Favorite Room Friday: Chango & Co.

Chango & Co. One of the many…many…MANY interior design accounts I follow on Instagram and one of my absolute favs.

Generally speaking I love their sort of modern-Hamptons vibe. (Though they are based in Brooklyn so I don’t know why I often feel that when I see their work). The words that always come to mind when viewing their work are “bright” and “fresh” and “contrast.”

You’ll see in the two examples below that even though these spaces would likely get forgotten in a lot of homes, Chango & Co worked to bring high style even to the hallway nooks and crannies in these projects.

The Printing House Maisonette

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Photo by Raquel Langworthy

What don’t I love about this? Absolutely nothing. But aside from the color scheme (I will never, ever get enough black + white + natural elements) the thing that I perhaps love the most is the wall feature. This is just a little hallway nook! But the natural wood art installation is scaled perfectly for the space and climbs the surface giving both warmth to the stark white walls and also drawing up your eye so you really notice the height of the ceilings.

Rumson New Modern

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Photo by Raquel Langworthy

Once again…stunned by the detail in this oft-forgotten under-stairs area. Most people close it off, add a door, and call it storage. But here it’s stylish place to put on shoes, have a private conversation, or for a kid to sneak away from a fancy adult dinner to read in peace. (Or…was that just my childhood?) Whatever the case–the two main juxtapositions: the formal board and batten wall treatment plus the graphic almost tribal art and then the raw wood benches over the inlaid, darker-wood floor make for tons of visual interest even with such a simple color palette.

So now you’ve seen them both–which was your favorite?

5 steps to becoming a voicemail ninja

As a person who used to be one of the main call centers for an entire school of music, let me just tell you…very few people know how to leave professional voicemails.

Now I know, I know–it’s an email/text world out there. You’re right. But we still need to call doctor’s offices, warehouses, venues, etc. on occasion. Why not add to your overall aura of awesomeness with great phone skills?

In today’s post we’re going to start with a typical, but not-so-great voicemail message example. Next we’ll go through the 5 basic components of a great voicemail. Then we’ll end with the original message amended.

Before you enrolled in the Ninja Academy for Voicemail Studies

Uh…hi. Okay…I didn’t think I’d be leaving a message. Let’s see–my name is Amy and…uh…I’m looking to…well I got a prescription for…I think it’s called a coffee IV?…I don’t know it’s this thing where I can essentially just shoot caffeine directly into my bloodstream….So anyway…wow this is a long message. Sorry. Where was I? Oh right. So I had some questions and if someone could call me back that would be great. Oh–and my number is 5555555.

So…not great. Pretty rambling. I don’t even get to my name until the third sentence and since my name said quietly or quickly can sound like anything from “Jamie” to “Mary” that’s not awesome. Plus I only say my number once. At the end. Very fast.

How do I fix it? Let’s get our ninja on by learning about the components of a superior voicemail:

  1. It starts with your name and number. Yup. You heard me. It starts with your name AND your number. Many of us have that sweet, sweet fast-forward-able voicemail now where you can find the spot with the phone number in moments, but the reality is that many companies’ systems aren’t that sophisticated. This means that the person receiving these messages needs to listen to your interminable voicemail again and again to get to the end where you quickly ran through your phone number as an afterthought. Put it in the beginning so it’s there as soon as they hit “repeat message.”
  2. No long-ass messages! STOP IT! This is not the time to be waxing philosophical about the nature of clarinet reeds or pharmaceuticals or bike repair specifics! Know what you’re calling for ahead of time. Be prepared to leave a message at the outset. Your name, your number, and a BRIEF description of why you’re calling. (Always leave them wanting more…)
  3. Not so fast. Speak clearly and at a pace akin to giving a presentation, not chatting to your best friend. You want the voicemail to be brief, but not so fast that no one can understand you.
  4. Minimize outside noise. While this can’t always be avoided, I also can’t tell you the number of times that a voicemail has been rendered completely useless by the sound of wind or traffic overriding the voice of the person actually calling. If at all possible, try to get to a spot where the call will not be dropped or interrupted before leaving a message.
  5. Finish your phone call with your name and your number. It’s possible that someone was waiting with baited breath for you to state your name and number at the outset of your message, but didn’t quite get the whole number. Surprise them with your amazing voicemail skills by stating both again at the end of your [short but informative] message so that they never have to hit repeat on your call.

Upon graduating from Ninja Academy in Voicemail Studies

Hello. My name is Amy Mertz. My number is 555-555-5555. I’m calling because I have some questions about how to hook up the Ultimate Coffee IV 5000 directly into my bloodstream. When I picked it up at the pharmacy they had different instructions than I received at the office. If you could call me back at your earliest convenience I would really appreciate it. Again, this is Amy Mertz at 555-555-5555 and I’m calling regarding the Ultimate Coffee IV 5000. Have a lovely day!

It’s short. It’s sweet. It’s to the point. And someone really is going to call me back at their earliest convenience because I made it so convenient for them to do so. I can go about my day confident that I am just minutes away from becoming a coffee-human hybrid (which is pretty much the dream).

shallow focus photography of a woman in green top wearing white coat
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Snapshot: Chicago

Imagine, for a moment, that you’re headed to a new city for an overnight. What do you need to know before you arrive? Where to stay, where to eat, where to grab a cup of coffee, and maybe even something cool to do.

So as a photographer, a lover of travel, food, and coffee and also a believer in brevity–I thought “Snapshot” was a great term to solve all of those dilemmas.

In this semi-regular series I’ll attempt to address each of those items to give you a starting point in a new place.

Please note that this is hardly a comprehensive list of what to do in Chicago–and if you have your own recommendations please share them so that I can let others know! But without further ado…

But I’m le tired – The Palmer House Hilton

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Photo from the Palmer House Hilton’s website

The original Palmer House that now houses the Palmer House Hilton was purchased as a wedding gift for Bertha Palmer and is supposedly where brownies were invented so how could you go wrong? But even if you’re not into brownies (but you are…right?) this magnificent hotel in the heart of downtown Chicago is a great place to stay. Amazing location, friendly staff, plenty of places to grab a cocktail, tons of history but also all the amenities of the Hilton brand.

I’m famished – Mastro’s Steakhouse Chicago

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Photo from their website

While Mastro’s is technically a chain, there are only nine locations in the country so it’s still worth a visit. The steak is incredible–the bread basket is unique–but the three things they are really known for are their cocktails, their Seafood Towers, and their Warm Butter Cake (and if you don’t leave room for this last one you are a crazy person).

Coffee, please – Goddess and the Baker

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Photo from their website

The Goddess and the Baker on S Wabash is one of my favorite places for a million reasons. For one, I always seem to be in Chicago when it’s freakin’ freezing and the idea of a warm beverage is on my mind every second of the day. Additionally, I would even drink coffee that was complete crap because the design of this place just calls to me. Luckily though–the coffee is not crap–it’s delicious. But if you’re not into coffee (how are we friends?) but are into chocolate (oh okay, that’s why) then try the Liquid Chocolate–a warm, rich, gooey concoction that will send your endorphin levels into overdrive. I especially like the Hot Mama Elixer which is just a tiny bit spicy too!

Entertain me! – The Art Institute

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Photo from their website

I could hardly do a Snapshot of Chicago without including the Art Institute. It’s been one of Trip Advisor’s Top Museums in the World for five years in a row. It has both stunning regular collections and an eclectic mix of visiting exhibitions. Plus, if you’ve ever seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and wondered about that pointillistic painting he stares at–well this is it’s home!

Favorite Room Friday: Sarah Richardson

Something that I have always admired about Sarah Richardson’s designs is how she considers the functionality of a space–not just its aesthetics. If she’s designing a mudroom she’s likely calculated in the color and consistency of dried mud before choosing her flooring. If it’s a kitchen, the floor plan has to be the most effective for cooking and entertaining.

But today I’ve chosen two of her dining rooms for no other reason than–though they are really not my style I still think they are utter perfection.

The Red Dining Room

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Photo: Stacey Brandford

Red is not really a go-to color of mine. If I’m going to shop in the red department–I’m probably going to go cranberry. But there is no denying that the red here, coupled with all of the white and the oversized art trimmed in black, is on point. I think one of the reasons why it works so well is the sheer variety–there’s polka dot on the back of the chair, some kind of floral on the front, the lacquer-like finish on the eclectic mix of wooden chairs, the almost Scandinavian print on the bowls–there’s so much of it and yet it’s not overpowering because it’s been balanced with the grey stained woods, white walls, and monochromatic chandelier.

Sarah’s Rental Living-Dining

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Photo: Stacey Brandford

It was the first long weekend of summer, and we were out for a boat ride when we passed a dock with a For Sale sign on it. Alexander suggested we look at it. I figured that since we have a cottage, it would be of no interest, but his thinking was that they aren’t making any more islands, and so a rental property is a sound investment. My colleagues at HGTV thought the adventure of turning a recreational property into an investment property would make entertaining TV, and before I knew it, we were documenting our DIY adventure of fixing up a remote 1950s island cottage on the open water of Georgian Bay before the sun set on summer. -Sarah Richardson

I’m not sure that this series actually aired in the U.S. (I have a preference on my TiVo that essentially says “If the words ‘Sarah Richardson’ are in the description I want you to record this!” and I didn’t get it). But if it had I would have been going crazy over this dining table.

Again, not actually my style–but I love the idea of a little cottage having a dining room built around these birch legs. I love, love, love, natural elements in design to break up the harder edges and this table does not disappoint. The painted floor is also amazing and I will never turn down a black accent like the dipped ends of those dining chairs. Plus–the view? I mean, come on!

World Mental Health Day 2018

I absolutely detest talking about my mental health journey and I’m not entirely sure why.

Maybe it’s because I know where some of my own disorders stem from and I don’t like to think about that.

Maybe because one of the things I deal with causes intense self-analysis and emotional sensitivity and I’ve tried so, so hard to “toughen up” in my life.

Whatever the reason, I almost didn’t write this post. In fact, I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t advertised that it was coming your way. But I’m going to do it the pretblog way–as accurate information as possible, as succinctly as possible.

On a daily basis I am juggling three main ingredients in my mental health cocktail: an anxiety disorder, ADD, and Emotional Overexcitability (Emotional OE).


Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms. -Medical News Today

My own experience with anxiety started a long time ago. I was in elementary school. We were driving either to or from piano lessons and there was a cassette tape (yup…that’s how old I am) of Miss Saigon playing. All of a sudden–out of nowhere–I felt this pressure in my chest and my heart started to race. I felt like if the music wasn’t turned off–I might die.

Can I say that again? Because I think it really illustrates the difference between every day anxieties like worrying about the fallout from embarrassing yourself in public or wondering if you’ll be able to pay a bill–and an actual anxiety disorder.

In elementary school I thought I might die if Miss Saigon didn’t stop playing.

Yeah, yeah…I’m sure there’s a joke in there somewhere. But while there were events in my life that, according to a psychologist, caused me to have an anxiety disorder–the actual disorder has…no order! There was no reason for me to feel the way I did in the car that day–I’d listened to Miss Saigon plenty of times before!

I’ve gotten panic attacks most of my life and in 2010 I was actually removed from work for a couple of weeks after one that I couldn’t control. It lasted almost 2 days, I couldn’t sleep, didn’t want to eat, and I was so tense that I lost all feeling in my left arm. It was awful. I was put on medication and spent a lot of time in therapy with that one.

But even though I still deal with it daily (just yesterday I had to talk myself down from a panic attack in the car on the way to work) anxiety doesn’t rule my life. I work on coping mechanisms and understanding every day. Sometimes it wins…but I win more.


ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder is a developmental disorder marked by persistent symptoms of inattention (such as distractibility, forgetfulness, or disorganization) that is not caused by any serious underlying physical or mental disorder…ADD may persist into adulthood, creating difficulties in one’s occupation or social relationships. -Merriam Webster Online

I was only diagnosed with this a few years ago, but I wasn’t surprised. When I was a kid it took me FOREVER to do my work. I was so slow that I often had to stay in from recess to get it done–which was a poor plan on my teacher’s part because I didn’t need anyone else to distract me. My imagination was sufficient and I almost never finished my assignments then either.

In my current life it affects me the most in one of two ways:

  1. I am terrible at prioritizing tasks. My brain is firing on all cylinders all the time and every single thought feels as important as the last. I am only one person–but there are at least 25 things that I feel strongly I should be doing at this moment. The good news is that I am so exhausted from the tug-of-war going on in my head every day that I usually sleep pretty well.
  2. I am suddenly somewhere else. It is not uncommon for me to be at my computer, and suddenly find myself in the basement with an armful of laundry thinking, “Wait…how did I get here?” When I really think about it I can follow the breadcrumbs back through many, many thoughts that ended with me downstairs–but this kind of thing can make it immensely difficult to stay on track.

But even though I deal with it daily–ADD doesn’t rule my life. It makes my brain feel like Harry Potter trying to catch the winged-key at the end of Sorcerer’s Stone–singling out that one flying thought amongst hundreds of others–but I research ways of staying as organized as possible and I work on helping myself every day. Sometimes it wins…but I win more.


The last, and perhaps most important of the overexcitabilities is Emotional OE–the capacity for emotional depth, attachment to people and animals, intensity, sensitivity, empathy, self-criticism, inhibition, fears, guilt and anxiety. These extraordinary levels of sensitivity do not disappear with age. Gifted adults retain their emotionality and are often perceived as “too sensitive” by others around them. -Handout from a former therapist

The same woman who diagnosed me with ADD also identified this–and I hadn’t ever even heard of it. The definition above is just a portion of a larger text–and when I read the whole thing I cried.

There is a photo of me as a little girl hanging in our dining room and when I look at it I think to myself, “I don’t even know who she is.” That little girl had no coping mechanisms for the things she felt. I was so, so sensitive.

My mother used to tell me, “We have to toughen you up!” She was afraid the world would destroy me.

Since I don’t recognize the girl in the photo–I guess it did, a little. So I cried.

But while I have struggled and (mostly) succeeded to “toughen up” there are some other parts of Emotional OE that I struggle with incessantly. Intensive self-analysis, self-criticism, and the inability to recognize that I have limits are my constant companions. I speak to myself in ways that I would never, ever speak to anyone else.

But even though I deal with it daily–Emotional OE doesn’t rule my life. It’s actually a bit of a double-edged sword. I think that it allows me to feel another person’s burdens more deeply and empathetically–which I think my friends appreciate. And the self-analysis is not just limited to me–it’s like an analysis superpower. I am a wicked brainstormer/problem solver. Sometimes Emotional OE wins…but I win more.

Mental disorders do not usually have quick fixes. And you may need to just learn how to live with what you deal with, as I have. But they are real and they are just as important to act upon as a broken bone. If you identify with anything above or have some other overwhelming thoughts or feelings–contact your General Practitioner or ask a friend for the name of a therapist. You’re not alone. You can get through this. You can recycle your heart.

Turn your demons into art, your shadow into a friend, your fear into fuel, your failures into teachers, your weaknesses into reasons to keep fighting. Don’t waste your pain. Recycle your heart. – Andrea Balt




Adventure Photography: Elizabeth Gadd

There are two kinds of accounts I will almost never refuse to follow on Instagram: interior designers, and adventure photographers.

Enter, Elizabeth Gadd, the latter, whose photos leave me speechless.

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Actually, I feel a lot of emotions when I see this photo. First–an almost palpable tug to go to this place (The Isle of Skye in Scotland). Honestly–it is such a strong feeling that if I was childless I would already be on the plane.

Second–I have such a deep appreciation for the photograph and the editing itself. The red dress was such a perfect choice against the grey sky, the blackness of The Storr and the coppery scrub grass underfoot. It looks like a dream, or a scene out of novel but that’s really her. She’s really there.

If you also can’t get enough of adventure photography I highly recommend you check her out. Her website is gorgeous but her Instagram account (@elizabethgadd) is my favorite. This photo in particular has a hilarious caption, and her stories document her adventures along with her friends and her trusty side-pup, Pepper.


The Vent: Majorly Micromanaged

I’ve been working in the non-profit world for many years and in many different roles. Never before have I worked with a manager who wants to be involved in everything! She works in a different building from me and my direct report, and yet she wants to know what we are doing every hour of the day. Perhaps that sounds responsible, or reasonable, or that she just wants to give support. But that is simply not the case.

The team I work with is a strong, powerful, and intelligent team that gets work done, innovates where possible and does anything our office needs. But since this manager took office, she schedules multiple meetings a day (without preparing for them), questions systems that are working well and often changes portions of these systems without telling the entire team. It has created tension and stress and has in fact, decreased out productivity, innovation and motivation. How do you handle someone who micromanages? Is it that she doesn’t have faith in our work, or that she doesn’t trust us or that she doesn’t understand what we are doing?

To be fair, she is better than an old supervisor who required a pre-shift AND post-shift report on projects and reports–in addition to weekly team meetings AND weekly one-on-one meetings.

…being micromanaged is one of my biggest pet peeves. Just let me do my job!!! Check in when you need to but trust that we know what we are doing. It’s worse on my direct report’s end than with me. But still. Non-profit world is weird. But always fun and/or interesting!

-Majorly Micromanaged

Favorite Room Friday: Rachel Reider

Welcome to a new series on the blog–Favorite Room Friday!

The basic concept is this: I post two rooms–explain why I love them–and then I ask which is your favorite!

This week (and probably other weeks too, let’s be honest) we’re visiting my favorite designer, Rachel Reider. She’s based in Boston and even though I am a black-and-white girl through and through–I am obsessed with her use of color, texture, and unexpected and unique elements in her designs. Below you’ll find two bedrooms from her portfolio that I absolutely adore.

Room #1 – Beachfront bedroom in Truro, MA

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Photo by Michael Partenio

I am just crazy for that wallpaper and I’m going to bet that even though the oversized bulb in the sconce is exposed it doesn’t blind you every time it goes on. The headboard is fantastic and echoes the linear rhythm that’s been set up with the wallpaper, the duvet, and on the vase. Plus, I love the ocean and the entire scene just screams “beach” to me.

Room #2 – Suburban Sanctuary in Wellesley, MA

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Photo by Michael Partenio

Has a bed ever looked more inviting? I mean really. I love how the room has such visual interest in the curtains, pillows, and artwork but the overall feel is still so peaceful and soothing. If there was room on either side of my bed for a side table–I would definitely take a second look at the one in this photo. I have a rule about bedside tables and that is–they must have at least one drawer! Who among us doesn’t have 10,000 hand creams or whatever that needs to get tucked away?

So now that you’ve seen these two fabulous rooms, tell me–which is your favorite?

The remarkably freeing concept of garbage copy

First–someone really needs to help me with SEO because I am the world’s worst blog post titler.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Second–if you have ever struggled with writing a memo, a cover letter, a sample essay, or a term paper–let me tell you about the remarkably freeing concept of garbage copy.

The term “copy” refers to pretty much anything you write. When I put together a digital ad campaign at my last job–I was writing copy. When I update my website–I’m writing copy. When you are sitting in front of a blank screen watching the single vertical line flash over and over and over…you are procrastinating (writing copy).

The vast majority of us need to do at least some composing for our lives or jobs, but we’re not all experts at copy writing. At least not at first. But because most humans are built with this annoying habit of assuming everyone else is better than us at everything–we’re already embarrassed by how bad our first attempt is going to be before we get anything down on paper. Which makes it hard to write. Hence the blank page.

And so I introduce the concept of “garbage copy.” The next time you are stuck and you don’t know what to write I want you to type the words “GARBAGE COPY” at the top of the page, hit return, and then literally write anything about the topic underneath. It can be bad. It can get worse. It can spiral into an infinite abyss of terribleness. You know why? Because it’s called GARBAGE COPY!

So…are you type, type, typing away? Terrific. Is it awful? Totally fine. Keep going. Because a miraculous thing is going to happen any second now…

After a few minutes you may find that you actually had one kind of good thought! Or maybe it was a series of sentences strung together that were not half bad. And when you get some of those…I want you to move them up above the words “GARBAGE COPY” and start working from there.

The act of writing helps you to write. It’s that simple. And giving yourself permission to write complete trash is a good way to free up all those crazy human instincts that make you think everyone else is amazing and you are a complete failure.




The new pretblog


A couple of months ago I reached out to you all via Facebook and Instagram and asked what you’d like to hear more about and if I’m honest–I was a little surprised by the response. I assumed you’d say things like, “resume tips” or “how to change careers” and some of you did say that. But you also said things like, “your travels,” and “interior design inspiration” and “Clark.”

I’ll admit–I had to take a little time to process it. Those things that people were apparently tuning in for were just…my life. It really hadn’t occurred to me that it might be of any particular interest.

But the more I thought about it (and talked to people in-depth) the more I thought about the following quote,

“Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there’ll always be better writers than you and there’ll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that – but you are the only you.” Neil Gaiman

So I went back to the drawing board and am really, REALLY excited about the new pretblog. I hope it’s all that you wanted and more–I’ve certainly had a good time putting it together.

In the coming weeks and months here are a few things you should expect:

  • Blog posts on career advice, but also design, travel, parenthood, and just life in general.
  • A monthly travel vlog with my amazing niece Emily–a 13 year old polyglot who has traveled more in her life than many adults I know.
  • A semi-regular series called “The Vent” that allows contributors to anonymously get out some of their work frustrations through writing (and by extension–show us all how EVERYONE deals with crazy/annoying stuff at work).
  • Behind the scenes videos and photos of what it’s like to be an east coast girl living a midwest life with a professor-husband and bold-and-curious toddler all while maintaining a job as a marketer and photographer AND entrepreneur serving up career coaching and “pocket design” services.
  • My social media accounts (specifically Facebook and Instagram) will also have FUN stuff like scavenger hunts, weekly challenges, quizzes, and…my absolute favorite…MADLIBS!

My sincere hope for the experience is to have fun, to learn some stuff, and to support each other on the internet. Use the internet as a force for good and for laughs, says I!

Thank you for joining my on the journey so far. I hope you’re ready for some more.