Unafraid to Beg

For a while I was one of those who heard the latest news of whatever horrific thing had happened on a given day, and for a moment I ached on the inside. But by the next day, a new and tragic occurrence became national news, and the ache of the day before faded and a new one took its place.

However, somewhere along the way, the aching fog ceased to evaporate before the new storm rolled in, and day built upon day built upon taxing, trying day. Slowly yet surely, 2015 has become the year of my broken heart. From mass shootings to suicide bombings, from corrupt politics to religious extremists, from scarcity of resources to lack of access, and to wars on everything from terrorism to drugs to poverty to hunger to women to everything in between and more, something in me has changed.

I have come to the place where I am frightened. I am frightened of what is, what has been, and what is to come. Let me begin by saying that I have been a child begging for candy or toys or ice cream. I have been a teenager begging for extended curfews and gas money and the newest clothes. I have been a grown woman begging for Chanel bags and Louboutins and Tiffany’s diamonds and whatever else is sparkly and shiny and will most definitely make me whole. This time. For sure.

However, I have now experienced the true meaning of begging, and I am ashamed.  I am ashamed of my ignorance and my frivolity and my naivety. I am ashamed for all of those times I’ve said “I’m starving” when really just I hadn’t eaten for 3 hours. For all of those times I’ve moaned “Everything hurts and I’m dying” after leg day at the gym. For the times I’ve whined “I have nothing to wear” while standing in a walk-in closet full of $200 jeans and boots and tops. For every time I’ve groaned “I don’t want to go to work” simply because I’d rather be lounging around at home reading US Weekly and watching HGTV. For every time I said “I’m so broke”, but I am quite certain I bought myself a latte from Starbucks that very same morning. For all of those times I yelled “I can’t take that goddamn noise anymore” when the neighbors were being too loud. And for all of those times I’ve uttered “My parents are driving me nuts” when they are just trying to take care of me or pay for something or help me spread my wings and fly.

I am ashamed.

There are souls out there who don’t know where their children’s next meal is coming from, nevermind how they will quell the sound of their own growling stomachs while standing tall in the face of their little ones.

Or who lost their limbs or sight or faces or genitalia or dignity or lives in minefields and gas attacks and acid throwing and “traditional” ceremonies and hate crimes and for simply having the courage to go to school.

Or who walk miles and miles a day without shoes for the possibility of a bucketful of uncontaminated, “clean” water, but only if the pump is working that day.

Or who would gladly trade a day of hard labor, shredding their hands and burning their skin and dehydrating their bodies, just to send $1.50 to the family they’ve left thousands of miles away in war-torn countries who may or may not be alive on the other end to receive the envelope they purchased with what little change they could spare.

Or who sleep under bridges or next to dumpsters or under bushes to find some warmth or stay out of the rain or to not be a “nuisance” to the fine citizens of the upstanding town they love but in which will never feel welcome.

Or who fall asleep at night and wake up in the morning and walk through the streets of their cities to a soundtrack of bombs and artillery and screams of the dying and sobs of the barely surviving whose loved ones will never hold them or be held by them again.

Or finally, who were left on doorsteps or thrown out with the trash or kidnapped by strangers or ripped from their homes and may never have parents to know or to love as they are herded from home to temporary home to be shamed, abused, and scarred until the world kicks them out of a broken system into a mere existence, not a life.

For the majority of my life prior to this moment in time, my upper middle class upbringing indirectly ingrained in me that begging was undignified. It required a lack of pride, a lack of self-respect, and a lack of work ethic. This was never explicitly stated in my household or taught in school, but rather in society’s judgments and prejudices and merciless impositions.

And yet today, I have come to understand the true meaning. Dictionary.com defines “to beg” as “to ask for as a gift, as charity, or as a favor; to ask (someone) to give or do something; to implore”. To me this definition only a fragment of the story. It is lacking a necessary, critical piece.

To those who have truly had to beg, you know that begging does not simply mean to ask. It comes with a sensation that overcomes your whole being mentally, emotionally, and physically. Begging comes with an ache, a throbbing, an excruciating pain deep within not your chest, not your heart, but from within your very SOUL, and you cannot come back from it. To beg comes with a searing need for the most basic good, which should be so easy, so simple, and yet is being withheld for no obvious reason. One that feeds into a circumstance so unfathomable that it shouldn’t exist at all… but there it is in front of you, around you, within everything you see and feel. When every cell in your body, every inch of your skin, every fiber of your being is silently screaming for someone, anyone, to help relieve the unnecessary burden that has become our world, then you will know what it truly means to beg.

So it is with a heavy broken heart, a cloak of humility, and an ocean of tears in my desperate eyes that I beg.

I beg for peace.

I beg for kindness, for goodness, for compassion.

I beg for wisdom, for mindfulness, for patience.

I  beg for courage, for acceptance, for generosity.

And above all, I beg for you to join me.

Begging for Peace

12 Put on then… compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other…14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. – Colossians 3:12-14

A State of the Universe Address

Dear Fellow Citizens of the World,

(With a special shoutout to the general public of the City of Fort Myers, FL)

I think it is time we put this all out on the table. Are you ready? Because this may just rock your world, as it is something I’m not sure you’ve ever been made aware of before.

Here it goes: I am not more important than you, and you are not superior to me. In fact, despite what you’ve been taught, we are existentially equitable. There are even some people, like say the world’s most prominent historical figures, philosophers, thought leaders, and perhaps even your own God, who believe we are all one. In this together. We all suffer, we all bleed red, and the like. Quite the concept, isn’t it?

So, feel free, at any time, to stop aggressively cutting me off daily without so much as a turn signal, purposely ramming my cart with yours at Costco while making eye contact, taking the liberty to physically move me out of your way without so much as an “excuse me”, attempting to walk through me at the supermarket, darting across three lanes of heavy traffic with complete awareness that you are putting yourself before the safety of others, talking over me at any given moment to talk about yourself, aggressively inserting yourself into my space bubble sans invitation just for funsies, and just generally going through life with conscious yet utter disregard for the existence of other human beings.

Yup, that just happened. You can read it again, just in case you don’t believe I actually wrote it. I know it may sound controversial, crazy, ABSURD even… but I’m not worried about your reaction. I’m not concerned you are going to say something stupid or put me down or even run me out of town with pitchforks because, well, you are apparently already trying.

At first, I chalked up your outrageous behavior to cultural differences. Maybe people here are just different than where I grew up, because we sure don’t act like that. Next, I checked the mirror to make sure there was nothing distasteful about my appearance or offensive about my odor. I then did some self-reflection on my own behavior, examining whether or not I may be contributing to such a hostile environment. Finally, I even spent some time assuming that I am more sensitive than most other people and that probably played a huge part in the self-important airs you put off.

Now after all of that, I’m not so sure it’s me anymore. Actually, I’m quite certain it’s you.

I have tried being patient with you. I have tried consulting with those who have managed to be polite, respectful, and all-around-wonderful individuals in this dog-eat-dog world as to what may be going through your egotistical heads. I have tried practicing to maintain a peaceful inner environment while your obnoxiousness wafts through the smug air. I have tried putting vibes of graciousness, gratitude, and benefits-of-a-doubt out in the universe in hopes that like attracts like. I have even tried employing the passive RBF (for those of you who do not have one, I am referring to Resting Bitch Face) that I have been so fortuitously blessed with, in hopes that you will please just leave me the fuck alone.

In summary, I have tried killing you with kindness. However, your thoughtlessness and lack of consideration just WILL NOT DIE.

The only tactics I have yet to try would be going completely ballistic on one of you in public or exploiting the cathartic benefits of the writing process through ranting on my blog. And while the former is by far the more tempting option, you can see I have chosen to go with the latter. You can thank me later, when you finally manage to pull a certain cerebral body part out of the specific orifice into which you have elected to insert it.

With that explanation-cum-cry-of-outreach, I have now officially gone 99% of the way for you, but there is still the issue of that measly 1% still waiting to be reciprocated. Let me give you a hint on how to accomplish this.

Choose one of the following, and employ it. I’ve even made you a list so you don’t have to think that hard. All you have to do is pick one: consideration, kindness, courtesy, compassion, patience, empathy, grace, altruism, honesty, benevolence, respect, good will toward men (and women and everyone in between – yes, there is an in-between)… Hell, I’ll even give you common decency to try on for a change.

I highly encourage you to give any or all of these a go. Because let’s be honest, the world already has war. The world already has natural disasters. The world already has hunger and poverty and abuse and terrorism and oppressive politics and race/sex/age/all-the-other “–isms”. The world has depression and anxiety and fear and hopelessness and sadness. The world has people walking around with cancer and scars and unequal rights and loved ones they will never see again. And the world absolutely has more than enough assholes without you nominating yourself as the crème de la crème over and over every few minutes or so.

So here’s the deal.

Your current modus operandi doesn’t make you better than everyone else. It actually just makes you suck. So I want you to think about this: take a second today to contemplate your place in this world. If everyone just stopped being a dick for a minute, that’s a whole lot of minutes without dicks. And even better, if everyone just actively behaved with a little more integrity, imagine what could happen! I would gladly emulate Oprah and make sure everyone in the audience got a little integrity to take home. Or maybe this is out of the question, but would it be too much to ask for you to throw a random act of kindness out there once in a while? You would be surprised by what one simple gesture can manifest into when 7 billion simple gestures happen in the same day.

As for a conclusion to this passive aggressive soapbox rant, let’s play a little game. Put the spotlight on your reaction to reading this. If you thought, “She’s right, and I can be a kinder/more thoughtful/all around better person,” you are most likely on of the “polite, respectful, and all-around-wonderful individuals” I mentioned above. But if you’re the person reading this and thinking “Yeah, those assholes are the worst” or “This girl’s an idiot”, or if you’re even having an inkling of simple denial with “This surely isn’t about me”… Well, actually, it probably is about you. Sorry to tell you this, but it’s time to get your shit together. Because when you get to end of your life and you DIE, do you want everyone to thank their God, whoever He may be? Or would you rather they ask Him to make more people like you? Think about it. Think about it hard.

With all my love,

Ashleigh Halter

The New Nest!

Okay, okay, okay…

I know I’ve been getting a lot of flack because I haven’t told you all what happened with the house. Well, here’s the deal:

My husband and I bought a house.

I bought a house with my husband.

There is this house, right? And my husband and I bought it.

So, um, basically…

WE GOT THE HOUSE!!!

I had to write that first part three times. This is for a couple reasons. First, because it doesn’t quite feel real, and secondly, because… this can’t really be real, right? The last few weeks have been INTENSE. We made an offer, he countered the offer, we accepted his new offer. We had a home inspection, and we had an appraisal. We’ve been signing loan docs for so long, we step outside and forget what the sun looks like. We negotiated repairs, and got denied those repairs. We had professionals come out and inspect all sorts of things, and with those opinions, we made more repairs requests. And then those were accepted! So here it is, my lovelies…

Home Pic

The Halter Hacienda! She needs a little tender love and care, just the way I like ’em. Big dreams are coming true everyone. Big dreams.

Let the countdown to closing begin.

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.

Weekending: Bienvenido A Miami!

Instead of getting each other gifts for our first anniversary, Bill and I decided to take a page from my friends Laura and Christian’s book and treat each other to a mini vacation. (I, of course, still got Bill a present – a custom photo book chronicling our roadtrip out to Florida.) Since our bank accounts were pretty wiped out from the move and we only had a Saturday and Sunday since Bill works until midnight on Fridays, we needed to choose somewhere close. Well, lo and behold… MIAMI IS TWO HOURS AWAY.

If you couldn’t tell by all the caps, I still cannot wrap my head around this. I had never been to Miami, I had never even seen that Atlantic Ocean, except from a plane, and now this amazing city is close enough to just go shopping for a day and take a little jaunt home that night. (Actually, that sounds more dangerous than anything else…) So off we were to experience a new city together and celebrate making it through a whole year of marriage, which anyone out there who is married can agree is a bigger feat than it would appear. 

We drove out to I-75, which took us down through Naples and veers east across the state through what’s called Alligator Alley. Now I, of course, knew that this road was named for a reason, and I was both exhilarated and terrified that we were finally going to see an alligator. I spent a good amount of time obsessing over the fact that this state is full of them while trying to make the decision between staying in California and moving to Florida. And I mean, a GOOD amount of time. I kept picturing them invading our backyard and climbing fences and coming after Indy and coming after ME. Well, one month in and I have yet to see one of the stupid things. (But I wouldn’t be complaining if it stayed that way.)

So I had pictured something called Alligator Alley as full of, well, alligators. Fail. Long story short, even though I made Bill stare diligently out the window looking for one for over an hour while I drove and proceeded to yell at him to KEEP LOOKING every time he looked away for even a second, we didn’t see a single gator. Boo. Kind of.

Upon arriving in Miami, we dropped Indy off at her spa weekend at a boarding facility and headed over to South Beach in search of our hotel. The views over the bridge from the main city to South Beach were spectacular, with Star Island to the left, the marina to the right, and the cityscape all around us. We finally ended up at our quirky art deco hotel The Kent.IMG_6018I was pleasantly surprised by the timewarp feel in the lobby. Not too pleasantly surprising was a dirty, paint-peeling, half-furnished room, and I found myself hoping that next year our accommodations might include regular vacuuming and a repair or two every couple of decades. In that aspect, I wouldn’t recommend this place. However, when we threw our stuff down and headed out to explore, we realized we were one block from the beach and the club scene, both of which were already well on their way at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Between our growling stomachs and a hostess offering free shots, it wasn’t long before we were coerced into a sidewalk table and starting our own party. 

IMG_6003And obviously free shots lead to this.

IMG_5910Don’t worry, I shared.IMG_6004 After our quick, er, snack, we made our way back to the hotel to get cleaned up, dressed up, and fired up to go out. In Miami. At 8 p.m. I was in a dress and heels, and everyone else on South Beach was still in a bikini. Luckily, the first place we went was Palace, and I was no longer the most obviously fabulous lady there. Miss Tiffany Taylor Fantasia was. IMG_6006 This is what owning it looks like. On both sides.IMG_6007Every queen needs a palace.
IMG_6009 And it’s funny how after two drag shows, I was owning it too. Even just sitting at a table at the Clevelander eating a cobb salad.IMG_6010

After our second dinner and more drinks, we headed up to the rooftop of the Clevelander. We didn’t have too much of a plan, but apparently the guys operating the elevator like tall women in little black dresses. On a run to the ladies’ room, they coaxed me over and told me to go get my man and head upstairs, no cover. Yes, we will take that.IMG_6012While the view from the top was gorgeous, the drink prices were not. I received the well Tequila Sunrise below accompanied by a bill for $18, and nearly spit my first sip on the bartender. IMG_6014 Being the (financially strapped) grandma and grandpa we’ve become in a full year of marriage, we headed back to the hotel a little earlier than expected. But that meant we were up early enough to celebrate our actual anniversary with brunch at News Cafe. I will forever be filling my omelets with smoked salmon and a slab of cream cheese from now on.IMG_6015Cheers to the year!
Miami ChampagneLeaving the cafe, we found the perfect spot to commemorate the occasion, marking our date, time, and location in unabashed tourist fashion.IMG_6016Once back at the hotel, we suited up for the beach…IMG_6022…which was amazing. I have yet to find beaches to parallel Florida’s (except Hawaii’s, of course). IMG_6023IMG_6024One of the highlights of the trip was that time that I tried to wash the sand off my feet at the shower and accidentally hit the top button instead of the bottom one. Guess where the water came out? Not on my feet. Noob.IMG_6026But that’s alright, because my husband in the only person on the face of the planet that consistently wears tennis shoes to the beach. Double noob.
IMG_6027 So with the right side of my head clean and Bill’s laces tied, we said goodbye to South Beach.IMG_6021We called for the car and headed back to get Indy from her dog resort. On the way, however, I made a great case for Cuban food.  And not just any Cuban food. I mentioned before that Bill and I had seen the movie Chef, in which they take a roadtrip from Miami to Los Angeles. In it, there is a scene where Jon Favreau and Sophia Vergara take her father to one of the most famous Cuban Restaurants ever, Versailles. I was absolutely not leaving without it. So we went out of our way for our first taste of a Cubano and a Classic Cuban Taste Plate at a place that can only be called heaven.

IMG_6030 IMG_6031 The second best part? It looked exactly like it did in the movie.IMG_6029In the end, I found a new favorite food culture. Apparently, if you are going to try Cuban food for the first time in your life, this is the place to do it.
IMG_6034With our full tummies we grabbed our pup and whisked back to Fort Myers, just two hours away. Two. Hours. 

Happy anniversary, babe! Who would’ve ever thought we would have spent it… here?

Florida Bound Day 3: Ten Hours of Texas

The herd was up and moving early on Saturday. We raided the continental breakfast, repacked the car, and hopped in, knowing we were in for the long haul today. Starting in El Paso, where we had splurged on a nice hotel room with wi-fi only to spend about 8 hours in it, we wanted to make it to Houston in time to see Bill’s childhood friend Jim and finally meet his girlfriend Sanja. Even though we had a long way to go, I made sure Bill knew I wanted to see Texas along the way. The main goals: eat some real Texas BBQ and stretch our legs in San Antonio.

As it turns out, the spontaneous stops along the way were exactly what we didn’t know we were looking for as well. We found an old crumbling schoolhouse on a random exit we took with the intention of a bathroom break for Indy (and maybe Bill… oops).

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Having just seen the movie Chef, in which we had no idea they were going to be taking our exact same road trip in the opposite direction – cue baffled looks at one another here – we HAD to get ourselves some brisket. So thanks to the help of Yelp!, we found Wagon Wheel BBQ in Ozona, TX. We missed it the first time we drove past, and when we walked in, it turns out it’s pretty much an old gas station converted into a restaurant (sort of) in the front and a house in the back. They served us out of crock pots that had been simmering all day, and I filled up my own sweet tea from a drink dispenser by the door.

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The (very) young woman inside took us to a wooden picnic table to the left of the building, shooing her pouty son away so the “nice people” could sit down. And even though we were doing some shooing ourselves (ugh, the FLIES), it was well worth it in the end.

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And even more worth it at the very end, when I devoured the homemade peach cobbler. So much for my gluten-free and low-glycemic eating habits, but I was not about to pass THIS up.

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From the moment we started talking about our trip, we knew we wanted to stop in San Antonio, but I’m not sure we knew why. Everyone kept insisting we visit the Riverwalk, but with all the chaos before the move and shotty internet after the trip started, I never got the chance to research our itinerary. This lead to exciting spontaneity and slight anxiety over worrying we would miss something, but it also delivered some amazing surprises, like one of my new favorite places in the U.S. Despite only having about 40 minutes to spare to walk around, the Riverwalk was gorgeous.

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I was in heaven with the sights, the restaurants, the music, the people… and the escape from the heat. Oh lord, it was HOT in San Antonio, but down there? Beautifully cooler and un-sticky.

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You can’t visit San Antonio without visiting the Alamo, so we ventured up to street level on the hunt for the landmark. The architecture along the way was so intriguing, I forgot about the humidity for a second in order to try to capture the energy of the town.

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And we found the Alamo. Obviously.

The Alamo

Take a look at Indy in that last photo… That’s how we all felt, poor little thing.

We finally rolled into Houston at about 8:30 p.m., and we were beyond excited to get out of the car and see Jim and finally meet his girlfriend Sanja. The plan had originally been to go out and “raise some hell” as Bill calls it, but Sanja had just broken her foot doing box jumps at the gym, making it very difficult for her to get up and down the two flights of stairs to their apartment. So while Bill and I showered (separately… out of the gutter, please), Jim whipped up some Strawberry Margaritas under Sanja’s scrutinizing seasoned-bartender eye. As you can see below, it was a pretty casual affair. And Indy looks possessed.

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But ultimately it ended up being a great night with great friends, and we were appreciative of a cozy place to sleep after a longggg day. Some of us took advantage while the party was still underway, but I won’t name names.

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This is what pooped looks like.

The Life of a News Wife

So this is what it feels like.

In a post that went up a little while ago, I wrote that Bill and I were staring down the barrels of two vastly different paths, and each requires some major life changes in the form of a hard, massive, aneurysm-inducing decision. And then I didn’t tell you a thing about what I was talking about, like a big jerk. Well, I finally have permission to announce that we have in fact pulled the trigger, there are some major life changes underway, and I actually am about this close to have an aneurysm.

In five days, Bill and I are moving to Florida.

Yes, you read that right. FLORIDA. Just about as far as you can get from my lifelong home – my beautiful Golden State of California – without leaving the United States. It is exactly 2846 miles – or a 42-hour drive (39 with no traffic) from our home in San Luis Obispo, CA, to the front door of our new townhouse in Fort Myers, FL. That is so ridiculously far that I simply cannot handle it.

It has been a long while since I’ve posted something on this little heart-of-my-heart blog of mine, and that is because the process has been overwhelming, exciting, stressful, and exhausting.  It has been so hard for me to sit down and gather my thoughts enough to write anything coherent, and I’m pretty sure that I still can’t so bear with me. We also made the decision not to share until contracts were signed and everything was officially official, which was excruciating for me. There is nothing I wanted more than to fill you in, but I couldn’t. So here we are now, and I’m probably smacking you in the face with this news in exactly the same way I was smacked in the face two months ago.

When I chose to marry Bill, I knew that I was choosing more than just a partner in life, but a specific lifestyle as well, and one that was very different from anything and everything I’d ever known. The lifestyle of someone working in news has its glamorous side, which most of you probably recognize. Being a “local celebrity” as people often put it, people saying “hi” on the street, never having a dull day at work, the perks that come with it, and the like. These are all great, and Bill handles each of these so humbly and kindly that my face nearly falls off just watching him sometimes. However, there is a side of the business that not many realize, and that is the nomadic nature of moving up and being successful as a journalist. When Bill and I first met, I wasn’t too aware of this commitment to this imminent upheaval. I was, however, committed to him from the start, and I soon found out that he was to me as well. Going way back to one of our first dates, I divulged a secret. I told him that even though I had just started my job at the station where we both worked, I had recently been accepted to grad school and had made the decision to go. I was so nervous about telling him, mostly because I worried for the security of my paycheck for the rest of the summer and the possibility of severely disappointing my new boss, who took me under her wing and called me her little protege. What I didn’t realize until he told me later in our relationship was that my committing to a two-year grad program could have also meant I might lose Bill, squashing any dreams of marrying the hunk of a man sitting across from me. That was because the end of his first two-year contract was fast approaching, and he had just recently gotten his reel and his resume together to fly off to the next opportunity. Luckily, I didn’t lose him, and he chose to quit his job search and re-sign a new contract for another two years, allowing us to date and eventually get engaged while I finish my grad program.

Within three months of meeting, Bill took me home to Minnesota to meet his family and attend a college teammate’s wedding. It was an incredible whirlwind of a trip, but I will always remember a specific conversation we had while he drove me to the airport to catch my flight back to California. (I was leaving a few days earlier than he was for work.) After such a crazy weekend, we finally had a moment to ourselves, and Bill took the chance to address a giant elephant in the backseat of the car on that Minneapolis freeway. He explained that his business came with interesting circumstances: the promise of relocating with no promise of where. Basically, an agent, if you are lucky enough to have one, manages the job search, blasting out feelers and resume tapes all across the country, incessantly checking openings and communicating with potential landing pads. If the materials catch a station’s eye, the correspondence begins, the journalist is flown out, negotiations get underway, and – BOOM – new station, new city, new life.

As a career counselor currently working in the liberal arts, I knew this, and I explain this process to many, many students in the journalism department at my university. “It’s a difficult business. You have to work your way up from station to station. You may have to take a job in an obscure market and live in a small town for awhile to build up your experience.” It’s a fact of life. I lay it out, no fluff. In fact, Bill and I have always joked about Bangor-freaking-Maine, as the place we could end up, settle down, and live forever until we died in our sleep of old age in that god-forsaken New England town. (I apologize to anyone in Bangor, Maine. I have never been there nor known when to take my foot out of my mouth.) However, despite all this unemotional real talk, it is another beast entirely to live it. Enter into our lives Fort Myers, which I had no idea existed until about two months ago.

It’s such a strange thing, to have someone else take control of the job search, if you can even call it that, as it really should be called more of a “job wait”. Once Bill got his reel and his resume together (with a little help from his personal career counselor), he simply sent them off to his agent in Chicago. After a few edits, he continued to chug along at his current gig, sometimes going weeks without talking to the big man in Chi-Town. Then all of a sudden, things changed. Quickly. Too quickly. So quickly that almost two months later, I’m still not sure what’s happening. It was as if Bill was a fish, swimming through silent water filled with fishing lines and hooks ominously hanging still all around him. Every once in a while, one would twitch slightly, causing panic but ultimately being dubbed a false alarm. Then, in the eerie quiet while Bill and I were looking left at the hook at the end of the line from, say, Minneapolis or Las Vegas, one snapped into his gills from the right and shot us both up and out of the water into a strange foreign world, where the sun was too bright and we didn’t know how to breathe the air and the noises were deafening compared to peace below the surface.

“Where in the hell is Fort Myers, Florida?” was likely my verbatim answer, the only possible deviation being the choice of expletive I used.

So fast forward a few weeks, and here we are. Bill flew out on his own and spent two quick nights there, mostly with the station. These days were agonizing for me, as his “interview” and “orientation”, for lack of better words, lasted 13 hours without a chance to call and update his poor little bird of a wife at home. Drawing up an offer seemed to take weeks, but when it landed in Bill’s hands it was all happening way to fast. We deliberated and anguished and lamented and marinated in this crazy idea, letting our imaginations run wild with the infinite possibilities (him) and the imminent crumblings of all that is good and holy in this world (me). We talked about our life plans for careers and a family. We hashed out logistics for three grueling hours at a time. We created pros and cons lists and talked to our parents and lost sleep. I rattled on about alligators and hurricanes and humidity and nile monitor lizards eating our dog and giant-ass bugs flying into my newly frizzy and unmanageable mess of hair. We almost made a decision, and then we didn’t. We got close to saying the words, but they got stuck in our throats. One day we knew we had to go, and the next we were sure we couldn’t. And then one morning before Bill went to work, he addressed what we had discussed so many times before: that the news business can be inconducive to having a family and a home and a steady and secure life. We knew this. While some of his colleagues had made it work through the flexibility and willingness of their spouses and others simply love their careers too much to be anything but truly happy, many of our other journalist friends had faced the difficult music in this area, and we had heard their regrets firsthand. Bill confessed that he saw his soon-to-be-expiring contract as an opportunity to get out of the business, to settle in San Luis Obispo, and to allow me to shine in my dream job, and honestly, a HUGE part of me wanted that more than anything. However, part of my very nature – and one of the reasons I love my job so much – is that I can fully see the light in someone’s eyes and feel the heat radiating from the fire in their bones when their work and their passions are one in the same. It was clear that one of the most vibrant examples of this was staring me in the face with his big, beautiful blue eyes. Bill had wanted this career since the day he came out of the womb, and I knew what I had to do. “You’re right, this might be a great opportunity to get out of the business. But look at us. I have my master’s degree, you’re done with your job, we don’t have kids. There’s nothing holding us back. Maybe this is the time to lean in, to really give this business a shot, and to take this opportunity. This doesn’t happen every day, and maybe we can’t let this slip away.” I didn’t want Bill to spend the rest of his life wondering “what if?” and regretting his decision or resenting me. The next morning I sat on the edge of the bed just after Bill had woken up, swallowed hard, and said, “Let’s go to Florida.” And then we cried.

So here we are, five days from moving day. Our house is utter chaos, and our belongings have been reduced to brown boxes. Goodbye parties have happened (with a few more on the horizon), and I’ve seen some people that I love nearly and dearly for the last time for what could potentially be a very long time. I have two days left at work before I leave a job and an office that have felt more like a dream and a family than work. We have a site unseen townhouse waiting for us in a gated community we don’t know in a city I’ve never been to. I have panicked and sobbed and grieved in sadness, and I have laughed and squealed and hugged in hope.

I do have pictures and tips and ridiculous anecdotes from the journey so far, but for some reason, this doesn’t seem like the time to include those. Thank you for letting me share this with you, and I hope you know that writing this and sharing this has helped me immensely, knowing that some of you are in this with me. Please know that you are invited to follow along on our adventure of a lifetime, from the roadtrip across the southern United States to the new house to the amazing new friends and opportunities we are about to find in our tropical paradise. And even though I waver between wondering what the hell we have gotten ourselves into and feeling the thrill of an uncertain future, one thing is for sure: we’re doing this.

This is the life of a news wife.