Young Professional… Lost.

There is a part of this crazy journey that I haven’t acknowledged here yet.

Well, actually, that isn’t quite true.

There is a part of this journey that I’ve been too embarrassed to write about. Yes, embarrassed. Hard to believe coming from someone who has poured her heart into writing about anything and everything, no matter how humiliating, on a very public forum for the past two years, right? Well, this “thing” that I’m referring to is something that has always be a part of my self-concept, a key ingredient to my own perception of my self-worth. It has been a source of pride, of motivation, of identity. And now, in the last few months, that piece of me has vanished. So for the sake of the giant empty space in this Floridian room where an elephant should be, here it is…

My career.

Or current lack thereof.

I’m going to have a moment of self-pity. A giant, dramatic, cry-me-a-river-and-build-a-bridge, world’s-smallest-violin MOMENT and let it out: I’ve been struggling, I’ve been lost, and I’m not entirely sure what to do with myself.

I could say that I’ve made a lot of sacrifices for Bill and the unbelievable career move that brought us to Florida. I left my friends, my family, my beloved San Luis Obispo, my job that I loved and that loved me back. Not to mention my heart-of-hearts home state, for whom I cry grizzly bear-sized tears from the NorCal stars in my eyes and for whom I bleed In-N-Out special sauce through the map of my “5 to the 505 to the 80 to the 680 to the 101” veins. Oh yeah, and about whom no one in Florida really cares too much. I swear, I find myself wanting to go so SNL on everyone I meet that they know without a doubt I’m a “Californian”. 

I could say that I sacrificed all of that, but that wouldn’t be fair. Bill and I made the decision together, and this adventure is the bed we made. So I can either lie in it, tossing and turning all night, or I can put on my big girl pajamas and sleep well knowing there is nothing in this world I am lacking. I still have my family, I still have my friends. San Luis Obispo hasn’t moved, and neither has California.

However, there is still that pesky gnawing in my brain that just won’t quit. The unfortunate fact is that I cannot pick up the phone and call my career to tell it how much I miss it. It’s has been eating me alive.

So what’s been happening? First, a little back story. During undergrad, I had the privilege of studying what I loved. For me, that was Psychology and Theatre Arts, which in the real world is also known as Volunteering and Bartending. I’ve never known exactly what I wanted to do, per say, but I always knew that I would find it at the end of my passions. As a college student, I worked part-time at a local pet store, then Petsmart, followed by a brief stint at Victoria’s Secret, and lastly at the Children’s Center on my university’s campus while interning in the Gender Equity Center. Fast forward to right after graduation, and you’ll find me teaching kindergarten with some respite work on the side. The teaching job was on a 1000-hour contract, and when that ran out, well, I found myself right back to the drawing board. A random encounter with a former supervisor led me to a grad program, to which I applied. At the same time wanting to make a bit of money and explore my second major, I looked into jobs at our local news station and promptly landed a job in advertising sales. Right after starting, I found out that I got into grad school. In the scheme of things, I made a swift exit from sales and cracked the books again for my MA in Counseling and Guidance for Higher Education. During those two ragged, exhausting years, I interned with the sexual assault resource, the orientation program, the study abroad office, and Career Services, all on campus. Upon graduation, luck would have it that a counselor position opened up at the site of newfound passion, and I started my position as the Career Counselor for the College of Liberal Arts a few months after being hooded.

Best. Job. Ever. 

I had found a calling. I loved my job, I loved my students, I loved my coworkers, I loved my office, I loved my WORK. It was the first time this had ever really happened to me, this whole “do what you love, love what you do” thing. It felt great.

Now, I know you know how that story goes. A little over one year from my official full-time start date, I am now unemployed and in Florida – two of the very last things I ever expected to be. 

Making the decision to move was a very tough one, especially for me but also for Bill too. A lot was going to change so drastically, and although he had a new and exciting job, he had to live with watching his wife leave many things behind. Now, I haven’t experienced that myself, but I can see it in his eyes when I mention missing my friends or work through not contributing financially out loud or fighting being the one responsible for all the cleaning and maintenance and cooking and stocking of the fridge. But here we are, and I am missing my friends and working through a lack of contribution and fighting being responsible for our everyday lives, all while applying for jobs and networking like crazy.

You see, things are not quite going according to plan. At least for me.IMG_6403

When we first started dating, we had talked about the day that would come when we had to choose between San Luis Obispo (and all that it represents for me) and Bill’s career. At that time three years ago, in the car on the way to catch a flight at the Minneapolis airport, I stated that once I graduated from grad school, I wouldn’t be tied down to a job, and I would have my master’s degree in hand. I could get a job, easy, and this all sounded like an adventure that I couldn’t wait to go on. So Bill renewed his contract for two more years while I finished up. We got married a month after graduation.

But then he didn’t get a job right away, and opportunities in California opened up right before my eyes. Opportunities that I wanted to grab but didn’t know if I should since we might be leaving, but that I grabbed anyway because we might be leaving and couldn’t know for sure. So I applied for that dream job and ultimately got it. Once I did, I worried about accepting it. What if I accept and Bill gets a call next month? It was stressing me out. I did accept, and I had an amazing, amazing year there. A year of experience added to my resume that, with that same master’s degree, meant that I was set. 

Or so I thought.

I resigned from that position on June 30th. It is now a week into September, and I’ve been job hunting since May. No job. It’s all been a mystery, really. I have been targeting all the higher education institutions in the area with major emphasis on two in particular. Of course, there weren’t any career counselor positions, knowing that of course I wouldn’t be lucky enough to continue with my passion after 26 years of searching, but there are some great schools around here. As long as I’m working with students, I’m happy. The jobs I first started applying for were the ones that I read the job descriptions and the minimum requirements and thought, “I just might be able to get this.” In other words, they were at the top of my reach with the qualifications I was bringing with me, and testing out the job market, I thought that Florida couldn’t be any harder to break into than Cal Poly. But then I kept getting emails stating that I didn’t make it through HR – the first step in the application process in the higher education. They look at your degrees and your experience, and everyone who meets those minimum requirements gets through to the selection committee, regardless of how good your materials are. You meet it, you make it. I could have written my experience out in crayon, and as long as I meet the basic criteria, I make it through the first round. So back to getting the rejection email, nobody read all that work I put into my many custom resumes, my cover letters, my awesome letters of recommendation… In fact, nobody even looked at them.

Well, I took those first couple hits as a reality check, and maybe the market is more competitive than I thought. Time to step up my game even more. So I didn’t get a director position? At least I tried. As other jobs started popping up, I began climbing down the ladder. Surely I’ll get this assistant director position. Or that one. Or this job at this obscure school over there. Or maybe at that one? What is going on here? Can I please have a job?!?!

Now, I don’t want to sound pompous here, but I’m a career counselor. My area of expertise is to help people clarify their life purpose, define their career goals, work through the job search, and much more – the very basic of which is composing a compelling resume and cover letter. I know how to do these things, and do them well. I spend hours crafting targeted resumes, rearranging my experiences in terms of relevance and scouring the job description for ways to substitute their language for mine. I have countless files on my computer labeled by institution/department/job title, each containing a separate document for every piece of the application. My cover letters are the stuff of which dreams are made. So with all of these pulled up, I’ve called HR many times for feedback. “Hello, I recently applied for ______ position and didn’t make it through HR. I was under the impression that I met the minimum requirements. Do you have any feedback for me?” Then we nitpick each part of my application and why I didn’t meet the easy-peasy minimum requirements, and then there is nothing left I can do so I hang up the phone and sulk for a minute before throwing hellfire and brimstone into the next application, practically burning a hole through my computer with fury as I compose that next magnificent cover letter. 

IMG_6404The last straw came a few weeks ago. I applied for a job at one of the aforementioned university that required a bachelor’s and two years of experience. Well, I have two bachelor’s degrees, a master’s degree, and four years of related experience. Sounds promising, right? Despite the meticulousness I put in to yet another set of materials, I got that dreaded rejection letter AGAIN, and this time I’d had it. I emailed the head of the hiring committee, who I had just shaken hands with the week before, and got no response. I called HR yet again, and I tried everything I could think of before the sweet, sweet lady on the other end of the phone lowered her voice and said, “Well, we actually don’t count master’s degrees or graduate internships as experience here.” I’m sorry… WHAT?!?!? 

I just about blew a gasket. Had an aneurysm. Broke out in hives. Exploded into a million tiny little pieces due to internal pressure.

You have GOT to be kidding me. She basically had just told me that instead of spending two years running in a goddamn hamster wheel of stress, exhaustion, and mental Iron Man competitions – you know, those two years where I gave up my social life and cried more than I didn’t cry and forgot what sleeping was and yelled at Bill for no reason and missed out on amazing things so I could sit at home in sweats and write endless research papers on waitforit HIGHER EDUCATION – and instead of busting my ass working 40 hours a week at the university where they can only pay you close to minimum wage for only half those hours and INSTEAD OF SPENDING THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS ON A PIECE OF PAPER THAT WOULD ENSURE ME PROFESSIONAL SECURITY… Well, I should have just gone to work. Welcome to the last few years of my life, invalidated. 

And then to make matters worse, she added, “You should start applying for positions that require less experience.” Wait, less than those positions that according to your website I should technically be overqualified for? I’m confused. 

Look, it’s not that I should have gotten those jobs. It’s not that I think I’m entitled and some sort of super-professional. A lot of them are now filled, and probably with people who could be a much better fit than me. I know this. But at least give me a chance to show you why I think I could be a great asset. At least read those PDFs that I poured my occupational heart and soul into. But no, I am being held at the gate while I watch everyone else walk proudly through to their new positions, paychecks, and health benefits.

So what now? Well, I’m at a crossroads, but not really, because none of those paths seem to be going anywhere. I did a phone interview that went well, and I’m waiting to hear back. I’m working on my real estate license again, which I’ve wanted to do for years. I’ve been hunting for the perfect fixer house to throw myself into, which proves difficult when you don’t know your area. I’ve been hanging out with some new friends, and I just went to brunch on a Monday. I’ve been reading all the books that have been piling up, decorating and redecorating, cooking (affordable) gourmet meals, and laying on the floor face-up staring at the ceiling.

IMG_6411Doesn’t that all sound great?

Well, it should. However, it seems I haven’t been able smack myself into accepting it. I’ve had this time to distress and relax and catch up, but instead I’ve been digging my heels into the ground and resisting what is. I’ve been worried about the gap on my resume and concerned for the leaps we aren’t making in our savings and buying into all the outsider comments of how this may be the perfect opportunity to start a family when we are not quite there yet. If I could just let go of all it – the anxiety, the guilt, the confusion, the embarrassment – this could actually be a very productive time. The most productive, even. I could get healthy again and accomplish cool things. I could keep educating myself and become a Pinterest rockstar. (Fishtail braids and gallery wall domination have already taken place.) And I could just keep trying and do the best that I can and enjoy life as it is.

But it’s just so hard.

If I’m being honest, though, the hardest part hasn’t been everything I’ve been ranting about for the last five pages. The hardest part has been looking in the mirror this morning and having to face who I really am. It’s been figuring out how to deal with the thoughts in my head and the feelings in my heart without having a deadline to throw myself into or a button-up and heels to hide behind. It’s been about defining myself by my personality, my intellect, and my spirit instead of my profession. Nowadays we really do identify our worth through what it is that we do instead of who it is that we are. I’m mean, think about it. The first question we ask when introducing ourselves or making small talk is “What do you do?” Shouldn’t it be “Who are you?”

So who am I, if not my job? Well, I suppose I am a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a lover, a giver, a caretaker, an artist, a storyteller, an athlete, a big heart, a listening ear, and a kind smile. I am me.

So I guess in the meantime, while waiting for this whole job thing to work itself out, maybe it’s time to shift my focus. Maybe this is a great time to concern myself instead with all those things that I am, instead of all of those things I am currently not. That, it seems, may just be the real secret to getting ahead – and the best kept one, indeed.

Advertisements

Brunch Me: Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Goat Cheese Frittata

I know that Mother’s Day was more than a week ago. However, I hope that this is more of a testament to how much what I am going to write about is so freaking delicious that I’m still thinking about it 12 days later and less of incriminating evidence as to how long it took me to actually get my act together to write this.  Benefit of a doubt here, my friends.

So what the hell am I talking about? Well, my lovelies: THIS.

20140523-093943.jpg

Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato and Goat Cheese Frittata!

Many of you know that I live too far from my family to visit for a typical weekend, what with a 7-hour drive either way and no financially feasible flight options between San Luis Obispo and Redding. Seriously, check it out. It’s absurd. What this means around this particular time of year is that I miss my mom terribly on Mother’s Day. I call her multiple times, I send her plenty of cards, and this year I ordered her a curated album of our wedding pictures. I’m sure she feels the love, but something is still missing here on the lonely mom-less Central Coast. So what’s a daughter to do? Well, that’s where the extreme kindness that is my beautiful friend Danae comes in.

Danae grew up in the area, so she is lucky to have her own family close and local. Her husband Matt’s parents live a few hours south, and a quick drive up the coast is all it takes. Knowing that my family is ridiculously far away and that Bill was going to be at work, and being the amazing event/wedding planner that she is, Danae extended an invitation to join her family’s Mother’s Day celebration at their home. The theme: Brunch for dinner!

The only stipulation (which let’s be real, if I hadn’t complied I still would have been let through the door) was that I make something to contribute. Wanting to put my new cast iron baby – I mean, skillet – to good use, I immediately blurted the word “frittata” so loudly that I would have elicited concerned stares had I been in public. Being gluten-free myself (and note: we’re trying to work certain types of dairy back into my diet, including cheeses and goat milk products), it was easy to tailor the project to the other dietary restrictions and preferences present, which let me tell you, was quite a few. I figured that I couldn’t go wrong with eggs, kale, sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese, so I threw them all together and headed over to the Pearce’s house for an evening of gourmet brunch food, champagne, and the love of family – even if it wasn’t “my own”.

We started off by gathering in the kitchen, which as per usual was styled to the nines for the occasion. Danae had brought home roses from her event the night before and laid out the most beautiful table setting in soft feminine pinks and whites.

20140523-093816.jpg

No brunch would be complete without champagne, of course. But to be honest, it seems that no matter where I go I find the stuff, since my general affinity for bubbly has transformed from a preference to a lifestyle. Good thing Danae and I are extensions of one another – or soul mates, as I prefer to call us – so she was ready, bottle already chilling and incorporated into the decor.

20140523-093830.jpg

A special occasion calls for unique touches, so leave it to Danae to offer a splash of St. Germaine Elderflower Liqueur in our glasses to class the champagne up further, it that’s even possible. Magnifique.

20140523-093803.jpg

I have mentioned before that Danae and her husband own their own businesses with Danae Grace Events and Old San Luis BBQ Co., respectively. So while Danae had set the scene, Matt was chopping, whipping, and sauteing up a storm in the kitchen. In addition to my frittata, he created a custom crepe bar, which included ordering up Bacon + Spinach + Feta, Caprese, Chicken Curry, or Sweet Nutella and Strawberry crepes. And go figure, he preceded to pour the batter, fill her up, and fold it right before your eyes before plopping it directly on the plate in your hand. Add into the mix roasted red potatoes and homemade ebelskivers, and we found our eyes and our stomachs in a bewildered state of pure bliss.

20140523-093752.jpg

So while I totally and completely wish I was capable of assembling such a fete on my own, I most definitely cannot. But I can tell you that I already have plans to recreate my frittata this weekend so that we may devour the whole thing ourselves in the Halter household. You’ll find my recipe below!

Kale, Sun-Dried Tomato & Goat Cheese Frittata

Ingredients

  • 2 cups torn fresh kale
  • 1 medium onion, cut in half and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 9 eggs
  • Few dashes salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup drained oil-packed julienned sun-dried tomatoes
  • 2 oz. crumbled goat cheese (such as Trader Joe’s)

Directions

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Heat olive oil in a cast iron skillet (or nonstick, oven-safe skillet) over medium heat. Add kale and onion and cook about 10 minutes until onion is tender, stirring frequently.20140523-093923.jpg
  3. Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, salt, and pepper in medium bowl.20140523-093903.jpg
  4. Pour over cooked  kale and onion  mixture in skillet. Reduce heat to medium-low heat and cook.
  5.  While egg mixture begins to set, use a spatula to run around the edge of the skillet, tilting the pan so the uncooked egg mixture flows underneath. Continue lifting edge until egg is almost set but still shiny and moist.
  6. Sprinkle sun-dried tomatoes and goat cheese over eggs.
  7. Broil in oven close to heat until eggs are set (about 1 to 2 minutes).
  8. Cut into wedges to serve.Voilà! Free-tah-tah.

20140523-093933.jpg

So there you have it! An easy-peasy frittata that can be whipped up in minutes BUT will bring in the accolades of hours spent in the kitchen. Believe me, I know… I could not for the life of me convince the entire party that my contribution didn’t take much no matter how hard I tried, and I’ve been told on more that one occasion that I could sell a ketchup popsicle to a woman in white gloves – er, something – sooooo….

Anyway, this was a great choice to bring to a party…

20140523-093848.jpg

… and it’s just as good for a quiet breakfast at home the next day. Happy frittata-ing!

❤️ On The Inside ❤️

“Call your mother and tell her you love her… After all, you are the only one who knows what her heart sounds like on the inside.” – Unknown, borrowed from Lorna Jane

It’s Mother’s Day! I personally love love love this day, since the only reason it exists is to celebrate the most important woman in anyone’s life – their mama. I could gush on and on and on about how much I owe my mom, for all the times she fed me her famous teriyaki flank steak, rushed me to the emergency room (more than once) for horrifying accidents, brought me one of my favorite teddy bears back from her longest trip, cried when we finally found the perfect wedding dress, or dropped everything and took care of me for an entire week after my eye surgery. Oh yeah, or that she is always there and the first person I call anytime anything happens to me, whether I got a new job or degree or fiancé… or there’s a giant bug in the house and Bill’s not home. She listens when I need her to. She offers the best advice: “Here’s what you do. You pour yourself a glass of wine and contemplate the state of your affairs.” She is my biggest fan, whether on the soccer field or the stage or even this silly blog.

I could tell you all of that, but instead, I’ll just tell her this:

Mama, I love you so much. You mean the world to me. I don’t know who or what or where I would be without you. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart – and the inside of yours.

20140511-081318.jpg

So while today is about celebrating my mama, I also know quite a few other incredible mamas who deserve shout-outs today! Here is my list of inspiring moms who I admire, cherish, and celebrate on a day like today.

First, my fabulous beyond belief grandmother Mary-Ellen Martin, with her amazing sense of humor, her wealth of stories, and her passion for life!

20140511-081339.jpg

Nanny, my paternal grandmother, who taught me what it means to truly enjoy family through home-cooked meals, piano lessons, fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies, evening card games, the Price is Right, and being the best babysitter EVER!

20140511-082046.jpg

Sue, my sent-from-heaven step-mom with her contagious laugh, her gourmet food, her light spirit, her designer jeans, and a bigger heart than any woman I have ever met… How is it that someone you’ve just met can instantly feel like family? It’s hard to believe it’s been 8 years since she danced her way into our lives!

Halter-403

If there is one bet I will always make, it’s that I am the luckiest girl with the best mother-in-law. Nancy Halter has welcomed me in to her, her son’ life, and her one-of-a-kind family with the most open arms. Without her kind words, warm heart, and Minnesota recipes, my life would be a lot less cozy.

20140511-081332.jpg

My sister Jessica, who stole my heart from the beginning. I want to bake with her, run with her, watch zombie movies with her, drink wine with her, and laugh with her every single day of my life. Not to mention she’s responsible for bringing my nephew Tyler into this world… A huge piece of my heart lives in San Diego on a permanent basis.20140511-081311.jpg

And where would I be without JJ, my matron-of-honor? As one of the bravest, smartest, and – let’s face it – hottest women I know, it has been such an honor to have her by my side on big days and small days, wedding days and every days. I am so grateful for her friendship, her openness, her advice, and her love, and for one of the most amazing experiences in my life holding Audrey less than 24 hours after her birth. And if anyone doubts JJ for a second, you better believe that while I was holding that brand new baby, she said, “It really wasn’t that bad! Let’s do it again!” when I asked her about childbirth. She is one bad-ass woman.

20140511-081346.jpg

These women are my biggest sources of inspiration, today and every day. They remind me what is really important, they teach me the true meaning of love, they hold me up when I can’t do it on my own, and they brighten my existence. Seeing the lives these women lead inspires me in every way, and they make it hard to wait until I can join their ranks. Until then though, I will reap their rewards and share in their joy, one little one at a time.

Halter-087

Don’t we look good together? Audrey, you slay me.

xo

 

Weekending: Run or Dye!

I am a child at heart. And not just a child, but an awestruck puppy-hugging, rainbow-chasing, bubble-blowing, anything-with-sprinkles-loving small child. So imagine the squealing that was going on inside the composed grown-up shell we call my outward appearance when THIS happened:

Are you kidding me?! A giant party with dancing and loud music and everyone throwing COLORS at each other??? And these people are SOBER?! (Well, for the most part anyway.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say – but my giddiness won’t let me – is that last weekend, Run or Dye came to San Luis Obispo. This is a huge deal. Years ago, I stumbled across the Holi Festival, a Hindu religious festival of color and love, and since then I haven’t been able to get the gorgeous images out of mind. Witnessing this in person was bucket-listed immediately. So as you can imagine, while I am dying to attend the actual Holi Festival in India, the rising popularity of color runs in our culture is definitely something I’ve gotten on board with. However, for some incredibly frustrating reason, I have missed any and all of the sort that have come remotely near my current location, which has resulted in fairly intense depressive episodes any time color run pictures bombard me through Instagram or Facebook. To make sure that this never happened to me again, I took matters into my own hand by Google searching any and all organizations that travel with these events, even sending in my own request to the Color Run to set up shop at the Madonna Inn at some point (no such luck). But I put my name on every list that would give me alerts on when one was coming around, and lo and behold, earlier this year I got my first announcement from Run or Dye. They got my name, they got my number, and they got my money – all in less than two minutes. I’ve never been faster, cheaper, or easier in my entire life.

After so many painful years of waiting, wanting, and anticipating, my dream finally came true.

20140509-114744.jpg

Of course, no color run could be complete without asking yourself, “Which of my amazing friends would be most likely to lose her shit to the same extreme that I will?” and then recruiting said friend to experience wonderland with you. Meet the fabulous Katie, who is by far the closest thing to a small-child-at-heart as I am.

20140509-114733.jpg

Here we are, temporarily clean. Please note the sweetness that is my leggings, courtesy of Forever 21.

20140509-114758.jpg

Oh, the anticipation.

20140509-114806.jpg

The funniest thing about this race is that we were so preoccupied by the “color” part that we almost forgot about the “we-are-running” part. Check out the beautiful El Chorro Regional Park, right off Highway 1 between here and Morro Bay. I will be back here, mutt in tow.

20140509-114822.jpg

In all honesty, I wanted to punch some people because 1) they were walking, and 2) I WANT TO RUN THROUGH THAT. (I didn’t punch anyone.)

Check out this quick video, and be sure to listen for Katie revealing her real age at the end.

BEYOND ADORABLE.

20140509-114831.jpg

Can’t wait for the blue!

20140509-114902.jpg

3.1 mile domination.

20140509-114913.jpg

As it turns out, the run itself was not the greatest deliverer of color, but it was sure as hell so fun to run through it all. The after party, however…

20140509-114937.jpg

…was delightfully out of control, even at 9 a.m. We finally joined up with some of my favorite people – Courtney, Emily, and Ryan – and I’m definitely winning in the “Must Have Rubbed My Face In It” category at this point.

In fact, it got laid on so thick at one point that…

Yes, that was necessary.

20140509-114854.jpg

So there you have it. It has been a LONG time since I have had that much fun or that much permission to let loose. We all agreed afterward that we are all hoping to find one in a bigger city and do it all over again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to relive that?

Now, what is the obvious thing to do after a morning like this? Well, go to brunch of course. In public. At a place that serve mimosas (i.e. classy).

Looking. Like. This.

20140509-114928.jpg

Peace.

 

Weekending: Boots and Ballgowns

Do you ever meet people and have the profound feeling of “these are my people”?

20140410-213121.jpg

This is Katie. She is my people. And her people are my people.

I was lucky enough to get a whole lot of this last weekend. My beautiful and amazing friend Katie is getting married at the end of May, and I was so excited to attend her bachelorette party. Now, Katie is not your typical lady, and this was not your typical bachelorette weekend. In fact, it was a huge but welcome contrast to mine last year in Vegas, which was chock full of the outfits, the decor, and of course, the shenanigans that we come to expect from this type of gathering. Katie knew from that start this wasn’t exactly what she would call her ideal, so last weekend was a little different. First of all, the events of the weekend took place in Placerville, CA. If you have never been to Placerville, picture a small California gold-mining town of about 10,000 people 45 miles northeast of Sacramento. Middle. Of. Nowhere. The buildings are charming and a river runs through it – the only other time I’ve been there was for an ex-boyfriend’s family reunion to white water raft. The second amazingly “Katie” logistical detail of the weekend was that our accommodations were in the form of a rented-out updated Victorian house, complete with parlor and sitting porch, staircases with landings, and original crown molding and wainscoting, among other interior details. Katie and I shared the master bed and bath, but there was plenty of room for the 10 other amazing women on the trip.

Upon arriving at our humble abode on Friday night after a 340-mile drive from San Luis Obispo, I quickly learned I was the first “non-family” person there. I write “non-family” in quotation marks because I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of that thought. I first met Katie when I was 3 years old, and after attending pre-school, kindergarten through 8th grade, high school, AND college with her, it would be an understatement to say we grew up together. We made it through heartbreaks and prom and finals together. She was my first solid memory of a best friend, and her family is my family. Her mom helped me through my first sleepover. I looked up to her older sisters Becky and Julie as if they were my sisters. Her brothers were always at my house. And on many occasion we stifled late night giggles while her dad snored in the next room. She stood next to me as Bill and I said our vows last summer, and I am so excited to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming nuptials. All of this goes to say that arriving at this unfamiliar Victorian and hugging Katie and her mom Annie felt so much like coming home.

I know they felt it too because I was IMMEDIATELY roped into the Pinterest-worthy projects of Becky’s incredible mind. I put my luggage down and got to work helping to pin, sew, and hot glue handmade hair pieces constructed of felt, feathers, buttons, and random bits of tulle. We had a big day the next day, and you simply cannot face such an affair without the proper headpiece. A few more fabulous ladies rolled in around midnight, and I worked until my allergies sent me to my big fluffy resting place and I said my goodnights.

The next morning I awoke to laughter on the floor below. Padding softly down the stairs, I entered the living room to find Becky surrounded by yarn and cheerfully crocheting wine slings at 8:30 a.m. Yes, you read that right. WINE SLINGS. Sheer genius. The woman was making everyone their own apparatus to wear around our necks that completely cradled a wine glass, either full or empty, freeing both hands for any and all mischief we may encounter for the day. Attached to each was a nametag bearing the title of a flower. The plan for the weekend was to travel around the county attending a wine festival, and since Becky was unsure of the guest list at the time she purchased the tickets, she registered everyone as flora. Katie designated me Gardenia, and a new persona was born. And so we spent the rest of the morning fueling up on breakfast and Propel, primping, and dressing ourselves in – you guessed it – boots and ballgowns.

The Tales from the Cellar Wine Passport Weekend was about to go down, and our short bus was waiting for us.

20140410-212600.jpg

The beautiful bride in her $26 thrift store wedding dress, so proud of her chariot for the day.

20140410-212928.jpg

Arriving at our first stop of Nello Olivo, we knew the day was going to be a good one. A winery housed in a huge Victorian, servers dressed in top hats, unlimited wine, and appetizers such as steamed clams and gourmet meatballs… What did we just walk into?! Heaven is the answer, my friends. Heaven.

20140410-212553.jpg

It wasn’t long before the wigs started coming out (thanks to Annie’s fabulously spirited friend Francie, in the red wig… for now), yet we still managed to look this classy by the second winery.

20140410-212547.jpg

At this point, by winery three or four, we were still focused enough to notice and appreciate the beauty of being out in the country. This is Jennie, modeling the gorgeousness that was the landscaping at a Don Quixote-themed winery. Not pictured: the choreographed dance we performed in the courtyard to the tune of Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” just minutes after this was taken.

20140410-212625.jpg

As you can see, the wigs became much more of a “thing” as the day went on. That is a group of ladies who are ENJOYING themselves.

20140410-212522.jpg

And blonde became a new thing, too. You will notice, however, that my champagne bottle is unopened… My allergies were so terrible that I decided to ease off on the partaking throughout the day. The didn’t stop me, however, from fully embracing the blonde.

20140410-212515.jpg

Things, of course, got a little rowdier as the day wore on, but I just love this picture because you can just feel the vibe of the day. No pressure, no drama, just pure amazingness. It really was a celebration of Katie, and we were all so grateful to be involved.

20140410-212538.jpg

Look at that face. Just look at it. It is amazing to see someone you love so much THIS happy.

And so the day ended with pizza from a small local pizzeria that had only seven types of pizza on their menu. (If you’re wondering what the GFDF like me did, I ate a bowl of cold marinara sauce. No joke. They ONLY had pizza.) An older couple we didn’t know joined us on the street and bought the whole party several bottles of wine.We wandered into a dive bar with a few lonely patrons silently nursing their drinks, saw the sad small town Saturday night state the place was in, and immediately cranked the jukebox. Dance party ensued. Katie acquired a pink unicorn stick horse at some point, which we named Cornelius. We cut cake at the house. And then we all changed into our cozies and cuddled up to watch Katie open presents. One of those presents was Frozen, which we popped into the DVD player immediately until we all eventually headed off to bed.

So that was it. By the time we all packed up on Sunday after eating breakfast and watching Frozen – yes – again, the general consensus was that it will be hard to wait another 5 or 6 weeks until the wedding because that’s how long it will be until this family comes back together.

And until the wigs come back out. Francie pulled me aside as I said my fare-thee-wells, and let’s just say that Gardenia may be making another appearance in the near, near, possibly inappropriate future. But until then…

20140410-212608.jpg

What happens in Placerville, stays in Placerville.

My New Favorite Toy

Okay, so my mom is a genius.

I’ve gone on and on about a certain breakfast food item in the past few weeks, and you’ve generally heard it all in the form of whining/general sadness in the disappearance of said deliciousness from my diet. Well, GUESS WHAT EVERYONE. The only thing better that waffles is…

Mini. Waffle. Sticks.

Boom.

20140327-163637.jpg

Unsure of how exactly one makes a cake sans dairy or gluten, my mom rolled my celebratory dessert into an amazing little gift. So amazing, even, that I’m still giddy about it 16 days later.

Here it is: My Bella Waffle Stick Maker. (In purple here.)

20140327-163547.jpg

Little red masterpiece.

20140327-163614.jpg

We started with the most  basic gluten- and dairy-free waffle mix to be found.

20140327-163532.jpg

The Cravings Place All-Purpose Pancake and Waffle Mix is SO easy (just add water until the consistency of batter… no measurement required!), but also the perfect start for making fun addition to simple straight-forward waffles. As you may have picked up from the first picture, I love to douse my waffles in gallons of honey, which was a great addition. However, next time I would love to play around with adding vanilla or cinnamon or banana or pumpkin spice to the batter or topping with something fun like berries or nuts.

20140327-163558.jpg

Obviously I didn’t put enough batter in the first time, but they still came out crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, which is my general definition of waffle… well, PERFECTION.

20140327-163649.jpg

Beauties, if I do say so my carb-loving self.

20140327-163702.jpg

Again – and you knew this was coming – everything always tastes better when you make it with someone else. New waffle-making memories with my mama! The other best part? This little machine was so easy and mess-free, I can produce a not-your-run-of-the-mill breakfast in 10 minutes, tops. This will be happening. Often.

20140327-163713.jpg

So good. George wants waffles, too.

 

 

A Milestone Birthday

Last Tuesday, I had a birthday. A coworker held the door open for me upon arriving at my place of work. While walking together down the hall to our offices, she asked if it was a milestone birthday.

Without hesitation, I answered, “Yup! 27. The best year ever.”

She laughed, and I did too, because laughing is great. But it was the absolute truth. I do fully intend to make 27 the best one yet. So with that, I am kicking off a year of living simply, loving to the fullest, and being present. Also known as… The Best Year Ever. So here are the highlights from the day that’s the start of one for the books!

20140319-143257.jpg

I’m not one to post selfies, but when another fabulous coworker exclaimed, “You’re one of those people who dresses up for your birthday!” upon first seeing me at 8:30 a.m., I realized, why yes. I am. So here is the outfit I chose for the (professional) occasion, including my new favorite skirt from The Limited.

20140319-143250.jpg

My favorite accent piece of the day? The gift from my brother and sister-in-law – the Kate Spade Skinny Mini Bow Bracelet. (Similar here.)

20140319-143305.jpg

One of our new traditions at work: Bringing in treats on your birthday, just like back in elementary school. With not much of a sweet tooth and a massive savory one, I opted for bagels (gluten-full and gluten-free) and cream cheese (dairy-full and dairy-free) for my morning front-office celebration. In true high style, I even brought the toaster.

20140319-143312.jpg

Pink. Sprinkles. Office door surprise. They know me well.

20140319-143320.jpg

I don’t know which was better: the beautiful white calla lilies one of my colleagues brought me or the hilarious story of her traipsing through her garden before dawn to retrieve them (complete with enthusiastic reenactment).

20140319-143328.jpg

I stayed at work until exactly noon, then headed home to shed the office attire and slip into my laid-back uniform of my most comfortable of maxi dresses. I wasn’t the only one eager to begin the festivities – Indy wanted in too, as you can probably tell by the look on her face searching for any possibility for a W-A-L-K.

20140319-143345.jpg

The first stop was an escape to the gorgeous Kelsey See Canyon Vineyards for a picnic, peacocks, and their amazing apple wines. Danae and her husband Matt disappeared with us, guaranteeing great company in the 75 degree weather of the beautiful Central Coast.

20140319-143336.jpg

And what could possibly be my #1 most coveted birthday lunch? A salad from New Frontiers‘ salad bar, which fell from the salad bar gods in salad bar heaven to bless even the most blaspheming of salad-bar-non-believers with salvation from their evil ways. Converts you all will be, I swear on all that is green and holy.

20140319-143353.jpg

The big man himself was able to finagle his way out of work for the occasion, and we actually got to wine taste together! Small victories, everyone.

20140319-143410.jpg

My greatest wish for this day was to park it next to the ocean, surrounded by friends and margarita in hand. One of the best places to do this is happy hour at Marisol at the Cliffs Resort in Shell Beach. In the background you see Robert, Jeff and Jessica, as well as the nose of my most loved one in the top right corner. In the back-background, you see open sky, open ocean, and palm trees. In the foreground you see the remains of a slowly sipped shot of reposado and a strawberry margarita, planted firmly on the table directly in front of me. Read: HAPPINESS.

20140319-143424.jpg

Genuine relaxation is my greatest wish for any of my friends, but especially for Danae and Matt who work so hard owning their own wedding styling/coordinating business and restaurant, respectively.

20140319-143433.jpg

Sunshine and salt water are the best medicine.

20140319-143439.jpg

And so the sun set on another wonderful first day of the rest of my life. However, the sun has not set – and will not if I have anything to do with it – on my intentions to live fully for the next 51 weeks.

“And she believed that she could so she did.”