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.

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.

Axles, Loops and Salchows

figure skates
Today I went back to the rink.

Although it might seem like I skate every day, given the fact that I’ve mentioned it about 63782 times since starting this blog, I actually haven’t laced up my skates in over two years.

I was introduced to figure skating at the age of 4. A family effort – if you will – was mobilized back in the Soviet Union (so they tell me) to let me try this popular Russian sport.

Skates were procured. Sessions for toddlers were found. Transportation was arranged.

On that fateful day, grandpa laced up my skates…and introduced me to my life-long passion.

Skating is one of my earliest memories. I skated when we were newly immigrated and money was tight. I competed through elementary school, middle school and high school. I skated through college. I skated through good times and bad.

Now my recent move back to the Midwest has reignited my desire to lace up my skates once more.

One train and one bus got me there.

I was overwhelmed and excited coming up to the rink. I was an ocean away from where I started and 300 miles away from where I skated most of my life. Yet my surroundings were familiar. It even smelled the same.

I warmed up a bit, laced up my skates, got onto the ice with other skaters at “my” level and picked up on what I suspect I knew all along…

Figure skating is hard.

I wish I could say it’s like riding a bike. But it’s not (unless relearning means toppling over a couple of times on a flat tire).

I was a bit shaky at first and spent half the session doing backwards and forwards crossovers but by the end of the session I was feeling more confident. I tried a couple spins and even threw in a couple (easy) jumps.

Most of all, I just loved being out there again. It was different but it felt the same.

Looking forward to training session number 2.

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.

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.

The Art of the Goodbye Party

goodbye party

On T-7 days until the big move (Chicago, are you ready?!), I got appropriately dressed for going away party number one.

Having come to New York right after college and spent five years in the glorious city – I decided (and friends approved) that inviting a slew of individuals to one of our favorite bars from our “just-out-of-college” days was the best way to proceed.

I reserved half the bar for myself and said brood of (sophisticated) jaeger-bomb loving friends.

To start the night, we held a “pre-game” at my brother’s apartment and appropriately took some shots and made some toasts to start the night.

Feeling pretty happy and ready to party like its 2007…. We made our way to one of my beloved bars to properly say goodbye to New York City.

The night was a fantastic success.

I found the following to be essential to my fond memories (in no order):

– A tiara (No, it’s not my birthday. Yes, I pretended it was half the night.)

– A throne (The bar had a wooden throne. I utilized this surprising item to my fullest enjoyment.)

– Vodka

– Friends from all walks of life that reminded me of the great life I’d built

– New friends (brought by old friends.)

– My brother

– Angry bouncers (how I’ll miss your spunk old friends.)

I was my hyper self.  I took random photos that looked absurd in the morning.  I shared nachos with 20 people.  I danced.  I hugged (a lot of people). I made new friends.  I spent time with old friends.  I celebrated.

Hung-over breakfast was even sweeter than usual.

Awesome.

Packing: A Cleansing Exercise

packing

T-12 days until the big move (to Chicago).

I was finally forced to get to the dreaded packing portion of the life-changing exercise.

Where to begin!

After surveying the contents of my room, I found clothes I haven’t worn since 1998 (homage to my high school fashion glory), cell phone chargers for every model made since 1999 (hmm might need to revive that Saved By The Bell phone…) and jewelry I picked up during college travels that once was “silver” but is now a gorgeous pewter at best.

After giving it some thought, I decided not to give friends and family reason to nominate me for Hoarders and thus spent time going through everything.  I opened up pre-packed boxes, took everything out from under the bed and dug deep into bins that traveled (as is) from high school to college to NYC.

Favorite finds:

  • The ever popular “spank me it’s my birthday” t-shirt (size kids small) – KEEPER
  • Hair ribbon I wore in my last figure skating college nationals
  • Complete sequined one-piece suite (worn on Halloween 5 years ago)
  • 15 tube-tops (naturally)
  • Cards my roommates and I wrote to each other in college.  Absurdity at its best.

Ultimate favorite: card my college (and current) roommate gave me on my 23rd bday:

birthday card

birthday card

I can’t remember how the nicknames “poopy” and “crappy” came about, but I do know that 8 years later, I still yell “crappy!!” in public places when trying to find her.  Neither one of us can remember what the “little something” is that was provided for the start of my day.  I’m assuming a Keystone Light. Or beer pong paddle (?).  Either way: solid gold.

I donated bags of clothing, shoes and blankets.  I gave away skirts, tennis shoes and workout outfits.  I spent hours reading every note, postcard and diary.

The result is: a great deal less to move.  Some proper reminiscing.  A feeling of lightness.

Turns out cleansing and “spring cleaning” (in October) is Awesome.

Highly recommend it.

Relax, Recover, Rejuvenate

T-13 before I hit the road with a friend for our quickly approaching move to Chicago!

I have been working hard to sleep as little as possible in order to soak up as much friend, family and NYC time that I can.  Turns out the staying up is easy… the getting up in the morning is excruciatingly hard…

Today I took a break from my pressing social agenda (hehe) to relax, rejuvenate and stuff my face with chocolate covered peanuts.

Yes, on this week before I leave NYC, I took some time out to relax at my favorite Spa on the Upper East Side.

I made the migration from the UES with my roomies down to Murray Hill almost 3 years ago, but I still find myself taking the 456 train up to my old neighborhood in order to have a little Zen time.

This hidden gem sits a bit of a ways back from the rush of third avenue, diagonal from Dylan’s Candy Bar (perfect for post massage snack).  The front door’s wooden exterior is inviting.  One flight of stairs up and you find yourself inside a small yet cozy and peaceful waiting room complete with champagne, snacks and (most importantly) the foot massage machine.

Sometimes I bring my e-reader along and just sit there for hours sipping champagne, eating entirely too much chocolate and absorbing my latest chic-book (girl needs her trash in between book club books).

Ultimately, after over-indulging in the goodies, I was ushered into a massage room for my facial (the actual reason I came).  I’ve gone to the same lady every time.  I think she’s just plain Awesome.  I love the arm and face massage, I feel like my skin glows afterwards and I usually fall asleep on the table (awkward?) once I let go of the day’s stresses.

Today I had my last face massage in NYC.  Note to self: must find new spot for Zen in Chicago.

Stay tuned.

Leaving my 2837428-long to-do list to take a time out? …… Awesome.