The Miracle of Human Flight. (in the digital age)

flight

I went on a business trip.

Yep. Like a big girl.

I know you’re not surprised, since I’ve blogged about my flying adventures before.

This time was different though.  I didn’t make a lobster roll spread on my way to Los Angeles by taking up a full row and laying out my condiments (shamelesssss) and I didn’t creatively procure free alcohol (it was weird).

I participated in the miracle of human flight in a different way and I got pretty excited.

Are you guys familiar with Louis C. K.?  I apologize if this question is akin to me asking if you’ve heard of Miley Cyrus. DUH. (Unfortunately) (although that “We Can’t Stop” song – pretty catchy).

Anyway. Louis C. K. Comedian. Hilarious. Sometimes takes it too far. But mostly dead on funny.

A few years ago he was on Conan’s show and ranted for a fantastic bit that has come to be known as “everything is amazing and no one is happy,” during which he recounts how freaking awesome it is – this invention of human flight (among other things) (and rants on humans in general).

(if you haven’t seen it, then you HAVE TO watch this clip. It’s the funniest shit ever. Click here. Or here. Or HERE.)

That’s how I felt.

Not only was it a gorgeous day for flying.

BUT I used the internet today. On board.

Not only was I 38,000 feet in the air, but I could TELL MY FRIENDS ABOUT IT.

In real time.

So I did.

I emailed my brother, my aunt, my boyfriend, my cousin, 10 of my co-workers, my grandma, several managers, my dad, and my hair stylist (ok my former hair stylist).

I realize in-flight wifi isn’t new. But it actually worked this time. And I actually felt like using it instead of taking some me time/had to dial-in (something about work).

I was totally going weeeeeeeee. (My row companion LOVED it. JK. But I did have an interesting convo with him that I’ll save for my next post. YUP. It’s a two-parter.)

Anyways, IT WAS AWESOME!

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?

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atlantis

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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

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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.

An Autumn Sail in July

chicago boat

The old saying goes: “it’s all how you look at it.”

Never is this truer than when your oldest friend in the world comes to visit and you plan to bop up and down with a bunch of other boats on Lake Michigan….

And it’s 61 degrees in July.

(Yes, this is a first world problem post)

Let me lay out the significance here.

My friendship with oldest friend was kind of pre-planned in the womb.  Back in Soviet times, when our parents were perfecting the art of homemade vodka distillation well-behaved model Soviet children, their entire high school class started to like one another.  And then married each other.  And then had some babies at the same time (it’s like a backwards Brady Bunch).  And then moved to America around the same time.  And then vacationed every year together.

We were basically destined to be besties.  Mostly because no one else was going to understand the trials and tribulations of having parents who started their life anew in a new country with small children and little knowledge of English … but I digress (I’ll save this enthralling sociological theory for another post).

Back to the significant problem at hand.

Months of preparation, one flight, one taxi, one night of serious dancing and too many hours of hype, we were ready for my promised day out on Lake Michigan (how else was I going to get her to move to Chicago?).

I told her to pack nothing but bathing suits and get ready for pool, beaches and BOATS.

Imagine my surprise when I woke up Saturday morning, felt around for my iPhone, found the weather app while squinting with one eye (daily morning routine) and was told by Yahoo! That it was winter.

I quickly checked the calendar app to make sure I hadn’t slept through July, August and September.

Nope.

It was 61 degrees in Chicago on July 27.

glass half full

The Mother Nature Gods were testing us.

Do we throw in the towel and… see a movie??  Go sight-seeing with sweatshirts and fall scarves??

NO.

We put bikinis on.  Bring hoodies.  Buy snacks.  Go anyway.

After all, having fun is really about whom you’re with and our history shows that we can basically tear it up under any circumstance.  Like when we were 10 and our parents took us to Lake Placid for New Years and we decided to make memory cups by dripping candle wax into wine cups and… set her hair on fire.  We danced all night anyway (tears were brief).

Lucky for our positive attitudes, the friends we were joining (on their boat) were in too.

The ride out to the location of said boat party induced a bit of sea sickness and it was cold but we indulged in the day anyway.

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Once anchored and tied to a row of boats (for boat hopping), adrenaline (and beer) took over and we jumped in the water, made friends, played with water toys, took  pictures, laughed, drank, danced and truly vacated.

Most of all, there was a lot of laughter and bonding.  I’m pretty sure that was the whole point anyway.

I’m really glad we got out of bed on July 27 and went out to sea.

It was Awesome.

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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

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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.

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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!)

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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.

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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.

Preparing to Relax… the Au-Naturel Way

I’m going to Greece this week.

It’s a much anticipated trip.  Not only because I’m heading to a foreign nation I’ve never been to (love this), but because…. I need a vacation.

I’m sure some (most?) can relate.

I need to stop and smell the Greek wine, detach the laptop from my body, and stop checking my cell phone (see previous post).

I think island hopping in Greece with friends might just do the trick.

In order to prepare for my very own Greek odyssey, I’ve spent the past few weeks crossing things off my prepare-for-Greece-list.

Obviously priority one is healthy-er eating in preparation for B.I.P. (bikini immersion program).

I know what you’re thinking…. detox during first weeks of gorgeous summer weather… impossible.

It’s a challenge I’ve taken on.

I still attended every BBQ, roof-top party and tater-tot-loving day-drinking event.  I’ve also managed to tone it down (pun intended) and flush the body out in preparation for serious vacationing.

How did I do it?

Simple.

By substituting meals where I wasn’t involved in potato skins eating contests with all natural and clean home-cooking.  And when I say all natural, I don’t mean it in the way that grocery-store companies mean it when they write “all natural chicken” on the front of the packaging.  (Because honestly – what in the world is non-natural chicken?  Do I even want to know?)

When I say all natural, I mean non-processed.   These are meals that have no chemicals, substitutes or fake sugars.

I’ve chosen to use this post to show a couple of things I’ve been eating over the past few weeks.  It’s left me feeling cleansed.

1)     Simple salad with home-made lemon vinaigrette dressing

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I took this idea from Andie’s blog.  I stumbled upon this mecca of healthy food ideas many months ago and continue to check back in often.  One of the posts a couple weeks ago caught my eye.  It was simple, easy to make and left me craving more leaves and veggies.

Who could ask for more?

The recipe can be found here.  I tweaked it since I forgot to buy avocado and instead used shaved raw brussel sprouts and miniature heirloom tomatoes.

For me, the most important part of the salad is the dressing.  Often times I find that once I’ve added my favorite veggies to a salad, I inevitably want to drown them in ranch dressing.  Andie’s recipe for lemon vinaigrette is delicious and satisfies the craving.

2)     Home-made red pepper hummus

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One of my friends loves to make hummus and recently tried adding in her own mixture of veggies.  I decided to add this to the list.  As a pairing with the salad, I made my own hummus from scratch.  It took about 10 minutes total and tasted delicious.

In order to make this, I purchased a small food processor for about $11.00 on Amazon (truth) and bought/compiled/fetched the following ingredients:

  • 1 can of chick peas (16 oz)
  • 1 can of tahini paste (1 1/2 tablespoons)
  • 2 lemons (for freshly squeezed lemon juice) (3-5 tablespoons)
  • Extra virgin olive oil (2 tablespoons)
  • Sea salt/pepper (to taste)
  • 1 organic red pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/4 cup liquid from chick pea can

Combine all ingredients leaving the chickpea liquid from can for the end.

The result was delicious and once again… had completely clean and healthy ingredients.

I paired this with some baked chicken and the salad above.

3)     Juice

The last thing I want to share is the juicing portion.  My friends hear me talk about juicing all the time (sorry guys).  Last year a friend gave me a juicer for my birthday and I’ve been juicing my heart out ever since.  It takes about 5 minutes to make a delicious veggie and/or fruit juice and about 5 more minutes to rinse the parts clean.

A juice can supplement breakfast or a day-time snack.  My favorite juices for the morning:

  • Kale, carrot, green apple, lemon
  • Kale, cilantro, strawberry, apple, lime

I’ve enjoyed putting in extra effort to eat clean over the past couple of weeks.  It’s been uplifting.  I find that half the battle in the detox is the mental game anyway.

Eating well makes you feel Awesome.