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.

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.

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.

For the Love of Role-Modeling

skating coach

This past week, a younger co-worker asked to shadow me at work;

I was offered the opportunity to coach a group of figure skaters ages 6-8;

I was assigned a prospective candidate to interview for my college.

My plate was pretty full and little sleep was had (nothing new)…

But I threw myself into each experience.

And in the process remembered how much I adore mentoring, coaching and passing on wisdom (used loosely here).

Each separate event had me deep in preparation.  I outlined appropriate questions to ask an ambitious high schooler, considered work tasks most interesting and even went on the United States Skating Association website to look up basic skills I may have forgotten (I admit it).

The result was worth the effort.

Offering work advice left me feeling humbled.

Speaking to a high school student determined to surpass insurmountable life obstacles was inspiring.

And helping to mold a new generation of athletic character in the form of 6 and 7 year olds…

Was just plain Awesome.

Online Shopping, Customer Service and Damaged TVs

shattered tv

Never is your gumption, strength and overall faith in humanity tested like when you spend $619.72 on a damaged 46-inch LCD HGTV.

Having a large television isn’t a long standing dream of mine but I figured… why not.  New city.  New apartment.  New furniture.  A large TV to complete the interior decorating spree only makes sense.

So like any over-zealous excitable individual who is familiar with the internet, I thought I could go nuts on Cyber Monday on a little website known as Amazon.

Cut to a little over a week ago when my brand new touch LCD arrives (half price mind you) and I have perfectly lined up an expert (loose term)from Comcast to come plug it in and make Friends re-runs showcase themselves in my living room.

One. Problem.

Although this giant monster looked great, one flick of the cable switch proved that the entirety of the inside was shattered… and James Cameron’s Titanic looked like someone had taken a bat to it.

My fingers couldn’t dial Amazon fast enough.

As you can imagine, as with any customer service and large-business related inquiry that requires competence – resolving problems is like pulling teeth and promises to have you in the corner crying and wailing (it’s inevitable. don’t fight it).

I explained as articulately as possible  the details regarding the shattering of the television and asked for an impeccably dressed gentleman to come over promptly and pick up said television while simultaneously delivering a new one and setting it up.

And so began the 7 day war.

The details are painful but I’ll summarize them here:

  • A non-responsive and verbally abusive 3rd party seller was involved that said they were sorry but weren’t (are they ever?)
  • UPS received the wrong information regarding pick up. 2 days in a row.
  • Cable bills were paid regardless of TV ownership (turns out Comcast doesn’t care if Amazon’s 3rd party seller is doing their job)

It was a long hard winter. I yelled.  I made people cry. I lost hope.  I learned some things:

  • When buying from Amazon – make sure it says SELLER = Amazon (and not BootLegSeller.Com)
  • KEEP original shipping materials until AFTER you test out the product (very important)(turns out packaging for 46 inch TV is not free)
  • Verbally abusing customer service reps is not ultimately helpful in the long run (but is effective in short term aggression release)

Ultimately, a few key individuals were pertinent to returning faith: lady from Amazon who took a personal interest (or should I say did her job) and called me several times for 3 days to check up on the status of the return (God bless you Marcy); building doorman who hauled the 60 lb. package up to my apartment in the first place and subsequently retrieved it… (Trent, you’re my hero); building maintenance crew that generously screwed the TV base on and put the thing together… and subsequently took it apart… (thanks G).

I’d also like to thank friends and family who listened to me recount this tale 135442132 times.  THANK YOU.  Venting truly is a pure form of therapy.  To all of you……. you are Awesome.

Strobe Lights Enhance Exercise Part Two

cycling

My very first post shared the exhilarating experience of intense cycling complete with DJ, strobe lights and dance.

Today’s Awesome was connected to finding an equally stimulating workout in the Windy City.

Answer: Flywheel.

Similar establishment to Soul Cycle, Flywheel has you cycling your heart out and listening to club music while the instructor barks excitement and links working out with achieving your dreams (ok sometimes I get into it).

What makes flywheel different?

A bit of a competitive edge.

Cyclists’ names are posted on a monitor at the front so you can see what number you are in the heap.

What a smart twist on the “traditional” spin class.  If there was ever a reason to work out harder, cycle faster and push yourself, Flywheel is getting close to perfecting the workout motivator for the overly competitive.

The over-achiever in me was exhilarated.

I pushed myself to keep those “power” numbers high.  I used the “heavy bar” during the weights portion.  I let David Guetta fill me with inspiration (love that stuff).

As class came to an end, I was pumped and ready to tackle further furniture assembly projects…

Awesome!!

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.

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.