Crossed Fingers, Beating Hearts, and Held Breaths

It’s 5:30 a.m. and I can’t sleep. In fact, any endeavor to fall back into dreamland would be rendered totally useless at this point, so I’m up and at my computer telling you all about it. I’m a hot mess.

One of the reasons we decided to move to Florida was that the ridiculously affordable housing market (compared to California *sniff*), hit hard in 2008 and hopefully on its way back up, would allow us the opportunity to buy our first house.

Fingers crossed.

So after 8 months in Florida, we have a loan pre-approval letter and are in DEEP with the house hunting. I’ve been maintaining high alert on the MLS, constantly flipping through pictures and favorite-ing and possibly-ing and running down the hallway from my office to that of my coworker-slash-real-estate-agent Jessica. We’ve seen who-knows-how-many houses, probably over 20, and none of them have really done much for me. Until last night.

One house has been on my mind from the beginning of this darn search. I’ve looked at the photos over and over, oohing and ahhhing over all the fun things to be had and the upgrades to be made. I’ve driven past it on 3 separate occasions, and I’ve begged Jess to get us in to walk through it. Every attempt to view it was declined due to something on the seller’s end. But then came yesterday, when Jess worked her magic, and even though Bill was at work, I got in it last night.

Be still my beating heart. I am in love.

I loved everything about it. As I walked through it, I saw my family staying in the guest rooms. I saw our Christmas tree in the front room. I saw myself cooking in that kitchen. I saw the potential to upgrade and invest in every room. And for goodness sake, I saw our (currently non-existent) baby in the den off the master. I want this place.

After a stock exchange-style evening, during which I was at home alone (as per usual) and on the phone with the alternating line-up of Bill, my dad, and Jessica, the stars seemed to be aligning in a little ways. My morning was unexpectedly cleared for today before this mess even appeared, and the selling agent agreed to let us in again with less than 24 hours notice before Bill goes to work. We calculated out our monthly mortgage payments, discussed our options, and debated long and hard. This was doable.

But in true Florida fashion, the listing agent informed us that he is expecting two offers – one last night and one this morning. This puppy is about to get swept off the market like every other stinking house in this joint. As with all the other homes out there, it could quickly slip through our trembling little fingers. So what do we do? Well, we are going to make an offer, which in every way is both excitingly adult-like and absolutely terrifying. I don’t want to like you so much, little house. I’m afraid I’ll get my heart broken.

But if we want this little big dream to come true, we’ve got to carpe that diem. So today is the day.

I’m holding my breath. Maybe you could too?

♥♥♥

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Are You There Career? It’s Me, Ashleigh.

After months of asking the universe this question, it FINALLY ANSWERED.

I have now officially been employed for three whole days, and even though the world can’t get much brighter than November in Florida, it most certainly has. On Monday I got up at 6 a.m., made my safe a healthy protein packed breakfast, and dusted off my old work wardrobe. Heading out the door felt good. Really good. So how did all this finally come about?

I took a risk, that’s how. A huge, scary, life-threatening (okay, maybe not) risk. Long story short, I applied for a double-digit number of jobs, and at first, I was having very little luck getting through HR as I relayed in this post from a few weeks ago. My final big push of applications went through in the middle of August, with a few trickling randos to follow. I ended up getting four phone interviews and four final interviews for five different jobs, which was both amazing and amazingly stressful at the same time. However, things became really complicated as I learned more about each opportunity and met more people, and one particular position stood out among the others. It became even more interesting when that hiring process got pushed back and prolonged, while the others swiftly took off at breakneck speed. My greatest fear, of course, was not getting a job. My second greatest fear was having to take the wrong job.  One by one, the positions for which I completed final interviews called with offers. What came next was a full 24 hours of feeling honored and nervous breakdowns, trying to decide whether to take it or go full-out for the one I really wanted. My heart knew where it wanted to go, but my head was panicking. Ultimately, I chose to risk it, and as a former career counselor, I know full-well that these risks can go either way to the extreme. In my case…

It paid off.

I’m officially an Eagle.

FGCU Shirt

I’m so excited to report that after five painstaking months of unemployment in a state where I knew no one, I accepted a position as an Academic Advisor for Special Populations in an amazing office full of incredible people at Florida Gulf Coast University. A school that is well-known for it’s dedication to sustainability, service-learning and… Dunk City! Check it out:

Already I feel a sense of purpose, a life-permeating stimulation, a welcome exhaustion. Not to mention that after two years of major life changes (jobs, graduations, surgeries, getting married) and major risks (moving to Florida, quitting my job, you know, the usual), I finally feel a small sense of stability creeping in. I know where I am going to be in the next couple of years – a concept that is alien to me. We’re officially DINKS (dual-income, no kids) again, and although we have some catching up to do, we are off to the races. FINALLY.

So today I am thankful for my career. For the opportunities I am so lucky to have. For finding a purpose in helping others. For Bill supporting me through this rough patch and some very dark days.

Oh, and the teeny tiny, completely unspectacular, not at all awe-inspiring view from my office window.

Office View

How on earth did I get here? This is was gratitude feels like.

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.

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.