Author: Courtney Colwell

My Dog Became My Jersey Ambassador

When I first moved to my neighborhood in Jersey City, I knew it was something on the edge of “up-and-coming,” kind of like “slowly approaching” or “looking forward, sometimes.” But I figured with the stop before mine on the PATH train improving so quickly, it was just a matter of time. It turned out it would be a lot of time. I moved in as the housing bubble burst, and what had been transitional turned into a standstill. It wasn’t as bad as in unsafe, but it wasn’t good as in somewhere you wanted to explore, either. The only retail options have questionable inventory at best. I mean, these aren’t even dollar stores.These are like stores filled with crap typically found for sale on sidewalk blankets. An indoor yard sale. The dining options are equally lackluster. Technically, we have everything — McDonalds, Burger King, Blimpie, White Castle, Subway — everything you could want in fast food. If it isn’t represented within my ten-block radius, it must be on a lower, less-recognized rung of the value-meal …

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No, I Don’t Date. Here’s Why

“Dating anyone?” It’s typically the third question I’m asked by people I haven’t talked to in a while. It comes up right after “how’s work?” and “where have you travelled to lately?” Me: “No one.” Them: “Oh, you’ll find someone.” Me: “But I’m not looking.” (Blank stares.) It’s not that I’m opposed to meeting someone. I just don’t feel it’s necessary. In my 20’s I did, but now I look back and recognize that was probably due to of pressure. My parents expected me, as their oldest daughter, to be the first to get married. Since they married in their early 20’s, I sent them into a panic when I wasn’t married as I approached 29. I couldn’t even mention a man around them without having to crush their bud of hope. “John? Who is that?” “A coworker.” “Is he single?” “Yes, but he has boyfriend.” [pullquote]I’ve often been asked, “Aren’t you afraid of being alone when you’re old?” Given the current divorce rates, aren’t you? [/pullquote] Most of my friends were getting married then; …

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Eating My Way Through the World

When I travel, food is a focus. Friends who travel with me know that I leave all cultural points of interest to their choosing, but I take charge of the meals. Restaurants are booked in advance of hotels, and there may well be multiple lunches and “snacks” in order to squeeze additional samples into the itinerary. I don’t visit countries as much as eat my way through them. And it’s not just because I love food – I love the experience of it. Many stories begin with the hunt for a local specialty or with a hidden gem stumbled upon unexpectedly. I’ve crossed busy, signal-free intersections of Ho Chi Minh City with motorcycles passing close enough for me to touch the three or more passengers – all in search of the “best” pho. I’ve haunted side alleys and street vendors in Uruguay on a quest for the perfect Chivito, a sublime sandwich of thinly sliced beef with cheese, tomatoes, fried egg and bacon. That alone was worth the trip. Sometimes, it’s a search well rewarded; …

4 Things to Consider Before Getting Inked

If you’re thinking about getting inked, you’re not alone. According to a 2015 Harris poll, three in ten Americans (29%) have at least one tattoo, a marked increase from 21% four years prior. Maybe you’re thinking about getting another? You’re not alone there, either. Among those surveyed who have tattoos, seven in ten (69%) have two or more. Remember when Cher was badass with six? Angelina has 20. If you are a newbie, though, here are some considerations to keep in mind: 1. Think about why you want one. This is not like a piercing that can grow in or purple hair that will grow out. So think about it for a while to make sure this is something you really want. I wish I could say I got my tattoo to commemorate some life-changing experience like adopting a child from Cambodia. Or winning a Pulitzer. Even winning a scratch-off would rate more meaningful that my reason for getting one. Still, I had thought about it for nearly three years, which may be a record …

Sleeping Your Way Around The World — No, Really

I used to think traveling for work would be an amazing benefit, collecting miles and points for my personal use later on. While living in San Francisco, I even took a job with a company partially because it boasted offices in 31 cities across 16 countries, and lured me with project collaborations in Paris and Rome. I never travelled further than Palo Alto. Eventually, I moved back to New York and was hired by a company that wanted me to travel quite a bit. That was when I learned a hard truth: work travel is nothing like vacation. It’s more like a series of redeyes to minimize hotel expenses, and thus, sleep. I’ve arrived at many meetings and conferences feeling like one of the faceless cast members of the The Walking Dead. But I’ve also learned that while there’s no substitute for a comfortable bed in a dark, quiet place, there are some tricks and tools that can help you sleep just about anywhere. 1. Pack for Comfort Remember when all airplanes and all the …

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What No One Tells You About Planning for Retirement

I put at least 10 percent (or is it 15 percent?) of my salary in my 401K every year. I contribute to a ROTH every other year (or so). I own my home — or will in 28 years. I have enough in stocks to carry me at least a few weeks. Financially, I’m not that bad off… am I? I ask this of my financial advisor, whose primary value seems to be telling me that I should save more. Disappointingly, he can’t make magic of what I have put away thus far. We meet annually to review where I would be financially if I were to retire at an age that increases with every meeting. He routinely poses questions that start with “If you plan to ever stop working…” or “If you’re serious…” My current retirement plan seems to be not to retire. But then, as I’ve seen with my parents, retirement can come unplanned and earlier than you think. They did everything right — scrimping and saving, counting their pennies and on their …

My 6 Favorite Travelogues

“Often I feel I got to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I am.” – Michael Crichton This quote is from a book that probably doesn’t enter many people’s list of favorite travelogues, but it tops mine. The book aptly named Travels, was written by Crichton in 1988, nearly 20 years after Andromedia Strain and two before Jurassic Park. It would be another 10 years before I had heard of or read Travels. By that time, Crichton was a household name. Still, I hadn’t read any of his books until a friend of mine suggested Travels. We were sitting on the beach in Koh Samui, Thailand; he was reading it and intermittently laughing out loud. A book about travel, written by an author known for sci-fi, is funny? I was intrigued. I’ve since read and re-read the book and currently own my third copy. I’ve often recommended and too-often loaned it and never seen it again, hence the need for new copies. What I love about Travels is not just …

Training El Diablo

I’ve known a few friends who put a lot of thought into getting a pet. They research breeds to the point of becoming experts, citing life expectancy and typical health issues at the drop of a hat. They investigate the lineage of prospective pups with a thoroughness that I’d expect one to interrogate a surrogate mother for their child. They spend days, even weeks thinking of names. I, on the other hand, rolled into a pet-store two years ago during an adoption event and walked out with a scrawny, pee-covered little Westie-poo that I wasn’t aware I even had to name. “We need a name for the adoption papers,” the volunteer told me as the puppy squirmed in my arms, alerting me that bio action that might soon take place on my jacket. “You can’t just put ‘TBD’?” “No.” “Puppy?” Dead stares. So I walked around for five minutes, texting friends and family for their votes on some hasty options and came back with “Ollie.” Soon after I got him home, a better name came …

Cyclone Approaching! Why I Chose to Dive Anyway

When you go on vacation, are you the cautious type, heavily insured and fully prepared for anything that could go wrong? Or are you a more adventurous type, for whom the worst seems easily resolvable with a little Immodium or an immediate call to Amex? You’re optimistic—you are on vacation, after all. You could be mugged in Mexico, and it would still be better than being at work. I’ve been that person. I’ve spent hours researching hotels and dining but overlooked required immunizations. I’ve put myself in questionable situations that could have been easily avoided with a little forethought—or any thought at all. Like the time I took a bus alone from Montevideo to Punta Del Este, Uruguay. It wasn’t until boarding that I realized that it was highly improbable I would know which stop was mine. I had just assumed there would be a large sign, “Welcome to Punta Del Este.” Or at least an English-speaking bus driver. Somehow, I managed to find a fellow passenger who knew both the stop and English, and …

What the Bullied Girl Taught Me

Reunions are like reflections. At least, that’s the thought I had after a recent high-school class reunion, though I could apply the same sentiment to family reunions, or really any encounter with people I haven’t seen in years. For at least a moment, you flash back to how you remember them — and yourself — at that time. Then there’s the inevitable question, “what have you been doing since I last saw you?” A friend once told me our reactions arc over time, much like our responses. At early reunions, like the five- or ten-year, familiarity still tends to run strong. You’ve stayed in touch with many old friends. They know what you’ve been doing. The range of individual achievements and failures remains fairly consistent. Many graduated college and got their first job; some got married. I was moving to New York. I was on my way up. By the 15th year, though, you start reflecting on the things you had planned for when you grew up. Because now you are grown up. You are what you are going to be. Is it what you thought? [pullquote]By …

Like Cheers, Only Sunnier: Saying Goodbye to Miami’s Best Bar

During a recent trip to Miami, I visited one of my favorite bars with the sad recognition that this was likely my last time there. For over a year, Scotty’s Landing had been slated to close, despite efforts to save it from the path of Condo-geddon. Many places in Miami have succumbed more swiftly, including some veritable institutions, but for me, the closing of Scotty’s is like the loss of a friend. Small businesses falling to rising rents is hardly unique to Miami — or even cities. You could visit nearly any place in this country and hear about a restaurant, boutique, book store or other kind of place-gone-by recalled with distinct fondness. It’s always a small business, too: where your little league team went after games, where you celebrated graduation, the secret diner you told people to visit when they were in town. [pullquote]A favorite place can transport you to a substantial period of time, like a decade or childhood. When it closes, so does that time in your life.[/pullquote] No one ever says, …

Island for One, Please: Why I Love Traveling Solo

Are you one of those people who say they could never work virtually because they’d miss being around other people? Not me.  When I tell, friends that, they look at me in bewilderment. “But if you were stranded on a deserted island…” and I cut them off with, “Wait, where is it?” I’ve been looking for that island for years. No, I don’t need to go 100% off the grid, and it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s just that sometimes I prefer solitude. I find travelling alone, even in a crowded city, can give me some sense of “alone.” About 10 years ago, I took my first solo trip — on my way to visit a friend in Hong Kong, I decided to go to China on my own. It was one of the best trips I’ve ever taken, but eventually, I forgot that part of what I had loved was being on my own. Then, a few years ago, a friend bailed on a trip to Prague about a week before we …

Second-Time Travel: Al Fresco in Miami

Every year, at the peak of winter, I leave New York to spend a week in Miami. It’s not a vacation; I work virtually, continuing my daily routine as if I was in the office. I just move my office south. It’s one of those few benefits I gained from going to the University of Miami: I can discuss football at great length, I’ve mastered (and since given up) the fine art of tanning, and I have a number of friends who remained in Miami — with guest rooms. I can tell by the way my colleagues air-quote “working” that they assume I’m on South Beach, taking conference calls from the chaise while sipping a mojito. But I’m nowhere near the beach. For me, being in Miami is simply about being outside, where the only layers I need are SPF. And then, I rarely go out during the day. I look forward to the evenings, dining al fresco and enjoying the fact that I’m not trudging through snow. And I have that mojito. Even then, …

Spending on Sunny Days: What My Mother’s Diagnosis Taught Me About Money

Growing up in Pittsburgh during the 1970s, I learned a few things: jobs can go away quickly, chronic unemployment can cause entire towns to wither, and the Steelers, unlike the industry they were named for, were invincible. During those years, steel mills closed one after another, but fortunately my family remained unaffected. My father worked for a nascent Allegheny Airlines, which became USAir, now US American Air (or whatever ultra-patriotic name they’ve now chosen to give it). Still, I remember the beginning of each school year when we’d go around the room and state our names, neighborhoods and other fun facts (like where your father worked). Sadly, the question was never where your mother worked; and for a couple of years, there weren’t many fathers working at all. Given that environment, I grew up with the understanding that money was a limited resource that should be saved, put away for retirement and rainy days. Like, Russell-Crowe-in-an-Ark rainy days.  My parents made it clear early on that my choices for college were to either get a …