Celebrating The Firsts Of My LA Adventure

When you move across the country and your entire life changes, reconnecting with what’s familiar takes on a special dimension. So I was especially happy that the last couple of weeks have offered a lot to help me feel more settled here in LA.

What A View: Doheny Drive palm trees during my walk home from the gym.

After joining LA Fitness’ Beverly Hills location, I worked out for the first time in a month–the longest I’ve gone without hitting the gym in about 4 years. I forgot how exhilarating it feels to exercise. And it felt even better that as always, I managed to time my workout perfectly to catch a rerun of my favorite show Castle.

One of the greatest joys of my move out West so far–a long overdue reunion with high school classmate Molly. Over a delightful dinner at French bistro Little Next Door on West Third Street, I was quickly reminded why Molly was such a dear friend during our HS years. Warm, funny and sweet, she is as lovely as ever. 25 years fell away and we picked up right where we left off. I am so excited to spend more time with her.
Another happy reunion happened when my furniture and belongings finally arrived from NYC.

Home Sweet Home: my bedroom, furnished at last

For over a month, I lived with a bed, lounge chair and that’s about it. While I adore my LA abode, it didn’t start feeling like home — until now. I literally greeted almost each item with a big hello as it came through the door, much to the amusement of the moving guys. The simple pleasures of sleeping in my own bed, cooking in my kitchen and eating at my dining room table, among others, are ones I won’t be taking for granted anytime soon.

Getting To Know West Hollywood

On Thursday, I enjoyed a girls night out with my colleague Inga.

After work, we headed over to Santa Monica–my favorite part of L.A. for years now with its iconic pier, fabulous restaurants and shops and pedestrian friendly streets. Over a delicious dinner at Italian bistro Locanda Del Lago on the Third Street Promenade, Inga and I talked about the joys of working in hospitality, much loved travel destinations and the time it takes to settle into life in a new place. Inga just relocated here from Hawaii. Though she lived here years ago, she understands the ups and downs that accompany starting over.
One of the definite ups–getting to know my new hometown more and more each day. And discovering just how great my neighborhood of West Hollywood is.
Swall1

The tree-lined charm of Swall Drive

After years of living in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, I love residing on a quiet, tree-lined street of low-rise buildings. But the New Yorker in me also loves that I’m within walking distance of two huge supermarkets, Madeo–one of LA’s best Italian restaurants (popular with lots of celebs, apparently) and the trendy bars and eateries Santa Monica Boulevard.
As I become better acquainted with WeHo and surrounding areas, I am truly savoring the firsts along the way. A few that stood out this week:
     Discovering Sushi Mon, a cozy Japanese eatery just a few blocks from my pad. Mission to find favorite neighborhood sushi place accomplished!

The Naked Roll at Sushi Mon: yum!!

      Walking past a restaurant on Melrose and seeing three paparazzi camped out. Closest I’ve come so far to a celeb sighting!
      Taking the bus. For all the criticism I’ve heard about LA’s public transportation, my first experience of it was great. Easy 10 minute ride home from Beverly Hills. And the bus driver insisted on taking only $1 of the $1.75 fare when I scrambled for change (that never happens in NYC, where MTA drivers will give you the stink eye and hold up the bus if you don’t have exact fare).
      Getting a haircut at Danny Vee Salon. When you uproot your entire life, reintroducing familiar pleasures–like the joy of good old fashioned pampering–takes on a special joy.
The next first I’m looking forward to here–having a home with furniture in it. Soon (though not soon enough!), my belongings will finally arrive from NYC. After a month of living with only a bed and comfy chair, it is going to feel downright luxurious to have all of my stuff again.
In the meantime, I continue to be grateful for what I have been able to bring with me — most especially the love and support of my nearest and dearest.

Bidding Farewell To The Big Apple

Last weekend, I returned to NYC to pack up all of my belongings. It was my first visit since moving to LA a month ago. And as I anticipated, being back in my hometown brought with it a flurry of emotions.

Urban Oasis: the roof deck view from my building in NYC

 I found myself feeling the nostalgia for NYC that there wasn’t a chance to indulge in the whirlwind leading up to my departure in April. The comforting familiarity of my Upper East Side neighborhood. The tasty delights of favorite restaurants Beach Cafe and Ko Sushi. Seeing totally awesome 80s cover band Jessie’s Girl. And, more than anything, the soul soothing joy of being with loved ones.
JennaChrisStage

Jenna O’Gara and Chris Hall of Jessie’s Girl–the BEST 80s cover band ever!

Not surprisingly, the truly overwhelming moments came as the movers emptied my apartment, my home for the last 12 years–longer than I have resided anywhere. I have lived a lot of life there, celebrating happy milestones, grieving losses and disappointments. And like most goodbyes, this one was hard.
I absolutely love my new job and LA is a fantastic city. But when you pick up and move your life across the country, even for the best of reasons, there’s an enormous transition period. And now that the frantic rush of finding a place, stocking up on basics at Target (my new favorite store now that it’s within walking distance!), etc, has subsided, I’m feeling the bittersweet emotions of leaving the city where I have spent most of my life.
Which is why I am especially thankful for the amazing people who continue to support me through this journey. Family, friends and my wonderful boyfriend Matt have been with me every step of the way, reminding me that geography doesn’t diminish the ties that bind. It only makes them stronger.

Life In L.A. Begins

It has been nearly four weeks since I left my beloved New York for Los Angeles. And, as I had hoped and expected, picking up and moving across the country has been an exhilarating, emotional and revelatory experience.

All smiles at Yamashiro Restaurant with a panoramic view of LA behind me

All smiles at Yamashiro Restaurant with a panoramic view of LA behind me

First and foremost in this journey is the job which brought me here — Marketing Manager for the SLS at Beverly Hills. In the short time that I have been a part of the team, I have felt truly welcomed and utterly impressed by my smart, spirited and dedicated colleagues.

20160504_123451

Altitude Pool: one of many spectacular amenities at the SLS

The hotel itself is a dream for a storyteller like me — rich in its design, service and food and beverage offerings. During a rotation at The Bazaar restaurant, in which I had the pleasure of sampling several innovative tapas, I told a coworker I was running out of synonyms for delicious and awestruck. Wow.

One of the best parts of this move – and a key factor in my decision to do this — has been the many wonderful friends and acquaintances I know out here. Like longtime galpal Natasha, with whom I enjoyed a girls night out in Pasadena, a charming little town not far from LA. And blogger/author Kelly Seal, who gave me my first taste of local Mexican food and margaritas at Mercado on West Third Street, a stretch known for great eateries. And my dear friend from high school Allison, who moved here from Toronto nine years ago and understands the inevitable adjustment period that accompanies such a huge life change.

I am blessed to know alot of awesome people here and can’t wait to catch up with all of them.

In the meantime, this New York City Gal is appreciating the differences between the Big Apple and my new hometown. Among those I’ve noticed so far…

Quiet. With its sprawling nature, LA has a lot less noise pollution than NYC.

LA is also far more pedestrian friendly than you would think. An amalgam of neighborhoods with varied personalities, LA has several walkable areas. While I am looking forward to eventually getting a car, I haven’t felt stranded thanks to Uber (much cheaper and faster here in the state where it launched) and Zipcar.

Plenty of New Yorkers live here. I’ve met them at work and out and about, feeling an instant kinship with all of them. But I’m also enjoying getting to know the locals. And looking forward to feeling more like a local myself. In the meantime, I’m truly enjoying the honeymoon period.

It’s truly amazing when you follow your bliss and it leads to an incredible fresh start.

A New Chapter Begins

 

When it comes to embarking on a new chapter in life, I’m rediscovering that timing really is everything. The time has never felt more right for me to take an extended break from New York. So it is with the happiest heart that I prepare to leave my beloved Big Apple for LA.

SantaMonica

All smiles in Santa Monica (July 2013)

 

My journey to becoming an Angeleno began, in some ways, half a lifetime ago, when I fell in love for the first time with a California guy. During the year of that bicoastal romance, I was introduced to some of the West Coast’s varied attractions–from the charms of Santa Monica and majesty of the Pacific Coast Highway to quaint beachside town Morro Bay. Though the love affair ended, it was only the beginning of my fondness for Cali.

Over the years, I have enjoyed a weekend getaway to San Francisco and Napa, unexpected romance in San Diego and many, many trips to visit friends in L.A. It was during one particular visit nearly 3 years ago that my California dreaming began.

Longtime dear friend A invited me to join his wife at Malibu Winery to watch their incredibly talented daughter Ren perform outdoors. Sitting there in the sunshine with the mountains behind us, I found myself wondering–why have I never lived here??

MalibuWinery

A glorious afternoon at Malibu Winery with A and his wife Leslie

 

That question intensified when I applied for a job in LA. The news that I didn’t get it came as I headed West for a third time in six months. At this point, the question shifted to, can this born and bred New Yorker navigate LA’s car – based lifestyle? Was I really ready to bid farewell to my hometown, or just going through the inevitable weariness that comes with living in the city synonymous with hustle and bustle?

So I settled back into NYC life, or I tried to at least. What I found, though, was that it became increasingly more difficult to keep up with the relentlessly fast pace here. Travels to other places only amplified my desire to slow down. And once again, my thoughts turned to LA.

Despite the frequent rivalry between my first and future hometowns, I have always felt that New York is yin to LA’s yang. Opposites that compliment one another. And for this Big Apple native, there’s no other city which feels more appropriate to explore as a local.

Like I said, timing is everything. Two years ago, I reached out to a Starwood colleague who was making the move from LA to NYC. She graciously shared her insights about her life and career in Cali. We had the chance to work together while she was here, and stayed in touch after she went back last fall. She is now going to be my boss and I couldn’t be happier about it.

Along with congratulations and best wishes, I’ve received some questions from family and friends. Among the most popular–how can I possibly leave NYC?

Quite easily, actually. Having already lived in Sydney, I know I’m going to love the beach – cosmopolitan city lifestyle of LA. And I’m also going to love spending more time with A and my other friends out there.

And, even though my zip code is about to change, one thing most assuredly will not–I am a New York City Gal. Forever proud to be, just ready to adopt a new hometown.

The adventure begins April 10th!

 

A Night Out At The Marquis

If there’s one thing that intensifies as you get older, it’s the swift passage of time. That hit me last week as I returned to NYC’s Marriott Marquis hotel for the first time in six years.

IMG_1301

Jen and me at the HSMAI Adrian Awards

Like one of my 2010 evenings there, this one was for the HSMAI Adrian Awards — the Oscars of travel PR and marketing. And once again, I was fortunate to be celebrating multiple wins, including a Gold Award for the Womanhood Redefined program I launched at one of my hotels. Joining me at the even t– good friend and ace publicist Jen Maguire, who secured front page coverage for the campaign in The New York Times.

The travel marketing world is a small and friendly one, so Jen and I caught up with several former colleagues during the cocktail reception. I told Jen about Paula Butler, an industry veteran and amazing woman responsible for my 2010 blog partnership with Marriott Hotels. Imagine my surprise and delight to run into Paula seconds later!

You really never know when or how a wonderful connection is going to come into or return to your life. That kind of serendipity was also on my mind when I met up later with Australia-based buddy Giuseppe.

2016-02-17 00.19.36

Catching up over cosmos: Giuseppe and me

Both huge Sex and The City fans, G and I initially connected years ago when he was blogging about the show/movies. Now a hugely successful fashion author/blogger, G moved to Oz after meeting his partner during a trip down under.

Over cosmos at the Marquis’ rotating View lounge, we had an awesome conversation about relationships, travel, work and embarking on new adventures.

Giuseppe is launching an exciting new enterprise. Hearing about it and reconnecting with him was a reminder that it’s never too late for a fresh start. You just have to be brave enough to seek it out.

A Reunion And A Farewell

Last weekend, I caught up with my good friend Bobbi for a fun girls night out.

It was Bobbi’s first visit since moving to Dallas a year and a half ago. After brunch at Grand Central café Pershing Square, we met up later for dinner at Zengo in Midtown. The Richard Sandoval restaurant serves up Asian-Latin fusion in an inviting atmosphere with a cozy downstairs bar that’s packed for happy hour during the week.

Reunited: Bobbi and me at W’s Living Room Bar

 Over the course of both meals and then drinks at the W New York hotel, we talked about work, dating and memorable times past—from a spa getaway in Connecticut to our joint 40th birthday celebration. We also reminisced about Helen, our beloved mutual family friend who introduced us 12 years ago.

Tante Chaya and me at my family’s annual holiday party, December 1997

Helen, Tante Chaya as I knew her, passed away on Monday at the age of 99. For 50 years, she was a huge part of my family–going back to when she and Mom worked for Dad’s company Leeds. Instrumental in bringing my late parents together, Tante Chaya persuaded Mom to stay at Leeds when she wanted to resign within weeks of starting. She also convinced Mom to take a chance on Dad years later and was the one who managed to find a rabbi who would marry them (Mom was Catholic, Dad was Jewish and interfaith marriages were a rarity at the time). It’s no exaggeration to say that, without Tante Chaya, I probably wouldn’t be here.

Though she never had children, Tante Chaya was a surrogate mother to me, Bobbi and so many blessed to know her. Her no nonsense advice and razor sharp wit never failed to make life’s trials—especially those of the romantic variety–easier to bear.

I will never forget the conversations we had–about everything from cherished memories of Mom and Dad to celebrity breakups and of course, affairs of the heart. Tante Chaya encouraged me to never give up on finding love. She was so eager for me to meet my mate that she proudly showed me the gown hanging in her closet, on hold for her to wear at my future wedding day.

Should that day ever come, I know she will be by my side, as she was in life for me and my parents. I have no doubt they are all together again.

Rest in peace, Tante Chaya. You will be in our hearts forever.

Burger Bliss: 5 Napkin’s New Addition

 

 

In the crowded landscape of burger joints in the Big Apple, Five Napkin Burger is one of the best. So I was excited when 5N recently opened a second location — right around the corner from me.

20151204_191435

5N’s asiago turkey burger is delish

Like its sister restaurant in Hell’s Kitchen, the Upper East Side 5N offers a low-lit bistro vibe, friendly wait staff and a mouthwatering menu of options for burger aficionados. During my first visit, I grabbed a high table near the bar and enjoyed the asiago turkey burger, delicious and as plentiful in size as its beef counterpart. Their cocktail menu is equally robust. I enjoyed the Velvet Mule, a refreshing variation on the Moscow mule.

Signature drinks were also on the menu during my second visit to 5N, with galpal Ayesha. She tried the Breakaway Mai Tai while I savored a Rum Swizzle Punch, both from the Caribbean-inspired drink menu section, and which immediately made me think about relaxing on an island somewhere.

Served in a tiki glass, the Rum Swizzle Punch is a taste of the Caribbean

Speaking of travels, we talked about upcoming vacations (I’ve got 3 getaways planned for 2016), fighting the holiday battle of the bulge and job changes. The new year will bring an new dimension to work, with the addition of the Sheraton Grand Chicago to my marketing manager job. So excited for this–and the promise of a fresh start that always accompanies turning the calendar page.

 

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

A Mini MHC Reunion In NYC

One of my favorite things to do is play tourist in my hometown. Last weekend, I had the pleasure of doing just that. The occasion — a mini NYC Mount Holyoke reunion with my fellow class of ’95-ers.

Our big 20-year on campus reunion in May left us nostalgic for our alma mater, and newly appreciative of the sisterhood it provided. So, about fifteen of us alums, some local and many from out of state, enjoyed an action packed Saturday taking in some of the Big Apple’s best sights.

Our first stop — the Whitney Museum of American Art. Now located in a brand new building in the Meatpacking District after years in a much smaller venue on the Upper East Side, the Whitney offers a much greater wow factor now. In addition to featuring a better showcase for the likes of Pollock, Hopper and more contemporary artists, it boasts outdoor patios with fantastic views of the Hudson River. A must see for sure.

After strolling through Chelsea Market — and savoring the varied aromas of its many food purveyors — we made our way down to NoLita. First stop, The Daily, a cozy bar with a speakeasy vibe and robust cocktails (that change daily) with names like El Presidente.

20151121_185720

MHC women: (from left) Sara, me and Sara T.

For dinner, we enjoyed the rustic charms of the downstairs room at Peasant. Seated a long, distressed wood table by candlelight, we were well taken care of and well fed. The restaurant’s family style menu included three courses, all equally delicious.

As the food kept coming, I had the pleasure of catching up with classmates Sara T., Gretchen and my MHC bff, NYC-based Sara. We reminisced about our college days and the unnervingly swift passage of time since then.

After saying goodnight to the rest of the crew, Sara and I headed uptown to THE LCL: Bar & Kitchen at my work home, The Westin Grand Central. Over cosmos, we talked about relationships, travels and the importance of maintaining life balance, whether you’re a city dweller or country mouse.

Even in the frenetic pace that is life in NYC, finding that balance is doable. Especially when you’re fortunate to have great friends to do it with.

Weekend In Long Island

For as much as I adore my hometown, sometimes I need a break from the relentless hustle and bustle of NYC.

As I’ve mentioned before, one of my favorite places to unwind from city life is Long Island. I’m very fortunate to have several loved ones who are LI residents and last weekend, I had the pleasure of catching up with two of them.

Saturday, I headed out east to visit my cousin Carla. Our first stop–Verace, an airy Italian bistro located on Babylon’s charming main street. The friendly staff was in the Halloween spirit, dressed as nerds while serving delicious fare (eggplant caponata pasta and flounder oreganata for me, burrata ravioli for C).

20151031_210853

The gypsy and the owl: Me and Carla at Molto Vino

After dinner and changing into our own costumes, we headed over to wine bar Molto Vino. Bustling with spirited locals and a jovial waitstaff, it was the perfect spot for people watching (Marty McFly and a mobster were among the costumed characters) and enjoying a festive Halloween night.

Settling ourselves at the bar, Carla and I savored a few glasses of red sangria as we talked about milestone birthdays and winter travel plans. It was the perfect Halloween night–low key fun with one of my favorite family members.

On Sunday, I spent the afternoon with galpal Julie. Our destination–Bar Frites in Greenvale, which with its buzzy vibe and French charm, reminded me of NYC’s currently-closed Pastis.

We both treated ourselves to the decadence of a croque madame sandwich while having the kind of soul soothing conversation that reminds you what a blessing it is to have good friends.

One of the subjects that came up–the mental shift that accompanies entering your forties. With three decades of life and learning behind you, this is the era of being truly comfortable in your own skin, of fully embracing your choices without apology or explanation. I’m also discovering that it is a time for letting go of the past and focusing squarely on what’s right in front of you.

Like the saying goes, the present truly is a gift. Especially when you’re fortunate to have wonderful people to share it with.

Website Apps