A Surprise to Remember


I love surprises.

I think it’s something my mom passed onto me.

I remember waking up every year on my birthday and having some sort of surprise next to my pillow.  I remember my mom telling me to pack on the morning of my 16th birthday without telling me where we were going to end up.  I remember receiving a note from my college study abroad program that I was going to be a couple days late arriving due to “birthday trip with mom.”

Not surprising, that when my little sister called me two weeks ago to discuss birthday ideas for dad, the first thing that came to mind was… let’s surprise him.

The plan was simple.  I was going to fly or train or drive from Chicago to suburban metro Detroit after work on Friday, surprise dad at my aunt’s house and then spend the weekend doing dad’s favorite things.

Plane tickets were inappropriately expensive for a 40-minute flight (it’s called a m-o-n-o-p-o-l-y, Delta) and the train took way too long (let’s join the 21st century, Amtrak).

Rental car it is.

I ran out of work on Friday and headed for the nearest rental car location.  15 minutes later I had somehow finagled an SUV for the price of a full size vehicle and was on my way.

I was really excited.

4 hours and about 20 rounds of Kelly Clarkson’s Catch My Breath and Backstreet Boys’ Larger than Life later, I was pulling up to my aunt’s house 5 minutes behind dad and sis, ready to ring the doorbell and yell surprise.

It was amazing to see the look on his face.

He immediately screamed “what are you doing here” and followed it up with giant bear hugs (customary) followed by Brady Bunch-style group hugs (we have our moments).

Some of the things I learned over the past couple of days:

1)      You’re never too old for a pajama party.  Dad, sis and I overestimated the size of the bed, but had some good laughs trying to sleep in it together.

2)      Your favorite movies never get old.  In our family, two films are quoted, discussed and watched over and over and over again: 1991’s Other People’s Money and 1993’s Adams Family Values.  These films might not seem extra deep, but in our family, no other movies hold more truth, provide more laughs or inspire more Halloween costumes.

3)      Re-telling the stories of our “Childhoods: The Infant Years” rarely grows tiresome.  Dad was dedicated to every detail in this weekend’s re-telling.

We had water fights in our health club’s pool, sat down to a dinner expertly prepared by amateur chef lil sis (sushi) and made the mistake of discussing current events after several glasses of wine.

This weekend was great.

It was Awesome to see dad so happy.

Life in the Big City: Revisited

world trade center

I’m spending this week living my old life.

A conference has brought me to my former home.

I packed in anticipation of seeing my friends and co-workers, sitting at my old desk and paying favorite restaurants and bars a visit.

The first thing I noticed was the familiarity.

Everything was familiar.

The stomach drop was the same as we avoided an “unlikely” water landing at LaGuardia airport.  The level of inappropriate aggression in the taxi line immediately brought me back (no lady, I didn’t cut you). The part of the island where I used to live looked (and smelled) the same.  The guy who fixed my shoes smiled and waved as if no time had passed.

I hit all my favorite hot-spots.

I paid my juice-making friends at the little bodega near the World Trade Center a visit, sat outside with friends in the warm sunshine by the Hudson and cocktail-ed on my favorite rooftop.

Over the past few days, I have seamlessly slipped into old routines and caught up with friends who made my life whole on this island.

Its made me reflect on the lives we build for ourselves and the communities we create regardless of city size.

Like an old friend, New York City and I picked up where we left off without skipping a beat.

Good times old friend.


The Birthday Wish

candle birthday wish

I like making wishes.

Not with magical genie lamps (although I’m game if one surfaces).

But during that time of the year when it’s respectable and even expected.

Your birthday.

The only thing better than making that wish and blowing out those candles… is doing it more than once.

Luckily, I have found that birthday celebrations are never a one day affair.

Inevitably there several bday “parties,” one on one birthday dinners and belated congratulations.

Tonight was one of those nights.

A friend I hadn’t seen in 6 months flew in for a visit and took me out for some belated birthday dinner and sangria drinking.

Towards the end of the meal, we decided on a slice of tiramisu.

I’m not sure if friend asked the waiter or the waiter had a unique sense of intuition (still a mystery to me), but I do know that the cake came out with a candle in it.

I got to make my wish again.


Channeling little Max Reede from Liar Liar, I really put my heart into this iteration.

Hope it comes true.


A Birthday At Home


My birthday was last week.

I spent it at home.

In true time honored tradition, I flew to my hometown to see my dad, little sister, grandparents and aunt and uncle to have my cake and eat it too.

It wasn’t your typical shots-at-the-bar fiesta (that came later).

Instead, I asked for a birthday party.

Maybe I was in a reminiscent mood.  Maybe I wanted to celebrate in a grandparent-friendly establishment.  Maybe I had my kick-ass 10th rollerblading birthday at U.S. Blades on my mind or the one that followed when my parents rented out an entire ice arena and I made my friends skate with me (watch me skate).

I wanted cake.  I wanted to wear a dress.  I wanted balloons.  I wanted toasts.

I wanted my home-based family around a table.

My dad made reservations at our favorite Russian restaurant (the only food grandpa said he would eat).  My grandma took me shopping to purchase a new birthday dress.  My little sister spent the morning picking out her most appropriate soon-to-be-a-teen ensemble (sweatpants and over-sized shirt).

The day was everything I hoped it would be.

It was nothing fancy or extreme.  But it was special.

Dad pre-ordered all of my favorite Russian dishes. Each family member took a turn at a toast.  We took pictures.  We laughed.  We reminisced.  We ate cake.

I felt blessed to be celebrating quietly (loudly) with my family (possible sign of oncoming maturity).

Absolutely Awesome.