The Secret to Happiness Is…. (cue drumroll)

Surprise + delight = the secret to moments of happiness.

Intentionality = the secret to a lifetime of happiness.

To borrow the phrase overused by rappers everywhere, “Let’s break it down now.”

Surprise + Delight

When I was growing up, my parents never told me that my life couldn’t turn out just like the movies. They never said I was incapable of accomplishing anything, never scoffed at my dreams or told me to “be more realistic.”

In fact, my childhood was a dream. My parents were the BEST at surprises. They taught my brother and I early on that “just because” gifts, spontaneous train trips to Chicago, or a new puppy were wonderful things and that surprises were a part of life – not just something meant for the movies. I’d come home to find a favorite type of ice cream in the freezer, or jump in the car after school with my mom and she would say, “Close your eyes and hold out your hands. I got something for you today!” I learned to bask in the joy of receiving surprises, and loved these unexpected acts of fun and kindness.

 

I remember one Christmas, when my dad gave me one of the most amazing surprises I’ve ever received. He handed my mom and I beautifully embroidered clutch bags, and stayed quiet as we looked them over assuming that was our (only) gift from him that year. Only when we opened the bags did we find the Broadway tickets inside – I had two tickets to Wicked, and my mom had two to The Phantom of the Opera. We noticed that the dates on the tickets were only one day apart…at which point my dad brought out this fabulous book that he had created that outlined an entire, week-long trip to NYC. Our plane tickets were in the front, followed by hotel reservations, MORE Broadway tickets (to five shows!), restaurant reviews, subway maps – everything! My 16 year-old heart was bursting!

Sometime around that point, I decided I wanted to be like my dad. I’d been the recipient of joy, but I wanted to give the joy, too! So I started to buy my mom earrings or flowers just because, or look into sending our family to a hotel in Warsaw for the night (because at the time, that was all I could afford and Warsaw, IN sounded exotic and exciting. lolz.).

Fast-forward for a few years, and I started dating. (I’m sure you’re knowingly nodding now if you’ve dated more than one person in your lifetime. You’re like, “Here it is. Here’s the reality.”) I’ve dated a couple people that approached things very intentionally, and things just didn’t work out because they weren’t meant to. But, I’ve also had the dating horror stories where he would “ghost” (e.g., not respond) for week(s), then show up on my doorstep with a box of chocolates. Those one-off moments may have made me happy momentarily but wouldn’t indicate to me that he really valued or appreciated me. I’d still be left in the following days or weeks, questioning what he really felt about me – and, questioning is the FASTEST way to suck the happiness out of anything.

And, to be honest, I’d rather have cupcakes than chocolate. Clearly guys like that didn’t understand my heart. 😉

 

Intentionality

Happiness comes with intentionality. One of the most certain ways to tell how someone feels about you is to pay attention to how intentional their actions are towards you.

 

That’s why I’ve never questioned how my parents, or even my closest friends, feel about me. We’re intentional in how we give gifts to and surprise each other. We all also ensure that the sentiment behind the gifts we give to each other lives on / continues to be proven through our daily actions – affirming the other person and showing he / she that they are cherished, loved, and valued. That their heart is understood. That they are unquestionably worth the time and sacrifice it took to make something happen. That’s a wonderful feeling.

 

My best friends might stop by my house announced spontaneously just to say “hi!” (the gift of presence), or drive 30 minutes to bring me Starbucks first thing before a big event. I might drop off a $5 gift card with a note at their house to surprise them when they get home, or ship my mom roses hand-picked from volcanoes in South America just to say, “I love you.” (Check out Bouqs.com. This is a real & amazing thing. Your mom / friend / girlfriend will love you forever.)

 

Intentionality doesn’t have to mean big, expensive, extravagant surprises. It isn’t measured by how much money you spend – just by how consistently you take time to say / do something that shows, “Hey, I value you.”

Maybe it’s doing the dishes, writing a quick note, or stopping by someone’s office on your lunch hour. Maybe it IS buying flowers or driving an hour to say “Hi!” or giving a year-long sock subscription. (Cai, my brother, you’re welcome.)

Whatever it is, happiness – in life, in relationships, in anything – comes from being intentional.

Let me know your thoughts below 🙂

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Review: Caffé Storico

A tasteful juxtaposition of culture and cuisine, in an atmosphere that’s bright, white, and beautiful.

Caffe Storico is a gem, nestled into the New York Historical Society on the Upper West Side.

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(Photo credit: NYHistory.org)

 

Culture

White marble cafe tables match the white marble statues—the Society’s inner hallways are visible to diners through vaulted windows, offering a one-of-a-kind view. Additional windows offer a view of 77th Street and drench the cafe in natural light. The Caffe’s high ceilings and sparkling gold chandeliers add a touch of elegance—especially in the evening—and coupled with wood accents, create an atmosphere that’s polished yet slightly whimsical.
It’s a uniquely NY experience—and, there’s nothing like walking up the beautifully-lit stone steps of the New York Historical Society to impress friends or a dinner date.
Cuisine
From dinner to drinks, all was scrumptious. Executive Chef Tim Kensett crafts each entree to showcase local ingredients within authentic Italian dishes. We started with the Tagliatelle con Asparagus (with bianchi and lemon ricotta), fresh yet flavorful, followed by the Gnocchi di Patate. Personally, the Gnocchi was my favorite dish of the evening—each piece was airy and fluffy, and the pecorino sardo brought out a creamy, rich quality. The meal culminated in a succulent lamb entree with featured, steamed local vegetables and drizzled with savory juices.
Caffe Storico is one of my new favorite spots in the City, and its seasonal menu makes each visit an exceptional experience. Highly recommended.
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(Photo credit: CUNY.edu)

Places to escape the City, in the City (Part 2)

During the sweltering NYC summers, where to spend valuable downtime is determined by two factors:

  • Proximity to green
  • Proximity to water

 

Maybe I believe in those criteria because I’m from the Midwest. Maybe it’s because one too many air conditioners dripped on my head as I was walking on the street underneath, and I realized I sometimes need a reprieve from the concrete jungle.

 

Either way, here are a few of my favorite places to enjoy summer in the City (or right outside it)—close to the water, close to plant life (more oxygen, right?) or both.

 

Central Park

This one may seem obvious, but it’s called CENTRAL Park for a reason. Is your #squad spread throughout the City? Never fear—it’s easy to get to the Park from just about anywhere. (Try the N, Q, R, 4, 5, 6, A, C, B, D, 1, 2, or 3 trains—whew, that’s a lot!) And, the Park has perfect spots for almost any occasion:

 

Getting those #SquadGoals

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Sheep Meadow

Try Sheep Meadow or the Great Lawn—together, they offer almost 70 acres of lush grass perfect for sunbathing or relaxing with friends. Don’t come empty-handed, though:

  • For leisure: Bring a book, Frisbee, or Spikeball (a favorite with my crew)
  • For picnicking: Bring Brie and a fresh baguette from Zabar’s (2245 Broadway) or stop off at Levain Bakery (167 W 74th) for one of their world-famous chocolate-chip cookies. A heads-up though—these are delish & the line may be long, but 100% guaranteed to be worth the wait.

 

Spending some solo time

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Conservatory Garden (Source: centralparknyc.org)

“‘We’ are great. But sometimes I need ‘Me.’” You may not say this out loud to your friends, but sometimes you need a place to retreat from all of the people in NYC (8.4 million, to be exact) and spend time with a good book. For that, check out:

  • Shakespeare Garden: Wooden benches lining quaint, winding paths through patches of bright flowers.
  • Conservatory Garden: An exquisite formal garden composed of three smaller Italian, French, and English gardens—each with its own spectacular floral displays.

 

For impressing #bae

Think boats. Row boats.

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Loeb Boathouse (Source: centralparkboathouse.com)

Take your date to the Loeb Boathouse, and select your craft from a fleet of 100 rowboats (available for rent daily from 10a-dusk). Spend the afternoon rowing by the Bow Bridge or otherwise drifting on Central Park Lake. For bonus points, bring a picnic of cheese, baguettes, and Levain cookies with you.

 

The Low Line

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(Source: bloomberg.com)

Everyone’s heard of the Highline, but let’s give some attention to this underground park on the LES. It’s a historic trolley terminal transformed into a lush subterranean oasis—and, they also host special events there, like Yoga or popsicle pop-ups!

 

The Hudson

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North River Lobster Company (Source: nbcnewyork.com)

 

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The Frying Pan

Yes, the title here is intentionally vague. As the river that spans the West side of Manhattan, this definitely satisfies the “proximity to water” criteria. And, there’s quite a few ways to enjoy it:

  • The North River Lobster Company: The largest floating lobster shack from NYC sets sail from Pier 81 (Hell’s Kitchen) and offers delicious seafood staples alongside great views of Manhattan. There’s no fee to set sail—only for food and drinks!
  • The Frying Pan: The well-known “bar on a boat” (a “lightship”, to be more specific), docked by Chelsea Piers and popular for its aquatic proximity.
  • Stand-up Paddleboarding: Manhattan Kayak Company offers SUP rental—and even fitness classes (crossfit and yoga) for those days when you want to cool off. Yoga is my personal fave!
  • FREE Kayaking: Visit one of Manhattan Community Boathouse’s two locations to climb into a kayak and sail away from shore for 20 minutes. Yes, 20 minutes is short, but it’s FREE so…

 

The Hamptons

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Montauk, specifically. Updates from our recent trip to The End coming soon—stay tuned!

The Perfect Coffee Shop: Midtown East Edition

As New Yorkers, [we like to think that] we have high standards.

 

We realize that there are only so many minutes in the day and—between our day jobs, our side hustle(s), and summer social lives—we want to make sure we’re relishing these moments in locations that are nothing less than fabulous. Or at least, Insta-worthy.

 

This is usually where coffee shops fail to meet our standards. Starbucks—though a perfectly great guilty pleasure—may start to feel #basic. Many neighborhood coffee shops don’t have an atmosphere (or comfy chairs) where you’d want to spend an afternoon.

 

So, what now?

 

Don’t resign yourself to a life (okay, summer) of sub-par coffee experiences. Here’s three of my recent finds were you can sip a cup of joe, read, and / or spend time with the people in your life.

 

(Note: This is the Midtown East edition. More neighborhoods to come.)

 

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(Photo credit: ralphlauren.com)

RALPH’S

What: Ralph Lauren opened a coffee shop, and it’s everything you’ve imagined.

Why: With its whitewashed walls, stained wood floors, big windows, and antique bistro-style chairs, it evokes a feeling of comfort and warmth whether you’re staying for the afternoon or grabbing a quick cup to go.

Location: The Fifth Avenue gem is located in the brand’s Polo flagship store. Pass through menswear and make your way to the second floor.

Menu: Short but curated, and includes Ralph Lauren’s private coffee blends from USDA organic coffees, teas, and select pastries.

Hours: 10a – 8p, 7 days a week

 

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(Photo credit: ground-central.com)

GROUND CENTRAL

What: A day-to-night self-proclaimed “Midtown refuge” with tables up front and a lounge with couches and armchairs in the back.

Why: The backroom library lounge is a real win here—black leather couches and high-backed armchairs make it an ideal spot to come with a colleague, friend—or even a date. And, there’s a turntable playing classic tunes in the background (think everything from Bowie to old-school Mariah Carey).

Location: This particular review is for the 155 E 52nd St. location, but you can also get your fix at the other Midtown East location (800 2nd Ave.) or in FiDi (2 Coenties Slip).

Menu: Coffee, tea, wine, beer—and artisanal sandwiches or pastries if noms are needed.

Hours: M-F—6:30a-9p, Sat / Sun—9a-6p (155 E. 52nd St. location)

 

 

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(Photo credit: bluestonelaneny.com)

BLUESTONE LANE

What: The brunch café icon’s inaugural coffee shop—with all the charm, coziness, and Insta-potential that you’d expect.

Why: Because Bluestone Lane. This particular location is modeled after the classic espresso bars found hidden in Melbourne, Australia’s narrow laneways—complete with vintage signs and warm, wooden features.

Location: The Atrium of the Meredith building (805 3rd Ave.). Though the shop has a hole-in-the-wall feel, there’s plenty of seating in the Atrium to make it the perfect coffee & convo spot.

Menu: Niccolo Coffee (from Australia), fine teas, juices, and health-conscious / gluten-free food options. (YES, this includes their signature #avocadotoast!)

Hours: M-F—7a-5p, Sat / Sun—Closed

4 Places to escape the City, in the City

 

Us, to NYC: “It’s not you, it’s me.”
Translated: “It’s very definitely you, NYC.”
Sometimes, New York can be a bit obsessive—constant sirens and smells, strangers and even stranger subway rides. Sometimes, we just need our space.
But don’t break up with the City just yet. Here’s four places you can put all of the buzz and bustle at arms length, find your inner calm, and remember why you fell in love with NYC in the first place—because it always has a way of surprising you when you least expect it, and giving you moments you can’t find anywhere else.
1) Book your cushion online and take a moment to breathe at MNDFL – the West Village meditation center with natural light, a living plant wall, and a tea lounge. What better way to take a quick cleanse from the City? ($5 for drop-in self-guided practices, $10 for first-time class, Free tea)

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Photo credit: Vogue.com

 

2) This one’s on the DL – literally. Discover the Lowline – the World’s first underground park—a historic LES trolley terminal transformed into a lush subterranean oasis. Check their Facebook page for special events, too – like this evening of Yoga on the Lowline. (Free admission, open Saturdays and Sundays)

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Photo credit: Travel and Leisure

 

3) Spend a day away (really—a full day) at Premier 57—an unexpected escape in the midst of Midtown. With a $65 day pass, you can enjoy the spa’s hydrotherapy Bade pools, six unique sauna rooms, resting lounges, water lounges and bathes. Additional services are available upon booking. ($65 day’s access to facilities and no reservation required; spa treatments start at $75 and reservation required)

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Photo credit: Gothamist.com

 

4) Experience the allure of the ancient baths—right in the heart of Tribeca at Aire Ancient Baths. Soak in luxury, steam for a bit, or lie back and relax in the Flotarium. Lounge on the heated marble of their relaxation room. Take a rejuvenating plunge into the cold pool (if you dare!). Be serenaded by a classical guitarist and sufi flutist. And, add on an additional service upon booking if you wish—from yoga classes to massage treatments to specialty soaks. (Starting at $77 weekday, $87 weekend)

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Photo credit: Well and Good
Here’s to a relaxing weekend, friends!

Review: The Weekend Coffee Shop

A breath of fresh air.

That was my first thought upon walking into The Weekend – a breezy boutique coffee shop in the Joule Hotel in downtown Dallas. Granted, my initial affinity for this caffeinated oasis may have been swayed by the abundance of windows and sunshine—a welcome change from the dreary rain and chill I had just left in NYC. But, as the barista greeted me with a smile and I went to find a cozy corner to curl up, I felt sure I’d found a great little spot.
The Weekend’s decor is eclectic—a combination of vibrantly colored armchairs and lounges intermixed with gold and copper tables make it a great choice for work or leisure. I chose to pull out my laptop and settle into a bright turquoise armchair with an overhanging gold lamp and gold side table, complete with a vase of fresh orange flowers.
You can also tell the baristas take the art of crafting coffee quite seriously—each order is brought out on a wooden serving board, and each drink (to stay, of course) is served in stoneware with the foam decoratively swirled on top. Personally, I thought my chai was a great combination of smooth and spice.
The coffee shop is also located next to shops featuring fun books and works of art, which one can’t help but peruse on the way out.
Overall, I recommend. Thanks, The Weekend, for being a great spot to while away a few hours on a Wednesday afternoon!
Find out more about The Weekend here.
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UPDATE: The Grid Music Festival: May 5th – 7th

UPDATE: Enter to win a free pair of tickets to The Grid with doNYC here!

 

The Grid redefines music festivals by offering ticket holders exclusive access to “one night only” curated shows in curated, unique settings around New York City.

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Experience a once-in-a-lifetime intimate performance with top bands like Young the Giant, City and Colour, Awolnation, Ingrid Michaelson, Questlove, and Atlas Genuis—or discover a new favorite artist.
The Grid also offers info sessions that give aspiring artists and musicians a deep and insightful dive into the music industry.
The music festival runs May 5th – 7th. Both 3-Day and 1-Day passes are available, as well as VIP passes and Hotel + Ticket deals.
Find out more here.