The Life of Riley

a quest for the good life in New York City and beyond



The Space Between Us

Dad gives Jord a helping hand

From my window I notice the tiny girl with strawberry-blonde hair lag behind her parents while taking a moment to examine the grass under her feet. She’s aware of her mom, who looks back over her shoulder every few seconds, and inches away each time it appears they’re getting closer to one another. The mother is alert, attentive, but allows her daughter space. We aren’t that different, I think. I mean it’s what we do all along, that tough balancing act of holding on tight while simultaneously letting go, all the while glancing over our shoulders until that one day when we steal a look back and realize that there’s no one left behind us.

Jordan began her sophomore year in college this week. She discussed classes and her schedule, but she never asked for advice or assistance when planning out the semester. I didn’t expect her to. Figuring out the whole empty nest scenario last year helped me work through this new phase in my life. Trust me, it’s still a work in progress. As I hear friends talking about their kids venturing off to college this week, I’m grateful to be in a different place. And I know the next semester and the semester after that will be easier and perhaps harder all at the same time.

Soon, I will be a mere spectator in my daughter’s life rather than an active participant. Little by little I’m mourning the loss. That’s not to say I’m not excited for her future. There’s no doubt that she will go out and rule the world in her own special way. If I’m honest, I do, however, lust for one more minute to go back in time, ensuring I did things right, offering that last golden nugget of advice, and stressing once more the depth of unconditional love her dad and I hold for her, and that it will always be here. Did I stress all of these things enough? The worry creeps in as we near the final stretch. So I share these “juicy tidbits,” advice, wisdom, and inspiration in one quick swoop as a love letter of sorts for Jordan. I couldn’t finish writing this piece last year when I was right in the middle of enormous change, but today I was able to finish.

Savor “delicious ambiguity.” Be brave. Express yourself. Allow yourself options and take chances. Go makeup free as often as possible; know that you are beautiful. Use your beauty and intelligence for good instead of evil. Take care of yourself and care about others. Be genuine. Independence equals strength; wear it like a coat of armor. Stay curious. Fill your life with laughter. Never stop looking for your passion. Life without passion is lackluster. Admit when you’re wrong. Dust yourself off and move forward. It’s a learning experience, a necessary part of every day living. Try to find the good in everyone. Make friends easily; it’s not as simple as it sounds but worth the work. Be drama free–the last thing the world needs is more drama. Read. Listen. Trust your instincts. Learn when to move and when to stand still. Relish the little things. Be bold. Be compassionate. Be yourself. Be fearless of failure. When it presents itself, take the road less traveled and create your own path. Ignore the urge to glance over your shoulder in search of support or encouragement . . . those exquisite elements fill the space between us.

What's Love Got To Do With It
Love Statue, John F. Kennedy Plaza, Philadelphia. Photo Credit: Maria Riley

Renowned artist Robert Indiana created the LOVE image in the early 1960s, inspired by the God is Love inscription in the Christian Science churches he attended in his youth. While Philly is one of the most well-known places to get up close and personal with the iconic four-letter word, Indiana’s LOVE sculptures can be found all over the world. And though this may be Indiana’s most famous piece of art, his poetry, frescos, and watercolors prove that there’s more to love about this artist than what sits on the surface.

Life Lessons Among Waterfalls and Jagged Rocks

A few days before we dropped off, our middle daughter, Elizabeth and her stuff in Bozeman, Montana for her first semester at Montana State University, we embarked on our last family vacation together with Yellowstone, a place we’ve always dreamed of visiting, as the ideal backdrop. Along the way I accumulated a few life lessons, gaining a deeper understanding of my family and myself.

gibbon fallsLife lesson number 1:  It’s REALLY hard to plan a family vacation with grown-and not grown-children.

Our oldest daughter, Samantha, in her third year of Chemistry at University of Oregon, had been accepted into two summer internship programs. She was the first student using the internship to count for an undergrad and masters program, and all the brains in the Chemistry department couldn’t figure out how to work the dates for her. It took three long months to finalize dates so she could join us.

Ben, our youngest child, was chosen to be a student leader, mentoring the incoming sixth graders this year. His excitement turned to disappointment when we found out that the mandatory training was the exact time frame we’d be visiting Yellowstone.  If he couldn’t be there for the mandatory training, he couldn’t be a student leader. He’s left feeling resentful because once again his big sisters’ plans vetoed his.

driving yellowstone

Life lesson number 2:  Thar she blows!

With firm dates for our trip, I planned out everything, and tried to get my kids to actually start packing. Meanwhile . . . Elizabeth worked herself into a frenzy over leaving home and going off to college, to the point of paralysis. Samantha stressed over internship work, her math class and managing sloppy summer roommates. Tempers were high and tears were in abundance.

Amidst the drama, we finally packed up the truck, and headed off to Yellowstone. And almost immediately, everything changed and a calm settled in. Stresses forgotten, worries left behind, as we gazed in wonder at geysers shooting water into the air, pools of boiling hot aquamarine water, bubbling pots of mud, and Bison, elk, and a coyote cavorting in a field. Sunsets and sunrises that amazed the senses, and the sounds and smells of the earth boiling and burping noxious fumes and steam from her bowels to reshape the landscape.

aquamarineWe hiked countless miles, stared at waterfalls that rivaled Niagara, and joked and laughed about the awful smells that coated our skin by the time we returned to the cabin each night. We’ve always been a close-knit family, and Yellowstone brought us even closer, knowing that soon we’d be down to just one child at home, and both girls off on their own. Our family was growing up and leaving us, and that’s as hard on the parents as it is on the kids.

Our time at Yellowstone came to a close much too quickly, and we headed to Bozeman. We moved Elizabeth into her freshman apartment, and discovered that her three other roommates were no longer coming to the school, and she had a roommate she’d never met before. The roommate spent the weekend with her family in a hotel, leaving Elizabeth alone at night. There were tears, phone calls, and texts. We seriously wondered if we could even leave her on Sunday. Did we really not prepare her that much? Could she handle being so far from home? Leaving her behind proved brutal.

the girls yellowstoneLife lesson number 3: Letting go, and keeping in touch

When Samantha left for school two years ago, it was just as hard. We spent the first year texting daily. I ‘got the hint’ the second year when Samantha wouldn’t answer right away, my cue that I was too much helicopter, not enough absent parent. But she felt comfortable texting at 3 am when she was lonely and sad that first year. I must have done something right if she felt she could reach out to me at all hours, especially knowing that I go to bed at 9:30 every night. Elizabeth’s reaching out to us right now as she tries to settle in and make new friends. But that too will change. And that’s good—and bad. It’s hard to let go, and yet still be part of your grown kids’ lives.

I am a geyser, erupting into tears and anger at my aging family, going away and leaving me. I am a deep aquamarine pool, bubbling underneath with worry, but showing a calm surface to the people who need me quiet and reflective. I am a waterfall, letting fears flow past the jagged rocks, cutting deep and carving new places to explore. I hope they still want to come back and explore us—enjoy us– as we grow independent of them, too.

E & nesbitt kids

BIO:  Emilie is a married mom of 3. She currently resides in Bend, OR, where she volunteers with Scouts and school, hikes and camps all around Central Oregon, and tries to keep sane as her family grows and changes around her.

Be the Light: National Suicide Prevention Week


As a writer, some of the work I’m most proud of is the time I spent volunteering with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Serving on the Central Florida Chapter Board of Directors alongside an amazing group of individuals, I created the Life Support Newsletter, working as editor, collecting stories from survivors of suicide.

Listening to the mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, wives, husbands, friends, classmates, and colleagues tell the story of a loved one who had died by suicide, was never easy. But it was here, during these gentle moments, that I learned the most about suicide awareness, prevention, and the harsh reality and effect of the stigma associated with these losses. It is here that stories beginning with loss, ended in hope. It is here that dark turned into light and survival turned into activism.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in the United States in 2010(the most recent year that statistics are available). There were 38,364 reported suicides in 2010. Today numerous organizations—TWLOHA, The Trevor Project, AFSP, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—many spearheaded by survivors, work tirelessly to break the stigma of suicide and mental illness and to promote suicide awareness and prevention by educating the public.

In honor of National Suicide Prevention Week, take a moment to learn more about the warning signs of suicide. Consider volunteering with a local organization. Talk about it. Listen. And tonight at 8pm, join others around the world and light a candle near a window to show your support for World Suicide Prevention Day.

The Final Countdown


I could consider it ironic that my husband and daughter used to sing Europe’s “The Final Countdown” to mark the beginning or end of events. It was one of Bill’s favorite 80s songs and the minute Jordan heard it, she fell in love. They’ve always shared quirky things like that. And back in the day, I laughed and even awaited the chorus when it was almost time for vacation or for a visit from family or something like that. But as it turns out, the 80s are gone and so is the nostalgic flavor of this particular song.

As we navigate Jordan’s final year of high school, Bill and I are bombarded with reminders that it’s only 14 months, 13 months . . . a cute countdown reminder for Christmas but a sad reminder of the end of something beautiful. And I get that right now Jordan doesn’t get it. But it doesn’t make it hurt any less or feel any less brutal when the heaviness of those words hangs in the room.

It’s not that we’re not excited for her. Of course we are.

But the countdown makes it official. The countdown forces me to hit rewind, over and over, stealing glances of her childhood, trying to remember if we got it all right. And even more than that, wondering, did we do enough to wrap her tightly in the knowledge that we loved her in a way that we’ll never love another. And will that knowledge bring with it the confidence she needs to march on successfully without the handholding or the lecturing.

This morning she breezed out the door, peeking back around the corner to remind us, as if she had to, that today’s her last first day of school (required school, she reiterated). I snapped a couple of photos, like I’ve done every year of her school career, and fought back the rush of tears, offering a smile instead.

“Don’t get all emotional and parental, Mom,” Jordan half-joked.

“I’ll write about it,” I replied.

She laughed. We all said I love you. The door closed behind her.

I didn’t rush to the kitchen window, as I’ve done every year since she was six, to take a photo of her walking away. I didn’t ask her to text me once she arrived at school. I didn’t remind her to grab breakfast or eat a good lunch, protein never uttered from my lips, not even once. I didn’t tell her to be safe. I didn’t ask when she’d be back home.

Thirty minutes later the sarcastic text, “Yay School,” pops up on my phone.  And I know she’s arrived, safe and sound. 3-2-1, lift off . . .


Total Ellipse of the Heart

are-you-readyThe elliptical machine and I have a complicated relationship. Days go by without so much as a passing glance between the two of us. And when we do “share a moment,” it’s hard to gauge how things will end up at the end of the date. I want to love it, but I’m afraid of commitment.

What can I say? I’m a player. I’m guilty of yo-yo exercising. One week I’m hot and heavy, working out, feeling the burn, and loving every minute of it. The next week . . . well, not so much. An old knee injury makes running, another past love interest, a true challenge. I do run occasionally, but I’m unable to give it my all the way I’d like to. So I alternate exercises, trying to push past the monotony of same old same old. I’m not a one exercise kind of girl. And that’s where the elliptical came into my life.

The first time I tried it, my teenage daughter, Jordan, actually introduced us, and walked me through the steps of setting up a basic workout. I couldn’t help noticing how comfortable she was with her elliptical–taking breaks to adjust her iPhone settings, brush hair out of her eyes or grab a sip of water. She and her elliptical were a team. Jealousy grew as I watched their ease with one another. Too much pressure. I swore I’d never double date again.

I almost fell twice, trying to adjust my feet just right, because, well, I didn’t want to fall off. As sweat pulsed through my pores so did the worry over fainting or crumbling into a heap on the gym floor, my spaghetti noodle legs dangling over the side of the machine, a true metaphor for defeat. All of the other people in the gym looked compatible with their machines. Was it just me? When the workout ended, I strolled out of the gym, playing it cool, without even a second glance at my machine.

The next day I jumped back on. Steady, steady, I whispered to myself, trying to gain my balance and composure while maneuvering the beast. Although the work out felt harder than the first time, I assumed it was normal for the second day. My legs burned, my entire body trembled but I continued on, remembering “no pain no gain.” Nearing the end of my workout, Jordan walked in and hopped on the machine next to me but stopped and stared. I knew the look on her face well–that embarrassed look she’d get whenever I did something she thought was totally uncool, like singing all of the words to “Ice Ice Baby” in front of her friends.

“Have you been working out like this the entire time?” She asked in amazement.

“Yes,” I answered, “Why?” I looked down to where she pointed, recognizing the awkward movement of my feet.

She leaned in to me. “You’ve been doing the elliptical backwards.”

Explaining later that the pain I felt while working out meant that I wasn’t doing something right–”it should never hurt,” she said–Jordan gave me some tips on working through the awkwardness of learning a new piece of equipment, especially one so complex as the Elliptical.

For a time, I did everything to avoid meeting up with the elliptical. I wasn’t ready. I ran stairs, walked and jogged my neighborhood, worked out with weights and if I’m putting it all out there, did nothing on many days. All the while, longing for one more chance to make it right.

I’m back in the game again. It’s only been a few days, and I’m still 100% awkward and uncomfortable on the elliptical. I continue to watch others with their ellipticals, hoping for pointers in making my relationship better, stronger. This time I’m in with both feet, feet that are moving forwards not backwards. And when I play our song–yes, we have a song–I forget about all of the baggage, the missteps, the awkwardness, and simply hold on, enjoying the bumpy ride and anticipating another day of discovering the nuances of the elliptical and myself. After all, isn’t that how love begins?

7 Ways To Find Yourself After Losing Your Job

New Haven Harbor Light
New Haven Harbor Light

Layoffs, poor economy, budget cuts . . . words that look less intimidating when we see them in the news but show their brutality once they belong to you. We moved to New York because of an incredible job opportunity for my husband, and now, several years later, the job no longer exists. Days turn into weeks and eventually into months, and the weight of unemployment takes its toll, pulling us under. I can’t deny that I’ve allowed it to affect me on more than one occasion, especially when I witness it delicately devour Bill.

Who knows how long this will last. And because of that reality, we’ve been working on strategies to battle the disappointment and the unknown. Having this simple plan of action provides a sense of normalcy to the situation. Just this past week Bill’s gone on several interviews and he’s talking to recruiters—on these days he feels optimistic. And in between the hard work it takes to find a new job, he’s had time to visit his sister in Pittsburgh, road trip it with our daughter for a college tour, and reconnect with his wife over badminton, batting cages, and bike rides. Not a bad way to spend his days.

Stay Calm with a Daily Routine

Between retelling the tale and spending hours applying for one job, keeping your head as Kipling encouraged seems a bit out of reach. Try to keep a daily routine. And dedicate a specific block of time to job searching. That way you’re not spending all of your time in the role of jobseeker. Take a few moments each day to meditate, sit in silence or listen to a favorite song. Just give yourself that chill moment.


Researchers have long known that major life events like losing a job require time to grieve. No shame, no guilt in releasing all of your emotions. Let it out. Allow yourself that gift.

3.     And then move on

Wearing your loss on your lapel only weighs you down. People in general, but especially employers, are drawn to those who are positive, happy and confident.

4.     Socialize

Embrace your circle of friends. Now more than ever you need to laugh and connect with the people in your life.

5.     Cocoon

Don’t feel guilty about those days you just want to chill at home with a pizza and a movie.

6.     Plan for the future

We all need things to look forward to in life. Make plans for small things, like a night out or a staycation. Continue discussing the future and your 5-year, 10-year and 15-year plan.

7.     Embrace the moment

Yes, embrace it. Use this time wisely. Go outside more. Get in shape. Read. Keep a journal. Spend time with family. Connect with colleagues. Reconnect with your passion. Treat your unemployment as an opportunity.

Follow Your Bliss

Me-Shell Mijangos, SwellWomen Founder

A planned trip around the world morphed into a life-changing journey from chaotic New York City living to a humble tent in Maui. Me-Shell Mijangos reignited her passion for yoga, surf and the outdoors which ultimately led to the discovery of a reinvented life centered in bliss. Realigning her priorities in a way most of us only dream about, Mijangos left behind the corporate world to start SwellWomen, a surf camp and wellness retreat for women. Founded in 2003 SwellWomen caters to women of all ages, offering a full service luxury retreat experience, including a variety of activities such as snorkeling, windsurfing, and of course, exploring the Hawaiian Islands . And most recently, SwellWomen added SwellCo-Ed, surf and yoga retreats open to men, women, and couples.

The SwellWomen experience is as much about internal wellness as the external. Mijangos gets it . . . the rat race, the stress, the obligations, the never ending tasks. She’s been there. She’s done it. And now she can show you how to sit back, take a deep breath, and treat yourself to some swell-deserved bliss.

Life of Riley: Much of your career focused on empowering women in some way. Why has that been such an important element of your work life? 

Me-Shell Mijangos: I don’t know really. It’s just something that makes me feel good–there’s a real purpose behind it. I see the strength in women and like seeing women blossom in their personal growth. We (as women) really have so much to offer to other women.

LOR: People dream of leaving behind the chaos of every day life and searching for a more peaceful existence. How were you able to do it?

Mijangos: It was easy for me, I followed my bliss and it led me to Maui. I made some sacrifices to live here, i.e. going from Soho to living in a tent for a month in Maui. Then, I upgraded to a converted garage studio. I was in alignment with my purpose, and even though I was living much more simply than I did in NYC, I was happy. I was happy to be back in nature.

LOR: While you were living in New York, you took a trip around the world, and it turned out to be the trip that changed your life. How did the idea for that trip come to life?

Mijangos: It was a dream of mine that kept on ‘nagging’ at me. I love NYC—it was a wonderful time in my life to be there and it’s a place that I will never forget. However, I knew it wasn’t me to be there. I saved up all my pennies from my corporate job and took off on a wild adventure that I never completed. That’s how I ended up in Maui.

LOR: Why Maui?

Mijangos: The surf, the sunshine, the aloha spirit, the slow paced life, why not? 🙂

LOR: What was the inspiration behind SwellWomen? Tell us more about the company.

Mijangos: During my trip around the world, the first stop was in Costa Rica to participate in a yoga teacher training program. It was there that I started to teach fellow yogis and yoginis how to surf. I took the concepts and poses of yoga and transferred them onto the surfboard. I really enjoyed teaching and using yoga as a teaching tool. Fast forward to Maui, I ended up getting a summer job as an assistant director at a teen surf camp. While I was there, my ideas of owning a wellness retreat that incorporated two of my passions—surfing and yoga—began to take shape. I knew Maui was the place for that to happen!

LOR: Who are the women joining your retreats? Is there a specific SwellWoman?

Mijangos: Our SwellWomen come from all over the world and range from 19 (our youngest) to 68 (our oldest). They are from all walks of life from business owner, doctors, CEOs, full time moms, and everything in between. One thing in common is their sense of adventure and wellness…I think that’s what draws them to our retreats.

LOR: What do you hope these women take home with them?

Mijangos: I hope these women take home with them more ways to incorporate bliss into their lives. This can range from spending more time on themselves, taking yoga classes, eating more healthy, taking walks, or as extravagant as a career change.

LOR: Have you found your bliss?

Mijangos: …yes, and then some.

LOR: For those who can’t leave their current job or change locations, do you have any empowering tips to help them achieve a form of bliss in everyday life?

Mijangos: Yes, find out what feels good for your body and do more of it. We disconnect so much from ourselves when we get caught up in the rat race of life (I’ve experienced this personally) and we ‘forget’ what brings us bliss or makes us happy. Pay attention. Go play. See what happens. It could be sunshine on your face for a few minutes, a new brand of tea, or taking 5 minutes to be present with your child that can bring you bliss. Blissful moments…they are wonderful.

You can learn more about Me-Shell Mijangos and SwellWomen at Check out the SwellWomen Promo video for a very blissful overview of this amazing adventure. And you can also connect with SwellWomen on Twitter and Facebook.

The Last Oorah

A glass of red Hungarian wine, a heated conversation on letting myself go, and an unbelievably sweet Groupon deal featuring a friend’s fitness studio led me down the road to fitness boot camp.

Standing along the East River, surrounded by a large group of twenty-somethings dressed in the latest lululemon athletic wear, I hold my head high. Decked out in my old Target jogging pants with the faded out crotch and an unraveling waistband—the same tired pants my husband and daughter christened the “uniform pants,” I try to ignore the startling contrast in age, fashion, and physique.

Five minutes in, the trainer introduces himself as G5, asks us to sign in, and then directs us to line up in rows. Before I have a chance to find a comfortable spot, G5 reaches for the whistle dangling from his toned neck in what seems like slow motion and, suddenly, a shrilling sound echoes in my ears. I sprint up the hill desperately trying to stay in front of someone, anyone, so that I will not be last. But last is where I finish each time.

Read the post in its entirety at New York Family Magazine.

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