Gratitude for 2017

Last year around this time, I fell a bit short with the annual blog giving thanks for the previous year. It’s sad that I broke a decade-long habit but I had the sense that over-sharing on all social media made it completely unnecessary to document anything further. Also, January of 2017 hit like a sandbag of melancholy for me given the political happenings and overall morale of myself and those around me. But this set the groundwork for me to change my pace and appreciate the fragility of life and the shrinking availability of time I have on this planet to do all I would like to do. While 2017 was hard for many, I count myself incredibly blessed even as the year ended with a near daily phone call of the “Call me back immediately…. this is an emergency” theme.

Even through all these emergencies, my boyfriend will tease me almost daily as I go on my recount of why I am so lucky. “Oh no. Is this that part of the day when you tell me again how great your life is?” he will whine. Sure, it is. Because I’ve found life gets better and feels better the more that you count all the wonderful things you have. So here I am, currently safe and sound and slowly defrosting as I count the blessings of 2017.

Here we go…

1. The Women’s March- January 2017

Call it a late onset fear of crowds, but enough time in New York and a few too many New Year’s Eves spent in Times Square and on delayed subways during rush hour has caused me to avoid crowds as much as possible in my free time. But this was to be the biggest march in history and I had a lot to get out of my system with like-minded individuals who felt the need to be heard. I ended up marching solo but with an amazing crowd of hopeful, kind, diverse folks that made unity feel a bit more possible. Not a stranger to Trump and his flippant and lecherous treatment of women in the NYC social scene, I was concerned even more so that as a woman in 2017, I am even more of a walking target for aggression and lewdness. And in the entertainment industry, maybe enough was enough. This march was the beginning of me defining what I needed to get done in 2017 as a woman and as an American.

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2. Vietnam – February 2017

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My obsession with Vietnam began where most of my obsessions began thanks to Dixie Leonard and “For the Boys” and a few too many viewings of the flick as a 10-year-old. The history, the people, the food, the landscape, Halong Bay, the great Mekong, and the beaches on the Vietnam Sea had been in my travel dreams for years. I was terrified of getting sick. I almost always get sick traveling abroad and imagined floating down the brown waters of the Mekong Delta and praying for my own demise as I regurgitated every noodle ever consumed. But here’s the thing about fear- 2017 was my year to do everything that countered or made me come face-to-face with it.  And what better year to get a more global perspective of how we, as Americans, are viewed? I live to tell that indeed I was not sick once and dared to eat the herbs and raw vegetables on my Banh Mi even though I was teased by a young Aussie girl who felt Americans use too much discernment with what we eat and drink abroad. It should be noted, this gal has never visited Mexico.

Vietnam was as captivating as I had hoped. The people and my interactions with them are forever with me as at least a few thoughts a day drift back to them. The magic of Halong Bay at night, the foggy mist floating around the limestone formations as the iridescent flickers of squid swam across the water brought me a moment of stillness I can conjure and relive during the most hectic of days. The canals of Hoi An and silk lanterns at night after eating in the home of a local who offered the best Banh Mi with a side offer for a tailored suit are with me often. Going to Vietnam was the first best decision I made in 2017.

 

 

 

 

3. Cheesemaking and Teaching

Every now and then (or in my case, every six months or so) I find a hobby and passion will lead me to a new job. Being on set as an attractive prop and auditioning for projects where I am yet again a victim or an objectified woman just stopped feeling good a long time ago. And something clicked in me after the women’s march that I just could NOT do this anymore. I sought refuge in yoga, meditation, travel and food. Lucky for me, this included volunteering regularly for cheese classes. The methodical tranquility of setting up for an event, cutting (or pulling) cheese, delving into the art of pairing, exploring my own palette, learning the history of great food and spirits began filling all my free time. And after two and a half years, I transitioned to teaching classes and finding that much like entertainment and performing it’s an option to give people an escape from their daily stresses, learn something new, and have a positive experience and memory that they can carry with them. Because if I have to work, I want it to be fun. Life is too short otherwise. Or too long…

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4. Machu Picchu- June 2017

 

My next great mission of 2017 was to hike Machu Mountain and address my fear of heights. I had yearned to meditate with the great energy of the lost civilization and explore the ruins. Thanks to the abundance of credit card reward hoarding and stacking, this was my second big trip in the first half of 2017 and cost me no more than two hundred bucks. I would take one more big trip in 2017 and the total for all this travel was under $1k. This facilitated my travel motto of “No more excuses.” Although Peru revealed itself to be much less safe than I imagined and Machu Picchu did in many ways feel like the “Disneyland of South America,” I am so glad I went. Making it early enough (hello, 4AM!) for the sunrise was something I will always remember. The food was amazing, the views were life-altering, and I once again proved I can take adventures and not get sick (a word of advice- get to the Sacred Valley immediately after landing in Cusco to avoid any issues with altitude sickness). Whenever I find myself in a situation where my fear of heights is triggered (like the new 7-train escalators at Hudson Yards!) I think back to the white-knuckled hike down Machu Mountain, with a terrifying drop off a cliff and have this assurance that surviving (and even enjoying) that experience means I can absolutely overcome these triggers. Because, nevertheless she persisted.

This is actually one of the more tame and safe vantage points where it was safe enough for my travel partner to shoot.

 

5. The Loved Ones

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I am so blessed with friends and family who are loyal, funny, adventurous, kind, and who, of course celebrate my individualized sarcasm and charm. One of the best things about getting older is learning to filter out relationships that are unhealthy or not serving either person and taking that energy to really invest in the good ones. I have made a conscious effort to be as present in real time, in real life, with those I love and not letting social media act as my point of contact. And in this category of loved ones, my significant other has been such a great chap when it came to me wanting to take my big bucket list trips. Since there was no way in hell he wanted to venture around the world and hates flying, I was very grateful that he encouraged me to see what I needed to see while holding down the fort and doing all the dog walks while I was away in the dead of winter. For the first time ever, we hosted my family and his dads and his mom for Thanksgiving, getting all our parental figures together in our fabulous albeit small Manhattan apartment for the catering challenge of the year, which I was more than delighted to conquer.

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6. Croatia- October 

Santorini was the goal at first (see ya in 2018!) but with my last minute booking, flights were selling out and a friend suggested Croatia instead. It had been years since I had been to Europe and I wanted to round out the year with one last adventure. And Croatia didn’t disappoint. I will forever be enchanted by the local winemakers of Korcula, an island that served as the perfect stop between Split and Dubrovnik. The history of these places was enchanting. Google maps is especially fun to follow as the “roads” are simply paths within a palace and you may have to cross the occasional moat or footbridge or walk through a stone archway to get to an apartment rental. My biggest regret is not taking back a few cases of the aged Postup red wine I imbibed on and wrongly thought could be found in the states more readily.  Kayaking around Dubrovnik on the warm Adriatic contrasted kayaking the murky dragon-esque waters of Halong Bay and made for a great bookend to my travel adventures. Thanks, Colleen!

 

 

 

 

7. Michelle’s Sanctuary

Remember how I mentioned creating a new job for myself every six months or so? This work of love has grown exponentially in 2017 and continues to find an audience. I battled with insomnia and later with anxiety (thanks entertainment industry!) for years and got a handle on it when I discovered the abundance of meditation channels on YouTube. In time, I wanted to create my own little spot where I could help others and create videos that I wished were already on the market. In December alone, viewers listened to nearly 2 million minutes of my meditations! I am very proud to make a positive contribution as I can only imagine how great the world could be if everyone was spending this kind of time centering themselves and finding inner peace. My channel has also gone in a direction towards hypnotic stories that made me become aware that myself as well as thousands of others are just as much in need of a little magic and storytelling as adults as we were as children. I look forward in 2018 in seeing the channel grow and have plans to start another channel soon (either Screw Ageism or a food-travel show).

 

8. BYE BYE STUDENT LOANS- November 2017

I’m debt free and happy to sail through the rest of my life knowing not a single dollar is going back to my education or the unscrupulous Wells Fargo. Free-at-last! There’s a part of me that wants to use that money that once went towards my loans towards purchases of Mezcal and the most decadent of California Chardonnay but I’ll probably just stick it in savings and wait for a rainy day. I imagined this day for so long but once it arrived and I could finally take my decade-long spreadsheet full of payment records and enter a big fat ZERO it was impossible to not break out into spontaneous dancing.

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9. 2017 Was Wedding Free!

Sorry friends and family- seriously- I loved supporting you and your nuptials and dancing drunkenly with strangers at the receptions and traveling to places I would never otherwise see. But after the double whammy of my sister and brother getting married in 2016 and me serving as the wedding hair stylist, photographer, officiant, bridal shower caterer, witness, maid-of-honour, etc., for four different gatherings, I have to say I needed a break. Maybe this is another reason I skipped a gratitude list for 2016. I was too busy with everyone else’s lives! No weddings in 2017 meant I could finally take my own bucket list trips and be a little selfish (and that felt friggin’ great).

10. Yoga

Nothing was more exciting in my yoga exploits than taking my practice abroad and studying with new teachers. In Vietnam, my instructor at the most gorgeous resort, Intercontinental Da Nang, gave me solo instruction when I was the only reserved guest to wake up at sunrise for class. Accents make for fun instruction and I was convinced she was getting especially spiritual as she kept saying, “Lisss your tiiiiies.” I interpreted this to mean, “list your ties,” and that I should think of things I may feel emotionally and spiritually tethered to. With her increasing insistence, I began to realize she wasn’t happy with my efforts. So I closed my eyes and tried harder to think of all that I love and am thereby tied to. At this point, she bent over, grabbed my feet and told me again. What she actually had been saying was, “Lift your toes!” I’ve added “listing my ties” and “lifting my toes” to my practice back in the States.

And thanks to Colleen again for capturing this “Pigeon on a Beach: Dubrovnik Edition” shot that I hope to someday show the grandkids.

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11. The Fun Stuff- Getting Cultured

Thanks to the lovely apps and technology that keep track of these things. In 2017, I saw 4 Broadway Shows (and thanks to the beauty of Rush tickets, Masterpass, and luck, I paid under $100 TOTAL to see them all. Which includes bringing along the boyfriend to Hamilton and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Thanks to Vivino (shoutout for the great party they hosted and invited me to this year) I have logged and tried over 300 wines this year. And Good Reads says I got through 17 books (I’m making a goal to hit 24 this year).

 

12. Lastly, My Animals

Their images dominate my social media feeds. Their hair dominates my “clean” wardrobe. Their demands bring me pleasure. And their furry warm bodies have kept me warm during the historic lows of the year. If I could have a whole farm, I would. But I cannot make it through a waking hour at home without mentioning how much I love my animals. And when it comes to being grateful, the boyfriend finds it hard not to express his own love for these little furballs.

 

The Light In The Closet

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He always leaves the light on in the closet.

When my boyfriend and I first moved from a barely livable studio apartment to a recently renovated one-bedroom in a prime Manhattan location, I was elated. I imagined a fresh start with less stress, more space, and a truly adult experience. Sometimes it’s hard to be an adult in a city so prohibitively expensive that you can be fifty-years-old without a penny in savings and a revolving door of college-aged roommates helping to make the rent on your barely-affordable-though-thankfully-still-rent-stabilized-apartment. As my friends across the country have invested in four-bedroom homes in small suburbs, gleeful as their equity increases, I will defensively argue it’s all about location and we are two blocks from Central Park. Even if our monthly rent could buy us a half-million dollar home elsewhere, we could never find an apartment to buy in this area for that price.

The initial excitement about our move was palpable and our plans embraced the smallest details of organization. I insisted he take the massive closet in the apartment, located in the hall. It’s huge for an NYC  apartment and could effectively house a twin bed. I remembered how his early morning schedule when he was working full time could be disruptive and this way he could get ready for work without interrupting my unpredictable sleep and work schedule. I also figured that it was a polite way of getting him to stow away a very masculine and somewhat hideous piece of furniture. I had never imagined that a temporary out-of-work situation would become so permanent that I would be the one making noise in the bedroom in preparation for early morning call times and late night returns while he slept.

Our new place began to feel tainted and no longer new. Bad habits on both our parts became a circuitous battle that we were too overwhelmed to address.  Instead of focusing on the little things that I loved most, our interactions became a series of anger-inducing episodes. He drank all my wine and I came home to an empty bottle. The peanut butter miraculously disappeared in a 24-hour timespan before I even tried it.  The dog still needed a walk. No cream left for my morning coffee. And the biggest insult of all — he kept forgetting to turn off the closet light.

At first I would say something upwards of five times a day.

“Dear, you left the light on again.”

“You keep forgetting to turn off the light!”

“Are we made of money? You’re running up the electric bill!” Surely that low-energy fluorescent light used in classrooms, prisons, and also his closet was costing a fortune. But when your loved one has been out of work so long and every penny feels like an ounce of gold, the stress becomes so much that you just explode:

“WHY THE FUCK IS THIS LIGHT STILL ON? I TOLD YOU A MILLION TIMES!”

I am now the irrational villain, the angry mom, the terrified girlfriend who has no idea how we are going to find our way out of this mess. The pressure of such an expensive apartment becoming my own… when he has to leave. Because we aren’t getting along and it feels any day we are going to shatter into a million pieces– pieces just waiting to be swept up into the drama and the misfortune that life has now become. The raging headlines about joblessness being low and the economy being  robust are adding to the torment when I lie awake next to a brilliant, hardworking, witty man with a law degree and a path of rejection becoming so long it feels like a road that never ends. I am used to the rejection given my chosen path in entertainment, rationalizing that a decade of life spent being often rejected and overlooked is just the way it is.

We come to the brink so often, as months of normalcy and mutual love are unbound by the next near-despair moment before another financial life preserver finds him. I think of the very early years in our relationship, when I would have a dry spell of bookings and he would have his reliable salary and schedule. I would stay in bed, wasting the morning in dread that I would not make something of my life. Drowning the hours in tabloid news and social media, I would take whatever distraction came along to keep me from further rejection. Yet now my empathy for his plight is clouded by sadness and anger and absolute terror. I cannot see through these smokestacks of rage.

Everyone is getting married around me, full of certainty or a self-fulfilling prophesy I have yet to master. Their relationships are new and they must not have experienced the lows yet, I keep hearing amidst my mind’s chatter. It will be better when we are out of this patch. It will feel like a beautiful inhalation after you have held your breath underwater for much longer than you should have. Scientifically it is just impossible for something to stay the same forever. It will not always be this hard.

And then one night he doesn’t come home on time. A message lost in the digital space causes me to panic. What if something happened in East Harlem, where he is doing a side gig to make money? My mind wanders to the very beginning, as it often does when I imagine a life without him. I think of how new and loving and supportive everything once was and how willing I was to take this chance with him. I go to the kitchen to get a glass of water, noting that his closet light is off. I am struck still as I imagine that light were to never come on again.

He returns home but I have already felt the loss. We go about our routines that are going to have to change for us to survive. But some may just stay the same. He leaves for the gym as I am returning from yoga and I look to his closet to see the light is on. I silently turn it off this time, vowing to never mention it again. From now on I will flick the switch without complaint and use it as an opportunity to love and appreciate that we are still here.

 

 

Gratitude for 2014

It’s been an annual tradition of mine to take note of the previous year’s blessings and feel abundance and bliss, hoping it will bring a hokey-new age cleansing to a new year. But as you may note, we’re nearly into March and I haven’t written last year’s list. Because 2014, for all its adventures and occasional fun moments, is not a year I will ever hold near and dear to my heart. Even with all the repetitive mantras that we are told during times of strife, like: “you’re building character” or “these are the seeds that grow into big, brilliant flowers and suffocate you with their beauty on some undecided day in perhaps the near or perhaps the very far off future.” Well, not that 2015 has been a great start if only from a weather standpoint (it’s nearly one of the coldest Februarys recorded), I do have a feeling that it will only get better (because it cannot stay 1 degree above zero forever). A friend of mine recently touted that she doesn’t notice things that she doesn’t like when she’s happy and so she is not bothered by the cold. All the joy in the world isn’t going to prevent hypothermia when I’m walking my dog near the Hudson River at eleven at night.

But, before this gratitude list become a verbose rant about what didn’t suffice to satisfy my 2014, I’ll start now and focus on the positive. Because it was there, breaching through the waves of challenges that otherwise clouded a stormy year.

1. Costa Rica

I made it to Costa Rica! Each year, I do try to add a new country to my travels and Costa Rica has been on my top three list of international destinations for years. On a slight whim, thanks to my abundance of points and miles from Chase, I booked a trip to Costa Rica. What started as a planned escape for my brother and myself eventually added my dad to our adventure (which was very welcome because he essentially drove us across the rugged terrain of the country with a fickle stick shift rental). A few nights in Tamarindo were followed by an escape to the Arenal region followed by a night in San Jose. My father joked that the country was in a stage of development that the US had been in at one point, which was both interesting to watch and also sad to acknowledge that one day it could become overdeveloped and plagued with the chaotic fervor suffered in our “developed” country. Costa Rica lived up to it’s “Pura Vida!” slogan and did not disappoint.

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2. “Sex At Dawn” Music Video Shoot with Spiral Jetty Club

In my heart, I tried to make 2014 the year of saying “yes.” So when the founding member of Spiral Jetty Club requested that I appear in her music video, requiring me to run around the city in winter in a wedding dress, with a little trepidation I said, “Yes.” Immediately after committing, I went online and ordered my “sleeping bag” coat; the first ever purchased full-body down coat in magenta because I hate being cold that much (and given the winters of late, it was my best purchase of 2014). The shoot was one of most enjoyable and well planned productions that I have ever been a part of. I have a soft spot for small teams of visionaries, where the budget is low but the passion is high. Soon after, the video was part of the Coney Island Film festival. It was truly a blessing to portray a woman obsessed with the notion of marriage to the point of doing anything to win over her beau.

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3. Sault Ste Marie, Michigan

I made it to the Soo! Thanks to my Delta points I booked a flight to this little airport to visit my dear friend, Kishe, and her family (note, this was my second big trip that I booked for FREE in 2014). The last time I crashed at her place was in 2008 in Hawaii, where she welcomed me after a rather sad break-off with a sad guy. The Soo is the kind of place I’d probably only consider visiting in the summer because I hate the cold so much. That said, my August trip was a bit chilly with some days in the low 50’s! It warmed up the last day just enough so I could give it a try at paddleboarding for the first time. This really was a great year for me to catch up with friends I have not seen in a very long time. And her kids are so divine!

Summer 2014,  Sault Ste. Marie

Summer 2014, Sault Ste. Marie

4. Another Wedding! Camden, ME

At the start of every year I cross my fingers that I can have a break from weddings. Sure, the free flowing booze and chance to travel have great appeal, but sometimes (or most of the time) weddings feel like a whole lot of work. But the beauty of this wedding was that there was no wedding party, keeping it informal and easy. My best friend from high school agreed to take the long drive to Camden, ME with me where I had rented a picturesque little cabin within a mile walk of downtown. My terror of driving has become well documented in the past few years and it caused the most anxiety in preparing for the trip, but my dear friend actually drove us all the way there. She and I had driven across the country when we were 19 (prior to my decade-plus existence in Manhattan without a car) and at the time I was the one most confident in leading the way. I eventually took over driving home, which was a little accomplishment for me in overcoming this weird and late onset phobia of driving. The wedding was beautiful, as was Maine, and it was really the most rewarding to see my dear friend from the days of “Bette or Bust” find such a great match. This was one of the first weddings that really made me feel happy all over because it just felt right. It also felt cold. September in Maine can certainly be nippy, especially for the bride’s family who had travelled from the Californian desert.

Camden, Maine

Camden, Maine

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Pitstop in Hampton Beach, NH 2014

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Rockport, Maine 2014

5. Yoga

I touched on this is 2013 and yet again in 2014 some of my most joyous, peaceful, and appreciated moments were on a yoga mat, bringing me a year or so closer to my goal of finally getting certified.

6. The Beach!

Whenever work is slow or plans fall through and the temperature is over 70 degrees, I find my way to the beach. Sometimes there’s a bit of guilt that hangs over my head but I do declare that on my deathbed I most likely will not be concerned about having more money in the bank (unless, of course my deathbed is a wet and trash-filled alley resulting from not having enough cash in my retirement). However, no matter how many days in this lifetime I have spent in the sun,  I will still be wishing I had more time at the beach. It is my happy place. Tamarindo, Coney Island, Atlantic City, the Rockaways, Fire Island, Lake Superior, Rockport, Salisbury Beach, Hampton Beach… just a few of the sandy beaches that welcomed me in 2014. Every year of my life I will maintain my humble gratitude for the beach.

Coney Island, 2014

Coney Island, 2014

7. I Won A Friggin’ Vitamix!

I live a few blocks from ABC Studios, where shows including “Kelly and Michael,” “The View,” and “The Chew” are taped. This year I strategically planned to get tickets to these shows as close to their holiday hiatus in December as I could. Anyone who is sucked into daytime programming during the Christmas season is well aware of the gifts bestowed upon the lucky audience members. Prior to attending “The Chew,” I had participated in a month-long cooking study and one of the questions that stuck with me is “If money were no object, what kitchen gadget would you most want?” At the time, I really couldn’t think of anything. I’m a minimalist. At one point I cooked in a one-pot kitchen using the same dull knife I used to chop carrots to also carve out the bottom of my bathroom’s wooden door that was always catching on the moulding (and I bought that bad boy from a dollar store during my first year in college). Yet not a few hours after the cooking study ended did I know my truest answer. I wanted a Vitamix with all my heart. That said, you would never see me shelling out $500 for a kitchen appliance no matter how much money I had. Luckily, I’m now a Vitamix owner and didn’t pay a penny for it.  My attendance at “The Chew” was met with an appearance of the Rockettes, who would come out during every segment to announce a new giveaway for the audience. From gift cards to wine and beer to electronic devices, it felt like I was in a dream. I’m no stranger the chore of being an audience member for these shows. They make you laugh and clap your hands until your face and palms are red and numb. But when you are the recipient of so many giveaways at once, even your brain goes numb. I really had no idea how to internalize all this Christmas bliss and when the Chew hosts announced that we were going home with a Vitamix, let’s just say that I could not stop from smiling and feeling warm all over. A friggin’ Vitamix! Merry Christmas to me! Most of the other gifts I would share with family and friends and the gift cards helped enormously with Christmas shopping. But the Vitamix…oh that beauteous machine… found a home in my cupboard and made me feel like I won the lottery. This year, my hope is to manifest a Taylor guitar… an instrument I have pined for since I last played one a former beau had purchased in New Hampshire. Let’s see how 2015 works it’s magic for that manifestation.

Me and My Vitamix  (Thanks to The Chew!)

Me and My Vitamix (Thanks to The Chew!)

8. We Made It to Year 5!

Well it was a challenging year, all right. Hardest so far… but we are still together and laughing and having fun. It isn’t always easy. Maybe I should be grateful for that, as the bitter parts do make the sweet moments seem sweeter. And as always, what a great guy in encouraging me to take off and see the world while he mans the homefront. 2014 was a year for me to fully recognize that even as a part of a couple, I can only be responsible for my own destiny and decisions. And sometimes it’s quite important to just let your significant other learn the lessons he needs to take on in his own journey. We had some fun adventures, and caught some amazing music in the park, not to mention seeing the Alabama Shakes and James Taylor. And we certainly ate well in 2014. And did I mention our cute furry mutt? I can feel gratitude for that pup every second of every day.

Alabama Shakes, 2014

Alabama Shakes, 2014

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Body Love

I’m borrowing the title from the ever-inspiring, Mary Lambert, an artist I saw this past Valentine’s Day. I was thoroughly moved by her presence and sensitivity as a songwriter and if anyone handles the topic well, it’s Ms. Lambert. I was about 13 when my body love took a back seat and I began to have weight concerns. I was completely healthy physically, slender and tall, but thanks to Oprah, my mom, and the select and opinionated friends and family dealing with their own weight issues in my life, I became gripped with terror that obesity was inevitable.

My close and overweight friend around this challenging transition into woman-child suggested with certainty that skinny people were bound to be fat adults and chubby kids always slimmed down in time. Little scientific evidence was needed for me considering every older heavy person in my inner circle would boast of how slender they once were (just like me) and when I was older I’d get fat and my metabolism would screech to a halt. Oprah didn’t help much either. In the 90’s, she was on every fad diet to come around and as a teen responsible for preparing the family dinner each night and counting calories, suffice to say I became completely neurotic.

Calorie counting went by the wayside when I realized that turning 20 (or 30, for that matter) didn’t mean I would blow up like a hot air balloon. I led (and lead) a very active life and reward myself with a cardio class or extra few miles of walking in Central Park whenever I overindulge in a caloric vice. But that said, weight maintenance and a quest for physical perfection marry into a haunting little voice that follows me around everywhere. I religiously take yoga and in spite of the non-competitive nature of the practice, I can’t help but compete with myself and aspire to the next double-jointed pose and capacity for fifty chaturangas (the equivalent of a yoga push-up).

Today I ventured to Coney Island on a solo beach escape on a perfect, sunny day. The beach was less crowded than one would expect during the height of the season and I set up camp near the shoreline. Within an hour, a group of friends in their twenties parked their towels and umbrella close to me. I was deeply immersed in “The History of Love,” a book I read with intent as a library notification popped up on my phone declaring it was due imminently. As I was reading, two of the ladies to my right raised their voices and waved in my direction.

“Ma’am. Excuse us! Yes, hello? Excuse us,” they implored.

I felt myself recoil a bit. “Ma’am.” It always feels like I’ve aged fifty years instantly the moment someone calls me “ma’am.” My boyfriend, a native Texan, insists its the only proper way to address a woman and it is a courtesy, not a signifier of age. I set my book to my side, peering over my shades and expecting the group had outgrown selfies and wished for me to take a photo.

“We just wanted to tell you. You’re so hot. You just have a hot body,” the ivory-skinned girl under her newly purchased umbrella replied. I had witnessed her haggle down the price of the umbrella for 20 bucks to 12 after an entrepreneurial beach wanderer came by with his bag of tchotchkes. She was brazen.

“We were just thinking that you don’t even realize how hot you are. You’re just sitting there and reading and we thought you should know you look amazing,” her friend chided in.

I’m lousy with compliments. “I was really just thinking how pale I’ve gotten from being out of the sun all month and feeling a little fat.” It was true. I had been negotiating my planned consumption of Nathan’s cheese fries with a determination to leave the beach in time to make it to “vicious Pilates,” a class that lives up to the hype of the pseudo-name coined by the drill sergeant of an instructor.

“You look gorgeous. Don’t even think that,” the umbrella girl responded.

“I’ll be sure to remind my boyfriend. Thank you. That’s very nice to hear,” I said, trying (albeit unsuccessfully) to accept their kind words with grace.

“You can go back to the book. Sorry for the interruption but you look great. You’re in amazing shape. Carry on!”

I did carry on. And when the initial uneasiness wore off I began to feel really happy and warm all over (maybe the intense sun helped with that a little). While I was picking away at all my mortal flaws, complete strangers were sending me a contradicting message. I texted a close female friend and she quickly replied that of course I had a great body and just who were we comparing ourselves to?

I realize that’s another component of the problem. My friend, who also works in the entertainment industry, is used to the comparison to photoshopped ads, runway models with frighteningly low BMIs, and a lifestyle that prohibits physical flaws. It also prohibits loving the bodies we are in.

A few hours later, before I skirted out the door to “vicious Pilates” with a sticky dusting of sand and sunscreen on my arms and the lingering memory of over-salted cheesy crinkle cut fries I enjoyed guilt-free thanks to my beach neighbors, I recounted the random compliments I received to my boyfriend.

“Oh I bet they were lesbians. Were they hitting on you?” he inquired with a playful smile.

“No, I heard one of them venting about her absent boyfriend.”

“Sure. But they were probably lesbians,” he said, half-joking and half serious.

“Why would you think that?”

“I’m joking!”

“Because girls are always competing with each other you don’t think a straight girl would compliment another girl?”

“Well, pretty much,” he responded, his interest in the entire topic waning.

In my ensuing Pilates class, ninety percent occupied by strong and aspirational women, I looked around and realized how much we should all be complimenting one another. How we should all be enjoying our bodies and physical strength and beauty. And how I feel obliged to pass it forward to other women, no matter how physically stunning they may be or may not be, that in their own way they are amazing and beautiful forces. Compliments of this nature can cause a dramatic shift in thinking, as the self-loathing and critiques are suddenly not so profound or valid. And I can only imagine the seismic shift of consciousness that would occur if as women, we really all took the time to appreciate the amazing physical capabilities we’ve been given.

 

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My Beef With Western Beef: The High Price of Discount Shopping

My boyfriend, in the spirit of a pre-Valentine’s Day celebration, spared me the burden of grocery shopping this week and set out to replenish our cupboards before yet another potentially crippling snowstorm hits New York. We are both proud to be bargain shoppers, following weekly circulars, clipping coupons and reading blogs about frugal finds. He set out (after my gentle but insistent persuasion) to Western Beef, a local discount grocer that is an additional ten block walk from our apartment and offers savings that may not be found in our nearby and smaller gourmet markets.

 My carnivorous boyfriend set out with a backpack and circular, determined to load up on the cheapest and best finds at Western Beef. After a half hour spent filling his cart with various meats, cleaning supplies, produce, sauces, and pasta, he approached the checkout queue with trepidation. Without my keen eye to oversee the checkout, he was worried he would miss being overcharged for an item advertised on sale (an often occurring phenomenon for the busy Manhattanite shopper who is too hurried to notice).

 His checkout began smoothly and accordingly (or so he thought) until he noticed a discrepancy in price for two jars of pasta sauce of the same brand. He inquired why only one of the items was on sale and was informed that the difference between home-style and traditional varieties affected the purchase price. He requested to return the more expensive variety and the cashier alerted the manager that she needed to void a transaction. The manager, somewhat suspicious, had been watching the cashier and approached the register. She voided the item and reviewed all the purchases on the receipt.

“Where are the potato chips? I saw you ring up chips,” the manager stated to the cashier.

“What chips? What chips? I don’t see chips!” the cashier frantically proclaimed. My boyfriend was confused, at first assuming that the manager was the problem.

“Yeah. I didn’t purchase potato chips. I don’t want chips,” my boyfriend responded. 

The cashier, who had been noshing on potato chips while checking out my boyfriend’s items, came to his defense. “Yeah, he didn’t buy any chips.”

In a moment of confusion, it quickly became clear to my boyfriend and the already astute manager that the cashier had charged my boyfriend for the chips she was consuming. The awkwardness of the situation rendered him speechless. They all looked at the chips that had been charged to my boyfriend and rather than apologize, the cashier did little more than continue her defense that he did not buy chips.

The manager corrected and voided the unwanted pasta sauce and chips. The cashier was allowed to continue ringing up his items and my boyfriend was torn between wondering why she was not fired on the spot and empathizing with the circumstances that may lead to such an act. Maybe she saw a man, in a neighborhood overrun with Trump towers, as a source of wealth that could overlook the unwarranted charge, instead of a man who has struggled with the rest of the long-term unemployed in this country and really needed to save money wherever possible. Perhaps she somehow justified it by feeling entitled to something more than the wages she received. Or maybe she just couldn’t fight the irresistible urge that the commercials for Lay’s potato chips warn us about.

My boyfriend and I often argue about the injustice in paying employees so little that after taxes a McDonald’s or Starbuck’s employee can barely afford a few items off the menu after an hour of work. As two sometimes struggling residents of an affluent neighborhood, we are no strangers to income inequality, but wonder if our own obsession with finding the best deal is as much a part of the problem, contributing to companies paying employees less to keep costs lower for consumers. Under no circumstance is it justifiable for a cashier to wrongly charge a customer for his or her purchases, but is it possible to understand why someone would do it?

It’s a bit disturbing to know we not only need to be suspect of price gauging and being overcharged by careless errors, but also by the intentional acts of disgruntled employees. Will it change our purchasing habits? No, I’d imagine we will still occasionally frequent the deals available at Western Beef and other discount stores in our incredibly expensive city. Such shopping habits will come with even more scrutiny at checkout and an uncomfortable mix of empathy and distrust for the store and it’s employees. But somehow (and perhaps this is where empathy and guilt run amok in our minds), we cannot help but feel a bit terrible about what this small incident says about the bigger picture of being a consumer in America.  

My Gratitude for 2013

Mirroring the other stellar year of my early adult life, 1999 (Prince was particularly prescient in his hit track), 2013 was one to remember: full of surprises, change, blessings, and even some distinct challenges. In 2013, interpersonal relationship problems soared and I was forced to make some major decisions, which were amplified in intensity for someone like me, who would just as happily light a few candles, grab a journal, and hide in a room with my dog than to actually approve a major life change. I consider myself lucky enough that the universe was offering me the power of approval in the first place.

Post-college, my girlfriend and I habitually double-dated total strangers. We quickly found that I could be left to the big decisions (who to date and where to go) while the little decisions such as choosing a cocktail or what appetizer to share was much too challenging for me. Somewhere between then and now it all went awry. I became a recipe planner for dinner each night but had not been able to make a major life change in years. Such stability was fabulous for someone who became great at keeping major problems and drama at bay, but not necessarily something that could be maintained until I would one day die of of old age in my sleep on a plush queen bed overcrowded with chenille throws and domesticated animals. I’ve entered 2014 with a bit of confusion, as it took nearly the entire month of December for me to recognize that 2014 would be the new year and not some far off destination, many years in the future. I supposed that’s what happens when most of the years between 1999 and 2013 felt like pure filler and an exasperating climb that had accounted for more slipping backwards than leaping forward. But 2013 really broke the trend for me and with all its tidings, here’s my list of gratitude.

1. Fabulous New Apartment: In 2003, when I returned to New York, I took residence in an 80-square foot SRO (Single Room Occupancy) on West 94th St.with a shared bathroom with ten adults and children from all walks of life. After almost two years, I was fortunate to take over my first real apartment. It was a 250-square foot studio with it’s own kitchen and bathroom and roof access. I spent nearly all of my twenties in my fifth-floor belfry, where I wrote songs and discovered myself. Three years ago, my boyfriend moved in and it was time for expansion, only I was not ready to break up with my studio. But sometimes change is necessary. I upgraded to a fabulous one bedroom in an even more amazing and convenient location. There is so much space compared to my other Manhattan apartments that I have not even bothered to note the square footage, as I had in the past to attract attention to just what little I was working with. My neighbors are incredible, my view of 72nd St. is a constant source of entertainment, the kitchen is brand new, the ceiling go on forever, I have a charming exposed brick wall, and I am just a few minutes from Strawberry Fields in Central Park. 2013 gave me a beautiful new home, that for years, I did not think I needed or deserved. But just because one can happily get on with less, doesn’t mean one must, or else we’d all be living in tents.

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2. National Commercial: To count the number of times I have been edited out or within grasp of booking a national commercial would be an outright challenge requiring lengthy spreadsheet calculations. But this year, in the midst of all my relocation planning, a national spot snuck up on me. I booked a Bud Light commercial and once it started airing, I couldn’t escape the texts from people who saw it everywhere. Particularly through my heartbroken 20’s, when I was crossing my fingers each night for fame and fortune, the spiteful side of me wanted to be successful to the point that all my formers could not escape me. I never thought Bud Light would afford the pleasure, but having a spot that runs during every major sporting event did more than suffice that goal if only a little belated. Now I can more than happily move on to diaper and tampon commercials in 2014.

3. Travel: I entered 2013 with a vow that I was going to travel and planned on at least a trip a month. January started the year with an ill-fated Carnival Cruise and a trip to Texas, but it was all worth an afternoon swim along the coast of Cozumel. I ventured to Charleston and was selected from my college friend from out “Bette or Bust” days to be guests on “Sweet Retreats” in Asheville, NC. James and I went on a couples retreat to Montreal, where we brought our pup, Jack, and luxuriated in a residential neighborhood and climbed Mont Royal (which he failed to realize was in fact climb falsely thinking that Olmstead’s work in Montreal would mirror the ease of a walk through Central Park). The next month we rented a car and went “camping” in a tent among RVs in Salisbury Beach, MA. I spent much of August in Maine, working with girls at a two-week camp, and finished out the year traveling through West Texas again. Though in 2014, I hope for much more international travel, I managed to travel almost entirely for free thanks to http://www.boardingarea.com  and credit card rewards.

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4. Yoga: Though Pilates and cardio were still players, 2013 was about yoga. I finally embraced the need for balance, overcame the dizzying consequences and fear of fainting during certain asanas, and found yogis who have patiently and kindly helped me to develop a practice.

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5. Financial Freedom and Stock Trading: 2013 was my most financially successful year. I can’t say I did very much to make that change. It was the years prior that sort of added up and through this wave of fortune and universal good will, I was very lucky. However, after years of following the markets, I finally took a chance and made some investments and did well. The key to financial freedom comes when you actually realize you can make decisions that will be financially empowering. For all of this, I feel humble and incredibly blessed.

6. Volunteering: I actively volunteered and made an effort to give back. The early months of a year are often very hard for me, with seasonal affect challenges, with less work available in my industry, with taxes on my mind, and the cold weather, it is often very easy for me to become a hermit. But in 2013, I vowed to use my time better and spent many days volunteering with seniors in an arts and craft program. I sought out new opportunities and became head of arts and crafts and a camp counselor for girls in a non-profit two-week program at a camp in Maine. Though it was incredibly challenging, having been stricken with the flu and sleeping on a board in an army cot through 40-degree nights in an open-air cabin, it gave me an entirely new perspective and rattled me out of my comfort zone. The experience offered me some of the most challenging and yet rewarding moments of the year. In December, I volunteered with foster children and felt my heart both melting and breaking apart simultaneously. I quickly realized that any aspirations of being a social worker were quickly shot down as I realized I don’t have the capacity to distance myself enough for such a profession. But those kids offered me a beaming light of unconditional love and acceptance and appreciation in a way I can never forget.

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7. Meditation: If only I had known during that huge block of time between 1999 and 2013 that I could escape all my woes, pain, heartbreak, and manifest great things through the power of meditation. It’s an insomnia cure like no other. It’s a way to focus and prepare and to get un-stuck. It’s too easy to get stuck and overwhelmed and drown out the noise of media-saturated existence but thanks to these same evils, and the power of YouTube, I discovered many great guided meditations. I am particularly grateful for Jody Whiteley, who has transformed many would-be sleepless nights into nights of glorious slumber.

8. New Friendships: This year really brought more female energy into my life. For whatever reason, in a city like New York, it’s always easier to acquire friends of the opposite sex. Maybe it’s because Manhattan is such a town for singles, as most of my closest guy friends were met on dates or during their attempts to date me. Whatever the reason, this year I added many more female friends into my circle. I’m so grateful for this, after feeling a bit unbalanced. It was a great year, where I was able to be part of my friend, Mary’s, bridal party. The wedding and all it’s surrounding activities were really wonderful and I feel so grateful to have been a part of them.

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9. Pat Conroy: “Ambition should always serve as the handmaiden to talent.” Words fail me the most when I think of the depth of gratitude that resonates within me when I think of this man. His books have ushered me from an adolescent dreamer to the person I am today. His personal words of encouragement are but sacred to me, even if I may not find the strength or ability to live up to them, it is certainly within my intentions to try. He stepped in as a mentor, a voice of reason, and an encouraging whisper that comes to me whenever I find myself at a piano and quieting my voice when I should sing out.

10. My Boyfriend: I’m very grateful to celebrate year four with this man. He is the reason I was able to pick up and travel, given the ease to pursue my dreams, the encouragement to move into a bigger and better home, and to keep striving. He encouraged me to take a chance at investing. He sat at the table and let me experiment with baking new ciabatta, trying new curries, re-inventing flavours in the kitchen. He lets me grow as a person in an encouraging way. I’m so thankful for the new adventures we took together and his willingness to step out of his comfort zone this year to let these new experiences occur (inclusive of sleeping in an overheated tent, dancing like it’s 1999 on the dance floor, and being the social butterfly I needed him to be).

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