Merry Russian Christmas, New Years and Birthday

tree

This holiday season, I noted that celebrating “the holidays” doesn’t come in a perfectly wrapped box with a set of instructions.

And when I say noted I mean embraced with giant bear hug and streamers.

Over the past decade, my family’s dynamics have evolved and changed a great deal.  We’ve changed in number, we’ve changed in participants and we’ve changed traditions.  I’ve lost family to illness, old age and various rifts and with it have come ever changing and evolving methods to celebrating the holidays and major events.

George and Nina Banks (Father of the Bride) we are not.  Pretty sure we’re not even reaching Home Alone status at this point.  (It’s been a while since the whole fam was on a plane.  I fear the repercussions this would have on future flight options).

Nevertheless, when this time of year rolls around, I can’t help but wonder if I should force dad to play basketball with me in the snow while reminiscing about my evolution as the best daughter ever before eating a calm meal filled with patience and understanding(???).

I’m not sure what the turning point was this year, but at some point I decided to stop trying to make it “perfect” and just decided to dive into enjoying my totally loving, fragmented, immigrant, kind-of-loud (super loud) Russian Jewish (with some non-Jew members) family the way they (we) are.

Yesterday (“Christmas”) was no exception to the randomness that has become the holiday season.  This year especially, with a number of recent changes resulting in half the family spending the holidays elsewhere.

I embraced the family I was with and dove right into quality time.

The following events were celebrated: Russian Orthodox Christmas (actually celebrated globally on January 7 – we ignore this detail every year).  Grandma’s birthday.  New Years.

The day’s events in summary:

  • Early afternoon vodka-malibu-peach schnapps cocktails at nearby theater (yes, grandma and I wore drinking wristbands like teenagers at 1 pm)
  • Laughing our assess off during Parental Guidance as part of birthday treat and bonding exercise
  • Dressing up grandpa as Santa’s little helper
  • Preparing enough birthday/Christmas/new years food to feed a small country as a family
  • Peer pressuring grandma’s best friend to take shots of vodka during the gift opening extravaganza (grandma’s idea)
  • Frying zucchini pancakes at 10pm with my aunt (ok, I watched)

The day followed no traditional path.  We went to the movies before sitting down to eat.  Gifts weren’t exchanged until late into the night.  Reasons for celebrating were jumbled and mixed.

I’m certain though, that if someone had peeked into our windows last night they would have witnessed a beautifully set table and laughter (not to mention grandpa’s absurd getup).

I counted my blessings and basked in a feeling of gratitude to have family and friends around that truly love one another.

Awesome.

I hope you all saw the glass as half full this holiday season.  How are you all celebrating?

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Weights, Stability Balls and Yoga Mats

exercise

Yesterday my aunt invited (dragged) me to her weekly workout class with her friends.

I had just fallen asleep to have the nap of all naps when I heard sirens, disco music and stomping (ok a touch dramatic). Suffice it to say I was awakened by (one of) my overly energetic family members.

I struggled to open my eyes and did consider sleeping under my bed as part of a rousing game of hide-and-go-seek but decided to ignore the intense sleep deprivation of the last 11.5 months (it’s been a busy year), get myself together and see what my aunt and her buddies have been up to all this time.

My expectations were low.

Yes, my aunt raves about this instructor and how great she is. Yes, I was doubtful that an exercise routine designed for a group of 50-somethings would get my heart pumping.

We arrived at a nearby synagogue where a group of 15 friends (an extended Ya-Ya sisterhood if you will) have been gathering for the better part of 4 years.

I immediately met the instructor and the other ladies. My first impression noted how great the instructor looked. I found out later she was about 20 years older than I thought.

I should’ve assumed that anyone who looked better than 85% of my age group and was about 40 years older knew what she was doing.

But I didn’t.

She had us moving non-stop for an hour. We kicked, salsa-ed, planked, lifted and curled our way through a version of Jane Fonda’s best with weights.

Nevertheless, my over-confident self increased the difficulty when possible (even when it was a struggle to keep up) by grabbing heavier weights than everyone else and taking no breaks.

I paid for it.

My abs hurt. My arms hurt. My hip flexors hurt.

The last 24 hours have consisted of soreness, restricted movement, admiration and reflection on maintaining an active lifestyle throughout one’s life.

Thank you to my aunt and this truly amazing instructor for an Awesome workout.

Nerds, Kegs and Inspiration

Today a friend invited me to experience The Starter League’s demo day.

This evening, a collection of individuals who dared pursue their start-up dreams gathered to showcase their new websites, companies and ideas brought to life.

Excited to experience something new, I left a holiday party early in pursuit of inspiration and the entrepreneurial spirit.

Plus, I was promised pizza and beer.

Let the learning begin.

The showcase included 20 teams that had coded, designed and developed an idea that was apparently show-worthy.  Some of these individuals had abandoned great careers and lucrative positions in search of their passion while others weren’t familiar with the computer ON button before their pursuits.

Shark Tank, this was not.  For a room of curious entrepreneurs, the atmosphere wreaked of group camaraderie and friendly encouragement.

The presentations were creative.  Some were entertaining.  A couple were brilliant.

The following is a small list of my favorites:

  • RealTransparent – Apartment rental listing site that provides transparency for renters, by disallowing all of the bad practices found on craigslist (ie 37 consequently listed apartments advertising the wrong price – no longer)
  • ThePitch – New spin on career sites where one can write a “pitch” about themselves to explain to targeted employers why you’re the one
  • MamaLi’s – An e-commerce web store providing beauty products to mainland China (where they are not available) that are tested and loved by the founder’s mom (true story)

There were kegs.  There were nerds.  There were home-written songs about computer code (see previous sentence).

Despite my beer intake (or in spite of?), I found myself deep in thought about life’s choices, the risks we take and more importantly don’t take and the wonderfully overwhelming abyss of opportunities available to forge your own path.

2 slices of pizza and 3 beers later, I found myself ready to conquer the world… or at least the giant plate of loaded French fries and specialty cocktails at our next stop.

Awesome.

Online Shopping, Customer Service and Damaged TVs

shattered tv

Never is your gumption, strength and overall faith in humanity tested like when you spend $619.72 on a damaged 46-inch LCD HGTV.

Having a large television isn’t a long standing dream of mine but I figured… why not.  New city.  New apartment.  New furniture.  A large TV to complete the interior decorating spree only makes sense.

So like any over-zealous excitable individual who is familiar with the internet, I thought I could go nuts on Cyber Monday on a little website known as Amazon.

Cut to a little over a week ago when my brand new touch LCD arrives (half price mind you) and I have perfectly lined up an expert (loose term)from Comcast to come plug it in and make Friends re-runs showcase themselves in my living room.

One. Problem.

Although this giant monster looked great, one flick of the cable switch proved that the entirety of the inside was shattered… and James Cameron’s Titanic looked like someone had taken a bat to it.

My fingers couldn’t dial Amazon fast enough.

As you can imagine, as with any customer service and large-business related inquiry that requires competence – resolving problems is like pulling teeth and promises to have you in the corner crying and wailing (it’s inevitable. don’t fight it).

I explained as articulately as possible  the details regarding the shattering of the television and asked for an impeccably dressed gentleman to come over promptly and pick up said television while simultaneously delivering a new one and setting it up.

And so began the 7 day war.

The details are painful but I’ll summarize them here:

  • A non-responsive and verbally abusive 3rd party seller was involved that said they were sorry but weren’t (are they ever?)
  • UPS received the wrong information regarding pick up. 2 days in a row.
  • Cable bills were paid regardless of TV ownership (turns out Comcast doesn’t care if Amazon’s 3rd party seller is doing their job)

It was a long hard winter. I yelled.  I made people cry. I lost hope.  I learned some things:

  • When buying from Amazon – make sure it says SELLER = Amazon (and not BootLegSeller.Com)
  • KEEP original shipping materials until AFTER you test out the product (very important)(turns out packaging for 46 inch TV is not free)
  • Verbally abusing customer service reps is not ultimately helpful in the long run (but is effective in short term aggression release)

Ultimately, a few key individuals were pertinent to returning faith: lady from Amazon who took a personal interest (or should I say did her job) and called me several times for 3 days to check up on the status of the return (God bless you Marcy); building doorman who hauled the 60 lb. package up to my apartment in the first place and subsequently retrieved it… (Trent, you’re my hero); building maintenance crew that generously screwed the TV base on and put the thing together… and subsequently took it apart… (thanks G).

I’d also like to thank friends and family who listened to me recount this tale 135442132 times.  THANK YOU.  Venting truly is a pure form of therapy.  To all of you……. you are Awesome.

Strobe Lights Enhance Exercise Part Two

cycling

My very first post shared the exhilarating experience of intense cycling complete with DJ, strobe lights and dance.

Today’s Awesome was connected to finding an equally stimulating workout in the Windy City.

Answer: Flywheel.

Similar establishment to Soul Cycle, Flywheel has you cycling your heart out and listening to club music while the instructor barks excitement and links working out with achieving your dreams (ok sometimes I get into it).

What makes flywheel different?

A bit of a competitive edge.

Cyclists’ names are posted on a monitor at the front so you can see what number you are in the heap.

What a smart twist on the “traditional” spin class.  If there was ever a reason to work out harder, cycle faster and push yourself, Flywheel is getting close to perfecting the workout motivator for the overly competitive.

The over-achiever in me was exhilarated.

I pushed myself to keep those “power” numbers high.  I used the “heavy bar” during the weights portion.  I let David Guetta fill me with inspiration (love that stuff).

As class came to an end, I was pumped and ready to tackle further furniture assembly projects…

Awesome!!

Axles, Loops and Salchows

figure skates
Today I went back to the rink.

Although it might seem like I skate every day, given the fact that I’ve mentioned it about 63782 times since starting this blog, I actually haven’t laced up my skates in over two years.

I was introduced to figure skating at the age of 4. A family effort – if you will – was mobilized back in the Soviet Union (so they tell me) to let me try this popular Russian sport.

Skates were procured. Sessions for toddlers were found. Transportation was arranged.

On that fateful day, grandpa laced up my skates…and introduced me to my life-long passion.

Skating is one of my earliest memories. I skated when we were newly immigrated and money was tight. I competed through elementary school, middle school and high school. I skated through college. I skated through good times and bad.

Now my recent move back to the Midwest has reignited my desire to lace up my skates once more.

One train and one bus got me there.

I was overwhelmed and excited coming up to the rink. I was an ocean away from where I started and 300 miles away from where I skated most of my life. Yet my surroundings were familiar. It even smelled the same.

I warmed up a bit, laced up my skates, got onto the ice with other skaters at “my” level and picked up on what I suspect I knew all along…

Figure skating is hard.

I wish I could say it’s like riding a bike. But it’s not (unless relearning means toppling over a couple of times on a flat tire).

I was a bit shaky at first and spent half the session doing backwards and forwards crossovers but by the end of the session I was feeling more confident. I tried a couple spins and even threw in a couple (easy) jumps.

Most of all, I just loved being out there again. It was different but it felt the same.

Looking forward to training session number 2.

Awesome.

Benefits, New Friends and School Night Antics

shiftgig

Today’s Awesome had me giving back and stepping out of my comfort zone.

A friend invited me to a benefit to support Sandy victims.

Having escaped Sandy myself just 4 weeks prior, I was more than willing to put on a pretty dress on a school night and participate in the effort to raise money for NYC’s City Harvest.

Plus.  Being new to this town, it fit right into my go-out-every-night –and-participate-in-every-activity-possible-and-make-new-friends plan.

I took a nap after work (the “plan” is exhausting) and woke up just in time to grab a cab to the famed Chicago Hard Rock Hotel.

There, I joined up with said friend and about 167 of his friends.

After the first few awkward moments (HI!, my name is…) and a thorough surveying of the crowd (am I dressed appropriately?!?!)…

I introduced myself to just about everyone.

I met someone who works at my (large) company (new office friend!).  I danced like it was Friday (it wasn’t).  I exchanged life stories with total strangers (typical).

By the end of the night, I felt like my vodka soda intake had sufficiently added to the benefit and I had exchanged numbers and emails with a host of new future friends (it’s like dating).

Aside from the likely hangover that accompanies too many mixed drinks on a week-night, I’d say it was totally worth it.

Awesome.