February 8, 2016

An Interview with Fashion Designer and Stylist Amanda Valentine

In contrast to some of my other bitches, Amanda and I have only been friends for about a year. We have approximately one million friends in common, so I could never figure out how we didn't cross paths. But then I met her (and made her be my friend) and got it - Amanda is the hardest working person in Nashville.

As a female business owner, a perfectionist, and a workaholic - I get it. And I appreciate how honest Amanda is in this interview. Other things I appreciate about Amanda:  how much she loves being a Gemini, how often she refers to being a Gemini, Trash Cat, the pictures her husband takes of her while she's not looking, and her encouragement to buy, and wear, all the crazy shit I find at thrift stores. Meet today's bitch, Amanda Valentine!

What do you make and what is the name of your business?

I make clothes and my business is Amanda Valentine (formerly Valentine Valentine - the name of my Danish ancestor that came to America in 1863). I figured it was time to streamline, so I recently re-launched as Amanda Valentine.

AV:  Please note that my brother with the devil horns is now a rock star, I’m in a dress-up dress and my brother who still has his tie on is a doctor.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I’m the youngest of 5 children and grew up in the 80's, so my mother made a lot of of our clothes growing up. She would take us to the fabric store where we would pick out fabric, buttons and the pattern and she would custom design for us! For some reason I took a huge interest in it…

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

When I was in 5th grade I finally said to my mother, “Why don’t I try to make it this time?” Something about her old Bernina machine was calling my name… I can’t explain it. Reality is I’d been creating costumes since I was 2. It was always in my bones.

What was your path that lead you to where you are now?

Ah, a long and windy one. After taking after-school sewing lessons in junior high and high school, I knew what I would study in college. After college, my brother suggested I move to LA with him to scope out the fashion scene out there. That’s when I discovered wardrobe styling and absolutely fell in love with the “industry”.

Why did you decide to start your own business?

I started selling my designs on Etsy right out of college. I went through apprenticing stylists, opening vintage shops, playing in rock bands, managing boutiques and always came back to my true love:  Fashion Design. It wasn’t until I was on Project Runway that I really got the guts to go into business for myself.

What was the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?

"Work smarter, not harder." Tim Gunn told me that time and time again after visiting me in the workroom on Project Runway absolutely pulling out my hair over-designing and over-thinking.

What was the most difficult part of starting your business?

I am a CLASSIC creative. Taxes, trademarks, sales goals and projections do not come naturally to me. I’m also a GIANT introvert, so interacting with people and “selling myself” is like pulling teeth. But all those things are CRUCIAL to building a business.

Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

I spent years believing that if I worked 12 hours a day, 7 days a week, success and respect would surely follow; that if I said yes to every opportunity that came along, I was doing the right thing.  I listened to “business experts” and acted on advice that wasn’t right for me. “Trust your gut” doesn’t just apply to creative decisions. I’ve learned that my design intuition does translate into business intuition as well. No one understands my brand vision better than I do.

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

Trying to be too many things to too many people will only exhaust you. Stay laser focused and PULL BACK. Do fewer things great, rather than doing everything half-assed.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

I would go to yoga and meditate. Also, running is where I get my BEST ideas.

What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made?

My health. I was a ball of anxiety and depression just a few months ago. I’m still learning to take care of myself WHILE running a business by myself.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) related to what you make?

Selling the same dress to a 70 year old woman and a 20 year old woman. Selling the same dress to a size 16 and a size 2. I’m obsessed with all women, and never want to exclude anyone.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Instagram. I’m a junkie. Pretty pictures! Ahhhhh!

Where do you go when you need inspiration for your work?

I drive with my windows down and blast Frank Zappa. I meditate (I practice Transcendental Meditation - and highly recommend it). I go to museums. I play darts and drink beers with my husband.

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Play darts and drink beers with my husband. I call him the “5 minute business consultant.” He’s extremely creative, but he’s a Capricorn (I’m nearly an opposite Gemini), so his perspective always feels fresh, but practical.

What’s the hardest thing about being your own boss that isn’t obvious?

Knowing when to “turn off”. Can someone tell me when that is???

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I love reading great books and seeing great art, but let’s not pretend I don’t LOVE all The Real Housewives… Atlanta is my favorite. And pizza. Always pizza.

All photos courtesy of Amanda Valentine

February 1, 2016

An Interview with Senior Policy Advisor Lauren Agee

It's funny, when I set out to do this series, I didn't realize how many of my "bitches" would be my old college sorority sisters. So heads-up nineteen year olds, when you join a sorority and they tell you that these new "sisters" will be your friends for life - turns out, it's kind of true.

If I was asked the proverbial desert island question, but could list people to bring instead of books, Lauren Agee would be on that list, and not just because I know she would figure out a way to make nachos out of a palm frond and a coconut, but because she's the kind of person you always want around you. Lauren is kind, smart, funny - and if Lauren likes you, people notice.

Lauren and I have been friends since 1996 -- 20 years! We went to college together; when Lauren lived in D.C., she would come to NYC on weekends to see me and our shared friend Tiffany; and then Lauren got me a job and we worked together in the Tennessee State Senate from 2006-2012. It is my pleasure to introduce you to today's bitch, one of my favorite people, Lauren Agee!

What is your job title and where do you work?

I am the Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of the Minority Leader; Senator Lee Harris (D-Memphis) in the Tennessee General Assembly in Nashville, TN.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

In my sophomore year of college (1997) at Middle Tennessee State University I got a call from my friend and sorority sister, Chastity Hemmer Mitchell, urging me to apply for an open internship she had in the state Senator’s office where she worked. After discussing it with my dad, he urged me to speak to my advisor, Dr. Mark Byrnes (now Dean Byrnes) about getting a waiver to participate in the intern program as a sophomore (because typically these internships were only granted to juniors). I was granted the waiver and I interned that year at the Tennessee General Assembly for Senator Rosalind Kurita. 

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I don’t think there was ever a pivotal moment in my life where I said, “Oh, I want to do this for the rest of my life”, but I remember growing up, we always talked about politics as a family. Whether it was my father and I watching the annual State of the Union together or my mother talking about her love for all things Kennedy, I had an interest in politics. Growing up I thought I would be an attorney, but my path led me in a different direction.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I jokingly always say that I started at the top (The White House) and have worked my way down (to state government), but it really is true. After my internship at the Tennessee General Assembly, the summer after my junior year (1998), my father suggested I try to get an internship in Washington, D.C. It just so happened that one of his dearest friends, Jim Free, ran one of the top lobbying firms on Capitol Hill. Jim had agreed to host me as an intern at his office, but after some thought, Jim urged me to apply for an internship at The White House, which I got and reported for duty in the Office of Legislative Affairs. It was truly a dream come true in a political nerd’s life like my own, but I will spare you those details for another time! Long story short -- I did such a good job as an intern (naturally), they asked me to stay on as a full-time staff person and finish out President Clinton’s term in office. I postponed my senior year at MTSU and became a Georgetown living, 20-something working in the West Wing of The White House making a whopping $25,000/year. My mom was so proud!

After the Clinton Administration ended, I came home to finish my degree. I graduated (2001) and pondered grad/law school, but ultimately went back to D.C. to work for Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (D-California) as her Scheduler/Office Manager.  

Fast-forward three years, I meet my now-husband and am looking to get back to Tennessee. I started putting feelers out to people in the political scene at home and one day former Senator Andy Womack gives me a call to tell me that a former colleague of his, Senator Jim Kyle from Memphis, was just elected as the Democratic Leader of the State Senate and he was looking for a new Policy and Research Analyst.

Senator Kyle hired me (2005) and after two years, promoted me to his Senior Policy Advisor where I worked for him for 10 years. Senator Kyle ran for Chancellor in his home county of Shelby in 2014 and retired from the State Senate after a 30-year tenure.

Today, I still work in the same position, but I have a new boss, Senator Lee Harris, also from the great city of Memphis. Leader Harris is the first minority to be elected to a leadership position in the Tennessee General Assembly and is a true leader for our state. 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

“If you go slower, you’ll get there faster” from Senator Jim Kyle’s 10 Rules of Politics.  

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

You can only win or lose in politics; every loss teaches you a lesson – the big and small ones.  

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Not drive on I-24. Yoga.  

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Being named Senate Employee of the Year in 2007 was a huge honor for me. I was truly humbled, as this is an honor that is voted on by your work peers.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?


How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

A big hug from my kiddos and a bigger glass of wine.  

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

Logistics. There are many steps to passing a piece of legislation or promoting (or demoting) a cause. It takes a lot of work from a lot of different people and you have to know the process, the staff, the Members, the lawyers, the lobbyist, the strategists and the media.  

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

I think some people fail to see the good that government actually can do and the positive impact it can have on people’s daily lives. My best days are those where I help a constituent or we pass a bill on the floor of the Senate that I know will have a positive impact for this state and it’s citizens.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Survivor! It’s the one show hubby and I have always watched together since we starting dating… it’s been a constant staple in our relationship, 14+ years in the making!


All photos courtesy of Lauren Agee

January 27, 2016

Eff You, January Body

Man, January took a toll on my body. I spent Christmas like everyone else:  binge-watching Making A Murderer and binge-eating Christmas cookies. Then January rolls around and I (A) get super sick and have to go on steroids, and (B) give up my spot in cycling class due to an anticipated schedule change, a schedule change that didn't happen, but I lost my spot nonetheless.

Having to go on steroids the week after Christmas is #thestruggleisreal enough, but being too sick to work-out for the first half of January is unbearable for someone who gets an emotional release from exercise, as well as most of her socialization for the day. So right now I'm feeling a lot cagey and a little fat.

Am I actually heavier? Who knows. It doesn't serve me to weigh myself. All of my clothes are tight, so probably. Oh, and I broke a Moving Comfort sports bra in half (in half!!) this morning trying to put it on.

I'm torn between being a good role model, a good feminist and loving my body, and wanting my jeans to fit. More than that though, I apparently need to exercise and talk to people or I get crazy.

As I finished out 2015, I was doing 7+ hours of swim-bike-running a week, plus 2 personal training sessions and 1 yoga class. I have more or less been working out like someone training for a 70.3 triathlon for 2 years with no break. To say I'm burned out is the understatement of the world. I've got to figure out how to keep my body in the general vicinity of it's current size by doing things I want to do, and may even have fun doing. Stuff like hiking, or twerking. Or paying $10 a month to ride a cardio machine at Planet Fitness for 45 minutes twice a week.

To be cont'd.

January 25, 2016

An Interview with Research Associate Bernadette Doykos

I have a strong internet friendship going with today's bitch. I met Bernadette via East Nasty running club and we bonded over a shared aversion to running, but a shared passion of yoga, bracelets and top knots. Bernadette moved to Portland, Maine a few years ago, and our friendship transitioned from IRL to the World Wide Web. We exchange emails on a range of topics including, but not limited to:  day planners, Japanese pens, Dear Sugar, high-end lounge wear, and getting right with astrology.

In all of the years I've known Bernadette, I've never 100% understood what she does, or where the delineation is between her being a student and her being a teacher. That's okay, because turns out, no one knows! Here is what I do know, Bernadette attends more weddings than anyone I know, she's a fierce dancer, and she belongs to a legit lady coven. Meet today's bitch, Bernadette Doykos!
What is your job title and where do you work?

I'm a Research Associate in the Center for Education Policy, Applied Research, and Evaluation at the University of Southern Maine in Portland.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I thought for sure that I wanted to be a teacher, so I student-taught in New York City as part of something called The Urban Education Semester (in lieu of going to Costa Rica. Hey, 20 year old me, not sure if that was the best or worst decision). While teaching, I realized I wasn’t a great classroom teacher, due in large part to the need to adhere to testing focused curriculum. Our first graders developed some serious anxiety about filling in bubbles on standardized forms, which I felt took away substantially from the possibilities for learning. I became interested in all of the other ways students could connect with learning beyond a traditional classroom, so I've been pursuing those questions ever since.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I’m a liberal arts kid through and through, which is to say it’s hard for me to focus on just one thing at a time. I like drawing connections across the different spaces kids exist in each day (home, school, community), and considering how those experiences combine to impact students’ experiences and outcomes. I became especially interested in this line of work as I discovered the potential role for qualitative research, which is like listening to and telling stories. Breathing some life into the numbers is my favorite part.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

I am still working on a PhD, but some things happened that made me want to be closer to my family. I found this job and applied on a whim… and here I am almost 2 years later!

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Don’t be afraid to ask for things; worst case, people will say no (this especially includes help).

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

These past few years, I’ve been failing a lot, mostly due to fear of failing. Make sense? Yeah, I know. But things stop me up and then I miss deadlines and then I feel anxious. Rinse. Repeat. I’m trying to be better about throwing things out there because I actually thrive when given feedback. Letting down a sense of nervousness that whatever I’ve produced isn’t worth someone’s time will help me to get the feedback I need… and help me to continue moving forward.

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Read all of the news (that sounds more erudite than I truly mean it to be, as it is important to note that at least 37 minutes would be dedicated to USWeekly/People/Jezebel etc etc). Grow a money tree. Read books. Do more yoga. Let’s be honest, probably just watch more episodes of Gilmore Girls

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

When I taught my first class on my own at Vanderbilt, I (sort of) joked that my goal was to get compliments on my outfits on my evaluations. At the midterm, one student asked if I would take her shopping. I self-fived. But seriously, I think that my course evaluations are the things I’m most proud of. Across the board, they’ve been pretty great and I adore teaching and try to make it fun and meaningful for my students, and that means so much to me. 

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

Usually Instagram, which I mindlessly one eye scroll before committing to opening the second eye. (Though a goal for 2016 is to kick my cellphone out of bed, which feels oddly like kicking a no good manpanion out of bed.)

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

I am currently obsessed with spinning, so I try to hit one of those classes. The combination of seeing some friends, scream singing some pop music with no one realizing, and sweating abundantly feels like a good release after a long day. I also have recently become obsessed with podcasts, so I play those while bustling around in my apartment. Finally, in the last year, I’ve adopted one of my sister’s end of day habits and make a cup of Calming Yogi Tea with honey and milk that I drink in bed as I read or write and wind down.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

I am always juggling a ton of projects at the same time, so keeping them organized and making sure I don’t forget particular details is critical to their success. The good news is, this fuels my obsession with notebooks, pens, and planners. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Well, at this point, most people think I’m done with graduate school since I’ve been enrolled for one trillion years, so it’s awkward when people call me “Dr.” or whatever (that will be awkward even if/when I obtain said degree) and I have to correct them. Also, a lot of people just really have no clue what I do and mumble when asked, which actually works perfectly for me. Maintains a little mystery.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

I have recently re-watched Sex and the City, which is a totally different experience as a single lady in my 30s than it was as a gal in a long term relationship in my early 20s. Favorite snack:  hummus and… anything that can be used as a vehicle for hummus. Also, half popped popcorn from Trader Joe’s.

All photos courtesy of Bernadette Doykos

January 23, 2016

December Thrifting

We've got us a little blizzard here in Nashville and I'm on day two of being stuck inside the house. Since I can't hit the real shops, I 'shopped' my photos and compiled a Best Of from my December thrifting adventures. Spoiler alert:  I went to Sparta.

I mean, who doesn't love a latch-hook football pillow? P.S. This was HUGE.

I keep buying coats and not wearing them, so I didn't buy this. It was $17. I liked the fit and the stripes, but not the tapered wrists and padded shoulders. Meh. I'd rather pay $149 to have this super awesome one.

I didn't buy this either, although I probably should have since it was just $6. I already own too many red jackets that I don't wear. The piping detail on that sleeve though...

Heh! I for sure owned a version of this jacket when I was little. I just wanted to try it on. I didn't buy it.

I randomly find these cat mysteries and they crack me up every time. Look at that cat's expression!

Sparta! I was in Sparta over Christmas and hit their antique malls. I bought this 1940's chenille quilt for $25!! The cashier told me there's no way the vendor meant to price it so low, but he wasn't there and she didn't care. She kept laughing about how mad he's going to be as she rang me up. It was very strange. Also? I found a butter dish with a swastika on it. Sparta...

Okay, first of all, the McMinnville Goodwill store is terrifying, but I found this amazing, fringed, pom-pomed, gold lame cape for FOUR DOLLARS!!! It photographs green, but it's gold in person. It's the current joy of my life.

I really wanted this coat of many colors to fit, but it didn't. Much as I love over-sized clothes, apparently 3XL is too far over the line.

I'm not even kidding when I say I almost bought this Lee Sturdy Sweats sweatshirt dress. It was way too big and absolutely ridiculous, but the color was great and it was so comfortable! (Because it's a sweatshirt.)

I didn't buy this because it was oddly way overpriced, but I flipped through it and it was hilarious. It's hard to tell in this picture, but it's yearbook-sized.

January 19, 2016

An Interview with Health Policy Director Libby Thurman

Nashville is a music town. A lot of my friends are either musicians, married to musicians, or music industry 9 to 5-er's. Years ago, pre husbands and kids, a bunch of ladies would get together and play poker while their menz went out on tour. I couldn't and still can't play poker, but I'm not one to turn down social invitations or snacks for dinner, so I went. And I met Libby.

In the 10-ish years Libby and I have been friends, our professional paths have crossed enough for me to know that she is really good at her job. I mean, do you have a friend who's met the President? I didn't think so. Meet today's bitch, my friend, Libby Thurman!

What is your job title and where do you work?

Health Policy Director, Tennessee Primary Care Association. TPCA is a membership association for community health centers in Tennessee. CHCs provide primary care to medically under served areas and populations. I monitor federal and state legislation and advocate for policies that will benefit health centers and their patients. I also work with partners to find areas of overlap and further the mission of providing quality healthcare to all, despite income level or insurance status.

When did you first learn about this field of work?

I learned about trade organizations through my exposure to the American Society for Public Administration. Attending local chapter meetings prompted me to look into trade and membership organizations for other groups.

How did you know it was what you wanted to do?

I wasn’t 100% sure working for a membership organization was my career goal until I interviewed for my current position. Talking to the staff about the many ways they supported the work of health centers excited me. I also liked that there were so many moving parts - I was hired at the end of 2011, right when the Affordable Care Act implementation was getting underway. Helping health centers adapt and thrive in a different healthcare landscape seemed like a challenge.

What was your path that lead you to the job you have now?

My path was not at all direct. I took a lot of detours and didn’t know where I was headed. My graduate degree is in sociology - I really enjoyed my coursework but did not have a clear career goal upon graduation. I worked as a behavior therapist in a traumatic brain injury program right out of school. The work was fulfilling, but the paycheck was not. I then took a position as a research analyst with the state housing authority. After a couple years there, I moved on to a position as a research analyst at a state-funded research organization. While I enjoyed aspects of my work, the topics I wrote papers about were not my passion (think land use, local tax issues, and funding for local jails). During this time I also completed an M.A. in counseling, thinking I would pursue that route, only to discover mid-way through my program that the licensure process was not designed for a single woman who needed to pay rent & eat for the two years it would take to become a reimbursable provider. I did a lot of soul searching, worked with a career/life counselor, and finally determined that I really wanted to work in the healthcare industry. 

Favorite piece of advice, business or otherwise?

Go with your gut, but think twice. It’s really easy to over think things, especially when the implications of your decision are significant. I’ve learned to trust my own judgement, but only when I’ve thoroughly considered the options. 

Failure you learned from or that helped you improve the way you work?

My inclination is to start small and then work up to what you really want. Through trial and error I’ve learned to shoot for what I want the first time. Ask and you may receive!

What would you do with 2 more hours a day?

Two non-work hours? Exercise! I have two small children and my gym time has evaporated into thin air.

What is your greatest success (or something you’re most proud of) in your professional life?

Certainly one of the most exciting moments was meeting President Obama earlier this summer. He visited Nashville to talk about the Affordable Care Act and we were fortunate enough to be invited to attend.

What’s the first app or website you open when you wake up in the morning?

I typically don’t look at any websites or apps until I arrive at work. First thing upon sitting down at my desk is email. If it’s a weekend day I will peruse the socials while sipping a coffee at the gym while my kids are in Y-Play (perhaps the best benefit ever - free daycare at the gym so you can work out and have a few moments of quiet!). 

How do you decompress at the end of the work day?

Having a glass of wine and chatting with my husband.

What’s the hardest thing about your job that isn’t obvious?

With all the publicity about healthcare reform it’s no secret that there’s a lot going on. The most challenging aspect of my job is keeping up with the constant stream of information coming at me and determining what is meaningful for health centers. 

What is one thing everyone gets wrong about what you do?

Legislative work is just one aspect of the job. I spend a lot of time working directly with members to problem-solve operational and other issues.

Lastly, and most important, what is your favorite TV show and what is your favorite snack?

Hard to decide! I'm currently watching Master of None and waiting for Outlander to come back on. Snacks - potato chips and chocolate (not at the same time!).

All photos courtesy of Libby Thurman

January 15, 2016

70.3 Race Series: Training Schedule

Let's talk about a training schedule for your first 70.3, or Half-Iron distance triathlon. I followed a 20-week training plan, which is pretty standard. There are a lot of good, free training plans online, but in my case, they were all either too intermediate, or too beginner. I took this plan and this plan and made my own "Advanced Beginner" 20-week training plan.

I'm going to assume if you're doing this sport, then you're an organized maniac, so treat yo' self:  make a spreadsheet. Label the first column "Week", and each row "1, 2, 3..." until you get to 20. Title the second column "Date", scroll down to Row 20, and type in the date of the Monday before your race. Let's say your race is Sunday, September 25, 2016, then you will type 9/19/16. Keep going backwards until you have all 20 rows filled out.

My 20-week training plan started in May, but I was months into my training by the time 5/12/14 rolled around. Why? Because I had to build a foundation before I started training, a Couch to Half Iron, if you will. I hired a triathlon coach and started working with her in February, 7 months before my race.

The kind of foundation you need to build depends on your level of fitness. When I started, I had completed 4 sprint distance triathlons, 1 Olympic, and 4 half marathons. I weighed 180 lbs. I had already lost 20 lbs, and ultimately lost another 20, but I started training at a weight that I felt was a little too heavy for my build and frame (I'm 5"6').

When I started building my foundation, I was already training for a half marathon, so the running was there, but I needed to add cycling, swimming and strength training. I'd say I was working out about 6-7 hours a week that first month. I was swimming on my own at the Downtown Y, doing a group strength class once or twice a week and not riding my bike. Well, that all changed! 

I'll go into this in my next post - on how many millions of dollars this sport is going to cost you, j/k, j/k. For now I'll leave you with this, in addition to hiring a triathlon coach, I bought a bike trainer, joined NAC Masters, quit the Y and started doing 2 days of strength training in my living room. 

Stay tuned!


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