Saturday, December 24, 2016

Coming out to my Grandmother

My grandmother on my father's side worked very hard for her entire life.  She worked multiple jobs to make sure that her 8 children had food, clothes, and opportunities.  My grandfather also worked multiple jobs including working many years at Alcoa.  They were married for 56 years before he passed away over a decade ago from complications from Alzheimers. 

If you are a regular reader, you know that I got married this past summer.  It was a small wedding and we were trying to keep things low key.  That didn't work, so we went full public with our response. I purposely didn't invite extended family to my wedding.  My siblings were the blood relatives that attended along with one cousin and one aunt who I count among my closest and most supportive family.

Although I have not hidden my sexuality, at the request of my family, I've been very evasive when I visit my small home town.  Until I met my husband, David, I never brought anyone home for any family event, homecoming, or holiday.  In fact, I was the only "single" family member and frequently got the sofa in my family's small home at the holidays.  

At Thanksgiving, I received a box of Christmas ornaments and decorations from my grandmother.  She is downsizing and doesn't want them thrown away.  Included with them are things that I gave to her or my grandfather over the years.  

Along with the box came a lovely note from my grandmother.  I've never officially come out to her.  Although I have aunts who have had "special friends" for many years, I wasn't sure how to tell her myself.  I know through stories in my family that she was aware that I was gay, but we just avoided the topic.  I was evasive when we visited and used gender neutral pronouns when speaking about my dating life.  

In the note at Thanksgiving, she mentioned that although she doesn't have a computer, use the internet, or check out "the Facebook," my aunt Debbie told her about my wedding.  Gram mentioned that she missed hearing from me.  To be frank, I hadn't written to her since meeting David other than a Christmas card the year before.  Prior to meeting him, I would try to write once every month or so.  

David has become such an important part of my life that I couldn't figure out what to write without including him in any note to her.  

After reading her note, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and just tell her.  No more hiding.  I sent her our Christmas Card with a note inserted.  

The gist of the letter went something like this:

Dear Gram,

I apologize for not writing sooner.  Things are going well for me in Brooklyn.  Yes I did get married this summer.  I kept the wedding very small and only invited close friends, mom and dad, and my siblings.  I wasn't sure how you felt about me being gay or gay marriage.  I know that it isn't the most comfortable thing for mom, dad, or our family.  I married a Nigerian man in Rochester.  I've decided that regardless of what other people think, I need to live my life for me, and not them.  David is a social worker and he models part time.  I've taken up photography outside of work and frequently go with him to shows.  I'll try to be better about writing more often.  I sent your Christmas gift directly from the company and you should get it soon.  

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


I also included my new last name.  I put a stamp on the letter and was shaking when I dropped it in the mail.  How was she going to react?  What would mom and dad say when they found out I told her.  I know they are both still learning to accept who I am.  

Well, Gram didn't disappoint.  I got a letter back from her shortly after.  

Dear Eric and Friend,

First I received your two packages on Friday, December 9th.  I haven't opened them as I don't open my gifts until Christmas.  Thanks very much.  I hear from you more often than I hear from my grand children close by.  Anthony calls about every two weeks and came to see me when he was up in October for a wedding.  

As I don't have a computer, don't do email, facebook, etc. I heard about your wedding from Aunt Debbie who saw it on Facebook.  Your mom hasn't mentioned it.  One day when your dad came alone we had a little visit.  He seems to take everything in stride and doesn't get too concerned with things that he can't change.  

So many things have changed in my lifetime of 85 years and can't imagine the ones to come.  Grandpa and I were married 56 years when he passed away 11 years ago.  God created us all different and some things are harder to accept.  

Things here are fine and I count my blessings and am thankful for my family and friends each day.  

I'm still playing cards Monday, shuffle board on Tuesday, and of course the dance twice a month.  I went on a bus trip to St. Catherine's Ontario to see an Irish singer.  Yesterday I went to Morrisburg to see a play with 45 on a bus.  

It's snowing here 3" so far so I moved my car about 8:00 a.m.

With love, Happiness, and Prayers,

p.s. - Thanks again. 

I'm not sure how I can describe in words how that made me feel.  I'd like to say that relieved was the first emotion that came over me.  I also teared up a little.  I know that my life isn't easy for some people to understand, especially people who grew up in small towns far from cities that are not very diverse or accepting of people who may be different.  Just seeing a letter addressed to "Dear Eric and Friend" brought tears to my eyes and a little belly laugh.  My dear aunt who passed had a "friend" for many years who she lived with.  We love that "friend" who is still an important part of our family.  

I'm also glad that now when I go to visit my parents, I don't have to leave David somewhere or make him hide when Grandma visits.  Our family photos that include him can be sent to her too.  All of this has been causing me stomach aches since I met him.  My siblings, too, have not been sure what to do. We always take a family photo and send a copy to Gram. 

I hate to lie.  I hate to hide.  Now it can all be in the open.  

So that was my Christmas gift from my grandmother. I hope that you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  I'm off to Christmas Eve Service. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Lessons from Ice Skating

David has been asking me to take him ice skating for over a year.  We were unable to make it work with our schedules last winter.  Since that time, we moved to a different neighborhood.  Our apartment is now much closer to prospect park.

Friday night, we went to the skating rink in the park to ice skate. Let me tell you, David is very athletic.  Every time we have been out to try some new athletic activity, he picks it up so fast.  Coming from my background, this is hilarious and impressive.  It took me years to figure out how to bowl without gutter balls over and over (his first time involve three strikes in a row and two games well over 150).  

When I was a kid, my whole family ice skated.  We spent time cleaning off the pond to skate and even flooded our front yard to make a skating rink.  My dad and brother played ice hokey almost every weekend with our neighbors.  Dad played well into his 50s on an international ice hockey league.  

We had a 4H skating party at our house one winter.  Mom always was amazing with her hot chocolate skills (warmed milk in a pot on the stove with nestle quick and some cool whip).  My twin brother and I were a bit slower learning how to ice skate than our siblings and parents.  My first pair of skates was an old pair of mom's figure skates.  I learned how to stop using my toe, instead of a snow plow stop like a hockey player.  It took me years to be able to skate without falling over and over again.  

David was different.  He managed to only fall once, and that was because he was trying to take his hat and gloves off while continuing to skate. 

I managed to not fall at all and even managed to skate backwards a few inches at a time (one of the things I'm working on).  

As I watched him, and we laughed, memories of my childhood came flooding back.  I would spend hours with my brothers and sister trying to skate.  We had to wait until dad said it was ok to go onto the ice.  If my memory serves me, he used to test the ice by heaving a huge block of wood onto it first to see if it would break.  Then he would go out tentatively on it to test it.  We had a pond across the road from our house that was most often used.  I do remember on time when all of the neighbors came and we all skated up and down the swamp corridor that was overflow from Brandy brook.  We used our snow boots as goal posts and always had a fire going off the ice to warm up if we needed to. 

David's skating reminded me of a few things.  

1.) You can't be afraid to fall.  Falling is one of the only ways to learn how to skate.  Even the best skaters fall.
2.) It's ok to hold on to the railing as you figure things out.  We all need a little bit of support now and again.
3.) Sometimes you need to be left alone to figure things out (David was much more likely to try things when I wasn't next to him).  
4.) Even the most experienced skaters have room to grow and learn.  I'm definitely not experienced, but I know I can skate in circles and almost not fall most of the time.  I'm learning to stop and to skate backwards while David is just learning to stay up.
5.) It's ok to start slow.
6.) You have to take some risks if you are going to figure things out.
7.) If you dress warmly enough, only your face will get cold.
8.) Skating uses muscles that we don't use daily. 
9.) It's really awesome to get out during the winter and have some fun.  It makes winter easier to bear.  I was reminded of this when I heard an NPR interview about Hygge.  Hygge (pronounced hue-gah) is a Danish word that is a feeling or mood that comes taking genuine pleasure in making ordinary, every day moments more meaningful, beautiful or special. When winter doldrums get you down, you have to find something to pick your spirits up.  

I hope you all find some joy in the coming winter months.  Learn something new, try a new sport, try an old thing with friends who haven't done it before.  Laugh, get some sun, re-live old memories.  If you want company, call or email us.  We love adventures. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them

Tonight, after work, I saw Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them.  I don't know if this post will be full of spoilers or not, so be warned.

I'm a Harry Potter Fan, a bit one.  In fact, I've dressed like him for Halloween.  I have read the entire series of books in both Spanish and English.

I was struck by a thought.  The movie is set in New York City.  I've now lived here twice for a total of three years.  The thing about this city is that strange shit happens here almost every moment of every day.  People dressed in costume, performers, odd rumbles, noises, music, and flash mobs.  What I realized was that if a bunch of crazy ass creatures were released in NYC, said creatures destroyed or killed anyone or any property, I doubt New Yorkers would even be phased.

Why do I bring this up?  I'm still new/fresh enough that anything odd that happens still surprises me and I notice.  Even people honking their horn at me more than a thousand times and I still don't block it out.

I loved the film.  I really did love it.  That part just seemed unrealistic when it was supposed to be the only realistic thing in the movie.  I guess I'll have to work on my suspension of reality or just get used to all the crazy stuff that happens here.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Converting to Islam

I have read so many reactions to this election from people like me.  We are scared, we are worried, we are upset, and we are uncertain about our future.  For so many reasons that I won't go into (if you are a close friend, you already know them), the results of this election are going to affect me personally.

Since the beginning of this election, I've been trying to educate my new husband about our political system.  He is a refugee here from Nigeria.  Unfortunately, his only experience with the Republican Party is this election and the retoric of Trump.  This has made it tough to let him know that some of our dearest friends and family members are Republicans (some for and some against Trump). Talking about the election to him, though, has made me especially aware of what both sides are saying around gay marriage, immigration, and refugees.

As a gay man, married to a refugee from another country, I am feeling the fear first hand.  I fear for me, for my husband, and for many of our friends and family.  I'm also particularly disgusted with the religious intolerance that Trump is spewing.

I want to make sure that my friends and family know that Islam is not the enemy.  I hope that you read this with an open mind and heart.  Jesus Christ, himself, reached out to people of all faiths, races, and backgrounds when spreading his message.  The message from God, through Jesus, is to love our neighbor as ourselves.  

I encourage you to find someone who is muslim to talk to about what they really believe.  I have and we have so much in common in our faith.  Jews, Christian's, and Muslims all believe in what was taught in the old testament.  Muslims and Christians also believe much of what was taught in the New Testament.  Muslims have an additional prophet that continued to teach them beyond what we learned in church.  The messages of the Koran, though, are not of hate and intolerance.  

The extreme muslims are no different than the KKK who consider themselves "true Christians."  The extremists don't represent all muslims any more than the KKK represents all christians.  

With that said, I feel that I need to start self-identifying as muslim until all our muslim brothers and sisters are safe.  I will not stand idly by as Trump/Hitler makes all muslims register as Jews registered years ago and were exterminated.  It is not what Jesus would want, or anyone, in my mind, who follows his teachings.  

The five pillars of islam are easy to read and learn.  
  • Shahadah: sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith.
  • Salat: performing ritual prayers in the proper way five times each day.
  • Zakat: paying an alms (or charity) tax to benefit the poor and the needy.
  • Sawm: fasting during the month of Ramadan.
  • Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca.
The muslim's believe in Jesus, who is my rock and my redeemer.  Although the belief is slightly different than mine, it is not that far from what I believe.  I've been fortunate to meet so many intelligent, loving, caring muslims.  I could see myself worshiping with them.  We all believe in the same God. In fact, my church regularly welcomes islamic scholars to preach along with our minister and local rabbis.  I could still go there and call myself a muslim.  If this type of radical thought is what it takes to protect them, I'm there.  

When that registry starts (I pray it never happens), I hope that all people of faith will join me in declaring that we are muslim.  

Friday, October 14, 2016

Renaissance Man or Court Jester?

This isn't a list of "everything Eric is doing and needs to be congratulated for."  This is a challenge.  You see, I've always wondered if I might be more successful, make more money, and do better at things if I stuck with them longer.  I'm struggling with this dilemma because I, of course, want to succeed.  Should success, though, be my ultimate goal?  What about constantly trying new things, keeping my brain active, dipping my toes into things that I may hate or end up loving?  

I've read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers among dozens of other books (yeah I like to read like some people like to drink).  I've studied some of the most successful people in the world.  I've met people who have made millions of dollars or seem to have found their calling.  The world seems to push most people, or maybe encourage is a better word, to focus on finding one passion.  The people who are the most successful at something have focused on that for all of their waking hours.  

I've tried that....and I HATE IT.  

I spent time when I was a fundraising consultant using all of my waking hours to do fundraising work or fundraising volunteering.  I'm good at it.  I'm proud of the work I do in it.  BUT, I felt very unfulfilled when I had to focus on that and that only.

Not one to sit still, I find that I sometimes take on a lot of different projects, arts and crafts, goals, training, adventure, etc.  This isn't something new.  In high school I was involved with everything from the FFA to the Speech and Debate Team, the Yearbook staff, the choir, band, the musical, and was the Class President. 

At Hartwick College I was a tour guide, a Resident Advisor, involved in theater, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia (men's national music fraternity), international club, and a bunch of other clubs and organizations while trying to keep my grades up at a high level.  Even with all of that stuff going on, I sought out new adventures.  My best friend Karyn was usually right next to me.  We went skydiving our junior year.

Fast forward almost 20 years and I still seem to get bored with what I'm working on.  I have to keep it fresh and real.  This year, I've been on some obstacle course races (Spartan with my awesome friend Greg who is also a fraternity brother).  

I've recently picked up fashion photography, although I've always loved photography and learning new aspects of it.  Part of my fashion work has been helping my husband prepare for casting calls and managing his Instagram, his portfolio, ad his schedule. 

Because this hasn't been enough to occupy my brain (not that I have enough time to do more), I decided to sell pampered chef products and do shows.  This has been amazing and fun and challenging all at the same time.  

Never mind the fact that I have a full time job that requires a lot of energy and concentration.  

I'm proud of all that I have done.  I'm not giving up on anything.  The arts and crafts box, the sewing machine, the guitar, the sign language book, the graphic design class, the movie script, the half written book, the investing guide, and the dozens of other projects I have started are not going away.  I will pick each one up in its own time and work on it some more.  I may find the one that becomes my lifetime hobby. 

In the mean time, I guess I'd rather be well-rounded and have tried everything instead of being the guy amazing at just one thing that I focus my life on.  I'm going to make costumes, raise money for charities in and out of work, sing with my fraternity and church choir, and photograph more people. 

I'm also going to keep writing here.  I may be sporadic at times when other projects are higher on my "keep your brain occupied" list, but know that when I come back I'm ready to share something that I hope is at least enjoyable to read if not helpful.  

Here's to fighting stereotypes and being normal.  I'm going to be me dammit.  :)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

There's no place like home

This past weekend, I visited Hartwick College.  It was homecoming weekend.  Although it wasn't my reunion year, I still went back.  In fact, I have been going back every year since I graduated.  When I arrived, I was greeted with hugs by old friends, and relatively new friends.  Some of the students came up to greet me and some were there to meet me.  I worked at Hartwick before moving to Brooklyn.

The weekend started slowly with me recruiting interns for my office.  I spent most of Friday working on some photos from a fashion show.

Friday night, I picked my husband up from the bus station in Albany so he could spend the weekend with me.

Saturday morning, the hugs began for real.  David, my husband, wasn't used to so many strangers hugging him.  Fortunately for me, very few of them were strangers, and the hugs were something I cherish and remember.

The weekend ended with a memorial service for those Hartwick friends and family who didn't make it to another reunion because they have died.  This solemn and touching end to the weekend gets to me every year.  I know that there will be at least one or two names on the list of deceased that were a part of my life.  This year, two professors of mine had passed away and one older alumnus who was a friend.

I got to thinking as I drove back to Brooklyn.  David was asleep in the car next to me and I reflected on what makes something feel like home.

There are only a few places in my life that ever felt like home.  Most places just felt like a temporary holding spot until something better came along.  

Home is a place where you feel like you belong.  In Oneonta, in spite of the small size, I feel like I belong....or belonged.  Going back there, I always run into wonderful people.  These are people who value the education we got, even if they are decades older or younger than me.

The other places I think of as home are my parent's house and my house in Rochester, New York.  Both places make me feel great when I'm there.

Brooklyn doesn't feel like home yet, but I'm getting there.

So what does one do?

I guess I should ask, what does Eric do?

I try to figure out what makes something feel like home.

1.) Smiling people whose names I know and they know mine.
2.) Friends - it's really hard to make friends here for some reason
3.) Music - I need to be making music again.  I got to sing with my fraternity brothers this weekend and it felt amazing
4.) Church - this one is actually working here
5.) A gym or workout routine I like - struggle bus on this one.  I've got frozen shoulder on top of a case of can't get out of bed.
6.) Sharing of life - This one is starting to happen more and more.

I think I might be on my way.  If you get all the way to the end of this...tell me what you think makes something feel like home instead of a temporary living spot.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Don't run from adversity

Thursday night, I had the chance to speak with a very successful, powerful, and influential leader.  She is an out lesbian.  I have had the privilege of knowing her for almost 10 years.  She has done many great things in her career.   Being gay has not been a central part of her story.

She mentioned that someone on her staff talked about my story with her.  If you follow this blog, chances are you know that I was married recently.  Just after our marriage, we were outed in the press in Nigeria.  It was a painful few weeks as we were attacked via social media, on our cell phones, and via every avenue you can imagine.  People who are hateful will find a way to get to throw vitriol at you from every angle if they can.

I bring this up because this respected mentor of mind asked me one simple question:

"Did you ever think of just unplugging from all of your social media so that they wouldn't get to you?"

I listened to her question and thought about it for a minute.  Yes, over and over again during that first week of texts, whatsap messages, Facebook posts and messages, evil emails, and disgusting comments on our blogs and other social media, I thought I wanted to crawl under a rock and just not let anyone find me ever again.  I wanted to change my email address, my phone number, delete this blog, eliminate my Facebook, twitter, instagram, and other social media accounts and start from scratch.  

As I watched the love of my life pace, cry, not eat, and come to terms with the entire thing, I wanted to do anything in my power to fix it. 

Running from adversity lets the haters win.  We cannot let them win in their hate.  We must stand up against it. 

I chose to not run.  I chose to face the bullies.  I remember facing bullies in elementary school and in high school.  Just because I'm gay doesn't mean I can't fight.  To me, it means I fight smarter and harder because I have more to lose.  

I chose to respond with love or neutrality.  I didn't let the hateful people receive hate in return.  I asked my friends and family who were also being attacked to only respond in love.  If we choose to respond to someone's hate with our own hate, we are as bad if not worse than we are.  I am going to love, love, love, love, love.

Jesus said that when someone hits you, you should turn the other cheek so they can hit that too.  That has always been very tough for me to do.  What I do try to do is to respond in a calm and loving way. It isn't easy.  I don't always succeed.  Sometimes my temper takes over and I lash out.  

When I do succeed at responding in love, I feel a happiness, a warmth, a feeling I can't describe come over me. I'm proud of myself.  I'm reminded that some people don't know why they are treating you badly.  In rare cases, the haters don't know how to react and stop hurting you.  If someone is full of evil, they will continue to try to hurt you.  That's when I choose to back off.  I don't run away.  I don't hide from them.  I retreat to a safe place and send my love and positivity out from there.  You don't have to stay close to it to get hurt.  I can mentally, spiritually, and physically move myself to a safe place to respond.  

May God grant me the love, the blessings, the peace, and the ability to always respond in love.  May hate never win. 

Love rules. 

We danced to this at our wedding.  I'm not going to let anyone take that love away.

Monday, September 5, 2016

How to mess up a gay party!

Last night, David and I went out to a party at a club.  There was a big party that a friend was throwing.  I won't go into details about that friend or the name of the party, but I felt like it was a disaster.

This party had the following going for it:
1.) Great advertising on social media
2.) A handsome and organized promoter
3.) A location that was easy to find (and close to home so we could uber over)
4.) Hot gogo boys dancing at the bar
5.) A really great DJ mixing music from all over the world including Nigerian dance music that made David really happy.
6.) A packed club full of good looking and polite people.
7.) Clearly marked exits (I get a little paranoid after the massacre at Pulse Night Club).

Here is where they failed:
1.) They had a cover that was too high for what they offered.  We paid $20 each.

2.) They only accepted cash at the door and the atm at the bar had a $100 maximum.  That means that if you were having a few drinks, you needed to go twice to that atm and pay them $3 each time.  Not cool.

3.) Bartenders that didn't know how to mix drinks.  This is a 95% gay audience.  We are not generally beer drinkers.  David and I throughout the night ordered the following with associated results:
      a.) 3 Margaritas - one of the only things that they did just ok on.  They ran out of lime juice by 2:00 a.m. for a party scheduled until 4:00 a.m. (Lime juice is a key ingredient for many very popular mixed drinks including margaritas and cosmopolitans).  A good club knows this and has plenty on hand.
      b.) Vodka peach sour - listed as one of their specialty drinks.  It tasted like chemicals and was undrinkable
      c.) Vodka Pineapple - All vodka and no pineapple also made this undrinkable
      d.) Rum and coke - They RAN OUT OF RUM by 1:30 a.m.  Seriously.  This is a gay carnival event celebrating the islands and you run out of rum?  All rums...from the well to the most expensive.  What kind of bar runs out of rum any way.  Seriously?  Even straight bars must serve quite a few rum drinks.  They didn't even tell me they were out of rum and served me a vodka coke - yuck
      e.) Scotch and ginger ale - I was very clearly stating this.  They gave me Jack and ginger.  Jack is not scotch.  They taste very different.
      f.) Sex on the Beach - only other drink they didn't mess up that night.

4.) Four staff spent quite a bit of time trying to get the cash register opened.  They finally had to leave it open all night.

5.) Not enough bartenders and a really bad bar tender structure - The lines were long and the bartenders kept running into each other and spilling drinks. I think they only had three and then grabbed some friends to  help causing a problem.

6.) Not making sure their equipment was ready for a crowd - The soda "gun" at one end of the bar kept losing the nozzle and spraying everyone around it.  We saw this happen at least three times.

7.) Serving food - They continued to serve food in a super crowded bar at midnight.  The poor staff trying to navigate hundreds of dancing people with plates of food?  Poor decision.  The bar was not set up to both serve food and to host a dance party at the same time.

David and I still enjoyed drinking and dancing at the event.  I just wish they would have had their act together.  The promoter/organizer said he told them what to expect, but they didn't listen to him and believe him.  The bar itself trusted their own experience with parties instead.  The promoter said we should give them another shot.  I'm not sure it's worth it for me.

Friday, September 2, 2016

Giving Birth - moving somewhere new

It takes about 9 months for the sadness, despair, loneliness, frustration, and confusion to settle into your soul.  That's been my experience at least, when I've had to move to a new city.  In the past five years, I've lived in six different cities.

A post on Facebook last night reminded me just how tough it is to move to a new place.  A young friend of mine is going through it all in Vegas at the 9 month mark.  For me, each time I moved to a new city, that nine month period was when I was super depressed.  Sleeping way too much, not wanting to leave my bed, having no appetite, crying a lot, feeling lethargic and useless and contemplating suicide.  It's no joke, this feeling.

The first move that many of us make out of our home is to go to College.  This one, although not easy, pales in comparison to other moves in life.  Here, though, for me was the key to succeeding at a move to a new place.  What happens when you go to college?  For me at Hartwick College, it all started with an orientation program.

At Hartwick, you are automatically thrown into a social situation with hundreds of other people your age also new at the entire thing.  You are all going to go through a convocation and pick classes, and move into a massive living space with a large group of other people.  You are surrounded by clubs and organizations that want you to join them.  There is a place that serves meals filled with people like you who also are eating at the same time.  You have groups of people taking the same classes that you are and a social life is there for the taking if you are a social person.  This is a happy time and place for an extrovert like me.  It isn't easy for everyone, but was so much easier than the move after college for me.  

Then comes your first move.  If you are like me, your first move is to a small town in the middle of no-where and you live in your first real apartment alone.  You no longer have a dining hall to eat your meals or easy clubs and groups to join.  Work is a bunch of people of all ages with all different interests.  You have to learn again how to do this, but WITHOUT THE STRUCTURE COLLEGE PROVIDES.  It's scary.  Some people move back home and go back to their high school friends.  Some people never left their home town.  

That's not me.  I took a job in Kent, Connecticut.  I was only there a year, but found it tough for me socially.  I was lucky, too, though, that a sister of one of my fraternity brothers was also new at the school where I was working.  She became my sanity and my happiness, the little that I could find.  

That first year, I also learned a few things that brought me some modicum of a social life.  

1.) I joined a choir.  I love to sing and even though at 21, I was the only one of the 50 men that was under the age of 65 other than the conductor, at least it gave me something fun to do outside work.
2.) I frequented the local pub and learned (not very well) to play pool and darts.  This may have lead to me drinking more than I should have that first year and gaining weight, but was a lesson learned. 

After a year in this small town, I took a job in Rochester, New York.  

In Rochester, I feel like I finally found a city that I could call home.  

So if you are moving somewhere new, whether it be your first move after college, your first move away from home at all, or your 4th move as a consultant or military family, please think about the following advice. 

1.) Embrace and be one with that feeling
It is perfectly normal to be depressed and feel like life sucks, you miss your friends, you miss your family, you can't find a freakin doctor, you hate the haircut you just got, and you just want to crawl under your blankets and never come out again.  In order for this to not have long lasting damage on you emotionally and psychologically, I feel like it is essential for you to accept the feeling.

"I feel like shit.  I am not happy here right now. I miss the people from my old place.  I can't seem to make this work right now.  I am not feeling like this is a good fit for me."

Say it, embrace it, and be one with it.  THEN MAKE A PLAN TO FIX THE DANG PROBLEM!!

2.) Make a list of the things you love about your old home.
For me the list included singing with a choir or a cappella group, church, and theater.  Later in life I discovered that I also loved running and the gym.  

3.) Find the closest thing to that in your new town and find out how to be a part of it.  
In Kent, I joined the SPEBSQSA (barbershop choir) and the local Episcopal church choir.  In Rochester, my first move was to join the Rochester Gay Men's Chorus.  They were my first friends and I still support them.  A few years later, I found a church that I love called Lake Avenue Baptist Church, the now defunct gym called The Downtown Fitness Club, and the super awesome running community through Fleet Feet Rochester.  Each time I joined a group, I grew my social network and my professional network.  I was in Rochester for 12 years and still feel like a part of many of the groups in that community.  In fact, that's why I chose to get married there among other reasons.  

These moves led me to also join running clubs, gyms, churches, and choirs in NYC, Chicago, DC, Oneonta, and now in Brooklyn.  I'm not saying that these things will work for you, but find a group or club that you might like and check it out.  One great resource in most cities is meet-up groups.

4.) Visit home and stay in contact with those old friends and familySkype, Facetime, google chat and each of the video chat platforms saved me when they were developed.  I could see and hear my friends and family when I was down.  We encouraged each other when they were in new places too. 

5.) Find a restaurant or bar or coffee shop to be a regularIn Rochester, I was a regular at a local coffee shop.  I did the same thing in DC, Chicago, and Oneonta, but have yet to do it here in Brooklyn.  Being a regular means that you meet other regulars who also may be lonely.  I didn't make friends with many people, but it was nice to get out of my apartment and be in the same space as others.  I would bring a book, play on Facebook on my laptop, write post cards to family and friends, or go to the game nights and play games.  

6.) Cook
Learn to cook or learn where to buy great take out.  Meet people for a take out party or invite them to your place.  Sharing food with new friends can be an amazing experience.  Breaking bread with someone really is a sign of hospitality that is rarely forgotten.  For me, learning to cook was full of disasters and hilarious mistakes.  I still make them on occasion, but now know to order pizza or make pbj sandwiches when I fail big time instead of crying over it.  Not everyone loves cooking, but most people love eating. 

7.) Find a gym or a trainer
Trust me that being in good shape helps you with your state of mind.  When I could afford it, I hired a personal trainer.  I had one in Chicago and one in Oneonta and they are still two of my closest friends. When money was tighter, I found the cheapest gym I could and joined.  I tried to go at the same time every day or at least three days a week.  I met other people there like me (especially doing classes like kick boxing and zumba) that became my friends.  

8.) Try Something new
You may hate it.  I hated running and the gym for years.  I don't drink coffee and thought coffee shops were a waste of money.  Now I love gyms, running, and coffee shops (tea and hot chocolate for me).  You might not like what you tried, but you may love it. 

That's my extroverts guide to moving to a new city.  I found that if I did these things as soon as I moved in that the 9 month mark was no longer as tough.  I still cried and felt depressed at 9 months, but these things gave me hope each time that things were going to get better.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back to the Basics - what to do when you are stressed or down

I've been down and out lately emotionally for many reasons.  When I'm really low, I need people to remind me of the things to do to pull myself back up.  No one likes it when you are depressed or grumpy or cranky.

If you are feeling down, here are some of the things that I do that might help you pick yourself up:

1.) Find joy in the little things
On the way to work, I stopped by a little bakery to pick up some pastries for the office.  This lovely older Italian lady boxed them up for me and tied them with a string.  This reminded me of my childhood and the donut place in Potsdam, NY.  It wasn't a chain and they would tie up your donuts in a box like this.  The pastries were delicious and she was charming.

2.) Do something you love
I love cooking and trying new recipes.  For some people, comfort food makes them happy (I don't knock it and have been known to make my mom's lasagna recipe every week when I'm stressed).  For me, making new recipes and trying new things with someone I love is a pick me up.  Last night, I tried another recipe with my new vegetable spiralizer.  This enchilada bake was really scrumptious.  

3.) Exercise
I find that even a brisk walk can pick me up.  What really makes me happy is to go out for a 3 to 5 mile run.  The fresh air and endorphins make a difference.

4.) Be around someone you love
For me, being around my twin brother or my husband usually helps me feel better.  I know that my twin brother also loves being around his kids and his dog or cat when things are bad.

5.) Chocolate or your favorite sweet
Sweets, in moderation, are a nice pick me up.  I am a chocolate lover and know that I want chocolate when I'm stressed.  I just know I have to eat more than just chocolate to survive and can't eat tons of chocolate if I am going to stay healthy.  

6.) Intimacy
Being intimate with someone you love can also be a pick me up when things are bad.  Sometimes you go beyond cuddling and that makes a world of difference.

7.) Helping someone else
When I'm feeling down on myself, sometimes I need to just volunteer somewhere.  Surprisingly just going to the grocery store this week, someone needed me and my long arms to reach something off a tall shelf.  This little act of helping someone else in need makes me feel better both about myself and about the state of the world.  

8.) Make a list and prioritize
My friends in college always joked about my lists.  Sometimes when I am overwhelmed I just need to write a list.  This list can be a list of the things that I am worried about accomplishing, the list of things bothering me, the list of worries, or sadness.  Next, I make a plan.  How do I prioritize this list?  What is the biggest worry, toughest bother, or most important project and what can I actually do to fix it or make it better.

9.) Faith
When things are tough, for me, going to church helps.  Being around other people and praying with them for both my needs and theirs helps me feel better.

10.) Music
Another thing that makes me feel better is singing or dancing.  I pick some of my old favorite songs and crank up the music at home or in my car or office.  I then dance as hard as I can or sing as loud as I am able.  Both of these let out pent up negativity and make me feel better.

11.) Dress up 
I love to dress up.  I love costumes, bow ties, nice suits, fun hats, and any reason to look my best or to make people laugh.  For me, dressing in either my nicest professional suit and tie or in a costume both bring me joy and laughter.  I love looking good or having fun.

and finally (at least for me and my short list).

12.) Call Mom
I'm fortunate that my mom is a big part of my life.  When things are tough, sometimes I just want to hear her voice and she can listen to me complain or cry.  Just talking to her can make things better.  It isn't mom for everyone, but hopefully you have someone special you can talk to when things are tough.

You  may need to do one of these, all of these, or find your own way to crawl out of the doldrums.  Fortunately, at least some of these are free and easy to do.  If you are down, make that list, go for that walk, reach out to that friend, go on that adventure, try something new, and know that being down doesn't have to be the end all be all.  There is happiness and joy to be had.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wedding on a budget

My wedding was one month ago.  In spite of my best attempts to keep it to a minimum budget, I still ended up paying double what I wanted to.

I will say that wedding wire was enormously helpful.  This free website has a budget tool, a calendar tool, and a checklist.  The good thing about the website tools is that they are very flexible.  The website wasn't as great about customizing tools to gay couples (I kept getting stuff for brides even though we self-identified as a male-male gay couple up front), but I still used the site extensively.

Fortunately for me, we had friends who helped with everything from the music for the wedding to officiating.  This saved us money and helped us to incorporate these important people into our special day.  I've outlined below how one might choose to do a budget wedding, but still get the things they want.  It is important to figure out where your priorities are when planning where to spend money. You can see by my lists what was most important to me/us.

Where we spent money:
1.) Cake
We decided that we wanted a beautiful and unique cake that was gorgeous.  We chose a more expensive baker because his cakes were the tastiest and prettiest of all of the cakes we saw.  We designed our cake and he made our design a reality.  His end product wasn't quite what we started with as a picture in our mind, but was perfect for the wedding.  The cake was beautiful and delicious.  Where you can save money on the cake is to have a smaller cake and then purchase sheet cakes.  You only need a cake to cut, not the shaped cake to feed everyone.

2.) Rings
The second largest cost for us was for our rings.  This, in my mind, is where you want to spend the most money.  We found a place that made custom rings for us out of gold and exotic wood.  We love them, and they happen to be priced reasonably.  The other place where you can get rings for a better price is to go to pawn shops.  For some people, this is fine.  For others, the idea of owning someone else's jewelry as their wedding ring isn't so cool.  We wanted something custom and went with it. Although we didn't get super expensive rings, we chose to spend money here.  This is the symbol of our marriage and something we will be wearing for the rest of our lives.  This was important to us.

3.) Good Food
The largest cost for my wedding was the catering costs.  We saved a great deal of money by choosing to use a restaurant instead of a hotel for our reception.  We chose a restaurant that isn't normally open on Saturdays for the daytime.  We had a morning wedding followed by brunch.  Having brunch instead of dinner is really much more affordable.  We were able to have a lovely buffet for half the cost of a dinner.  Additionally, we chose to only provide champagne to guests and have a cash bar.  We chose, too, to have the wedding in Rochester, New York.  Most of our guests would have to travel for a wedding regardless of location, so we chose one where we had connections and where prices were cheaper.  This did limit our guest list (not on purpose) to those people who were willing and could afford to travel outside of the city for a wedding.  David and I love to go out to eat.  We really enjoy tasty food.  We chose a restaurant that was known for super good food.  The place we chose has a unique flair to it.  They also cooked custom food for us.  My parents brought maple syrup from our farm that was served with french toast and the chef made Nigerian Joloff rice to make my husband happy.

4.) Custom accessories.  
We chose to have custom bow ties and cummerbunds made for us out of Nigerian fabric.  These cost us $600.  In fact, they bow ties and cummerbunds cost more than our tuxes and shirts.  We also had a cake topper made that was a little statue of us.  We didn't use it as a cake topper, but had it next to our cake.

5.) Flowers
The price of flowers shocked me a little.  If we had done the wedding where we lived, we would have done the flowers ourselves.  Just the boutonnieres for the men and the centerpieces for the tables cost us a lot of money.  We chose to rent the vases that held the flowers and to return them the following Monday.  This saved us $7/piece.

6.) Pre-Marriage Counseling
Our minister suggested this and it was recommended highly by most people we talked to.  I can't stress enough how helpful it was to go through this pre-wedding counseling.  We each did a Myers Briggs test  and read through how our different personalities interact in a relationship.  We also wrote a covenant to each other stating what our promises to each other were.  This covenant ended up being our vows.  We wrote each other a love letter.  We also were asked to make a list of the things we saw in other marriages that we wanted in our own marriage and a list of the things that we didn't want in our marriage that we had seen in others.  A minister talked us through each piece.  This cost some money but was well worth it.

Where we saved money:
1.) Wedding favors
We also made our own wedding favors, which made the wedding more personal and was more affordable.  I chose to make home-made chapstick and buy little containers and stickers.  We also found some Christmas Crackers that were simple and not Christmas in design on ebay that we had at each place.  We encouraged guests to open them as soon as they got to their tables.  You had to open them as a couple and share the joke inside.  It encouraged people to get to know others around them. We wanted people to have a memory of us, but not break the bank making it.

2.) Tuxes
For tuxedos, we chose to purchase two inexpensive matching tuxedos from Amazon.  We then had them altered extensively.  With the alterations and the purchase, the tuxedos ended up being cheaper than rentals for us.  We asked our groomsmen to wear black suits and white dress shirts with black shoes.  We provided them with bow ties, pocket squares, and fun socks.  This saved them money and people didn't really notice that they were not in tuxes.

3.) Catering
The catering costs were cheaper at a restaurant than a hotel because restaurants don't have to pay a hotel tax.  Restaurants will work with you on a custom menu.  We also chose brunch because it was more affordable.  Additionally, not having an open bar did save money.

4.) Decorations
We chose a restaurant with a beautiful outdoor patio.  We had the ceremony on the patio and had no decorations other than the trees and shrubs.  We also selected a restaurant that was beautiful inside and out so that we didn't need to decorate it.  The only decoration was the flower centerpieces on the tables.

5.) DJ
We did not plan on having people dance at our wedding reception.  We still wanted music.  Instead of hiring a DJ, we put together a playlist on iTunes and just had that playing through a sound system that we borrowed from a friend.  They did cue up our first dance song.  Other than that, we used our playlist.  Some people did dance, but it was mostly just people sitting and talking.

6.) Videography
We chose to purchase our own video camera for $300 and asked a friend to videotape for us.  We didn't want to spend the money on a videographer, but heard loud and clear from our friends that we definitely would want a video of our wedding.

7.) Photography
Photography is typically one of the most expensive parts of a wedding.  This is for a good reason too. Photos are very, very important of your special day.  Given our budget, we chose to go with a young college student who was just starting his photography business instead of one of the more seasoned and expensive wedding photographers.  His cost was a small fraction of the cost of the others we looked at.  We have not seen all of the photos yet, but the dozen that we did see were absolutely stunning.  He was wonderful to work with and we can hardly wait to see the photos he took.

8.) Weather and Permits
We took some chances with the weather.  We had an outdoor wedding with a rain plan that wasn't great.  We also chose to take photos at a place where you usually need a permit, but didn't purchase that permit.  We took the chance that it might work and had a back up plan that was free in case it didn't work.  We got lucky that it didn't rain (except for one or two drops) and that no one else was at the location where we took our photos.

9.) Family and Friend Help
My family and friends helped out a lot.  One of my friends who is a minister performed the ceremony.  Another friend played the cello as her gift to us.  Some friends sang for us.  My sister and brother helped set up the reception, ceremony, sound system, and helped make things run smoothly. They took the place of a wedding planner or coordinator. I tried to give them instructions, but they still had to make many decisions on their own.

10.) Hotel stays  
For the wedding and honeymoon, we stayed at friends places who were out of town.  We only paid for a hotel room on the night of the wedding.  This saved us a lot of money.

11.) Limo
After looking at limos, we chose to rent an SUV instead.  We were given a beautiful, clean red SUV that we used to transport things all weekend.  I found a coupon code through plumb benefits which we have at work.  If you look for coupon codes, you can find them and save money.  It helped that we didn't have to clean our own car out and could use the extra space in the SUV to bring guests different places.  We used it to bring the groomsmen for photos too.  If you have friends willing to drive and clean out their cars, that would work too.  We didn't have that option.

12.) Invitations
For invitations, we chose to have a custom drawing made for us. We used a website called Fiverr where you can pay $5 or more for people to do things for you.  We actually spent $100 and had five drawings made for us.  We chose our favorite and then put it on the cover of a postcard type invitation.  We chose to have people email or call to RSVP instead of using stamps on a reply envelope.  We printed everything on vista print which was awesome.  We used their website to design and print invitations, thank you cards, a poster for people to sign at the wedding, and our printed wedding programs.  They have design templates, and if you have a problem their customer service line is really helpful.  I had recently signed up for the google chrome extension called honey and ended up getting awesome coupons through that for quite a few of my purchases.  It is very helpful for vista print in particular.

13.) Flower Girl and Ring Bearer
We found a cute box on ebay for our ring bearer, picked up a nice kids tux for him and it was perfect, and had his mom buy him some comfortable sneakers.  For the flower girl, we found a nice inexpensive dress online that she liked.  We used extra bow tie fabric and made her a headband for her hair and then glued it as a ribbon around a basket we picked up at a garage sale for the flower petals.  The local grocery store (Wegmans) sells rose petals by the bag which were much less expensive than a florist.

14.) Rehearsal Dinner
For a rehearsal dinner, we just ordered bbq take out and ate at a friend's house.  Our families did not care if we had something fancy.  We picked up beer and drinks at the grocery store and had them in coolers on ice.

What made it special
1.) Private Time/Picnic
A friend suggested that we sneak away between the wedding photos and reception and just have some time for us.  I had a friend who was a chef pack us a special picnic basket as her wedding gift to us.  We dropped everyone off at the reception and drove to a little park.  We unpacked our picnic and spent just 20 minutes talking, eating quickly, and enjoying each other.  This was perfect.  We could have done it all day, but knew we had guests waiting.  We only ate a few bites of food, but it was enough to keep us going so that we didn't feel starved when we only ate a few bites during the reception.  

2. Uniquely us
Friends helped us throughout the wedding to make it uniquely us.  We had a cake that we designed, flowers we picked out, wedding favors that reminded our family and friends of us, and readings, songs, and prayers that we chose to represent who we are.  We wrote our vows and the entire ceremony was only the people we are closest to enjoying the day with us. If you can take the time to pick songs and readings that are not generic, but mean something to you, it will make the day even more special and memorable.  Involving our friends made them feel like they were contributing too.  

What I would do differently
I think I would ask that the minister and all of the readers and guests use the sound system that we had borrowed.  No one used it and it made it hard to hear for some of our guests and on the video. 

I would have been more explicit in my directions to our tailor for our bow ties and cummerbunds. We ended up having some issues with them that would have been solved had we communicated better with him.

I would have brought a few extra pairs of socks and cuff-links because that is what people forgot.  

I would have had extra pins for the boutonnieres.  They were top heavy and only came with one pin. This stressed me out before the wedding.  

I would have tried on my tux before leaving Brooklyn to drive to Rochester.  I ended up bringing the wrong tux pants which did not fit (we had two pairs of tux pants for my husband and none for me). Fortunately, I had an old tux in the attic of my rental property in Rochester and was able to use those pants).  

That's my quick summary of what we did to make our wedding more affordable, but still elegant and special to us.