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.

 

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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