NB: Smart, savvy, quick-witted “and, to top it off nicely, Canadian.”
In 1967 during a mass “Brain Drain” from his native Barbados, Telecom engineer Tony Blades headed to Montreal to create a new life for his growing family. Wife Maureen, daughter Yvette and son Sean joined him in 1970. A couple of years later, Nicole arrived, the first of their children born on Canadian soil. It would be a decade before Baby Nailah rounded out the Blades brood.
Long the baby-of-the-family, Nicole sings the parenting praises of her sweet mom: “she’s such a fantastic mother.” But she’s definitely a Daddy’s girl. She recalls awakening him, complaining of an aching tummy. He grabbed a pillow and blanket and whisked his baby girl into the bathroom, lest she need to be there. “He was so invested. Like, we’re gonna do this.” In her reserved husband she has found someone as deeply caring as her gregarious father. She beams when she speaks of her favorite fellas: her dad, her hubby Scott, and their toddler son.
I visited her light-filled Montclair home on Sunday to catch up and glimpse little Quinn’s Halloween turn in engineer’s stripes. While the marathon-contemplating Nicole showered after a run, I was charmed by a 20-month old clearly delighted to be on the planet and reminisced with Scott about their wedding (a lovely, tender ceremony officiated by his aunt followed by a lively, super fun reception.) There wasn’t a dry eye in the chapel when Scott read the letter he’d written Nicole just days after their first date, proclaiming his love for her.
Scott’s favorite cuties: kindergartner Nikki and little QB.
Donning a driving cap and aviators, Nicole bounded out, bussed the boys and headed with me to local favorite, Market for a baby-free brunch, a little dishing (we are former Essence colleagues after all) and venting about our social media phrasal pet peeves: for me, it’s the overused “-ista” suffix. For her it’s the prevailing “bornday” birthday greeting and the hashtag “fail” especially when preceded by the word “epic.” But ultimately she shared her journey from Montreal to matrimony, motherhood and now, Ms. Mary Mack.
An interest in writing piqued in childhood by her storytelling father and 3rd grade teacher Mr. Polka, Nicole contributed to her college newspaper while studying Mass Communications and Psychology at Toronto’s York University. She completed a four-year program in three years and upon graduation in 1994, she decided to go where the writers go, New York. She didn’t quite “have the courage to say I want to write,” to be a journalist, so she took on a couple of PR internships, the first at TV’s Sally Jessy Raphael, then at The Terrie Williams Agency. Essence Magazine was a client of the agency and she eventually caught wind of an entry-level opening there. She assumed she blew the interview with a resume typo,”a direct route to exit,” but she prevailed and joined us in the fashion and beauty department. “It was a huge, huge thing for me,” she says. It shaped how I view my work. It was a great intro to magazines.”
She soon did a lot of it, meeting a daily deadline at Open Air PM, a New York afternoon daily. She “sharpened her reporting skills and wore lots of hats covering everything from Men’s Fashion Week to spa reviews.” It didn’t hurt that the start-up “paid a lot,” but she eventually was burned out and retreated to her parents home country for a two-week vacation that ultimately became a journalist stint lasting just shy of two years. “I thought, maybe. Maybe has been my lucky word.” She landed a position with the Nation, a top paper in Barbados. The slowed pace was good for her, “the antidote to the crazy, harried New York pace that wore me down,” she says. Again she covered a variety of subjects from reporting on parliament to reviewing concerts of “anyone who blew through town.” She eventually came to terms with the fact that “one of the biggest drawbacks to living on an island is living on an island,” and returned to Toronto.
A fortuitous meeting with a talented graphic designer led to the two late-twenties kindred spirits creating SheNetworks, an internet portal filling the void left by mainstream women’s mags. In writing their business plan, they did what she calls a “crash course MBA.” The young women secured a half million dollars from venture capitalists and launched in San Francisco in Summer 2000. “The ramp up on our sophistication was priceless.”
By November “we were covered in Wired!
“When I look back at what we did, it could hold up today,” she says proudly.
The pair became “handsomely paid” consultants to companies looking to reach their demographic “you understand the 20-something market, do this for us,” they’d say. But as the bubble neared its burst, they couldn’t afford it anymore. “What can we cut, what can we cut?” Until there was “nothing left to cut.” They pulled the plug in 2001 and Nicole headed south to her parents’ Santa Clarita home grateful for the opportunity to begin the novel swimming in her head. She went about it like a job, writing from 10am to 5pm. Her plan to return to New York that October was dramatically altered on September 11.
She left ESPN in 2005 to make revisions to her tale of young Harriette Leacock slowly drowning in a island paradise, and in 2007 Earth’s Waters was published. When freelance client, Women’s Health, a “magazine she really liked,” offered her an editorship, she accepted the post, learning “the back end, closing and fine-tuning my editing skills.” She remained there until early 2009, two weeks before the February 12th birth of Quinn Toumani Burton.
Calling on her “maybe mantra” the new mother thought, “I can do something here. I can merge my interest in others’ lives and storytelling.” She began researching Mom blogs and realized “I can do an anthropological look at motherhood.” Thus Ms. Mary Mack, “born” in late March of this year. The savvy blogger hit the motherlode, literally and figuratively when she made mention of New York Times mom blogger Lisa Belkin, inviting her to comment on Ms. Mary Mack. Belkin did and further invited Nicole to submit a guest post to her widely-read Motherlode, broadening her audience exponentially with the touch of a publish button. Keep your eye on MMM, Nicole has major plans for it.
Motherhood has reflected her love for her husband and broadened her sense of possibility. It’s left her “in awe about life, the world, us, our place in all of it. Just awed. It’s beyond amazing to see Quinn learning new things, grasping concepts and context.” She can come up with a list of favorites just about her son, “I love his little hands on my face or his nose nestled into my neck. His voice. His smile. His laughter. The chubbiness of his elbow. His round tummy. All of it.”
So we know that Quinn is the ultimate, but here are some of the things that get Ms. Mary Mack, Mack, Mack’s hands a-clapping…
1. Scott’s Scrambled Eggs. I love that Scott loves to cook. I love that he’s really good at it even more There’s something about his balance of salt, pepper and heavy cream that renders these fluffy, butter-yellow clouds. And they are just plain delicious. He knows my toast taste–one slice whole wheat bread, browned and crisped to perfection. And the key, the signature move, the slice must be buttered with REAL butter fresh out the toaster oven so it melts in and blends with the bread. I’d be happy with that once slice of perfection and a cup of peppermint tea for any meal.
“Many of Scott’s dishes warm my tummy, but the one that warms my heart is his scrambled eggs.”
2. Chaise Lounge. The chaise section of their modular sofa became her “go-to spot” during her pregnancy. “Now that my son is a full-on toddler (and we’ve moved) it’s become our little Mama-and-Me space to cuddle up and read or just be. And now that fall is finally here, we’re taking our cuddle game next level thanks to thick, comfy throws.”
Snuggle Zone. © Ms. Mary Mack
3. CBS Sunday Morning. Motherhood and the busyness of life keeps her from watching much television, “but one show that I’ve always enjoyed, for years I mean, is CBS Sunday Morning. Maybe it’s Charles Osgood’s calming voice and matching bow-tie that drew me in, but the content keeps me coming back. There’s always something edifying and entertaining on this show. It’s like the best sections of a well-written newspaper brought to life. I’ve long said that if I ever found my way into working for TV, I would hope it was on this show.”
“This particular notebook-pen combo has served me well over the last couple of years.” © Ms. Mary Mack
5. Photography. “I grew up around cameras. My dad took lots of photos with his trusty Canons. He definitely sparked and encouraged my interest in photography. Being able to capture a moment, a story, a feeling with a one click of your camera, it’s storytelling at its best and most simple, I guess. I used to dabble and in school I took a course.” In March, Scott gifted her with a Canon digital SLR “and the roof has been blown off. I plan to keep shooting and learning and improving.” Her secret dream is to have a gallery show, publish a photo book and “have some of my shots be wonderful postcards that folks actually dig and buy!”
Same Day, Different Table © Ms. Mary Mack
6. Short Stories. Now that she’s a mom, “leisure is pretty much gone for a while. No longer having the time to read novels as I would like, I’ve gotten back into shorts. Alice Munro has always been a favorite. She’s Canadian, after all. I’ve starting reading my old copies of Best American Short Stories. I also like Jhumpa Lahiri and pulled out my F. Scott Fitzgerald shorts collection. It’s a thick book, but there’s some good stuff on so many of those pages.”
Penguin Classics has reissued Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers with a fab Deco cover.
7. Good Sheets. “How much do I love soft, fresh, plain (no flowers, etc.) linen? MUCH! It can turn a virtual straw cot into a five-star bed. And sliding into bed with freshly-changed sheets, tucked in taut and right at the end a long day? Luxurious.”
Affordable bed linens from Crate and Barrel.
8. Pineapple Mint Iced Tea. Not a “bibber” (Bajan euphemism for big drinker) Nicole enjoys most beverages sans alcool. An anniversary trip with Scott to Savannah’s “lovely, historic” Mansion on Forsyth Park introduced her to her favorite libation. They took the “fun and fab” class Low Country Cooking.”This drink was on the menu, and it’s become my signature do. It’s the most refreshing thing, even in winter.” To the imbibing crowd she says “I’m sure a splash of vodka would take this drink to the next level.
Evening Edge features a recipe for her fave tea.
9. Boots. She’s a boot girl from way back.
The stylish silhouette and cushioned comfort of the Air Georgina from ColeHaan. “Oh how I wish for this handsome pair!” She exclaims.
10. Hoop Earrings. Sade has the right idea.
Hand-hammered gold hoops by JC.