Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Trippin': Best of the Midwest

This past week I went on my first ever road trip!  (Family driving vacations, as fun as they are, not included, for obvious reasons).

After many years of Girl Scout camping trips, it has always been a dream of ours to take a Culties road trip.  Unfortunately, in the past few years, we have become more geographically distant than many of us would like to be, and having everyone in the same place at the same time is nearly impossible.

However, when a few of us found ourselves overlapping for a few days at home, it only made sense to scurry across the Midwest and see what kind of trouble we could find. 

Only after about an hour of driving south on the Toll way, my mom’s suggestion as there was major construction on the highway (who knew?!)  we realized that a) we didn’t know where the highway was, b) we didn’t have a map, a compass, GPS, or really any way to know where we were going!  But, not a problem, Girl Scouts are always prepared, and the three of us were confident in our navigational skills. 

“Look!” I exclaimed as I pointed from the front seat to a blue sign with an H in it, “The highway! We found it!” 
My friends collapsed in laughter.  Turns out, this means Hospital, not highway. 

Guess I shouldn’t have doodled and daydreamed my way through driver’s ed.  

At this point, I should probably mention that at no point in this entire journey was I behind the wheel.  I shriek at the sight of a truck in my rearview mirror, the radio easily distracts me from changing traffic signals, so no, the life of my friends was not going to be put in my hands. 
Beautiful Midwestern landscape. 
But this was what was so special about our trip:  we each have our own special qualities that bring us closer together: humor, patience, bravery, a sense of direction, and spending countless hours in a car together forced us to bond even quicker, to take advantage of each other’s talents and utilize our strengths to get to our final destination. 

We made up a license plate game to keep us entertained when miles of cornfields seemed almost unbearable (Midwest = 1 point, South = 2 points, West = 3 points, East = 4 points, Canada = 10 points, Hawaii or Alaska win the game).  I highly recommend it, but be forewarned, it gets competitive when you spot Oregon simultaneously!

Queens of the Midwest!
We made playlists of our favorite old and new music, sang the entire Dreamgirls soundtrack, reminisced about our times dancing to Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, and learned all the words to Ellie Goulding’s newest album. 

We saved a dog’s life, made quirky and interesting new friends, tried local cuisine (read: various fried foods), learned about the imprecise albeit fascinating history of Route 66, debated whether wearing boating shoes made it a cruise instead of a road trip, kept each other constantly entertained, stayed dry at a zoo in the rain, and so much more. 

While the trip was short, it was so memorable.  We could have been in the middle of nowhere (and we pretty much were, for the most part Southern Illinois/Missouri are not epicenters of excitement) but we had each other for everything we could ever need.  Having best friends is the absolute best.  

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Cory & Me

"If aliens are watching this through telescopes, they're gonna think
the dogs are the leaders. If you see two life forms, one of them's making a
poop, the other one's carrying it for him, who would you assume was in charge?" –Jerry Seinfeld
Disclaimer: I recently saw a play, “No More Dead Dogs” in which high schoolers protest reading books about dogs because they always die in the end.  This post is NOT like that.  
For as long as I can remember, I always wanted a dog. I brought my stuffed dog, Fluffy, pretty much everywhere, until he was covered in paint and far less furry than when he’d received his fitting name. 

From the time I could read, I was checking out books about breeds, and training, and talking dogs from the library, often bragging to the librarian that I would receive a fluffy red Cock-a-Poo for my next birthday. I got a hot pink Furby instead.

My dad had been raised with poodles, my mom, on the other hand, was not a dog lover, and determined that cleaning up after two kids was enough. Given my inability to do laundry, I guess I have to concur. 

In third grade, my best friend got her ears pierced after proving to her parents that she could keep her room clean for six weeks, the amount of time she’d need to dedicate to cleaning her piercings. I tried this same tactic, but to no avail. 

By now, I had Woof at my side and decided that fake dog walks down the street, using a jump rope as a leash and a ribbon as a collar would prove my responsibility, my determination to have a jumpy, barking, pettable creature greet me at the door when I returned home from school and to sit on my lap when I watched TV. 

Best of both worlds. 

Better than the Furby, my parents decided to reward my efforts with two hamsters, Fluffy and Lucky. I screamed in horror whenever they came near me. Their cage smelled awful. Their toys went unused. Lucky bit Fluffy’s ear off and eventually bit my finger as well. Fluffy died of a stomach tumor, Lucky was released into the ravine behind our house shortly after. 

It may sound cruel, but I wanted a canine, not a rodent.

At this point, I was prepared to enlist my younger brother in the quest for a dog, and he readily started finding adoptable puppies on the Internet and facts on Retrievers and Labradors and mixed breeds. 

Sadly enough, my dreams had not been realized by my birthday and my dear friend decided to get me a “grow-a-frog” as a gift.  The Number One rule of gift giving is never give anything living.  If it’s not, it should be.  The adorable tadpole in the kit soon grew into a cute frog that needed tedious water changes to prevent foul odors from overwhelming my bedroom. This was not exactly what I imagined as a dream pet. 

One evening during a particularly tragic water-changing event, my dad accidently put hot water instead of cold into the tank, boiling my pet into soup and causing a flow of tears that could have filled the tank with the cold water necessary for frog survival.  My dad felt terrible and promised that the next afternoon after synagogue we could discuss getting a puppy. 

Much to my luck, the second frog I had sent away for arrived in the mail that afternoon and all hopes of having a dog were lost.  This frog reeked worse than the first, croaked louder when I was sleeping, and was an all around creepier amphibian to have in my daily life.  After years of desperately asking friends to babysit the poor creature, he was finally released into the wild, in a nice river in a nature preserve where he still lives happily to this day. 

Now, it may sound like I’m a bit of a pet killer, but my Furby is still safely blinking and crowing from my closet!

By the end of middle school, I had mostly given up on my dog owning dreams.  I changed the theme of my Bat Mitzvah from Dogs to Monkeys, started collecting makeup over dog accessories, and spent my time reading Seventeen instead of Dog Fancy magazine.   

And yet, my brother was still not ready to let go of the dream.  He continued researching and begging and pleading, until finally one day after family brunch downtown, he convinced my parents to visit a local puppy store, where we immediately fell in love with a golden miniature poodle. 

I use “we” gently.  I didn’t particular like this puppy, he kept biting my fabulously stylish gaucho pants and I had been disappointed by puppy shopping far too many times that I just wanted to leave and hang out with my friends. 

The week before I started high school, my parents purchased our first puppy and suddenly I realized that my last fourteen years of work had been absolutely worth it. 

Puppy's first day home!
After a few days of heavily debating names (my brother wanted Rex, because it sounded tough; my dad wanted Mincha because it was the name of the prayer service that occurred at the time of the puppy’s adoption; my mom was too busy on the phone shocking everyone with the news of our new family member to really care too much), we chose my suggestion, Cory, after everyone’s favorite curly-haired sweetheart from Boy Meets World.

Cory was difficult, at best. He howled when we went to bed and left him downstairs in his crate, which we learned to call his “home,” to be more positive. Cory peed on my friends’ laps and on schoolbooks I left on the floor. He wouldn’t stop humping. He shredded many jeans, chewed apart computer chargers, ran barking loudly down the street with no chance of being caught without the reward of a juicy hot dog, which we kept stocked in the freezer.

But, of course, Cory was too unbelievably cute to hold any grudges against, and only seconds after he stained the carpet we’d be tickling his tummy and cooing over him once again. 

I grew to love my dog faster than I ever imagined.  He was there to cuddle with whenever I wanted, I could bake special treats for him and know that he’d enjoy them as if Julia Child had prepared them himself, he’d go on walks with me so I wouldn’t have to be alone.  Cory would listen to my secrets without judgment, agree with my opinions on tough social situations, be the loving third-party in any family feud that would arise. He has a great "Doganality" as we put it, always smiling and looking precious and perfect in any situation.  
Before Cory, I had no idea that dogs yawned or sneezed or were so cozy to snuggle with. I didn’t know how happy I would feel upon hearing my dog barking with excitement right before I entered the house.  I never considered what dogs were thinking about or if they even thought at all or if when Cory twitched in his sleep he was indicating a bad dream or merely an itch.  I was stunned to learn that dogs can have a vocabulary of upwards of 40 words, depending on how smart they are. 

Cory is the Albert Einstein of dogs.  And I’m not just saying this because they’re both Jewish. 
Cory is brilliant.  He’s bilingual.  He closes drawers when we leave them open.  He helps drive and honks the horn in busy traffic. He changes TV channels when I’m watching bad reality shows. Never  has he attempted to drink out of the toilet. 
Everyone says her dog is the best, I’m quite aware.  But I can say with confidence, that Cory is truly the world’s best dog.  Yes, he eats his fair share of toilet paper, and yes, he may lick my friend’s feet with a little too much vigor, but he is so much smarter, cuter, more talented, and more loving than any four-legged creature that walks this planet.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The End of the World

Contrary to popular belief, and much to my own personal astonishment, the world did not end today.  Shocking, I know, but at 6:00 I was quite contently making a fool of myself in dance class, awkwardly shrugging my shoulders up to my enormous ears when I should have been sensually shimmying to the music.  I am no Tila Tequila. 

However, all this hype made me think about the end of the world, about what would actually happen if I knew for sure the world was ending in a matter of days, minutes even.  What would I do?  Who would I call?  Where would I go?  And most importantly, what would I eat? 

This is the worldwide web, so I’m going to stray from specifics, as I’m pretty sure Tyra/future employers/my rabbi keep up with my blog regularly. 

Before May 21st’s projected end of the world, my world completely fell apart. 

One after another, all the things that kept me stable and happy started slipping away from me, and I felt like I lost all sense of control. 

It started slowly at first, school stress, family fights, friendship drama, relationship challenges, all the regular issues a college student endures, nothing to get too bummed about. 

And suddenly everything built up. Maintaining my Dean’s List status meant sacrificing valuable time I could be maintaining relationships with old friends.  Having a wonderful relationship meant lying to my family.  Lying to my family equated to constant paranoia over what my friends knew and said and repeated.  Paranoia about my friends’ activity led to unnecessary insecurity about my relationship.  Ridiculous insecurities led to me being unpleasant, upset and angry and sad and frustrated for no understandable reason, taking it out on the people I loved most. There was so much to be afraid of and I just wanted to believe I was fearless. 

I denied my own unhappiness because it made no sense to me.  I had it all: a fantastic life in New York City, amazing friends, love.  I was brighter, prettier, and all around more talented than most people, so what is there to be miserable about? 

I remembered being happy, fantasizing about the times I felt light and free and on top of the world, a mere three or six months ago, and I had faith that this too shall pass, and I wouldn’t feel so heavy and bogged down and glum. I excused my behavior for so many reasons: bad weather, lack of sleep, PMS.

I distanced myself from the girl who would silently cry herself to sleep, unsure why the tears came in the first place.

I blamed those nearest and dearest to me for not making me happy enough, for not doing enough for me, for not understanding anything I was going through. But how could they when I couldn’t even acknowledge my own struggles? I was strong and independent and didn't need help from anyone, especially when nothing was wrong. I didn't want to be a burden. 

I knew I was loved by so many people, but I had stopped loving myself.  I couldn’t turn to anyone, I couldn’t ask for help. I didn’t need any help- why would I? 

And then the world came to an end. 

And I was still alive.

I had been living and breathing for so long, walking and talking and thinking and feeling, but I wasn’t living.  My world had been slipping away from me for so long, and I thought I was ready to let it go.

My friends and family were there to pick up the pieces of the world I had crushed and forced into the ground.  They were there with tight hugs and kind words and luminous smiles and delicious treats.  They told me they had always been there, that I could always tell them what I was feeling, what disturbed me, what I needed to feel good. 

They had no idea I was so unhappy, or unhappy at all for that matter.  I’m all giggles and smiles and fun all the time. I have an ideal life.  What went wrong? 

Everything.  Everything was wrong for so long, and kept getting worse and worse and worse.

And then it started to get better. 

Faster than everything went downhill, I defied the laws of physics as everything started looking brighter and happier and more hopeful. 

Life is great!

Bad things happen.  So do great, amazing things.  You have to have some bad in order to appreciate all the good.  You have to endure stress and loss and disappointment in order to fully appreciate all the truly wonderful things life has to offer.  What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  

I’m happy.  I really am.  It really took me falling apart to begin to work on myself and become the best me possible.  And I know I’m still getting there, problems don't just disappear overnight, but for the first time in far too long I feel so good.  I’ve been able to express things I’ve never been able to express, to see the world for the beautiful place it truly is, and to love myself for who I really am. I've reconnected with old friends, opened up to family members who became distant over the years, and suddenly I feel like everything is falling into place. I haven't bit my nails in a month, truly record-breaking, and I have no desire to. I’ve been having so much fun, feeling so real and alive and ready to take on the world. And it’s truly amazing. 

The false ending of the world taught me how much I have to appreciate and how truly fortunate I am for all that I have.  There’s so much to live for, so many beautifully unpredictable things to look forward to, so many mistakes to make and learn from and perhaps go back and fix. 

I can only hope that the Mayans are wrong about 2012, just like they were with the Conquistadors and anesthesia, because there are so many incredible things just waiting to happen and I want to experience them all!  

Giraffes, for one, are incredible.

Monday, May 16, 2011

I Throw My Hands Up In The Air Sometimes

I danced the role of Gingerbread in my dance studio’s production of “The Nutcracker” in 2002. All evidence of this performance has been destroyed, but the fond memories live on. I was much too old to be in the Sugar Plum Court, and as I tried on my one-piece, brown felt costume the week before the dress rehearsal, I broke down in tears.  I was supposed to be Prima Ballerina, what was I doing wearing a smelly old potato sack?  I had a solo, for goodness sake, bouréeing across the stage to give Clara her tiara.  It was humiliating.  My mom told me I could quit, I wasn’t contracted or anything, but I was too afraid to let the director down.  Not only was she terrifying, but without me, the performance clearly could not go on- Clara’s dream wouldn’t be complete without my vital participation! I was a star in my own rite. 

My dance career only took off from there! I joined my middle school’s pom-pom squad, show choir, and when I moved up to high school, I joined the step dancing team (this is a story for another time), performed in the spring dance concert, and sacrificed my lunch period for additional performance classes. I spent hours in dance class each week, traveled to Upstate New York for performing arts camp, took intensive pre-college workshops in Chicago.   I still know every word to Flashdance and Dirty Dancing
I was told I was good, but not a star.  Ouch.  It never bothered me that I was usually placed in the back row during ensemble numbers—I’m tall!  When an instructor moved me from the head of the barre to the middle, I blamed it on the fact that I had a wandering mind and couldn’t always remember the precise combinations, no big deal, my technique was great. I still firmly believe this-- memorizing plie and tendue combinations is challenging! 

I’m gangly and awkward.  There’s no way to get around it.  It took me about 17 years to embrace this.  I slowly phased out dance as a lifestyle and turned it into more of a hobby.  Which was totally fine, I didn’t need to be a triple threat, my other talents were suffice. 

And while I may be gangly and awkward, I also have tons of energy. 

Sophomore year of high school, I began taking yoga.  It was nice.  Sometimes we did downward facing dog to Corrine Bailey Rae.  Occasionally we’d breathe in rhythm with a gong.  I’d roll up my mat feeling restless. 

Junior year, I began kickboxing.  It was awesome. I felt tough, I felt powerful, I felt so cool.  My friends and I would gear up for an hour of jumping around and punching to Michael Jackson and Britney Spears re-mixes while the instructor would call out directions.  Occasionally, she’d go for a sip of water or to change the track and I’d be left in front, trustworthy enough to lead the group in Uppercuts and Roundhouse kicks.  This was so much better than ballet!  I could follow the combinations.  I could envision fighting my enemies. My gangliness gave me that extra oomph in the double-time exercises. I’d leave every week feeling amazing! 

Inevitably, the gym schedule changed and my weekly cardio kickboxing routine was replaced by Zumba. Zumba, what the hell was that?  And more importantly, why would I want to do anything any less badass than kickboxing

But I needed something to do with my endless energy, as I had kicked my tap shoes, jazz sneakers, and ballet slippers far into the depths of my closet. After a week of monotonous repetitions with the Jackie Warner DVD in my living room, I begrudgingly agreed to try Zumba.  (This is not an insult to Jackie, I love her dearly, but something about counting to twenty with a recording while flexing my abs and waving my arms just wasn’t cutting it for me).

Zumba was unbelievable.  It was everything a gangly, ex-dancer, Latina-wannabe could ever wish for.  And more.  We shook our hips to Ricky Martin and Shakira and Michael Buble and the Hairspray soundtrack.  We grapevined across the floor and waved our arms to the music and shook our booties wildly.  Whatever we did, however badly we messed up, the teacher continued dishing out constant praise and smiles.  There was no one holding a cold pole to keep my knees straight, no one correcting me for pivoting to my left instead of my right.  It was just fun! 

I love dancing, I love to dance, but I’m not a dancer.  And for this reason, Zumba has been my perfect solution to life.  I always leave feeling so alive, so free, so on top of the world.  I can move my body like a maniac, shout out affirmations with my fellow Zumba-ers (Yeah!  Wooo!), and just let go of all my worries.  I can only imagine how crazy I look, twisting my bony hips in a figure eight and throwing my long arms in the air, but it doesn’t matter!  Everyone is perfect in Zumba. 

I may never be Prima Ballerina, my name will never be in lights at the New York City Ballet, but for an hour every week, I am the Dancing Queen, and that’s more than enough for me.  

Snow White at age 6

Wednesday, May 11, 2011


I grew up in a bubble.  A bubble with perfectly manicured lawns, perfectly manicured women (and men and children), and more seemingly perfect people than you would ever expect to meet.  But perfect is a pretty relative term.

In Highland Park (Chai-land Park as it is referred to by haters outsiders), it’s perfectly normal to see eight-year-olds running around with Venti soy sugar-free vanilla lattes while texting their fellow third graders from their iPhones.  Getting your first Juicy Couture velour suit at the age of ten is like a rite of passage.  Your Super Sweet Bat Mitzvah can’t beat mine.  There were six dancers.  And massive centerpieces.  And an unlimited dessert buffet. In high school, you may have to wake up five minutes earlier to find a parking spot wide enough for your Hummer, you know, before all the other seventeen year olds with Hummers fill them up.  And of course, the biggest decision of your life comes at the end of senior year: prom limo or prom party bus? 

This is a big generalization, of course.  I grew up with some of the most down-to-earth, authentic people you’ll ever meet.  They shopped at Target, clipped coupons, raked their own leaves, but all inside the comforts of our protective bubble, of course. There are so many great programs and events and people in the HP I could barely even begin to describe them all.  

Every other storefront in my beloved city is beauty shop or a bank.  We used to joke that we have too much money and look way too good.  It’s not far from the truth. 

I’m not trying to snub the 60035.  It’s my hood.  I’d get it tattooed on my knuckles if I didn’t have career ambitions.  Or, you know, vanity issues. 

Growing up, I babysat for hours so I could afford glittery Abercrombie tops and a rainbow of Juicy hoodies.  I also received a very generous allowance, enjoyed weekly shopping trips with my mom, and never thought twice about the price of food or gas or pretty much anything.  Unlike many of my peers, not everything was handed to me on a silver platter—I worked hard for what I wanted and made sure to get it.  I wanted it, it was mine, whatever it took. 

But in my tiny bubble, it was easy to forget that watching Nickelodeon for $12/hour so I could buy another pair of Seven for All Mankind jeans was not quite equivalent to having a part-time, minimum wage job at Dairy Queen so I could attempt to pay college tuition and have minimal loans.  Appreciation for what I had barely ever crossed my mind.   

With Twitter accounts like Whitegirlproblem and websites like Sushi With My Girls, it’s easy to poke fun at ourselves, to laugh at our obsession with overpriced mochas and manicures and Mean Girls.  I’m not going to deny that any of those things are like, so fetch, but it’s not the real world.  My personal tragedy of spilling soy sauce from my sushi on my Macbook while trying to take notes at my top rate private university barely even compares to real world issues.  And while I adore returning to my dear bubble on Lake Michigan, every time I’m back I realize the importance of popping the bubble, seeing the bigger picture, while acknowledging all the while how my bubble prepared me in the best possible way to face the world head on. 

So many of us who grew up in this bubble know how to get what we want and we’re not going to settle for less.  We’re used to constantly competing to be accepted to the best and most selective programs, to follow the hottest trends while still expressing our individuality, to be smart and nice and pretty and funny and popular and all around perfect.  It’s a lot of pressure, but after finally bursting out of the bubble, breaking into the real world, you learn to become resilient, understanding that you deserve everything you want and can work for it. No is not an answer.  

You can take the girl out of North Shore but you can’t take the North Shore out of the girl.  And let me just say, there is nothing I’d rather be than a Highland Parker/ New Yorker hybrid.  You can have your sushi and eat it too.