Messin’ About On Boats: A Spontaneous Vacation

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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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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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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.

The Main Thing on My to-do List is Attacking My to-do List

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This week, my friend Irene (below) – the one who is always providing the food for thought that I incorporate into this blog – (I think her Internet is different than mine) – shared a posting by Jon Bell entitled McDonald’s Theory.

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In the post, Jon shares with us a personal experiment he enjoys conducting with his co-workers:

  • When the idea pool for lunch spots is empty, he suggests going to McDonald’s.

According to Jon, this suggestion is always followed by strong reactions to the preposterous nature of this idea and suddenly like “magic” the group’s wheel’s start turning and they come up with a slew of creative ideas.

Anything to keep from going to McDonald’s. (I hear ya guys).

The main idea behind this brilliant experiment lies in the fact that in order to accomplish something, you have to DO something.

Ground-breaking, I know.

Hear me out for a second though.  I’ve been mauling over this idea all weekend and it’s kind of inspired me.

As Jon puts it:

“There’s no defined process for all creative work, but I’ve come to believe that all creative endeavors share one thing: the second step is easier than the first. Always.”

Quite simply: get off your ass and do something.  Anything.  You’ve been meaning to start painting again?  You bought canvas and painted an oil-paint version of a stick figure?  Congrats.  You’re now at step 2.  You’re working on your process.  You’re somewhere that isn’t ZERO.

Recently, I’ve felt like the occupant of a giant entrepreneurial rut.  The creative facilitation of all the things I would like to accomplish has seemingly been stalled.

I have the to-do list.

Every week I tell myself I’m going to tackle that new activity/project/endeavor.

And every week the days escape me and by Wednesday I’m just hoping to squeeze in a nap after work.

Not.

Acceptable.

“Anne Lamott advocates “shitty first drafts,” Nike tells us to “Just Do It,” and I recommend McDonald’s just to get people so grossed out they come up with a better idea. It’s all the same thing. Lamott, Nike, and McDonald’s Theory are all saying that the first step isn’t as hard as we make it out to be. Once I got an email from Steve Jobs, and it was just one word: “Go!” Exactly. Dive in. Do. Stop over-thinking it.”

Starting this week, I’m inspired to push myself forward on all those things I’ve been meaning to do.

I’m going to:

  • Write that e-mail to that non-profit I’ve been meaning to get involved with and find time to volunteer
  • Call the ice rink and figure out the schedule for the new season so I can finally skate again (post wrist fracture situation)
  • Figure out the yoga schedule so I can get my ass in that studio regularly
  • Google “Road Race” Chicago
  • E-mail those friends I haven’t seen in 3 months who actually live 10 minutes from me so we can get together and not be those people that get too busy for their friends
  • Read the first page of that book
  • Find one person at a local newspaper and ask them about guest writing so that I can fulfill my dream of contributing to a local paper

I’ll start with that.

I hope you’ll tackle those projects hanging over your head by taking any step forward.

I don’t want to be the only one drawing stick figures.

Time to make an Awesome dent.

Note: I never thought Nike’s “Just Do It” would make it into one of my posts.  On the other hand, I think I just figured out the genius behind that innovative marketing.  Obviously this will cost me hundreds of dollars in spandex, but hey, anything for forward-propelling inspiration.

Life Lessons for Everyone’s Monday. With Harry. Take II.

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My new favorite celebrity popped back into my life this weekend.

This guy is quite charming and recently, I’ve been learning some life lessons from him.

I first mentioned this stud a few weeks ago as part of an Inspiration Friday’s people who were inspiring me that week.

Harry Rosen is at the top of my list these days and I’m psyched by any update from the media as to his whereabouts.

I’m JUST like any serious fan of a famous band, a Hollywood star or like, Selena Gomez, except my recent celeb crush is a 103 (soon to be 4) – year – old guy named Harry.

The world met Harry Rosen a few weeks ago through the eyes of Corey Kilgannon, the New York Times writer, who was lucky enough to eat a meal with him.

Harry is an incredible dude who, at 103, still gets up every single day in his New York City studio, puts on a suite, and makes his way to the city’s finest restaurants.  He usually dines alone.  And he usually makes friends.

He’s been lonely as of late because his wife, and love, of 70 years passed away.  For this reason, he has begun to date.  And is seriously looking for a companion.

This past week, the famed Alan Richman, a contributor to GQ Magazine (I mean clearly this was in GQ, folks) sat down with Harry for a meal at the famed Eleven Madison Park (for a meager $225 per person pre-fix) to taste some food.  For 4 hours.  But really to talk about life.

And if anyone holds the secrets to what the F is going on with this whole life business, I definitely think its Harry.

And I definitely think this has something to do with the reason famous writers, chefs and the general community, young and old, are obsessing over Harry Rosen.

Some things I’ve learned about life from Harry, to ponder as you start your week:

1)      Sometimes, it is not your list of accomplishments that defines you, but your will and drive.  These things can never be taken from you.

2)      Lying about your age is totally cool.  Regardless of how old you are. (Harry uses it as a tactic to draw attention away from himself.  I’m not 103, just 90.)

3)      Dating is hard.  At any age. (direct quote)

4)      It really, really IS the small things.  A glass of wine.  A bite of good fish.

5)      You are never too old to try new things.  Get out there.  (for Harry it was Oysters last week)

6)      Remember the past.  But live in the moment.

7)      The secret to living a long life = sleeping on your back.  (Anyone care to try this experiment and let me know how it goes?)

8)      Should you be fortunate to receive 15 minutes of fame, and you deserve it, take advantage.

9)      Be nice.  You’ll be surprised how easy it is to bring out the best in people.

10)    Don’t take life too seriously.

11)    Life can be a bitch.  Put on something nice and go eat something.

Harry’s reaction to his dinner?

“I didn’t know life would be so good to me”

Makes me think about all of the simple pleasures I enjoy.

Harry is content with life as it is.  He finds energy to get up every morning, which I imagine is a tougher feat for him than for me.

Time to put on a smile and head out there in anticipation of Awesome.

Happy Monday.

Note: I think it’s kind of cool that Harry and I both immigrated from the Eastern European part of the world.  Although I imagine that his journey to America sometime around 1915 was different than my family’s direct flight.

Note2: Read the article here.  It’ll melt your heart.

The Judging of Oneself Through the Bookshelf: A Study of the Relaxed and Restless

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This weekend I tried to relax.

Friday night.  While the other youth were out parading the streets in what I know to be their third Halloween costume of the season, I was at home throwing bath salts into hot water and filling champagne flutes with sparkling water.

Don’t judge me.

I find that I usually GO GO GO until I can’t go anymore.  And then I crash.  And then I NEED to live a life resembling that of my 80-year-old grandfather for at least 24 to 48 hours.

It was break time.

I’m not surprised I hit a wall.

In the past 7 days, I have: attended a three day Indian wedding in a different state, drove 4 hours to take a friend out for her birthday, hosted a friend from London, took said friend to a 12-course/8-bottles of wine dinner (it wasn’t just us 2), attended a little breakfast meeting, went to the Opera (I know I know boohoo my life is hard) and did Halloween justice.  OH and I took care of that whole full-time job situation.

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So yeah.  Not shockingly, I told my family, friends and that boy I’m dating that I will be MIA on Friday.  And should they need to keep tabs on me, they can feel free to call the NSA.  Or my doorman.

The bath salts did wonders.  So did the 6 hours of Law and Order SVU.

At some point, around 3AM, after I had watched the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie, Xenon: Girl of the 21st Century  some On-Demand film, I got a bit restless.

And I didn’t feel like going to bed yet.

So I paced.  And found myself in front of my small bookshelf and thought about its contents and what it said about me.  And what someone who didn’t know me would think.

I’ve spent some time this weekend mauling this thought over and I’ve decided to publish a list of the books currently sitting on my top shelf.

In order:

  • The Catcher in The Rye – J. D. Salinger (we didn’t read this in school – my brother gave it to me and told me I HAD TO read it because it was the BEST book ever.  On the fence.  Still.)
  • Landing It: My Life On and Off The Ice – Scott Hamilton
  • A Skating Life: My Story – Dorothy Hamill
  • Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons – Lorna Landvik (this title makes me giggle)
  • The History Of Love – Nicole Krauss (an incredible book – be prepared to cry your soul out)
  • What I Know Now About Success: Letters From Extraordinary Women To Their Younger Selves – bunch of women
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake, essays by Sloan Crosley
  • Rich Boy – Sharon Pomerantz (a book club book we read)
  • The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40 Year Friendship – Jeffrey Zaslow (another book club book.  We actually spoke to the author during our meeting by phone.  He sadly and shockingly died in a car accident last year)
  • 501 Spanish verbs (I mean obviously)
  • I Hate Everyone… Starting With Me – Joan Rivers (one of my first posts during which Joan signed this for me)
  • The Way To Make Wine: How To Craft Superb Table Wines At Home – Sheridan Warrick (because everyone has to have something like this book at home)
  • The Big Book Of Juices – and Natalie Savona (because people need to know I don’t sit around and just make wine at home)
  • The Idiots Guide To Amazing Sex – Sari Locker (a gift!  From a friend.  During college.  I swear)
  • The Wharton MBA Case Interview Study Guide Volume One (I did not go to Wharton and now that I think about it, I wish I had done a much better job studying this puppy during senior year job recruiting)
  • Something Blue – Emily Giffin
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • For One More Day – Mitch Albom (his books will make you cry and look within yourself.  They are awesome.  And Albom is from my home state)
  • Confessions Of A Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
  • 1000 Places To See Before You Die – Patricia Schultz
  • Made in Russia: unsung icons of Soviet design – Michael Idov (a book I bought for my grandma before she passed away last year.  I was hoping it would allow her to reminisce about the things she was surrounded by for most of her life in Ukraine/The Soviet Union)
  • Conditioning For Figure Skating – Carl M. Poe (I’ve been meaning to do everything this book says since I was 16 I think)
  • If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails And Other Lessons I Learned From My Mom – Barbara Corcoran (pure inspiration.  Corcoran ended up building a real estate business worth in the many many millions.  She started with nothing and her life lessons are Awesome.  A recommendation from my dad)
  • Heartburn – Nora Ephron
  • Nora Ephron – Nora Ephron
  • I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron

I’m probably obsessed with classic gems like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle (all Nora Ephron’s)I probably love to laugh.  I probably think introspection is worth quite a bit of my time.  As is learning from those who have more wisdom and life experience.

I found this to be a more personal exercise than I expected.

Feel free to use these as recommendations also – I would recommend everything on this list.

Especially 501 Spanish Verbs.

Awesome.

I Live Where Now?? What Happened This Year??

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365 days ago my (former) roomie and I started a new life chapter:

The Chicago years.

It happened.

1 year ago today.

I would say I’m shocked at how fast it’s gone by but then… SO MUCH SHIT has happened.

And by shit I mean things.

Relationships, friendships, apartments, family and work dynamics, extra-curricular activities, travels domestically and abroad, animal relocations (roomie’s cat couldn’t stay) and Chicago-based family reconnections, among other things, were all changed or touched for at least one of us this year.

So, yeah.  It’s been a busy year.

But let’s turn the focus back to that day for a moment.  October 31, 2012.

Looking back, I think the sequence of events for the move went something like this:

1)      Wake up at 430AM.

2)      Wonder why head hurts.

3)      Wonder why we’re on the floor on a bare mattress… oh right. Moving. New state. Hurricane Sandy.

4)      Remember dealing with stranded situation by playing beer pong with everyone in building by candle-light.

5)      Find cat.

6)      Put mattress in trash room on another floor so no one thinks it’s us.

7)      Feel guilty for a few seconds.

8)      Shrug.

9)      Use landline system to call downstairs to ask for little man to manually bring the only operating generator-backed up elevator to the 27th floor.

10)  Stealthily begin the escape out of NYC by doing what we were told NOT to do under ANY circumstances: move out. Or leave the building generally.

11)  Leave roomie to bring our (my) stuff down the elevator.

12)  Walk through pitch black streets to the side of Manhattan with no blackout.

13)  Find our beacon of light: Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

14)  Rent Suburban.

15)  Realize it’s too small.

16)  Rent Mini-Van.

17)  Suddenly understand soccer moms.

18)  Drive through Manhattan streets with no traffic lights.

19)  Feel scared.

20)  Feel excited.

21)  Reflect on the fact that you need a shower.

22)  Pull up to building.

23)  Convince 4 doormen to risk their jobs by packing the mini-van with all of our stuff.

24)  Give doormen handles of Vodka as a going away present.

25)  Pretend we’re NOT moving out when manager shows up to work at 6AM.

26)  Put cat on roomie’s lap.

27)  Drive away.

28)  Don’t look back.

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Lining the hallway with our stuff so we’d be ready to go in the morning

We drove about 794 miles in 12 hours.

The actual drive was eventful in itself.  If I wrote a list of things that happened, I would definitely include roomie’s desire to SING THE WHOLE TIME, roomie trying to make the cat “go” IN the car at the McDonald’s parking lot while in godknowswhere and stopping in quaint Pennsylvania town to eat and then somehow hanging with trick-or-treating preschoolers.

It was a journey.  We couldn’t predict hurricane Sandy’s premiere in our life the night before we were supposed to move and we couldn’t predict the past year.

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One of our friends in midtown Manhattan had electricity so we went to plug in my computer and phone so I could check work e-mail and ya know tell my family I was alive (and drink water out of a wine glass apparently)

It’s been busy.  But the good news is that a lot of things have stayed the same.  Like her desire to constantly get me up to do shit in the morning.

Per usual, she forced me to wake up this morning for a breakfast outing – to celebrate our 1-year anniversary in Chicago… before work.

Per usual, I couldn’t get up and was more than late.

Per usual, she was mad but then it was ok after we had eggs and hash browns.

Celebrating the move this morning!

Celebrating the move this morning!

We toasted with sunny side up eggs while sitting in the diner around the corner from my apartment.  We chatted about this past year and talked about upcoming plans and then we went about our lives in this city which was new last year but is suddenly so familiar.

Looking forward to year 2 ya’all.

Awesome.

Note: There were 3 of us living together in that last apartment. The 3rd one did not move with us.  Something about family and the whole having a great stable relationship with someone who had just gotten into law school in NYC.  Still trying to figure out what all that’s about.

we will miss you nyc

Helping other roomie paint

Does My Bamboo Stick Make Me Look Fierce?

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This week I got intimate with some sticks.

Bamboo sticks.

Full disclosure.  Last week a new startup called Vimbly reached out to me about experiencing something new. Vimbly finds activities, classes and date ideas in New York City, Seattle, Maui, Las Vegas and Chicago and compiles them in one place. They asked me to try out their system and engage in the activity of my choice.

I’ve actually never accepted any type of sponsorship before this.  Nothing until this felt like it was aligned with my blog or mission.  (Thanks for reaching out – gardening company and tattoo equipment re-seller – I can’t wait to introduce the self-airbrush kit to the blogging community)

However, new experiences, pushing the comfort zone and knocking things off my personal bucket list?

I’m game.

I browsed my options and thought seriously about laughing my ass off at an off-Broadway show, taking a glass-blowing class or learning to DJ.  But what really caught my eye was the list of martial arts and self-defense classes.

I’ve ALWAYS wanted someone to show me how to kick some ass. And since this opportunity allows me to try anything (in Vimbly reason), I immediately committed to the Filipino martial art of Weaponry Stick-fighting.

Now, when I say I didn’t know what to expect. I mean, I didn’t know what to expect.

So when I got to class, took off my shoes and was introduced to the other three long-term members of this semi-private class – Richie, Ryan and Matt – who have each spent years with bamboo stick in hand and was given the following demonstration… I thought – WELL OF COURSE.

My first partner was Ryan, a tall 20-something who quit his job and started his own law firm so that he could have the flexibility to practice stick-fighting as often as possible.

so, NO BIG DEAL.

I’ll use my ballet-influenced figure skating maneuvers to my advantage.

Really tall Ryan: do you want to attack first or defend?
Me: I would like to trade in this bamboo stick for a real sword.
Really tall Ryan: okay I’ll attack first.
Me: sir who is in charge – any qualms with my arrangement here?
Me: no?
Me: OK.

The good news is that Ryan didn’t take my head off.

We started class by going through five attack maneuvers in standstill, then we added footwork, then we did the same with defense techniques.  We tried these attack/defend moves on each other then added footwork, allowing us to fight while moving back and forth, attacking and defending with our bamboo-swords.

By the end of class, I had figured out the entire coordinated fighting dance.  I was able to perform the attack and defend movements in correct sequence with the correct footwork.

The build-up of the class alleviated any intimidation.  As with anything that appears difficult, breaking down the movements makes it extremely manageable.

I love new experiences because there’s nothing to lose.

From the moment I took off my shoes and walked through the door, nothing else was on my mind.  I left work, stress, busy schedules and deadlines in my neon pink sneakers and injected effort and excitement into my bamboo stick (still petitioning for real swords).

I’m pretty sure there were times where I looked like Monica on that episode of Friends where she tries to learn to tap dance (OK no one is THAT bad), but it felt good to be out of my comfort zone for an evening.

Plus, now I’m prepared the next time I’m summoned for a duel or I need to protect myself and I have a bamboo stick.

Awesome.