2010 Looking forward to the year of the TIGER!

2009- the year of the groundhog, not sure the Chinese would agree, but for an event planner and fundraiser like me, that little rodent sums it up.  Every day, I woke up wishing it was over and now that we are so close to the end the clock seems to be ticking slower and slower.  What a wretched year it has been…time for it to end.

Like everyone I know who has survived the year, bruised, beaten but intact, we are waiting for the sunlight of 2010 with cautious optimism and the hesitant swagger of a soldier who dodged the fatal bullet with the stories of surviving in the trenches.

Like a party where the guests forget to come, 2009 was the year of sleepless nights and nervous stomachs.  For those of you who missed it, the economy wasn’t so good.  And for those who didn’t know, owning a small business was a game of Russian roulette.  Who got the bullet today?

But 2010, offers a ray of hope – the light at the end of the dank, cold tunnel of 2009.  About a month or so ago, I woke up and things weren’t so bad.  Like the morning after the apocalypse in those made for TV movies, the dust had settled and look…we were still here.  A bit amazing, cause before the commercial, well, things were kind of bleak.

We entered 2009 losing our two biggest clients.  Well, we weren’t alone – being rather large employers, with a rather large group of investors, a lot of people lost by their economic downturn.  But, for us it was significant.  We went on to down grade our third biggest client in an effort to grow new business – it was a necessary risk..

2009 was by far the scariest of times.  But, as I reflect on the year that was, I also know that I have always learned more during time of adversity than ever in times of prosperity.  Not sure what that says, but it definitely puts a spin on life that makes it more interesting.

When faced with the brick wall in 2009, we decided to climb.  Instead of reducing staff, we cut expenses, and for the first time didn’t give raises across the board.  Instead of asking staff to pay for their healthcare (we have always been 100% employer paid), we shopped competitively and became creative in cutting costs.

As I watched friends cut staff and close offices, I knew that the only way we would survive was to take risk and to keep growing.  The staff has always been my greatest asset, so we hunkered down, became even more interactive and worked together to set priorities.

We expanded by purchasing another fundraising company with a complementary client base.  It increased our debt, but we also added revenue and assets to bring new business to our table.

We looked ahead and saw the future of our business.  So, we started a new company – Comitatus Consulting to harness the power of social media and to be on the cutting edge of technology in politics and event planning.  Comitatus will play a key role in our growth, and in the worst economic conditions in over a decade, we decided success was defined by good ideas.  And somehow, we actually are entering 2010 with exciting products to roll out and an unparalleled infrastructure backbone to our other businesses.

The power of branding didn’t escape us.  In the past, we were fortunate.  Our successful event planning and fundraising business was built via word-of-mouth.  Going forward, we realized that investing in a marketing and communications strategy was essential—which today even includes a blog.  Okay, 2010’s resolutions mean I will write more scintillating tales – I swear!

Finally, all agreed that reducing debt and increasing efficiency were the critical keys to our long-term growth strategy.  Without cutting staff, this would be difficult.  But to me that wasn’t an option.  Instead, after reviewing every expenditure, we have streamlined our processes.  We worked collectively and individually to assess client services and products in an effort to maximize client satisfaction.

As miserable as 2009 has been, and trust me, it was not fun,  we have so much to be thankful for – both personally and professionally.

I know some absolutes – first and foremost, that I am blessed with the best staff in the business.  Folks who work hard, who feel a sense of ownership in all that they do.  They are dedicated, tough, smart and driven.  I just could not be luckier to have them on my team.

We have loyal clients who have trusted us and who have grown with us this year.  We are proud to have clients who have retained us for years and years who have expanded their services as we have expanded our offerings.  We thank them today and every day for sticking with us.

2009 has brought us babies and engagements and puppies and new teammates.  It kicked Scott’s butt and made Peggy a hero all in one terrifying day.

But we are so very glad to see the end of  2009.  We won’t miss it, I can promise you.

And as the clock ticks down, like the tiger behind the gate,  we are waiting to pounce into 2010, taking with us all we have learned and all for which we are grateful to begin a new year with new optimism and regained enthusiasm for all that we do.

Thanks to you all for your support, your friendship and your loyalty.  May the new year be eventful!


The Last Days of Two

Thanks to the glorious Mel Raines, N and I are spending the hours before departing for Ethiopia lounging by her community’s wading pool. N with her newly acquired traditional braids and her very hip polka dotted suit is practicing floating on her back and insists that she is ready to dive into the big girl pool.  She isn’t.  But, wow what a difference a couple of year’s makes.

The first time I saw N in the water was when I bathed her at 7 months and barely 12 pounds in the sink of the Addis Ababa Sheraton. A death defying experience with a new mom not exactly sure what to do with a slippery child and a very prominent spigot.

But time has passed, and now N doesn’t want help to bath or even to swim she can “do it by myself mom” — the mantra I hear daily.

And here we are, about to go back to her homeland to meet and bring home her little sister.

Its crazy and wonderful and scary all at once for me but also for the little girl whose whispery voice


A Slice of Life

It’s official – I am a ham sandwich.  Well, really more of a corned beef on rye with Russian and coleslaw, but an official member of the Sandwich Generation just the same.

One knows they have arrived at this juncture when rushing to the assisted living facility in a thunderstorm because your ailing dad is literally trying to kill the head nurse who insists he take a shower at the same time that your 2 ½ year old daughter draws her personal line in the sand and refuses to take her evening bath.

When cleanliness becomes a fighting point to both your parents and your children, you have arrived – whip up some condiments, ‘cause you are a hoagie.

It’s an annoying feeling – not because you have to take care of both your parents and your own children, and let’s face it the only thing you really want yourself is an uninterrupted shower – but because it is one of those moments when you realize you are the dreaded adult.  You were roaming around in your happy self focused little life, thinking you might just control your own destiny and have the freedom of choosing which mindless pastime to partake in after the kid goes to sleep when suddenly it strikes you – nope, you are truly an adult.  How on earth did that happen?

Now don’t get me wrong, I have met a payroll and paid a mortgage regularly for more than a decade.  I have made tough choices and had enough bad things happen to make me to know I am a card carrying adult.  But nothing hits home quite like having your child and your parent both sleeping in diapers.

So, what to do about it?  I have considered selling everything and moving to a small island where I can home school and fish for food.  But, let’s face it, my daughter would be a fine chef, but have no idea about dangling participles or anything about the periodic table.  I thought about curling up in a ball and ignoring it all, but too many people know how to find me.

Alas, I figure I should use this blog to give some helpful hints to others who might find themselves suddenly in need of taking care of their parents.  Or at least impart some information that the deli meat out there should know before they are slapped between two slices of bread.

First, and most shocking to me, your parents can not be claimed as dependents on your taxes.  REALLY?  Yes, it is true.  My parents cost me 8 times what my daughter costs me on a monthly basis (you gasp, but that is down from 10x when they lived in NY) but yet, the federal government doesn’t consider them my dependents.

Second, neither Medicare nor Medicaid cover assisted living facilities.  Nope.  Keep those mortgage payments going out the door on time.  You don’t want your parents to lose their homes.  You will need a house to sell if you want to finance your parents move.  Of course, they could move in with you.  Good luck with that.

Having said that,  you do want your parents to apply for Medicare when they are eligible, and you want to find a good supplemental insurance plan (because Medicare is mediocre) with a good prescription drug coverage.  Old people take a lot of drugs.  I would like to take a lot of drugs to deal with my mother, but that is for another post.

The greatest resource I have found in dealing with the recent move of my parents from New York to Virginia was to hire an Elder Care Consultant.  Kate Caldwell www.ElderTreecare.com found an available location within my price for both my mom (who needs to have a studio apartment – no sharing) and my dad (who needs to be in a secure Alzheimer’s unit) and she even negotiated special rates for me.  She’s virtual so I have never met her yet…but I love her.  And, the whole consultancy cost me less than $500.  My parents haven’t cost me less than $500 in a decade.

Take control of the situation.  It is true that there is a point when you become the parent and your parent the child.  Deal with it.  Don’t pretend it isn’t happening.  And like all good parents set the tone.  Remember how your parents made you have a strict curfew on Saturday night when all the cool kids didn’t have to call home at 11 to ask permission to stay out?  Remember how your mother didn’t buy you the toe shoes that you always wanted in the sixth grade (shout out to my gal Sal)?  I am not saying you should hold those minor acts of parental stridency against them now that they are unable to defend themselves, but I am saying be strong.  No guilt.  Guilt – as my exceptionally guilt ridden best friend often reminds me – is a waste of time.

You can not allow the perpetual needs of your unoccupied parents take over your life.  You will become that crazy person who yells at the neighborhood kids to stay off their lawn.  Instead, you need to establish a system and rely on your support system.  Simply, take care of yourself – before you keel over and no one is taking care of anyone.

So here I am…feeling like the soggy ham and cheese my kid plopped in the dog’s water bowl, writing blog posts to keep my sanity and remind myself of the great support network I have (paid and otherwise) and all of us can have with a bit of forethought and compassion.

Love my parents.  Adore my little girl.  Enjoy my life…except for being stuck as an adult.  Pass the pickles please.


Inaugural Muse

I hope everyone likes the new epiphany productions, inc. website.  Lots of thought and lots of hours went into making it something that all of us are excited to launch.  We hope that it gives you the pertinent information about our company as well as offers our clients, donors and friends new and interesting information to help make their jobs and lives a bit more fun.

To that, we have some cool features to the site that I hope keep people coming back to see what is happening at epiphany productions.  Hungry? The restaurant review will allow a bunch of our foodie friends to check out the dining scene here in DC as well as the places we host events throughout the country and the world.  Keep reading and inevitably you will find the perfect place for a cozy cocktail with a client or a banquet for 1,000.  Perhaps we will even have a regular feature on gardening as we plant the green roof on our new building next door.

The blog.  Well, after boring the staff relentlessly with my ramblings on the state of the world, or the state of fundraising at our weekly Tuesday meetings, we have decided to take it live to all of you!

I have a lot to say – about a lot of subjects.  Hopefully, I will also provide some guidance on those looking for quick fundraising tips or event strategies.  But, I have no doubt I will provide a running commentary on the craziness that is the world of politics, and I promise to be entertaining.

Scott Douglas, President of 3 Dog Consulting – our sister company, swears he will make his presence known with periodic movie reviews and color commentary on modern culture. Anyone who knows Scott knows it will be worth checking in on us regularly to make sure you are up to date with Scott’s unique turn of phrase and his download of daily gossip.  After awhile, you too might understand what he means in his clipped sentences and veiled obscure references to 1970’s B actors.

Additionally, I am excited about our staff profile and update section where we can periodically update you on the happenings of the epiphany productions team.  Of course, you won’t ever get updates or a profile onAaron Poe, as any one who knows him knows, he won’t let us.  Perhaps we will get an update on Howie the cat, but that’s as personal as he goes.

Our inaugural profile is about Jeramie Anderson – one of our newest staff people, but totally intriguing.  He is instrumental to the launch of the new site and the launch of our sister company – Comitatus Consulting.  Read about Jeramie and why he is the most likely of us to be on Dancing with the Stars!

Thank you for your interest in clicking on the site in the first place.  Like all of our donors and clients, I hope we keep you coming back – satisfied and looking for more!