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.

Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.

Awesome

Failing = Awesome

Recently, one topic has been popping up again and again in front of my face.

The necessary and often positive outcomes of failure.

The topic seems messed up, but upon further inquiry, it’s totally dead on.

My first intro to the idea of success through failure came from Barbara Corcoran’s book, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails, in which she describes her turbulent, funny, disastrous, and random path to outrageous real estate empire building success.

I’m not sure she actually writes: failure = success.  But I’m pretty sure, looking back three years, when I first read it, that that’s exactly what I got out of it.

Or to elaborate: although the paths we take may not always seem to lead to the proverbial pot-of-gold, it’s the dead ends, unclear choices, and “failures” along the way that lead us to the outcomes we seek.

I had been thinking about the topic since the New Year began, and then stumbled upon Failing Well, an article Barbara happened to write on January 9 of this month, recounting the time she blew her first profit of $71,000 on an inspired idea to make real estate video tapes, so people could look at apartments for sale from the comfort of their home (what a crazy idea!!!).

It failed.

Apparently, no one wanted the video tapes.  And it seemed like a total waste of funds.

Except that a little while later, this thing called the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T came to be, and Barbara was the first to put her videos’ contents online and eventually make a killing.

Seems like failing is basically inevitable.  What’s not inevitable, though, is our attitude.

And the more I think about my path to where I am now… the more things become clear.

  • Would I have found the job I have now if I hadn’t left the last one abruptly after the company went through an unfortunate restructure?  Probably not.
  • Would I have found my field of work, a small niche that I am passionate about, if my first job out of college hadn’t sucked / fallen apart during the economic plummet of ‘08?  Probably not.
  • Would I have been a founding member of a new sorority in College, if I had not fallen through the cracks and was not accepted by the sorority of my choice?  Probably not.
  • Would I have switched figure skating clubs and coaches and become the skater I am today if I didn’t fail at that competition and my earlier coach hadn’t lost faith in me?  Probably not.

Out of failure comes success.

I can’t wait to fail in 2014.

Awesome.

WAIT. Everyone doesn’t suck?

I was planning on writing about friendship bracelets and “friends forever” necklaces in the post-adolescent years, but then something monumental happened.

For a hot second, my entire day got flipped turned upside down (exactly like Will Smith).

OK, it was more than a second.

It felt like a few days where the Earth stood still…

And I was pretty much afraid for my life:

I lost my smart phone.

A brief history:

I’m not one to lose phones.

I have friends who could make a career out of losing their iPhones.

Not me.

They’d fire me on the spot.

In my entire life, there have been 2 prior phone-loss situations on record.  The first was someplace in Europe, at a dance club, circa 3 AM.  The second was a few months ago, 2 blocks from my apartment; someone took my phone out of my purse.  I never saw the phone again and with it perished a couple hundred photos (that had yet to be backed up).

Both times, I tried to locate the phones.  Both times, I called the establishments where they were last seen, hoping that a kind citizen had turned them in.  Hoping that someone had found them and was psyched to make my day.

Both times the answer was no.

I assumed today would be no different.

Today the phone in question fell out of my coat pocket on my way to work.  In the middle of a 4-lane busy intersection in downtown Chicago.

Clearly today was the day that I felt like the appropriate place for my phone was not in my purse, but in my giant winter jacket.  On probably the 2nd coldest recorded day in Chicago.  I made the decision to stuff my phone inside my pockets.  With 2 pairs of gloves, a hat, 2 packets of travel tissues, a chap-stick, and a winter facemask.

Clearly, I am not a morning person.

Once I realized it was missing, I went back to the intersection and walked back and forth during walk signs.  I found my case.  But I found no phone.

Maybe a car ran over it?

I walked to work.

I sent e-mails to friends claiming my anger for the entire human race.  Are old iPhones really that valuable?!?!

I called my phone.  Predictably, it was turned off.

I waited an hour.

I turned on iCloud.

Miraculously, my phone was suddenly on and was located 5 blocks from work.

I sent a message to the phone begging the individual who had it to call or e-mail.  I offered a reward.

I waited.

And waited.

I called the phone 7 more times.

I waited.

I waited some more.

Around 1PM, a girl called me to tell me she had found my phone by the side of the road.

I was beside myself with joy.

I immediately ran to buy her a gift card.  And took a cab to her place of work.  And was stuttering out of gratefulness, that she would return it me.

As soon as I got the phone, another e-mail went out.

Guess there are good people in this world.

How quickly a day goes from good to bad.  How quickly a day is turned around completely.  How quickly faith is lost and found.

Over a stupid iPhone.

Time to celebrate.

(by Instagram-ing.  Obviously.)

smiley

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.