Thursday, December 18, 2014

Life as a Production Assistant | Under the Ash Tree

Friends, I'm psyched to introduce you to Ashley from Under the Ash Tree! She and I met up recently for a blog consultation at a coffee shop right here in Brooklyn, and let me tell you, we had a blast and a half. Actually, more like a blast and a whole. It was pretty much a mega blast.

Not only are Ashley and I neighbors, but we also have quite a few things in common. For instance, she works as a production assistant (or a PA, if you're into acronyms), which is the very same job title I held a while back. I asked her today to come on this here blog and divulge what it's like to work as a PA here in NYC. Check her out. She's boss.


Hey Avoiding Atrophy readers! I’m Ashley and I write over at Under The Ash Tree. I'm so excited today to tell you a little bit about my life. I'm a Brooklyn resident, I've lived here for six years, and I am a production assistant.


For those who don’t know, a production assistant, or “PA,” is essentially the backbone to any major television or movie production. PAs are hired to do everything and anything, from running to get coffee, to setting up lights, to managing extras or mic’ing up talent. Some of my friends who also work in the industry have done things like walking an “A-list” celebrity’s dog or working on the field at the Superbowl. I’ve worked at places like Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, where I had to pick out a tie for Steve Martin, and the Colbert Report, where I had to find a pirate costume for a taxidermic squirrel and go to Washington DC to work The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear.


It’s a challenging job with long hours, but in New York where there is so much production work going on, you can constantly find jobs on a variety of projects, so it can be very exciting! My situation is a little different than a traditional PA as I have a full-time job with benefits, paid vacation and personal days. Full-time PA jobs are fairly uncommon, as most productions are freelance, but I work on a television show called NHL Live, a two-hour daily pre-game show on NHL Network, the National Hockey League’s TV Channel. I’ve worked here since after the NHL lockout in February 2011 and it’s been a busy and interesting ride. Hockey is a seasonal sport, but our “production season” runs from September, the start of the teams' training camps, all the way through “Free Agency Day” on July 1st. During the season, I work 50 to 70 hours per week and 5 to 7 days a week which is exhausting, but also a lot of fun. I get to go cover all the major hockey events with the show, like the Winter Classic, the All-Star Game and the Stanley Cup Finals, which is overwhelming yet wonderful to say the least.


My days vary depending on the time of year and whether or not I am on the road for work. But on a normal weekday during the season, my day is fairly straight forward. I arrive at 9am, check my email and will usually have a list of things I can start working on given to me by the producers. I went to New York University for Video Editing so I am often asked to use that skill by preparing B-rolls, which are essentially highlights from the previous night’s games.


Everyday at 10:30 we have a morning meeting, where the crew, five PA’s, a producer, a director and a graphics coordinator discuss the rundown of what is going to happen that day. We find out what guests we'll have on the show, what team reports there are, or which NHL players had a good night the previous evening. We get to present ideas for segments, and go over important events happening in the next few weeks. After the meeting, I have a list of what to work on and then I get going on those items until 2pm, when I head into the control room. In the Control Room, I run a machine called the “GrassValley Stratus,” where I am in charge of making sure all the footage the producers want for the show has been edited by the editors. It’s kind of complicated, but the way I can explain it is this: let’s say our talent–the hosts of the show–are talking about Sidney Crosby, arguably the best player in the NHL. I would cue up video of Crosby scoring goals, and then would play that on TV while the hosts talk about so the viewers can see examples of how good of a player he is. Here is an example of an NHL Live montage I edited that opened the block on former player Mark Messier :

Most people who are production assistants use the skills they learn to move up in the production world. One day, I would love to be a producer on a live television show, but I am still a few years and few levels away from that right now. However I'm still pretty happy with my job and where I am at. Yes, I wish I had more free time, but the benefits far outweigh the exhaustion!

Thanks Christy for letting me take over your blog today! If you want to connect with me or ask me any more questions, check out my "professional website" or my twitter page!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Childhood Christmas Traditions

Back in my day, this was the pinnacle of Christmas fashion.
Growing up, I always felt like my family didn't really have any Christmas traditions. My friends always came back from the holiday break talking about how they had gathered with their extended families, sipped eggnog, and sang carols. My Christmas wasn't anything like that. Not at all. We didn't eat chocolates out of an advent calendar, put a mischievous elf on the shelf, meet up with distant relatives, or wear matching sweaters. Santa came, sure, but I didn't really view his visits as a holiday ritual. They were simply my right as a well-behaved child.

But looking back, I realize that even though we didn't engage in a lot of customary Christmas past times, we still had traditions. Oh, did we ever. Here are just a few of them:

1. Setting up our fake Christmas tree

Image via Balsam Hill

To my recollection, in the eighteen years that I lived under my parents' roof, we only owned two Christmas trees. When one was out of commission, we sprang for a fancier model, but they were both fake -- fake as all hell -- and they were both a pain in the ass to set up. We would store our tree in our attic, which was a place that, as a young child, I believed to be the home of a tiny, evil man in a derby hat (this is just one example of the kinds of terrifying, detailed stories my dad told me when I was a kid). I would cower, petrified, in a corner as my dad and sisters nearly broke their necks trying to take the tree down the ladder. My dad would set the whole thing up like a super hero and my sisters and I would be in charge of the decorating. I don't know where my mom was during all of this -- probably buying us tacos or something. Thanks, Mom.

2. Listening to Mannheim Steamroller

My dad always played Mannheim Steamroller while we decorated our tree, and to this day, it is the music of my nightmares. I genuinely believe that when one enters the gates of Hell, they will be greeted with a mashup of Mannheim Steamroller and Lowrider. There is just something about that synthesized sound that makes my ears cry, and that was the case even back then, but props to my dad for never giving in to my incessant complaining.

3. The Drive-Through Nativity

Image via Photo Pin

At my hometown church, we did a lot of weird things, but the Drive-Through Nativity was by far the weirdest (and my most favorite). It combined two of our nation's most beloved things: Jesus and the business model for the American fast food industry. My family would drive into the church parking lot and line up behind several other cars to watch the story of the birth of Jesus. We were handed a tape with a guided audio track, and we would drive slowly as we approached stations depicting scenes from the nativity. The best part: it was all live-action. That means actual humans from our church were playing these biblical characters...for hours. They were supposed to stay in character the whole time, but there was always some sleepy six-year-old sheep who was totally OVER IT or a shepherd who was eating a granola bar. My sister and I would laugh hysterically from the backseat at the awkwardness of it all while making up new narrations for the characters ("Hi, my name is King Herod. *fart sound*"). At the end, we were handed a plate of cookies for the road, and it certainly felt like we had earned them.

These traditions from my childhood were some of my most treasured, but they honestly don't even begin to scratch the surface. I can't leave out our traditional Christmas Eve meal (cold cuts and cheese served on a platter from HEB) or our ceremonial gift-opening tradition (hoarding all of our gifts in laundry baskets) or our traditional Christmas song and dance (i.e. complaining loudly to our parents about having to go to the Christmas Eve service at, we were brats).

While my family's Christmas traditions were a bit on the unconventional side, I still completely treasure them -- so much so that I've actually been listening to Mannheim Steamroller the entire time while writing this post. Excuse me now while I drain the blood from my ears.

Does your family have any slightly eccentric holiday traditions?

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Q&A with Stevie Storck

Happy Saturday, friends! Today I'd like you to meet Stevie Storck of Stevie Storck Design Co.! She's a designer from Lancaster, PA with an impeccable sense of style, a beautiful blog, and an Etsy shop called Young Tradition Studio that you should definitely go check out after reading this post (you hear me? AFTER!). She's on the blog today answering some questions about life, design, and inspiration. Check her out!

1. I love people who make big moves to follow their passions. Can you tell me a bit about what led you to launch Stevie Storck Design Co?

It's been an interesting journey! I started blogging in 2011 as an interior design student who was profiling her own DIY projects for her first apartment (under the name Lace & Paper Flowers). As I was creating presentations for my school projects and trying to make my blog look nice, I slowly began teaching myself graphic design. A few months before my college graduation, I started selling custom printable stationery designs through the Etsy platform as Stevie Greek Design! That fall, I married my high school sweetheart (yay!) and started debating the whole name issue. Should I take my husband's name? Should I keep my maiden name professionally? (This was a joke because as a recent college graduate, I barely even had a "career").

Nevertheless, this big life change led to some deep thinking on the identity I wanted to create for myself, personally and professionally. Over the next year, I really analyzed my goals and what I wanted my blog and business to become. In late summer 2014, I launched Stevie Storck Design Co.! To me, it just didn't feel right to draw a hard line between "personal" and "professional". So in addition to my posts about interior design, decorating and DIY projects, I continue to share bits and pieces from my life. As a designer, I want to get to know my clients as their true selves and I want my clients and readers to know me in this same way!

2. In your Etsy shop, Young Tradition Studio, you sell unique, customizable stationary. What has been your favorite part about distributing your designs through Etsy?

My favorite part has definitely been sharing in the joy and excitement of my customer's milestones and celebrations, like getting married or having a new baby. I love it when I really get to collaborate with a client, to create something custom and unique to their event.

3. When you are not designing/writing posts for your site, what do you enjoy doing?

I work full-time as a Design Consultant at INTER!ORS in Lancaster, PA, which I really enjoy but I am also a woman of many hobbies! In addition to the decorating, graphic design and crafting projects I share on my blog, I enjoy singing Choral music, playing the mandolin, trying new recipes, spending time on my family's farm, hanging out with my two adorable nieces and traveling around the country to visit friends.

4. What are two posts that you've written recently which you feel are representative of your brand?

1. Winter Style | Seasonal Color & Decor Inspiration

2. Fall Style | 7 Tips For DIY Wreath Making

5. What/who inspires you?

I used to watch a lot of HGTV, but not having cable in college really weaned me off of that. I still love catching episodes of Fixer Upper with Chip & Joanna Gaines (who may or may not be my role models in life) but mostly I find inspiration from other bloggers and Pinterest! Some of my favorite bloggers are Merrick from Merrick's Art, Emily from Jones Design Company, and Elsie and Emma of A Beautiful Mess. Instagram is also one of my favorite ways to follow designers and bloggers that I admire.

Comments are disabled for this post, but if you want to say hey to Stevie (and you do), you can do so here!

Friday, December 12, 2014

On Being An Unlikely Introvert

I like to take every opportunity I can to let people know that I am an introvert. I don’t parade around with a megaphone announcing it to passersby or shout it from the tops of skyscrapers, but if the subject comes up in casual conversation, I usually mention it. It’s not like I'm bragging. I don’t have some romantic notion that introverts, with all of their solitude and introspection, have the keys to unlock the mysteries of the universe. There is nothing about my introversion that has made me any more of an intellectual, I assure you (in fact, it’s possible that the opposite is true).

I say that I am introvert because I feel like it is something that needs to be said. I say it because it seems like the kind of thing that people might not otherwise know about me. In reference to the classical introverted “type”, I’m not exactly what one would picture. I’m chatty (oh-so-chatty), gregarious, bubbly with a big, loud laugh that some might call a cackle. At parties, I don’t cling to walls like a magnet or break out into hives. I make jokes. I initiate conversations. I wear magenta. When there is a circumstance that requires dancing, I dance. In fact, at weddings, friends request “The Christy”, a dance I promptly perform which looks like some modified version of a traditional Russian folk dance.

But still, folk dance and all, I am an introvert. And by the way, I’m not some semi or seasonal one. I’m the real deal. Picture, if you will, a line with Introversion on the left side and Extroversion on the right. I am not some meandering dot in the middle of that spectrum. I do not wander back and forth as though it were a sliding scale. I sit, unmoving, on the left. I am the left. The far, far left. I have never met a person from whom I did not want some space.

I'm not doing "The Christy" here, but still, note that I am dancing.
Albeit strangely. But dancing, nonetheless. (Via)

While most people seem to understand that introverts are simply those who gain energy from solitude, there still seems to be a prevailing stereotype that introverts are mostly quiet, withdrawn, Boo Radley-types. We imagine meek, bookish creatures with pocket protectors and nervous dispositions.

But of course, the truth is that introverts are far more intricate than that. They range from the timid to the bombastic, from the friendless to the friendly, from the book-loving to the secretly book-loving (they all love books, by the way. That part is true). There have been several think pieces written in the last few years on this subject, so it surprises me sometimes that this lesson hasn’t completely sunk into our collective cultural conscious.

This prevailing characterization causes a lot of communication breakdown in my life. Because I don’t fit the classical introvert mold, I have had friends who are confused by my desire to be alone. Instead of seeing my withdrawal as a time to recharge, it is instead seen as rejection. They think that certainly they must have done something wrong or that I must not really like them when, in actuality, I just operate on a different social frequency.

It’s this continual misunderstanding that has led me to announce at the drop of a hat that I am introvert. I sort of see it as my responsibility to have that conversation (ME: I’m an introvert. NEW FRIEND: You? An introvert? Me oh my, I never would have dreamed!). It can be frustrating, especially when people try to convince me that I’m wrong, but this talk usually leads to a place of clarification and deeper understanding.

If I may speak on behalf of the introvert community for a moment, allow me to say this: our desire for introspection does not eclipse our desire to laugh or go to themed parties or wear glittery dresses. Being an introvert does not inhibit our capacity to love or to speak boldly about our beliefs or to scream “THIS IS MY JAAAAAAM!” whenever the song “Dancing Queen” comes on at a roller-skating rink. Our love of alone time is just one facet of our multifaceted personalities, and you know what, we’d really like for you to be okay with that.

Too often, human beings try to put each other into boxes. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are ill intentioned, but rather that we are just attempting to be organized. We want to categorize and separate information in our brains, and this inclination sometimes leads us, however incidentally, to damaging generalizations. I’m certainly guilty of this, too. 

But people can’t be boxed. I mean, they can, but they’ll get real pissed about it and break out and write a blog post. So let’s not let that happen. Let’s approach each other with curiosity and a decisive amnesia for every other “type” of person we’ve ever known.

Also, hug an introvert today. We like that (some of us, anyway. I don’t mean to generalize).  

Do you identify as an introvert or extrovert or some combo of the two?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

A Week of No | A Week of Yes: Final Thoughts & Link-up

If you've been hanging around these parts, you know that I've been performing a bit of an experiment as of late. I decided to challenge myself to a test of setting boundaries and taking chances: A Week of No and a Week of Yes. Today, I'm sharing how this whole thing turned out:

Week of NO

You can read last week's post for a more in depth look at my experience with my Week of No, but essentially I took that time as an opportunity to turn down the things of life that felt needlessly obligatory: the blog post that could be written tomorrow, the big group dinner that I just wasn't feeling like attending, the last-minute invitations or requests that really didn't work with my schedule. Those might all seem like obvious things to say "no" to, but -- and I don't think I'm alone in this -- sometimes guilt can cause me to make weird decisions.

That's the biggest thing I decided to let go of during my Week of No: guilt -- the kind that leads me to begrudgingly agree to things that in a hundred years I would never want to do. I wasn't perfect about it, but to the best of my ability, I attempted to shut off that part of my brain for seven days straight. I quieted that voice in my head that says, "But they're counting on you...", "But they'll be mad at you...", "But if you say 'no' to this, you'll have to say 'yes' to the next thing..." I took that disembodied voice and put her in a drawer. I could still hear her rambling sometimes, but it was kind of muffled, so I couldn't always make out what she was trying to say.

This was what I looked like during my Week of No: free of obligation and full of pie.

So that was my Week of No, and believe me, it was needed.

Week of YES

This last week, I switched gears and started saying "yes." This was a week dedicated to committing myself to good things that I might be tempted to avoid/put off: the project that has been on the back burner for months, the phone call with a friend that I've been missing, the thing I got invited to at the last minute that might be amazing but also might be terrible, who knows. 

I made an insane to-do list for myself, chockfull of job stuff and life stuff. When I made it, I told my husband that if I didn't complete every item, I would punish myself by moving to the woods. So anyway, I guess I'm moving to the woods because NO WAY IN HELL did I finish that crazy list. 

But I'm still proud to say that I knocked off a lot of the big stuff. I ran a successful sponsor promotion and connected with tons of wonderful creatives. I met with some wonderful people, sent so.many.emails, wrote stories, reached out to brands, sketched out some plans for upcoming projects, wrote a sponsored post, and still had time to listen to the latest installment of Serial on Thursday (by the way, we are all listening to Serial, right?).

This was a week where I especially said "yes" to the future of this blog, which is a thing that I must confess has been fading into the background lately.

My headquarters for my Week of Yes. Spent a lot of time in my new, still-unfinished home office.

And you may be wondering after all of this -- which did I like better? Which week was more enjoyable? Which one taught me the most?

Both. I liked both. I loved both. I was frustrated with both. I learned from both.

Here's what I am taking with me from my Week of No:

1. The world doesn't fall apart if I don't show up.

I know what you're thinking: this is the kind of lesson a narcissist needs to learn, and you know what, I'll take that for what it's worth. I do think it's easy for me to get in the mindset of, "If I don't do this, no one will do this, and probably everything will be ruined." And you know what? That's not the truth. During my Week of No, not a single decision I made caused a black hole. Think about that.

2. People are generally fine when you say "no", especially if you provide an alternative.

"Hey there, I'm not down for this, but you know who would be? My friend/colleague/person I admire, _____." Providing alternatives is a really respectful way to turn someone down, and I want to get a lot better at making this a part of my professional life. Also, with that, it's not always necessary to provide reasons for turning someone down. A simple "no" is usually preferable to "Uh, see, I can't because...I've got this friend...'s cousin...'s boyfriend...who is coming into town...and...he...ummm..." Actually, "no" is always preferable to that mess. 

3. Saying "no" can get boring...eventually.

At the end of my Week of No, I was itching for my Week of Yes. But only at the very end. The rest of it was

Here's what I'm taking with me from my Week of Yes:

1. Even small yeses can have big impacts.

One of the things on my list this week involved amping up my social media presence. On Monday morning, I relaxed with a cup of coffee while tweeting at bloggers I loved, and by the afternoon, I'd somehow gained fifteen new followers. What?! I wasn't even wearing pants! 

2. Saying "yes" is actually saying "no." 

It's just saying "no" to different things. Saying "yes" involves fighting with your brain a lot and telling it to shut up when it wants to take a break or break down into a fit of negativity. That second fight was the one I found myself engaged in a lot. I didn't always win. 

3. Saying "yes" can get stressful...super quick.

Early on, in my Week of Yes, I realized the thing that I always seem to forget -- that I can't do it alone. Even before I actually said "yes" to anything, just looking at the to-do list that I created started to give me anxiety. That's when I decided that if I was going to do this while still maintaining my sanity, I would need to set apart time for prayer and meditation. I read Psalms every morning and jotted down all kinds of thoughts and reflections. In doing this, I was reminded that I wasn't alone, and that I'm never actually alone even when I try to convince myself that I am.

The thing about this whole Week of No | Week of Yes thing is that it's not a practical way to live. I realize that. Obviously we need both sides in balance to be able to function as human beings. By the way, if I remember correctly, that's basically the thesis for the movie "Yes Man." 

But sometimes it takes going to the extreme to realize how to incorporate ideas in moderation. If this happens to be resonating with you, feel free to adopt one of these weeks for yourself. If you are someone who is all about boundaries but forgets to take risks, have a week of "Yes." If you are someone who agrees to everything and can barely breathe, maybe try a week of "No." And if you're a spazz like me, maybe try both. 

How do you say "no" and "yes" in your life?


If you happen to give this experiment a try or if you just want to write about the importance of saying "no" or "yes", feel free to link-up your post below! Your posts can be centered around any of the following:

1. If you've done the Week of Yes/No experiment, write about what you learned.
2. If you're about to do a Week of Yes/No, write about your goals.
3. Simply write about a time in life when you said "yes" or "no" to something significant. 

Feel free also to connect a previously written post if you've got one. I'll keep the link-up running all week, so add your posts and be sure to link back to this post. Thanks, fellow boundary-setters and dream-chasers!

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Pillow Fort Book Bash

Thanks to Tiny Prints for sponsoring this post!

Remember the joys of pillow forts? Remember rainy Saturday afternoons spent building a giant castle of sheets and blankets? Remember how you would hang a "No Boys Allowed!" sign in front of your creation and spend hours curled up under it with your American Girl doll and a good book?

Of course you do. Pillow forts were the best part of everyone's childhood. That's a fact.

And just because you are an adult now with responsibilities and a routine and a checking account -- that certainly doesn't mean you need to stop creating these glorious structures. In fact, you can probably build a better fort now than you ever could as an eight-year-old.

Case in point...

Now tell me you don't want to cuddle all up in this bad boy! This epic pillow fort was erected right in my living room last week, and it made my life positively magical. I enlisted my husband to help me build it, and by "help me", of course I mean that he built the whole thing while I took pictures. 

Yes, yes. WE are doing such a good job in this picture.
We didn't just make this thing for funsies, though. No sir. This fort was the setting for -- get this -- a PILLOW FORT BOOK BASH!

Now, what exactly is a Pillow Fort Book Bash, you may ask? Well, every month, a few friends and I select a book and meet up to chat about it (thanks to my friend Tara for initiating this wonderful tradition!). This time around, I thought: where better to converse about books than in a pillow fort?! Hence, Pillow Fort Book Bash (or PFBB, if you're into acronyms). 

So you may be wondering to yourself: how exactly does one host a PFBB? 

Well, first things first, you'll need to pick a book. We decided on "Yes Please" by Amy Poehler, and if you're planning a PFBB, I highly recommend it. There are a lot of wonderful conversational nuggets in there. But more on that later.

Next, you'll need some fantastic invitations.

These invitations from Tiny Prints inspired such a happy response from my guests! I am always amazed by the creative selections they have to offer, but even so, I never thought I would find such perfect book-themed invites. If you are ever in the market for stationary -- from the very general to the highly specific -- you better believe they've got something for you.

While the concept of this event was simple (build a fort, talk about a book), I wanted to be able to provide my friends with something a little special. 

I mean, what is a book-themed pillow fort party without book-themed pillows? Tiny Prints lets you customize these pretties online, and I loaded mine up with literary sayings and quotes from prolific authors (but seriously, you can design these pillows to say pretty much anything). They were used as seats for my guests, and I also gave them out as favors when the party was over. While the fort itself was pretty stinking cool, these pillows were definitely my favorite element of the party. 

In terms of food for this shindig, I'm not going to lie, I just ordered pizza. After all, for a party centered around a beloved childhood past time, pizza seemed like the obvious choice. But don't worry, I still did something a little swanky in the beverage department.

These monogrammed mugs were a cinch to make (I just used a Sharpie over letter stencils and baked them at 400 degrees for 40 minutes). We filled them with hot chocolate and delicious artisan marshmallows by Butter, and we all felt so cozy drinking them underneath our fortress of sheets.

As for the book chat portion of this party, we all seemed to receive "Yes Please" in different ways. Some of us were all about it while others felt a bit surprised by Amy Poehler's candor in certain sections. Still, it inspired a lot of beautiful conversation. We talked about our "currency" as individuals, our dreams, and our sense of self-worth. We also talked about motherhood and pregnancy, a topic the book covers in great detail, and also one by which I am probably too fascinated. The pillow fort was the perfect setting for such a warm, intimate conversation.

When it was time for my lovely friends to head home, I had to laugh thinking about them walking the streets of New York with their book-themed pillows. But hey, at least they would be comfy on the subway ride home.

By the way, the best thing about a PFBB: you get to keep the fort up for as long as you want.

My hubs and I may or may not have turned this fort into our whimsical home office for the next three days. Is that okay? I think so.

Thanks again to Tiny Prints for supplying some of the lovely items used to create this event! Just a heads up, if you're thinking to snatch up some of these custom pillows or stationary (or maybe some festive holiday cards), use code: 40SWSALE to get 40% off your purchase (offer ends 12/9). 

Also, special thanks to Alex of The Shellhammer for helping with the photos for this post! Go show her some love, folks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...