And you asked me what I want this year
And I try to make this kind and clear
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days
‘Cause I don’t need boxes wrapped in strings
And designer love and empty things
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls

It’s the first evening of 2021. I think everyone is nervous and even the atheists are praying that 2021 is a better year (and over the period of writing this blog, some absolutely horrific things have happened…all in the first week of the new year…yet I choose not to address it here). In years past, many of you reading this, including me, would be verbalizing and/or writing out (to keep ourselves accountable) our New Year’s resolutions. As much as I try to focus on the good, especially because I have a tendency to have bad luck and try not to get pulled into the dark side, 2020 was hard. So instead of resolutions, I am taking a different approach, I am reveling in what was revealed to me in the past year. My own epiphany of sorts.

After Project Runway Interview PC: Sofi J

I have had years where I had resolutions or maybe just goals, thought out with a plan of accountability to ensure completion. However, I have found when I go into the year with a growth mindset (and believe me there were those years that I had anything but…more depression and just not wanting to face the year), I find that I have revelations about myself and the world around me going into the next.

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls

Hablas? Parles? Snakker Du?

I started on a language learning app almost immediately when I thought I was going back to Paris. I stuck to it, daily throughout 2020, even investing in watching French shows and movies (my favorite Netflix’s “The Hookup Plan” sitcom…which also includes an incredibly accurate, Parisian version, special episode dealing with the worldwide Stay At Home order). I have a number of French words floating in my mind that I hope come out in conversational form when I do return. I even continued with watching one of my favorite Netflix series “The Hookup Plan”. I even watched the Norwegian sitcom, “Hjem til Jul”, for the holidays to see what was similar to the English language (it’s a super feel good and fun watch even with subtitles–highly recommended).

However, I have found it is very much like the seven years of classroom learning, it doesn’t stick unless you have daily conversations with it. However, since my return to Macy’s, after furlough, in May. I have had many wonderful conversations with the team that works tirelessly to create a clean and safe atmosphere for the staff and customers. This team is primarily Spanish speaking with little English understanding and I am the opposite. Speaking in Spanglish and Google translate on occasion.

I try more and more every day even if I don’t sound proficient, at least I’m trying. On the daily we talk about business, how tired we are, the messes people make. One woman has blessed me with rosaries one for me and and one my gram. I’ve also written a letter of support for her to become a naturalized citizen. Another we talk about our background where we come from…for some reason she thought I came from China. I responded, “soy de Nuevo Mexicana y mi familia están de nortena Nuevo Mexico” (I didn’t say it was good…but I’m trying). What I learned is that the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in conversation with someone who doesn’t understand your language because you will find a way to communicate, breakdown barriers and create understanding.

Because of the pandemic we have been isolated for the most part, utilizing technology and social media to connect with others, but I truly believe that connection is lost in translation. We have gone from listening and trying to understand where the other person is coming from to saying what we have to say and leaving it there, sometimes to the detriment of isolating and vilifying others.

I need some place simple where we could live
And something only you can give
And that’s faith and trust and peace while we’re alive
And the one poor child who saved this world
And there’s ten million more who probably could
If we all just stopped and said a prayer for them

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls

Nothing is guaranteed

If we can say one thing for sure about 2020, the best laid plans were canceled, postponed or altered. Because of the virus, it was a year that reminded us how fragile life is. While I did my best to socially distance and create a healthy environment for me and those around me, I was reminded how much I need to relish moments. Cherish accomplishments, no matter how small.

I started 2020 with the idea of Sunday Supper. I asked a few dozen friends if they wanted to join me in supporting a local restaurant and their hosted bartender competition event. I hadn’t gone into the event thinking it was a “Sunday Supper” but as I looked across the table, I saw people from my childhood different parts of my work and community life but all whom I’ve loved and was happy that they could join me.

That Sunday night in January, I decided I would create a monthly Sunday Supper and send invites across the board, support a local restaurant, create conversation and connection with people who maybe had not met each other before. I was able to host one more large gathering before the Stay At Home order went into effect.

From March through June, those Sunday Suppers became smaller and because I lost track of the days they hit other days of the week and were primarily with one or two other people. When I didn’t have anyone join me, I tested recipes in cooking, baking and mixology (I had just renewed my server’s license so I could host events in my space at work, that was kind of a waste lol). I also happily delivered them to friends and family.

PC: Adolphe Pierre-Louis

Then I had a dream in late spring. I dreamt about a big table out in the field where I hosted and made dinner for those who had congregated with me. I decided I would host a dinner in by back yard. There would be a maximum of a dozen people two separate tables and I would make the meal. I became a uncomfortable hosting that size of group, because socially distancing would be fine outside but what if it got too hot (it was early July) or started to rain? So instead, I hosted two separate events. The first morning brunch with my minis and my brother and sister-in-law (and delivering the meal to my gram and aunt Lisa). The second, that evening with socially distanced tables in a private space at one of my favorite jaunts. It was an Italian themed meal where I once again connected people from different parts of my life. I sat back and enjoyed watching the conversations, smiles and laughter.

PC: Kate Duran, aka Kate the Photographer – photo in front of Broken Trail which sadly closed permanently in 2020, another reality of this pandemic

Seeing how the restaurant community was struggling with all the health orders that were particularly stringent upon them and also hearing about the uptick in numbers and new protocols put in place for the non-profits serving our neighbors experiencing food insecurity, I pulled together a group of chefs and non-profit leaders to create #EatOutToLiftUp. The plan was to host a community-wide event on the first Sunday that would have been during Balloon Fiesta. Each participating restaurant would offer a special menu for dine-in or take out and all the proceeds would benefit their partnered non-profit. But to ensure that the restaurants costs were covered, so all the proceeds from ticket sales would benefit the hungry, I had to reach out to my network and this concept in the middle of a pandemic when these businesses/organizations had already been in the trenches supporting the community during this time. It was hard work and at one point I didn’t think I’d be able to pull it off…but thankfully for Laurie at PNM, Maria supporting her brother’s work through Paz Fine Arts, Serena with Lovelace Health Systems, Michael with The Jennifer Riordan Foundation, Nathaniel with Sandia Labs Federal Credit Union, and my own Macy’s support team, they took a chance and incurred costs were covered with even additional sponsorship proceeds benefiting the non-profits further. To raise additional funds I asked friends and family members to purchase gift cards to their favorite local establishments for the raffle and over 100 meals were purchased that day from the participating restaurants….it was the biggest Sunday Super I could have imagined…and as Martin Luther King envisaged in his own time, people came together from diverse backgrounds to take action to address the needs of our community.

While it is so difficult for me to ask for help, what I learned was that people genuinely want to be involved in something that can create positive impact, they just need to be asked. For those of you reading this who participated as a sponsor, purchased gift cards and/or bought tickets to the event, I have overwhelming gratitude for you.

Life is fragile

So much loss has happened in 2020. I know many people who have lost someone to COVID and for that reason, the last time I was in close proximity to my gram was in February for my KK’s birthday. While I would do drive-by’s, run-by’s and video conversations, I miss her immensely. Luckily, there have been moments that I have been able to see loved ones but I think this has hit me the hardest. I also was reminded of the importance of enjoying every moment with loved ones and just how fragile life is.

In April, my beloved Kiki crossed the rainbow bridge. Honestly, it broke me. I was shattered because she was my spirit animal. Yet, I was tremendously grateful that I wasn’t working in her last days. The last month of her life she wasn’t mobile, so I would carry her and walk Chibi several times during the day so she’d get fresh air and “do her business”. Many afternoons, especially on warm spring days we would sit out on the golf course and I’d blow bubbles while rubbing her tummy and Chibi investigated our surroundings. My heart still aches and smiles when I see photos of her.

We lost some incredible human beings this year…it’s not different from any other year…as perfectly said in Black Panther, “everybody dies”. I think it hits us differently when it’s before their time or when we aren’t ready to let them go. I don’t know why the news of Chadwick Boseman’s death hit me so hard, but it did. I think it reminded me of the incredible trip me and my minis had to Cali in spring 2018 and how his talents were a small but impactful part of it. We had the most perfect day at Universal Studios. In the first time in years, I saw their youthfulness as we went from ride to ride without wait, filling the day hitting every single one (even the horrific The Walking Dead one) and to top it off we decided to see Black Panther at the AMC in the City Walk. Isaiah had us listen to the soundtrack on our road trip to Cali and so I was excited to see the blockbuster. I was enthralled by this movie and its star (and have honestly watched over a dozen times). In the days following his death, I remember reading about dispelled rumors saying he was addicted to drugs due to his appearance and because he was a private man, he didn’t openly let the world know that he was battling cancer. This cemented for me, that you never know what someone is going through…so never jump to conclusions and always be kind. Chadwick (link included to his graduation speech at Howard University 2018) was a bright star that was extinguished WAY TOO SOON.

In September, after a mysterious call and a conversation with my brother, I found out that my biological father had died. It was a range of emotions for me because I truly didn’t know how to respond to this news. I was angry. I was feeling guilty because I didn’t initially feel the grief that a daughter should feel for her father. I was sad. I was sad because I’m sure he was alone when he died and I truly believe no one deserves that. This is what addiction does. I finally found out a few months later that probable cause of death was an overdose. Addiction never goes away. It separates you from all you love and takes control of your life. You become a slave to it. However, I am glad that he has finally broken those chains from addiction and I pray that he has finally found peace.

As I write this blog, and recall all these memories, I am dealing with my beloved Chibi who is no longer choosing to eat or drink water. He slowly passes the casita in silence. I have spent the day, between tears, trying to get him in to see a vet and yet, COVID has played the trump card in the number of patients clinics can see. I am hoping this is just an ailment and he can recover because I don’t know if my heart can take another loss so soon. Updated: Chibi passed in his sleep sometime between the night of Friday, January 8 and the morning of Saturday, January 9, 2021. My hope is that he is reconnected and snuggling with his Kiki.

For everyone who has experienced the loss of a loved one this year, my heart goes out to you. May you be comforted by wonderful memories. Don’t take time spending with loved ones for granted. Don’t be afraid to tell and show them how you feel. Be kind because you never know what battles someone is dealing with.

Smiling is my favorite

There is no comparison to a smile. While you can kind of see it in your eyes or hear it in the inflection of your voice, a smile is the first thing you can see about a person from across the room and prior to 2020 mine would be painted in vibrant red with mouth of teeth gleaming…most of the time it was Chandler-esque. I miss having that accessory on display. I miss human touch. I started 2020 in the most incredible embrace. I continued the next month in NYC and back in ABQ dancing the night away and smiling all through. We all learned rather quickly that an embrace or being too close to someone could possibly be lethal. This was one of the hardest thing to learn this year. I am a hugger.

To help me from falling into that dark place. I did things to keep me in feeling good. I couldn’t go dancing with friends so incorporated belly dancing into my daily exercise routine. It was a nice balance between yoga, core, running and walking. I got outside more. I think I calculated over 40 miles walked on the bosque when I was on furlough.

My creative side moved toward culinary and mixology skills until I was was inspired to work with other artists and bam it was the injection I needed. I still have my moments, but I think all creatives do.

When I returned to Macy’s, I decided since I couldn’t wear a colorful lip I would instead focus on my clothing, many times being teased by being asked, “why am I so dressed up?” I am in the business that I am because I truly believe in the power clothing has on a person, in their comfort and in their confidence. Feeling comfortable is empowering and confidence helps you to take on the world.

“We don’t allow kids to reject hope. ‘Hope is the only thing that can allow children to heal and move forward.’ Heath Kull”

from The Ranches website

This feeling was exacerbated when I was asked to style youth from The Ranches. Just before Christmas, a dozen young men were surprised with a before hours VIP shopping event. They were to receive an outfit purchased by new and dear friends, who are board members of The Ranches. When they arrived, I greeted them with my partner for good, Lee. I gave them a small Macy’s bag. That bag included a small bottle of cologne, a coupon for a Starbucks drink and cookie, and a Believe bracelet. I informed them why they were there and I told them about their goodie bag but especially their Believe bracelet (the Macy’s Believe project has happened annually for 13 years and supports the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the proceeds from these bracelets benefits the org). The goodie bags were my gifts to them. I told them that there are many people that believe in them in this community.

The gratitude, the sparkle in their eyes and that confidence I saw that morning once we put together their outfit, made my heart full and I only cried, tears of joy and gratitude after they left. We had to postpone the young ladies visit due to a COVID outbreak, but I can’t wait to assist them. Sometimes I see what I do compared to others in this world and I think fashion and retail is shallow. Then I’m reminded that everyone has power to make a difference. Thank you Allen and Carla for inviting me to participate.

Pivot. Pivot. PIVOT!

I don’t know anyone who didn’t have to pivot in 2020…whether it was the sparkling-eyed bride and groom that were going to have the 2020 wedding, the individuals that were going to ROAR into 2020 or going into the year with 2020 vision. I too had the best laid plans. First, planning to make the jump into Project Runway after 5 years since my first application. Then in September, I was going to make my mark in the Paris Fashion Week. I also was coming up with a year under my belt at Macy’s and finally felt like I was going to do big things and then the world shut down.

As I look back, while I didn’t achieve those accomplishments, I did have some pretty stellar ones.

Harper’s Bazaar UK, September 2020

Hopeless + Cause Atelier’s designs were showcased in another world renowned fashion magazine.

2020 Businesswoman in Fashion Design and Retail – Albuquerque Journal

Customers and friends showed their support for Hopeless + Cause Atelier and my work with Macy’s. I was recognized by Albuquerque the Journal and I could talk about my gram again and her encouragement and help in my passion project.

While not traveling as much as I hoped to in 2020, I still was able to visit NYC during both seasons of Fashion Week (September of course was quite different). My BF took me to Santa Fe for my birthday and I was able to sneak away to our family ranch for some reprieve when I needed a reminder of the beauty in our own backyard.

PC: Erin Killion

I didn’t get to show in Paris, but the dream isn’t dead yet. I did show some fun and collaborative designs in an outdoor runway here during the #EatOutToLiftUpEvent.

When I was brought back from furlough I was immediately brought into virtual sales training. I started the year with my primary goals focusing on return business, wedding registries and community events, all with high level engagement. I had to learn new business and pivot from being an one-on-one, in-person engagement stylist/shopper to a virtual one. While the universe challenged me, many of my appointments and meetings were via Facetime/zoom or on the phone (and those of you who know me know how much I love this type of interaction). However, my wonderful community supported me while I supported them.

My dear friend, Roberta, pulled me in to support her work at the National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation’s annual Maravilla fundraiser. It took a virtual look this year and I have to say, the team hit it out of park. And as NM ALWAYS proves, it is only two-degrees of separation. I was once again connected with the most incredible people and as I talked with new friends, I learned we actually had a long, rich history.

Friends from the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and KRQE’s NM Living also helped me during this crazy time. Inviting me to join in on a Zoom appearance and submit a video talking about my work, respectively. It totally took me out of my comfort zone because this was live or something I had to review before submitting and because I fixate on my mannerisms and seeing myself on the screen…it was a daunting task for me, so much so that I actually joked on my NM Living outtakes that is was my 561st take.

Cafecito con Colon Hispanic Creatives and Retail

Then I was happy to be reconnected with a friend through a mutual friend, just days before the Christmas holiday. I was asked by Jennifer, to participate on Facebook live event talking about fashion, entrepreneurship, and personal styling for Cafecito con Colon with Brian Colon. I always say I can talk fashion all day long. I did for approximately an hour in this segment.

I wasn’t able to host many big, in-store events, but that doesn’t mean as a local division of America’s department store, we weren’t able to have positive impact on the community. With donations, grants, or change round ups supporting: Barrett Foundation, Roadrunner Food Bank, Girl’s Inc, Make-A-Wish Locker 505, the National Hispanic Cultural Foundation, Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce, American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women, United Way of Central NM’s Mission: Families and drives or personal volunteerism support of Casa Esperanza, United Way of CNM’s Women United, Beds 4 Kidz, The Ranches, and YDI/Job Corps Headstart (to name a few), my biggest pet peeve is to hear and read posts to only support local businesses. Both small and large, and for and not-for-profit are vital to having healthy communities. I have worked in all areas so I know the importance of working together to better all.

This year taught me that sometimes you have wander uncharted territories and do things that take you out of your comfort zone (every time I think I’ve gone further outside, the universe reminds me that nope, I still have growing to do). And even when you think you may not have accomplished much, take time to revel in the fact that no accomplishment is too small.

So take these words and sing out loud
‘Cause everyone is forgiven now
‘Cause tonight’s the night the world begins again

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls
PC via IG: @ahtlaqdmm
Bonne année à tous! Plus que jamais, je vous souhaite d’être en bonne santé et heureux!

My wish for you going into 2021 is health, happiness and prosperity. Be kind: to yourself and to others. Dream. And, commit to making those dreams into reality. Revel in the smallest accomplishments (with bubbles and and dancing).

Click to watch all the memories and moments from 2020 ♥️

Don’t take anything for granted. Life is finite. The only regrets you should have are the things YOU DID DO not the things you didn’t do. Revel! Dance! Drink the elixir of life. I can’t wait for the day to smile in your presence and give you the biggest hug. Let’s make this world a better place.

I wish everyone was loved tonight
And somehow stop this endless fight
Just a chance that maybe we’ll find better days

Better Days, Goo Goo Dolls,

With light and love,
Dara Sophia

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