Does My Bamboo Stick Make Me Look Fierce?

martial arts weaponry stickfighting

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.

Home-Running it Through the Bucket List

chicago sport and social softball

Number 11 on my bucket list this summer was to join a summer sports league.

I put it on my bucket list because I’ve never actually joined a recreational sports team for young professionals.  I’ve seen many a group walking around sporting ZogSports or Chicago Sport and Social Club t-shirts… and really wanted one.

There are a host of excuses for why in the 6 years post college I have not yet participated.  I’m busy.  I’m a figure skater (i.e. not a soccer/football/baseball player).  None of my friend groups have ever organized a team.  Games are held in inconvenient locations.  The last time I played football in fourth grade I was tackled and couldn’t feel my body for a bit.  The other girls have more experience.

Basically, I’ve been too chicken-shit.

Time to amend this issue.

This summer I’ve joined a Chicago Sport and Social Club softball league with about 20 of my co-workers (read: public humiliation is even more fun when carried to the workplace).

And today was the first game.

Today was also, conveniently, the hottest day Chicago has seen this summer.

Let the shirt-soaking fun begin.

I took a cab found my way to the field and joined everyone for beers warm-ups.

I quickly found out that laying low wasn’t in the cards.  Turns out league rules state that each team must have at least 4 girls on the team at all times, 4 girls in the outfield and must rotate a girl batter every two players. (I haven’t decided how I feel about this gender equality driven rule-book as of yet).

Either way…we had 5 girls.  I had to woman-up and learn fast.

I started the game as the Center-fielder.  By the grace of some guardian angel, the other team’s first line-up couldn’t hit a ball the size of a kickball had some trouble and struck out quickly.  I had another beer with my teammates/coworkers and prepared to bat for the first time.

Everyone started to cheer me on as I went up.  I swung once and missed and then got a walk to first.  I was pretty psyched.  We struck out shortly after, but I was starting to get the hang of it.

My next turn at center-fielder, I was the recipient of a giant welt on the side of my knee stopped a ball hurled straight towards me and was able to get it to the second-base in time to hear “out” called on the other team.

At some point during the game the other team started to kick our ass play really well.

Any judgment passed in the beginning of the game flew straight out the window (lesson learned).  This team didn’t have matching uniforms, seemed disorganized and had one member with an artificial leg.

You’d think the score would have at least been close.  NOPE. (I will refrain from divulging the actual score)

We lost.

I’m pretty sure that bystanders couldn’t tell the difference though.  We immediately began toasting and drinking beers on the field and continuing the hyper excitement of the past 2 hours.

After on-field drinks, we moved the matching t-shirt party to a local bar where we toasted to our next game.

Playing with a team of coworkers/friends/new team members at sunset on a summer day was Awesome.

Looking forward to next week’s game.

Easy going on the Aegean Sea

ios greeece

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.

mykonos greece travel

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!)

santorini greece

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.

santorini greece travel

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.

Valentine’s Day with Balls

bowling

Today is (was) Valentine’s Day.

I wouldn’t have known…

Except.

When I got to work this morning there were numerous tables with roses covering our enormous lobby and multiple individuals were walking towards me with arms extended.

Initial reaction was to initiate the palm-heel strike (used to ward of your attacker) but then I took an awkward pause and thought… oh.  Valentine’s Day. (I’m not a morning person).

Naturally, I took one (two) roses.

And anticipated tonight’s glamorous V-Day activity.

It involved new shoes, multiple beer tubes and heavy balls.

Yes.  February 14 of 2013 had me and a friend joining a bowling league for the night and playing our hearts out.

It was a classy night.

Mac and cheese and tater tots, a couple party fouls and some bowling instruction by some “pros” had us obliterating pins, making new friends, reconnecting with old ones and getting all sorts of hyper.

It wasn’t your typical V-Day.

But it was…

Awesome.

Just Do It.

keep calm and cycle on

Today’s workout was Awesome.

Why?

Because.

I set a goal and I met it.

I told myself that no matter what — I was going to get to a certain number.

No excuses.

Recently, I’ve been feeling more lethargic during class and falling well below the level I know I can meet.

The burrito I ate before class didn’t help (stupid).

Neither did the lack of sleep last night (stupid).

But.  There’s always an excuse to pedal at a lower rpm.

A few things did help.

Friends. Music. Mental game.

I’ve found that the key to cycling consistently every week is getting your friends involved (evil plan).  I’ve introduced spinning to a number of friends who now go every week.  Knowing they’re reserving bikes pushes me.

The playlist was perfect (Careless Whisper by Seether is new favorite).

I put everything out of my mind.  For 45 minutes.  Nothing was going on in my life besides Enrique Iglesias (that’s right).

I sang along. I cheered out loud.  I passed my goal.

I was pumped.

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.

Australian Lungfish, Green Moray Eels and River Otters

jelly fish

On Day 4 of Chicago Awesome it was time for a little new-resident sight-seeing.

A friend came to visit to see my friends and I (and our new city!) and brought with her energy, excitement and … a list of things to do.

While the rest of us nursed our hangovers and just straight exhaustion from the past couple of weeks… visiting friend outlined our options.

A poll was taken and (acting like children at) the aquarium was picked as the mid-afternoon activity of choice.

We plane/train/automobile-ed it to the east and found Shedd Aquarium.  This iconic cultural attraction stands next to Lake Michigan in an enormous and gorgeous building better suited to be our country’s embassy.

However, no president or political figure was found inside this gem.  Instead, we feasted our eyes on 25,000 fish and 5,000,000 gallons of water.

As a child I basically abhorred museums.  I may have mentioned this in a previous post but 18 years ago I would take in a giant open space with things on the wall and think…. dance studio.  The only thing I tolerated was the science museum (dad’s favorite) where I could be kept preoccupied with hands-on exhibits.

Hoping to be sufficiently entertained, I decided to throw myself into this experience.

Our first encounter with those that live in the sea was an enormous aquarium (shocker) with sharks and string-rays and a host of other strange species.

Being surrounded by a plethora of small people under the age of 10 really inspired some of that science museum reminiscing and some age-inappropriate behavior:

  1. The purchase of a chocolate milk before heading into the first exhibit (absolutely necessary)
  2. Pressing ourselves to the glass of giant aquarium to say hi to sting-ray (move it kid)
  3. Group shot against green screen (thankfully we left that work of art at Shedd)
  4. Spontaneous eruption of excitement (SEA-HORSES!!!!!)……….(move it kid)
  5. Finding Nemo (no really. we found him. and his dad.)

nemo

3 hours later, having seen some pretty wild underwater life (such as the group-named “Snooki Poof” fish), we were exhausted and sufficiently smarter as far as fish are concerned.

snooki

Experiencing a part of my new city with friends…. Awesome.

Flat Washers, Allen Wrenches and Head Bolts

coffee table

On Day 3 of Chicago Awesome I put my manual labor-assembly-tool box skills to work.

Today I knew a large box awaited me upon my arrival home with my new coffee table (my first piece of furniture).

What I didn’t know was that I had to assemble it (what?!!).

First things first.  I had to get the box into my apartment.

After maneuvering all 72 pounds of said “table” to the 23rd floor on cart, I set out piecing this thing together.

Ok this is false.

I set out opening the box (probably the toughest portion of this exercise).  This thing was sealed and ready for mountain lion attacks.  I was like a mad woman on Christmas morning.  Industrial kitchen scissors in hand, I ripped, tore, removed, punched, whined and sliced that giant box into shreds until I could finally remove the pieces of said “table.”

After carefully removing the (heavy) pieces and placing them on all available empty floor space, I surveyed the catastrophic mess and contemplated my options: 1) summon all males in the Chicago area that I know 2) pay people on my floor 3) call the company and yell with no hope of result.

Upon careful reflection I recalled that my mother was always handy with tools.  I remember her always taking pride in being able to hammer and screwdriver with the best of them… I actually remember my grandpa teaching me how to use the hammer at a very young age.

I decided to take a stab at it.

Plus, I’m too impatient.  I wanted my coffee table.  Right.  Now.

Taking out the instructions (written in Chinese) and figuring out what all the weird parts were called, I began to construct these heavy pieces together.  I screwed in legs, added the bottom shelf, and tightened the screws.

The last screw took me about an hour to maneuver (so THAT’s why they said not to tighten anything…) and I ended up taking legs off and putting them back on but 3 hours later I had a coffee table.  An enormous coffee table.

Now I just need that couch to arrive and to pick out 7 more pieces of furniture and I’ll be good to go (oy).

Assembling first piece of furniture for new apartment?

Awesome.

Sofa Shopping: A Life Changing Endeavor


west elm
wine

On Day 2 of Chicago Awesome, after 1 too many days in an empty apartment (with a bed), I decided it was that time.

A friend and I took the subway somewhere north (friend got us there, I thought about fabric swatches) where we discovered the mecca of furniture stores (or rather Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn and West Elm….)

It’ll do.

The arrival to this fabulous part of town meant I could start my mission: to find a fabulous sleeper couch with just the right shade of “white” to make my sofa dreams come true.

Turns out buying a sofa is not a color-by-number type of process.  There were questions I hadn’t thought of, hidden fees that hadn’t occurred (delivery isn’t free?) and the absurdly high sales tax to think about (should’ve checked this before moving…).  More importantly, a slew of questions and options were thrown at me that left me puzzled for a good 3 hours (sorry friend!).

Finally, after becoming best buds with the sales associate (Hi Dylan!), taking a good 30-minute turn on the sofa of my choice and then comparing it to every sofa in the neighboring store……. I picked one. With the custom fabric of my choice and forked over my life savings (turns out a nice couch is akin to a Ford Focus).

To celebrate this great stride in building a new home in new city, friend and I crossed the street to a suspiciously Awesome store that advertised the sale of wine AND furniture (what a combination).

This wonderful mix of random furniture, home goods and alcohol was just the right touch of hilarity and entertainment that we needed….

The wine tasting going on at that moment in the center of the store put the cherry on top of an exhausting and forward moving day.

Awesome.

Hurricanes, New Friends and Cross Country Migrations

T-0 came and went.

On the fateful day that I prepared to say goodbye to New York City and head West, hurricane Sandy arrived and forced upon my life tuna fish sandwiches, PB&J, cheez-its and beer pong by candle light.

My roommate (moving also!) and I found ourselves in an empty apartment on the 27th floor with no power, one mattress, one flashlight, 3 small candles and entirely too much alcohol for two people leaving the state (evidence of a good 5 years).

There was one thing left to do.

Explore the building (dorm?), meet new friends (fellow gen-y-ers) and try to conserve precious iphone battery for instagram (call dad).

beer pong

5 games of pong, 2 parties, 3 new friends from our Alma-mater (what are the chances?!) and 2 days later we were ready to hit the road to finally move to Chicago (there were about 7 collective goodbye parties between the 2 of us after all…).

It was time to go.

I slept in my jeans.  She didn’t sleep.  We were ready to spring to action like firefighters.  Having moved all of our stuff into the dimly lit hallway the night before (generator = key), we were up at 5am prepared to use the one manually operated elevator to move a mountain of clothes, kitchen utensils and chick-books into a rented minivan before building management found out our escape plan (turns out moving apartments is not advisable or permitted in the dark)

moving

2 hours later, with the help of 4 doormen, we were able to fill ever crevice of that van.  And we were off…

The drive was about 15 hours long and took us through 5 states.  The drive would have taken 13 hours had we not made a pit stop for food every hour on the hour, including a completely out of the way scenic tour of a town called Milton, Pennsylvania (think town from Hocus Pocus) where we had an incredible breakfast omelet in the cutest café and acted like tourists.

omelet

The rest of the trip went smoothly.  The highlights:

  • Hours of singing on part of friend…
  • Trying to make friend’s cat “go” in the car (this activity could have gone on for hours)
  • Watching little trick-or-treaters in small town
  • Playing the “how do you feel about this state” game (not advisable)
  • Playing the “would you rather” game
  • Using the EZ Pass lane and then getting out of car to read the 482-digit serial number to attendant (great pastime)

15 hours later… we arrived in Chicago.

It was worth it.  For this.

chicago skyline view

(View from my new apartment!!)

Awesome.