It’s My Party and I’ll Hygge If I Want To

My childhood was leave-it-to-beaver charmed, and never more so than on the days leading up to November 18. Every year, we’d check out the same “how to plan a birthday party” book from the library, design six to eight handmade invites for a sweet group of babes I’m mostly still friends with, and print a ’90s banner on a ’90s printer that I’m sure you remember sounding exactly like this.

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Sweet pants, ma! No joke, these are totally back in style.

With my siblings born on back-to-back days in April, my November birthday always felt like an outlier, and my parents worked hard to make sure I felt special even with Christmas just weeks away. So we threw theme parties every year, and they were epic.

There was the pirate party. The backwards party. The hippy party. The “tell-a-joke-to-a-video-camera” party, which — yes — I still have on record. As the theme got a makeover each fall, the only thing that stayed the same with each passing year was my love of cake — and my terrible haircut. #SelfBurn.

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Why yes, I AM incorrectly signing the birthday song in a bowl cut! But enough about me, let’s talk about how cute Meredith is.

(Of course, once my parents stopped planning my birthday parties, they got a little less idyllic. That “Buffalo wing themed” 18th birthday party at Bill Bateman’s didn’t quite have the same ring. Neither did the “shot-gunning-beers themed” 21st birthday party on the streets of Madrid. The “whoops-I-just-threw-up-on-my-co-workers’-shoes-but-it’s-OK-because-SURPRISE-I’m-going-to-marry-him-in-four-years” themed 27th birthday party was funnily enough a bit more successful, but I didn’t realize it at the time. Suffice to say, my mom’s themes were better.)

So why do I bring this up? Because I just had my birthday this weekend — my 33rd, to be exact — and while my parents weren’t there to plan it, I took a page from their playbook and threw a bit of a theme day, if you will. The theme? Being in my mid-30s and loving every basic second of it.

What’d I do, you ask?

  • First, I woke up, not hungover, at 7 a.m. without an alarm and made a pot of my favorite coffee.
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People who defame flavored coffee have never tried Frosty’s Favorite which, yes, tastes as seasonal as it sounds.

  • Then, I curled up with a book in our cozy upstate house while my husband and dog relaxed across the room.
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Just kidding, Lucille never relaxes.

  • Then I went to my fabulous no-frills Hudson Valley gym (more on that later), where I treated myself to not one but two episodes of Flea Market Flip.
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The worst show on the best channel is still worth watching.

  • Then, after lunch and some Christmas shopping and a hike with Lucille and a nap, Ben and I went out for a delicious dinner — and were in bed by a most glorious 10:30 p.m. cutoff.
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I shared these, even though I wanted to be shellfish.

It may not have been one of the wild-and-crazy birthday celebrations of yesteryear, but it was exactly how I wanted to spend this November 18.

(The only thing that could have made it better was if, like on my fifth birthday, I’d looked outside to find my friend Sarah hiding in a tree.)

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Hey pals: What do you do to celebrate your birthday as an adult?  

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Walk on the Wild Side

I’ve always loved going to the movies.

I love the smell of popcorn. I love the pure escapism. I love stubbornly following the rituals of theater-going that my dad instilled in me 30 years ago: never arrive after the lights go down, always guess how many previews there’ll be in advance, never sit behind a man in a tall hat.

And of course, always stay for the credits. We did that decades before hidden scenes were a thing and, much to the chagrin of my friends and husband, I will never, ever stop.

So I guess you could say growing up, my family took the movies pretty seriously. I mean, did anyone else don their snowsuits and Bean Boots and trudge a mile-and-a-half to the theater (uphill both ways!) on snow days to catch a matinee screening of Homeward Bound? I think not.

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“But does Shadow make it at the end?!”

In fact, the only thing I don’t appreciate about the movies is the preposterous idea that in the event of a fire, we should walk, not run, to our nearest exit. (And that’s not just because as Mitch Hedberg so sensibly said: “If you’re flammable and have legs, you are never blocking a fire exit.”) It’s also because — in dangerous situations or otherwise– why would you walk somewhere if you could run?

For that past seven years, that’s essentially been my motto: running > walking. Why walk the dog if you can run with her? Why walk to brunch if you can jog there? I mean, did Forrest Gump walk for three years, two months and 14 days? I rest my case.

I’ll be honest: I never took walking all that seriously as a form of exercise. So I was as surprised as you’ll be when I found myself waking, not running, every single time I exercised in September. Or more precisely, walking rapidly uphill while carrying a backpack. I believe it’s called, as they say in French, hiking.

It started simply enough: Lucille wanted to check out some trails upstate, and I found myself accidentally hiking. I suppose that’s pretty on-brand for mountain dogs.

The next weekend, my friend Z threw a hiking party — a far healthier alternative to how we celebrated her last 14 birthdays — and we covered seven miles in a Hudson Valley forest, chatting the whole way. “Huh,” I thought to myself, “This hiking stuff isn’t half bad. I’ll look forward to doing it again some time in 12-15 years.”

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One of these women has a torn ACL and probbbbbably shouldn’t have joined us, cough cough, Rogan.

Turns out, my math was a little off. Two days later, I flew to Hawaii, where hiking appears to be a way of life — or at least a way for my kid brother to keep me busy until it’s an appropriate hour to frequent the neighborhood karaoke bar. We did two quite vertical hikes together to massive waterfalls, plus I took my niece Keira (remember her?) on a solo hike to this gross view.

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“Remember when I starred in this blog?”

“But why hike on just one continent?” I foolishly asked myself before boarding a plane out of Honolulu. (I was getting cocky.) Turns out the past five hikes were just warm-ups for the big finale: Hong Kong Island’s Twin Peaks. The internet calls this trek to Stanley Beach “very difficult,” and that’s not #fakenews. My bud Kenneth and I hiked up — oh I don’t know — 875 trillion steps on our way over the first peak. We’re still friends after that insane climb, but only because I convinced him to walk the long, flat way around the second peak. (And because he treated me to a beer and spa day afterwards, like a champ.)

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Hidden behind this smile: so much pain.

So what did I learn spending several weeks on a running hiatus in favor of hiking instead? Lots!

Hiking is much more social than running, and it allows more opportunities to take in the scenery and unwind. It also works different muscles than simply hitting the pavement, including those stability muscles in my feet and ankles that I know are massively underused on the mean streets of Queens. Most importantly, no one even blinked when I pulled a 12-inch turkey sub out of my backpack mid-hike in Westchester and started chomping away — a surefire perk that running can’t match.

Does that mean hiking is going to become a bigger part of my routine going forward? I’ll let you be the judge:

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*siblings Christmas card*

Other runners, is hiking part of your routine? More importantly, how excited are you for the day Keira and Lucille can be in a photo together on this blog? Ten months and counting!

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Something Old, New, Sweaty & Blue

Weddings — no matter how you slice it — tend to be pretty decadent affairs.

  • If you’re a guest, it means hours of unlimited crab dip and bubbly, unless you were at our wedding, in which case you strangely chose to drink the bar dry of totally healthy full-cream White Russians. Mmm.
  • If you’re a bridesmaid, it’s that plus two extra weekends of Bloody Marys and Mimosas and cute hashtags and hangover quiches, all of which can hit your waistline.
  • If you’re the bride, it’s all of the above — and a year of celebratory toasts and cake trials and a whole additional dinner where you literally taste everything you’ll be eating again in six months’ time.

(And you wonder why the global industrial bridal complex tries to convince us all we need to lose weight.)

It’s this notion — that weddings are unhealthy and there’s nothing you can do about — that many of us resign ourselves to as we enter the celebratory season. But in 2018, I’ve noticed a wonderful new trend emerge: every one of my girlfriends to tie the knot this year invited her friends to a sweaty, empowering fitness class to build excitement (and muscle!) for the big day. Who says a party can’t be healthy.

In March, we did a barre class with the world’s tiniest mats at a West Side dance studio to celebrate some upcoming nuptials.

This awkward photo of Cat definitely beats a group photo.

In April, we did a reformer class in Venice Beach because the super fit bride wanted to torture me for learning to read before her in kindergarten show me her favorite kind of machine-based core-stabilizing workout.

Perhaps I should take fewer fitness classes and more photography ones. That said, the shirts I designed rocked.

And just last month, we celebrated another happy couple with kettlebell swings and burpees at the very intense Fhitting Room on Manhattan’s Upper East Side that my hamstrings are still reeling from.

These three classes definitely went in ascending order of pain.

After the bridal workouts, did I still go on to drink seven glasses of white and eat all the bacon-wrapped things within arm’s reach during the main event? You know I did. But I did it with a little more muscle, and THAT’s my kind of wedding mass.

(Now don’t get me wrong: weddings are not just about the bride. The groom is very important too. And speaking of grooms…)

Look who just visited hers! 💇🏻‍♀️
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Runner Regrets

I’ve regretted a lot of things in my life:

  • Mentioning every single one of Lucille’s ailments while on the phone with her prospective pet health insurer.
  • Skipping Mitch Hedberg’s October 2004 show in Portland, convinced I’d get the chance to see him another time.
  • This haircut.

(Which I rocked for far too many years.)

But you know what I’ve never once regretted? A run.

I’ll be honest – it doesn’t take much to talk me out of a workout. It’s raining? I’ll just wait til tomorrow. It’s icy? I’ll just wait til it melts. It’s scorching? I’ll just wait til global warming ends.

But you know what? Even though forgoing a morning run feels good for about five indulgent minutes – when instead of lacing up, I make some coffee or scramble some eggs or climb back into bed – it quickly turns to regret. I don’t know about you, but I’ll spend the rest of the day wondering if I could’ve squeezed in a few quick miles, or imagining that I’ll head to the gym after work – which, let’s be honest, is always a lie. When I walk through that apartment door at 7 p.m. and my tiny lapdog climbs into my arms, it’s clear I’m not going anywhere. The refrain is constant: I should’ve run when I had the chance.

Feel free to print this motivational poster for your office.

Skipping a run that I could have done is probably the second worst feeling in the world for a runner. The worst? Skipping a race that I could have done. And not just any race: one that passes directly in front of my house.

That happened to me last year: by the time I learned about the Rhinebeck Hudson Valley Half Marathon, there wasn’t enough time to train, so I had to sit in the rain on my front porch and just watch it go by like the world’s saddest parade.

I vowed never to let that happen again, so when I saw that next Monday’s local Labor Day 10K goes by our house not once but twice, I knew what I had to do, even though I haven’t logged more than five miles at a time since May and my main speed work these days is running to the nearest soft serve parlor. In fact, you could say the only kind of fitness I’ve been doing this summer is “fitness entire bottle of rosé in my mouth.” Jokes.

Photo credit: my enabler sister in law

Come Monday morning, I’m sure I’ll want to hit the snooze button and roll back over on a precious day off, but I’m going to toe that starting line anyways. Because even if I briefly regret registering for a sweaty, hilly, 6.2-mile slog, I’ll surely regret not doing it even more. And that’s what Labor Day is all about — right?

What’s your running regret?

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Dog Days of Summer, or Keeping Your Better Half Cool

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about my own personal health and comfort. Today, let’s shift the spotlight to someone far furrier and less likely to hold a multi-year grudge: my dog.

Lucille, as you’ve probably realized, gets a lot of real estate on this page, and for good reason: she’s photogenic, she works for free and she’s at times larger than life — or at least larger than the back seat of a Kia Forte.

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I am a tender, sweet young thing, and I demand all three seats, please. (Name that reference!)

I’m writing about our family bear dog today because many of my readers are dog lovers, too, and as the mercury rises, we don’t always know the best ways to keep them from overheating. If it’s too hot for me to lace up and go for a run, it’s too hot for her, but with dogs unable to sweat or complain or crank up the fan, sometimes us dog mothers (fine, dog landlords) have to take cooling matters into our own human hands.

(Disclaimer: I’m not a veterinarian — just a pet owner whose dependent charge is constantly covered in 65 pounds of what I can only imagine feels like solid black felt.)

Now at our Queens apartment, Lucille does just fine even when the temperature pushes 100 — we keep her water bowl full, the AC blasting, the window coverings drawn, her outdoor walks short and the bathroom door open, so she can nap on the cool tile and lower her body heat/make it really hard for her humans to pee in privacy.

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Seriously, can’t even shower without an audience these days.

But every time we head to our upstate house, we start to worry that she won’t be able to cool herself down sufficiently in an 1840s home with no air conditioning and poor circulation and far too many centipedes. (That last bit doesn’t impact the weather so much as my personal wellbeing.) So we’ve devised a whole host of tricks to keep her cool, which — in tandem — have so far kept her from spontaneously combusting.

    • Keep water and ice-cubes within her reach: Dehydration is a major summer concern, so keep your dog’s bowl filled and offer the frozen variety if it doesn’t seem to bother his or her teeth.
  • Limit outdoor time during the middle of the day: Plan big walks for early morning, and make sure there’s ample shade outside if you’re throwing your pup outback.
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The real slim shady.

  • Buy a cooling pad: This is a new tool in our toolbox, so not quite sure yet if she’ll warm to it, but she certainly stays on it all night without complaints.
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Cool as a cucumber.

  • More unorthodox methods: Cover your dog in a cool wet towel. Take her for a swim. Or, if you’re weirdos like us, line her spine with ziplocks of ice. You know, normal things.
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Or what we call country-house AC.

  • Share your popsicle: Again, I may be alone in this camp, but she certainly seemed to like it.

Dog owners — what other tips can you share? Cat owners — I know you want an easy-to-manage pet but AT WHAT COST? (Just kidding. Maybe.)

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Up, Up and Away

We’re in an era of human existence where we spend an awful lot of time looking things up.

  • “Can I use baking soda instead of baking powder?” “Dunno, look it up!”
  • “What ever happened to Brendan Fraser? “Dunno, look it up!”
  • “Is is still my favorite cousin’s birthday in Hong Kong?” “Dunno, look it up!”
  • “What’s the name of that Nic Cage movie where he wants to take John Travolta’s face off?” “He wants to take his face off?” “Yeah, Cage wants to take his face off.” “Dunno, look it up!”

We’re so used to having everything at our fingertips at all times that we never just agree to disagree anymore. In fact, to test how addicted we’d become to the constant ability to seek out any answer at any time, my sister and I once went an entire Maryland-to-Indiana road trip without allowing ourselves even once to approach Google for guidance. Instead, we kept a running list of questions with pen and paper and told ourselves we could search only once we’d arrived in the Hoosier State. Turns out, by the time we got there, we really didn’t much care anymore whether any of the voice actors in the 1990 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were still famous.

(You’re going to google that now, aren’t you?)

Ironically, during all that time we spend looking things up, we’re nearly always looking down. Seriously, picture a New York City street, or a subway car, or an elevator, or the gym: We’re always looking down at our phones, rather than up at the physical world around us. And sometimes for good reason – our phones are fun, and if you look up at Manhattan’s tall buildings, everyone thinks you’re a tourist and tries to sell you a double-decker bus ticket.

Still, it can’t be healthy to never – and I mean NEVER, in my case – look up at the outside world. That’s why my visit to Chicago last weekend was so great. Not only did I get to spend some quality time with my sister and eat a “pizza” that was thick as a quiche, but we treated ourselves to an architecture boat tour that demanded we spend a solid 90 minutes taking in the scenery above.

And it was glorious.

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Look at the mix of modernist and post-modern and art-deco style! Just don’t ask me to explain which is which.

Now I can’t say whether an hour an a half away from my normal phone routine made me a healthier person or a better runner, but it sure felt nice to stretch my neck in the other direction for once. So here’s my charge to you this weekend: spend some time looking up at whatever’s above you — buildings, mountains, drive in movie screens, giraffes — and I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised at what you find. I know I was.

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Bean there, done that.

Happy Friday, folks! Get out there and see the world!

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Ghosts of Bloggers Past

Have you ever been ghosted? No, I’m not talking about throwing romantic ceramics with Swayze, may he rest in peace. And I’m not talking about use of this emoji, which is the only proper way to punctuate the phrase “I’m so hungry I could die.” And I’m not talking about hiding under a white sheet with holes cut out of the eyes and waiting for the Great Pumpkin a la Linus van Pelt.

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These aren’t the bones you’re looking for.

I’m talking about ghosting in the 2018 sense — or the soul-crushing feeling when someone you’d been talking with completely falls off the face of the planet without any advanced warning or the common decency to say good-bye. From what I hear, it’s a big problem with online dating. It’s also a big problem on this blog.

Hello again, friends. Sorry to have ghosted you these last three months.

It wasn’t intentional, I swear. I’m alive — and maybe even well, depending on your loose reading of the definition.

But I’ve just been so gosh-darn busy that I haven’t had the time to sit down and put thoughts to paper, at least not the coherent and punny ones that you’ve come to expect from me. I suppose I could have just posted a bi-monthly series of Lucille photos without any text connecting them (who’d have known the difference, honestly?) but I didn’t want to steal thunder from her own lifestyle blog: The Fast and the Furriest.

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“It’s password protected.”

To be sure, I didn’t disappear because I had nothing to say. On the contrary, I could’ve posted nearly every day since March, on topics as vast ranging as how to give a matron of honor speech that’ll leave the bride in tears (hint: make sure everyone’s drinking a lot) to how to be the most hungover alumni the Sunday of your college reunion.

Other topics of expertise this spring: drive-in double features, planting a garden, starting a dream job or running your 14th sub-2-hour half marathon despite having zero time to train and then being unable to sit for two straight days due to crippling hip pain. Aren’t your thirties fun?

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The home team cheer squad.

Now I can’t promise I won’t disappear again — this new job really is kicking my butt and our new upstate hammock won’t rock itself — but I’ll try to keep the honest-to-god ghosting to a minimum. I also promise to keep the LuBear photos flowing, because that’s what we’re all really here for, now isn’t it?

Sorry again to disappear for three month. How has YOUR past fiscal quarter been?

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