Little Girl Dreams, Big Girl Dreams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, marriage. That’s a sweet idea.

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

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

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

So imagine my surprise when we made it.

Yes, WE MADE IT ON THE KNOT.

Behold…

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

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

Pin away, bitches!

PIN. A. WAY.

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A State of the Universe Address

Dear Fellow Citizens of the World,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So here’s the deal.

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

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

With all my love,

Ashleigh Halter

The New Nest!

Okay, okay, okay…

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

My husband and I bought a house.

I bought a house with my husband.

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

So, um, basically…

WE GOT THE HOUSE!!!

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

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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.

Back In Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo

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.

Redeeming Florida

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course, more seashells.IMG_5786

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

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

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

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

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

Weekending: Kayaking Through Hell and High Water

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

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

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

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

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

We shoved off anyway.

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

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

HorseshoeCrabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mangrove Tree Crabs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No. No, I am not.”

“ARE YOU IN THE WATER?!?!” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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