A Thing or Two About Life: A Birthday Chronicle

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A photo of the besties in costume for their big performance honoring/teasing my aunt

My aunt turned the big 6-0.

She’ll probably kill me for broadcasting this to the world.  But I think it’s necessary for my purposes.

Mostly because, it’s kind of a big deal.  In Russian, we call this a “circular date.”  A milestone.  Something huge that deservedly requires something grand to mark its presence.

To commemorate, my aunt invited friends and family from our town, other states and other countries.  I’m pretty sure she invited everyone she knew.  Old friends, new friends, relatives I’ve never met and neighbors who treat me like family.

She decided to put aside that whole “shit I’m getting older” situation and decided to have a big damn blow out.

And we applauded her.

And we braced ourselves.

Because we knew this meant a “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” style party, during which we would eat enough food for 30 days and those of us “youth” would stare with mouth agape wondering how it was possible we ever made any friends.

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One of the tables. It could have fed a 1st world army. Instead it fed 50 of my aunt’s closest friends.

Unfortunately, this post isn’t about my eventful childhood (we’ll save that for later).  It’s about my aunt’s choice to ring in her important birthday with a positive attitude and a hell of a lot of fun.

She always tells me about the parties she and her friends throw together.  The kind of fun they conjure up, seemingly from nothing.  When she phones me to catch up, the conversation inevitably turns to some gathering these friends had and the songs, skits, poems, readings and/or ensembles they put together.

My aunt’s birthday offered me a peek into their traditions.

These weren’t ordinary toasts.  The MC’s main job was passing the microphone around from group of friends to group of friends so they could start on their “prepared piece” in honor of my aunt.

My expressions went from awed shock to laughter.

And at the risk of showing the world the insanity that is a birthday party in “my culture,” I’ve attached the video of one of the performances here – my favorite one.  Where they dressed up in “Ukrainian wear” and sang a Ukrainian folk song in jest to tease my aunt.

You don’t need to watch all 2 minutes and 48 seconds of this video.  I realize it’s a lot to ask.  But should you choose to click on the link below, keep in mind that these women are dentists, lawyers, doctors and engineers by day.  Also – I had no idea they even knew how to speak Ukrainian (my family speaks Russian).  Also – I had no idea our friend the MC could play the accordion.  Or that people still played the accordion.

It was absolutely ridiculous.

But so damn fun.

I’m thinking my aunt and her friends have a thing or 2 figured out.  Maybe they know how real fun is had.

Between catching up with my cousin and family friends, dancing with my boyfriend, my uncle and my dad, stuffing myself with deliciousness, taking hundreds of photos, and watching my family members dance together, I was absolutely caught up and living in the moment.

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My dad dancing with his sister, the birthday girl.

Admittedly, I enjoyed myself thoroughly.

We laughed.  We danced.  We sang.

What more can a person ask for?

Awesome.

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That Time I Broke My Wrist

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It’s true.  I broke my wrist.

The right one.

I wish I could tell you that I got into a heated debate regarding the merits of placing college graduates in low-income public schools (it’s happened) or the reasons why Shark Fin soup should be outlawed (leave the sharks alone!).  I wish I could tell you that no choice was left on my side (for the good of society) but to conk someone in the face at the expense of my wrist.

NAH.

That would be too easy.

I fell doing the running man while rocking out to Russian pop hits of the 1980s on a docked (read: not moving) boat in a still harbor on Lake Michigan.

Obviously this is how it was going to go down.

22 years of hurling my body at great speeds at the ice rink didn’t do the trick.

At some point I had to break something right??  Just to right the world of falling down karma.

It finally happened.

At first I was in denial and kept moving about as usual (OH the blue and black marks on my arm… just a bruise!).

But then the blue wouldn’t go away and a few too many days later I found myself at the ER at the urging of friends, family, co-workers, my doorman and the homeless man outside Wholefoods.

So imagine my surprise when the ER doc told me it was FRACTURED.

I thought she was kidding.

She realized I thought she was kidding.

So she took me back to the x-ray lab to show me the x-rays on the special computer.

SO… she wasn’t kidding.

Clearly my first reaction was to assume this woman was a magician:

“Oh a splint and then possibly a cast??  BUT there are only 4 weeks left of the summer!  I can’t have a broken wrist!  I don’t think you understand.”

Unfortunately she didn’t use her magic wand to piece it back together.

So that sucks.

But I can still have the most Awesome end of summer EVER.  Right?

Right.

First things first.  I needed advice on how to proceed with the arm situation.  So naturally I called little bro for advice.

  • Me: little bro I broke my wrist
  • Bro: you’ll be fine
  • Me: How am I supposed to go to the beach?!
  • Bro: Tie a bag around it
  • Me: What bag?
  • Bro: A Walgreens bag
  • Me: Silence
  • Bro:  Or a black garbage bag.  If you want to keep it classy
  • Me: Love you

I’m a broken wrist rookie.  Lucky for me, I have plenty of friends around who “have frequent flyer miles to the ER” (exact statement by one of my friends).  So clearly I checked in with them.

All in all though, I’ve been stumbling and learning as I go.

Things I’ve learned:

  1. The iPhone Voice-Text/E-mail option MUST have been created by someone who had just broken their wrist.  I have a sneaky suspicion that my new addiction to voice-dictation will stay with me for some time to come.
  2. The hardest thing in this world to do without the full dexterity of your wrist… is put on a bra.  Stupid complicated little suckers.  (And while we’re at it… bathing suits…can’t tie those damn ties).
  3. Typing.  Really need two hands.  Or an intern.  hmmmm.
  4. Dining in nice restaurants is awkward.  As in I shouldn’t be allowed.  The display of eating like a total train wreck is a special experience for everyone.
  5. Opening Jars.  Just forget it.
  6. Getting caught in the rain.  Two words: Not. Good.
  7. The game of Cornhole/bag toss/bags can totally still be played with the use of the opposite arm.  You might hit pedestrians and your own partner in the head, but that’s really just part of the fun.
  8. Dishwashers are right up there with voice dictation software.

I shed half a tear, pooled moral support and moved forward on my quest to become ambidextrous.

The future isn’t looking as bleak now that I know I can:

Still see the Chicago skyline from the back of a boat:

chicago boating skyline

And do crossword puzzles:

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And attend firm-sponsored  networking events where I eat too much food:

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And read trash magazines where I gain wisdom and perspective about why it’ll be OK to turn 30 in a couple years:

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The only thing that makes breaking a limb better … is one of your besties injuring something too.  (What? Yes. This is my selfish moment.)

Lucky for me, one of my friends just sprained her ankle and was outfitted with non-other than a black brace.

The walk to this morning’s brunch date was classic.  Me with my splint.  She with hers.  Me holding my arm up.  She limping like a champ.  I’m not gonna lie.  It was adorable.  And A-B-S-O-L-U-T-L-Y ridiculous.  At one point we crossed the street and were walking head on with a girl who appeared to have just gotten some kind of ACL reconstructive surgery.

We almost invited her to brunch.

At some point, during the walk back, laughing close to tears, I decided it was going to be OK.

And that’s…. pretty Awesome.

*Note: this post was written largely with my left hand.  Which is why it took about 5 days to write.  That’s how much I love all of you.  You’re welcome.

*Note 2: clearly there will now be a Broken Wrist Series of sorts… stay tuned.

Turquoise Waters, Sand and Heat Lamps

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Yesterday morning I found myself in Fort Lauderdale, dining on the boardwalk with my cousin, overlooking the ocean… under a heat lamp.

It was an unexpected turn of cold-er events.

We had tried planning for my visit to South Florida for months and given the fact that I’ve been enduring (complaining) about the Chicago winter for almost as long, I was really looking forward to some 80 degree sun-bathing and PIC (partner-in-crime) – ing with my one and only first cousin.

Family history: cousin and I were born 9 months apart in Kiev, Ukraine. Me first. Her second.  Certain personality traits were immediately evident as I struggled to share and she had trouble sitting still.  We were a handful right from the start and kept our “village” (two great grandmothers, two grandmas, one grandpa and two sets of parents) on their toes.  A few years later, my family moved to the states and hers followed about a year later.  We’ve been marching to the beat of our own drummer ever since.

Cut to present day and our brilliantly-planned rendezvous in Florida.

All was going to plan, except for the fact that we overlooked the weather situation when I impulsively booked a flight about three weeks ago and prompted the celebratory phone calls and emails in anticipation of warm-weather antics.

Not surprisingly, we were mildly taken aback (shockingly angry) upon stepping out of the house and finding our beach day to be a balmy 60-ish degrees.

A couple moments of reflection and we were back in the house.

Two cups of tea later we regrouped and laid out plan B.  I googled things to do in Fort Lauderdale/Miami while cousin did in-depth research on activity ideas in this month’s Cosmo (apparently dating ideas is applicable in all instances).

Some serious fits of laughter and discussion of ideas later, we were regrouped and ready to tackle the weekend.

After all, 60 is better than 20, the sun was shining and we were still hungry.

The last 48 hours consisted of the following:

  • Long walk along the beach (in pants) where we admired those brave enough to jump in
  • “Brunch” of tuna fish and veggie sandwiches (where we attempted to procure breakfast items circa 2pm)
  • Taking advantage of the “couches” on the veranda of the W Hotel (where we pretended we were guests and enjoyed beautiful views and amenities)
  • A visit to the Las Olas Art Fair (where we received unusual bouts of attention with the help of an adorable Pomeranian puppy)
  • Mani/Pedi’s at the spa (and some unfair but ultimately hilarious hostility from the manicurist)
  • Dinner on the boardwalk in South Beach (complete with two mojitos the size of my head)
  • Late night dancing at some Miami night clubs (with new interesting friends and an inspired photo-shoot complete with props found in the Delano hotel lobby)

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The last 48 hours did not include beach time, but we made the most of it.  We laughed constantly. Caught up on life.  Even made some new friends.

Awesome.

The Beauty of Random

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One night this week, circa 2am, I found myself at a private party (that I wasn’t invited to), sipping champagne on a beautiful Victorian-style sofa by a fireplace rounding hour number 3 of connection with a total stranger.

This totally random moment could not have been planned or even foreseen 687 miles away.

In fact, on this night, I was planning on curling up in my (almost fully furnished and decorated!!) new apartment and reading Richard Branson’s new book.

On this night I had dined with a friend and found myself (3 mojitos later) in a taxi agreeing to check out a champagne bar.

One problem.

Upon arrival, we were told that the entire place had been rented out for a formal private party for at least 6 hours.

Having come this far, I decided one way or another we were going to become one of the special guests for the exclusive Spearling Party.

A couple calls later, we were crashing the party and enjoying the kind of girls-night-out we are sure to share with our daughters one day (or hide from).

We drank champagne.  We danced.  We met random strangers who couldn’t quite place us as part of the Spearling crew.

Regardless, the night took a turn for the introspective when said stranger and I realized we were originally from the same city in Ukraine and he actually lived in a different state all together and had flown in for the night.

I thought about life’s random moments.  How they sneak up on you when you least expect it.  And how we are reminded (like so many times before) that we just don’t know what’s coming…

In a good way.

It’s the same thought my friend had when she found out she would be traveling on an overseas project within 48 hours.  It’s the same thought another friend had yesterday when she went on a blind date that left her giddy and excited.

These moments remind me of life’s (good) surprises and leave me eagerly hopeful for what might come tomorrow.

Awesome.

Merry Russian Christmas, New Years and Birthday

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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?

Benefits, New Friends and School Night Antics

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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.

The Art of the Goodbye Party

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On T-7 days until the big move (Chicago, are you ready?!), I got appropriately dressed for going away party number one.

Having come to New York right after college and spent five years in the glorious city – I decided (and friends approved) that inviting a slew of individuals to one of our favorite bars from our “just-out-of-college” days was the best way to proceed.

I reserved half the bar for myself and said brood of (sophisticated) jaeger-bomb loving friends.

To start the night, we held a “pre-game” at my brother’s apartment and appropriately took some shots and made some toasts to start the night.

Feeling pretty happy and ready to party like its 2007…. We made our way to one of my beloved bars to properly say goodbye to New York City.

The night was a fantastic success.

I found the following to be essential to my fond memories (in no order):

– A tiara (No, it’s not my birthday. Yes, I pretended it was half the night.)

– A throne (The bar had a wooden throne. I utilized this surprising item to my fullest enjoyment.)

– Vodka

– Friends from all walks of life that reminded me of the great life I’d built

– New friends (brought by old friends.)

– My brother

– Angry bouncers (how I’ll miss your spunk old friends.)

I was my hyper self.  I took random photos that looked absurd in the morning.  I shared nachos with 20 people.  I danced.  I hugged (a lot of people). I made new friends.  I spent time with old friends.  I celebrated.

Hung-over breakfast was even sweeter than usual.

Awesome.