The water tastes just as sweet.

"Let me be clear, I am Muslim not because I think Islam is 'truer' than other religions (it isn't), but because Islam provides me with the 'language' I feel most comfortable with in expressing my faith. It provides me with certain symbols and metaphors for thinking about God that I find useful in making sense of the universe and my place in it. But I know, just as the Buddha did, that while my personal well may be different and unique, the water I draw from it is the same water drawn from everyone else's wells. Indeed, having drunk from many wells in my spiritual journey, I consider it my mission in life to inform the world that, no matter the well, the water tastes just as sweet." - Reza Aslan

This reflection was read aloud at a meeting I attended this morning, and it really struck a cord with me. I was raised Roman Catholic, but have always had a fascination for world religions and love to learn about how other people see spirituality. I agree wholehartedly with Aslan's philosophy here. I think a lot of the hatred that exists in our world today is caused by this perceived religious superiority — that one group's ideals are "truer" than the rest. And while I do see the value in organized religion and communities of people coming together to worship, I agree with Aslan in that spirituality can (and perhaps should) be experienced as a personal journey.

Whatever tradition brings you peace of mind, whatever prayer fills your heart with love, whatever message prompts you to be kinder to yourself and those around you should be celebrated. All major world religions preach these same values, and, given the currently charged political climate, we should all take note that we're drinking from the same well.

In case you don't know him, Reza Aslan is an author and a religious studies scholar. I picked up his book Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth at the suggestion of a friend recently. It's a purely historical look at what scholars know about Jesus's life, and it's wonderfully written and very engaging. He also has a new show coming out on CNN called Believer, which premieres this Sunday, March 5, in which he'll examine religious practices and traditions around the world. Super excited for this one!  

Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club

Some free advice from an uptown girl — if you're going to spend an hour getting to Brooklyn, do the most Brooklyn thing possible when you get there. Also — don't send a dead biscuit to the kitchen. 

Saturday, I went to the Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club in Gowanus, Brooklyn, a massive, 17,000-square-foot space (holy crap, that's 40 of my apartments) with 10 full-sized shuffleboard courts, two large bars and a dozen private "cabanas" for reserved parties. Oh, did I mention it's themed like a Florida retirement community?

Located in an unassuming brick building, the Royal Palms is kind of like wandering into Jerry's parent's condo on Seinfeld (that's a good thing, in case anyone's wondering). The warehouse-sized space is filled with palm trees, bingo boards, glowing pink lanterns and patrons in Hawaiian shirts. Even the bathrooms are kitschy and gloriously papered in a flamingo print. Royal Palms is apparently a hub for hipsters and celebrities alike — my husband saw Neil Patrick Harris and David Burtka last time he was there.

While my group of friends didn't end up playing shuffleboard (it requires a reservation beforehand — now we know!), we did enjoy some larger-than-life Connect Four with our local craft beers.

The best thing about Royal Palms, in my opinion, is that because it's so large, you're guaranteed to have space to yourself, which is a coveted and rare find in New York City. This is not some midtown bar where you're fighting for a ledge by the bathroom to put down your beer while getting bumped every few seconds by passersby. Even if everyone and their hot husband (I'm looking at you, Burtka) knows about it, Royal Palms can hold hundreds of us. 

Overall, it was as solid way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Next time I head back, I want to test my skills on the shuffleboard courts and check out the noms — a live-in food truck in one corner of the warehouse. It's just so darn BROOKLYN.

Eat & Drink NYC: A Map

"Cartophilia, the love of maps, is a love at first sight. It must be predestined, written somewhere in the chromosomes." -Ken Jennings, Maphead

God, Ken Jennings, you just GET me. I've always loved maps since I was little, scouring through home atlases and helping my dad plan our family road trips. But recently, since picking up Maphead, a wonderful, nerdy social study on maps and the people who love them, I've starting thinking about them more and how they help us organize information.

My husband Brian & I had an idea a while ago to keep a log of our favorite places in New York to eat and drink, so that when our friends inevitably asked us on a whim for the best brunch in Harlem (Melba's) or a rooftop bar that wouldn't have midtown crowds on a Saturday night (Hudson Common), we'd be able to whip out our best options in under a minute. Impressive, right? New York City is just gigantic — its food and drink options are prolific — but we're working our way through. And a map seemed like the best possible way to organize this information.

So, using Google MyMaps, I began soul searching and giggling and reminiscing and plotting my way through every restaurant, bar, club and boozy brunch that I would faithfully recommend to a friend. I've left little notes for myself (and others who may happen upon this map) like — Get to Brandy's early if you want the best corner booth. Order the cosmo from the bartender — he'll make "too much" and then pour you the rest in his shaker after you take a couple sips. The night will end in a sing-a-long with the entire bar. "No, no," Brian corrects me. "It will end at McDonald's." He's right.

It's a fun, ongoing project that I hope Ken Jennings would approve of. It's lacking a proper key at the moment, but I'd eventually like to categorize food options by cuisine. Enjoy! And feel free to make your own submissions in the comments.

5 Lies We Tell Ourselves While Wedding Dress Shopping

Chances are you'll tell yourself more than five...

1. I’ll know when I put on “the one!” 

Let’s get this one out of the way first, shall we? We can absolutely blame Say Yes to the Dress for this. Hear that, Randy? Our favorite guilty pleasure show has made us believe that the only way we can purchase a wedding dress is by bawling our eyes out first. Not true. A lot of people expect wedding dress shopping to be emotional, and for some, it is. It’s a big, important step in the wedding planning process. But don’t be disappointed if it’s not.

Chances are you'll know when you put on not the one. Much to my sister’s chagrin, I didn't end up choosing the BLUE Elsa dress from the Disney Princess collection. “The one” deserves to make you happy, but it doesn’t need to make you cry.


2. The dress has to fit the theme and tone of the wedding.

My wedding is on New Year’s Eve. I plan on going Pinterest-crazy with sparkly touches, and I have this epic fantasy about the whole night being like a Great Gatsby party. At first, I was so obsessed with this vintage, 1920s theme that I started searching for dresses that only Daisy Buchanan herself might wear. I tried on some really gorgeous, satin and beaded numbers, but they all felt like costumes, and I really couldn’t picture myself walking down the aisle with a feather headband on.

The important thing is that you select a dress you feel comfortable in, something that’s right for you (not a character), because you should be yourself on your wedding day, and you’ll be looking at those pictures for years to come. Don’t let the theme dictate the dress.

3. I have to include everyone.

This is another Say Yes to the Dress lie! Brides roll in with their mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, aunts, cousins, bridesmaids, nieces and female dogs. And they all end up sounding like bitches (I’m not talking about the dog…). Everyone’s got opinions, but sometimes it’s best to just pick something YOU love without all the commentary, and then when you show your family and friends pictures of the dress, they’ll have no choice but to compliment it. Trust me, this works. I kept it simple by making wedding dress shopping a special occasion with my mom and sister, who’s my matron of honor. I value their opinions the most, and it was something the three of us will treasure forever! 

4. It will be the best experience ever.

It is fun to try on pretty dresses. A couple of them. I was always amazed at how tired and hungry dress shopping made me. It’s not so physically demanding (the bridal attendants do all the heavy lifting, thank God), but it can be mentally draining. It’s basically the equivalent of that eye doctor’s exam where they ask you, “Is A or B clearer?” “B or C” “A or C” “D or E” “B or E” “F or U” AND THEY ALL START TO LOOK THE SAME. Towards the end of my last shopping trip, my mother – the picture of politeness – told an employee that one of the dresses looked dingy. We quickly fled and gorged ourselves on Olive Garden. Don’t get me wrong – wedding dress shopping was awesome, but it was tough too!

5. It will be the worst experience ever.

This isn’t true either. I didn’t realize how beautiful these dresses would be in person. For someone who’s only ogled at gowns on TV and in magazines, trying them on was a once in a lifetime experience. One thing I learned is that expensive clothes fit you better. You WILL find a dress that looks awesome on you, because the designer put a lot of work into it. This is coming from someone who survives on $5 H&M shirts and gets mad when they rip two months later. I mean really? It’ll be a FUN day (or days) where you get to be in the spotlight and feel beautiful. It really is a nice trial run for the big day. And if the spotlight’s not your thing? Pick a dress and move on with planning!



Syria: Snapshots of History in the Making

This evening I attended a film screening of Syria: Snapshots of History in the Making, filmed and produced by Syrian film collective, Abounaddara, a group of self-trained filmmakers who have been documenting life in Syria since 2011. Charif Kiwan, a spokesperson for Abounaddara, led a discussion following the powerful film.

For someone whose only exposure to the war in Syria has been mainstream media, most recently the relentless coverage of refugees fleeing to Europe, this documentary was unexpected and raw. It was a real, humanizing look at all sides of the crisis.

Kiwan explained that this feature film was created over the course of several years. Each week, Abounaddara releases a "bullet film," or short snippet of content. One story. One perspective. So Syria: Snapshots of History in the Making is just that. Snapshots of Syrian lives that are being affected one way or another — victims, demonstrators, revolutionists, soldiers.

Abounaddara doesn't get paid for their films. They simply want to share truth, to spread awareness and to remind the world that the media has more control in manipulating content than we may realize.

Here are my main takeaways from the film and the discussion, many of which apply to the work I'm interested in as a documentary filmmaker.

  • The golden rule is dignity. Kiwan stressed over and over that the films Abounaddara produces are about life. They don't show bodies, they don't show massacre. As a viewer, you're very aware of what's happening, whether it be through audio of gunfire or through the pain in a little boy's eyes. You don't need the blood and gore there to show you. Death is final. There's nothing to do but sit back and gawk if death is presented. By presenting life, the viewer watches, thinks and reacts to the ongoing story.
  • It's the filmmaker's job to show every side. Even sides you disagree with. Sure, the editing process can be painful. Kiwan admitted to disagreeing with a Syrian who advocated for U.S. intervention, but says that Abounaddara chose to include the story in the film, because it illustrates one man's perspective on the helplessness of the situation.
  • Sometimes omitting content can better tell the truth. This one is counterintuitive, but in context, makes more sense. None of the people in the film were given titles or lower thirds. No one was labeled "Christian" or "Muslim." By omitting these details, the focus became more about the human and his or her story. Similarly, by omitting a person's face, and simply showing their hands or heaving chest as they cry, focuses the viewer's attention on the subject's words.
  • Building relationships is part of the process of preserving dignity in filmmaking. Kiwan said that the filmmakers and their subjects develop a trust with each other in the process. When there's no exchange of money, there's a different kind of bond being built. The subjects often invite the filmmakers into their homes and feed them in exchange for having their story told. The important part of Abounaddara's model is that these filmmakers themselves are Syrian. They are living the snapshot just as much as their subjects are, and aren't outsiders who come in, secure a story and then leave when they're finished filming.
  • Pity doesn't accomplish anything. How do we help Syria? It's tempting to watch the news, gawk, take pity, and then, as Kiwan said, "go back to eating your hamburger." Do not pity the refugees. Take the time to learn their stories. Watch films, learn as much as you can, think, and share.

My Weekend in Fire Island (Or, That Time I Used the Fire Emoji for Four Days Straight)

As I sit here typing in my Harlem apartment, I hear about seven car horns battling one giant truck that’s blocking the street. I hear ambulance sirens and a weed-wacker. I hear the never-ending construction on the apartment next door (which begins with jackhammers at 8 a.m., how lucky am I?!), and the foreman yelling to his crew in some foreign language.

"Take me back to this time last week," I pray to the Fire Island gods. "Please? I’ll be good. I won’t even drink that much."

My four-day trip to Fire Island last weekend was exactly what I needed. I’m lucky to have a good group of friends with good jobs and good time off. I’m lucky for one of those friends to be an organizer and a planner, so all the rest of us had to do was show up to Penn Station on time and stock the rum.

Fire Island is a skinny strip of land that runs parallel to Long Island’s southern shore. While a lot of Long Island’s guidos go to Fire Island (for better or worse, depending on your preference in men), none of their cars do.

No cars. No car horns. No sirens.

I was half convinced I’d see the shifty foreman follow me onto the ferry at Bay Shore, but alas, no jackhammers either.

So on Thursday, August 6, my friends and I took the 12:40 p.m. Firebird Ferry (The one docked next to us was named Fireball. I wanted to go on that one, obviously) across the Long Island Sound to Ocean Bay Park, the town where we’d be staying. Goodbye, city living, I thought. It’s just me and the breeze now.

We were greeted on the other side by wild deer grazing in grassy patches along the side of the one-lane road. They didn’t seem to be afraid of humans…or selfies, for that matter. I was too sober to try, but figured I’d be back to give it a shot later.

We popped into the Island Pantry, an overpriced but adorably quaint grocer, and the cashier told me with a smile that bagels were brought over from the mainland on the first boat each morning. Perfect. You can take the girl out of New York, but you can’t expect the girl to function without a chewy, cream cheesey bagel…amIright?

Not that we had much functioning to do. Our plan of action for the next couple of days entailed, as my friend Kat put it, “eat, beach, sleep, repeat.”


Did we ever!

Ocean Bay Park offered two bayside restaurants – Flynn’s and the Schooner Inn – the latter of which we went to on the first night.

We were given our menus, ordered a round of drinks, and promptly lost interest in everything else when the most incredible sunset I’ve ever seen presented itself before us. It was as if someone had flipped a switch and lit up the early evening sky in pink and yellow neon.

Like crazy people, we rushed to the beach a couple steps below the restaurant’s deck, and captured Snapchats and Instagrams, hungry to prove to our friends in the city that we were indeed, enjoying nature.

Hungry for shrimp and scallops in vodka sauce, too. And lobster sliders. And crab cakes. And shrimp cocktail. (These meals were spread out over the course of a couple days, I swear). I was actually mad at myself for ordering chicken fingers for lunch on our last day at the hotel bar, but my wallet wouldn’t allow for much more.

My feasting culminated in the best meal of the weekend at McGuire’s in nearby Ocean Beach Park: fresh king crab legs, a baked potato, corn on the cob, and a vat of butter to pour on top of everything. All supplemented by another killer sunset the same color as my rosé.

We followed up dinner with ice cream most nights. Because, duh. I ordered the flavor “trashcan” (think everything but the kitchen sink), which is fitting because that’s what I felt like as I consumed Fire Island’s entire summer stock of seafood that weekend. Worth it.


We stayed at the Fire Island Hotel and Resort, which offered the best of both worlds. Most days, we lazily made our way down to the pool, grabbed our lounge chairs and enjoyed a few quiet hours before children poured in from various doorways, screaming and spraying each other (and us) with water guns. When that happened, we’d happily transition to the beach, just a few yards behind the hotel.

This was actually my first time on a New York beach, and I was pleasantly surprised!

After all, I’m someone who’s grown up on Jersey and Delaware beaches where they charge you money to enjoy the sun and surf for a couple hours (what a rip off!), provided you can find a place to set up. Those beaches are packed to the nines on any given summer weekend. It’s seriously like trying to find a parking spot at the mall on Black Friday.

Our beach was empty, but for a few families with babies toddling around in the sand, and a group of friends playing volleyball behind us. We found our patch of happiness easily and without opening our wallets.

The ocean water was salty and refreshing – a bit chilly, but after a couple piña coladas, I was immune to the temperature anyway. My friend Chrissy and I splashed about for a good half hour or so and talked about life, as you do when you’re in such a giant expanse of water. There’s something wonderful about knowing that the ocean you’re standing in is the only thing separating you from adventures in Europe or Africa, or whatever lies beyond the horizon. It makes the world feel gigantic and miniscule all at the same time.

We headed back in, got pummeled by a rogue wave, nearly flashed a family of four, and then happily napped in the shade of an umbrella we nabbed from the hotel beach hut, pretending we were on some exotic island, but really quite content with this one.


It’s what you’re supposed to do on vacation, right? We gave paddle boarding an honest, five-minute consideration, but didn’t want to exert too much energy. This was going to be the most relaxing few days of the summer, dammit, and that’s the way we wanted it.

Our surroundings certainly helped. I know some New Yorkers who, when removed from the city, can’t sleep without "Sounds of the Trash Truck" or "Barking Pack of Dogs," playing on their sound machines, but I revert immediately back to my suburban upbringing and snooze like a baby.

Our sleepy corner of Fire Island was ideal for peace and quiet. Other parts of the island, we found, have reputations as the places where you go to party.

We decided to try it out on our last night, after having failed to stay up past 11 p.m. the two nights prior. To be fair, we sprinted home early Thursday night to watch the Republican debates (so cool, I know), but after realizing that our TV got approximately two channels, there wasn’t much else we could do but hit the sack and dream up the ridiculous things Trump might have said (which all turned out to be real).

So on Saturday night, we took our 25-minute walk down the shaded, one-lane road to Ocean Beach Park, a couple towns over. The landmarks became familiar even after two days: pass the tiny firehouse, turn right at the gorgeous two-building mansion, pause to take a picture at the quaint country church, round the corner at the Seaview Ferry. We didn’t talk much on those walks. I think we all got lost in our own thoughts and just enjoyed the silence, the breeze, the sounds of the crickets wailing away.

After dinner, we popped next door to Housers, one of the few bars without a cover and a line, and headed into battle. After skeptically examining our IDs for a good three minutes each – I’m 26, I swear, guhhhh – the bouncer let us in, and we immediately went blind. And deaf.

Were clubs always this dark? And this loud? Were we really this old?

Some guy immediately sprayed a Corona all over us like it was a bottle of champagne and he was P. Diddy (Is that reference even relevant? Or do I sound even older now?).

We got our drinks after those heated couple of minutes when you’re forced to grind on the people in front of you leaving the bar, as you replace their patch of space at the counter, hoping that the bartender takes pity on you soon.

The dance floor wasn’t crowded, and was much cooler. So that’s where we stayed. And danced. And frankly, had a blast. We heard some old favorites (Boom Boom by The Vengaboys…anyone?) and some new classics (Ke$ha, a must in any frat party-esque bar), and decided to leave when the DJ put on country and killed the party.

We lasted about two hours in total, got some ice cream, and ended the night on the beach with the most brilliant, midnight sky stretching above us, thanking our lucky stars that we were 26, and not 21 anymore.


It didn't take much convincing, but now I know Fire Island needs to become an annual tradition.

We walked towards the ferry on Sunday with bellyaches from laughing, trying to recall an absurd amount of inside jokes that can only come from a weekend with your girlfriends.

It felt as if the town was saying goodbye to us. We meandered through a charity 5K which had dozens of spectators and an announcer at the finish line who congratulated each participant by name on the microphone. Why couldn’t real life be this quaint?

As the ferry pulled out and we hurtled into the Long Island Sound, back toward responsibility and questionable public transit, I couldn’t help but notice the huge, blue sky above me. My friends and I played “what does that cloud look like?” for a couple minutes, desperate to avoid adulthood for a little while longer.

The sphere of sky above me was the same I saw each day in Manhattan. But I never quite saw it. After all, it’s always obscured by tall buildings or city humidity – or you’re looking down because you just stepped in dog shit.

My island doesn’t look like, or sound like, and definitely doesn’t smell like this one. But then again, few do. Come next summer, I’ll be island hopping again.