When did I become that person who calls her car “my baby”?

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

This time last year, I was finishing packing up my apartment in New York City after 12 happy years spent as a New Yorker.

I left primarily because I needed a break from city life to recharge and figure out the next steps in my career and future in general. As I probably should have guessed, life has taken me in completely unexpected directions ever since. And one of those directions, weirdly enough, has been my new identity as a car owner.

Last July, I wrote on my portfolio site about the question: To car or not to car? I considered all of the reasons that I should and shouldn’t buy a car at that point in time, after living in my home state of Florida for three months, and ultimately concluded that I just didn’t need one at the time.

Back then, I had just started living with my boyfriend Adam and working from home. He has a great car (which I love) and it just didn’t seem necessary for a two-person household to have two cars when one of those people really doesn’t have a necessity to leave the house during the week. Whenever I did need to leave the house, we worked around it and usually just went together. That mostly meant grocery shopping and social plans, and it was fine.

For a while, we even had a nice thing going with him taking me to the local Starbucks a couple days a week to work, and then picking me up to bring me home around lunch. That worked quite fine, actually, until we moved apartments and it was no longer convenient.

As time went on, the need for a car increased.

But still, we resisted. For one thing, getting a car costs money. And not a little bit of money but typically several hundred dollars a month in car payments, and that was just not an expense I was looking forward to. Not to mention, of course, car insurance and gas.

Secondly, I was still working from home (and quite happy with that setup) and wasn’t sure that it was worth getting a car if I am only using it, at most, twice a week. Considering the expense and how little I actually needed a car, it seemed almost silly to get one. However, I’ll admit, there were moments when it would have been convenient if I could take the car on my own… which, sadly, I couldn’t since Adam’s car is a manual and I can’t drive stick. However, we formulated a plan to teach me how to drive his car and avoid spending the money on one for me.

And then I met her.

On a sunny day back at the start of February, we went with our friends to the Naples 5th Avenue Ferrari Show. It’s basically where all of these people that have ridiculously expensive cars go and show them off once a year, and it was fun to see. As you might expect, there were also a lot of car companies there – including MINI of Fort Myers.

Here’s the funny thing: When I originally planned to move out of NYC, I had planned to get a MINI eventually. I have loved MINI Coopers for many years now, mainly because its small size seemed just perfect for my 5’2″ frame. And I still occasionally passed by the dealership and thought about it or even looked at used MINIs available online.

When we came to the MINI of Fort Myers booth at the Naples Car Show, however, we discovered that the friends we were there with were friendly with Jerry – the guy staffing the booth. They themselves had gone through four MINIs already, and were big fans. I sat in the MINIs they had there, and discovered that I totally loved the convertible and new color available on the newer models (Caribbean Aqua Metallic).

We weren’t planning to get a new car, though… but then Jerry told us all about this cute little convertible MINI that had come in the night before. It hadn’t even been detailed yet and didn’t have a price tag, but the car sounded kind of perfect: It was a 2014 MINI in British Racing Green with tan leather seats, and it was a convertible!

I had been joking to Adam for months now that, if we were to get a car, then we might as well get a convertible. Not only have I dreamed of a convertible car ever since I came to the U.S. at age eight, but I figured that if we were going to get a car and barely use it, then we might as well make it an extra-fun car so that we can use it for extra-fun weekend trips. I know that might be a silly plan, but it made logical sense to me at the time.

Well, long story short, WE GOT THE CAR.

In one afternoon, we went from occasionally thinking we might need one soon but would power through for a while without one… to being bonafide car owners to this cute 3-year-old MINI with only 3,000 miles on her (definitely one of the top selling points too, TBH).

Instantly, I fell in love. I mean, that’s why we got the car in the first place, isn’t it? It may have been a slightly impulsive decision, but the truth is that not having my own mode of transportation for when I needed it was starting to get more and more difficult. And the fact that this was the exact car I wanted (a MINI, convertible, great condition) was just the cherry on top. And although originally I had dreamed of a red car, I immediately got into the British Racing Green color.

She’s a little speedster, in fact, and I decided to name the car Elphaba after the main character (whose skin color is green) in my favorite Broadway musical, Wicked. I call her Elphie for short.

Dorky? Absolutely. Adam laughed and made fun of me for the car name, but he also agrees that it’s weirdly perfect for me.

Now here’s the thing: I never thought that I would become the kind of car person who would, ya know, name their car and call the car “my baby” but that’s exactly what has happened in the two months since I have been a car owner.

This past weekend, we got my baby (yes, I’m really saying that!) back to the dealership in order to outfit her. Don’t judge me, but one of the fun parts of owning a MINI is that there’s all kinds of accessories for the car. And it had been our plan since day one to get her racing stripes and checkerboard side mirrors. Courtesy of my parent’s birthday present and income from one of my recent freelance pieces, here she is!

It’s been a really weird transition from being a total New York City girl who was more than happy to spend the rest of my life commuting via subway to being a happy car owner who’s thrilled whenever I get to take her out for a spin.

In fact, I’ve noticed that there’s nothing quite like a short drive (even just to meet a friend for coffee) with the top down and the sun shining down on me to lift my mood.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Since I’m making a commitment to be happier right now anyway, I’m admitting that my car makes me happy.

Maybe it’s a bit shallow of me, sure, but we have to take our wins wherever we can find them. Right now, I’m happily settling into my new identity as a newly minted car person. It feels a little bit weird sometimes but then I walk outside and see Elphie and, well… I’m totally cool with people thinking that I’m weird while I drive down the street with the top down while blasting Broadway songs and singing at the top of my lungs. It makes me happy, period.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

How to choose to be happier in our crappy world (VIDEO)

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

Happiness is something that humans think about a lot. At least I do.

For years now, I have been saying that “happiness is a choice and it’s a choice that I make (almost) every day.” That’s still true, of course, but sometimes that kind of thinking gets away from me.

Look, there’s no two ways about it: The world is currently not a happy place.

There’s untold chaos, which isn’t exactly anything new, but now that chaos is complemented by a particularly hairy situation in the country which I call home: the United States of America.

In case you are living under a rock, our president of just under 100 days is not well liked by people like me… You know, basically anyone with a brain, an appreciation for science, the environment or any kind of diversity. As an American citizen and immigrant, I am not a fan and I truly wish that the American public hadn’t elected this racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic pseudo-tyrant into office. But it is what it is, and I for one certainly plan to spend the next four or so years resisting.

Enough about my politics though… This post is about happiness. About why we seek it and how we find it and, most of all, how we recognize it.

And that’s the key word: How to recognize happiness.

I honestly think that is one of the hardest things about “being happy.” It’s not that we are clueless about what happiness means, but I do think that we have much higher expectations for it than we possibly should. And that’s part of the problem: our expectations.

Recently, a video titled “An Algorithm for Happiness” made the rounds on Facebook. When I watched this fascinating video, something clicked in my brain and reminded me how to be happy.

The truth is, primarily because of what is going on in the world right now and the election of President Orange Cheeto Dumpsterfire (my all-time favorite moniker for #45, since I can’t actually bring myself to say or type his name), I haven’t been my usual happy self.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of happy things going on in my life: I bought a car, celebrated mine and my partner Adam’s 31st birthdays and I’ve had some pretty great successes in my career. But in general, I have been angry and grumpy and sometimes what I jokingly call an “angry feminist.” And those feelings are totally okay, of course, because we must acknowledge and honor our feelings.

But… at the same time, being an unhappy bitch sometimes can be mentally taxing and ultimately harmful to our overall selves.

A week ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my last relapse in recovery. You see, I’m an alcoholic. I entered rehab in July of 2015 and I have been working on sobriety ever since. It’s been a mostly successful and occasionally bumpy road, but I am proud of the progress I’ve made.

How does that relate to happiness, you ask?

Well… Although I no longer attend meetings, I don’t remember getting to know many addicts who were happy. Which makes sense, of course, because if you’re happy, why would you need to dull yourself with drugs and alcohol? You don’t, and that’s the point.

As I watched the video talking about the algorithm for happiness, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned through recovery, primarily the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, which strives to teach you how to think differently about your issues.

To be honest, I was never a fan of AA or NA meetings, but I did thoroughly enjoy Smart Recovery – and cognitive behavioral therapy is exactly why. When I went through one-on-one- therapy for my alcohol addiction, it was with a CBT therapist too, and it’s a system that has really worked for me.

The reason that CBT has worked for me in terms of my alcoholism and happiness is because I learned how to reframe my thinking. In this video, the Google executive uses the example of a glass to demonstrate how we think about happiness.

He argues that happiness is looking at the half-full side of the glass and being grateful for it and looking at the half-empty side of the class and asking “Can I do anything about it?” and, if not, “Can I accept it?”

This kind of thinking is absolutely critical to understanding happiness and how it works in your life.

He goes on to explain that happiness isn’t actually about how much water is in the glass, but what you think about how much water is in the glass. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

When I watched that, I realize just how much my happiness had to do with CBT and recovery and how much it had to do with the current state of the world and my thinking about it.

Adam recently pointed out that I am not the same happy-go-lucky girl that he met almost a year ago. And in a lot of ways, it’s true. Although I reasoned that there’s many, many reasons for it (most of them beginning with the man currently sitting in the White House’s main room), some of it is also my thinking about what is currently going on.

To be honest, it made me feel bad that the world has come to such a dark place and it’s made me feel even worse that I have lost some deep down belief in hope and the goodness of people because of the current situation.

But that’s not fair to the world, and that’s not really fair to all of the people who are doing good work now. I strive to be one of those people and, after watching the video below, I realized that there is more that I could be doing to help make the world a slightly happier place.

The first part starts with me. It starts with reframing how I view the world – even just a little bit – and recognizing that there IS still hope and there IS still good here.

To be honest, it’s a lesson that I expect to have to learn and relearn for the next four years. But you have to start somewhere, right? And I choose to start with being happy today, and happier than I was yesterday.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

Here’s what happens when a writer has too many ideas

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

So if you’ve spent any amount of time around me in real life, then you probably know one thing about me: I get easily excited.

I don’t know if I would consider myself a super impulsive person, but I’m not not an impulsive person. I think my life partner Adam would probably disagree with that statement, actually, as he’s mentioned my impulsivity a few times here and there (and by “few” I mean… maybe many).

What I consider myself, actually, is an ideas person.

I get ideas all the damn time, about any variety of subjects. My chosen career of writer and editor is actually pretty perfect for someone who has too many ideas too much of the time, but it can also be harmful. The problem with having too many ideas is that I can easily jump from one to the other, and still see the value in all of them.

Here’s a perfect example: About a year after I graduated college, I decided that I wanted to write a book.

No, let me rephrase that… For as long as I could remember, I’ve been one of those writers who felt like having a book published, as in something I can hold in my hands with my name on the cover and available in every Barnes & Noble, was the ultimate accomplishment. So I always knew that I would write a book someday, and sometime in 2008 I decided to try my hand at it.

Maybe it’s because I have always done well in school or because my best form of learning is in the classroom (as in, though lectures), but I signed myself up for a chick lit writing class. Chick lit, as in contemporary women’s fiction, was my primary reading at the time so this seemed fitting. I had a story in mind, and I worked on it during the class.

The only problem? Well… in a writing exercise that asked us to switch our voice either to very young or very old, I discovered that I absolutely LOVED writing young adult fiction. Shortly after, I took a YA writing class instead. In fact, I took three of them in a row in the year of 2009.

And here’s where the real problem of my life comes in: TOO. MANY. IDEAS.

When I sat down to focus on the chick-lit-turned-YA-novel story, I got another great YA idea that I became utterly obsessed with. I loooooved this new idea, and ultimately drove myself crazy going back and forth between the two. Eventually, life got busy due to a new job and a new blog (several blogs ago now) and I dropped the book.

A few years went by and I decided to write a memoir. The problem? Yup, you guessed it: Too many ideas! Because at the time I was blogging about my weight loss journey, I wanted to write a memoir about growing up overweight, going through a gastric bypass and what has happened since. But then I also had this other idea about writing a memoir about my upbringing, because I am half-Russian and half-Cuban and people’s reactions to hearing that is always “OH! How did THAT happen?!”, and make that into the next great American immigrant story.

Well… I haven’t gotten any further on either of those ideas than I did with my two big YA novel ideas.

Part of the reason for that is because life is busy and I haven’t made the time to focus on any personal writing outside of occasional blogging (that first weight loss blog led to a food blog and led to my portfolio site, which I wanted to write more on last year… and kinda sorta maybe did but didn’t). And now I’m here.

But where is here, anyway?

In a few weeks, it will be the one year anniversary of me moving out of New York City and moving back to Southwest Florida, where I grew up (more on this soon!). One of my goals when moving down here was to a) take my freelance writing career further and b) finally start working on that book again.

The only problem is I wasn’t totally sure which book. Eventually, I decided to work on Moscow Chica, my memoir and now similarly-named Medium publication and the theme of my newsletter.

But you know what happened in my mind when I finally decided to focus on this? MORE DAMN IDEAS!

I went back-and-forth for a while on whether Moscow Chica is the memoir I should focus on, or if I should still do the weight loss one first. I occasionally entertained the idea of going back to one of my YA novels and, finally after the election, I felt that the immigration story is the important one to tell at this point in history.

And I was totally happy with my choice for a while… a short while.

Then came more ideas. Last year, I tried to blog on my portfolio site about a project I called Map Your 30s, which was essentially a bit of what I am doing here but more focused on my age… in that I had just turned 30 and wanted to talk about all of the changes that are still happening in my life… because nothing should be “settled” by a certain age. That was a fun idea but I didn’t actually sustain it for very long, unfortunately. Again, I blame the life changes and a little bit my excitement to start (but not finish) things (more on that later too, I’m sure).

Here is where everything comes full circle.

This year, I decided that this was my #YearOfWriting and I was going to focus it on ALL THE THINGS. I planned to freelance more than ever, put a book proposal together for my memoir and so much more.

One of my biggest goals, actually, was to write for 17 different publications and I’m almost there. So far this year, I have been published on 10 (online) publications and have 5 more in the works. I’ve even got tentative pieces with two others… which would soon enough get me to my goal. So YAY for that.

This whole “too many ideas” thing is definitely good when it comes to my freelance writing career, and I think it’s one of the things that has made me a good (and successful) journalist. But the problem comes in whenever I try to do pretty much any kind of writing in my personal life.

You’ve already heard about the two YA novels and the two memoirs, but there’s more. Honestly, so much more. A few weeks ago, I wrote the beginning pages of another YA novel that a few friends saw and loved. And I also started this new blog…

That’s right, after ALL of my failed attempts at keeping up a blog (Healthy Latin Food being the most memorable), I somehow decided that it was a good idea to try one more more time and last week launched this here The Cookie Dough Life.

I’m really excited by the prospect of this blog, actually. It’s basically for me to have a fun place to talk about whatever I want… from relationships to career stuff to health and life and basically anything else I want to talk (or write) about. And that’s how we got here.

Last week, when it first launched, I explained exactly what the whole “cookie dough” life thing means. And since then I’ve stayed silent. Partially, it is because I have been afraid and unsure of what I wanted to say next. The big “Hooray I Have A New Project!” excitement wore off a little, and I am now faced with an empty blog and no content and, of course, a million ideas.

Sometimes when I have a million ideas, I jump right in. And other times, I freeze. That’s what has been happening to me for the past week, so I thought… What better way to really start this blog than by admitting to all of that mess in my head?

Since career is something that I actively plan to talk about on CDL, here it is: I’m a writer and I have too many ideas.

That’s often very frustrating, I know. Well, maybe you don’t know… but I sure do. Yet despite all of that, the only way forward is to just keep going forward. To be honest, today I don’t know what that means. I am not sure if I am going to go back to focusing on Moscow Chica or one of the YA novels or something else entirely.

I’m not even sure if this blog is going to be The One I Keep Up With Finally, or whether these are all words going into the void that will be erased from the internet in a year (in so much that anyone can ever truly erase anything from the internet, anyway).

But the one thing I know is that I have too many ideas, and I can’t wait to share them all here.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

What exactly is “The Cookie Dough Life” anyway?

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

Let me introduce myself first…

My name is Irina Gonzalez and I am a 31-year-old Latinx journalist, freelance writer & editor and future YA author currently based in Southwest Florida.

I was born to a Russian mom and Cuban dad in Moscow, Russia, and, after a brief stint in Cuba, we moved to Miami (and eventually to SWFL) when I was 8 years old. Although I grew up in this state, I escaped to New York City by way of college as soon as I could. I spent the next 12 years in the city of my dreams until last year, when dramatic life changes brought me back to Florida once more.

Since then, life has been pretty crazy… and changed so much.

First of all, last April I moved from the city that my heart called home (New York) to live at home with my parents while I figured out my next step. But then my life turned into a rom-com cliche and I unexpectedly met the love of my life shortly after.

These days I am happily living with my loving partner (who happens to be the kindest man I’ve ever met) and our two fur babies, his Border Collie named Moose and my orange tabby named Capt. Jack Sparrow. We’re building a great life together and his support is actually one of the reasons for the other major change in my life: I’ve gone completely full-time freelance as a writer and editor, and it’s been a crazy ride.

I’ve also happily settled (permanently?) in SW FL now, hanging out with my family and reconnecting with old friends. Honestly, what started out as a really challenging 30th birth year turned into the best year of my life. And now that I’m 31, it’s incredible to look back at all of the changes and challenges I faced last year.

However… as I dealt with some career ups and down earlier this year, I realized: Those changes and challenges are not over.

They’re never over, are they?

Last year, I tried to write about some of the changes I was facing. My goal was to work on different areas of my life to “figure things out”… but now I realize that we never truly have things figured out. Instead, the more I think about it, the more I am sure that the only constant in life is change.

We change when we move, we change when we shift careers, we change when we find love, we change when we form new habits and get away from old ones. But we’re never really done figuring things out. And that’s where this whole “The Cookie Dough Life” thing comes in.

A couple weeks ago, Adam and I were finally finishing watching the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which we coincidentally started together, him for the first time, on our third date). In the very last episode, this scene happened:

Buffy: I’m cookie dough. I’m not done baking. I’m not finished becoming whoever the hell it is I’m gonna turn out to be. I make it through this, and the next thing, and the next thing, and maybe one day, I turn around and realize I’m ready. I’m cookies. And then, you know, if I want someone to eat m- or enjoy warm, delicious, cookie me, then that’s fine. That’ll be then. When I’m done.

Angel: Any thoughts on who might enjoy – Do I have to go with the cookie analogy?

Buffy: I’m not really thinking that far ahead. That’s kind of the point.

Angel: I’ll go start working on the second front. Make sure I don’t have to use it.

[starts to leave]

Buffy: Angel. I do. Sometimes, think that far ahead.

Angel: Sometimes is something.

Buffy: Be a long time coming. Years, if ever.

Angel: I ain’t gettin’ any older.

Buffy’s silly analogy about being cookie dough really struck a chord with me.

She’s not ready, though she hopes she will be many years from now. But the thing is – I don’t think she will be. It’s not because she won’t ever grow up or learn how adulting works or anything, but because I think part of being cookie dough is constantly growing and learning.

And that’s what I am choosing to embrace.

This Cookie Dough Life is exactly that: It’s about the realization that I am not done baking yet either… Meaning that I haven’t figured it all out, and maybe that’s okay. No, actually, it’s totally okay. Living The Cookie Dough Life is about embracing the fact that life is constantly changing and evolving, and so am I.

So here’s the deal: In an effort to give myself a fun creative outlet, I’ve created this blog that’s all about change and fun and life and learning and… well, whatever else I want to write about here, really. You’ll notice at the top that I set some categories (relationships, career, fun, food, health, life) and I’ll do my best to stick to those, but no promises.

In the meantime, I’m just going to enjoy trying new things and living life to the best of my ability, even if it means facing more changes and challenges along the way.

And besides… isn’t cookie dough more delicious, anyway?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!