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Meet My Interesting and Interested Friend - Caroline Portillo

Caroline is truly worthy of the description, “Interested and Interesting friend”. She exudes love and joy, has the rare gift of really listening, a genuine interest in what you have to say and a wonderful sense of irony. Whenever I leave Carolines’ company I feel uplifted and inspired.


Caroline is wife to Ely, mum to Jacob, and is expecting Portillo baby number 2. Caroline is currently the Director of Marketing & Communications at The Mint Museum.  Formerly Editor in Chief of SouthPark Magazine and Editor in Chief Carolina Bride Magazine and here’s her quarantine experience………….


Where are you right now?
Sitting on my couch in our living room. 

Who are you with?

My husband, Ely. He’s watching old clips from The Empire Strikes Back, and complaining about how all the new Star Wars movies pale in comparison. He’s been watching a lot of random movies since the shelter-in-place orders came down. I usually watch the first 45 minutes with him and then doze off. 

What are you reading?

The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr. It’s one of those iconic memoirs I can’t believe I haven’t read yet. It’s largely focused on a woman’s childhood growing up in Texas in the 1960s, in a highly dysfunctional home with lots of alcohol abuse and mental instability. But it’s not presented in a woe-is-me way. It’s riveting, and the writing is beautiful. I’m also reading Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done by Laura Vanderkam. She’s a mother of four and has studied time management for years. Figure it’ll be a good book for me to reset old habits whenever this is all over. 
What are you listening to? 
Lots of podcasts. Love “The Daily” by The New York Times – gives me the lowdown on the news and coronavirus pandemic without my having to be on Twitter all day. I also love “Happier with Gretchen Rubin” (lots of practical tips for being happier, healthier and more energized), and the “You’re Welcome” podcast with Hilary Rushford, the only Instagram influencer I really like. I just know that if I ever met Hilary in real life, we’d be great friends. I’m also new to the “Office Ladies” podcast and adore it. I’m one of the world’s biggest fans of NBC’s “The Office,” so a podcast hosted by Pam (actress Jenna Fischer) and Angela (Angela Kinsey) that’s all about insider secrets and behind-the-scenes stories is all kinds of perfect. 

What’s your daily exercise of choice?

Walking. These days I take one, sometimes two walks a day. I’m usually pushing my almost-2-year-old son, Jacob, in the stroller with me. The weather is so lovely right now. I’m also 23 weeks pregnant (baby girl on the way), so we’ve been extremely careful with my exposure. I haven’t been to a store, restaurant, or really anywhere in eight-ish weeks. These walks make for a great escape, even if they’re just in the neighborhood. 

What’s your favourite board game?
Do cards count? I am a killer Spades partner. It’s my favorite. 

What’s the best thing you’ve cooked?

Admittedly, my husband does most of the cooking, and he’s really good at it. (Him: fall-off-the-bone short ribs and homemade cornbread. Me: tortellini and a kale salad). But I’m really good at following Blue Apron recipes! And I make a mean homemade pepperoni pizza with Trader Joes ingredients. 
Are you still able to work at all?Yes, it’s been crazy busy. I’m the director of marketing and communications at The Mint Museum, and when we decided to close our doors, my team worked to launch a Mint Museum from Home website, and populate it with lots of videos, at-home crafts, Q&As with sheltered-in-place artists from around the world, and more. Now we’re trying to build out plans for what the museum will look like when we re-open. 

What small, unexpected thing do you miss the most?

I miss getting a cappuccino at my favorite coffee shop, Crema Espresso in Dilworth, and settling in for a couple of hours of work. Normally, most of my days are spent working out of our Mint Museum Uptown location. But a couple of days a week, when I need some solitude to plow through a to-do list, I post up at Crema Espresso for a little bit. It’s a gem of a spot and I miss it very much. 

Which three people, living or dead, would you most like to be quarantined with? 

Real-life answer: (1) My husband, Ely: good cook, hilarious, and adept at handling survival situations. (2) My son, Jacob. He’s a handful, but those chubby little legs and penchant for cuddles raise my serotonin levels. (3) My mom. She’s my best friend and a top-notch babysitter. 
Fantasy-world answer: Ely. Oprah. Harry Houdini. 

Have you had any ‘light bulb’ moments since this all started?
We pulled my son out of daycare around mid-March out of an abundance of caution, and I have been so amazed daily at how his brain has developed over the last couple of months. He’s started talking in sentences, parroting us (loves to tell me to “calm down” now), and is all about his ABCs. These two months with him—albeit extremely stressful at times and marked by many shed tears (mine)—have made me realize how much of my son’s incremental growth I was missing before all of this happened. It’s been special to be able to talk and laugh about these milestones with my husband throughout the day, and it’s made me realize how important logging sheer hours together is for being around for the small but beautiful things, like the way my son searches out “lello sow” (yellow dandelion flowers) for me along the sidewalk. 
Whenever we are back at the office and in our normal routine, I’ve resolved to be much better about making time for family time, even if it means leaving work a little earlier and signing back on again later after bedtime. I don’t want to miss these special moments. 

Have you taken up a new hobby? 

Not sure it counts as a hobby, but it’s a new routine. Every morning, when my son, Jacob, wakes up—usually around 7:15 a.m.—I get him out of his crib, change his diaper, and then help him carry a stack of books as big as he can manage into my room. Then, while my husband makes coffee, Jacob and I get under the covers, and I read him book after book before we go downstairs for breakfast. (He usually demands that we finish the full stack). It’s going to be hard to give up those cuddles when I have a commute and morning routine to consider. I need to find a way to make them still happen. 

What projects have you got coming up? 

The Mint has some really cool exhibitions coming up once we do re-open, so I’ll have lots on my plate for those. We’re also trying to plan out some virtual event series for folks who aren’t yet ready to return to gatherings. 
But on a personal note, the “project” I’m thinking about all the time is the little girl growing in my belly! My due date is Sept. 5. I’ve got some ideas swimming around for the nursery, but need to start getting it ready. 

What are the biggest positives we can take from all this?
I know it’s easy for me to talk positives when I haven’t had to face the ugliness of coronavirus myself, and neither has my immediate circle of friends and family. Thankfully, my husband and I are both still healthy and both still have jobs. I wouldn’t, however, say that this time of shelter-in-place restrictions and abounding fear has been a romantic time of simplicity—it’s been marked by tears, frustration and way too many nights spent falling asleep on the couch, work laptop in hand. 
So I hope to come away from this time with immense gratitude for all I have, as well as for all the little things and people I took for granted. The amazing teachers at my son’s daycare who scrub the table and floor after every time he eats. Bear hugs from my parents who live just 10 minutes away. (My dad’s a doctor in Charlotte, so we’ve had to stay away from my parents for what feels like forever.) Even just the everyday conversations I have with everyone from the beloved security guards at the museum to the baristas at my favorite coffee shops—I miss it all. And I know I’ll come away from all of this imbued with a new appreciation I didn’t have before. 


How will you celebrate once this is all over?
A cappuccino and a Hamster crepe (try it!) at Crema Espresso. And after I have this baby, a plate of sushi and a massive glass of sparkling rosé. 


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