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!

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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.

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)

Reflection… Book Club Style

siblings brother

My book club met tonight.

This month’s choice: And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.

If you’ve read either one of Hosseini’s other novels, then you know this book will not be made into a chick-flick.  And you know that probably everyone in the book club cried at one point or another while reading this puppy (I held out to the end.  That’s right.)

Hosseini’s novels are set in Afghanistan, offering an intimate view into a world many know very little about.  Above all else, though, these stories are about universal human struggles.  This one in particular, delves into family and takes the reader on a journey through multiple generations.  The stories show the ways in which the decisions of those who came before us shape our lives today in the same way that we will shape the lives of the next generation (pressure).

One thing the book focused on, above all else, was the sibling relationship.  The story displayed (in heart-wrenching fashion) how sacred a bond between siblings can be and how grateful we should be to have these bundles of joy in our lives.

This above all-else hit me hard.

I thought about my siblings.  I thought about how grateful I am that my parents gave me this gift.

I thought about the stories I’ve been told about my brother’s arrival (I was 4) and the fact that I felt, for whatever reason, very protective of him.  Reportedly, I used to throw myself onto strangers (friends and doctors) who dared approach my little bud and try to take them down (I’m still looking into the validity of this report).

I thought about how to our friends’ great annoyance, my brother and I used to play at recess together everyday during elementary school.

I thought about how my brother and I are now sharing vital information about young adulthood with our little sister.

brother

Lil bud and little sister discussing strategy for the fruit roll up competition about to commence

I thought about the bond I share with two other people who understand the struggles and triumphs unique to our family.

Hosseini has a talent for writing eloquently and beautifully about some tough subjects.  He inspired me with this last one… to argue less with my siblings.  And to cherish the bond we’ve been given.

Awesome.

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.

Beets, Lemons and a Little Mahi

cooking

Today’s Awesome was simple.

I cooked for myself.

I’m not sure what it is about having my own apartment (it’s my first!) but it’s making me want to get out all the pots and pans and make a big mess.

The history of my food preparation prowess is a slim novel at best.  I never thought I’d like it.  I used to detest the idea and figured that any future male would just deal with this (modern) woman.

Over the past couple of years I’ve taken a new liking to it and these days I find that it comforts, provides some zen after crazy days and allows me to keep track of the ingredients I’m putting in my body (some of the time).  I also find it’s a great way to spend with oneself.

SO.

After an intense workout, I took myself to Wholefoods to experience one of the greatest parts of the cooking process: the grocery store.

In my opinion, the grocery store is like a toy store for adults.  You no longer have to kick and scream in the aisles.  Just take the Frosted Flakes (pay) and go home.  Going in makes me giddy.

Plus.

Free samples.

Heaven!

After much deliberation and in-store iphone googling, I decided on a fish and salad.

I picked out healthy ingredients that would also facilitate a post-thanksgiving cleanse (see my family’s ability to eat) and walked home anticipating the next two hours of chopping, boiling, sautéing and grating.

I purchased the following main ingredients:

  • Radish bunch
  • Beets
  • Lettuce
  • Cucumber
  • Eggs
  • Garlic
  • ½ pound piece of Mahi Mahi
  • Also two jugs of pomegranate juice, sparkling water (my favorite) and babybel cheese (couldn’t help myself)

vegetables wholefoods grocery store shopping

After unloading, I went to work taking care of the steps that would take the longest.  I’ve found that cooking is really a lesson in time management.  For example, boiling beets takes 45min-1hour whereas sautéing Mahi takes about 20 minutes.  And no one wants cold Mahi.

Therefore, the beets were up first.  I trimmed back the leaf stalks per instruction, and placed them in boiling water.  Then set out to chop up the vegetables and dice garlic.  I chopped the radish and cucumber and boiled and sliced the eggs.

At the 10 minute mark (on beet timer) I threw the Mahi in the pan as instructed with garlic, lemon and white wine (I drank some too).  I peeled and sliced the boiling beets, made sure the Mahi was taken care of on both sides and arranged everything on plate (presentation is key!).

mahi mahi

The entire exercise took about1.5 hours and was extremely calming.

I felt a personal sense of accomplishment.  AND, it looked good enough to eat.

I think mom would have been proud.

Awesome.

Russian Thanksgiving: An Exercise in Over-Eating and Food Hopping

thanksgiving vodka russian people celebrating

I am accustomed to wading through crowds, airports and screaming children to make it home for the family – oriented holiday of the year.

This year was no different.  I was home for thanksgiving.  However, having moved to Chicago (from NYC) a few weeks ago – my heart sang when the typical airplane ride home was replaced with a friend picking me up and delivering me to my hometown in Michigan a few hours later.

The rest of the weekend was business as usual.

Of course I say weekend because a Russian family’s thanksgiving couldn’t possibly consist of one evening or of one household.

Instead, we prefer to see how many times we can prepare an entire feast and how many other homes can provide the feast for us.

My arrival on Wednesday prompted the setting of a celebratory feast.  A visit to the grandparents called for a banquet.  A check in with family friends was the perfect opportunity for a ceremonial spread.

By the time today rolled around, I had eaten more than I had in the past month and was really starting to crave bare vegetables.

For those of you from the Ukrainian/Russian/Jewish/Immigrant variety, you’ll probably relate to the following:

  • Roasted chicken instead of the traditional turkey
  • Spanakopita (the always beloved Greek addition to thanksgiving)
  • Herring, sardines, lox, cheese, salami and prosciutto (favorites the pilgrims overlooked)
  • One too many toasts about being thankful (for a reason to toast)
  • Turkey (or chicken) for breakfast
  • Family members discussing your figure while simultaneously scoffing at how “little” you’re eating
  • And of course (my favorite)… using what’s left of Vodka as gravy (see picture above)

We watched our family’s favorite movie (Other People’s Money) for the 187th time (and recited lines together).  Sis and I told stories under the covers with flashlight (modern times: flashlight app) and engaged in cartwheel competitions that dad judged (I still got it!).  Days were culminated with family swim hour after our hearty meals (not advisable).

Aside from the fact that comments such as “you should eat more” started to have negative effects on my aggression meter (I can’t fit anymore!), I’d say it was a perfect thanksgiving.

Awesome.