

45 in 45 (The Best Joomla Extensions) by Rod Martin

Rod talked about the best free and paid Joomla Extensions he and his knowledgeable Twitter followers have used to develop websites. (He even added a slide based on feedback of other Joomla developers in the room- so really there is more like 58 extensions).

Contracts with Mike Carson (link to the paid course for $99- totally worth it)

Mike gave his talk about writing contracts… and I cringed. I was guilty of at least three terrible things… and the fact that nothing bad has happened in a business deal yet to me I see more as luck than my skillz. Seriously worth ponying up $99 for as it will save you at least that, both personal sanity-wise and money-wise.

Besides a great group of presenters, there was also a fair representative of women there:

The women of Joomla Day Houston (not all of us but a good representation)!

The women of Joomla Day Houston (not all of us but a good representation)!

Dianne Henning (and others but notably her) have really gone out of their way to make women feel welcome in the community… not in a ‘here’s some pink in our logo’ kind of way but in a real ‘here’s how you can contribute’ kind of way. It was great to get to know her better over the weekend. I am continually impressed by the quality of people this software seems to attract.

After Houston, I decided to take a couple days and go see a friend I haven’t seen in a long, long time. Carrie and I studied abroad together and haven’t seen each other in 11 years (!). I drove to Austin and we picked up right where we left off.

Overall a great trip that was a combination of nerdiness and fun. Can’t wait to get back to Texas!

Why I Worked At Your Wedding Before Planning My Own

I got a bunch of concerned emails when I posted on Facebook that I helped cater a wedding this summer. People thought I was hard up for money.

Not that. At all.

There are a few reasons I’ve done a few stints with Bar Harbor Catering Company:

1) I met Mandy the owner a few years ago and was impressed by her, so I thought it would be fun to work for her.
2) As someone who has been self employed for five years, I can appreciate a job where I just show up, do what I’m told, and collect a paycheck. (Trust me, unless you are the most renegade person, I think every self employed person misses that sometimes.)
3) It’s nice to make some money and do something a little physical that has nothing to do with my real life.
4) I’ve always felt like since I’ve never done food service, I am missing out on some important and seemingly universal life experience.
5) I had to see behind the wedding curtain before planning my big day.

behind-the-curtain-wizard-of-ozOK so the first four reasons make some degree of sense… but what do I mean about the wedding curtain? I am making a Wizard of Oz reference here of pulling back the curtain and seeing all the great and powerful acts are caused by some dude with amazing equipment.

As a wedding guest, you only see the perfection of a well orchestrated day. Catering a wedding is seeing the whole situation from another angle. An important angle for me.

A bit of background: I once read an article about there being two kinds of people in the world: moderators and abstainers. Moderators can keep ice cream in their house, eating a small bowl once in awhile. Abstainers can not keep ice cream in their house since it is gone within 24 hours of buying the gallon.

I am an abstainer. Temptation can get the better of me if I am not careful.

You can imagine what can happen when an abstainer like myself who has never even opened a wedding magazine gets engaged and starts innocently looking at Pinterest…  Let’s just say I had no idea what  was out there. No. Idea. And seeing these beautiful events that cost much more than my annual salary, I needed to make myself abstain.

So to snap myself back into my reality, I took the first catering job at a wedding that cost more than mine ever can. I carried water pitchers and trays and went home covered in bits of other peoples’ dinners… and I had a great time.

The hard working part of who I am was proud. It was a 12 hour day on my feet and I kept my patience, energy, and smile through most of it. When I told Mandy later that was the first time I had ever served food or done anything like that, she couldn’t believe it.

The researcher part of me was interested in learning more about weddings from the vendors. Think about it: in the hours before a wedding you have photographers, caterers, rental companies, and other vendors showing up to this one location and, as long as you aren’t ridiculous about it, they’ll answer some questions for you. One of the guys from the rental company for example talked to another waitress (who is also engaged) about how she could have the same kind of tent setup for half the price by making a few slightly different decisions.

The practical part of me needed to see the reality. Behind the beautiful, perfectly decorated tent in the scenic Maine location was an area where waitresses are scraping plates of uneaten food. If you are having a fancy event, it’s perfectly fine to ignore this. But if you are even a little jealous of someone else’s fancy event, this can be a helpful realization for you.

The intellectual part of me liked helping solve problems as they cropped up. Like there were no easels to prop up the menus on the buffet tables… so I went in a closet and found two crazy tall candles and leaned the menus against them. No one noticed. Seeing that no one noticed also made me realize the things that might go wrong at our wedding people probably won’t notice either.

The realistic part of me realized there is always someone who isn’t going to like it. As I carried in the salads with the fresh avocado slices generously piled on, I thought these people were in for a treat. 20 minutes later scraping avocados into the trash, I realized one person’s amazing avocado salad is another person’s weird green crap. You can’t please everyone so you’ve got to please yourself.

This trying to please everyone idea in particular was keeping me from even setting a wedding date.

Working at the wedding though has given me an important perspective. That for a few people, my wedding day is just going to be a day they get a paycheck. That most people probably won’t notice I didn’t pony up for chair covers. And that regardless of whether we spend $5 or $50,000, at the end we’re married and hopefully had a great time doing it.

So for those of you who might catch yourselves throwing a tantrum because the shade of white for the tablecloths doesn’t match your dress perfectly, I highly recommend catering one wedding. It’ll give you much needed prospective… and you’ll go away with a couple extra bucks in your pocket from the experience.

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