Thoughts on turning 31… and the
future of Map Your 30s blog

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When I first started writing about turning 30 years old and decided to create the Map Your 30s Blog, my idea was simple: I wanted to write about all of the changes happening in my life and I wanted to make the point that life doesn’t end when you’re 30.

In fact, in my very first post after turning the big 3-0, I said that “my goal with the Map Your 30s blog is to prove that turning this momentous decade doesn’t have to be the end of your journey.” I wanted to write about how it’s okay not to have everything figured out, because I still didn’t and because I knew plenty of people who were stressed because it felt like being 30 meant SO MUCH.

It doesn’t.

Or, at least, it doesn’t have to.

Yesterday, I turned 31 years old and, let me tell you, a LOT of stuff has happened in my life since. If you’ve been following me at all (on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram), then you might have noticed quite a few changes… Starting with the biggest one of all: At 30, I was living in New York City, the place I had chosen to call my home since I went to college there at 18 years old, and am now a happy resident of Southwest Florida, where I am actually originally from and never thought I would end up in again.

But there’s more. And since I had very specific categories I wanted to grow in, talk about and generally work towards bettering in my 30s, here it is.

Relationships: When I turned 30 years old, I was single and kind of starting to be miserable about it. I hadn’t had a longterm relationship in six years and, even worse, the relationships I had before were pretty freaking horrible. But in my first Map Your 30s blog post (which was written exactly 3 months after turning 30), I wrote about finally finding the relationship I have always dreamed of. And well, we’re about to near our one year anniversary and are happily planning for 57 more to come.

Career: This is probably the place where I’ve grown the most, besides relationships. At 30, I had just accepted a job that very quickly turned out to be the wrong move for me and spurned me to go back to Florida, with my tail between my legs, to live with my parents and figure out the next step. In my update last June, I had thankfully gone back to being the Food Editor at Brit+Co and started writing again for MamásLatinas. Since then, I also started being a regular contributor to Mom.me and am hoping to find another PT writing gig soon. Beyond that, though, I also am freelancing a ton since the start of 2017 (after hiring a writing coach) and am very optimistic that I will hit my goal of being published in 17 publications this year… and very soon, I expect!

Home: My home situation obviously changed quite dramatically from being 30 to being 31, since I moved states and settled back in Southwest Florida (for now, anyway). I used to believe that New York City was the place where I belonged and the only city that I could live in, but that’s no longer true. It ironically probably took 10 years of living in the city (the official time you can start calling yourself a “New Yorker,” which I very much consider myself to be) before I realized that I could live elsewhere too. Right now I am happy to be in SW FL but I know that my life is going to take me elsewhere, and possibly before turning 32. That’s meant that my physical home, as in the apartment we live in, is a bit in flux. But that’s okay because, as we all know, I don’t have to have it all figured out just yet.

Finances: This area is a tricky one but, I have to say, I think I am finally starting to get to a better place. At 30, I had no savings to speak of at all. And shortly after starting this blog and moving to Florida, I realized that I might have to save for a car and who knows what else. It’s been tricky, too, because Adam and I traveled a bunch towards the end of 2016 and that ran up our credit cards a bit higher than we’d like. However, with my stable editor and contributor jobs, extra income from freelance writing and some hard-ass budgeting, I am very confident we will be able to pay it all off by the time I turn 32 next year.

Health: I have to admit: At 30, I was definitely not the weight I was hoping to be. Although that didn’t stop me from taking the boudoir photos I had always wanted, it didn’t exactly make me feel good to be eating unhealthy food 80% of the time and only focusing on healthy food 20% of the time. As I wrote in my first Map Your 30s blog post, I wanted to switch those numbers and start to really focus on my health. Although I still haven’t figured out a good gym routine, I am happy to report that I now eat vegetarian or vegan about 80% of the time and have lost about 20 pounds since my 30th birthday. And I wasn’t even trying to!

Confidence: Here is where things get a little tricky… You see, “confidence” was my secret keyword for writing about recovery, which was something that I was not yet comfortable sharing with the world this time last year. I had gone into rehab in July 2015, relapsed in April 2016 (yes, a month after turning 30) and finally confessed to my journey last September, the same month that I celebrated my half-birthday. I also wanted to talk about mental health in this space, and I haven’t done much of that. But from being 30 and on the edge of a relapse to being 31 and almost a whole year sober, I am feeling pretty good and (dare I say it?) more confident than ever.

So, all in all, I would say that the 30th year of my birth was a pretty good one. I met the love of my life, started a full-time freelance writing career, moved from NYC to SW FL, set up a good budget to pay off debts, lost weight as a result of healthier eating and finally figured out life as a sober person.

It’s been quite a rollercoaster and, although I haven’t written about it as much as I initially thought, it’s been a good check-in for myself to see how I have been doing on the bigger life goals.

Here’s the thing though: Although in my head, I kind of want to do more of Map Your 30s, in my heart I know that this is totally unrealistic. The truth is that I have other writing goals right now and no time to focus on this. Beyond that, I want to do something different with my personal writing… and I haven’t quite figured out yet. But I’ll definitely let you know once I do.

However, that’s doesn’t mean that Map Your 30s is totally dead. What it means is that it’s on the back burner and possibly something I just check in with once a year or so. I’m not sure yet, to be honest, but what I do know is that I was right all along: Turning 30 doesn’t mean the end of your life and it doesn’t mean that you have to have everything figured out by then.

If I’ve learned anything over and over in the past year, it’s that life changes and evolves in ways that we imagine, ways that we plan for, ways that we expect… and so many more ways that were definitely not the plan, not what we expected, and not what we could have imagined.

Would I have imagined this time last year that I would be a full-time freelance writer and editor, living with an amazing partner, in Southwest Florida of all places? Absolutely not! But this has brought new adventure, excitement, stability, love, career advances and so much more to my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

And I wouldn’t trade turning 30 for anything either. Or 31, for that matter.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Introducing Moscow Chica – now a blog, book and newsletter [#yearofwriting]

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

As you’ve probably noticed right above this sentence, there is something new in my life – and that is that my in-the-works memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Russian and Cuban Made Me an American, is now also being joined by a brand-new Medium blog (or publication, as they call it) and a newsletter… all basically in service of my writing about multiculturalism, Russia, Cuba, being American today, immigrant issues and rights, and more.

Here’s the thing I realized recently: Writing a memoir takes TIME. So very much time! One of the commitments I made to myself during this #yearofwriting is that I was going to be doing #52essays2017, all of which are in service of my memoir and writing about how my immigrant and multicultural upbringing has affected my American life.

And it’s really exciting to write about all of that but, to be honest, with everything going on in the world right now with President Cheeto (I’m sorry, I just can’t say his name) and the Muslim travel ban in the first few days of his being in office… and everything that has happened since with immigrant issues and rights (including the recent raids which our so-called leader is calling “a military operation”), I feel the need to do more.

And so I started the Medium publication, Moscow Chica: Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American. In fact, my very first post was about the “A Day Without Immigrants” protest and how I personally am choosing to honor it (hint: it has to do with the new blog!).

What’s coming up on the Medium publication/blog will be primarily topics and issues surrounding immigrant rights today and multiculturalism in general. I will also be sharing things I have published in the past and some of my writing that is being published elsewhere (all related to immigration, being Russian/Cuban/American and growing up or being multicultural).

And, of course, I will be continuing the #52essays2017 challenge (which is, as you already know, about the memoir and my past) and how all of that relates to my upbringing as an immigrant in a multicultural household. These posts will also now live on Medium, since I want to talk about all of the things that relate to being “Half-Russian, Half-Cuban, All-American”.

Meanwhile, the newsletter is primarily a vehicle for me to be able to easily share updates with those that are interested in the things I am writing about. So if you’re curious about memoir writing as a topic, multiculturalism and/or immigration rights (or if you’re just a big fan of me, haha), then you should definitely subscribe.

At the end of the day, though, this isn’t just about me or my work (though I hope you like what I have to say) but about what’s going on in the U.S. today.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re in a bit of a dumpster fire at the moment. Just this week alone, things haven’t been good for immigrants (duh), Native peoples or trans kids. And that really hurts me deep down because I love America. Or at least I used to.

These days, to be honest, I struggle with my (former?) pride in the country my family decided to make our home and my disgust at what is happening today. But I firmly believe that it’s in the power of the people to create change. And as a writer and journalist, my power lies in my words.

As I look to create more dialogue surrounding multiculturalism and immigrant rights, I will also be seeking out and sharing the stories of others. After all, the only way to fully form a resistance is to use our voices (while we can) and continue to speak out against injustices.

At least, that’s my plan for the next four years… and 40 years, too.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

The lesson I learned about myself on my first Valentine’s Day with a partner

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone. 

It’s a very specific, sort-of-made-up holiday that tends to favor those in love and fans of cheesy gestures of affection. 

I have never in my life been one of those people. Sure, I was a self-admitted hopeless romantic but I usually kept my romanticism where it belonged: cheesy boy-meets-girl rom-coms. I’m not someone who has been counting down the days until a cute boy puts a ring on it with a secret wedding planner scrapbook under my bed since I was 16, nor did I want to be. Which is why it might seem fitting to say that Valentine’s Day was just never my holiday. 

I don’t remember getting a single card when I was younger and I honestly couldn’t tell you what my young adult (and very single) self thought of the holiday. 

I didn’t have a boyfriend until just before my 22nd birthday and, as luck would have it, he was a fellow Valentine’s Day hater. Although for him it largely stemmed from the fact that it was also his birthday, I only mildly minded that we didn’t celebrate the occasion during our two years together. My only other serious relationship afterwards didn’t fare much better. Although not a VDay hater, my then-boyfriend was going to be out of the country. Oh well! Although we did have a small celebration beforehand, it seemed that my destiny was clear: Valentine’s Day was just not for me.

I spent the next several years single AF, as I like to say. I dated, sure, but there was never anyone special to call my own for the five years between my last relationship and the man who has now become my life partner. 

I was never sad about it, though.

Deep down I did house some insecurities about my dating prospects and seeming inability to find love, but I brushed it aside to celebrate this holiday in different ways. I hung out with girlfriends, went out dancing, had dinner with cool married friends and even babysat one year. It was NBD, as they say. 

But this year something changed.

The obvious change in my life, of course, is that since my last Valentine’s Day I have met the person that I plan to be with for the rest of my life. I never imagined that my love life would transform into its own mini rom-com, but it did. Since meeting my now-life partner, I have learned a lot about love, relationships and life in general. 

I’ve learned about the importance of generosity in dating. I’ve learned about moving in with someone, how to unite our finances, why fighting is totally normal (and that making up afterwards really IS the best) and a million other little lessons that can only come when you suddenly become part of a couple. 

To my surprise, even my career has benefitted. Not only have I found my #1 fan (who has already done more to support me and my work than I could have previously imagined possible) but I also have a newfound courage to take more chances and seek new heights with my writing. And I know that much of this I couldn’t have done without the encouragement I receive from home. 

The one unexpected thing, however, is how my perception of Valentine’s Day has suddenly changed. 

It’s not that all of a sudden the day had meaning simply because I was in love for the first real time in my life (because, um, gross?) but it’s that out of nowhere I had expectations about this day. 

Whereas before, in my many years in bad relationships and even more years as a single gal, the day knowingly meant very little, now it had some kind of *meaning*. But what, exactly? 

I’m not proud to admit that I spent the better part of the week before Vday worrying that my boyfriend wouldn’t get me flowers, something which is particularly important to people from a culturally Russian background such as myself, and subsequently feeling ridiculously silly for putting such expectations on him. 

We had talked before that I wasn’t that into this fake-ish holiday, and I was relieved to find out he wasn’t either. But as the day approached, deep down that hopeless romantic I always knew I was started to come into my real life. She wanted to be surprised. She wanted to be wooed. And she wanted it NOW. It was hard to keep her at bay as I argued within myself whether or not I actually wanted to bring any of this up with Adam. Do I tell him now that maybe my opinion of Valentine’s Day had changed just a little, or do I keep silent and risk being disappointed when the day actually came? 

Eventually, I chose to open up.

After all, one of the major strengths of our relationship up until this point was our ability to be totally honest with one another. As cheesy as it sounds, we were totally one of those couples who *told each other everything* and quite proud of it, actually. 

But I was still afraid he’d judge me for my change of heart. On the one hand, I was a rational woman who knew that a single day in the year does not make or break how devoted he is to me and that being pressured into showing that devotion simply, well, CAUSE was silly. Yet on the other hand, I wanted to feel *special* in a way I never had before. 

When I actually brought the subject up, however, he pretended to have a mini argument with me about why this was so important. It wasn’t until days later that I realized he had pulled the wool over my eyes in order to actually be able to surprise me with a lovely dinner and the roses I’d always wanted. 

I was thrilled to celebrate the day with him, and a bit early to boot, in a way I had never been able to do in the past. 

In the end, I realized that it’s not that the day itself became more significant because I was now part of a societally acceptable pairing that would be welcome at any restaurant in town. The truth is that stressing about Valentine’s Day plans – and subsequently being surprised anyway – helped me to understand just how much outward opinions of this day had come up to confront me this year. 

And maybe I’m still understanding the bits and pieces that make me who I am, and certainly all of the parts that make me who I am in my relationship. Thankfully, the lessons I learned this year are ones that I can take with me for years to come. 

Sure, those lessons include that I secretly want to do *something* a little more special than usual on this day… but then again, hadn’t I always done something special with people that I cared about? I’m just lucky that now that list of people includes someone who also happens to be the kindest, sweetest, most generous and incredible person I’ve ever met. 

That’s certainly something to celebrate, isn’t it?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

January 2017 Writer’s Life: Published pieces, money talk, pitches & more [#yearofwriting]

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my personal blog, The Cookie Dough LifeThank you!

At the start of the year, I wrote about the 7 fearless things I am doing for my career in 2017 and exactly why I am signing up for the #52essays2017 challenge. I also committed to making 2017 my #yearofwriting… my theme for the year, if you will.

I’ve had a few small successes here and there: Mainly that I am now officially a contributor at Mom.me (yay!) and am getting serious about working on my memoir, Moscow Chica: How Growing Up Cuban and Russian Made Me an American.

But I also wanted to talk about what a writer’s life is really like… Mainly, I wanted to talk about the solid numbers.

So here’s the deal: Starting this month, I am going to get real and tell the truth about how my freelancing has gone this month. I’ll talk about what went well, what didn’t and what it all meant. So here goes!

What was published: 

Some of these pieces were written before this month, and some were written more recently. Obviously, all of my Mom.me work is news stories and the repeal of “wet foot, dry foot” was recent too. But all in all, I also wanted to show what freelancing I did. Other than my part-time food editor job at Brit.co, here are the solid numbers:

How much I wrote: 16,475 words

How much I made: $1725*

*I am including two pieces that were accepted on spec (meaning that the editor wanted to see a full draft before they could finally say “yes”) that have been submitted but I haven’t officially heard back on. Also: This ONLY includes my freelance writing income.

Besides that, there’s also pitching… It’s what us writer have to do in order to write, yes? This month has been by FAR my most successful month of pitching and reaching out to new editors. To be honest, in 2016 I was feeling pretty cushy with my PT food editor gig and my contributing writer roles, and never looked to expand my resume.

Well, one of the things that I am doing for my writing career in 2017 is that I hired a writing coach. Her name is Mridu Khullar Relph and she runs TheInternationalFreelancer.com, and is basically FANTASTIC. The truth is that I needed a big kick to get my career to the next level, which is precisely why I hired her. It’s gone incredibly well so far! Here’s all of the numbers:

Pitches sent out in January: 27
Pitch rejections: 9
Pitch non-replies: 12
Pitch acceptances: 4
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

Follow-ups with previous pitches: 5
Pitch rejections: 1
Pitch non-replies: 1
Pitch acceptances: 1
Pitch acceptances on spec: 2

I admit: The 27 pitches isn’t an exact number, primarily because one pitch went out on 6 simultaneous submissions and a couple of editors received more than one pitch from me in one email. But that’s basically it.

To be honest, considering that this is the FIRST month of my #yearofwriting and also the first year that I have been seriously going out there and pitching editors, I am feeling pretty good.

The one lesson I learned, for sure, is that there comes a time when you just have to get out there and do it. And I’m happy that I’m finally doing that!

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

What I learned about Latinos (and myself) when I moved out of Florida

Note: This is 3 of 3 essays that was written for and published on The Flama last year. However, the site has since shut down (mostly) and my essay has disappeared… But the internet gods allowed me to find it in its entirety, so I am re-posting it here since a) it was fun to write & b) I live in Florida again and it’s… well, different. Enjoy!

I was 17 years old when I first made real friends with another person of Hispanic heritage, and in my early 20s when I made friends with another Latina.

That might come as a surprise, but the truth is that it took me a really long time to realize that not all Latinos share everything in common. An embarrassingly long time, actually.

My family moved to Miami, Florida, when I was just eight years old. I didn’t know much about the world, but like all kids what I knew came directly from my parents. Living in Little Havana, and later in Southwest Florida, the only Latinos I got to know were the other Cubans that were friends with my parents.

If you came to my house growing up, you’d probably find me snacking on guayaba y queso crema on crackers, helping my mom clean while Celia Cruz played in the background or yelling at the top of my lungs for my little brother to come over.

“I’m not yelling, I’m just Cuban!” was the motto of the house, and one that I had to gently explain to any friends that came over for dinner. No, really, we can’t talk any quieter. Sorry.

But for all of the things I loved about my family and culture, I never quite connected to other Cubans on a deeper level. Sure, we all enjoyed La Caja China for Christmas and cortaditos are a way of life, but the Cubans I knew were mostly papi’s friends and they, like my dad, were a bit machista. And Republican. And I didn’t understand why.

In my young experience, I was the only Cubanita I knew that was a proud Democrat who didn’t really love coffee (shhhhhhh!) and had a pretty huge aversion to the subtle racism and sexism spouted by some of the people who surrounded me. Somehow, I began to associate those traits with all Latinos.

It wasn’t until I met the whitest Cuban I’ll ever know, and the guy who quickly became by gay BFF, senior year of high school that I started to suspect I wasn’t the only one.

The next year, I moved to New York City for school… and things quickly started to change.

I started to meet other kinds of Latinos. Latinos who spoke Portuguese (thank you, Brazil!) and who didn’t have a Virgen de Cardidad del Cobre statue in their home. Latinos who loved spicy food and introduced me to tacos. Latinos who were second or third generation and those whose Spanish sounds a little different from my own. Seriously, what’s with this órale business?

In New York, I was able to meet Latinos who were fellow feminists, who introduced me to bachata and who argued with me about why tequila is superior to rum (as if!). Slowly but surely, I learned the differences between mangú, fufú and mofongo.

Most of all, I started to meet Latinos who were my age and who shared my open mindedness and values when it came to politics, and life in general.

It’s no surprise to me that the two Cuban presidential candidates for 2016 are Republicans, but it’s a fact that I honestly kind of hate. They remind me of the Latinos I grew up with in Florida, and not the diverse group of pro-gay rights, pro-women’s rights and pro-immigration Latinos who I am proud to call my friends today.

When I go back to Florida now, after almost twelve years of living in New York City, it feels as if I am stepping back into my youth. I’ve found new things to appreciate about the state now, like the occasional fun-filled visit to South Beach or having a truly authentic cubano sandwich that I can’t find anywhere else, but it still doesn’t feel like home. It never did.

Thankfully, some of my parent’s views on politics have changed. But my papi will never stop supporting Rubio and I’ll never stop hating his conservative politics.

Instead, I consider myself pretty darn lucky to live in a city where I can interact with all kinds of different Latinos. Some that grew up religious, and some that didn’t. Some that are a little conservative, but most that are socially liberal. In fact, Latinos tend to lean a little more to the left on issues like abortion and homosexuality – especially when they’re second or third generation. As a bisexual Latina myself, this is a pretty important distinction.

And so, while visiting Florida isn’t as much of a pain as it was when I lived there, I’m glad to have grown up in FL if only because the Latinos I met helped me to realize who I am and who I’m not. And the Latinos I’ve met since have given me a better sense of community and pride than I ever could have hoped for growing up.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my personal blog and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

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