Hey, Cool Mom! with Cara Sullivan
Hi mom! Meet my cool friend Cara. She's doing all sorts of creative stuff in Chicago and raising two great kids to boot. Last year, she started her own business, Wild Floral Chicago, which she put on hold to begin as Executive Editor at Make It Better magazine. Since she's, like, a professional writer, I'll let her tell you more!
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
In my heart, I’m a woman, a wife, a mother, a sister, a daughter, a friend—the list goes on. Professionally, I’m a florist and an editor. I own Wild Floral Design, a business I run out of my home, and I’m the executive editor of Make it Better magazine, a Chicago-
based lifestyle mag that spotlights the social impact of this incredible town and its suburbs. I wear a lot of hats!
2. Describe your family.
My husband Michael and I have two little girls, Reeve (6) and Vaughn (3), and a sweet collie mix named Teddy. Michael and I have a print in our bedroom that says "You keep me safe, I’ll keep you wild." It's true—he’s the Greg to my Dharma, and it just works. Reeve and Vaughn are a mix of both of us. They’re different from each other, of course, but at their core they’re both deeply caring, sensitive, and thoughtful little people—and on the flip-side, both of them are more strong-willed and stubborn than I ever thought possible. Michael often has to remind me that their fire will serve them well someday. He’s right: Girl power!
3. What do you do most days?
The only thing that’s consistent about my schedule is its inconsistency. My editorial gig with Make It Better is part-time and remote, so for the most part I can work wherever and whenever I
want. As a mom and business owner, this has some pretty huge perks—but it requires me to be a master multitasker. I don’t want to miss out on these years with my girls, so when they’re home I try really hard to make sure they get as much of me as possible,
and when they’re at school I’m just like any other work-from- home-mom: juggling deadlines and meetings and errands and house stuff and life stuff at a zillion miles per hour until pick-up. It’s exhausting, but I know how fortunate I am to have this kind of autonomy over my life, and to be able to spend so much quality time with my family. I’ve always struggled with carving out time for myself, but a couple months ago I started taking reformer Pilates classes. A few times a week, I get to tune everything out while I clear my head and show my mombod who's boss, and I love it.
4. Who/What is inspiring you these days?
Confidence. In my mind, I march to the beat of my own drum—but the version of myself that I present to the world is a little less self-assured, a little more self-conscious. I know a lot of women who’d describe themselves that way, and that sucks! So as I get older,
I’m really making an effort to question myself less—my politics, my parenting, that inner voice. I want to feel comfortable bringing the most badass version of myself to the table, and I want that for my girls, too.
I’m just really inspired by anyone who’s living his or her truth. Life’s too short to be someone you’re not, or to do something that doesn’t give you a sense of purpose. My friend Vanessa just put her career on pause to pursue her dream of competing in a half Ironman. She ran, biked, and swam her way through the past year, and completely crushed the race last month. That’s inspiring.
5. Tell us about what you like about living in Chicago (if anything after that awful winter)!
I’m convinced that Chicago is the best city in the world—winter and all. Does it have its problems? Yep, and some of those problems are big ones. But man, this place is incredible. Really, I think it comes down to the people. We live in Ravenswood Gardens, which is just west of Lincoln Square, and I wake up every day feeling so lucky to live here. It’s a neighborhood that values community over everything else, and that’s something I try not to take for granted. The North Branch of the Chicago River runs parallel to our street, and all the nature that comes with it—willow trees! otters! cranes! coyotes!—is such a nice juxtaposition to the hustle-bustle of the city. It’s truly the best of both worlds.
6. What books are you reading or wanting to read? Why?
Make It Better is a bi-monthly magazine, so my schedule is cyclical. Right after we ship an issue I have a week or two of downtime before I have to dig into the next one, and I’m not kidding when I say I use every free second to read. We lived in NYC for almost 10 years before moving here, and I’ve always been drawn to books about old New York. Kafka Was the Rage by Anatole Broyard is one of my all-time favorites—it’s like a love story to la vie bohème of 1940s Greenwich Village. The Mole People, by Jennifer Toth, is another one that really resonated with me. She’s a reporter for the New York Times who went underground into the subway system to share the stories of the homeless men and women who live down there—some of them for their entire lives. It’s not a literary masterpiece (you can literally read the whole thing an in afternoon) but it’s completely and utterly fascinating. I also have a weird thing for off-the-beaten-path travel memoirs. Four Corners: A Journey into the Heart of Papua New Guinea was one of the best I’ve read. The author, Kira Salak, spent three months crossing the country by herself (holy shit!) and the story is…I don’t even know what to say. If you can handle something really raw, I Am Not Myself These Days, by Josh Kilmer-Purcell, is one of those reads that sweeps you up, spins you around, and spits you out. I laughed, I cried—and then I recommended it to all my friends.
7. What’s your favorite song for 1) a dance party 2) feeling sad
I love rock—classic, modern, progressive, folk, you name it. Pink Floyd, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Radiohead, and Pearl Jam are always on my playlist. If I’m feeling emotional, Joni Mitchell and Damien Rice know just what to say and how to say it.
8. What artists do you like?
Christopher Wool’s abstract paintings are incredible, especially the stuff he’s doing with stenciled letters, and lately I’ve been getting into nature photography—the less literal and more abstract, the better.
Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Lightning Field series just blows my mind. He brought a generator into his studio and fired high-voltage electrical charges onto film, and the images he captured are insane.
Paolo Patrizi is known for his raw photojournalistic work, and his stuff is gut-wrenching. He also shot this series of starling flocks above Rome, and I’m just obsessed with them. There’s something so peaceful and otherworldly about them; they’re almost meditative to look at.
9. What clothes are making you feel good?
You know, it’s funny. I used to be So. Into. Clothes. but now that I’m living that mom life it feels rich to even say the word designer out loud. Honestly, I spend more time thinking about my kids’ clothes! They love sparkles and bright colors and destroy everything they wear, so their closets are filled with things from Target and Old Navy. If I had it my way, I’d get all their stuff at Half Pint Shop—it’s the most adorable and well-curated kids’ boutique in Chicago if not the universe. As for me, I wear the same pieces over and over; it’s sort of become my thing. I live in jeans and jumpsuits and rarely wear anything that isn’t black, white, gray, leopard, or black-and-white striped. Throw in clog booties in the winter, a pair of black flip flops in the summer, and some minimal gold jewelry, and I’m good. For a night out, I’ll add big earrings (check out The Only Trybe on Etsy—their statement earrings are insane), some bronzer, maybe a bold lip. I wear makeup pretty much every day, usually just a really glowy tinted moisturizer and mascara—there’s just something about the ritual of it all that makes me feel happy. I used to be a beauty editor, so I’m a sucker for a great product, a nice perfume. A few years ago my husband gave me Santal 33 for Christmas, and now I understand why it has such a cult following. It’s warm and heady and incensey, and wearing it feels deliciously irreverent—like sex at church.
10. Finally, give us all the deets on Make It Better magazine!
Right after Reeve was born, I left my editorial job at Martha Stewart Weddings and we moved to Chicago, where my husband is from. I’d caught the flower bug while working on set at various Martha shoots, so I took a giant leap of faith and started my own business, WILD floral design. I loved the challenge of it all, and the work was intensely creative and satisfying until about a year ago, when I realized how little time I was spending with my family. I was starting to experience some pretty major burnout when the opportunity at Make It Better came along. It’s allowed me to put WILD on hold until the girls are a little older and less demanding, and it’s been fun to wear my editor hat again. I feel like I'm finally hitting my stride. Make It Better is full of all the lifestyle content I crave, not only as a youngish urban mom, but also as a citizen of this crazy (!) world. It’s been difficult for me and so many of my peers to make sense of this moment we’re living in history—How will we be shaped by all of it? What about our kids? And their kids?—but knowing that there are small steps I can take to do my part locally and globally has eased a lot of that anxiety, and the magazine has connected me to so many of those opportunities. It’s changed the way I think about everything, from the food my family eats to the businesses I support, the causes I champion—even the gifts I give. Everyone defines and interprets social impact differently, but our content really does offer something for everyone.
Dang! This perfume seems life-changing! Perfect for when you're starting to feel like all you do is set off a big nerd alert. Gonna have to grab some.
Cara, thanks for sharing your world with us a little, especially all the cool cultural stuff! I love your laid-back approach to just about everything.
And stay tuned for Uncovering the Cool; What Cara Likes, tomorrow on SCM.