Holiday Film + Food Pairings

December 20, 2019

Related image
Image via
When you went to parties as a kid (and even now, when you go to parties as an adult) it was always expected that you'd enjoy food, desserts and drinks that catered to the theme of the event. Somehow, themed foods always seem to set the tone for an occasion in the best way - and, over the past few years, I've decided to take that approach into my own hands.

In 2018, when my birthday happened to fall on the morning of the Royal Wedding, I decided to celebrate with a British Royal Wedding-themed slumber party, complete with tea, tea sandwiches and scones. Earlier this year, when two of my favorite NYC-set shows returned with new seasons, my friend and I made cosmopolitans and ordered NY-style pizza to devour while watching. And then, a couple months back, Jess and I hosted a "The Parent Trap Day" viewing party (on October 11, of course) complete with camp-approved snacks, Napa Valley wine, and "Chessie's breakfast." Case in point: I've found that serving food and drinks that follow the theme of something as simple as a show premiere or movie can be an easy way to elevate the average "movie night."

That being said, there's no time to host a watch party like the holidays - and there are plenty of festive snacks, dishes and drinks to go along with all of your favorite holiday films, from the classics to the star-studded, modern-day hits.

Here are a few of my favorite holiday film + food pairings (complete with movie clips and recipes!), just in time to savor the last few days before Christmas:

Home Alone
Pizza + Sundae

Live out your Kevin McAllister booby-trapping dreams with a NY-style pizza that gives Little Nero's a 1, 2, 10 run for its money. Bonus points if you serve Coke in champagne glasses for a bougie, solo limo-ride effect. You're no filthy animal! Add a Plaza Hotel sundae to your menu, kick back and enjoy living like a forgotten 8-year-old king, as a pre-Moira Rose Catherine O'Hara panics in a land far, far away.

The Holiday
Christmas Fettuccini

Ah, the dish we didn't know we needed. I never understood why Nancy Meyers decided to give fettuccini a holiday title, but I'm, to quote Amanda Woods, "totally into it." Plus, it's the cozy offering that leads to Iris' iconic "I know how you feel" speech about heartbreak that leaves Miles with nothing to say except, "Well, f***."

I had never heard of banoffee pie until I saw this movie, but it's the english dessert that Juliet uses to bribe Mark for her wedding video (resulting in his eventual humiliation...) Alas, he denies the pie, which is almost as sinful as the secret that's revealed in this cringe-worthy scene. GIVE ME ALL THE PIE. Oh, and those chocolate biscuits? They're the prime minister's favorite.

A Christmas Story
Turkey Sandwiches (or Chinese food) + "Fuuuuuudge" 

No more turkey sandwiches? It may have been a reality for Ralphie and his family, but it doesn't have to be yours. Set aside some of your Christmas Eve/Christmas Day turkey or order Chinese for a fa-ra-ra-ra-ra-worthy dinner. Also, these "Oh fuuuuuudge" pops are hilarious. Just avoid licking any flag poles, shooting your eye out, or dropping the F dash-dash-dash word in front of The Old Man. 

The Grinch

When you're watching Jim Carrey ooh, ahh his way through Whooville, it's only appropriate to enjoy a dessert worthy of taking home first place at the Who Pudding Cookoff.
Conga line optional. 

Spaghetti + Sugar. All the Sugar. 

The key here is to stick to the 4 main food groups - but, unlike Buddy, you don't want to mix them with spaghetti ... for breakfast. Curl up with a plate of spaghetti first (or burgers, if you're more of a "beef and cheese" type), then dig into a sugar-infused assortment that includes Tollhouse cookie dough. And then, to finish, snuggle.

Four Christmases
Hors D'oeuvres ("Hor Doovs, Anyone?")

Image result for four christmases spray cheese meme
Image via
Make like a backwoods UFC fighter's housewife and keep it simple yet strong. Hors D'oeuvres (preferably ones without spray cheese) work well everywhere, from Denver and Dallas to Orlando. One thing is off the table: Beermosas. Leave those in a frat house, or I'm calling Mistletoe. 

Jingle All The Way
"Out of This World" Gingerbread Cookies

Every time I hear Ted (the human, not the reindeer) moan as he bites into Liz's homemade gingerbread cookies, I feel Howard's anger. PUT THAT COOKIE DOWN, NOW. Seriously, though, they just seem like they're so damn good. Like, good enough to forget that your husband broke into the neighbor's house to steal a kid's Turbo Man.

The Family Stone
Morton Family Strata

I have to preface this by saying that this movie is painful to watch at times. Alas, where Diane Keaton goes, I will follow. Sarah Jessica Parker plays uptight, conservative Meredith impressively well, considering how opposite she is in her iconic role of Carrie Bradshaw. Something about watching her prepare this fussy-looking dish with such pride makes me sympathize with her character, though. Well, that and her "I'm just as good as any of you!" breakdown. 

Christmas with the Kranks
Hickory Honey Ham (Something)

You know the rule: Never say hickory honey ham again. However, when it comes to eating, it's free game ... unless you lose the ham to a speeding semi truck. Just do me a favor, and make something for the ham. Eating ham alone is weird. There, I said it. 

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation 
Eddie's Eggnog

Nothing like a festive drink that's also strong enough to make you forget that you got a crappy holiday bonus ... or that your brother is incredibly strange ... or that your dinner would be turned down by the dog.

The Santa Clause

Hot Chocolate

To be fair, hot chocolate/cocoa is mentioned or enjoyed in just about every single one of these films. Still, something about grumpy Tim Allen being transformed into a chubby jolly Santa makes it all the more appealing. And for Santa's buzz, just add Rumchata. Trust me.

You can find some more fun holiday movie-inspired recipes here.

P.S. Check out some previous posts on the blog for more of my favorite holiday films, special childhood Christmas memories, a holiday bucket list and holiday traditions list.

DIY Halloween Costumes (and Tips for Creating a Last-Minute Costume on a Budget)

October 29, 2019

I've always loved Halloween - the decorations, movies, parties, annual trip to Halloween Horror Nights, and hearing Thriller and Monster Mash a million times -  but over the past four years, I've truly fallen in love with dressing up. Obviously, costumes were always a significant part of the fun - especially when I was a kid living out my dreams of being a princess or warrior (lookin' at you, Mulan). But, when it came to high school and the first few years of college, dressing up became a merry-go-round of sexy cliche characters (hot sailor woman, hot cop, hot ref ... I wore them all.) 

Don't get me wrong - those costumes were fun, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I began to truly relish the process of piecing together my own costumes with creativity, intention and scrappiness. I've brainstormed ways to play around with makeup and accessories, make a costume out of clothes I already own, and even create pieces with my own hands.

Most of you probably spent this past weekend as I did - out with friends and decked out in a costume. But Halloween still awaits! Whether you're passing candy out to your neighborhood kiddos, attending a party, heading out for a night on the town or simply dressing up at your workplace, I've got you covered with several costume ideas you can piece together over the next day or two. Better yet, they won't leave you crying when you check your bank account.  

Here are a few of my favorite costumes (from this weekend and the past few years), including notes on how I created them and tips for piecing together your own on a budget:

My version of Cher, this past weekend
If you have white flared jeans and live anywhere near a Target and Joann's, you can pull this outfit off before Halloween. I felt inspired to emulate Cher's bold and incomparable outfits after Kim Kardashian totally killed the yellow two-piece look last year. I wanted to do something different, though, so I opted for the white two piece above. I bought inexpensive large gold hoop earrings, the iconic long lashes, and glue-on nails (hello, middle school Stephanie) at Target, and made the top with a stretchy white fabric, beads and adhesive stickers from Joann's, where I also found my gold "belt." Add some metallic heels, and you've turned back time. ;)

White flared jeans
White high-quality fabric
Beading and adhesive stickers
Metallic gold or silver heels
Large hoop earrings
White mini pouch purse
Gold belt (or gold lace)

Purple eyeshadow with dramatic false lashes
Pink blush 
Rosy pink-ish lips (lightly glossed)
Long nails with purple polish (I painted over my press-ons)

Straight and down

Medusa, also this past weekend (yes, those are "snake eyes")
If there's ever a right time to dress up as Medusa, it's when snakeskin is in - and right now, it definitely is. Don't have a snakeskin piece yet? I found the dress above at H&M for about $20. Pair it with a snake headpiece (sold on Amazon and at most Halloween stores), and you can turn people to stone. 

Faux snakeskin dress
Strappy heels
Gold snake headband (

Green and yellow eyeshadow, with black lines on top for your "snake eyes"
Green shadow in place of bronzer (for contouring)
Green lipstick (I actually didn't like the color of mine, so I put some Aquaphor on my lips and covered them with glittery green shadow)
Green metallic nails (I used the Medusa shade by KL Polish)

Messy, crazed waves 
(I wet my hair and added got2b glue, flipped my hair and called it a day)

My "Ellie" Elliot + E.T. costume, Halloween 2018
If you have a free evening or morning before Halloween, and consider yourself a patient person, then you can re-create this. Aside from the minimalist outfit, you'll need to make your own bike basket. I purchased this grey basket (and my red hoodie) at Target. To make the handlebars, I painted four paper towel rolls grey, and taped two vertically on each back corner of the basket, then taped the other two horizontally on top of the vertical ones. I printed a high-res picture of E.T. (found off Google) and taped it on top of an old stuffed animal for a 3D effect. Then, I placed a red light on E.T.s last, and wrapped a white pillowcase around him. Tie some rope through the basket holes so you can wear it around your neck. Proceed to Phone Home. 

Red hoodie
White converse or sneakers
Grey basket
Paper towel rolls
Grey paint
Printed picture of E.T.
Stuffed animal
White sheet or pillowcase
Small red light (many flashlights have a red light option)
Rope (try to keep it a neutral color or one that will blend with the outfit) 

You don't need any, but I played up the red in the hoodie with red lips

I left mine down, but a ponytail is fun and outdoors-y

Pretty Woman, Halloween 2018
So, I bought this costume off Etsy; however, you can give it your own twist with a white tank, blue skirt, and some body jewelry (or, if you're really ambitious, watch a DIY video on YouTube. They exist!)   

Pretty Woman costume or white tank, blue skirt and body jewelry 
Red blazer (or hoodie)
Black over-the-knee boots
Long necklace 
Edgy bracelet

Keep it glow and subtly sexy 

Curl or wave it up, Julia Roberts style

Pretending to be Midge Maisel at Disney's Dapper Day, April 2019
My favorite TV comedian, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, inspired my look for this year's Dapper Day at Disney. I bought this dress on Amazon Prime, but if 2-day shipping isn't in your favor, you can pick up a petticoat at a costume store and wear it under a dress you already own (this fifties style was very in earlier this year - hopefully you have something similar!) 

'50s style dress (or a halter-style dress)
White pointed-toe flats or kitten heels
Small box-y handbag
Hair scarf (you can use a regular one, as I did here)
Cat-eye glasses
Pearl jewelry 

Feminine (rosy blush, bold lips, etc.)

Curled, pinned and under a hair scarf

Mary Poppins, Halloween 2017
This Mary Poppins costume made me feel very proud, considering I pieced it together on Halloween morning. I promise there's a high chance you have almost everything you need to recreate this already in your closet.

White blouse
Black skirt
Black tights/stockings
Black heels
Large purse (black works well here)
Black umbrella
Reb ribbon, for belt and bow
Black Edwardian-style hat (this you will likely have to purchase. I bought mine at Party City).
Fake red and white flowers (I got mine at Hobby Lobby, but Michael's and Joann's should have some, too).
Hot glue gun (to glue the flowers onto the hat)

Done-up, yet simple (avoid any dark eyeshadow or intense eyeliner)
Red lips to bounce off the red bow and belt

Bun or down in waves

Wednesday Addams, Halloween 2015
Surprisingly enough, this costume - which I threw together the day before wearing - brought in a ton of compliments. The only thing I purchased was the pair of thigh-high stockings.

White button up
Black button up (to be worn above white button up) 
Black heels
Black thigh-high stockings 

Pale foundation/face (you can make your foundation lighter by covering it with some white eyeshadow or a pale setting powder, but I recommend applying a foundation a few shades lighter than your skin tone. Go for an inexpensive drugstore foundation, and set it aside for future Halloween costumes - vampire, Bride of Frankenstein, skull, etc.). 
Gray eyeshadow for shadow-y contouring
Black lipstick

Two braids

Jess and I dressed as Dolls of the Dead, Halloween 2016

These dolls were so much fun to dress up as. Jess and I got really into character, and at one point began skipping around downtown while holding hands and playing audio of children laughing on repeat from our phones. We freaked quite a few people out.  


Floral dress
White knee-high socks
Black heels
Teddy Bear, dabbed it with black eyeshadow and torn up (I felt HORRIBLE doing this, but it really makes the costume creepier. I've kept the teddy bear out of pity). 


Follow the Wednesday Addams/Black Swan idea: pale face, dark lips (I went with a very deep red)
Black/gray eyeshadow for under eye circles and contouring 
Black eyeliner for "patches" and mouth (we drew lines that resemble a puppet mouth)

Pigtails and a bow

Cleopatra, Halloween Weekend 2017

I've always thought of Cleopatra as strong, interesting and beautiful - what's not to love? The girl is timeless. Not everyone can say Elizabeth Taylor played them in a movie. Just sayin'.

White or black dress
Gold heels
Gold jewelry (necklace, bracelets, earrings, rings, etc.)
Gold headpiece

Full face, glowy and bronzed (I added gold eyeshadow to the highlighter cheekbones
Nude lips (I added gold eyeshadow on top)
Blue and gold eyeshadow with black Cleopatra eyeliner 

Straight and braids
Gold string or hair bands (I bought a stretchy string at Michael's and tied them over clear hair ties)

Black Swan, Halloween Weekend 2017

Ah, this one was fun - although I could never play a tormented perfectionist ballerina the way Natalie Portman did. So, you might not have feathers, a tutu or a black crown laying around, but there's a good chance you have the rest of this costume at home, either for your own purposes or from a past Halloween. Accessories can be purchased at any craft store or costume store for next to nothing. 

Black leotard/bodysuit
Tiny black shorts (to wear under tutu)
Black tutu
Black see through tights
Black ballet-style flats
Black feathers
Glue gun or pins (to stick feathers onto leotard)
Black crown

Pale face (see Wednesday Addams makeup above)
Black eyeshadow for contouring (See Wednesday Addams makeup above)
Deep red/wine lips 
Black and silver eyeliners for wings

Bun (topped with crown)

Cruella de Vil, Halloween Weekend 2015
This costume is easy to create, recognizable and fun for both adults and kids. Got a black dress, or black top + black skirt? Of course you do. Now, all you need are accessories.

Black dress or black top + black skirt
Black tights (optional)
Black heels
"Dalmatian" stole
Red gloves (easy to find at a costume store, or at stores like Target and Walmart during the holidays)
1920's style cigarette holder


Glam (she was a designer, after all) - and red lips to bounce off those gloves

Okay, so, I made the mistake of using white hair spray paint on half of my head. It didn't go well. I looked old and my hair started to look an awkward light purple as the night went on. Get an inexpensive wig. 
Trust me.

My DIY mermaid costume (missing the starfish), a few years after being worn
My sister, looking like a gorgeous mermaid at her sorority's bid day last year (it was ocean themed)
Nude bra or bralet (a halter might work as well)
Rope (I like gold, but nude or white will work, too)
Blue skirt or craft store fabrics (I wore an opaque blue fabric under a mesh blue fabric with scale/bubble-like details).
Starfish (you can purchase a bag of them at craft stores) 
Nude summer-y wedges

Dewy natural-looking base makeup - but be generous with bronzer and highlighter
Blue or green eyeshadow and "scales"(place a fishnet stocking on one of your cheeks and along your collarbone, then run blue/green/gold eyeshadow over the stockings to create the look of scales on your skin). 
Nude (or purple!) lips - have fun, but stick to a cool color palette (green, blue, purple)

Messy, beachy waves or a messy thick braid

Little Red Riding Hood (after a run-in with the wolf), Halloween Weekend 2016
One of my tips for having a little more fun with your costume is adding a twist to a classic. I dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, but after a bloody fight with the wolf. 

Black dress or black top + black skirt
Black thigh-high boots or black heels
Black tights (optional)
White glove (one looks even better) ripped and painted with "blood" (fake blood)
Red hood

Red lips
Red "slice" on cheek (use fake blood)
Smokey eye

Waves or low pigtails 

Desperate and broke? Here are two classic costumes that couldn't be easier to piece together:

Witch, Halloween Weekend 2016
All black
Witch hat
Black boots/heels/pointy flats
Optional: choker or moody necklace 

To keep it classic, stick to green, black or deep red eyeshadows and lipsticks
Optional: black or green nails (extra points if they're pointy)

Keep it down - wavy, curly or straight work just fine

With my friend Nicole, Halloween 2018

My sister as a modern day, Vampire Diaries-inspired vampire, Halloween 2015
Dark moody dress, all black, or a simple top + shorts with a black biker jacket (keep it cool)
Black boots or heels

Either your usual full base makeup or pale + dark eyeshadow for contouring 
(I've found that either one works)
Smokey eyes
Black and gray eyeliner and/or eyeshadow for "veins"
Deep purple or red lipstick 
Fake blood for underneath lips 

Same idea as the witch: keep it down - wavy or straight work just fine



- Write down a list of everything you need to piece together your costume, then go digging through your closet, friends' closets and family members' closets (with permission, of course!).

- For actual clothing that you need but don't have, check Goodwill and other thrift stores, as well as Amazon (2-day prime delivery!) before heading to any retailers.

- Look online for the extra items you need before running to the stores. Compare prices, then get what you need. I stop at Halloween stores once in a blue moon for certain items, but I tend to find what I need at Target, JoAnns, Hobby Lobby and Michael's. Craft stores are your friend!

- The internet is a gift when it comes to Halloween. Amazon often sells items for less than what you'll find at stores. As far as makeup and hair go, YouTube is your free classroom. And I'm assuming most people do this already, but utilize Pinterest for costume ideas and, if you have more time in the future, check Etsy as a last resort for costumes or specific accessories. They might be a little pricier, but if you aren't having luck, it could be your saving grace. 

Remember to have fun and get creative! Be as original as you can and give your costumes a fun twist. Play with themes, decades, etc., or add a little darkness to your look. It is Halloween, after all. ;)

My "3-C" Formula for a Perfect Office-to-Happy Hour Look (and the 2-Minute Hair Styling Hack I Swear By)

July 3, 2019

Note to self: when you're being photographed, make sure your pants are properly tied.
Cami: Prologue at Target. Culottes: Zara. Cape Blazer: Mustard Seed L.A.

We all have that one outfit. You know the kind - the one that makes you look effortlessly put together, is comfortable yet chic, exudes confidence and always guarantees you at least one compliment. It shifts sensibly from day to night, and can easily be dressed down in a casual setting or dressed up for an elevated occasion.

For me, this outfit consists of three pieces, each of which draws in the always appreciated "where did you buy that?" whether they're worn together or apart:

1. Cami
2. Culottes
3. Cape Blazer

Without fail, every time I combine these pieces for work, happy hour, a show, a meeting or an event, I arrive and leave feeling empowered (and fun). And while I'm proud to be an outfit repeater (I've been donning this exact outfit - only ever changing my jewelry and purse - once or twice a month), lately I've been purchasing and experimenting with the same pieces in different shades and sizes, or similar pieces from different brands. Regardless, this 3-C formula has proven to be foolproof. So, let's jump in, shall we?

First up: the cami. This V-neck woven version, from the Prologue line at Target, was the answer to many unsung prayers. For nearly a year, I had been looking everywhere for an affordable, pretty and soft cami that felt like it would last through many wears. In my opinion, camis are a wardbrobe staple that offer an elevated alternative to the t-shirt-tucked-into-pants/skirts/shorts look. I fell in love the moment I tried this one on - and at less than $20, it's a steal.

Next up: the culottes. My Zara culottes, which I have in navy and light pink (need to buy them in black and white stat) are probably among the top 5 fashion purchases I've made in my 27 years of life. They're ridiculously comfortable, enhance an otherwise underwhelming outfit (check out the picture below to see how I paired them with a graphic tee in lieu of the typical jeans-and-t-shirt look), and instantly make me look like I've got my life together, even when I don't. Better yet, they're under $40. So far, you've got a top and bottom combo for under $60. Boom.

Queen graphic tee: Urban Outfitters. Shell earrings and culottes: Zara.

And last, but certainly not least, we come to the end of this outfit formula: the cape blazer. Unfortunately, I can't recall where I purchased this sandy-nude piece from (the label reads Mustard Seed; I want to say it was from Tobi or Nasty Gal) but it inspired me to eventually acquire a similar piece (in black) from Target's Who What Wear line. I don't know what it is about cape blazers. To play on the cape aspect, they really do feel as though they carry a superhero(ine) power: the moment I put one on, I feel like a boss, as corny as that sounds. Similarly, the moment I see someone else wearing one, I feel as though they run the show. It's definitely a head-turning statement piece, and while some might find it odd - a former colleague, who purchased the Target piece after seeing me in it, said her husband told her she looked like a student at Hogwarts when she wore it - the general consensus, in my experience, is that cape blazers look fierce. That's all the convincing I need.

Pro Tip: Neutral colors are your friend. There's a reason these three pieces work so well together! Mix and match white, nude, black and brown pieces with olive green and navy ones, and you'll have an impressive capsule wardrobe at your fingertips. Bonus if you throw in jewel tones for an extra punch.

P.S. I'll be featuring a couple of the pieces above in a new and upcoming "1 Piece, 3 Ways" series. Stay tuned!

Now, every grade-A outfit deserves a little beauty support, no? Just as this wardrobe formula never lets me down, there's a little hair trick I utilize on mornings when I need to run out the door but want to look and feel polished. Lately, I've been wrapping just two front sections of hair from each side of my head around my hair wand. It looks a little funny at first, considering that the rest of my hair consists of nearly straight waves (if that makes any sense), but I find that the wanded strands loosen up during my commute, resulting in pretty, cascading waves that eventually blend in with the rest of my mane while giving it a more refined appearance. It takes all of two minutes and makes a noticeable impact.

Hair Hack Part 2: if I have a few more minutes, but not enough to do my entire hair, I'll wand only the outermost layer of my hair. Sounds weird, but it works. What can I say? Time is of the essence - but you never know who you'll run into. ;)

What are your go-to outfits, pieces and beauty tricks? Share them with me in the comments below!

Lucky 27

May 28, 2019

Just a little over nine years ago, I was a high school senior, sitting in AP English class, when a friend on the yearbook team popped in to ask if anyone was interested in contributing to the senior class's "Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?" yearbook page. I happily obliged, and my response ended up making it in the yearbook several months later. My answer, which I partially believed and partially contributed out of humor, will be forever ingrained in my memory:

"I'll be a physician assistant, living on Star Island with my gorgeous doctor husband." 

Yeaaahhh ..... I'm 27, single, living back at home, and dividing the majority of each paycheck between my savings and paying off my credit card.

None of that happened. Not one single part of that happened.

And, honestly, I couldn't be happier that it didn't happen.

Granted, that life sounds pretty great - especially the part about living on Star Island (a gorgeous piece of property housing mega mansions in the middle of Key Biscayne, Miami; I was always ambitious...) 

It's been ten years since I wrote that response, and the truth is my life turned out to be vastly different from what I imagined it would be in my late twenties. Now, I won't go through every life-altering decision I made over the course of the last decade. But what I will say is this: sometimes, having certain elements of your life turn out entirely different from what you originally planned is the best and most exciting thing that will ever happen to you.

Shortly after that yearbook contribution was read by my family and classmates, I went off to college fully planning on fulfilling the part about becoming a physician assistant. Never mind the fact that I was never a great math and science student, and that I had a passion for communication and writing (hence the AP English class). I was blinded by the fact that I loved working with people and wanted to make a difference, and should do so in a "practical" and "smart" way. And so, I spent two and a half years as a health sciences major at The University of Central Florida, until numerous anxiety attacks and identity crises woke me up to the realization that this wasn't the path for me, but rather, the one I thought was expected of me. Halfway through my junior year of college, I changed my major to communications and reminded myself that I could always help people by volunteering (as fate would have it, my first internship and first full time job were supporting the public relations efforts of nonprofits). I never once regretted changing my major, and graduating a year late - something I was initially embarrassed and ashamed of - resulted in one of the best years of my life.

That gorgeous doctor husband? Sure, he sounds fun - but the older I got, the less I cared about the career behind the man and the more I cared about the personality, heart and humor inside the man. On top of that, a serious romantic relationship was simply never a priority for me during college and I still don't feel the need to chase one now, which often comes as a shock to those who know the depth of my love for romantic comedies (although, I have to say, I think my self preservation is a direct outcome of the hopeless romantic in me knowing that what's meant to happen will happen organically.) I've never been in love (though I tried to convince myself I was at one point and even claimed I was), and I haven't had a boyfriend since the one I had in high school when I wrote that yearbook post. Oh, and he wasn't a doctor. He probably wasn't thrilled with my response ...

The mansion on Star Island? HA. I very happily lived in an apartment in Downtown Orlando for three years after college - with roommates that, over the years, included my best friend, a sorority sister, a friend from work, a straight male friend and a gay male friend - and over time, I grew less interested in making Miami or South Florida my permanent home again. That still remains true, but even so, nine months ago I made the tough yet worthy decision to move back to my South Florida suburb hometown - a place I loved growing up in but never imagined (or truthfully, wanted) to return to - and I now sleep in my old bedroom, with my parents, sister, dog and five cats as roommates (more on this decision below.) There are days when the desperation to get out of my hometown literally makes my heart race, but I remind myself to be thankful for this place, which gave me beautiful memories, kept me safe, and taught me so much about culture, friendship, community and love. We should all remember that, while it's totally normal and okay to realize you no longer belong in the place you grew up, it's important to respect and appreciate all of the positive things it gave you.

So, here I am. 27. Ten years ago, I thought I'd be married with at least one kid by now, living it up on an oceanfront mansion. As I type this, I'm a husband and child-less single gal sitting at a coffee shop just twenty minutes outside of my hometown, waiting for my acting class to start.

And that leads me to ... acting. Forget my 17 year-old self. This dream goes back to 7 year-old Stephanie. 

Some of you know this story by now. After years of working in public relations, I realized that, while I enjoy my career, there was a lifelong dream I was denying myself for far too long. What they say about getting older is true: you stop caring so much about what others think of you, and you realize how precious life is. After a scary car accident a little over two years ago, I signed up for an acting class in Orlando and fell in love with the craft more than ever before. Fast forward two years after that first acting class to this past August, and I decided to make that aforementioned move back to my childhood home - again, something I thought I'd never do - to save money while trying to get my toes wet in the acting industry. Since signing up for that first class nearly two years ago, I've done things I always dreamt of doing, but for whatever reason, assumed were out of the question. I got head shots taken. I got signed to a talent agency. I booked my first paid acting job, and went to several auditions. A year ago, I performed in a live play for the first time in over ten years. And now, I'm finally making significant moves towards the next step in that dream - but more on that later. ;)

The truth is, getting to this point of satisfaction and self-assuredness took a trip through Hell. The first half of my 26th year was one of the most difficult times of my life. Despite some fun, adventurous and beautiful moments, it was riddled with emotional, mental and physical pain and distress. Parts of 22, 23, 24 and 25 felt similar; but the entire first half of 26, for nearly eight consecutive months, was difficult in an entirely different way. I experienced a bout of anxiety and depression I hadn't experienced before. In a frightening way, it felt mature. And even though I knew there was a worthwhile reason for it, moving home and back to my hometown, away from the life I had built for myself in a city I had grown to love and away from my best friends, with no job for the first few months, left me feeling lonely, broken, lost and terrified. Plus, it doesn't make it any easier when you feel lost in life and purpose, and you constantly have addictive access into everyone's best social media lives, where it's all a gorgeous array of images portraying success, glamour and peak joy (or, on the contrary, you're constantly reading about all the terrible things going on in the world.) The one positive that came from that low I went through was knowing how badly I wanted to pull myself out.

And over the months that followed, that's exactly what I did.

I chased what I wanted. I wanted to work with kids again, and I did. I wanted to get a job at a PR agency with a fun and progressive office culture, bosses I admire, creative work I enjoy and the flexibility to make it to castings, and I did. I wanted to get signed to a talent agency, go to castings, take classes with a casting director and get a paid gig under my belt, and I did.

I always knew I would pull myself out of that mental fog. It just felt like it was taking an eternity to get there. Thankfully, in my experience, it's true what they say: This too shall pass. In moments of darkness and uncertainty, when you feel lost, disappointed with yourself, and unsure of who and where you are, I beg you to remind yourself that you have the power and permission to ask for help if you need it, change your life whenever and however you want, and pull yourself out of a funk. I promise. I did it myself, and I'm truly happy, grateful and excited about what I've accomplished so far, what I'm doing, and where I'm going.

On May 19th, I turned what I'll refer to as Lucky 27. Because, for perhaps the first time in my whole life, I've learned and digested these invaluable lessons: It's OK for your life to take a different course. It's OK to do the "impractical." It's OK to make a decision based on what you want, even if others tell you it's risky. It's OK to be scared. It's OK to feel lost and confused, or behind on life's "milestones." It's OK to feel jealous. It's OK to ask for help. It's OK to experience hardships and heartbreak, or to be the one to break another's heart. It's OK to celebrate your successes. It's OK to be openly you. It's OK to be single because you haven't met someone you truly feel connected to, and you refuse to jump into dating simply because it's "the next step" or "what people do." It's OK to get angry. It's OK to cry and feel sadness, despite knowing all you have to be thankful for. It's OK to feel ridiculously happy and proud of yourself. It's OK to enjoy being in the spotlight. It's OK to create and live your life on your terms. It's OK to be vulnerable. It's OK to be flawed. It's OK to love who you are. It's OK to put yourself first sometimes. And, something very important to remember in this social media driven world: It's OK to not be riding on a life-high when it seems like everyone else is. 

In fact, it's all more than OK. It's part of life and what makes us human. It's beautiful in all its uncertain, exciting, tragic and messy glory.

Here's to this 27th trip around the sun; to the unknown; to the dreams, people and moments that keep us going; and to all of the possibilities that lie ahead.


A Sweet St. Patrick's Day Memory (and a Small Reminder to Make Life Fun)

March 18, 2019

Me and my sister in Ireland (nothing to do with the story, aside from it being Irish)
It's no secret to those who know me (or read this blog) that holidays are, and always have been, a big deal to me and my family. While some are celebrated with an almost embarrassing level of enthusiasm (lookin' at you, Christmas, Halloween and Thanksgiving), the smaller ones still got plenty of attention - and St. Patrick's Day was no exception.

When my sister and I were little girls living in the blissful, innocent world that consisted of believing in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy (were those not the most precious days?) our parents did everything they could to match our excitement and imagination with evidence. 

Enter the leprechauns.

Yes, even on St. Patrick's Day - and even in our Cuban-American household - our mom and dad had a plan to prove to us that the magic of the leprechauns was real. It was a tiny effort that filled us with giddiness and still makes me smile almost two decades later: every morning on this day, we'd wake up to discover that the gallon of milk in our fridge and the water in our toilet bowls were turned green. The leprechauns had invaded our home, and no, the thought that our parents always had green food coloring in our kitchen cabinets never crossed our minds. That, my friends, is the beauty of childhood.

It may have been silly, but looking back, it definitely made the holiday more special. More importantly, it was a reminder that even the simplest, low-lift effort can yield sweet, unforgettable memories.

Life is short. Have fun with it. :)