Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust Pizza

Okay, WHOA everyone. WHOA.

When I invited Kelly over to try our hands at cauliflower pizza crust, we fully intended to post the finished product on Insta and the FB in an effort to boost our Pinterest-worthy reputations. But what we didn’t expect was the amazing amount of requests for the recipe!

As you may know, I’ve been slowly trying to find grain-free alternatives to my favorite comfort foods, and it’s been helping so much with the previously unfortunate state of my stomach. When I first switched I just went to gluten-free brands like Glutino and Udi’s, which are both amazing and highly recommended, but still had trouble staying off the flour. The more I read, the more I found, and thanks to the discovery of Danielle Walker of Against All Grain, as well as the wonders of almond flour and coconut flour, I’ve ventured into the intimidating world of grain-free (albeit not exclusively). One thing I missed: PIZZA. Well, with Pinterest abuzz with so many veggie-based crusts, it was time to figure out whether said bases were only the stuff of the Pinterest Gods, or whether those of us who are a domestic hot mess could pull it off as well.

Verdict: Pretty easy, and pretty worth it.

So without further ado, here is our accidentally-on-purpose, super easy, ad-libbed version of Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust.

Grain-Free Cauliflower Crust

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Makes 2 personal size crusts (recommended) or 1 large crust

Ingredients:

  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 4 tablespoons Italian seasoning (such as McCormick)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400ºF.
  2. Wash cauliflower, and let dry fully.
  3. Chop roughly into small pieces.
  4. In a food processor or blender (I used my Nutribullet, but next time I’ll use my Vitamix), pulse the cauliflower pieces until a rough paste-like consistency forms.
  5. Transfer the cauliflower onto a glass bowl. (Sides will scrape easily with a spoon.)
  6. Add eggs, cheese, and seasoning, and combine. Mixture will appear wet.
  7. Form two balls for personal size pizzas or one ball for a large pizza, and place on a non-stick baking sheet lined with parchment paper. (From experience, we decided that we preferred the two smaller pizzas for several reasons: for more crispy edges, for less wet/limp middles, and most importantly, for easier transfer off of the parchment paper… that was an ordeal!)
  8. Press the cauliflower mixture into parchment to form thin crust in desired shape. (Not thinking this would go up in a post, you will see we went with the indeterminate, lop-sided, too-hungry-to-function choice.)
  9. Using a paper towel, firmly press middle of crust to remove excess moisture from cauliflower.
  10. Bake for 15 minutes at 400ºF.
  11. Remove from the oven. Using a large spatula (such as my handy Omelette-Pancake Spatula from Crate&Barrel), lift pizzas to remove parchment paper and replace directly on non-stick baking sheet.
  12. Load up pizzas with you favorite toppings! We chose no-sugar-added pizza sauce, a bit Italian blend shredded cheese since there is already parmesan in the crust, spinach, green bell peppers, and gluten-free Casual Gourmet Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage that I found at Costco and LOVE. Another fave would be switch out the traditional sauce for pesto, then layer with Italian blend shredded cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and goat cheese crumbles.
  13. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until outer edged turn golden.
  14. Remove from oven and let cool for a few minutes. Slice, serve, and BOOM grain-free, delish cauliflower crust pizza!

So there you have it! This recipe did end up being an original, inspired by but deviating quite a bit from a Pinterest post we found, mostly out of sheer laziness or lack of tools. (Sorry I don’t have a CHEESECLOTH, universe.) That said, if you decided to try it and have any suggestions or successful tweaks, please let me know in the comments! In the meantime, may your tastebuds and (more importantly) you tummies be happy and clean!

xo

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Back In Action

I most definitely disappeared for a while there, didn’t I?

Well, I’m back. Like, right now. Here I am.

Things have been a little crazy lately, which unfortunately meant that writing fell on the backburner for awhile. Isn’t is strange how when life gets busy, the first things to fall on the priority list are those we love the most?

Speaking of failing miserably… One of the reasons I’ve been M.I.A. is that my computer died. And I mean OUT of commission. I’m talking crashing-programs, CD-drive-not-opening, zero-second-battery-life, cannot-even-connect-to-the-internet DONE. And get this – the little devil decided to do all this the week before the biggest presentation for the most important job interview since the beginning of all these Florida shenanigans. But there is a happy ending to this story, and it looks a little something like this:

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She’s a beaut, let me tell you. She’s a beaut. We’re going to do a lot of incredible writing together, if all goes as planned.

I do, however, have to pay tribute to my last laptop, may she rest in peace. That baby was a gift from my father after some freshman year debauchery led to a tragic accident in the living room of my first apartment. My roommates were interpretive dancing – one crouched low to the ground and waving it like she just don’t care, the other on her stomach on the kitchen island like a beached whale – and I backed out of the way a little too far and… well, to be honest, I sat on my computer. Enter my saint of a father with a new, cherished, not-to-be-messed-with saving grace of a laptop, which got me through undergrad, grad school, and two years of this blog. She managed to make it through the college years with grace, all parts intact. But her poor little letters started rubbing off during the era of graduate research papers, and scarcely a popular Wheel of Fortune letter does she have left. She got me through a lot. And then she gave up in the most dramatic fashion possible, right when she knew she’d be screwing me over the most. I only have myself to blame for that one though. She probably learned it from her mom.

So I just mentioned before that I was just about to deliver the presentation of a lifetime when the technological soap opera began. That’s the other reason I fell off the face of the earth. One of the last posts I wrote (which you can find here) detailed the struggles I was having as a young professional who has found herself unemployed and housewifing it up 3000 miles from friends, family, and a little place called home. I was having issues breaking into my field on this side of the country, and for reasons completely beyond my control. Well, I am happy to report that I have had the longest three months of my professional life and have now completed a total of four phone interviews, five in-person interviews, three high-pressure presentations, and countless sleepless nights. I haven’t accepted a position yet, but exciting things may be just on the horizon. Fingers crossed! All will be revealed shortly, as things begin to solidify themselves. So with all that over and done with, my unplanned hiatus is up, as are my hopes.

So that’s my little love note to you. Big things are happening, little things are happening, and I’d love for you to stick around while I continue to navigate whatever life can throw at me when I least expect it.

And just for the record, that is not a challenge, Life. While I’ve caught the career twists and health surprises and the cross-country moves and the falling in love with extremely tall blond Midwestern men, I am officially letting you know I need a break, okay? I know, I know, I hear you laughing. I guess, it’s time to gear up and crouch down Posey-style.

(P.S. My Giants won the World Series. Did you think I was going to leave that unsaid?)

xo

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…

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.

Mama Rapin In The House

Like, my house. My mom. In my house.

Pretty much the best thing ever to happen to Florida happened last week: my mom came to visit. Sweet little Mama Rapin hopped off a plane late Tuesday night to finally see what my new life is like, and it was pretty much the only thing I ever could have asked for. Homesickness is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I think I’ve mentioned before that one of the weirdest things about moving across the country is that I still chat with my friends and family all the time, BUT… I can talk and talk and talk and tell them that I went here and I hung out there and I saw this person and I went to the market and yoga and the weather is hot and know one really knows what I’m talking about. Even when I say I’m in my kitchen or about to go to bed or I’m sitting on the couch watching Orange is the New Black, they can’t possibly picture it. I can only describe so far, and it feels very lonely. 

So believe me when I say I was a whole mess of excitement and nerves and energy as I scrambled around our new house unpacking the last few boxes, finishing the guest room, and making sure everything was better than perfect. If I’m going to live this far away, I was determined to make Mom’s stay as nice as possible to ensure that she will want to come back quite frequently. I started a list of things to do weeks in advance, since she and I would be exploring together. I ran to Publix to get her Honey Maid cinnamon graham crackers for breakfast, her favorite Cheddar Munchies for the car, and her Chips Ahoy for a late night snack. I was determined to give her a great vacation and was seriously worried about everything. She had to love it here.

Well, she did. And there was no need for me to freak out. Obviously.

In fact, I can’t think of a time that my mom and I haven’t had best days ever when visiting each other. It just kind of happens. So let me let you into my world a little bit, just like I did for my mom touring her around Florida.

Here is our airport, and here is my mom being a great mom with a priceless face.

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I wasn’t the only one excited to see her.IMG_6329

The first day she was here, I took her down to Fort Myers Beach, which is about 10-15 minutes from my house. Since I was in awe the first time I put my feet into the warm bath waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I knew she would be too.IMG_6328

Bill had time for a nice dinner with us, so I also showed her the sunset from our little downtown River District, which overlooks the Caloosahatchee River and the bridges to Cape Coral and North Fort Myers. Although this area seems to be pretty dead in terms of people out and about, the view is always alive and well.
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One of the biggest planned events we had in mind was a trip down to Naples, which is one of the wealthiest resort and retirement communities in Florida. We, of course, were going all the way to Naples to get in a workout, as you can see below. If you’re wearing your brand new Fitbit, it’s not shopping… It’s exercise.IMG_63320

After so much exertion, we had to stop to recharge. Brio in the Waterside Shops offered tasty flatbread for Mom and a salmon salad for me off of their – wait for it – gluten-free menu. I have to admit, we mistakenly thought that we were a little beneath this place, but the great food was matched with the most welcoming service, and Naples demolished any uppity stereotype we might have brought along for the ride.IMG_6324

Well, except for the stereotype that we were going to be tempted to spend a shit-ton of money. Anthropologie was the demon of the day, gladly draining of us the most time and money. Why the photo of the multi-colored dish towels below? Because I’m a ninja, that’s why. My mom had pointed out that she had always wanted these but would never buy them for herself, and with one set left I wasn’t about to let a prime gift-giving opportunity pass me by. Let’s just say that I felt compelled to go up to the sales girl at the register to explain that she relay the message that the shiesty girl performing covert moves on the security camera was not, in fact, stealing their merchandise. Rather, she was simply buying surprise kitchen paraphernalia for her adorable little mom innocently studying a sweater to the left of the cashwrap.IMG_6323

Friday was a bit more relaxing, and it gave my mom a chance to familiarize me with the gallons of essential oils she brought. She has found her calling healing people through Young Living, and it makes her so happy to help everyone (including her daughter) with all that she has learned.IMG_6306

That afternoon we headed off to the Gulf Coast Town Center, and I took her to HomeGoods for the first time ever (for shame!). We then lazily retired to the lanai to watch the sudden downpour from the safety of a covered patio.IMG_6326

But the highlight of this day was by far the best example of just exactly how my mother and I roll. Before heading home we stopped at Grace and Shelly’s Cupcakes (and mayyyyybe Saks Fifth Avenue) at our funky little Bell Tower Shops for a sweet treat. Of course we couldn’t decide on a flavor (although the decision for me to cheat on my eating habits was easy), so we came home with twelve minis to split while parked on the couch watching HGTV. No, we didn’t eat them all in one sitting, but we might have in three.IMG_6242

Saturday was a big day, since Bill was finally off work to hang out with us. My mom couldn’t wait to go to Sanibel and spend more time at the beach, so we got going as quickly as we could. But before we could take off, I had to marinate the london broil for dinner that night, and I was caught in a rare poised moment that might fool you into thinking I have it together…
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…only to set the record straight immediately. I wouldn’t dare cook my mother a meal without making sure all the ingredients are of the highest quality and up to strict standards. Including the wine.IMG_6321

After all of that red meat marinating, we all realized we were starving. When our original plan of Sanibel’s Doc Ford’s Rum Bar and Grille fell through with a sign on the front door declaring they were closed for lunch (the nerve), we headed to Captiva Island toward the highly recommended Bubble Room. Best change of plans ever. This place is a must-see.IMG_6315

The outside was a candy-colored explosion, which made my rainbow-loving mom beyond happy.IMG_6319

The inside wasn’t any less bizarre, with five dining rooms draped in Christmas lights, chandeliers, antiques, toys, and animatronics. Not to mention that my honey and pineapple-glazed salmon was delicious.IMG_6318

With full tummies, it was on to the main event of the day: shell-hunting on Sanibel. Knowing my mom would squeal with joy (at least on the inside) at the mounds of seashells piling the shores, I was looking forward showing her how gorgeous our new home in Florida could be.
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Don’t mind the overdue pedicure.
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I was right, of course, that my mom would truly appreciate the area. With her inner peace on overdrive, I think I may have convinced her to move…IMG_6310

And if I actually hadn’t persuaded her already, I think I may have hammered it home with views of the working lighthouse from the white sand beaches at the end of the island.IMG_6308

And so we headed back home, where Bill blended up some piña coladas…

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I whipped up a little dinner…IMG_6341

And Mom ended her little vacation with a fruity drink with an umbrella in it, as promised.IMG_6343

We went to bed happy for the days we got to spend together, but sad for the goodbyes of the next morning. Mom finally got to see my new world, which surprisingly makes it easier to be here knowing that someone understands what I mean when I talk about my daily life. It makes everything a little more real, a little more doable, and little more like… home. 

Just a little. But that’s something.

Redeeming Florida

After last week’s post on the horrendous birthday adventure I gave Bill, I feel the need to help Florida redeem itself a little. So let me introduce you to Sanibel Island, an unbelievable place mere minutes from our home.

When first researching the area after hearing of Bill’s stations interest, I happened upon a few things – the sleepy downtown, the Edison & Ford Winter Estates, the incredible shopping in Naples, and the rest of the typical touristy stuff. But then I happened upon Sanibel, pictures of which prompted a few seconds of speechlessness, frantic emails to my mom, and probably a squeal or two in my highest key. 

I made Bill take me as soon as we got here. I can’t think of too many places more magical. Yes, I said MAGICAL.

Heading over the walkway, you can already tell it’s not your average beach. In fact, you can feel in the air that there is something different about this place…

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And removing your shoes, you notice that in the place of your normal sand, this beach has these.

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EVERYWHERE.
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There are sand dollars the size of your hand.IMG_6156

And of course, more seashells.IMG_5786

Bill admired them from way up here. (By that I mean 6 feet and 7 inches off the ground.)IMG_5787

While I spent most of the time picking up every third shell I saw to show him. We made a deal that I could only take one home, and the winner was a little guy that faded from yellow to white to pink.IMG_5788

And Indy? Well, Indy appreciated the shells so much that she pooped on them. A lot. Immediately. And didn’t feel an ounce of remorse.

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And so the sun set on my childlike giddiness, Bill’s quiet admiration, and Indy’s utter disregard for the sacred beauty of the natural world.IMG_5785

And the only thing that could top off such a surreal moment in our lives was. of course, calamari and mango sangria at the Island Cow, a beach shack on the way home. Partially because I wasn’t ready for the feeling to end and partially because Bill is always hungry, in true Halter style. IMG_5789So see, Florida is not all bad. In fact, I believe the saying goes a little something like “Live where you vacation”, yes? Well, despite leaving paradise to move 3,000 miles across the country, we’ve still managed to have that covered.

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:

HorseshoeCrabs

(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