Getting Personal is an email Q&A with a local personality. Here, a chat with Lori Stewart, founder of Toys for Troops. Getting Personal appears first in print, on Sundays. In the Dec. 18 newspaper, we'll have a chat with Jan Chandler, owner of Heartland Gallery.
Explain in one sentence what it is you do.
Having worked at my current job for three days on a holiday week, I'm still learning that myself. Outside of my job at the university, I am the president and founder of Toys for Troops. That's two sentences.
What time do you typically get up? What do you do the first hour of the morning?
At 6:30 in the morning, if I lock the cat out. My first hour consists of coffee, a shower and getting ready for work, with some dillydallying thrown in for good measure.
What did you have for lunch today? Where? With whom?
I'm answering these questions on Sunday. Sunday is late-morning, big-breakfast day, eliminating all desire for lunch. I had ham, eggs and toast at 10 a.m. with my boyfriend and breakfast chef, Clint.
Best high school memory.
This one's difficult for me because I always kind of maintained that I was 42 years old when I was 17. I had a job after school and didn't do a lot of high school things. Still, pressed to come up with something, it was probably winning a Hallmark from the Scholastic Art contest in my senior year. There were only five granted in the state. I discovered I'd won when I saw a photo of my drawing on the front page of The News-Gazette.
Tell me about your favorite pair of shoes.
My least favorite pair of shoes is probably a better story: a pair of platform shoes I bought last spring that I simply could not walk in. They twisted on my ankle, and I fell down twice in one evening at the Artists Against AIDS opening night. If falling down wasn't bad enough, I was even more mortified when someone asked if they could call me a cab. I got my money back on those stupid shoes. But that wasn't the question, was it? OK, I'm still grieving over a pair of Candies brand blue suede hiking boots that I had back in the early 1990s. They were comfy and functional and oh so cute. I walked the soles off of them when I had a one-month job working in cornfields in Molokai one year. So sad.
What does a perfect Sunday afternoon include?
Assuming the Sunday evening steaks are already soaking in marinade and the temperature is perfect, a good book, a chaise lounge on the deck and the trees alive with hummingbirds.
Was there one book you read as a child that you still cherish? Own? Read?
There were so many that I read over and over. One comes to mind, I guess: Our family was in a terrible accident when I was in fourth grade. We escaped with minor injuries, and when we later gathered at Twin City Radiator to view the wreckage, I made my dad crawl into the crushed truck and retrieve my copy of "Charlotte's Web."
Where on earth are you dying to go? Why?
I want to go to any bazaar in India; I want to be enveloped in bowls of spices and tables of silk. Why? I have a beautiful friend, Rani, who lives in India. She's wrapped me in a sari and taught me to cook, and to laugh for therapy. She has visited my world; I have not yet visited hers.
Tell me about your favorite pet.
Has to be my current little girl, Minx. She's a midnight black kitty that took up residence in my mom's driveway five years ago. I swore up and down that I wasn't taking that cat. But when the first snow fell, I found myself gathering her up and bringing her home. I'm not a crazy cat lady, but I swear to God, she can say "mama."
Have you discovered that you are becoming like one of your parents? Which one and how?
My father and I were always outgoing, while mom and sister were more timid and shy. I was much more like my father, but as I mature, I find myself doing more things that remind me of my mother. I used to tease her about the very large-faced wristwatch she wore. I called it her wrist clock. I'm pushing 50 now, and I am finding the wrist clock a very handy device. I was also mortified by the large plastic banana that she attached to the antenna of her station wagon, declaring "well, I can find my car, can't I?" My own antenna has a little ball that looks like a soldier (my son is in the Army), and I rely on it more than I would like to admit and often ponder that a banana really would make my car easier to find.
What would you order for your last meal?
Lobster with drawn butter. I can't really say why, except that it's always just a treat, a meal to spoil myself with.
What can you not live without?
Family. My immediate family has gotten smaller and smaller in the last few years, and extended family has stepped up. I can't imagine my life without my family. And friends. They're family, too.
Who do you have on your iPod?
A lot of old music and blues. B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Ray Charles. Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Frank Sinatra. Maybe I am an old soul, still.
What's the happiest memory of your life?
It's supposed to be the day my son was born, I know ... but I have to say it was Mother's Day 2008, when he returned from his first tour in Iraq. Having him home and having that worry lifted from my life, it was joyous.
If you could host a dinner party with any three living people in the world, whom would you invite?
My son, because I haven't seen him in almost a year. We'd be joined by Darin and David Brunstead. David Brunstead has served in the military — the Army and then the Air Force Reserve for 20 years. With the repeal of "don't ask don't tell," David was the first person to come out to his company, recently introducing his husband Darin at a promotion ceremony. While David was in Iraq and later when while my son was in Iraq, Darin and I often kept each other afloat, comforting and talking to each other through tough times. The two of them have both been instrumental in helping my son with post-traumatic stress disorder issues and helping me learn more about PTSD.
What's the best advice you've ever been given?
My father always told me, 'If you meet three SOBs in one day, you'll find the fourth in the mirror.' I don't know if it's advice, exactly, but it sticks with me. If I find myself irritated with several people on any given day, it's almost a sure thing that I'm the cranky pants in the equation, and it might behoove me to face that.
What's your best piece of advice?
Gosh, I don't know. Be happy. Live up to your own standards. Shake it off and pick up the pieces when you don't. Learn the Serenity Prayer. Demand respect. Be happy. Did I say that already?
What was your first job, and how much did you make an hour?
I worked at Arby's, on University Avenue — do you remember it had the sign with the big giant hat? I was there when they had crinkle fries and made jamocha syrup from scratch. I made $2.90 an hour.
What was a pivotal decision in your career and how did you arrive at that decision?
I worked in printing and/or publishing since I was 19 years old. The company I worked with for 24 years closed last March, so I guess the most pivotal decision was made for me. I am currently finding my way in a new job, possibly a new career.
Do you have a bad habit? What is it?
I'm a bit of a procrastinator. I obtain my goals, but I'm often harried and skidding across the finish line. I prefer to think that I work better under pressure.
How do you handle a stressful situation?
I buck up, focus and take charge. In stress, heartache or crisis, I'm organized and competent and efficient, and I'll see the situation through. When crisis is averted, I'll fall right to sleep.