Behind the Scenes with Effy Gems and Designer Effy Hematian

One of my favorite jewelry designers is Effy Hematian-not just because I love his rose gold panthers with diamonds, exquisite workmanship and use of colored precious gems, but also because he passionate about a business he started himself since 1979 – and he is adorable!  Wearing one of his Effy Ties along with a tailored Navy suit,  Effy is the epitome of a gentleman–warm, kind and gregarious, he began showing me around his multi-level office building where all of his designs are made.  Effy’s designs are all made and designed in the USA and I saw the floors and floors of workers who make it happen.

wr4-wendi-effyIn one room are the female photographers who touch every piece and capture their beauty for still shots.  Another stores bins and bins of gems, female workers tirelessly separating the colored gem stones to create matching earrings or to pave a ring so that all of the rubies, emeralds and sapphires match perfectly.  Did you know that women are only hired for this job as they have superior skills in color matching?  Since I’ve studied at GIA and am a certified diamond and colored stone grader, I can appreciate the work that goes into sorting each gem and the expertise it requires!

wr4-sorting-gems3wr4-sorting-gemswr4-sorting-gems2Another floor was dedicated to setting stones, polishing and finishing the piece, while still another floor dedicated to melting and pouring the gold into each mold for the rings, bracelets and necklaces they produce.  Effy has the design team in his own office with large computers where he can see his designs come to life on 3D screen; a series of awards decorate his walls – he beams with pride as he tells me about the designs that are being created for EVINE exclusively.

wr4-grinding-gemswr4-grindingI was taken to a room where all of the Effy designs are set up by style – from the dreamy and classic Panther collection with black diamonds, to diamonds, rubies, sapphires, serpants and leopard print (this gorgeous ring is one of our best sellers – wait until you see the matching pendant that we’ll be featuring in a month!).  I was most impressed by the men’s line which featured a diamond leopard band – we are bringing in the men’s line soon so get ready!  I could easily see a woman wanting this band ring too!   When I was brought to a large case of just enormous one-of-a-kind sapphire and emerald rings featuring the highest quality natural emeralds, I HAD to try a few on! These are movie star-ready for the red carpet and EVINE is going to be featuring a show dedicated to these high-end, exclusive pieces for those of you who really love estate style rings with high quality precious gems.  I’ll keep you posted on when that show will hit EVINE airwaves!



Get ready for another drool-worthy collection of gemstone and gold jewelry on EVINE this fall!  See you soon!

XO  Your Rock Hound,  Wendi Russo

GIA Accredited Jewelry Professional (AJP), GIA Certified Diamond Grader, GIA Certified Colored Stone Grader

The Best Stories are Real!

I love bookstores. If I’m lucky enough to a have a morning, afternoon or evening free you’ll find me in a bookstore.  I’ve tried reading e-books, audio books, but my favorite are the glossy hardcover variety found in the shelves of a bookstore.

kk-blog-4-bookIf I have to choose, biographies/autobiographies are my favorite books to read. I’ve literally read hundreds of real life tales written by, or about  . . . kk-blog-4-new-bioreal life movie stars, dancers, artists, athletes, religious leaders, politicians, historical figures and ordinary folk alike.  I prefer reading a story that has really happened. The adventures, twists, turns and lessons learned by others inspire me.

My love of autobiographies started at the age 16, I picked up a book for 99 cents in a bargain bin at my hometown drugstore.  That 99 cent autobiography was Be my baby, by Ronnie Spector. Ronnie was in the 60’s kk-blog-4-biofamed girl group, the Ronettes. I didn’t know her, but I loved the song ‘Be My Baby’ and the cover of the book with her bouffant hair-do, false lashes and thick black eye-liner intrigue me.  I decided at 99 cents I had nothing to lose.  I got the book home, opened it up, started reading and, in 2 days, had read it cover-to-cover. Then and there, I was hooked on real life stories.

kk-blog-4-reading-cabinI read about a book a month.  I love learning from the lives lived by others.

One of my favorite quotes sums up my love of autobiographies: “Your life has purpose.  Your story is important. Your dreams count.  Your voice matters.  You were born to make an impact.”

Life is crazy, beautiful, amazing and unpredictable, and every person has their own story to tell . . . and, to me, these are the most interesting stories of all.

kk-blog-4-booksDo you like autobiographies as much as I do?  Please let me know!

If not, what do you like to read?  I’d love to know that too. Please share 🙂

Style Forecast!

I am so excited that Evine has asked me to host their new fashion show called Style Forecast!  It’s destination programming that will happen every Monday night at 7:00 pm ET starting October 10th.  The team has been busy working on the concept and show planning since early this Summer. There have been loads of fun meetings to discuss this exciting show as well as our set design!  It has just been so much fun being involved at every








I’ll help you figure out what you’re comfortable in, what you like best on yourself, and how to style your clothes in a unique way.  Monday nights are for you!  A girlfriend’s celebration to talk style!  Solve your daily wardrobe dilemma (What should I wear?) with smart fashion tips and clothing advice from your trusted fashion guests like one of my favorites . . . Sam Saboura from One World Fashions!  You know I love what this brand does for my curvy shape and I know you will love it too!

mm-blog-4-melissa-sam-4mm-blog-4-one-world-5Paula’s Closet by Paula Deen is one of my new favorite fashion brands on Evine, and our customers love it too!  You’ll appreciate her great sense of style and humor while she presents her beautiful clothing line.  Oh, and if you have been watching me on Evine . . . you know I have a weakness for a great handbag!  Madi Claire, Anushka, and Pietro will be just a few of the stylish brands that I’ll have the opportunity to present to you.

It may sound silly . . . but I have a passion for fashion! As a teenager,  I would beg my mom to take me to the mall to shop for clothes.  And, of course, I would try on everything.  I’ve always loved fashion but it really clicked for me in high school when I started to realize that a really cute outfit made me feel good and boosted my confidence.  To this day, shopping for a great wardrobe is still fun for me . . . textured fabrics, patent leather, ribbed knits and more!

mm-blog-4-melissa-paula-6mm-blog-4-handbags-7Are you ready for a new you?  It’s a new season, new trends, new must haves, new ideas, and new ways to WOW you!


Behind the Scenes in NYC

Behind the Scenes with our fashion designers in NYC:  As a former NYC native, I was excited to do some family sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty, visit Ground Zero where two waterfall monuments have been built, naming all of those who passed during 9/11, eat fabulous food and of course,  SHOP!

wr-blog-3-chloeThe shopping in NYC can have your head spin with high end fashions and large chain stores that have cute fashion, but EXPENSIVE –  I was so excited to visit some of our biggest names in fashion to see what they had coming down the pike for fall- Marc Bouwer, WDNY, Indigo Thread Co. and the manufacturer who creates V by Vanessa Williams for Evine.

wr-blog-3-marcFirst stop – the meat packing district – a hot fashion mecca downtown just steps away from Ground Zero and Marc Bouwer Unlimited Headquarters.  Marc was the picture of a working designer in jeans and a t-shirt, working on a stunning gown for some of his big name celebrity clientele’s red carpet moment.  I saw racks and racks of fully beaded gowns, shirts, jersey gowns that he was adding crystals to and day dresses for spring!  He had bins and bins of jewels, trim, lace, Swarovski crystals and all color coded – an artist’s dream!  He began showing me the gowns wr-blgo-3-sequinsworn by celebrities, telling me who wore what and to which major event, and then showed me works in progress for us at Evine – let’s just say sleeves are BIG: bell sleeves, details on the sleeves, and faux suede.  I have his faux suede pants and LOVE them!  What would his fall collection be without a moto jacket in faux leather? Of course those are coming!  While I was there he had me try on some of his samples and I loved them!  They fit so well and his print is fun and inventive!  Marc is a genius with fashion and can make any body look their best – that is the ‘mark’ of a true designer.


wr-blog-3-yellowNext was a visit to Warren Donner, fashion designer for WDNY.  Warren has been in the fashion business for 35 years and has impeccable taste for trends!  When I saw his studio it was well-organized by color story and I saw so many beautiful pale pink romantic blouses, full bell sleeves with chiffon, sequins galore for the holidays, faux fur chubbies in black and white, and one I wanted to take home featuring chocolate/pale pink and ivory.  He is a master at bringing us affordable trends that make bold and fun statements.  You’ll LOVE what is coming up!  Warren himself has a penchant for ‘Veuve’ and apparently a day doesn’t go by without a glass of his favorite champagne –  you won’t hear me complaining!

wr-blog-3-wdYellow is his color and his yellow Corvette makes a statement everywhere he goes – he drove me to his favorite restaurant, Mr. Chows downtown where everyone knows his name.

wr-blog-3-wd-vetteMy daughter, a budding fashion designer, experienced duck for the first time. Great ready for a fabulous fall line up from Warren!

wr-blog-3-wd-dinnerThe manufacturer who works with some of our most popular brands like Indigo Thread and V by Vanessa Williams is located in NYC, and Susan Gainsborg is instrumental in working with our celebrity lines and helping them to bring their ideas to life!  Vanessa is bringing us jeans in the fall, along with more accents of color that flatter all body types.  There are a few pieces from Indigo, as well – of course I loved the sleeve on this top!  wr-blog-3-white-bellIndigo is bringing you more of what you love in faux suede, tie dyes, tunics, dramatic sleeves, lace and earthy tones that are denim friendly!  we’ve got a lot of Fashion coming up on the calendar, with a big Fall Fashion Day on the list.  See you there!

I Love Collecting

I love collecting.  But unlike people who collect to accumulate, I collect to use.  My Waterford collection gets quite the workout.  My home furnishings collected over time bring me and my guests great enjoyment.  And my not-so-secret obsession with luxury goods at bargain prices brings me extra excitement in life.  Remember: shopping is a sport and I went professional at the age of nine.

I never should have jumped on EBay.  But I did.  And there is nothing I can (or want) to do about it.

bk-blog-4-ebayYou know.  It seems crazy hearing about Ebay.  People gone wild with excitement and you just think your friends are foolish for spending their money buying something from some stranger on the other side of the globe.  And then, suddenly, something catches your eye.  For me, it was a pair of Puruti Crocodile loafers in mint condition in my size, that new would have been $2,400, which I couldn’t pass up for $130.

bk-blog-4-hermes-ribbonThen it was an Hermès scarf that I wanted to hang as wall art in my second floor landing: The Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Equestre.  The colors in red, gold and black just pop and it indulges my love for all things equestrian.  And then I spotted my prize: a rare edition of the Hermes Attrape Tes Reves in Hermès orange that made me hit the ‘Bid’ button again.  Luckily, I had the good fortune of coming across 12 huge, gold wooden frames with glass for $1 each that I’m able to get my contractor to rebuild to fit these silk scarves and other art I’ve collected for my home.  Each frame has saved me about $150- $250.

bk-blog-4-real-framedLooking back, I think I’ve bought more Hermès for others than I have for myself.  They receive new items, and I buy myself a mix of vintage and bk-blog-4-horsenew.  And that’s perfect.  They’re friends that appreciate great quality.  My favorite Hermès tie is one of horses in the most beautiful collection of colors.  May the patron saint of plastic bibs always watch out for me.

But hold your horses, there’s a bit of home schooling you need to do before you go crazy on the Bay.  Lots of luxury goods are knocked off left and right, and sell right beside the real stuff on so many websites.  My advice: learn about what you like and then proceed with caution.  The only thing worse than owning a fake is having paid authentic prices for your trifles.

And trifles they are: things of little value or importance.  Whether it’s race cars or clown figurines, Fiesta ware or velvet paintings of bullfighters, your real wealth is your health and that’s where your money needs to go first.

Back to shopping.  Now, if there was ever a person with a divining rod for luxury bargains, it’s my Aaron.  His first score in this sport since we met was a mint condition Gucci wool blanket that he found at a hipster resale shop for $39.  It was an odd item for them to resell, so likely they didn’t know that it sells today for $1,500.  His second score was a pair of vintage Ray bans made with solid 14K gold frames.  They’re worth about $525.  He got them for $30. Then, (because everything has to be done in 3’s :-0), Aaron bought me a black leather Dolce & Gabbana jacket that was new with tags (and still selling on their site for $5,000), which he grabbed for $100.

I’ve always said and I stand by it today: the world is a bargain if you know where to shop.  Whether it’s $3 or $3,000 . . . it’s only worth what someone will pay.

For those of you who are curious as to this legacy brand I collect:


A family-owned label for five generations, Hermès is the epitome of true class and the perfect picture of ‘blue blood.’

bk-blog-4-hermes-boxIn 1837 Paris, Thierry Hermès founded his namesake brand as an equestrian harness and saddle workshop. I wonder if he had any idea that he was creating a dynasty that people all round the world covet among the best brands in design and quality.

bk-blog-4-hermes-horse-logoIn 2016, Hermès luxury goods are sold new and resold pre-owned at jaw-dropping prices, because the lasting quality and designs are just that good.

Some notable points in Hermès History:

bk-blog-4-kelly-bag1929:    Hermès first women’s couture collection was previewed in Paris.

1930’s:  Hermès began to sell their products in the US in Neiman Marcus, New York.

1937:    The first Hermès silk scarf is born.

1956:    The Kelly bag debut after Grace Kelly carries a crocodile handbag to hide her pregnancy.

1984:    Actress Jane Birkin replaced her straw handbag (Thank God! See photos)with a leather Hermès handbag, and thus began the trend of the Birkin handbag.

bk-blog-4-birkin-bag2016:    The Birkin bag has the longest wait list for an accessory today, 6 years.

Remember the episode in Sex In The City when Carrie Bradshaw quipped that she would be “the woman who lives in her shoes”. Well, take a look at the tiny crocodile house that one might be living out of some day, should the money run out.  This Hermès handbag and/or future home could have been yours if you had only bid a single dollar over $300,000.00 on June 6th at Christies, NYC.

bk-blog-4-birkin-bag-saleKnow that you would not be the first person to find an Hermès scarf while thrifting.  A friend of ours found one for a dollar at Goodwill and sold it to someone in Japan for $450.  May the Vintage Gods be with you.

Please share your collections with me.  We will then know each other’s Achilles heel and can keep our eyes out for the must haves that excite us.

Cabin Fever Fades in the Northwoods

Kendy blog 3 1 paddleboard

We recently had our final trip of the summer to the ‘cabin up north’.  When I got ready to sit down to write this blog while I was there, I looked outside and the sun was already setting by 8pm . . . UGH!  And now it’s even earlier . . . Typically, we don’t see the sun go down up north until nearly 9:30pm in early summer.

I hope you enjoy some of my memories from our time there:

As I write this It’s an absolutely beautiful evening so I’m taking advantage of the screened in back porch to avoid the mosquitos.  I love the sounds of the crickets and frogs chirping, kids splashing down at the lake, and final fishing boats pulling in for the night.  Admittedly, I don’t take advantage of the porch as often as I should!!!  It’s a melancholy time for most Minnesotans as we know summer is swiftly coming to an end.  A big part of Minnesota Culture is Cabin Culture.  We live for our 3 months of summer and trips to the cabin . . . and as the end of August nears, you can feel the Cabin Fever Fading.

It’s easy to understand how Cabin Culture began in Minnesota as there are so many Scandinavians that live here.  My Mother’s family is from Sweden, and on our trips to Sweden and Finland we often traveled to our family’s cottages in the woods to pick berries, hike, sauna, and jump in the freezing cold lake . . . we’ve carried those traditions on at my folks’ cabin as the summer lake jump or snow roll in the winter after a sauna has become the favorite thing to do!

Kendy blog 3 2 dockKendy blog 3 snowAlthough most Minnesotans close up their cabins in the fall, my parents, like true Scandinavians, keep theirs open year round in order to enjoy the Norwegian Kick Sledding, Cross Country Skiing, and Snow Shoeing.








Minnesotans enjoy their cabin lives for many reasons: solitude, nature, sport, etc. . . .  The main theme is family reunions where family members from across the country gather to partake in the great outdoors, celebrate holidays like the 4th of July, and enjoy Mom’s Home Cookin’!  It’s an awesome time for the different generations to go offline and really connect face to face!

Kendy blog 3 8Kendy blog 3 10Fishing and Food are first priority at our cabin!  The kids love to fish with Papa to get ready for the big Fish Fry with Papa’s Homemade German Potato Pancakes!

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Our puppies love the cabin visit as much as we do . . . they love fishing, chasing the loons, staring at the hummingbirds, and jumping off the dock. Kendy blog 3 15DSC_0156.JPG






We have to do our best to keep them away from the eagles overhead and the bear on the path!

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The big draw to the cabin is of course the lake . . . after all, we have over 10,000 of them!  Whether it’s diving off the dock, learning how to ski from your expert 75 year-old Grandpa, kayaking, paddle boarding, tubing, or fishing, the day revolves around the lake.Kendy blog 3 25Kendy blog 3 27

Walor Family vacation to Grandparent Kloepfer's cabin in upper Wisconsin. Other relatives that came were Rick & new wife Melody Kloepfer, Brett Kloepfer and Cousin Hillary Kloepfer and son Everest.

I know every state has its vacation spots: ‘down the shore’, ‘in the mountains’, ‘on the beach’, etc. . .  Hopefully one day you’ll have a chance to experience Minnesota’s Cabin Culture some day!  If you’re a Minnesotan, I’d love to hear what your favorite lakes and cabin traditions are!  If you are not a Minnesotan, let me know what your state’s favorite vacation spot is so that I can check it out someday.  Hope you’re all able to enjoy the remainder of summer at your favorite spot!Kendy blog 3 31

24 Years!

I can’t believe I just celebrated 24 years in the Shopping Network Industry!  Looking back at my first headshot is hilarious!  I was a baby!!!  It is truly one of the biggest blessings in my life to have a career that I absolutely have so much passion and love for what I do.  It really is the perfect fit for my personality.  I can remember being a little girl and my dad saying you talk so much.  LOL!  I guess I was getting ready for “3,2,1 –  you’re on!”  at a very young age.

mm-blog-4-headshot-1992-1So many people ask me, do the hosts read a teleprompter?  NO!!!!  We ad lib everything!  I do study all of the products I present so I understand how to explain it to our viewers.  Some products are easier than others – for example, gemstones/jewelry.  I received the highest credentials in Gemology when I received my G.G. (Graduate Gemologist) diploma in 2003, so I really don’t have to prep very much in that category.  However, Electronics is a different story – a lot of show prep there.

Every day at the network is so exciting – from different products, guests and timeslots that I work. I think the highlight of my job would be the people.  All of the incredible people that I have met from all over the world that I get to work with, and have established friendships that will last a lifetime.  I will always remember getting to meet and work with on-air Chief Design Director of Waterford Crystal – Jim O’Leary from mm-blog-4-sonia-melissa-2Waterford, Ireland. We became very close and he took me to the top of the world . . . well, the top of  One Times Square to see the Waterford Crystal Times Square Ball in April 2013.  I have also met so many guests from Italy.  Two that stand out in my mind would be Stefano Virgino and Manuela Biancospino.  I present their jewelry collections on-air and had the pleasure of spending time with them on my recent trip to Italy.  mm-blog-4-melissa-dimitri-4Sonia Bitton has the sweetest soul and means so much to me.  Chuck Clemency and Dimitri James are so incredibly funny and I have a blast working with them both!  I have known Dimitri since 1994 when I launched him at Shop At Home!  Speaking of Shop At Home where I began this fabulous career, I have a bond with 3 hosts that started there with me.  We are all still in the shopping network business and still in touch.  I love you Connie, Jennifer and Kim . .

mm-blog-4-melissa-shop-at-home-hosts-5It would be impossible to list and thank every guest that I have worked with and have established friendships, like Dallas, Vince, Judy Crowell, Paul Deasy and Nick Kwan.  Again, it is the highlight of my job!

mm-blog-4-melissa-with-tucson-group-6Besides my gift of gab, I guess it is my passion for shopping!  I can’t believe I get to shop with 88 million viewers every day!  It really is a dream job that I am so incredibly grateful for.  I want to thank each and every viewer that has invited me into their homes for the last 24 years.

The pleasure is all mine!

Scratch one more off my bucket list . . .

Ever since I was a child, I’ve wanted to travel the Amazon River.  On September 1, 2016, I was able to scratch that off my bucket list.  My wife, Jennifer, and I spent a week exploring the Amazon and some of its tributaries on an Amazon River Boat called the Delfin I.  It was and will be one of the most memorable experiences of my life.

sc-blog-4-1First a little background history. The mouth of the Amazon River was discovered in 1500, when a Spanish expedition led by Vincente Pinzon sailed up it to a point 50 miles (80km) from the sea.  Forty years later, another Spanish expedition, of 50 men under the command of Francisco de Orellana, achieved an epic journey from the distant Andes by way of the Napo River and the Amazon mainstream to the Atlantic.  By the 19th century, naturalists finally began to learn the secrets of the rivers and the surrounding rain forest.  Between 1848 and 1859, the British naturalist Henry Bates collected thousands of insect species entirely new to entomology.  Now, the Amazon is thought to have 2.5 million species of insects, 1,300 bird species3,000 types of fish430 mammals and a whopping 2.5 million different insects.  The botanist Richard Spruce gathered some 7000 new plant specimens.  Now, the Amazon is estimated to have 40,000 plant species, 16,000 tree species and 390 billion individual trees.  The Amazon River is by far the world’s largest river by volume.  It has over 1,100 tributaries, 17 of which are longer than 1000 miles. We were only able to explore a few of these.

sc-blog-4-2We flew into Lima, Peru then onto Iquitos, a bustling city completely surrounded by jungle.  There are no roads leading in or out of Iquitos.  You can only enter or leave on foot or by boat or plane.  The primary mode of transportation is a motor carriages or “Tuk Tuk”.

After a brief tour of the city, it was onto Nauta, the riverboat port.  Once we embarked, we met our guide and our fellow passengers, two couples from Lima, Peru.  We didn’t waste any time and immediately boarded a skiff (motorboat) to search for pink dolphins.  Even though our guide made no promise we would be able to see any pink dolphins that day, we spotted dozens just during that 2 hour excursion.

sc-blog-4-3The next day consisted of a jungle hike where we observed several forms of wildlife.  We got close to a sloth that really seemed to be posing for our cameras.  Our jungle guide discovered a Tarantula and brought it close for us to view (I hate spiders).  We also got close and personal to a boa constrictor, a small poisonous frog, and a monkey (see photos below).  Even though it was 90+ degrees with high humidity, we all had to wear long pants and sleeves due to the huge population of mosquitoes.  Thank goodness I brought along my Para’Kito mosquito repellent wrist band.

sc-blog-4-4sc-blog-4-5sc-blog-4-6sc-blog-4-7The scariest and most unforgettable excursion of our journey was the jungle canopy walk.  It is a series of several tree platforms around 35 meters (115 feet) high connected by swing bridges giving you a unique perception of the wildlife and vegetation seldom observed from the ground.  For someone who is afraid of heights (me), this was quite a frightening but awesome feat.  Had it not been for Jennifer encouraging me from behind, I would have never conquered that fear.

sc-blog-4-8I can now actually tell my grandchildren (not) that I swam in the Amazon, I fed a Manatee, I kayaked in the Amazon, and fished for Piranha in the Amazon.  Fishing for Piranha is an art that I will never master.  Normally, a fish will hook itself while going for bait.  A Piranha is smarter that.  As they bite into the bait (not hook) you have to pull them quickly into the boat.  Well, we fed a lot of Piranha that day but didn’t catch any.  What we did hook was Amazonian Catfish.  I was so proud that I caught one. Jennifer caught five!

sc-blog-4-9On our final day we visited a local village and spent time with some of its 150 inhabitants.  I will never forget that day.  We all brought the children some toys and school supplies which they desperately needed.  Jen and I purchased some beautiful straw items they handcraft which provide their village with income.  I tried to converse with one of the village leaders with the little Spanish I know.  He just smiled.  Many of the jungle people are very happy and live to be over 100 years old.  When asked the reason for their longevity . . . ”no stress”.

sc-blog-4-10The Amazon is more than just the World’s largest river, it is the life force of the surrounding rainforest which is one of the one of the world’s greatest natural resources.  Because its vegetation continuously recycles carbon dioxide into oxygen, it has been described as the “Lungs of our Planet”.   About 20% of earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest.  If you ever have the opportunity to visit this area, it will be one of the most extraordinary experiences of your life.


Fun and the Games

With the 2016 Olympics in Rio now drawn to a close I want to share with you my experiences of the last Olympics in my home city.  When London won the games in 2012 the whole country was elated, shocked and then worried the whole thing would be a giant fiasco we’d have to live down until the end of days.  It wasn’t just a case of self-depreciating Britishness.  We’d never held anything of that scale in London (not since 1948), and hosting the games in a city where public transport was already stretched with 8 million Londoners seemed to be a flawed plan before we even got onto the logistics of holding events in venues never used before all over the capital.

ss-blog-4-bbAs the games dawned, the newspapers were filled with horror stories and living in London you heard many of them from friends; like how they’d ordered a set of speakers big enough to blow the back doors off a rave for the announcements at the ladies sycronised swimming.  The whole thing seemed destined to fail. Then, gradually, the mood started to shift, and people started to get excited.  The parks in London put up big screens so we could come together, drink our favourite beverage and sit on the soggy grass to watch the opening ceremony, and the world watch us.

ss-blog-4-flagWhere I lived in East London was a bike ride from the Olympic Park.  Everything that happened on TV we could see and hear first.  There was controversy over the choice of film director Danny Boyle to direct the opening ceremony, but he knocked it out of the (Olympic) park.  It was dramatic, it was funny, it went off with out a hitch.  And by the time HRH Queen Elizabeth walked through the palace with Daniel’s Craig’s James Bond, Twitter was having a meltdown and Danny Boyle was the toast of London.

Despite the success of the opening ceremony I, like many Londoners, had decided to escape months beforehand and had booked myself on a yoga retreat in Turkey.

I packed my mat, forgot about the games and woke to the sound of goat bells and the call to prayer high up in the mountains.  But, when I came back, ‘Super Saturday’ had turned the whole country upside down, the entire nation was in love with Jessica Ennis and Team GB, and was glued to the television in homes, pubs and parks across the country.

ss-blog-4-flagged-ladiesImmediately feeling a sense of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out!), I dived into every event I could.  I went to Jamaica house to watch Usain Bolt win the 200 metres, and go nuts with one hundred Jamaican fans when he did.  Hyde Park opened its gates to thousands every day and we went to watch Mo Farah in his highly anticipated second race.  The security lines at the park gates were so long that, once people got through, they’d start legging like they were in a zombie film . . . not looking back, leaving behind loved ones and anything they couldn’t carry because watching Mo win was more important.

ss-blog-4-flagged-dressBut the highlight for me, and the first time I stepped into the Olympic stadium, was for the Paralympics.  Being inside for the first time, I actually blinked my eyes like a cartoon character – I literally couldn’t believe my eyes.  The roar from the crowd was electrifying.  The sound actually moved around the stadium like a wave and, when your section was cheering, you couldn’t hear anything at all.

ss-blog-4-stadiumWatching from the stadium got my TV brain buzzing as to who directed what and how because they’d move from event to event seamlessly.  Even when someone was injured, the live commentary directed your attention somewhere else and to the next event.  The seated Javelin was a humbling feat of strength and bravery.

ss-blog-4-sitting-javelinBut the one I remember most was the sight impaired runners who run with a buddy who keeps them on track.  One runner was much slower than everyone else in the race.  I can’t remember the distance, but I do remember he was lapped quite early on and still just kept going.  At some point the crowd took over and, every time he went past, this heroic roar went rippling around the stadium, cheering on the people’s champion no matter how long it took him to finish.  It made me realise how team GB had stormed to victory in so many events because, with the sound of that crowd behind you, any one of us could believe we’re capable of anything.

ss-blog-4-runningAnd so the games came to an end. At the closing ceremony (when DJ Fat Boy Slim dropped, ‘Right Here, Right Now, if any of you know it!) it felt the whole world was watching us and we were part of something bigger than ourselves.  We joined thousands of other Londoners and characters in Trafalgar Square for the final procession of the athletes on open top buses through the city.  We stayed long after the procession had gone.  Most people did.  The games had been a magical moment in London’s history and we’d been lucky enough to be part of it.

Here are a few photo memories I’d like to share with you:





“My Person” Gram

You know how everyone gets “a person”?  Someone who totally gets you, understands you, would give up a kidney for you?  Your favorite person in kn-blog-4-pairthe whole world that isn’t necessarily your husband, or girlfriend.  You know the person that, if you had to hide the corpse, they would help you do it.  That’s YOUR PERSON.

Mine person was my Grandma Agnes, “Gram”.

The thing about Grandma Agnes is that she was so much more than the storybook Grandmothers you read about.  Sure, she always smelled like homemade cookies, you could always find her clanking away in her kitchen most anytime on that ancient stove and she wore sensible shoes (but that my friends is a whole other SCARY story).  She would have the best sleep overs with my brothers and me . . . making us malts before we went to bed and reading us books on her plastic covered davenport.  In the mornings there was always Red River cereal cooking and as many grapefruits as you wanted her to cut.

kn-blog-4-handsShe sewed Christmas stockings for every one of her grandchildren and for both of my boys BY HAND with love, every sequin, every stitch with those gnarled, arthritic hands.  She took Tom, Robbie (my brothers) and me on driving trips cross-country with Grandpa and pointed out all the beautiful scenery, and even took us three hellions to Florida a couple times.  Those Florida trips are stories in themselves!  She showed us how to pick kn-blog-4-kathy-youngraspberries when the dew was still on the grass, and where to put the peaches she canned in the scary fruit cellar . . . Yep, she was like a fairytale Grandma . . . she would teach you to cook, take you shopping for your first Prom dress, keep your secrets, and even hide the pictures from your stagette party.

But she was so much more than that . . .

Agnes Mable Hinz Nessa was one of 12 kids born to German immigrant parents, Emelia and Henry Hinz.  Her brothers and sisters were Fritz, Carl, Herman, Max, George, Clarence, Walter, Hulda, Emma Lily and Ada.  She grew up on the family farm in South Haven, Minnesota, had an 8th grade education and was one of the wisest women I have ever known.

kn-blog-4-familyGram loved to tell stories about being a kid on the farm, she would always say that she didn’t even realize they were poor because they always had enough to eat from the farm.  Entertainment was cheap, with all those brothers and sisters there was always a skating party, sleigh rides and impromptu dancing.  She was especially close to her baby sister Ada who she talked to everyday until Ada died.

kn-blog-4-grandmaOnce Gram decided to leave the family farm, she went to work in the hotel/restaurant business where she met lots of interesting characters.  She loved to tell the story about, how in 1929, she and her friends worked/lived at the St. Cloud hotel and met some of the members of Machine Gun Kelly’s gang, namely a man named “Magnolia”.  They would go out dancing and he had prescription whiskey during Prohibition. She knew that, since he carried a gun in his Studebaker, there must be some funny business but, according to Gram, “he was such a good dancer”. Magnolia was later part of the Willmar State Bank robbery. Not such a goody two-shoe grandmother, maybe more like an interesting character in a wonderful, ‘can’t put down’ novel.

kn-blog-4-grandpaShe met my Grandfather, the love of her life, on a blind date and they fell in love and were married for 44 years until Grandpa died.  She never remarried and said that, although she missed the travelling and dancing they did together, she mostly just missed having him around.

But that wasn’t the end of the story; after that Gram started her own catering business. She catered parties from 2-1000 people.  She planned, cooked, served and was down on her hands and knees wiping up the kitchen until she was 90 years old.  I worked with Gram catering for YEARS, she was a hoot, no matter what the crisis was in the kitchen, there was Gram chatting up all her favorite clients, calm as could be.  I learned VOLUMES about cooking, entertaining, patience (and lots of dirty jokes)from Gram during all those parties.  I got to see her in action, in her element, and I am so grateful for that. I don’t set a table without seeing Gram showing me how to do it with panache!

As Gram prided herself on being the practical, stoic German, one of the only times I saw her crumble was when my father, her only child, died suddenly in his sleep in 2002. It didn’t matter that he was 64 years old, he was still her baby. She loved Dad, Mom and all us kids fiercely and was always there for my mom and dad the entire time we were growing up, too.

kn-blog-4-mom-dadShe was there for me once I had children, too, no matter how busy she was catering, running her household alone or managing that enormous garden she had.  She loved us all.  But her heart overflowed with love for kn-blog-4-connorher great grandchildren.  When my oldest, Connor was born,  Gram was 80 years old.  Gram starting taking care of Connor when he was just 2 weeks old.  She would rock that colicky baby for hours each day and chase him around the house, watch Homeward Bound (Connor’s favorite movie) 1000 times and look forward to seeing him everyday.  She gave me parenting advice, babysat, listened to my concerns about jobs, relationships, you name it, and she was there.  Now she was the perfect Great Grandma too.  Oh, and did I forget to tell you all this time she was diagnosed with breast cancer at 85 years old.

kn-blog-4-second-to-lastWhen I took her to the doctor he sort of wrote her off like she had lived a good life up to age 85, and that cancer would take her down now.  She looked at him like he was crazy and I reintroduced her to him as the Queen of our family.  They now understood that she had much more living to do.  They treated her cancer and she was cancer free for 15 years.  Tough bird, she said she never once worried about it.  “Why worry, it doesn’t do you any good”.  A Gram motto to live by.

For the last 10 years of Gram’s life it was a new kind of relationship, a bit more of me taking care of her.  The tables were turned but she just went with it.  I think that lots of people would be resentful that their bodies were succumbing to the years, but Gram was eternally grateful for her time here.  She would say to me, “What would we do without each other?”  Our lives became like a braid, woven together to create strength and beauty.  I wasn’t sure where she ended and I started some days.

Even days at the doctors or hospitals were fun somehow with Gram.  She was always “up”, always happy, telling anyone who would listen how much fun it was getting to 100 years old.  “Old age isn’t any place for sissies”, another Gram motto.

Gram died peacefully surrounded by her family at 100 years and 144 days young.

“My Person”, Gram, taught me so much.  I think of her everyday and talk about her on-air often, now you know why.