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Living.

July 28, 2014

My friends who are moms often talk about days where they let their kids do anything they want.  Like let their kids eat cake for breakfast, ride the carousel at the mall and stay up late.  They all always say that it’s so freeing, rewarding and improves their relationship with their children.

I don’t have children (although, I am sponsoring the cutest boy on the face of the planet.  Meet my boy, Prosper).  Thus, I can’t give a child a day where he can do anything to feel that freedom. So, I did the next best thing yesterday:  I gave myself an anything day.

I woke up yesterday in Jacksonville, FL at the home of one of the friends I’ve known for the longest.  July 27.  It’ll always be a tough day for me, so it was nice to be amongst someone who understands my soul and gets my spirit.  Yesterday was the 10-year anniversary of my friend, Scott’s, untimely passing.

My dad asked me this morning why I felt so strongly about Scott.  What made him different than the rest?  He was honest.  And loyal.  And good.  And pure.  And gentle with me.  So, so gentle.  And of course, fun.  And handsome.

When I woke up yesterday at my friend’s house, I could hear her footsteps walking across the floor.  I wasn’t ready to get up yet, though.  I laid in bed for an hour, awake.  I pulled up some Bible verses on my phone.  And I let my mind wander and reminisce.  I know that the “What If” game is one that cannot be won.  I live in the present.  I’ve opened my heart.  I’ve accepted.  And most of all, I’ve realized that I have to keep living.

And so yesterday, I lived.  I got up, got out and got on with the day that in all honesty, I never thought would come.  It’s weird knowing that you haven’t seen someone or heard their laugh in ten years.  It’s strange wondering if you passed each other on the street today whether you’d even recognize each other.  Again, though, “What If’s.”

Yesterday, I told myself that I wouldn’t tell myself “no.”  I’d do whatever I want.  With no questions asked and no remorse.  It was a day to feel what living full-heartedly with no limitations felt like.  And let me tell you–for someone who usually has her guard up high–it was amazing.

The day began with brunch at my favorite restaurant in Jacksonville, Tacolu, with my friend Courtney and her amazing fiancee, Jeff.  We ate breakfast tacos.  And chips.  With queso.  At 10 a.m.  Oh, and we ordered sopapillas.  With ice cream.  Because, carpe diem, my friends.  Sieze the carpe.  And put a scoop of ice cream on top of it.

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After brunch, it was time for me to begin the drive back to Miami.  I made a mental note that I was going to take it slow.  And make lots of stops.  And do lots of things.  And live.  With no agenda or focus upon time.

My first stop was at World Market.  Can someone please tell me why Miami DOES NOT have a World Market?  It’s a little out of hand.  When I walked through the doors, I nodded to myself and said, “Mmmhmm.  Oh, yes.  This is good.  This place is good.”  I wandered the store’s aisles aimlessly for some 45-minutes.  Picking up things.  And putting them down.  Throwing things haphazardly in my cart.  Then realizing some five minutes later that I probably didn’t need them.  Then remembering that this was the day of no “no’s” and putting them back in place in the cart.  Luckily, I got out with only a $43 tab and this awesome mug.  Which I so obviously needed.  I say “obviously,” because everyone knows that Mondays are made better when you drink coffee from a “GOOD MORNING” mug.  Yes, everyone knows that.

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I drove south about 45 miles to America’s oldest city, St. Augustine.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t a blasted hot day in Florida, so I rolled my windows down.  And I put in my new Miranda Lambert CD.  And laughed when she sang that line, “I’ve been sowing wildflower seeds and chasing tumbleweeds.”  And swayed my hand out the window as I drove through street by street, looking at houses, dreaming about life.

After about 20 minutes of house hunting, I settled on this one.  I mean, they say when you know, you know.  And here is what I know:  It has two crucial things that I hope my future home holds.  A big front porch and waterfront lot.

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I was ready to go, so I headed south.  I decided to take the longer route, so I took the A1A instead of the 95.  I kept seeing signs reading, “Beach Access,” so I thought to myself, “You know what I want to do today?  I want to go to the beach.”  The problem was, I didn’t have a bathing suit or a towel.  But it was the day of no “no’s,” so I knew I’d figure it out.  And just as I thought that, this store and all of its awful gaudiness came into my horizon.

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I popped into Alvin’s and thought briefly about buying a hermit crab.  It was a good deal, after all:  Buy a hermit crab and get the cage and supplies for free.  And judging by my RueLaLa invoices as of late, I really appreciate a good deal.  Then I remembered that I’m not home enough to take care of a pet, so I left the hermit crab there.  I settled for a $5 beach towel and was off.

I headed down an unassuming street and into a park that served as an artificial gate for a beach.  I parked my car, hopped out, told the gal who said she liked my shirt, “Thank you, thank you SO much!” and didn’t even care that I over-exagerated the second “so.”  When I hit the sand, I didn’t take off my Sam Edelman’s that I paid too much for, because the sand was hot and I decided I cared more about the skin on my feet than the shoes on them.  I strolled along the beach, looking at houses and talking on the phone.  I watched people fly kites and boys throw footballs.  I threw my towel down and watched a pelican nose dive into the ocean over and over and over.  And inside, I was laughing.  And I may have even laughed out loud a couple of times.  When I let the giggles out, I thought, “Don’t LAUGH out loud.  You’re alone and that looks weird.  You look like the weird, crazy, single lady.”  Then I realized I didn’t care.  Living is good.

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I decided it was time to go, so I got into my car and headed south.  I downloaded some new music that I’ve been digging.  Ed Sheeran’s “Don’t” is everything.  Everything.  And I may have listened to Florida Georgia Line’s “Dirt” 23 times since yesterday.

I stopped at a Starbucks in Daytona Beach and ordered my favorite drink–an iced, grande, non-fat Chai tea latte.  I made small talk with the barista and flirted with the guy standing outside with the chocolate lab.  I got back in my car and kept going south and before I knew it, I was home.

It was almost sunset, so I decided to pour myself a glass of wine.  I pulled one of my dining room chairs out onto the balcony that I never sit on.  I grabbed my phone and pressed play on iTunes and decided not to wear headphones as I listened to them.  Yea, living means not caring about whether your neighbors can hear your music.

And I sat there.  And as I sipped and bopped my head, I watched the sunset.  And I saw the colors that were being painted across the sky.  To the east, every shade of blue.  Light blue.  Sea blue.  Royal blue.  Navy blue.  And my favorite, midnight blue.  Through the blue, lines of pink scattered across making their presence gently felt like confetti popping through the atmosphere.  To the west, the most vibrant orange.  Deep orange faded into magenta faded into a color similar to the mangoes in my refrigerator.

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With the wind lightly blowing through my hair, I thought about how much I’ve learned about what it means to be alive in the last ten years.  Being alive means more than staying up late and going places.  Being alive means treasuring people more than places and places more than things.  Being alive means being vulnerable.  Being alive means saying it like it is, because saying it like it is means being unafraid of the pain that could come to your heart.  Being alive means finding joy in the smallest things, like the colors painted across a summer sky.

When the sun went down, I came in.  A friend of mine who’s a producer for ESPN sent me the kindest message.  I held onto these words, “Life can be very random but wonderful and tragic. There aren’t always answers but life is a gift.”  A gift, indeed.  The greatest gift, actually.  It’s the greatest gift, because it is because of life that we get to choose to live.

We chatted a little bit more and at one point, the subject of the dreams for my life came up.  And for the first time ever, I decided to be vulnerable and say out loud what my dreams are.  I shared my crazy, wild, most likely improbable dreams.  And with their uttering, I realized I had done something with them:  I made them come alive.

I’m weird in the sense that I hate working out in daylight hours.  Part of that because of the Miami heat, no, not the basketball team, but the literal hot, hot, humid, sticky heat.  So it wasn’t until around 9 last night that I threw on my highlighter yellow adidas sneakers and the most obnoxious workout outfit I own.  I went for my usual run around the island I live on.

Generally, I run several laps at a leisurely pace that definitely gives me exercise but definitely doesn’t challenge me.  Yesterday, I realized this isn’t living.  Not pushing yourself to do your best is not living.  So, I ran.  I ran faster than I ever have.  I felt like I was lightning.  I felt invincible.  At one point, I was racing a boat down a straight stretch.  And I was keeping up.  It was so, so good.  And so empowering.  And redeeming.

As my feet hit the pavement, I let go of so much.  I remembered that I’m still here.  It sounds so coarse.  But I’m here for a reason.  There’s another purpose for my heart.  Another reason for this life.  And so help me, every single day when I wake up I will search for it.  For every day for the rest of my life.

It was almost time for bed.  My bedtime routine is a little intense on Sundays.  I’m 30 now, so my skincare regimen is a bit more, um, regimental.  And that regimen hits its high peak on Sundays.

As I scrubbed my face, I looked in the mirror and deep into my eyes.  These days, they’re more hazel than the green they were ten years ago.  They’ve seen a lot more, too.  They’ve seen a lot of joy.  And some real good excitement.  A little bit of hurt, too.  Most of all, though, they’ve looked into my heart.  They know its secrets better than anyone.  And they know the biggest regret that it holds.

I have regrets in my life.  Most of them are minor.  Like quitting piano lessons and dance.  And not getting on that private jet to meet Bubba Watson.  Yes, that was really an opportunity I passed up once.  I only have one real regret, though.  And it was not telling Scott how I felt.  I never laid my heart fully on the line.  I think I was so crushed when he died because I never got to tell him what he meant in my life.  And when he left this world, that opportunity passed.

When I wiped my face off with the towel, I knew after I put on my pajamas that there was one more thing I had to do.  I needed to come clean with some people.  The last year of my life has been a roller coaster in terms of dating.  One of those roller coasters with loops and insane drops.  I’ve been riding in the front seat, largely being taken on one long ride.

So, I decided it was time for the ride to end.  There were a few people I needed to reach out to so I could gain closure.  There were a few things I needed to say.  And maybe some things that I probably shouldn’t have said. “I miss you.”  “I want to see you.”  “What the hell happened to you?!”  As I laid there and hit “send,” each time I felt more free.  And best of all, I got answers.  And my heart got some more space.

This morning, I woke up and thought to myself, “I know why moms give their kids days like the one I gave myself yesterday” as I drank from my new GOOD MORNING mug.

Days like yesterday are gentle reminders of all of the goodness that can be soaked from life.  They’re nudges that to live, you need to be alive in the truest sense of the word.  You need to go out on a limb and beyond your comfort zone. You need to experience to live.  Experience joy and pain and fear and hurt and love.  Most of all, though, you need to be free with yourself.  Free enough with yourself to know when to let go.  Free enough with yourself to know when to move on.  Free enough with yourself to know when the time has come to realize that this is it:  you’re alive.

Life’s Purpose

July 21, 2014

I keep a personal journal. These days, much of my life is open and in plain view. I did it to myself, but sometimes, it’s nice to have a few thoughts that are just my own–guarded from the world and others’ opinions and commentary.

Last night, the first sentence I wrote in my journal was, “A blessing and curse in my life is the ease in which I get things.” Writing it, I knew it sounded smug. Those closest to me, though, know what is meant by those words.

Growing up, there wasn’t much that I had to fight terribly for. Algebra made sense. I got along with my parents, even as I went through puberty and should’ve been rebelling. I won awards and elections. I had good friends. I got into college. It was smooth sailing. A blessing. And for what’s it worth, I always realized that and gave thanks to God for these things. I knew that all of it was because of Him.

Yet, the older I get, the more I realize that the ease in which things fell into my younger life was a curse. I never really understood the value of having to work hard for something. In my younger days, I never had to fight tooth and nail to get something or to keep something. If something or someone put up a battle, my response was simple: Walk away. My rationale in doing so was simple: Something else will replace it.

Then my mid-20s hit. I was miserable in my job. My relationships were suffering. I didn’t have a real home to call my own. I didn’t know myself and couldn’t find my purpose. It seemed like everything I had was lost. Gone. Despair set in.

I prayed a lot during that time of my life. I remember feeling so raw and so open for a chance to come my way. I prayed that God would show me my purpose and put me on the right path. I prayed that He’d open up the doors that were meant for me and that He only lead me down the roads I was meant to travel. I had the greatest hope in my heart, that even though I felt miserable and desperate, He’d give me an answer.

And He did. He showed me my purpose. Over time, He revealed to me that the reason I am here on this Earth–my purpose–is to be a storyteller. He pulled back layers in my memory that exposed experiences in my life that revealed this purpose more clearly. Like the tendency of complete strangers to often approach me and lay their life stories on me. Or my ability to remember in extreme detail one particular day’s events. Suddenly, everything was clear. It made sense. I had a purpose.

The first way I began truly fulfilling my purpose on this Earth was launching RulingSports.com. I’ve written here a lot about the importance July 1, 2011 played in my life. It opened up doors to other opportunities, like the ones I have with Forbes and The Huffington Post. In turn, those opportunities have led me to other amazing people who have given me the great gift of telling their stories. It’s been amazing. A whirlwind. A blessing.

Truth be told, though, in recent months I’ve been feeling a bit uninspired. I find that I’m writing stories merely to fulfill contractual obligations. I am so in love with my job at the University of Miami, that sometimes I ask myself why I am spinning my wheels continuing down this path of writing. There’s been moments that I’ve considered hanging up the proverbial writing towel.

And then days like today happen. My faith tells me that days like today are days from God. They are days where he pulls open the window of your soul and shouts, “HELLO! I am here! And I am paying attention! And I gave you these gifts and I gave you these passions, because they are your PURPOSE. You are not turning away now. No. No. You are going to keep going.”

Today on the Huffington Post I published one of the stories I am the most proud of. A couple weeks ago, I received an email invitation to the launch party for New York Jets wide receiver, David Nelson’s foundation. Truth be told, at the time I had no idea who David Nelson was. However, the body of the email struck a chord in me. I learned that Nelson and his brothers, after traveling to Haiti and seeing the conditions of orphans there, decided to go back permanently and take care of orphans. I was moved by this, because what I saw was people taking action upon seeing a problem.

I responded to the email telling the event organizer that I was grateful for the invitation, but was unable to attend. I then mentioned that I’d be happy to write a story about the organization. Several days later, I interviewed David about the foundation. When I conduct phone interviews, I type furiously as the person on the other end of the line talks. I then close the Word document and only come back to it when I’m getting ready to write the story. When I did so last night and I looked at his words, I was so, so moved by the purpose he is fulfilling in his own life. It was a gentle reminder that there is so much good in this world.

I needed David’s story. In the sports world, it is so easy to get jaded. The mainstream media so often force feeds us stories about missteps of professional athletes. What the mainstream media forgets to remind all of us in those stories, is just like us, professional athletes are human. We all make mistakes. Yet, when you are working and living in this world, it’s easy to get jaded. So, I needed this story. I needed a reminder that in fact, the bulk of people I surround myself with are good, honest people living out their live’s purpose.

The icing on top of the cake was this message:

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A voice to the voiceless.  Me?  I could be that?  Reading those words shook me to my core.  They instilled in me again the reason why I do this.  They reminded me why I spin my wheels writing these stories, why I give up time with family, friends and loved ones to chase the story.

My day could’ve ended pretty amazingly right then and there.  I think, though, that God knew I needed a few more reminders that writing is truly my life’s purpose.

Two days before I left for Greece, I drove to Orlando–and back the same day–to interview the owner of A.S. Roma, James Pallotta.  Given how busy I was around this time and the fact that I was getting ready to leave the country for two weeks, in all honesty, I was dreading the trip.  Meeting Pallotta, though, changed my feelings.  In him, I met one of the wisest and sharpest business people I’ve come across since writing for Forbes.  And for what it’s worth, I’ve met a lot of business people since writing for Forbes–some wise and others, well, not so wise.

If I were to be perfectly honest, I was pretty certain that Pallotta hated me during the course of our interview.  The next day, I told my dad that it was one of the most difficult interviews I ever conducted.  He seemed rushed, uninterested and relatively unamused with me.  The interview was conducted in a makeshift media room that was housed in a trailer.  Throughout our interview, countless people walked in and out and some even interrupted our conversation.  However, throughout it all, I stayed focused on one thing:  Getting the story.  I didn’t flinch when he posed hard questions back at me.  I didn’t look away from him when other people walked into the room.  I asked my questions, knew when I had what I needed and wrapped the whole thing up relatively quickly.

Today I got this text message from Pallotta’s publicist.  It blew me away.

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So, there’s that.  And that’s really awesome.

Over the last month, I’ve felt like I lost my spark.  My passion for writing felt zapped.  Today, it was reignited.  And when I think back to the last six months of my life, the messages being sent to me to follow this purpose of my life become so clear.

Whenever I get on an airplane, the first thing I do is fall asleep.  However, on a flight from Dallas to California this spring when I saw the cute older couple next to me, I for some reason was inclined to stay awake.  This is the first flight in a long time that I can remember staying awake.  And I’m glad I did.  The gentleman sat next to me and throughout the whole ride, he talked to me about the years he spent writing a book.  I could tell how important it was to him and how great of an experience it was for him.

During that conversation, there was something pinching at me telling me that I should consider writing a book.  It pinched at me, but it didn’t sway me fully.  It didn’t seem like something that was truly feasible or realistic or in all honesty, anything that I had real time for.

A few weeks later, I was on another flight.  I can’t even tell you where I was going.  Can you tell I travel too much?  For some reason though, again, I was moved to stay awake during the flight.  I cannot stress how rare it is for me not to immediately fall asleep upon boarding.  However, again, I was happy I stayed awake.  The man next to me told me about his corporate job.  I thought secretly, “Seriously?  I stayed awake for this?”  As he finished and I politely bowed my head away to begin my nap, he piped up again.  “That’s not all I do, though.”  Ok, good, I thought.  Hit me with it.  “My passion is Christ.  And sustainable living.  So, my wife and I started a farm.  It’s not big, but it’s something.  We use it to serve others and teach others about God.  We’d love for you to come visit it someday.”

I was moved.  This man was a mere stranger.  He was speaking my language, though.  I hadn’t even talked about what I did.  When he asked though, I gave the usual spill.  And at the end I said, “And I’m thinking about writing a book.”  He said, “I think you should.  I’ll pray that you find success in it.”

Since then, I’ve been approached by two publishers to write my own books and another to write a book chapter.  One publisher wanted me to write a sports law textbook.  Another wanted me to write a sports law book that would be more mainstream.  The book chapter would be for a sports law textbook.  I was blown away by these opportunities.  Seriously.  What an honor!

What I say next may rattle you.  It may sound ridiculous.  It might sound greedy.  Hear me out, though.

I turned down both books.  I was so grateful for the opportunity presented by each publisher, but as I prayed about them, I kept realizing that I need to spend my time focusing upon stories outside of sports law.  Sports law has given me such a great platform.  However, it is not my life.  It is not all there is to me.  There is a bigger, bolder voice inside of me.  Spending time writing those books would hold back that voice.  Doing so would stifle my purpose.

This is a risk.  I may never be accepted by another publisher again.  And I know that.  This isn’t the safe route.  This is a route that will require fighting and things not just happening with ease for me.

However, it’s the path that I feel is right.  So I’m traveling it.  And I hope when my story is done, that you’ll read it.

Others

July 15, 2014

I’ve been 30 for almost a month. And don’t tell my 20-something self this, but it isn’t so bad. I’ve joked with some that when I woke up on June 20, my bones hurt and my knees started popping. Those who know me understand that I appreciate a good exaggeration, and just raise their brows and roll their eyes when I say such things.

In the weeks leading up to my 30th birthday, I spent some time thinking about what legacy I could build for my life. Perhaps it’s asinine to assume that an ordinary person like me could leave a legacy, but I’ve always been a dreamer.

The more I thought about what I wanted the legacy to be, the more clear it became that it needed to be about others. Not about me. Not about my wants. Not about my needs. Not about my desires. No. It needed to be about others.

When I look at the world around me, I see more than faces. I see people with stories. People with dreams and hopes and wishes. And pain. And needs. And when I look at that world and into those faces, I begin to realize that we, as humans, weren’t put on deserted islands. There’s a reason we’re all here together. And that reason, is to live our lives for others.

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My 20s were my most selfish period of my life. And in retrospect, maybe they needed to be. I had to devote my life entirely to my studies and my career to get to where I am today. I’m here, though. And I’m happy. And it’s time to get that little girl who would drop anything to help anyone back.

In May, a friend of mine, Sarah, posted something on Facebook about a young woman she was mentoring. This young woman was getting ready to move into her first apartment on her own in Los Angeles. Do you remember that feeling? I do. After leaving the comfort of my parents’ home, my first dorm room, the sorority house and the apartment I shared with baseball players my senior year (living in a sorority for two years was enough for me in terms of girl roommates), I really moved away from home. 1,000 miles away, in fact. To California and the very first apartment that was all my own.

My parents and best friend helped me move into my apartment. My dad and Jessica put together furniture while my mom helped me unpack my dishes and clothes. I remember feeling loneliness and quiet like I never experienced a few days later, when they would get in the car to go. However, I knew though, that if I needed anything they were a phone call and short flight away. I wasn’t alone.

The scenario isn’t the same for the young woman my friend mentors. Gabriella is a young woman who was raised in the foster care system. It was Sarah and another young woman who helped Gabriella move into her new pad. To top it off, Gabriella is fighting AIDS and cancer. Yes, you read that right.

Meet Gabriella, and her dog, Burrito.

Meet Gabriella, and her dog, Burrito.

When I saw Sarah’s post about Gabriella several months ago asking for donations of used furniture and household goods for Gabriella’s first apartment, I knew I had to do something. This was a chance to help someone. This was a chance to reach out and make life a little easier for someone who didn’t ask for anything. This was a chance to give to someone that I would never want to repay me. It was a chance to do something for someone other than myself.

Will you help me? I’ve launched a CrowdRise fundraiser for Gabriella here. Remember your first apartment? And that ugly painting you hung over your television? How about the awful colored dishes your purchased? Or how annoyed you were when you realized how expensive cleaning supplies are? The money you donate will all be used to purchase this young woman who faces battles unlike any you and I have known a Target gift card. This way, she can choose her own decorations, pick out her own awful dishes and stock up on some cleaning supplies. Please also feel free to leave a message of support for Gabriella in the comments section and I will put them in a keepsake journal for her that will be sent along with her gift card.

A first apartment. It’s something that gets put away in your memory forever. It’s a first real bite and taste of freedom. It’s the first glimpse of reality and adulthood. It’s something to be treasured. Let’s give this young woman, Gabriella, something to celebrate.

Saying Goodbye To My Roaring 20s: A 30th Birthday Party

June 30, 2014

I turned 30 earlier this month. The birthday was met with happiness and excitement.  While my 20s were nothing short of amazing, as my birthday approached, I became more welcome to the idea of ushering in this new decade.

A few weeks ahead of my big 3-0, I traveled to Greece with a good friend as a birthday gift of sorts to myself.  While there, it became apparent to me that I wanted to celebrate with my friends and family when I arrived back home in the States.  There are not many times in life that we can come together with friends just to laugh, cheers and celebrate.  In my book, every occasion, even the most simple, can be turned into a party.  So, with the calendar pages getting ready to turn to a new decade for me, I figured we should celebrate!

On the long flight home from Greece, I had plenty of time to come up with party details.  Ultimately, I settled on a Roaring 20s theme, with the thought that for one last night, my friends, family and I would say goodbye to this last decade of mine that was indeed roaring.

I used my new favorite internet-based invitation site, Paperless Post, to email invitations.  I love this site, because A) it allows you to send invitations in a manner that is green and B) it has the CUTEST designs.  There are so many fun designs to choose from and they are all so sleek.  A snippet of the invitation I created is below (I cropped the bottom off to cut out my address).  My color scheme for the event was white, black, gold and blush pink.

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With invitations sent, it was time to really get down to planning the party!  There were a few things I knew I wanted:  A kitschy bar filled with prohibition style cocktails, a photo booth with fun props, bite-sized appetizers to eat and a spectacular outfit for myself!

First off, the bar!  Prohibition style cocktails seem to be all the rage these days, and after sampling some at various Speakeasys across the U.S., I understand why!  For my bar, I opted to serve three prohibition style cocktails:  the Gin Rickey, French 75 and Southside.  Serving these drinks made building my bar easy:  All are gin based!  I also need champagne, club soda and tonic, limes and mint.  Additionally, I made simple syrup (which is just equal parts water and sugar).  For an added twist, I made apple pie moonshine, which was a huge hit!  It was so easy, but after I bottled it, I decided to purchase small shot glasses for my friends to drink it out of, as it was VERY potent!  I also purchased vodka for friends who don’t like gin and served Batch 19, which is a prohibition style beer.

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Designing the actual bar set-up was one of my favorite parts of planning the party.  I purchased black and white chevron material to use as my photo booth backdrop.  I had some leftover, so I clothed the bar table with it.  I also purchased a small chalkboard, which I wrote “Time to drink champagne and dance on the table!” on it.  I hung the chalkboard on the front of the table, which was wrapped with a black and tan burlap bunting flag banner that I found at Cost Plus World Market.  To add a vintage feeling to the bar, I self-bottled the moonshine in bottles I purchased at Cost Plus World Market and then labeled with stickers.  The simple syrup was similarly bottled, but labeled with chalk board labels that I also found at Cost Plus World Market.  Like most gals, I’m a sucker for paper straws, so it was critical that my bar had some on it!  I placed a mixture of black and white polka-dotted and black and white chevron paper straws in a gold spray painted Mason jar on the bar table.

Perhaps my favorite part of the table was the flowers on it!  I am obsessed with pink peonies, and luckily for me, they are in season during my birthday month of June!  Early the day of my party, I walked to one of my favorite floral and gift stores, Denver’s The Perfect Petal.  There, I found the perfect array of blush pink peonies and white antique roses.  I bought one stem of each for each of the jars that I placed on the bar table and food table.  Earlier in the week, I bought Mason jars in a variety of sizes.  I spray painted half of them gold and left the others as-is.  Around the spray painted jars, I tied a piece of black burlap string in a bow.  A piece of brown burlap was tied around the non-painted jars.  On the day of the party, I poured a bag of gold sequins in the water of the jars that I didn’t paint.  The contrast between the gold painted jars and the jars with the gold sequins in the water, along with the splashes of pink and white that the peonies and roses presented, was really fun!

A look at the gold sequined flower jars.

A look at the gold sequined flower jars.

A look at the gold spray painted jars.

A look at the gold spray painted jars.

When it came to food, I didn’t want to get too far ahead of myself and find myself cooking all day.  As such, I focused on creating a simple menu.  I made mini caprese skewers (just place a mozzarella ball, slice of basil and grape tomato on a toothpick), melon balls wrapped in prosciutto, spinach and artichoke flatbread pizzas, a summer orzo salad and sweet molasses meatballs served on pretzel sticks.  The cooking was all so easy and everyone really enjoyed the food!  You can find all of the recipes on my Pinterest board here.

The best food, though, was likely my birthday cake!  Every year, my mom buys me a birthday cake from one of our favorite Colorado bakeries, Das Meyer.  I was really wanting a pink ombre circle cake, so that’s what I got!  It was so cute!  To top it off, we put “3″ and “0″ gold sparkler candles from Swoozies on top.  It was the perfect way to bring everything together!

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I was really dying to have a photo booth at my party, because I knew that all of my friends would be dressed up so cute for it.  My friends came dressed in 1920s inspired dresses and suits, with headbands to match.  I wanted fun pictures to document this celebration that we could look back on and laugh about later.  I threw the party at my parents’ house in Denver, which has a huge backyard.  We turned a portion of their fence into a photo booth by hanging a long piece of black and white chevron fabric from it.  On each side of the fabric we placed “3″ and “0″ gold mylar balloons and a mixture of black and white helium balloons.  I found great photo booth props from Target that I placed on a wooden TV table in a large glass jar with a chalkboard label reading, “Grab a prop and snap a pic!” near the photo booth.  Everyone had a blast with the photo booth!

A look at the whole photo booth set-up! The balloons were cropped out of the pictures, so that only the chevron backdrop appeared.

A look at the whole photo booth set-up! The balloons were cropped out of the pictures, so that only the chevron backdrop appeared.

I was so lucky to have found an outfit I adored for my party.  I’ve been turning to Rent the Runway a lot to find outfits for events.  I love Rent the Runway, because it allows me to wear designer clothes for relatively cheap.  With as many events as I attend and cover, shopping can become quite an expense for me.  However, using Rent the Runway allows me to minimize that cost and also not continuously have to wear the same thing.  For my party, I rented this Sachin + Babi foxtrot dress and accessorized it with this gold dress me up bracelet from Cara Accessories.

I loved the subtle shimmer of my Sachin + Babi dress!

I loved the subtle shimmer of my Sachin + Babi dress!

Top top my outfit off, I made a 1920s inspired headband.  I used black sparkly ribbon and a cute jewel adornment that I found at Hobby Lobby to create the headband.  All I did to make it, was wrap the ribbon around my head to measure and cut it.  Then, I hot glued it together and hot glued the adornment on the side of it.  I styled my hair using a 1″ barrel curling iron to make long mermaid waves.  I parted my hair in the middle and teased the back of it and then placed the headband on.  It was such an easy look to style!

I made all of our headbands! It was so easy.

I made all of our headbands! It was so easy.

Overall, my birthday party was more than I could hope for.  That’s because of the people who were there.  While all of the decorations, drinks, food and outfits were great, at the end of the day, it was the special people in my life who took time to celebrate with me that made my night special.  I really am blessed to have such great people in my life!  Here’s to another 30 years!

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Greece

June 23, 2014

People always say, “You travel all the time” and “Are you ever at home?” to me.  I lived in my condo in Miami for six months before I ever saw my neighbor across the hall. She said, “Oh wow, you do exist after all!”  For as much as a travel, though, it rarely ever is just for me.  Don’t get me wrong–traveling to cover sports is an absolute dream come true.  Yet, even though it doesn’t feel like work, at the end of the day doing so is work.  There are commitments and deadlines and meetings.  And little time for me.

Greece, though, was for me.  Going there was one selfish wish that I wanted to fulfill before I turned 30.  It was one place that when I spun the globe around, my fingertips always landed on.  Greece was a place I needed to go.  A place I needed to see.  Somewhere I had to get my hands on and wrap my heart around.  Greece, for me, was a dream come true.

Over Christmas when I was home in Denver, one of my best friends from college and sorority sisters, Alli, told me about her goal to travel internationally every year.  I told her how awesome I thought that goal was and said I really wanted to go to Greece as a 30th birthday gift of sorts to myself.  She said she always wanted to go there.  The next thing I knew, we were booking flights, looking at hotels and mapping out our trip.

Passports in hand and ready to say goodbye to the U.S.!

Passports in hand and ready to say goodbye to the U.S.!

After reading guidebooks and travel websites, we settled on 12 days in late May/early June.  This would be right before the islands’ busy season, but late enough that the weather was warm.  We began our trip by flying into Athens–and promptly leaving Athens.  We arrived there at 9 a.m. after an overnight flight from Philadelphia.  After getting our rental car, we headed north to Delphi.  In Delphi, we stood on a plot of land that the 6th century Greeks believed to be the center of the world.  We saw architectural designs of stone plotted on a mountain that have stood the test of time and the attempted sacks by men.  We saw a place that was an ancient proclamation of my belief that “sports can change the world,” as the Greeks hosted the Pythian Games in a period of time before Christ was born.  We saw a place in this world that was so ancient, yet held within it so many of the dreams that I myself hold today.

The center of the world? The center of the world.

The center of the world? The center of the world.

Instead of staying the night in Delphi, my meticulous combing of travel websites led us about 30 minutes away to Galixidi for the night.  If I ever have a breakdown and disappear, I suggest that everyone look for me first in Galixidi.  Seriously, this might be the most perfectly relaxing and quaint place in the world.  And to top it off, Alli and I pretty much had Galixidi to ourselves.

The shore of Galixidi.

The shore of Galixidi.

Galixidi is located on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth.  After checking into our hotel, Alli and I went for a walk around the gulf and spotted a beach bar.  As we began downing cheap beers (ever had a Fix? Yea, I’ll probably never have one again) under our umbrella at the foot of the gulf, we were the only people at the bar, save for the bartender.

A perfect afternoon at a perfect beach bar.

A perfect afternoon at a perfect beach bar.

During this time, Alli and I splashed about in the gulf.  Alli swam across it.  I preferred to just back float around, looking up into the sky and repeatedly telling myself, “You are lucky.  You are so dang, dang lucky.”

I wasn't lying.

I wasn’t lying.

Later, a local, Cristoph, would arrive for some afternoon sun.  With saltwater hair and sun-soaked skin, we chatted up Cristoph, ended up befriending him, and had dinner and drinks with him later that night.  What he symbolized to me, was the extreme friendliness of the Greeks.  They were all so kind, welcoming and engaging with us.  I can’t imagine in the United States ever just meeting someone, befriending them and making it a point to meet them for dinner.  It was refreshing and welcomed.

This guy.

This guy.

Galixidi was amazing, but it was time to move on.  We next headed four hours away to Meteora.  A UNESCO World Heritage site, Meteora means “in the heavens above.”  And I think that is an apt name.  Meteora is a mountainous area, reminiscent of Colorado or Utah.  As you approach the mountains, though, you see these pillars of rock believed to be over 60 million years old.  During the 14th century, monks began building monasteries on top of the rocks.

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Fearful of the Turks’ invasion, the monks’ architectural genius and commitment cannot be understated.  There were no roads.  There were no bulldozers or modern machinery.  There were, though, hands, manpower and tough mindsets.  From those things, some of the most amazing and beautiful architectural feats I have ever laid my eyes on were built.  And within them was placed innate art, gold and other expressions serving as testaments to a belief in something bigger than man himself.  Inside of the monasteries, held a place where I not only had to catch my breath, but a place where I was reminded in my faith that indeed, there is something greater than all of us out there.

I also wore hiking pants in Meteora.  A first, and probably last, for me.

I also wore hiking pants in Meteora. A first, and probably last, for me.

The next morning, we headed back to Athens to spend the day there.  Athens was insane.  Nuts.  Chaotic.  Crazy.  It’d be too soon before I ever had to go there again.  I’ve lived in southern California and Miami, but the driving in Athens was unlike anything I have ever seen.  There were cars and tall buildings everywhere and bicyclists and pedestrians just tossing themselves about in traffic.  It was a stressful scene.

Luckily for me, though, Alli drove our rental car throughout Athens.  Amazingly, we didn’t get lost and even found free and close parking to the Acropolis, which was our main reason for being in Athens.  Before heading to the Acropolis, we stopped for a quick bite and some sangria.  We then walked about 10 minutes and reached the Acropolis.

Little do you know, that all hell is breaking loose around the Acropolis.

Little do you know, that all hell is breaking loose around the Acropolis.

I feel bad for saying this, but I wish I was more moved by the Acropolis.  Perhaps it’s because I was on my third day of visiting historical architectural sites that I wasn’t wowed by it, or maybe it was the large group of tourists, or even the rampant construction taking place at the site.  I’m not sure what it was, but I didn’t walk away with any life-changing sentiments or “aha” moments.  I did come away with some cool pictures, though.

Like this one.

Like this one.

My favorite one is probably the one right below, where Alli and I look so stoic.  What this picture doesn’t show, is how right before it was snapped we were attempting to take a funny picture, where we were holding our hands up like columns.  However, an Acropolis guard was less than amused and yelled at us that we can “only take normal pictures!”  Buzzkill.  Yet, we obliged.  And now have one very awesome, normal picture of us at the Acropolis.  I look scared.

Stone cold.

Stone cold.

The next morning, we flew to Mykonos.  When we landed in Mykonos and exited the airport, I thought I made a horrible travel decision. All of the pictures I had seen of Mykonos showed beautiful, crystal blue water and white, frescoed buildings.  All I saw was dry, desolate land.  Honestly, I hated Mykonos the first eight hours I was there.  Later, it’d become my favorite spot we visited.

Celebrating the fact that the pictures were right.

Celebrating the fact that the pictures were right.

Alli wanted a more “authentic” travel experience in Greece.  Whereas I would’ve probably rented a room at a hoity-toity resort, Alli wanted to engage and interact with Greek people and understand their culture.  I’m glad she desired this, because it led to us meeting some amazing people.  We used Airbnb and rented a cute studio in Ornos that overlooked the water.  The owner of the studio’s father, Mimis, picked us up from the airport as the owner was in Athens to vote in the Greek election.  Mimis was wrinkled, yet tanned, and spoke no English whatsoever.  At the airport, he held up a sign reading “Jessop,” so we approached him, got into his car and then proceeded to say nothing at all to each other.  Later, I’d remark to Alli that we sure were being ultra trusting of complete strangers.  She brushed it off.

Our Mykonos studio!

Our Mykonos studio!

Mimis took us to a rental car company where Alli and I initially rented a sedan.  After driving that around for about 45 minutes, Alli made an executive decision that we were returning the car and getting scooters to transport ourselves around the island.  If there is one thing my mom taught me about traveling with others, it is to go with the flow.  Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do.  Sometimes you have to go out on a limb.  Sometimes you have to compromise.  In swapping out the rental car for a motorcycle for Alli and an ATV for me, I was doing all three.

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I have never operated a motorized bike before, and in all honesty, was pretty frightened to do so, especially in a place I was unfamiliar with.  For as much as I know about sports, in the end, I’m a girly girl.  I love shopping and nail polish and don’t mind letting men take the lead.  Riding a motorized bike is about the antithesis of Alicia as it gets and I was vocally freaked out about it.  I get lost easily, am not good with directions and am not the most coordinated person.  Upon learning that I drove a rental car in Greece, my friends who know and have driven with me were mortified.  They were even more shocked to learn that I cruised around for four days in Greece on an ATV.  Most were surprised that I lived to tell about it.  In the end, though, renting the ATV ended up being one of my favorite parts of our trip.  Cruising around the island on that little ATV in my bikini and feeling the air blow through my hair was such a freeing experience.  I felt young and alive.  I felt like I could do anything and that the world was at those fingertips wrapped so tightly around two handlebars.  Seriously, though, I gripped those suckers so tight that I may have developed early onset Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.  It hurt.  Bad.

My whip.

My whip.

The reason Mykonos became my favorite spot of all we visited during our trip, was because to me, Mykonos symbolized fun.  Every day we were there, Alli and I visited a different beach.  Every beach had beach bars with cabana beds that you could lie on and order drinks from.  Loud music emenated and there was laughter everywhere.  It was great.  So great.

Paradise Beach.

Paradise Beach.

My favorite day there was the day we visited Super Paradise Beach.  I thought this beach and its water were so beautiful.  The people were so fun.  Alli and I spent the bulk of the day ordering foo-foo drinks from a happy Grecian beach bartender.  We befriended a group of guys from Germany when I accidentally knocked my entire pina colada into Alli’s motorcycle helmet and one jumped up to clean it off.  The world felt small being around these people.  It felt like I could go anywhere, do anything and befriend anyone.  It was welcomed.  Even if it took sacrificing a $15 drink.

Said pina colada.

Said pina colada.

Alli and I ate very well in Mykonos, as we did throughout the rest of our trip.  Every night we would go into Chora, or Mykonos Town, for dinner.  I ate linguini with lobster and fresh fish.  I drank good wine and had good cocktails.  Sitting under the Mykonian sky that was perfectly painted midnight blue and dotted with bright green palm trees while dining on fresh fish at Mamalouka will be something I always remember.

Dining under the sky at Mamalouka.

Dining under the sky at Mamalouka.

During the days we’d visit Chora, I’d pop into Yellow.  An aesthetically pleasing coffee shop whose sign read “foodies spot,” made me know I  was at home.  There, I’d chat with the barista and order up Nutella crepes and wish I never had to leave.

The perfectly pleasing patio of Yellow.

The perfectly pleasing patio of Yellow.

Then there was the day that Alli and I perched up on a bar patio, sipping sangria, as we waited out the rain in Mykonos.  As we talked and laughed, a cat appeared.  If you’ve ever been to Greece, you know there are cats.  And dogs.  Everywhere.  None of them really have a home; they just wander.  This cat, though, had a home.  We watched it walk out of the door of the house across from where we were sitting.  It proceeded to call Alli’s lap its new home.  It sat there for hours and purred and purred as we drank and waited on.  Our waitress walked by and said, “Oh, that’s Boo Boo,” as if it was nothing that this animal was sitting on a stranger’s lap.  I liked Boo Boo, because Boo Boo was unafraid.  In a town with frescoed buildings, high-end stores and exquisite cuisine, Boo Boo wasn’t afraid to approach someone and make them his own.

Meet Boo Boo.

Meet Boo Boo.

The rain that night, gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life.  As Alli and I rode back to our house around Mykonos’ winding turns, I spotted a rainbow.  As we continued on, I slowly realized that the rainbow stretched across the entire island.  As we got further, I saw that there was not one, but two rainbows.  Yes, a magical, mythical double rainbow laid stretched out before me across the island of Mykonos.  We pulled over on the side of the road and as we were snapping pictures of this wonder, I couldn’t help but thank God.  I thanked Him for bringing me to Mykonos.  For showing me this sight.  For His redemption.  For Him dragging me out of one of my lowest points of my life, where nothing made sense, and presenting me with this gift.  Upon seeing it, everything made sense.  I’ll never forget those rainbows for as long as I live.  They were life changing.

iPhone cameras can't capture double rainbows.  Apparently Steve Jobs was human, after all.

iPhone cameras can’t capture double rainbows. Apparently Steve Jobs was human, after all.

After three nights in Mykonos, we were off via a ferry to Santorini.  I read a lot about the ferries in Greece being unreliable, and as luck would have it, we had a chance to experience this for ourselves.  Mimis dropped us off at the port about 30 minutes ahead of our scheduled ferry departure time.  I’m not a morning person, so this was already too early for me.  There was nobody at the ticket counter, and only other tourists swarming about wondering if they were in the right spot.  We waited and waited and over an hour after our ferry was scheduled to leave, a big boat rolled in.  We entered and I immediately did whatever I do when I travel via common carrier:  Fell asleep.  Some four hours later, we arrived in Santorini.

The one thing Master Jet has mastered, is the art of keeping people on their feet.  And running late.

The one thing Master Jet has mastered, is the art of keeping people on their feet. And running late.

Santorini was heaven, bliss, a dream come true.  While traveling with Alli was great, I would’ve preferred to be in Santorini with a man.  A lover.  Ok, a male lover.  Santorini has romance written all over it.  Everywhere you look on the island, there is a view that makes you catch your breath.

Perfection.

Perfection.

We stayed in Oia, on the west end of the island, which is known for its stunning sunsets.  We rented a cave house facing the caldera from a woman named Maria, who as we would later find out, is legendary around the island.  The sweet woman would later have us over to her home, below the “Oia Castle,” serve us Vinsanto (more on that later) and give us each a handmade doilie.

Our Oia cave house.

Our Oia cave house.

Oia and Maria’s cave house ended up being the perfect place to call home.  From there, we were able to walk to shops and restaurants and down hundreds of stairs to the bottom of the cliff where the sea meets the sand.  At the end of that cliff, we’d have one of our best meals of the trip.  The waiters took a liking to us and walked us over to check out the fresh catches of the day.  I picked a lobster for my second round of lobster on linguini of the trip.  Alli picked an indigenous fish.

We passed on the freshly caught octopus.

We passed on the freshly caught octopus.

When our meals were cooked, we were greeted with one of the most beautifully presented meals I’ve ever seen.  Two waiters approached our table and proceeded to take my lobster out of its shell and prepare Alli’s fish.  It was an amazing experience.

Fresh.

Fresh.

We’d laugh and joke with those waiters and they’d bring us shots of Greek booze.  Unknowing of the Greek word for “cheers,” every time they’d appear with one, I’d resort to cheers-ing with the one Greek word I know: “Kalimera,” or, “Good morning.”  This would send them and the few patrons scattered about into roaring laughter.  The waiter and I then got to talking about music and he told me he loved Gary Allan.  As a diehard country music fan, I thought this was unique.  I said, “Where’d you learn about Gary Allan?”  He said, “The internet.  Obviously.”  Unamused with his sarcasm I said, “The internet, eh?  So you like Taylor Swift then, too?”  He said straight faced, “Never heard of her.”  Obviously shocked, I loudly said, “You don’t know who Taylor Swift is?!” which again sent the nearby diners into a fit of laughter.  He said, “No.”  I proceeded to play, “I Knew You Were Trouble” from my iPhone and 20 seconds in he said, “Oh, yea.  I know her. She’s awful.”

A pretty alright dinner view.

A pretty alright dinner view.

The rest of our visit in Santorini was filled with a day of wine tasting, where I learned of my deep love for Vinsanto (I may have had it with every meal for the rest of our trip after I discovered it), a really windy trip to the red and black beaches, a relaxing, sunny day at the black beach and an amazing three course dinner at the famed 1800.  It was magical.

Drinking Vinsanto at the Vinsanto Winery. Go figure. Get a load of that view, though!

Drinking Vinsanto at the Vinsanto Winery. Go figure. Get a load of that view, though!

With firsthand knowledge of the inconsistency of Greek ferries, we were happy that we opted to fly from Santorini to Athens for the last night of our trip.  By this point of the trip, I was having Starbucks withdrawals (I went without for 12 days, which is HUGE for anyone who has spent more than 18 hours with me).  I was also missing the convenience of being able to flush toilet paper down the toilet and not having to turn on the water heater 10 minutes before you wanted to take a shower. As such, I was THRILLED that we booked a Hilton for our last night in Greece.  The Hilton in Athens was absolutely amazing.  Along with having plush beds and readily warm showers, it had one of the most perfect views of the Acropolis.  I saw amazing pictures of the Acropolis lit up at night, and luckily, the view of it from the Hilton didn’t disappoint.  Alli and I sat on the terrace and drank champagne as we watched the sun go down, but the Acropolis light up.  It was something I’ll never forget.  We sat there largely quiet, both of us reflecting on the journey we had just been on.

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For me, that reflection was centered largely around gratitude.  Gratitude for the ability and means to take this trip.  Gratitude to have a friend to go on it with me.  Gratitude for new friends made and experiences bourn.  Gratitude for nearly 30 years that preceded it and the twists and turns that brought me here.  Greece was magical.  It was all that I wanted to be.  Greece was for me.

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Chasing and Building: On Turning 30

June 19, 2014

I turned 20 with blonde hair and tanning booth bronzed skin.  The night of my 20th birthday, my friends and I went to Denver’s Grizzly Rose, a cowboy bar that lets you in on Sunday nights, even if you’re not 21.  Along with blonde hair and leather-like tan skin, I was also really into country music.  My friend, Chelsea, however, wasn’t so into country music.  Thus, she brought her fake ID so she could enjoy the night a little bit more and chase the fun that being 19 with a fake ID brings.  As I waited inside the Grizzly Rose that night with huge, blue Sharpie X’s designating my age (or lack thereof), I began to wonder what was taking my friends–who were right behind me–so long to get in.  It turns out Chelsea’s fake ID wasn’t so great after all.

Blonde hair, don't care.  Although, I should have.

Blonde hair, don’t care. Although, I should have.

And so began a decade where I chased a lot.  I ran and ran.  After fun, more fun, an education, a job, a dream career, a man–ok, men–and a life filled with adventure.  When I look back at that little 20-year-old blonde girl in the pictures, I wonder if she really knew what was ahead of her.  The people she’d meet.  The places she’d go.  The doors she’d open.  The doors that’d close.  The people she’d love.  The people she’d lose.  The person she’d become.

One of the best people I met in my 20s is someone who’d become one of my best friends.  At the age of 22, we both moved thousands of miles away from our families to California to chase a crazy dream of working in the entertainment industry.  Rebecca was everything I wasn’t, yet everything I was.  She had a more refined sense of style, could name and identify designers, understood good wine and food and had traveled overseas.  At the same time, though, along with holding this huge and possibly insurmountable dream, we both liked the same music, awful TV shows and had the same snarky sense of humor.  At times, I probably took life too seriously for her, but she was always there to help me come back to reality.  She was a good listener, which is what I needed.

At 20, my friend, Scott, died in a freak car accident and left my heart in a place I didn’t think it could come back from.  Celebrating my 21st birthday in Las Vegas, I remember my mom knocking on the bathroom door when I was in the shower to let me know that my grandfather, who helped raise me, died.  The day after I sat for the California bar examination, I drove the 14 hours home as quickly as I could, because my dad was in the emergency room and we didn’t know what was wrong.  We’d later find out that he had cancer.  Rebecca was my friend in California who listened to my heart as it went through all of its emotions.  At the same time, though, she was the friend who didn’t let me mope around too much and gently cajoled me back into having fun.  Oh, and in her ultra sensitive way, she told me that blonde hair didn’t work for me.  In fact, she said, “Yea, you should never go blonde again.  Ever.”  And so, I’ve been brunette ever since.

The first time that Rebecca and I hung out, we may or may not have crashed a really expensive wedding at the Montage in Laguna Beach. In other news, I checked on Facebook and Nicole and Toby are still going strong!

The first time that Rebecca and I hung out, we may or may not have crashed a really expensive wedding at the Montage in Laguna Beach. In other news, I checked on Facebook and Nicole and Toby are still going strong!

And boy, did we have fun.  When I look back at my 20s, one of my favorite things about the decade is that I spent most of it in California.  What a place to be young!  There is an opportunity for fun in every corner.  And I think Rebecca, our friend Jenny, and the other wonderful people I met in California–Ashleigh, Luke, Jhovanna, Jak, Katie, Kim, Nadia, Alex, Anne–and my dear friend from college, Lindsay and her husband, Max, found every corner of fun in the state.  From San Diego to San Francisco and Baja to Las Vegas, we had it covered.

There were nights at mansions and dinners with actors.  There were red carpet events and glamorous parties.  There was the night I told Rebecca we were going to an MTV VMA party only for us to get stuck at a Hollywood Hills mansion where they were getting ready to shoot a rap music video.  “Hey, would you girls like to be in a rap music video?” “Um, no thank you.  I don’t think that would be particularly good for my career.”  There were girls’ weekends in Vegas and late nights rolling around in the sand in Laguna Beach laughing like we didn’t have a care in the world.  There were pranks and hijinx and bad decisions.  But mostly, there was fun.  Just pure, good, free fun.  And when I look back at my 20s, I think that’s what I’ll remember most.  That I was able to go somewhere new, where I didn’t know a soul and live out some of the greatest days of my life.  The lesson I hope to take away from those moments, is that fun is always at your fingertips.  You, yourself, control your spirit and the possibilities for fun it can find.

Take one October Saturday afternoon in 2010, for instance.  There’s a saying that goes, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” I remember this day, though.  I will take it with me always.  Whenever life takes a tough turn, I go back to that day when Rebecca, Jenny and I were at Fisherman’s Wharf eating clam chowder.  As we headed out, we peaked into a souvenir shop.  The San Francisco Giants had  just won the World Series thanks in part of the help of pitcher Brian Wilson.  And his beard.  In the shop, I spotted a rack filled with faux Brian Wilson beards.  And instantly, I had an idea.  I looked at my friends–who may be the two most put together, beautiful girly girls, and said, “Hey, want to buy three of these and wear them around San Francisco today?!”

There was no discussion.  Just credit cards thrown at a cashier.  And beards being haphazardly slapped on our faces.  What ensued was glee.  Pure, unadultered glee.  We ran around San Francisco wearing beards.  There are pictures of us by the Golden Gate bridge.  In beards.  There are pictures of us driving throughout the city jamming out to Lady Antebellum’s “Perfect Day.”  In beards.  There are pictures of us popping out of bushes.  In beards.  There’s pictures of us sleeping.  In beards.  Ok, maybe just pictures of me sleeping in a beard.  It’s a day that when we’re old and in the rest home we’ll tell our grand babies about.  To show them that we were fun, and perhaps even wild.  They’ll just roll their eyes.  But we’ll remember.

Fear the Beard.  It was a perfect day.

Fear the Beard. It was a perfect day.

And then there was that night in San Diego.  Rebecca and I go back to this night a lot.  It changed the last four years of my 20s.  I had just finished a six-week long jury trial.  Six weeks.  Lawyer friends, you know that a six-week jury trial basically equates to Hell in a hand basket.  Or, at least having no life for six weeks.  To celebrate its conclusion, Rebecca and I rented a nice room at a fancy San Diego resort to celebrate.  Our friend, Evan, met us out and we hit our favorite place in San Diego:  Pacific Beach.

Looking back, it’s curious that Pacific Beach was our favorite place in San Diego.  There isn’t anything particularly fancy or even nice about it.  You go to Pacific Beach to eat lackluster Mexican food and down 32-ounce margaritas served in fish bowls.  You then roam around the beach bars that are filled with townies.  You dance to awful music in dark corners.  Ok, so maybe after all Pacific Beach is pretty awesome.

A pretty excellent night in Pacific Beach.

A pretty excellent night in Pacific Beach.

That night we were coming out of Moon Doggies and I spotted someone I knew from my college days.  He said, “Alicia Jessop from Facebook?!” which sent Rebecca and Evan roaring into a fit of laughter.  It sent my heart into excitement, though.  I thought he was cute and funny and charming.  And there he was!  The next thing I knew, we all went on our merry way throughout Pacific Beach.

Nearly four years of my life transpired after that Pacific Beach night.  Four years of phone calls and cross-country flights and really, really good times and really, really bad times.  Highs higher than I ever imagined.  A belief in someone so deeply, that at times, I was afraid I lost myself.  Hints at marriage and conversations about what our family would be like.  Imaginations wandering and dreams being built up in my mind.  Lows lower than I have ever known.  Insecurities that never had exposed themselves and reactions that I didn’t know I was capable of having.  At the end, it was the realization that trust must always be the most integral part in any relationship that made me say goodbye.

I think that everyone needs that one person in their life that makes them raw.  Our love, romance, or whatever you want to call it wasn’t perfect.  But it made me who I am today.  And for that, I will always be thankful for that period in my life in which he was part of it.  He taught me to believe in myself and to go after anything I wanted.  He reminded me not to take things too seriously and to fight for what I want. In the end, though, I think the biggest lesson he taught me is that sometimes, it’s ok to give up on the things that you want the most.  Because what I’ve learned in this last decade, is sometimes, you can’t want something into being.

I’ve chased a lot in this decade.  I’ve put my heart in a lot of places, that looking back, it maybe shouldn’t have been in.  I think the only regret I have for my 20s, is that I didn’t find a life long partner.  Now, I realize that the likely reason for that is I was chasing people who will never be caught.  I let a lot of really good guys go.  I let them pass on and I even pushed some of them away to chase the unattainable.  I don’t know if that was a mistake, though.  Because as you know, they say that what will be will find a way.  And after living through my 20s, I know that I am much closer to finding my heart.

The one thing I found in my 20s was a career that captures my heart.  On July 1, 2011, I woke up and realized it was time to start doing something to further my passions.  There was a cataclysm of events around this time that threw me into that decision.  They were largely painful, dramatic events that pushed me fully into chasing my dreams.  But I think they were what I needed to give me the final kick I needed to get moving in the direction I needed to be headed in.

When I look back over the last three years, I laugh.  I remember on my 22nd birthday at the Rio in Denver watching Dwyane Wade help the Heat win an NBA Championship.  I remember thinking he was so cute and so cool and so famous.  Unattainable.  Someone I’d never meet or interact with.  This year, I stood on the sidelines as the Heat attempted to win their third championship in three years.  As I stood there, I thought to myself, “There is no way in HELL your 22-year-old self thought she’d be here!  Ever.”

My 22-year-old self didn’t think she’d be invited to cover the Super Bowl by the NFL.  Or cover the Final Four.  Or cover the NBA All-Star Game and NBA Finals.  Or become a professor at one of the top-50 universities in the United States at the ripe age of 29.  Or be invited to write for a publication like Forbes.  If I could’ve painted a picture of my life at 22, I wouldn’t have expected it to look like this.

Covering the 2014 NBA Finals was a blast!

Covering the 2014 NBA Finals was a blast!

These are blessings.  And I count them every day.  I thank God every single night for bringing me out of one of my darkest moments into this heaven of a world He’s created for me.  When people ask me how I got here or how these opportunities became mine, I want them to know that it’s because of God and my faith in Him.  There is truly no other answer to me that makes sense.  He was faithful to me when I didn’t think my heart could be mended.  And how he mended it was greater than anything I ever could have imagined.  Or asked for.

So, 30.  It’s here.  It sounds crazy, but I never thought I would turned 30.  30 seemed like a unicorn in a field of daisies.  It’s something that could be there, but nothing I ever expected to reach.  As I cross this bridge of time and turn the page to a new realm of life, I’m grateful.

I’m really grateful to be here at this doorstep of a new decade.  I’m grateful that I can stop chasing.  I’m grateful that now, I can start building.  I want to start building deeper roots in my community.  I want to start building relationships instead of chasing them.  I want to start building deeper memories with my family and friends.  I want to start building more meaning for my career.  I want to start building a life.  And living it.

This life is beautiful.  As sad as I am that my 20s are coming to a close, looking back, I am also kind of relieved.  In all honesty, this decade seemed to have lasted an eternity.  Luckily, I only escaped with three grey hairs, that I have subsequently yanked out of my head, and some fine lines which I treat with really expensive face cream.

When I’m old and wrinkled and sitting in a rocking chair wearing my Brian Wilson beard to embarrass my grandkids, the one thing I’ll want them to know about this time in my life, is how loved I was.  With the support of my parents, my friends, strangers and even someone who broke my heart, I learned in my 20s that anything is possible.  And with that knowledge, I cannot wait to see what 30 has in store.*

*As long as it’s not more grey hairs and fine lines.

 

Getting Started In Sports Writing

May 20, 2014

Lately I’ve received a lot of emails from individuals looking to get into sports writing. Many of them ask me how I got my start and what advice I have for others looking to begin writing in sports.  While I’m not sure that my path is the best to follow, there are a few ideas that I’ve picked up along the way that may be useful to others.

1.  Just start

I had the idea to start a place like RulingSports.com, the sports law website I began on July 1, 2011 which really launched my sports career, for nearly two years before I sat down and actually created it.  Over that period, I had various reasons as to why I would never actually pull the plug and create the site.  Looking back, the biggest reasons were that I did not have a clear vision for what I wanted the site to be or what I wanted to do with it and fear of the unknown.

As for a vision, I didn’t want to start a website and put myself out to the world as a writer before I had a consistent and developed enough vision of what I wanted that website to be.  I was afraid that if I entered the scene before I clearly knew what I was doing, that I would fail.

For the reasons above, I say that I was afraid to start the website.  The unknown and possibility of my site tanking stirred fear within me.  For a long time, this fear prevented me from doing anything.

If you’ve followed along with my blog or Twitter account for any period of time, you know that a chain of events finally pushed me to the point of taking the plunge and starting RulingSports.com in 2011.  Looking back, the day that I launched the website, all fears faded.  I had the chance to hear one of my favorite sportswriters, USA Today’s Christine Brennan, speak today. She talked about starting her career at the Miami Herald in the 1980s as one of first female sportswriters.  In her discussion, she said that two things propelled her success:  Her naivety and belief that she could do anything.

When she described her early career with those two descriptors, I chuckled, because I would also use them to describe my early days with RulingSports.com.  I was fearless and I truly believed that anyone should want to talk to me for stories.  I emailed leagues and teams and introduced myself and presented opportunities for me to tell their stories.  I reached out to Division I athletics directors and did the same.  I obtained my first credential–to cover the Manhattan Beach Open–one month after getting started.  Once I had pushed down the fear, the training wheels came off and I truly believed there was no limit for what I could accomplish.  If RulingSports.com was going to fail, it was going to be because of me.  Not because of a lack of readership or an inability to access stories.  Rather, if RulingSports.com failed, it would be because I didn’t stick my neck out far enough.

So, my first piece of advice is start something.  It won’t be perfect at first.  It won’t be big for awhile.  Yet, by actually taking a risk and pursuing something that you want, you are moving many steps ahead of those who are too scared to tackle their dreams.

2.  Find a niche or a topic that makes you stand out

Everyone wants to work in sports.  And everyone that can write wants to write about sports.  It’s sexy.  It’s fun.  And you get to access one of the greatest things this world has to offer in one of the most unprecedented ways possible.  In the last three years, I’ve covered the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, NBA All-Star Game and Final Four.  I am credentialed for the Miami Heat.  I wouldn’t have had these opportunities if I didn’t break the fear discussed above.  I also likely wouldn’t have these opportunities if I didn’t make an early strategic decision to cover sports in a way that most others weren’t.

I studied the blogosphere pretty heavily before I decided to jump into it.  In doing so, I quickly learned that there were few that were comprehensively covering sports law.  At the time, Sports Law Blog was arguably my biggest competitor.  What made me stand out from that site was that I contributed all of the content for RulingSports.com in its early days and was also female.  These factors made me stand out and I believe provided me with an interesting speaking piece when I reached out to others for interviews.

Serendipity worked in my favor a bit, too.  When people ask me how they can start a successful blog, I honestly cannot provide them with a realistic or hard answer.  I am a very religious person, so for me, I truly believe that this is all part of the plan God carved out for my life.  Some may call it luck, and I’m willing to attribute some of the opportunities that have come my way to being in the right place at the right time.  For instance, on the day I kicked my fear and launched RulingSports.com, the NBA decided to lockout its players.  Thus, my little sports law blog was in a position to make a splash by covering a difficult legal topic in a way that no other site really was. Within my first week, I booked two radio shows and had hundreds of Twitter followers.

While God, serendipity or luck–depending upon which dogma you follow–played a role in my break, I truly believe it’s important for writers starting out to do something that separates themselves from the pack.  What insight or experiences can you bring to the blogosphere that nobody else can?  There are already so many great writers and journalists out there.  In a world focused upon supply and demand, what can you do to make your writing in demand?

This point ties into how I began writing for Forbes.  I love when people ask me how I gained my opportunity writing for Forbes.  I wish the story was more grandoise, but it goes like this:  My editor, Dan, emailed me and asked, “Would you like to write for Forbes?”  I wrote back and said, “Absolutely.”  We signed a contract a couple weeks later and I’ve been with the site now for two years.

Why do I think Dan reached out to me within one year of my blogging?  A large amount of it has to do with the fact that I was covering sports from an angle different from others.  Along with RulingSports.com, I had taken over for Kristi Dosh and her website, BusinessofCollegeSports.com when she moved to ESPN.  So, I was able to provide Forbes with analysis beyond statistics or game recaps. I believe that was appealing to them.

3.  Be consistent

One of the biggest reasons why I believe writers do not achieve the success they desire is because they are inconsistent or give up too quick.  When I started RulingSports.com, I knew that if I wanted to gain a following that I would have to have fresh content up on the site three times a week.  This was not easy and it nearly killed my social life for a year.

I was practicing law when I started the website at a mid-size firm in Orange County.  When I finished my billable hours, I would head to the Starbucks in Laguna Beach on the Pacific Coast Highway.  I spent nearly every day from July through December of 2011 in the back corner of that Starbucks building up my little site.  I passed on dates, happy hours and crazy nights out in Hollywood to make sure that the website had fresh content up.  It was a sacrifice, but it was worth it.  It was worth it, because the time I spent early on allowed my dreams to come true.

If you want to be successful at anything–whether it’s blogging or a career elsewhere–you need to be consistent.  I always tell my students that hard work pays off.  And it does.  Truth be told, I am not the best writer out there.  I don’t always see stories perfectly.  Yet, one thing that anybody will tell you about me, is that I am dedicated and get the job done.  And I believe that quality is one that has propelled me the furthest.

4.  Do not be afraid to ask

As noted in #1, I was naive and believed I could do anything when I started RulingSports.com.  These qualities were good, because they allowed me to ask people for things that looking back, I probably shouldn’t have.

In my first week of blogging, I read Sports Illustrated’s George Dohrmann’s “Played Their Hears Out” about NCAA basketball recruiting.  I then emailed George and asked if he would let me talk to him for my story.  He politely got back to me a few weeks later apologizing for missing the “opportunity.”  (That was very kind of him, as looking back, there really was no “opportunity” to be gained for an S.I. writer to be interviewed by someone who had been blogging for a week).

Undeterred, I wanted to move forward with my story.  So I went back through his book and remembered that one of the main character’s mothers was a California licensed attorney.  As a California licensed attorney, I knew I could search the California State Bar’s website and get her email address.  I emailed the woman, Carmen, later that day.  She not only gave me one of my first interviews, but would become my friend.  Two years later, I would attend a UNLV game with her to watch her son, Justin.  Afterward, I emailed Dohrmann, who I had not communicated with since my interview request, a picture of Carmen, her son and I.  His second email was even kinder.  He told me how awesome it was seeing the path that my career was on.

I believe that I have covered the stories I have and have been given the opportunities I have because I am not afraid to ask.  I was invited directly by the NFL to cover the Super Bowl after I reached out to one of their head PR people asking if I could write a story about their breast cancer initiatives.  They were so pleased and surprised by my ability to a) care about what they are doing to help others and b) delve deep into the story, that we have since built a very formidable relationship.

The same goes for the NBA.  When I started at Forbes, I reached out to the league office introducing myself to them and did the same for all 30 teams.  I told them I was interested in stories that others weren’t–stories about athletes giving back and interesting activation campaigns.  While I must maintain editorial dignity and use common sense in deciding what stories to cover, I feel lucky that I have built solid professional relationships with these two leagues.  I moved to Florida this August and individuals from both leagues’ offices were some of the first to check in on me during my first week in Miami to make sure I was doing ok.  Those gestures make the long nights and extensive days that I am away from family and friends worth it.

That brings me to how I began writing for the Huffington Post:  I asked.  I wanted to expand my brand of writing to focus more upon philanthropic efforts by athletes, teams and leagues.  Forbes was not the best outlet to do this.  So, I brainstormed other possibilities, and I kept coming back to the Huffington Post.  I found an editor on Twitter, connected with him and reached out with a question of whether they were looking for new writers.  He reached out to the person above him and within days, I was set up on the site.

5.  Have fun and try new things

I truly believe that you shouldn’t do anything if you do not think it’s fun.  I learned this from my mom, who is one of the most fun people I know.  My mom made raising me and taking care of our family her job.  She held other jobs throughout my life, but I remember once giving her a hard time asking her why she wasn’t working.  She looked at me dead in the eye and said, “I will only work a job if it’s fun.”  I scoffed and said, “Must be nice!”  In reality, though, she has a point.  And a really good one, at that.  Life is short.  You should be having fun.  Always.

When I started RulingSports.com, I wanted  my writing to focus entirely on sports law.  This was great as it let me make my break into the industry.  In all honesty, though, it got boring at a point.  There is so much more to me than sports law.  I love music.  I love fashion.  I love eating out.  I love God.  I love figuring out why my love life is a roller coaster.

About two years into RulingSports’ existence, I took a risk and created this website.  I wanted to expand my brand image.  I wanted the world to see that Alicia Jessop is a person, and not just a machine who can analyze case law.  It was a risk, as I knew I may alienate some of my more scholarly followers.  Yet, it has paid off.  My following has grown substantially and, most importantly, I am having fun.

So, each day, make sure that you are having fun.  If you aren’t, try something new.  The biggest thing I can tell you, is there is no right or wrong way to do this.  Each journey is different.  You just need to begin yours.

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