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.

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How to set (realistic) food resolutions for 2017

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Last year, I wrote a piece for Brit+Co on easy-to-make food resolutions. As I look back at 2016 and the personal happiness it brought me and look ahead at some of my big goals for 2017, I am also remembering some of the ways I improved my health and eating habits this past year.

One of the simplest ways was becoming semi-vegetarian thanks to my boyfriend.  The other ways were following some of the food resolutions that I set forth. But here’s the trick: They weren’t about losing weight. My food resolutions were about other goals that filled me and fulfilled me in a much healthier way. (And I actually lost weight anyway.)

Last year I made the commitment to embrace eating healthy fats, to sneak in more veggies and fruits, to not be afraid to cook new foods, to get better at planning my meals, to start my mornings without sugar and to make food more fun, period.

Here’s how I did:

1. Embrace Eating Healthy Fats: When I embraced eating mostly vegetarian, I also started  to have more olive oil, avocado and (occasionally) salmon. This was surprisingly easy!

2. Sneak in More Veggies (+ Fruits): Of course, it was easy to sneak in more fruits and veggies once I started really focusing on the whole vegetarian thing too. I started also freezing fruit that started to go bad (we’re all guilty of letting things stay in the fridge a bit too long, aren’t we?), then adding it to smoothies later on.

3. Don’t Be Afraid to Cook New Food: I’ve started to take on new challenges with my cooking. Primarily, I started to occasionally use Blue Apron or Hello Fresh to introduce me to new foods and cooking methods. I also started using my slow cooker a whole lot more, and that is continuing to introduce me to new flavors every week.

4. Get Better at Planning Your Meals: Well, as I mentioned above, using the slow cooker has been WONDERFUL for my cooking. Not only is it easy but it’s also allowing me to prep lunch ahead of time. I now spend most of my Sunday cooking ahead for the week, and kinda loving it honestly.

5. Start Your Mornings Without Sugar: With the exception of still having a little bit of sugar in my morning cup of Earl Grey, I have done pretty well on this resolution too. I’ve had no cereal, I’ve had no honey in my yogurt and I’ve mostly stayed away from pancakes and the subsequent syrup that comes with them. Of course, brunch on the weekends is another story…

6. Make Food More Fun, Period: I’m still struggling with this one sometimes to be honest, but I’ve found that adding spices to my meals has dramatically helped with this. I definitely still have some room to grow here, in particular with experimenting a bit more, but I’m in a pretty good place anyway.

The thing about these food resolutions is that they weren’t really resolutions at all. Instead, they were goals and ideas on how to eat healthier and make my meals better. They allowed me to grow in my eating habits and to do better for my body.

I would say that these “resolutions” were SO successful that these days I am feeling great. As a bonus, going mostly vegetarian (as in, I have meat or fish maybe 2-3 times a week max) has also stabilized my weight. These resolutions were so easy to follow, in fact, that I’m easily keeping up with them this year too. And why? Because they were realistic… AND they were kind of fun, really.

So what’s better than an easy-to-follow plan to eat healthier? Nothing, I think.

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2016 was an exceptionally happy year for me (and I’m not afraid to admit it)

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We’ve all been saying it all damn year, haven’t we? 2016 IS THE WORST.

I know that I’ve definitely been guilty of this sentiment, and it wasn’t really just because of the election (although that contributed to my year-end complaints). But in the past few days, I realized just how much we’ve all been doing it lately…

Look, I get it. This year has kicked us all (figuratively) in the balls. Between the celebs that died throughout the year and especially around Christmas/Hanukkah, it’s been tough. The election was, well, pretty awful for those of us who care about other people and maintaining our rights. And that’s not even to mention Aleppo and Brexit and… ugh, I can’t go on. This year has been the WORST, right?

Or has it?

The truth is that 2016 is not killing people, but people die because of complicated things like a history of drug and alcohol abuse. That’s not the only reason why so many of our fave celebs passed away this year, but that’s certainly a theory that makes sense too.

Then there’s just the general thinking that… Hey, if we call 2016 the worst, then what about all of the bad years that came before it or the bad years that are still to come? (Ya know, with President Trump actually possibly accomplishing some of the vile things he said he planned to do during his campaign.)

Here’s an idea: Let’s all stop calling 2016 “the worst” ASAP.

The truth is that a lot of bad things happened this year. I’m not going to deny that. But a lot of bad things happen every year. When we put all of our blame on a year for doing bad things to us, then we’re taking away our choice – our choice to do something about it, our choice to see the positives, our choice to move on with something more than just feelings of anger.

So I’m done. I know it’s the last day of the year, but I am not going to look back at this year and talk about how it was “the worst” because, especially for me personally, it simply wasn’t.

In a nutshell, two major things happened to me this year that have actually made 2016 my happiest year yet:

1. After 12 years, I moved out of New York City and started a full-time freelance writing career that’s actually been going really well.

2. I met Adam, who turned out to not only be the most generous and loving person I’ve ever met but also an incredibly supportive life partner.

In fact, the first decision actually led to the second. I had been dealing with some recovery issues in NYC and simply no longer felt all that happy there. Plus I was turning 30 and needed to do something different in my life. By circumstance (not all under my control), the best thing for me was to move back home to Florida for a while.

I decided that I would do this for six months to a year, and that this would be my time to figure out what my next steps were and what I wanted to do for my career. It turned out that going all-in on my freelance writing was the right move, and I love where that part of my life is now.

Of course, when I moved to FL, I didn’t think that my personal life would go anywhere. I had been single for many, many years… And although I was sick of that life, I also thought: Who the F am I gonna meet down here?

Well, you know what they say: Life is what happens when you’re making other plans. In comes Adam…

Here’s the story that I tell friends when they ask how we met:

I moved out of NYC after 12 years on a Friday and, needing to find something to do and feeling like I was ready to “get back out there” after a 5-month dating break, turned my favorite dating apps back on the following Tuesday (meaning OKCupid, Tinder and Bumble).

Meanwhile, Adam had finally signed up for online dating after an even longer break when his last relationship ended… And so there we were, both finally “ready” for something real. We started talking on Bumble that Wednesday morning. By the next Saturday (exactly a week and a day after I moved to Florida), we had our first date. It lasted four hours, and only ended because I had a family obligation.

The next week, I cancelled another date in order to have a second date with Adam… and the rest is history. I never went on a date with anybody else. Neither did he. And we moved in a month and a half later.

Not only has my career and my new relationship made me really happy this year, but I learned a lot about myself throughout 2016 too. I’ve also met some great new people (mainly, my boyfriend’s family, and also many other writers who I now call friends) and I learned how to accept love.

Before this year, I never truly knew how to be kind to myself (my NYC therapist’s parting words to me). I still have trouble with that, to be honest. But Adam reminds me every day that I am worthy of love.

Although I’ve had a few relationships, even a two-year one where my ex lived with me, I never truly knew that I was worthy of love. In fact, I had never heard anyone say the words “I love you” to me. Sure, I mean, family and friends… but never anyone who truly loved me in every way that a person deserves to be loved. Until Adam.

He taught me how to accept love and that I deserve it. He continues to teach me that every day and, the more I am with him, the more that I realize that he is truly the love of my life.

I know how cliche that sounds. I know that it’s a funny and kind of ridiculous statement to be saying at 30 years of age. And yet… I’ve had boyfriends and I’ve had countless dates in the past 14 years of my life. But I’ve never had love. And now I do.

So when I look back at 2016, I can still recognize all of the bad things that happened this year. This year, though, is about more than that. This is the year that I fell in love for the first real time of my life. This is the year that I truly found what I want to do with the rest of my life. And this is the year that I learned what it takes to be my best self (even if I’m not totally there yet).

To be honest, I don’t know what 2017 will bring. But I have plans! Plans for my career and plans with my love. If 2016 taught me anything, it’s that a year isn’t to blame for bad things and it’s not really to blame for the good things either.

My year was great because I made it great. Because I learned what I wanted and went after it and accepted the things that came to me unexpectedly too. 2017 will hopefully be more of the same.

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Here is the full story of my 100+ pound weight loss (plus some resources)

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promI was always a chubby kid. I remember wearing shorts in 5th grade and hating the way my thighs looked. I lost 20 pounds in the beginning of high school by experimenting with diet pills, not eating breakfast and only having a 20 ounce bottle of Wild Cherry Pepsi for lunch (yes, really!). But I was never happy with myself. At 5’2″ and 150lbs, I was still not within my normal BMI weight range. It wasn’t long until I started to regain the weight and was a bit over 200lbs by senior year. In February, my parents paid me to quit my sedentary after-school job and go to the gym instead. I got down to 190lbs by graduation.

beforeWW

But a summer traveling through Europe and then sitting at home with nothing to do soon got my weight back up. And first semester of college didn’t help any. The “Freshman 15”? It was the “Freshman 30” for me. When I joined Weight Watchers in January 2005, I was at 231.6lbs and officially at my highest weight ever. It took me two and a half years but I lost 90lbs with their program. I was down to 140lbs by the time I graduated school a year early. But going out after turning 21 and starting a full time job that summer took its toll on me. I slowly started to regain the weight and was 175lbs by the end of the year.

postWW

That New Year’s, I met somebody who loved my body for everything I didn’t. I had never had anyone appreciate me that much and it wasn’t long before I stopped paying attention to myself. I refused to cancel my Weight Watchers membership even though I never went to meetings anymore and had pretty much given up. A year later, I had regained 80 of the 90 pounds that I had spent two and a half years losing in college.

I realized for the first time that not only was I clinically obese, but I was exactly .5 points away from being classified as “morbidly obese.” I was terrified. But no matter how much I tried to lose the weight (and trust me, I did anything I could think of), it wasn’t working for me anymore. I tried diet pills again, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, exercising more and eating less, but my weight simply wouldn’t budge. My lifelong issues with emotional and compulsive eating had completely taken over my life.

Colombia

And so, in January 2009, I made the scariest and best decision I could make for myself at the time: I elected to have weight loss surgery. Per my parent’s suggestion, I traveled with my mom to see a family doctor in Barranquilla, Colombia, and had a gastric bypass.

I read a ton of books about the pro and cons of WLS and ultimately decided that it was the right choice for me. It’s not that I wanted an easy way to lose weight, it’s that I wanted a lifelong tool to help me lose and keep the weight off. Nothing else was working for me anymore, and I couldn’t stand the thought of it getting worse and my health deteriorating further.

postsurgery

A year later, I reached 120 pounds in weight (my very lowest!) though I quickly found that this number wasn’t ultimately healthy or sustainable for me. Despite losing the weight again fairly quickly, one thing I took away from this experience is that weight loss surgery, like Weight Watchers, is just a tool to help you. In the past, I learned the hard way that the most difficult part of it all isn’t losing the excess weight but maintaining your weight loss over time.

It’s now been almost eight years since I first got my surgery and, to be honest, it can still be a daily struggle. But by cooking and eating healthier, along with regularly going to the gym (something I’m still working on), I am keeping the weight off. Currently, I am happily settled around 140 pounds. It’s a number that has proven sustainable and, although it took a while for me to accept, I’m now (mostly) happy with my body.

I hope that by sharing my weight loss story, healthy eating adventures and everything else in between — mainly on this blog, in the articles below and in an upcoming book — I will continue to keep the weight off as well as inspire others on their own weight loss journey.

Resources & Articles I’ve Written

Disclaimer: I am not medically capable of giving anyone advice about their own weight loss journey. If you are interested in hearing more about my own personal experience or have questions about what a gastric bypass is like and how it’s affected my life, please feel free to e-mail me here. But do not take anything I say as the word of a medical professional. Please consult with your doctor about any serious thoughts you have about weight loss surgery.

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 one thing people forget to tell you when you grow out your hair

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Confession: I’ve been trying to grow out my hair for almost as long as I have been an adult.

It’s been a long journey, mostly marred by me also having a fondness for changing my hair color constantly. In college, I went from short and red to chocolate brown and back to red and got a perm and chopped it off and grew out my natural hair color.

Then I dyed it blonde, then back to red and brown and cut it again. Every time I would try to grow out my natural hair color, I would get to a point that I got bored and wanted to dye it again. Then sometimes I dyed it red, and wanted to go back to brown. And yet other times I would plead with myself to just CALM DOWN and keep growing it out.

In just the past five years, I’ve had super short and very blonde hair, shoulder length red hair, medium almost black hair and everything in between. I had bangs and pink peekaboo streaks and even did the Brazilian keratin treatment. Changing my hair became a Christmas tradition, and it was rare for me to keep the same hairstyle for more than a few months at a time.

But two Christmases ago, I decided to stop playing around and FINALLY grow my hair beyond the longish medium that I seemed to always stop at. It has been my dream for more years than I can count to have waist-length hair. But every single time I tried to grow it out, my hair would grow out to just a couple inches below my shoulder and… I would get bored yet again.

I’d cut it or dye it or, let’s face it, both. And then I would be pretty happy with my new shorter hair, and go back to dyeing it over and over again. It would be another couple of years, and then I would be back to square one and wanting some long hair again… So what now?

I decided to *finally* grow out my hair and not stop until it gets to the point that I have always wanted it. The last time I had truly long hair was as a freshman in high school, and that is many more years ago than I’d care to count. Okay, like exactly 15 years ago…

These days it seems to be going well.

The big change in my plan came when, the Christmas after I started to grow out my natural color, I decided to get ombre hair. But it was cute and I loved it. Then last summer, exactly a year ago and eight months after my ombre hair, I went back to red hair.

Somehow, and I do not know how, I found a boxed hair dye that was a really gorgeous and natural-looking hair color. I’ve done a lot of different hair colors over the years, in many different shades of brown and even more shades of red, but this was by FAR my favorite.

So here I am, growing out my hair, and I can honestly say that it’s officially reached my bikini line – and officially the longest it’s been in 15 years. WOO HOO!

But there’s one very major thing that I seem to have forgotten in all of my crazy adventures of cutting and dyeing and cutting some more… Long hair is a PAIN.

The one thing that nobody has mentioned to me ever since I got it into my head to grow my hair long is that it can be really annoying to have.

Since I’m currently living in Florida, and it’s the middle of August, the long hair sometimes adds to my daily stress. It makes the back of my neck sweaty and it frizzes like crazy at the sign of rain. Which, if you’ve ever been to Florida in the summer, is basically every day.

But much worse than that is sleep.

The long hair, while it looks cute and all, is an absolute NIGHTMARE when I try to go to sleep. It gets tangled on my boyfriend’s arm as we try to cuddle, it sticks to the back of my neck, and if I try to shift – forget it!

Falling asleep with long hair is basically the worst hair issue I’ve experienced ever since I became Crazy Hair Change Lady.

I’ve been priding myself for many years because I am brave when it comes to changing up my hair, but it seems that the biggest change – and the one I’ve been really wanting – is going to be tougher than I imagined.

So what’s my solution?

A couple nights ago, I decided to start sleeping with my hair in a braid. I don’t know how this solution came to my head but, well, I just knew I needed to do SOMETHING before I went all crazy and chopped it all off again.

I’ve been there and done that for the last decade and a half, and it was time to write a different kind of hair story.

Now, just before getting to bed, and just before I remove my contacts for the night, I grab my hair tie and put my hair in a braid. It looks kind of funny, and I honestly feel kind of silly, but it’s also been working.

When I turn over in bed, no longer is my hair getting snagged under my arm or getting in Adam’s face or, UGH, sticking into my mouth. The night braid has been working really well, even if I look weird at the end of the day.

But then I wake up, feeling rested and pretty good. My neck isn’t itchy, my head doesn’t hurt because I pulled out a few pieces of hair in the middle of the night, plus I can just take it all out and start the day new again.

I never imagined that growing out my hair would actually be this much of a pain, but I’m excited to find at least one solution to one long hair problem.

I know that this isn’t going to be the only problem I face, but for now I’m excited to keep going. For the past year, I’ve had hair that’s a shade of red that I’m absolutely in love with and hair that’s past my shoulders. So far, even when I’ve had the desire to cut it again, I’ve been able to hold off.

Let’s hope I can make the same claim this time next year.

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