Awesomeness in the World Karen


When strolling on the beach, it’s not uncommon to greet someone with a smile and be greeted in return with a smile. A word describing this kind of interaction is reciprocity.

Last week, I needed to focus and get some work done efficiently. Sometimes I get a bit of cabin fever because my office is in my home. I love working from home but, by the afternoon, I sometimes need to relocate to get those last few hours of work completed.

So I took my computer to a great local restaurant, Rimel’s Bar and Grill DelMar, which is walking distance from my home. I ordered a glass of wine paired with delicious calamari and ahi poke. I sat in the corner of their bar area and set up camp: laptop, notebook, pencil and… eraser (have to write in pencil. KT does a loooot of erasing…).

It was my first time visiting this restaurant. I’d been wanting to check it out. (I’ve only lived in the area for 6 months)

As I looked around, I see that I’m the only one working. Every guest was socializing and enjoying vibrant conversations. Great vibe. I was happy I chose this place.

In the mix of head down and fingers on the keyboard, I’d glance up on occasion to enjoy some people watching.

The server, at first, didn’t know what to think of me. She was polite and not accustomed to having someone with their laptop working in this fabulous dining facility.

I smiled. She half-way smiled. I asked her a few questions about her menu. She answered politely.

As the time went by, she’d check on me, ask me how the food was or if I needed anything else. Each time I warmly smiled, engaged her with friendly light-heartedness, and let her know I was appreciative of her service.

By the time I paid my bill, she had warmed up to me. Her smile matched mine. Her friendliness matched mine. Her comfortableness matched mine.

Reciprocity is a wonderful gift we can freely share with every human on this planet. It supersedes all language barriers, all cultures, all lifestyles; igniting environments of human-kindness.

What is your favorite way of expressing reciprocity? We will each have our own unique expression. Live yours every day.

– Karen Thrall

*also published on

Awesomeness in the World

The Power of a Compliment

I got the nicest compliment yesterday. A woman I worked with said she though I was awesome and that being around me made her want to be a better person. Wow. Her words floored me. It was incredibly kind, and I was overwhelmed with the sentiment. I value her opinion and this sort of comment coming from her absolutely made my day.

I share this not because I want you to know how awesome she thinks I am, but because I am once again reminded of the power of our words. She took 30 seconds out of her day to extend our email conversation and let me know she appreciated me, and it changed my whole outlook. 30 seconds of appreciation. It can be that simple to alter someone’s day. Sure, there are lots more elaborate ways of showing someone we appreciate them, but it doesn’t have to be so grand. It’s easy to skip that step and assume people know we think they’re awesome. But even if they do, who doesn’t like to hear it every now and again?

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

30 seconds of your life won’t win the battle for anyone, but a reminder of awesomeness is a powerful weapon in any battle. Who can you share 30 seconds with today to let them know how much you appreciate them?

Awesomeness in the World Melissa

Are You Having a Good Time?

From a New York Times essay titled “The Myth of Quality Time” by Frank Bruni:

“People tend not to operate on cue,” Bruni writes. “At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones.”

This line was referenced on the NYTimes homepage as a lead to the greater essay. It resonated with me instantly. I get along wonderfully with my parents and siblings. I’m always a little shocked when I find out friends don’t communicate with a sibling who is only a few years older or younger. However, when scheduled family times approach on the calendar for upcoming weekends, or worse, holidays, I find myself dreading this time. I panic a little. I wonder where we are going to eat, will the restaurant have food my mother likes (she’s vegan), will they have beer that my stepdad likes (only stouts these days), what will I put on the itinerary (what if they hate it), and how many times will we be insincere. We’re tough on each other, but we all bruise easily. The phrase “you can dish it, but you can’t take it” should be our family motto. I certainly heard it enough growing up.

I love the suggestion that “…our moods and emotions [don’t work on cue].” I’m persistently anxious when my parents are in town. I ask them if they are having a good time upwards of 5 times a day. And I know that must be obnoxious, but I just want to make sure they are happy, when, in reality, I’m making everyone stand on their tiptoes to force a good time.

I need to think of ways that are more spontaneous to show them how much I love them – more than mundane texts, and more than the weekly phone call. I need to ask them about their days, their passions, and what they want to accomplish in the next year. I need to surprise visit them on a weekend that is very much unplanned. I need to finally ask my sister why her nickname for me is Regina.

Back to Bruni. I wrote the above paragraphs before reading the essay. Now, having read it, I encourage you to read it as well but if you’re short on time below is my favorite excerpt:

“With a more expansive stretch, there’s a better chance that I’ll be around at the precise, random moment when one of my nephews drops his guard and solicits my advice about something private. Or when one of my nieces will need someone other than her parents to tell her that she’s smart and beautiful. Or when one of my siblings will flash back on an incident from our childhood that makes us laugh uncontrollably, and suddenly the cozy, happy chain of our love is cinched that much tighter.”

– Melissa Grant


Sometimes You Just Feel Tired

‘Cause sometimes you just feel tired,
Feel weak, and when you feel weak, you feel like you wanna just give up.
But you gotta search within you, you gotta find that inner strength
And just pull that shit out of you and get that motivation to not give up
And not be a quitter, no matter how bad you wanna just fall flat on your face and collapse.

These are the lyrics to one of my new favorite jams, Eminem’s ‘Till I Collapse. It’s from his 2002 album, The Eminem Show, but it’s new to me more than a decade later. When Eminem first came on the scene, I liked some of his stuff, but wasn’t impressed with how much specific graphic violence showed up in some of his lyrics. I took a break from anything that I didn’t hear on the radio, but since the release of Recovery a few years ago, I’ve given his music another chance. This particular song was on at my boxing gym a few weeks ago and it’s become a new go-to to get me up and running, whether it’s for a workout, a little mid-day pep talk or just to get going in the morning at the end of a long week.

What’s your go-to pep talk jam?

Melissa New Friends

Introducing Melissa Grant

I’m so impressed by this woman. Melissa is the definition of wise beyond her years. Like most of us, she’s figuring out her way in the world, but is doing so in a way that makes me think there’s an amazing soundtrack playing in her head. She’s caring, positive and taking in everything around her. She has an amazing ability to prioritize the million things coming at her and get her business handled – and I mean handled. If you ask her to do it, it’s done, and that seems to be an increasingly rare quality these days. I met Melissa a little more than a year ago, and one of the things that first drew me to her was her desire to help people. She and I share a passion for outstanding customer service and delight in the ability to meet a need and go the extra mile. Whether it’s a design client or someone looking for that perfect outfit, Melissa will make sure you are well taken care of. I’m thrilled she’s open to sharing her musings with us here in our Creative Community, and I can’t wait for us to get a glimpse into her world.

Melissa Grant (Malbec and ukulele not pictured)

Hi! I’m Melissa, nice to meet you. I am delighted to be here and to get a chance to share a few of things that cross my consciousness every week.

I’m a designer at The American Institute of Architects (where I met Catherine and Ashley!) and I’m a part-time sales associate at Anthropologie. Since moving to DC in 2013, I’ve found new homes and new friends, eaten my weight in happy hour appetizers, watched friends fall, (and have fallen myself). I’ve teetered and tottered, failed, and taken flight. I’ve learned (and am still learning) to embrace the discomfort and uncertainty of growing up. I’ve gotten better at learning my character flaws and not so much better at fixing them but I’m trying! Overall, it’s been an exciting, albeit-scary-but-mostly-happy journey.

I’m looking forward to telling stories here, posting a little about art and other curiosities, but mostly, I’m looking forward to being honest, to getting things out of my head, and to sharing.

On a personal note:

Star sign / Taurus

Personality characteristics / Optimistic, superstitious, silly

Current hobbies / Playing the ukulele and taking German I at George Washington University

Drink of choice / Malbec (in the evening of course)

I’m so glad I’m here. Thank you for reading.

– Melissa Grant

Awesomeness in the World

Don’t Worry – The Universe Has Your Back

They say it’s a small world, and they’re usually right. I was reminded of this a couple weeks ago when a newer friend of mine came over to our house for dinner. I’ve known her for about a year and she’s one of those people you instantly adore. She lives in Boston, but is in DC every 4-6 weeks to come into her office here and touch base, and I thought she might like a home-cooked meal rather than another dinner out (my husband’s cooking – let’s be clear. I’m pretty skilled at ordering in.). Plus, we could take our time and linger rather than being rushed after dinner.

While we were settling into dinner, my friend and my husband were getting to know each other. As we talked, my husband was surprised that my friend had heard of his relatively small(ish) association and it turns out she had interviewed there a few years ago. As they kept talking, they realized they worked in the same area and eventually worked back to the fact that my husband had interviewed my friend three years ago. Not only had he interviewed her, he had offered her the job at the same time she was offered her current job. Clearly, she turned down the job with my husband and started working where I met her a year ago. It had been several years ago and they were both our of context (a job interview vs. a friendly dinner at our home), but it was a hilarious discovery. I remembered my husband talking about this woman who was terrific, but probably overqualified and he was worried she would take the offer she’d been given. He was obviously right to worry, but his judgement of her character and abilities were spot on – I can attest to that now on this end of things. Fortunately, both my husband and my friend are class acts and even though they didn’t end up working together, they parted on good terms. Talk about something that could have been an awkward situation…

As we were laughing about how small the world is (repeatedly – it really was funny), my friend said “Obviously the universe had big plans for us, and our paths were going to cross one way or another.” And she was absolutely right. I know most of the people on my husband’s staff and he knows lots of the people with whom I work, so I believe we would have met and become friends one way or another. So often, the people who come into our lives can seem random and haphazard. My husband and I often talk about how curious it is that our paths crossed how they did and when they did. While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that everything happens for a reason, experiences like this do make me think that the universe might have my back. And that’s not a bad feeling at all.

Book Reports

Modern Romance (and Our Old Friend, Choice!)

I just finished Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance. As a devoted Parks and Recreation fan, it was on my must-read list and it definitely didn’t disappoint. He looks at our approaches to dating through the lens of modern technology, and while I’m not currently in the dating pool, I still recognized myself in lots of what he was talking about. Of course you would expect Ansari’s fantastic sense of humor to be prevalent throughout the book (and it certainly is), but I wasn’t prepared for all the research and science he uses to inform his thinking and back up his observations.

I wrote about choices last month and the difficulty I have with options. It turns out I’m not alone (not too shocking, I suppose). Ansari’s writes:

Barry Schwartz is a professor of psychology at Swarthmore College who has spent much of his career studying the annoying problems that come from have an abundance of options. Schwartz’s research, and a considerable amount of scholarship from other social scientists too, shows that when we have more options, we are actually less satisfied and sometimes even have a harder time making a choice at all.

Ansari then goes on to talk about the concepts of “maximizer” and “satisficer” which are the ways we deal with all these options (both of which were new to me, but apparently not the rest of the world…or so my husband tells me). A maximizer is someone who wants to seeks out the best of all the options available and a satisficer (a combination of satisfy and suffice) will be happy with something that’s good enough. And we can be both of these types of people, depending on the situation. Ansari points out the trouble we have today with all the different ways we can meet and select people thanks to technology, but these ways of dealing with all choices rang true to me in other areas of my life as well.

For instance, I love to try new restaurants, but usually when someone else is making the decision. I’m too overwhelmed by all the options and the important thing to me is the company, so I’m pretty willing to go someplace that’s good enough. But having said that, I am a karaoke maximizer. There is no “good enough” experience. You either play to win and bring the house down or you don’t go at all. I am constantly on the look out for the best karaoke song for the situation (and ballads are always a no-go. Sorry, Celine Dion. She’s great, but no one wants to hear that out at a karaoke bar. You’re welcome, world.)

There are only so many hours in the day and so much brain space we have to give, so we’ve got to decide where we want to maximize and where we want to satisfice. I’m glad I chose to spend my time on Modern Romance. In addition to my new vocabulary word, I definitely laughed out loud at some of the text message exchanges Ansari found in his focus groups and stand up acts. Those alone are make the book worth the time.

Ashley Awesomeness in the World

History of 100 Years

A few weeks ago, I ventured back to my home state of Indiana to celebrate my great grandma Lela Barber’s 100th birthday. While she doesn’t actually turn 100 until November, July seemed like the perfect month to corral a huge family that’s spread across several states. The celebration was a huge success, if you don’t count the suffocating heat and humidity…but who am I to complain? My great grandma dealt with that business like a champ.

Her milestone has made me stop and think about a lot of things. In her card, I thanked her for the years of beauty and laughter she’s brought to the world. What I couldn’t write in her card was “my goodness, how did you do it all these years?!” I know some of the truth; she’s a tough, no-nonsense lady. She was once a lunch lady at the local school and she tells stories about former students approaching her every now and then. They share memories they have of her and she says to all of us, “Ohhh I can’t remember those kids from Adam! I was busy doing my job.”

She’s sharp as a tack at nearly 100 years – I walked into the party, she hugged me and said “Hi Ashley!” followed by a sarcastic “It is ‘Ashley,’ right?” I wonder where she’s found the strength to face the changes that have defined her lifetime. I wish I could know how she’s managed to remember all the history she’s accumulated – the names of her kids, grandkids, great grandkids, the birthdays, this first steps, the anniversaries…all of the milestones.

She wasn’t able to travel the two hours north for my wedding several years ago so she instead wrote a letter about what she remembered about the day my dad first met me as an infant. Man, oh man, was that a tear-jerker. My mom had me when she was pretty young, and, at the time of my birth, my dad was in South Dakota with the Air Force. From what my mom says, my great grandma’s depiction of that day and experience was pretty spot on. Last year, as the city of Washington, Indiana, was preparing to celebrate their annual Rail Fest, she called the local newspaper to tell stories of the railroad’s economic success in the city, lest anyone forget. I love how she carries all this knowledge with her, and continues to share it with anyone who will listen.

I think what I admire most is how she’s maintained what can only be called sanity, for nearly 100 years. Most of the time, I end my day stressing about what I couldn’t change around me, and wondering if tomorrow truly holds all the answers. And then I remember I should be relishing in all of these small moments, saving them for a great letter to my future great grandchild. Lela is my mother’s fraternal grandmother, and while on this side of my family, longevity is notable (Lela’s husband, my great grandpa Barber, lived to be 96), in other lineage, there is a strong history of Alzheimer’s and dementia. My joke is that it’s likely I’ll live to 90 plus, but I might not know my name for the last 30 years of my life. With that in mind, this milestone celebration for my family has encouraged me to fight for every memory I make, and to keep writing…I might have to share a good piece of forgotten DC history with the Washington Post one day, if I can just remember it…

– Ashley Respecki

How to be Awesome Jams Libby

Inappropriate Children’s Songs

Every parent finds themselves uncomfortable with a song their child has heard or gravitated to…they can be a source of questions that are particularly difficult and embarrassing to answer. I am no different, but here is a list of songs that my seven year old son has either misheard or misinterpreted the lyrics. Try listening to them with an alternative take in mind…you’ll get a giggle!

  1. Another One Bites the Dust [Queen] Okay, so I don’t know for sure, but believe this song is about gang riots or something…really not appropriate for a kid, but try not laughing when he earnestly sings “Another One Busts the Dust.” A vacuum cleaner is something we really don’t celebrate enough, right?
  2. Sugar [Maroon Five] The innuendo in this song is ridiculously inappropriate for children, but the literal ode to sweetener is totally appropriate for a seven year old. It’s a true love, a pure love. Delicious.
  3. TNT [AC/DC] This is another song that has a level of innuendo that is difficult even for adults to embrace (!), but when Joey sings it, it becomes a personal power anthem. Power is something that a kid has very little of, so having a way to articulate it is an awesome thing to watch.
  4. Seven Nation Army [White Stripes] Joey is learning how to play the guitar and this is his go-to song. Honestly, I’m not sure what the song is about (other than it is a play on the Salvation Army), but I don’t really care. Why? Because Joey has no idea what the words are and what it means – all I know is that he loves to sing it when playing the guitar and that it’s adorable. And on top of that, he has written out the lyrics for when he and his eight year old cousin form their band this summerLibby Post
  5. You Can’t Always Get What You Want [Rolling Stones] I love it when Joey says, “Mom! This is my theme song!” We have used this as a mantra to avoid temper tantrums when he was little, and now he’ll actually ask us for what he might “need” if he can’t get what he wants. Rockin’ AND effective!

– Libby Bingham

On the Job

Celebrating: It’s Serious Work

Last Friday, I was fortunate enough to be part of an amazing team celebration. This is a group I’ve been facilitating and they’ve accomplished some amazing work over the past year. It’s a smallish team of a dozen or so folks who have worked closely together on beginning to shift their organizational culture. And I say beginning not because they weren’t effective or didn’t finish what they started, but because culture work is a long, long, long road (did I mention it’s a long process?). It was a great group, though that’s not to say we didn’t have our bumps and bruises along the way. Culture gets to the very thing we all hold near and dear – our values. And conversations about our values and what we value in the world are incredibly personal. They can’t be anything else, especially if they’re honest. But through those bumps and bruises, this team got to know one another in a way that they hadn’t had the chance to before. The result was incredible – a high-performing team who worked made significant progress and genuinely enjoyed each other.

When it came time for us to wrap up our work together, we had a couple things we needed to do. One, we wanted to review our work from the past year and make sure we’re setting up the next iteration of the team for success. Two, we wanted to take stock of exactly what we had accomplished and the impact it had. Often times, you can’t see the progress you’ve made while you’re in the middle of it, but once you stop to look back as see how far you’ve come, it’s incredible. And finally, in the middle of sharing advice and taking a look at what we’d done, we really needed to celebrate. I believe celebrating is both the most important component to a team’s progress and the most often overlooked step. And with this team, it was simple. The team really valued each other, which made planning the celebration easy.

We had a more formal wrap-up meeting the office, but then we got off campus for a good ol’ fashioned happy hour celebration. While happy hour is usually fun, this one was special. This was a group of people who were not just willing, but excited, to spend their Friday night together. After a long week in the office, this team valued each other so much that once the work week was officially done, they still chose to spend their time together.And that’s amazing to me. I feel honored to have been a part of this team and they’ll always have a special place in my heart for that very reason.

Celebrations don’t have to be big and elaborate to be meaningful. Celebrating can be a hand-written note, a cup of coffee, a small gathering of friends or an end of the week happy hour. What’s most important is that you make the time for that celebration, whatever it may be. What do you need to celebrate today?