Valentines Day

flowersIt’s February 14, 1994.

I’m 8.

It’s year 3 in the USA.

Somehow mama has assimilated fast enough to grasp the eyebrow-raising traditions of the Hallmark holidays.

Valentines Day is right up her ally.

My brother and I wake up to baskets full of goodies.

Stickers, random candy, small popcorn bags, hair ribbons, candy hearts. (Come to think of it, I have no clue what was in my brother’s)

It’s all pink and exciting. And it’s just like her.

And so she instilled in us not only the art of surprise, but the embrace of small things that make life fun. Like dressing up at 80’s parties. Or sending care packages for no reason.  Or taking Halloween too seriously.

This year?

Cheesy homemade photo albums for me. Surprise art supplies for the lucky lady in my brother’s life. Surprise care package for my little sis.  Flowers for my grandma.

May the traditions continue.

I hope you had a great day.

I know I’m late, but – Happy Valentines Day everyone.

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New Year’s Resolutions in Reverse: A Good-bye to 2013

 

The first few days of the New Year are upon us.

This can only mean one thing:

New. Year. Obligatory. Post.

Just in case the other 97627346 bloggers, hard-hitting CNN journalists (seriously – CNN – sometimes I think you’re punking me with your absurd headlines), and, as I found out today… , USA.GOV New Year’s Resolution website (what???) didn’t offer the right amount of predictable inspiration, I’m offering my two cents here.

Truthfully, I am a fan of this topic and New Year’s in general.

The ending of a year and the starting of a brand spanking new blank slate is pretty exciting.  It’s like the first day of school (brand new notebooks!!).

However, I don’t believe you can start a new chapter/list/notebook before you’ve properly closed off the previous one.

Last night, during a dinner party, one of the seven guests suggested we go around the table and have everyone say their “Best and Worst of 2013.”

The answers were real.  Some were funny.  All prompted reflection.  The worst: losing a job, learning of a family member’s illness, losing a pet; The best: passing an important exam, meeting newly special people, finding a new job.

In similar fashion, for today’s post, I’ve decided to recycle a popular idea I used a few months ago called The Reverse Bucket List and write a reverse New Year’s resolution list for 2013.

The following is a list of some self-improvements, goals, and personal attainments of 2013 (and, when appropriate, illustrative photos):

1)      Put effort into becoming closer with family members; find time to get to know extended family

cousins

Meeting second cousins for brunch

2)      Separate emotionally from surrounding drama

3)      Get back out on that ice and start figure skating/training/coaching again

ice skating figure skating

Back on the ice – starting a session

4)      Furnish/decorate an apartment from scratch

The completed "living room" in my first personal apartment

The completed “living room” in my first personal apartment

5)      Travel abroad for an “extended” vacation; leave worries/computers/cell phones behind

greece

Taking it easy in Naxos, Greece

6)      Pick up a new fitness hobby

flywheel spin cycle

Attending Flywheel classes with friends

7)      Cook for myself more – learn to make new healthy staples

Yummy salad with homemade dressing

Yummy salad with homemade dressing

8)      Take advantage of new city

Hanging off the ledge at Sears Tower

Hanging off the ledge at Sears Tower

9)      Take advantage of new found proximity to family (with move to Chicago) and spend more time with little sister

roller coaster

Roller-coastering with lil sis

10)      Take steps to show some semblance of putting yourself first

11)      Learn to say no

12)      Bring down the mile-high fence/barricade/guard and give trust and a new relationship a chance

Ice skating at the zoo.  It snowed.  It was perfect.

Ice skating at the zoo in Chicago. It snowed. A friend snapped this when we weren’t looking.

Decidedly, 2013 was pretty good to me.

A great portion of the positive in 2013 stemmed from this blog.  Writing these posts, however inconsequential they may seem, has come to be a huge part of my life.  I love connecting with readers from my  backyard as well as all over the world.  I love reading what others are generating.  I love finding commonalities.

So thank you, friends, for making 2013 Awesome.

I think I’m ready for 2014.

Cheers!

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

IMG_1097

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.

A Thing or Two About Life: A Birthday Chronicle

lala bday party 1 - Copy

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.

food

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.

brother sister

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.

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.

Inspiration Fridays

I kicked off this week by sharing with you all this note my friend wrote me.

why i like you

It was unexpected and Awesome.

Today, I’d like to end the week keeping with this theme.

Shortly after I posted Sometimes, the following link/experiment was brought to my attention.

It’s called The Science of Happiness – An Experiment in Gratitude, which states that showing and giving gratitude raises our happiness levels exponentially.

In order to prove this, the people behind Soul Pancake decided to bring in a group of individuals to try this theory on and well, embarrass wholly for our benefit.

These individuals took a test regarding their current happiness levels and then were asked to write a short essay about the person that influences them the most.

And then they were asked to call that person.  And read their letter aloud.  On video.

The video is here.

It’s worth watching it for yourself.

Today I decided to try the experiment for myself.

I wrote a short letter about my dad.  Then I called him at work (he’s a consultant) and asked him to step out of his meeting.

…..Papa – Thank you for always listening to me and hearing out any issues I’m having – no matter how crazy they are……..I appreciate all the advice and love……When I was super little you always told me to stand tall and encouraged me to go out and be my best. And you still tell me that all the time.  And I still need to hear it. All the time………… I know you don’t hear this enough, but… thank you……  I love you.

me happy thankful gratitude

Pretty sure dad was utterly shocked and scared for a good 30 seconds. (WHAT. I can be sweet!)

And then I’m pretty sure there were smiles on both ends of the phone line.

Even if you don’t try the experiment yourself, watching the video will make you smile.  Promise.

Awesome.

Tragedy and Comedy

chicago ideas week

This week a comedian had a profound effect on me.

This remarkable woman was a speaker during Chicago Ideas Week – a 7-day inspiration marathon – during which hundreds of the world’s entrepreneurs, survivors, authors, politicians (ehhhh), comedians and start-up geniuses are flown to Chicago to bestow their ideas and lessons on the general public.

i.e. ME.

This Monday, I was sitting in the gorgeous Cadillac Palace Theatre in downtown Chicago for the Ideas Week kick-off and thinking 5 things:

  1. Can Malcolm Gladwell speak already?
  2. When can I get a snack?
  3. Who are these other people?
  4. What kind of an event doesn’t have food??
  5. What kind of name is “Tig Notaro???”

5 speakers took the stage one by one.

The founder and CEO of Change.org spoke about his awesomeness.  Catherine Hoke, the founder of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, gave us her life story and how it randomly led her to pioneer a program that uses the entrepreneur savvy of convicted criminal gang members and murderers (YEP) to mold really successful businessmen.  Josh Kilmer-Purcell had us laughing our asses off about life’s lessons and how they’re… mostly useless.  Malcolm Gladwell entertained us with underdog lessons from the bible (still confused, Malcolm).

Then Tig Notaro took the stage.

For this part of the evening, Ben Rattray, the change.org founder mock interviewed the writer/comedian.

He asked her basic questions regarding the life events that led up to an unforgettable stand-up performance that made her a household name (except in my household, apparently) and an inspiration to millions.

It’s all pretty simple really.

In the summer of 2012, Tig Notaro had a series of minor mishaps.

She became ill with pneumonia, almost died from a digestive track eating bacteria, watched her mom die suddenly, ended a relationship with her significant other and was diagnosed with invasive stage II breast cancer in both breasts.

In the span of 12 weeks.

She was told the extent of the cancer diagnosis a day before she was to do a stand-up act at an LA club.

And she went.

And she got up on stage with the task of making people laugh.

And she spoke for 31 minutes about the trauma in her life.

And people laughed and cried and thought she was legend that night.

This week, Tig Notaro took Chicago through that time in her life again.

I laughed and cried the whole time she was on stage.

A part of me related to the feelings she described in regards to losing my mother.  A part of me felt ashamed that I was relating.

Losing a loved one, experiencing the loss of a significant relationship or being diagnosed with an illness is pretty traumatic individually.  Together, I can only imagine these events are life blinding and leave one incapacitated to move as they once did.

After hearing Notaro speak on Monday, I wanted to hear this reportedly infamous comedic standup for myself.  I wanted to gather up her perspective and immerse myself in it.

I found LIVE on iTunes for $5.

I bought it.

I listened to it.

Twice.

I loved it.

I recommend it.

If you have 31 minutes, I would laugh at traumatic shit with Tig Notaro.

It’s quite Awesome and it sure as hell is therapeutic.

Note: As always, none of these people know/knew that I was going to write about them.  Maybe someday :).