Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Camera: My Breast Cancer Story for BET.com

Earlier this month, my editor at BET.com asked if I'd be interested in talking about my breast cancer story for the site and on camera. I jumped at the opportunity to experience something new, but then as the date approached I grew nervous. My story isn't that exciting, I thought. What if I'm not that interesting to listen to and I come off totally lame? Still, I went for it because I wasn't going to let fear keep me from trying. If they wanted my story then all I could do was just give them me. At the very least I could be good at that, right?

My breast cancer story doesn't contain much frills. It's not some epic drama about a girl who was diagnosed at a late stage, sold all her worldly possessions, and became one with the universe. It's a bit more...I don't even know what word would describe it. Normal? Everyday? Practical? I was thrown this wild card against my will and what was I going to do? Stop living over it? No, thanks. I still have a few things on my to do list.

So even though I don't think my story is at all remarkable (1 in 8 U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in her lifetime), I wanted to share it anyway and show how I decided to face this. Simply put, this is me and what you see is what you get.

To listen to me recount my story, click here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Book of Life

This weekend, A. and I went to see The Book of Life, a stunning animated film produced by Guillermo del Toro, who also gave us the gift that was Pan's Labyrinth. Have you heard of it? As soon as we saw the trailer during our last visit to the movies, we instantly knew we just had to watch.

The story takes place in Mexico, the center of the world, as Manolo and his best friend Joaquin vie for their childhood friend Maria's affections. In addition, both Manolo and Joaquin must contend with living under their family's shadows, discovering what they truly want, and going through extreme means to claim what's truly their heart. Spanning across three worlds between the living and the dead, The Book of Life is just a colorful feast for the eyes.

The visuals are just so so gorgeous, I couldn't get enough of this style. I was also thrilled to see a film that celebrates Mexican culture and history on the big screen and hope it sparks a bit of curiosity in its viewers. It easily interwove historic content with more modern bits of pop culture and gave some popular songs a little Latin flavor. Now I'm here thinking, "Hmmm, Day of the Dead party anyone?"

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

{He Says/She Says} When Love Grows Up

Since moving in with A. and spending so much more time with one another, there have been all these new facets that I'm discovering. In the beginning I was worried that we'd become boring roommates and lose the sexiness, but over the last weeks I'm realizing that this feels…different. At some point in all this, the relationship matured. When I look at A., yeah, I see his flaws as I'm sure he notices mine, but it doesn't matter so much because the overarching thought that goes beyond all our disagreements and misunderstandings is this: we're a team and we make it work. I was never really told that this is what long-term love evolves into, but I can see how you could ride this for 45 years like A.'s parents have done.

{He says} Most people go looking for that crazy, whirlwind, overwhelming love that takes you over and carries you to do silly things you'd never imagine. That's not how it happened with me and you. Our relationship was very deliberately fostered. We may have had our moments of temporary insanity, but they were less about getting carried away with each other and more about doing brash things for fun. We were rarely mistaken about who the other was and we refused to look past the flaws we saw in the other. Instead, we acknowledged our imperfections and sought to improve as individuals. It was a long and grueling process, but what we have as a result, I feel, is so much stronger than what people normally aim for.

I imagine someone visualizing what they'd like out of a partner and then rifling through a stable of candidates until they find someone who is close enough. If I had used this method, I would have never stopped at you. And you know that. But what we have, as a result, is stronger than what any momentary fling might seek to replace. You and I are both deep and complicated people, so it's taken years for us to get to know each other. We certainly know and appreciate each other more than we can see in other relationships.

For all the times I refused to let you run away. For all the times we changed to make the other person happy instead of clinging to our stubborn ideals. We're solid.

As long as we keep working.

{She says} I remember you once told me that you could have ended up just as happy if you had met someone else that night. I thought that was such a unromantic thing to say then, but years later I sometimes look at you and think the same thing. I could very well spend my life searching for more, for better, for different. I could hold out for other options, expecting finer picks from another draw. But I don't want to.

There's this deep satisfaction that comes from working through life's difficulties with someone. He might not be perfect, but he's willing to grow with you. It's not settling either, it's accepting that this person you've come to care so much for is your partner in crime and at the end of each day, he'll be there to talk about his dreams and support you through yours. He's there to navigate your mood swings, complete your thoughts, and is unrelenting when it comes to your self-improvement. He admires you as you are and envisions the person you could be. You might not always adore each other and some nights you'd rather sleep on the couch than hear this person breathing next to you, but you know you have to make it work. After all we've put into this relationship, there's just no throwing in the towel.

Yes, the girly, lustful, infatuated side still exists and sometimes it's all I can do to not drown you with affection, but this other side feels more serious, practical. It's me looking at you and resolving to help you learn, grow, and be happy. It's me looking at you and thinking, Yeah, we're in this.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Would You Ever Get a Housecleaner?

A few months ago, my aunts, sister, and I were sitting around chatting about the domestic life when our oldest aunt revealed that she regularly pays someone to come and clean her house. I thought that was interesting considering how much we pride ourselves in maintaining a neat household and handling so many of the chores (a role that was beaten into us girls since childhood). I might have grown up detesting every facet of the domesticity and argued against women being expected to cook, clean, and raise children, but I've since accepted that taking care of those you love actually feels good. So when a few days later A. randomly asked if we could get a maid to come do our chores, I was immediately opposed to the idea. But why not if we have the money for it and it would save us time, energy, and stress, he asked. I thought on it for about a second and listed off my reasons:

1. The size of our house and lifestyle does not warrant paying for a housecleaner. Our junior 2-bedroom apartment is not that big and there's no reason why we can't handle cleaning it ourselves.

2. There are other supposedly frivolous things we can't get and so based purely on pride, we cannot add this unnecessary expense. Agree to cable and then maybe we'll talk.

3. This is just an excuse for you to not handle your end of the chores. If I can pick up after myself then so can you.

4. Even though they're being fairly compensated for their work, I would feel guilty about making someone else clean my home. Are they going to judge me? Are they going to look at me and think, "Wow, what a waste of a woman. She can't even mop her own floors."

5. And the biggie: I was afraid of coming across the Latina stereotype I grew up with and have her do my dirty work for me. It just didn't seem right.

In fact, I was so uncomfortable with the idea of hiring someone to clean my home that I wanted us to immediately drop the subject and begged A. to never bring it up again. I might have said we could revisit the idea when we land ourselves a mansion, but even then I silently sent a wish into the universe that I'll never have to put myself in such an awkward position.

Fast forward three months later and I notice a subway ad for Handy, a home cleaning and handyman service you can book online. I checked out the site and upon seeing how easy it was to schedule a cleaning (and take advantage of their 2-hour cleaning for $29), I decided to try them out. I won't even tell you how many Oh, really's came out of A.'s mouth when I told him my plan, but I hushed him and said it was just for research.

Our housecleaner was set to visit yesterday afternoon and the whole week leading up to our appointment I allowed ourselves to be a little more lax on the chores. It helped that we were busy with social engagements and preparing for our weekend getaway because otherwise I would've driven myself mad with how cluttered our apartment was becoming. And sure enough when yesterday arrived, I spent the hour before the housecleaner arrived picking up clothes, putting papers away, tidying up our kitchen counters, and making sure we didn't come off as slobs. Plus, I wanted her to focus on cleaning countertops, sweeping, and dusting surfaces instead of putting things away.

She arrived right on the dot and after a quick tour of the apartment and some direction on what I would like done during her visit, I left her to do the chores while I continued working in the office. It was a little weird having someone buzzing around in the back of the apartment and there were a few times when I wanted to go take a peek out of curiosity, but I didn't want to be a weirdo hovering around while she did things I could clearly do myself. So I stayed at my desk pretending to look really busy and justifying the whole situation in my head with "See? I just have too much to do!" Even if I felt like going into the restroom to pee or grab something from the fridge, I stayed in that room like a socially awkward penguin.

Two hours later, she packed up to leave and took out my trash. She also asked where the recycling went to which I said, "It's in the basement, but don't worry about it! I'll just take it down myself!" I just couldn't bring myself to inconvenience her any further. Go! Leave me to my messes!

All in all, she did a good job even though I was expecting more than just a Swiffer wipe across my floors. Would I hire a cleaner again? Probably not while I'm in this apartment unless we have a huge gathering coming up and the house looks like an absolutely wreck. But even then…meh. Our house is just rarely bad at all (thanks to my neurotic self being home all day long) and if it ever gets to that point, we can rally. While it was nice to walk into the bathroom and kitchen and have it all sparkling clean without having to take time off my other to do's, I still feel that I could do it all myself. Now if only that wasn't immediately followed by intense feelings of resentment at actually doing it all myself, we'd be good!

Tell me: Have you ever hired a housecleaner? If not, would you ever pay someone to regularly clean your home?

Monday, October 13, 2014

B.J. Novak's The Book With No Pictures

Have you heard of the new children's book, The Book With No Pictures, written by actor-comedian B.J. Novak (The Office)? I stumbled upon it online and immediately ordered a copy for A.'s nephews and my friend's 6-year-old daughter who we were going to see during this weekend's camping trip. The concept behind the book is that the adult reading it finds himself saying the most absurd things (to the child's absolute delight) and also fighting back against the silly words he's being forced to say. The book might not have any illustrations, but type and color are used in an artistic way and kids get to see the power behind words.

In a recent interview with Vanity Fair about his new book, Novak explained why he decided to do a children's picture book with just words.

"Well, I have two answers, and they're both true. The idealistic answer, and it's true, is that I thought, There's a really exciting way to show kids that the written word can be their ally and that it's possible to do something extremely powerful—which is overpower an adult and your experience with them, using only words. Words that can be on your side. And I thought there was a beautiful, exciting lesson in that, in making words something—which they are, rebellious and a form of freedom—that a kid can learn is on their side whenever they want it to be. And the simple answer is that I can't draw, and I wanted to do it all myself," he said.

When we read the book's title to our friend's daughter she seemed skeptical that this would be a fun story time.

"The Book With No Pictures? Aww, it's a chapter book," she groaned. But she settled in as A. started reading her the book.

Well let me tell you, that child went around the group and had that book read to her like eight times in 24 hours. She just could not get enough! And to her, every time was just as funny as the last.

In the book trailer below, Novak reads The Book With No Pictures to a group of kids and ends up sending them into a pile of giggles. In fact, the same part that our friend's daughter kept obsessing over and over also caused a bit of a commotion when he read it to these school children.

"At the school that the reading was at [in the trailer]—it's a very orderly school," Novak told Vanity Fair. "They had to calm the kids down after I read the line 'Boo Boo Butt.' We had to cut like 60 seconds out of the tape, because they're going crazy. They're practically running around. They had to do a whole ritual of '1, 2, 3, shhh' to quiet them back down. After it was all done, they had a very orderly way to get the kids out, in line, and back to their classrooms. But one tiny little five-year-old African American girl just bursts out and ran out of the line, hugged me and pointed at me and said 'You are hilarious.' And that's been the highlight so far."

We can't wait to read this to A.'s nephews!

Image: youtube.com

Friday, October 10, 2014

Gone Camping + 12 Gorgeous Teepees and Tents

Today A. and I are heading out on a camping trip with some of my friends. We'll be "roughing it" in Delaware and enjoying a weekend of gabbing, hiking, stargazing, and eating way too much grilled meat. I sure hope we have absolutely no reception out there so we can forget the rest of the world even exists.

Aside from giving me a serious craving for s'mores, one other thing this trip has done is reignited my wish to own a pretty tent or teepee. Sure, I don't have a back yard or a patio to plop one on, but I'd love to have one set up in a corner of our apartment. It could be my little reading and meditating nook or serve as a quiet hideaway when I need some alone time. (No boys allowed!) Below are some of the sweetest tents I've found. Would you ever get one for your home?

1. Mokkasin | 2. Bodie and Fou | 3. The Look Factory | 4. Stout Tent

5. House Inhabit | 6. Land of Nod | 7. Sugar Shacks Teepee | 8. Henry's House

9. Marlowe + Jay | 10. Tip Top Teepee Shop | 11. Lotus Belle | 12. RH Baby & Child

Image: ohpioneer.com

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wix Lounge: A Free Coworking Space

I've found a new place to get work done outside of the house and dare I say it, I like it more than my usual stomp, The Bean. I'd been to the Wix Lounge's former location back in 2011, but never made it to their new spot once they moved. The free coworking space is the perfect place to grab a seat and work alongside other freelancers when home gets too lonely. There's lots of room so you never feel crowded in, there are clean bathrooms, a kitchen area, free tea and coffee, and a chance to announce what you're working on to the group. Best of all, now I don't have to roam around frustrated in search of WiFi or buy something at a coffee shop to just to sit down and charge up for a few hours.

When I work from Wix, I even leave my stuff at my table and step out for a lunch break and don't have to lug all my things around. You don't even know how wonderful that is for my aching shoulders. Yes, it'd be so much easier to keep working from home, but sometimes a girl just needs to get out of the house and breathe different air. I also considered that with flu season coming around it'll expose me to way more germies, but I'll take the risk.

The space has enough buzz going on to serve as background noise without getting distracting and I like eavesdropping on conversations from small groups working on the Next Great Startup. I get the best of both worlds: the office life with "coworkers" but with the freedom to come and go as I please and no boss looking over my shoulder. Oh and the greatest thing about working from Wix Lounge? The Brgr a couple blocks away and the Doughnut Plant right across the street!

Wix Lounge is open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm. To learn more, visit wix.com/lounge/new-york.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Open House New York Weekend

In a few days I'll be heading out of town for a bit of camping, which I'm totally looking forward to, but it means I'll be missing this year's Open House New York Weekend. (Booo!) The annual event is a chance for New Yorkers to peek into some cool spaces, including some that are ordinarily closed off to the public, that show off the city's architectural history and diverse examples of engineering and urban design.

If you were ever curious about what goes on in some of the city's well-known buildings or feel like learning more about its hidden treasures, then Open House NY is a good time to cater to those whims. If I were around I would have loved to visit Interior Design magazine's curated selection of designer's spaces for live + work + play. I can already imagine the drool as I jot down creative tips on integrating professional and personal spaces at home. And my exploration would take me right into the night as 10 projects by award-winning lighting designers show off the work that goes into illuminating the city that never sleeps. The Statue of Liberty, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the High Line, and the "Postcards" Staten Island 9/11 Memorial are included in this mix.

While Reservation Day passed last week, there are still dozens of tours with open spots available (advanced reservations are $5 each and closes Oct. 9) and the majority of sites participating this weekend will provide "open access" hours free of charge so you can drop in and explore the site at your own pace.

To learn more, visit ohny.org, download an event guide here, or watch the organization's promo video below.

Image: ohny.wetransfer.com

Autumnal Hijinks

Continuing on this autumn love fest, I attended my first medieval fair a week ago! Fort Tryon Park, which takes top spot on my NYC parks list, holds an annual festival and now that I live blocks away from it, I just had to check it out. I had no idea it drew in so many people (roughly 60,000)! A. and I had a fun time checking out the costumes (leather! corsets! lace!), weapons, and playing games. Too bad I missed the horseback jousting matches, but it was a great afternoon nonetheless. The weather was absolutely perfect and I ended up buying the flower crown of my dreams. Even Dad joined in on the medieval antics and agreed that he'd never seen so many people in "our park."

That same weekend, A. and I joined up with local Burning Man attendees for a random walk around the city pretending we were going through theme camps on the NYC playa. The journey led us into Staten Island, of all places, where we attacked a Russian salad bar, ate lunch in a historic village, and took a few moments to rest inside a rustic Tibetan museum. It was sweet to throw on our ears and tails again and answer to the curious folks who wanted to know what the hell was going on. A., on the other hand, just couldn't get enough strangers asking, "What does the fox say?" (By the way, have you seen Kerry Washington's SNL version of the silly song?)

Monday, October 6, 2014

{Monday Inspiration} And Breathe...

Fall has already been with us for about two weeks now and I. Am. In. Love. Autumn has been my favorite season ever since spring started attacking my senses long ago. There's just something wonderful about the chilly air that makes you want to cozy up under a blanket, jacket weather, boots, and all that gorgeous foliage.

For me, the new season also signals a chance to start anew. I don't know if I'm still in sync with the school season where September would bring in new supplies, new friends, and the feeling of starting fresh, but it's always been an interesting time to check in, be introspective, and see what improvements can be made. This season I've taken on regular meditation and signed up for a local yoga studio. In order for things to stick, I have to make them as easily accessible as possible. I'm a lazy bum and as soon as I can make an excuse to quit a new habit, trust that I will. (Why is it so hard?!) Heights Meditation is a small donation-based group that meets every morning just a block and a half away from my house. I'll roll out of bed at 6:45am and walk over for a half hour session of beating thoughts off with a stick (without judgement, of course). Some mornings are calmer than others (and I admit to having skipped out two times when I was just too afraid to sit quietly with my monkey mind), but I think the effort really counts. I know it will take a long time for me to be fully present the entire session, but I do get snippets of quietude every morning.

When that little Tibetan singing bowl signals it's time to ease back into the day, I have a smile on my face because that ringing sends heavenly sparks shooting through my temples and I have created a little more distance between me and whatever might try to overwhelm me in the coming hours. This is going to sound cliché, but it feels so good and peaceful knowing that I have more space between me and my hectic surroundings. It gives me time to think before reacting because I don't feel like I'm constantly sinking under. It allows me the space and permission for foresight and presence of mind.

Meditation and yoga go hand-in-hand and if I was going to begin this journey into mindfulness  one I'd been really curious about since reading Dan Harris' book 10% Happier  I wanted to go all in. Mind Body Soul Yoga is a few blocks away and now serves as my noontime break. I'll finish my morning shift and walk over to the boutique studio to stretch away any stress that might have built up since meditation that morning. It's almost like a rest stop in my daily mental health journey and one that's resulted in more even-keel-feeling days. I'm no longer racing through 12 hours fighting off anxieties and daunting thoughts, feeling absolutely exhausted by the time the evening comes around. I'll get my mind right first thing in the morning and then reset it again before beginning my afternoon work.

Granted, my body is still getting used to the early wake up calls and I'll easily pass out at 10pm, but I feel better. Not only am I not incessantly nagging or frustrated by every little thing A. might have neglected around the house (which is working wonders on our relationship) or want to hide under the table when works gets annoying, but I love that I'm doing this for me. I told myself that if I didn't want to go to therapy to control my anxieties and panics, then I needed to invest in my mental health some other way. That first day in class, while lying on my mat with my eyes closed, I thought, "Wow! I can't believe I'm carving out an hour and a half out of my day just for me." And that was quickly followed up by, "Are you kidding me? That's nothing compared to all the time you spend for everyone else!"

I don't know why it took so long to accept that I deserve this nook of time. I'll be sure to let you know how my journey into mindfulness unfolds.