THE BIGGEST LOSER!

I am super competitive. I play to win. All. The. Time. It doesn’t matter whether the prize is a lollipop or a thousand dollars. I am in it to win it.

Competition reality shows like “Survivor,” “The Amazing Race,” “Top Chef,” and “America’s Next Top Model” were made for people like me. Someone goes home at the end of every episode. Thanks for playing. Bye. Sorry not sorry, those are the rules. 

I grew up on game shows like “The Price is Right,” “Card Sharks,” and “Press Your Luck.”  If I was a contestant in the “Miss USA” (ok Mr. USA) pageant and I didnt make the Top 15 there would be HELL. TO. PAY!

Don’t get the wrong idea. Well, get the wrong idea but come peek inside my head for a quick visit.

I am not some crazed hypersensitive sore loser or bad winner. I realize not everyone can win all the time. There is something about the adrenaline during a competition that motivates me. The fastest 5k times I have posted have come during TRIathlons. The run is the final leg of this three part race – AFTER swimming and biking. If you’re hearing the Rocky soundtrack or Chariots of Fire, welcome to my world.

At game night in my apartment, prizes were given to the winners of each game. Think “Cards Against Humanity” and “Taboo.” Teams switched up for each game so essentially one could win 3 prizes in a night. On the flip side, someone could walk away empty-handed. Which has happened. My roommate at the time was adamant we should give Mr. Empty-handed Friend a prize. I asked him if he understood the rules of winning a prize.

Are you feeling sad for Mr. Empty-handed? Calm down. And, before you take out your pitchforks, know that everyone gets a “door prize” for attending. PLUS, we are talking about prizes from the DOLLAR TREE.

BUT, why play the game if not to win?

I’ve never understood those who say, “Let’s just play for fun and not keep score.” SAY WHAT? EXCUSE ME?

Which brings me to this story. 

Last week I attended a Zoom Social Happy Hour. It was a trivia night sponsored by “Gays Against Guns” (GAG) – a group I am proud to be a part of with kind, socially conscious, great people trying to make a difference. As with the climate today, GAG moved their social events to Zoom. An hour of fun, laughs, and prizes. This last trivia event was Mother’s Day themed. Attendees were encouraged to dress as a woman who inspired them.  I threw together a lewk paying homage to a stripper from Tampa named “Bubbles.”  Apparently Bubbles missed the mark because Bubbles was asked if her most inspiring woman was Gilda Radner! A pregame Zoom session with friends beforehand might not have been the best idea. Mistake #1. 

The host of the evening, the lovely and witty Bryce, explained the rules and directions, specifically how to use the app Kahoot. The question would appear on the screen, then the next screen would be the four multiple choice answers. Using another device, Bryce suggested a mobile phone would be easiest, you would choose the answer. Simple, right? Since Bubbles was chatting with friends on her phone, she decided to open another window on her laptop. Mistake #2. 

So, the games begin – and Bubbles’ internal competitive hourglass is now flipped over and counting down to her win… because she wins. Usually.

The first question appears – seeing as the theme was Mother’s Day, all the questions were women centric. Internal thought – does that give the lesbians on the Zoom an unfair advantage, who can really say, ok I say yes!  We’ll put a pin in that for next Mother’s Day. LOL. Bubbles answers correctly AND – importantly – quickly, so we are off to a good start. The players in the top 5 appear on screen, Bubbles sees her name, smiles, and in her head belts out the EYE OF THE TIGER and ROAR!  This would be the first and only time this occurred. 

As the game progressed, the questions got harder AND the spiked seltzers kept flowing. More questions were answered incorrectly than correctly. Sensing this playing out, Bubbles pivoted and began to answer as quickly as she could. New mission! YES! Rack up more points for the quicker response!

BUT, insert deflating helium balloon visual here – the quicker response mission was never realized because Bubbles kept hitting the wrong color button. Ooops. Fucking Spiked Seltzers. Why are you so delicious and easy to drink! We call this Mistake #3

So, now well into this “fun” social evening, we are talking some hard ass questions here, like Nobel Prize winners, Margaret Sanger… not a Jennifer Lawrence, Kelly Clarkson, “Pitch Perfect,” question in the bunch! Be still my (losing) beating heart!

Bryce announced the winner – my friend Antonius dressed as Janet Reno! He was also a contender for “best costume” – some people always winning. I used to be one of them!

Then there is another announcement – “and the prize for LAST PLACE goes to” – wait for it – “Bubbles!” SHUT THE FUCK UP! Are you kidding me? 

Not only did I come in LAST PLACE but it was broadcasted loudly for THE entire Zoom world to hear! Ok maybe just the 25 people playing GAG Trivia heard but still! The scarlet “L” was now burned on my wig forever.

To add serious insult to injury, a few people sensing they were losing started intentionally answering wrong to win the last place prize! Yes… Bubbles unintentionally did worse than people actively competing to come in last. Remember besides being a Tampa stripper Bubbles was also an English teacher!  

Wait a second, did you say prize? I do like prizes. And if I am going to lose, I might as well lose spectacularly. To quote another one of my favorite shows tonight I was in fact THE BIGGEST LOSER!

When all was said and done, it was an epic fun night with people I like and miss. It provided a much needed escape from everything Covid. So even though I came in last place, I had a blast. Besides, I adopted a new life mantra, “Winning isn’t everything!” It’s so true. But if anyone asks about Bubbles my answer is, “I don’t know her.”

Wanna see Bubbles redeem herself at the next GAG social hour? Hint: she probably won’t. But, come to the next event anyway!! – BINGO! Saturday June 13th. Sign up on the “Gays Against Guns NY” Facebook page!

What a fun night! Bubbles is in the top right living her biggest loser life!

“The Biggest Loser” was edited by Debbie Rech.

I’M COMING OUT!

“I’m coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show…” Diana Ross belted out these lyrics in 1980, but when I was a college student and just coming to terms with my sexuality and just realizing that I was gay, I didn’t want the world to know and I definitely did not try to let it show.

My name is Robert and I’m gay. Today I can proudly, comfortably say those words. But 25 years ago things were very different – in the world and in my tiny corner of the world. “Queer Eye,” “Rupaul’s Drag Race” were years away from debuting on television. For a short, Catholic Italian boy growing up in Queens New York, the gay mecca of Chelsea and 8th avenue in Manhattan might as well have been 3,000 miles away.

June 2017. Honoring Gilbert Baker, the creator of the Rainbow flag, holding one of the first flags he handmade.

Before I expand on how and when I came out, it needs to be said that I had a very happy childhood. I loved both my Catholic high school and Jesuit college. While I remember once or twice being called “gay” in the hallways, most of, if not all my memories of my teen and young adult years are good ones. That being said, I knew that something was “different,” but I didn’t quite understand what it was and what it meant, let alone how to act on it.

In the early 90s, gay role models were few and far between. Obviously they were there. I just didn’t know how to find them or even where to look for them. There was no one I thought I could confide in, so I just pushed those feelings aside, and tucked away – anywhere but out. I joined the swim team, the Drama Club, volunteered, and went on school trips. Dated a girl, maybe two. Okay, probably just the one.

Many gay people will tell you the different ways they “dealt” with their secret. Some banged every girl they could. Some drank too much, ate too much, smoked too much. Some embraced it and came out as teenagers. I threw myself into every club and sport I could participate in. It also helped that I really enjoyed being a part of all these clubs and didn’t read my participation as a distraction or avoidance of a truth. In high school I won “most school spirit” in the Senior Superlatives. In college I was President of the Senior Class. My housemates would joke I joined all these clubs just for the t-shirts. To this day I still have dozens of event t-shirts from college buried in a closet somewhere. Better than me being the one still buried in the closet!

My “secret” was still there. I buried it and never let it see the light of day, never gave it air to breathe. In college, I definitely started becoming aware of how hot I thought my female friends’ boyfriends were, definitely had a crush on a few of them but that is as far as it went – crushes from afar… not much has changed in 20 years as I still have a few crushes not yet acted upon.

After graduation I moved to Hoboken with three friends from college, and got a job in event planning in Times Square. Now 23, I was working in Manhattan and exposed to people from different cultures, different backgrounds, different lifestyles. When you went to a suburban Jesuit college in Northeast PA, 95% of the students looked just like you. White, middle-class, from NY, NJ or PA. Everyone wore pajamas with a Scranton sweatshirt to 8am classes. Everyone went to Kegs and Eggs on Saturday mornings. It was a safe and sheltered environment. It was the perfect college for me at this time in my life. I don’t know if I would have thrived at a huge state school with 20,000 people and a vibrant gay community. 

In NYC I began living my best life. I worked at a company where most of the men, if not all of them, were gay.  I listened to them tell me stories of their lives, their weekends, their partners, all the time feeling inside that I was just like them. I am certain they knew it too.  They were extremely patient, letting me know that it was ok to be gay but never outright asking or pressuring me. 

Halloween Parade. 2018

Living in Hoboken – with three straight males – and working in an environment of all gay men was quite the culture shock. I felt like 2 different people. The secret weighed inside me more and more, getting heavier day by day. 

This all came to a head one drunken night out with my cousins – twins Monica and Rachel* – a year older than me. Earlier in the evening we watched an episode of “Party of Five” where Jennifer Love Hewitt’s character went on a date with a guy who came out to her and they formed a friendship. Watching the show with them I just knew that tonight was the night. So, after a lot of liquid courage, at 2 am on the floor of their laundry room (I was there because it was cold and I had just vomited, or was about to vomit, the specific details are hazy.), I said the three words. Out Loud. To Them.

When we all got to waking up that day, all of us were hungover and silent. It was awkward, but not for the reason you might think. The two of them silently wondered if I remembered what I had dropped on them. And I, remembering, silently wondered why they were not saying anything.  After breakfast sandwiches and gatorade they gently asked me if I remembered the details of the night.  I told them I remembered everything and they told me they were honored that I confided in them and they were proud of me. Then they went right to the “Do you have a boyfriend” question. Lol.

Now, the secret was out. There was no going back for me. I continued to tell people. I called one of my best friends from college Phoebe*, told her I needed her 911 now. We met at a diner halfway between my house and hers. I told her, there were tears – all mine. And like the twins said hours earlier Phoebe* said she loved and supported me and only wanted me to be happy.

My coming out wasn’t one episode. It was a miniseries. I decided to tell friends one at a time over a span of a few weeks – straight males friends were told last. Again, all were extremely supportive and assured me nothing had changed, and that they had known for a long time. Everyone pretty much knew so my reveal wasn’t as big and grand as I had imagined it was going to be!

NYC Gay Pride. June 2011

Coming out only intensified the double life I was living. Gay in Manhattan. Not gay in Hoboken. Since I was newly out and testing the waters, being gay to me meant going to a gay bar, alone, meeting someone, hooking up and then never seeing or talking to him again. Healthy, said no one ever. I know. I needed gay friends. I just wasn’t having any luck finding them. When I found a gay person I thought could be a friend, I held on tight, even if we didn’t have much in common, even if I didn’t love spending time with them, but they were all I had at the moment. For me any gay friends were better than no gay friends.

It took some time but I did eventually find my “gay group,” and my life became a whole lot more gay. Instead of a shore house in Manasquan, NJ, I took a summer share in Fire Island Pines. I moved from Hoboken to the Upper East Side. While before if it was 90% hanging out with college friends 10% hanging out with gay friends, the numbers had now switched. I was exploring this new identity in every facet of my life.

A year later – after I first came out to my cousins and after essentially coming out to everyone in my life, it was time to tell my parents. They came over often to take my roommates and I out to lunch or dinner. I had told the girls that tonight was the night. They had felt it was beyond time but supported my delay. I wasn’t comfortable lying to my parents anymore. They didn’t really know me anymore, didn’t know my friends and I couldn’t include them in my life like I always had before. On the way to dinner, my mom remarked, “I wonder why the girls aren’t coming with us tonight, they are so sweet and nice. And they drink wine with me.” 

Once I dropped the bomb at dinner, things went downhill from there. My mom cried visibly and loudly at the table – so much so that our waiter came over to make sure we were all ok. Through her tears she expressed that, “We love you no matter what, but I just think that your life is going to be harder, and that breaks my heart.”

Remember this was 2000. Not 2020. After trying to calm her down, my dad felt it was best that I head home and we would talk soon. It did take some time, as things do, but once I included them in my life, introduced them to friends, boyfriends, Mom’s tears stopped. She even joined the local PFLAG chapter! A few years later tipsy at a family wedding I made sure to assuage her fears by letting her know that “being gay is the best thing EVER!” 

Univision Float. NYC Pride. June 2017

My coming out was disjointed, long, messy but it was MINE.  My heart broke for Simon in the 2018 rom-com “Love, Simon,” as he screamed to his blackmailer how he took that away from him, outing him in an email to his whole high school. Gay icon Barry Manilow recently “officially” came out on the cover of People magazine stating he has been out his whole life, everyone who knew him knew he was gay and he didn’t feel the need to officially come out to the public. Same for Anderson Cooper.  Sean Hayes regrets not coming out when “Will and Grace” was on the air, the first time. The list of out celebrities continues to grow – Ellen Page, Matt Bomer, Cheyenne Jackson, Gus Kenworthy and their careers for the most part thrived instead of floundered. 

Celebrity or not coming out should be on your terms and when you are ready. No one deserves to be outed or forced to come out. Coming out is still important. Coming out still matters. For me, it felt like a huge weight was lifted. I was essentially lighter. No more secrets, no more shame, no more fear. Being openly gay and proud takes balls and takes guts. Be proud of how far you’ve come and all the great things ahead for you. Congrats and welcome to the team. #rainbowpride

World Pride. June 2020.

Why One Teacher Left the Profession…

In June 2014, I moved back to NYC after my mom passed away the previous November.  Already dealing, or not dealing with that grief, plus ending a relationship was quite a lot to digest. In retrospect it was a traumatic period of transition in my life.  To make matters worse from the very beginning my NYC teaching career seemed to be cursed. 

I sent all my paperwork – certified mail – (fellow teachers know why) to Albany in December, planning on teaching in September. August rolled around and still no certification. (I had been teaching for over 10 years so it wasn’t a question of whether or not I would get certified it was just a question of when.)  Interviewing for jobs, I was told I would be a great hire, but they couldn’t roll the dice hoping I would be certified by Labor Day. After the opening of schools came and went and still no certification my father went to our local Congressman’s office the day after Labor Day; within minutes he left with a piece of paper listing my NY state certifications. Seems I was certified after all, I just hadn’t received the paperwork. 

The damage was done; schools were back in session, and any potential full-time positions had been filled. I needed to work so I decided to become a substitute teacher for this first year back in NYC. But now I had a new level of hurdles and hoops to jump through. I needed a special certification to be a sub. What? But I am already a “real” teacher! This special certification came with another fee.  To add serious insult to injury, I now was required to be fingerprinted a second time in less than 7 months! To teach in NYC public schools one needs to be fingerprinted twice. At the cheap fee of $99 each time. That’s right I had to be fingerprinted by NY state, standard I get it. But separate certification to teach in New York City — FUCK NO! Almost $500 in certifications, fingerprints fees, before even stepping into a classroom. Talk about redundancy and a money maker for the city.

I spent the balance of the school year as a Sub and taking part time teaching jobs when they were available. Not the ideal situation but it was income and this gave me the opportunity to get back into the system with the hope of a full time job the following school year.. Eager to get a full time job I interviewed at a school in Whitestone during the next summer. I did not “connect” with the first person I met with, the Assistant Principal.  She kept repeating the same question, over and over. “Show me what that looks like…” I would then explain, in detail, the lesson plan, which was met with minimal enthusiasm, at best, only to be told again – “Show me what that looks like.” (eye roll.)

In walks the principal. We talked, I modeled a lesson for her. The vibe immediately changed. She was warm, friendly, outgoing, everything the AP wasn’t. She called a few days later offering me a job. I was hesitant – but I needed a job. My gut told me no, but my brain and wallet told me yes. I wish I had listened to my gut.

It was very apparent the AP for whatever reason did not like me. My guess – simple – I was a man. A gay man, yes. But still a man. The only male on my grade level. AP did not seem to interact well with males. This was apparently common knowledge in the school.  I am not soft spoken. I don’t treat the students like they are babies. I was the exact opposite of what she thought a great teacher looked like and sounded like. I didn’t know it then but every day was going to be a dogfight. Every day a new battle.

Her first time in my classroom, the second week or so into the school year, “Mr. Dominic I am so surprised by how impressed I am with what I just saw.” Really? That would be the nicest thing she ever said to me.  It was a constant source of entertainment among the faculty. “Dominic, you know she hates you right?” I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or cry.

The entertainment portion ended when a month or so later she started my observations. “Mrs. Show me what that looks like” gave me the LOWEST of the possible scores. This was my 16th year teaching! I am not a novice. To put this in some sort of context, other administrators in the building scored me at the 2 highest possible scores on many of the different quadrants. AP was the only one who ever gave me the lowest ranking, multiple times.  The comments she wrote to justify these scores were laughable – “Johnathan (not his name) was wearing a hoodie during instruction.” (hoodies are not allowed as part of the dress code.) “At one point Mr. Dominic had his back turned from the class for a full minute.” I WAS WRITING ON THE BOARD YOU IMBECILE! Lol.

Every time something like that would happen I would have to go see the school Union Rep.  Towards the beginning she was helpful and understanding. After weeks and months of constantly having to deal with my “issues” she, like many, grew tired and weary of this never ending fight. “What now, Dominic” seemed to be her go-to response when I entered her classroom.

AP decides at one point I needed a mentor teacher, you know to help me become a better teacher. (Year 16 of me teaching btw) Sure. Fine. Whatever. I told her who I wanted to work with in the building. “No I am going to assign you the mentor teacher I think would best help you. SERIOUSLY?!!??! 

Another time, I was pulled aside to discuss my bulletin board. Apparently it “wasn’t pretty enough.” Their words exactly. They got the wrong Gay for that! 

Whether or not you like me personally I could give two shits. But when it seeps into your professional evaluations of me then we have a major problem. To make matters worse, my complaints seemed to fall on deaf ears. After endless meetings with the Administration of me asking, begging for AP not to be the one that observes me…not only did she continue to observe me but she observed me more than any other administrator in the building. She observed me the Friday before Spring Break. (a notoriously low attendance day, and an “educational movie” day.) Guess how many other teachers she observed that day…

Side not, after statewide testing teachers have to grade the papers all day every day for a week. Teachers are sent offsite on a rotating basis. (In the three years I was at this school I was sent once.) The DOE pays for a substitute for your classes all week. 

At the end of the first day at this site, I was “promoted” to team leader by the Administrative Team running this site. At the end of the week these same supervisors sent a letter to my principal for my file, praising my hard work and leadership skills. In less than 5 days these people saw something in me that they took the time to write a letter for my personnel file. Why couldn’t this woman see a little piece of what they saw?

Personally, I did not handle the situation well. Throughout all the ups and downs of my life, teaching was always something I was good at and something that came naturally to me. It was something I didn’t have to worry if I was doing well or not.  I don’t say this to be conceited, I say it to emphasize the fact that during rocky times, breakups, moves, financial struggles I always knew that teaching was the one thing thing I couldn’t fuck up.

Every day I came home dejected, depressed, mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. Months went by where I received no positive feedback or reinforcement. Tell me I am wearing a nice tie! ANYTHING! Throw me a bone here. I can laugh about it now but living it was hell. 

How I felt at work naturally spilled over into my private life. I wasn’t sleeping well, was drinking more, was calling out of work more because I hated being there. I was skipping the gym, eating poorly. Everything was falling apart, especially me. 

In hindsight, there are many different ways I could have handled this situation. I wasn’t the only one on her hit list. But I was the only one fighting fire with fire. Other teachers counseled me, “kill her with kindness,” “smile and just do whatever she wants,” they would say. Those suggestions probably would have made my life much easier. Shoulda, coulda, woulda.

I kept going back to the fact that she inherently didn’t like me, didn’t get me, didn’t like the traits of my personality that make me me! It showed in her critiques of my teaching. She wasn’t necessarily critiquing what I taught but how I taught it. How I spoke, how I moved. Is my teaching style for everyone? Of course not, no one person can be liked by every student every year. But I pride myself on being fair and letting students know they all have the power to succeed in my classroom.

Things could not continue like this. I had to do something. I was at the end of my rope – in every sense of the word. I eventually went out on medical leave (I lied, faking the symptoms with an Academy Award winning performance), and never went back.  Never answered any letters or phone calls from them asking when I was coming back. Basically I ghosted them. Not my finest moment by a long shot.

I had never felt more like a failure professionally as I had at that point. I had been a GREAT teacher. And for all the heartache and stress and low pay, I LOVED being a teacher. My heart just wasn’t in it anymore. I felt that nothing I did would make any sort of difference in how I was judged, evaluated and scored. I became the teacher that did the bare minimum. I was going to get the lowest possible scores anyway, so why try? One day you wake up and you don’t recognize yourself anymore; it happens slowly over time. I didn’t really like the teacher or person I had become.

Am I without fault here? Of course not. I should have left that school years earlier. In all honesty I should have never taken the job in the first place. I should have played the game and kept my mouth shut. Fighting fire with fire was not the right response. I knew immediately during the first interview the AP and I did not see eye to eye. On anything.  In those first few weeks I promised myself that I would not let her break me. Unfortunately it was a promise I couldn’t keep. When I walked out of the building that last day, I vowed never to go back to teaching. Today, a few years removed from the situation and with a different perspective, I can say that at some point I can see myself back in the classroom. Maybe someday. But not today.

SUPER SMART ALTERNATIVES TO SUPER FOODS!

by Stephan M. Greco, GUEST WRITER

No doubt, one of your resolutions for 2020 was to eat healthier! How’s that going for you? Many people think healthy eating means more expensive, but not if you also eat smarter!  Sure, a fridge full of wild caught salmon, organic fruits and vegetables and acai berry juice sounds amazing but many of us need to make our meal plans budget friendly. The grocery store can be a mine field of nutritional challenges, so I’m here to help you optimize your grocery store choices without breaking the bank.

Superfood” is a nontechnical term for health-boosting cuisine that packs an awesome nutritional punch. Here are some sensible substitutions for hyped-but-pricey foods that frequently show up on superfood summaries.

Instead of salmon: Try tuna for some good fats. Canned tuna in oil has 1 gram of saturated fat but also 2.5 grams of unsaturated good fat. Water-packed tuna is low in calories while offering generous amounts of lean protein, omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, selenium and vitamin D. In addition, canned tuna counts toward the recommended minimum of two servings per week of fish.

Instead of quinoa: Turn to barley, oats and brown rice. All three of these amazing grains are less expensive and often sold in bulk. I love oats and barley because of their special fiber: beta glucan. It’s good for your heart, and new research shows that it helps you feel full longer, so you’re less likely to overeat.

Instead of fresh berries: look for sales on store-brand frozen berries. Believe it or not, some quick frozen foods like wild blueberries can actually be better than fresh bought. They retain their nutritional value longer, and they are preserved at their peak, not before. Some fresh-sold fruits are picked early to ensure they won’t spoil during the long shipping and storage, but not those that are quick frozen.  If you have a farmers market, see if berries are cheaper in season. Or buy inexpensive bananas for your fruit fix; they are high in potassium, vitamin B6, fiber and vitamin C.

Instead of kale:  Kale’s popularity brings with it a higher price tag. Instead, keep your eye out for any dark-green leafy vegetable that your market has on sale such as mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard or turnip greens.

Instead of superfood juices (açai, pomegranate, blueberry, etc.): In all honesty, I’m not a big fan of any store bought juices. You never really know what is in them. Swap out sugar-filled juices (as well as sodas and sports drinks) for water and add some sliced oranges, lemons, cucumbers, watermelon or strawberries to the pitcher for flavor.

Instead of fancy name brand almonds or walnuts: For nuts, shop in bulk and pick a store brand. Also, peanuts can be cheaper, and if they’re unsalted, they are a great nut pick.

Instead of superfood meats (bison, emu, grass-fed beef): Try affordable poultry, such as chicken breasts bought in bulk. Or eat eggs, which are inexpensive yet protein-rich and high in heart- and brain-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. Alternative inexpensive proteins include cottage cheese, organ meats such as liver, cheaper cuts of meat (cooked in a slow cooker to make them fork-tender) and tofu.

Dried beans are also budget-friendly.  With both protein and fiber, dried beans can be added to soups, salads or as a side to almost any dish. My favorite is black beans, which have three times more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty-acids than other legumes. Simmer them in a pot with onion and garlic for extra flavor.

Get your veggies on ice, not in cans. Vegetables are frozen at their peak freshness and retain more nutrients than canned varieties. A bag of frozen mixed vegetables and some lean protein can easily become a stir-fry, served with brown rice for a healthy, low-cost meal.

Become seasoning savvy. Spices can be somewhat expensive, but critical for adding flavor. Some stores allow you to buy spices in bulk, so pick a few and purchase only quarter-ounce quantities and cook with them until they run out. Then shift to a different flavor profile. This will add diversity as well as creativity to your dietary pattern. In addition, rosemary, thyme and basil can be grown in pots on a windowsill.

Cook in a crock.  Lack of time to shop and cook is a huge obstacle to many working people. Slow-cooker meals are a great make-ahead option. They also make less expensive cuts of meat tender and delicious. What’s more, slow cookers themselves are relatively inexpensive starting from $15 for a new, family-sized cooker.

Think outside of the “box.” A loaf of whole grain bread, some peanut butter and bananas can be purchased for about the same as a box of sugary cereal. Serve your kids (and yourself) toast with peanut butter and bananas instead of a bowl of sugar garbage and you’ll have the protein, fiber and potassium you need to stay fueled longer.

Layer your lunch. Add a cup of brown rice to a bowl (good for two servings!), then layer on a variety of fresh or thawed vegetables, and top with protein (poultry strips, nuts, egg, canned fish or beans) for a cheap and easy meal.

Expend oil economically:  Healthful fats (olive oil, flax oil, grass-fed butter) are significantly more expensive than their cheap counterparts. Instead go with canola oil, which has high amounts of unsaturated fat (both mono – and polyunsaturated). But use oil sparingly, and instead of oil consider using beef or chicken broth to sauté food.

Eating healthy is a choice, and it should not have to be an intimidating or difficult one to make! Be sure to check out my website, www.grecofit.com and my Instagram @grecofit, for more great fitness and nutrition guidance to make 2020 your best year yet!

(Stephan Greco is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness Nutrition Specialist who owns and operates Greco Fit in Fort Lauderdale, Fl. You can reach him via his website, through Instagram or at (954) 995.1321

OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO (to visit your boyfriend’s family!)

Noah Cohen, Guest Writer

I jolted awake, the incessant noise of my phone startled me, as the sound reverberated through my ears. Feeling groggy and in a haze, I rubbed my eyes with one hand and turned off my phone’s ringer with the other. My alarm had gone off – seemingly too early, as it so often does. I stood beside my bed, eyes glossy and only partially open, staring at the clock that read 3:00 a.m. With a big inhale, and an even bigger and more dramatic exhale, I begrudgingly began what I knew would be a very long travel day. 

Lynden, my boyfriend, and I arrived at the airport at 4:40 a.m. I can only imagine how terrible I must have looked to the lady helping us check our baggage. In addition to the early wake up that morning, I don’t think I slept very well to begin with; thoughts buzzed through my mind like bees within a hive. This was an important day for me. For us. It’s 5:30 a.m. now. Having checked our luggage and made it through security, and with time to spare before our flight, we plopped ourselves down at a generic airport restaurant. Lynden ordered a Bloody Mary. I ordered an IPA. The server’s facial expression changed, as our order took her a little by surprise. She gave us a half-smile as she prepared our drinks, only slightly giving off the impression that she was judging our life choices this morning. The expression is “it’s five o’clock somewhere” but nowhere in that expression does it specify it has to be five in the evening. In fact, I think we were extra responsible for waiting until 5:30. The drinks are placed in front of us and I give a half-smile back. Thanks, Susan.

The tires screeched; a bumpy landing sent everyone shifting in their seats before the pilot announced that we had arrived. We touched down at the smallest airport I’ve ever been to – Roswell International Air Center in New Mexico. “Where is the baggage claim?” I asked Lynden. “This is it” he said. Is he messing with me? I’m looking all around and don’t see any signs or indications that this would be the place our suitcases would arrive to. Suddenly, a metal gate, about the height of a standard suitcase and maybe four times the length, opened upward, and slowly we saw hands pushing the bags through from the other side of the wall. We picked up our bags, got in a car and began our two-hour drive to our destination. For those of you that are unfamiliar with Roswell, there is a history pertaining to the belief by its residents that the small town had been the site for alien and UFO visits. In the late 1940s, a United States military balloon crashed near a ranch in Roswell, and some 30 years later, this balloon crash became quite the topic of speculation and conspiracy, as many believed it was actually a flying disk – a UFO. If I’m being honest, I felt a little like an alien after landing – unfamiliar and feeling out of place, having never been in such a small town before – maybe it was me who had emerged from a flying disk? 

The significance of this trip was enormous for my relationship. This was the first time I would be meeting his family. When I say I was meeting his family, I mean practically everyone in his entire bloodline. This was also my first time ever being “brought home to mom and dad” and meeting a significant other’s family. It was Thanksgiving Day when we arrived at New Mexico. Lynden’s father was the first relative I met. He picked us up from the Roswell airport and the three of us drove several hours to Fort Sumner. He taught me a lot about the different types of animals that inhabit New Mexico, his encounters with rattlesnakes, history of the state, history of the people and much, much more. 

We had discussed animals a lot during that car ride, yet, having been looking out the window for most of it, I really didn’t see many. I knew it was going to be rural before I came, but I was shocked to discover how desolate the land was. As far as the eye could see, and in any direction, was vast. Like the feeling of being on a boat in the middle of the ocean and seeing boundless openness, looking out at the landscape here made me wonder where the next remanence of civilization was hiding. I also kept checking the gauge on how much gas we had, as the other thought that crossed my mind was if we were to break down, how long it would take to receive help and how would we even describe where on this sole road we were located. To put it into perspective, in roughly 100 miles of driving, we passed one other car. 

We arrived at Fort Sumner where I met the next of the relatives: Lynden’s sister and her kids. I should specify that “kids” in my last sentence was referring to children, but there were kids as in baby goats living there as well. In the yard, I got to meet some of the locals – goats, a massive fluffy dog who protected them and some pigs who, when I went to visit them had flung something at me, leaving me to quickly exit their pen and not return. Luckily, there was no visible mark on my sweater. Hey, some people are built for it, and others are not. We spent a couple of hours at the house before the real test: Thanksgiving Dinner. 

I come from a relatively small family and I’m used to very small Thanksgiving celebrations with maybe 6-8 people. This was not that. Stepping inside the house, there were so many people all around, I didn’t even know where to start. Each person I met was so friendly and welcoming. The tension in my shoulders eased a little, and though a bit overwhelming, I felt like I was slowly losing the nervous jittery feeling I had when we were standing outside the front door. After a few hours of self-loathing for eating that third massive plate, even though I was already so full, we all had gone our separate ways. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little relieved because it meant I survived the meeting of my boyfriend’s family and that going to sleep was eminent. Might I remind you that we had been up since 3 a.m., it was now 11 p.m. in New Mexico, which felt like 1 a.m. for us. It had been a day.

Over the course of the next few days, I felt much more at ease, and felt I really got to know everyone on a deeper level. I was able to spend more intimate time with different groups of relatives and family friends. Much of our time was spent helping with the set up and preparations for Lynden’s grandmother’s 100th birthday. From grocery store runs, to making a few hundred cake ball pops, to decorating tables and windowsills and everything in between, we had plenty to do. I enjoy things like that, and to be honest, I appreciated having activities to keep me busy.

The birthday party finally arrived, and if I thought Thanksgiving was a lot of new people to meet…well this party took it to a whole new level. From meeting more relatives to meeting Lynden’s childhood school bus driver, it was a lot of socializing. There must have been 200-300 people, and I’m pretty sure I met almost every single one of them. By the end, I felt so drained and my lung capacity was depleted from expanding and contracting so much while talking. I can only imagine what Lynden’s grandmother felt, as she was the star of the show!

Coming to rural New Mexico was a culture shock, but it was also really fascinating to see an entirely different kind of landscape and lifestyle than anything I’m used to being around. Luckily for me, every person I met was kind, open and didn’t mind explaining and teaching me informative and interesting things about their home. This trip was a gigantic step for me and my relationship, and I feel honored that I was included in Thanksgiving and a 100th birthday celebration. I thank all of Lynden’s family for their hospitality and welcoming me in, and Lynden for sharing the experience and his home town with me. 

From moving to a new city, moving in with a significant other and now meeting his family, the last 10 months have proved to come with lots of surprises, personal advancement and growth. Reflecting on what is new and has changed in my life recently, I’m excited and eager to see what all will happen next.

KEEP CHRISTMAS WITH YOU (2019)

December. For many the holiday season is their favorite time of year. Office parties. Ugly sweater parties. Hanukkah parties. Family parties. Parties, parties and more parties. Others view the holidays a little different, forced merriment they say.  For me, I do like the holidays, everyone seems a little nicer, a little friendlier. Everyone is optimistic about the new year ahead, thinking things will improve, and for a brief time, actually believing they will.  

What I really love about the holidays are the many traditions I have with family and friends.  Traditions that were started years ago and traditions started more recently. Some of them still in existence today and some we have grown out of.

When my sister and I were younger, decorating the family tree was a huge tradition for us as it is in many families.  As we decorated the tree, there was one ornament that held special powers – the Miss Piggy ceramic figurine. Whoever got to place her on the tree had bragging rights for the entire year.  The rules of the game to this day are still a little murky. You technically weren’t allowed to search for Miss Piggy, if you happened to put your hand in the ornament box and find her, yay you were the winner!  Naturally more often than not there was an all out war to find Miss Piggy! As I grew older, I loved staying up as late as I could reading into the night guided by the lights of our Christmas Tree. My mother excelled at so much, but making Christmas special for us was one of her many many talents.  (and yes that is THE actual Miss Piggy ornament hanging on my sisters tree this very year. It has been in our family for close to 50 years!)

THE Miss Piggy ornament still living her life on my sister Lauren’s Christmas tree, 2019

My family is very large, and very Italian. I am lucky to have more cousins than I can count, many of them not just cousins but true friends.  In our 20s, because we didn’t get to see each other enough around the holidays, we held a separate “Cousins Christmas party!” These parties, at our cousin Michael’s apartment in Brooklyn usually numbered around 25. Just cousins. And a boyfriend/girlfriend/fiancee or two here and there.  The night revolved around the “secret santa gift exchange.” In true competitive fashion, it was a White Elephant gift exchange, meaning when it was your turn to choose, you could either pick from the unwrapped pile of gifts or steal an already opened gift. Stealing a $20 gift from a family member is just as much fun as it sounds!. By the end of the night it was a secret santa bloodbath! 

Cousins Christmas Party


Cousins Christmas Party

When I started teaching, family’s of my students were extremely generous around the holidays, and I would receive dozens and dozens of gifts.  So many in fact, that I was able to hold my own “regifting” holiday party. I would invite friends over and place all the loot on the table, first come first serve.  Inevitably, I would end up with a lot of “cologne, shaving cream, body wash” 3-packs from places like “Macy’s” and “Marshalls”. The families were quite thoughtful, trying to figure out what to get for a youngish, single male teacher. 

Past NYC traditions with certain friends have included annual treks to the Rockefeller Center tree and yearly trips to Broadway matinees during the week of Christmas break.  There is also the annual “Toys for Tots” epically fun gay party each year on a Sunday early in December. Always a fun evening, and an excuse to get dressed up, it’s on many a guys yearly to attend list.  

Rockerfeller Center Christmas Tree, 2014

Definitely one of my all time favorite traditions was with my friend Phil.  Both of us loving the Charles Dicken classic novel, “A Christmas Carol”, each year we would search out a new production of the story.  We have seen Danny Pinaturo from “Who’s the Boss” play “Tiny Tim” in a gay themed production at the Stonewall Theater. His Tim was HIV-positive without health insurance. I both loved it and cried my gay eyes out!  In the years we couldn’t find a theater production, we would watch one of the many film versions. My favorites are the 1984 George C. Scott version, “The Muppet Christmas Carol” with Michael Caine, and -wait for it- the Lifetime tear-jerker “Ebbie,” with Susan Lucci as Elizabeth “Ebbie” Scrooge.  The dual themes of redemption and that it is never too late to be the person you want to be has always resonated with me. Now more than ever in these volatile, political days.

Finally, a tradition that doesn’t really require anything for me to do but I do love are seeing the Christmas card pictures from family and friends each year.  Each one is taped to the archway between the kitchen and living room in my apartment. I love seeing how everyone’s family is growing each year, how happy and loved they are.  I do particularly enjoy when the ages of each child is added in parenthesis after their names. I know it’s awful to say out loud, but I do sometimes forgot how old your kids are.  I’m sorry. (And yes, that is my sister and I in our of our first pictures together. Don’t you love the rainbow suspenders, my poor mom had no idea what she was starting when she put those on me. Add a gold chain to the mix – oh how my parents wanted a little Italian guido. lol.)

What is it about traditions that I and so many others love and crave?  Maybe they provide a sense of belonging and a sense of comradery that might be missing during the other 11 months.  Maybe being a part of something special makes us in turn feel special. What I love most about traditions and honoring them year after year, is the feeling each of them provide. Christmas is not just one day, not just one holiday. Christmas is a feeling, an emotion. A feeling of peace, kindness and goodwill towards our fellow man (and woman!). Those feelings we have on Christmas can stay with us long after December 25th. 

As Big Bird and his fellow muppets sing on the Sesame Eve Christmas special (also another yearly viewing tradition when younger) “Keep Christmas with you, all through the year. When Christmas is over, save some Christmas cheer.  Those precious moments, hold them very dear. And keep Christmas with you, all through the year!” 

And God Bless us, every one!

Hoboken Holiday party with friends from college.
Favorite Holiday Album. EVER!
Ugly Sweater Christmas Party, 2018
Elmo restaurant, NYC, 2017