Messin’ About On Boats: A Spontaneous Vacation

bahamas stirrup cay

I love surprises.  I love being spontaneous.  I love getting away.

Even when it’s to the neighborhood French bistro at 9:30 PM on a Sunday — that’s 2 hours where I forget it all, drink wine and stuff myself with truffled fries.  Or to the movie theatre on a Monday night followed by deep-dish pizza – that’s 3 hours where I pretend I’m having a staycation in the beginning of the week.

Point is.  I love being spontaneous and getting away.

So when that boy I’ve been hanging out with a lot told me five days before Thanksgiving that he’d booked a cruise to the Caribbean for this past weekend, I nodded and said:

I’ll go get my in-case-of-Caribbean-cruise-rolly-bag.

It’s already packed.

I was psyched.  All 3 aspects rolled into one.  What an incredible short, yet Awesome adventure.

I was beaming, but also kind of nervous.

Because I didn’t know what to expect.

Let me rephrase that.  I knew exactly what to expect.  I knew about the mountains of delicious food available to all passengers 24/7.  I knew about the on-board shows.  I knew about the endless photographs, Jacuzzis on the top deck, piña coladas, cheesy dance parties and the fact that they’ll deliver a pizza to your room at any time of day FREE.  I even knew about the safety drill (where you get to practice lining up like you did in elementary school).

But I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s been 6 years since my last cruise.

That one that my mom purchased for me – a last gift before she passed away – for my graduation from college.  I haven’t been on a cruise since then.

Similar ship.  Similar islands.  Similar environment.  Same desire to vacate.  Different time in my life.

What would it be like?

bahamas

atlantis

photo 2 (4)

IMG_1095

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photo (98)

photo (99)

The food was still there.  So were the hot tubs.  The stars still sparkled unlike anything I am able to see in the city.  The ocean’s turquoise colors still amazed me.  As did its blunt expansiveness.

We had fun.  We ate too much.  We drank one too many mimosas.  We tried Bahamian beer.  We went down the kiddie slide at the Atlantis resort.  We won some money in roulette.  We lost it all.  We ordered champagne and pizza at 3 in the morning.  We ordered the left side of the all-inclusive menu at dinner.

It was different, but it was the same.  Appropriately tweaked for this time in my life.

And it was spontaneous.

Which made it that much better.

Good weekend.

Awesome.

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Dear Millennials and People of All Ages: Write a Reverse Bucket List

greece

These days, everybody’s got advice to give, it seems.

Just this morning, someone at work forwarded a list of the top 10 BEST pieces of advice according to some dude named Dan Schawbel (and Forbes, apparently) for all millennials.

According to Dan and the popular media of the world, we should never settle for a job we’re not passionate about, make a big impact IMMEDIATELY at a new job (haha), take risks early and often, spend more time with people, measure your work outcomes and SACRIFICE today to position yourself better for tomorrow.

Sure thing, Dan.

I’ll pencil this in for Thursday.  Wednesday’s already filled up it looks like……I’m uh….oh hmmm YEP, Wednesday I’m settling from 8 – 6:30.

Sometimes advice from every imaginable expert on success makes for great lunch-time reading.

Sometimes you just don’t want to hear it.

Here’s some Tuesday advice: take a break from world domination plotting and wondering what more you could be doing (I’m speaking to myself as well here) and write a reverse bucket list.

You’re probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about.

Just so happens that in the same hour that I was blessed with this life-changing advice, I also read a blog post from this Awesome woman who cleverly wrote a bucket list in reverse.

This inspiring Millennial, Amy, “[took] stock of all [she has] accomplished thus far” on her milestone birthday.

My advice is to take half a second to think about the things you’ve already accomplished in your young, medium, more medium age and revel in it for a second.

Swish it in your mouth.

Enjoy the moment.

Get some perspective.

As Amy puts it, “once you start recalling all the amazing things you’ve already accomplished in life, those looming items unchecked off your bucket list don’t seem too daunting, or out of reach.”

What follows is my reverse bucket list.

  1. Learn a 3rd language
  2. Visit Cuba
  3. Work for a Fortune 500 Company
  4. Compete in a National Figure Skating Championship
  5. Share my passion for figure skating with others
  6. Zip-line in Costa Rica
  7. Take my little sister to see the Statue of Liberty
  8. Cook for my grandfather in my NYC apartment (he flew in!)
  9. Shop in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul
  10. Win a medal in the school district’s Optimist Speech Contest (I was 13)
  11. Swim on a swim team
  12. Experience high tea in a castle in London
  13. Take a cruise with my mom
  14. Drink a beer at Oktoberfest in Munich
  15. Have a spa day in Bath, England (the historic site of the Roman Baths)
  16. Connect with a stranger on an international flight
  17. Ride the Maid of the Mist under Niagara Falls
  18. Camp on a deserted island
  19. Celebrate my birthday on a beach
  20. Climb Sleeping Bear Dunes
  21. Ride a roller coaster with my little sister
  22. Graduate from a top university
  23. Live in Mexico
  24. Sail in Greece
  25. Be inducted into my university’s athletic hall of fame
  26. Play in a recreational league (softball!)
  27. Watch the sunrise from an old fishing boat out on the ocean in Puerto Escondido, Mexico
  28. Study in Madrid, Spain
  29. Write letters to a friend in another country
  30. Live in New York City
  31. Go prom dress shopping with my mom
  32. Run a half marathon
  33. Join a book club
  34. Sit front row at a broadway show
  35. Dance all night in Florence on New Years Eve
  36. Volunteer at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge
  37. Eat home-made Moussaka in Mykonos, Greece
  38. Ride an ATV
  39. Tour Frank Lloyd Wright’s former home
  40. Attend a wedding in Europe
  41. Go tubbing on the Aegean Sea
  42. See Santana live in Mexico City
  43. Ski a black diamond trail
  44. Take a boxing class
  45. See the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace
  46. See the Thanksgiving Day Parade in NYC
  47. Be a guest on a daytime talk show
  48. Take the Chicago Architectural Boat Tour
  49. Try wakeboarding
  50. Live in Chicago
  51. Start a personal blog

Thank you, Amy, for this wonderful idea.

I have 50 here (and 1 as the cherry on top).  I challenge everyone to write a reverse bucket-list.

It reminds you of the Awesome in your life.

Why I Broke Up With New York City

new york city

view from the roof deck in my last New York City apartment

In 4 weeks exactly, I will celebrate an important anniversary.

Exactly 11 months ago to the day, a friend and I packed up our fabulous apartment in New York City and drove 15 hours until we saw the Chicago skyline.

It’s been almost 1 whole year since I did this scary thing – left New York – and dared to build a life elsewhere.

I planned to post this entry closer to the 1 year mark, but my friend Irene (in New York City no less), sent me an article, entitled “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at Age 24” today, in which Ann Friedman chronicles with great sincerity, the reasons why she left New York and her “Meh” feelings on the city in general.

The topic of New York City has been implanted in my mind, unwavering, since I moved.

Between meeting new people (HI! I just moved here from NYC…), my new co-workers, friends back east and random strangers, the topic of the move comes up more than talk of the weather.  And every time I’m at a house-warming, networking event or on a date, I feel extremely unsettled about my answer.

Why DID I leave New York?  Why don’t I EVER want to live there again?

Every time I hear these questions, a slew of verbal diarrhea ejects itself ranging from reasons to do with work, family, my childhood in the Mid-West or just LOVING the deep-freeze of winter (not really).

Unlike Ann, who moved to NYC because she couldn’t think of anywhere else to go and followed a boyfriend who reportedly had her dream job, my path and times in NYC weave a different tale.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to visit New York almost every year.  My parents’ best friends (the ones who are credited with birthing Irene) moved to New York City when we immigrated from Ukraine, while we settled in Michigan.  I found myself visiting New York “frequently” on family trips when I was a child and then on my own when I was older to see Irene.  The lights of Times Square used to mesmerize me.  Irene’s parents would take us driving through during every visit.  Those big billboards represented big dreams to me (12 year-old me thought corporate America was like six flags) and I longed to grow up and find these corporate dreams of my own.

Once I grew up, my educational goals pushed me to the East Coast.  I attended a competitive liberal arts school, after which, what felt like my entire graduating class, moved to New York City.

I didn’t follow a boyfriend (he ended up moving a year later to follow me).  I was psyched about my first job (until I wasn’t).  I lived with one of my best friends from college (see Brunch post).  I had 3 jobs during my 5-year tenure in the city, during which time I had great experiences, and one of which was in the smack center of Times Square.  I even had my little brother by my side, after he graduated and moved to NYC (and lived on my couch for 3 months).

From the outside, my NYC life probably looked like a Great Gatsby party or a Sex and the City episode (except with parades of frat boys and no Louboutins – those actually aren’t affordable, Carrie).

Somehow though, the city left me incredibly unsettled and – this has been hard to admit – I don’t think I was ever incredibly happy.  Yes, I had some great times and I accomplished professional goals and I frolicked with old friends and made new ones.

But I somehow still felt like I was in a box.

Ann describes New York as the prom king in high school: “He knows he’s great, and he’s gonna make it really, really hard on you if you decide you want to love him.”

I think in my version the prom king loves you back and you realize he’s a douche.  Or you’re Cady Heron in Mean Girls and you’re accepted by the popular clique only to find out that the 3 of them are absolutely miserable people.

I haven’t put an exact stamp on my feelings.

Maybe it has something to do with the eventual break-up with my now ex-boyfriend.  Maybe it has to do with my lack of desire to hang out with the prom king while he runs around town telling everyone he’s #1.  Maybe I was just getting tired of being shoved on the subway in the morning.

Maybe it’s all 3.

I realize this topic hits on some buttons for many people and there are those that love NYC with extreme passion.  I still have friends who are there and love it.

I will say this though, I agree with Ann – I breathed easier after moving.

Over the past year, as hard as it is, I’ve thrown myself into establishing a life here.  I decorated my first personal apartment by picking out furniture piece by piece, I joined internal organizations at work, I went to networking events, I started coaching figure skating again, I put in effort to reconnect with high school friends I’ve lost touch with and I’ve opened myself up to finding matches in new dating pools.

It was hard.  But even on the hardest day, I still breathe easier.

The city you live in that suits you is a personal choice.

On this anniversary, I’m proud of myself for taking a leap of faith and leaving.  The move has turned a number of my worlds upside down, but it’s also grounded many.

I feel happy about the direction I’m moving in, and that friends,… is Awesome.

Brunch: a Study in Friendship, Personal Growth and Chili

That Time I Saw Walter Isaacson Speak and Spent 8 Days Trying to Write About It

I went to brunch with one of my best friends this weekend and something unexpected happened.

She pulled out a notebook and told me she was going to interview me.

It was 11am on a hung-over Saturday.

I gave her the best death stare I had.  She gave me the “yep this is happening” look.  And I gave up.

Friend was headed on a leadership retreat with her company and was given the assignment of interviewing 2 people she felt had “influenced” her.

I was pretty surprised she chose me.  And Kinda honored.  (OK really honored).

But definitely surprised.

Not because our friendship isn’t Awesome (it is) but because I had never stopped to think about the types of life-altering effects we’ve had on each other.

Best friends are not strangers that inspire you during a chance meeting or teachers, professors and superiors that you look up to.  Best friends are, in some ways, extensions of you.

And this friend in particular could very well be my right arm, since we’ve been more or less inseparable for a decade.  We met during orientation of Freshman year, lived on the same hallway, lived together Sophomore and Junior year, shared an apartment in New York City Junior summer when we were super cool and doing internships and lived together Senior year on the same floor.  Post college we moved from one apartment to another in New York City for 5 years and then casually escaped Hurricane Sandy last Halloween when we drove ourselves (in a rented minivan) to Chicago where we became grown-ups and got our own apartments (less than a mile from each other).

It’s been 10 years.  That’s more than 1/3 of my life that I’ve had this one friend by my side.  Through the coming and going of boyfriends, tragedies, births, deaths, triumphs, games of flip cup, book clubs, travels to exotic destinations, costume parties and that one time we were “guests” on the Rachael Ray show (true story).

We’ve shared clothes, experiences, laughs, hugs and tears for 10 years.

So when friend pulled out a notebook on a sunny fall day and told me I had influenced her, I was forced to put down the eggs benedict menu and give her a look that could only read “what are you talking about.”

During the next hour or so, while I devoured my much needed comfort food, friend fired a number of questions at me.  Some I’m sure she knew the answers to.  Some that brought up experiences I forgot existed, buried deep where I keep my childhood memories.  Some that brought up new topics and conclusions we had never spoken to one another.

What is your favorite trait about yourself?  My ability to connect with others.

Who has influenced you the most?  My mom had the greatest influence on me before she passed.

Name a moment that stands out as time when you recognized your own leadership skills.  When I was named a “team leader” while studying abroad in Madrid, Spain during my junior year of high school.  I had just transferred to a new high school and was feeling out of place in my environment.  Being so far away from home and in a new setting with other teenagers from around the world forced me to bring out my extroverted personality and gave me a clean slate to run with.  There was a moment that I’ll never forget, when one of the program organizers pulled me aside after an event, and told me that the spirit I had shone through and she could foresee big things for me.  I think my confidence grew twofold on that day.

How do you think you’ve influenced me?  I think we probably push each other.  I believe in surrounding myself with positive influences and support systems.  I imagine it’s similar for you.  My drive and ambitions push and inspire your own, as yours do for me.

What is one trait that you would change about yourself?  I would like to be calmer and take things in stride.  I would like to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.  Just like the quote.  I’m working on it.

It was an unexpectedly deep Saturday morning.  And definitely not your typical Friday-night-recap brunch.

Luckily, they had a Do-It-Yourself chili (It’s a thing) to which I added poached eggs, avocado, sour cream, chips, mushrooms and cilantro cream.

The chili was amazing.  So was connecting in new ways with someone you lived with for 10 years and still see almost every week.

Maybe everyone should bring a list of life questions to brunch dates?

Awesome.

The Art of Growing Up/Life Lessons Waiting on Your Hard Drive

college 80s party friendship

80’s Party – 2007

Last night I dug up that rusty old laptop from college.

I dusted it off and waited for the old processer to bring my MacBook to life.

The same MacBook that I wrote such riveting literary works on like: “Living in Oblivion” and “My Figure Skating Team: An Environmental Investigation.” (Yes.  I went to a liberal arts school.)

I was hoping to find some pictures from college.

As I started to go through the files, I noticed a folder I could barely wait 2 seconds to open:

“College E-mails”

Little Me saved hundreds of e-mails from college for my viewing pleasure.  She categorized them into folders marked “friends”; “boys”; “special e-mails”; “e-mails from mom”; ETC. (Goddamnit she was organized).

Naturally, all other plans for yesterday evening were postponed.  Dates were rescheduled.  Exercise regiments were put on hold.  Wrist-hurting pity parties were suspended.

4 hours were devoted to reading of college e-mails.

All the good stuff was in there.  Endless beer pong plans, inside jokes, important rendezvous’ (when WILL we eat lunch???), notes from boys, e-mails from ex-boyfriends, embarrassing e-mails written to boys, thorough recaps of classroom mishaps and enough T.M.I. to make me blush/warrant a reality show.

Around hour 3 of bursting out loud with laughter I began thinking about little me.

I thought about growing up, life’s unexpected changes – good and bad, love, friendship, family.

She didn’t know it, but little me had some things pretty figured out.

The following are some lessons little me and her friends left behind:

Love Wholly and Completely

It doesn’t matter if it’s your mom, a friend or a great professor, make sure everyone in your life knows how much you love them.

Telling them 5 times a day is totally acceptable.

Date: 13 Mar 2007 03:14:22 -0400
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject: and also
To: Little Me

I love you!

Date: 27 Jun 2006 06:56:47 EDT
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject: MORNING
To: Little Me

Good morning, poopy!*

Have a great day!!!

Call/text about tonight.

I LOVE you.

Date: 09 May 2006 16:25:28 EDT
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject: Re: one more thing
To: Little Me

— You wrote:

I LOVE YOU MY LITTLE PUMPKIN OF LOVE.

— end of quote —

I LOVE YOU CINNAMON PIE HEAD.

We woke up on many mornings to e-mails that simply said I love you.  What an Awesome reminder.  (Seriously… who needs a boyfriend).  We are still a tight-knit group, but not only am I not waking up at 6AM if I don’t have to… but I sure as hell am not getting up at 6AM to send all my friends love texts.  And truth be told… we are still a pretty mushy group.  SO.  It might be time to start a 7:45AM love text chain.

Tell your friends EVERYTHING

Date: 24 Apr 2007 19:51:55 -0400
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject:
To: Little Me, Whitney Larken, Hanna Mason, Nicole Sperry, Harper Emerson

i just farted in the library.

Enough said.

It’s All About the Little Things

And when I say little things I mean the basics.  Judging by the amount of food e-mails that were saved, being well-fed was the ticket to absolute bliss.  We played beer pong.  We studied.  And we ate.  And that was enough.

Date: 02 Mar 2006 00:32:10 EST
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject:
To: Little Me

if it werent for breakfast, id have no motivation to wake up

well, except maybe lunch

From: Hanna Mason
Subject: mmm
To: Little Me

i feel very lucky because there were girl scout cookies left all alone in the [library cafeteria], so i had one and it was good

Support Your Friends

Seems simple.  But then you get into the real world and everyone is caught up with their own lives.  Life starts to move faster and efforts to keep up with the Jones’ trickle in.  I find the ability to support those around you to be a pretty amazing characteristic that I’m grateful to say exemplifies so many in my life.  This was a great reminder.

Judging by the mountain of e-mails, I’m not even sure I would’ve graduated college without their support.

Date: 31 May 2006 01:11:17 EDT
From: Little Me
Subject: Love you
To: Hanna Mason

I believe in you

Date: 13 Oct 2006 04:21:14 -0400
From: Jordana Brooks
Subject:
To: Little Me

GOOD LCUK TOMOTRROW!

Love Uninhibited

Love.  Where to even begin.  You grow up and you realize that love can be Awesome but it can also suck.  What I wish though, is that I can erase those experiences that brought me to this worldly and wise view and live in the moment, stop planning 10 years from now, enjoy the company of others for what it is and patiently see where life takes me.

Reading the following advice I wrote for a friend inspires me to let go a little.

Date: 23 Apr 2007 23:46:48 -0400
From: Sarah Parker
Subject: Re: yo
To: Little Me

— You wrote:

Sarah.  ok this is out of love.  you see, what freaks him out (and me, haha) is that you’re already talking about whether you’d be “up for dating” when you haven’t even hung out enough to figure out if you even want to date each other.  Geeeeez just forget about the talks and just hang out and have a good time and it’ll happen NATURALLY.  i promise.  if not with him with someone and you’ll live happily ever after.

— end of quote —

haha
i love your little nuggets of wisdom!

Date: 23 Apr 2007 19:44:31 -0400
From: Little Me
Subject: Re: come home loser
To: Sarah Parker

And SECOND OF ALL…. stop thinking about the future.  Seriously think about TODAY TODAY TODAY and this week.  When 2 months from now comes then you can figure it out but dont keep yourself from something because you think it MIGHT be hard later.  thats silly.  chill out, have a good time and then see what happens.

Six years ago I was sure that everyone’s love life ended like a chick flick (I prefer 10 Things I hate About You… or Clueless… or You’ve Got Mail.  Yes definitely You’ve Got Mail).  Six years ago I was sure of this because I had yet to feel true heartbreak.  Six years ago I was anxious about what working in the “real world” really meant.  Six years ago I was stunned that there was no longer a neatly carved yellow brick road for me to follow.

Today I am fiercely independent and proud of what I have accomplished.  Today I’m a bit more cautious with my heart.  I still eat like I just finished my last final exam.  My friends still make my world go round.

I’m wondering what the next 6 years will bring.

Either way, I’m saving my e-mails.

Awesome.

Date: Thu, 11 May 2006 18:01:41 -0400
From: Leigh Bloom <Leigh.Bloom@university.edu>
Subject: It’s My Day
To: Little Me, Jordana Brooks, Julia Hunter, Emily Hunter, Jackie Bank, Maggie White, Hanna Mason, Harper Emerson

Leigh Bloom finished college at 230 pm

HOW THE FUCK DID THIS HAPPEN 

i dont know

im so happy

and wanted 2 thank you all for being such a large influence in my life throughout all of college….

quite an accomplishment we all stayed so close in 4 years of me being at a different school

i love u all

college party dress up friendship

*Note: My college nickname was poopy.  I wish I could tell you how it started but I can’t remember… I know a bathroom incident was not involved.

Note 2: Names have been changed to protect my friends (i.e. save my ass).

Note 3: My College had its own communication system that replaced cell phone use.  It translated to regular e-mail, but on campus was used instead of texting and calling, which is why notes are short… and ridiculous… and had to be saved to a folder before the account was discontinued.

Valentine’s Day with Balls

bowling

Today is (was) Valentine’s Day.

I wouldn’t have known…

Except.

When I got to work this morning there were numerous tables with roses covering our enormous lobby and multiple individuals were walking towards me with arms extended.

Initial reaction was to initiate the palm-heel strike (used to ward of your attacker) but then I took an awkward pause and thought… oh.  Valentine’s Day. (I’m not a morning person).

Naturally, I took one (two) roses.

And anticipated tonight’s glamorous V-Day activity.

It involved new shoes, multiple beer tubes and heavy balls.

Yes.  February 14 of 2013 had me and a friend joining a bowling league for the night and playing our hearts out.

It was a classy night.

Mac and cheese and tater tots, a couple party fouls and some bowling instruction by some “pros” had us obliterating pins, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones and getting all sorts of hyper.

It wasn’t your typical V-Day.

But it was…

Awesome.

For the Love of Role-Modeling

skating coach

This past week, a younger co-worker asked to shadow me at work;

I was offered the opportunity to coach a group of figure skaters ages 6-8;

I was assigned a prospective candidate to interview for my college.

My plate was pretty full and little sleep was had (nothing new)…

But I threw myself into each experience.

And in the process remembered how much I adore mentoring, coaching and passing on wisdom (used loosely here).

Each separate event had me deep in preparation.  I outlined appropriate questions to ask an ambitious high schooler, considered work tasks most interesting and even went on the United States Skating Association website to look up basic skills I may have forgotten (I admit it).

The result was worth the effort.

Offering work advice left me feeling humbled.

Speaking to a high school student determined to surpass insurmountable life obstacles was inspiring.

And helping to mold a new generation of athletic character in the form of 6 and 7 year olds…

Was just plain Awesome.