Phoenix Rises

The mythology of the Phoenix has resonated with me for quite some time. To have something completely burn to the ashes, and then rise again stronger and more beautiful than before.

In my late teens/early twenties, I had a boyfriend who completely stripped me of my self-worth. Coming out of that took years of therapy and rebuilding, and I decided I wanted to celebrate my new found independence with something for me and something no one would expect of me. So I got a tattoo. I drew my favorite flower, a plumeria, with vines, and went with some friends to get it tattooed on my back.

Eight years ago, I was diagnosed with a Stage 1 tumor on my right ovary. It was a scary few months there, and when I healed, I got another tattoo on my wrist of a plumeria, which tied in to the tattoo on my back, and a lotus blossom, which, similar to the Phoenix, symbolizes overcoming a hard time.

Shortly thereafter, I followed my heart and my love to New York City, and built myself a life as a new East Coaster. And then, it fell apart. And I had to pick up the pieces and move back to California 5 years later.

I’d wanted to add a phoenix to the wrist tattoo for a while, but it didn’t’ feel right. I lost track of the person who had originally done my wrist over the years, the design never worked, and I couldn’t find an artist I loved. Timing just wasn’t right.

A few months ago, I reconnected with someone I met when I was 19, and lost touch with when I was going through first rebuilding life phase of my early 20s. He told me he was amazed at the challenges I’ve overcome, and how I have handled everything with dignity and grace. I had always felt like I’ve been stuck in survival mode, but to hear it from his point of view – someone who’s known me since before life tore me apart – was a fresh way of looking at the last decade and a half.  And the idea of the Phoenix tattoo resurrected itself.

A few weeks ago, I heard that my old artist was at a tattoo place in Long Beach – the place I settled after returning to California from the East Coast. It was too perfect.

I always wanted the Phoenix as a personal reminder that I can overcome any challenge I face, but now that I look at it, maybe it’s a warning to anything in my path. Come at me, life. I’m waiting.

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My Very First Blathering!

I’ve been watching The Blathering from afar, admiring all the amazing ladies that went every year, wishing I was cool enough to join their ranks. Then one year, just before Charleston, Jennie assured me that everyone was welcome and yes, really, that means me, and no, she promises no one will think I’m weird. But timing didn’t work out for Charleston, and when the time to register for Seattle rolled around, I was in the middle of a really shitty year, and I didn’t know where I’d be living in April of 2015. (Spoiler alert: I made it back to California)

When I heard that The Blathering 2016 would be in Vegas, I was excited! It was close enough for me to drive, and it was a city I’d visited dozens (if not more than 100) times, so I felt like I was going home.

As the day of the Blathering grew near, I began to panic. You see, when you spend 5+ years with someone and every single woman in his life despises you, it really messes with your self-esteem. I was told I wasn’t good enough, didn’t make enough money, wasn’t tidy enough, wasn’t smart enough, was too flighty, too emotional, too silly, not refined enough, wasn’t thin enough, didn’t wear enough makeup, didn’t have a PhD from Yale, my parents’ careers weren’t prestigious enough… and when this continued for half a decade, I really began to think there was something wrong with me. Something deep that was too far beyond repairing. Despite three different therapists telling me, no, it wasn’t about me, it was a reflection of their own insecurities projected on me, I still felt like I wasn’t enough.

Moving back home to California did wonders for me – I was with people who loved me for me, who remembered who I was before I was beaten to the ground and helped pull me from the pits. I excelled at my new job. I found someone who told me I was the nicest person he had ever met, and didn’t care that I wore silly hats to hockey games. And bars. I was loved, and treasured, and I began to feel like myself again. And I was happy.

But those 5 years of not being enough sat in the back of my mind. Would the people at The Blathering think I was weird? Would they be mad at me because I took the place of someone else they loved, who couldn’t come because I’m here. Would they perceive my occasional shyness as being bitchy? What if I was too tall? Or too short? Or my dress wasn’t fancy enough? Or my shoes not stylish enough? Or what if…

…and I let it consume me so much that I almost didn’t go.

But I went.

And I’m so glad I did.

I walked in to the cupcake party, and Jennie ran up to me and gave me a hug and said “I’m so glad you’re here!” And I introduced myself to one of the Sara(h)s, and she said “I know who you are, and I’m glad I get to know you this weekend!” And people I recognized only from their avatars on Twitter walked in to the hotel room and their faces lit up when they saw me.

It was enough that I was just there.

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I know this picture doesn’t include all of the women at The Blathering, but this picture represents everything that is wonderful about The Blathering. More than thirty women of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds, confidently rocking bathing suits in public, enjoying each other’s company, laughing , and not a single ounce of negativity or shaming. This is exactly the kind of world I want to live in. I’m so glad I found you. I wish I knew you all when I drove across the country by myself because those pit stops would have been epic.

2015: A Year of Adventures and Fun Wheels

Here’s 2014 in review.
 1. What did you do in 2015 that you’d never done before?
I started the year off eating collard greens and black eyed peas. This was a first for me, and let me tell you I will never tempt the New Year’s Day fates ever again. 2015 was one of the best years yet.
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I had a lot of other firsts, too. I rang in 2015 on the Queen Mary. I had a Disneyland Bucket List. I went to a taping of Dancing with the Stars. I watched Hocus Pocus and Breaking Bad. I went to D23 and Star Wars Celebration. I went to the Hollywood Bowl. Twice. I went to three movie previews. I moved in to my very own apartment without roommates. I made home-made donuts. I went to the Magic Castle. I ran a 10k.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I didn’t exactly have any resolutions, but I did tell someone early in the year that I wanted to run a 10k. He laughed at me and told me he didn’t think I could finish. I said some unladylike things to him, and promptly signed up for my first 10k. I crossed the finish line in November, a full 8 minutes faster than my goal.
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I’m already signed up for a half marathon in January. I’ve had chronic Achilles tendinitis for a while, that has turned in to knee/hip problems, and were all made worse after the 10k, so I’m not sure about that one. We’ll see!

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
YES! My best friend since kindergarten had a girl in January.2015inReview2

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Nope! This was the first year in a long while I didn’t have to attend a funeral!

5. Where did you travel?
In March, I went to PAX East in Boston with Miellyn.
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South Street Diner: A PAX East tradition.

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Billionaire Banshee shenanigans. 

In May, I went to San Francisco with my new PAX friends.
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In August, I joined Miellyn in Seattle for PAX Prime.
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DFFs (Droid Friends Forever)

In October, I went back up to Seattle to meet a stranger, and help him move to LA. It was easily one of the craziest things I’ve ever done, but also one of the best decisions of my life.
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He took me on a helicopter tour of Seattle for our first date.

And in November, I went to Vegas with M, and we stayed out until the Sunrise and I totally felt like I was 21 again.
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Sunrise from the Strip. 

6. What would you like to have in 2016 that you didn’t have in 2015?
2015 was a pretty great year, to be honest. I’d like to travel out of the country next year.

7. What days from 2015 will be etched upon your memory, and why?
June 1.
I moved in to my very first apartment without roommates.
October 10.
I flew to Seattle to essentially meet a stranger and help him drive to Los Angeles.
November 14. I completed my very first 10k.

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
Hanging my curtains. Seriously. It took 3 tries, lots of tears, and several bottles of wine before I could get those stupid pieces of fabric up on the walls. Huge thanks to Jessica for driving nearly 2 hours with a power drill and candy to get me through the task.
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These curtains were assholes. 

9. What was your biggest failure?
I don’t actually think I had any major failures this year. Every challenge that was thrown at me this year, I came through.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had a pretty nasty cold for most of December (that’s still lingering ugh). Also, the aforementioned ankle/knee/hip thing that just won’t go away.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I bought my very first ever couch. It has a pull out bed, so let me know if you want to come visit!
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12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Jessica Fox.
She spent the first few months of 2015 listening to me vent and cry as I recovered from 2014. She met me for breakfast and Fun Wheels and other Disneyland fun. She saved my sanity with my curtain debacle. She convinced me to take a really huge leap which led me to meet M. 2015 would have been a lot less fun with out her, and she’s the best.
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13. Whose behavior didn’t merit celebration?
Rob sent me more than one box of dirty dishes, so that was pretty shitty.

14. Where did most your money go?
My new apartment. It’s weird when you move in to a place by yourself for the very first time, and you discover all the things you never had because former roommates had everything you needed. Like a microwave. And an iron. And a couch.
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I still don’t have the iron.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
I get excited about a lot of things, but the thing that was really the most exciting was meeting M in Seattle for the very first time. I was so nervous, my friend had to circle the airport a couple of times before I calmed down, and I had to have a Bloody Mary (or two) at the airport bar before I was calm enough to board the plane. Still the best decision I made in 2015.
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God bless Bloody Marys and friendly airport bartenders.

16. What songs will always remind you of 2015?
I don’t listen to a lot of new music, but Delirious came on my running station quite frequently, so I’d say that was a recurring theme in my training runs.

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) better hair or worse hair? b) more organized or less organized? (This question used to be happy/sad, thin/fat, rich/poor, but A’dell switched it up, and I like these better, too.)
A. I haven’t changed my hair style in years. I’ve been growing it for 4 years, and it’s the longest it’s ever been. I go through phases of wanting a major change, but then I do a perfect fishtail braid, and can’t imagine changing it up at all. Eventually I’ll need to go shorter, but right now I just can’t decide.
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My hair is out of control.

B. I like to refer to it as “organized chaos”

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Travel.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Laundry. Cleaning. Packing/unpacking (moving totally sucks).

20. How did you spend Christmas?
I went to Disneyland/DCA in the morning. I only stayed 4 hours, but I had a highly efficient day. I had peppermint beignets from New Orleans Square, rode Jingle Cruise, went on Radiator Springs Racers three times in a row (god bless the Single Rider line), picked up some last minute presents for friends, chatted with no less than three children about how awesome BB8 is, ran in to an old friend from my Disney days, and finished the day out with going on Soarin’ over California.
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Those Disneyland Candy Canes though…

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Season’s Speedings from Cars Land! 

21. Did you fall in love with 2015?
Sure. It was a pretty great year all around.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
Mike discovered I had never seen Breaking Bad, and after we watched all of the episodes, I can say it definitely lives up to they hype! I also loved Agent Carter.

23. What was the best book you read?
I devoured Red Rising, and immediately followed up with Golden Son. Seriously, if you haven’t read them yet, stop what you’re doing now and go read them.

24. What was your greatest food discovery? (Last year this question was musical discovery, but I don’t listen to a lot of music, but I do eat a lot of food. So we’re going with this.)
Mike introduced me to black cod, calamari steak, and vegetarian shellfish-free ramen bowls.
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While I technically had my first Fun Wheel at the end of last year, I definitely had my share in 2015.
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25. What did you want and get?
On January 1, I wrote on Instagram that I wanted Adventure for 2015. Between Boston and San Francisco and Seattle (three times!) and helping someone move to LA, and falling in love, I’d say my year was full of adventure.

26. What did you want and not get?
I wanted to go to NYC, but I just couldn’t find a free weekend to sneak away.

27. What was your favorite film of 2015?
The Force Awakens, of course.
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28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 34. The night before my birthday, my friend Jason came over for dinner and took some really nice pictures of me. As a photographer, I almost never have pictures of myself, so this was really great.
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Photos by Jason Michael Hammond Photography.

On my actual birthday, I headed to Disneyland. I met up with some friends. I got separated from my group. I ran in to other friends. I drank Fun Wheels. I watched Fantasmic! I watched the Fireworks. I got VIP seats for the Paint the Night parade. I stayed from park opening to park closing. It was a blast.
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I got separated from my group, but I still had fun.

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Birthday Sunset.

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Birthday full moon.

29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
I’d actually say this year was pretty great. I wouldn’t change a thing!

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2015
Fangirl Chic? I somehow ended up with a lot of fun skirts.
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31. What kept you sane?
Jessica Fox. Susan. Fun Wheels.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
Let’s not get into politics here.

33. Who did you miss?
For the first year in forever, I didn’t get to have dinner with Melissa on the roof of her amazing apartment building.
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As much as I miss those NYC views, I miss Melissa more. 

34. Who was the best new person you met?
Michael, duh.
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But I’m going to go ahead and say that Josh, Corrine, and John Denver were close seconds.
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35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2015.
I didn’t realize how hard it is to live alone. I’ve learned a lot about myself and how much I’m actually capable of. There was one afternoon where I had just finished painting my walls, and I sat down on the drop cloth with leftover pizza and a beer. I had never in my life felt more independent.
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36. Show us one of your favorite photos from the year.
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2015 was definitely the year of the Fun Wheel.

 

An Evening with “Anna” and “Elsa”

I’ve been dreading July 3 since THE BIG MOVE, and earlier in the week had a few meltdowns about it’s impending doom. I decided to plan some fun things to keep myself busy. Most of my friends already had plans (Three Day Weekend/Holiday/Family time/etc) so I decided to take myself to Disneyland.

The highlight of my morning was when Peter Pan spotted me walking through Fantasyland, chased me down yelling “YOU HAVE MY SHADOW!”, and asked if I wanted to take a photo. He told me how to pose:
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He even noticed my Second Star to the Right tattoo behind my ear, and told me to keep it hidden else people would think I’m a pirate.

Then I had breakfast with Huey, Dewey, and Louie
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Had a Fun Wheel
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And enjoyed a concert from The World Famous Disneyland Band
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It was a great morning. I hadn’t seen the Paint the Night parade yet, nor the new fireworks, and I dithered about whether or not I wanted to stay. Parking at my new place at night is a challenge, it was a holiday weekend so it’s extra busy, and I was simply tired. I found a curb on Main Street, nestled between a bench and a pole, and figured no one would bother me there. I pulled out my kindle, and thought I’d spend the next couple of hours reading while I decided if I actually wanted to stay. Worst case, I’d watch the sunset over the castle and leave before it got too crazy.

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But soon, a little blonde girl dressed like Elsa, and her red-headed sister dressed like Anna sat next to me and asked me what I was reading. This began one of the best conversations I’ve ever had. I was live-tweeting some of the adorable things they said, but I wanted to put them here to keep everything together before they get buried in my Twitter feed.

***

Anna had Ninja Turtles on her shoes, I asked if she like turtles and her face lit up. I told her I had a pet turtle, and both girls thought I was the coolest thing ever.

***

Elsa: What’s your name?
Me: Emiliy
Elsa: Is that with an “E” or with an “M”?
Me: With an “E”
Elsa: MY NAME IS EMILY WITH AN E TOO!

(note: I didn’t mention the extra “i” because it’s confusing enough for adults. I later found out Elsa’s real name was Brooke, and she sometimes says her name is Emily because that’s her best friend’s name)

***

Elsa: What did you eat for dinner?
Me: Popcorn
Elsa: What did you eat for Lunch?
Me: Ice cream
Elsa: Well then what did you eat for breakfast?
Me: … a cookie…
Elsa: YOU CAN NOT EAT ALL OF THOSE THINGS FOR YOUR MEALS

I got schooled by a 6 year old dressed as Elsa.

Later:

Elsa: Mom, her name is Emiliy with an E not an M. She had a cookie for breakfast and popcorn for dinner!
Mom: That’s what you get to do when you’re an adult
Elsa: (jaw drops)

***

Elsa: So, it’s just you and your turtle?
Me: Yup.
Elsa: That sounds like the life.

***

Anna and Elsa’s dad brought pizzas. 
Elsa: This pizza is OK, but my dad stole all of my pepperoni.
Me: (laughs, looks up at her dad)
Dad: (shrugs) She stole my pizza. It’s fair.

(this began an argument between Elsa and her dad about pepperoni. Elsa is full of sass. I decide I like her)

Me, to Anna: Is your pizza good?
Anna: (sighs) It’s ok…
Me: Did your dad steal your pepperoni, too?
Anna: (eyes get really big) THERE WAS PEPPERONI!?

***

The girls climbed in to my lap and asked to see photos of Edgar.
Dad: Girls! No! Get off of her!
Me: It’s ok, I don’t mind. I have a pet turtle and they asked to see photos.
Dad: You have a pet turtle? Turtles are [Anna]’s favorite. It’s all she ever talks about.

***

A Cast Member came by and told the girls that the real Anna and Elsa would be in the parade. The girls nearly lost their shit. They were screaming and jumping and it was adorable.

***

Playing an iPhone trivia game to pass the time.
Me: In the Hunger Games, who was “The Girl on Fire”?
Elsa: I KNOW! It was Snow White!
Anna: NO! It was Olaf!

***

During the Parade, THE Anna waved at “Anna” and I thought she might faint.

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***

The girls asked me if I was going to watch the Fireworks “because tomorrow is the 4th of July and we need to watch the fireworks together”. During the Frozen/Let It Go scene, it started to snow on Main Street, the girls looked at me, then at each other with the most perfectly excited look filled with awe and wonder. I was able to catch a photo of it, and will be emailing it to their parents. I don’t want to post a photo of someone else’s child on the internet (I’m still essentially a stranger to them) but trust me when I say it was magic.

***

Despite all the somber and emotions that July 3 was meant to bring, this ended up being one of the best days I’ve had at the park. I dithered about staying all day, but I’m glad I did. From Peter Pan chasing me through Fantasyland all the way to my two little guardian angels in the evening, it truly was a day filled with Disney Magic.

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Second Star to the Right and Straight on ’til Morning. Jupiter and Venus watch over the Disneyland Fire Dept while Walt looks over the Park.

Disneyland Bucket List

In September, my parents promised me an Annual Pass to Disneyland if I moved back to California before Christmas.

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I became one of “those”

The majority of 2015 has been me meeting up with my girlfriends (who also all happen to be former Disney Cast Members) once or twice a month for Fun Wheels and Disney adventures.

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Fun Wheels are indeed quite fun.

A few weeks ago, while chatting over Fun Wheels, we discovered there were a number of things at least one of us have never done in the Parks, and our Disneyland Bucket List was born. I’m pretty sure we were at least one Fun Wheel in, but the best ideas come about when you’ve been drinking. And so far we’ve been having a lot of fun knocking things off the bucket list:

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Animation Academy (because drinking and drawing is safer than drinking and driving)

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Riding the Golden Zephyr

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Breakfast in the Park (that cinnamon roll french toast will be served in heaven)

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Attending an Annual Passholder exclusive advanced movie screening (Inside Out! Go see it!)

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Riding in the driver’s seat on Radiator Springs Racers (and being in the park early enough to snag a RSR Fastpass before they sold out.)

We have several things planned for the summer, but we need some more things to add to our list. What have you always wanted to do at Disneyland? (or Disney’s California Adventure. Or Downtown Disney…)

Good Riddance to 2014.

1. What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?
I drove across the country. In my car. By myself (mostly). I’m still pretty shocked I did that.

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My Connecticut car in Huntington Beach.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
On December 30 2013, R’s dad threatened me and told me I was no longer welcome in their family. On January 1 2014, I knew I would need to leave CT for my own safety (and sanity). I told myself I would have it figured out by October, and on October 14th I was offered a job in California. So, while I didn’t exactly make an official resolution, I set a goal on New Year’s day and followed through with it.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Yes! My aunt (she’s a year older than me), Miellyn (although we didn’t really get close until this summer), and my BFF is currently pregnant (due in a few weeks!)

4. Did anyone close to you die?
Sadly, yes. My aunt passed away the day I was asked to come to California for a job interview. I couldn’t tell R or my job why I needed to travel to CA, so I feel like even in her death my aunt was protecting me. So lame, I know, but just interesting how the timing worked out.

Also, my dear friend’s brother passed away a few days before Christmas.

5. Where did you travel?
Well, I drove across the country, so I went through several states and knocked a few things off the old bucket list (Grand Canyon, Four Corners). I also went to Orlando in February, Atlanta in March, PAX East (Boston) in April, and California in September for my cousin’s wedding (and October for the interview)

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My route (more or less)

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you didn’t have in 2014?
Honestly, 2014 was so painful and stressful, I’m just happy to be heading out of it. I’d like another tattoo, does that count? I’m also planning an international trip for the fall…stay tuned!

7. What days from 2014 will be etched upon your memory, and why?
September 21: The day I took (and passed!) the AFAA Group Ex test
October 14: The day I was offered the job and broke up with R.
November 13: The day I left Norwalk CT for good
November 29: The day I arrived back in California

8. What was your biggest achievement of this year?
I still can’t believe I got a job in California while living in Connecticut and keeping it a secret from virtually everyone.

Also, getting my AFFA Group Ex certificacte, which was my backup plan to get me out of Connecticut.

9. What was your biggest failure?
Is it ok to say R? I believe everything happens for a reason, but I’m still having a hard time figuring out what the point was for me to need to be on the East Coast for so long when I just ended up back here.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
I had chronic tendinitis in my ankle, which is common in group exercise instructors. I had panic attacks for most of the year thanks to R’s folks. But other than that nothing major.

11. What was the best thing you bought?
I moved all of my shit from CT to CA and that was pretty great but also expensive.

12. Whose behavior merited celebration?
Melissa. She invited me to stay with her several times this year, fed me tea and wine, prayed for me, listened to me, comforted me.

Cheryl. My mentor at my last job who taught me everything I needed to get the new job. She gave me life advice and work advice and kept my looking-for-a-new-job secret, even from her husband.

Sarah Sq., Sarah Sh., Sarah M for listening to me and not judging me and being patient while I figured things out. And Brooke for the same reasons but also for the buddy pass to get me to and from the interview.

Miellyn. She’s a friend I met indirectly through R, but has been one of the greatest friends I could ask for. I spent my birthday with her and stayed with her for three days at the beginning of my trip. In all honesty, if the entire reason I needed to spend 5 years wasting away on the east coast was to meet her, then it was worth it.

And of course my parents who planned a trip to CT to help me move out before I even knew I would be moving out and also helped to fund the move.

13. Whose behavior didn’t merit celebration?
R’s parents. But mostly his father. And R himself for letting his dad say some really horrible things to me.

14. Where did most your money go?
Most of my money went to the big moving adventure – from the movers themselves to the gas stations and the hotels and all of the adventures on the road.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
The first thing I was really excited about was Disneyworld/Wizarding World of Harry Potter in February, followed by PAX in April, and then finally getting to move back home in October/November

16. What songs will always remind you of 2014?
Hm. I’m not really sure actually. Can Serial count as a song? My original plan was to listen to one episode a day during my drive, but I ended up listening to the first four episodes between NYC and Baltimore. Also, how creepy/weird/awesome was it to drive through Baltimore while listening to Serial?

17. Compared to this time last year, are you: a) happier or sadder? b) thinner or fatter? c) richer or poorer?
a) definitely happier
b) about the same, actually (hooray for teaching fitness classes)
c) right now? Poorer because I haven’t gotten a paycheck since I quit my job in October. And also I’ve maxed out my credit cards in the move. But in a few weeks I’ll be back in the black.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?
Honestly, I wish I took more photos on my cross country trip. And spent more time sightseeing through some of the cities I was passing through. My original plan was to have ice cream in every state, but once I was on the road I just wanted to get to my next destination ASAP.

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One of my favorite photos of the trip. Eventually I’ll write about it.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?
Crying. I know that the timing for the move was just perfect, but I spent nearly every day in tears until October 14.

20. How did you spend Christmas?
We went to the beach on Christmas Eve and watched the sunset. It was 70 degrees.

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Christmas Day we had a lazy morning at my parents’ house, and then went to see Into the Woods with my cousins at Downtown Disney. We snuck in wine and cheese. It was great.

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We’re rebels. 

21. Did you fall in love with 2014?
NO.

22. What was your favorite TV program?
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I never missed an episode of Game of Thrones, Agents of SHIELD, and DWTS.

23. What was the best book you read?
Reading in general got put on the backburner once I started the big move. I’ve been trying to read Dance with Dragons for more than a year, but I keep getting stuck in boring chapters (I’m looking at you, Danerys). I loved Gone Girl, Hyperbole and a Half, and Timebound.

24. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I didn’t really discover any new music, but in Nashville, my brother and I recorded a record together in a little music booth. It was fun

25. What did you want and get?
I wanted to move back to California.

26. What did you want and not get?
I wanted R to stand up to his parents on my behalf.

27. What was your favorite film of 2014?
I didn’t see a lot of movies this year, but I did see Mockingjay in a fun little movie theater in Austin, and that was pretty cool.

28. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I turned 33. R took me down to see the Angels play in Baltimore. The next day we went to Miellyn and Shaun’s house for dinner (the best Thai food I’ve had in my life), beer, and tabletop games. It was perfect.

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29. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
See number 26. But that didn’t happen, so I got to move home, which was perfectly satisfying.

30. How would you describe your personal fashion concept of 2014?
I wore a lot of gym clothes because I was teaching a lot of fitness classes. And Nadia Tarr / Butter dresses. They’re the closest I can get to wearing pajamas in public and I love them.

31. What kept you sane?
Honestly? I have no idea. I remember counting down the weeks until October and just focusing on how short that was.

Also, a lot of wine.

32. What political issue stirred you the most?
To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what’s going on in the world right now. I sort of lost touch with reality once the big move was put in motion. Also, I don’t like to talk about politics.

33. Who did you miss?
Miellyn and Shaun. Melissa. My students at the gym. And NYC. I know that’s not a “who”, but NYC is pure magic.

34. Who was the best new person you met?
I don’t think I met a lot of new people this year – but I have a handful of people I got closer to and reconnected with.

35. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.
Not really a lesson, but the last day at my job, a dear coworker and friend said this:

BetterVersionOfYourself

36. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
“It’s a comfort to know / When you’re singing the hit the road blues / That anywhere else you could possibly go /after New York would be a pleasure cruise” -Santa Fe (Rent, Jonathan Larson)

Also, not a song lyric, but this passage is quite fitting:

WhyDoYouGoAway

And they’re off! A guide to Belmont Stakes Day

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Yeah, that didn’t happen. Photo via Belmont Stakes.

Visiting the Belmont Stakes has long been a bucket list item for me. R and I have talked about going before, but we tend to wait until it’s too late. This year, I took matters in to my own hands and bought tickets for his birthday. Fortunately, I bought the tickets when they went on sale in March, because after the Preakness, it was nearly impossible to get tickets.

Ticket prices were reasonable this year – $10 General Admission, with Grandstand seats starting at $20. I bought seats in the upper level of the Clubhouse, which were still reasonable at $50. For the last race of the day, we went down to the General Admission benches along the track, and it was a complete mess. I really appreciated our seats, and would definitely go the Clubhouse route again next time.

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Our seats were in the last row of section 3BU and I was really happy with them. Photo via the NYRA

I’d been to a couple of steeplechases as a kid, but I’d never been to a proper horse race. The Belmont Stakes website is a little vague on what to wear or what the experience is like (what exactly is “appropriate attire” and “no abbreviated wear”?), and most of the blogs out there are dedicated to the Kentucky Derby. I asked a friend of mine who went to Belmont Stakes Day last year, and her response was “I would not recommend women going by themselves” which still did not tell me what to wear.

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This is going to be long…

I plan to go into detail about the day, mostly as a journal for myself, but also if anyone else is interested about the experience.

If you just want quick details, here are my tips for Belmont Stakes Day:

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For the pinners. Photo of the last race of the day.

  • Buy Grandstand/Clubhouse seats in advance. If you wait until after the Preakness, there might be another Triple Crown bid and you will have a hard time finding tickets.
  • Drive if you can; public transportation is a nightmare.
  • Wear a sundress and comfortable shoes. Hats aren’t as popular as they are at the Kentucky Derby (I’m assuming – attending the Derby is also on my bucket list), but you’ll want a sun hat if you don’t have a reserved seat. General Admission areas are all in the sun with limited shade.
  • Get the Belmont Jewel.
  • Bet on the horses!
  • Bring your own binoculars if you have them. You have to turn in your ID to rent them at the Park, and you might get carded later at the bar or betting windows.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen!
  • Follow the rules of the banned/permitted items (they’re strict at bag check). Sadly, Belmont Park does not allow cameras with detachable lenses, so I had to leave my nice camera at home. It was almost a relief, though, because I didn’t have to fuss with my equipment all day.

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How we got there

LIRR has a train that goes directly to Belmont Park, and there are several Subway/Bus options to get there as well. We did talk about going the public transportation route, but in the end we thought driving would be the best option for us. Because it was a Triple Crown Bid, and attendance was expected to be high, we got to the park right when the gates opened at 8:15, and had a decent spot in the $10 parking lot – right in front of the shuttle stop.

My parents took the LIRR out to the Park, the train was standing room only, took almost an hour to get through bag check, and they nearly missed the first race of the day. The line to leave at the end of the day was more than two hours long, so we ended up giving them a ride back to their hotel.

If you have access to a car, I highly recommend driving to Belmont Park, as it ended up being the better choice.

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A gorgeous day at the races! 

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What I Wore

I decided I would wear one of my Butter dresses, since I basically live in those during the summer. I chose to wear this navy blue wrap dress, even though I wear it to almost every wedding I’m invited to. It’s comfortable, slimming, and I get lots of compliments on it. It’s fancy enough for a formal event, yet feels casual because the material is so soft. Since I didn’t know what “appropriate attire” was for Belmont Stakes Day, this was a safe bet. (And I got a lot of compliments on it, so it worked out!)

R wore a seersucker shirt, a straw fedora, and a bow tie. He fit in perfectly. My dad wore a purple shirt and green tie (California Chrome’s colors), and he looked nice, too.

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Photo by my dad!

I know the Kentucky Derby is known for its fancy hats, but I wasn’t sure about Belmont. I decided on a feather headband (the seller was horrible, so beware if you buy the same one). It was a nice mid-way point between a fancy hat and wearing no hat. There were some women with big fancy hats, some women who wore no hats, and some women wore beachy sun hats. General Admission viewing areas along the track do not have shade, so you’ll at least want a sun hat if you don’t have reserved seats in the Grandstands.

Most women wore brightly colored sundresses, or khaki pants with a fancy top. My mom wore black pants with a fancy yellow blouse with a matching hat, and she looked nice. I saw a few women (and men) dressed casually in jeans and t-shirts, and they looked out-of-place. So, really, no matter what you decide to wear is probably fine.

I also saw a lot of women in high heels. Maybe I’m old but they looked incredibly uncomfortable. We had a reserved seat, but General Admission area benches are first come. We did quite a bit of walking/standing so I recommend wearing flat shoes like summery sandals or low wedges.

One of my favorite things about this day were the guests who dressed to represent California Chrome for his Triple Crown bid.

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I realize it’s a horrible photo, but my favorite was the third photo. there was a group of five girls all in purple dresses decorated to look like California Chrome’s silks

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Even I joined the fun and represented California Chrome. purple and green manicure, racehorse & horseshoe bracelets from Alex and Ani, chromie bracelet from Mystigail, California Chrome necklace from Etsy.

Unfortunately, none of our good luck charms brought luck for California Chrome.

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Food & Drink

Food and Drink choices at Belmont Park are similar to food options you’d find at any typical sporting event: hot dogs, sausage & peppers, cheese steak, fried dough, etc. Obviously, for a fee you can attend the fancier buffets and luncheons, but for those of us on a tighter budget, the food options were limited. We had reserved seats in the Clubhouse, but did not have any of the fancy lunch reservations. On the third floor, there was a food stand with “catering boxes” which contained a sandwich, chips, and a beverage for $20. We decided to head to the backyard area to get cheaper eats, but it was hot, crowded, long lines, and after fighting our way  to the food area, we had wished we had just forked over the $20 simply for the convenience factor. We ended up missing the 4th race due to waiting in the food lines, but were able to watch a replay on the paddock screen on our way back to our seats.

One thing I was most looking forward to (other than the races) was the Belmont Jewel, the official drink of the Belmont Stakes. It was $15 for 16 ounces of bourbon and juice (and ice), and came with a souvenir glass. Considering we are just outside of NYC, I found this to be reasonable. Also? It was delicious.

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Sweet nectar of the NY horse racing gods. 

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The Races

There were 13 races for Belmont Stakes Day, with the actual Belmont Stakes as Race 11. R was most excited to bet on the races, and I joined in. I’ve never bet on a horse before, and I have pretty much zero idea how to read the odds.  I’d like to give a huge thanks to the staff of Belmont Park, who were extremely patient with me and explained the different ways to bet. I’m not one to take huge risks, so I decided to bet for the horses to “Show”, which means I bet the horse I chose would come in 1st, 2nd, or 3rd place. I also decided to choose what horse to bet on based on their names, because that was more fun than trying to figure out the odds.

The first horse I bet on was Wabbajack, which was fun to say. R and I joked that maybe his fans are called Wabbajackeys and the wondered if the guy who rides Wabbajack calls himself a Wabbajockey. (This was before we had Belmont Jewels, sadly.)

I was a little worried when just before the race the announcer said “We are waiting on Wabbajack”, but I was jumping out of my seat when my horse finished first!

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Hard to tell, but this is my winning ticket on Wabbajack. Proud to say I’m now a Wabbajackey. I decided it’s a thing.

I decided to continue my method for the remainder of the day.

(Sweet Reason, Sweet Whiskey, and Tiz So Sweet)

For the third race, I had three horses I wanted to Show, and R convinced me to do a Trifecta. “It’s the same thing!” he said. “It’s the same price!” he said. It was the same price, yes, but it is not the same as betting on three horses to Show. A Trifecta meant I was betting on all three horses to get 1st, 2nd, AND 3rd place. Two of my horses showed. The third did not. Had I bet on the horses to Show? I would’ve won. Because I bet the Trifecta, I lost. R still hasn’t heard the end of this.

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My winning tickets. I won money on every race except for Race 3 (I blame R), Race 5 (didn’t bet – stuck getting food), Race 11 (Belmont Stakes). 

R got a betting card which allowed him to bet at machines instead of talking with a cashier. This ended up being a good idea because the further along in the day, the busier the betting windows. Sometimes the lines were so long, I ended up giving R money to put my bet on his card. I originally thought that you couldn’t get a receipt if you bet at the machine, which is why I didn’t want the card in the first place. This was not the case, and now that I see how easy it was, I’ll get a betting card next year.

I absolutely recommend betting on the horses. The minimum bet is $1 and the races are much more exciting when you’re cheering on a horse with a fun name.

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California Chrome

Of course, we all know that California Chrome ended his Triple Crown bid with a dead heat for 4th place. While this was quite unfortunate for everyone (except for maybe Tonalist), just being there for this day was an experience in itself.

I loosely follow the Triple Crown races every year, but since I knew I was going to the Belmont Stakes this year, I followed the Kentucky Derby and Preakness more closely. Once I realized I’d be witnessing a Triple Crown Bid in person, I got really excited.

A perk of this year was Belmont’s Triple Crown bonus activities. California Chrome and Triple Chrome posters were being distributed around the Park, Breathe Right had a promotion, and there was an autograph session with the jockeys for Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Affirmed. I am assuming they do not do these things every year.

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Ron Turcotte (Secretariat), Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew), and Steve Cauthen (Affirmed) sign autographs

Belmont Park had been buzzing all day, but as soon as California Chrome hit the track, the stands came alive. The energy was so big and loud and strong, I could feel it my bones. My heart was pounding and a man standing next to me was shaking. There aren’t words strong enough to describe the excitement in the building.

I was the will-he-or-won’t he. Will he be on a list with Secretariat, or Smarty Jones? Will he make history or succumb to the fate of the twelve other Triple Crown bids since Affirmed. You could not check TMZ or Reality Steve for spoilers. It was pure unknowing excitement.

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I could have lived in the excitement of this moment forever.

The horses ran right in front of us at the start of the race – I’m surprised I even got this photo considering I was shaking at this point.

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The final moments of the will-he-or-won’t-he excitement.

I couldn’t hear the announcer for the entire race, but as soon as the horses came around the final turn, the crowd realized we were not going to witness a Triple Crown. It was as if the entire arena was deflated. BUT. It was a great race, and an amazing moment to experience.

I heard the official attendance count was 102,199. That’s a LOT of people. Especially considering (and I can’t remember where I saw this so I can’t find the link) last year’s attendance was around 45,000.

While, as I mentioned, the energy was amazing and wonderful, I would like to see Belmont Stakes on a non-Triple Crown Bid year. My mom and I tried to go to the Paddock before the second race, but we couldn’t get close. In fact, we nearly missed the race because the line for the escalator was so long. Not to mention I waited more than 25 minutes for the restroom, and then the whole mess trying to get lunch during the 4th and 5th races.

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Pass The Coffee. The closest I got to a racehorse all weekend.

All that being said, I truly enjoyed the adventure. For my first Belmont Stakes Day, I got to witness a Triple Crown bid with a horse from my home state. I met legendary Triple Crown Jockeys. I left $25 richer. I witnessed Palace Malice become the first horse in more than 50 years to win the Met Mile after winning the Belmont Stakes the previous year.

Sure, it was a bummer that California Chrome didn’t win. But I checked something off my bucket list, and had a lot of fun in the process.

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Race watchin’.

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Penultimate race of the day. 

Who’s joining me next year?