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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Myndee Kay "Mammogram" Larsen

I’ll preface this by saying that I don’t have this amazing survivor story. I have friends who are the medical miracles and their fight should be celebrated. I had a scare, a blip on the radar, a wake-up call if you will. It’s been said that we are never sent challenges that we can’t handle, and for me, I was given all I can handle!

So, why write about a wake-up call? There are a couple reasons. First, when I was preparing for surgery, I met with a counselor which is apparently routine, just to help get you in the right mental state. She found me to be rather closed off and private (Shocker, hope she didn’t take out a lot of student loans to figure that one out). She is the one who suggested that I tell people about the surgery before I had it and also eventually write about it. It should be therapeutic.

Secondly, and this might sound cheesy, but I’ve always had a feeling that my life is not entirely mine. From a very young age, I’ve felt an obligation to people. It’s been a blessing and a curse. But I pay it forward; participate in random acts of kindness, and try being present for anyone who is struggling. Honestly, it’s not always a choice, often I’m compelled to do these things. This paragraph sounds so self-serving, and it is. Many times I benefit more than my recipient does. Through this experience, I learned that the norm of reciprocity is not dead. These people that I have been compelled to take care of, really took care of me.

Shortly after moving to Chicago, I was mentally in a great place, loving my job, loving the city. But physically I could tell something was wrong. No worries reader, I won’t be throwing out embarrassing medical details or over sharing.

Unfortunately, I was forced to miss our staff outing to the Cubs game in order to see a specific doctor who came highly recommended. At my appointment, he immediately set me up for a mammogram and some other tests the next week.

I did call my family at this point. I could tell I really freaked them out. I think Evie will agree with me when I say I’m the voice of reason in our family. I organize the events; make the plans, force action, resolve conflict. So, when I could tell the level of panic was high, I downplayed it all. No big deal, a couple tests, it will be fine.

I really did feel that way until the night before I was scheduled to go to the hospital for the initial round of tests. My mind started playing this horrible game of “what ifs” on me and I could feel the impending meltdown. So, I started dialing my inner circle which consists of about four people who, when I’m desperate, I will share with. Not one of them answered. I took this as a sign that I was supposed to handle it myself but then my phone rang. Shannon was the first to call me back. She was brilliant and truly talked me off the ledge. It wasn’t 2 minutes into my conversation with Shannon that Laurel started beeping in. When I was finally able to speak with Laurel, she went into full crisis mode. The next day I got a phone call from a nurse in the Chicago area who Laurel had somehow tracked down through friends. This nurse was wonderful, she talked me through everything that was going to happen at the hospital, told me what questions to ask, and gave me her number to call back if I needed anything else. Once again, Laurel and Shannon pulled through.

The most excruciating thing about the hospital is that the technicians who run your tests are not allowed to tell you anything because they are not doctors. So, even though they see the results and know exactly what they are looking at, they can’t tell you what they see. You end up playing this game where you try to gauge the reaction. What does that smile mean? Did she just furrow her brow? I did a series of tests that culminated in the mammogram. I was told, after the mammogram, they would do an ultra sound but only if necessary. Well, I got sent to the ultra sound which choked me up. I figured it must be bad if they are doing the additional test. As soon as it was over and I reached my car, I started blaring Matt Nathanson’s “The Weight of It All” and crying my eyes out! I left the hospital knowing nothing.

Let me just digress for a minute and give you a heads up about mammograms. They do not hurt. They are a little bit awkward and the technician does some manipulating that bonds the two of you together for life, but they do not hurt. So if you are supposed to be getting a mammogram and haven’t: Cowgirl up and go get ‘ir done! Call now. I’ve had four and they are no big deal.
I got the call two weeks later that the doctors didn’t see anything on my mammogram. But because of my symptoms it was obvious that something was wrong. I was told to give it three months and see if my body would correct itself. It didn’t. Mammogram #2, three more months of waiting, Mammogram #3, now I’m beginning to realize that medicine is NOT an exact science.
Finally, my doctor felt it was time for me to see a surgeon. Of course the surgeon ordered mammogram #4, and by this time I know exactly how to turn my shoulders and could pretty much give myself a mammogram if I had to. And it was also back to the ultra-sound room. Fortunately, this surgeon figured out the problem, actually where the problem was hiding and encouraged me to have it surgically removed.

This was right before Christmas. So, I asked if it could wait long enough to talk to my family over the holidays. He said yes. Well, I didn’t want to ruin the holidays so I pretty much kept it to myself. As my parents were rolling me out curbside at the SLC airport, I said, “Oh, by the way I have to have some surgery to remove a lump that hopefully isn’t breast cancer. Thanks for the ride!”

It was hard for me to get the surgery scheduled. First, because I didn’t want to do it, I’d never had surgery and the anesthesia freaks me out. Secondly, because all I do for work is travel, with one trip after another, I wasn’t slowing down. Finally, my surgeon said we need to get this done. I ended up missing the NCAA Championships Cabinet and The Summit League Swimming & Diving Championships to have my surgery. Fortunately, the people I work with were kind enough to cover for me. It helped that the NCAA Championships Cabinet was in San Antonio and my boss is obsessed with Texas.

This is the point where my true friends came out of the woodwork. My family was going through a very difficult time and was unable to come out to Chicago for the surgery. I told them this was fine but actually I was petrified. I had friends like Gretchen and Hope let me know all I had to do was say the word and they would make a trip. Dina offered to pay for a plane ticket for my mom. Tony gave me one of the most comforting phone calls I think I’ve ever had.

And then there was Brenda. I was thinking about it and I realized that I never even had to ask her to take me in for my surgery. Once I told her my family wasn’t coming out, she simply said, “Just let me know what time I’m picking you up.” And I know this was a hardship for her because she has two kids at home and a husband who has to catch a train into the city each morning. I know she had to do a lot of juggling to pick me up at 5:00 a.m. and stay with me throughout the procedure. I am forever indebted and eternally grateful for her.

Like I’ve mentioned before, I was scared. From the time I found out I had to have surgery up until the day of surgery, I basically cried myself to sleep each night with worry. To try to find some peace, I ended up calling on some people from my church. I was a complete stranger to these two individuals but they came and prayed with me and after the surgery took turns bringing me meals. People’s capacity to give is astounding and reassuring.

The surgery was a blur. They gave me some valium or something to calm my nerves so I was a little loopy when my doctor came to meet with me pre-op. He had a Sharpie so he could initial where he was going to operate. I remember telling him, “You’re not exactly the person I thought I’d ask to sign my chest.” He got a kick out of that.

I woke up from the anesthesia alright which was a huge concern of mine. Brenda checked me out and took me home to start recovering. The day I got home from surgery a care package arrived from Laurel and Shannon which included a blue blanket which I pretty much stayed wrapped up in throughout the recuperation. The recovery went pretty smooth and again I was truly overcome with the amount of phone calls and cards and people just generally checking in. I had no idea the support system that I have.

I went back to work a little too soon and had one minor black out incident where I smacked my head. It was kind of like the time in high school I decided to hustle and save the basketball from going out of bounds. But instead of leaping and throwing the ball over my shoulder and back into play, I rammed it into my forehead and back out of bounds. These headaches were comparable.

Three weeks after my surgery I had an appointment to go back to my surgeon and find out the lab results. I was very lucky and relieved to find out everything turned out okay. I tested out clear at my six month check-up, I head in for my nine month check up in November, and my one year check up in February. If all of these go well, I can start seeing a doctor less often.

This is something that I’ll have to monitor for the rest of my life. One of my friends was commiserating with me and asking if it was depressing to think that for the rest of my life I’ll have to have these check-ups. I said, “Not really. Basically, I’ll never have a slump because I’m guaranteed to get felt up every six months. And I’ve had countless rich doctors ask me to take my shirt off. And that ain’t so bad!”

This experience is trivial, I definitely get that. But it shook me to my core. My bucket list is in full effect, I am checking things off right and left, not leaving anything to chance. In fact, last year, when this whole thing started several of you may have received the “In case I die, I love you” e-mails from me. Even in a crisis my flair for the dramatic is ever present.

I’ve taken control of my health and try to eat right and exercise like crazy. I’ve taken control of my friendships and try to spend the time on the people who are my true friends and not worry so much about the others. I’ve always had control of my fashion so no adjustments there. More than anything it has restored my faith in people. That’s why I want to start a “Thinking of You” Campaign and do some emotional fundraising. It’s important to me for reasons I can’t fully explain.

To be a participant in a “Thinking of You” campaign is ego boosting and self-esteem raising. So, I really hope you will participate with me. If I don’t have your address, e-mail it to me and I’ll make sure you are included. If I do have your address, just leave a comment that you want to be a participant and I’ll make sure you are! You can participate in this campaign by spending as little as 15 minutes and 45 cents. I hope I have piqued your interest (I'm being purposefully vague) and you will help me out. If not, I think less of you already ;).

40,000 women die of breast cancer every year. It would be amazing if we could touch 40,000 people in our campaign but that may be wishful thinking. I’m going to give it my all and if I’ve ever done a favor for you, I’m cashing it in, help me out.

Thanks for reading my rambling! Talk to you all soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Most Amazing Thing Just Happened

It's been a ridiculous day. The motherboard went out on my computer at work. I know that motherboard sounds like something right out of Star Trek, and it turns out we basically have to send the computer to the USS Enterprise in space to get it fixed. Fortunately, Scotty will only need about 14 days to get it done. "Beaming Up" would be a nice reality right about now. Fortunately, I have an old Dell to keep me facebooking even though every thirty seconds like clockwork it informs me that Spybot has blocked somethng called "Double Click A". Of course, the computer freezes until I click okay.

In the midst of my technological breakdown, my phone rang. It was my sister which is actually weird because she is not allowed to have her cell phone at work. I don't think I even said hello before I launched into my computer drama. But then it hit me that it was weird that she was calling so I asked what was going on with her.This is what she said, "I know you are having a ridiculous day, but I am calling for one reason and one reason only. I love you. I just wanted to tell you that I love you." This is SO out of character for Evie, she doesn't even like to be hugged. I immediately thought something was wrong. But Evie so eloquoently reminded me that today is September 11, and as we think about the uncertainty of anyone's future, it's important loved ones feel loved.

Eight years ago people were calling friends and family to say "I love you" for the last time. It just made me think, what a luxury we have today with cell phones and the ability to place a call from anywhere at anytime. It's sad that we don't take advantage of that more and before life becomes dire. I'm extremely guilty of falling into the laziness of communication through the type written word with all the texting and emailing. We should all take Evie's lead and literally with the spoken word, let our friends and family know their worth. I know that I will never forget my sister's phone call.

In fact, after I hung up, I called the first person that popped into my head and expressed my love. I'm planning on making a few more calls before the day is over. And if anyone at all is reading this, you should too. It feels amazing both to hear and say.

And you know what, I've forgotten all about my motherboard.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

DAY 6: Highlights/Lowlights

Laurel’s Highlights: Inexpensive jewelry at H&M not to be confused with S&M.

Laurel’s Lowlight: Having my luggage thrown from Myndee’s SUV into the mini van.

Shannon’s Highlight: Dried pears, cheap jewelry, and a red & white shirt with a ruffle flair!

Shannon’s Lowlight: THE MINI VAN!

Myndee Kay’s highlight: Pretending to be a Fashion Institute student and riding into the sunset in my SUV with my driver suited up.

Myndee Kay’s lowlight: Saying goodbye to my friends.

DAY 6: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Again, let me just sing the praises of being a Starwood Preferred Guest. Not only did the Four Points Sheraton give us a 2 pm check out time, they also arranged a car for my transport to the airport later that evening. SPG rules!

This was our last day to sleep in so we took advantage and spent the morning watching the infamous “Dating Documentary” filmed in Cedar City, UT. This movie was my first appearance in a Laurel/Shannon documentary and it’s where they learned despite my social awkwardness I really did both speak and move.

We were ready for some last second touring by lunch time and hit a place called BGR for lunch. They specialize in grass fed burgers which apparently are a delicacy starting at $8 a piece. The best thing about this place is a side order called the trio. It has fries, sweet potato fries, and onion hay. Delish!

Laurel and Shannon humored me with a walk through the Fashion Institute of Technology and its student center. I spent an inordinate amount of time in the bookstore pretending to be a student, and now own the apparel to prove it!

We set off to return to the Chelsea Market for dried pears and cupcakes. Along the way we randomly ran into Billy’s Bakery which is a shop David had recommended for cupcakes. This is where I found the best red velvet cupcake of the trip. We also sampled the vanilla cupcake with chocolate buttercream and carrot cake cupcake. Laurel contined to be confused by my cupcake obsession.


We did make it to the Chelsea Market where I purchased the last round of cupcakes from Eleni’s Bakery. I got a lemon cupcake with vanilla buttercream and another chocolate cupcake with coconut buttercream. I saved these cupcakes for dinner!


Fifth Avenue was calling our name so what were we gonna do? Again, my friends humored me with a walk through Kenneth Cole’s closet. There was also a darling Kate Spade boutique with the floor done in brightly colored stripes. The most thrilling event was watching Laurel and Shannon have their first H&M experience. They were beguiled by the jewelry prices and learned a valuable lesson; fashion really can be affordable. Somewhere Clinton and Stacey were smiling and I felt like my girls were all grown up!


Now, I really don’t plan these things, sometimes they just happen to me. We returned to the hotel to catch our respective cars to the airport. I was out of LaGuardia and Laurel & Shannon were flying out of JFK. So, one of the drivers starts loading Laurel’s luggage into a sleek, black SUV only to discover that is the car going to LaGuardia. Then Laurel’s luggage was ripped from the back and replaced by man. Shannon and Laurel’s was then loaded into a tan minivan as I rode off into the sunset sipping my complimentary bottle of Perrier. I’m telling you, become a SPG member!

We didn’t have a lot of time to say goodbye which was probably a good thing. I look back at all the pictures, video and this 7,000 word blog and it really is pretty amazing we pulled this off. I’m grateful to have two friends I can truly be myself with and confide in. I just wish we all lived a little bit closer. But we’ll always have New York. And who knows where we’ll end up for the 2014 adventure.

DAY 5: Highlights/Lowlights

Laurel’s highlights: Myndee begging me to help her find the Imagine memorial and she was standing in front of it. The tennis was a true local experience even though Myndee clocked me. It was worth it when I was carrying my rackets through Manhattan and a hot guy asked for dircections to the tennis courts. (He was red blotchy skin worthy) Finally, when Myndee emerged from the drugstore with a purple umbrella matching her dress.


Laurel’s lowlights: Not being proactive with the ibuprofen and feeling the soreness start and at 3 pm realizing we ran out of time to do the bike tour of Central Park.

Shannon’s highlights: Feeling like a local and accomplishing a long run with David. I only ate a salad for lunch so I could gorge myself on Grimaldi’s pizza!

Shannon’s lowlights: Accomplishing my long run at 1 pm in the afternoon with 90% humidity and sweating uncontrollably.

Myndee highlights: Getting my forehand on at the Central Park Tennis Center Court #2. Having a local give us a night tour of Manhattan and touring the Brooklyn brownstones.

Myndee lowlights: Having my picture taken at the Imagine memorial with every strand of hair drastically slicked back in preparation for the humidity and tennis. Not my most photogenic moment.

DAVID'S NIGHT TOUR


This is where the fun began. David lives in Brooklyn so he took us back to his neighborhood where we stopped for some great ice cream. Then he gave us a driving tour of Brooklyn. I cannot tell you how badly I want to live in one of the Brooklyn Brownstones, they are so cute! The Huxtables were living right.

The driving tour continued with Lower Manhattan. We drove by ground zero and it’s so sad that after all the millions of dollars spent on rebuilding, it’s still just a giant hole in the ground. A very humbling moment.

We then continued on to Wall Street, photo ops with the Bull, the Hudson River, and the piers. It was amazing to see the city at night. And I can’t say this enough, amazing to have a local who knew the ropes. David showed us some great sights! This was probably my favorite day of the trip because it was nostalgic and ended on such a high note.

THE REUINION TOUR STOP ON THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

The plan was then to head back to the hotel, shower, and then go to the Brooklyn Bridge (the whole purpose of the trip). Also, another shout out to our tour guide David who has amazing patience. He waited for all three girls to shower and get ready. By the time we were ready to go, it had started raining pretty hard. Shannon and I were ready to bag the bridge and hit it Tuesday morning before we left. But Laurel insisted that we live on and not be derailed by a little weather.

We really got the most out of our Metro cards this trip as we headed once again to the subway. A minor disaster occurred as Shannon and David made it on the Subway car but Laurel and I were forced out. You don’t get cell service down there, so once again the two most directionally challenged people on the planet were on their own.

It was a good thing that we followed Laurel’s intuition because once we started walking to the bridge the weather cleared and it was a beautiful dusk. Laurel came across a bench in which she was convinced was the exact bench we had sat on in 2004, however, there was a couple already sitting on it. Undeterred, Laurel kicked them off the bench so we could get our photo op. I don’t think they spoke a lot of English so I’m not sure then knew what was happening when Laurel shooed them off the bench.


It really was a gorgeous evening on the bridge and our photos turned out amazing. We had made it happen. Five years had passed and all three of us lived up to the commitment to be back on the bridge in 2009.


It was a great moment in our friendship right up to the point the Laurel tackled me to the ground to get a photo of me laying across the Welcome to Brooklyn sign. Despite the bikes whizzing by breaking the sound barrier and stopping for no one, Laurel thought the photo would be worth risking life and limb. She just kept saying, “It’s all about the story,” as she gave me my second body slam of the trip.


Another tradition we planned to take advantage of was pizza at Grimaldi’s! It’s this great pizzeria under the Brooklyn Bridge. The difference being the last time we were in Brooklyn we walked the entire borough before finding it. This time we had David who walked us right to it from the bridge. There was a line outside to get in, but this pizza is worth the wait.

We almost didn’t get to eat at Grimaldi’s because when Laurel went in to use the restroom, she tried to take a picture of them making the pizza and the pizza mafia thought she was after the secret recipe. They seat you family style in this restaurant so the couple next to us was from Holland. Believe it or not they were huge Abba fans and headed to see Mamma Mia the next night.

The pizza was everything we remembered it to be. Back in 2004, the four of us ended up ordering and devouring three pizzas. We all still had the benefit of a metabolism in our twenties. This time we were half a pizza down and already calculating how many miles it would take to run it off! We got a parting photo op with Grimaldi himself and the five year reunion itinerary was complete.

I recall Central Park in Fall (Well, July but it doesn't rhyme)

Ah, the luxury of sleeping in! We actually went back to our bagel just to show Helga that we had learned the ropes. Then Shannon took off running with David while Laurel and I caught the subway to meet the runners at Central Park. Yes, Shannon (aka Human GPS) left Laurel and I to find Central Park by ourselves. What could have been really scary, only involved one conversation with a really nice Metra employee who pointed us in the right direction.

Once we hit Central Park, I really wanted to see Strawberry Fields and the Imagine memorial to John Lennon. We knew we were close because all the street vendors were selling Imagine photos. We decided to follow the crowds and once again wouldn’t you know we were standing right in front of it thinking we were lost.



After we met up with David and Shannon, they walked us through the Park, passed the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir to the Central Park Tennis Center. While Laurel and I got our USTA on, Shannon and David finished their eight mile run. The tennis center was a riot, talk about a local experience. Most of the players were senior citizens yelling and screaming at each other. But on the court next to us was some seven year old phenom who’s psycho parent was obviously grooming the next Serena Williams. The courts were some kind of clay but it was really fun to get out and hit!

DAY 4: Highlights/Lowlights

Day 4 Highlights/Lowlights

Laurel’s Highlights: The spontaneous hilarity of rolling into Coney Island and seeing the 65 year old in her bikini on her balcony taking it all in.

Laurel’s Lowlights: The Yankees trying to charge me $375 an hour and half into the game. Getting molested on the subway by the “sleeping” man.

Shannon’s Highlights: The long subway rides!

Shannon’s Lowlights: I was so tired at Yankee stadium! Being attacked by that man with no teeth who reeked of liquor and tried to tell me he was a stage hand for Mary Poppins.


Myndee’s Highlights: The conversations from the subway rides, having Nathan’s hot dog and lemonade, and David showing up to our hotel room with cupcakes!!!!!

Myndee’s Lowlights: When the alarm went off and there was no response from the gallery.

Monday, August 17, 2009

DAY 4: Traveled Back in Time to Coney Island

Sunday morning we did a spiritual frolic through Manhattan and hit up a 9 am church service. We found out that we had missed running into President Bennion from SUU by about two weeks. Next, we took the Subway ride to the Bronx to check out the new Yankee Stadium and try to get some tickets to the game. Unfortunately, as Laurel put it, we were DENIED. They wanted $150 per ticket and even an hour into the game they still wanted $375 for three tickets. We had to settle for a walking tour around the stadium and photo ops. Funny, that five years ago we paid $15 for bleacher seats. Guess that new stadium is on layaway!

We hopped back on the Subway to head back but were so tired that we basically just sat on the Subway until we couldn’t ride anymore. This sent us through a time warp and landed us directly in Coney Island. Right after we got off the subway, there was a huge thunderstorm so we ducked into a flea market to get out of the rain. Shannon was able to get a darling Coney Island shirt and I was able to introduce Laurel to the world of Christian Audingier and Ed Hardy.

After the rain subsided, the boardwalk actually was very interesting to walk through, you really did feel like you had traveled back in time. We all went down and touched the ocean and wrote our nickname in the sand. I partook of the local cuisine in the form of Nathan’s famous hot dogs and lemonade. Then we took the long subway ride back to our hotel. The long subway rides this day were actually really fun. It was the first time on the trip that we were able to really catch up. Shannon drew us diagrams of the house she and Kyle are building and we just generally reminisced. We thought we were in for the night until the cravings for Mexican food started. I yelped (yelp.com) a Mexican restaurant in the area and we went out to Mary Ann’s for some more food. It was a great hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant. Of course, on the way back we got lost and it started pouring rain. This is when Shannon was accosted by a toothless drunk man hitting her up for money. Laurel and I filmed why Shannon suffered. We’re great friends!

DAY 3: HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS

Laurel’s Highlight: Lion King and actually making it happen after 10 years of thinking about it. It was pretty awesome!

Laurel’s Lowlight: Nodding off in the Lion King due to the carb overload. Also, noticing another thirty something doing some light stretching in the subway.

Shannon’s Highlight: Running into Jason Catro and getting the photo despite being abandoned by my wing people and THE LION KING!

Shannon’s Lowlight: Having trouble staying awake in the Lion King.

Myndee’s Highlight: The giraffes in The Lion King and meeting Justin Patterson from 9 to 5 cause he was tall.

Myndee’s Lowlight: Being wrong about the Conrad/Aniston bang braid. I was convinced that Jennifer Anniston wore it first at the Oscars but thanks to Cha-Cha we learned that Lauren Conrad rocked it first. Of course, Camille had to admit she watched The Hills to win this one. The other lowlight was eating a pound of cream cheese between the bagels and the cheesecake.

Jason Castro and the 9 to 5 Cast

Laurel had suggested that we try to get in to see 9 to 5 that evening. After the Lion King, we headed to TKTS to see if we could score some discount tickets. Laurel hopped in line to buy tickets, and I wandered off a bit to find a bank. Shannon, left to her own resources, spotted Jason Castro waiting in line at TKTS. (Jason is the dread locked American Idol contestant best known for being critiqued by Paula Abdul for a song he didn’t sing). Shannon was able to shag a photographer off the street to snap a shot of them, and thanks to Shannon the frenzy began.



This is where we tried to get into Carmine’s again but were denied. Shannon asked a cop on the street where he would recommend we eat. He said, “A restaurant.” Gotta love that New York humor. He actually directed us to John’s Pizzeria which had a museum like sunroof with stained glass. This particular waiter was basically a mutant corpse on legs and he charged us for an extra round of soda.



The 9 to 5 show was just pure fun. Alison Janey, from the West Wing, starred as Violet. We were trying to get a decent photo after the show but struck out because all the fellow tourists were horrible photographers. However, we hung out so long after the show questing for our photo, that the actors started exting from stage left. We were able to meet Stephanie J. Block who plays Judy and was also Elphaba (Wicked) on Broadway, Justin Patterson who plays Dwayne, and Megan Hilty who plays Doralee and was Glenda (Wicked) in LA and on tour. We all thought it was very interesting that they just come out, sign some autographs, take some photos and then walk off on their own into the smells of the city.





We did get lost in the Subway trying to get home. It was like being trapped in the depths of hell, it was sooo hot down there.

The $4.00 Breakfast and $20 Snack

The beauty of vacation!!! Nobody moved a muscle until 9:20 am.

We found a local bagel shop in Chelsea, and I mean local. The natives kept yelling at us because we didn’t know the protocol. The cashier was a particularly brutal woman who we nicknamed Helga. She was screaming at us to move to the left, and then she said, “We do this everyday people!”

During breakfast, I introduced Laurel and Shannon to Cha-Cha. Using Cha-Cha, we played a little game finding out how old we were and what we were doing when classic movies like Top Gun and Romancing the Stone were released. Cha-Cha would become an integral part of our trip until we all texted so much we ran out of questions.

We emerged from the Subway in front of The Majestic Theater where Phantom of the Opera is playing. Laurel was traumatized. Who knew she hated The Phantom? Just when you think you know someone. As we were walking, Laurel noticed some girls taking photographs and you could see the wheels start turning. She approached the one of the girls with a professional looking camera and said, “You look like you know what you are doing.” Then we had our own little impromptu photo shoot of the street with some candids of us walking and jumping in the air. They actually turned out to be pretty cute pictures.




We were estactic that we only spent $4 on breakfast especially since we hit Times Square and spent $20 on cheesecake at Roxy’s! Roxy’s had a peanut butter marshmellow brownie on the menu which we tried to order, but following the theme for the day, our waiter yelled at us that it was either peanut butter OR marshmallow even though that’s not how the menu read. Scolded we went with the peanut butter and some blueberry cheesecake.





Next it was Shannon’s broadway pick with The Lion King, and we had awesome dead center mezzanine seats. The poster does not lie when it says visually stunning. My favorites were the giraffes! The scenery and costumes and staging was all very unique. The sad part of all this was due to the bagel carbs and straight sugar we ate for lunch, the crash hit during the play. All three of us found ourselves dozing off a bit in the darkened theater.


Friday, August 14, 2009

DAY 2 HIGHLIGHTS

Laurel: The Model/Muse exhibit because it brought back memories of The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition being confiscated by my mom.

Shannon: Running along the Hudson River through Battery Park and David’s tour of Wall Street.

Myndee Kay: Even though my eyes were swollen shut from the tears, Billy Elliot. Shopping for art from the street vendors.


BILLY ELLIOT


What would New York be without a death ride in a yellow taxi? This was next on the agenda as we were speeding through the city to make it to our first Broadway show: Billy Elliot. Literally, the cab would come to a screeching halt, then burn rubber to go maybe 200 feet than slam stopped again. I thought Shannon was gonna hurl.

We stopped in Juniors restaurant to grab some $10 grilled cheese sandwiches before the show. We had another awesome waitor who made sure we got our food in record time so as not to miss our curtain. He also indulged me as I asked several questions about the Bobby Flay cheesecake throwdown that occurred between Bobby and Junior (Bobby won and it’s the one time he actually seemed embarrassed to win). He also told us that Junior’s cheesecake is the cheesecake that P. Diddy sent the Making of the Band contestants over the Brooklyn Bridge to fetch. I was in pop culture heaven plus I’ve got that secret crush on P. Diddy ever since I saw his E! True Hollywood story.

Okay, Billy Elliot. I have to explain what this story means to me, even though I’m not completely sure why it affects me so much. The first time I saw this movie I literally cried for two days over it. I think I relate to being a bit of an outcast but finding that one outlet where it’s okay to be who you are. Even more emotional is an entire town realizing that this one boy could be their beacon and not resigned to the same life that has been forced upon all of them. There is a scene at the end of the movie where it’s a flashforward to Billy’s dad and brother rushing through London to get to the ballet to see Billy dance Swan Lake. They’re running late and the brother is dragging the dad along because Billy’s father is just in awe of the city and the theater. He just never imagined that his sacrifices for Billy would pay off on such a large scale. And just as they take their seats, Billy’s dad taps the usher and says, “Tell Billy Elliot his family is here.” It’s beautiful and my mascara is running. (The scene I'm talking about starts at 3:53 on the clip below)

The three of us took our seats at Billy Elliot and we were front Mezzanie but extreme stage right. Laurel offered to trade me seats saying, “Myndee this is your thing and it’s not the Yankees!” This made the man next to Laurel laugh out loud to which he replied, “This is my thing too and I don’t like the Yankees.” I adored this musical. Shannon said she could tell when something was going to happen because I would start crying a good minute beforehand. Risking ejection from the theater, Laurel snapped a shot of the finale from her blackberry for me. This sums up Billy Elliot for me, “I can't really explain it, I haven't got the words. It's a feeling that you can't control. I suppose it's like forgetting, losing who you are, And at the same time something makes you whole” lyrics from Electricity.


THE TOURISTS ARE LOOSE: Times Square, The Guggenheim, The Met



Next we headed over to Times Square for a chance encounter with none other than the Naked Cowboy. Shannon, having her own cowboy at home, graciously accepted the role of photographer as Laurel and I frantically scrambled for tip money. This particular cowboy is not shy and seems to be an experienced farm “hand”. The pictures speak for themselves but I must say while it is all fun and games, one does feel a tad violated after the photo ops. Do you concur Laurel?




Now I have to give a shout out to my fabulous friend Casey McClellan who told me that we had to eat Italian at a New York restaurant called Carmine’s. So, I basically insisted we lunch there. It was divine. It was so good you could almost hear the gondolas rushing by and see a Tuscan sunset. Thanks so much Casey, we loved carbo loading on ravioli and rigatoni with Italian sausage. Actually, we tried to go back to Carmine’s for dinner one night but ran into a two hour wait, it’s that good.

In order to walk off the pasta, we did something we never would have attempted in our twenties: we hit a couple museums. This activity inspired Laurel to attempt to take some artsy and edgy photographs of the group. Translated: Extreme close ups of everyone’s eyes and an Andy Warhol take on my red lipstick. By the way, if you are looking for a true red lipstick that won’t bleed check out Revlon’s colorstay in Top Tomato. It’s the best stay put red I’ve found and this formula doesn’t require a topcoat. . . .I digress.

David guided us through Central Park where we paused for some of the performers and a few photos in case every second wasn’t being documented. Then we came to this street that runs from the Met to the Guggenheim and it was filled with street vendors selling photographs and art. I adore street art and street vendors. We had a fantastic walk browsing the art. It was hard to choose and I kind of got that panicked, hyperventilating feeling that I get when I walk into the Michael Kors outlet in Aurora.

I was really excited to see the Guggenheim (another activity I forced on the group) because it was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright who has some Oak Park, IL roots. It’s an amazing building, kind of looks like a wedding cake and we all know that cake is my favorite food group. Shannon was able to find a street vendor selling jewelry outside the Guggenheim. She bought a couple great pieces, silver earrings that have a truly classic but unique feel. We didn’t pay the $25 to actually go through the museum but we took lots of pictures of the unique interior and checked out the gift shop.




Sticking with the museum theme, next we headed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Luckily, we had David with us cause there was some protocol we would have screwed up had we been on our own. Namely, they ask you to donate whatever you deem necessary for admission. Laurel needed to break $100 so she told the clerk she’d like to donate $10 for the three of us. Apparently, they believed their artwork to be worth a little more than that, but Laurel insisted on her $90 change.

Laurel and I in all our maturity took to taking pictures of each other imitating the statue poses while David and Shannon tried to distance themselves as far as possible from us. One lady even got up and changed her seat to get away from us and I’m pretty sure she clicked her tongue at us. Somehow David was able to usher us to the roof where there was this amazing tree sculpture and view of Central Park as well as the city. It was really breathtaking up there. This was also the time that some guy dressed all in black slid in next to Laurel and asked her what emotions the tree sculpture evoked in her. Unfortunately, this guy didn’t make her skin red and blotchy.




The thing that I adored most about the Met was the special exhibit called The Model and The Muse. It was a history of models and fashion photography and was made possible by none other than Marc Jacobs himself. Could that kilt wearing designer be any more fabulous?

It was really beautiful and started with the models of the thirties and went all the way up to present day. Some of the models featured were Lauren Hutton, Angie Dickenson, Cindy Crawford, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista. But the breathtaking element was the original fashion that was on display, originals from Dior, Chanel, Jean Paul Gaultier, Yves Saint Laurent, Vera Wang, Armani, and Luis Vuitton. I could have cried happy tears of fashion joy!


DAY 2: Magnolia Bakery



Shannon got up early and met David for a run, which apparently was amazing. They ran along the Hudson River and took a little tour through Manhattan. It sounded like the scenery was a fabulous backdrop for a run.

Laurel and I headed back into Chelsea to Magnolia Bakery for cupcakes. Magnolia Bakery was made famous because a scene from Sex and The City was filmed there. (For you SATC junkies, it’s from Season 3, Episode 35: No If Ands or Butts. Carrie meets Aiden for the first time in this episode. She and Miranda sit outside Magnolia Bakery eating cupcakes discussing Carrie’s new crush). I purchased my cupcakes and we headed over to a little pigeon (who were not the least bit intimidated by humans and we all know my fear of fowls) filled park to wait for David and Shannon. Laurel, not being a cupcake fan, said to me, “It seems like you are trying to force cupcakes on me.” I just don’t understand how one cannot enjoy a cup full of cake topped with pure whipped sugar. C’mon!



We also started a conversation about New York in your twenties versus New York in your thirties. It was at this point that Laurel broke into her light stretching. You don’t worry about stretching out before walking the city when you are in your twenties. Laurel explained, “Let me proclaim now in the cupcake cake capitol of the world sitting in pigeon land, 37-40 is a turning point in the aging process. Just look at what happened to Boris Becker.”


DAY ONE HIGHLIGHTS




Laurel: Standing in the puddle watching Sulli be manhandled by the little Vietnamese woman with the over the shoulder body slam.

Shannon: Sulli walking in the hotel door all shawled up and ready to go.

Myndee Kay: Breaking out from Domo’s flirting. Shannon saving me ten bucks by being honest that I looked terrible in the New York friendship hat. The homeless man laughing and pointing at my broken down $2.50 umbrella saying, “How do I have a better umbrella than you? But you look cute carrying it.”

CANAL STREET











To cap off the day, we decided while we all still had cash left we should hit Canal St. for some shopping. Previous trips to Canal St. featured secret rooms, back alleys, and garbage sacks full of handbags. They now have something none of us were prepared for: Mini Van Stores. Shannon and I ventured into the first “Coach” mini van and the vendor shut us in. The windows were tinted and it was HOT!! It was so hot that I just wanted out of the van but it appeared we would never escape without a purchase. Finally, I offended him by offering $10 for a purple Coach bag, and at that point he threw us out of the van.

There was one shop with the secret room, which Laurel nicknamed the treehouse. Laurel and Shannon both found some Gucci and Coach there. However, I was unimpressed at this point. I was beginning to believe that I would leave Canal Street bagless, how utterly sad. The other new technique the vendors use is to show you pictures or a catalogue of what they have before you climb in the van. One lady approached me with her catalogue and I saw a Stephen Sprouse designed Louis Vuitton that intrigued me. I indicated that I liked the bag, but I really didn’t want to get back in a van. It’s quite traumatic for the freak of nature tall girl to be confined to small, hot places.

This lady was probably 5 foot 2 on her best day but she literally grabbed my arm and almost threw me over her shoulder into the van. Fortunately, Laurel witnessed the assault and climbed into the bag van behind me. At this point, I was buying. Her superhuman strength freaked me out and I thought of the money more as paying of a ransom for my freedom before she had to use anymore of her Greco Roman wrestling moves on me. So, although she didn’t have the original color that I wanted, I purchased and ran for my life. Later, I saw a woman on the street carrying the bag I had wanted, I was tempted to approach her and ask what van she bought it out of.

During this shopping scandal, there was a substory developing. Shannon was able to reunite with her cousin David after not seeing each other for twenty years. He was so amazing to us during our trip, it was great to have a local around. David also, God bless him, served as photographer. We took a total of 476 pictures during our time in New York and David probably took 90% of those for us.

Our First Bit of New York Scenery: Domo




At this point, we were ready to hit the streets and find some lunch. I never leave home without my Frommer’s Travel Books, so I had the New York edition which suggested the Chesea Market as a unique lunch spot. We got a little lost trying to find it (Shocker!) but when we asked this man on the street for directions, he simply pointed up. We were standing in front of it, Day One and the follies have begun.

The Chelsea Market is a very cool building, obviously some kind of industrial building that has been renovated. It is also home to the Food Network offices and studios. There was some Iron Chef going on while we were there. Shannon was able to find dried pears, her favorite delicacy, and I was able to begin my quest for the perfect New York City cupcake. I started with Eleni’s Bakery and we got a chocolate peanut butter cupcake and a chocolate cupcake with coconut buttercream. The coconut cupcake would turn out to be the overall best of the trip.

We wandered down into the meat packing district and stumbled upon a restaurant called The Diner and settled in for lunch. It was an upscale version of the typical Seinfeld type diner except there was one thing that made it atypical. We knew it was going to be hot in New York, but we felt the heat as soon as our waiter greeted us. Besides being eye candy, he was so awesome, he gave us all kinds of suggestions for restaurants, cheesecake, shopping, and unique New York places. It turns out he was a Northern California import who played college basketball at Eastern Montana. He was spending so much time at our table, that the other patrons sitting in his section were getting visibly annoyed. We loved it.

He was also doing the light arm touches (Kino Escalation for all you fans of Mystery’s Pick Up Artist) on all of us as he dropped off drinks or engaged in conversation with us. Laurel burst out laughing when she saw that the kino escalation had caused a nervous reaction in me causing red, blotchy skin. Thank goodness for the Pashima! Also, classic Laurel subtlety, she asked Domo if we could get a picture, a picture in which Shannon ducked out of at the last second so all you can see is her hair flying out of the frame. Thanks guys, that was as obvious as the red, blotchy skin.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

NYC DAY ONE: The Arrival




Laurel and Shannon were flying out of Salt Lake City on the classic Jet Blue red eye, which ironically is the exact same flight we all took in 2004: Leave at 11:58 pm and arrive at 5:31 a.m. I was leaving from O’Hare at 6 am that morning and arriving at 9 am. For expert advice in getting us to the hotel, I turned to askanewyorker.com. One of the New Yorkers suggested a specific car service that was comparable to a cab price but more reliable.

After picking up your luggage, there is a number to call where the dispatcher gives you your car number and also asks, “What are you wearing?” Laurel, being sleep deprived, had to ask Shannon what color she was wearing. Shannon told her black, so Laurel repeated this to the operator and threw in green shoes for good measure.

These two hit the Four Points Sheraton in Chelsea and were able to check in at 7 am. A miracle right? Let me just tell you that I am a Starwood Preferred Guest Member. It’s the rewards program that services all the Sheraton chains. They treat you like a rockstar, so everyone should join if you stay in a lot of hotels. Especially if you just took a red eye and want to check into your room at 7 am despite the official 3 pm check in time. I think these two were asleep in the room by 7:03 am.

Upon my arrival, I was also asked by the car service what I was wearing. I was thrilled to be in New York where finally my fashion would be appreciated. I explained in detail that I was wearing a Michael Kors tank dress with metal studding accenting the neckline. I had paired the dress with black leggings and comfortable yet stylish Mary Janes. To avoid the chill of the airplane air conditioning, I was wrapped in a white Pashima with gold threading. The operator said, “So, the driver should look for a black dress and white shawl?” I guess he just needed a synopsis rather than full plot line.

Once I got these two out of bed. We did a quick catch up in which Laurel introduced that she had taken all the video documentaries we used to film of ourselves in Cedar and converted them to DVD for our viewing pleasure. She had dropped $200 on a portable DVD player and now had $50 spending money for New York. To get us in vacation mode, we popped in the footage from our Minnesota trip. I will apologize to our Minnesota guide Darren, we were annoying with the camera, hilarious, but annoying.

Setting the Stage


Back in 2004, the NCAA held its Regional Compliance Seminar in New York City. Shannon had just taken over as the athletic academic coordinator and I was working in compliance. Somehow we conned, I mean convinced the Athletic Director to send us to the New York seminar rather than the western location which I think was Seattle. Then Laurel signed on for the trip and it was history in the making. That 2004 adventure is so full of stories that it is a whole separate blog.

What I do remember most from that trip, is coming home on such a high. It is all we talked about for weeks, yes we were the annoying girls who forced their vacation on everyone. And I think it’s the first time I truly recognized what amazing friends Laurel and Shannon would be to me. I literally crashed their friendship and demanded attention and they gave it to me unconditionally.

Laurel had to fill her days while Shannon and I attended the seminar (Laurel had a sidekick but that’s a substory for another time). I also remember trying to get Shannon to ditch the seminar classes so that we could be exploring the city with Laurel. However, she insisted we attend since she was going into her first year of administration. Just one example of the utmost professionalism that Shannon always displays, it’s one of the many examples I try to learn from her.

Anyway, Laurel was able to attend a matinee of Mamma Mia one of the days while Shannon and I were in classes. We ran out of time in New York for Shannon to see this one, so we made arrangements to see it in Vegas together later that summer at the Mandalay Bay.

On July 10, 2004; after a long day of softball camp we ventured to Vegas for Mamma Mia. Laurel had booked us a $29 dollar room at the Gold Spike Hotel thinking it was the Golden Nugget. For the record, the Gold Spike Hotel is NOT remotely close to the Golden Nugget. A $29 room on a Friday night in Vegas should have been a red flag.

We loved the show, loved that it was about three friends and loved that we still knew all the words to Dancing Queen. Back in the room, I presented my friends with a plan. Still reeling from the energy of our New York venture, I proposed we meet back there on the Brooklyn Bridge in five years no matter what. I had written up an idea of what I thought our lives would be like in five years (boy was I way off, but it’s still poetic) and a contract guaranteeing attendance.

Sitting in the hot, muggy Gold Spike Hotel room with the swamp cooler blaring, we signed the following contract:

I (Shannon Henrie, Myndee Kay Larsen, Laurel Simmons) do solemnly swear that at some point during the summer of 2009 no matter what my financial situation is, how many little games I will have to miss; no matter what I weigh or what my hair is doing I will find a way to meet my friends on the Brooklyn Bridge. Even if, heaven forbid, we have lost touch, fought, or moved out of the country, I understand that I am expected to be on the Brooklyn Bridge in 2009. (Signed July 10, 2004).

Five years is a long time and I think more happened in our lives than even we expected. Laurel left the coaching ranks and joined the real estate ranks. She gutted and remodeled a gorgeous home in the Murray, UT area. I finally left C-town for Chicago and became the city girl I always thought was trapped inside me. Shannon married and believe it or not planned her two children around our five year reunion in New York. There were many things that could have derailed our plans or legitimate excuses we could have used, but we made the trip to New York happen. And while we may be the only three people to ever understand the New York posts on my blog, I think what we want visitors to know is friendship prevailed and this is our story.