A tree like no other (also titled, You’re doing what now?)


I’m the cleaner in the family

Evidenced by the many ways I choose to soothe my soul when stressed or sad.

Best Friend sighs heavily — “This is the worst moment of my life” heavily — and looks the other direction when I bring up the topic. While I do wish he’d clean more often and without prodding, don’t tell him but I enjoy cleaning. The only thing that’d make it more enjoyable? Getting paid to clean. And the piece de resistance cherry on top? Whilst bringing joy to others.

Sophomore year at Boston College, the leadership program in which I was a member was tasked with fundraising. Everyone’s favorite! Somehow I found myself co-leader of the endeavor. I’ve always been a fan of making life easy and of identifying and filling voids. Doing yet another “sit at a table outside the dining hall and beg people to let you swipe their meal card for your cause” or a “buy a tshirt/candy/other crap you don’t need” fundraiser did not appeal. I don’t remember which of us came up with the idea of a Bathroom Cleaning Drive but I feel 97% certain it was me. We met with resistance (fellow future leaders), convinced, marketed, coordinated teams, cleaned, made tons of people over the moon happy (purchasers), and raked in cash.

A bow of the head and a moment of silence for the ridiculous price of our service — 

Have you been in a college bathroom before?! DISGUSTING. We even did off campus bathrooms! All you Eagles who had your toilets scrubbed by the Shaw Leadership Program circa 1998, send your scrubber a bouquet of flowers.

I loved creating the Cleaning Drive. I loved captaining the Drive. I loved partaking in the Drive. I loved profiting from the Drive. A love apparently with depth and longevity. Who knew seeds had been planted in nineteen year old Saya that thirty-eight year old Saya would water and grow?

“Help others discover Chicago” was one of the list entries

When I was fired in 2004 and had no clue what I wanted to do, I made a list of things I wished I could get paid to do no matter how unlikely or off the wall, like “wear flip-flops and jeans” “play board games” and “sit on my couch connecting strangers.”

An obviously lost couple stood outside the Clybourn Red Line stop, swiveling their heads from their phones down North Avenue, back up the other way, to their phones. I approached and asked, “Do you need directions?” The instant look of relief and gratification on their faces swelled my heart. In a minute, I was able to tell them exactly what they needed and after their effusive thanks, watched them walk confidently toward Old Town. I remained heart-swelled for the rest of the day.

I used to live right off of Addison and found it infuriatingly fascinating that Cubs fans would not stray from the backed up street to take the ‘scary’ and ‘unknown’ side streets — “But Gary, GPS tells us to stay on Addison!” — and instead painfully inch towards their destination. I joked non-jokingly about standing at the corner of Addison and Seeley with a sign that read, “If you turn here, take Waveland to Grace, and Grace to Clark, you’ll be at Wrigley in seven minutes instead of twenty.”

On the Blue Line from O’Hare, someone asked what stop to get off. I answered. And then began the onslaught of other people lining up to ask me where to get off. I loved every minute of it and kinda didn’t want to exit at Belmont in case anyone else needed help.

A wide, welcoming, and expectant smile spreads across my face anytime I see someone on the street who has an “I don’t know where to go” dazed look, in hopes that said person will make my day and ask, “Excuse me. Can you tell me how to get to _______?” My soul saddens when the person lets me pass by without inquiry.

One of the constants at many of my events is me sharing of things to do in this magical city that aren’t the Bean or the Cubs or the Field Museum. Nothing wrong with those places, nothing wrong with eating at Pizzeria Uno but there’s soooo much more. I adore opening Chicagoans eyes to the Wholesale District, Second Fridays, Paper Machete, Dat Donut, the Burnham Greenway, Sikia Restaurant, Stanley’sCafe Jumping Bean, and and and ….

My first job out of school, a Program Manager at a literacy organization, took me to neighborhoods I had never been in and many I didn’t know existed. There are hills on the Southside?! There’s a warehouse store at North & Grand with much better prices than the big-box stores?! I am ever grateful that my schools were located on 133rd St and on Austin Boulevard; this introduction of the South and West sides combined with a childhood in Evanston and an adulthood North and East in the city, a knack for directions, and an exploratory soul has a created a well-rounded, in the know Chicagoan.

Called “the Accessible Oprah”, I can talk to anyone and make everyone feel comfortable. I am interesting, quick-witted, personable, and a great balance of listener and chatter.

What the hell does cleaning and helping people explore Chicago have to do with anything

If you’ve been in my world the past year’ish, you know change has been a-changing. From losing our home to buying our first home, from ending the popular Smatterings (sidenote: I’ve brought it back in a twice a month email in a form more conducive to where I am in life; you can get on my e-list here if you too miss it) to ending Fear Experiment℠ Chicago.

When I got fired, I started a business. I didn’t create a business plan. I didn’t have time to worry about my five year plan or “trajectory”; I needed to pay rent.

Thirteen years later, I still don’t have a business plan. And I think it was one of the bestest accidents in my accidental entrepreneur career. If I had spent time and/or money (business plan coach, what?!) on a plan, I would’ve felt tethered to it. I would’ve felt failure if I didn’t reach my steps or achieve my goals. Instead, over the years, as my interests and skills and priorities have changed, my business has changed. What I do today would never have been included in a 2004 document. And what I do not only fills my cup, it spills to fill other people’s cups.

I have an amazing job that ebbs and flows organically and naturally and easily.

Mac & Cheese Metamorphosis 

  • Day 1 — “productions” in “Mac & Cheese Productions” meant video production; I shot and edited videos as the first incarnation of Mac & Cheese
  • about a year into M&C, I realized I found more joy in the events and connecting people I did for fun than in video production
  • but events and connections didn’t pay bills so I ramped them up in quantity and type while continuing to shoot and edit
  • I also reconnected with educational peers I had met in my first 9 to 5 and they asked me to bring my video skills (and eventually digital media and technology skills in general, including teaching third graders how to email and what Inbox Zero means, still one of my favorite achievements in life) to schools in low-income areas
  • as I said yes to more and more Teaching Artist gigs and as my network and scope of events grew, teaching and events became major sources of income, enough so that I could let go of video clients until eventually I had said goodbye to them all and removed “Video Production” from my offerings tab
  • at this point I was asked to run the Chicago chapter of a female entrepreneur group which increased my network and my income even more and added yet another hat to my outfit
  • about six years into M&C, my events were bringing in enough revenue from which to live; after a few years running the female entrepreneur group and five years of teaching, I knew if I continued either of those I would come to loathe lady-bosses and children
  • I bittersweetly walked away from both of those groups and solely created and curated events
  • based on my changing interests, skills, and network, I kept adding and subtracting to my event arsenal but maintained the focus on “This is how you, individual, can experience increased self-confidence, fulfillment, and access to a tribe of similarly friendly and proactive superheroes”
  • a few years ago, I began to get the itch to reach not only individuals but groups as well — conference attendees, company employees, etc. — and added Speaking and Facilitation to the offerings tab
  • a year ago, I finally addressed the continuous requests I get from people outside of Chicago to be able to partake in Life of Yes’ness and began work towards webinars and other avenues that’d allow Londoners and New Yorkers to join the club
  • I’ve been a travel-fiend in recent years, from Ireland to Miami to Norway to Argentina, for both work and pleasure, which has resulted in me craving more travel and in appreciating good travel; this has led to me creating travel-centric offerings as well as upping my effort to work outside of my beloved Chicago (going away makes me appreciate the city even more)
  • I’ve been wanting to write more, and have been, sporadically, but writing does not equal mortgage payments (at least not till my NYT best-selleing memoir glistens shelves)

Which brings us to today

Absolutely no regret with any of the decisions I’ve made over the years when it comes to letting go, trying this, tweaking that, offering xyz.


There are some aspects I miss and some things I wish I could change. The best thing about owning and running your life, a life soaked in proactivity and “be the change you wish to see”? Wishes don’t stay wishes for any length of time.

I ceased teaching at the same time that the events branch of M&C began to really grow. To explode even. Yay!


Instead of running from Carver Middle to Marconi Elementary to a professional development session to North Grand High School, I found myself sitting at the computer more and more. Creating curriculums for Camp and productivity class and storytelling class and travel webinar and Evernote webinar and Self-Promotion & Sales Bootcamp and corporate retreats and…

I’d look up and realize I hadn’t moved from my computer in five hours. Working from home is usually something I tout and love and would never give up. My commute of bedroom to home-office is still one I can’t imagine ever relinquishing. But becoming spreadsheet-busy + no longer being required to leave M&C created a not-so lovely byproduct. Inactivity and belly rolls.

Additional to a desire to up my movement for health reasons exists a desire to contribute to the business via an avenue that doesn’t involve a computer screen and that involves muscle and sweat. As I wiped down an extension cord of mine the other day, I thought, “I wish I could get paid for this.” When I finished the wipe-down and various other household cleaning tasks, I thought, “I wish others could feel the intense peace and contentment I now possess.” Only thing better than a clean space? A clean space someone else cleaned.

With all my travel, I have begun to note with fascination and excitement what makes for a good excursion, either in your own city or on an elsewhere trip. When someone helps you get un-lost, when you hit up an underground dinner that hotel concierges don’t know about, when your guests exclaim “You’re the best host, we had such a fun time!”, when you do a new city like locals.

As the gazillionth person asked me for a recommendation recently, of what to do when their parents are in town, when they have to entertain a client, when they move to Chicago, I thought, “Not only do I wish I could get paid for this but I’d love to do this on a deeper level.” Like really create and customize. Like bring people. Like take that lost Clybourn Red Line stop couple to Old Town myself and show them hidden, not to miss bits.

While on first glean, housecleaner and travel agent-trip advisor-tour guide don’t seem like branches of the Mac & Cheese Productions℠ tree but more like completely different trees in orchards on the other side of town, they are in fact logical, “oh yeahhhh” blossoms

Because Mac & Cheese I Mac & Cheese and I live by the following formula —

  • identify a void or a pain-point for self
  • identify a void or a pain-point for others
  • identify a superpower of yours that can help self
  • identify a superpower of yours that can help others
  • identify priorities and passions for self
  • identify priorities and passions for others
  • identify a way to mesh all of above in a way that’s easy, actionable, commonsensical, and fun life-affirming fulfilling fun life-affirming-fulfilling-fun
  • squash default reactions: this is silly, this won’t work, this is too left-field, this needs to be fleshed out more, this needs a focus group, this needs a certificate, this needs a business plan, this needs more time
  • act

In other words, do things from your soul and feel joy within.

Many of you hate cleaning. Can’t find a cleaner you like. Want a dependable, quality cleaner.

Many of you will visit Chicago and want to do it right. Will live here and want to know which neighborhood to move to and the city’s ins and outs. Have clients whom you want to impress. 

So, if your apartment is a hot-mess or your parents are coming to town but you have to work so you can’t tour-guide them or you’re moving and need your house readied to be shown or you just moved to Chicago and want to learn where to get your produce, ride your bike, and make friends, hey there hey.

I’m now available to be your housecleaner* and/or Chicago Concierge.

*This particular rolodex of clients will remain very slim to allow me to continue growing the other M&C branches