The New Nest!

Okay, okay, okay…

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

My husband and I bought a house.

I bought a house with my husband.

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

So, um, basically…

WE GOT THE HOUSE!!!

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

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

Let the countdown to closing begin.

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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.

Florida Bound Day 3: Ten Hours of Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And we found the Alamo. Obviously.

The Alamo

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

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

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

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This is what pooped looks like.

The Life of a News Wife

So this is what it feels like.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the life of a news wife.

The Flowers At Your Feet

All we have is this moment.

That is what I keep telling myself these days. Bill and I are staring down the barrels of two vastly different paths, and each requires some major life changes in the form of a hard, massive, aneurysm-inducing decision. With every day that passes, we are feeling our fingers squeezing slightly harder on the trigger, knowing we are speeding toward something world-altering. All we can do is attempt to prepare for the unknown, but really, how do you prepare for uncertainty? How do you prepare when you don’t know what, exactly, it is you are preparing for?

Well, let me tell you, this girl can prepare. And prepare. And PREPARE.

And beyond the practical tasks and to-dos that we generally associate with this type of precautionary activity, I have found through trial and error that some of my favorite ways to quote-unquote “prepare” for major changes include things like:

  • Worrying.
  • Being concerned.
  • Stressing out.
  • Imagining worst possible outcomes.
  • Throwing myself down on the couch/bed/ground like a small child.
  • Engaging in an overall sense of extreme panic.
  • And so on.

When I’ve done a sufficient amount of all THAT, I go straight into doing every possible thing I can think of to avoid imminent failure and head in the basic direction of certifiable insanity. I become manic, even. I begin tackling anything and everything that will give me any sense of control, and I tackle them to the nines. The obsessive, compulsive, Type A nines.

So that’s what I’ve been up to lately.

Yeah. I don’t like it. While all of that general hysteria has been my default reaction – my coping BFF, if you will – in the past, I have found myself with a new fight on my plate. I’ve been working hard at gathering a new arsenal to carry me through life, consisting of patience, love, joy, and above all, mindfulness. Being in the present. Concerning myself with the immediate. Realizing, as Eckhart Tolle himself would say, the power of NOW.

These major decisions, these defining moments, these life-altering times… They are going to change a lot of things for us. And if you know us personally, they could potentially change our relationship with you in a heart-wrenching way. They are simultaneously exciting and terrifying, two qualities that I find very distracting. In fact, it’s been hard not to constantly dwell on the sacrifices that may be made in the very near future of things we love, cherish, and have worked incredibly hard for. It’s also nearly impossible to get off this goddamn emotional roller coaster of up and down, up and down, wired and exhausted, energized and petrified. I’m getting tired just WRITING about it.

So I’m going to stop writing about it and start writing about something else, like the realization I have had in the last few months that if I keep letting my mind dictate my minutes instead of my heart, I’m going to miss out on the very things I’m so nervous about losing. If I let fear and anxiety run the show, I simply cannot enjoy the wonderful world around me. The changes are coming, yes. But they have not happened yet. The future doesn’t exist. I can’t see how things are going to play out, and there is nothing to be done about it right this moment, so worrying and panicking and imagining and throwing myself on the floor in exasperation are merely wasted energy. I should be savoring the way my world is now, so that when the time comes I do not regret an instant of how I have lived and loved and cherished. So that is my new plan: to live, to love, to cherish… right now. This is harder than it seems, but well worth the effort.

Because lately I’ve found that if you look too far ahead, you miss the flowers at your feet.

The Flowers At Your Feet

I apologize for the vague details. Rest assured, darling, that all will be revealed soon.

xo

Flippin’ the Kitchen

Last Wednesday, I found myself very lost. Wandering aimlessly through row after row after row in the brightly lit space, I was unable to communicate or comprehend the overwhelming confusion that clouded my brain. Searching up and down the towering stacks, I would reach out to touch something only to recoil in the unfamiliarity of it. At one point, a kind soul approached me to ask if I needed help, which I must have – quite obviously – looked as if I did. I jumped and swung around, stuttering and feeling inept in my apology. “I’m sorry, I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.” I could see the startled strangeness in his eyes as he wracked his brain for what must be going on with this unsettled girl. Upon my blank-expressioned explanation and gesturing at the paper in my hand, however, his eyes softened and he said, “Let me help you.” But after the brief interaction, he abandoned me, leaving me again alone and adrift in the vast emptiness of the… whole foods market.

I had just learned I am dairy and wheat intolerant. And apparently, I had lost my ability to navigate every day activities and common social situations along with a lifetime of cheese and carbs. And milk. And ice cream. And spontaneity. And indulgence. And BEER.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve had issues with my stomach. Growing up, I would find myself laid out on the couch every night at 7 p.m. like clockwork. Since then, not a day has gone by without some incidence of a stomachache in varying magnitudes. Toward the end of college, all through grad school, and the year I took off between, I started feeling progressively worse, adding symptom after symptom to the long list of problems I was seeing in my health and wellness. At least once a week, I would have such an ache in my stomach that I could barely stand up straight, and just as in my elementary years, I would find myself laid out on the couch, the bed, the stairs, any flat surface in close proximity on which I could curl up in a ball and pout. Beyond that, I was always tired. And freezing cold. I had sinus infections and facial tension and a clenched jaw more than frequently. I would unexpectedly get waves of nausea. (No, I’m NOT pregnant!) Calf, shin, ankle and foot cramps would wake me up most nights or cause me to bolt off the couch to “walk it off” during movies. And beyond a variety of persistent skin concerns, my once beautiful, complement-inspiring hair has become dry and brittle with the ends constantly split and breaking off easily between my fingers.

Recently, a few of my loved ones informed me that not everyone lives this way.

Oh.

So begins the journey to figuring out what the heck is going on with my renegade body. With fantastic benefits from my new job, this epiphany could not have come at a more opportune and grateful time. At first, thinking it was purely stress, I practiced yoga, relaxation, and meditation regularly and found a great therapist close to home. She happened to rent her space from a sort-of natural healing and integrative medicine community consisting of a birthing center, a registered dietician, a chiropractor, and more. Also among their ranks was an acupuncturist/integrative health specialist, who I decided to give a try. She was also insanely fantastic, with great suggestions on adding and subtracting food from my daily diet along with sticking needles all over the place.  (More on this later!) And while my anxiety started to subside and my jaw unclenched noticeably, I was still feeling many of my other symptoms. That’s when my mom informed me that both she and my maternal grandmother have hypothyroidism, which can be inherited genetically and the symptoms of which matched up perfectly with many of those of which I was complaining. Hours and hours of calling offices around the county finally turned fruitful with an appointment with a physician’s assistant, who drew up the paperwork for a blood test. In his office again a week later for the test interpretation, nothing abnormal turned up except for a slightly lower that ideal white blood cell count. He assured me there was nothing to worry about. Thankful for the news but frustrated in a continued lack of a solution, I decided to call the husband and wife team of Longevity Healthcare with offices in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Newport Beach to see what they could offer. Their operation sounded like just what I needed, with his M.D. degree and her PhD in Holistic Nutrition. I waited a month to see them, but it was well-worth the wait. Upon arrival, the first 15 minutes were spent with Dr. Peter Muran, who took one look at my concerns and my blood test results and informed me I may indeed have a thyroid problem and more tests needed to be completed. The next hour and a half were spent in an appointment with Sandy, which soon became a whirlwind of information that left me light-headed and dizzy. Finally, two hours later, I emerged from their office – stacks of reading materials, extensive supplement lists, and protein powder samples in hand. 

There it was, ladies and gentlemen. Wheat and dairy were the culprits all along. But let’s not stop there. I need more protein and magnesium, am currently incapable of making my own B-vitamins, and have a candida overgrowth in my stomach. I had been looking for a zebra when the herd of horses was the problem. No wonder I felt like shit.

Fast forward one 20-minute in driver’s seat conversation – during which I fell even more in love with Bill with his outpouring of husbandly support – and you will again find me where our story began roaming the aisles of New Frontiers, our massive local whole foods marketplace. I have been there a hundred times in the past for their salad bar and smoothies, but this time was different. With a wealth of products I’ve never seen before, labels I don’t yet understand, and astronomical prices, I became easily overwhelmed at the life overhaul which I am about to implement.

Needless to say, the last week has had its ups and downs. After the $94 New Frontiers escapade, I floated over to Target to find great gluten-and dairy-free options for MUCH cheaper. One disheartened metaphoric “d’oh” later, I was happy to find that something I love – but had not purchased at a much higher price point – was not only cheaper but also on sale at Target, and I loaded up on enough Amy’s frozen entrees and EVOL burritos to get me through more than a week of work. Now I know that this is not necessarily the best way to go, what with sodium counts being under intense scrutiny lately, but I knew that what’s up ahead is more than just a “Can Eat/Can’t Eat” challenge. It is a lifestyle change. Not only do I need to relearn what is available to me and read nearly every nutrition label and ingredient list along the way, but I also need to find more time to plan for meals, prep food, and actually cook. We all know how difficult that can be with full-time jobs, gym memberships, households to upkeep, and most importantly, relationships to maintain. Beyond that, my milk guzzling, PB&J scarfing husband and I are going to have to keep many of our foods separate. I don’t want him to have to change his eating habits just for me, but now I also need to learn how to make things we both can enjoy. All of this adds together up to an overwhelming mess of intimidation, of which I am simultaneously feeling excited for the challenge and terrified of the effort involved.

The following days have been interesting, and I’m learning new coping strategies as I go.  Thursday was awesome. I ate lunch with my vegetarian friend Courtney at a local vegan restaurant, Bliss Cafe, which made for easy choices on my new diet. With the kitchen at home not adequately stocked with supplies, I gave myself a break and ordered two meals, which served as dinner that night and two more meals over the weekend. Friday, however, was a challenge. Still not feeling awesome from the two-week flu incident preceding the ordeal, I decided to follow my sleep-in pre-work schedule upon waking. Too bad I ended up late for work because I couldn’t figure out what the hell to eat for breakfast. Next up, mid-morning a plate of my favorite favorite gluten-free cookies from campus catering showed up in the front office at work, and it took me two bites to realize that the chocolate chips in their peanut-buttery goodness most likely had some form of milk product in them. My stomach soon agreed, and I threw a perfectly beautiful cookie straight into the trash. Then, as part of an initiative to bring our staff together socially, we had our first monthly lunch planned. At a Mexican restaurant. Full of cheese and flour and who knows what else. Thank goodness I brought my vegan leftovers, because I just sat there and sipped water while all my coworkers splurged on gorgeous enchiladas. By the time I got back to my leftovers, the lunch hour was over and my attention was pulled every which way, leaving no continuous period for much needed sustenance. The tipping point was that afternoon when I realized that I can’t have my dad’s waffles, my stepmom’s french toast, my mom’s quiche, or my family’s Christmas cookies anymore. (People seem to jump at the chance to point out that there are many ways to make these with all the options out on the market today, but they completely miss the point that it’s the recipes from my childhood that make these things so special to me and changing the ingredients completely nullifies that concept.) My anxiety was riding high by the time I got in the car to go home at the end of my tumultuous Friday, and then I realized that Bill and I had planned a rare Friday date night at Que Pasa… with more Mexican food. I collapsed in a sobbing pile in his arms upon arriving home. Once I quit crying, I realized I had given myself a stomachache, but this time from anxiety.

The weekend went more smoothly once I had time to really sit and think through everything. My beautiful friend Danae sent me home from our yard sale with her husband’s homemade quinoa salad (which by the way, is AMAZING… They’re the owners of Old San Luis BBQ Co. in Downtown SLO, and you MUST GO). I found Trader Joe’s Gluten Free and Vegan Lists online, which after the complicating cross-checking that someone with both allergies needs to do, made my shopping trip much more enjoyable. And lastly, this girl made me feel much less alone. Even though my big plans this weekend were a Wine-and-Cheese Party turned Just-A-Wine Party for me, followed by a dinner at the fanciest restaurant in town where I starved through the 90-minute long bread and butter and caeser salad extravaganza my friends enjoyed before something I could eat finally landed in front of my face, I’m slowly getting more and more confident in this new chapter.

The refrigerator has been divided.

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I’ve begun domination of New Frontiers, Vons, Trader Joe’s and the Target food section.

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I’m getting the hang of this “bring your smoothie in a mason jar” thing.

GFDF

New cookbooks have been added to the Amazon Wishlist. Pinterest has been raided. All is slowly becoming right in the world, and I’m already seeing a few results.

What it all comes down to is that this will be one hell of a journey, but I know I’ll come out healthier, happier, and stomach-ache free on the other side. I have found I have a lot of support, and it’s not hard to remember that there are worse problems to have. Bill and I have even set a date in the future to celebrate new behaviors becoming habits, and I’m planning to “graduate” to my new lifestyle at that time. Until then, I ask that my family and friends please ask questions and be patient with me, because I’m still learning too (and currently have very little idea of what I’m doing). So here’s to a new crop of treats and luxuries! Because as Rae Smith said…

Never Be Afraid To Fall Apart

{Beautiful artwork by Shannon of the blog The Shannonicle found via Pinterest}

Treat Yo Self

There’s a phrase I’ve been really digging lately, and it goes a little something like this:

Treat yo self.

(Thank you, Parks & Rec.)

A few months ago, I got the opportunity to take advantage of a incredibly generous gift. In a completely surprising turn of events, I found myself unexpectedly being rewarded for a year of hard work with a gift certificate to Sycamore Mineral Springs, a local gem of a resort and spa located in the hills that serve as the gateway to Avila Beach. This particular gift certificate was intended for the Day Away Package, which includes a 60-minute soak in a mineral springs hot tub, 60-minute massage or facial, 60-minute yoga class (or Pilates or Tai Chi, depending on the offering on your chosen day), and brunch at the Gardens of Avila Restaurant. Now, I had been to Sycamore before: once for a massage (heaven) and a few times just for the hot springs, which can be rented by the hour. But I have never, and I mean NEVER, been pampered to this degree. It took me around five months to get a free day to go – what with grad school commencements, weddings, honeymoons, surgeries, and new jobs all happening in that span, NBD –  but let me tell you… After all THAT, this present was that much sweeter. When the first Monday campus holiday hit, I took full advantage and booked that baby.

My first event of the day was Hatha Yoga in the Healing Arts Dome. Not knowing what the heck that meant, I followed the attendant’s vague directions up a winding hill and eventually to the entrance to a… well, Healing Arts Dome. What followed was a relaxing hour of breathing and bending and being, generally. Not your typical challenging class, but then again, I was here to treat myself. I namasted my little heart out and floated down the hill to the spa to check in. Even the locker rooms are meant to facilitate pure bliss with their pristine white tile, gorgeous turquoise glass, and exotic purple orchids. 20140122-083819.jpg

I could have hung out there for hours, basking in the aesthetic of it, had I not had such important places to be like outdoor baths and massage tables. So it was white robe on, book in hand, hot tub time!

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Sycamore has an incredible amount of tubs, all a-steam with natural mineral spring water and littering the side of a wooded hill. Each tub is private, what with their fences and swinging saloon-style doors, but there is no arguing that both beyond the gate and in the vertical direction, you truly feel surrounded by nature. A great book and some deep breaths kept me company through the 60 minutes that followed.

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I headed back down to the spa warmed and loose and ready for a 60-minute deep tissue massage with a wondrously attentive blonde woman who was not shy about working her essential oils into any and all of my tensions. We flitted out way through the gorgeous maze of architecture to a private and secluded room.

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I swear every inch of the place is surreal, laced with the incredible feeling of deep breathing and tension-release usually reserved for fictional fields of poppies in fables of country bumpkins walking yellow brick roads. 

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Thoroughly worked over, the only thing I could ever have needed was, of course, food, and wouldn’t you know it, the package included brunch at the Gardens of Avila Restaurant.

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One rolled omelet with ham, garden greens, parmesan and shaved radish floated down from heaven (the kitchen) to be enjoyed basking in the glow of a nearby wood-burning fireplace.

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Satiated, relaxed, and sleepy, I left the premises five hours later a very happy girl.

Needless to say, I was pampered. Spoiled even. I felt rejuvenated and invigorated and like I needed a nap and just all-around GREAT. But it was such a special occasion that I find myself thinking of it longingly from time to time.  It was also one of those things that happens so infrequently that it makes you simultaneously so excited that it happened and a bit sad when it is over and all you want is to hold on to the feelings that you felt, because you never know when you will feel so taken care of again. It was indulgent, it  was decadent, and it seemed that I wouldn’t be enjoying anything nearly that much ANYTIME soon.

But I did. Just the other day and in a very unexpected way. How you ask? A turkey sandwich.

I kid you not.

I’ve been realizing lately that I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I’m coming the conclusion that it’s unnecessary. Just SO incredibly unnecessary. This pressure usually comes in the form of preconceived notions and external ideas of what it takes to be perfect, to be happy, to be healthy. I do not skip workouts. I do not eat crap food.  Clutter and disorganization at home is unacceptable. Bank accounts should be full. I have to fulfill any proposal for social interaction. I do not half-ass anything. Mediocrity in any form is weakness. Relaxing is wasted potential for productivity and should be reserved for special occasions. Just typing out all these thoughts has increased my blood pressure to sky-high levels, to the point where I need a… spa day.

Those were all statements with no room for flexibility. All of these restrictions and obligations on a daily basis were originally well-intentioned, but as of late have taken on a new level of deprivation. It has gotten to the point where so many things were off-limits and off the table that I was suffering physically, emotionally, and mentally. If I wanted a bite of chocolate, it came in two flavors: deprivation and guilt. In the name of reaching happiness and health, I was miserable and killing myself. With the physical side effects stress has been causing, I’m pretty sure I’m serious about that. I have a feeling I’m not alone.

So the other day, Bill picked me up for lunch. The first thing I tried out was I actually telling him where I wanted to eat, and with confidence nonetheless. We rolled into Lincoln Market & Deli, and this was when the magic happened. I was THIS close to ordering my health-conscious go-to turkey+veggies+only mustard+100% whole wheat bread (an absolute shame in a city with the most incredible sandwich culture, with the likes of High Street, Gus’s and Sally Loo’s) when something stopped me. That was sort of what I wanted. But not totally.

So I ordered the goddamn baguette and the avocado, even though the former is full of empty carbs and the latter was an extra buck-fifty.

And when the guilt started to creep in, I told it to shut the hell up.

That was THE best sandwich of my life. Real talk.

My guess is that you were probably expecting a little more of a climax to that story. Sorry, but that’s it, and that’s exactly why I wanted to bring it up. Why do we insist on putting crazy rules and self-imposed restrictions on ourselves? Why is it that regulation is such a presence in our lives? I get that there are some great reasons for having some boundaries in place and that they serve practical purposes of, say, reaching goals. But it’s a slippery slope down that rabbit hole to perfectionism, and if we never give ourselves room to breathe, the cycle can become vicious. There is a whole world out there, and by narrowing our options and reducing our flexibility, who knows what we might be missing. I mean honestly, either we don’t ever give in or we beat ourselves up so much for giving in that it ruins the experience. Neither of those sounds like living to me.

You know what I think? I think it’s time to live a little. Give yourself some wiggle room. You’re important enough to like what you like and want what you want and have what you have and be happy about it. When you’re happy first, I bet you’ll find that your bank account is actually sufficient, your body is actually slammin’ (it is by the way), and you’re already killing it at work. So take care of yourself, and be okay with taking care of yourself. It wasn’t the spa or the massage or the yoga or the gourmet breakfast that were the source of my happiness on that trip to Sycamore, but the fact that I gave myself permission to enjoy everything that came at me that day. And really, shouldn’t that be every day? Why shouldn’t we live life like the beautiful messy disaster that it is meant to be? It sounds so weird to say this, but that spontaneous lunch date on an ordinary Thursday was a turning point for me. A moment of self-love. A strengthening of my well-being. And that sandwich was actually less of a sandwich and more of a reminder that there are so many wonderful things to be eaten, enjoyed and experienced, and honestly, I loved that stupid thing so much that I won’t need another indulgence for awhile. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy every day for the gift that it is? Because that’s exactly what each of those tiny moments is: a gift in the form of a chance for happiness now, not in some distant future. Honor the little things already, okay? And maybe – just maybe – health, happiness, wealth and love won’t need to be saved for those special occasions.

Although I would never turn down a trip to the spa. Just sayin’.

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