My Winter in Pictures

So you may have noticed that I have been a little MIA recently. I apologize. I have been traveling basically non-stop since January—mostly for work, a little for fun –so I have not had the time for my usual adventures.

I’ve been beating myself up about this every week that I don’t post. But instead of feeling guilty about it again this week, I figures I should just come out and tell you why I have been absent and show you what I have been up to…even if it’s not exactly what I usually post about. So here it is…my last three months in pictures.

I hope you enjoy!

After a year of determination, hard work and a little benign stalking of some military officials, I finally was able to visit the Marine Mammal Unit of the United States Navy. This was work-related, not blog-related, but still a dream come true.

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I spend some time in Denver, where I got up close to some fighter jets. If you ever get the same opportunity, one piece of advice: take the ear protection, whatever they offer you!

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I managed so squeeze in some skiing  on a separate trip to Colorado, this one for fun.

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I managed to escape most of the brutal winter that hit the northeast, but was able to enjoy some of the beauty that the snow brought with it.

Acorn Street, Beacon Hill

Acorn Street, Beacon Hill

In the middle of all this traveling, in addition to giving myself a concussion, I also gave myself a black eye. Yes, I am a total mess.

You should see the other guy!

You should see the other guy!

I went to Puerto Rico for a photo shoot, and learned about a great organization, Save a Gato that strives to fix and adopt the stray cats of San Juan. There are a lot of them.

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San Juan

I also visited Las Vegas for the first time. Again, I went for work, so my time was not my own, but it was still quite an experience. As I ran down the strip at 6:30 a.m. (and sprinted up escalators, a higher tech interpretation of bleacher sprints I hated from college squash) and past people with beers still in their hands, I had the realization that they probably thought I was as crazy as I was thinking they were. While I may have been underwhelmed by Sin City, I did think the Bellagio fountain was worth the wait…and boy did I wait.

Vegas

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Best of all, on many of these trips I had the very talented photographer Jeff Allen as a travel buddy. I have featured Jeff on this blog in the past (here and here) so you may know his face and his work. If this post is your first introduction to Jeff, you should know two things: he is extremely talented, and he will climb just about anything to get “the” shot.

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And now I’m back in Boston, settling back into my routine, enjoying the slightly warmer weather, sunrise runs, and hopefully getting back to my adventures soon.  Thanks for your patience!

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Dress For Succsess

How do you decide what to buy, and by extension, what to wear? You may choose an item of clothing based on fit, color or the latest trends. But even before you make that decision, before you step into that dressing room, or pick a hanger from a rack you see a blazer on a mannequin or in the window. Where in the store, how a sweater is displayed or what those jeans are paired with impacts what you pick up, try on and inevitably purchase. And who decided where and how things are arranged in the store? A visual merchandiser.

I got the opportunity to spend a day with the great Wayne Hirst, the National Visual Manager for the Italian fashion house Salvatore Ferragamo. Yep, he’s big time. After focusing on interior design at the University of Rhode Island, Wayne cut his teeth as merchandiser at Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodmanbefore joining Ferragamo. Wayne provides direction to those who run Ferragamo stores on brand standards for boutique windows and the interior displays. If we boil that down, he helps guide stores on how Ferragamo boutiques should look; how they design their windows and how they display the clothes and accessories. “Looks” come down the Ferragamo runway, and those looks should remain consistent in the boutiques around the world. Visual merchandisers help decide what items you see in a shop and what they are paired with.

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Wayne, who is based in New York, was in New England to visit the stores in Massachusetts and I met up with him at the Ferragamo outlet in Wrentham, MA. Outlets are an even bigger challenge, Wayne told me, because they do not get every item that came down the runway. To create a “look” that is consistent with brand standards and the way it was presented at either a fall or spring show may not be possible, so some structured improvising is necessary.

Wayne and I started by attacking the mannequins in the shop’s window. Don’t worry, we were gentle when we broke off their arms to better fit the clothing on to their lanky frames. Wayne, who has an unbelievable knowledge of each Ferragamo line from season to season, set out to create looks that were either on the runway, or when a piece of clothing was not at the store, found the closest thing to remain consistent with the original look.

Wayne putting the finishing touches on the look

Wayne putting the finishing touches on the look

I know the mannequins were not real people, but working with them was one of the hardest parts of the day. I was being too gentle with them. I was delicately tugging these very expensive items made out of the finest materials over their heads and shoulders as if they were toddlers I didn’t want to hurt or annoy too much. I was just as concerned with the clothes as the dummies. That’s when Wayne encouraged me to take off their arms and just get into it.  The message was received and I worked much faster after that.

It was so interesting to see and hear (Wayne was great about telling me everything that was going through his head as he tried to assemble these new looks), what goes into creating these looks. If the actual bag that was shown with the outfit could not be found in the outlet, then Wayne would mentally rundown the other looks shown side-by-side with that looks on the runway. It was fascinating.

Once we had the window in shape we tackled the nearly full wall of the store that was men’s shoes. When we arrived the shoes had been arranged to allow for a portion of the wall designated for a sale. Wayne took the approach that the entire wall should be organized by type of shoe (sneaker, driving loafer, hard-soled dress shoe, etc.). I started at one end of the wall and he started at the other. I was surprised that Wayne let me do this on my own, and I was really concerned that I would not do it right and he would have to re-do my work. Wayne shared with me some general rules (shoes should be grouped in twos and threes with pairs that have similar stitching or color, some should point out, some to the side), but I had been doing this for exactly…well, five minutes. I was almost panicked…then I was disappointed…in myself. Hadn’t I gotten over this need to be perfect? Wayne knew I had never done this before; he was not expecting me to be a wiz right out of the gate.

Part of our shoe wall

Part of our shoe wall

Wayne put my mind at easy by telling me that there is no real right or wrong answer, because it is very subjective (not counting the brad standards). Feeling liberated, I got back to work. At the end it really turned into a puzzle. If I had five shoes left but four had the same stitching along the toe, but they had to be in groups of two or three… You get the idea. It was like high fashion Sudoku.

I created a stand-alone table for sneakers

I created a stand-alone table for sneakers

Our shoe wall turned out pretty great if you ask this novice.  Then we moved on to women’s shoes and bags and I got more confident with each project. And as we wrapped up our day Wayne said that it was fun to work with me, because its great to hear other people’s ideas on what shapes, sizes or colors go together.

Women's shoes

Women’s shoes

Handbags

Handbags

As I walked out of Ferragamo at the end of the day, I was struck, not just by how much fun I had with Wayne, and how amazing it was to play with all these gorgeous pieces, but how much I learned. It was reinforced for the ump-teenth time that I should not be so focused on getting it “right.” And also I had a realization of just how much influence professional merchandizers, like Wayne, have over the decisions that consumers make. They are single-handedly the biggest factor in determining what you end up wearing whether at the high-end of Ferragamo, to your local J Crew or even displays at Target stores.

I didn’t see that lesson coming.

I’d like to thank Wayne Hirst and the folks at the Ferragamo Outlet for letting me spend the day with them. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Olympic Adventures – Curling

I hope you didn’t think a concussion could keep me down!  Just like Bob Costas, I’m back in fighting shape in time for the second week of the Olympics. This week I tried curling, a sport that sometimes seems to be the butt of many Olympic jokes, but I found it to be my kind of sport: a fantastic combination of strategic and social.

I started my curling adventure with Greg Eisenhauer of the Broomstone Curling Club in Wayland, Massachusetts. Broomstone was established in 1968, and now has about 325 adult members and 80 junior players. Greg was kind enough to give me an introduction to the sport, and even let me “deliver” a few stones.

A curling team consists of four members: the skip who is the strategist of the group and offers his team members direction, the vice who releases or “delivers” the stone (which is exactly that, a stone that has been cooled for at least 24 hours), and two sweepers who, yes, you guessed it, they sweep those brooms that have come to personify the sport.

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The Broomstone Curling Club

In a nutshell, the object of curling is to get your stone as close to the center or “the button” of the target, referred to as “the house” at the end of the lane. You can strategize to get your stone close to the button, to knock one of your other stones close to the button than it already is, or to knock one of the opposing teams’ stones away from the button.

The sweeping can smooth the pebbled ice surface (resurfacing curling ice required a totally different technique than a typical ice rink’s zamboni, it includes scraping the surface first than dripping warm water in a process called “pebbling”) to make a stone slide further. You can sweep near both your, and the opposing team’s stones, but you can’t touch the stones with the broom, that’s called “burning the stone.”

Once Greg explained the basics of curling to me it was time for me to hit the ice and deliver some stones of my own. All members of a curling team wear special shoes that allow them to slide on the ice. For no one are these shoes as important as for the vice. A vice launches themselves from something that resembles the starting block in a track meet, and slides across the ice in a lunge-like position, bringing the stone along with him or her, until they gently release their grip on the stone, which then slides the rest of the way to the other end of the lane on its own.

Outfitted in a loaner pair of sliding soles, I took to the ice and started sliding. Greg gave me a plastic frame so that I had a little more balance (which, after my speed skating fiasco, was much appreciated). My first problem was that I was lunging too aggressively, bashing my knee on the ice, instead of gently letting it skim the surface of the ice.

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Eye on the prize

But practice makes perfect, and after a handful of attempts, and a few falls (thankfully landing on my butt instead of my head this time) I got the hang of it. I was able to glide across the ice, deliver the stone somewhat elegantly, and have it come to a stop inside the house, if not on the button. Curling does take a lot of coordination, but as I have learned over and over again on this blog, the more work it takes to master something, the more rewarding it is when you do indeed master it. And even when I was slip-sliding over the ice, I was having a great time and both Greg and I were laughing.

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

I am really concentrating on not falling over!

What I loved about curling was that it’s technically challenging, strategic and collaborative. Working together as a team can be a challenge in itself, cooperating both verbally and physically at the same time ups the ante. But as Greg explained, and as I saw by watching the matches that followed my lesson, curling is a very social sport. I could see teammates and opponents laughing and joking in between throws. And the best of all, the winners buy the first round once the match is over. This is my type of sport.

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Having a blast!

Many thanks to Greg Eisenhauer from the Broomstone Curling Club. They offer leagues nearly every night of the week, if you are interesting in getting your curl on. I was not compensated in any way for this post.

Olympics Endeavors: Starting Off with a Bang

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know that I LOVE the Olympics and during the summer Olympics in London I tried out some events like taekwondo, fencing and synchronized swimming with varying degrees of success. So as the competition in Sochi heats up, and the icky saga of Bob Costas’ eye drags on, I set out to see if I could master some winter events. And I started out with a bang, literally. I got a concussion.

Speed skating is one of those sports that appears effortless when experts do it. Each stride is so powerful that at times it almost seems as if they are skating in slow motion. I knew it would be a challenge, but I thought I could master at least the large arm swings associated with the sport.  The kind folks at the Bay State Speed Skating Club provided a sizable list of supplies for me to collect and bring to my first lesson.  There were so many elements needed, I ended up looking like a sporting goods store’s back room: volleyball knee pads, a hockey neck guard, gloves and my ski helmet (you will understand the importance of this in a moment). After gearing up and strapping on my loaner speed skates I was ready to hit the ice.

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Speed skating is all about the quads. The correct positioning for a speed skater is a low crouch, so that each stride is powerful. Your arms are less for balance than to amplify the power of the legs. When a speed skater goes around the turn of the track, they lean very far in to the turn, which again is all quads.

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

The Bay State Speed Skaters going really fast

My problem began just about as soon as my blades hit the ice. Speed skates have a much longer blade than the figure skates of my youth. They are completely flat on the bottom, with sharp edges on both sides. On just my second lap around the rink I misjudged the length of my blade (my muscle memory was thinking figure skates) I clipped the back edge of one blade on the tip of the other skate and down I went. Hard. The back of my head slammed against the ice and bounced up before my entire body came to rest on the ice in a heap, the wind totally knocked out of me.

Tod, my speed skating tutor rushed over and asked if I was ok. I lied. He asked me if I wanted to stop. Again, I lied. I had barely been on the ice for 10 minutes, I couldn’t give up now, I thought. But in fact I probably should have; my head was killing me, my vision was blurry, my balance felt off and my confidence was non-existent. Continuing on was not so much about me being tough as it was about not wanting to seem like a wimp. This blog has helped me make such strides in becoming unafraid, gutsy, and strong that to stop almost felt like a regression.

For the next hour I moved around the track at a glacial pace, it was as if I had never skated before. I was so nervous about falling again that I wasn’t able to throw myself into this adventure the way I usually do. Five-year-olds were lapping me, many time over. But Tod was incredibly patient, always staying only a few feet from me and at one point holding my hands while I practiced cross-overs in place (Yes, I was basically a 5’8” toddler).

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

See how low Tod is? See how not low I am?

I have rarely felt such an odd, controlled, slow motion fear in my life. It wasn’t as if someone was chasing me and I was running for my life.  I was putting myself in this situation, moving at a snail’s pace, knowing something was wrong with me and terrified to fall again and hurt myself further.

Although my vision was blurry, I could see the skill of the other skaters around me. They ranged in age from 5 to their 50’s of varying skill levels, all more advanced than me, of course. I could tell they were all having an amazing time. Some of them were former hockey players, others were long-time speed skaters, there was another adult who was brand new to the sport. While I was not able to experience all that speed skating has to offer, I gained a new respect for what speed skaters are able to do: hug tight turns, skate at very high speeds, and most importantly maintain their balance.

Don’t worry about me. A week after my fall I am feeling much better; no more headaches, my vision is once again clear…I’m pretty much back to normal (or as normal as I usually am). But I’m going to be less afraid of seeming like a wimp in the future. Sometimes safe and practical is the way to go.

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I’d like to thank Kim, Tod and all the wonderful folks of Bay State Speed Skating Club. Despite my fall, I learned a great deal and I encourage anyone who is interested in speed skating to attend one of their classes. Just don’t forget your helmet. I was not compensated for this post in any way.

Break It Down

When I was a youngster we had a babysitter who had the best trick to keep my brother and I entertained for hours. After my parents would leave for the evening, we’d roll up the rug in the foyer and he would break dance for us. He would spin on his back while we squealed with delight. Then we would take turns laying on our backs and spinning each other like tops. Since then I’ve always wished I could break dance, so it seemed about time to give it a whirl.

Break dancing started on the streets in the late 1960’s and surged in popularity in the late ‘70’s and early ‘80’s at about the same time as Adidas track suits. Much like the east coast-west coast hip hop rivalries of my youth (Tupac forever), there are two schools of break dancing, each of which cling to opposite coasts:

B-Boying” is what I, and maybe you as well, think of when you say “break dancing.” It’s largely characterized by hand-to-floor contact. B-Boying (or in ladies’ cases B-Girling) is the east coast style of break dance. “Poppin’” involves rapid muscle contractions, sharp well-defined actions, body waves, and other forms of contortion to create the illusion of the dance. It originated on the west coast.

Tony DeMarco of Boston BBoy agreed to help make my childhood dream come true at his practice studio in Cambridge. There, he and his colleague, Dragon, set out to turn me into a dancing queen, or at least a B-Girl.

Being the consumate reporter that I am, my lesson with Dragon began with an interview. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

Being the consummate reporter that I am, my lesson with Dragon began with an interview. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

As with learning any new physical skill, especially dancing, it’s best to break down (no pun intended) the steps, master them slowly, then put them all together and pick up the tempo. While I acknowledge that in theory, this is the best strategy; if you don’t catch on quickly it can leave you disappointed in your inability to do anything that even remotely resembles your goal. Dragon and I started off down on the mats, with both hands and feet on the ground. On his command, I would move a limb in one direction and then another limb in another. While I was following his directions to a tee, I couldn’t see how this would all add up to break dancing. In fact, it seemed like I was playing a slow-motion game of “Twister” by myself. Check it out:

As you may have noticed, one of my big problems is my lack of flexibility. As a runner, my hamstrings are really tight, so this left me unable to get my legs where they needed to go while keeping my hands on the ground and maintaining my balance. Then there is the fact that I don’t know my left from my right. Yes, I know what you’re thinking. How is that possible? That is a whole other blog post, but needles to say, being directionally challenged made it hard to follow Dragon’s instructions. When I tried to combine all the movements and pick up the tempo I toppled over. There’s nothing quite like losing your balance over and over again to make you feel like a total klutz.

Tony then took over the lesson and showed me the moves performed on two feet. I was correct to assume that I would be much better at this part. There are some simple steps—tapping your toes at the corners of an imaginary square on the ground—that once mastered (and thankfully I was able to do this) you can start to have fun with improvising arm movements. This part reminded me to those goofy old dances like the “sprinkler” and the “shopping cart.” Tony and Dragon encouraged me to think of a story or situation and tell it through movement. Because I was actually able to do these break dancing moves, I had a lot more fun than when I was on the ground. I dubbed my move of choice the “crack open a beer and guzzle it.” It was an instant classic.

I had more success with these moves. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

I had more success with these moves. Photo courtesy of Geoff Brownell

While I was not personally able to do it, Dragon put the two types of moved together to show me how he break dances at clubs. Traditionally, when a DJ starts playing a record (we are talking about the ‘80’s here) a break dancer is dancing on their feet. When the DJ starts scratching, that’s when a dancer hits the ground, contorts and shows off his spins.

In addition to the moves I acquired working with Tony and Dragon; I also gained a new appreciation for the athleticism needed to break dance. You could likely see in the video, Dragon uses a tremendous amount of ab strength to do what he does.  It also takes coordination and flexibility (two things I need to work on). Like all the adventures I go on, experts always make their skill, talent, or life’s passion seem effortless. It’s rarely as easy as they make it look.

Tony and Dragon were extremely patient and supportive with me when I struggled, and shared in my triumph when I nailed a move. They are great teachers. And while the Boston BBoy boys were not able to whip me into a Fly Girl in a few hours, when Dragon encouraged me to give it another try, saying “I believe in you,” I immediately responded, “I believe in me too.”

And I do…and that right there…is a victory.

I’d like to thank Tony DeMarco and Dragon of Boston BBoy. They offer lessons for adults and children, and even do parties and corporate events. If you are interested in learning to break dance, check them out! Thank you to Geoff Brownell, my dear friend the best videographer and editor a gal could ask for! I was not compensated in any way for this post.

A New (More Personal) Era

The judges have spoken. Last week I wrote not about my latest adventure, but about me…getting older. I’ve written personal posts a few times over the past two years, and they’re always a challenge for me. Despite being a blogger, I’m a pretty private person; I don’t like talking about myself, and I don’t like writing about myself. But sometimes I’m going through something, or I have an epiphany, or just feel I’ve got something to say.

So I say it. And you love it.

When this happens, you all demonstrate—through page views and comments—that these are your favorite posts. I have known this for a while; the data backs it up. But I fought the idea of writing more about myself more often because it terrifies me. While I know some people start blogs to talk about themselves, want an outlet to vent, or to show off pictures of their outfits each day (I’m not judging, I swear), that’s not me and that’s not why I do this. I started this blog because I missed writing. I missed interviewing interesting people and learning new things. And most of all, I wanted to challenge myself.

I have never backed away from a challenge when it comes to this blog…except for this one. But after the emails, texts, comments and encouragement from you last week it dawned on me that I may be hiding behind my outlandish adventures as a way of keeping you all at arms’ length. You know a lot about what I do from week to week, but maybe not about how I feel. And maybe, just maybe, you are interested in learning a little more about me. Imagine that.

So as I embark on the third year of The Great Wide Open, I will let you in.

Don’t worry; I’m not going all self-involved on you. I’m still going to try new things and try to make you laugh, but I’m also going to feature more of the adventure that is the everyday life of this 30-something single gal, navigating life, work, writing and dating (there, I said it, it’s too late to take it back now)…who happens to also learn to break dance on the weekends (that’s a not-so-subtle plug for next week’s post, so be ready to get down).

Again, I want to stress that I’m not going to talk about me all the time—that would bore both you and me. I’m going to give you more of what you have grown to expect from me, but also more of what I know you want from me…and I’ll continue to do my best to entertain you in the process.

Let this new adventure begin.

My Birthday Breakthrough

This week I celebrated my birthday. Well, actually I’ve been celebrating my birthday since last Friday, but the actual day was Tuesday. I like to spread my birthday celebration out so that I’m too busy having fun, and don’t stop to ponder getting one year older. Don’t get me wrong, I love my birthday, I mean I really love my birthday. My family takes birthdays very seriously, or at least they take my birthday very seriously. This may be a result of my behavior on my birthday: I cry. I cry every year. And I’m not talking about shedding one or two sentimental tears. No, January 21st reduced me to a blubbering, weeping, basket case.

My mother says I have been this way from the beginning. Literally. But I was finally able to articulate the tremendous emotions I was feeling on my sixth birthday. She recalls (I swear I’m not making this up) that per usual, I was crying (probably right after she and my dad had gifted me whatever I had wanted, maybe a Cabbage Patch Kid) and when she asked what was wrong, I responded, “I’m not ready to be six. I was just getting comfortable with five.” Seriously, I said that. She should have taken me to a shrink that instant.

It’s been the same sad story every year since. My family and friends know that tears are inevitable, so they go to great lengths to make me happy on my birthday. And I always have an amazing time…and then I cry. It’s really rather ridiculous. Birthdays signify both the biggest change (one year—number-wise—older), and the smallest change (you feel the same way on Tuesday morning as you did Monday night) at the very same time.

This week I marked a milestone that sounds old to me, and the weeks leading up to it, I felt uneasy and a little blue. I certainly don’t feel old. And despite what others may think, I don’t (usually) feel that just because I’m a single, 30-something, that I’m somehow behind, or missing out (although I have my moments). I love my life! Is it what I thought it would be like as a teenager (read about that here)? No. But it’s this interesting, diverse, exciting life that I’ve created for myself. My mother often cites my Joie de vivre. I’m on this kooky journey and I can honestly say I have no idea where I will end up, but I know I will laugh and learn a lot along the way.

I was coy about my age when my mostly younger co-workers took me out Friday night (I was told I looked great for 30. I just smiled). I enjoyed the Patriots game, if not the outcome, on Sunday with some of my best friends. I unwrapped an amazing birthday gift from my parents on Monday and enjoyed a girl’s dinner out on Tuesday.

And then a funny thing happened, or didn’t happen, when I got home. With snow falling over Boston, my feet up on the aforementioned birthday gift, and a glass of Veuve in my hand, I went through all the lovely birthday texts, emails and messages I had received (thank goodness for Facebook)…and I didn’t cry…for the first time in 35 years. I didn’t feel sad, or behind, or old. Instead, I felt lucky for all that I have, and excited about all that is right around the corner for me.

A perfect way to end my birthday...not crying

A perfect way to end my birthday…not crying

I really feel more like myself in my 30’s. Oprah would say that I am becoming my “authentic self.” I’m more accepting of limitations, not afraid to show off my strengths, and overall, more comfortable in my skin. And it seems I’m more comfortable with my birthday as well. That’s what we call progress.

An Island Christmas

Happy new year everyone!  After a very hectic fall, I was able to take some quality time over the holidays to do absolutely nothing, and it was heavenly. I took a lot of naps, read a few books by roaring fires, and enjoyed quality time with family and friends. Exactly what the holidays should be.

But as a result of doing a whole lot of nothing I didn’t have many of my usual adventures. So what do I do when I know I need to try something new and I don’t have much time to do it?  Well, I commandeer the band my parents hired to play at their holiday party and get an impromptu lesson on the steel guitar…of course.

My mother throws eclectic parties. This year she hired Slowey and the Boats to play at our house for a family party a few days after Christmas. You certainly can’t call this three-piece band’s sound “traditional holiday,” it was more like “holiday on the Big Island.” And that distinct sound came courtesy of Isaac Stanford’s steel guitar.  So of course, Isaac is who I had to sweet talk into giving me that impromptu music lesson at the end of their set.

You would definitely recognize the sound of the steel guitar; it’s that elongated, almost whiny sound you hear in island music. Unlike a traditional guitar, the steel guitar is played horizontally with the instrument sitting on a table-like stand. Also unlike a guitar, you play it with finger pics for the most part, not by plucking or strumming. Its origins are in Hawaii, but as Isaac told me, it began being incorporated into American country music in the 1920’s. Typically a steel guitar has 6 or 8 strings, but Isaac’s has 12. And that provided more opportunities for me to bastardize its sound.

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Photo courtesy of Maureen Mahlman

First lesson I learned about the steel guitar: do not play while wearing a mini skirt. Thankfully I was among family. Second lesson of the steel guitar: do not play with a fresh manicure. Two life lessons right there.

I quickly realized that the steel guitar, even on the most basic level, takes a lot more musical knowledge (like reading notes), and multi-tasking than the harp. The notes seemed more complicated, one hand has to pluck, as the other brushes a bar called a steel up and down the strings on the neck of the instrument. which changes the pitch, that creates its distinct sound.

Photo courtesy of Maureen Mahlman

Photo courtesy of Maureen Mahlman

So after a few minutes of struggling, with about a dozen people looking on, Isaac and I decided that, for me, “conquering “the steel guitar would mean one, single chord…but a nice long clean chord.  That involved picking one string with my right hand, while gently, evenly moving the steel down the neck of the guitar and gently lifting it off the strings so that the chord ends neatly. And you know what, it only took me two or three attempts to get the sound I was looking to achieve.  And just as I finished, with a huge smile breaking out over my face, my audience broke into applause. Now true, they are my family, and they are biased, but it made me feel like a million bucks none the less.

Me, Isaac and the steel guitar

Me, Isaac and the steel guitar. Photo courtesy of Maureen Mahlman.

This week’s post showed me that I can seek out new experiences, large and small, in a variety of spots…even in the corner of my parents’ living room wedged next to the Christmas tree. Happy new year everyone! I have a feeling 2014 is going to be a great one!

I’d like to thank Issac Stanford and Slowey and the Boats for letting me squeeze a lesson into their gig. If you live in the Philadelphia area, and are looking for a three, or five-piece band with a distinct sound, they may be the band for you. You can also check out their Facebook page if you want to check out one of their gigs around the city. I was not compensated for this post in any way.

Three…Two…One

As the clock ticks down the waning hours of new year’s eves, we can’t help but reflect on the year that is about to be put to bed. A few days ago a friend asked me what my favorite adventure of the year was, and I had to think hard about it. Then I got nostalgic. It’s hard to choose just one; I have to assume it’s similar to choosing your favorite child.

2013 was a really busy year here at The Great Wide Open. And while I had a few lows, it was a year filled with highs…and high notes. Here is a rundown of my favorite adventures of the past year:

You all got the play-by-play of my stressful move (which maybe I was being a little dramatic about) and the real-life adventure of living alone for the first time. While I may have seemed like a crazy person last spring, the experience taught me a lot about my strengths, my limitations and how amazing my friends are. Who needs movers when you have BFFs with SUVs? The experience also made me very comfortable asking for help (which I used to be very bad about) from friends, family and “strangers on the internet,” as my father pointed out.

Empty Apartment

Empty Apartment

Home

Home

I embraced my long-dormant outdoorsy side by learning to rock climb in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with the fine folks at Northeast Mountaineering. What was so interesting about this was the fact that after trying so many things and being bad, I mean really bad, at many of them I assumed that I would fail at scaling a rock fifty feet in the air. But you know what? I was really good at it. Being lowered back down was another matter altogether, but we’ll focus on the positive!

Still smiling

Still smiling

I got to meet and eat Chinese take-out with the amazing jewelry designer Kenneth Jay Lane in his Manhattan studio. This was one of those moments when I literally had to pinch myself it was so surreal. I was sitting across the table from a person I admire a great deal, interviewing him and chatting about his old pal Jackie Kennedy. Who am I, and how did I get here?  When I started this blog I never imagined that an opportunity like this would be available to me. It truly was a dream come true.

Look at that smile, obviously I could not contain my excitement

Look at that smile, obviously I could not contain my excitement

From dreams to nightmares…Probably my most terrifying adventure of the year demonstrated how comfortable I have become with mass-scale public humiliation. I sang a duet, in public…in front of an audience years after being told that I was a bad singer. While I may not have sounded all that great, I did face a long-held fear and felt so much support during the rehearsal process, at the performance and afterwards in the comment section of this blog that it really did feel like a triumph and not a total humiliation (but judge for yourself below).

Yes, 2013 was a great year for me and this blog. Over the past two years I have slowly let go of my Type A ways, and have become well acquainted with that feeling we all get deep in the pit of our stomachs when we’re about to try something totally out of our comfort zones. I didn’t realize how much my fear of failure had been holding me back until I changed my reaction to that feeling. Instead of leaning back or walking away, I now jump in, head first, secure in the feeling that I may just surprise myself. And if I don’t, and I fail, big deal…at least I gave it a try. While I started this blog to try to find my next passion in life, it seems that maybe my passion is trying new things, unafraid of the outcome…and writing of course.

I have lots planned for the coming year and a lot not planned. Some of it I will make up as I go along, and how great is that? I will be trying tons of new things and experience. I have no idea where this whole adventure will take me, and that’s ok. It’s actually better than ok…it’s pretty exciting.

My Trip through the Heartland

I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to post this week, because I’ve been on the road and haven’t had the time to line-up one of my usual adventures. But as seems to be the case more often than not, my everyday life turned into an adventure. Does this happen to everyone, or just me? And if I’m in the minority, is it luck or a curse?

My trip took me to Kansas and Arkansas, with an unexpected nine-hour drive through Oklahoma.  We (I was reunited with the talented photographer Jeff Allen who you may have met here last year) drove all over Kansas, literally, and met some pretty cool Kansans, including Miss Kansas 2013 herself, Theresa Vail. You may have heard about Theresa around the time of the Miss America pageant earlier this year. There was a lot of buzz surrounding her, or more specifically, surrounding her tattoos. Theresa was the first Miss America contestant to ever show her tattoos during the competition, and that seemingly benign milestone garnered a lot of attention.

Theresa did not grow up like the pint-sized princesses on “Toddlers and Tiaras.” Last year’s Miss Kansas pageant was the first she ever entered. While she is the first title-holder (please note, this is the correct term, not beauty queen) I have ever met, I have to assume her motivation is unique. She entered the contest to debunk misconceptions of what girls can and cannot do. And boy did I see what she could do when she taught me how to bow hunt.

Theresa has been a hunter since the age of 11, and a year and a half ago she picked up her first bow. Archery was actually going to be her “talent” in the Miss America pageant, but there was an insurance clause precluding moving objects, so she had to settle for singing opera. Theresa let me test out her bow, and compared to the summer camp archery of my childhood, this is a new generation of bows and arrows with sites, grips and a trigger.

side by side

Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

After we determined that I am a “left eye shooter” (I’m left eye dominate therefore I used a left-handed bow, despite being right handed in all other aspects of my life), Theresa got me situated with the bow. Then came the tough part: pulling the arrow back into a ready position. Theresa has a 50 lb. bow, which means it takes 50 lbs. of effort to pull the arrow back. That space between the resting position of the bow and ready position with the arrow pulled all the way back is called “the valley.” It took some effort to pull the arrow through the valley, but as soon as I got it there, I could clearly see through the site.

explination

Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

When I pulled the trigger (which wraps around our hand and connects to the end of the arrow) the arrow sailed through the air, with some birds scattering as it wizzed by them. The reaction from my handful of on-lookers was one of amazement. My arrow had gone straight ahead, and although I had not been aiming for them, I nearly hit a bird (When you are as innately talented as I am, who needs to aim?).

Ready

Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

“That was really good,” Theresa said, laughing with surprise.

The entire experience was really fun (and I’m not just saying that because I was pretty good at it). So fun, in fact, I may look to take up archery back in Boston. While I may not be ready to use a bow and arrow to hunt (had I actually hit one of those birds I likely would have burst into tears), target practice may be a good place to start.

group shot

Photo courtesy of Jeff Allen

After my introduction to bow hunting, we piled into our car (not Theresa, she got into her Miss Kansasmobile) and took off on a cross-state adventure. With Winter Storm Cleon cancelling our flight from Kansas to Arkansas, we pledged that a little snow and ice would not keep us down, so we decided to drive the nine hours to Little Rock. For the girl who hates to drive, this took some convincing, but once we got going I realized the benefits. The road trip provided me with a window seat for dozens of scenes from America’s Heartland. We drove through spots I had never been to, and very well may never have made it to in my life. The people I met along the way were some of the nicest I have ever met. And the topography, while certainly not diverse, offered a new view of America: one of big sky, flat prairies and tons of cows.

Somewhere in Kansas

Somewhere in Kansas

Somewhere in Oklahoma

Somewhere in Oklahoma

I had not expected adventure this week, just a business trip. But it seems that you can find new, exciting and treasured experiences anywhere, you just have to be open to the possibilities of what lies right in front of you…or right outside your car window.

I’d like to Thank Theresa Vail for taking the time to give me an archery lesson, and for showing me what title-holders (not beauty queens) are be made of. I’d also like to thank my incredibly talented friend, photographer Jeff Allen, for the beautiful images above, and for being a great co-pilot. I was not compensated for this post in any way.

Jeff Allen, loving life

Jeff Allen loving life