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.

 

Back From Charleston

Who would’ve imagined with my penchant for Pat Conroy and the tour de force Bette Midler in “For The Boys” that the opportunity to perform for the Citadel would come up? Life certainly has one surprise after another around the bend. I’ve discovered my new favourite beer. It even tops a Guinness in my world and I’ve found myself yearning for the Palmetto Porter, with it’s rich hints of espresso and chocolate deliciousness.

Here are some photos from my travels, although I think the off-site location near a raging river, cool air, and rain was quite a preparation for my future performance at Jones Beach, where the weather is always a beast.

 
Signing cd’s after the Show


In The Secret Chambers For Bulldog Radio


Ready To Take Off

Conversations in Rockport

I have always been an escapist. When stress is high the closest bus, train, plane, or rental car becomes my refuge. I’ve felt this pull for over the past year and half, strongly rooted in New York City but yearning to have a simpler life in New England. I escaped to Salem and Rockport, MA this past weekend to enjoy my favourite holiday with my “Bette or Bust” partner-in-crime. We received a “spiritual reading” on Halloween from three readers, which conjured images “two wheels in opposite directions with a flame in the middle” for my friend’s reading. I, on the other hand, seemed to bring up “wings that are ready to soar,” a “big pearl encased in a shell” that would soon be a pearl necklace, and a crown that ensured I was a princess who would be aided by a knight. I’m not sure about all the metaphors, but I think the positivity of the reading was sound. We’ve both always felt a higher calling to create good from our passion and take off. When we wrote “Bette or Bust,” and subsequently came up with tv-pitches and screenplays I was barely 18 years old. The main reader (oddly younger than both of us) concluded in a paternal tone, “You girls are just really good girls. You don’t get told it enough, but you need to hear it.” It can bring tears to my eyes now because I know the true motivation for my drive and ambition, the true intent behind all this struggle and stress, is that I feel such an obligation to spread light and be of use to the world. It’s the concern of not doing enough that cripples me at times and surely inspired the last blog.

Alone in Rockport, I wandered along the coast and the novelty shops and art galleries. The artistic spirit and kindness of the community was truly inspirational. After purchasing a handful of used books, I sat on a bench on Main St. and began to journal. A page into my writing, a little girl approached with her family dog, waiting for her mom to finish shopping.

“What are you writing?” she asked, peering over my hand.

“It’s just my journal. I’m visiting here and I wanted to write about it” I answered.

“Oh. Is that so you can remember everything that happens? I like writing. I used to have really bad handwriting because I looked at my handwriting from two years ago and it’s getting a lot better.”

“Well, you should definitely keep a journal. I have been writing since I was a kid and have years I can go back and remember,” I told her. “How old are you?”

“I’m 9, but I turned 9 a long time ago in April so I think it’s going to be my birthday soon.” We continued to chat for another ten minutes about the treats she planned on buying for her dog and piano lessons, as she asked to sit closer to me. It was a rare moment. Living in New York, children rarely strike conversations with strangers on the street. It’s just not safe or promoted. Her mom approached with her new purchases.

“This is my new acquaintance,” she told her mom before turning to me. “What’s your name?”

“Michelle,” I told her.

“I’m Nadia. I always ride my scooter down this street so if you see me you can say ‘hi’.” She hopped on her scooter as her mom took the dog’s leash. Not more than halfway down the block she came to an abrupt stop and turned around. “You know you can write about our conversation if you want. So you can remember me,” Nadia shouted.

Her mother laughed in embarassment, turning to me with a shrug. Nadia began to explain about my writing to her mother and as her voice trailed off, I began to write about the experience, fresh in my mind. Our encounter was a pivotal moment for me, as a flood of memories from my childhood and growing up in a small town came to me. It was a marker on the timeline of my life; an urgence as insistent as the waves crashing along the shore behind me. I want to live in New England and cannot imagine another place to raise my children someday. As far off as that may be, I wish it were possible to live in two locations as once. While New York feeds my spirit and soul with it’s frenetic energy, Rockport brings a stillness, self-reflection, and contentment that I have not felt since I was a child. I long to someday look out my window and see the rocky coastline, sitting behind a piano.  I’m very grateful to have had the experience and for my new “acquaintance,” Nadia.

Manifesting Travel and Rock

I’m starting to be ambitious in pursuit of travel- so here are all the
adventures I’d like to take this year- for my spiritual growth, and for
my own efforts as a rockstar.

1. South by Southwest- Austin, TX March 12-16th.
2. Hawaii (definitely visiting a friend there soon).
3. Bonaroo- June 12-15th, Manchester, TN
4. Newport Folk Festival~ August 3rd-5th
5. Las Vegas- to catch Bette’s run at Caesar’s
6. Coachella Music Festival
7. Burning Man

And- 8. A two-week tour of venues TBA.

We’ll see how it goes, and what gets crossed of my list this year! I need some new travel partners.

Cozumel

I’ve been traveling, working, and on the go so much I haven’t had the chance to blog about Cozumel. I had such an incredible time. In fact, for a week I would wake up every morning and think I was still there. The weather, the food, the people, the beach, the ceverza… I found myself missing it all. The travel to and from was a complete disaster, with constant delays and problems but the rest of the vacation was seamless.

I travelled with my younger brother and it was his first trip out of the country. For those idiotas (a commonly used insult among Mexican children), who thought it was strange to travel with family and not have some lavish affair with some dude that would eventually leave me heartbroken, I think they should get a friggin’ life. Upon arrival, every shopowner and salesperson at the various stores along the waterfront thought we were newlyweds. Of course, this amused me because it means I apparently look young enough to be with a 19-year-old. Go me. Everytime one of us would reply that we’re hermanos, the sales guys would try and lure me in with their charms. One even slapped a bracelet on my arm as a gift, even though I protested that I never wear jewelry.
 

The photo above was taken the first day we arrived and the beach was across the street from our hotel. Unlike the fucking regulations-weighted beaches of the United States, the entire coast is open for the public to swim at. That’s right, just along the docks for the major cruiselines, entire Mexican families could be seen swimming and jumping off the docks. It really irritated me that our country, founded by people who were sick of strict regulations and answering to a government, has a rule for everything. Just try and go to half of the beaches in NYC and you’ll find how many ban swimming because no lifeguard is on duty. 

This also holds true for the legal drinking age, which makes far more sense in Mexico. It was a perk for my brother, who could enjoy being “legal” for a change. Since water costs as much, if not more, than beer, we found ourselves
drinking Sol and Corona on a regular basis. The second day, we decided to walk to a local beach. Yes, we were the only gringos. I befriended a six-year-old girl named Aura, who’s mother was scarcely 21 and who’s entire family of cousins and other siblings were swimming among the reefs. She asked to see my eyes and said she only knew one other person who had blue eyes before. I always prefer speaking Spanish with children because they’re so much more understanding of miscommunication. While we chatted, her cousins and friends were daring one another to speak to the gringos. It was so cute.

 

Every morning we awoke at the hotel to fresh juices, a chef ready to cook our breakfast, pastries, yogurt, and a buffet of pure splendor. It was also free, included in our especially low hotel rate. While at breakfast, the maid would clean our hotel room and rearrange the towels to emulate different shapes and animals. I only wish I had taken more photos of her creations (the elephant was my personal favourite).
   


We took a quick ferry ride to Playa del Carmen, to visit some sandy beaches and the mainland. A major storm passed through while we were on the beach and there was no where to run for cover. So, I clung to a palm tree as the rain pellets pounded against the sand while my brother swam in the ocean. I know palm trees tend to have a great allure and are seemingly romantic and fun, but palm trees are homes to bugs. Lots of bugs that were more than happy to climb all over me as I clung to their tropical home. Thankfully, the weather cleared up quickly and we found this amazing healthfood restaurant called 100% Natural. Dinner and drinks came to $10 each… my brother also became the proud owner of a palm grasshopper that pledged to put food on the table for a local family.

 

 

 

The rest of the week we spent snorkeling. This, as I’ve mentioned, is my new favourite activity. The first time we took a glass-bottom boat out to sea with a bunch of tourists and locals. The boat offered free equipment use (which caused my entire face to breakout… although it was worth it) and unlimited beverages. Between the beer, soda, water, and bumpy waves, I swear my bladder nearly exploded. I was near tears when the following photo was taken and my brother found it amusing to constantly make jokes about my condition. I’ll tell you, the boat wasn’t even completely docked and I pushed my brother forward and jumped ship, running down the pier to the bathroom. Then again, no vacation is ever complete without one instance in which I have to desperately find a bathroom.

Each day ended with a swim or lounge at the hotel pool, because six hours a day of swimming JUST wasn’t enough.

The last day we went snorkling at Sunset Beach, this time choosing to walk two miles back into town. In order to keep the taxis busy, you cannot find a map in Cozumel that indicates how far the beaches really are from the city. We were the only tourists to walk and the funniest part of the entire trip occurred as we walked in the blistering sun along the local beaches. Seated in the natural jacuzzi of this small beach swam twelve children and a little boy, no more than four-years-old, saw my brother and me and started screaming, “Mira! Gringos!” Next thing we knew, all the children stood up and turning around, jumping and waving at us. It was a riot. Like we were some kind of sideshow. I really cannot wait to return, if only for another chance to be a sideshow act.

At the airport, where a little boy thought my brother was a real cowboy. He was the perfect companion on this adventure and I cannot wait until the next one. We’re thinking Thailand.

Sweet Dreams

While staying at the plush Crowne Plaza in Albany last month, my best friend and I were well-received for a luxury stay. The following photo I just came across and it absolutely cracks me up. Of course, my batteries died and I didn’t get any shots of us in our glamourous attire, or of me pounding on the keys of a grand piano in the wee small hours of the morning. There’s nothing more alluring to me than an empty banquet hall or theatre and a grand piano in the middle of the night. The maintenance crew stuck around for a performance, but unfortunately no photos were taken.

In our room was a “luxury” package to help have a perfect night’s rest. This included lavendar bed spray, earplugs, an eye mask, and most importantly… some hypnotic guru’s cd that was meant to help one relax. I decided to stage the following photo, in which I could barely contain the giggles as the relaxing cd played. Basically a man in a deep voice spoke throughout the cd, as he urged his tired listeners to “Gently squeeze your buttocks. Now release. Now squeeze your buttocks again and feel all the tension of the world leave those tender muscles. Release again.” It did not relax me, but it gave me fodder for the dinner table later that night. I know my best friend will possibly kick my ass for posting this photo of her female replication of Zorro. I wonder if the hypnotic guru would find ass-kicking to be supplemental remedy for insomnia.

California Dreamin’

Two painful relationships. A year of objectification, rejection, and being treated as a disposable piece of Charmin. The death of a second mother to me. It’s taken me four years to make peace with Los Angeles. When my anxiety level was on the rise and my dreams crumbling into dust below my tired feet, something inside me had the yearning to return to LA. I was 19 when I moved there… a college graduate, a naive optimist, and a girl running on the fuel of passion. I know that I left LA much too soon, just as I was beginning to establish myself New York began to call me home. I’m glad it did. I needed to blossom in the urban, eclectic concrete land of Manhattan. But I also needed to let go my resentment of Los Angeles, and my own incessant habit of beating myself to a pulp (if it were the middle ages I’d be flogging myself in the streets) for not becoming an instant success. I knew this year that it was time to face that part of me and remember the happiness and blind ambition that got me to buy a car and drive across the country at such a young age.

My pal, Benjamin, picked me up in Burbank after an early morning flight and escape from torrential flooding on the east coast. We went to Carl’s Jr. (the spicy chicken sandwich is back to 99 cents! That sandwich was reason enough for me to make a trip back to the left coast). Then we headed to the beach and I relished in the sun. My pupil’s haven’t been that small in over nine months. God bless sunlight and warmth. Thanks to the Santa Ana winds, the smog took a temporary leave of absence.

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My second night brought a round of adventures with the LA Swooner (* note I will be blogging about my tendency for nicknames for people in my life. Such an eclectic bunch). He was gracious, kind, witty, and a delight as always… and in my heart I began to see that I’ve missed California. I’ve missed the optimistic, forever-pushing 19-year-old girl that believed the pieces would fall together and carry me through this life. In all the trials and challenges the past four years, I’ve grown stronger and more confident and wise, but it’s come at the high cost of losing faith and hope for the sake of being guarded and jaded. The Swooner said it best, when he told me, “Yeah, you have these dreams that you live for and passionate for but at the same time they’re like a prison that keeps you.” It’s what I’d like to refer to as being “Chained by Dreams.”

   

   

I sought refuge along the PCH, where I used to go to write in my journal while dreaming of performing with Stevie Nicks, where I would rewrite my scripts, and plot about my future. Ben and I went for a walk along the beach shops and were yelled at for taking a photo as we clowned around in a novelty shop. It was well worth the crime. In my festive orange dress, which I purchased at “Michelle’s” (even though Benjamin thought the dress was too bright for my personality), we spent the night getting some great Mexican food before I hopped on the red eye.

 

I landed at JFK at five am on my birthday… a milestone, I guess. Two coasts for one tranquil celebration. Lacking the necessary winter attire (it was 40 degrees warmer when I flew out), I came back to my gypsy-adorned apartment and huddled up with my little cat, peaceful, grateful, and renewed. In the evening I rehearsed with the band, exploring three hours of singing my heart out. Following practice I met up with Chelsea and my sister, Tiffy Poo, for some celebration.

 
(Gotta love the Lalo Supershake… dessert and liquor blended in one)


A trio of Intoxicated WASPS.

We hit up Cafe Lalo, and then onto a neighborhood pub where I danced around to “Dreams” and happily made a toast to my future fame and fortune. And even though I’m still miles away from where I want to be, I took a moment to celebrate the fact that in all these years of pushing, striving, living, and dreaming, I have never given up. I used to joke about wanting to learn to be a quitter… but that’s not a mold meant for me. In my orange hippy dress, surrounded by the love of my friends, I finally acknowledged and appreciated the one thing I have managed to achieve in twenty-five years on this planet. It may be a small component of my character, and not always the best for my overused mind and under-appreciate heart, but I may have mastered one art:  the art of resiliance.


Have you any dreams you’d like to sell??


Thunder only happens when it’s raining…
Players only love you when they’re playing.

 
But women, they may come and they may go.
When the rain washes you clean you’ll know… you will know.