Branding A Balanced You, The Inspiration Engraved In My Tattoos
Updated: Mar 18, 2021
If you know me, you may have noticed that my logo looks familiar.
Or maybe you REALLY know me, and instantly knew what it was and what it meant.
And if you don’t know me (in like, real life, life ;) you may be wondering why I didn’t just choose a yin yang, a Zen circle, or a simple peace sign?
I mean, it’s The Breakthrough BALANCE after all, right?
And you are right.
My logo may not be your basic balance symbol in black & white, but it is ultimately about a deep, dimensional harmony indeed.
Specifically, a balance between the MANY sides of myself, and the tension between living for myself and someone(s) else.
But (before I go too deep) I want to share a few, special stories to show you just what I mean, as well as what the BB logo might mean for you.
Because I have a feeling you may be navigating through something similar too.
I mean, you ARE here, after all, for a breakthrough.
The stories I’m sharing today are personal, so I’m warning you right now that this post isn’t like any of my other reads.
But these stories?
They mean the absolute world to me.
So, shall we?
My Popi was my everything.
Short for Pappouli, my great-grandfather was a first generation San Franciscan.
My Popi and his wife, my YiYa (she was 1000% Spanish, but apparently embraced a Greek mix of YaYa and YiaYia), had a significant hand in raising me.
Every Tuesday&Thursday, my mom would drop my sister and I off at their house on Madrid Street, as she continued on her way to the salon she worked at, also located in San Francisco.
It was the place we watched General Hospital, ate lumpy Cream of Wheat, and played around in the pink “pamper room” that smelt prolifically of potpourri.
To give you a quick pic of who my great grandparents were:
But what will paint an even more illustrative portrait would be to tell you two words:
That was my Popi and YiYa.
Also a first generation San Francsican, (but from Spain and not Greece), my YiYa was a fucking firecracker.
I had to drop my first ever (written) F bomb for you, YiYa.
She was short (under 5 feet), bold, and beautiful.
My YiYa and Popi met on 3rd street in San Francisco as teenagers - they were neighbors.
And by “met” I mean my Popi stalked my YiYa.
Seriously - he would stare at her from his yard, and eventually convinced his sisters to set him up for the swoop.
Of course, as an American immigrant, my GG-grandfather, Peter, forbade it.
He even told my Popi that he’d pay for the wedding AND a new house if he would just do what he was told, and marry a GREEK girl.
Popi said: No way in HELL.
(Or however they said that in those days.)
Sure enough, sweet Popi and YiYa were married at the casino-courthouse in Reno at 20 and 22, and pretty much spent every waking moment of each other's lives together since.
Like I said:
Speaking of love, my Popi was one of those people everyone within reach of his aura swore they had a unique connection to.
He simply made everyone feel special like that.
In a family filled with confident, open, and outspoken women, the ongoing joke was that we all claimed to be Popi’s favorite.
And you BET the handsome ham in him embraced that to his absolute advantage, with a smile and a wink.
“My FAVORITE!” he’d trumpet with his loud, echoey, soul-filled, Greek choir of a voice, as he grabbed our faces and kissed both cheeks.
AH - HA - HA!
(I can still hear his chuckle-cackle so damn clear.)
Although I never could quite tell who exactly was his for-real favorite, my extraordinary connection to him was undeniable to all.
What made it so?
And how do I know?
Check my cred below:
It was Christmas-Eve at my Aunt Kathy’s.
(A classic in our family.)
About 12 years old or so, I was shuffling past the snack bar for another swoop of the goods, when Popi stopped me in my tracks.
He startled me slightly, and I could see as I stared into his eyes that he too, was slightly spooked.
“You just waltzed across the room exactly as your great-great-grandmother would have,” he said.
And ever since that evening, he would say it every time he saw me.
A mirror spirit, he would say.
Although I never had the opportunity to meet my GG (great-great-grandmother), knowing the love, pride, and admiration my Popi had for her, made me feel like a diamond in the rough, and yet simultaneously so deeply rooted down in my DNA.
It was, and always will be, a cherished piece of my identity.
Because I knew that if I could (even in part!) embody the spirit of such a selfless and graceful woman, I could be anything.
I could believe in my worth, as well as my undeniable interconnectedness to the Universe.
Embodying her allowed me to feel like a part of something bigger.
Alexandra Katsas was her name.
Of course, Katsas changed upon arrival to America (and enough communal callings for the “Kats-Ass” family) to Katches.
A mother of 12 (two of whom died at young ages), Alexandra was the epitome of a selfless and sacrificial mother.
With my GG-Grandfather Peter leaving her in Greece in order to secure his dream of making a life for our family in San Francisco (and cheffed cross-country from Ellis Island to make it so) Alexandra remained in Greece, to tend to the children.
The TWELVE children.
Just think about that.
(Seriously, that’s some cheaper by the dozen type shiz!)
In all of the stories my Popi shared with me, he painted Alexandra with the perfect combined coloring of care and caution.
With 12 warm bodies running around their quaint little town of Coroni, she never ceased to empower her children to explore, and ALSO never failed to remind them to “Matia tessera” (AKA: keep your four eyes open) everytime they swarmed out into the city.
Meanwhile her husband was cooking across borders - from New York to San Francisco - Alexandra maintained the responsibility of caring for 12 children on her own, until he was eventually able to send for them.
She then traveled with the bunch of bright-eyed babes across the Atlantic, once Peter had made enough profits.
And so, after several years of solo service and personal parenting, she picked up her life to make progress for her family, just as she always had.
DEATH & DIFFERENCE
Alexandra got sick a few years after coming to America.
My GG-Peter spent their money trying everything (snake oil was a popular purchase at the time) but failed to provide a cure for what they thought to be stomach cancer, and Alexandra died at just 42 years old.
As you can see, she was a woman worthy of the utmost esteem.
And everytime my Popi compared her and me, I felt an overwhelming sense of honor.
The only issue is, I haven’t lived a life like Alexandra.
Not even close.
Because I wasn’t the woman who sacrificed it all for her family.
In fact, I was the exact opposite.
I was the woman who risked it all (leaving the life I knew and the people I loved) for myself.
Volunteering abroad was something I needed to do for me.
Having wanted to dedicate as much of my life as possible acting in the service of others, I knew I couldn’t (fully and authentically) live as myself, until I accomplished this adventurous exploration, with and of myself.
And so, on top of one's average priority list, you could say I had this calling ingrained in my soul.
It was a non-negotiable.
And (as it almost always goes with non-negotiables), holding space for volunteering as a MUST, meant that I had to make other negotiations - in my relationships, my career, and my comfortability.
Saying it straight - my boyfriend and Mom both supported me, but weren’t stoked- in the slightest- to see me go.
As they warned, moving to Quito (a city specifically claimed by the US Embassy to contain a “critical” crime threat) would put me at risk of SO many things, from getting hijacked to heart broken.
But, for me, I knew that the REAL risk would be to NOT leave, and more specifically, what that would do to my identity.
As you know, I made the decision to go.
COMING TO YOU FROM QUITO
And so, (at this point of the story) I’m in Ecuador.
Having the hardest, and yet most magical, year of my life.
And (because we don’t have time to go into it all in today’s piece) I’m going to cut to the part this blog is REALLY about - the tattoo I got there.
(I PROMISE it all connects back at the end, just bear with me. ;)
About 8 months in, I was teaching the students in my classroom, at the Universidad de Politécnica Nacional, when something caught my eye on the wall.
Rotating classes every two hour session, we shared classrooms with many other Professors throughout the day - which meant that the artwork on the wall that startled me was not one of mine, but the artwork of another student in a separate class completely.
With my students engaging in a workbook activity, I glided across the room to get a closer look at the strikingly familiar image in front of me.
It was a drawing of a dandelion.
Below the dandelion, it said, in English, “Enjoy every minute of it.”
Remember, we are in Quito, Ecuador, in a classroom where students learn english.
NOT speak in common slang.
But what startled me even surpassing that was that I had seen this exact same sight before.
You see, my dad has told me ever since I can remember, to simply, “Enjoy every second of the journey.”
Because you only get ONE.
Sticking with me since, I said these same words to myself as I stared at a field of dandelions in the Lake Tahoe, CA area (after yet another transformative experience we’ll talk about anotha time ;), and even snapped an Instagram to document the moment's magnificence.
*(Remember, This was way back in 2014.)*
And yet there I was, 5 years later, seeing it right there in front of me, symbolizing EVERYTHING that was my Ecuadorian journey.
Enjoying every minute - EVEN as I layed locked outside on the streets of my host families...
The gate had been broken and no one was home, which meant that (with a parasite debilitating control over my movement) I had to elongate myself over the assfault like a Laffy Taffy, hoping a car wouldn’t smash me (or capture me) before my host family returned to relieve me, and open the gate.
How does that have anything to do with ENJOYING the journey?
I believe it has everything to do with the joy of our experiences.
Because those journeys where you truly “enjoy every minute,” are the same journeys where you accept every obstacle as an opportunity.
You know, the kind where you embrace the pain as a pathway to personal growth?
And in embracing the pain, also open yourself up to exhibiting deep and meaningful fulfillment.
I had no doubt in my mind when I saw that drawing that THAT was what I was doing all along in Ecuador.
I was finally living my moments mindfully, with a vitality I never imagined possible, and also never wanted to let go of.
I knew in that singular second that I would attach that image on my body to make sure of it, and therefore save that feeling forevermore.
Unlike Alexandra (who we’re about to get right back to!), my dandelion dares me to live in the moment, and to live life for ME.
It calls me to be transparent and teachable, and open to explore wherever the wind wills me to go.
It signifies the way I wish to live - FULL of wishes, and yet never closed off to the opportunities for alternative paths the Universe may invite me to embrace.
Floating, and free.
Dandelions are also weeds.
We like weeds though. ;)
Well because weeds can survive, grow, and even thrive in every environment out there on our incredibly diverse planet, and I hope to continue to carry that capability as a part of me, always.
THE RIGHT PLACE AT THE RIGHT TIME
My Popi passed my first month in the country.
I knew the second I saw the, “You have a second to talk?” text from my Mom, but decided to wait until the end of our intensive orientation for the day to be over, so I could put off the reality for just a little bit longer.
And keep from crying in front of my (brand new) cohort.
(If only I knew then that tears would be the LEAST vulnerable of emotions we’d share over the span of the year together.)
Anyways, I had suspicions of what that text might say.
Of course, I knew my Popi was 99 years old, and sick.
But that’s not the only reason I was so certain my Mom’s text was about my Popi.
Want to know how I really knew?
I’ll tell you, but only if you promise to hear me out.
Because it might seem a little far off to some, especially if you aren’t sups spiritual.
The night before said text was received, I was sleeping in my host families, which - to make a long story short - was NOT a place I felt particularly safe or comfortable in.
Yet, for some reason that particular night, when I woke up to go to the bathroom, (as I always do...BIG night-time pee-er right here!) I felt the most serene sense of tranquility fall over my being.
I downright danced into our bitty bathroom (which the 6 adult, family members in the household shared), with a deep sense of self assurance filling my soul.
A sacred sense of self assurance.
You know when you just (very suddenly) feel like skipping and humming for no damn reason?
This was one of those moments for me, but a particularly peculiar one because of the deep discomfort I was used to experiencing in the exact same space.
Simply because it was my Popi paying me a visit.
Actually though- that’s the ONLY logical way I could give evidence for that experience, and the embodiment of an emotion that was absolutely out of this world, and also impossible to put into words.
To this day, I believe it was Popi saying his final farewell.
One last trip across the equator to kiss me on the cheek and inspire a sense of comfort in knowing that I was in the right place indeed.
No matter HOW wrong it felt in my living situation at the time, my Popi reminded me that I had a purpose for being in Ecuador, and that he was proud that I was.
NOT disappointed I hadn’t stayed to see him go.
(Which, as you may know, is almost always the thought that passes through your head when you’re not present for a loved one's passing.)
MEET MY OTHER POPPY
After returning home to SF, right around the anniversary of my Popi’s death, I got my poppy.
A symbol of both my home state (the place my GG Peter dreamed his family would forever be), and my dear Popi.
As well as my Popi’s mother, Alexandra, who’s grace I want to grow towards forever and always, for the rest of my life’s journey.
*(Holding the locket my Grammy Sandy gave me, at the peak of the street I lived on in Ecuador. Picturing: Popi and YiYa on bottom, and Alexandra up top.)*
THE LESSON IN THE LOGO
My poppy represents the parts of me my Popi always empowered out of me.
The sides of me whose roots mean the world and more, and beg to uncover that our identities are more interconnected to our ancestors then we may have ever believed before.
My poppy represents the family I look forward to having, as well as the family I am grateful every waking moment to have now.
Because I want a family like the one Alexandra adored for myself too, and hope to be as equally sacrificial and selfless for the success of my children.
But I want it to happen in my time.
Because I also believe that you can follow your calling, and STILL be an amazing mother, without feeling like your own dreams and desires are falling out of focus.
Which is what my dandelion stands to show.
My tattoos (on opposite sides of my body) help balance my being and remind me that I may BE both.
I can in part be Alexandra and my ancestors, and in part also be a spirit completely separate and uniquely special.
I’ll always have both aspects of identity on my mind, as they reveal to me the fluidity and harmony that’s available to us all, between the lines.
For me, that means I can embody freedom while still embracing my family.
I can explore every place on this earth, and still remember where (and WHO) my roots are.
I can live out my own experience, mindfully in this moment, while still living for the legacy I wish to leave in my future.
Not only CAN I do it, I believe I will live my most passionate and purest life through it.
Want to know what else?
So can you.
Which is why I made it my logo for the Breakthrough.
Too often our self-limiting beliefs trap us.
They influence us into believing that we have to choose one thing, or one way of being.
But, today, I want to challenge that dichotomy, and break through those barriers that say we can only be one sort of someone.
Empowering your most deeply dimensional details of YOU, (and revealing that you don’t have to choose) are what these Breakthrough Balance blogs are designed to do.
And I really hope you’ll continue to come back here, and join me in embracing every aspect of your spirit too.
P.S. Missing you in every moment, YiYa and Popi.