Always Open

If you’ve followed my Ms. Adventures from the beginning, then you know the influence my material grandmother (lovingly aka known as my “gram”) has not only had on my passion project, Hopeless + Cause Atelier, but most importantly on my life. Growing up, I couldn’t imagine a time I wasn’t with her or she was in my corner when I was bumping heads with my mom. She taught me how to sew out of necessity when I was young and when I returned to the craft decades later, she pulled out her sewing machine and once again gave me guidance as I started to design and create.

She recently turned 93 and she lives at home with my aunt. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren take turns staying with her and provide care during the day while my aunt works. I’ve talked about my time with her in past posts but a couple months ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. Tuesday afternoon we were at the kitchen counter–she, with her cookies and coffee and I across from her chatting, when I realized that her hair was standing up in the back from her most recent nap. I went into her bathroom and grabbed her brush. I went back to the counter and started combing her hair. Her coos of excitement from this simple gesture threw me over with emotion. We went on that afternoon talking about family members. She told me how beautiful my dress was and she had a mixture of frustration and sadness when she couldn’t remember things. The next Tuesday, when she was enjoying her afternoon snack at the breakfast bar. I decided to pull out a deck of cards and start playing “Solitaire”. This is a game she would always play when we were at the ranch or she was in the kitchen waiting for the timer to go off on a meal she was cooking in the oven. I thought this simple act would jog her memory from the past as she watched intently as I played and showed her excitement when I made the cards work for me. Another Tuesday, she was sitting up in her bed rubbing on her finger nails trying to clean off the chipped nail polish. I grabbed my aunts tools, remover and polish and sat in front of her to give them a fresh look. Her happiness fed into mine. She has had her good days: remembering me, where she is and what she’s doing, eating, getting up to walk and holding a conversation, and she has had her not so good days: chanting prayers when she’s in pain, disoriented and upset when she can’t remember, and not really eating.

Either way, I am really grateful for this time and while it’s hard to see this fiercely independant and strong motherly figure so fragile, I am blessed that I am able to be there for her in this way. I also realized it was an epiphany on two fronts. The first was the realization was that as much as we think we are indedpendant and can do it all on our own, at sometime in our life we NEED others. The second was the hardiness and the value of time or making the time.

I set goals every year. I have learned in order to be successful I need to be realistic and specific in creating them. I also lean on a word to help guide me on my path. I opened with “opportunity” because I knew this was the year that I could take advantage with my health in check and the world opening up….but then it hit me. Opportunity is ALWAYS around you just have to be open to it. So “open” became my guiding word.

I finally set a date for breast reconstruction and it excited me that I would finally be able to shelve this chapter (plus have a new bangin’ bod). I took advantage of my company’s free educational benefits. I applied and was accepted into “Fashion Design Management” certificate program. I understand the creative side but wanted to learn more about the business side. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen for years because of the pandemic and set dates to visit with them. I decided visiting NYC only once in 2022 was not good enough and this was the first REAL Autumn/Winter fashion season since 2020. I had points so I booked my flight.

When I opened up to the universe, I found abundance, even when obsticles blocked the way. I almost canceled my NYC trip. I really wanted to go but I started thinking about my next medical proceedure, corresponding leave of absence and short term disability pay (60% vs.100%) and I felt a little uneasy about spending the extra money. I decided to be open and just like that, I received a text from my friend, Evelyn, asking when my next trip was. I filled her in on the dates and she asked if I’d like company. So we made a plan and February 9th couldn’t get here quick enough. There were 6 things I had to do and the rest of the time was free for what ever. Those things were: 1) check out a NYFW production that also produces in Paris, 2&3) schedule time with Amanda (whom I hadn’t seen since 2020) and Sal (whom I hadn’t seen since 2018), 4) go to mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 5) get some work done at at Louis Vuiton and Gucci and 6) visit the Museum at the FIT .

We arrived after a full day of travel and checked into the hotel, freshened up and headed down to the hotel bar for happy hour. We had reservations for a speakeasy in the East Village. I knew I’d be recovering from surgery for her March milestone birthday so I wanted to take her to someplace fabulous to celebrate. And it was! The front was a pawn shop that opened to a sweeping staircase with beautiful chandler that welcomed you to the hostess station and bar. We celebrated our arrival with a cocktail before we were escorted to our table.

The next day I had nothing scheduled and the only thing Evelyn wanted to do was to visit the Guggenheim. The weather was unseasonably mild and beautiful for February so we decided to walk from our midtown hotel, along 5th avenue and then through Central Park to the museum. It was my first visit to this museum it was a lovely afternoon for art. We walked about half way back until Evelyn asked if we could jump on the subway. We had walked 8 miles so I gave in and if you know me, you know riding the subway is a big compromise for me (HUGE). We opted to stay in that evening grabbing pizza and a bottle of wine from neighborhood establishments (I did have to send Isaiah a photo with the caption $2 pizza).

The next morning, I had an appointment with the Louis Vuitton team to try make some sales while I was in town and then my plan was to stop by Gucci to pick of a repair order. Evelyn would meet me after the store opened. We had little bit of time to look through the latest at Herald Square before meeting Amanda for brunch. I hoped we’d hit the Museum at FIT for “Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style” before returning to the hotel for a little R-N-R. I got to work–I just love entering from Macy’s Herald Square employee entrace–and chatted with the team before I started taking photos of the latest bags and accessories. I got to work and made a few purchases on behalf of my clients. We strolled through the contemporary lines but realized we had about a 20 minute walk through Chelsea, so we decided if we had time after, we’d come back. We arrived in sync with Amanda. I gave her a big hug and made introductions. We were escorted to our chalet, or quaintly decorated outdoor eating space, that was probably built in 2020. We had a lively convesation about our lives from the past three years. After brunch, we walked over to FIT and caught the exhibits, continued on to Macy’s to do a little shopping and then returned to the room to freshen up before heading to the shows. The first one was near the Flat Iron Building and was produced by Small Business Fashion Week. They produce throughout the USA and in Paris so I really wanted to see their show and attendees. We arrived right at 6pm and almost didn’t make it in, but I’ve learned to be a pushy New Yorker and was able to get us. The show was smaller than what I am used to, but it was fun to see the varying type of designers from swim to street. The next show was in the East Village and one I’ve attended over the years. It’s a bigger production company, Art Hearts Fashion. We jumped in an Uber and headed south. As we arrived, I noticed a line wrapping around the building which I had never seen at that venue before. As we got in line, we started talking to attendees when one mentioned the type of ticket I had meant go to front of the line. We walked to the interest and I checked in with the press table. I had sent in requests for me and Evelyn. However, there was a screening process and Evelyn wasn’t on the list. Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk my way through this one so we opted to just head back to the hotel. We finished the evening watching movies and munching on Cava (one of my go-to’s in NYC).

Sunday, I got ready and headed out early to Mass. It’s so peaceful walking 5th Avenue on Sunday morning. I know it’s unbelieveable to discribe the City as peaceful but it really is before 10am on Sundays. I got my fill of St. Patrick’s and because brunch with Sal was at Pier 17, I had to take the subway (yes, it may start snowing as you read this). I arrived to the Brooklyn Bridge. Since Evelyn, didn’t go to mass, we were going to meet their and walk over to the restaurant together. We were all running late, so I informed the party to check in as they arrived. Evelyn could not find me so we headed over separately. Sunday was the coldest of the days with the weather dreary but at least it wasn’t raining. However being so close to the water made for some bone chilling cold. Brunch was wonderful. I hadn’t seen Sal since she stayed with me in 2018 for our friend, Jennifer’s celebration of life. We met when she was a reporter with Albuquerque Business First and developed an incredible friendship over the years. She left Albuquerque and returned to her home town, Denver, before landing a job in D.C. and in the past year was scooped up by the Associated Press in NYC. We wrapped up brunch and headed back to Macy’s to work on another purchase from Louis Vuitton. Then plan was to find a pub to watch the superbowl but after the chilly afternoon we decided to have a superbowl room party. Evelyn was craving Canolis so we hit the neighborhood, picked up dinner, wine and sweets and turned on the game. I think everyone should experience a superbowl room party.

Our flights on moday were early afternoon, and I had another order for Gucci. I had also received a request to create a prom dress for someone i love dearly, so I wanted to hit Mood for fabric ideas. I tooks swatches and photos with the Gucci bag in tow. We got back in time to check our bags and hit a pub across the street for lunch before heading to the airport. We got on our planes and made the treck back. On my flight, I had the option to watch movies when I came accross a new release that, after the recommendation from aunt, has become my favorite, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”. It is a sweet movie about an everyday woman who has profound impact on those around her. It’s about loss and enjoying life to the fullest. It was totally relateable to me.

“We need more dreams now more than ever.”

-Ada Harris

I returned to Albuquerque inspired. I’m always inspired by NYC but this is a milestone year for me and I was so grateful I took this trip. I had a little less than a month before my surgery and I wanted to get so much in before. I got back to work on outfitting the local The Go Red for Women Fashion Show for the American Heart Association. This is a such a full circle event for me. In 2014 and 2015, I actually attended the Macy’s NYFW version with celebrities models like Zendaya, Thalia Sodi, and Giada De Laurentiis. So when was hired at Macy’s, I was excited to outfit the real superheroes in our community. I also planned to host a Galentine’s soiree to thank all those that have supported me in my business throughout the years. I continued my Tuesdays with gram. Made time with my minis, my friends and to volunteer. I celebrated several friends incredible accomplishments and just enjoyed life at community events. I started my course work. I opted for a Dry Lent and found that it hasn’t been difficult to follow even when going out with friends.

I had my pre-op appointment scheduled for March 1st. I woke that morning after feeling so many different emotions over the past couple of weeks. I knew the intensity with a hospital stay involved and assumed a 6-week leave of absence. My plastic surgeon had moved from her private practice to UNM Cancer Center, so when I had planned to have reconstructive surgery last year, I’d have to wait until late summer but because of my time away from work for my ankle surgery, I knew I couldn’t take another 6-weeks off, so late last year, we planned it for March 10th. I arrived at my appointment on time and after going through the maze of the cancer center I was taken to an exam room. I had a busy day but I had planned the appointment early enough that I wouldn’t be too stressed about spending the time for the appointment. However when my doctor arrived 45 minutes late, I lost it. The emotions bubbled up and I explained how it is not professional or courteous to make someone wait that long. She apologized profusely and we got to work talking about my care pre-op, the surgery and the recovery. It was overwhelming and I wish I had an extra pair of ears but I tried to take copious notes. I was to give up caffiene immediately (which resulted in several days of fun headaches). My surgery call time was 6am and the surgery would be anywhere from 6-9 hours long. I would be admitted into an ICU room and would be released 5 days later. The room would set at balmy 75 degrees so the newly constructed veins and arteries would be expanded enough to feed the new tissue enough blood to sustain life. The final big change to what I was expecting was the fact that I would be out for 8 weeks. Eight weeks of minimal movement and 8 weeks of reduced pay. But at the end of the day, I knew that on the flip side I would be able to shelve this chapter of my life and have a banging bod (If you’re reading this, I hope you’re laughing along with me).

“When she woke the next morning she felt no longer sad but only eager and excited as one who is about to embark upon a great and unknown adventure.”

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

I got back to work. Set up our store’s Bag Hunger Activies, saw as many clients as I could. Cleaned my casita since I’d have my minis staying with me and got as far as I could in my class assignments. I planned a team volunteer project the day before my surgery because I knew I’d be out of commission for the rest of the projects that month. A group of 12 from Macy’s Coronado headed to St. Felix Pantry on Thursday March 8. I think what made this even more special is that one of my coworkers mentioned that he had utilized the food pantry’s services years ago so he was compelled to go and help others now that he was at a place where he could. That made me smile. We packaged fresh veggies and sorted non-perishable foods for two hours.

As I was leaving, my phone rang. I answered knowing the number was coming from Lovelace, the hospital where my surgery was taking place. The woman on the other end introduced herself as the financial consultant and asked to speak to me. I responded and she continued to discuss the financial costs of the surgery and my responsibility. I think I was in shock because it all became jumbled besides the following: Lovelace was no longer contracted with my insurance carrier. The surgery would cost $330,000 and my patient responsibility would be $150,000. While I was hoping the surgery was in-network because it would be free because I had already met this year’s $3,900 in network out of pocket maximum, I knew there might be a possibility that it could be out of network and my out of pocket maximum would be $11,000. So when I explained that to this woman, she responded saying since Lovelace wasn’t contracted they could charge whatever they wanted. I then proceeded to ask why they waited until the day before to inform me of this. My heart sank thinking how much longer I’d have to wait. She said she’d reach out to the CFO to see if there is anything they could do, but it might require me bringing a few thousand dollars with me…again, I thought you request this a day before my surgery?!? I asked whom the CFO she was referring to, so when she responded with the name of one of my clients, I said, “tell her it’s for Dara, her Macy’s Personal Stylist”.

I hung up the phone and tears streamed down my face and I’m sure my blood pressure was through the roof. I took a deep breath and reached out to my friend, Serena, whom is an executive at Lovelace. I explained what happened. She was astonished to hear what I told and said she’d get on the phone with the CFO. With in minutes I was given the number for the head of admissions with a time to call her. I promptly did so and talked through the financial responsibility and she agreed that the max out of pocket I’d experience would be the $11,000. As a friend told me, it’s like I received a $139,000 gift. I was lucky because I have friends in high places, but I couldn’t help but think what if I didn’t?

The next morning, Isaiah drove me to the hospital. We checked in at 6:00am and after going through the admission process we were taken to the surgery area. The nurse came to get me within minutes and after taking all the preliminary vitals, got me prepped for surgery. My surgeons came in and marked my breast and abdomen surgery site. The anesthesiologist came in started the process as they rolled me into the operating room. About 8 hours later, I woke up in my ICU room connected to oxygen, IVs, drains, a pain ball, blood pressure cuff, catheter, oxygen sensor and dopler wiring to read the blood flow. Later, Cati admitted to me that she was scared after seeing all the machine connections. Initially, I had two nurses attending to me. They stayed with me in the room checking vitals every 15 minutes until the shift change at 7pm. That first day I could only have ice chips (it was ok–Friday’s during lent are for fasting–okay, I know bad joke). The room was so hot that I asked for ice packs behind my neck and under my feet. I found out that my lungs had partially collapsed from the time spent in the operating room, so they gave me a spirometer to exercise my lung. It was difficult to initially get to the level I was challenged to, but the bigger problem happened after the first day of using it and the coughing that ensued. I prayed that I didn’t cough, laugh or sneeze and of course all these actions occured. I’ve never held my stomach tighter.

I’m not going lie; the first 48 hours were probably the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I straddled the line of modesty and vanity with my own vanity pushing me through. My faith, my family and friends who checked in and said prayers on my behalf, the incredible nursing team from the ICU unit and little things like watching Friends on Nick at Nite, Harry Potter Marathons and trash tv from Bravo were my saviors. The ICU nurses went above and beyond in my care. I had one nurse, Michelle, who was so concerned when my temperature spiked to 101.8 degrees that she called the doctor for advice and did everything to keep me comfortable. I knew it was because I was living in an oven, but soldiered on following instructions to make sure that the tissue had a healthy start. I also kept my sense of humor, welcoming my visitors to my tropical paradise.

Tuesday morning I was doing well enough to be released home. Brianna took off of work and picked me up. Isaiah met us at my casita and stayed with me until Cati got off from work. Isaiah is working remotely for the next month so he’s been with me during the day all week and Cati has been staying overnight with me. I am truly blessed by my three kiddos. Family and friends have checked in to see what I need and how I’m doing. I am incredibly grateful. I know this was the path I chose for reconstruction and I am so thankful that it is going well but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intense. And it brought me back to my epiphany from my grams. I’m a tough, independent woman, who’d rather focus on others than ask for help.Yet again life reminded me that we all need help sometimes. Right now, it’s hard for me to welcome visitors because I’m carrying my painball and two drains. I walk hunched over with the aid of a walker and I’m living my best life in pj’s. I’ve always been teased because I have monkey toes, but my prensile feet have aided me as I can’t bend down. And to not welcome someone into my home when I can’t make them a meal or even clean my house, is trying. It’s not that I don’t want to see loved ones but instead because I don’t want them to see me in this manner. I’m at the start of road to recovery and I can’t wait to write about what’s happening next…and down the road.

I know 2023 is going to be a big year with milestone celebrations, travel and quality time with loved ones. My first couple of projects are to complete the Fashion Design Management Certificate Program, loan looks for the Locker #505 Fashion Show in April and get back to work reviewing Paris Fashion Week production companies. My journeys are never straight lines, but it’s in those difficult paths and off road adventures that I learn so much about myself and the world around me. This journey continues to reveal to be open and to take advantage of every opportunity that is set forth.

“Life is not all moonlight and movies.” – Andre Fauvel “Why can’t it be? I’ve spent too long on my own, wishing my life away.” – Ada Harris

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

With light and love,
Dara Sophia

P.S. I can have coffee again after March 25th and a glass of wine after April 9th.

1 thought on “Always Open”

  1. Dara, you never cease to amaze and inspire me with you strength, candor, and humor! Even in your hardest times, your hope shines through. I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

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