Andrea Kaiser's life is as intricate and colorful as the patterned papers she folds into exquisite flowers and shapes which hang in her family's home in Norwich.
As director of institutional advancement at the Otis Library in Norwich, her responsibilities include fundraising, writing grants and helping to coordinate beloved community events. As a mom to two and stepmom to three, she oversees a bustling household. As an artist — "a self-declared paper stylist," she says, laughing — she teaches classes to people who sign up again and again, and soon become friends.
Kaiser's life is about connecting with people, through the library, through her work with the Parents Advisory Board at Kelly Middle School, and through her blog, http://papermom.blogspot.com/, where she shares photos of her art, anecdotes about growing up, tips for busy moms and funny outtakes from conversations with her kids, like:
While having a nice chat with our oldest daughter and our Cub Scout, our teenager eagerly told me that she thinks about two things every single day. First, she dreams about our trip to Disney, she can't wait to go. And before she could say "second" my Cub Scout pipes up with... "Let me guess, second is shoe-shopping, every girl dreams of shoe-shopping."
Though her position is part-time, Otis Library holds a significant place in Kaiser's life. Her 12-year-old daughter "devours the books I bring home," she says. "Last year she had a goal to read 99 goals in a year. It was amazing. I think she came up four shy."
Watching people experience what the library has to offer brings her joy, she says.
"I love being at the library. We really change lives, every single day. We have 600-800 people come through our door every day. There's not many organizations that have that kind of impact."
But she says the library's resources could serve so many more. The challenge is to grow awareness. There are ongoing music and storytimes, special movie nights and events for teens, performances, book sales and author expos, and book clubs.
"I'm not sure everyone realizes all that we offer. We have this incredible entertainment value — and everything is free. We loan movies, we show movies in our community space; we offer community space for organizations come in."
And, she emphasizes, the library keeps up with technology.
"We have computers available — they're used all day long, every hour. People are applying for jobs on our computers, they're updating resumes. We offer e-books — if you are a Norwich resident and have a library card, you can download a book onto your e-reader for two weeks, right from home."
This year, Kaiser authored a grant that helps the library connect with older residents. There are workshops on using social media and even a bus service for folks with transportation issues.
Kaiser believes the library not only strengthens the community intellectually and culturally; it strengthens the bonds between people.
"We offer storytimes and it goes far beyond the child getting exposed to a literary work at that moment," she explains. "It's about moms sitting in the room, getting to know one another, supporting one another and making lifelong friends."
One of the library's most anticipated fundraisers is the annual "Evening with an Author" being held this year on May 31 at The Spa at Norwich Inn. The featured presenter is Nathaniel Philbrick, author of "Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution" as well as The New York Times Bestseller "In the Heart of the Sea, the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex." The event, led by Chairwoman Milllie Shapiro, includes a dinner and silent auction and celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.
Now, you might imagine the most challenging thing about parenting five children is how five different, growing personalities integrate into one household. Or maybe it's the challenges presented by a variety of developmental stages. Those things do come into play, Kaiser says, but the most difficult thing?
She and her husband "joke about what the future will look like without nightly dinner for seven and taxi cab service leaving every 25 minutes ... on any given weeknight," she writes on her blog.
"Our kids are very involved, and we're committed to them being involved, but that means a lot of craziness," she says.
She holds up a framed picture of their family, where each of them is making a silly face, mid-giggle.
"This is the best picture ever that will explain who we are," she says, smiling.
Her husband, Dr. Michael Kaiser, is a psychologist and Assistant Principal at Norwich Technical High School. They met through friends and they have been married for five years.
"We are a true blended family," Kaiser explains. "When we got together, [Andrea's son] was still in preschool and the girls were in first grade. Now we have a senior in high school, a junior in high school, two seventh-graders and a third-grader."
The family has grown together, Kaiser says. And she is thankful for her husband's support.
"Michael is very much a partner in this. He doesn't have traditional ideas of what moms do or what dads do. It works out really nicely. And the kids get along — I'm amazed at how they get along."
If there is a key to happiness in a blended home, Kaiser says, it's letting go of expectations. Not lowering standards, but having an open heart to whatever the experiences offer, she explains. This can mean shifting or changing family traditions; and factoring in the needs and values of the other parents involved.
"I read that it takes seven years to truly blend a family, and I thought, 'Oh, come on, it can't take that long,'" she explains. "But I see now there are different life events that have to happen for you to connect with each other. I remember once after a big storm, we were all out in the backyard cleaning up. And it doesn't seem like a big thing, but we were all together, working toward the same goal, and it meant something to our family," she says.
Paper, paper, PAPER!
Kaiser says she has always "loved paper, — scrapbooking, stamping, Hallmark cards, gift wrap, you name it, anything paper-related."
She is inspired by pattern and texture, by the way colors flow together and around the whole of finished piece. "It's my little escape," she says.
She had made decorative crafts for her home and office, but never considered selling her creations or teaching classes. But when you're working in an environment that prizes creativity, you can only fly under the radar for so long.
Julie Menders, Otis' community engagement and programming coordinator, encouraged Kaiser to offer a class during a library open house. That evolved into workshops at other libraries and community venues.
"I kind of have a following now, which is really wonderful. I have some ladies that sign up for every class, and we've become friends. We're going to be starting a paper club at the library."
For her part, Menders is glad that Kaiser is "finally sharing her talents."