Booking It Forward

In my opinion reading and holidays go together like peas and carrots. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading all the time–vacation or not–but it brings me a special brand of guilt-free joy while on holidays, because I don’t feel torn that I should be doing something else instead of spending time engrossed in a book. Reading on holidays really is the perfect marriage. Give me a poolside lounge chair, a bottle of sunscreen, bottle of water, and a good book and I’ll be content for hours and hours.

One of the books I brought with me to Maui is The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney. Funny story: I’ve actually had the book for a while, as I purchased it in November prior to our fall break vacation. I carted it with me all the way to Aruba and back without even cracking the spine. And between the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the routine obligations of everyday life, and all the other books I’ve had on the go, I hadn’t found the time to read it until our holiday this past week in Maui.

TheNest

Just to be clear, this post is neither to review nor endorse The Nest. Rather, it is to share an idea that I was divinely presented as I reflected on one of the book’s more subtle themes. Although understated and slow to unravel, the theme resonated with me deeply, building to a dramatic crescendo as multiple plot lines converged upon each other in its concluding pages. The theme to which I am referring is the universality and interconnectedness of life that we see both in fiction and reality. In stories and in real life, these connections are what bring us pleasure and pain; they form the basis of our experience here on earth, and are the essence of our shared humanity.

So, as I mentioned, a seed was planted when I thought how nice it would be to finish the book and leave it behind, at first just thinking of lightening my carry-on load, even if just a little… I could simply leave the book on a lounge chair by the pool, or as a welcome gift in our rented condo unit for the next set of vacationers who would be staying there. And then, just as quickly as the first thought danced across my consciousness, my mind took a sharp turn in a different direction.

Circling around the notion of how many miles this book had already traveled (by air, over both land and sea), starting its journey from my home in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada to Aruba and back; and then to Maui, Hawaii, I began to entertain how I could share my love of reading and travel, together. The formless idea began to solidify and take shape, details and logistics rattling back and forth like a pinball inside my head.

So I’ve decided to leave the book at the Kahului International Airport (OGG) in Maui with a message inside its cover. I am going to Book It Forward! Just like paying it forward, but with a book.

My hope is that a fellow book lover and traveler will find it in the airport and picks it up, perhaps even to read en route to his or her next destination. And when that person is finished reading, that he or she will pass the book along to another traveling reader? And so on, and so on, each successive traveling reader following suit by booking it forward.

How awesome is it to think about all the places this book may go, and all the people who might read this copy? I am giddy and filled will the hopefulness of a child at the prospect of setting this book free into the world—my very own message in a bottle.

If, by the grace of the universe, my copy of The Nest has made it into your hands, please leave a comment below!

Update: my husband and daughter didn’t think it was sufficient to simply leave the book on an airport bench, so they took the matter into their own hands. Last night before boarding our flight, they handed the book off to a young woman. All I know is she had just landed in Maui via Seattle. The wheels have been set in motion and this Booking It Forward adventure has officially begun…

Booking It Forward

In my opinion reading and holidays go together like peas and carrots. Don’t get me wrong, I love reading all the time–vacation or not–but it brings me a special brand of guilt-free joy while on holidays, because I don’t feel torn that I should be doing something else instead of spending time engrossed in a book. Reading on holidays really is the perfect marriage. Give me a poolside lounge chair, a bottle of sunscreen, bottle of water, and a good book and I’ll be content for hours and hours.

One of the books I brought with me to Maui is The Nest by Cynthia D’aprix Sweeney. Funny story: I’ve actually had the book for a while, as I purchased it in November prior to our fall break vacation. I carted it with me all the way to Aruba and back without even cracking the spine. And between the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, the routine obligations of everyday life, and all the other books I’ve had on the go, I hadn’t found the time to read it until our holiday this past week in Maui.

TheNest

Just to be clear, this post is neither to review nor endorse The Nest. Rather, it is to share an idea that I was divinely presented as I reflected on one of the book’s more subtle themes. Although understated and slow to unravel, the theme resonated with me deeply, building to a dramatic crescendo as multiple plot lines converged upon each other in its concluding pages. The theme to which I am referring is the universality and interconnectedness of life that we see both in fiction and reality. In stories and in real life, these connections are what bring us pleasure and pain; they form the basis of our experience here on earth, and are the essence of our shared humanity.

So, as I mentioned, a seed was planted when I thought how nice it would be to finish the book and leave it behind, at first just thinking of lightening my carry-on load, even if just a little… I could simply leave the book on a lounge chair by the pool, or as a welcome gift in our rented condo unit for the next set of vacationers who would be staying there. And then, just as quickly as the first thought danced across my consciousness, my mind took a sharp turn in a different direction.

Circling around the notion of how many miles this book had already traveled (by air, over both land and sea), starting its journey from my home in Sherwood Park, Alberta, Canada to Aruba and back; and then to Maui, Hawaii, I began to entertain how I could share my love of reading and travel, together. The formless idea began to solidify and take shape, details and logistics rattling back and forth like a pinball inside my head.

So I’ve decided to leave the book at the Kahului International Airport (OGG) in Maui with a message inside its cover. I am going to Book It Forward! The equivalent of paying it forward with a book. It is just that simple.

My hope is that a fellow book lover and traveler will find it in the airport and picks it up, perhaps even to read en route to his or her next destination. And when that person is finished reading, that he or she will pass the book along to another traveling reader? And so on, and so on, each successive traveling reader following suit by booking it forward.

How awesome is it to think about all the places this book may go, and all the people who might read this copy? I am giddy and filled will the hopefulness of a child at the prospect of setting this book free into the world—my very own message in a bottle.

If, by the grace of the universe, my copy of The Nest has  made it into your hands, please leave a comment below!

Update: my husband and daughter didn’t think it was sufficient to simply leave the book on an airport bench. Instead, they took the matter into their own hands. Last night before boarding our flight, they handed the book off to a young woman. All I know is she had just landed in Maui via Seattle. The wheels have been set in motion and the Booking It Forward adventure has officially begun…

Remembering: A Love Letter to Ko Olina

I’ve been blessed to visit Ko Olina on the island of Oahu with my family a number of times, although there is some debate among us as to whether this year was our fifth or sixth trip. Regardless, our series of tropical vacations to this idyllic Polynesian paradise have not only offered me considerable time for relaxation and introspection, but also given me so much for which to be grateful. And you may be surprised to learn my gratitude extends well beyond the predictability of the precious memories I’ve created with my family.

Still, saying goodbye this time is a touch bittersweet when I think of all the fun we’ve had together on Oahu. Visiting the Dole Plantation, North Shore, Pearl Harbour, a few too many trips Leonard’s Bakery, Waimea Valley, snorkeling, stand up paddle boarding, and countless hours of fun in the sun are definitely among the highlights.

Although it is difficult to capture in words the depth of what Ko Olina means to me, it’s nonetheless important that I try to do so because this place of joy has effectively changed me. It is the birthplace of my spiritual awakening, and I can honestly say I don’t think I would be where I am today without having experienced the elixir of its inexplicable charm and intoxicating beauty.

koolina

I’m not too sure exactly why it is or how it happened, but Ko Olina has woven some strange and powerful magic over me. Whether it’s the extreme relaxation it induces, the salty ocean air, being close to nature, the immersion in the Spirit of Aloha, or some combination of all of these, it’s nothing short of amazing how this place has opened my eyes to a world of possibility and led me to a deeper connection with my true self.

For anyone who may not be familiar (and even I had to look it up to be sure my understanding was correct), aloha is commonly used as both a greeting and a farewell throughout the Hawaiian islands. The word itself is difficult to translate, though, as it encompasses many different meanings ranging from love to a friendly attitude of acceptance toward all things. The definition of The Spirit of Aloha that really resonates for me is: To consciously manifest life joyously (or the joyful sharing of life energy) in the present.

It seems more synchronicity than coincidence to me that I’ve been working on being more conscious and aware, more joyful, and more focused on the present moment for each of the years we’ve been coming. As a result, I’ve softened in my natural state of being, yet I am more bold in my dreams and actions. My compassion for others has grown and my heart is more open.

Our trip in 2013 is particularly memorable, as it served as the punctuation mark (a semicolon) between leaving a job I had been in for 12 years and starting a new one. Then, by some further divine guidance during our trip in 2014, I began to hear my heart whispering that I needed to leave my corporate job if I wasn’t happy there. Not long after returning home I gave notice, and the time since has continued to be about listening and heeding my inner wisdom.

I’ve written before about the ensuing process, which has entailed digging deep to learn about myself, excavating limiting beliefs, and remembering the many enduring universal truths my soul always knew. Again, I owe Ko Olina a huge debt of gratitude for showing me the way forward and setting me on this path of self-discovery. At the very least, you could say she lulled me into a position of surrender, allowing my truth to bubble up to the surface and helping me find the courage to break free from my fears. It’s really incredible how, progressively along with each visit, this place of joy has amplified my intuitive voice and encouraged me to peel back the layers to reveal the more authentic version of myself.

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In her infinite wisdom, this year Ko Olina gently suggested that the big wide world is calling. With her blessing of loving reassurance, she signaled to me that the time has come for us to expand our horizons by changing up our Spring Break travel plans.

And with that I give thanks to this place of joy for the grace she has shown and all the many gifts she has bestowed upon me over the years. For it is here, right beside the vast blue Pacific, trade winds blowing and sun smiling down on me, that I found a magical place where my remembering and my light intersected.

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From this trip I am most grateful for:

  • Reading Conversations With God by Neale Donald Walsh, as it helped me to remember the energetic nature of our world, the remarkable power of thought, the importance of gratitude, and while I do not consider myself religious, that I am free to engage in meaningful dialogue with my Creator whenever I choose.
  • Two weeks of morning meditation and moving toward the light. In these moments of silence and stillness, I remembered I am not my mind.
  • Among a slew of scantily clad strangers lounging poolside and playing in the ocean, I remembered I am not my body.
  • Amid the lush vegetation of the Waimea Valley, I remembered my spirit is most at home in nature.
  • New friends, the kindness of strangers, and all the other signs that helped me remember love will always find me if my heart is open.
  • The realization that, when I set aside labels and judgments, I am free to remember the truth of who I am.

I remember I am (So’ham = I am that):

Expanding awareness.
Infinite potential.
Pure love and light.

I am not the same person I was when I first visited Ko Olina, and for this I extend my heartfelt gratitude to her for helping me remember.

Aloha & Mahalo,
Andrea

“Each soul is a Master—though some do not remember their origins or their heritages. Yet each creates the situation and the circumstances for its own highest purpose and its own quickest remembering—in each moment called now.”
Neale Donald Walsh
Conversations with God

P.S. If you’re searching for your true self, I encourage you to get quiet so you can hear what your heart might tell you. You may even want to try the So’ham meditation technique. Instructions can be found in this article on the Yoga International website.

The Summer I Changed My Mind

A funny thing happened on the way to (and from) summer vacation—I changed my mind. I am well aware of how odd this probably sounds, but I think all should become clear if you just keep reading.

I could have chosen to write this post about the misfortunes and mishaps along the way. In fact, I probably could have dedicated multiple posts to how our original accommodation plans didn’t work out and we had to adapt on the fly (twice); how, we were already passed Banff when we learned we’d left the city without any way for my parents to get into our house to let the dog out and therefore had to call a locksmith to come break in; how, in all our moving about from one place to the next we misplaced several articles of clothing and other personal items; or finally, how I got sick with a nasty cold that has lingered for weeks.

But instead of focusing on the perceived bad stuff, I’m choosing a different path. Rather than staying bogged down in my own stories and negative soundtrack, I am making a conscious decision to focus instead on the true gems—those rare and precious moments that could have easily been overlooked and gone untold. I’m excited to share the following five stories from my summer vacation because, after some time and reflection, I honestly believe that these are the stories worth telling.

1. The drive. It’s been many years since I completed the drive from Alberta to B.C. through the mountains and Rogers Pass, and I couldn’t help but marvel at the glorious wonder of it all. I mean come on…the winding roads literally cut into the base of solid rock, surrounded on either side by 200-foot tree walls. The layers of variegated green foliage covering the mountain faces, with only pieces of jagged rock peeking out in intermittent patches. And the crystalline mountain streams and lakes that sparkle in the sunlight. I am quite convinced that the stretch of road between Banff National Park and Mt. Revelstoke National Park offers some of the most stunning scenery on planet earth, and I can honestly say that I haven’t truly appreciated the breathtaking vistas and majestic beauty that is our country before this drive. I have a renewed appreciation for Mother Nature, in all her glory, and I hereby solemnly vow to spend more time with her on a regular basis.

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Captured this beauty shot somewhere west of Revelstoke, B.C. Love the ethereal quality of the low lying clouds and their reflection in the lake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. A day on Lake Okanagan. It’s no big secet that my husband and kids love the water. (I’ve often wondered if the three of them may have been fish in a previous life.) Early on in our trip, we rented a boat for the day and were able to enjoy a fantastic day exploring beautiful Lake Okanagan. Sharing the day with some of our BC and Alberta family made the experience that much sweeter. The kids had an absolute blast tubing, and the some of the guys gave wakeboarding a shot. While the water in the middle of the lake was pretty choppy, we found a bay where the sun was shining bright and the water was perfectly calm. We anchored our boats for lunch and stayed to play for several hours after, completely losing track of what time it was. A small rock island projecting out of the water about 10-12 feet at its highest point made the perfect platform for jumping in and provided hours of entertainment that day. With so much fun and so many memories created, our day on the water is one I don’t think any of us will soon forget.

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Climbing ‘The Rock’ and getting ready to jump in the water on the other side to cool off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. I fell in love with a tree more than three times my age. On the recommendation of friends and family, we had dinner at The Minstrel Café the one night in Kelowna that we were without our kids. We were seated outside on the patio, directly below the stunning 148-year-old London Plane tree for which the restaurant is known. I’ve never met a London Plane tree before but I can easily say this one was simply amazing; I’m talking regal, wise, all knowing, and breathtaking in its beauty. The size of its trunk a testament to the number of years it has been growing in the every spot where it was originally planted. With twisted branches sprawling out in all directions, it provides both a shady canopy for daytime patio goers and the perfect perch for the strands of white lights to twinkle like low-hanging stars above the heads of those who dine there. This tree had to be one of the most mesmerizing living creatures I’ve ever encountered, and it easily has to be the oldest. I can only imagine how much that great tree has seen in its years and the stories it would be able to tell! I wanted to caress its bark and wrap my arms around its body. If we hadn’t been in such a rush to leave for the concert and I had been dressed more appropriately for tree climbing, I most certainly would have found a way up onto one of its branches to just hang out there for a while. Although our time together was short, one thing is for sure: that London Plane Tree wove some strange magic over me and I left a piece of my heart with it that night.
Sidenote: the food at The Minstrel Café was also very good, and I would highly recommend going there if ever visiting Kelowna.

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Look way up! This was our view sitting under the magnificent London Plane tree.

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And here she is in all her glory from the other side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. The road trip as a right of passage. Aside from driving to B.C. when our daughter was only nine months old, which doesn’t count because my son wasn’t born yet and she was too young to remember, this was our first major road trip as a family. Up until now I’ve been reluctant to take vacations that required long drives because I was fearful that all the bickering and whining from the backseat might drive me mad on the way. At the same time, I think a good ol’ road trip is a right of passage that all children (and parents) must be made to endure, um I mean enjoy, at least once. But I really must say the drive went much better than I anticipated. The kids did quite well overall. Granted, we came prepared with plenty of snacks and broke up the drive into smaller stints, stopping regularly for meals, bathroom breaks, and to sleep overnight. (And it probably didn’t hurt that we just got a vehicle with a built-in entertainment system and Bluetooth wireless headsets.) Regardless of the reason, there were minimal complaints of boredom, and we only had to make one emergency pit stop for my son to hydrate the foliage at a roadside turnout. Now that’s what I call road trip success.

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Our first road trip pit stop, lunch and a bathrrom break, in Banff, AB.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5. Lessons in receptivity and being present. The ability to experience a situation by staying present, fully processing it, letting it go, and carrying on without attachment is the very definition of receptivity. This is a muscle I continue to strengthen by doing the work. And although our trip didn’t go exactly as we had planned, I can honestly say I am grateful for its gifts—the realizations it afforded me to come to and the lessons it reinforced. Through this experience, I’ve been able to see with softer eyes the soul of all things in the world around me, and the invisible connections between everything and everything else. While it has taken me some time to wrap my head around it, I’m now able to smile with each breath, knowing I am part of the magnificent web of life.

It’s interesting how the way you choose to look at a situation can dictate how you feel about it, and maybe even determine what happens next. But this is profoundly true. These five stories changed the way I viewed my entire vacation experience, reshaping and reframing it from something undesirable to somewhat of a miracle. And so I guess this may just go down in history as the summer I changed my mind—literally changed it. It’s a bold statement, I know, and there’s a great deal of unfinished work on my part, but that’s the beauty of it. From a place of awareness and presence, I get to choose my reactions to situations and how I want to engage with the world. It really is a beautiful thing, and it’s only the beginning.

New York City: An Inspirational Tale

Skating at Rockefeller Center with my honey.

Skating at Rockefeller Center with my honey.

I am completely in awe of how being in a place for just a few days can have such an impact on me. It’s tough to describe the feeling, but I left New York City feeling somehow different than when I arrived. I am at once exhausted yet energized, and even more in love with the city than I was after my last visit over 10 years ago.

For me, part of the the magic of NYC is found in its inherent contrasts: the visible extremes of rich and poor; the ever present underlying theme of struggle and triumph; and the prevalence of despair set against a backdrop of constant hope.

The people are, without a doubt, one of the city’s greatest attributes. I can’t help but marvel at their gritty determination and sheer awesomeness. It’s evident it must take a tough skin to live—and thrive—in NYC, yet most of the people we encountered didn’t seem to be too hardened by living there. Everyone we came across—from retail and hotel staff to people on the street—was friendly and helpful.

For those with a hearty appetite, one of the best things about New York is the food. The city is a mecca of multiculturalism, and nowhere is this more evident than in its culinary offerings. Some of the highlights for me were the poppy seed ‘Pick your Bagel’ with lox and house made cream cheese, thin crust pizza from Lombardi’s, and chicken eggplant rollotini with penne and fresh tomato sauce from 44SW Italian Eatery. The mussels and frites from Brasserie La Hasse were also amazing!

No trip to NYC would be complete without taking in at least one show on Broadway, and we were lucky enough to see two in our short four-day trip. The first was Rock of Ages. My husband and I actually went on a date to see the movie when it was released a few years back, so we were already familiar with the story and new it would be right up our alley. Also, it’s one of the few shows that plays on Sunday evenings and we lucked out getting half-price tickets from TKTS on the Square the day of the show. Wahoo! The plot strayed from the movie version a little, at the same time offering even more electrically charged raunchiness and hilarity. It also included a couple of unexpected songs in the second act that weren’t in the movie. All in all, Rock of Ages is a great show and tons of fun to take in.

Based on the recommendation of nearly everyone we talked to, the second show we saw was Kinky Boots. Let me just say this was the greatest show I’ve ever seen, bar none. Lola is the drag queen and central character of the story about a struggling mens’ shoe factory in England at the turn of the century. Played by Billy Porter, this performance earned him a Tony in 2013 and it’s not hard to see why, it was spot-on. With a score by Cindy Lauper, phenomenal supporting cast, and wonderful message of accepting others and being yourself, Kinky Boots was awesome!

Seeing the amazing Jimmy Fallon during the second week of his new Tonight Show format was another major highlight. I’ve always regarded Fallon as extremely talented, and getting to see his live show only served to reinforce my belief. While we were in the neighbourhood for the live taping of the show, I made my husband’s year by asking if we could go skating at Rockefeller Center. (He’s a good, hockey-loving Canadian boy, and we had never been skating together in the nearly 20 years we’ve been a couple.) Aside from the steep price tag for our two admission tickets and skate rental fees, I’m glad we had this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I had a blast, and dare I say may have even redeemed myself as an adequate skater —both in my husband’s eyes and as a good Canadian girl.

I find the history and architecture of NYC absolutely fascinating. I could literally walk around for days just gawking at buildings—admiring the architectural details, and sheer magnificence of it all. I particularly fell in love with SoHo’s quaint buildings and adorable cobblestone streets. The charm had me caught up in a daydream, losing myself in a fantasy of becoming a writer and spending countless days in coffee shops.

By far, the greatest gift of our trip to NYC is the indescribable feeling of change it sparked in me. We stayed in an adorable boutique hotel, The Muse, and the city itself is beyond amusing. I may even go as far as to say New York has been a muse for me. Irrefutably, it stirred something in me. The tiniest spark seems to have ignited a little fire in my belly, and I have the sensation of a dormant dream being awakened.

Maybe it’s the symbolism as a place where dreams are born and made. Or maybe it’s the people—so many of whom have had to overcome all kinds of adversity, and others who continue fight every single day for the chance to do what they love. I’ve noticed I now have a slightly different view of life and many new ideas are starting to bubble up to the surface. Is this what they call inspiration? Maybe.

Whatever you call it, I feel as though the stories of my heart, which have been locked away deep down inside for so long I’d almost forgotten were there, are now trying to break free. And so I’d like to thank you, New York City, from the bottom of my heart, for loosening the shackles and helping me see a whole new world of possibility. I am forever grateful we had the chance to meet once again, and I sincerely hope to return to you before another 10 years pass.

Until next time.

En route to the Big Apple & already missing the apples of my eye

Start spreading the news. I’m leaving to day.
I want to be a part of it. New York, New York.

Alright, alright. I’m happy to leave the crooning to Frank Sinatra. As it should be. I just couldn’t help but use the reference. After all, it is very apropos under the circumstances.

You know when you go months at a time without any dedicated one-on-one time with your significant other? Then, by a strange twist of fate, the stars align, you get a reliable sitter, and you’re finally able to go out on a real adult date with your hunny? Only to be able to spend the entire evening talking about your kids? Ya. That.

Sitting in the lounge at Edmonton International Airport at the start of our first kid-free holiday in quite some time, and I’m already missing my kids. Even though getting through airline check-in, security, and customs was a dream without them in tow. Even though I’m sitting here in blissful, yet eerily quite. I feel like something’s missing.

And something is, because we always have them with us when we travel. It’s what we do. It’s what I know. My daughter was just 11 months old when we took her on an eastern Caribbean cruise. My son was just four months when we traveled as a family to Maui. And as I sit here in this peace and quiet, I am flooded with memories of all the trips we’ve taken together.

Like the time we went to Turks & Caicos… The trip was planned in celebration of our tenth wedding anniversary. We had planned a vow renewal and were very excited to have our kids with us to mark the occasion. Yet, if I had to give the trip a name or title, Trouble in Paradise would barely begin to describe it. My daughter got a black eye by running into a luggage cart before we left Edmonton, she nearly lost one of our passports by putting it into a suitcase moments before it went onto the conveyor belt at Pearson International Airport in Toronto, and we all spent over half the week knocked out by an awful stomach virus. Despite the crappy run of luck (pun intended), what I remember most is having that time together, as a family.

Even though I miss my kids already, I must say I’m very excited to have the opportunity to be going back to New York with my hubby. We visited once before and found the city magical. I think it was in 2003 because I remember going to see the rubble at the World Trade Center site, and it was definitely part of our pre-kid life. We’ve been wanting to go back for quite some time, but never thought it would be a suitable destination for our seven and five-year-old children. With all the sightseeing and walking, it’s a much different type of vacation than what they’re used to.

We’ve intentionally kept our four days in the City that never sleeps fairly unstructured (and we may not sleep for four days, either). If you have recommendations for Broadway shows, restaurant, and must-see sights in NYC, please drop me a line. Not sure how much we’ll be able to squeeze into the next four days before leaving for St. Martin, but we’ll do our best!

After an adventurous cab ride, we’ve made it to our hotel, which is just a couple blocks off of Times Square. More adventure awaits, just outside our doors, and I’m sure we’ll be back in the New York groove in no time. (Ok, that’s my last song reference. For now.)