Reflection… Book Club Style

siblings brother

My book club met tonight.

This month’s choice: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

If you’ve read either one of Hosseini’s other novels, then you know this book will not be made into a chick-flick.  And you know that probably everyone in the book club cried at one point or another while reading this puppy (I held out to the end.  That’s right.)

Hosseini’s novels are set in Afghanistan, offering an intimate view into a world many know very little about.  Above all else, though, these stories are about universal human struggles.  This one in particular, delves into family and takes the reader on a journey through multiple generations.  The stories show the ways in which the decisions of those who came before us shape our lives today in the same way that we will shape the lives of the next generation (pressure).

One thing the book focused on, above all else, was the sibling relationship.  The story displayed (in heart-wrenching fashion) how sacred a bond between siblings can be and how grateful we should be to have these bundles of joy in our lives.

This above all-else hit me hard.

I thought about my siblings.  I thought about how grateful I am that my parents gave me this gift.

I thought about the stories I’ve been told about my brother’s arrival (I was 4) and the fact that I felt, for whatever reason, very protective of him.  Reportedly, I used to throw myself onto strangers (friends and doctors) who dared approach my little bud and try to take them down (I’m still looking into the validity of this report).

I thought about how to our friends’ great annoyance, my brother and I used to play at recess together everyday during elementary school.

I thought about how my brother and I are now sharing vital information about young adulthood with our little sister.

brother

Lil bud and little sister discussing strategy for the fruit roll up competition about to commence

I thought about the bond I share with two other people who understand the struggles and triumphs unique to our family.

Hosseini has a talent for writing eloquently and beautifully about some tough subjects.  He inspired me with this last one… to argue less with my siblings.  And to cherish the bond we’ve been given.

Awesome.

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Summer Bucket List

north avenue beach chicago

The anticipation is over.

Summer is here.

And it’s not just any summer… it’s my first Chicago summer.

Since moving to this city, I have heard much about this anticipated time of year.

I’ve been told that the summer is unmatched, with a myriad of festivals, beach days, outdoor concerts, sports gatherings, rooftop cocktailing and outdoor activities.

I’ve been told that people flock to Chicago during the summer in the same way that New Yorkers flock to the Hamptons; in this case, running towards the city, instead of away from it.

My excitement has not been subtle.

It might be my strategic layering of clothes-so-I-can-be-ready-to-beach-it-at-any-moment, my not-so secret plans to re-live senior spring break or the speed with which I sign up for activities (whether I have time  for them or not)… everyone from my co-workers to friends to my Wholefoods fish guy knows that I’m a tad psyched for the nice weather.

To make sure the summer doesn’t fly by, I’ve gone ahead and made the following bucket list.

bucket list

Let the frolicking begin.

There will be little sleep.  But there will be new adventures.

This summer is going to be Awesome.

Lean In and Get Over It

inspiration

Last week was rough.

I was in the midst of working hard (showing off my tan) in my third day back in the office since my Greek odyssey, when I was unexpectedly cast in a commercial for everything-that-Sheryl-Sandberg-leans-in-about.

An unexpected altercation with a female superior left me blind-sided and wondering why certain individuals feel compelled to push others down.

It was a blow.

It was surreal.

It shook me up a bit.

I needed to bounce back. Shrug it off. Stop caring. Look the other way. Forget about it.  Look on the bright side.  Accept the nature of the business (thanks dad).  Learn a lesson.

I took the advice.  I took some deep breaths.  And I went back to re-centering myself in much the same way that started this blog:

Remembering things I love to do (big and small)… and doing them.

Over the past few days I have pushed my physical boundaries by going back to the dance room, this time in the form of the make-your-muscles-shake Bar Method.  This class kicked my butt, but left me feeling accomplished.

Also – I can’t remember the last time I did 40 push-ups.  7th Grade Gym?

bar method

I took my love of tea and the belief that anything can be solved over a hot pot to the Drake Hotel, where a friend and I hashed life out over a tradition known as high tea.

We each had about 5 pots of tea and took some liberties with the butter-on-scone action.  We might not be cut out for Pride and Prejudice the sequel, but we left feeling uplifted (and hydrated).

high tea

I frolicked, danced and swam with friends and family.  This involved seeing my cousins, experiencing a Chicago Beer festival and enjoying the budding Chicago summer on my rooftop.

pool

And I did some shopping.

In the form of a “shopping party” that a friend happened to win that came with champagne and discounts.

(Yes, I’m secretly Cher Horowitz)

(And Celine Dion plays while I’m finding myself at the mall)

shopping finding yourself

At some point during the shopping extravaganza, while trying on dresses with my best girls to the inspiration of Kelly Clarkson appropriately playing in the background, I turned my defeat into mental power.  Re-energized from doing what I love and enjoying my favorite people, I felt calm and empowered.  I remembered the inspirational women I’ve been lucky to have in my life.  I thought about the fact that I too can say that I am a strong, ambitious and passionate woman.

And I don’t think it’s a bad thing.

I actually think it’s Awesome.

Finding Family Abroad

plaka beach naxos greece

One of the best parts of traveling abroad, for me, has always been tied to the connections you make.

The notion that somewhere across the ocean are people totally different than you and yet absolutely the same perplexes, fascinates and makes me giddy.

The second part of this week, we found ourselves on the Greek Isle Naxos, about a 2 hour ferry ride (cruise) from Ios.

Naxos is a small island known for local wines and a family atmosphere.  We figured that after the insanity of Mykonos, Santorini and Ios, we could use a few relaxing days.

By the time Tuesday came around and it was time to say goodbye to Ios though, we weren’t ready and even considered an extended stay.

After a quick mental pro and con list (over morning cocktails), we decided to press ahead as planned.

Today we’re pretty thrilled we did.

On Naxos we found an authenticity missing from the other more touristy islands.

Naxos isn’t the top beach party destination or the most well-known romantic spot on the Aegean so it draws a smaller crowd.

The old town has old passageways and stone streets with charming character.  The beaches are incredibly beautiful and the hotels, beach bars and restaurants are all family-run.  Food is fresh and goats roam the exterior of our hotel.  Travelers come from all around the world and have a habit of coming back year after year. The greetings between locals and visitors are akin to a family reunion.

Unfortunately for us, this time of year is still considered low season and beaches were largely empty.

It was time to adapt to this new atmosphere and plus…

We wanted in on the family fun.

Within an hour we had located the oldest beach bar and restaurant on Plaka beach and decided to grab a drink.

About 6 hours later we were still there, with local liquor shots, sangria and vodka drinks, laughing with the owners – two brothers -, their extended families and their friends (visitors to the island with whom they now spend every Christmas in England).

We talked and told stories as if we’d known each other for years.

It’s incredible to know that strangers with completely different lives, languages and backgrounds can come together uninhibited and laugh their asses off for an entire afternoon.

Also – the Ukrainian girl inside was thrilled for confirmation: vodka can bring anyone together.

Awesome.

Easy going on the Aegean Sea

ios greeece

Ios, Greece

Never does the term “go with the flow” apply more than when traveling abroad.

I’ve found that even the best planner can’t schedule around the inevitable surprises, oopsies and unforeseen adventures that the travel Gods have in store.

And for those of us whose daily lives revolve around outlook calendars, this can be daunting.

In order to ease into the reality shift, my travel friends and I have decided to just not.

plan that is.

Two of my best girls and I flew to Athens last week, booked our hotels and planned to unplug and see where a Greek Isles immersion would take us.

We’ve used wiki-travel for on-the-go recommendations, asked random locals for suggestions and followed the advice of friends’ texts from home.

Our easygoing attitude has led to some adventures:

– Accidentally seeing the entire island of Mykonos and doing some off-roading. On two ATVs that we rented on a whim after a 5 minute tutorial (the shop owner insisted on teaching us). We were busy laughing and enjoying bumping down the labyrinth of the two-way “highway,” big enough for one car, when we realized we were a bit off course. The promised 40 minute trip to the beach turned into 2 hours and 40 minutes. Woops.

mykonos greece travel

Sunset, Mykonos, Greece

– Unplanned hike through Santorini’s wine country. We made enough of a scene boarding the bus that asking for proper directions wasn’t in the cards. We got off on the last stop, asked a local for directions and promptly set out on what ended up being an hour walk up the scenic mountainous terrain. (The return trip was equally exciting when the same bus driver found us walking and picked us up between stops. Thanks friend!)

santorini greece

Wine Country, Santorini, Greece

– Seasickness. We rented a catamaran with captain to do a private sail with six other new friends. We imagined a sail akin to a calm lake. Calm lake it was not. The Aegean Sea was so choppy that day, commercial ferries that shuttle hundreds of people between the islands were hiding out in calm coves. Our captains, on the other hand, thought riding the waves was a form of extreme sailing fun.

santorini greece travel

Oia, Santorini Sunset

Our adventures on this trip have led to some great experiences thus far.

We saw the famous Oia sunset from the best seat in the house with tips from new friends and some dumb luck. We bonded with the sailing captains and spent the evening experiencing Santorini nightlife the local way. We took a tip and headed to town one night when our planned beach party fell through and met a fun group of guys we danced with all night. We tried the oldest family-owned restaurant in Mykonos where mama prepared fresh moussaka for us on request.

 

One thing has been emphasized:

Since life is largely unplanned (even with the outlook calendar), sometimes you have to hop on an ATV and see where the road takes you.

Looking forward to tomorrow.

Awesome.