Always Open

If you’ve followed my Ms. Adventures from the beginning, then you know the influence my material grandmother (lovingly aka known as my “gram”) has not only had on my passion project, Hopeless + Cause Atelier, but most importantly on my life. Growing up, I couldn’t imagine a time I wasn’t with her or she was in my corner when I was bumping heads with my mom. She taught me how to sew out of necessity when I was young and when I returned to the craft decades later, she pulled out her sewing machine and once again gave me guidance as I started to design and create.

She recently turned 93 and she lives at home with my aunt. Her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren take turns staying with her and provide care during the day while my aunt works. I’ve talked about my time with her in past posts but a couple months ago, I had an epiphany of sorts. Tuesday afternoon we were at the kitchen counter–she, with her cookies and coffee and I across from her chatting, when I realized that her hair was standing up in the back from her most recent nap. I went into her bathroom and grabbed her brush. I went back to the counter and started combing her hair. Her coos of excitement from this simple gesture threw me over with emotion. We went on that afternoon talking about family members. She told me how beautiful my dress was and she had a mixture of frustration and sadness when she couldn’t remember things. The next Tuesday, when she was enjoying her afternoon snack at the breakfast bar. I decided to pull out a deck of cards and start playing “Solitaire”. This is a game she would always play when we were at the ranch or she was in the kitchen waiting for the timer to go off on a meal she was cooking in the oven. I thought this simple act would jog her memory from the past as she watched intently as I played and showed her excitement when I made the cards work for me. Another Tuesday, she was sitting up in her bed rubbing on her finger nails trying to clean off the chipped nail polish. I grabbed my aunts tools, remover and polish and sat in front of her to give them a fresh look. Her happiness fed into mine. She has had her good days: remembering me, where she is and what she’s doing, eating, getting up to walk and holding a conversation, and she has had her not so good days: chanting prayers when she’s in pain, disoriented and upset when she can’t remember, and not really eating.

Either way, I am really grateful for this time and while it’s hard to see this fiercely independant and strong motherly figure so fragile, I am blessed that I am able to be there for her in this way. I also realized it was an epiphany on two fronts. The first was the realization was that as much as we think we are indedpendant and can do it all on our own, at sometime in our life we NEED others. The second was the hardiness and the value of time or making the time.

I set goals every year. I have learned in order to be successful I need to be realistic and specific in creating them. I also lean on a word to help guide me on my path. I opened with “opportunity” because I knew this was the year that I could take advantage with my health in check and the world opening up….but then it hit me. Opportunity is ALWAYS around you just have to be open to it. So “open” became my guiding word.

I finally set a date for breast reconstruction and it excited me that I would finally be able to shelve this chapter (plus have a new bangin’ bod). I took advantage of my company’s free educational benefits. I applied and was accepted into “Fashion Design Management” certificate program. I understand the creative side but wanted to learn more about the business side. I reached out to friends I hadn’t seen for years because of the pandemic and set dates to visit with them. I decided visiting NYC only once in 2022 was not good enough and this was the first REAL Autumn/Winter fashion season since 2020. I had points so I booked my flight.

When I opened up to the universe, I found abundance, even when obsticles blocked the way. I almost canceled my NYC trip. I really wanted to go but I started thinking about my next medical proceedure, corresponding leave of absence and short term disability pay (60% vs.100%) and I felt a little uneasy about spending the extra money. I decided to be open and just like that, I received a text from my friend, Evelyn, asking when my next trip was. I filled her in on the dates and she asked if I’d like company. So we made a plan and February 9th couldn’t get here quick enough. There were 6 things I had to do and the rest of the time was free for what ever. Those things were: 1) check out a NYFW production that also produces in Paris, 2&3) schedule time with Amanda (whom I hadn’t seen since 2020) and Sal (whom I hadn’t seen since 2018), 4) go to mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, 5) get some work done at at Louis Vuiton and Gucci and 6) visit the Museum at the FIT .

We arrived after a full day of travel and checked into the hotel, freshened up and headed down to the hotel bar for happy hour. We had reservations for a speakeasy in the East Village. I knew I’d be recovering from surgery for her March milestone birthday so I wanted to take her to someplace fabulous to celebrate. And it was! The front was a pawn shop that opened to a sweeping staircase with beautiful chandler that welcomed you to the hostess station and bar. We celebrated our arrival with a cocktail before we were escorted to our table.

The next day I had nothing scheduled and the only thing Evelyn wanted to do was to visit the Guggenheim. The weather was unseasonably mild and beautiful for February so we decided to walk from our midtown hotel, along 5th avenue and then through Central Park to the museum. It was my first visit to this museum it was a lovely afternoon for art. We walked about half way back until Evelyn asked if we could jump on the subway. We had walked 8 miles so I gave in and if you know me, you know riding the subway is a big compromise for me (HUGE). We opted to stay in that evening grabbing pizza and a bottle of wine from neighborhood establishments (I did have to send Isaiah a photo with the caption $2 pizza).

The next morning, I had an appointment with the Louis Vuitton team to try make some sales while I was in town and then my plan was to stop by Gucci to pick of a repair order. Evelyn would meet me after the store opened. We had little bit of time to look through the latest at Herald Square before meeting Amanda for brunch. I hoped we’d hit the Museum at FIT for “Fifty Years of Hip Hop Style” before returning to the hotel for a little R-N-R. I got to work–I just love entering from Macy’s Herald Square employee entrace–and chatted with the team before I started taking photos of the latest bags and accessories. I got to work and made a few purchases on behalf of my clients. We strolled through the contemporary lines but realized we had about a 20 minute walk through Chelsea, so we decided if we had time after, we’d come back. We arrived in sync with Amanda. I gave her a big hug and made introductions. We were escorted to our chalet, or quaintly decorated outdoor eating space, that was probably built in 2020. We had a lively convesation about our lives from the past three years. After brunch, we walked over to FIT and caught the exhibits, continued on to Macy’s to do a little shopping and then returned to the room to freshen up before heading to the shows. The first one was near the Flat Iron Building and was produced by Small Business Fashion Week. They produce throughout the USA and in Paris so I really wanted to see their show and attendees. We arrived right at 6pm and almost didn’t make it in, but I’ve learned to be a pushy New Yorker and was able to get us. The show was smaller than what I am used to, but it was fun to see the varying type of designers from swim to street. The next show was in the East Village and one I’ve attended over the years. It’s a bigger production company, Art Hearts Fashion. We jumped in an Uber and headed south. As we arrived, I noticed a line wrapping around the building which I had never seen at that venue before. As we got in line, we started talking to attendees when one mentioned the type of ticket I had meant go to front of the line. We walked to the interest and I checked in with the press table. I had sent in requests for me and Evelyn. However, there was a screening process and Evelyn wasn’t on the list. Unfortunately, I couldn’t talk my way through this one so we opted to just head back to the hotel. We finished the evening watching movies and munching on Cava (one of my go-to’s in NYC).

Sunday, I got ready and headed out early to Mass. It’s so peaceful walking 5th Avenue on Sunday morning. I know it’s unbelieveable to discribe the City as peaceful but it really is before 10am on Sundays. I got my fill of St. Patrick’s and because brunch with Sal was at Pier 17, I had to take the subway (yes, it may start snowing as you read this). I arrived to the Brooklyn Bridge. Since Evelyn, didn’t go to mass, we were going to meet their and walk over to the restaurant together. We were all running late, so I informed the party to check in as they arrived. Evelyn could not find me so we headed over separately. Sunday was the coldest of the days with the weather dreary but at least it wasn’t raining. However being so close to the water made for some bone chilling cold. Brunch was wonderful. I hadn’t seen Sal since she stayed with me in 2018 for our friend, Jennifer’s celebration of life. We met when she was a reporter with Albuquerque Business First and developed an incredible friendship over the years. She left Albuquerque and returned to her home town, Denver, before landing a job in D.C. and in the past year was scooped up by the Associated Press in NYC. We wrapped up brunch and headed back to Macy’s to work on another purchase from Louis Vuitton. Then plan was to find a pub to watch the superbowl but after the chilly afternoon we decided to have a superbowl room party. Evelyn was craving Canolis so we hit the neighborhood, picked up dinner, wine and sweets and turned on the game. I think everyone should experience a superbowl room party.

Our flights on moday were early afternoon, and I had another order for Gucci. I had also received a request to create a prom dress for someone i love dearly, so I wanted to hit Mood for fabric ideas. I tooks swatches and photos with the Gucci bag in tow. We got back in time to check our bags and hit a pub across the street for lunch before heading to the airport. We got on our planes and made the treck back. On my flight, I had the option to watch movies when I came accross a new release that, after the recommendation from aunt, has become my favorite, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris”. It is a sweet movie about an everyday woman who has profound impact on those around her. It’s about loss and enjoying life to the fullest. It was totally relateable to me.

“We need more dreams now more than ever.”

-Ada Harris

I returned to Albuquerque inspired. I’m always inspired by NYC but this is a milestone year for me and I was so grateful I took this trip. I had a little less than a month before my surgery and I wanted to get so much in before. I got back to work on outfitting the local The Go Red for Women Fashion Show for the American Heart Association. This is a such a full circle event for me. In 2014 and 2015, I actually attended the Macy’s NYFW version with celebrities models like Zendaya, Thalia Sodi, and Giada De Laurentiis. So when was hired at Macy’s, I was excited to outfit the real superheroes in our community. I also planned to host a Galentine’s soiree to thank all those that have supported me in my business throughout the years. I continued my Tuesdays with gram. Made time with my minis, my friends and to volunteer. I celebrated several friends incredible accomplishments and just enjoyed life at community events. I started my course work. I opted for a Dry Lent and found that it hasn’t been difficult to follow even when going out with friends.

I had my pre-op appointment scheduled for March 1st. I woke that morning after feeling so many different emotions over the past couple of weeks. I knew the intensity with a hospital stay involved and assumed a 6-week leave of absence. My plastic surgeon had moved from her private practice to UNM Cancer Center, so when I had planned to have reconstructive surgery last year, I’d have to wait until late summer but because of my time away from work for my ankle surgery, I knew I couldn’t take another 6-weeks off, so late last year, we planned it for March 10th. I arrived at my appointment on time and after going through the maze of the cancer center I was taken to an exam room. I had a busy day but I had planned the appointment early enough that I wouldn’t be too stressed about spending the time for the appointment. However when my doctor arrived 45 minutes late, I lost it. The emotions bubbled up and I explained how it is not professional or courteous to make someone wait that long. She apologized profusely and we got to work talking about my care pre-op, the surgery and the recovery. It was overwhelming and I wish I had an extra pair of ears but I tried to take copious notes. I was to give up caffiene immediately (which resulted in several days of fun headaches). My surgery call time was 6am and the surgery would be anywhere from 6-9 hours long. I would be admitted into an ICU room and would be released 5 days later. The room would set at balmy 75 degrees so the newly constructed veins and arteries would be expanded enough to feed the new tissue enough blood to sustain life. The final big change to what I was expecting was the fact that I would be out for 8 weeks. Eight weeks of minimal movement and 8 weeks of reduced pay. But at the end of the day, I knew that on the flip side I would be able to shelve this chapter of my life and have a banging bod (If you’re reading this, I hope you’re laughing along with me).

“When she woke the next morning she felt no longer sad but only eager and excited as one who is about to embark upon a great and unknown adventure.”

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

I got back to work. Set up our store’s Bag Hunger Activies, saw as many clients as I could. Cleaned my casita since I’d have my minis staying with me and got as far as I could in my class assignments. I planned a team volunteer project the day before my surgery because I knew I’d be out of commission for the rest of the projects that month. A group of 12 from Macy’s Coronado headed to St. Felix Pantry on Thursday March 8. I think what made this even more special is that one of my coworkers mentioned that he had utilized the food pantry’s services years ago so he was compelled to go and help others now that he was at a place where he could. That made me smile. We packaged fresh veggies and sorted non-perishable foods for two hours.

As I was leaving, my phone rang. I answered knowing the number was coming from Lovelace, the hospital where my surgery was taking place. The woman on the other end introduced herself as the financial consultant and asked to speak to me. I responded and she continued to discuss the financial costs of the surgery and my responsibility. I think I was in shock because it all became jumbled besides the following: Lovelace was no longer contracted with my insurance carrier. The surgery would cost $330,000 and my patient responsibility would be $150,000. While I was hoping the surgery was in-network because it would be free because I had already met this year’s $3,900 in network out of pocket maximum, I knew there might be a possibility that it could be out of network and my out of pocket maximum would be $11,000. So when I explained that to this woman, she responded saying since Lovelace wasn’t contracted they could charge whatever they wanted. I then proceeded to ask why they waited until the day before to inform me of this. My heart sank thinking how much longer I’d have to wait. She said she’d reach out to the CFO to see if there is anything they could do, but it might require me bringing a few thousand dollars with me…again, I thought you request this a day before my surgery?!? I asked whom the CFO she was referring to, so when she responded with the name of one of my clients, I said, “tell her it’s for Dara, her Macy’s Personal Stylist”.

I hung up the phone and tears streamed down my face and I’m sure my blood pressure was through the roof. I took a deep breath and reached out to my friend, Serena, whom is an executive at Lovelace. I explained what happened. She was astonished to hear what I told and said she’d get on the phone with the CFO. With in minutes I was given the number for the head of admissions with a time to call her. I promptly did so and talked through the financial responsibility and she agreed that the max out of pocket I’d experience would be the $11,000. As a friend told me, it’s like I received a $139,000 gift. I was lucky because I have friends in high places, but I couldn’t help but think what if I didn’t?

The next morning, Isaiah drove me to the hospital. We checked in at 6:00am and after going through the admission process we were taken to the surgery area. The nurse came to get me within minutes and after taking all the preliminary vitals, got me prepped for surgery. My surgeons came in and marked my breast and abdomen surgery site. The anesthesiologist came in started the process as they rolled me into the operating room. About 8 hours later, I woke up in my ICU room connected to oxygen, IVs, drains, a pain ball, blood pressure cuff, catheter, oxygen sensor and dopler wiring to read the blood flow. Later, Cati admitted to me that she was scared after seeing all the machine connections. Initially, I had two nurses attending to me. They stayed with me in the room checking vitals every 15 minutes until the shift change at 7pm. That first day I could only have ice chips (it was ok–Friday’s during lent are for fasting–okay, I know bad joke). The room was so hot that I asked for ice packs behind my neck and under my feet. I found out that my lungs had partially collapsed from the time spent in the operating room, so they gave me a spirometer to exercise my lung. It was difficult to initially get to the level I was challenged to, but the bigger problem happened after the first day of using it and the coughing that ensued. I prayed that I didn’t cough, laugh or sneeze and of course all these actions occured. I’ve never held my stomach tighter.

I’m not going lie; the first 48 hours were probably the hardest I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. I straddled the line of modesty and vanity with my own vanity pushing me through. My faith, my family and friends who checked in and said prayers on my behalf, the incredible nursing team from the ICU unit and little things like watching Friends on Nick at Nite, Harry Potter Marathons and trash tv from Bravo were my saviors. The ICU nurses went above and beyond in my care. I had one nurse, Michelle, who was so concerned when my temperature spiked to 101.8 degrees that she called the doctor for advice and did everything to keep me comfortable. I knew it was because I was living in an oven, but soldiered on following instructions to make sure that the tissue had a healthy start. I also kept my sense of humor, welcoming my visitors to my tropical paradise.

Tuesday morning I was doing well enough to be released home. Brianna took off of work and picked me up. Isaiah met us at my casita and stayed with me until Cati got off from work. Isaiah is working remotely for the next month so he’s been with me during the day all week and Cati has been staying overnight with me. I am truly blessed by my three kiddos. Family and friends have checked in to see what I need and how I’m doing. I am incredibly grateful. I know this was the path I chose for reconstruction and I am so thankful that it is going well but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t intense. And it brought me back to my epiphany from my grams. I’m a tough, independent woman, who’d rather focus on others than ask for help.Yet again life reminded me that we all need help sometimes. Right now, it’s hard for me to welcome visitors because I’m carrying my painball and two drains. I walk hunched over with the aid of a walker and I’m living my best life in pj’s. I’ve always been teased because I have monkey toes, but my prensile feet have aided me as I can’t bend down. And to not welcome someone into my home when I can’t make them a meal or even clean my house, is trying. It’s not that I don’t want to see loved ones but instead because I don’t want them to see me in this manner. I’m at the start of road to recovery and I can’t wait to write about what’s happening next…and down the road.

I know 2023 is going to be a big year with milestone celebrations, travel and quality time with loved ones. My first couple of projects are to complete the Fashion Design Management Certificate Program, loan looks for the Locker #505 Fashion Show in April and get back to work reviewing Paris Fashion Week production companies. My journeys are never straight lines, but it’s in those difficult paths and off road adventures that I learn so much about myself and the world around me. This journey continues to reveal to be open and to take advantage of every opportunity that is set forth.

“Life is not all moonlight and movies.” – Andre Fauvel “Why can’t it be? I’ve spent too long on my own, wishing my life away.” – Ada Harris

Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris

With light and love,
Dara Sophia

P.S. I can have coffee again after March 25th and a glass of wine after April 9th.

It REALLY Is A Wonderful Life

It’s December 26, 2023 and I hope you are taking some time to breathe and just be. It has been incredibly busy in my world and even with the bah humbugs I have to reflect on how wonderful life has been in the past month.

It was kind of a blur since I returned from Austin Fashion Week. However I intended to continue my tradition of a 36 hour trip to NYC for a holiday recharge. It had been a year since I was last there and I wasn’t going to let 2022 go by without visiting my soul place, but there was so much to do before I could escape (and because I’m unable to take PTO in December, it really is 36 hours).

If you’ve ever worked retail during the holidays, you’ll completely understand the craziness of goals and shopping trends but going into this season I had myself organized to meet them to the best of my ability while making sure I had built in self-care and enjoying the season too.

My role at Macy’s is a Personal Stylist (aka personal shopper). It is a specialized selling position (and I loathe the sales component but it’s the necessary evil that I achieve to get to do the things that I love). Every year I sign a contact. I have two goals: meet a minimum sales goal and have a percentage of that in return sales (FY22: $500K and 15% return client sales). It is not taken into consideration if you are out on medical leave, as I was for 6 weeks when I broke my ankle. Going into the Black Friday sales event I was $150K off my annual goal, however I had over 50% of sales coming from return clients. I didn’t focus on it knowing it would be what it would be and focused instead on the customers in front of me, marketing and planning internal and external community events, which are the best parts of my job!

It was our last year partnership with Make-A-Wish letter writing campaign with Santa so I wanted to make sure it was truly successful. I organized for our customers to donate to Toys for Tots. I asked for another grant for Locker #505’s shopping event that was met with a match from the local ice hockey team, the Ice Wolves, Western Skies Community Health and the extremely generous owner operators, Steve and Patricia Aragon. We almost doubled the number of kids outfitted from last year and I am so fortunate to have such wonderful family and friends (about two dozen showed up to be personal shoppers for an early Sunday morning shopping event). Macy’s has a new partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, so I asked for a grant to support their Holidazzle party. The funds provided covered the gingerbread houses (activity for the Bigs and Littles to do together), decor, prizes and other needs. My friends Carla and Allen sponsored outfits again for the kids at the Ranches and I got to personally style many of them. Our last project was to internally sponsor preschool kids from a Youth Development Inc headstart project. The community relations component isn’t officially part of my job, but something I intentionally seek out. Our store doesn’t have a large budget so most of the projects we support are based on sweat equity. I don’t think I’ve ever worked in a role that I’ve had a large marketing or philanthropic budget, but instead learned ways to make impact from whatever I’ve been dealt…I always think of Mark 12:41 when I think of my approach to community giving and engagement. I always ask, knowing the answer will possibly be, “no”, but incredibly grateful for the “yesses” and giving all I’ve got.

I kicked off the season with my annual Swanky Sweater Soiree. I focused on an Italian holiday with entertaining, fashion and gift ideas. I was fortunate to pitch segment ideas to the KRQE team and was on twice a month in November and December talking about everything from fashion trends to last minute gift ideas and a client and friend invited me to her radio program to talk about holiday trends. Since the week before Thanksgiving through Christmas week, I was working an average of 50 hours. I was feeling it–from my “new” ankle to my muscles to my mindset, but I made the conscious decision to schedule time and make memories with friends and family and I was going to enjoy NYC to the fullest and get recharged (and really test my ankle with all the walking).

Unfortunately, Jet Blue suspended their non-stop redeye flight from late October through mid-March so there was not quick flight, so I’d be flying out early Sunday morning, meeting my friend, Leola, once again for our quick holiday adventure. We’d have Sunday night, all day Monday and Monday night and fly back early Tuesday so I could make it to work Tuesday afternoon.

The plan (and prayer there were no delays) was to make it to mass at 5:30pm (my flight was scheduled to arrive at 4:05pm, then head over to the Louis Vuitton trunk show that I had got us tickets to a month prior then head over to Serendipty for dinner that evening.

The next day I would go in to see the Louis Vuitton team (hopefully drum up some orders), do some shopping at Macy’s, head over to Bryant Park and take a photo of the tree and find The Truffleist (for my Christmas meal ingredients), go to Rockefeller Center to see that other tree and shop the Nintendo store (because that is a request of my son everytime I go-lol!). We had reservations for another one of my favorite restaurants, Dante. And then we’d stroll around to see all the fabulous holiday windows.

Windows from Bergdorf Goodman and Bloomingdales

What I really loved is that I had “thread” on my mind and the universe conspired to show me the beauty of that word. I really wanted to make it to Dyker Heights, but that will have to be another trip where I can enjoy the city for more than a day and a half. I’m really like Ralphie at the Higby’s window in “A Christmas Story” when it comes to the holiday windows at Macy’s, Saks, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman.

We did all that I wanted to accomplish and more and I made it to work by 12:30pm that Tuesday. I know it sounds exhausting, but I really do get recharged. People ask me about my crazy trips all the time, and how going to NYC during the busiest time of the year recharges me when I work retail, but I try to explain that it’s a different type of crowds and energy…it’s just vibing in all the right ways. But I also try to have that vibe back here at home.

I attended Nob Hill Shop and Stroll with Ang and Lee (it was good to see the crowds out again).

I went to the movies to see holiday classics, “Elf” and “Love Actually” with my minis and watched other new releases, “The Chosen” and “Ticket to Paradise” with Cathy and Ang, respectively. I focused on an Advent meditation to start my days through the Hallow App (check it out, it’s pretty awesome) and did lots of yoga to aid in my physical state of mind.

I invited my brother, his family and my kids to join me for a train ride to Santa Fe for dinner at Tomasitas for what would have been my mom’s 70th birthday. I invited friends for a couple of occasions for dinner, conversation and laughter. I planned Christmas Eve dinner this year inviting Ang and her husband to join us (making it a new tradition) with all my mini’s favorites, challenged my niece with our holiday joy shenanigans photo and spent time enjoying some family at my grams on Christmas night.

I am off today (well except to go in to do the final counts to raise money for Make-A-Wish) and just reliving the season’s memories as I write this blog and watch Christmas movies. That I hope I have explained why you received a 2-for-1 blog this month. Well because of all the flurry and because I didn’t get the photos from Austin Fashion Week until the begining of December. I share these Ms. Adventures, not to brag, and maybe you’re thinking I document and post too much, but I love sharing moments and experiences with those I love. I know this time of year isn’t always jolly and good for everyone. AND, I know I can be annoyingly optimistic. It’s not because I haven’t had hardships or been handed adversity, but instead because I choose to look for the good in everything I experience. Years from now I can reflect that It’s REALLY A Wonderful Life. I hope can find a nugget of truth in that. I also hope you are having a wonderful holiday season and enjoying it to the fullest whether near or far.

With light and love and a wonderful New Year,

Deja Vu

You remind me, yeah
You remind me of such sweet memories
OhI saw you before baby
It’s a deja vu honey
Don’t you know that you remind me

You Remind Me – Mary J Blige

I have been traveling to NYC in February every year since 2013. It has been a constant for me and a savior from the winter blues, even when it’s a blizzard or lowest temperatures on record. I feed off the energy and it fuels my creative juices. I don’t know why January always seems so brutal but this year was no different than any other, just a new set of challenges. I was looking forward for this trip especially when my round-trip flight cost $5.20. And, after a few conversations, I was able to convince my friend, Sofi to go with me.

I headed out early because the Jet Blue red eye only runs Monday and Thursday during the week and I made a commitment to back on Saturday for La Noche Encantada. Beyond attending Fashion Week shows, I wanted to meet with my tattoo artist to talk about collaboration for Paris Fashion Week, have dinner with Amanda and Andy, fabric shop and get my brows done at Macy’s Herald Square (yes, I go to NYC for my brows, don’t judge). However, a HUGE opportunity was presented to me the week before my departure. The Louis Vuitton team from Herald Square reached out to the Stylist team to talk about the opportunity to sell to Louis Vuitton (yes, Louis Vuitton) to our clients when they use their Macy’s card. I was ALL over the opportunity, so I explained I would be visiting and we set up a time for training on the process and an overview of all the offerings.

Sofi would be joining me Wednesday night so I scheduled all my engagements before her arrival. I worked Monday; went home packed and headed to the airport at 10pm. I was pretty exhausted so I knew I wouldn’t have a hard time falling asleep…the only issue would be whether or not my row would be full or I’d be able to lay out. Thank you, God, I had the whole row to myself so strapped into the middle seat belt I laid horizontal and soaked out as much sleep as I could squeeze out to the 3 and a half hour flight. Arriving to NYC about 5:30am, I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. I was on a pretty tight budget for this trip and since Super Shuttle, formerly, my inexpensive way into the city, was no longer in operation, I put on my big girl panties and decided to take the subway to my hotel in lieu of an Uber or Lyft ($10.50 vs $40). I really had to wake up now and pay attention to where I was going. I had to switch trains once but made without too many issues in getting there (it was morning rush hour so the train from Jamaica Square was a little tight).

I arrived at the Doubletree Metropolitan about 7:30am and was able to check into my room with warm cookies about 9am. Exhaustion took over so I took off my clothes and climbed into bed with Vanderpump Rules on the tv as background noise. I came in and out of consciousness, finally waking up at 1pm. I was planning on meeting Amanda and Andy in Hoboken, NJ for dinner about 6:30pm. I jumped into the shower and dressed in layers because I know how cold the weather along the waterfront in NJ can be. I wore a sweater dress, nylons, over-the-knee boots, my North Face zip up hoodie and my faux fur coat and headed out. I decided I would head out to St. Patrick’s Cathedral, as I always do to say a prayer for me. Luckily, it was three blocks west. However, I noticed my hotel was caddy-corner from the historic Waldorf-Astoria, the grand dame hotel, and the first place I stayed in NYC back in 2005. Currently under a remodel, I couldn’t go in to see this beautiful art deco designed hotel but it started the chain of deja vu moments throughout this trip.

After a few prayers at St. Patrick’s in being in awe of the beauty this holy place hold for me, I decided to get my energy infusion and sensory overload from Times Square. I walked through and moved on to Herald Square. I wanted to find the Macy’s employee entrance before my meeting in the morning (I had been smiling ridiculously the week before at the thought that I was going into Herald Square to learn about Louis Vuitton…wait, did I tell you about this already…lol).

I continued on to the Path Station on 23 street. I was dying. The weather was gorgeous and I was wearing too many layers. As I walked up to the station, deja vu hit again. I had been there a year before, having problems with the ticket booth and being introduced to a ginormous subway rat, so as I descend into the bowls of the city, I was alert of what might pop out to say, “hello”, while having both cash and card ready to purchase my ticket. I arrived earlier than Amanda and Andy, so instead of hanging out in the train station with all the “real cool” people, I decided to walk to the restaurant since it was such a beautiful night. As I walked through the neighborhood, I asked myself if I could live there. The streets were quaint some still with charm like cobblestone streets and full gardens in the front patios with easy access to the city, I thought I just might.

I arrived a little bit early and got our table. They arrived and I greeted them with big hugs. I was so happy they could join me for a dinner early in the work week. Amanda asked about my plans this trip and we talked about life since I last saw them in December. I think I finally convinced them to come out to NM in May (fingers crossed). I loved that I was with them as their daughter shared her wedding video, so I got see it as well as Amanda’s emotional response to it–it was beautiful.

We continued to eat, drink, converse and laugh, especially at the Exit sign that was covered with a simple piece of paper that said, “This is Not an Exit”. They both said, “only in New Jersey”. We walked back to the train station embraced and headed our own ways. I boarded the train and got off at the 33rd street station, this time it was early enough that I wasn’t afraid I was going to be locked in underground. The night was so incredibly beautiful, I decided to walk back to the hotel (5 miles walked).

I crashed into a deep sleep but woke up a few hours later and made myself go back to sleep. I woke around 8am and realized I needed to leave the hotel by 8:30am to get to Macy’s by 9:00am. Walking traffic was a crowded as the subway the morning before. I envisaged walking to work and thought about where I’d live and my ideal job in the city.

As I approached the Macy’s entrance on 35th, I joined the mass going in and I got the goosebumps. I was so excited and felt like I was walking into Miracle on 34th Street. This was it the flagship store and I was training with the Louis Vuitton team (did I already tell you that?). The entrance was different than my own at Coronado. I checked in and presented my ID. I called my contact when I was informed that I would need to be picked up from this area. My colleague, Imran, came a few minutes later and took me over to the store within a store. I met Amanda the store manager and we started from the 3rd floor and worked our way down.

The top floor was a museum of beautiful hand panted trunks, women’s shoes and accessories. The two of them talked about how I would get an assist credit on orders placed with the Herald Square location. We talked about the seasonality of the product offerings which added to the exclusivity of Louis Vuitton.

We moved on down to the 2nd floor and the men’s offerings. I already had a client waiting for me to come back and work with him on a few accessories, so I asked a number of questions about the products.

We continued down to the first floor. I learned about the latest spring offerings and the luxurious fabrics, the design and the desire it all created. I snapped photo after photo building my portfolio for social media to generate the excitement that I could be the key in New Mexico for Louis Vuitton. Right now you can by fake ones, previously used ones or order on-line but I could help curate your collection directly. That made me happy and I really want to overachieve this goal as well as make the team aware of it so if the opportunity arrives in NYC…just sayin! After being given a goodie bag of the latest scents and some more photos, I headed upstairs to start the posts and grab a coffee. I loved saying, “I’m a Macy’s employee for my discount at Starbucks.” Around 11am, I made my way back to the hotel. I was planning to meet Anna, my tattoo artist at the Whitney for a conversation on creation and collaboration and to view the exhibit on Mexican Murals.

On my path back to the hotel and literally across the street from Macy’s is the Desigual flagship store. New York Fashion Week began for me in 2013 with a ticket to see Desigual at Lincoln Center. It absolutely changed my life in so many ways. I am grateful for heartache and the heartfelt life I’ve lived because of it. Thanks for reminding me La Vida es Chula and Sex. Fun. Love. ♥️💋

The weather was still incredibly mild for February so I decided I’d walk to the Whitney, which is on the westside near the Hudson river. As I walked through Chelsea, I stopped at a few mom and pop shops to look at fabric and such.I walked down the street of the Doubletree I normally stay at and smiled, I looked over to my favorite local coffee shop to see Malcom Gladwell step out. Now, I didn’t stop him to talk about his writings or ask for his photo, but knew it was him and smiled. I received a message from Ana saying it was looking more like 3pm, so walked around the corner I popped into the FIT museum to see the latest exhibit and to kill some time.

I guess I’ve visited so many times that the pieces I saw were from previous collections, yet I was still inspired. I continued west through campus and dreamed what it would be like to be a student. As I walked down 8th, deja vu hit me fiercely, but I had been there just a year before. As I walked past Dallas BBQ, I was reminded of my first official NYFW visit and being stopped on the street by a clairvoyant named Dallas and every time I see a reminder of Dallas, I want to reach out to her and find out what she currently sees in my life. I walked south past Momofuku Nishi and remember getting flustered when I couldn’t find it and having a smiling face peer out to great me and the wonderful dinner of pasta, wine pairing and conversation a cold February night, just the year before. I smiled and continued on.

Checking off my 3rd Eduardo Kobra mural…I absolutely adore them and hope to stumble upon all of them in my Ms Adventures in NYC

As I walked through the meat packing district toward the Whitney, I looked up and saw familiar lighting coming from a building in the distance. This trip I had a different view. Last June, I was enjoying cocktails from that view above wondering what was on the lower level. Today, I was there. I was early for our meeting time so I decided to visit the high line. I had been talking about going there every trip and especially when I was there last April when I thought I was going to be doing dinner solo on a beautiful spring day. I walked through the path and enjoyed the views the flora and the art that dotted the landscape.

Can you see the lights at the Top of the Standard?

I finally got in contact with Anna and we met on the 8th floor cafe. We started talking about our day and slowly moved into ideas about design and how to incorporate her designs into what I would create. I looked through her sketch book with intention from woman figures, to script to clowns, there were beautifully sketched pieces that I thought could be incorporated into a printed pattern or free-formed painting on fabric. We talked about out the options. As we wrapped up our discussions, the view from the windows called to me so I stepped outside to take it all in.

sketch by Anastassia Menshikova

We descended the stairs and went into the exhibits. Unfortunately, I paid the $25 ticket and the Mexican Mural exhibit wasn’t up yet. However, I saw a familiar New Mexico artist and the painting that my mom had a print of. We also appreciated a number of fashion based sculptures. We walked out about 20 minutes later.

As we walked we talked about tattoos. Anna mentioned how much tattoo artists hate getting them. I laughed because I assumed because of the sheer number of them each artist, I’ve seen, tends to have. Walking down the road she blurted out, as a pothead I feel it my responsibility to offer you some. I smiled thinking she must feel comfortable with me to offer. I declined but it brought up the discussion on pot and whether it had been legalized in NYC as I smelt it around every block in the city. She stated it hadn’t but it was decriminalized. That discussion went on to include whether or not you can drink or smoke before getting a tattoo. She said really it doesn’t make you bleed more if you drink but tattoo artists don’t want to deal with your drunk ass. She also highly recommended not smoking before going in for one if you don’t smoke on the regular because you don’t know what reaction you will have. I just figured I’d ask in case I want to take a shot of tequila the next time. LOL. We parted ways a few blocks down the road. Famished I stopped by Cava for a kids meal and made my way back to the hotel to prepare for Sofi’s arrival. Along the way, I stopped by a wine and liquor store. It was one on Madison that I had frequented two years prior when I was staying with Laura for my AW showing at NYFW and we stocked up on wine because a bottle for $9 is better than a glass for $10. As I write this blog, I finally googled why beer and wine aren’t sold in the same store. I guess beer is considered a bread product and can be sold with food. Wine and spirits are considered alcohol and alcohol and food can’t be sold under the same roof. HUH?!? Well, ok.

I saw you before baby
It’s a deja vu honey
Don’t you know that you remind me

You Remind Me – Mary J Blige

I got back to the hotel and relaxed for a couple of hours. Checking and responding to email; reading messages from colleagues whose positions have been eliminated from the company and feeling a little melancholy about it all. I was watching Twilight New Moon (the absolutely BEST one of the series) when Sofi arrived, around 8:30pm. As she was freshening up, I was scrolling through Instagram and saw a post from our social media team that the Style Crew members in NYC had a chance to see Jessica Simpson today at 6pm. AGAD!! I was just there earlier and wished I had seen it, so I sent a message to the team leaders saying sharing my bummery. It was a total missed opportunity.

The original plan was to go to dinner at this fabulous Chinese restaurant I had been introduced to in the East Village but after realizing we’d be leaving about 9:30pm and the restaurant closes at 10:30pm. We opted to stay nearby. I had told her about the igloos on the rooftop of 230 5th and since it still was a lovely evening we opted to go there. Of course I made Sofi walk, because it was only 23 blocks away and since we’d be noshing on appetizers and sipping cocktails it would be a great way to get our metabolism going (I don’t think she entirely believed me). When we arrived it was a little after 10pm and for a Wednesday night there was a good mix of people but it wasn’t super busy. We found an igloo to ourselves which was a nice break from the light breeze filling the air. The last time I had been here was 5 years ago, during the day and in May and the views are absolutely phenomenal with the Empire State Building within reach, around the other corner, the golden gilded Woolworth Building (sorry, Sof I thought it was the Met Life Building), and just a little further, the Freedom Tower. When we realized there wasn’t table service we got up to order at the bar. Fried foods and cocktails were on the menu tonight…OH BOY! With cocktails in hand we walked back to the igloo and found there were a handful of people there, both of us being wallflowers we opted to sit under the heaters in the open space. It was really nice until the breeze started picking up, but we had a great conversation about work and what we hoped to do for the next few days. We headed back about midnight, Sofi made me take the subway. Back in the room we drank more wine and continued our conversation until drifting off about 2am (10 miles walked).

dreamy gray day in NYC

I woke the next morning around 8am. I had an appointment at the brow bar at Macy’s. I tease that I fly out to NYC to get my brows done (I do but sometimes it’s months in between and I really am looking like a uni-brow…lol). Walking, I arrived just minutes before the store opened. I love the way Herald Square welcomes its guests with music and clapping. I made my way to the Benefit Brow Bar, saying a warm “hello” to Kosima, aesthetician. She asked about my trip and what shows I’d be seeing. We talked about her recent vacation to Jamaica and how warm and beautiful that was. After 20 minutes, my brows were separate and quite lovely. I asked her were the Last Act formal dresses were because 1. I was on a tight budget and 2. I still didn’t have my dress for La Noche Encantada.

As I was perusing the beautiful dresses and realizing Last Act pricing at Herald Square was not the same as Last Act Coronado, I realized I had a direct message from Noura Barnes, one of the leads for Macy’s social media. She mentioned there was another event happening on Friday and if I was in town she would share the invite. I asked her to please share. I also mentioned I was at Herald Square and if she had time I’d love to visit with her. She did but mentioned she was in the building across the street. I headed her way.


As I went through security and received my temporary badge, I had a reminder from someone that I was in the right place at the right time. I went upstairs and had a lovely conversation with Noura. She talked about the background of #MacysStyleCrew, about upcoming opportunities, and some changes within the organization. And like any good leader, she asked for my ideas and input taking notes she offered to look into it more. We talked for about 45 minutes and then like social media mavens took a selfie together. I headed out and realized that I needed to check with my team back home because they were taking on the fitting for the emcee of La Noche. I’m glad that I did because nothing was in place as I had asked, which totally frustrated me because I took the time to ensure that everything was in place. It ended working out smoothly and the emcee didn’t end up wearing the clothing, but I hate not looking professional and that could’ve been a reflection on me and my work. Because of that I needed to walk it out, so I headed back to the hotel on foot.

As I arrived, Sofi was ready to hit the town. We were both hungry so opted to go to Urbanspace, a cafeteria like concept that you could choose between several different restaurants in one location. We walked to the one near Grand Central Station (later realizing there was one right across the street from our hotel). The only event we had planned for the evening was the ASC Fashion Week Industry Party at Celon on 40th. I did want to continue to look for a dress and accessories so I thought I’d try Buffalo Exchange and Sofi was down. We headed west, but like every start to your trip in NYC, you need to go to Times Square for that energy rush. We did and I got a few great photos of her soaking it all in. We then headed down fashion avenue.

As we approached, FIT I asked Sofi if she wanted to she the exhibits. When she agreed, we went in. Unfortunately, the ballerina one I wanted to see wasn’t open yet…what the heck NYC two exhibits I’d miss out on this trip. We walked through the clothing as armor (me for the 2nd time) and then the black history month exhibit. We picked out our favorite looks in each. Outside the FIT was a coffee and tea pop up shop for the new CW show airing that evening, Katy and Keene. As I’m sure it was targeted for fashion college students what a great way to remind them to watch it that evening.

We continued a few blocks south when we arrived at Buffalo Exchange. I’ve shopped here so many times and love the selection I always find. I was immediately drawn to a black lace and leather Diane Von Furstenberg dress, a brightly colored animal print Kate Spade dress and then I almost fell over when I found a Halston Heritage dress on sale from the $40 asking price. The only problem, my boobs. Could I get a reduction in the next two days? Probably not, so after I found that it was only going to cost $30, I thought I’m going to have to get shapewear, which made me throw up a little in my mouth, but the dress was perfect…I needed to suck it up. Sofi found this fabulous off the shoulder black dress with a slit up to there and a fun black acid washed jean dress right out of the late 80’s. We took our purchases and started to make our way back to the hotel. We stopped at jewelry wholesellers along the way. She found some fun brightly colored earrings and I couldn’t make up my mind on what would be the right accessories for the dress.

It’s crazy to me how much negative attention Shakira and Jennifer Lopez received for their performances during the Super Bowl half-time show. They are strong, beautiful women who showed that being older is powerful when you are comfortable in your own skin and own who you are. YASSS QUEENS!

We made it back to the hotel and started to get ready for the evening ahead. I had started a conversation with a friend back in ABQ earlier in the day when I had come across a meme of Jennifer Lopez that said, “Latinas be like 132 years old”. I thought it was hilarious because no one ever believes I’m 46 years old which is a blessing. He didn’t understand my humor (I know it’s not for everyone but I think I’m flippin hilarious). We were ready and calling for an Uber. I opted to wear my over-sized, black waffled tunic with over the knee boots and my grams squash blossom necklace and Sofi wore her recent find with skyscraper booties (like she needed to add height next to me).

We got to the club and a dj was playing. As both self reported wallflowers, we opted to go to the bar and get a glass of wine before settling down at an open table. After a few photos and another glass of wine, we decided to hit the dance floor and danced until well after 11pm (HAHAHA I’m old).

We were hungry and since the bartender ignored our original order for food I told her we were way too close not to go to Shake Shack. Oh my heavens there’s nothing like it after dancing for hours. We got back to the hotel and continued our conversation. The plan was to do a guerrilla photo shoot in the morning and I suggested the Flat Iron Building. Let’s see if we’d make the 9am call time (8 miles walked).

“Today, I get to play photographer…let’s see how that goes.”

I dragged my butt out of bed about 9:30am. Sofi immediately mentioned we were pushing out the start time to 10am (that later became 10:30am). I was to be the photographer and we were being joined by one of her model friends that she met at the Coco Rocha camp last year. I threw on my athletic wear, hightops and put my H+CA hat on. No time for a shower. We took the subway to Madison Square Park. Now I notice everything that happens around me in this busy city but also in life…so this city can become overwhelming….the sights, the sounds, the smells, the closeness of it all. However, I love being that “fly on the wall” taking it all in and using it to inspire my creativity. This morning, I played photographer and can’t wait to see the “official” photos but for now, here are my behind the scenes.

And yes, I am officially adding photographer to my resume.

Luckily, Sofi has published one and it’s so fun! She entitled it “You can’t sit here” total Mean Girls reference…but I see power in it and the black and white filter makes it even more so. After grabbing a bite to eat, we took the subway back. I needed to get ready for the Cocktails and Corsets event at Herald Square and she was going to go to a casting for an upcoming show. I got dressed in my dungarees, white button up, red handkerchief, leopard print booties and red lips and took my Halston dress with me to see if I could find the right minimizing shapewear. Getting off at 33rd street, I arrived at Herald Square just as it started to rain, I walked in and headed up to the 7th floor where the event would take place in intimate apparel. I walked in at 2:38pm (the event began at 3pm) to a line so I took my spot and waited for a little over a half hour, talking to the other attendees and hoping my phone, which had been tweaking out the entire trip wouldn’t die on me). I checked in on Sofi and like me she was in a long ass line. However, I was indoors and she was outdoors, mentioned it was snowing at one point.

Once I approached the entrance, I received a swag bag that I kid you not weighed 10-15 lbs. I then proceeded to the selfie station to take a photo and post on Instagram thanking Noura and the Style Crew for the invite.


I proceeded to the lingerie and shapewear and realized I didn’t need an expensive sausage maker, I needed a minimizing bra. So I grabbed a pair of fishnet stockings (Roaring 20’s theme, plus I think they are super fun to wear) and a minimizing bra that was on a super sale. With my Macy’s employee discount and no sales tax, both would cost just over $20 (WINNING). I put on the bra and tried on the dress and viola it smoothed me out and made me look a little smaller. I loved the dress and the flow making it feel flapper-esque plus the color was absolutely fab. I’d just have to decided on shoes and accessories. After making my purchase and watching an impromptu lingerie fashion show, I headed downstairs to see if my contacts at Louis Vuitton were working because I had a client interested in making a pre-sale and wouldn’t it be AWESOME to make my first sale while still in NYC. He wasn’t there so I headed back to the hotel. The rain had returned to a drizzle but it was a little colder. I held my coat tight with all the extra weight and walked back to the hotel. I stopped again at the neighborhood wine shop and got a white this time to drink while we got ready for the NYFW week shows we were about to see as part of the Art Hearts Fashion production. I walked along the west side of Grand Central Station and was completely reminded of the opening scene in Before We Go, where Chris Evan’s character tries to help Alice Eve’s character get a cab (I adore this movie and exploring NYC with a stranger and realizing you need to own your shit even when you don’t know the outcome and “being okay with not being okay”). Since the show was in the East Village, I thought for sure we’d go to Szechuan Mountain House for their namesake caldron of soup and then around the corner to Angel’s Share so I could show her this fabulous Japanese speakeasy and we could enjoy a cocktail before the show.

Everywhere I travel, I people watch and make up stories about where they are coming from and where they are going.

We took the 6 and got off at Astor place. It was right outside a Starbucks I had frequented quite often in the past year. We walked along St. Marks and ascended the stairs to the Chinese restaurant. I had totally forgotten how crowded this restaurant gets and in that moment realized I should have made reservations, but in my attempts to see if we could be seating in a timely manner, I went to the hostess station only to be informed it was going to be an hour wait. We didn’t have the time so the next best option was Shake Shack across the street…just kidding. I had been told about Joe’s Pizza at Union Station and only 5 blocks north we walked and talked. I mentioned the demographics of the area with NYU nearby. It was Friday night and the streets, restaurants and bars were overflowing with college students. We got to Joe’s placed our order and as luck would have it, a table freed up. We sat down and started to enjoy our NY style pizza.

I think my eyes rolled to the back of my head in pure delight when a reporter and camera man walked in. She mentioned that the official Twitter account of NJ exclaimed that New Jersey was the pizza capital of the world just in time for national pizza day. She asked if we would share our thoughts. I guess she thought two chicas from NM were New Yorkers…not gonna, I loved it. Later, we found out we made the news.

After our bout with fame, we walked back over the Angel’s Share to see about that cocktail and again I forgot it was Friday night. Grrr!! I did have Sofi peek in and then we grabbed a Lyft to the NYFW venue, Angel Orensanz Foundation. We arrived on the scene and retrieved our press passes. My phone was dying and while I brought my backup portable charger, it seemed it wasn’t charged so when we entered the venue, I set up shop in the corner borrowing Sofi’s charging cord and plugging it into the wall outlet. I stood back and soaked it all in. From the formal gowns to the everyday wear to the street wear. There was something for everyone. I photobombed at every opportunity and exhaustion was starting to set in. Sofi wandered around the venue taking photos and seeing if she could vye for space in the photographers rafters.

We took our seats about 45 minutes later. This was the first time Sofi had been on this side of the runway shows and for me, this is where fashion week began for me, as an attendee. I do miss producing my show but it was nice to just enjoy it with an attendee’s perspective.

The three designers in this block told their own story which I loved. I thoroughly enjoy when you can see a vision, context and a narrative in a cohesive collection.

As we talked, I watched it from my designer perspective and Sofi watched it through her modeling perspective. I was happy to see Hunter in the audience. She modeled for me on a couple of occasions and was featured in my designs in the December 2018 issue of British Vogue.

The show wrapped up close to 11pm and it was our last night in town…that fact was starting to set in and honestly, was depressing. We thought maybe we’d get a night cap but then stumbled upon a corner wine and spirits shop we went in and decided bubbles would be the best way to celebrate another phenomenal evening. I loved the character and personality of the shop.

We grabbed an Uber and made our way back north to our hotel. We stopped at the counter and asked for a cookie on our last evening the staff gave us TWO each. We headed upstairs got comfortable and talked and talked until after 2am. At that point I knew I wasn’t going to make it back to Macy’s or to the jewelry shops in the morning and thought about plan “B” (5 miles walked).

one last glimpse of my fav building

I woke close to 10am and before I forgot, I sent KK, who was house sitting for me and picking me up from the airport, my list of items I’d need to change in the car on the way to the convention center for La Noche Encantada. I reached out to my event partner in crime, Lee, and double checked she had everything needed to get our booth set. I jumped into the shower and tried how I was going to pack my already full carry-on suitcase and carry-on tote with the additional two dresses, bag filled with goodies and boxed treats from Louis Vuitton…time to sit on my suitcase. I made it work and had one additional carry-on tote. Luckily, Sofi was checking both her bags so I asked if she wouldn’t mind carrying on my tote. She graciously obliged. We arrived at the airport with our first stop in Dallas, TX. Luckily, we didn’t have to switch planes and could move up to easy accessible seats off the plane.

We arrived 10 minutes earlier than our scheduled time. KK was there to pick me up with and I changed in the car. I arrived at the venue 10 minutes before the opened the doors for dinner. As I was walking through the event talking with people, I was inspired to see the fashion. Especially those that I personally dressed. I loved hearing the comments from friends who had been following my adventures via Instagram and Facebook and their surprise to see me. We had a lovely evening going from dinner to the entertainment to the dance party after and boy, did we dance. After tearing down the step and repeat and pulling together all our goodies, Lee gave me a ride home. I fell into a deep sleep when my head hit the pillow. It was after 3am EST (20,000 dance steps).

Every day I try to spend time journaling what I am grateful for. On this trip, I am grateful for:

  • $5.20 cost for a round trip ticket
  • an empty row on the red-eye
  • early check-in
  • beautiful weather in NYC in February
  • spending time with friends–long-time and new ones
  • walk-able cities
  • taking a chance for new opportunities (and remembering to not play small)
  • being reminded that I am in the right place
  • food that nourishes the soul
  • dance floors

Today, as I complete this post, invitations are still coming in for shows this week…next year, I will stay for the entire week (I say that every year). I love that I’ve shown so many loved ones my New York. I’m totally down for anyone else that wants to go…just know I’m kind of non-stop, except for shopping and a cocktail. I like to walk and plans are totally fluid. Thanks for following along on another Ms. Adventure and remember life is a gift…enjoy it to the fullest!

With light and love,

Dara Sophia

Crazy Beautiful Life

Feeling my way through the darkness
guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
but I know where to start

Avicii – Wake Me Up

I just returned from a 10-day, life enhancing Ms. Adventure. If you know me, you know I’m a novelist at heart. While this is a blog, it will be written in short, daily chapters because there is so much yummy goodness to share. I know I am not the first human being to travel solo abroad. My most recent and favorite tale is from Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote a best-selling novel that was turned into a block-buster movie about her three months in each country: Italy, India and Bali. However, this was my first time traveling abroad and solo. It was a trip of self-discovery, adventure, reaching another level in fashion and finding myself when I didn’t know I was lost. I would suggest that everyone take a solitary trip, even if it’s in your backyard because you will find what is important to you and how to best care for yourself, so you can be better around others.

Also, know my adventures aren’t for the faint of heart, so I will preface it saying, first, I am directionally challenged. If I wasn’t right-handed, I would turn around in circles. You may laugh, but every time I have to determine direction from my left-to-my-right, I raise my hand to “air write” with my right hand and then, lift my other hand to form a “L” to determine my left. This inability is enhanced when I’m underground and can find no landmark to help me understand which direction is what. Second, my other obstacle is being on someone else’s timetable. I think that’s why I enjoy walking everywhere. I get there when I get there. I don’t have to worry about missing the tube, a boat ride or even a flight…these are just a couple of things to keep in mind when reading. This is not a tale about traveling in the lap of luxury. I am not the most graceful traveler, nor do I pretend to be. I stumble, I fall, I don’t have all the right things to say, but I am perfectly imperfect stitched together with good intentions which makes for a fun story. I am a creative in getting out of sticky situations and what stresses out others, is the way I roll sometimes. Oh yeah, and I use curse words when I’m passionate about something or I’ve had too much wine, which both occur in this novela (It’s more than the typical 1500 to 2000 words found in my norm blog, but if you read it through, I promise you will laugh, most likely shake your head and may find some insight in the human psyche).  Okay, shall we start? Brilliant!

This Ms. Adventure was Set in Motion, January 2019

I started the year, as most do, with a blank slate. I knew I wanted to leave 2018 behind, really more like, burn that bitch. I could not carry the weight of such an ass kicking that 2018 bestowed on me in the many ways it did. However, my biggest takeaway was that life is too short. When opportunity presents itself, grab it by the hair, pull it in and kiss the shit out of it, so I began the year with changing my number. If I want to be in NYC, I need to envisage it, live it, be it…this was my first step.

Next, the opportunity for a chance to spend a sabbatical in Grottle, Italy came across my email. It was sponsored by AirBNB. Three months in Italy, I thought, would be an incredible experience. Although, I hadn’t been with Prosperity Works for quite a year and I didn’t have enough PTO to cover that period of time, I had an innate urge to apply. I wanted to go somewhere far away from NM and be immersed in another culture and life. I talked about wanting to learn Italian cooking, language and focusing on my writing as I would live in this centuries old village. I almost began an “only in my dreams” blog when I wasn’t selected, but I didn’t do enough research to make it believable (maybe it will be a future blog or maybe it will be a real Ms. Adventure). Why was this significant this year? Because I had a tremendous urge to go somewhere I’ve never been before, to be immersed into something that wasn’t familiar or that I could use others as a crutch in visiting, and I really wanted to finally get my passport and have it stamped (this would give me a definite time frame to do it). When I wasn’t selected this was the universe’s way in telling me, this is not for you.

I decided instead that I would go to NYC when the opportunity presented itself (and I could afford it) starting with NYFW in February. Even though I wasn’t showing, I’m so happy I did. It catapulted the beginning of this adventure. I had dinners with a few friends in between shows. First, I enjoyed a lovely evening with my friend Amanda and her husband, Andy, in New Jersey. I love history and they took me to this incredible turn of the 19th century bar and restaurant. It had been a couple of years since we had seen each other. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch-up by the end of our conversation, she commissioned me to create a custom piece for her…that meant I had to visit the city again at least once more for measurements (but knowing me, at least 3). I then continued on to see and be inspired by a few fashion week shows, and while always inspired, I NEEDED to get back into the circuit of showing, so I spoke to a few production companies about NYC and beyond. The night before my departure, I had an extraordinary evening with a childhood friend, Lucas. We had thought provoking and wonderful conversation, sumptuous food and delicate wines, and as he walked me back to my hotel, he gave me the greatest gift (whether he realized it or not), he offered a place to stay when I visited. I don’t think he understood the magnitude of what that would mean for me this year.

In February, I was approached by The Society Fashion Week to show in Los Angeles during LAFW in March with the production fee waived (and to make it feasible, my BFF, Laura, and her husband, Ed, graciously opened up their home for me to stay while in LA). The Society wanted me to see the changes they made first-hand and talk about a longer contract. This is where the seed for London was once again planted. This time I could actually make it work within my budget (as much as I wanted to show in September 2018, the basic production fee of $10,000 with another company was cost prohibitive). I had a glorious time creating the inspired looks based on friends’ photos from earlier in the year. On top of that, I was able to return to NYC (thanks to Emet who gave me an airline voucher) attend an incredible forum, hosted by the Tory Burch Foundation, the night before my showing. While this was happening, the universe was setting something else in motion.

The week before LAFW, I had been contacted by an executive recruiter on LinkedIn. At first, I wasn’t sure it legit. However, as we communicated back and forth, I was being presented my ideal career role. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the work I was doing and especially the people I worked with. I was finally getting into my grove. Yet, this opportunity would get me back into fashion, community relations, media relations and working one-on-one with people again. Through out the interview process, I asked the question, “will I have a path to New York” and every single step of the way, the answer was “yes”.

I returned to NYC in April, with a gifted voucher from one friend and a place to stay from another, I met Amanda, took her measurements and contemplated the move to Macy’s. In fact on a beautiful spring day, I went to Herald Square, sat and looked at the iconic star hanging above. My moment of pause was really contemplating the return to retail, especially brick and mortar in the age of so many department stores closing. While weighing through the pros and cons, Lucas called and I explained to him what I was doing. He reinforced that I needed to go for it. When I returned to Albuquerque, I did. I was now at a place that I could afford to support the leap of showing in London.

During this time, I continued to write about my journey, my fumbles, my touchdowns and all that I encountered on the way. When I set up this blog, it was for me to understand what was happening in my life. However, those of you who have and continue to read it and are actively sharing your comments and thoughts on how it has impacted you, you’ve made me feel like there was something there…that I’m not alone in what I’m going through. I write about these experiences of this crazy, beautiful life with a force that I can’t deny or try to hide. I don’t know the answers and I don’t pretend to, but I do have my own story filled with chapters of discovery in who I am; how I hope I can impact my surroundings and hopefully, sometimes for the better.  

Pushing Through Exhaustion, La Vita é un Dono & the Hook Up Plan – Saturday, September 7

In order to properly prepare for London Fashion Week, I had taken additional PTO during the week to finish off the collection, pack and prep. However, work is really taking off quite lovely and I’ve been pulled in to lead several projects. As I was trying to wrap up loose ends, my time off did not occur as much as I had hoped. I was staying with Lucas again in NYC and he was going to be out of town while I was going to be there, so I thought that would provide the time I needed to complete the looks. I gave in and decided to pack my sewing machine which meant a full-sized bag for the machine, tools, fabric and other electronics, a garment bag for all my completed outfits and a carry-on for my clothes. I opted not to take my laptop this time, so I’d have to rely on my notebook to journal while on my trip. With bags packed near the door, I headed out about 5am to catch my 7am flight to NYC with a connection through Houston. I checked the two bags, went through security and while I was putting my shoes back on, I was approached by friends, Laurie and Dennis. They were headed west. What a wonderful unexpected blessing to see them and good omen before my flight! Laurie explained to Dennis about my trip, they wished me luck, and we both shared safe travel sentiments and embraced. Life truly is a gift and the best ones are in those moments you don’t expect. I headed toward my gate, boarded, said my usual prayers for a safe flight and then the excitement finally hit me and like a kid on Christmas morning, I wanted to squeal with excitement, but I remained composed and just smiled.

I arrived in Houston and received instructions on how to pick up the keys for the apartment. I re-emphasized my absolute gratitude and wished him a wonderful weekend. I arrived in NYC at about 3:00pm. After gathering my bags, grabbing a Lyft and traveling through the traffic to Momofuku Saam Bar in the lower east side, I arrived at my location looking like I was running away from home with all my possessions in hand. It was between the restaurant’s lunch and dinner service, so only staff were inside. A young woman, either a hostess or waitress, was near the door and doing her best to ignore my knocks. She finally came to my attention looking a little perturbed by my intrusion. I asked for the contact that Lucas gave me, and when she came to the door, introduced myself and expressed my gratitude for helping me out. She welcomed me back for dinner service and I responded saying I might take her up on it. With Lucas’ apartment only a few blocks away, I opted to awkwardly make my way with my all luggage in tow. Once I reached his apartment, exhaustion hit me. In the week prior, I was on the go a lot more that I had thought.

Originally, I had planned to go out to a couple of Fashion Week shows, but I knew I’d be no fun, with the next day consumed by sewing, so instead I opted to walk to Trader Joe’s for wine and a few snacks. On my way I stumbled upon a street-wide yard sale. It was so fun to see what possessions the East Villagers were selling, everything from record albums, to vintage jewelry, to crystal dishware, to clothing was on display. The street was bustling, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t buy anything but admired the wares. I came across a bow brooch and again was reminded that life is a gift. I continued on my way. I bought a bottle of Rose, ingredients to make Caprese salad, and a few more snacks. As I walked back, I forgot that he literally lives across the street from Shake Shack and a Caprese salad didn’t sound so satisfying after all. I grabbed a bun-less burger, popped open the bottle of Rose, binge watched the Hook Up Plan (a French romcom that would get me in the right mindset for Paris–it’s totally fab you should check it out and SEASON 2 comes out on October 11—EEK!!) and settled in for the night wrapped up in a Zia blanket, a little NM comfort on this adventure.

Sewn Fingers, Clarity & Purple Rain – Sunday, September 8

I woke early, opted for coffee and realized I needed conditioner, so I headed out to Starbucks and CVS. I was the only one up at 6am besides a few homeless people, a man dancing on the corner of Astor Pl and 8th, the street vendors setting up for the day, and a big fat rat running down the street. Gotta love this city! I got back to the apartment finished my coffee, did yoga and after a shower, set up shop. I spent the day cutting, pining, and sewing the material into my creations. It was good that I was alone, but I was also sad that I was missing out on a beautiful day of exploring….but sometimes you’ve got to werk!! Lucas was actually coming back into town, so I was happy that I had wrapped up and cleaned up my mess just before he walked in. I was at the point where I had all the outfit shells done and either needed zippers or embellishments to complete the looks, plus I had been working 10 hours straight and knew I’d soon start sewing my fingers together. I was sitting on the floor when he arrived and popped up to greet him. We talked about our days, I asked about his Hampton’s weekend and he asked about my trip so far. We talked about plans for the evening. He wasn’t sure if I’d be busy with shows and he was planning to go to watch football. I hadn’t really thought about what I was doing yet, but needed to get to the trim shop before it closed for zippers and embellishments. I quickly changed and told him I would text him as soon as I figured it out. He teased me because knowing how much I loathe the subway, I was figuring out my route to M&J Trim on foot. He said the former would be quicker. I responded saying I’d miss out on the world and this beautiful day taking the subway.

There is so much to find along your path in NYC from a Burberry pop-up. I didn’t have time to stop at Herald Square this time. 🙁 Got to work and enjoyed a few minutes of the NYC summer day.

And I was right, there were so many squirrel moments a long my path, like a Burberry marketing pop-up, fashionistas “popping angles like they’re fabo”. I ran past Macy’s Herald Square, and as much as I wanted to go in, I didn’t have time. I got into the trim shop and I was like a kid in a candy store…so much to see and add to my collection. Who knew zippers, ribbon, trim and bows would add up and cost $60?!? As I was checking out, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I also checked the times of a couple of shows for that evening that I had been invited to. One was at 6pm. I had missed it. Then next one was at 8pm. PERFECT! I would make it back to his apartment change go to the show and we could meet for a late dinner. I sent him a text and we agreed to meet back at the apartment at 9:30pm.

I rushed back to change and headed back out to the theater district in a shared Lyft. Sometimes you make some incredible connections in the back of a Lyft. This one was with a couple who were visiting, but after a little bit of an inebriated conversation (on the women’s end), she found out that I was attending fashion week shows and showing in London. In return, I found out that she worked in the industry as a reporter for various fashion outlets. We connected on Instagram and she gave me advice on who I should reach out to. It was great. The Lyft arrived at their location and I wished them adieux. I was dropped off next…Sony Music Hall for Fashion X.

I love seeing the attendees arrive as much as I love seeing the designers’ creations, especially the younger crowds. The fashion forwardness of these events makes me feel like I am totally in my element. I sit back and watch in awe of the creativity, the confidence and the individuality of the attendees. I, myself, chose to wear a Grecian, Goddess-like dress I had been convinced I needed in my life. Mauve, plunging neckline, strategic cutouts, a slit and floor length, it was probably more a beach, poolside or wine festival attire, but paired with a turquoise squash blossom necklace a cropped denim jacket and my big hair. It seemed appropriate for this event and other attendees agreed as I received several compliments on my look.

That’s the other thing about these events, true fashionistas love to give love to looks that are killing it and take pictures of it as well. The venue was a music hall. The alcohol was flowing, and this particular event was all about PRIDE. It was fabulous. I headed back to about 9:20pm. Lucas beat me back he was hanging out in the hall on the phone when I arrived. I sneaked by into his apartment to freshen up. A few minutes later we headed out. We decided to go around the corner to a Japanese diner he’s found of. As we sat down, he asked if there was anything I wouldn’t try. I said I don’t eat babies: veal, lamb, etc… I also mentioned I’m doing Keto, so lower carbs, but as I always do, I left it up to him to order. He ordered Orion Lagers, grilled veggies, fried squid, deep fried quail eggs, and dumplings to start. Keto was out the door and my carb debauchery for this trip began.

We talked about the show and he mentioned he liked my look. I told him I didn’t get beach time with this dress, so I decided to rock it for NYFW. We talked about all the incredible things happening in our lives. I mentioned his feature in the New York Times for opening his latest, Bar Wayo. He mentioned how he loved what I was doing for fashion in NM, with my TV segments, and the Elle UK feature. We talked about work in general and how the summer was going as we received our tasty bites.

We continued to talk about life and he asked me if I was dating. As my immediate and automatic reaction, I’m sure I made a face like I smelt something rotten, and I said, “no.” He asked, “why not?” I replied, “I don’t have time. I’m not interested in dating anyone right now. I’m interested in figuring me out”…yada yada yada”. What I didn’t say is that while I enjoy the conversation, laughter, opportunity to explore and intimacy in a relationship, but I’m not interested in the games or inauthenticity that tends to be found when people are trying too hard. I’m no longer looking for the butterflies. I want the calm and the sense that my whole being is smiling when I’m with the “right” man. I also want someone who looks at me like a fat kid looks at cake (I know that’s politically incorrect, but it is what it is) and can’t help keep his hands off of me and not in that grabby hands kind of way, but the subtle touch just to let me know he’s there. The biggest thing is I want is someone who I’m not afraid to look into the his eyes with real intent to know his being, because I do believe that is the path to knowing the soul of someone. I’m not physically able to do this with surface relationships. I mentioned I do miss having the male perspective that I’ve had with my guy friends, but sadly, my best ones have moved away from NM. In that moment, I missed Roby, Sergio and Damon. He went on to mentioned that he started dating someone just a few weeks ago and she was different from everyone else he had dated before. I could tell he was a little “lighter” than the last time I saw him and that made me smile.

We talked about the last trip in June and the awkwardness that I felt compelled to address when I returned from it. It wasn’t the most opportune time to do it, because it was smack in the middle of his bar opening, but it bothered me immensely and I value our relationship so much that I needed to clear the air or run. We worked it out like friends do and I told him that I appreciated that he valued me enough to take the time to address it. We continued with another round of beers and food. I absolutely love our conversations! We talk about everything and nothing. We talked about the food, his love of diners like this (which made me really look around and soak up my surroundings), my upcoming travels, the inspiration for this collection, and randomness like how wasabi and hot mustard are my crack (it hurts so good). The whole time laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

He mentioned a speakeasy on the other side of this random door in the restaurant. I asked if it was a speakeasy or a dive bar because of the Rolling Rock and other neon lights that were behind the glass. He informed me that it was this beautiful turn of the century, high-end, intimate bar where the Japanese bartenders created craft drinks. I couldn’t see it with the neon flashing at me. When we wrapped up dinner, headed over. It was as he stated–this completely transformed space that boggled my mind. We ordered a cocktail each: I, the gin based Purple Rain, he, the vodka-based Sunflower, and we opted to share. We continued to talk. He talked about proper protocol for making cocktails and how they bartenders never smile. I looked back smiling as I normally do, and the bartender smiled back…broke that theory.

Photo courtesy of Angel’s Share

I am a huge history buff but even more so about the people who have crafted the world we live in today. As we sat at the bar overlooking Stuyvesant Street, he talked about it being the only true west to east street in Manhattan. He talked about the Dutch man who founded this area only to have it taken by the English in later years. He also talked about the best time to have a cocktail in these seats, facing the park below, which was when it’s snowing because you can see a bit of beauty and peacefulness in this often chaotic city. In our discussions, I’ve learned that Lucas derives history and culture in crafting the experiences he creates in his restaurants and bars, and I love that. We are kindred spirits in that way. Each bespoke piece I create has a story and especially for those commissioned pieces where I get weave my creation into someone’s important moment in life.

Across the Pond & the Customer Experience – Monday, September 9

I carried Our Lady and Saint Jude with me as my guides on this trip.

The next morning, I woke around 6am. Well actually and unfortunately, I woke before that at about 3am with chills throughout my body—the cold that you feel in your bones and you can’t seem to shake or warm up from. I don’t know why, it wasn’t like the air conditioner was on. I didn’t want to make too much noise, since Lucas was working the next day, so I wrapped the blanket it tightly around me and curled up into a ball. After all that, my body was not sleeping past 6am. I quietly began to get back to work, earbuds filled with music in my ears and me, sitting pretzel style on the floor, pinning the last few garments with their zippers and embellishments. Lucas got up and ready for his day and before heading out, and wished me luck. I continued working throughout most of the day, missing out on another gorgeous September day in NYC. I repacked my bags, storing the large one with the excess material and sewing machine under his bar table. I headed to JFK a little early because I didn’t know what to expect going through international travel gates. I got to my gate with plenty of time. It was interesting because the normal bustle I find at JFK wasn’t found in the international gates. It was calm and quiet.

Before flying on Virgin Atlantic, I felt flying lacked the customer experience. I remember hearing about how glamorous flying used to be. Today’s travel via flight is more like a cattle call, you line up, you go on board, maybe you get peanuts, you sit in uncomfortable seats and you countdown until you arrive at your destination. This was my first time flying abroad, and the team at Virgin Atlantic made it a memorable experience, a luxurious experience. From the welcoming when I stepped through the door with the crew in the smartly dressed uniforms, to the pillow, blanket and headphones waiting for me in my comfortable economy seat, the gratis cocktail hour, to the choices in food, beverage, and entertainment, to the option to shop duty free from my seat, all this value with an affordable ticket price. As tired as I was from the lack of sleep the night before, my 2nd or 3rd wind kicked in and the realization that I was on my way to London kicked in. I think I finally fell asleep but not more than 2 or three hours. We arrived in London earlier than our scheduled arrival and now I had to figure things out.

Train Station Yoga, What the Eff Did I Do, & Memories of the Past – September 10

As I de-boarded the plan, I had to figure out this whole border control/customs thing. I was sad when I realized that I wouldn’t get a stamp in my passport in London. Instead, they use bio-metric scanning to approve your entrance into the U.K. which is pretty sci-fi and creepy to me, but I guess this is the world we live in now. As I walked out to baggage claim and walked through the arrivals gate and very much had a flash back to the opening scene in “Love Actually” people awaiting the arrivals. It looked like to me with all the signs it was more hired drivers than loved ones, but it still gave me those ooey gooey feels, I smiled. I wanted to stop and quote Hugh Grant’s opening monologue,

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”.

Love Actually

But I didn’t. I carried on. I figured out that I needed to take the Heathrow express train into Paddington Station. As I waited for the express with the other passengers and feeling a little punch drunk due to a lack of sleep, I wanted to ask where platform 9 ¾ was. Again, I stifled my urge because I knew it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was (I still giggled to myself). I booked my flat with a rental company. The area I was staying in was directed by the location of where the fashion show was originally going to be. When looking at hotels in that area, the average cost per night was £450. I found this rental company and the cost for my entire stay was going to be as much as one night. The reviews relating to the room were great. My only apprehension was the shared bathrooms but saving approximately $3,000, I could suck it up.

The only problem with my accommodations was the fact that check-in time was 1pm. I tried calling the day before to see if I could store my luggage until I could check-in, but no one answered so I left a message and didn’t receive a call back. When I got to Paddington station about 8am, I decided to hang. I really couldn’t chat with anyone back in the states as it was the middle of the night, so I went to a coffee shop and people watched. Feeling tight from my contorted sleep the night before, I thought about breaking out and doing yoga, but didn’t want to draw the attention. At one point an alarm went off, asking everyone to exit the train station. That took me by surprise until one of the workers said not to worry about it, it was just a drill they did every Saturday and Tuesday. In my mind, I thought it better be I don’t my journey to end before it started. Around 11:30am, I made my way to the train station, luckily the train I was taking was a direct trip to my location so no train hopping on this venture.

I arrived at Aldgate East Station approximately 30 minutes later. As I descended from the station, with my roller bag and crossbody garment bag in to and up what seemed a thousand stair steps, I had officially arrived in London. The area I was staying in was Shoreditch and it was bustling with people. I put my earbuds in and set Google maps to my flat. I was reminded of two things to prepare for my trip: 1. Mind the Gap—the space in between the trains and the platforms, also the sidewalks and streets and 2. I needed to look to my right vs my left (remember the directionally challenged comment I made before…just think how long it took me to cross each street, and really, it initially did). I started on my way, but my earbud plug into my phone kept falling out because I bought one of those bulky covers that charges your phone and the earbud jack just wouldn’t stay in place, so every few steps I’d I have to push it back in to hear the directions. It was frustrating. I knew I wasn’t far from my flat, but I was lost. I was used to street signs on every corner back in the US. In London, they are on the sides of some buildings, but not all. What I thought were just alleys were in fact streets. Many of the streets reminded me of my conversation from the night before—Stuyvesant Street—in the ways the crisscrossed the others. I know I looked lost and like a tourist, and felt like what the eff did I do, but I soldiered on.  When I finally got on the right path, I was stopped by a young woman asking for directions. Did I look like I knew where I was going? Unfortunately, I couldn’t help, but I’ve been told before when stopped in NYC and other places that I look like I’m a resident of that town and that made me feel a little better.

I arrived at my location. It was bustling street filled with clothing vendors and fabric shops. Could I have been in a better spot? It reminded me of a mixture of Chelsea (but not the posh London neighborhood, the gritty NYC neighborhood) and Santee Alley in LA. I approached a discreet door with the sign “Monopoly accommodations” above it. It was wedged between two store fronts. I rang the buzzer and a young Russian or eastern European woman came to greet me. I told her I had a reservation and she took me to my room. It was on the second floor of this winding building. She showed me the bathroom just a few steps down from my room and the kitchen a few doors on the other end from my room. She opened my flat door and I found the room was perfect for my stay, very minimalist in furniture and décor with a full-sized bed that I could just melt into in that moment, a good sized wardrobe, a flat screen TV on the wall next to a desk and chair and on the other end what looked like a faux fireplace. The window was slightly cracked open and there were black out shades (although, a couple of hooks were missing so one side so it wouldn’t completely close). She handed me my key fob for building entry and the code for the lock on my room. I asked if I should follow her back down to the office to settle payment, she said I could do that whenever, so she left and immediately took off my clothes and climbed into bed.

I woke a couple hours later to the sound of children. I was staying in a real neighborhood and my window faced the back of some residential flats. I decided to get up and go wandering. While sitting in the train station, I reached out to this foodie Instagrammer from London, IG: @KS_ate_here, that Cati had connected me to because of his drool-worthy posts. I told him I was staying in Shoreditch and would appreciate him sharing his favorite eats. He gracefully did. I decided I would try Gloria, an Italian Trattoria just a few blocks from me. Before heading out I took care of my room tab, then headed out. Exploring the neighborhood, I realized it was three in one: 1. an immigrant community filled with African fabric shops and Muslim vendors, 2. when I turned a corner, a bustling, business area with smartly dressed men and women catching the tube at the end of their day, and 3. turning another corner, a posh up and coming neighborhood filled with high end boutiques and eateries in centuries old buildings. It was interesting that this was all found within a four-block radius.

 I arrived at Gloria and based on the feedback I received, I wasn’t sure I’d get a seat without a reservation. I guess I arrived early enough that they were able to squeeze me in. Where I was seated, I had the perfect view of the entire restaurant. I sat across from a couple that looked like they could be in the UK show, “Made in Chelsea” (I miss not being able to watch it in the US)—she in a leopard halter with the perfectly chiseled (and probably enhanced) face and body; he in head-to-toe Givenchy (I wanted to tell him you don’t have to wear the logo tee with the logo belt and it’s okay to wear different designers). Instead I just smiled to myself. I ordered a cocktail and perused the menu. Everything about this place felt familiar. It reminded me of my great-grandmothers home in Mora. From the Holy Cross on the wall, to all the geraniums and plants, to the dishware, the only thing missing or that I couldn’t see if there was Crown Royal in their back bar.

I was definitely going to order burrata, so when looking at the choices, I smiled when I read about the “Nude” burrata. It was referencing Marilyn Monroe and one of my BFFs, Lynella, loves her. She had been asking about my trip throughout the past few days, so I felt like in a way she was here with me. Another moment that made me smile, was when I looked down and saw the wooden-handled knife next to my plate. In March, when I visited NYC, Lucas and I had dinner at this local Greek restaurant we had this vibrant conversation about what creates memories and I looked over and saw the knife and said that it reminded me of dinners at my grandma’s. I returned from that trip to go to dinner at my gram’s and what did I find, that wooden knife. We talked about it at dinner just a few night’s before, so again, I felt like he was in that moment with me. I sent them photos to try to have them guess…Lucas easily guessed Lynella’s reference, but had totally forgotten our conversation. Oh well, I had fun with it. I ordered the burrata and pizza (carb debauchery continued). I hadn’t eaten since 8am when I had an almond croissant and cappuccino. The meal melted on my tongue and I’m sure I looked like I was having a “When Harry Met Sally” moment look on my face. The restaurant was now full of afterwork patrons and groups, so I figured I’d be on my way to open up my table for the next diners. When I received my check, £1 was automatically added to support a non-profit providing mentorship to youth in the community, which if you know me, you know I love this. Everything about this dining experience made me feel like I was supposed to be here.

I returned to my flat and decided to call it a night because I was leaving super early the next morning to Paris. My flight was at 6am which I figured, I’d need to be at the airport by 4am. I was flying out of Luton which by train would be 1 hour 15 or by Uber 45 minutes. Being solo and the number of connections it would require by bus and train, I opted to fork over the £45 to call an Uber. I figured I’d get up by 3am and head out. I finally fell asleep about 11pm a little anxious trying to convince myself to bypass Paris and just stick around where I was comfortable and somewhat spoke the same language. My spirit wasn’t having it. I woke at 2:45am exhilarated to go on this adventure.

A Fox, Locks & a Wrong Turn – Wednesday, September 11

Dressed and ready and selfie taken by 3am, I called for an Uber. Within 10 minutes, I was in the car ready to go. As we turned the corner, I saw something so misplaced I couldn’t help but stare. At first, I thought it was cat and then I thought I was groggy and my mind was playing tricks on me, but it was indeed a fox—a fox in an urban neighborhood! It was awesome and a little out of place, so of course I had to Google the symbolism of it. Here are some fun things I learned:

There is a good reason the old adage: “clever as a fox”. In truth, these creatures are extremely clever, and remarkably resourceful. From hunting strategies to camouflage – the fox gets about the business of living life with sass and class. Many myths (Native American comes to mind) designate the fox as a jester or trickster. In China, fox animal symbolism revolved around the afterlife. Lore has it that a fox sighting was thought to be a signal from the spirits of the deceased. Celts believed the fox to be a guide, and was honored for its wisdom. 

I saw this as a good omen and it relieved a bit of my anxiety. I arrived at the airport about 45 minutes later and I was grateful my driver didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, slamming was seemed as energy drinks while constantly yawning. I got through security super quick. I had no bags beyond my crossbody and there was no checking passports and I had my boarding pass. So I walked toward the gates, through the Candy Land path of duty free shops, still not knowing which gate to go to. The interesting thing about this airport, you’re not notified about your gate until about 20 minutes before you board the plan. Once I was received my gate information, I made my way to what seemed like a holding cell. The doors opened and we walked out onto the tarmac and climbed stairs into the plane. I had a window seat and did my very best to take a nap. This time I succeeded only awaking when the captain made his announcement about our descent into Paris.

Not really having a complete game plan for the day. I had reached out to Sofi and Jamie both had family that lived in or near Paris and had traveled there before. Jamie had the most succinct itinerary for 10 hours in this city but it incorporated much of what Sofi had shared with me. Sofi even tried to connect me with her family, but as life has it, they were actually in the middle of a move to the US. Go figure.

I told Jamie that I was traveling into Charles de Gaulle. She said I should take the train in because I’d be stuck in traffic forever. She also warned me of thieves. Great, if I wasn’t already on edge this added to my hyper-awareness. LOL. When I arrived in Paris, I got my stamp. YAY!!

In the airport, I had help with the trains I needed to take from a friendly attendant. She suggested that I purchase an all-day pass as it would be good for all trains and buses. At €16, it was a done deal. Luckily, I only had to switch trains once. However, when I got to the change station, I did ask for help from a pretzel shop attendant. Trying my best to speak French, I said: “Bon jour mademoiselle. Si’l vous plait..” and pointed to the train I needed to take, she pointed to train across from the platform. I responded, “merci beaucoup” and headed on my way. I arrived at the Auber station approximately a half hour later. The total train ride was an hour long and most of it was above ground so I was able to see life just outside of the city.

As I ascended the train station, I dropped my jaw in awe. I was in front of the Opera in all its grandeur and glory. And basically, across the street was the Haussmann Galeries Lafayette. I immediately walked in and took the escalator to the top as Jamie directed.

“Excuse my French but I’m in France.”

From there I could see all of Paris: the opera, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Damn. I know I had a dopey grin from ear-to-ear. I did it. I made it to Paris. I felt exhilarated and excited to explore.

Chandler smile

Have you heard of Flat Stanley? He’s a character in a children’s book in which he is drawn on a piece of paper and then shipped all over. The cool thing about him is that he’s included in photos with all these people and places around the world. For this trip, I decided I was going to take on that role, but instead be Digital Dara. Not one who normally likes photos, I couldn’t help but take photos of all the lovely things and people I’d be visiting.

As I descended the rooftop, I decided to explore this magnificent department store that held all the world’s designers….and honestly, was amazed. Next, I moved on to the Vendome. But first, I have to give a shout out to the architecture in Paris. I felt like I was in a fairy tale. I know I was in the posh, high street areas, but OMGee, the round arches, the wrought iron, the French blue found throughout that captured all of my being. The smartly dressed men: turtle necks, French mustaches and slim fit slacks and women: perfectly tailored, elaborate patterns and luxurious fabrics, they all caught my attention. Funny, the biggest trend I saw in both Paris and London: basic Levi’s logo tees, DKNY emblazed everything and Converse–the basics are big!

Walking through the streets when I would hear the law enforcement sirens go off, I was catapulted back into a chase scene that I recalled from the Bourne movie franchise and not so much in it but the sounds from it.

Next stop, Place Vendôme. Jamie mentioned this was a must stop because of the beauty of it. She was right! Based on what I read, this emblem of French luxury was built in 1686 by order of the French King Louis XIV. Now known for the most prestigious French haute couture brands and the finest jewelry houses, it is awe inspiring.

As I was walking through the Place Vendome, I was in awe of all that I saw. In that There was a fashion shoot happening on the path I walked as I made my way to the Louvre. The high end shops like Louis Vuitton caught my attention, but it was what I heard through my earbuds that made an even bigger impact that solidified that moment. MC Solar’s La Belle and the Bad Boy was playing and it was perfect to be hearing it in this moment in Paris.

If you are a fan of Sex and the City, then you may recall this song playing when Carrie realizes she has sacrificed her life for someone else’s. It was the start of something that had already been sitting in my head since Sunday night. I continued walking through this grand space soaking it all in and deeply pondering what was weighing on me but also wishing I was wearing a big tulle skirt and heels in lieu of khaki’s and converse. It was already 11:30am and I was debating going to the museum or grabbing a bite to eat. I opted for the former. I needed to feed my curiosity and love for art, more than my stomach.

After debating the length of the line, I finally took my spot at the end and entered the museum at about 12:15pm. I hit all the highlights as I didn’t have much time.

“Get your photo and move on”

Of course, I had to take a photo of Mona Lisa…but honestly, I loved all the murals I saw as I waited in the long ass line that made me feel like I was waiting for a ride at Disneyland. The attendants were instructing the patrons to hurry and take your photo and move on. Done.

Next, I walked through Jardin de Tuileries. It was very romantic and perfectly manicured. Parisians were sunbathing the warm sun and others were enjoying the early afternoon eating baguettes and brie from the food cart. Again, I opted not to stop to eat, but continued along the River Seine. It was not only the sights that kissed my senses but also what I scents I came across.

While NY has the scent of ambition: sweat, grit and cigarettes, I found Paris to me smelled of flowers and most specifically roses. Fall was also in the air. The trees were starting to turn and a cool breeze flowed through my hair. The weather was perfect in the upper 70s. And as I walked along the river, I realized without planning on it that I was at Pont des Art bridge. I didn’t realize it, first seeing a bike ride tour arriving at the same time, but as the stepped off their bikes to walk them across the tour guide pointed out the locks.

I continued walking and taking photos. I smiled seeing families walk by, friends in conversation, lovers embracing and couples purchasing locks from vendors to add their own to the bridge. I stopped to admire the incredible beauty of the river and architectural landscape around it. I realized how romantic Paris truly is and it made me think of the question Lucas posed a few nights before. It could have been fun experiencing this city with someone else, romantically or with a friend, but I believe I needed to experience it and fall in love with it on my own. I was in a relationship for approximately 24 years, and a fear of water prevented me from traveling abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I freely gave into that sacrifice, but I know now I won’t ever sacrifice experiencing life again. I want to be with someone that I can explore with, even with our human fears, because I know “we got each other”.

In that moment, I thought about that scene from SATC where Carrie realizes she gave up a dinner party in her honor to support her SO in his gallery opening only to be left sitting on a bench. That particularly struck me. If I do decide to go down the path of a relationship again, I want a partnership…someone who supports me as much as I support them. I don’t want someone who doesn’t understand what this path of fashion design means to me. It IS more than “a hobby”. It’s taken me places I’ve never been, challenged my creativity in ways that I never thought possible and connected me with people all over the world that understand what this means. I was told I’d never get anything out or anywhere with it. Yet, here I was in Paris three days before I was to show my designs to an international community (and this is only years into this path). And while, I’m not ready for a relationship in this moment in my life, but the right person doesn’t usually come to you when you are looking. So the meantime, I’d rather be solo and happy, than be with someone and be lonely. I walked on smiling.

My next stop was Norte Dame. I know it wasn’t open to the public, but I had to get a glimpse of it if I could and I did. A woman asked if I would take her photo with the building in the background. I did and in return, asked her if she would do the same. She obliged.

I could not visit Paris without going to my beloved fashion icon Coco Channel’s Rue Cambon, so I started back.

Yes, Paris you are my high!

I was so in awe and now wish I would have gone in but since I wasn’t shopping, I didn’t want shoed away for taking photos…so my outdoor selfie would suffice. It was getting close to 4pm. I still hadn’t stopped to eat and looking at Google Maps to Galleries Lafayette it looked like it was going to be a 45 minute walk, which was weird to me because I definitely thought I was close to where I started. I wanted to try and fit in a meal on the rooftop restaurant before I headed back on the train, so I opted for an Uber (I mean I had already covered 5 miles).

My driver picked me up and as we started, I realized that I hadn’t put in the full name of Haussmann Galleries Lafayette so instead I was really going to Galleries Lafayette. This wrong turn was completely worth it as I got a close-up view of the Eiffel Tower. I was dropped off in front of the gallery and started walking back, but then decided I really wanted to take an Uber back. I had a lively and great conversation with this next driver. He asked about my visit and about all the places I had visited. He talked about he economy and what’s happening right now. He easily understood English but couldn’t fully articulate a response so he would use a translator app…which I thought, “duh, I should have been using that throughout the day.” He dropped me outside the department store. I took the escalator up. The scene was much different that earlier in the morning. There was probably a dozen people when I was there earlier, but now the roof top was full and there was line for the restaurant. Knowing time was no longer on my side.

I opted for a restaurant across the street. I ordered a glass of champagne and croque madame, sat and thought about what a lovely day it was. I then headed back on the train to Charles de Gaulle. As I sat on the train, looking at posts back in America, it hit me again the significance of being here and when I returned to my flat that night, I posted the following:

As an American in Paris today, I saw posts and news briefs about 9/11 remembrance. However, life seemed to continue here un-phased. I took a moment to reflect on loss and life and how one of the key learnings for me are how important it is to tell people how much they matter to you, to live life to the fullest everyday, and to love your neighbor. Merci paris d’être si accueillant avec moi.

I arrived at the airport and had to use my train ticket to enter, I tried several times and several times I was rejected. I thought I had paid for a full day. I didn’t know what I was going to do as there were no ticket purchasing stations. Then I noticed, at the corner of my eye there was a turnstile that was open, I walked through like I owned the place and hoped I wouldn’t be taken to a French jail cell. Later, I realized I had been trying to use my receipt and not the ticket…definitely a Ms. Adventure moment. I received another stamp as I went through customs/border control. I picked up some macrons, French wine and chocolate before boarding my flight. I arrived in London about 10pm and back at my flat about 11pm fully sated from a soul-filling day. I am so proud that I didn’t give in to my fears and experienced this day.

Change of the Guard, Jewels & Unexpected Foodie Festivals – Thursday, September 12

1995 called and they said, “Girl, Rock IT!” I had to pimp Macy’s while I was traveling.

I totally slept in. Getting up finally around 11am and jumping into the shower. I thought I’d explore nearby when I realized London Tower was a tube stop away, so fumbling through directions to get there I arrived about noon. Purchased my ticket and stepped through history. I love the ego and dysfunction of the Tudor Dynasty and was so happy to gleam more knowledge about it here. I also had to take photos of the ravens to send to Meri, my friend and partner in crime in the Raven dress. It was an incredible journey back in time. The opulence of the monarchy, the treachery, or perceived treachery and the rich history of London was found within the high walls.

They say if the Ravens ever leave London Tower will fall.

It was fun to see tourist, locals and students alike enjoying the beautiful day. I spent a few hours learning about the prisoners, the jewels, the arsenal, the Beefeaters, and the animals found at this historic spot. After a few hours, I decided to walk the tower bridge. It was so cool and gave me that same feeling I had walking the Brooklyn Bridge total touristy, post card moment. When I returned, I stopped by a bistro that faced the River Thames. I had a glass of Rose and figured my next move. I thought maybe heading back to my neighborhood to try another suggestion from KS’s list, but as I walked around the moat, I realized the Foodie Festival I had read about happening over the weekend was actually doing a preview night. I purchased my ticket and decided to try it out.

I’m soooooo glad I did. I had been wanting Indian all day and you know you’re in the right place when the woman in front of you in line takes a bite of her Samosa and let’s out an Oh My GAWD!!! I was sold and it was deliciously satisfying. I went on and sampled some lovely gin, champagne, cheese, salsa beets and so much more. I think I dropped £50 on food and bottles of gin and whiskey on top of the Elderflower wine and ale I had bought from the London Tower gift shop.  I headed back to my flat and opened that bottle Elderflower wine as I went back and forth with the producers from the show about last minute details.

Tourist Booty

Running, Prayers, and Getting Banned from Instagram – Friday, September 13

Decided to give London an intro to Hopeless + Cause Atelier. A moment at Pause…I don’t know if you can see on my keys, a Diamond Fist from Street Safe NM (just extra protection). This art was two garage doors down from my flat…seriously, could I have a better reminder that she is with me (that and all the 11:11s)

Friday, September 13 was very much a Friday the 13th. I got up super early and decided to go for a run around my neighborhood which was kind of fab. The air was cooler and a little heavy. I stumbled upon this coffee shop called Pause and in that moment, I figured I should. It was going to be a busy day filled with last minute details for the show on Saturday. The biggest detail was finding models. I had tried unsuccessfully back home to recruit with no luck. So I reached out the production company, to see if they had any luck. They responded with a big fat “NO” and suggested that I try social media. I did just that.

The funny thing about London. I had changed my service for international service (didn’t know about changing my SIM card until it the day before I was leaving). My wireless service was spotty and in some places out right awful even in wifi areas like my flat, so I set up a work space in the kitchenette and started connecting with models. I posted on Facebook to see if friends and family knew anyone. Then using the hash tags #londonmodel and #londonmodels started sending direct messages and emails to women who would fit my looks. If I had my line up when I was creating I wouldn’t have had a problem with creating for all sizes, but for this go it was 2-4 and maybe a 6-8 in some of the flowy looks. My note said this:

If you’re in London, would you be interested in walking in a runway show tomorrow, Saturday, September 14 at 15:30? Let me know and I’ll send more details.

Londoners are super professional, polite and proper. I received message after message from the women I reached out to. Most of them were already modeling at that time, some were out of town and some asked for more information. None were confirmed yet and then I got this.

What the fuck Instagram? I’m only doing what your platform is intended for. So I moved on to adding that text directly to a photo in their feed. I was so frustrated I went for a walk. I was happily wearing my cute and flowy Free People dress. I figured some fresh air would be good for me, plus I was hunting down a pen because I got tired of writing notes on my mini iPad. At the convenience store, the pens were £7…I opted to bypass that. Then the breeze started picking up. My cute flouncy dress started having its own Marilyn Monroe moment, so I figured that was my reminder to get back to work.

As I was working, I heard the chanting of prayers and bells. It was then that I realized that I was smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood and that was really cool to me! I continued going back and forth with potential models. Some looking for payment and countered explaining that I was an emerging designer and they would receive photos and video from the show. I also explained that I am working with Elle UK and I am planning to use the after show photo shoot for the next feature.

By 11pm and after a bottle of wine, a bag of wasabi peas (my crack), three macrons and a chunk of cheese, I had 9 beautiful models lined up for the next day. One was actually flying in from New York and would be arriving about 8am and taking the train to the location. Hallelujah! I went to bed and crashed big time.

SQUIRREL MOMENT: Have you ever thought about your “up to bat” song? I had a conversation about this a few years ago and it was Applause by Lady Gaga. I heard it tonight and it still is. OKAY BACK TO READING

Kicking Ass, Model Moms (BLECH) and $60 Uber Rides – Saturday, September 14

I woke at 6am. My body was so off this entire trip, but if I recall correctly, I slept throughout the night. I got up went for a run and tried to go back to my coffee shop to find out it was closed on Saturday, so I ran to a Pret and got a drip coffee and croissant (not as good as the ones at Pause). I got back to the flat, did yoga, drank my coffee, ate my croissant and jumped into the shower before the other kids needed it.

I got dressed in my work out gear as I normally do, if I’m not wearing my overalls and put out the looks pairing them to the right model.

Feeling so blessed from the messages I received from close by and afar. Thank you for the support and good juju!!

My music was set (thanks Isaiah).

My make up and hair was set with the theme of my show. At 11am, I opted to get an Uber and head over to the venue. The hair and make up call time was 12:30pm but I wanted to make sure I was there in plenty of time to greet the models as they arrived. I arrived at AMP Studios approximately 30 minutes later. There was a non-descript gate with a small sign that said, “AMP Studios”. London is very reserved in announcing locations. I walked up to the gate and a man, like the wizard behind the screen, said no one could enter until 12:30pm. Hui, my model from the US, arrived about 10 minutes later after walking a few blocks to get there (the things we do for fashion). As I was standing there I started talking to another designer, accessories and handbags. He talked about the shows he’s done and the shops his work is included in.

At 12:30pm, the gates opened and we made our way in. I grabbed a table and opened up my garment bag to pull out the looks in order to have the models try them on. Model after model started coming in. I’d send them into the ONE bathroom to try on their outfit, then over to either hair or make up. I started steaming the clothing and realized how much stronger the electricity is in the UK than the US even with my compatible charger—a pop and spark and I was done steaming clothes. Thank God the spark didn’t start a fire. We shared the small space with another mens/womens designer and two children’s designers. I hate showing with children’s line designers. It not the designers and for the most part not the kids, it’s the parents. Dads that stick around…I’m sorry you’re creepy. There is no reason you need to be backstage. Mom’s think they need to be there to take photos and give their expert advice. Go take your seat and take photos from the runway as everyone else does. Okay off my soap box.

I tried to post photos and video but the service was HORRIBLE in this location, a total dead zone that zapped my battery, so I took photos held on to them. There were nine designers in this show and Hopeless + Cause Atelier was number 5. The show was supposed to begin at 3:30pm. It was 3pm and I still had 4 of my models needing make up, so every open seat I filled it with one of my models. At 3:30pm, I still one model in the make up chair and she still had to get dressed. I told her and the make up artist to finish what they were doing because I needed to get her in the lineup. My show started with the first 48 seconds of Red Light Cameras Fire…you know the part with clapping and Amanda humming “who who who who whooooo”. That fed into Elevate My Mind by Stereo MCs and Hui hit the runway. The runway was a box shape and it was an outdoor venue. Even though we talked about pace and where to stop along the way, I know nerves and the beat of the music kicks in and the models walk faster than I wish they would, so I constantly reminded them of that. Carolina, my model in the MUA chair came running in and put on her outfit. I fit it to her and made sure it was on right as she joined in the group.

Incredibly grateful to Carolina Perez, Proscovia, Abbi Haynes, Isioma, Aleksandra Baranova, Christina Heimeyer, Hui Ying, Laeticia, & Michaela (not pictured)

As I say every time, all the preparation and work takes months and the show is over in minutes. After we did the final catwalk, we went to the back and I got some behind the scenes photos. After the show ended, we were supposed to go near the River Thames for a photo shoot but that was a 20-minute drive and I wasn’t up for it so I asked for the producer to do the shoot on-site. I loved the urban garden feel of the venue: the red and white brick, wooden pillars, barbed wire, graffiti and greens was my perfect back drop. So they obliged and they took photos of the group. Sadly, I haven’t received them yet. AND WHAT I LOVED EVEN MORE, is that these women connected and are collaborating on projections outside of this event.

I started cleaning up. While talking with one of the models, Alex, she was talking about her interest in fashion and design from an artistic perspective and how it shapes the body. She was telling me about a gallery event at the university in which she was showing her work. I realized the university was a block away from me and if it was open tomorrow, I’d love to stop by and check it out. It was and we talked about a time I would meet her there. Everyone started to leave and I called for my Uber.

Ten minutes later it arrived. The driver was talkative, and we started to head back. It was a shared lift and I was quoted 8 GBP. However, as we were on our way to get the next person the driver complained of having connection issues with his Uber app. We drove around in circles for a bit and then he canceled the other ride. He asked me to try to connect to Google Maps and give him instructions. I thought that was quite odd but understood the connection issues as they were spotty for me. My 20-minute drive turned into 45 minutes and in the end Uber wanted to charge me what would be $60. Yeah, that wasn’t happening, so I challenged the charge.

I was feeling quite satisfied with my bad self but was exhausted from all the burnt adrenaline. I decided to walk down the street to the neighborhood Greek restaurant. It was a beautiful but cool evening, so I opted for spanakopita and Avgolemono soup with a glass of Greek white wine—OPA! It replenished me. I went walking around for a bit before heading back to the room and turning on the telly for some good ole British tv, lol, it was Lord of the Rings!

Mini Me’s, Incredible Music and Public Bathrooms – Sunday, September 15

I totally slept in. I got up and ready about 10am and headed out for coffee at Costa. This morning I just wanted a drip coffee with cream. I took a seat in the corner and began to plan my day, when, as the Ms. Congeniality that I am, hit my coffee cup and coffee was everywhere (if I wasn’t so awkward, I’d have no stories to tell). I went to ask the staff for a mop to clean up after myself, when the young man said he would do it. I felt SO bad. The duo that was working was so kind and understanding that I’m a big klutz, the woman even made me a new cup. At about 10:45am I headed over to the gallery to see Alex’s work.

Art by Aleksandra Baranova IG: @ab_alexbaranova and Hugh Hamshaw Thomas IG: @hughhamshawthomas

I arrived but she was still on her way. I admired all the artists’ work reading their hypotheses and the process. There was one artist present, Hugh. He worked in the digital medium creating tapestry looking art digitally. It was beautiful. He asked about me and I explained that I had just met Alex the day before but was intrigued by her work and loved supporting other artists. I explained why I was in London. He talked about going to Boston in the fall for a commissioned piece.  We exchanged Instagram accounts and I thanked him for his time. Due to time constraints and all I wanted to do in the day, I headed out before Alex made it in.

I jumped on the train to Picadilly Circus. Along the way, a little girl and, what I believe was, her father got on. They sat right across from me. She was adorable with big brown curls, bigger brown eyes and light caramel-y skin. It was kind of like looking back in time at a mirror. When I looked over at her, I noticed her mimicking body language as I sat. I smiled and changed the way I sat, with my legs and arms crossed just to see if she would follow. She did so I laughed and waved at her. She was serious at first and then half waved back. Her dad smiled, laughed and told her to say, “hello”. Kind of stubborn like me she refused. I arrived at my stop, I said goodbye and wished them a good day. She said goodbye and I smiled.

As I surfaced, I was greeted by music from an incredible solo artist. She was doing covers of many of my favorite songs. I stayed for a while and drained my purse of all my coins as a tip. I could have stayed there for this street concert, but I had places to go and areas to explore.

I headed toward Buckingham Palace first, but was stopped by a sandwich board touting fish and chips. That was one of the last remaining “must” eats while I was in town, so I walked down this posh cobble stone streets with high end shops. I was definitely in a high street of London, or Westminster to be exact. I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic and the fish and chips. It was deliciously greasy, and I covered it in malt vinegar. It was magical. I was satisfied and head back on my path.

Walking through the lush Green Park, there was no missing Buckingham Palace, it was larger than life, grandiose and elegant. I loved all of it, oh and that the fountain had mermaids (I mean duh!). They were sculpted in it not swimming in it. The sun was high and bright. It was a glorious day in London.

Next, I headed over to Westminster Abbey. And if I had been paying attention to the schedule of shows I would have seen that Victoria Beckham was showing at the Victorian and Albert museum. I mean I totally could have seen David.

Instead, I saw an official car heading that way. DAMN! The Abbey was closed so I went into St. Margaret’s Church. There was no picture taking inside but vast history of the church and its patrons. In ways, because of its history and the notes left by patrons, it reminded me of the church in Chimayo, NM.    

I wanted to see Big Ben and the Eye of London so I headed that direction next. On my way I stumbled upon another street musician, this time playing the bagpipes. OMGeee I love this city! Sadly, I had given away all my change. I continued on and walked past Big Ben…oh yeah, because it was under construction. I tried to get a photo of the clock’s face but with all the scaffolding around it, the photo didn’t do it justice. The London Eye was across the bridge but after finding out tickets were £27, the walk, and the wait, I opted to admire it from afar.

I wanted to see how far Piccadilly Circus was from where I was, so I started to head back when I noticed flowers around a monument. It was a monument dedicated to the Battle of Britain. I got chills as I read the inscription and that the date was September 15, 1940—79 years later I am standing at the spot near where this battle took place. It reminded me of the stories about my grandfather and his parachuting into Europe in WWII as a sergeant in the US Army. I had a moment of reflection and moved on. I got back to Piccadilly Circus and realized why am I taking the tube when I can be taking a ferry ride back to London Tower. I turned around and went back.

I notice everything and no, I did not stage this.

I sat in a nearby park for a minute just to cool down. I watched a guerrilla photo shoot, couples and families all enjoying the summer sun. Then once I felt re-energized, I headed over to purchase my ticket for the ferry. The next one was leaving in 10 minutes so as I stood on the dock, I felt this gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, like it was being tied into knots. I thought I was going to pass out and of course there wasn’t a restroom on the dock, so I left but where would I go, to the new Scotland Yard? I was passing people on my left and my right and thought I was going to die there (my body finally rejected all the carbs). There were no restaurants near by and then I saw it, a sign for a public bathroom. I really wanted to die in that moment. As I walked down the stairs, I could smell the urine stained walls and thought oh great why can’t this feeling subside. I walked into a pretty clean facility, but I realized why people urinated on the outside. You had to pay to go through the turnstile. I had already given all my change to the street performer. I couldn’t wait. I looked around and ran under the turnstile and into a vestibule. Thank God I made it. I emerged a little while later and headed back to the ferry. Once on board the cool air, helped calm me (I know TMI…but sometimes you’ve got to be real and this really sucked).

We started our trek back and the captain pointed out highlights along the way including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge (which was built by women during WWII) and a boat with the sail made of children’s art. As we reached London Tower Bridge, I noticed the sun was starting to set approaching it, the bridge was vibrant and as we passed it, a shadow was cast on it. There were two different views within minutes. I deboarded the ship and decided to head back to my neighborhood. There was a pub on the corner that I wanted to check out, Culpepper’s. It had a rooftop bar and I wanted to soak up this summer day as much as possible.

I arrived and put my name on the list for a table on the roof. About 15-20 minutes later, I got a text that my table was ready. I climbed the four flights of stairs (honestly, there aren’t many lifts aka elevators in London). The first floor is this all wood old bar, the second the restaurant, the hotel-like rooms, and then the fourth, the rooftop. I sat at the table and was given the cocktail menu. I sat right next to the lavender and rosemary bushes the air was aromatic and lovely. I ordered the grapefruit sling and asked about a food menu only to find out that they stopped serving dinner at 6pm. I definitely only had one drink or I’d be falling down the stairs without something to eat. I went back to my recommended list of restaurants to find out that they were all closed, so I went online to find something nearby, it was going to be Italian again and I made a reservation for 8:45pm. I walked over the restaurant, which was filled wall to wall with patrons, so that was a good sign. I sat at the bar and ordered a salad, a glass of wine and pasta. After dinner I walked back to my flat and repacked my bags. I couldn’t believe I was leaving. I had such an incredible time. I also came to the realization that as NYC smells of ambition and Paris smells of romance, London smelled of cologne—musky, earthy scents like bergamot—a little regality and history are what came to my senses. I think these scents also helped to shape my travels.

Last night of reflection, gratitude and celebration for an incredible trip.

Getting Lost, 30 Hours with SJP, Godzilla & Karaoke – Monday, September 16

A friend and colleague was going into breast cancer surgery back in California on the 16th so I wanted her to know I was sending light, love and healing energy. FIGHT LIKE A GIRL, M!

I woke the next morning at 7am and again went for a run and my token cappuccino and croissant at Pause. I realized it was the only time it really drizzled while I was there and I thought, “I know I’m sad I’m leaving too.” I took a moment to pause and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this journey. I did everything I planned to do while I was here (well, with the exception of seeing a Manchester United game…they were playing the same time of my show, but definitely next time). Who knew 6 years ago, when I was laid off from Cardinal Health, that I would be showing in my designs during London Fashion Week. Let me say it again…I showed my designs in London Fashion Week. People tell me all the time that I’m brave (maybe they think I’m stupid) for following this dream. It’s no longer a childhood dream. I believe we all have the power to accomplish what want to do, but many times we’re our own obstacle or we listen to people who don’t understand the meaning of life is to live it to the fullest every day. Creating fashion became my passion, so I set goals around it to make it work for me. With hard work and such incredible support, I’ve made it my reality. If I could travel the world creating designs on the fashion stage and write about it while meeting the most intriguing people, then I have lived a full life. And I’m already working on setting the plans in motion for Paris Fashion Week.

Seeing the time, I headed back to my flat. Took a shower and mapped out my train path to Heathrow. It would cost £45 and take an hour via Uber. It only cost ~£10 and would take the same amount of time via the train system. I opted for the later and headed to Aldgate East. I realized that my garment bag (the one I was checking for the flight) was about 10 lbs heavier than when I brought to London. Climbing up and down stairs, I knew I was going to get a workout. I was traveling during peak traffic time, so I hopped on a train, but when I didn’t see the location I was supposed to be going to I realized I was on the wrong one. UGH! I got of at the next station and my connectivity was gone. Double UGH! I asked an attendant to for help and she directed me to the route I should take. I tried to get on the next train, but it was filled to capacity and me and my bags would not fit. I got on the next one, and road it until I reached the station I needed to get off at. Then I looked for the connecting train, I was directed by another attendant to the platform on the other end of the station, up and down probably four flights of stairs into the belly of the train station I finally reached my platform. I was sweating profusely and the arm strap from my bag was digging into my shoulder. I’m sure I looked a mess, but I didn’t care as long as I got where I needed to be. My cell service, of course, did not work.

After all the running, climbing, and sweating, this still made me laugh and I wanted to scream, “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”

I boarded the train and felt comforted that I was going in the right direction. My destination was 19 stops away and approximately 45 minutes. However, as we got closer, I realized this train’s final destination was four stops away from the airport. I said an Our Father and Hail, Mary that I didn’t miss my flight. The train stopped at its last stop and I moved to the other track to get the next train heading to Heathrow.

My flight was scheduled for 11:50am. It was 10:40am when I boarded that train. It was 11:03am when I tried to drop my bag. I also paid a hefty fee to check my second bag because I knew I was going to have to run through the airport. I received notice that I required special assistance. I went to the attendant and she informed me that the boarding process closes an hour before the flight, but she was going to do what she could to make sure they were on the flight. She took me over to the cashier to pay for my second checked bag. She gave me instructions on how to get through security swiftly. I began to run. I got to security and explained my situation. The attendant told me I should be fine that the gate I was going to was right near the security exit, so I got in line and what seemed like forever, I got through security. Ran what seemed like the length of a football pitch up to my gate. The agent checked me in and I boarded the plane.

Relieved that I made it. I took a deep breath said another prayer and thank God for everything. I settled into my seat and cocktail hour began. I opted for a glass of wine and watched movies. My adrenaline was through the roof and I couldn’t sleep. In the seven hours, I watched Isn’t it Romantic, Hustlers, Rocketman and Dumbo. Since I never made it to high tea, I was happy that they provided Mile High Tea in a box. It was quite lovely.

When I landed, I had a message from Lucas stating that he knew I’d be landing soon and that I’d have the apartment to myself for a couple of hours. I responded when I landed. He welcomed me back and asked how I was feeling. I was feeling great but I did want to take a shower and freshen up. He asked if I was still up for going to his latest creation, Bar Wayo. I told him I totally was if he was. We agreed to check it out.

I got to the apartment about 3:30pm. The skies were over-cast and it was a little cooler than the week before. I climbed the stairs with my bags, my muscles remembered the weight and I felt like I had gumby arms. When I got inside, I drank a huge glass of water and did some yoga stretches. After, I climbed into the shower and the water felt so good on my skin. I took my time just standing under the water as it cascaded and caressed my aching muscles. I put my music on and started repacking my bags. My flight was at 7am in the morning and I knew I wouldn’t have time later to do it.

He arrived back at the apartment about 7pm, after getting his insight on the dress code for the bar, I changed, and we headed out shortly thereafter. We took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him about my Ms. Adventure that morning and how I almost missed my flight. I also told him during this trip, I had my epiphany on why I don’t like underground trains—my lack of direction, cell phone connectivity issues and confusing signs. We got off at our stop and we walked toward Pier 17. He talked about the history of the neighborhood and it being the foundation for the gangs of New York. I was taking it all in. It was great feeling the vibrancy of the city again.

We reached our destination and he talked about the neighbors of the bar: an iPic Movie Cinema, the other restaurants and bars and then we came across a Sarah Jessica Parker shoe store. I had to take a photo for Lynella. I told him to get in it and the character that he is, he did. We arrived at the bar and the crowd was light it was still early and in fact this was the first Monday that they were open. The decision was made to coincide with Monday Night Football. As we walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing to say “hello”. I was with the mayor and this was his town. He introduced me to the group and we took a seat at the bar. Known for his craft cocktail creations, he asked what I wanted. I said a spicy margarita. He glared at me. I said I was only kidding. Had he already forgotten about our conversation about margaritas and how every bar has to have a margarita on the menu?!? I said I couldn’t believe they had them on the menu in London pubs. I told him it was on him to order. So we started a full tasting of the cocktail menu and the ad hoc butcher block, bartender’s choice menu.

We did order food, starting with Curry Donut. This savory treat was a play on the jelly donut. The size of a small plate, this donut is coated in some curry powder and coconut with a soft dough interior and filled with a tomato-based yumminess. It’s cut in fourths, tableside. We each had one piece but then it was discovered that it wasn’t cooked properly so it was taken away not to be seen again or a replacement. What the what? Next, we had the clam chowder. I know my eyes rolled to the back of my head with my first bite. The clam and bacon base made for a heavenly broth. I couldn’t get enough and really tried not to eat all the bite-sized potatoes. The Beef Tartare and Onion Rings came out next. It wasn’t your typical shaved beef. It was a filling tied together with pinon, add the Shiso leaf and wrap with seaweed, you’d create your own wraps or in my case, Lucas would do it for me. The leaf was very earthy and fresh smelling. It reminded me so much of the air from the Mora Valley in NM, refreshing and green. Finally, we shared onion rings. The onion rings were meant for dipping in the ranch and trout row. The burst of flavor was outstanding.

So I may have had a drink…what was I doing?!?

However, our drink game was strong. I tried to pace myself and remember I had been up for a while, but the drinks were enticing, and I wanted to try his creations. I just asked to stay away from the sweet ones.  We tried the Kappa, South Street Sling, Kaiju Crush, Bonji Old Fashion, the Bellini and the other two peach drinks but I can’t remember what they are at the moment.

We had a lively conversation that went back and forth between growing up, what was happening with the restaurant and our idea to have a swanky sweater soiree in NM. And it’s an entire bar conversation. His team was full of personality and it made for a fun and lively evening. During the course of our conversation, a man walked in saying he won $200 in pool and was buying everyone a round of shots…tequila to be exact. Yikes! We drank it and then he said that he was going to pay for everyone’s tab. I looked at Lucas and then looked at him thinking your $200 probably won’t cover our drinks tonight. We Facetimed Lynella, and I’m sure my eyes were glazed over. I don’t recall how it came up, but he had been talking about taking me to Karaoke the past couple of times I visited. I always look at him with a scared face, so tonight I asked him if he ever saw My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts. He responded that he loved Julia Roberts. I countered saying I was Cameron Diaz’s character the one that sings totally off key.

Some how or another he convinced me to do it. And the stranger that came in claiming to pay our tab, actually did. However, I didn’t have cash (or enough to leave a tip), so I ordered another round of drinks and left the tip on there. I absolutely adore Lucas. He challenges me in ways that I look at him and want to say, “what the hell”. I believe he does this because he knows I want more, but he also knows my introvert tendencies to not push forward. Friends like that are keepers. He had been pushing me to sing Shallow and at first, my naivete, was like okay. Then I realized, oh hell no. Lady Gaga has the major part of the song and a range…I have neither. I tried to convince him to sing Dancing with a Stranger because of Normani’s lower tone is something I could possibly handle and the song was shorter in length. He said he couldn’t do Sam Smith’s part. I looked a him and asked how times has he sang Karaoke and that I wasn’t buying it. We laughed. We sang. He told me stories about the patrons and the bar owners.

The next time I looked at the clock, it was 4:52am, and my flight was in roughly two hours. I had been up for approximately 30 hours. I was easily convinced to change my flight to that afternoon and then climbed into bed.

Lessons Learned, Feast of San Gennaro and Running Through Airports AGAIN – Tuesday, September 17

I woke about 9:30am in such a lovely way, refreshed after only a few hours of sleep. I got up and after Lucas left to work, jumped into the shower. I decided since I had the time that I would wash my sheets and towel since he was so gracious to offer his home to me. I headed out to my bank to get change, next, to Starbucks for coffee and finally to the laundry mat. Holy crap–how do people afford to wash clothes in NYC? The small load I did cost approximately $5.00.

I love getting lost in this city.

As I put the items in the dryer, I decided to explore the neighborhood. Walking around Bowery, I was loving on all the street art and as I always do, took photos of it. I then stumbled upon the festival for the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. I had read about it but all the information I read stated that it didn’t start until Thursday, lucky me.

I perused all the vendors and found this cute NYC skyline necklace for $20, I had to have one. It looked like it was going to be a blast, but based on how busy it already was, it also looked like it was going to be crowded so I was happy to get a sneak peek. I headed back to the laundry mat, pulled my delicates from the dryer (lol just textiles) and headed back to his apartment. It was 1pm and I figured I’d make the bed, change into what I was wearing on the plane, wash the dishes and call a Lyft. That the Lyft arrived about 1:30pm. On my way to the airport, I looked at my boarding pass and realized. My flight wasn’t at 3:30pm as I had convinced myself it was. It was at 3:05pm but had been pushed out to 3:15pm. I was scheduled to arrive at LGA at 2:15pm. “Okay, that’s not bad”, I thought. I was dropped off and did the sky check so I didn’t have to deal with the lines inside. The attendant had issues with his printer, so it took longer than I had hoped. When I got to the security line, the digital sign said average wait time 20 minutes, again I felt good about getting through and on time.


What I realized is that the time on the sign was probably meant for when you got to that point where the sign was. It was the slowest moving line I had ever been through. When I finally got through security, it was 3:09pm so I ran for my gate. Luckily, it wasn’t far and my boarding group had just lined up. The flight had been pushed out again to 3:25pm. I got on the plane and again praised God for this intervention. I arrived in Dallas approximately 3 hours later and had a 2-hour layover. It gave me the opportunity to really think about what an incredible experience this was. Everything about it was pushing me into new territory, new uncomfortable zones, and each time I rose to the challenge and got what I wanted out of it (even in moments when I thought the spoils were going to someone else).

Good-bye for now (tear, tear, sob, sob)

I’m just going to say this, “I LOVED MY EUROPEAN MS. ADVENTURE.” I wish I was independently wealthy. I would travel throughout the world, but not the posh parts. I want to be where the people are. The realness. The genuineness. The humanness and the beauty that is found in exploring new places. It has the same draw to me that New York does. I know it’s not seen through rose color glasses but of the humanity that each person brings or takes away and that’s why it calls to me so. And nah, sis, I don’t wish I was independently wealthy. I don’t think I’d appreciate it the same way if someone paid for it for me vs. me working my fucking ass off to get there and my beloved believing in me and wanting it as much as me, so much that they have gracefully supported me (I in return have grateful and gracefully appreciated it).

What this trip reemphasized for me is that we are mortal. Life is finite. It’s not YOLO—you only live once. It’s YODO—you only die once. You live every day. I don’t take that for granted. I give love with my whole being. I tell people how I feel and if they can’t handle it or don’t know how to respond, I run; they are not my people. I don’t have time for half ass lives. I only want people who can deal with my crazy, emotion-filled, cancer-being (crabby-emotional, not environmental killer version). I smile from ear-to-ear, I laugh with laughter that can be heard across the room. I will sit with you and cry and hug you when I feel that you are in the place that needs that response. I am human. I fuck up. I learn. I grow and I only want people in my life that are authentic and understand and own that. This trip taught me that AND so much more. It taught me the sacredness of enjoying being with yourself and loving yourself. It’s my crazy, beautiful life. You’ve got yours. Own it. Live it. I’ve already got plans in motion for my next adventure and whether it’s solo or with someone, I can’t wait (but I’m telling you there are European beaches involved and they may or may not be topless).

With light and love,

Dara Sophia
(and yes, Lucas people do like hearing other people say their names but only if it’s pronounced correctly)

Dream On

“Thought you were going to nyc”

His text read. I mentioned a few weeks before my intention to go to my favorite place on earth at Christmastime. However, guilt of planning a solo trip during the holidays and an unexpected expense threw those plans out the window.

Me: “I want to go to New York City to experience the magic of the holidays, the sparkling lights, the winter cold and beauty of the season from so many different cultures.”
My budget: “You’re bank account is zero… Ho Ho Ho!”

He was right, but the text didn’t sit right so after my monthly board meeting that evening, I went home, copped-a-squat on my over-sized cheetah print chair, grabbed and placed my laptop on my lap, and started researching travel costs.

Two years ago, I had planned out a quick soul-filling trip. I had a friend who worked at Jet Blue. She offered to let me use her friends and family discount so I could go (round trip for only $105). I planned to take the red-eye, arrive the next morning, spend the entire day fulfilling my set agenda then fly back that evening. I had played it out in my mind–starting the day in Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, then stepping out to see the windows at Saks 5th Ave, taking a photo of the tree in Rockefeller Center, moving my way upwards to Tiffany & Co, Henri Bendel and Bergdorf Goodman for a dose of holiday window inspiration. I’d then quickly walk through the Plaza Hotel, then into Central Park, watching the lovers take a stroll in the horse drawn carriages before making it over to Barney Greengrass to indulge on their famous Latkes (which are only available on the weekends and during Hanukkah). I’d work those potato pancakes off while walking down to Century 21 to see what discounted high-end fashion finds that caught my eye. I’d crossed over to Magnolia Bakery and get one of my favorite treats, a Peanut Butter & Jelly cupcake. Then stroll to one of my favorite places to chill, the Commons at the Hudson Hotel. I ordered my favorite cocktail, the Pink Slip, and noshed and sipped for spell before hitting the quintessential NYC holiday program, the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall. And after running over to Times Square, because while not my favorite place in NYC, you need that energy to know you are there, I’d then catch a cab back to the airport to fly home. I wrote in great detail about my trip and of all the awe I found in the windows, in the streets, and in the vibrancy of the season. I wrote about the anxiousness of the city–just weeks before the 2016 presidential election had occurred and the city was different, there were protesters and police in front of Trump Tower and spilling over to the front of Tiffany & Co. The day was surreal in ways and glorious in others. I accomplished all I wanted to do and see.

Sadly, the day I went to book my flight, my friend informed me that she had quit her job, so I visited that year only in my dreams. Last year, I was able to take my minis. It was Isaiah’s first time. He originally was hesitant to go. However once we arrived, he understood why and how I loved the city. The hum of the city calls you, even among the crowds of the season. I can’t explain it except to say it’s beyond magic. It was a long weekend. We shopped, saw the sights, and ate our way through Manhattan. I guess that’s why I was feeling guilty. They now knew the magic NYC held, how could I go and not take them with me.

I am a PROUD, PASSIONATE resident of the 3rd city (thanks, Nancy, for sharing this with me). 

I went to bed with a head full of dreams…I’m not really into sugar plums but definitely into Magnolia Bakery’s butter and sugary confections. I was dreaming about what I would do if I were to go.

A few days passed, and I was talking to a colleague who worked and lived in NYC. She recalled the above quote and again reminded me how much I loved and missed the city. It had been 10 months since I had last visited (PS: bucket list, live in NYC for at least 6 months of my life). 

That day, I woke up at 5am with my night bag packed and by the door. I woke my boy so he could drive me off at the airport. I boarded the flight on time and had a spell in a connecting location. Because I was able to check in digitally, I could catch a Lyft to my hotel, drop off my bags in my room, freshen up and still have time to walk to Sunday Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. What I didn’t realize is that the Lyft I chose was a shared vehicle and the route is determined by who books first. The person in front of me was staying near NYU, 25 blocks south. There also was another individual after me that we had to wait for prior to leaving La Guardia. 

And even though we came through the Queens Midtown tunnel and my hotel was only 5 blocks away (two blocks north and 3 blocks west) from the entrance into Manhattan, we took a tour of the island. It was okay, because it gave me a chance to see sights and sounds and have a small conversation with the woman in the back seat, who had recently graduated from NYU. After the delay, and instead of rushing because I knew I was no longer going to make it in time for mass, I took my time, freshened up and texted my friend who I saw on social media was in town. I hadn’t seen her since she moved to California a few years back, and I was hoping we could meet up. 

I bundled up and stepped outside into the brisk evening, exhilarated. The sounds of the cars, the lights, the people everywhere. I had returned home. My heart was happy, yet my legs took a bit of convincing, but once they realized where they were, they got to work. My first stop was Bryant Park for the holiday market and tree. As I arrived less than 10 minutes later, I saw the masses taking selfies in front of the tree while many others were ice skating. I made my way through the market. I had a strict budget, but there were a few shops I had found the year before where I wanted to peruse the goods.

While the tree at Rockefeller center truly is amazing. I love Bryant Park more. The view is phenomenal. There are places to shop, eat and an ice skating rink and most importantly, it’s not as crowded.

I made my way through the market within 20-25 minutes. I then decided to head west to Times Square. Times Square is not my favorite, but I always stop by just because. The sensory overload, all the people and different languages swirling around my head, lights and sounds, provides a welcome to tourists (the smells push them out as quickly as they take their selfies). As I did my obligatory spin to really take it all in, I headed northeast toward Radio City Music Hall. I didn’t have the budget to see the Rockettes this time, but I still love seeing the crowds and the lights. As I crossed the Avenue of Americas on 49th, I could see all the vendors set up along the road with their faux luxury bags laid out on blankets, and the crowds haggling for their goods. I then passed the Magnolia Bakery at Rockefeller with the line around the corner. I thought because of the crowds, that I’d probably not enjoy this delightful delicacy this time around.

While the weather was brisk, it was a clear and calm night. It was beautiful and perfect for exploring the city. The crowds on the other hand were full of holiday travelers from all over the world and while most were strolling down the road, I was walking with purpose and navigating around the baby strollers and groups that walked side-by-side, and just some cruisers in general. I spent a few moments in awe of the tree, but started to feel claustrophobic so unfortunately I didn’t stay to watch the light display across the street at Saks 5th Ave. Instead, I opted to walk north to Bergdorf Goodman. Those were the windows I had been vying to see. I walked past Henri Bendel and it made me sad to realize that this New York fashion staple would be closing in the next month. The sign of the times had impacted so many brick and mortar retail spaces and was really starting to hit 5th Ave. I walked past Trump Tower and while there’s still barriers along 5th Ave and people taking selfies out in front, there were no longer visible protesters nor police dedicated to the building. However, what I did find this time around were Resist carts selling items related to the resistance and the cause of impeaching Trump. This year the conversational buzz was about Amazon coming to town and the impact it would have. 

(I’m definitely Randy when it comes to incredible window displays)

I arrived on the scene and I wasn’t disappointed. Bergdorf Goodman created a sweet fantasy and it left me drooling.

Do you see Chibi (hint: he looks like my dachshund fur baby)?

I was in heaven, soaking up every minute. It was time for me to go to church so I headed south on 5th Ave. I arrived about 15 minutes later and again the crowds were amassed. I walked up to the Nativity set and knelt while silently saying a prayer in gratitude that I could be there. Every time I visit the Cathedral, I find something new that I hadn’t seen before–the intricate detail, the homage to those that lived before us that found their way to their faith. I later found out in my hotel room that the architect, James Renwick, Jr., while he lacked formal training, had the vision, creativity, and eclectic style of design. Those traits got him noticed and one of his crowning achievements was St. Patrick’s Cathedral. 

As I was preparing to depart, I received a text from my friend. They were going to dinner at Tanner Smith’s which was only 6 blocks away or less than 15 minutes from the church. On my way over, I witnessed a Hanukkah parade with large lit Menorahs on the roofs of the vehicles and music blaring as they drove down the Avenue of the Americas. When I arrived at the restaurant a few minutes later, I gave her a huge hug and shared my greetings with the other guests. She was traveling with her daughter and a couple of her daughter’s friends were joining them for the evening as well. The restaurant was fabulous. Very much decorated in the style of a speak-easy with many of the cocktails mimicking the vibe. I had budgeted $40 for my meals and so far that day my meals had consisted of a bag of pretzels, a granola bar and a cup of coffee. I was famished but considerate of what I had to spend. I ordered a glass of Cava and some sliders. My friend asked if the Burrata sounded good for the table. I agreed, mentally calculating the cost of everything in my head. We spent the next hour catching up talking about her move to Los Angeles years before. She told me how proud she was of all I had been up to. We also shared stories of how we found ourselves in the past couple of years. 

We continued to talk and the rest of the group ordered another round. I had a little bit of a trek back to my hotel so I opted not order another drink. A local band began to play and they were fabulous. The singer had a power voice and she sang a number of songs that got us dancing in our seats and singing along (I’m sure we would have hit the dance floor if there was one). We also started talking to the group sitting at the table behind us and found out that three in the party lived just blocks away from my friend. One of the guys bought a round of Tequila shots for the table. We cheered to old friends and to new ones. We continued to talk. We continued to sing. I continued to drink lots of water. We continued the evening for another hour. As we departed ways, I made a promise to reach out the next time I’m in LA and she told me to keep shining. 

I got back to my room about 20 minutes later. I had walked just under 5 miles within the period of a few hours. My legs were still moving so I did a few yoga stretches and took some ibuprofen before I settled in and turned on “Friends” (nightly ritual, don’t judge). I stretched out in the king sized bed and fell asleep before the first episode was over. I hadn’t slept so peacefully and so comfortably in quite sometime. I had originally planned to wake, be ready and out the door so I could make it to the 7am Mass (since I didn’t make it he night before). 7am came and went and I decided I’d make the 8am. Enjoying lounging around, I made the decision that 9am would do (plus it included music…bonus). I called the front desk and asked for a late check out, so I’d have 4 hours for walking around before I had to check out.  I made my way to the shower, got ready and headed out about 8:30am. Next to the hotel was a little coffee and pastry shop where everything was $2 (no really, everything). I ordered a French roast coffee and started on my path again. My friend paid for the table’s meal the night before so I hadn’t depleted my meals budget and I was determined to eat for the day on less than $20.

My walk gave me just enough time to finish the coffee. I went into mass and sat in a pew midway in the church. As I walked in, I noticed the tourists, parishioners, and those who came in to warm up from the cold. I waited for about 10 minutes and when Mass didn’t start, I read the readings from the day before and said a prayer before heading out again. Since I didn’t get the opportunity to see the windows at Saks the night before and the crowds had shrunk in size, I walked over to see this year’s theme. It was a theater of dreams and it didn’t disappoint. 

I read that the window concept was in partnership with 
Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, one of the nation’s leading industry-based HIV/AIDS fundraising and grant-making organizations, and the unveiling included a performance by the Rockettes. 

I moseyed my way up 5th Ave. I wanted to go into to Bendel’s to oggle what they had left. Every couple of years, I would by one of their signature scented candles because it reminded me of the incense the church would burn during the advent season. They no longer had the exact scent but they did have one that smelled similar, Manhattan Frost. With its $40 price tag, I opted to enjoy the scent while it lingered in my nose in the store. I thought about the places left for me to visit: the windows at Barneys, the windows at Macy’s, NY Public Library, the Garment district, the theater district, Gray’s Papaya and Central Park, I mentally reconfigured my route and headed north towards Barney’s. I had seen the windows at Tiffany & Co the night before and sadly, was not impressed. It was some sort of robotic theme and to me didn’t incite any of my creative synapses (sorry, not sorry). The same occurred when I arrived at Barney’s. I don’t know if it was because I approached on the south side and decided not to walk around the full block, but once a coveted spot for design, imagination and creativity, it was definitely lacking. 

I walked back over to 5th Ave and decided to take a stroll in Central Park. The weather was once again sunny, bright and warmer than I had expected. I was starting to warm up under my layers. Every once and a while a gust would pick up, so I couldn’t take off my coat, but it was a glorious day to be walking the city. I walked into the Plaza Hotel like I owned the place, took a photo of the tree and wondered where Eloise was hiding out, then walked out near the Oak Room so I could get a glimpse of Marilyn before my next stop. 

My next stop was Macy’s and on the way I walked past the Magnolia Bakery, sans the crowd, so I popped in. A waft of buttery sweetness filled my senses. I asked for the Peanut Butter & Jelly cupcake but luck wasn’t on my side that day, so I got my second favorite, the chocolate ganache with sprinkles. I also got a stocking stuffer. With my little bag, I happily moved on my way. I made it over to Macy’s and as a story book fantasy, I saw the young and old look at the animatronic and computerized window displays. And as I got to the Herald Square entrance, I saw the real star of the show, the bell ringer from the Salvation Army. The bell ringer that works at this location is not the same as the others I’ve ever seen. It is a show that brings in the audience. I stood in awe as the Lieutenant or Major (they are very official at this location) rang the bells and danced along to Pharrell Williams, Happy, then I turned my head slightly to see he was dancing with a little girl, who had her own bell. I also noticed a man standing watching and dancing to his own beat in the background. I smiled brightly while searching for all the change I could find in my pockets. I too was happy.

I headed to the garment district to see what I could find. I opted not to go to Mood because while I love the choices, the fabric is always out of my price range. I stepped into a small shop and immediately fell in love with a faux leather with a snake print design, and the blue ombre silk. However, didn’t have any orders that justified the purchase yet, plus I was looking for a faux fur leopard print. After talking with the owner and his best haggling to get me to buy, I took a card and said I’d let him know. It was close to 11am and I had a special request to go to the Hamilton shop so I started heading North. I stumbled upon Gray’s Papaya and was fortunate to have cash (it’s a cash only establishment). I got one dog with sauerkraut and mustard and a medium papaya drink (needed my nutrients to counteract the nitrates) and $4.50 later I had my lunch and a happy belly.  I stood at the counter and enjoyed my meal, while I planned out the rest of the time before I had to check out. My phone battery was running low so I made a mental map of where I needed to go next, then powered it down to conserve it in case I needed to use it for a Lyft. 

I made it to the shop however they didn’t open until noon. UGH! I decided to head back toward the hotel, pack up, recharge my battery and relax for a minute before I had to check out. I would check my bag at 1pm and head out again.  Before reaching the hotel I popped into the NY Public Library. I love the tree and Menorah that is always on display this time of year, and I always stop by to purchase my NYC note book. It’s the book that I use to not only take notes but to also write my daily gratitude. As I left, I had to snap a photo of the regal guardians of the library in their festive splendor.   

I got back to the hotel room, kicked off my shoes, plugged in my phone (again, did a few Surya Namaskara or Sun Salutation sequences to stretch out my muscles), packed my bag, downed a water and relaxed for a hot minute. At 1pm, I checked my bag with the Bell Hop and headed out again. This time I ran to Grand Central Station for a moment and then back to the Theater District. I’m sorry but the Hamilton Shop was outrageously priced a little (okay, a lot), but luckily as New York has it, I found some fun merchandise from the street vendors. I wandered around, heading down to see the windows at Lord & Taylor on 5th Ave for one last time (super sad face). They did the bare minimum in decorations, showcasing mostly video montages of toys throughout the ages. I noshed on a $1 cheese pizza slice. I continued to be that fly on the wall as I walked the streets hearing tongues in African, Asian, Eastern and Western Europe, South America, Southern Belles to the residents and their hearty NY accents. So many walks of life, all bustling though out the city. I returned to the hotel about 4pm, knowing I’d need to catch an earlier shuttle to avoid the rush hour traffic. As I sat on the shuttle, I was sated and exhilarated and exhausted all at once. This short but lovely trip played over and over in my mind.

Me too.

I woke the next morning with a sense of calm and joy all over me. Was it another dream?

With light and love and wishing you and yours the best this holiday season and always!
Dara Sophia