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    Home Away from Home

    July 7th, 2016

    5 years ago, the afternoon I moved to New York, my girlfriends dropped me off at O’Hare Airport. As I said goodbye to them, I tried to keep a straight face. I would then proceed to sob all the way through security, throughout the flight and through LaGuardia where I would find Brandon- my then-boyfriend- waiting for me with open arms.

    He was only my boyfriend at the time. We weren’t engaged. We were merely a young couple that would soon be roommates. But he felt like family to me. I found relief in his company as we waited in the cab line, drove through the tunnel, and arrived at our new home on 29th Street.

    Although I had many friends who already lived in New York, Chicago had been my home for 4 years. I had started my career there, I had successfully lived on my own completely supporting myself, and I had solid group of friends there, my “Chicago family.” We shared holidays, celebrations, hard times, fun times… pretty much everything together. Leaving this family was incredibly scary for me. These were the people that had transformed with me as college graduates to adults. This was where I started my life as an adult. Ironically, when I left Chicago, I felt like a child leaving home.

    During my first few months in New York, I compared every detail of it to Chicago.  The food, the social life, the pace, and most importantly: how one city thrived in the summer while the other completely sucked. However, god forbid anyone who never lived in Chicago try to compare the two with me. Those innocent bystanders always received the same hiss from me: “They’re incomparable! You would be a moron to compare them.”

    I can’t say those few months were hard though, because they weren’t. Moving to New York was definitely an adjustment, but a new family, another family quickly grew, and it wasn’t long before New York became home.

    As someone that loves a routine, and as a very loyal customer, it didn’t take long for me to get to know the neighbors and the local business owners. Everything I could ever possibly want and need was within 3 blocks of my apartment, and deliverable.  Within months, everyone from my drycleaner, my manicurists, the bodega owners, the florists, Agatha in her coffee cart, and one hair stylist per all six salons on my block were all part of my family.

    For the record, I don’t cheat on anyone, except hair stylists. I have needs.

    Working from home + taking my 72 pound labradoodle everywhere helped me maintain these relationships. On our daily morning walks, AJ was waiting in the flower district with our flowers and two treats. And this generosity wasn’t just limited to the flower district.

    Clearly people who think New Yorkers are rude have never lived in New York. My neighbors, the staff in my building & the business owners and employees in my neighborhood are some of the most generous, kind, animal-loving people I have ever met. I have been proud to call them my family for five years.

    When Brandon and I decided we were moving to Michigan a few months ago, it was easier to tell some of my best friends I was moving back to Michigan than to tell Alvin, the florist at Village Farm (the bodega across the street) who sets aside the freshest peonies and freshest pea chips for me on Wednesdays, the day the peonies and chips are dropped off.

    For the past few weeks, he can’t seem to look at me in the eyes as he hands me the peonies and chips.

    I can’t help but understand the betrayal he feels. I quickly grew close with my manicurist Diane when I moved to New York. During manicures, we learned we had much in common, and always exchanged cards and small gifts for happy occasions in each other’s lives. The magnitude of joy I felt when she gave me a congratulatory engagement card was the same magnitude of sadness I felt when she had to leave New York for a family emergency in China without saying goodbye to me.

    I felt like she was family, like she owed me more. We spent a lot of time together. She’s babysat my dog while I ran into Starbucks!  And let’s face it, I don’t let many people watch my dog. But when it came down to it, we didn’t even have each other’s contact info. I don’t even know her last name. That’s why I made sure to say goodbye to Alvin way in advance.

    That’s also why I understand that it’s hurtful to him that we’re leaving. And it’s probably embarrassing to him that he feels hurt.

    I am leaving the city as a very different person than the girl who sobbed through the clouds and down the Laguardia escalator to baggage claim.

    I changed a lot during my years in New York. First and foremost, I moved in with Brandon, and for the first time in my life lived with a man other than my dad. A few weeks later, our third roommate moved in, and to my amazement, I now lived with two boys and my first animal.

    I quickly learned how to care for a dog. How to own a dog. How to love a dog so much that it’s rewarding to take him out to go to the bathroom and it’s devastating when he won’t relieve himself when you have an appointment or meeting you’re in a rush to get to.  When I look back at my life in New York, I know my fondest memories will include Hank.

    Brandon and I took Hank everywhere. Because we didn’t have a car here and because most cabs don’t take 72 pound labradoodles (and let’s face it: because my dog is not sitting on the subway floor), we spent the past five years trekking with our third roommate. I learned everything as basic as how to hold a leash to more complicated notions such as how to adequately bribe a creature smarter than most of the people walking by on the street.

    I learned just how special the bond between a lady and her laradoodle is with the backdrop of the greatest city in the world.

    I changed in other ways too. I loosened up here. I started exercising. I became hooked on a spin class.  I went to my first SoulCycle class on Valentine’s Day, and I still consider it the best gift I ever gave myself. The SoulCycle community became my family and a few of the SoulCycle studios quickly became my Home Away from Home. The instructors, the staff, the receptionists, the riders who quickly went from strangers to longtime friends… they were the people I saw almost everyday. This filled a void of community I lost when working from home.

    This organization changed my entire lifestyle, and ultimately changed my life. Although there is no SoulCycle in Michigan, I am so grateful for the friends, lessons, and family I gained at my New York Home Away from Home.

    I also went from Emily Fellows to Emily Gorge in New York.  Getting engaged in Central Park (Hank’s Home Away from Home) to trekking to the Financial District to change my name both included long hauls to the opposite ends of the city that was well wroth the trek.

    When Brandon and I decided we were moving back to our original home, Michigan, the hardest part was telling our close family of friends in New York. Many of our friends from childhood and college live in New York, and they too had become our family, sharing everything with us such as celebrations (marriages, babies, jobs!) and surviving the hardships of the city with us. Brandon’s friends have become my friends and mine have become his. Imagining our day-to-day life without these people is extremely difficult.   Sharing the past five years with these special people have been nothing short of incredible.

    The only thing that helps alleviate that sadness is that my birth family was so excited when we shared the news. My mom screamed into the phone, “You are coming HOME!” And although Michigan has not felt like home for the past nine years, I do know she is right.

    Interestingly enough, although our birth families living in Michigan is ultimately what motivated Brandon and I to move to Michigan, living in Chicago and New York showed us that you can find family in many places.

    Michigan will never be New York, because let’s face it: New York City is the best city in the world. And New York will never be Chicago, because after all, Chicago was my first city, my first Home Away From Home.

    But at the end of the day, Michigan is my home.

    I’m excited to move to Michigan, but I am terrified to leave New York. As I continue to share the news with my family here, I don’t know what’s to come when we close out this chapter, but I do know that this decision is right for the 3 of us, my family.

    I don’t know where I will live or what I will do or if I will ever enjoy another spin class, but I do know that there’s no place like home.

     

     

    Naturally Pretty

    January 27th, 2013

    If you’re a woman reading this, you know what maintenance is.  Grooming your hair, removing unwanted hair, nails, skincare, treatments… the list goes on and on.

    If you’re a man reading this: you have two choices. You can 1) Proceed to read this and have a higher appreciation for the time and care us women put into ourselves or 2) Stop reading this, and play along with the “women of mystery” that claim they wake up looking exactly how they look when you see them.  Feed into that if that’s what you gotta do.

    But boys, no matter what you choose of options one and two, at least admit this: you could never endure what we do.

    ***

    “Beauty is pain.”  I will never forget hearing this, but I do forget who said it to me. It may have been my grandma brushing tangles out of my hair or it may have been an eyebrow technician waxing off stray hairs, I’m not certain. What I do know is that I heard it as a youngster and it didn’t make me feel better.

    I was a logical young lady. Skeptical and somewhat optimistic, I thought to myself: There are a lot of beautiful women out there. There is no way all of them absolutely had to endure pain to look pretty.

    As logical and optimistic as I was, I was much more naive.

    I always prided myself on how “natural” I was. Sure, I never considered myself to be a Beauty Queen, but I knew I didn’t require too much work to feel presentable. Still to this day, I don’t wear much makeup, it takes me a quick few minutes to get dressed, I dress pretty comfortably and I’ve never gotten any sort of plastic or cosmetic surgery.

    But then one day it hit me… I may not cake on makeup and get cosmetic procedures, but I sure spend a lot of time on maintenance. In fact, it’s sort of depressing when stumbling upon the realization that for how much money and time I spend on myself, I should look a lot better.

    I hope the rest of you ladies out there feel differently, because it’s a horrible realization mixed with a challenge/threat/dare to yourself to forego all maintenance and then see how you look.

    Let’s start with hair.  Mine is long, thick, and wavy. It takes a lot of time, energy and upper arm strength to blow dry it. Consequently, I get it blown out a lot. I mean, I could do it myself but it would take close to two hours and it wouldn’t look half as good. I justify the cost to myself by the fact that I don’t dye my hair or get highlights, but then I think to myself: one day I’ll have to cover all of these thick strands of gray hair and get these blowouts. Hopefully by then, I’ll be making so much money and I’ll have so much time on my hands that I won’t care how much time and money the blowout costs me. Like I said, I’ve always been optimistic and logical … and naïve.

    And the irony in all of this? My fiancé, my friends, and relatives… basically everyone (except me) who sees my hair worn naturally (air-dried and wavy) prefers I wear it that way.  So why do I spend all the time and money to blow it out straight? Because it gives me confidence. There, I said it.

    That brings us to hair removal. I mean, it’s a crazy business. A crazy, lucrative, often complex, sometimes artistic line of work. When I lived in Chicago, I underwent laser hair removal and although it was expensive and painful, let me tell you, that is the gift that keeps on giving. So yes, when I lift my arm, some people may think I’m naturally hairless. They may watch me effortlessly and easily extend my arm in the air and assume it was just as effortless and easy to have an underarm look like that.

    Or they may not even think anything about it.

    If they only knew the sound of my scream as the laser technician pointed a leaser beam to my armpit… they’d either 1) judge me and encourage me to buy a good old-fashioned razor or 2) commend me for my bravery and encourage me to wear as many sleeveless tops as possible to get my pain’s and money’s worth. And what about waxing? It’s amazing how I’m scared to kill a spider or how I cover my eyes during a violent movie, yet I’ll willingly have a bowl of scolding hot wax poured on my body.

    That brings me to nails. Oh goodness. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ll receive a text asking me what I’m doing, and I text back that “I’m getting a manicure.” It’s getting to the point where I’m so self conscious of the frequency of that response, that I sometimes can’t help but respond with a “not much.” It’s probably the one circumstance in my life where I am brief, vague, and not up for details.  It’s becoming a real insecurity. I can’t lie to my fiancé about my whereabouts, because he knows the nail salon is directly across the street from our apartment. So, I opt for the occasional embellishment- “I’m getting a polish change.” Like he even knows the difference, cares, or is paying attention.

    In New York, I’ve found that surprisingly, all beauty services are significantly cheaper- I think because there’s so many of them, so I justify my frequent manicures by the fact that they cost half the price. However, they must be half the quality too…. because I’m in the nail salon way too often.

    And the ironic part? When I got engaged, I had a chip on my ring finger nail.

    And right after I returned home from a magical afternoon of celebrating my engagement with family and friends, you better believe I changed into sweats and was sitting at the nail salon getting a fresh polish change, because god forbid anyone else see the chip.

    Then there’s makeup. I don’t wear much makeup, but I definitely do buy it. And lotions? I mean, it’s a pretty hopeless situation. I feel like I’m always lathering up and re-purchasing hand creams, body lotions, face moisturizers. I mean, you’d think I’m hiding a pet crocodile in my apartment.  After I shower, in the day, before bed… all day. It blows my mind how much lotion I purchase and how often I’m rubbing it on my skin. Sometimes, when I repurchase a tub of lotion, the saleswoman will throw in a “This may seem like a lot of money for lotion, but it will last you a few solid months.” I could scream. Two weeks. Tops.

    Sometimes when my friends’ significant others comment on how much “maintenance” their ladies endure, it really hits a nerve. Cursing them for divulging the personal work their ladies go through, I always make sure to add a “You have no idea. (Pause for dramatic effect.) No idea. That’s nothing compared to some girls!”

    And it’s true. There are girls that have standing appointments for skin procedures, spray tans, hair, make-up, trainers…. The list is endless.

    But then I feel like a hypocrite knocking the women who undergo all their appointments. Who am I to judge? I’m getting the “basics” and it’s still costing a boatload of time and money. And let’s be honest- I still don’t look so good.

    It’s all depressing and exhausting. It really is. I mean, even though we’re sitting down or lying down or knocked out for all of this maintenance, it is work.  And it’s pain. Work and pain.  And after all of the work and pain, I really don’t look so hot most of the time. In fact, I’m in sweats the majority of my day. Come to think about it, maybe I should get my money’s worth for all my maintenance, and put on some proper clothes.

    Yesterday night I walked outside confronted by a woman holding a sign indicating she was homeless and in need of cash.

    The homeless woman and I – wearing the exact same outfit- walked side by side into a 7-11. Both of us wearing oversized hoodies, I couldn’t see her face and her hair when outdoors. However, once we walked into the electric lighted can’t-hide-a-flaw 7-11, I came to the realization that despite our matching outfits, she looked a hell of a lot better than I.

    Are homeless women begging for money so they can afford maintenance? Or, does she just have really great genes? Whatever the answer, she may not have a home, but she does have killer hair.

    Is it wrong that walking home, I seriously considered that this woman could actually live in my building and sat outside holding a sign to collect money for her blowdry fund? Great. Those singles that nice man just handed her are definitely a part of the Dry Bar stylist’s tip.

    Yes, this is all very depressing. No, I will not kill a spider. Yes, I will get waxed. No, I don’t wear a lot of makeup. Yes, my manicurist and hair technician get a holiday present. No, I haven’t changed out of these sweat pants all day. Yes, beauty is pain and yes, I will continue to get the maintenance.

    And the ironic part about it? For all the work, pain, money, I leave these appointments feeling fabulous.  Naturally.

     

    Public Display of Affection

    January 20th, 2013

    Holding hands, a woman and man walk into a park.  They sit down on a bench, look longingly into each other’s eyes, and then share a slow, passionate kiss.  A long period of time passes, but they don’t seem to notice. They probably just don’t care. As long as they’re together on that bench, they can sit there all day. They remain on the bench repeating the deep stare and passionate kiss over and over again.

    Some people watching feel envious; they yearn for a partner. Others feel angry that their spouses don’t show them that kind of affection. Then you’ve got those who think it’s the sweetest thing they’ve ever laid their eyes on.

    I- on the other hand- feel sick to my stomach.

    Public Display of Affection. There’s nothing sweet about it.  And for some reason- especially lately- I can’t escape it. It’s everywhere. It’s on the streets. You’re going to get hit by a car. In the parks. Even my dog turns away. The Movie Theaters. Oh, forget it.

    But recently, on a Fairway Supermarket escalator, it was so bad that it actually threatened my safety. Holding bags of heavy groceries- wedged in between two (yes, two!) couples who were publicly displaying their affection- I couldn’t take it anymore.  When my fiancée and I go to the Fairway together, we bond over the variety of cereals, high five over the low-fat muffin display and rejoice over the price of their rotisserie chickens.  Clearly, these lowlifes aren’t fulfilled by their grocery runs.

    Struggling to balance bags of heavy groceries while passing the couple in front of me, I practically couldn’t move. Cursing myself for buying the gallon of milk on this grocery trip, I wiggled and squirmed until the next thing I knew, apples and onions were rolling down the escalator and I came real close to tumbling down after them.

    I was infuriated. These imbeciles could have cost me my life. They definitely cost me seven dollars worth of apples and onions. And- to think- I was debating eating tomorrow’s cereal sans milk?!  Talk about scumbags.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I love my fiancée with everything I got and I’m not afraid to display it publicly. But there are ways to show your affection – in public- with out offending society.  Picking up coffee for him almost every morning is definitely one of them. Walking his dog Hank for miles and miles is one of my favorites. And picking up his dog’s droppings… I mean, nothing says “I love you Brandon” more than that.

    I will admit- I tend to be a bit more conservative than others. It sounds crazy but sometimes, I’m hesitant to engage in hand-holding, depending whose company were in. It comes from a good place, I swear. I just would never want to make anyone feel uncomfortable in my company. And sometimes, my best judgment tells me that holding my fiancée’s hand will make our company uncomfortable. Usually my judgment is pretty good, so I just need to trust it for this one. If we’re walking with his parents or mine, my hand just isn’t going to naturally cup his. I don’t know why this is, but I’d rather play it safe than risk someone upchucking. I’d feel pretty bad if that happened. Hand-holding just aint worth it. Especially because knowing me, I’d be the sucker holding their hair back.

    I’m nervous for the wedding ceremony.  I can easily and naturally publicly display my affection by telling an audience of 200 people how much I love my fiancée and why. No problem. Piece of cake! Words may be powerful- but totally kosher in my book. But the kiss… in front of all those people… I’m pretty uneasy about that. My fiancée jokes that I probably would prefer to shake his hand and to be honest, that’s not such a bad idea.

    My friend Emily is real practical. She’s got a good head on her shoulders. I trust her advice. Recently, she watched us take our engagement photos in Central Park. After watching me awkwardly respond to the photographer’s “Ok! Now kiss!,” she informed me that I gotta get over it. And don’t think I don’t know that this is my entire fault. My fiancée… he knows what’s appropriate. He won’t cost someone their onions and apples on a supermarket escalator, but he has no qualms kissing under a chuppah when a rabbi instructs us to. It’s my issue. I would feel so bad if someone threw up… and at our wedding? What a mess!

    And what about Public Display of Affection flaunted through social media mediums- now that really hits a nerve for me! But it’s not a social media kiss that bothers me. I actually happen to love a photo that captures the moment.  Kissing photos… totally kosher. It’s the hastagging that offends me.

    Hashtagging your love to your entire social network throughout the day and including terms of endearment such as Baby, Sweetie, and Honey…. Take it offline.

    #iloveyoumorethananything #lovemybaby #luckiestgirlintheworld #couldn’tloveyoumoresweetie #lovelovelove

    We’re all barfing.  Used correctly though, the hashtag isn’t always so bad.  Perhaps I should post a photo of myself picking up Hank’s droppings and caption it with a #Ilovemyfiancee. Now that’s romance, folks.

    A few nights ago, an elderly couple slowly crossed the street. They caught my eye, because they were struggling to cross together. When looking closely, I realized it was because the man was juggling holding his wife so she didn’t fall while carrying her handbag and carrying a bag of groceries. That to me was the most romantic public display of affection I’ve seen in a long time. And I kept watching. I couldn’t get enough of it.  Let’s see more of that, people!

    Yesterday, I took Hank with me to pick up coffee for my fiancée and I- a usual Sunday morning routine. On our way to the coffee truck, we stopped at Hank’s tree so he could go to the bathroom. As I bent down to pick it up, I noticed a woman in a fur coat glaring at me in utter disgust.

    Walking back home with the coffees for my beloved fiancée and I, I didn’t let her glare get to me.  After all, She’s just like me. She doesn’t like Public Display of Affection either.

    The Bag Lady

    January 13th, 2013

    This story doesn’t have an official ending, but it does have a beginning.

    1999. The end of eighth grade. A popular Kate Spade handbag sparked my attention. Was it called the bucket bag? Possibly. You all know which bag I’m talking about.

    Growing up and to this day, my mom spoiled me.  But not really with things. That was just “stuff” to us.  And at the end of the day, no one wants clutter. Stuff causes clutter. But that’s another thought- for another day. She spoiled me with love, attention, consistent instilling of good values, and of course, important lifelong learnings- such as the importance of having appreciation and respect for your “stuff.” Be it something expensive or inexpensive- if you value it, take care of it.  If you know me now and if you knew me then, you know I listened to my mom.

    So naturally, when she bought me my first expensive purse, I knew that I was going to nurture, harbor and protect this belonging like it was my very own offspring. It was the mini Kate Spade bucket bag. (Is that even its name?)  It was a graduation gift from middle school. It was the first time I had ever really, really wanted a material object. It was my first gift where I knew the price and I knew it was just over 100 dollars! It was a moment. Not necessarily a high-fashion, glamorous moment; but most definitely a moment.

    It was also the end of eighth grade, which also marks the end of the bar-mitzvah era. Yes, my mom’s timing wasn’t so hot for this one, but it marked the start of my love for bags and what better time to start than… then.  So with nowhere to really wear this bag, I admired it in my closet, not realizing this marked the start of another trend for me.

    ***

    Once I got to college, I didn’t really care for bags the way my friends did. To be frank, all of my money went towards sushi and booze. And as a budgeted, spending-savvy student, I was well-aware that there was no room in the budget for bags. Then, once I started earning money after college, I realized that Yes! I can now afford sushi, alcohol, and a nice bag!

    Shortly after that realization, I was quickly reminded of another lesson my mom taught me. Save your money. I knew better than to blow my hard-earned salary on bags. However, I also knew how great she looked sporting her best bags. So as time went on (a lot of time), and as I worked harder, I started to see the financial benefits of hard work. Promotions were granted, raises were awarded, and even commissions were eagerly accepted.  That’s when I decided to reward myself every now and then. And that’s when my bag collection officially started and officially grew.  It was a moment- an empowering moment- that led to a few more moments.

    As a big-time saver, it was sort of ludicrous to be splurging on a fancy bag every year or so.  Although I always found a way to get these bags discounted, I couldn’t help but still feel guilty. But then, wearing these bags- in the same fashion that a Girl Scout wears her patches- I felt confident knowing I was wearing some of my biggest professional accomplishments.

    And besides, I was never a Girl Scout. Sporting and storing my bags like trophies, I couldn’t help but smile proudly as I held my “first internet promotion sold” on my wrist. And still to this day, there’s no better feeling than wearing my “second job accepted” on my shoulder.

    It didn’t take long for me to have a horrible realization: for every major accomplishment worthy of a pat-on-the-back, I apparently decided to injure my back. Lugging around over-sized, fashion-forward leather delights, it didn’t take long for me to decide that although I loved these bags for the way they looked and what they represented- for the sake of my back, many of them were better left in their boxes in my closet. As silly as it sounds to not over-wear and get use out of a beautiful bag, it felt crazier that a job promotion should earn you a hunchback.

    Taking the utmost care of my trophies, I would store them in their original felt bags within the boxes they came in. My collection gave me so much pride. And in the same fashion a boxer shines his medals or an actor shines his Oscars, when wearing the bags, I make sure not to be one of those women who have Tic Tacs, loose change, lint, crumbs and a lone Advil at the bottom of their bags. I knew that these bags were worthy of proper care.

    When going to friends’ apartments, and seeing their nice bags thrown on the floor or watching them carelessly leave their bags unattended, I couldn’t help but pass judgment. Perhaps their mothers didn’t teach them to respect their stuff. Or maybe they just looked at their bags as stuff- what bags actually are.

    Then, I moved to New York and obviously, took my collection with me. Excited to rock my trophies in a new city, I couldn’t help but want more. But instead of buying the typical leather delicacies for my shoulder or wrist, it didn’t take long for me to start wearing old bags from the past. Bags that existed way before the trophy collection. I traded in my fine leather and designer labels for water-resistant messenger bags and totes from my youth. Walking around a city with a dog, jumping from subway to subway, and just always trekking, hauling and moving , it just wasn’t worth it to use a fine bag.  I became obsessed. Always on the hunt for the perfect messenger bag, all I cared about was comfort, convenience and of course, never risking ruining a trophy bag,

    And still to this day, when it’s raining, I opt for the waterproof option- options that are not included in the trophy collection. And even sometimes, I go bagless, choosing a coat with large pockets or a shopping bag. It seems crazy, but I appreciate owning something that I need to take care of much more than appreciating fashion. So if buying a YSL handbag means I need to carry around a LuluLemon shopping bag as a purse if it’s raining, so be it. It’s all good to me.

    At SoulCycle, a spinning studio I frequently attend, I see sweaty girls wearing fancy, expensive bags. And it actually makes me sick. They too easily throw dirty sneakers and spinning shoes in their fancy bags to contaminate their other belongings and the insides of their bags. As sweat drips off their necks onto and into their bags, I cringe. That Goyard better be fake. It’s funny, because as little as I respect buying “fakes,” I have even less respect for sticking spinning shoes rawly in a real. That’s just me.

    When I go to SoulCycle, I go bagless. It isn’t the right venue for a nice bag. Even if it sat in a locker, I don’t want a beloved trophy locked up in the same place where people store their sweaty clothes and sneakers. I use SoulCycle waterproof shopping bags as my workout bag. It’s perfect- mainly because they’re big, waterproof and disposable.  And ironically, I’m still sporting a trophy on my shoulder.  See? I spin! And it’s not at an Equinox class. 

    Sometimes, when I see my bags lined up in my closet, I fantasize about looking at my collection when I’m an elderly woman. Picking up a current favorite of mine now, I’d think to myself: This old thing? What great taste! Even back when you got your 2010 raise, you had timeless taste! However, given how I feel about my Kate Spade Bucket Bag now, I don’t know if that will happen. Especially because that bag didn’t even make it to the collection!

    We’ve all heard that we should never love anything that can’t love you back, but I can’t help but love what these trophies stand for.  However- At the end of the day, while stuff should be taken care of, stuff is just stuff.  So while I continue to take care of these things – because I’ll always take care of my belongings- I do keep myself in check.

    My mom’s never been materialistic but she’s always been confident. So being the impressionable mama’s gal I am, I can’t help but follow suit.  For every professional accomplishment, I know better than to run out and get a trophy. Even if it’s on sale.

    And as long as I’m confident -because I earned it- that’s really all I need to be sporting.  Especially if it’s raining.

     

     

     

     

    The Last One Picked

    June 24th, 2012

    I’m going to start this one in 1989. I was in kindergarten, and I couldn’t skip. My gym teacher was tenacious. She had me stay after class so she could teach me in privacy, and I could tell she was confident I’d learn. Unfortunately, I was probably the first to stump her. Finally, after weeks of trying to teach me, she asked me to write a poem about my muscles. She submitted it to various magazines, and it won a few awards. My mom had the poem professionally printed and framed; my kindergarten teacher bragged to her colleagues and my peers; even my gym teacher felt a sense of pride. I- on the other hand- was mortified. I knew my gym teacher had given up on me. And until a few months ago, I had given up on myself too.

    ***

    Fast forward three years later. I still had the same gym teacher, but now that I was in third grade, we played organized sports. It doesn’t get much worse. Whether it was baseball, or basketball, or even dodge ball, we always had two team captains that would pick their teams. When it came to my athletics, not much had changed in the three years. Yes, I had finally learned how to skip, but still- I was remarkably uncoordinated. And as a result, I was often the last team member to be picked. I vividly remember praying in my head that one of the captains would pity me or even see the good in me and choose me. Dan- the most athletic kid in the class- happened to also be a math wiz… or at least in his opinion he was. As he and the other captain would pick their players, I’d watch him count under his breath to see who would end up with the last choice. I stood tall and confidently even though I was slouched down, kicked to the curb internally.  Perception is reality. Appear confident. Appear desirable. I was a smart kid- no one could deny that. In fact, I was so smart, that I knew I had other team-member attributes to offer other than just coordination. While most of my peers probably didn’t know other attributes even existed, I knew I was loyal and put in the most effort. Unfortunately, when you’re ten, no one cares. If you can’t catch- and you’re scared of the ball- you’re last.

    Sometimes Dan would put me on his team, second to last. And that was great! Beggers can’t be choosers. It wasn’t because I was better than the last one picked. It was because he was doing me a favor. For lack of a better phrase, he too had given up on me.

    ***

    Fast forward 17 years later and I live in New York.  I had just moved here, and I was astonished at how workout-conscious everyone seemed to be. Here, it’s expected to squeeze a workout into a busy day- even if that means working out at 5:00am. Exercise is everywhere- taking over prime real estate, on billboards, in the parks, on the street… this city’s a healthy heart advertisement. I, someone who walks with a labradoodle for about 10 miles a day, felt pretty in shape when moving here from Chicago. However, after living in a city full of strong, motivated go-getters, I felt the need to strengthen up. So I tried Pilates. After purchasing an online deal for a few private sessions, I found myself confronted with an impressively flexible and agile woman. I sensed frustration from the onset. While I remained open-minded, I knew she had given up on me from the moment I awkwardly hung from the bar.  It was insulting. She removed herself from the situation and seemed to be looking everywhere but my direction. Was I that pitiful to watch? Before I could even feel insecure, rage overcame me. Hanging there, I was in danger, and frankly, I was disturbed that I was putting my life in this dimwit’s hands. As she mindlessly text messaged, images of “anti-texting while driving” commercials flashed through my mind. Was that text message really worth it? As she winced at my pitiful form, I dangled helplessly, thinking to myself I’d love to see this bitch prove a thesis that the gods are jealous of epic heroes. She gave up on me, so I gave up on Pilates.

    ***

    And then I tried Soul Cycle. Walking into the spinning studio, flashbacks of me riding a bike on a rainy day in Aspen tormented me. My boyfriend and his dad –who happen to be serious bikers- had taken me on what to them was a leisurely bike ride… just for fun. As I rented my spinning shoes from the receptionist, thoughts and images raced through my head. Ignoring the flashback of my boyfriend’s facial expression that screamed “I will never make her ride a bike again,” I asked the receptionist a ton of questions. She wasn’t surprised by my naivety. In fact, her lack of a reaction put me at ease. She answered the questions. She also adjusted my bike, clipped me in, and didn’t even flinch at my awkwardness and obvious foreignness to getting on a bike.  The lights went out, candles were lit, and my journey had begun. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it was probably one of the hardest workouts of my life. Not that I had much to compare it to. As I ran home from Soulcycle (ironically, I think I was practically skipping!), I felt the need to go back right away. Or at least call everyone I knew.

    After my first ride, I had never been so thirsty and sore. Maybe it was a sign that I was that new to working out or maybe it was mental- actually it was probably a combo of both- but that didn’t discourage me. It motivated me more. Next thing I knew, I had entered a whole new world I never even knew existed.  Spinning shoes were purchased, classes were booked, feet were easily clipped in,  and hair was braided for the first time since I dressed up as Pocahontas for Halloween. I- someone who once revolved their whole schedule around her weekly hair blowout- was swapping my blowout budget for spin classes. And more shockingly, I was letting my hair air-dry.

    My new look was starting to startle me when I’d catch a glimpse of myself post-riding. As someone who rarely perspires, I couldn’t believe how I looked sweating profusely, with my hair pulled back in a tight braid and a huge black headband/doo-rag type thing taming it down. The first few times, when I’d walk into my apartment, I’m pretty sure my boyfriend did a double take. My new look- and my enthusiasm for something athletic- it was all so new.

    The more classes I took, the more I realized how off my rhythm and form were. I had higher expectations for myself. And I loved that.  Always perched in a front row seat, the moments the lights went out, the music would takeover, and before I knew it, I was so focused on the music and the rhythm that I didn’t even realize I was doing tap-backs, crunches and pushups…. rapidly. I had never felt so eager to workout. In fact, it was getting ridiculous. The amount of money I was putting towards a “sport” each month was outrageous. “You’ve spent more money this month on spinning than I did on my lease payment! My friend exclaimed. Unfortunately for her, her Mercedes wasn’t doing $%*@ for her biceps.

    I was in shape, and it was priceless. For the first time, no one had given up on me. Remaining in the front row, I became more and more harder on myself. My favorite instructors inspired me.  If one could ride 8 months pregnant and another could ride while undergoing Chemo- surely I could put in my best effort. And it didn’t take long for me to shock myself. As someone who probably got on a treadmill once a year, I couldn’t believe I was spinning 3-4 times a week… and actually improving. As someone who didn’t even know how to clip out and adjust my bike settings the first few sessions, I couldn’t believe how naturally it started to come to me. And what’s even more astonishing are the people that don’t pass judgment on not knowing how to clip out. Just like in most cases, the people that don’t pass judgment are usually the ones that just happen to be the ones that are really good… such as the coolest cowboy in town.

    Yes, there were a few set-backs. A pulled muscle or two, the time the air conditioning broke and I suffocated through a mini panic attack… or what about the day the instructor hollered “His bike is on fire!” as a way to motivate the middle aged man in the first row, and I clipped out ready to stop, drop and roll. There’s no such thing as a perfect track record.

    I don’t show up to SoulCycle a few times a week just for the inspiring instructors, fun music, and my health. Trust me, I hate to admit it, but for $32 a class, that stuff couldn’t get me there so often. I show up, because of the environment. The culture, the inviting atmosphere, the dance party, the mere fact that it’s the only time I’ve ever partaken in something athletic, and not felt that everyone’s given up on me.

    One of my absolute favorite rides was actually a free Community Ride in Tribeca. At the end of the weight-lifting section, we were riding through the last song. The instructor told us to close our eyes and imagine riding up a hill to the finish line. Always skeptical of eye-closing exercises, I snuck a few peaks. He told us we were going to pass a few people and every time he’d name one of the people, we’d have to turn up our resistance. Already struggling to make it up the hill, I was well aware that the point of the exercise was to “show” each “person” he’d call out that we were strong enough to ride by… I just couldn’t fathom putting any more weight on the wheel. Screw the people, I didn’t think I was strong enough for the ride!

    And then the exercise started. “You’re riding by someone who bullied you in high school,” he said. Luckily for me, I couldn’t really remember anyone bullying me in high school. Whatever. I turned it up. It was obvious the girl riding next to me was bullied based on her reaction, and I didn’t want her to feel alone. I guess that means I turned it up for her.  The instructor continued to name a few more people that the class rode by. It felt a bit gimmick-y, until a person was called out that hit a nerve… or until someone in the class would react.  The class continued to ride together, in unison, in a group effort. We rode strongly, passing by the people we were confronted with… those who didn’t think we were smart, those who criticized our looks… even people who needed our help.  I could hear classmates groaning- some were empowered, others were in pain. I couldn’t take it much longer.

    “And for the final person,” the instructor announced. “You’re riding by someone who didn’t believe in you… someone who’s given up on you.” Ha! Did he want me to ride by a tribe!?

    I didn’t ride by Dan the Team Captain… let’s face it, we were ten. I had to at least pretend I’m over it by now.  The Pilates instructor… she wouldn’t notice anyway. My elementary school gym teacher… I’d actually rather skip by her.

    So as I rode passed myself -the former me-I knew that as long as I continued to just show up, I’d never be the last one picked again.

    And I didn’t look back.

     

    This is New York City

    March 11th, 2012

    I have a story to tell and it’s going to seem like fiction. I’ll insist it’s the truth, and you will accuse me of lying or exaggerating- something I’m often accused of when I tell these kinds of stories. You’ll interpret my tale as a fable- a story conveying a moral. It’s hard to be believe; it’s farfetched; and thank goodness it ends with a happy ending.

    But this is not a lie, an exaggeration, a tall tale, or a fable. This is a true story.

    I guess the story starts a long time ago. It starts whenever I heard that New Yorkers were crude. It starts whenever I heard they were rude, impolite, bad-mannered, and only out for themselves.  The story begins when I learned that the streets of New York- and many of it’s inhabitants that walked on them- were dangerous, struggling and scary. Yes, that’s where this story starts.

    Right before my move to New York- when I still lived in Chicago- I found an iPhone in a cab. After learning it wasn’t the cab driver’s and realizing that I’d want a honest and good-intentioned person like myself to take my phone had I lost mine, my instincts told me to take the iPhone and try to get a hold of its owner. Wincing and Clorox wiping the phone, I thought to myself, I’d want someone to do this for me.

    I finally got a hold of the owner, and it was a nightmare. She couldn’t care less that I not only found her phone, but also found a way to get a hold of her. She was drunk, ungrateful, uncooperative, and on a train back to her home in Wisconsin after a Friday afternoon Cubs game. Finally, after an irritating and lengthy conversation, I agreed to mail her iPhone to her house.

    Friday evening, I left the phone on my counter with a plan to ship her phone the next morning. Then, at 5 am I woke up to a blaring alarm. I was disoriented. I was shocked. I was waking up to a fire alarm. Grabbing my laptop and my most expensive designer bag – two things I instinctively knew to protect in my disoriented state- I ran downstairs to my lobby. The doorwoman looked at me startled. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

    I then realized that I had not woken up to a fire alarm. It was the stranger’s iPhone’s alarm clock. Embarrassed, frustrated, and downright pissed off, I turned off the phone, and swore that no good deed goes unpunished.

    The next day, I marched to the post office and sent the phone to the stranger. I wanted the phone out of my hands, and to wash my hands clean of the situation. Although I knew I was paying twenty dollars to send a complete stranger the phone she drunkenly lost, I thought to myself, I’d want someone to do this for me.

    As I complained to my friends and family and retold the story over and over again, I got the same response: You’re a sucker. You better get rid of that naïve Midwest kindness.  You’re moving to New York City. You’ll get burned there if you keep that up. Don’t forget where you’re moving. New. York. City.

    I also got a few jabs for instinctively grabbing for a laptop and Chanel handbag in the event of an emergency.

    ***

    Last Monday night, my mom and I went spinning. She was visiting me from Michigan, and I wanted her to experience my latest NYC obsession: SoulCycle spinning. Walking home from an intense 45 minute evening class, we felt invincible. That is, until we stumbled upon a dark, suspicious block near my apartment. Although my mom is NYC’s #1 fan; although she’s pretty tough; and although she just survived a 45-minute exercise class cycling out of saddle while doing pushups and crunches… her instincts told her to run.  Instincts are a powerful thing. If the “fire alarm” taught me anything, it at the very least taught me that. So we ran.

    And while doing so, my iPhone must have fallen out of my pocket. Upon discovery, we lost all inhabitations and fear, and found ourselves slowly wandering the same streets separately on the block we were once afraid to run on together.  Negative and cynical thoughts raced through our heads.  Most of them I vocalized with a few choice words hollered in between. This is New York City. Of course someone has already taken the phone. Of course someone already picked it up, cracked my password, and stolen my identity. Of course someone has already scraped it clean and sold it to an armed, violent person. Of course that person is about to jump out of the bushes and rob us.

    The asshole that stole my iPhone is definitely celebrating to the tune of the new Red Hot Chilli Peppers song I downloaded this morning.

    Defeated, distraught and down on everything, my mom and I sulked into my apartment lobby where my two doormen asked us what happened. My friend who previously lived in my apartment building once raved to me about one of them, Tali. Frankly, I never really knew much about him. Until that evening.  Once we told them I lost my Iphone, his response was autimatic. He grabbed a flashlight and asked us to backtrack. Running down the “mean streets” of NYC, as he brightened up the streets with his light, as my mom ran alongside him showing him our track, and as I continuously redialed my phone number from my mom’s phone, I felt empowered.  Accompanied by him- and his light- I could see clearly.

    And then my phone was answered. His name was Carlos. He was brief, unresponsive, and sounded somewhat cryptic. As I cheered in delight and thanked him profusely, he responded with the same sentence over and over: “Meet me right now in the lobby of XXX 29th St.” We were all stunned. Not only that someone actually answered my phone, but that the only response he had was his address. It sounded like he was reading the sentence off a script. Tali was skeptical. “I know that area. It’s walking distance from here, but on a bad block.  And there are no apartments with lobbies over there. They are all walk-ups.” We all looked at each other nervously.

    And the next thing I knew, Tali was escorting us to the address Carlos offered. Running east on 29th St, stopping traffic as we crossed avenues, I felt optimistic.  Sure, it was 11 pm and we were heading to a suspicious address. Sure, he allegedly lied. Sure, this complete stranger’s response wasn’t anything like mine when I had found someone’s phone. But he answered. And that was enough for us to feel it was worth heading there.  Instincts are a powerful thing.

    We arrived at the address Carlos offered, and there was indeed a lobby. Tali asked the door guard if Carlos was there. And he was. A slender, nicely dressed elderly man walked towards us smiling. Once confronted with him, it was clear he didn’t speak English well, which accounted for his brief demeanor on the phone. I sighed in relief, frustrated with my preconceived notions from our brief phone conversation.  As he handed me my beloved work/play/music/GPS/toy/internet, I gasped in excitement. We offered him money, until we realized we were insulting him. He didn’t want money; he asked for a hug. And although I was once scared of a quiet block on my commute home and although I was once terrified of the stranger behind the phone and although I was once down on the streets of NYC, I embraced him.

    My mom and I walked out of the building delirious with excitement, waving goodbye and marveling at how lucky I was. Tali was still looking inside. “That’s a homeless shelter,” he informed us.

    We all walked back to the apartment silenced by the fact that this man was far from our perception of what homeless is. And more importantly, that he picked up my phone with the intention to return it to me, just how I once did almost a year ago in Chicago.  Someone – in NYC- who had the most to gain by taking my phone had the least intentions to do so.  Touched, we thanked Tali for escorting us to a place we could have never walked to on our own and for instinctively responding to my problem by running out the door with a flashlight. Instincts are a powerful thing. His were to automatically help me and that touched us.

    He looked back at us turned off by our astonishment. “Get used to it. This is New York City. This is what we do here.”

    And us in our workout gear and him in his uniform, the three of us walked back knowing we all had much more with us than a recovered iPhone.

    In a world where there’s such hatred and violence and fear- and in a city where people don’t hold elevator doors, men don’t give up their subway seats for pregnant women, and rushed employees steal others’ cabs- this is what goes down on the streets.

    As my mom and I ate a midnight meal, Clorox wiped my phone, and showered, we couldn’t stop talking about the selfless kindness we received that night.  Instincts are a powerful thing. All because we sprinted down a dark block from an instinct of fear, it took us losing something, and getting it back, to see what we had all along.

    No, it wasn’t the Find My iPhone app.

    It was the Midwest kindness I offered to the stranger in Chicago. And that kindness, in New York City, is so magnificent that it’s scary.

    Healthy Competition

    February 12th, 2012

    Fourth grade gym class. The two best athletes in the class were picking their team members. I stood with excellent posture. Although I was klutzy, uncoordinated and absolutely terrible at any sport or exercise, I knew better than to slouch. Appear confident. I thought to myself. Wipe that desperate look off your face! I coached myself internally. Please god, don’t make me be the last one picked again.

    ***

    I am ambitious, determined and committed. I like to win.  I push myself to work hard and do my absolute best.

    However, I am not competitive.  I’m really not.

    This may be because I never really had an opportunity to be competitive in competitive sports. Unless you are born with a competitive nature, it seems that most individuals first start feeling competitive when playing competitive sports. Growing up, I didn’t participate in any extracurricular sports, and when I did play in gym class, I was so bad at sports, that it would be ridiculous if I even tried to compete.

    Anyone could beat me at any sport. Hands down. Anyone. I have a vivid recollection of myself standing in the outfield during a gym class baseball game, and a classmate in crutches played better than me. Pull it together! I thought to myself as I desperately tried to catch the ball. You get 100% on every Spelling Test you’ve ever taken. Clearly you can catch a ball! I’d think to myself as I ran after the ball, but never caught it in time.  Come on, you’re better than that. Please, just catch one ball. I could feel all eyes on me. Uh oh.  Forget the ball. Just. Appear. Confident.

    In kindergarten, I couldn’t skip.   My gym teacher assured my parents that I was trying my hardest and eventually I’d “get a feel for it.” I was mortified. As the gym class warmed up for sports by galloping, running, jumping jacking, and skipping, I’d try my best to skip gracefully telling myself You can figure it out. If the gym teacher says you’ll get a feel for it, you will. Just be patient. And whatever you do, appear confident.

    Although I did eventually learn to skip, it was less than satisfying when my gym teacher sent me home with an enthusiastic and proud note to my parents telling them I had finally successfully skipped.

    In second grade.

    Last week, I tried Soul Cycle spinning. For the first time, I felt really good about an activity that requires agility and coordination.  Looking around at my seasoned classmates, I watched them cycle at an incredible pace, all while doing pushups, crunches and squats in perfect form. They were in rhythm as they harmoniously and what looked effortlessly followed the instructor’s moves. As I looked around the room, I spun faster and faster. Not because I was attempting to compete with them. I’m smarter than that. But because their form motivated me to do my personal best. So maybe that does make me competitive. Competitive against myself. Not others.

    As I walked out of the spinning class, I felt rejuvenated. Although I was definitely the worst in the class, I had won.  I set out to do something I was scared to try, and I did it. It didn’t matter where I stood compared to my classmates, because I had spun well- at least for me.

    I didn’t even need to appear confident. I was.

    I gotta admit though, there are times I do feel a competitive streak, and it’s during one game. Online scrabble. Maybe it’s because I actually can afford to be competitive.   It could be because this is the only time, I actually do win the game.  Who knows. I do know one thing. At at the end of the day, I’m not competitive during word games, because I think I’m smarter than my opponent or because I want to beat my opponent. It’s because I know I am capable of winning… by a landslide. It’s for myself. And let’s face it, who needs to waste competitiveness on an opponent when it can be applied to your own improvement.

    And to be frank,  whether it’s a word game, a sport, or learning how to skip two years behind everyone else, because I have a coach like myself, I’ll  always “win”.

    Ok, so maybe I’m a bit competitive. Maybe one day I will exert it towards an opponent. Meanwhile, until then, I’ll appear confident.

    A Change of Heart

    February 5th, 2012

    When my boyfriend brought home a Bodum ice coffee maker and a bag of coffee grinds, I was less than pleased. “Don’t you know I love the experience of getting an iced coffee every morning?” I asked.  He insisted that this was going to be a better experience. And although I do love my coffee in a plastic transparent cup, he was correct.  After a mere week of getting my morning jolt without having to leave the apartment, without having to pay for it daily, and with my own straw, sweetener, and daily refills… I had a change of heart.

    ***

    Growing up, I was far from a “dog person.” I never grew up with them, so I was pretty scared of them.  When I met my boyfriend’s labradoodle Hank, it was far from love at first sight.  Everywhere we’d go, people would marvel at Hank. Everything from his expressive eyes, to his beautiful coat, to his goofy personality, people couldn’t get enough. I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, people really genuinely love dogs.” It was eye-opening. And frankly, I didn’t get it. At the time. Yeah, I thought some dogs were really cute and yes, I thought some had funny, quirky personalities. But, when it came down to it, I associated dogs with barking, biting, jumping, begging for food, dirt, drool, and always leaving a dog owner’s home with runs in my tights. Then I’d fantasize what I’d say to dog-owners that judged me for not loving their dog. Just face it. They’re animals.

    But then, once I got to know my boyfriend’s animal… I had a change of heart. I’m not going to go on and on and bore you about the details of why I adore Hank. After all, I know some of you aren’t dog lovers, and I know better. As a recent convert to a dog lover, I understand just how painful it is to hear someone relentlessly dote on his or her dog… especially in the baby/ high pitched/”cute” tone that’s often used to deliver the devotion.

    Sometimes I feel that my change of heart- as someone who was petrified by dogs to someone who is downright obsessed with one- has naturally turned me into a first-rate translator of dog-haters’ reactions to those who have grown up loving dogs their whole lives.

    And I gotta say…now that I’m on the other side, I frequently think to myself, “Wow, people really genuinely hate dogs.” It’s eye-opening. And frankly, I don’t get it.

    In elevators, stores, and even on the streets, I’ll notice a bystander’s discomfort or fear and react with sensitivity. After all, I’ve been in their shoes. As I yank Hank away from them or quickly pass them on the street, Brandon doesn’t even notice. It’s not that he’s aloof; they just speak a different language than him.  I- on the other hand- am bilingual.

    For those of you that have known me pre-Hank, you’re still shocked what I say about and do for Hank. I’ve had friends interrupt me just to call out my love for a dog and rip on me for changing so drastically. Recently, Brandon was out of town for a week, leaving Hank and I alone together. Although I had spent a lot of one-on-one time with the 70-pound labradoodle prior to this time, this was the first circumstance where the two of us would be alone for an entire week.

    After a week of: miles and miles of walks, bathroom runs, quality time spent indoors, and a week’s worth of picking up stuff I never dreamed I could pick up with such ease… it was kinda surprising how much more of a pleasure it was than a chore.

    It was rewarding; it was fun; it was relaxing; it was downright dog loving. Plans were arranged around a dog, plans were turned down because of the dog, mornings were kicked off with an immediate walk outside and nights were ended with a final walk outside. It felt natural.

    My change of heart was secure. And my heart was his.

    ***

    I hadn’t slept in days. Finally, early on a Thursday morning, in the midst of a deep, well-needed slumber, I woke up to a loud crash coming from the kitchen.

    Although my assumption was that someone had thrown a rock through the window, it was quickly altered by the harsher reality. Hank had dumped over the kitchen trashcan. The entire kitchen floor and Hank’s entire body was covered in coffee grinds that were once in the garbage can.

    I jumped out of bed completely startled and frustrated. As I cleaned up the grinds, and attempted to clean Hank, I couldn’t believe that the girl who once valued an iced coffee run and who was scared of dogs was now mopping up her third roommate’s coffee grind spill. I was furious. He knew better than to go into the trashcan.

    It didn’t help that I’d get a reminder of his mistake every time he’d walk by. Hank would wag, and I’d get a whiff of French vanilla coffee.

    But I got over that quickly.  It takes a lot for a change of heart to occur.

    Yes, opinions, beliefs and sentiments change over time. After all, it’s not a crime to change your mind. It happens. Sometimes about small things. Sometimes about significant things. Sometimes about things so ludicrous that it blows old, lifelong friends’ minds. I suspect I’ll change my mind about more things in the future.  But right now, at this moment, I know one thing’s for sure. When you have a dog like Hank and iced coffee both ready and waiting for you from the moment you wake up, it makes you want to jump out of bed and start your day.

    And that’s something I never want to change.

    Christmas Envy

    December 18th, 2011

    It’s the most wonderful time of the year. It’s when gifts are given and received. It’s when vacations and breaks are encouraged. It’s when trees, store windows, homes and buildings are decorated. It’s when lights brighten up cities. It’s when kindness is celebrated.

    It’s when I wish I had a Christmas Tree.

    But don’t mistake that desire for the yearning of a Hanukkah Bush or Hannukah Tree. There’s no such thing. I mean, let’s face it, Santa’s more real than that.

    Although I have much pride for my religion, I’ve always wanted a Christmas tree. Not because of the light schemes I’d put together every year and the significant and unique ornaments and charms I’d collect, and not because of the many presents under it that I’d gift and receive, but because of what it all represents.

    There’s something about Christmas that warms my heart. And this feeling of warmth and overall Christmas joy occurs at the strangest times.

    My Christmas Spirit- or what I like to call Christmas Envy- is in full force this season in New York City.

    Starbucks. It could be the tunes. Or perhaps it’s the Christmas decorated gift cards and “holiday” drinks available. Maybe it’s the Christmas décor throughout the shops and the chipper employees. Or maybe it’s a combination. But from the moment I step in- usually before I’ve had my morning jolt- I am instantly filled with holiday cheer. Who even needs the coffee? I should walk in, save myself the three bucks, and get out of there. The funny thing is, I’ve never even ordered Peppermint Mocha or a Gingerbread Latte, but just the fact that it exists, excites me. The other day, Starbuck’s seasonal “Let it Snow” album was blasting. As Bocelli’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” blared, I rhythmically tested with a friend while waiting in line. I smiled as Neil Diamond’s rendition of “Little Drummer Boy Came On.” Then, once Aretha’s “Winter Wonderland” came on and I still hadn’t ordered, I realized that I had waited in line for over 12 minutes, and Starbucks’s “holiday magic” had me in such a trance that I didn’t even care.

    If I were at any other coffee shop… at any other time of the year…waiting in line for 12 minutes… before I had my morning cup of coffee and breakfast, I would have lost my mind. Or at least left in a huff. As I walked home sipping on my un-festive skinny vanilla latte, I still was under the Christmas spell.

    Television. I love the gift recommendations, the holiday tips, the commercials, and the overall Christmassness that’s all over TV. The other day I was absorbing all the Christmas Party Health Tips on The View. Apparently, I’m supposed to avoid eggnog at all costs. Right after making the mental note, I realized that I probably won’t attend a party this year that serves eggnog. But I still watch the shows, and absorb the tips. I can’t help it. I also love the Christmas episodes of TV series before the show would take a 2-3 week break. Full House, Family Matters, Saved by the Bell, 90210… I cant get enough of the reruns that are played around Christmas time.

    Breaks. As a kid, it was Christmas Vacation that made me want to celebrate Christmas.  But then, as I got older, although it was called other names such as “Holiday Break” or “Time Off” or “PTO,” I wanted to celebrate Christmas more. There’s nothing better than putting something off until “after Christmas.” I’ve been doing it for 27 years. My workout regimen- it will start “after the holidays.” Finding an agency to work with- ehhh, we’ll deal with that after Christmas.

    Sales and Gifts. The sales, the discounts, the bargains, and the department store windows promoting this. This season makes me want to shop, snag a deal, and buy Christmas gifts for everyone and anyone I know. The overall branding does it for me too. Take anything- m&m’s, flannel pajamas, scarves- and make them red and green or tie a red or green ribbon around it… and I’m sold. This is the time when you want Oprah to shout about her favorite things. And you really couldn’t care less what she’s plugging. You just want it.

    Embracing the Cold. This is the only time when you want it to be cold. This is when you hope it snows and snows and snows.  This is when freezing your ass off, as your nose drips, and as you can barely breathe is charming.

    This year, there’s no Oprah. And I’ll be in Florida. And I won’t really have much exposure to big city lights and robustly decorated store windows. But that’s the thing about Christmas. Once you’ve seen the lights, trekked through the snow, and watched the Full House Christmas episode… despite what you’re religion is, if you’re on a beach, or if Oprah’s off the air… you feel Christmas in the air. It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking a plain old skinny vanilla latte or a festive Peppermint Mocha.

    … and on that note, I will be taking a break until “after the holidays.”

     

    Fair-Weather Fan

    December 11th, 2011

    When I moved to Chicago after college, I realized that I didn’t own a serious winter coat. Sure, I owned the puffy coat every person at my high school wore. And yes, I definitely owned two or three fleece jackets, but no, these weren’t serious coats.

    One of my college friends kind of made me aware of this. Born and raised in Manhattan, she came to Ann Arbor equipped with long down coats, mink scarves, rabbit hats, and other fabulously warm winter accessories. When we would go to bars, while some of us threw on a cardigan or just opted to wear no jacket, she’d have an array of warm “evening coats.” I assumed she had all of this and I didn’t because she was because she was a savvy New Yorker.

    But no. That wasn’t it. She informed me it was because I was from Michigan.

    And she was right. As someone who grew up in a suburb, I was always in a car. The time spent outdoors was from when I parked the car, until I sprinted into the building I had parked in front of.  I didn’t need serious gear. All I needed was a coat and a quick sprint inside.

    That’s why when I moved to Chicago – along with my friend from Manhattan-  the wind hit me face first.  She, another friend who moved to Chicago from Michigan (who also didn’t own a serious winter coat), and I went straight to Bloomingdales.

    And with them- on one of the first crisp autumn days in Chicago- I bought my first serious winter coat. It was thick, it was down to my knees, it had a gigantic hood, and most importantly, it zipped up to right under my eyes… it was perfect for Chicago’s harsh weather conditions. I could now walk around zipped up in a sleeping bag.

    And I did.

    Four years later, I had acquired quite a collection of coats, jackets and winter gear. I owned stuff I never knew existed, let alone that I’d find value in. Hats that covered my entire face except my eyes, gloves that had buttons and pockets to expose my finger tips when necessary, vests and other layering apparel, jackets for every occasion: a coat to wear for the commute to work when it’s beyond freezing, a coat to wear to a fancy occasion when it’s beyond freezing, a coat to wear out to the bars when it’s beyond freezing, a coat to wear when it’s spring, and it it’s just freezing.

    It took me a short amount of time to realize that when you are dressing for supreme freezingness, color, style, and pattern becomes irrelevant. All you can afford to care about is warmth.

    So when I moved to New York, I was thrown off guard when everyone started talking about the September/October autumn chill of 55 degrees. I couldn’t believe it.  While I was walking around coatless or in a light jacket, everyone else was bundled. It was the first time in a while that I had felt a strength stronger than my company’s. It felt good. Hell, it felt warm!

    Then, when my boyfriend and I visited Chicago for the first time in autumn since moving, we got off the plane and looked at each other surprised. It wasn’t the gust of wind that slapped us in the face that surprised us. No, we had felt that gust thousands of times. It was the fact that we had forgotten about it.

    How could we have forgotten? All those commutes to work, all those walks over bridges, all those times walking east of Michigan Avenue closer to the lake…   The wind was shocking, but our disregard for it was more surprising. Yes, it had been a few months since we endured Chicago weather… but how could we have been unprepared for something that was such a big part of our lives? Especially when we used to be so prepared- and equipped- for Chicago weather.

    And when I say prepared, I’m not using the word lightly. My first winter in Chicago, I was fed up. Although my commute to work was only a six-minute walk, it was a long six minutes… and it’s amazing how much rain and snow can accumulate on a person in six minutes. Especially when they have to walk over a bridge. Once I started getting on my blowout kick, it seemed ludicrous to me to be careless and unprepared enough to let the harsh weather conditions destroy a freshly blown head of hair.  Getting a luxury like a blowout costs hard-earned money, and I wasn’t going to start wasting that.

    Chicago, 2007

    Chicago, 2007

    One wintery, snowy, rainy morning, as I looked out the window with a glamorous ‘do in place, I decided to get resourceful. I walked to work with the hood of a huge down coat over a hood of a hooded sweatshirt over a hot pink shower cap. And although I was seen walking down Michigan Ave with two hoods and a line of pink shower cap exposed on my forehead, I persevered by blowout. You wouldn’t’ even know it had been in the snow for 6 minutes.  To some (including my colleagues who caught a glimpse of me walking in), this was a fashion faux pas. For me, it was a supreme win.

    Now, as we approach the holidays in New York, I haven’t even taken out my serious winter coat, let alone a semi-serious coat. I walked to Central Park and back with my boyfriend and his labradoodle in a flimsy fleece this morning. On the morning shows, when with friends, in the local weather forecasts, when making small talk with strangers… everyone is talking about how cold it is in New York. Meanwhile, I haven’t even flinched!

    I guess when you’ve lived in Chicago for four years you have a different, disproportionate idea of what cold weather is. So Thanks Chicago, for giving me that. Thanks for toughening me up, teaching me about preparation and survival and forcing me to buy an array of winter accessories and gear.

    And New York… thanks for helping me forget.