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.

Advertisements

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

photo (92)

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.

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.

Big Lessons come in Small Pints

sisters

I spent this weekend at home with my little sister.

She turned 13 a couple weeks ago.

Which means she’s a teenager.

So naturally – she knows EVERYTHING.

To celebrate, I surprised her at home and spent the weekend shopping, getting our nails done and swimming.

I might have been playing big sis but she was schooling me the whole time.

Here are the top things I learned over this weekend.  From my 13 year old sister.  In no particular order.

1) Boys can be dismissed if they bore you with sports stats.

True story.

She said it calmly, with a classy hand wave, as if shoo-ing the imaginary boy in front of her away.

She’s 13 and already knows that boys’ evolutionary obsession with sports stats is bound to drive you nuts.  This notion appears to be a given.  What also appears to be a given, is that you can dump them for this reason.

Whereas my twenty-something counterparts are putting on jerseys and being the cool girlfriends, lil sis and her friends are rolling their eyes and deleting their numbers from their parent-provided cell phones.

Last week she was watching her new boyfriend play baseball.  Today he is nowhere in sight.

Me: How’s Nicholas?

Lil Sis: He was boring me with sports stats.

Me: Oh.

2) Boyfriends have 3 duties. Bring you flowers, kiss you on the cheek and carry your stuff.

Holy shit.  I’m doing it wrong.

Attention women everywhere: chivalry* is not dead.  There’s an entire generation of middle school boys begging their moms to buy them flowers so they can give them to their “girlfriends.”  In return, they’ll get to kiss them on the cheek and carry their stuff.

What a revelation!

So simple!

So Cavalier!

Moving forward, it will be made clear that flowers are important. Kissing on the cheek is admissible.  As is hauling my laundry upstairs.

It’s time to revert to real courtship… the middle school way.

3) Miley Cyrus sucks

Direct quote.

I already knew this but it felt good to have it confirmed.

After her fantastic show of low moral value on stage at the VMA’s, I was thinking two things.  Why do all my favorite Disney stars turn into train wrecks?  And I hope lil sis isn’t watching this/liking this/planning on debuting new moves at her next co-ed “party.”

Luckily she’s not.

But it did make me think for a hot second about all those furious moms and dads out there whose little girls have Hannah Montana taped up all over their room.  For a moment, I understood why they were pissed that precious Hannah turned out to be kind of a slut.

When lil sis told me about her feelings regarding Miley in the car, I was pretty impressed and relieved.

Mostly relieved.

I didn’t want her to be upset.

Like Little Me is. Regarding her favorite redhead from The Parent Trap (the remake).

4) It’s the small things

I told her she could pick one big item or a few small ones at the nice mall as her present.

We went into stores she’s never shopped in and tried on clothing that cost the equivalent of my monthly apartment rent.

I figured she would be thrilled.

And she was.

By the size and décor of the fitting rooms.

The first had “the biggest pillows” she’d ever seen and a bench she wanted to lay on.  The next one was “like a bedroom” where she wanted to “hang out all day.”

I was slightly bewildered but totally uplifted by this absurdly happy child, mesmerized by fitting rooms.

In the end, all she wanted (besides candy) was “cool yoga pants.”

Which I gladly bought her.

After she hung out in the fitting room for half an hour.

sister fitting room life

5) All it takes is a little “applesauce”

Teenagers are loud and hyper creatures.

I do remember being afflicted with this loud and hyper bug.

(there’s a chance I’m still suffering).

So you’d think living under the same roof for a few days with a child that resembles a bouncy ball would be easy.

It’s not.

But it does teach you a thing or two about happiness:

You can be happy whenever.

Her new thing with her friends is picking a “happy” word that they say constantly.

This month’s gem is “applesauce.”

She texts me this word, she calls to yell it over the phone, she uses it as code for things, she drives my dad up the wall singing about applesauce all day.

I wish I could explain it to you.  Except I don’t totally get it.

All I know is that she can be having a bad practice at gymnastics and feeling down one second and then just totally uninhibited running around screaming “applesauce” the next.

My dad says “she’s just  a happy child,” which makes me think about my 13-year old uninhibited hyper days and makes me want to run around being happy for no reason at all.

Awesome.

* Note: I looked up “Chivalry.”  Wikipedia says that Chivalry is the traditional code of conduct associated with the medieval institution of knighthood.  And I am totally down with this.

The big 8-0: the Right Way

Me and Gramps*

Me and Gramps*

It’s official.

Gramps turned 80.

It’s been a long awaited affair that started with frantic calls from my brother a little pre-planning, had some tears thrown in (I love family planning) and included a grand finale (we come through in the end!).

We went all out for him.

The original idea was to take him fishing – his favorite activity. As a kid, my family would go up north for a little cabin-living during the summers and gramps would catch the fish that would feed us for weeks.  Days were spent watching Bewitched Re-runs swimming and trying to grab the fishing rod being grandpa’s little helpers.

At the last minute though, the wish to make this big milestone unforgettable took us away from the lake and had us putting on black-tie appropriate attire.

5 days before the big day, my grandma and I engineered a plan that involved live music, pretty dresses, dancing, toasts and mountains of our favorite Ukrainian food.

80, after all, deserves more than a trip to the lake.

Once the night of the big event came, it was time to begin our favorite tradition: toasting the person of honor.

I didn’t know what to expect.  All I knew was that little bro and I were prepared to bestow love on Gramps.

As I’ve mentioned before, my family has been through a good bit.  There have been divorces, re-marriages, riffs, deaths and re-organizations of sorts.  It’s been a long road.  When I’m not busy filming them for my made-for-TV-movie (MTV are you reading this?), I’m sitting around like a cocker spaniel with my head cocked to one side in disbelief.

My life is kind of like Modern Family.  The traditional family unit we are not.  But serious undeniable love there is.

Good thing this band of misfits is really good at pouring it straight from the heart.

My dad was up first (always) and delivered a speech about the make-up of the family unit and that regardless of life’s changes, my grandpa and he will always be family.

Little bro gave a speech inspired by Will Ferrell in Old School during which he yelled “you are a legend” multiple times and pointed at Gramps.  I have no comment.

Uncle began his toast by giving a summary of every major event that occurred around the world in the year 1933.  He ended the toast by likening Gramps to Christopher Columbus and reminding everyone that without Grandpa’s pioneering efforts, we would have never immigrated to America.  According to the story, after Grandpa’s first trip to the U.S., he came back and announced “one can live there,” after which, my immediate family, aunt, uncle, grandparents, great grandparents and cousin colonized the USA in mid-1991 (and subsequently learned to live off the new land by shopping at Kmart, Farmer Jack (R.I.P.) and CVS Pharmacy).

I spoke last.  I reminisced about the forts Gramps and I used to build out of pillows in Kiev, the 8 AM Saturday morning wake-ups during my competitive figure skating years and the adamant stance he takes on loving grandma and making them one unit.  Grandpa was always my hero as a little girl.  I thought he could move mountains.

There were tears.  There was laughter.  There was caviar.  There was love.

Gramps was beaming all night and even stayed up partying past midnight.

Not bad family.

Awesome.

*Note: Clearly I had a momentary awkward stage as a baby before I became this 4-year old beauty.  OK I don’t want to hear anything more about it.

photo (70)

A Surprise to Remember

surprise

I love surprises.

I think it’s something my mom passed onto me.

I remember waking up every year on my birthday and having some sort of surprise next to my pillow.  I remember my mom telling me to pack on the morning of my 16th birthday without telling me where we were going to end up.  I remember receiving a note from my college study abroad program that I was going to be a couple days late arriving due to “birthday trip with mom.”

Not surprising, that when my little sister called me two weeks ago to discuss birthday ideas for dad, the first thing that came to mind was… let’s surprise him.

The plan was simple.  I was going to fly or train or drive from Chicago to suburban metro Detroit after work on Friday, surprise dad at my aunt’s house and then spend the weekend doing dad’s favorite things.

Plane tickets were inappropriately expensive for a 40-minute flight (it’s called a m-o-n-o-p-o-l-y, Delta) and the train took way too long (let’s join the 21st century, Amtrak).

Rental car it is.

I ran out of work on Friday and headed for the nearest rental car location.  15 minutes later I had somehow finagled an SUV for the price of a full size vehicle and was on my way.

I was really excited.

4 hours and about 20 rounds of Kelly Clarkson’s Catch My Breath and Backstreet Boys’ Larger than Life later, I was pulling up to my aunt’s house 5 minutes behind dad and sis, ready to ring the doorbell and yell surprise.

It was amazing to see the look on his face.

He immediately screamed “what are you doing here” and followed it up with giant bear hugs (customary) followed by Brady Bunch-style group hugs (we have our moments).

Some of the things I learned over the past couple of days:

1)      You’re never too old for a pajama party.  Dad, sis and I overestimated the size of the bed, but had some good laughs trying to sleep in it together.

2)      Your favorite movies never get old.  In our family, two films are quoted, discussed and watched over and over and over again: 1991’s Other People’s Money and 1993’s Adams Family Values.  These films might not seem extra deep, but in our family, no other movies hold more truth, provide more laughs or inspire more Halloween costumes.

3)      Re-telling the stories of our “Childhoods: The Infant Years” rarely grows tiresome.  Dad was dedicated to every detail in this weekend’s re-telling.

We had water fights in our health club’s pool, sat down to a dinner expertly prepared by amateur chef lil sis (sushi) and made the mistake of discussing current events after several glasses of wine.

This weekend was great.

It was Awesome to see dad so happy.

The Birthday Wish

candle birthday wish

I like making wishes.

Not with magical genie lamps (although I’m game if one surfaces).

But during that time of the year when it’s respectable and even expected.

Your birthday.

The only thing better than making that wish and blowing out those candles… is doing it more than once.

Luckily, I have found that birthday celebrations are never a one day affair.

Inevitably there several bday “parties,” one on one birthday dinners and belated congratulations.

Tonight was one of those nights.

A friend I hadn’t seen in 6 months flew in for a visit and took me out for some belated birthday dinner and sangria drinking.

Towards the end of the meal, we decided on a slice of tiramisu.

I’m not sure if friend asked the waiter or the waiter had a unique sense of intuition (still a mystery to me), but I do know that the cake came out with a candle in it.

I got to make my wish again.

Sweet.

Channeling little Max Reede from Liar Liar, I really put my heart into this iteration.

Hope it comes true.

Awesome.