Surprise Heroes

This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.

And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.

It had already been an awesome stay.

I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).

I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.

Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.

Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks.  Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.

And then I was seated next to Mary.

Mary has had a long incredible career.  The kind of career most dream of.

She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends.  I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous.  Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.

I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles.  Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.

I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her.  I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.

Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up.  She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”

I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another.  I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities.  I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.

She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine.  She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years.  She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.

What struck me most was her honesty.  She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.

I love meeting people that inspire me.  I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.

You can find Mary’s bio here.

Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.

Awesome

Failing = Awesome

Recently, one topic has been popping up again and again in front of my face.

The necessary and often positive outcomes of failure.

The topic seems messed up, but upon further inquiry, it’s totally dead on.

My first intro to the idea of success through failure came from Barbara Corcoran’s book, If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails, in which she describes her turbulent, funny, disastrous, and random path to outrageous real estate empire building success.

I’m not sure she actually writes: failure = success.  But I’m pretty sure, looking back three years, when I first read it, that that’s exactly what I got out of it.

Or to elaborate: although the paths we take may not always seem to lead to the proverbial pot-of-gold, it’s the dead ends, unclear choices, and “failures” along the way that lead us to the outcomes we seek.

I had been thinking about the topic since the New Year began, and then stumbled upon Failing Well, an article Barbara happened to write on January 9 of this month, recounting the time she blew her first profit of $71,000 on an inspired idea to make real estate video tapes, so people could look at apartments for sale from the comfort of their home (what a crazy idea!!!).

It failed.

Apparently, no one wanted the video tapes.  And it seemed like a total waste of funds.

Except that a little while later, this thing called the I-N-T-E-R-N-E-T came to be, and Barbara was the first to put her videos’ contents online and eventually make a killing.

Seems like failing is basically inevitable.  What’s not inevitable, though, is our attitude.

And the more I think about my path to where I am now… the more things become clear.

  • Would I have found the job I have now if I hadn’t left the last one abruptly after the company went through an unfortunate restructure?  Probably not.
  • Would I have found my field of work, a small niche that I am passionate about, if my first job out of college hadn’t sucked / fallen apart during the economic plummet of ‘08?  Probably not.
  • Would I have been a founding member of a new sorority in College, if I had not fallen through the cracks and was not accepted by the sorority of my choice?  Probably not.
  • Would I have switched figure skating clubs and coaches and become the skater I am today if I didn’t fail at that competition and my earlier coach hadn’t lost faith in me?  Probably not.

Out of failure comes success.

I can’t wait to fail in 2014.

Awesome.

WAIT. Everyone doesn’t suck?

I was planning on writing about friendship bracelets and “friends forever” necklaces in the post-adolescent years, but then something monumental happened.

For a hot second, my entire day got flipped turned upside down (exactly like Will Smith).

OK, it was more than a second.

It felt like a few days where the Earth stood still…

And I was pretty much afraid for my life:

I lost my smart phone.

A brief history:

I’m not one to lose phones.

I have friends who could make a career out of losing their iPhones.

Not me.

They’d fire me on the spot.

In my entire life, there have been 2 prior phone-loss situations on record.  The first was someplace in Europe, at a dance club, circa 3 AM.  The second was a few months ago, 2 blocks from my apartment; someone took my phone out of my purse.  I never saw the phone again and with it perished a couple hundred photos (that had yet to be backed up).

Both times, I tried to locate the phones.  Both times, I called the establishments where they were last seen, hoping that a kind citizen had turned them in.  Hoping that someone had found them and was psyched to make my day.

Both times the answer was no.

I assumed today would be no different.

Today the phone in question fell out of my coat pocket on my way to work.  In the middle of a 4-lane busy intersection in downtown Chicago.

Clearly today was the day that I felt like the appropriate place for my phone was not in my purse, but in my giant winter jacket.  On probably the 2nd coldest recorded day in Chicago.  I made the decision to stuff my phone inside my pockets.  With 2 pairs of gloves, a hat, 2 packets of travel tissues, a chap-stick, and a winter facemask.

Clearly, I am not a morning person.

Once I realized it was missing, I went back to the intersection and walked back and forth during walk signs.  I found my case.  But I found no phone.

Maybe a car ran over it?

I walked to work.

I sent e-mails to friends claiming my anger for the entire human race.  Are old iPhones really that valuable?!?!

I called my phone.  Predictably, it was turned off.

I waited an hour.

I turned on iCloud.

Miraculously, my phone was suddenly on and was located 5 blocks from work.

I sent a message to the phone begging the individual who had it to call or e-mail.  I offered a reward.

I waited.

And waited.

I called the phone 7 more times.

I waited.

I waited some more.

Around 1PM, a girl called me to tell me she had found my phone by the side of the road.

I was beside myself with joy.

I immediately ran to buy her a gift card.  And took a cab to her place of work.  And was stuttering out of gratefulness, that she would return it me.

As soon as I got the phone, another e-mail went out.

Guess there are good people in this world.

How quickly a day goes from good to bad.  How quickly a day is turned around completely.  How quickly faith is lost and found.

Over a stupid iPhone.

Time to celebrate.

(by Instagram-ing.  Obviously.)

smiley

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!

Messin’ About On Boats: A Spontaneous Vacation

bahamas stirrup cay

I love surprises.  I love being spontaneous.  I love getting away.

Even when it’s to the neighborhood French bistro at 9:30 PM on a Sunday — that’s 2 hours where I forget it all, drink wine and stuff myself with truffled fries.  Or to the movie theatre on a Monday night followed by deep-dish pizza – that’s 3 hours where I pretend I’m having a staycation in the beginning of the week.

Point is.  I love being spontaneous and getting away.

So when that boy I’ve been hanging out with a lot told me five days before Thanksgiving that he’d booked a cruise to the Caribbean for this past weekend, I nodded and said:

I’ll go get my in-case-of-Caribbean-cruise-rolly-bag.

It’s already packed.

I was psyched.  All 3 aspects rolled into one.  What an incredible short, yet Awesome adventure.

I was beaming, but also kind of nervous.

Because I didn’t know what to expect.

Let me rephrase that.  I knew exactly what to expect.  I knew about the mountains of delicious food available to all passengers 24/7.  I knew about the on-board shows.  I knew about the endless photographs, Jacuzzis on the top deck, piña coladas, cheesy dance parties and the fact that they’ll deliver a pizza to your room at any time of day FREE.  I even knew about the safety drill (where you get to practice lining up like you did in elementary school).

But I didn’t know what to expect.

It’s been 6 years since my last cruise.

That one that my mom purchased for me – a last gift before she passed away – for my graduation from college.  I haven’t been on a cruise since then.

Similar ship.  Similar islands.  Similar environment.  Same desire to vacate.  Different time in my life.

What would it be like?

bahamas

atlantis

photo 2 (4)

IMG_1095

IMG_1097

photo (98)

photo (99)

The food was still there.  So were the hot tubs.  The stars still sparkled unlike anything I am able to see in the city.  The ocean’s turquoise colors still amazed me.  As did its blunt expansiveness.

We had fun.  We ate too much.  We drank one too many mimosas.  We tried Bahamian beer.  We went down the kiddie slide at the Atlantis resort.  We won some money in roulette.  We lost it all.  We ordered champagne and pizza at 3 in the morning.  We ordered the left side of the all-inclusive menu at dinner.

It was different, but it was the same.  Appropriately tweaked for this time in my life.

And it was spontaneous.

Which made it that much better.

Good weekend.

Awesome.

The Judging of Oneself Through the Bookshelf: A Study of the Relaxed and Restless

books

This weekend I tried to relax.

Friday night.  While the other youth were out parading the streets in what I know to be their third Halloween costume of the season, I was at home throwing bath salts into hot water and filling champagne flutes with sparkling water.

Don’t judge me.

I find that I usually GO GO GO until I can’t go anymore.  And then I crash.  And then I NEED to live a life resembling that of my 80-year-old grandfather for at least 24 to 48 hours.

It was break time.

I’m not surprised I hit a wall.

In the past 7 days, I have: attended a three day Indian wedding in a different state, drove 4 hours to take a friend out for her birthday, hosted a friend from London, took said friend to a 12-course/8-bottles of wine dinner (it wasn’t just us 2), attended a little breakfast meeting, went to the Opera (I know I know boohoo my life is hard) and did Halloween justice.  OH and I took care of that whole full-time job situation.

halloween

So yeah.  Not shockingly, I told my family, friends and that boy I’m dating that I will be MIA on Friday.  And should they need to keep tabs on me, they can feel free to call the NSA.  Or my doorman.

The bath salts did wonders.  So did the 6 hours of Law and Order SVU.

At some point, around 3AM, after I had watched the 1999 Disney Channel Original Movie, Xenon: Girl of the 21st Century  some On-Demand film, I got a bit restless.

And I didn’t feel like going to bed yet.

So I paced.  And found myself in front of my small bookshelf and thought about its contents and what it said about me.  And what someone who didn’t know me would think.

I’ve spent some time this weekend mauling this thought over and I’ve decided to publish a list of the books currently sitting on my top shelf.

In order:

  • The Catcher in The Rye – J. D. Salinger (we didn’t read this in school – my brother gave it to me and told me I HAD TO read it because it was the BEST book ever.  On the fence.  Still.)
  • Landing It: My Life On and Off The Ice – Scott Hamilton
  • A Skating Life: My Story – Dorothy Hamill
  • Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons – Lorna Landvik (this title makes me giggle)
  • The History Of Love – Nicole Krauss (an incredible book – be prepared to cry your soul out)
  • What I Know Now About Success: Letters From Extraordinary Women To Their Younger Selves – bunch of women
  • I Was Told There’d Be Cake, essays by Sloan Crosley
  • Rich Boy – Sharon Pomerantz (a book club book we read)
  • The Girls From Ames: A Story of Women and a 40 Year Friendship – Jeffrey Zaslow (another book club book.  We actually spoke to the author during our meeting by phone.  He sadly and shockingly died in a car accident last year)
  • 501 Spanish verbs (I mean obviously)
  • I Hate Everyone… Starting With Me – Joan Rivers (one of my first posts during which Joan signed this for me)
  • The Way To Make Wine: How To Craft Superb Table Wines At Home – Sheridan Warrick (because everyone has to have something like this book at home)
  • The Big Book Of Juices – and Natalie Savona (because people need to know I don’t sit around and just make wine at home)
  • The Idiots Guide To Amazing Sex – Sari Locker (a gift!  From a friend.  During college.  I swear)
  • The Wharton MBA Case Interview Study Guide Volume One (I did not go to Wharton and now that I think about it, I wish I had done a much better job studying this puppy during senior year job recruiting)
  • Something Blue – Emily Giffin
  • Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  • For One More Day – Mitch Albom (his books will make you cry and look within yourself.  They are awesome.  And Albom is from my home state)
  • Confessions Of A Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella
  • 1000 Places To See Before You Die – Patricia Schultz
  • Made in Russia: unsung icons of Soviet design – Michael Idov (a book I bought for my grandma before she passed away last year.  I was hoping it would allow her to reminisce about the things she was surrounded by for most of her life in Ukraine/The Soviet Union)
  • Conditioning For Figure Skating – Carl M. Poe (I’ve been meaning to do everything this book says since I was 16 I think)
  • If You Don’t Have Big Breasts, Put Ribbons On Your Pigtails And Other Lessons I Learned From My Mom – Barbara Corcoran (pure inspiration.  Corcoran ended up building a real estate business worth in the many many millions.  She started with nothing and her life lessons are Awesome.  A recommendation from my dad)
  • Heartburn – Nora Ephron
  • Nora Ephron – Nora Ephron
  • I Remember Nothing – Nora Ephron
  • I Feel Bad About My Neck – Nora Ephron

I’m probably obsessed with classic gems like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle (all Nora Ephron’s)I probably love to laugh.  I probably think introspection is worth quite a bit of my time.  As is learning from those who have more wisdom and life experience.

I found this to be a more personal exercise than I expected.

Feel free to use these as recommendations also – I would recommend everything on this list.

Especially 501 Spanish Verbs.

Awesome.

Inspiration Fridays

inspiration

That time has come upon us.

It’s Friday.

The first day of the weekend.

Time to reflect on the week and plan weekend adventures.

Today I’m getting listy.

Here are the people, in no particular order, that are inspiring me this week:

This Amazing Old Guy

Harry Rosen is 103.

He eats out in New York City’s trendiest restaurants every single night. He gets his usual corner table and he eats by himself, often striking up conversations with people.  He says it “lifts [his] spirits.”

He’s not your typical 103-year-old.

He’s living life and he’s doing his best to enjoy it.  He’s eating out and he’s even trying to date.

He enjoys the simple pleasure of being out among the people.  It helps to be out, since his wife of 70 years passed a few years ago.  Since then, he’s even tried participating in singles groups.

This guy’s enthusiasm makes me want to get up in the morning, throw back the curtains, and declare in one magnificent gesture, hands on hips – like I imagine Tarzan, naked in a loin cloth – TODAAAAY WILL BE THE BEST DAY EVER!!!!!!

He’s also freaking adorable.  And everyone from my 20-something friends to friends’ moms to my grandma want to be his dining companion (I’ve taken a poll).

I think this has something to do with the fact that people tend to be drawn towards the positive.  And Harry – you’ve got it down.  I can only hope to make it to 103 and have half the spirit and drive you do (Rosen says the secret is sleeping on your back).

Absolutely amazing.

A Neighbor

I received some 8AM inspiration from a new neighbor this week.

I overslept one morning and decided to take a cab to work (low point, I know).

While I was waiting, an older gentleman happened to come down to head to work as well.  And we struck up a conversation in my building’s lobby.

This man (probably in his 60s) told me (in the span of 20 minutes) essentially his entire professional life story (I asked).

He told me about the teams he used to work on for automotive clients, dreaming up new inventions for cars (silly things like windshield wipers).  He told me about the 150 patents he penned in the U.S. and abroad.  He told me about how he keeps working now well into his retirement because he loves it.

To quote my new friend Eric: “It’s not always giggles, but I’ve loved what I do for decades.  Life’s way too short not to love what you’re doing.”

This Spunky Personal Training Entrepreneur

My building invited a Chicago personal trainer/life coach to train residents in Yoga and Pilates.

I couldn’t make the classes previously, due to my work schedule, but had the opportunity to attend the last couple.

I love her class – and I love feeding off her energy!

I’ve had some opportunities to chat with her since then and I’ve been pretty inspired.

Stephanie Mansour started her own business in her early 20s (Step it Up With Steph) and five years later is well on her way to building her own personal fitness empire.

I look forward to her blog articles and her advice.  Why?  Because she’s honest.  And anyone who blogs will tell you that being honest is key.  Putting yourself out there is HARD and blogging or sharing your life takes guts (that I’m slowly finding).

Steph believes that her business is “not JUST about exercise and eating right – it’s about emotions and the connection we have to ourselves and others.” (from her blog) – I couldn’t agree more.

She is equal parts inspiration due to her entrepreneurial skills and her attitude about life.

——–

Thanks for the inspiration ya’ll!!

And HAPPY FRIDAY.

Awesome.

Note: None of these people knew that I was going to write about them.  Although, I do wish Harry Rosen knew.

Note 2: Somehow another photo shoot happened this morning.  If you haven’t tried putting on ridiculous things from your closet and being expressive for no reason, I HIGHLY recommend it.  I also recommend dancing around your home/apt/living abode by yourself to music in said outfit.  it’s AWESOME.

Why I Broke Up With New York City

new york city

view from the roof deck in my last New York City apartment

In 4 weeks exactly, I will celebrate an important anniversary.

Exactly 11 months ago to the day, a friend and I packed up our fabulous apartment in New York City and drove 15 hours until we saw the Chicago skyline.

It’s been almost 1 whole year since I did this scary thing – left New York – and dared to build a life elsewhere.

I planned to post this entry closer to the 1 year mark, but my friend Irene (in New York City no less), sent me an article, entitled “Why I’m Glad I Quit New York at Age 24” today, in which Ann Friedman chronicles with great sincerity, the reasons why she left New York and her “Meh” feelings on the city in general.

The topic of New York City has been implanted in my mind, unwavering, since I moved.

Between meeting new people (HI! I just moved here from NYC…), my new co-workers, friends back east and random strangers, the topic of the move comes up more than talk of the weather.  And every time I’m at a house-warming, networking event or on a date, I feel extremely unsettled about my answer.

Why DID I leave New York?  Why don’t I EVER want to live there again?

Every time I hear these questions, a slew of verbal diarrhea ejects itself ranging from reasons to do with work, family, my childhood in the Mid-West or just LOVING the deep-freeze of winter (not really).

Unlike Ann, who moved to NYC because she couldn’t think of anywhere else to go and followed a boyfriend who reportedly had her dream job, my path and times in NYC weave a different tale.

As a child, I was fortunate enough to visit New York almost every year.  My parents’ best friends (the ones who are credited with birthing Irene) moved to New York City when we immigrated from Ukraine, while we settled in Michigan.  I found myself visiting New York “frequently” on family trips when I was a child and then on my own when I was older to see Irene.  The lights of Times Square used to mesmerize me.  Irene’s parents would take us driving through during every visit.  Those big billboards represented big dreams to me (12 year-old me thought corporate America was like six flags) and I longed to grow up and find these corporate dreams of my own.

Once I grew up, my educational goals pushed me to the East Coast.  I attended a competitive liberal arts school, after which, what felt like my entire graduating class, moved to New York City.

I didn’t follow a boyfriend (he ended up moving a year later to follow me).  I was psyched about my first job (until I wasn’t).  I lived with one of my best friends from college (see Brunch post).  I had 3 jobs during my 5-year tenure in the city, during which time I had great experiences, and one of which was in the smack center of Times Square.  I even had my little brother by my side, after he graduated and moved to NYC (and lived on my couch for 3 months).

From the outside, my NYC life probably looked like a Great Gatsby party or a Sex and the City episode (except with parades of frat boys and no Louboutins – those actually aren’t affordable, Carrie).

Somehow though, the city left me incredibly unsettled and – this has been hard to admit – I don’t think I was ever incredibly happy.  Yes, I had some great times and I accomplished professional goals and I frolicked with old friends and made new ones.

But I somehow still felt like I was in a box.

Ann describes New York as the prom king in high school: “He knows he’s great, and he’s gonna make it really, really hard on you if you decide you want to love him.”

I think in my version the prom king loves you back and you realize he’s a douche.  Or you’re Cady Heron in Mean Girls and you’re accepted by the popular clique only to find out that the 3 of them are absolutely miserable people.

I haven’t put an exact stamp on my feelings.

Maybe it has something to do with the eventual break-up with my now ex-boyfriend.  Maybe it has to do with my lack of desire to hang out with the prom king while he runs around town telling everyone he’s #1.  Maybe I was just getting tired of being shoved on the subway in the morning.

Maybe it’s all 3.

I realize this topic hits on some buttons for many people and there are those that love NYC with extreme passion.  I still have friends who are there and love it.

I will say this though, I agree with Ann – I breathed easier after moving.

Over the past year, as hard as it is, I’ve thrown myself into establishing a life here.  I decorated my first personal apartment by picking out furniture piece by piece, I joined internal organizations at work, I went to networking events, I started coaching figure skating again, I put in effort to reconnect with high school friends I’ve lost touch with and I’ve opened myself up to finding matches in new dating pools.

It was hard.  But even on the hardest day, I still breathe easier.

The city you live in that suits you is a personal choice.

On this anniversary, I’m proud of myself for taking a leap of faith and leaving.  The move has turned a number of my worlds upside down, but it’s also grounded many.

I feel happy about the direction I’m moving in, and that friends,… is 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)

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.