My Path to the Mat

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Sometimes I think my path to the mat was guided by forces beyond my control. Whether I found yoga or yoga found me is something I will never quite know. I’m pretty convinced it’s a little of both.

My initial introduction to yoga was not the smoothest. The first class I remember going to was a post-holiday Bikram class with with my aunt Teresa & uncle Ed, both avid Bikram practitioners. The super high heat in that one and only Bikram class I ever attended scrambled my mind so much I left my entire purse in the waiting room, realizing only hours later that it was missing. I was definitely not in my yogic element.

105After my Bikram experience, I was pretty convinced that I was a solitary workout kind of gal. Running, walking, biking, elliptical-ling, lifting, working with workout videos – if I could do it solo, it was in my workout repertoire. No sports or classes for me, thanks. Call it only child syndrome, but in most cases, I guess I just felt like I never “played well with others”.

Oddly enough, when yoga & I finally found each other last year, I discovered that it still allowed me to be alone, albeit in a group setting. I found my first yoga “home” in the gym I had been going to off and on for years – NYSC. With the guidance of some amazing and inspiring instructors, I learned that I was capable of accomplishing things I never dreamed of. I met and befriended a variety of people I never would have interacted with. I discovered that I became more in tune with my psychic, empathic self when I let my body and mind be cleared in an hour spent briskly moving through asanas, finding stillness, breathing, and ending nearly all classes in a quiet meditative space. To my surprise, I felt like I needed yoga.

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Last year was also one of the most emotionally turbulent years that I’ve experienced. And through it all, I found myself yearning to find time to develop my practice. I craved time on the mat. I couldn’t always get it, but I tried my best to fit it in whenever I could.

I downloaded an iPad app for when I couldn’t get to the gym. I sought out & tried new yoga studios in different cities when I was traveling. I did yoga in my hotel room on business trips to center myself. I practiced yoga on a towel at my in-laws house by the pool at Christmas. I tried Aerial yoga  … and loved it! I bought GroupOn’s and Amazon Local deals to try out new NYC studios. I went to the gym for lunchtime yoga classes. Who was I becoming?!

When I started working in Manhattan again, after years of being a solopreneur, I realized that I had entered into a yogi’s playground. So many different studios to try! So many different NYSC locations! So many new teachers!

And then the slow leak in my excitement bubble started to deflate me.

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Practicing yoga in NYC was a completely different experience than the yoga practice I had developed in the NJ suburbs. I’m sure it’s no surprise that yoga practitioners in NYC are tough. They are competitive. They are athletic. They are supremely intense. I felt yoga-shamed way more often than I ever was in NJ. It was the inversion skills that really got to me. There were headstands and handstands and forearm stands and wheel – and Vrschikasana, better known as scorpion pose. SCORPION. I think I would be less fearful of an actual scorpion than the position. I’ll admit, I had serious doubts about whether I could “cut it” in these NYC yoga classes.

But then I reminded myself. Yoga is NOT a competition. No one is trying to “beat me” in class. I’m pretty sure that a lot of these people who flip up into these forearm stands and handstands with such fluidity and ease have been practicing for a LOT longer than I have.

Don’t get me wrong, I long to be able to practice more inversions with ease (maybe one day I’ll be a Scorpion queen) and I constantly strive to develop more core strength (oh Paripurna Navasana – my eternal nemesis). However, I often remind myself that the only one who really knows where I started, where I am today and where I strive to be – is me. It’s not always easy to ignore, or better yet, seek inspiration and find beauty in Ms. Bendy McBendy who flies into Galavasana with utter grace right in front of me. But yoga has a funny way of making one hyper aware of living in the present. Being in the now. Because all that really matters is that you are present and breathing.

As a girl who has always lived with body dysmorphia, yoga has made me appreciate and constantly reminds me to acknowledge the gifts that I have been given in the body that I have – balance, flexibility and strength. It’s amazing how bending into binding positions can release so much stress. Three of my favorite poses – Baddha Parsvakonasana, Baddha Konasana, and Vrksasana, all bring me to a place of peace. I amazed myself when I finally figured out how to make my body achieve Ardha Chandrasana with prayer hands – balancing my entire body on one foot, while bent in half.

Late 2013 into early 2014 required that I be VERY flexible and balanced off the mat in order to deal with everything that life was throwing at me. Sheer coincidence that yoga & I found each other right before the craziness began? I think not.

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Now that things are settling down a little bit, I am happy to be able to start refining my yoga practice again. I’ll always hold my first teachers in NJ close to my yogi heart,  and I am thrilled to have some new instructors here in NYC that I feel in-tune with. I continue to studio hop and explore new kinds of yoga, still in search of what fits me best. I’ve been told I would like Ashtanga and Kundalini styles, both of which I have yet to try.

There’s been fleeting thoughts about whether or not it might be a good idea for me to deepen my practice by registering for yoga teacher training at some point in the near future. My best friend and I have talked about planning yoga retreat vacations.  Yup, I think it’s official, I’m hooked on yoga.

Ohm shanti y’all.

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Kensingtonites

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The 25′ moving truck at our old home in Bloomfield, NJ.

We still don’t have a beach house to call home … but we’re getting closer. Coney Island is literally 5 miles from our new doorstep on Ocean Parkway. We are officially Brooklyn residents. Brooklynites. Kensingtonites to be more specific.

Our new tree-lined street - complete with bike path that runs from Prospect Park to Coney Island.

Our new tree-lined street – complete with bike path that runs from Prospect Park to Coney Island.

It’s been a crazy month, and I apologize for the blog slack. I’m still kind of awestruck that we actually sold our old home. I had really resigned myself to the fact that something would blow up and we would be stuck there for another 5 to 10 years. But, I guess miracles do happen. We still lost money, as we bought in the height of the market back in 2004, but it wasn’t as harsh a blow as I was expecting. Don’t get me wrong, it was far from an easy road from offer acceptance to closing, but somehow everything miraculously fell into place. And by miraculously, I mean that I nearly killed myself to get it all done.

When our buyers suddenly sprung an FHA loan on us mid-stream, which required another property assessment, we freaked out. Given the current market, and what we quickly taught ourselves about FHA loans, we imagined that there were would be numerous issues that would delay the closing, and were not even sure anymore if the house would actually sell. And since we did NOT want to be stuck with both a mortgage and an apartment lease, we pulled back on signing a lease for a new apartment until we had the results from the FHA assessment, even though we had the buyer’s commitment letter.

Luckily, nothing came up in the FHA assessment, and everything still seemed on track for the buyer for a closing on July 25th. However, due to the fact that we wasted two weeks of time waiting to find out what was going to happen with the FHA assessment and generally going from freaked out to beyond pissed, I really thought we would have until the end of August to move out, with use of occupancy of the house after the closing. When I found out that was not the case and that we needed to be fully out by the closing on July 25th, all my original moving plans bit the dust, and I took off two weeks from work to get it DONE.

Figuring out which of our belongings from our four bedroom, full basement & one car garage house would actually get packed and moved into our new two bedroom apartment and 10×20 storage unit, which is also housing my old cake studio’s things, was a monstrous challenge. As you can imagine, there was a LOT to cull.

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My OCD is full effect with the floorplan of our new apartment and post-it note furniture.

There were multiple big donations to charities who picked up items we simply put outside (godsend I tell you). There were many, many, many giant bags of garbage and furniture put out at the curb (sorry, and thank you garbage guys for making it all disappear). There was heavy gifting of items to friends and neighbors (you’re welcome everyone who got free stuff). There were a few things we actually sold. We probably could have made more money if we had more time, but with just 10 days to get everything organized and moved, I didn’t have any time to be craigslisting or ebaying anything, especially because I was packing all our things by myself.

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Spot of sunshine found on our walk home from dinner on one of our first nights in Kensington.

Here’s a quick rundown of our sale & move by the numbers:

1: Ankle sprained when a couch nearly fell on top of me in our old staircase on its way to the curb.

3: Apartment applications submitted. I swear we submitted more paperwork to rent a Brooklyn apartment than we did to get the mortgage for our old home – crazy.

4: Moving companies I received in-home quotes from.

6: Uzbekistan movers it took to move all our stuff, including a 10’x3’ butcher block countertop up SIX flights of stairs. (Yes, I tipped well, and bought them lunch.)

10: Days I had to pack and organize all of our things to personally move to our storage unit or be moved by professional movers.

25+ : Apartments we viewed. I was keeping a custom google map to keep track, but that went off the rails once we hit apartment 25 and time was crunching down on us.

37: Age I turned in all this chaos.

73: Age I felt during all this chaos.

97+ : Emails between our realtor, lawyer, and us from offer to closing.

600+ : Text messages between our realtor and me from offer to closing.

1,400: Cubic feet of the 25’ moving truck we filled to the gills. It was packed so much, that we had to take three of the movers in our car with us.

1,600: Cubic feet in our storage unit, of which I am using every inch possible.

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Crazy To Be Brooklyn Bound

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My parents think that Jay & I are crazy. Maybe we are. However, as they have been suburban dwellers in Connecticut for the majority of their adult lives, I appreciate that it’s hard to for them to understand circumstances that they have never lived through. Very much in the same way that I cannot understand parenting to a degree that they can, I don’t expect them to understand how it is to be a married, childless, city-dwelling, city-loving couple, whose lives are in very much in flux.

If you asked either of my parental units, they would quickly tell you that they think I am making a slew of rash,, “wrong” decisions. However – listening to the “right” decision making has not gotten us very far either. I was brought up to believe that owning a home was the best option. “Putting your money” towards an investment. Ha! Even my parents can admit that luck has not been on our side with real estate thus far. After being overbid time and time again, we finally bought our home at the height of the market in 2004, and then tried to sell one week before the market crashed in 2008. Now, in 2014, after ten years in our “starter” home, in a market where our neighborhood is still filled with foreclosures and shorts, we’ve just decided to cut our losses (and sell for a loss), just to move on.

Granted, our choices may have be a little out of the ordinary, some may call them extreme. I left a perfectly decent career in NYC, spent my whole life savings and opened a cake studio, only to turn around five years later and quit that to come back into NYC – working for peanuts at a non-profit. Luckily for me, Jay has taken a completely different, albeit more lucrative path (balancing out our ever precarious financial see-saw), from architecture to IT management, to now, digital forensics.

However, with only ourselves and three furry kids to support, we have been able to make crazy decisions – changing career paths entirely mid-stream. We’ve been able to try things. Granted, sometimes these are big, expensive things, but they are life experiences we’ve actually gotten to have.

It’s not cheap to live here. It’s not easy to live here. And yet, so many of us do. Believe it or not – many have chosen this life over other, simpler, easier ones they could have had. More monetarily rewarding ones. Less stressful ones.

But like with all dark, hard, crazy things – the city has a soft underbelly. There’s beauty here. There’s a life force. There’s things here you can’t find anywhere else. And for now, it is going to be home.

In all honesty, my end goal is not to live here forever. My end goal, as anyone that knows me will tell you – is to have a tiny, comfortable cottage at the shore, where I can work from home until I’m too old to work anymore. Diametrically opposed to city life? Yup. The yin to my city-loving yang I suppose. I’ve always felt at home at the shore, even though I’ve never lived there. But I’ve always felt like my ocean chapter was at the end of my story.

I’d also like to live abroad for a while before then. I’ve put some feelers out about how this could actually happen already. I don’t know whether the opportunity will present itself to me or Jay first, but when the right one does present itself, I want to be ready to jump on a plane and go.

But for now, Brooklyn is calling. And as crazy as it makes me to know I’ll be writing a *gigantic* rent check, it’s the price we pay for this experience. So, can we “afford to go backwards” from owning a home (which I don’t know how forward thinking that is nowadays) to renting? Our first stint at home ownership in this crazy market definitely made us feel like we had an anchor tying us down. For now, renting allows us the freedom to be flexible and leave if the opportunity comes up.

I am continually reminded that even the healthiest, best-planning, most financially-sound people can reach their expiration date sooner than expected. When my time comes, I want to have checked off as many things on my bucket list as possible. And while a giant bank account may help with some of those things, others require spending – this move from the Jersey suburbs into Brooklyn being one of them.

 

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Searching for the Unicorn

unicorn_rainbowhorn I have a confession. I am a real estate junky. If it’s possible to inherit such a thing, I think it definitely skipped a generation, because my paternal grandmother was also a wee bit obsessed with real estate. Of course, this is not a bad trait to have when you live in the NYC metro area. Real estate is a BIG deal here. Which is ironic, considering how many New Yorkers live in such *tiny* spaces.

Now that we’ve recently begun our full-fledged apartment hunt in Brooklyn, I feel like my real estate obsession is both a blessing and a curse. I know we need to find something *soon* – as our closing is in just a month, but I am second guessing the almost perfect apartments that we’ve found (and are applying for), and wondering if it is still possible to find “the unicorn” apartment.

The unicorn for us would be a *real* two bedroom (one that fits a king sized bed and other furniture), one or two bath duplex apartment, with a new kitchen with full-sized appliances (no mini-stove please), a dishwasher, washer/dryer in the unit and a sizable living area. Oh yeah, and they *must* allow our three cats. And, the kicker, we want all that – in a not-scary neighborhood, including heat and hot water, for $3K or less a month. Oh, there’s more … the rainbow striping on the unicorn for Jay would be access to VerizonFios, a doorman, and that the building not be in a known flood zone. Hell, if we found all that, I’d happily pay the outrageous real-estate fee that I’m *sure* we’d need to pay to live there.

We’ve seen a slew of apartments (somewhere in the 25-40 range). We’ve toured multiple neighborhoods: Fort Greene, Vinegar Hill, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington, Bed-Stuy, Crown Heights, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, Gowanus, Boerum Hill, Prospect Park South. The OCD apartment hunter in me started my own custom Google map with apartment notes just to keep track. Even then, when I sat down to update my map at the end of the day, I would start to confuse or blend apartment features together after a long day of hunting.

Apartment hunting in Brooklyn in real life is so NOT an episode of House Hunters. It’s nothing like The Hunt column in the NYTimes real estate section that I read religiously every week. At least not from my recent, personal experience.

At first, apartment hunting is exciting. So many websites to search! Zillow, StreetEasy, NakedApartments, NYTimes, NYBits … I could go on & on. New neighborhoods, old architecture and it’s charm, new architecture and it’s amenities, so many listings, so many possibilities!

And then you go and look at the apartments. And then you face the harsh realities.

Apartment hunting is exhausting. Apartment hunting is stressful. The hunt will make you desperate as the days on the calendar flitter by and the clock ticks down louder and LOUDER. Top 5 lessons I’ve learned in my month or so of serious searching is the following:

  1. Space is expensive.
  2. Photos are very deceptive.
  3. There are a *LOT* of bait and switch online listings.
  4. Concessions come quickly, especially under a time crunch
  5. Walking the “chosen” neighborhoods and in between those neighborhoods is the best way to get a feel of the city.
    (Bonus: Wear sunscreen. A full day of walking in Brooklyn in June = sunburn. Ow.)

We’re now waiting on approval for two very different apartments – one in Windsor Terrace and one on the Gowanus/Park Slope South border. But, as we wait for them to find us worthy enough, I continue to hunt. I’m still hanging on to a micro-sliver of hope that our unicorn is out there and just waiting to be found. And on that note … I’m off to another realtor “blind date” to see another apartment after work today. Who knows … maybe this one will be the *one*.

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Doors

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I have never been good at closing doors. When I do actually remember to close them, nine times out of ten I’ll probably leave the key right there in the keyhole, which makes mornings that much more fun for not-morning person me. I’ve lost more time than I would like to admit playing the “where the #@$%^%*& are my keys?!” game in the morning, only to open the door and see them hanging blissfully where I left them.

Sadly, for me, this same dysfunctional trait transfers over to figurative doors as well as real ones. At the moment, I’ve got a monstrous, industrial, need-assistance-to-close type door to close.

No, I’m not getting a divorce. No, I am not giving up a child for adoption. No, I’m not giving up drugs, alcohol, or any other addiction.

I’m closing the door to my business.

It feels more like this door is slowing eking closed, while I await the big solid SLAM to come. The slow eking started late last year, as I began stepping away from my business last winter and started a new job in NYC. Now, I am just waiting out my lease which ends in July.

It’s been complicated to answer why I decided that it was time to close this door. When friends, former clients, and family found out, I found their response, “But why? Weren’t things going so well? Your work is beautiful!” painfully telling. Yes, things were going well … in a way. I was getting a lot of media attention. Inquiries were coming in more frequently. I had former clients reaching out and placing repeat orders. BUT … and this is a big but … my heart just wasn’t in it anymore.

I was tired. Physically, emotionally and financially spent. I missed human interaction on a daily basis. I missed the feeling of worth that comes from collecting a paycheck. I was tired of having to defend my pricing with so many price-conscious potential clients. I was tired of telling clients that I would not copy other cake designs they found online. I’m sure I could have made a lot more money that way, but I don’t think I could live with myself if I was a copycat cake maker. And as much as I loved designing and creating, I didn’t love cranking out “basic” cakes and cupcakes just so I could bring in money to pay my bills. Maybe my moral fiber was too strong and inappropriate to be a financially sound, “successful” entrepreneur.

Honestly, it’s been insanely difficult to not internalize this phase as a giant failure. Maybe that’s my asian side showing. I didn’t get 110%. I wasn’t #1. I didn’t “win”. My business didn’t SUCCEED.

I know that is not productive thought. I know that the ridiculous, “when one door closes, another one opens” phrase is apt here. It has been said to me more than a few times recently.

Even knowing all that, I feel like I’ve just closed a door and jumped out a window. Without a parachute. And I am not a bird. Or a flying squirrel. I think you get the picture.

I am slowly starting to accept that the universe presents us with certain opportunities and certain challenges at specific points in our lives to teach us meaningful lessons. Of course, it wouldn’t be a fitting chapter of my life unless I was going through not one, but THREE major stressful transitions at the same time: 1) Closing up Shop. 2) New job – so new that I’m the first person to ever be in it. 3) Selling our house in the Jersey suburbs and planning a move to Brooklyn.

I’m beginning to find my wings.

Now if I could only remember where I put my keys …. 😉

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My Top 25 Lessons as a (Former) Entrepreneur

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Five years ago, I decided to quit corporate America, and live my dream of opening up my own custom cake studio and becoming my own boss. It didn’t take me long to figure out that being an entrepreneur wasn’t so dreamy.

I faced a nearly year-long battle with architects, builders, and town officials just to get my studio built. I’d be lying to say that the end result wasn’t completely gratifying, but it was the waiting that was murderous. I spent so much time sitting around waiting that I began to wish that I had kept my corporate job longer. At least that way I would still have been bringing in some money and not just spending it while officially doing nothing.

Of course, I didn’t really do nothing. I found things to fill up my new-found free time. I taught myself about social media. I became a little obsessed with twitter. I investigated how to get my cakes published. I worked on my website. I knit. I discovered baseball. I watched a lot of documentaries. But mostly, I felt like I was going completely insane with impatience. In retrospect, I’m beginning to think that my very reason for this lifetime on earth is to learn patience. You’ll see it’s a more than common recurring theme in my life if you stick with me. Yes, I’m now asking you to be patient. 🙂

I don’t care how many books you read, or how many courses on entrepreneurship you take, nothing will prepare you for endless months of battling hurdles while watching your once hefty bank account dwindle to $0 quicker than you ever imagined. I had fluttering thoughts of,  “Are you really sure you want to do this? Is this the right choice? Are you really good enough?” flying through my brain ALL the time.

And then, after months and months and months of waiting – my studio was done. It was a blank slate. I was officially “Open for Business”. Woo hoo! Bring on the overnight success – just like “all those people on tv” right? Um, no.

It wasn’t all a “piece of cake” (I hope to god I don’t hear that expression again for a long, long, long time.) Lots of great things followed, and of course, some tough life lessons too. Entrepreneurship will expose parts of you that you never knew existed. And, as with many things, exposure leads to strengthening. I definitely toughened up in many aspects. Unlike in my corporate life, where I had to sell myself on job interviews and new clients, as a business owner, I had to sell myself with every client, with every social post, every day . As a natural introvert, with a tendency towards self-deprecation, this was not easy.

There were a lot of things that I learned in five years of my own, self-guided real-life class of entrepreneurship in the world of cake. So while I embark on this next phase of things to come, I thought I’d start out this new blog with my top 25 lessons learned. I have a feeling that some of them may come in handy in the future … whether you are an entrepreneur or not.

  1. No problem is insurmountable.
  2. There is a very small list of people that you can really depend on.
  3. The IRS is a bully.
  4. The squeaky wheel DOES get noticed. You just have to master the frequency of when to squeak for the best attention.
  5. If you always say “Yes” to media requests, you’ll get more.
  6. Saying yes and figuring out how to actually get things done after the fact is a sure way to increase your stress level, but it also forces you to learn and grow.
  7. Media darlings (i.e. those that the press is always publishing work from) do not necessarily have the most successful businesses.
  8. People who are not self-employed will always think that “living your dream” as an entrepreneur is dreamy and will be jealous of you.
  9. You will be jealous of those with a steady paycheck, and even more so those people who possess that dreamy thing called “an expense account”.
  10. You will work odd hours, and not be able to socialize like “normal” people, since you will be working nights and weekends.
  11. Your relationships will be tested.
  12. Not all relationships will survive.
  13. You will crave sleep, but know exactly how much sleep you need to effectively work. (I could work 48 hours straight, but any more … and I knew I shouldn’t be near any kind of knives, or slippery butter-stained floors.)
  14. You are probably your own worst critic.
  15. Sometimes simplicity IS best.
  16. Other times, over-the-top, “you have got to be crazy for even fathoming that” ideas are the ones that will become your trademark.
  17. You will hate yourself for comparing yourself to your peers, but you’ll get sucked into the facebook/twitter/website/blog post funnel at some point (“market research”) and will think that EVERYONE else has it all figured out and is super successful, and you are a a hack.
  18. You will quickly realize, after paying close attention, that social media is like any other business tool – where people showcase their shiny, and hide their blemishes.
  19. You will have your morals tested. Whether you let the almighty $ win is up to you.
  20. There are some amazing, wonderful, easy-to-work with, and appreciative clients out there. (This may be the brightest memory of entrepreneurship for me.)
  21. There are some clients that will challenge you to the nth degree – these will teach you the hard lessons – When to say no. When to stick up for yourself. When to back down. When to never accept payment upon delivery again. I could go on and on and on …
  22. Everyone in this Pinterest-obsessed world will want amazing, super-elaborate, “perfect” cakes, but the majority (i.e. 99.9%) of them don’t have the budget for something even half as nice as their “dream cake”. [For you cakers: The classic fondant and gumpaste laced-dreamer clients with less than buttercream budgets.]
  23. All those people/businesses/events that want something for free in exchange for “publicity” of your business – do NOT fall victim for this. Is your business worth nothing? Do NOT work for free.
  24. It’s a rough world out there. In the NYC metro, it IS cutthroat a lot of the time. As hard as it is, try to make friends in the industry. In your niche is ideal – but even within the larger spectrum is great. Some of my best clients came from referrals from other wedding industry friends I made over the years.
  25. Know when to walk away. (Still a lesson in progress …)
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