Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – Self-Quarantine, Week 1

When I last left you, we were cruising our way back from Mexico and praying that when we woke up, we’d be docked in San Pedro, California as planned. I knew from the other cruises where issues occurred that if there was a problem, we’d be floating out at sea, not docked, so I was relieved when I opened my eyes at sunrise and stepped out on our balcony to see shipping containers, concrete and graffiti, instead of open water. I can safely say I’ve never been happier to see a shipping container in my life.

As we disembarked, we gave each other air high-fives for having made it to terra firma and laughed as the customs agent made a K-pop reference to my son, eyeing his hair in the latest shade of light pink, his glasses frames reminiscent of something my father had definitely worn in the 1950s. We’d cruised, we Mexicoed, we were unstoppable.

It was only when we got into the car and drove home to Arizona that the new reality of life really hit us. The streets were bare and I wondered for a minute if we were the last family left on earth, like a weird episode of Black Mirror (or the Twilight Zone for you boomers). My texts lit up with friends making sure we’d disembarked, warning us there was nothing left at the grocery store; that the country was in a state of emergency and that coronavirus cases were tripling, if not quadrupling by the minute in our country.

It was then that my panic set in. We’d left the country a week before, optimistic that this virus was manageable, containable. We returned to a completely different time and place.

At home, we readied for a self-imposed fourteen day quarantine. With my husband’s office closed, my daughter’s school closed, it made it easy for us to hunker down in our home and stay in for the long haul, waiting out the prescribed days for signs of infection, to protect those who had not chosen to cruise out of the country. My normal work from home routine already well established, my dog and I prepared for the invasion and interruption of our daily process.

When Monday morning arrived, I moved my work station to the kitchen table, since my husband needs dual screens for work more than I do. My daughter’s school had not yet made mention of online classes, so she easily continued in vacation mode and slept until noon. The dog, not used to having so many of us home during the day, paced back and forth between my husband’s feet and mine, finally settling on a sunny spot outside on the patio. I guess even dogs understand the need for social distancing.

Outside it was a usual Arizona March day – meaning it was perfect; sunny, somewhere in the mid-70 degrees, with a hint of the scent of fresh leather and string from a newly sewn baseball and the itch of yellow pollen that would make anyone’s eyes a watery fountain on the best of days.

See, whoever put this virus in the middle of allergy season has a very sick sense of humor. Any minute, I feel I could be either dying of the virus, or out of breath from hay fever, who can tell? Either way, I keep my inhaler close by. Any time we feel the slightest bit warm, out comes the thermometer to confirm we have no hint of a fever, the one attribute of the virus we’ve clung to as a tell-tale sign. Seven days have passed since disembarking the cruise; so far, so good.

I find a 30 day yoga challenge on YouTube, Yoga With Adriene, my go-to yoga teacher when I’m on the road traveling. I’ve been eyeing this particular challenge sequence for over a year and this week, with my normal studio closed (not to mention the whole self-quarantine thing) it seemed like the perfect excuse to start it up.

With tensions high and growing higher each time the pandemic numbers increase, we all need something to keep us calm right now: running, meditation, tequila. My thing is yoga. Even B.C. (Before Coronavirus) my husband used to nicely suggest when it was time for me to take a yoga class anytime I got out of sorts. Snippy or overly complaining? “Hey, so when’s your next yoga class?”. I know that meant it’s time for me to take time for myself.

Another thing that calms me down is cooking. Now, making a meal may be someone else’s worst nightmare, but for me, nothing is better than chopping and creating and sautéing to slow the mind and offer your family a little bit of warmth and love.

This week, I feel like I’m on an episode of Chopped, where they put a basket of random shit in front of the contestants and see who can make the most magical, edible thing. In the wake of coronavirus shopping, where we got whatever was left on the shelf (and I mean whatever), I’ve had to get creative.

Not knowing when we’ll be able to get the things that reside in our refrigerator again, I try to ration the proteins and stretch the fruits and veggies. I save leftover cooked chicken and ground beef to use again in super-nachos or as supreme pizza toppings later in the week. I almost literally cry when I eat my last Granny Smith apple and wonder why I didn’t grab more.

The four dozen eggs, that I actually laughed and scolded my husband for getting before we left for the cruise, now sit in our refrigerator shining as if they were laid by the golden goose herself, precious commodities nestled in their little individual cardboard cocooned thrones. As the week progresses, I start to use them sparingly. Who knows when we may get more.

While my husband inadvertently planned for us with stocks of toilet paper, Clorox wipes, Purell and the aforementioned eggs in his usual “if it’s on sale, I buy it” mode, somewhere in my infinite wisdom I decided to start a weekly packaged food delivery service a month ago that I magically picked to begin on Friday of this week, when I would have been done with all of my traveling and conferences for the month B.C. On the day our first shipment was set to arrive, we found our neighbor standing outside the door, putting a box on the front step. With the screen door closed, but the front door opened, he called in and said “this was accidentally left at my door instead of yours.”. If it wasn’t for the virus, I could have opened the door and hugged him. How easy would it have been for him to have kept that box of food for himself?

We eat breakfast, lunch and dinner together and walk the dog every night. I take time every day for my yoga, I cook, I rest and I enjoy not having to travel, not having to go anywhere during the day, comforted by the lack of FOMO (fear of missing out). I’m not missing out on anything.

As I turn off my alarm on Tuesday morning, I find a notification from American Airlines sitting on my screen: There’s still time to check in for your 9:36am flight. Oh yeah, I was supposed to be in California today. I quickly open the app and cancel my flight. On Wednesday, the skies open up and give us a rarity in Arizona – a full day of rain. As I unravel my yoga mat outside on our covered patio and practice to the sound of rain tapping on the tin roof above me, I think about the conference we were supposed to have the next day, and the pre-conference outdoor yoga event that had been planned for that night, with zero thought given to alternate indoor space. We never have a backup plan for rain here, it’s as useless as procuring prescription glasses for a blind man.

On Thursday morning, right about the time I should have been standing at a podium, welcoming eighty people to our annual mobility conference, I’m making breakfast for my family and sipping coffee on my patio, enjoying the freshness that only comes after a day-long rain.

My friends and I, taking our minds off of long days of work, have started having virtual happy hours, mixing ourselves Quarantinis, Quarantina-Ritas and Palomaviruses, because you can’t have pandemic virtual happy hour without catchy, fun drink names. I’m warmed by the sight of their families in the background of the frame and we laugh at our social distancing mishaps. We announce how many rolls of toilet paper we have left and how many cups of milk we have, because gone are the days when we referred to milk in gallons. For some reason, none of us have a shortage of alcohol, go figure. We laugh as some learn how to use new technology (PS-shoulda bought stock in Zoom) and I’m immediately grateful that these things exist, that these people exist.

And yet, with all the wonderful things that have happened this week with our insular shift in lifestyle, there sits a little ball of gloom that rests somewhere near my heart. I don’t now how else to describe it, but I know it’s there. Sometimes, I notice it less than others, easy to ignore. At other times, it feels all-consuming.

When I check the official pandemic case stats each morning and night in Arizona, in New Jersey and New York where my family resides. In California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas and Washington State, where my closest friends are. In Italy, where somehow in my mind, the devastation in that nation has time traveled and ravaged my ancestors years before – that lump of gloom moves from somewhere near my heart and makes its way into my throat.

I think about my almost 88 year old father, whose stubbornness endearingly knows no bounds. My 70 year old mother, going to the store for the both of them and group texting us the gospel passage of the day (evidently that’s a thing), making sure we don’t forget that virus or no virus, Lent is still happening and God still exists. My brother and his family, residing in the most infected state in the nation and my sister and her family, caring for everyone around her. I worry for all of my family, my in laws, my sister in law, unable to get the Purell she needs while on dialysis. My friends, some pregnant, with newborns, with elderly parents, with a wedding that was supposed to take place today that’s now postponed, flight attendant friends who are more exposed than any of us and some single and self quarantined at home, alone.

And so I do my yoga every day to feel centered, to keep the ball of gloom at bay and find funny memes to keep me smiling (thank God for memes). I schedule more virtual happy hours and celebrate when companies like “Geeks Who Drink” announce virtual trivia nights, Indigo Girls stream a jam session from their living room and Trevor Noah continues the Daily Show (now called the Daily Social Distancing Show) from his couch. I smile as Jimmy Fallon holds up his daughter’s hand written sign announcing the charity of the day in glittered pink writing and sing along as Lin-Manuel Miranda gives us Hamilton at Home on his synthesizer, a well-earned Grammy visible on the shelf behind him.

I’m comforted by the friends who no-contact drop us off baked goods that they’ve made at home for us, with love and peanut butter. I try desperately to keep my teenagers from having contact with others. The same teenagers that you had to bribe to leave the house on a normal day, suddenly all want to be at their friends houses or walking to the convenience store to get slushies. It’s a daily struggle to continually ensure that they understand what’s happening in the world, how important it is for us to keep those safe who need protection the most. All I know is that when all of this is over, I’m just going to tell them that they can’t leave the house and see if the reverse psychology still works then.

Somewhere early in the week, my self quarantine turns into self protection. Sometimes, I hope for Arizona to call a shelter-in-place so we can all stay the F home and get this under control.

I read quite a lot, probably a book every two weeks and was in a World War II historical fiction phase for a bit last summer, mostly focused on female spy networks during the war. I recall distinct scenes of food rationing, of staying indoors with little contact and I can’t help but draw the beginnings of comparisons.

I’m proud of the individuals, groups and companies stepping up and taking matters into their own hands. NY fashion designer Christian Siriano tweeting Gov. Cuomo that he has sewers and pattern makers working from home, ready to turn out masks and gowns, followed by a tweet from the NY governor saying they’ve been in contact to get them made and distributed. Elon Musk making ventilators, pharma research companies coming up with faster testing capabilities, nurses and doctors coming out of retirement, and here in Arizona, my own alma mater creating their own materials for lab tests from scratch with plans of a drive-thru testing facility.

In the end, it won’t be the big businesses and the government that saves us, it will be ourselves.

Our fifteen year old shows me videos of dolphins swimming through clear blue Venetian canals and says to me “maybe we’ve been the virus all along”.

So who in your life needs a phone call, or a step by step instruction on how to install a video conferencing app, or an old fashioned letter, a poem, a song? Who might need some groceries delivered or some cookies (or maybe cough, Granny Smith apples, cough) left on their doorstep?

Who in your life might need to borrow a laptop or the gift of a month of WiFi to allow them to work from home? They may not know who or how to ask. Who of your friends own a small business that you could buy a gift card from? What local shop do you frequent to get coffee every Saturday morning that may have an online monthly coffee delivery program you could purchase? Who might need your mom’s Netflix code…errr…I mean…your own Netflix code…

My sister, an amazing artist and person, went out this week “chalking” with her kids, leaving visual messages of hope and joy on sidewalks and driveways of those they knew, fighting the gloom with literal rainbows and sunshine.

So I challenge you this week, what can you do to bring a little smile (or toilet paper) to those around you? What can you do to keep yourself sane during this time of social distancing? What can you do to make WFH continue to stand for Work From Home and not Wife Fights Husband? What can you do to keep that little ball of worry inside you from overcoming your mind and your body?

As testing gets more widespread, we’ll start to get official emails informing us of infected people in places we’ve been and we’ll worry and wonder if we were near them. We’ll start to find out friends we know and people we love are infected, and we’ll need to stay centered to “be” there for support. Some of us reading this will also face our own time when we may be the ones dealing with the sobering results. The more we do now to take care of ourselves, to take care of our families, to take care of our bodies, the better we’ll be able to add one more to the green “recovered” number.

It’s week one, my friends. Take a breath, take time for yourself amid the chaos, and this too shall pass.

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – Cruising in the Wake of Coronapocolypse

As someone who travels quite a bit, almost every other week for work or pleasure, it’s been amusing to see the change in people over the last month. The ones who used to look at me with a sideways glance that silently said “weirdo” when I cleaned my tray table, seat and belt on the plane are now asking “can you spare a wipe?”, as if we’re in an episode of Seinfeld and Elaine is out of toilet paper, hopefully asking the woman in the stall next to her to “spare a square”. And while I’d love to say “no, I have no square to spare” just to see if they’d get the reference, the truth is that I’d rather the person next to me be germ-free too.

Speaking of toilet paper, I’ve been trying to figure out how this toilet paper craze began, as if one of the main symptoms of coronavirus was crazy sh*tting everywhere. Maybe I missed that nugget of “truth” in the Facebook posts of friends who’ve quickly become contagion experts, or the emails people forward me from a friend of a friend’s kid who’s a doctor in Texas and has a list of things to do and not do during this pandemic. I suppose if the whole world is quarantined inside their own houses, then things like toilet paper will be helpful…as will tequila.

Lucky for me, my husband is one of those crazy coupon people, who buys things in bulk not because we need them, but because they are on sale…by the way, he also has a lot of tequila, so I’m figuring we’ll do pretty well in the coronapocolypse.

I’ve flown a total of eleven times since the virus became known, to California, Nevada, Oregon and Washington State, almost all places with known reports of the virus, including my own state of Arizona. I’ve been to two conferences and two off-Broadway shows, each with hundreds of people. So when our already-scheduled cruise date came up, the spring break trip to Mexico with the kids we’ve had planned since the year before, I said, “let’s go!”, even as I sat in South San Francisco just days before, an already quarantined cruise ship floating idle a few miles away. Life has to be lived.

Back home, I went through my husband’s stock of Purell, Lysol wipes and just for good measure, the face masks that would probably be useless, the very same ones I’d made fun of him a year ago for buying. We pack up the car and head to Los Angeles, with three weeks of medication and our work laptops, just in case we get quarantined off the coast on our return. When we get to the hotel, I take out a wipe and sanitized the light switches, remote and door handles, just like I do every time I travel. Then I wiped down every surface in the room, just in case…

Not touching my face has been the hardest habit to break, an itch here, a scratch there, but I’ve slowly trained myself to stop, as much as possible. As a child, I used to bite my nails and I think, if I was still that kid, I’d be infected now ten times over.

I have some friends who barely leave the house. I have some friends who say “F*ck it, if I die, I die!” and you can count me into the “you only live once” crowd. At the same time, it got me wondering, how much tempting fate was too much?

At the dock, we stand two and a half hours in a line to get our temperature taken before we’re allowed inside to check onto the boat. Luckily, it’s a nice day out and I tell the kids to imagine we’re in line for the Harry Potter ride at Universal, as we’ve been the two spring breaks before, and the spring break before that and play our usual waiting in line games and people watch. It’s amusing how many group T-shirts people get made for cruises. Once onboard our Norwegian Cruise ship, there are subtle changes to their already strict germ prevention measures.

The sinks that have always sat at the entrances to the buffet that once were a suggested place to wash your hands before you ate are now manned and mandatory, two cruise staff across blocking each way, ensuring everyone washes their hands before they take a step further, to be sprayed with sanitizer before entering. In years past, we’d just take the hand sanitizer spray and sing the “washy, washy” song along with the crew. Now, I silently sing the ABCs in my head, the method I learned for 30-second hand washing technique back in pre-school. As the week grows on, I start to sing other songs in my head, hoping a verse and a chorus might equal the exact perfect amount of time to kill off the germies.

At the buffet, a place we already tend to minimize only to breakfast, there are no self serve options, not even for plates, utensils, salt or ketchup. Those are, as the kids quickly dubbed, in “condiment jail” behind a roped off area, manned and doled out by a gloved crew member. We stand in line for someone to hand us our plate, our fork, our bacon (“a little more please”) and even our napkins.

What used to be a quick stop before going ashore to sunbathe has now become a lengthy process, but we quickly learn to divide and concur as a family: you get the table, you get the orange juice, you get the ramekin of hot sauce, you get the coffee.

While we used to wait for people to leave the prime tables by the windows, we now wait for the tables and chairs to be sanitized between occupants before we sit down. For every crew member there picking up empty plates, there’s two crew members sanitizing, singing songs from the 60s, 70s and 80s as they spray and wipe.

When we go ashore, we used to hand the crew our key card to swipe out, making sure they know we’re now off the ship and ensuring they swipe our pass again when we get back on and don’t leave us stranded in a foreign country. Today, we stick the card key into a little reader, waiting for it to chime and the crew to nod, allowing us to go down the gangplank, nary a key card handed back or forth.

When we go to the atrium to play whatever themed trivia is at noon on sea-days (because you know this girl loves herself some trivia) we hover over claimed chairs until someone comes over to wipe them down. We go to the Starbucks mid-ship on deck six (oh yes, a full-on Starbucks and there’s another on deck 15) and there’s not a coffee stirrer, sugar packet or coffee sleeve on the wooden credenza. There’s no fingerprint-stained silver carafes of 2% and half and half sitting out to pour, everything is done by a gloved crew-barista.

Each time the captain comes over the loud speaker, we cringe until he gets through today’s weather, knot speed and boat direction and we sigh out with collective relief that he’s just doing his captain’s log, and not telling us to return to our rooms for the rest of the cruise. The first day, the loudspeaker calls a “code alpha” on deck 8 (which of course happens to be our deck) and we see crew members running in another direction and I think to myself, how did someone get the virus already when we’ve only been on the ship three hours? Later I find out it meant a person fell on the stairs.

Sadly, our second “code alpha” came on the last full day, as we were doing music trivia and watched an older man have what looked like a heart attack fall backwards off his bar chair and lose consciousness. We watched them try to revive him until trivia was cancelled and the room cleared. We were not sure he made it, but the captain came on again to confirm the man was now in the ship’s hospital, getting the best care possible. I hoped that was true.

Every time we’re back in our cabin, I’m thankful we sprung for the balcony. While seven days is beyond more than enough to be in one room with your kids, having fresh air is a necessity, especially if our tour ends up being longer than anticipated. I tried, without success to bid on a penthouse upgrade days before the ship took off. All these Nervous Nelly’s (or as we call them in 2020 – “Karens”) probably kept their families in their toilet paper-stocked, sanitized cocoon of a home. I call and try three times before the cruise date to sweet talk my way into two rooms for the price of one or for an additional nominal fee – the cruise ship must be hurting, everyone must have cancelled, only to be surprised to hear the ship has just two rooms empty in the entire 18 decks (to be fair, there’s actually twenty, but the top two hold the go-cart racing track and the laser tag area, so those don’t count).

I’m both surprised and encouraged by my fellow brave travelers, who all still come aboard even after we receive an email the night before sailing stating that we can cancel without repercussion. This place is packed: from the pool, to the dining rooms to the bars. The halls are filled with Norwegian crew members, standing at the ready with huge bottles of sanitizer spray and towels, wiping down stair railings and elevator call buttons night and day. I meet our room steward (who I think says his name is Won Won, or at least I decide that it is) while I’m in the process of Clorox-wiping down the cabin upon entry. “I’m sure it’s clean”, I say, “I’m just being cautious” as I pull out another wipe and continue my total germ annihilation.

On land, I expect Mexico to be more lax, no sign of coronavirus there yet that we knew of…though plenty of Corona and limes to go around. Instead I find the opposite, everyone in Mexico is on high alert, sanitizer and gloves at the ready. In Cabo, I Purell the heck out our snorkel equipment, which I would do anyway, pandemic or not.

I love cruising for many reasons. You get to see a little of a whole bunch of places so you can pick the spot you want to come back to in the future. You can see which spots you feel “meh” about and never need to see again. You unpack only once, yet visit many destinations. But the main reason I love being on the boat is for the ability to disconnect. With no cell service in the middle of the ocean and internet paid for and timed by the minute, you have no excuse but to put down your phones (which I Clorox wiped regularly) and be with each other.

We picked up Loteria (Mexican bingo) at a little bodega in Mazatlan and play it on the boat’s observation deck, using squares of torn apart cereal boxes from the buffet as our markers and watch the sun set out of the floor to ceiling windows. We laugh every time the “la corona”, crown card comes up and make sure not to say it too loud, in case some Karen is sitting near us and thinks we have the virus. In Puerto Vallarta, we take another boat to a private hideaway in the jungle and spend hours napping on hammocks, the waves lapping the shore underneath our suspended bottoms and the bottomless piña coladas keeping us cool. Quarantine me here, I keep thinking. Quarantine. Me. Here.

When we get back to port, my cell service chimes on and text after text, alert after alert, email preview after email preview invade my locked screen. NBA – suspended. MLB – suspended, Broadway – gone dark. Spring Training has also been cancelled, thus rendering our Arizona relocation conference/Cubs game the following week pointless. So, as my first official duty as ARA President, I have to cancel our conference via text. Flights to Europe – cancelled. Colleges and schools – cancelled and the worst news alert of all, Tom Hanks has contracted the virus. I silently pray he gets better quickly and realize he can finally play himself when they make this into a movie.

I’m in shock. Here we are, disconnected from the media and having the time of our lives, (albeit with more hand washing and sanitizing than usual) and around us, the world has come to a screeching halt. I quickly turn my phone back off.

What happens to kids who are home while their parents still have to go to work? What happens to the personal and professional growth of students sent home from college? Will we look back on this time and see it as a crazy, made up unnecessary panic, one company taking stand, making the next company take a stand out if fear they’d be seen as non-reactive? Or will we look at it as the smartest thing we could have done, and celebrate how quickly we eradicated this pandemic? Will the conspiracy theorists among us continue to speculate on the origin and reason for this germ? Will we learn and make new laws against the price gouging during times of panic?

I wash my hands again, and again, until they are red and raw. I don’t want to be the one to get it or spread it. I carry my little squirt bottle of Purell attached to my wristlet, ready to eradicate whatever comes near me or my family. I’m outwardly grateful my daughter packed a tube of goat milk lotion with her, which we’d begrudgingly purchased weeks before at Costco, mainly I think because she liked how pretty the packaging was. Now it soothes and rejuvenated our dry hands until we use up every last drop of it.

And as I sit here, still on my cruise, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico, I can’t help but think about all the positives we may feel from being forced to slow down, to stay home, to spend time with our families; what amazing changes to our work from home policies might take place. What businesses will be created out of our new needs, what might this have prepared us for the next pandemic? What places will we discover that are car rides instead of plane rides away? What new and interesting competitive sports will now pop up on ESPN with the suspension of our usual past times – competitive boy in a bubble racing? I’d watch that.

I use a few minutes of WiFi to discover that my daughter’s school has been cancelled for two weeks and see that we’re in a state of emergency. I ponder at the lengths that are being reached to keep people in place and the fear that this has created. Text after text pops up from friends, alerting me that cruises have been suspended for 30 days and making sure we’re still allowed to leave. We are, but I know I’ll feel better when my feet are securely on land.

Won Won comes to turn down the cabin on the last night and I ask him what he’s going to do for the next 30 days, do they get to go home, do they have temp housing (ok, ok, the saleswoman in me just can’t totally turn off or not try and help solution) and he explains that they’re allowed off the ship in LA for the day tomorrow and then re-board to spend the next 30 days floating off the coast, back on the boat. I silently wonder if they’ll all still get together to play trivia at noon. If the guy from the Philippines who sings like Neil Diamond will play the piano for them for a few hours each night. 30 days straight is one heck of a sleepover.

I’ve had three conferences cancelled so far in March, April and early May and guessing more to come. I’m hopeful I can still take an already planned trip back home to see my family in late April, that the Broadway lights will be turned back on in time for our already purchased show tickets in May. I’m hopeful that my inability to travel won’t hurt my ability to do my job successfully. On the other hand, I’m hopeful that I’ll be able to take advantage of cheap flights and hotels booked for next year’s exploration (ps: we take advantage and book another cruise for the end of the year, sailing out of Puerto Rico for a great price). I’m hopeful my husband’s stock of paper products will get us through whatever is about to come and that this will all be over soon.

But mostly I hope that as a people, we keep living, that we make the most of each day whether it’s inside or out, making our own decisions on what’s best for ourselves and our families; that we use this as an opportunity to show our resilience. I hope we help each other and “spare a square” for someone who may need it…and when we find out that this virus was all the work of a deranged toilet paper mastermind, I hope their punishment is streamed live and I can watch it from the plane, on my way to my next adventure.

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – Planes, Trains and Ubers

Human kindness is a thing! I’m lucky enough to have a job that allows me to travel to different places, learn new things, see different perspectives. But the thing I learn the most about through my travels are people, and human connection.

Life is full of cool stories, weird things and amazing individuals – if you put down your phone, open your eyes and pay attention. Ok, well maybe keep your phone out if you need to take pictures of said individuals (pics or it didn’t happen), but you catch my drift.

Last week, I was traveling back to the airport in a Midwest town. When an Uber driver is talkative, they usually ask where you’re from, what you do for work, which usually leads into all kinds of interesting conversations. Coincidentally, I’ve heard there’s going to be a “quiet” button you can press ahead of time if you don’t want the driver to talk to you, but I’m thinking – where’s the fun in that? Amiright?

“Larry” (we’ll call him to protect the innocent) was telling me how excited he was to finally be paying off his home, how he had exactly thirty-six payments left and planned to do some upgrades to the flooring and build a deck. His best friend is a contractor that he met in elementary school. “We’re blood brothers!” he said, asking me if I knew what that meant and then explaining it to me anyway, even though I assured him I understood the concept. He and Mr. Blood Brother had plans to build this deck over the summer and then celebrate with a new tattoo (did I forget to mention his friend does general contract work AND tattoos?! What a catch!) This friendship had been lost for 30 years and now revitalized by a message sent on Facebook.

“You may not remember me” he dictated his Facebook message to me from memory. “But I’m the guy you pricked fingers and touched blood with when we were only knee high”. The friend responded immediately with a (excuse his French) “Hells yeah, I remember you!” and they’ve been in home improvement-full sleeve tattoo heaven ever since.

Did you know Bass Pro Shops has timeshare “resorts”? I didn’t either (shocker), but it reminded me of a game they always played on Howard Stern…maybe they still do? I’m just one of those people that refuses to pay for satellite radio. Anyway, the game (which I think was called “Rich Man, Poor Man”) is to think of things only the rich and the poor do. Exactly the same, but with different connotation to those looking from the outside and judging, like having dinner on your front lawn, or riding horses.

So while my new friend Larry had exactly thirty-six payments left on the double-wide and truly enjoyed the getaway with his wife at the “resort” campground in Missouri, his joy and pride were no less in comparison to someone thirty-six away from paying off their mansion. And isn’t life really all about perspective and the individual point of view?

This week, I’m on another airplane and boarded, slightly annoyed that I was in the bulkhead and would have to put my things in the overhead bin above me. Also, I was sitting in a window seat vs. an aisle, I’m assuming due to availability when I booked my flight. A creature of habit, I saw the aisle seat taken, and thought “oh good, someone’s in my seat”. Glancing down at my boarding pass and realizing I’d somehow landed in “F”, I threw my backpack into the seat in search of overhead space, because amazingly, boarding in the third group (hello, Platinum) is still not enough to secure a spot over your head for your own luggage.

Searching, I heard the lady sitting in “my” aisle seat turn to tell me in a very sweet, child-like, sing-song voice that I’d left my backpack in the seat and she didn’t want me to lose it. I looked down and saw a smiling woman in her late fifties with a shinny pin of in-flight wings clipped to her chest, tray down, hugging her bag. “I’ll be right back, I promise” I said as I lifted my carry on into a nearby bin. As I moved around her to get into my seat, she said “Will you hold my hand when we take off? I’m afraid of flying.”

“I’d be happy to” I said and then whispered “I’m afraid of flying too”. Elizabeth was going to Seattle to visit her sister. The flight attendant came and checked on her, stowed her bag and her tray and told her we’d be leaving soon.

Earbuds in, I turned to my iPad, planning to binge whatever I’d downloaded the night before (I suppose I’m willing to give Adam Sandler one more chance after Grown Ups 2) when I started to hear sniffles coming from Elizabeth’s seat. When it turned into a full blown cry, she reached her hand out and I grabbed it, happy there was no one in the middle to ruin our chain of kindness.

In synch, the woman across the aisle from her picked up her other hand, and there we went, up into the air.

“George told me it’s better if you lift your feet up” she said, as she picked up her pink-sneakered feet from the floor. And so, the entire front row (including the lady and two old men across the aisle) held hands, picked up our feet and went “weeee!” like we were on some giant, expensive, long roller coaster with bad pretzels and those cinnamon biscuit cookies I love so much (PS-Costco has them on sale right now in bulk, you’re welcome).

Over the course of the flight, I learned all about mini mouse, whom she had with her in her purse for the ride to keep her safe. At one point, she even brought out a small nerf ball that we threw back and forth. “I’m sorry I cried” she leaned over and confided in me. “George says it’s okay, we all need to cry once in a while.” Truth, Elizabeth. Truth.

And so my long, annoyed, bulkhead window seat ride turned into the best flight I’ve had in months. Kudos to the American Airlines flight attendants for making her feel comfortable, comforting her, giving her extra pretzels and making what could have been horrible into a fun, happy experience for this wonderfully happy woman.

Human kindness. It’s a thing. Try to remember to put your phone and your Netflix down for a few minutes and experience all the interesting (and I mean interesting!) things happening around you.

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – The Musical Addition

My favorite yoga teacher said once that yoga comes into your life exactly when you need it, that it’s okay if life gets too busy and you can’t practice, because you’ll come back to it when you need it, and it will always be here, waiting for you.

I never thought of myself as one of those kids who went on little kicks, like let me try the trombone for three weeks, or let me dye my hair green, or let me try boxing. Not me…aside from that one time I wanted to play drums and my dad got me a lesson and all I did was hit this little block for an hour and when I asked when we got to the good stuff, the teacher said, you can’t do the good stuff until you master this for a while and I said “forget that”. Patience is not my best quality.

I mainly focused on the three things I loved: baseball, theatre and singing.

Baseball was great until I got older and girls couldn’t play in Babe Ruth anymore and had to switch over to softball. Don’t get me wrong, softball’s great and all, but the feel, smell and sound of hitting a baseball on a bat and hitting a softball on a bat are two totally, totally different things. It’s like the difference between a Starbucks drip and a convenience store decaf. It always felt like a poor substitute for me. It never quite quenched my thirst. But I still did it anyway.

And I guess you always want to do what your older siblings are doing, for the most part. Thank god mine were into theatre and not crack or weird devil worship or something…that I know of… Anyway, I saw them singing and acting and when you’re little, you really don’t get much of a choice in what clothes you get to wear or where you chose to spend your time, you just sort of get carted around to whatever everyone else is doing and you end up falling into it because that’s where you are, so you might as well enjoy it.

So I would tag along with my sister to her summer play rehearsals, or her choir rehearsals or listen to my brother play guitar and think, oh, this is what teenagers do, and I’m soooo adult, maybe I should be doing it too. I wanted to be on stage, I wanted to learn how to do every dance move.

I remember one time, we were in the summer production of The Music Man and the guy playing the title character couldn’t be there for one of the dress rehearsal nights because he was traveling for his job and I remember thinking – wow, one day that could be me! I could be in a community production of whatever and still have a cool job!

Well now it’s “one day” and I have a cool job where I get to travel, but no community production of whatever for me. And why not?

Excuses.

I travel too much to have anyone count on me to be there all the time. I haven’t acted in so long maybe I’m not good at it anymore. Maybe I won’t love it as much as I remember loving it and it will ruin the memory of it forever. Excuses.

I was out with some friends tonight for beer and donut pairings (yes, it was as amazing as it sounds) and even in casual conversation noticed how much we all say “I used to want to do this” or “I used to want to be that” and my first, hopeful reaction is “there’s still time”.

Martha Stewart didn’t publish her first lifestyle book until she was 41…wait…she ended up going to prison, let me think of someone else…wait, let me google someone else. Okay, Julia Child wrote her first cookbook at 50, Vera Wang didn’t become a designer until she was 40, Stan Lee came out with his first comic at 39, and nobody knew who Alan Rickman was until “Die Hard” at the age of 42. There’s still time. Hans Gruber says so.

And just maybe all those things we used to do and used to be so passionate about were really just setting us up for where we are today. My career in sales sometimes means standing in front of a bunch of people and talking – not too different sometimes from being on stage (minus the singing, of course).

Maybe all those team sports prepared us for working in the real world, which is never really a solo event. Maybe that waitressing job you had prepared you to run a household. Maybe that weird Music History class you took in college will help you out of a jam one day when you’re on Jeopardy and maybe my hope of writing an amazing novel that gets turned into a movie isn’t a lost cause, or owning my own yoga studio, or my dream of being the next blogger turned Food Network Star ala Pioneer Woman (minus the whole moving to a farm in the middle of nowhere thing) is still about to happen. Maybe it’s just “not yet”.

I say this as I write along to the sound of the original broadway soundtrack of a show I’m obsessed with recently playing in the background. I say this as I treated myself to Hamilton last night and thought, man, I really miss doing that, I wonder if I could still do that?

And just like my super wise yoga teach said, maybe the things that you need most find a way of sneaking back into your life just when you need them.

Blog About It – The Adventures of MEL: The baseball hat 

Things are not always as they seem. For instance, Sara Bareilles’s chart-topping hit “Love Song” isn’t actually about not wanting to write a love song to her lover, it’s about not wanting to write one for her producers. How many tens of thousands of people sing along to this every day when it comes on the radio and don’t know that subtle difference? What else in life are we missing by taking things for face value without investigation? 

I was thinking of this the other day as I sat in a Starbucks, signing paperwork for a loan refinance on my first home. A home that I bought twelve years ago because I was supposed to be a home owner. My twenties were spent stuck in a revolving track of what I was supposed to be, what I was supposed to do, without stopping for a moment to see how I really felt. And as I signed and signed paper after paper twelve years ago, I understood far less than I do today about mortgages, rates, arms, terms. Being in my business meant that I was supposed to know all of those pitfalls that “average homeowners” fell into before the crash. I wasn’t supposed to be an average homeowner while working in the industry. But I was young, fresh out of college and it was what I was supposed to do to be able to show that I was accomplishing something. 

So here I am, twelve years later, sipping a green tea frappe across from an 84 year old man who is notarizing my docs, hands slightly shaking as he points out to me what’s on each page and where to sign. He had a Cleveland Indians hat on. I wanted to ask him about it, but we were here for a purpose first. As he went through page after page (that I actually understood this time around) I couldn’t help but remember what life was like when I took everything at face value, without wanting to know the details behind them. Impression, outward view, that was what I cared about because I grew up in a place where everyone cared about what the other person had, didn’t have and if what they had was better than yours. 

Not that most did it purposefully, they were just acting in the way they were raised, making the best of the environment they were in. We perpetuated this thirst for the perfection of the outside of the package without really putting much thought into what was stuffed in and tied up on the inside. Sure, my parents tried to instill their Brooklyn “hard work equals gain” mentality (which has come to serve me well in my 30s) but as a teenager, I only cared if my shoes, my shirt, my car was nicer or newer than my friends’. But that’s pretty normal, right?

Back to Starbucks, when finally, the last page was signed. I asked him about the Cleveland hat, dying to talk baseball with someone who reminded me of my dad. See, when you’re that age, you don’t wear a team hat for the hell of it. You wear the hat because you’re proud, because you’ve spent a lifetime following and supporting that team. Because you sat next to your dad in 25 cent outfield bleachers and learned the game base by base, game by game. 

“I’m an Indians fan” he said. While I stifled the urge to say “no shit!” I told him instead that I was raised a Yankees fan. That the game is part of the impenetrable glue that holds my relationship together with my dad from little league, through high school and day in, day out today. 

He proceeded to tell me about this night in Columbus, while he and his buddies spent the evening “getting sloshed at the local pub” and arguing over who was the best ball player of all time: Babe Ruth or Jimmie Foxx. It’s cool, I’ll wait while you go google Jimmie Foxx (and try adding the word “baseball” to the end or it will ask you “did you mean Jaime Foxx?”). He was nicknamed “The Beast” and spent 20 years in the majors, retiring in 1945. 

My notary (let’s call him “Hank” for purposes of this story) went on to explain that the more the beer flowed that night, the more heated this argument became comparing Foxx to Ruth. Late that night, a man who’d been sitting at the bar listening came over to the table and said “I’ll tell you once and for all who’s the better player. Babe Ruth. Without question.” When they drunkenly asked him how he knew that he held out his hand and said “I’m Jimmie Foxx.”

He sat down with them and proceeded to tell old baseball stories. He and Hank got to know each other and Hank helped him find a job with the city of Columbus. 

Now Hank leans in and says “Do you want to know the best thing he ever taught me?” I nodded, intrigued. 

“The only thing fair in life is a ball hit between 1st and 3rd base.”

Hank went on to tell me more about his own life, how he’d had West Nile virus, how his getting cured was a miracle and how now, being a mobile notary at 84, helped give him have a reason to get out of the house. 

If I’d just taken Hank at face value, he would have done a fine job with what he was there for. But without looking deeper, I would have missed all of the knowledge he’d dropped on me that morning, in a Starbucks in Scottsdale. 

Things are rarely fair in life (aside from a ball hit between 1st and 3rd). I’m reminded of that as I see pictures of my friends in Houston cutting out saturated drywall, as I see other friends RSVPing to local protests, and as others prepare for the impending hurricane(s). And as I whine about my dream vaca to Cuba possibly getting cancelled or postponed, I have to remember that overall, life is good. That I’ve learned over the years to look deeper into things happening around me, into myself. 

And I can only hope that someday, when I’m 84, I have a little job that gets me out of the house now and then and that some young whipper-snapper will ask me about my Yankees hat. 

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – The Yankees, The Karate Kid and The Summer Break 

My blogs usually begin with a definition of a word that means something, or weaves something into the story of my day. Today’s tale includes The Karate Kid and Mr. Miyagi, and since “miyagi” doesn’t appear in the regular dictionary (though it should), I thought it might be fun to turn to Urban Dictionary for today’s definition, which is exactly why there is no definition to start off my blog today. Because, well, look it up. I’ll wait. All of the definitions. Keep going. Yeah. That. Gross.

Day 3 of my 21 days off started out with a trip to IKEA to go furniture shopping for my home office. I have a vision in mind of a stenciled accent wall (yes, I will be stenciling), white furniture, a fantastic white office chair that’s both beautiful and functional and a comfy chair to switch it up a bit when I’m on long conference calls. Modern, clean and beautiful. Calming and inspirational. And where else do you go for modern on a budget, but IKEA, the place where everything has a wonderful Swedish name, where you can dream about having a kitchen with no cabinet doors that still looks perfectly in place and also get some meatballs.

Every time I walk in, I always think how much fun it would be to just design IKEA store vignettes all day; to have the whole store to pick from to create whatever bedroom, kitchen, office or combination thereof you could think of. To yell things like “get me the salmon color Bladvass!” (which is a quilt cover and two pillowcase) or my personal favorite, the Pysslingar, which are “practical storage pockets for drawings, newspapers, toys, etc” (and incidentally cost a measly $4.99). 

I felt like Goldilocks as I tried office chair after office chair. This one’s too hard, this one’s too ugly, this one is just right. After finding the perfect white desk and most comfortable white chair to eat my porridge in, we went to the area rug section where we found the most perfect color green rug, reminiscent of grass. We had a very prestigious multi-media client in NYC. They had grass “growing” out of one entire accent wall and I remember just standing in their hip lobby and wishing it was my living room. This rug reminded me of that, so I knew I was on the right track.  

After finding a way to maneuver all of this furniture into my car, which necessitated my boyfriend’s daughter laying across the entirety of the backseat holding onto the box with the desk in it, we swung by Dairy Queen to get her some ice cream to make up for it. Did you know they make blizzards in a mini size!? 

Wanting my office to have a little fun, I also went to Target to procure a must-have that I’d seen a few days before: a T-Rex lamp, because work should be as fun as it is hard. Plus, he’s the perfect green to go with the rest of my decor. Now, I just have to name him. 

It’s summer break and here in Phoenix, their school year ends much earlier than it did for me as a child in NJ. In Jersey, it felt like the sun never set, that you could be out until 9pm and still have plenty of light for whatever mischief you were getting into. Though I never got into mischief, because, you know, I’m an angel. Here in Arizona, we don’t put the clocks forward or back, which means though the sun sets later, there’s no 9pm light to play in. It also means that our cable shows come on an hour later half the year, which you get used to after a while. 

My summer breaks were a lot like my spring/fall breaks from school – me – and a project given to me by my parents. One year it was stenciling a border around the top of the kitchen. My mom took me to Jaeger Lumber (hands up for anyone who remembers that gem) and let me pick out the stencil and the color, a flowery dusky blue. And so I spent the entire week of spring break with a brush and a stencil, pounding the bristles into the wall with a technique the person at the hardware store had shown me. Have you ever tried to stencil the top of a wall? I’m gonna save you the time – it sucks. Royally. You’re either stubble-ing over your head or trying to squish your hand into the corners while you awkwardly half-sit on your ladder. My friends were off at Disney World, or visiting family in cool places and here I was, one-cheeked on a ladder shoving this paint brush into the wall over and over and over. 

It seems like kids now are so over-scheduled with their own activities – does anyone still have to spend their summers doing endless projects? While I’m sure if you could look back at my stenciling experience, you’d hear me whining the whole time, but I finished it, because I couldn’t leave my parents’ kitchen half done. Now, if you know my mother, she is phenomenal painter, as is my sister. Their kitchen now has a window scene straight out of Calabria painted on the wall courtesy of my talented mother. She didn’t need me to paint anything. She needed me to learn something. Discipline? Follow through? Stenciling? 

Did she know twenty-five years later I’d be getting ready to voluntarily take on my own stencil project in my own home, for a home office for a job that hard work day after day had earned me? Did she know that one day I’d be on video chats with said stencil work behind me reminding me day in and day out on this new job to work hard, to never give up? Knowing my mom, she probably expected as much. 

Day 4. There are two things worshiped in my parents house: Jesus and Jeter. Say what you want about The Yankees and their payroll, about the fact that they “buy” their championships, but there’s something to be said for their work ethic, the “gentleman” attitude that they strive to convey on and off the field. I learned as a small child that hard work will get you everywhere. For anyone following Derek Jeter’s post-major league career, among other things, he took his love of literature and started his own online magazine. Instead of articles written about athletes, it’s articles written by athletes. 

Today’s article was courtesy of Jorge Posada, famed catcher of the Yankees during their hay-day in the late 90s and early 2000s. It was written as a letter from Posada to himself as a 10 year old growing up in Puerto Rico. Look it up – it brought tears to my eyes. He likened his dad to Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, teaching him, preparing him without him knowing he was being prepared. 

He talked about spending summers painting the house and leveling out the dirt in the backyard while other kids got to play. He talked about hitting leftie every time a righty pitcher came up in little league, even though he never made contact from the left side of the plate that first year. How he grew up a shortstop his whole life and only moved to catcher when his team needed him to. How the hard work he’d done as a child had prepared him for “the Yankee way” and how all of that hard work was paid back in the form of World Series rings and friendships with some guys that would last a lifetime. 

His own Mr. Miyagi reminded me of my parents. There is not a doubt in my mind that I’m where I am today because of my parents and their Miyagi teaching. 

So what are your kids doing for summer break? What are you doing for summer break? Who in your life could use a little Miyagi-ing from you?

Wax on. Wax off. 

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – 21 Day Of Leisure: The Purge 

Purge [purj]: to rid of whatever is impure or undesirable; cleanse; purify
This word was on my mind a lot today as I embarked on day two of my 21 days of leisure (e.g. the time until I start my new job). I try to make my life about balance. Many things even each-other out: work/fun, me/others, eating crap/broccoli, stress/yoga, Game of Thrones/Housewives, etc. And so, I’m trying to make my time off a balance as well, between lying around and getting my home office set up. I want to get the things done that I will need for the next chapter, but I also want to be sure to reflect and honor what got me here in the first place. Balance. 

Getting my home office together means cleaning out my guest room, which has evolved over the years into my guest room/extended shoe, hat and purse room/holding place for emptying a suitcase from one trip and getting another ready for the next trip/Yankees memorabilia room. 

In order to put those things away, I needed to start The Purge in the rest of the house to put these items in the places they should go. But first, I went to my friend’s house for lunch and to hang out in the pool. Balance!

Back to The Purge: I started with the shoes. 

Oh shoes. My favorite accessory of them all. Anyone who knows me well knows that I take great pride in my shoes. I have shoes for every occasion, every outfit. I used to wear six inch heels everywhere because I never wanted anyone to know I was only five feet tall. Older woman in my office would ride down in the elevator with me and tell me, “I used to wear shoes like that when I was your age too, just wait until the back issues start.” It got to feel like almost once a week, someone of a more mature age (how’s that for tact) was telling me to enjoy my time with my shoes because the day would come when I’d no longer be able to physically handle it. And it did, and now I wear three to four inch heels instead and have worked plenty of flats into the picture, something I never thought I’d be able to do. I actually cried in Nine West when I bought my first pair of flats. Oh well. Those old ladies were right, though I think they cursed me. 

I purge the clothes in my closet twice a year: summer and non-summer (since those are the only two seasons that exist in Phoenix) but it had been a long time since I’d cleaned out my shoes. Into the donation bags they went, six inch heel after six inch heel, donation bag after donation bag filled with the accessory that once used to make me, me. 

It was fun to reminisce about each pair, places I’d worn them to, things I’d done in them, outfits I’d worn with them, people I’d been with. As I tossed pair after pair, twenty one in total…hey wait, one pair for every day between one job to the next…coincidence? I hoped each would bring someone else the joy and fun that they had brought me. Oh and yes, I kept the pairs with the sequins on them, because those are like art pieces. I’m purging, not being stupid. 

I looked at the books in my bookcase, which is also in my closet-I like minimalism in my space, and pondered on the last time I’d read any of them. Realizing the answer was never, I got out a box and put them away. Literature books from college, the Twilight Saga, all of the Harry Potter series, some F. Scott Fitzgerald (my favorite author) and some murder mysteries I’d already read once that therefore held no more mystery. Into the box they went, except for Harry Potter and a choice F. Scott. I think those will have a special place in my office.

Which now left me room to put my purses into the bookcase. Whatever works, right? Coach purse after Coach purse, one Kate Spade and one Vera Bradley got cleaned out and put away. Women keep such interesting things in purses. When I get a new one, I tend to take out my wallet, my shades, my badge for work (won’t need that anymore!) and transfer them to the new one. The old one went in an orderly stack in the corner of my guest room until I used it again. It was amusing to see what was still in them. Ten purses held fourteen Clinique lipsticks (all at the end of their life), six pens, fifty-seven cents in change, eight movie stubs (did I actually go see “This Is The End” in the movie theatre?), five packs of gum, my ASU Student ID (which interestingly enough has no expiration date – next movie is on me and my student discount!), an Osco drug and Basha’s club card (both of which don’t exist anymore) and forty-two tampons…evidently I like to be prepared!

As I continued to purge, it was like a weight was being lifted off of me every time I tied a donation bag shut, or made a trip to the dumpster. It’s freeing to get rid of things that I no longer need that could still have use for someone else. 

My dad is a purger. Major thrower-out-er. The rule in our house growing up was if anything stayed on the dining room table for a week, it was thrown out, because you obviously didn’t need it. As a kid, I hated this rule. As an adult, it’s one of my favorites. While my friends both laugh and get mad at me when they give me cards and I read them and immediately throw them out, I’ve learned to be a little more sentimental here and there…and learned to wait until they’ve walked away before tossing them in the garbage. I’d rather go out and get something when I need it then to hold on to something for three years because someday I might need it for something.  

It reminds me of my grandmother, who used to leave the plastic on all the furniture. I remember sleeping on her couch as a child and waking up because the sheet we’d put over it slipped during the night and my sweaty skin was stuck to the thick, hard plastic, an imprint of the crease running down my leg. I always used to joke with her that she was saving her furniture for the afterlife, I wonder how that yellow and brown floral pattern is serving her in heaven?

Thankfully the plastic on the furniture has escaped my generation. The things I look to collect now are experiences. Travel, visiting new restaurants with friends, museums, whatever. It’s the intangible memories that I wish for the most on birthdays and holidays. 

The Purge was over (for today) and on my last trip to the dumpster, I struggled with getting the bag, which included some papers, into the trash. A big bunch fell to the ground. I picked them up and threw them back in and missed. I picked them up and tried again and again, one smaller bunch fell free. I picked up the packet to see what the heck it was that refused to go in the trash. It was a stack of handwritten notes from my father that had somehow made it into an errant notebook that I was purging. What a blessing that they just refused to get thrown out! Those, I keep. Who says I’m not sentimental!?

So for those of you still thinking about what you can do alongside me for five minutes a day during my twenty-one days of leisure, maybe a good five minutes of purging something in your house, or in your life, will make you feel a little lighter. 

Meanwhile, if anyone would like to borrow a purse, come on over! 

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – 21 Days of Leisure 

Leisure [lee-zher, lezh-er]: noun. Time free from the demands of work or duty, when one can rest, enjoy hobbies or sports, etc.

The word leisure, above description curtosey of dictionary.com, can mean many things to many people. Some use it as a nice way to describe the time while someone is out of work: “Oh, he got fired from his job so he has a few months of leisure while he looks for another.” Some use it in a snarky/envious way to describe prep-school boys who go to “work” for their daddy’s company straight out of college: “Man, Chip has it made, total life of leisure.” (becuase they’re always named Chip, or Blake, or something with the “The Third” after it.) When I hear the word leisure, I always think of this computer game my brother let my friends and I play when we were way too young to understand why the game was too old for us. We knew that the “rubbers” you had Leisure Suit Larry pick up in the game were useful when he met a lady, but we didn’t quite know why. The game did have catchy theme music, though. I’m sure that was the draw…

Today, leisure is the word I choose to write about my current situation. But first, a little fairy tale, mainly because I’ve been binging the show Once Upon A Time. Here goes. 

Once upon a time, there was a girl who graduated from a very prestigious school (if you’re using the word prestigious to mean “good at throwing parties”, that is). She really loved to write. She wrote all kinds of things: poetry, short stories, plays. She started writing a book three or four times (each a different story from the other) but never finished them. And even though the girl’s degree from the aforementioned “prestigious” school was in literature, she knew she needed something to pay the bills; that her parents would not afford her the life of leisure she’d always enjoyed, forever. 

The girl was also very good at basket weaving, and she was delighted to get a job at a big basket company right out of school. She longed to travel the country and write the great American novel, but she told herself she’d have plenty more time for that someday, after she’d mastered the basket-weaving industry. After all, if John Grisham hadn’t been a lawyer before he was a writer, how good would The Firm have been, really? She loved her work, even though she felt it left her no time to write. She’d find time here or there, wherever she could, but it was very sporadic.

Time passed and the girl grew better at basket weaving. She got to travel and see the country and even earned some letters to put after her name on her signature line. Basket weaving paid the bills and put more than ramen noodles on the table, though now with all of the cool things they’re doing with ramen noodles these days, that analogy might be going out of style. 

She enjoyed working on the baskets, managing the teams that worked on the baskets, but what she really longed for, was to sell them! Selling the baskets ignited a little spark in the girl that she hadn’t felt in quite some time. It felt akin to writing. She loved selling baskets, it didn’t even feel like work to her. She enjoyed walking into a room full of people she didn’t know, and finding someone she had something in common with. It thrilled her. Each time she met someone new at a meeting, she wondered what their back story was. How was it that they ended up in the basket weaving industry? Many times during meetings with too long or boring speakers, she’d make up stories in her head about a person in the room; where they had come from, who they were married to, what type of cereal they might eat if you threw them in a room with a bowl, a spoon, some milk and the entire Kellogg’s catalog. (You can tell a great deal by a person’s cereal choice.) Whatever their backstory, she loved helping them find a solution in her baskets. 

The girl was very happy, but after fifteen years, knew that a change had to come her way. When she was ever truly unhappy about something in the past, her mom always taught her – the only thing certain in life is change, that nothing (especially pain) lasts forever. 

Her basket weaving company decided to sell a small portion of itself, and with it, she no longer had a home to do what she wanted. 
The girl (though I guess by now we should call her a woman, but that sounds way too adult for a fairly tale) went on a quest to find the perfect new basket weaving company; one that would fit the girl she was today, not fifteen years ago. And when she found what she was looking for, she knew it in her heart and jumped up and down on the hotel bed in celebration to prove it (see, I told you it was best to keep calling her a girl). 

This new basket weaving company asked her something she’d never been asked before, “Do you need a break?”. A break?, she thought. She had never considered that. “You know”, they said, “a little leisure time to recharge before you jump in with both feet.” Having taken off zero time between school and her current job, she realized just how fast fifteen years had flown. She quickly agreed, feeling like it was a stroke of luck and genius that this company had been brought into her life. 

But what would she do with twenty one days of leisure? 

She pondered and decided that no matter what else she did (hoping some of it included more sleep), she’d devote five minutes a day (at the very least) to the thing in her life that she had the least amount of time for; the thing that she was truly passionate about (aside from her feelings for Prince Charming). And so, she decided to write. 

The girl knew that the best way to keep up her writing up was to bring her friends along for the ride, something she’d learned at the University of Partying…I mean…the Prestigious school of Prestige. Why go it alone when she could help others with their passion items too!?

So my question to you is this. What could you devote at least five minutes to a day, for twenty-one days? What’s that thing that makes you, you (or maybe made you, you so long ago that you’ve forgotten how much you used to love it)? I’m not talking about squats, sit-ups, drinking more water, etc. I’m talking about the thing you are passionate about, or the thing that you used to love that you miss the most. Maybe it’s writing, or singing, or reading, or (cough) actual basket-weaving. Maybe it’s crocheting a baby hat a day for the babies in the NICU like my amazing sister just did for lent. Maybe it’s playing the viola, or meditating. Maybe it’s listening to Metallica and whipping your hair around your face. Whatever it is, join me! Five minutes might turn into ten, or thirty some days. Some days five minutes might be all you have. Whatever it ends up being, it’s five minutes a day more than you devoted to it yesterday, or last week, or fifteen years ago. 

Who’s with me?! 

Oh, and the girl lived happily ever after. Because, well, anybody who lives life with passion, is always happy. 

The end. Or is it the beginning…

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – My Time in the Pod 

I like to spa. I like using the word “spa” as if it’s a verb. 

To Spa: the act of putting yourself first by allowing others to massage, clean, paint and/or rub you until you forget what is going on in the outside world and who you are. 

It’s usually that moment post spa treatment, you know, those few minutes where the other person has left the room and you’re just lying there, knowing you have to get up and get dressed eventually before someone knocks on the door to ensure you’re alive, but wanting to get every single ounce of seconds in time out of it, as if that was a measurement. It’s in that moment that I’m usually trying to think of ways or schemes to afford more spa treatments. How could I do this as a full time job? Then I try to remember that I live in reality, that this is not a Disney story…and if it was, there would be an evil woman waiting outside with a poisoned apple instead of a not too cold glass of water. 

So you can understand why yesterday, as I lay face up in a pod, on top of a warmed, curved cushion (think chaise lounge), covered in a comfy sheet with a medium intensity wave of vibration going from head to feet and back to head, while cool air lightly blew on my face as warm air circled around my body (oh did I mention the aromatherapy in some sort of calming scent filling my nostrils?) why I wanted each second of this experience to last forever?

Maybe I should back up and tell you how I got into the pod in the first place. 

This tale starts out with two amazing and accomplished women I know, who decided they wanted to open their own business; a spa in North Scottsdale. It was exciting to watch the space change and grow, seeing the chairs picked out, the photos hung. When my friend’s wife asked me if I wanted to come try out a treatment on friends and family weekend, I had to physically stop myself from jumping up and down. 

See, there’s this pod thing that I’ve had my eye on since…well…every time I stopped by the spa. It’s this giant white thing that opens like a clamshell, has a suspended, curved bed in the middle and then closes around you with all these buttons up by your face. I had no idea what it was or what it did, but I know I wanted to be in it. I should probably tell you now that I’m claustrophobic. But this just looked warm and cozy and comforting. 

It immediately reminded me of a Woody Allen movie that my brother made me watch when I was little (there were many) where his character gets frozen after an operation goes wrong and wakes up hundreds of years later. I don’t remember anything else about it, I even had to look up the title on IMDB – “Sleeper”. Which is funny, because that’s exactly what the pod does. Twenty minutes in this thing is akin to two or three hours of sleep. 

It was a very relaxing Saturday, my boyfriend, Axel and I (if you read my blog, you know I always call everyone by their middle name and his happens to e very cool), went for a few miles of a walk and then planned to meet my friend Nicole for breakfast at this place I’d been wanting them to try. I love a good theme party, and this year I chose the 80’s for my birthday. In planning for this, we ordered some inflatable microphones, which arrived from Amazon right as we were heading to breakfast. After inflating one of them, we used it to sing karaoke in the car on the way. You had to have the microphone in order to speak (kind of like the cheer stick in “Bring it On”. 

We got to breakfast, only to find that there was some sort of bike and/or car show taking place in that parking lot, so we went elsewhere. Except elsewhere had a forty-five minute wait time so we went to else-elsewhere and had an amazing breakfast, can you say chocolate chip and prosciutto waffle?

Feeling full and happy, Axel dropped us off at Spa810 for friends and family day (happy to say that I think of them both as friends AND family). Our friends and owners greeted us in their sharp scrub outfits and we tried not to squeal too much as they led us back into our rooms. Nicole was getting a hydro facial and I was getting a regular facial, in the futuristic pod. I was elated. 

Sandra (which is her real name since I forgot to ask her middle name for the blog), kindly told me to get undressed and get in the pod after she’d gone over the details of what she was going to do to my face. I happily climbed in and waited for her to return and close me in. I was surprised at how warm the bed felt. I have some back issues that had been flaring up all week and lying on a warm bed felt so comforting. I slowly felt myself relax. I was almost closing my eyes as Sandra came back and closed me in. Woody Allen movie, I thought to myself, I’m in a Woody Allen movie. She played with some buttons by my face area and suddenly cool air was blowing on my face while warm air swirled around my body. 

Not sure if I’ve mentioned this before in my blog, but my dad calls me “The Princess and the Pea” because if you remember the tale, the princess was so delicate and knew exactly what was perfect and imperfect, so much so that she could feel a small pea under the ten plus mattresses that she was lying on. I am her. I asked Sandra to turn it up one degree. Ahhhh. Perfection. (Inset “Elf” movie quote about wanting to be picked up a certain Mercedes that is exactly 71 degrees). 

She punched some more buttons and a calming scent started to soothe me. The bed vibrated (which I could control the strength of in the pod with a dial near my right hand) and I felt myself melting in and my stress relaxing away. 

Sandra gave me a complimentary brow wax (I’m Italian, this stuff is necessary!) and then she proceeded to do a ton of amazing things to my face. When she brought out the steam, I was immediate reminded of my grandma, whose cure for everything was something called a “perfumo”, which consists of a boiling pot of water, some Vicks Vape-o-rub and you, sitting with a towel over your head and the boiling water; the steam opening up your pours, and breaking up whatever is in your throat. This steam seemed much safer. 

Next came the dermoplaning, which is basically a tiny little razor that takes off all of the dead skin and fine, little hairs on your face (hello, 100% Italian over here). When she was done, my face felt as soft as a baby’s…well…you know…

Nicole and I scheduled our next treatments (hydro-facial next time for me). I went make-up free the rest of the day, to shopping, to dinner. Suffice it to say, I felt amazing!

So go check them out, they are at Shea & Scottsdale Road, right next to Mod pizza and down the way from something called Guido’s (which I’m going to have to try). 480-588-6809, spa810.com/Scottsdale-Shea. Oh and they’re running a $99 special for their grand opening – 2 hours of pampering! Support a local, women-owned business, not just because they are two kick-a$$ women I know, but because having a facial inside a sleep pod might just be the coolest, and most relaxing experience you’ll have all year. I wonder if they might let me sleep in it a few nights a week…

Blog About It: The Adventures of MEL – Every Day In May

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A mile a day in May has been easier than I thought. It’s a mile. It’s a walk at night with the dog. It’s a jog around the block. It’s an intentional stroll through the airport. It’s exploration in a new city.

Last week brought me to Portland for the first time for work. You know when you feel like things unravel in a specific way because there’s a higher purpose in mind? Do you ever get that feeling? I was supposed to go to Portland last December for a work conference, but it didn’t happen. I sometimes wonder what my first impression would have been had that happened. I wouldn’t have been in the same place in life, had the experiences I have to date and hello, December?! Cold!

While I can’t speak for December Portland, May Portland kicked ass!

My parents moved out of Brooklyn to the suburbs of New Jersey before I was born to give us a better life than the one they had. My dad wanted us to have a backyard, to not worry about crime. And all I wanted growing up was to live in Brooklyn. To walk down the street to get fresh bread everyday. To fall asleep to the sounds of the city. Someday, I will do that. But it probably won’t be Brooklyn. Humidity and my hair just do not mix.

I try not to look at Timehop too much. Who needs to be reminded everyday of where you were last year, the year before that and so on. It goes against my whole goal of living in the present, but it sure is fun to look at. Was my hair really that color? What ever happened to that person I used to hang out with or that guy I dated? For some reason, I looked at it today and was remind that last year at this time, I took a day trip with my friend Marie to Montezuma’s Well.

Now, if you live in Phoenix and you’re like the rest of us who try to escape north any chance they get over the summer, you’ve passed the exit. Many of you may have been to Montezuma’s Castle (one exit beforehand) where you can see the ruins of the houses that the Sinagua Native American tribe built high into the side of a cliff.

Now, I’m not a Native American expert, but I did take Spanish in high school and college and I assume that Sinagua means without water? That’s my best guess…and this is a desert so…

The Well is a giant hole in the ground filled with water, surround by cliffs (which also hold the ruins of past dwellings) and the land is considered sacred, though I didn’t know that until I looked it up just now. What I can tell you, is that it is the most chill place I’ve ever been to.

A calm washed over me and I just felt like everything would be alright. My dog, Fosters (we’ll use her real name since her middle name is “poops”) was with us and I have never, in her ten years, seen her calmer than in this spot. I sat on a rock, overlooking the well and contemplating life. Fosters lay at my feet and I’m sure did the same, or maybe she was dreaming about giant bones made of peanut butter, but whatever it was, she chilled out. People walked by to pet her and she didn’t even jump up to great them. She just laid there and took it all in. I remember thinking how odd it was and even took video of her. But I understood how she felt. Like there was reason among all of the chaos. Like the wind flowed around you just to embrace you and tell you everything would be alright. Super hokey, I know! But you had to be there.

I felt a very similar feeling in Portland. Like the air was supporting me, telling me to have courage to do whatever the next thing in life is that I have to do. It made me want to write. It made me want to live in a loft and walk to yoga, to take Fosters to grab organic coffee. Who knows. Maybe someday, I will. It’s good to have dreams.

I walked around the Pearl District and into Powell’s Bookstore . It’s the largest independent bookstore in the country, says my Portland friend, and she should know, right? It felt good to be surrounded by that many books. It reminded me of a library. I don’t know when the last time was that I was in a library. Im sure I’ve been in one since working at the ASU library in college, but I can’t remember when. I also found a cute little change purse that had a girl floating away on a cloud that said “Bitches Get Stuff Done”. I went back the next day and purchased it. Duh.

One of the days I did my mile jogging in my friend’s neighborhood. So many flowers! I wanted to stop and take pictures, but I waited towards the end of my run. I’ve been doing Charity Miles every day during my mile a day. It’s an app that you can download and for every mile you do, money goes to a charity of your choice. Mostly I run for Autism Speaks, but there are a ton of places to pick from. I love the idea that my Mile A Day In May isn’t just for my own benefit.

I am replacing the flooring in my living room and main hallway, which means that I have to clean out the floor of the hall closet, because let’s be honest, it would look super tacky to have the closet a different flooring. I bought this house eleven years ago and today felt like a further catharsis. Photos of people who no longer have a place in my life. Things that no longer have a sentimental tie that must have been important at one time to have been in this closet in the first place.

Bags and bags of things, I tossed. Five garbage bags in all. Things from a past life that no longer bear any resemblance to who I am or what I consider important.

I went to walk my mile tonight with the dog, right around sunset since it’s getting warmer and warmer. We passed a man going through the trash, a very common occurrence in my neighborhood. Mostly they are looking for cans to cash in, but I’m sure there are people looking for food, or clothing. He had several things in a pile that I’d gotten rid of not six hours ago. Things I could have cared less about: an old toaster, posters, old blankets, a salad serving set that someone had given as a wedding gift. A giant twinge of “what are you doing with my things!?” washed over me. I watched him open the box the serving set was in and examine the silver spoon and fork that were intertwined with stones. I’d never used it.

I remembered that things are just that – things. I kept walking, hoping that whatever I’d given up today could maybe give some help, some joy, some peace tonight to someone else. 

Montezuma’s Well. May 9, 2015:

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