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

Little Girl Dreams, Big Girl Dreams

You hear it all the time: Every little girl dreams about growing up, falling in love with a handsome prince, and getting married.

But then little girls grow up and dreams evolve into something a little more… complicated.

All of a sudden we are 25 years old, and we’ve seen some things. We are no longer looking simply for a prince, but now for a good-looking, gainfully employed, DECENT human being who:

  1. Loves us unconditionally
  2. Doesn’t mind our flaws
  3. Cooks gourmet meals every night
  4. Cleans like there is no tomorrow
  5. Rubs our feet (every once in a while)
  6. Buys us flowers (every once in a while)
  7. Carries his own weight (all the time, please)
  8. Has the same house/babies/travel/babies timeline and expectations, and…
  9. Doesn’t snore

But then you find the love of your life, and it doesn’t matter that the only thing they can operate in the kitchen is the microwave, their shoes are everywhere ALL THE TIME, sometimes you have to pick up their slack, and they aren’t sure about the whole house/babies/travel/babies thing because, well, MONEY.

But let’s be honest, you’re only half-decent-looking, finding a job is harder than you thought it would be, you burn everything you cook, you leave YOUR shit all over the house ALL THE TIME, and you’re not even sure you want the house/babies/travel/ohmigodwaitbabies/all-I-want-is-to-quit-my-job-and-travel thing at all anymore because, well, QUARTER LIFE CRISIS.

All the things you thought you wanted don’t matter anymore because after all the frogs you kissed, here he (or she, for heaven’s sake!) is here in front of you, being all perfectly imperfect, and that’s just fine with you, and you’re all like #ithinkiwannamarryyou.

Oh, marriage. That’s a sweet idea.

But marriages usually mean weddings, and what a gargoyle that is. What used to be a sweet little fairytale playing in your head has now transformed into a monstrous beast. Now that dream must be living, breathing, and perfect or you might as well not have a wedding at all. And then there is the adjective-of-all-adjectives: PINTEREST-WORTHY. There will be no compromising, negotiating, sticking to the budget, or anything less than impeccable about it, or pretty little heads will roll. With the wedding industry constantly upping the bar with ever more ridiculous, more spectacular, more “they did what?!?!”… Well, it’s getting harder and harder to measure up.

And the holy grail of  wedding perfection? The Knot, obvi.

The online mecca of anything and everything nuptial receives submissions for ceremony after reception after elopement after happily ever after, so to make it onto their Real Weddings feature seems like a pipe dream to most.

So imagine my surprise when we made it.

Yes, WE MADE IT ON THE KNOT.

Behold…

A Cheerful Yellow Wedding at Greengate Ranch & Vineyard in San Luis Obispo, CaliforniaThe KnotSweet, sweet validation for the hard work, the stress, and loving each other enough to still get married after 13 months of wedding planning.

It’s not often that we receive this kind of acclaim over here on Do(hot mess)ticated, so let us rejoice in this fleeting victory.

Pin away, bitches!

PIN. A. WAY.

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

Right In Our New Backyard: First Gator Sightings

A few days ago, Bill and I decided we needed to get out of the house. He had an unexpected day off, and we found ourselves sleeping in (like we always do), going to the gym (like we always do), and still trying to figure out what to do with our day by 3 p.m. (like we always do). Still without a job solidified, I’ll be damned if I spend one more day lounging around the house when there is a whole new Florida world outside.

Oh man, did we find it.

Now, we’ve eaten at a lot of new restaurants, we’ve checked out the movie theaters and the comedy club, and we’ve seen our fair share of the inside of Fort Myers’ bars. What we hadn’t seen yet was the REAL Florida. Being from California, we weren’t really sure how to get outside in this part of the country without – first – melting, and – second – finding ourselves at the beach. Complaining about the former? Yes. Complaining about the latter? Not a chance.

But in all seriousness, we moved from a beautiful area with hiking galore and vineyards everywhere and amazing running trails and long bike paths and sand volleyball courts and amazing beaches. Not that they don’t have some of those here, but with the miserable humidity and the severe lack of local knowledge, I’ve been missing me some nature.

So I googled “Fort Myers hiking”, which was stupid because this place is FLAT. What came up wasn’t hiking, per se, but a plethora of nature preserves and trails and what have you. Well, we picked one. And HOLY SHIT.

We drove about 8 miles east, which took about 15 minutes, and found ourselves at Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve. Now just a reminder, a preserve is an area of land that is protected so that the plants and animals can remain safely in their natural habitat. Safely in their natural habitat… both FREE and WILD. So imagine our delight when we found that this particular preserve built a boardwalk trail winding past lakes and ponds and through a forest about a foot above a swamp. The skinny planks did have a railing on either side except for when it didn’t, and there was really nothing from stopping any of the wildlife from climbing up there with us.

You guys, we found FLORIDA.

We started out the walk next to what was called Gator Lake. We stopped at the man-made viewing point to stare at the water for quite a few minutes before realizing that the namesake gator was not going to show himself. Bill made some comment about how placid that lake was, and I wanted to punch him a little because it reminded me of that monster movie from the ’90s about some made-up lake in Maine that was home to an enormous man-eating crocodile, and there actually is a Lake Placid in Florida. Oh, and I am apparently terrified of the very idea of alligators, because even though we hadn’t seen one yet, I know they are out there and it’s been giving me nightmares. (Apparently the thing to say if you’re Floridian and you are talking to me is something like this: “Just assume there is an alligator in every body of water. Even if you can’t see him, he’s in there…” Um, thank you? That’s terrifying.)

So here’s our placid lake and my wonderful husband.IMG_6587

At this point, which was really only a few minutes into our walk, I was starting to think we wouldn’t see too much. But the lo and behold, what I believe to be a flamingo flew by. I say “believe” because while this is the second time I have seen a flamingo actually flying in Florida, and even though I have googled it numerous times and confirmed that, yes, in fact, they do live here and they do fly… I still can’t wrap my head around it. But, THIS.Flamingo

We walked a little farther, and soon we heard a rustling just off the boardwalk that did not make us jump. This little guy was munching away to our right, where the railing had disappeared. Not in the least bit scared, was he.

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But then we heard a rustling behind us on the lake side, which made me pretty much jump out of my pants. Whipping my head quickly around to scan the water where the ruckus had come from, I saw small scaly stripes worming their way through the algae floating near the edge of the lake. “Bill, what is that? Is it a lizard? A snake? WAIT. Are those…?” BABY ALLIGATORS.

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Now, I don’t know about you, but I count SIX of those things.

Gators

Okay, one more time. Closer.

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If I know anything about alligators, it’s that mamas don’t like anything or anyone messing with their babies. These puppies are so brand new that she can’t be far. Time to keep walking. FAST.

The pathway lead us away from the lake and into the trees, which was unlike anywhere I’d ever been.

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I couldn’t believe we were in the middle of this.

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Just below was the murky swamp water, generally swarming with activity from bugs or frogs or other I-have-no-idea-what-is-in-there things.

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I couldn’t take enough pictures.

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The first turnout we came to led us down a bridge to Wood Duck Pond. We thought for sure we’d see a gator here, but instead we just heard bog noises coming from over here and over there and never seeing what made them. It’s a little unsettling when a giant splash happens a little way to the left, and all you see when you look over is a huge ripple in the water.

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Continuing on through the trees…

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…admiring the beauty around, above, and below us…

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…nabbing the photo ops that abounded. Here, at Otter Pond.

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After a few hot and rainy days, the sun was finally showing it’s face again, highlighting the gorgeous Florida clouds. Seriously, they’re the coolest.

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The colors and the textures were mind-blowing. Who knows what’s under there though…

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Okay, so time for a dirty little secret. I’m a birder. Like, for reals. I have birding binoculars and field guides. I guess that would be a “nerdy little secret”, wouldn’t it?

But right after I’d made some comment about not seeing any birds and how disappointed I was about that (I mean, come on Ashleigh… AMIRIGHT), Bill was the one to spot this little Black-crowned Night Heron standing as still as a statue on a log. Whether he was hunting for food or pretending we couldn’t see him, I didn’t care. He stayed put long enough for me to get a good look at him before continuing down the line and leaving him be.
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I knew we were about to come to a little place called Pop Ash Pond, a name which I am rather fond of. Childish? Don’t care.

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What happened next was entirely unexpected at this point.

THEY’RE REAL.

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Please forgive the quality of my iPhone camera, but COME ON.

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He was just chillin’! Hanging out! And couldn’t care less that we were sitting there watching him! AND HE DIDN’T EVEN BOTHER TO COME OVER AND ATTACK US.

But a lack of gator attack (which is ridiculous to begin with, I know), didn’t mean that Florida was going to let us out without ramping up the grand finale in the worst ways possible. NOPE. Of course it would just throw one of these at us, in the form of Bill walking right by it without noticing, and me, who isn’t too afraid of snakes, pointing it out to him in the worst way possible. “Omigod, BILL. Look left!”

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SEE. I told you there was nothing stopping them from getting up there. But so far, I had handled everything. The gator had probably been the worst part, since now I can’t ignorantly pretend that they don’t exist. The snake? Ain’t no big thing. In fact, I know myself well enough that as I kept getting closer and closer to take a picture and being fully aware that I don’t feel the level of fear necessary to keep me away from such things, I asked, “Bill, is this stupid? Am I being stupid? I want to get pictures, but I need you to tell me if I’m being stupid.” Apparently, I was being stupid.

BUT THEN. Oh my goodness, BUT THEN. I didn’t lose my shit until this guy popped up. And then another one showed up on the railing, and then I had to walk a foot by another one. It was as if my worst nightmares were crawling out of hiding just in time to finish off our awesome afternoon in the worst way.

I. HATE. GRASSHOPPERS.IMG_6561

That thing was the size of my finger, and I’ll have you know that picture is blurry because it was purely for the purpose of this blog and not for my own well-being or enjoyment. In fact, I may have taken it while walking in the opposite direction very quickly. Let’s be real, it was time to get the hell out. After all that, when the bugs come out, I’m done. I seriously CANNOT.

So now we’ve had our formal introduction to Florida. We got down and dirty and exclaimed, “ohhhhh holy shit” enough times to pass the test, I think. And here we are, in the thick of it, just the two of us coming out swinging.

Unless there are bugs. Then, hell no.

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Let the adventures continue…

Weekending: Kayaking Through Hell and High Water

You know that feeling when you wake up from a nightmare? When you’re heart’s pounding, and you’re frantically trying to figure out if what just happened is real? Yeah, that happened last weekend, but it was real. I was wide awake.

I can’t think of a time I’ve been more terrified than last Saturday.

Bill’s birthday is July 15th, and this year, it landed right after our big move from California to Florida. After the pain in the ass that is moving across the country, the two things that really killed us were how expensive it was and how much STUFF we have. I heard Bill complain about this for over a month, so I knew that I needed to get creative with his gift this year. He wouldn’t want me to spend very much, and he sure as hell wouldn’t want me to bring any more stuff into our house. (Oh, how different we can be sometimes…) So after racking my brain and researching for days, I finally settled on something that I thought my sports- and exercise-loving husband would get excited about: a four-hour kayaking tour of Fort Myers Beach and the surrounding area. I found a good deal with a local company and booked it, still a little insecure at not having something physical for him to unwrap. 

After trying to surprise him by scheduling it without him knowing, I failed miserably three times and finally gave it to him over homemade birthday paella during our candlelit dinner. He seemed pretty happy with it. Mission accomplished.

It took a few weeks to find a time to go – the first weekend Bill just plain old needed off, then he hurt his back playing basketball – but last weekend it finally worked out. Or so we thought. We got up early, which in our household is 8 a.m. with Bill’s work schedule, and headed down in the direction of the beaches to meet our tour guide. We pulled up to a group of eager kayakers who were mildly disappointed. A thunderstorm was hovering right over the beach where our kayaks were pointing, and our guide informed us that we needed to wait it out a little bit to see what it was going to do. A stroll down Fort Myers Beach and an hour and fifteen minutes later, we finally got the go ahead to come back and push off. When we arrived back at the dock, we were the only two there. Where was the rest of the group? Nowhere to be seen, but maybe they had decided to reschedule. The guy took us over to our boats, and I noticed there were only two, quickly realizing we were on our own. Okay, not the end of the world. The guide started to describe the best places to explore, and his directions were so lengthy and complicated that I had to ask him to repeat them again. He then told us that he had printed out some maps, but they had blown away. Um, I’m sorry… What? Apparently, printing them off again was a little too much, so he sent us out without them. But as he was explaining this, three dolphins swam by a few feet into the river, and I instantly ignored the red flag feeling in my gut. Mistake #1.

We shoved off anyway.

IMG_6128Well, the trip started out well. The water was calm as we headed down the river channel to where the bay opened up, myself repeating his instructions in my head. There was wildlife all around us, and everything was going exactly as I expected, as I was snapping away with the camera on my iPhone. Observe, a wild pelican.IMG_6129

The uneasy feeling soon returned, though, as we paddled out into the bay. The wind seemed to have lingered after the storm had passed through, and the water was choppier than expected, but still manageable. We hooked to the right as instructed, looking ahead for what the guide had called Bunch Beach. We were told to pass the beach in search of an inlet that would lead us to the mangrove tunnels. Well, as it would turn out, that beach was not only quite a ways farther than he lead on, but it was also the longest beach known to mankind. “Just on the other side of the beach” turned into an hour of hard paddling through rougher and rougher water. Soon I was getting pushed closer and closer to the beach, the waves crashing over the side of the kayak and soaking me through. It only got worse until all of a sudden I was washed up on shore, BEACHED even, utterly and completely surprised to find myself amid large, flat, gray rocks. That was until I looked down, and the surprise turned to horror as I found myself swarmed with not rocks, but the most alien-looking creatures covering the sand and sliding toward my boat. As I would later find out by Googling “flat gray shell beach animals” – impressive, I know – they were Atlantic horseshoe crabs that looked a little something like this:

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(Image via http://bio1151b.nicerweb.com/Locked/media/ch33/horseshoe.html, as I was too scared for my life that I did not take a picture and got the hell out.)

I had never seen anything so hideous before in my life and began screaming, all while trying to push my way back into the water with my paddle – a tough feat when fighting the breaking surf. When I finally got myself back out where I needed to be, I didn’t know what else to do than just paddle my little heart out in the direction I was unsure I should even be going in the first place. Well, Mistake #2, as I found myself way ahead of BIll and alone, still shaken up from my wash up the shore. But I finally found the inlet and sat in silence while I waited, and when he finally caught up he wasn’t happy with me, but at least we were back together and out of rough water. IMG_6132

We headed up the river to what we thought would be our destination. After that little adventure, we were pretty stoked to be there.IMG_6133We soon came to a bridge so low we had to duck to glide under it, but what we found on the other side was a little disappointing. We could only go about yay far into the so-called mangroves before we had to turn around.IMG_6131The “amazing tunnels” our guide had been touting left much to be desired, and we voiced our complaints loudly as we turned around to head back. Mistake #3, as the universe was about to invite us to put our money where our mouth is. About halfway back to the bay, Bill capsized. My immediate reaction was terror, as we are in Florida and only God knows what could be in that water. But as he made his way safely to shore by a conveniently located boat ramp, he did not get eaten, and I lightened up enough to snap a photo and laugh (just a little). IMG_6134

As he climbed out of the water and emptied his sinking kayak, we noticed a tour guide had just met up with two men at the boat ramp, and the group was preparing for a tour. A guided tour. Like I thought we were getting. This lady’s schpiel seemed pretty legit, so I urged Bill to ask her if there was another way back to our starting point than heading back out the way we came. She pointed us in the direction of the mangrove tunnels from which we just came, directing us to glide back under the bridge, turn right, head through the lagoon (sounds pleasant), and through the passageway to on the other side. “It will put you out right by the Fort Myers Beach Bridge.” That sounded a lot more enjoyable than the first two hours of our trip, so when Bill turned to me and said, “Do you trust her?” I replied with an emphatic “Yes, let’s do it.” Looking back, this was Mistake #4, as my answer should have been “No way, man. Let’s not.” 

It looked as if we made the right decision, especially gliding through the calm waters into the gorgeous lagoon. Looks pretty friendly to me.IMG_6140Arriving in the lagoon, fish were jumping everywhere, and I immediately spotted a giant egret poised up in the trees. On the other side, however, the passageway she had described was nowhere to be found, and we seemed to have reached a dead end. This is when, as if on cue, the woman came into the lagoon and called out, in complete smug seriousness, “I’ll show you the way for 50 bucks.” She tricked us, the witch. But just then, I spotted a small pink ribbon hanging from a tree in the distance, which our original guide had briefly mentioned marked the way for kayakers. As we headed towards it she disappointedly yelled that we were right on the money, and although I was nervous heading into the small covered mangrove tunnel, I was sure it couldn’t have been that bad, right? WRONG. 

Surrounded by mangrove tree branches and roots to the left, the right, and above, the space was a little tighter than expected, but doable. Cool, even. That is until Bill called from behind, “Um, Ash? Just keep looking straight ahead okay?” Uh, why? “Just do it, okay?” Well, of course, I looked, and I was terrified to realize that the mangrove trees surrounding us were crawling with thousands and thousands of tiny black tree crabs that looked like spiders, a little something like this:

Mangrove Tree Crabs

(Image via http://www.easttennesseewildflowers.com/gallery/index.php/Seashores, because again – too terrified to even think of taking a picture.)

There were lines of them climbing up the trees to our right. They were sitting in every crevice to the left. They scuttled and scurried across branches a foot above our heads. I let out a small groan of fright as I realized that there was no way out but forward. It was so narrow that I couldn’t see Bill behind me, and there was no place to turn around. Through the crab-infested trees was our only choice.

Then the way became narrower. And the branches above us got lower. The roots hanging down began to block the way, and the only way through was to slowly navigate this way and that, leaning to the side here and ducking down there to avoid hitting the branches all around us. It was obvious that one small bump could potentially drop at least fifty crabs on our kayaks. That, I could definitely not handle. This is about when I started crying. It got to the point where I was shimmying down in my kayak to make myself as horizontal as possible to clear the branches. Gliding under the low-hanging bark meant the crabs were scurrying inches from my face, and I starting wondering when I was going to wake up.

Well, I most definitely woke up. About thirty minutes into this detour from hell, after just clearing one of the most difficult maneuvers so far, I heard splashing and choice expletives come flying in from the back. “Bill, are you okay?” I asked through tears. “BILL?!?!”

“Um, sort of. YES. Yes, I’m fine. That was just a really low branch.”

I hadn’t realized that if I was having trouble navigating through this hellhole, my 6’7″ husband was probably not having a great go of it either.

Then it hit me. “Bill, are you still in your boat?”

“No. No, I am not.”

“ARE YOU IN THE WATER?!?!” 

Instant sobbing. Like, audible gasps, terrified mumbling, whimpering-like-a-small-puppy, SOBS. Not only were there tree crabs taking over the forest around us, not only were there horseshoe crabs infesting the shores, not only could we not see the bottom of the dark muddy water… But we live in Florida. I am not any sort of expert on Florida wildlife, but I do pride myself on my vivid imagination. This looked like prime alligator territory to me. My husband was in the water, I could not see him, there was absolutely nowhere for him to get back in his kayak, and I was scared for his life. I wasn’t sure if we were going to make it out alive before. Now I was SURE that we wouldn’t. 

So I continued to paddle at a snail’s pace (that was a joke, since of course my kayak was steadily gathering snails on the sides as well during all of this… get it?), I could hear Bill falling farther behind as he waded through the murky water. A cacophony of ows, ahhhhhs and ouches could be heard from behind me, and we spent the next terrifying minutes of our marriage engaging in a dialogue to the tune of ARE YOU OKAY YES I’M OKAY ARE YOU OKAY I THINK SO ARE YOU OKAY YES ARE YOU? each time praying that the other would answer. Every rustle I heard in the trees caused my breath to catch. Every stick in the water caused Bill’s life to flash before my eyes. It finally got to the point where I could hear the panic in Bill’s voice when he asked if I could see the end of the tunnel, and I knew I needed to find it to make both of us feel better. After an hour of this, it finally appeared.

When I pulled out of the trees, I was relieved to see a calm river channel yet again, complete with jumping fish and roosting birds, except we were not where the guide had promised we would end up. Having no time to worry about being utterly lost, I turned my boat around to look back down the tunnel. I couldn’t see Bill. IMG_6137It sure looks pretty in that photo, but let’s get a little closer. This is the widest, tallest part. I was just in there. For an hour. My husband was still in there. With the crabs. And the imaginary (maybe) gators. And I am weeping like a child while taking this picture.IMG_6138Ever the drama queen, I began screaming wildly for Bill, still sobbing, and I didn’t hear a response. I knew he must be so far back that he couldn’t hear me, and the minutes that followed while waiting for him to round that corner were the longest of my life. He finally made it, but our struggle was not yet over.

It soon became clear that even here there was no shore for Bill to use to get back in his kayak. He was still in the water (IN FLORIDA), and I urged him to grab on to the back of my kayak so I could pull him. He did and held tight to his kayak with the other hand. Luckily, around the first bend we saw enormous houses along the water (each worth millions I suppose), and each with their own boat dock. It was no easy feat dragging another person and a water-logged kayak over to the closest dock, and ever the rule-follower, I was sure we were going to get caught. Bill tried climbing out on the first dock, but quickly smashed his toe on the wooden posts under the water before realizing there was no way to get back in his kayak. So again in the water he went, and I dragged him to the next dock. which had a kayak launch built right in. After hoisting himself out of the water and struggling to get his water-filled kayak up on land, and after losing his beloved Minnesota Twins hat down the river – which I promptly paddled frantically in pursuit of – I looked back to find Bill safely in his boat. We were still lost, but having managed to keep my iPhone safe in a plastic bag this entire time, I prayed for my network to cooperate. My maps app gave us an idea of the general direction, and we paddled, exhausted, on our way. 

The rest of the story consists of disbelief, weariness, and the longest paddle back. We finally docked our boats, our guide muttering something infuriating about our “little adventure”, and we couldn’t wait to get home. Bill’s feet were bleeding from the souvenir gashes he sustained from God-knows-what in that tunnel, and despite slathering on sunscreen, the tops of my thighs are pretty much third-degree-burned. 

To be honest, it took me so long to write this post because I just couldn’t do it until now. I haven’t been so exhausted or terrified in awhile, and I kept getting anxiety every time I thought about it or relayed the story to someone. However, it IS over, and my only consolation is that I did say I wanted to get Bill an adventure for his birthday. You know, something exciting we could do together. A memory we could keep for the rest of our lives.

Hey Bill! Remember that time I got you the WORST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER? 

Okay, that was too soon, but we’ll laugh about it someday… right?IMG_6139

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?

I Left My Heart In San Luis Obispo

There is something that has been on my mind constantly lately, and that is this: I miss my friends.

It finally hit my the other day, this whole moving thing. Bill and I were driving back from whoknowswhat – probably another errand-running excursion battling the make-your-move-as-difficult-as-possible powers that be – and it happened. It was thunderstorming outside yet again, as Florida is want to do every day during the summer, and Bill just looked over at me. He could tell something was going on, so he asked if I was okay, which is great, and I just sort of… lost it. For the first time since we moved in (not counting the roadtrip when I was a fairly impressive mess), I cried. About everything. In fact, I think my answer to Bill’s question went something like this:

“Nooooo *SNIFF* I’m not okay *SNIFF* I miss my family *SNIFF SNIFF* and my friendssssss *SNIFF* and San Luis Obispoooo *GASP FOR AIR* and I want to go HOME.”

Yeah, that pretty much sums it up. Up until the last few days, I’ve felt like I’ve been on extended vacation. I’ve been working hard searching for and applying to jobs at the local colleges, and setting up a whole new house takes a lot of time and effort, but I’ve still been able to do it at my own pace. The beaches are unparalleled, the drinks are delicious, and I haven’t been cold in four weeks. Bill and I explored our first weekend here, Jen was here the second, and we went to Miami for our first anniversary the third. But with no upcoming plans this weekend, which means the glaring reality that I really don’t know a soul in Fort Myers and the fact that I haven’t seen my girls in close to a month, it’s been hard not to dwell on how much I miss them. I am so grateful for the many phone conversations I’ve been able to have, but there is something so much better about popping champagne and settling in for a movie with Danae, or getting ready and going out to Giuseppe’s with Courtney and Katie and Katherine, or watching the hubby’s play basketball while screaming and stomping and tearing my hair out with Lina, or sneaking a quick gossip in at work with Taylor and Laura, or having Paso wine excursions disguised as doggie playdates with Kristin, or doing The Barre Method DVD in Katie’s living room before salad-barring it up at New Frontiers. I would give anything to transport myself at this very moment to happy hour at the Cliffs with my beautiful friends and a beautiful margarita and a beautiful view of the Pacific Ocean ten minutes from my house. But the reality is I can’t, and that’s the hard truth.

Wow, even typing that just now was a tough pill to swallow.

So what can I do to soothe the pain of being 3000 miles away from my wonderful former life in San Luis Obispo? I can return to an agreement I made with Danae as we hugged goodbye outside my house at 7 a.m. on June 26th and the tears started to fall even though we said they wouldn’t. I will deeply appreciate the time we had, and I will be grateful that it was given to me in the first place to hold in my heart for the rest of my life. 

Because if we hadn’t decided to embark on this amazing adventure to follow Bill’s dreams (and okay yes, mine too since he, of course, is one of my dreams) to the other side of the country, I wouldn’t have memories like our going away party, where so many people we know and love came to Luna Red, my favorite place in the entire world, to be together one last time. This amazing memory and the pictures that came with it are the warm teddy bear I hold when my heart starts to hurt too much. 
IMG_5590 IMG_5593IMG_5588IMG_5591 IMG_5589And here is my favorite. My loves from so many different areas of my life in California, all together in front of the Mission. In my eyes, this is perfection.IMG_5587And so here I sit on the same couch with the same rug under my feet and my fingers tap-tapping away on my same old computer while Bill and Indy nap next to me in a very different townhouse in a very, very different city. Each tear that rolls down my cheek every few seconds or so is a new one, but my heart gets bigger and bigger with the same love I felt one month ago today. And although I am 3000 miles away, I hope you can all feel how much I miss you… all the way from over here.