Sometimes

Sometimes you have an emotionally draining week.

Sometimes you’re fatigued and need a push.

Sometimes you’re feeling disorganized.

Sometimes you feel like there’s too much to do and not enough time.  So you do nothing.

Sometimes you feel like everything is a bit out of your control.

Sometimes you need something to bring you back to center.

Sometimes your friend gives you this.

why i like you

And you smile.

And you feel better.

And you breathe.

And you get excited to find out what kind of Awesome lies beyond Sunday.

*Note: Baking.  Not my thing.  I rather spend hours stirring milk curds to make cheese.

*Note 2: The “why I really like you” list might need to be paid forward.  Kind of a genius idea.

Brunch: a Study in Friendship, Personal Growth and Chili

That Time I Saw Walter Isaacson Speak and Spent 8 Days Trying to Write About It

I went to brunch with one of my best friends this weekend and something unexpected happened.

She pulled out a notebook and told me she was going to interview me.

It was 11am on a hung-over Saturday.

I gave her the best death stare I had.  She gave me the “yep this is happening” look.  And I gave up.

Friend was headed on a leadership retreat with her company and was given the assignment of interviewing 2 people she felt had “influenced” her.

I was pretty surprised she chose me.  And Kinda honored.  (OK really honored).

But definitely surprised.

Not because our friendship isn’t Awesome (it is) but because I had never stopped to think about the types of life-altering effects we’ve had on each other.

Best friends are not strangers that inspire you during a chance meeting or teachers, professors and superiors that you look up to.  Best friends are, in some ways, extensions of you.

And this friend in particular could very well be my right arm, since we’ve been more or less inseparable for a decade.  We met during orientation of Freshman year, lived on the same hallway, lived together Sophomore and Junior year, shared an apartment in New York City Junior summer when we were super cool and doing internships and lived together Senior year on the same floor.  Post college we moved from one apartment to another in New York City for 5 years and then casually escaped Hurricane Sandy last Halloween when we drove ourselves (in a rented minivan) to Chicago where we became grown-ups and got our own apartments (less than a mile from each other).

It’s been 10 years.  That’s more than 1/3 of my life that I’ve had this one friend by my side.  Through the coming and going of boyfriends, tragedies, births, deaths, triumphs, games of flip cup, book clubs, travels to exotic destinations, costume parties and that one time we were “guests” on the Rachael Ray show (true story).

We’ve shared clothes, experiences, laughs, hugs and tears for 10 years.

So when friend pulled out a notebook on a sunny fall day and told me I had influenced her, I was forced to put down the eggs benedict menu and give her a look that could only read “what are you talking about.”

During the next hour or so, while I devoured my much needed comfort food, friend fired a number of questions at me.  Some I’m sure she knew the answers to.  Some that brought up experiences I forgot existed, buried deep where I keep my childhood memories.  Some that brought up new topics and conclusions we had never spoken to one another.

What is your favorite trait about yourself?  My ability to connect with others.

Who has influenced you the most?  My mom had the greatest influence on me before she passed.

Name a moment that stands out as time when you recognized your own leadership skills.  When I was named a “team leader” while studying abroad in Madrid, Spain during my junior year of high school.  I had just transferred to a new high school and was feeling out of place in my environment.  Being so far away from home and in a new setting with other teenagers from around the world forced me to bring out my extroverted personality and gave me a clean slate to run with.  There was a moment that I’ll never forget, when one of the program organizers pulled me aside after an event, and told me that the spirit I had shone through and she could foresee big things for me.  I think my confidence grew twofold on that day.

How do you think you’ve influenced me?  I think we probably push each other.  I believe in surrounding myself with positive influences and support systems.  I imagine it’s similar for you.  My drive and ambitions push and inspire your own, as yours do for me.

What is one trait that you would change about yourself?  I would like to be calmer and take things in stride.  I would like to accept the things I cannot change, have the courage to change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.  Just like the quote.  I’m working on it.

It was an unexpectedly deep Saturday morning.  And definitely not your typical Friday-night-recap brunch.

Luckily, they had a Do-It-Yourself chili (It’s a thing) to which I added poached eggs, avocado, sour cream, chips, mushrooms and cilantro cream.

The chili was amazing.  So was connecting in new ways with someone you lived with for 10 years and still see almost every week.

Maybe everyone should bring a list of life questions to brunch dates?

Awesome.

Accidental Naps

bra

I fell asleep after work today.

For 3 hours.

Instead of going to a party.

I think that’s a sign I’ve been having too much fun (according to my father) (who told me over the phone this week that I need to relax).

I was supposed to be at a “going away” party for one of my friends from college.  I quote “going away” because I’m using the term lightly.  Said friend is going on a 2 month vacation to Brazil as part of his bar trip.

(For those who are not familiar.  After individuals finish law school and take the dreaded bar, they are somehow due a 9 week trip to an exotic locale.  Yes this makes sense.)

So I don’t know if tears were going to be shed at this soiree.

But I am inspired to have a “goodbye party” every time I plan a vacation!

Ok it wasn’t going to be the most emotional night, but I’m pretty sure some A-w-e-s-o-m-e was going to happen.

Sometimes it’s just in the air.

Summer atmosphere and meeting friends of friends of friends mixed in with cucumber coolers usually leads to bonding, spontaneity and unexpected wonderful things.

Clearly that’s not happening tonight but there is a point to this entry (I swear!).  This is my all-things-awesome reminder to take some time for a nap, a bubble bath, a dance around the room in your underwear (Kelly Clarkson is a great aid to this), an Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition marathon (I am hooked on this inspiring shit!), a private cooking party (i.e. making yourself a feast) or a long distance run where you don’t time yourself or plan the route beforehand (just MAP-MY-RUN it later).

I was a bit surprised when I woke up at 10PM with my work clothes still on but I am now indulging in this rest and relaxation.

I know it’s a departure from my typical rhythm… but sometimes that’s cool too.

A 3-hour nap is sometimes just what the doctor ordered and exactly the “me” time that I needed.

I highly recommend it.

Feels Awesome.

An Autumn Sail in July

chicago boat

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

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

And it’s 61 degrees in July.

(Yes, this is a first world problem post)

Let me lay out the significance here.

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

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

Back to the significant problem at hand.

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

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

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

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

Nope.

It was 61 degrees in Chicago on July 27.

glass half full

The Mother Nature Gods were testing us.

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

NO.

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

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

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

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

sail

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

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

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

It was Awesome.

picstitch (3)

Improv Shows and Musical Performances

tall heights

Recently, I’ve had the chance to support friends while they pursue their passions.

These friends, although practicing different crafts, have one main thing in common: the stage.

While visiting New York this month, the stars aligned and I got the chance to watch a close friend perform in a stand-up improv comedy show, something she had wanted to do all her life (in pursuit of being Tina Fey).

As someone who is well-versed in “performance,” I can honestly say that it’s hard enough to get up in front of others with a planned routine, let alone with nothing planned and people screaming from the audience.  Not surprisingly, friend was super nervous and had purchased a new wardrobe in anticipation of the night (great calming tactic).

I did my part by bringing my most inappropriate friend.

After waiting like anxious teenagers at our first concert and feeling nervous (!), we were finally seated and prepared to laugh our buns off courtesy of an improv troupe in which friend was taking part.

The troupe worked off each other and between sketches, the host requested that the audience yell out scenarios.

Friend busied himself with sexual innuendos while I yelled out everything that came to mind (finally, an activity where my lack of filter is rewarded).

Where should they be?  Pool!  First date!  Yacht!  Roller derby!  Naked in hot tub!  Naked in the ocean!  Naked on an island!   What life moment are they in?  Kindergarten!  Teenagers at prom!  Losing their virginity!

Some great things resulted, including my favorites: a play on “Stacy’s mom” having it going on and a girl who was in the gospel choir until she realized that everyone was sleeping with each other.

Friend held her own and produced some excellent comedy.

I was astounded.

This inspirational event lead to another when I was given the opportunity to see a good friend perform while on tour.

Paul and Tim have been touring as part of a two-person duo known as Tall Heights since college.

During our decade-long friendship, I have heard these two discuss their goals in pursuing their musical dreams and work hard to make that dream a reality.

When I found out I was in the right place at the right time, I did everything I could to make it to their show.

Yes, I was in a bar wearing pink leg warmers and had just finished skating practice, but it was worth it.

They sounded incredible.  The dynamic friendship between them was evident and inviting.  The words had some real meaning.

Tall Heights released a new album this week called Man of Stonewith a video debut on the Conan O’Brien website.

Both performances left me excited for my friends, proud and inspired.

Turns out watching your friends follow their dreams is pretty… Awesome.

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.

Turquoise Waters, Sand and Heat Lamps

beach

Yesterday morning I found myself in Fort Lauderdale, dining on the boardwalk with my cousin, overlooking the ocean… under a heat lamp.

It was an unexpected turn of cold-er events.

We had tried planning for my visit to South Florida for months and given the fact that I’ve been enduring (complaining) about the Chicago winter for almost as long, I was really looking forward to some 80 degree sun-bathing and PIC (partner-in-crime) – ing with my one and only first cousin.

Family history: cousin and I were born 9 months apart in Kiev, Ukraine. Me first. Her second.  Certain personality traits were immediately evident as I struggled to share and she had trouble sitting still.  We were a handful right from the start and kept our “village” (two great grandmothers, two grandmas, one grandpa and two sets of parents) on their toes.  A few years later, my family moved to the states and hers followed about a year later.  We’ve been marching to the beat of our own drummer ever since.

Cut to present day and our brilliantly-planned rendezvous in Florida.

All was going to plan, except for the fact that we overlooked the weather situation when I impulsively booked a flight about three weeks ago and prompted the celebratory phone calls and emails in anticipation of warm-weather antics.

Not surprisingly, we were mildly taken aback (shockingly angry) upon stepping out of the house and finding our beach day to be a balmy 60-ish degrees.

A couple moments of reflection and we were back in the house.

Two cups of tea later we regrouped and laid out plan B.  I googled things to do in Fort Lauderdale/Miami while cousin did in-depth research on activity ideas in this month’s Cosmo (apparently dating ideas is applicable in all instances).

Some serious fits of laughter and discussion of ideas later, we were regrouped and ready to tackle the weekend.

After all, 60 is better than 20, the sun was shining and we were still hungry.

The last 48 hours consisted of the following:

  • Long walk along the beach (in pants) where we admired those brave enough to jump in
  • “Brunch” of tuna fish and veggie sandwiches (where we attempted to procure breakfast items circa 2pm)
  • Taking advantage of the “couches” on the veranda of the W Hotel (where we pretended we were guests and enjoyed beautiful views and amenities)
  • A visit to the Las Olas Art Fair (where we received unusual bouts of attention with the help of an adorable Pomeranian puppy)
  • Mani/Pedi’s at the spa (and some unfair but ultimately hilarious hostility from the manicurist)
  • Dinner on the boardwalk in South Beach (complete with two mojitos the size of my head)
  • Late night dancing at some Miami night clubs (with new interesting friends and an inspired photo-shoot complete with props found in the Delano hotel lobby)

miami beach

The last 48 hours did not include beach time, but we made the most of it.  We laughed constantly. Caught up on life.  Even made some new friends.

Awesome.

The 8-Hour Dining Adventure

cheese

Based on the pattern of randomly wonderful experiences I have had in my new city (and generally), you’d think I would have predicted last night’s dinner.

I did not.

In fact, last night, circa 8pm, as a friend and I stood on the street outside the establishment where we had planned to dine, wine bottle in hand, enjoying a breezy evening of sub-zero temperatures, I was just hoping we would find a place to eat.

After the dining facility of our choice had informed us that seating would not be an issue, we showed up ready to take this BYOB restaurant by storm only to be told that yes… seating would not be an issue… in about 3 hours (sir, I’m trying to take you seriously right now).

Thanks but no thanks.

So much for careful restaurant reviewing and recommendation assessment.

It was looking like our dinner plans would be left up to the restaurant gods.

We decided to walk a few blocks and sample different menus.

2 minutes later we were freezing and decided any place would do.  We were standing 2 doors from our original destination.  We looked at the menu.  We saw the words cheese, risotto and chicken.  We were sold.

The hostess graciously sat us at the bar, the bar tender uncorked our wine and we spent the next 3 hours enthusiastically catching up on life (possible MBA program for her and positive work momentum for me!) while sampling surprisingly amazing food (butternut squash risotto).

It was at the 3 hours and 30 minute mark that we noticed that we were basically the last customers at the restaurant and the crew was washing floors and cleaning up.

We introduced ourselves to some of the staff, apologized for overstaying the hours of operation and promised to be out of there pronto.

30 minutes later we were seated around a table with the restaurant owner, the head chef and their chief mixologist, enjoying a glass of chardonnay.

20 minutes after that we were getting a private tour of the kitchen.

An hour after that we were making our way through a full wine tasting.

And about 2 hours after that we had all decided to be best friends forever (the only logical conclusion) and were making our way through certain contents of the industrial refrigerator.

Some highlights from 4 hours with our new friends:

  • Learning a bit about the restaurant business.  Takeaway: companies send you free food and alcohol to taste-test in hopes of receiving business (top 5 best job perks).
  • Witnessing loyalty among three friends who have been working to find success in the restaurant business for the better part of a decade (awww).
  • Enormous cheese plate expertly prepared by head chef circa 2am (heaven). That manchego had my name all over it.

The night was an unexpected success.  Friend and I caught up on major highlights of life since high school (it’s been a while), made some new friends and found a place we might call our “regular spot,” an arguably very important aspect of life in new city.

There was laughter, wine and the sharing of stories.

The restaurant is called Deleece…it’s 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.