Weekending: Boots and Ballgowns

Do you ever meet people and have the profound feeling of “these are my people”?

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This is Katie. She is my people. And her people are my people.

I was lucky enough to get a whole lot of this last weekend. My beautiful and amazing friend Katie is getting married at the end of May, and I was so excited to attend her bachelorette party. Now, Katie is not your typical lady, and this was not your typical bachelorette weekend. In fact, it was a huge but welcome contrast to mine last year in Vegas, which was chock full of the outfits, the decor, and of course, the shenanigans that we come to expect from this type of gathering. Katie knew from that start this wasn’t exactly what she would call her ideal, so last weekend was a little different. First of all, the events of the weekend took place in Placerville, CA. If you have never been to Placerville, picture a small California gold-mining town of about 10,000 people 45 miles northeast of Sacramento. Middle. Of. Nowhere. The buildings are charming and a river runs through it – the only other time I’ve been there was for an ex-boyfriend’s family reunion to white water raft. The second amazingly “Katie” logistical detail of the weekend was that our accommodations were in the form of a rented-out updated Victorian house, complete with parlor and sitting porch, staircases with landings, and original crown molding and wainscoting, among other interior details. Katie and I shared the master bed and bath, but there was plenty of room for the 10 other amazing women on the trip.

Upon arriving at our humble abode on Friday night after a 340-mile drive from San Luis Obispo, I quickly learned I was the first “non-family” person there. I write “non-family” in quotation marks because I can’t help but laugh at the absurdity of that thought. I first met Katie when I was 3 years old, and after attending pre-school, kindergarten through 8th grade, high school, AND college with her, it would be an understatement to say we grew up together. We made it through heartbreaks and prom and finals together. She was my first solid memory of a best friend, and her family is my family. Her mom helped me through my first sleepover. I looked up to her older sisters Becky and Julie as if they were my sisters. Her brothers were always at my house. And on many occasion we stifled late night giggles while her dad snored in the next room. She stood next to me as Bill and I said our vows last summer, and I am so excited to be a bridesmaid in her upcoming nuptials. All of this goes to say that arriving at this unfamiliar Victorian and hugging Katie and her mom Annie felt so much like coming home.

I know they felt it too because I was IMMEDIATELY roped into the Pinterest-worthy projects of Becky’s incredible mind. I put my luggage down and got to work helping to pin, sew, and hot glue handmade hair pieces constructed of felt, feathers, buttons, and random bits of tulle. We had a big day the next day, and you simply cannot face such an affair without the proper headpiece. A few more fabulous ladies rolled in around midnight, and I worked until my allergies sent me to my big fluffy resting place and I said my goodnights.

The next morning I awoke to laughter on the floor below. Padding softly down the stairs, I entered the living room to find Becky surrounded by yarn and cheerfully crocheting wine slings at 8:30 a.m. Yes, you read that right. WINE SLINGS. Sheer genius. The woman was making everyone their own apparatus to wear around our necks that completely cradled a wine glass, either full or empty, freeing both hands for any and all mischief we may encounter for the day. Attached to each was a nametag bearing the title of a flower. The plan for the weekend was to travel around the county attending a wine festival, and since Becky was unsure of the guest list at the time she purchased the tickets, she registered everyone as flora. Katie designated me Gardenia, and a new persona was born. And so we spent the rest of the morning fueling up on breakfast and Propel, primping, and dressing ourselves in – you guessed it – boots and ballgowns.

The Tales from the Cellar Wine Passport Weekend was about to go down, and our short bus was waiting for us.

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The beautiful bride in her $26 thrift store wedding dress, so proud of her chariot for the day.

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Arriving at our first stop of Nello Olivo, we knew the day was going to be a good one. A winery housed in a huge Victorian, servers dressed in top hats, unlimited wine, and appetizers such as steamed clams and gourmet meatballs… What did we just walk into?! Heaven is the answer, my friends. Heaven.

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It wasn’t long before the wigs started coming out (thanks to Annie’s fabulously spirited friend Francie, in the red wig… for now), yet we still managed to look this classy by the second winery.

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At this point, by winery three or four, we were still focused enough to notice and appreciate the beauty of being out in the country. This is Jennie, modeling the gorgeousness that was the landscaping at a Don Quixote-themed winery. Not pictured: the choreographed dance we performed in the courtyard to the tune of Pitbull and Ke$ha’s “Timber” just minutes after this was taken.

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As you can see, the wigs became much more of a “thing” as the day went on. That is a group of ladies who are ENJOYING themselves.

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And blonde became a new thing, too. You will notice, however, that my champagne bottle is unopened… My allergies were so terrible that I decided to ease off on the partaking throughout the day. The didn’t stop me, however, from fully embracing the blonde.

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Things, of course, got a little rowdier as the day wore on, but I just love this picture because you can just feel the vibe of the day. No pressure, no drama, just pure amazingness. It really was a celebration of Katie, and we were all so grateful to be involved.

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Look at that face. Just look at it. It is amazing to see someone you love so much THIS happy.

And so the day ended with pizza from a small local pizzeria that had only seven types of pizza on their menu. (If you’re wondering what the GFDF like me did, I ate a bowl of cold marinara sauce. No joke. They ONLY had pizza.) An older couple we didn’t know joined us on the street and bought the whole party several bottles of wine.We wandered into a dive bar with a few lonely patrons silently nursing their drinks, saw the sad small town Saturday night state the place was in, and immediately cranked the jukebox. Dance party ensued. Katie acquired a pink unicorn stick horse at some point, which we named Cornelius. We cut cake at the house. And then we all changed into our cozies and cuddled up to watch Katie open presents. One of those presents was Frozen, which we popped into the DVD player immediately until we all eventually headed off to bed.

So that was it. By the time we all packed up on Sunday after eating breakfast and watching Frozen – yes – again, the general consensus was that it will be hard to wait another 5 or 6 weeks until the wedding because that’s how long it will be until this family comes back together.

And until the wigs come back out. Francie pulled me aside as I said my fare-thee-wells, and let’s just say that Gardenia may be making another appearance in the near, near, possibly inappropriate future. But until then…

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What happens in Placerville, stays in Placerville.

This Is Your Wake-Up Call

I got a wake-up call not too long ago.

At first it came in hints. Panic attack here, panic attack there. Anxiety at work here, tear and tears there. And then the big one: “Would you like your prescription faxed over, or do you want to carry it out?”

Paxil.

Paxil is considered a bit of a wonder drug of sorts. Its uses have been studied across the board, and it has been found to be effective in a variety of conditions and circumstances. The reason I was getting it was two-fold. First, it has been known to help with stomach and digestive issues, so GREAT. Help me out there, please. But also, it’s one of the most common anti-anxiety drugs on the market, and although we were using is as an experiment to see if it helped my stomach aches, my doctor made sure to emphasize that it will “help with all that anxiety and stress as well”.

Oh.

I’ve always been aware that I am a high-stress person. An overachiever. A perfectionist. I push myself to the limit, and I do what I need to do to get it done and get it done WELL. It used to be a strength, but I’ve slowly become aware that I may have surpassed that point.  Once my doctor’s words hit my ears, a cacophony of voices from the past came surging in. I heard my nutritionist saying, “And I want you to take a magnesium supplement to help you relax a little bit.” Counselors asking me if stress has always been such a problem. (Answer: yes.) And in the past, a few of those closest to me have warned me in the best way they know how that I may, in fact, embody these qualities to a fault. I heard them, but often these comments came in less of a supportive fashion and more of a “you-are-ridiculous-you’re-killing-yourself-STOP-NOW” package. And then there’s my favorite of all time, of course: “You’re too sensitive/high-sturng/uptight/whatever.” I’ll admit, I don’t respond well to all of this. In fact, that last one REALLY does it. I get defensive, I get hurt, I get confused, and I get angry. It makes everything harder.

Why is that? Looking back now, I’m starting to realize that these comments bothered me so much for a few reasons. For one, all of those descriptions – including my own – are labels, and they sound permanent. It feels like there was something wrong with me and will always be wrong with me, and I was the one to blame. Ironically, in direct contrast, I feel out of control of my anxiety, but I didn’t understand that. Whenever someone told me to “stop”, I wanted to scream (and did on one or two occasions), “STOP? DON’T YOU THINK IF I COULD I WOULD HAVE DONE THAT ALREADY?!?!”. Not constructive in any way shape or form in nurturing your relationships and support system. Yet, despite the lack of control I had, the dichotomy charged on, and I truly believed it WAS my fault, that I WAS doing this to myself. I’ve been in counseling for this for quite some time. I have tried self-talking my way through everyday, telling my mind to quit going a hundred miles an hour, and this isn’t life or death, and I was ruining my life worrying so much about it. However, it didn’t matter how many times I would recite these mantras, that tightness in my chest would continue to squeeze and that tension in my jaw would cause me to clench even harder. If I couldn’t stop the stress myself, the only conclusion was that I was making my bed and I will just have to lie in it. I should be able to relax, to let go, to chill the f*** out – and all on my own.

But apparently I can’t. And so that first dose of Paxil really threw me for a loop. I finally had someone who wasn’t a parent (sorry, Dad), a friend (sorry, Jen and JJ and Danae), or a husband (oh Bill, I’m SO sorry… I don’t mean to put you through hell) tell me that this may, in fact, be a REAL problem. Maybe I couldn’t do this on my own. Maybe, instead of just a public service announcement on the state of my affairs, what I needed from everyone else was actual help.

So enter my therapist, who is amazing, and Paxil, which I am not too thrilled about. Picking up my prescription was strange, as I have never seen myself as someone who needed something like medication to deal with something like anxiety. I have always been told I am so composed, so put together, so with it. But that comment itself implies such a widespread and problematic belief permeating our society in the form of stigma. I’m really starting to understand what it means to need assistance, and I can see where that compulsion I have to tell everyone that Paxil is supposed to help my stomach issues first – and then oh yeah, it’s for anxiety too – actually comes from. We’re bombarded with ideas that this type of help makes you weak, and we should all be embarrassed. Not only is something wrong with me, but something is even more wrong with me because I can’t fix it on my own. With that in mind, and zero ill judgement on anyone taking prescription medications for similar issues, I am hoping to not rely on Paxil for long. I was given the lowest manufactured dose and instructed to cut it in half, but I personally would rather work through things naturally with nutrition and meditation and exercise and talk therapy. However, I have to admit, it’s working.

And in more ways than one. That conversation with my doctor really gave me the push I needed to realize that it’s time to take care of myself. It’s time to take some pressure off. Read more. Be present. Shift my perspective. Go outside. Turn down an invitation when I feel like it. Unplug. Say no to adding to my plate. Love myself more.

And so, last Saturday, instead of feeling obligated to make THE BEST plans and drink LOTS of alcohol and dance and laugh SO MUCH and post pictures about the SO GREAT AND AMAZING time I was having all over social media, I thought about what I really needed. And that was some peace and quiet, a long walk, the ocean, and time with my dog. So that’s what I did. And instead of powering through that walk to burn more calories, clock more time, and cover more distance, I was pleasantly surprised at the things I saw when I fully applied that same intentionality to being present. It wasn’t easy, but it happened. And so I come to “Things You Learn When You Slow Down On Purpose”, in order of revelation:

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First, I live here.

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No seriously. I LIVE HERE.

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Things like flowers exist and are pretty.

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They also come in more than one color.

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Stopping is nice, especially when just for your own viewing pleasure.

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And that activity where you put your dog on a leash and take her outside is called a “walk” because dogs actually enjoying walking, as opposed to what I used to call a “walk” but was actually more of a “dragging”. Indy knew the flowers were there all along, and she likes to smell them too.

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This little guy is adorable. He also sings.

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Awe is a cool feeling, especially when followed by day dreaming sans pressure to meet society’s ideals and get ahead and own that immediately. Simply appreciating is just as much, if not more, fun.

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And did I mention I live here?

I’ll admit that this was a difficult post to write, and it took me a while to gather up the courage to post it. But that Saturday evening walk and this post are first steps. And first steps may be small steps, and days come one at a time… But seriously. The world is already looking brighter.

 

Overnight

Last night…

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…this morning.

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When normal isn’t normal, you have to celebrate the small things – like Friday nights and Saturday mornings.

Happy weekend!

Weekending: San Fran Getaway

Sometimes even our most important relationships can fall to the wayside when life gets going, and daily tasks take priority over daily people. Bill and I have admittedly been having a bit of a less-than-ideal patch, what with our schedules and responsibilities and still learning and adjusting to life as a married couple. Our relationship needed a little (or a lot of) TLC, and that’s exactly what we gave it last weekend with a quick, QUICK trip to San Francisco.

In our house, there’s is absolutely no doubt that our loyalties reside with each other… and the Minnesota Timberwolves. Before I met Bill, I had tried and failed to get attached to an NBA team in the way I have devoted my allegiances with the San Francisco 49ers and the San Francisco Giants. Alas, the Kings (closest to home) had never won my heart and the Warriors had made a seriously weak attempt at inserting themselves into my periphery on a consistent basis. This meant that Bill, who has devoted his life to sports in every aspect of life from career to hobby to preferred leisure activity, seized the opportunity to gather me up and place me right smack dab in the middle of Timberwolves fandom (with a small amount of help from the adorable Spanish-transport Ricky Rubio… those eyelashes!).

So being incredibly on top of everything Minnesota and sports-related, Bill took the sweet and passionate initiative to plan a trip to San Francisco to catch the Wolves playing the Golden State Warriors. He bought the tickets, booked the hotel, communicated with two of my great friends who live in the bay, AND planned way ahead to take both a Friday and Saturday off. The latter is actually a huge deal in our house, especially after the 4-Months-Without-A-Day-Off-Together Episode of late 2013. So I blocked out my calendar for January 24th and secretly looked forward to it for about a month. Here’s how it all went down!

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Bay Area traffic is no fun, unless you use the opportunity for impromptu wife-imposed dance parties to the tune of Ke$ha’s latest album. I swear to you, I am 100% unashamed at how much I love her train-wrecked songs.

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We met up with amazing friends Ashleigh and Joey, who moved to Daly City last August, at Jasper’s Corner Tap and Kitchen near our hotel and the Powell Street MUNI Station for pre-game snacks and libations.

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Jasper’s offered an cool and modern atmosphere, deliciously elevated pub fare such as mini sliders and pretzels served with gouda fondue, and a great list of beers on draught. Not normally one to partake in tasting flights due to bad experiences with small portions and high prices, I am officially a convert after taking a risk and discovering my new favorite beer. Run to your nearest fancy beer source (my words… I haven’t looked at BevMo! yet) and try out the AVBC Barney Flats Oatmeal Stout. Worth. Every. Penny.

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Ashleigh and Ashleigh… Yes, I do have a great friend with the same name, although our heights and dance abilities to the tune of hip hop, urban street jazz, fem, grooving, and house are significantly in opposition. (She’s the dancer, in case you had any doubt. Check out her new Bay Area-based dance company here: Street Adrenaline Dance Company.)

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Next up, Timberwolves domination. Well, sort of. They squeaked by in the last ten seconds or so to pull off a final score of 121-120, finally lifting morale slightly during a horrific run of heart-breaking losses. I was much more vocal (obnoxious, maybe?) than all five of the other Minnesota fans in the entire arena and even Bill, which meant some unwelcomed taunting and cheap digs in my directions from the die-hard Warriors fans of Oakland. I did manage to make it out alive.

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Do you know what’s really fun? Seeing someone you love so much in a situation they love so much. I might even say he was in his element. Adorable.

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Saturday morning brought an early wake-up call in order to take advantage of the free breakfast found tucked away on the 5th floor of our tiny hotel. We snatched up the essentials from the breakfast closet  – no seating area and no room for all ten of the people who came in after us and decided no-they-could-not-wait-for-us-to-finish-and-leave before scrambling for instant oatmeal, generic pastries, and the worst coffee-water I’ve ever had in my life. We plodded back to our dungeon of a room (see terrible quality picture above with absolutely zero natural light) to realize that it was so small that the only reasonable place to sit was exactly where we had just slept. Breakfast in a full-size bed it was!

Disclaimer: I do not mean to throw our hotel completely under the bus, just… slightly. Yes, the room was small and the coffee was terrible, BUT it was a amazingly located practically on top of Union Square and close to the Powell Street BART Station. Plus is wasn’t as outrageously priced as everything else in the area, so if you aren’t planning to spend too much time in your hotel room, checking out Hotel Fusion could be worth it. (But the website is definitely a misrepresentation… It’s more adequate than, say, awesome in reality.)

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So since coffee is such a integral part of treating myself when on vacation, shitty hotel coffee just would not do. Yelp-ing nearby coffee shops lead to the exciting discovery of Blue Bottle Coffee Co., which with 1264 reviews yielding a solid four-star rating, I was not going to let myself miss out on. Since Bill does not enjoy coffee in the least and was feeling more or less, um, under the weather – which may or may not have had anything to do with the shenanigans from the night before – I ventured out on my own in search of not-your-average caffeine fix. However, following my maps app left me stumped. I wandered and wandered Mint Street in search of some visual indication that I was in the right place, but nothing jumped out. Disappointed, I turned back toward the way I came for the third time, and the first thing to catch my eye was the street address. And around the corner from the street address was a small group of people huddled in a doorway. And above the doorway, I saw the only marking indicating that roasted bliss was waiting for me was the small (the picture make it look huge) sign serving as their advertising. Small, unmarked, back-alley coffee shop? That had mean only one thing: local secret hidden gem.

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While waiting in line, I hurriedly gathered as much info as possible to make an educated order. What I found? Exotic (and expensive) coffees from around the world and a new technique I had never seen for brewing the perfect cup. I almost ordered an $8 cup of regular coffee just to experience the siphoning myself. However, I went with my favorite in order to compare, and when I asked what flavors they had for their nonfat lattes, the barista replied, “We don’t have flavors for our coffee,” and looked at me with a sly smile as if to say I was in for a treat.

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Well, hello beautiful. Care to walk me home?

With short pit stops at the seven-story Macy’s and the most beautiful Crate&Barrel on the planet, I made it back to the hotel to find Bill chipper and ready to head out on our next adventure. When the grizzly bear is hungry, it’s time to feed him lunch.

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But on the way to lunch, we drove past the Civic Center, which was quite obviously being used for rally purposes. Curious for a new experience, we spontaneously pulled over to listen in on the happenings of a major gathering of people who did not quite share the same opinions or values as I do.  A big city demonstration was new to a small town girl like me, and I was slightly uncomfortable but glad we stopped. I highly recommend being a silent observer in this type of situation, as you get the other perspective sans confrontation.

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After subjecting my friend Laura to a gushing rave about my new obsession of cornmeal crust pizza earlier in the week, she recommended we visit Little Star Pizza. We ended up both on Divisadero and in cornmeal-crust heaven, if one should exist.

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The vibe inside was conducive to giddy anticipation and happiness, generally.

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We ordered the deep dish, half Little Star, half Classic. This masterpiece is what ended up in front of us.

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The crust was divine. The composition, intriguing, with toppings first, then cheese, and lastly the sauce on top. This little piece is about to meet its maker.

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The verdict? Good to the very last bite. Which I ate. Clean plate club. I told Bill that this is becoming one of our “spots”, even though we live four hours away.

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Plans to meet one of my bridesmaids, Shelby, and her boyfriend Joe at Crissy Field lead to Bill’s first glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge. Welcome to the pride and joy of Northern California, Minnesota Boy!

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A walk along the ocean brought us amazing views of the bridge…

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Up close…

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And in the distance. It was so beyond great to catch up with Shelby and Joe, and meet their new bundle of personality Charlie, that we chose to extend our afternoon together as much as we could.

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With a pitcher of sangria of course! Hanging with Shelby is always a reminder to love the simple life, with some of my best memories consisting of impromptu afternoon drinks with absolutely no agenda and no worries allowed. Our final date at Hayes & Kebab was no different, and I left content with life as it is… and slightly tipsy.

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As we packed ourselves up in the car to leave, this sweet little thing seemed to be bidding us adieu. I couldn’t help but sneak a photo, having been utterly obsessed with The Little Mermaid growing up. Max here just tugged at my heartstrings.

The four-hour dive went quickly. Both of us had to work the next day (Sunday), he with his normal anchoring schedule and myself with a speech at a career symposium. And even though we both wished the weekend wouldn’t end, would last just a little longer… I couldn’t help but feel closer to him than ever before. It’s amazing what spending time focusing on each other can do, and now I’m floating through the week with these new memories on my mind. This trip was no longer bittersweet, as they often have been in the past. It was just sweet.

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Billy, what do you say we do this again soon?

On Life and Loneliness: A Ramshackle Glam Take

A big (and potentially embarrassing?) dream came true for me this morning.

A week or two ago, I contacted one of my blogging idols, Jordan Reid of Ramshackle Glam, with a question. After receiving such an amazing response to my Wife of Solitude post, I wanted to reach out to one of the most inspiring women I’ve come to admire and who I know has experienced very similar things with her husband Kendrick heading back to grad school. She responded with the most poignant of emails, and it was so helpful. So incredibly helpful, in fact, that I found myself holding back tears at my desk. I expected her to relate and understand, of course. But what I didn’t expect the extent to which she actually did – just as I hadn’t expected so many of my strong, loving and vibrant friends to confess similar feelings to me. It was a strange experience laying my feelings out on the table like that, especially since Bill was so supportive and receptive to my public exposure of a personal struggle of our shared married life that he even retweeted the post to his local followers:

Bill's Tweet

But back to Jordan.  She reposted my question with a link to my blog (!!!) on her own beautiful Ramshackle Glam, adding her response to the bottom in the form of her own generous wisdom and experience. The post can be found here:

When You And Your Partner Have Different Schedules (A Little On Loneliness)

I highly recommend you hop on over and read her post, today and everyday! I guarantee you’ll fall in love with her take on life (and with her adorable son Indy).

Conversations on Babies

Every single one of us has that question. You know, the one that everyone and their mom keeps asking you over and over and over again until your head wants to explode. It always has something to do with major life milestones and the fact that they have not yet happened in your life. Examples include:

What do you want to be when you grow up?

Where are you going to college?

What are you doing after graduation?

Why don’t you have a significant other?

You have a significant other! When are you two tying the knot?

Yeah, that question.

As most of you know, Bill and I got married in July of last year. Here’s a wonderful picture to show you that we did, in fact, do this.

Wedding Picture

It has been just over 6 months since that amazing day, and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of being married. I love Bill a lot, true story. But not long after we made it permanent, a new question started popping up. You guessed it: BABIES. Now, I do not blame the asker. I mean seriously, I WANT TO KNOW TOO! When ARE we having babies? If anyone hears anything, let me know.

Joking aside, it’s an endearing question, and I give them the best answer I can. Do we want to have kids? Yes, we do. Very much. How many do we want? Two to three. Two and a half. (Kidding.) Do we know when? No, not yet. We have some things we want to get together/figure out before we do, and we are just enjoying married life right now. And then there is my personal favorite: are Bill and I talking about kids yet?

Why is this my personal favorite? Because despite the patient reply of “Not yet!” I often give, I would love to tell them the honest truth. Bill and I ARE talking about kids, but not in the way you would think.

Disclaimer: One of the major milestones we HAVE hit is the one where we can say anything to each other, no holds barred, and not be judged for it. So in the name of the infamous turkey sandwich, the mind explosion of which was thoroughly explored in yesterday’s post, I’m going  into the depths of our relationship to share with you a type of moment not often shared.

Our latest conversation about kids!

Thursday, January 16th at 2:34 p.m.

(Via text message – I’m in blue.)

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So there you have it. The honest truth!

We are so looking forward to having children one day, but until then, we are going to keep it simple. When we are ready, we are ready. For now it will just be the two of us, loving each other, and looking forward to the day when we decide to begin the process of trying to grow our family.

Just for the record, I don’t mind if you ask. But I just might be tempted to tell you the real story.

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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A Wife of Solitude

I’m about to get real. There’s a new feeling that has entered my life in the past few months, and it’s not one that is often talked about. In fact, if it is, it usually incites two typical responses. The first is a look of pity followed by some mopey drawn-out utterance reserved for a weak kitten and the closest acceptable level of baby-talk that the targeted 26-year-old (me) will tolerate. The second option for a response is implying a sign of weakness and self-infliction by launching into “Well, why don’t you get out and do something about it?”, thereby blaming it on being a recluse. You’ve probably guessed what I’m referring to already, and it’s loneliness.

I’ve mentioned before how work schedules do not line up in our house. A refresher: I work a normal weekday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while Bill’s work week spans Friday through Tuesday from 2:30 p.m. to midnight. What I haven’t mentioned is my end of the deal on a daily basis, and I’m slowly realizing that I’m not the only newly married young wife experiencing this. In fact, even my unmarried yet coupled-up friends are feeling similar from time to time.

So here’s how it is. I’ve never had a problem with alone time. In fact, I would consider myself one of those people who needs it to maintain sanity. I love quiet things, like reading and lounging and watching HGTV. I love to go for runs to clear my head. There are definitely times that I go to our room and shut the door and just sit. I also look forward to nights in on more-than-rare occasions. I don’t like missing gym sessions, which oftentimes are derailed by plans with other people. I’ve gone to the movies by myself, I’ve eaten at restaurants by myself, and I’ve taken off on an impromptu day trip by myself.  I’ve even traveled Europe for a week, completely on my own, seeing the sites and staying in hostels/houses/tents in Scotland, Ireland, Germany, and more. In a sense, I enjoy going it solo.

But this is different. When I come home from my full-time job on a weekday, the house is usually very quiet. It’s great for unwinding from the day, changing out of my stuffy work clothes, and just taking a break. On weekends, I enjoy hanging out with Bill for a few quick hours, and generally by the time he leaves, I’m content to sit and eat my carb + condiment combo (think pretzels and hummus, wheat thins with goat cheese and blueberries, water crackers and brie, pita chips and spinach dip… all the keys to my crunchy, salty happiness) to my little heart’s desire without fear of judgement from anyone but the dog. But one to three hours later, whether weeknight or weekend, something creeps in. The house feels bigger. The rooms feel emptier. The strange noises get louder. And I get more… alone.

It’s a strange thing, this creeping void. It’s almost as if our home is hollowing into something more akin to a house. Less welcoming. Less warm. Less comfortable, safe, familiar. There is more to be done and less to be enjoyed. Boredom and tediousness and echoes replace contentment and progress and laughter. And I start to feel restless, wandering through our commonwall, parking myself on some project or in front of some distraction, only to get up and try to satisfy the disquiet someplace else.

I remember the loneliness of singledom, when all you want is just to have someone to love and to love you, and you go about your business always on the lookout for the next big thing to happen in your fast-paced life. I am in no way saying that this is better or worse than what I am describing, as everyone’s experience is relative. However, there is another type of solitude that manifests when you are married. It seems to me that this heartache is born of the idea that when you find the person you want to share the rest of your life with, you picture yourself, well, actually sharing your life with them. Your daily life. The good mornings and the goodnights and the how-was-your-days. However, life sometimes interferes.

In fact, it seems to interfere far more that I expected. Maybe it’s the fear of being lame or getting the standard responses I mentioned at the start of this post, but I’ve found it harder and harder to reach out to others with the way I feel five days a week. To my surprise, though, a funny thing is happening now that I’ve made the leap to stop the downward spiral of “hiding my loneliness, getting lonelier” just for a second by taking a step outside and just observing. I’ve started to drop little bits of information, small watered-down summaries, and slightly self-deprecating jokes in conversations to see what happens. As it would turn out, other attached women feel the same way, and they are just as reluctant to divulge.

There’s the friend whose husband is currently trying out a new job across the country, leaving her and their baby at home for a few weeks at a time. Or the friend whose partner is spread pretty thin, working creative projects during the day and bartending at night. Or the friend whose husband is a charter pilot, on call for stretches of time, not really allowing for concrete plans and leaving her for days at a time at a moment’s notice. Or the friend whose husband is a director, spending three months of the year conducting three- to four-hour rehearsals after work most nights of the week. I can’t even begin to imagine how military wives feel.

Until recently, we all just smiled and assured each other we were doing okay. But the conversations are shifting. Apparently we all feel bouts of aimlessness from time to time, wondering where our partners are. We all wonder when our houses got so big and quiet, no matter how small and cozy they actually are. We all debate in our heads whether it’s worth it to actually cook or open a bottle of wine, when the former won’t be enjoyed and the latter will go bad. So we eat crackers and cheese or cereal or whatever leftovers are in the fridge and drink hot tea instead. We would all love to go out with our single friends if it wasn’t for the nagging feeling of not wanting to drink too much or worry about a ride knowing we have a home waiting for us. When spouses are working, there are no built-in rides home. When they’re not working, favors like picking your drunk ass up from the bars are not limitless. Not to mention that we’re now when we’re out, we’re the “married one”, meaning no more free drinks and no more fun conversations, which isn’t so bad… but now we’re also the ones who get ditched when something hot and shiny comes along. And crashing on a couch is no longer an option because your marriage bed is waiting. On top of that, money is now a shared commodity, and $10 drinks are not in the budget of saving up for kids and houses and rent and groceries and paying off debt from that heck-of-a-party disguised as our wedding day that you attended. All of this adds up to “it would just be easier to stay home”, since excuses for half-assed partying are still not accepted. So we bake cakes and move furniture and watch dramas/sitcoms/reality tv. We style our home decor, and then we style it again. We browse the internet and go to Target and walk the dog and vacuum the floor. We move things slightly to the left, stare, then move them slightly to the right. But these things feel half-hearted, and although are houses may be nice and clean, we are unfulfilled. Nesting isn’t as fun when the nest is empty.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t trade my marriage for anything. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. In addition, I think I made it very clear a few paragraphs ago that pity parties are not welcome here. This is merely a conversation, an observation, maybe even a therapeutic word vomit. Settling down can be beautiful, and after a year like last year, all I want to do is revel in it. But as I muse and contemplate and ponder the empty feeling that comes out of the cracks and corners and the spaces of my house a few hours into each of my husband’s shifts, I am beginning to realize the Disney Princess mindset with which my generation has been conditioned to prescribe to isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It seems that marriage isn’t as much of a happily-ever-after guarantee as we’ve come to think of it. It’s more of a literal “for better or for worse” story that comes with actual ups and downs instead of singing birds and fireworks and riding off in carriages after sunset. It’s promising to stand by your spouse even when times are hard and you don’t have much money and nothings going right and you’re always alone. And it’s your spouse knowing that even though you are at home – alone – that you’re not going anywhere, figuratively and (more often than not, it seems) literally.

So I have a few take-aways I’d love to impart onto you.

The first is this: If you are the friend of a married person, check in with them to see how they really are. Society puts a lot of pressure on us to keep a happy face, even when all we want to wear is our sad/frustrated/tired/lonely one. The easiest way to do this is, every once in a while, suggest a night in. She probably has some wine left over from the wedding. A huge collection of chick flicks. A spread of gourmet cheese and crackers. And my bet is that she will be more than happy to share all of it, with a side of major love and appreciation.

Secondly, if you are the spouse who is always working, we know that this is just how it is. We know you have to make a living. We know you are doing the best you can. And we know that you are doing this for “us”. What we don’t know is that you appreciate us for the compromise we are making in letting you do what you want to do. And we don’t always know that you miss us and you would rather be home or out or anywhere, really, as long as it’s with us. So please, tell us. And not just once, because that monster that eats the warmth of our homes comes out everyday. Not just once, because this is our lifestyle, not just a passing moment.

Third, if you are the one at home, know you are not the only one feeling like this. We are all out here, doing our thing too. Hopefully our paths will cross and we can grab a glass of wine on a Saturday night and talk about all of this, because it’s amazing how much better it feels knowing that even though you might be by yourself, you are not alone.

And lastly… Billy, you are an incredible husband. I know that we argue about this. I know that you feel bad. And I know that no matter what you say, it probably never feels like enough. This is just a major adjustment period, both in the grand scheme of things and in the small details, and I’m working on it.  If this is what it means for you to follow your dreams, I’ll do it. In fact, the alternative is not even an option in my mind. So just be patient with me, and I’ll try to be patient with you. And even though by the time I see you tonight it will have been about 52 hours (ahem, more than two days) since we last saw each other in a state of consciousness, I want you to know that I’m here, and I’ll be waiting for you. And if you’re wondering what I’m doing at home by myself all the time, it probably looks a little something like this:

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Anyone want to come over? I don’t know how I’ll finish all this by myself, so I’d sure love some company.

A Toast to Extraordinary Simplicity

New Year’s Eve is always an interesting holiday for me. There’s the excitement for a brand new year. Then there’s the nostalgia of looking back on everything in the past one. There’s usually a little sadness involved, what with Christmas being over and the anticipation dying down. And don’t forget the electricity in the air when everyone begins to feel like reinventing themselves.

I’m usually a pretty big supporter of ringing in the New Year in overly fabulous ways. But not this year.

My New Years’ plans started out in the vein of throwing a huge cocktail party with a close friend, Danae. But when Christmas travel plans prevented us from planning early and then Danae and her husband both got sick, we decided to nix the endeavor two days before. So now I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. Bill had to work until 11:30 p.m., which meant he would just make it for a midnight kiss on our first married turn-of-the-year. I had been invited downtown, but that makes it especially difficult for him to drive from work, park, and get passed the line, in the bar, through the crowds, and next to me in the 30 precious minutes after he clocked out. We tried that two years ago, and it wasn’t the best experience for either of us.

So I had a few options. I could go downtown with a large group of some of the most fun people I know, but risk missing Bill at midnight. Plus, no matter how hard I tried, I would probably end up hungover on New Years’ Day. (No thanks.) The other option at this point would be to stay home with the dog, in my cozies, watching movies, and drinking champagne. Alone. I found myself excruciatingly torn, and I couldn’t figure out why. I didn’t want to be alone,  but I also didn’t want to fight a sea of drunk people all night long. I didn’t want a dead house, but I could not wrap my head around deafening bass thumping and party screaming either. I felt like my former party girl self was at war with my new wife persona, and I didn’t like it. I don’t want to be lame. I really don’t. So I didn’t say anything, and I wrestled with my decision and spent the last few days of 2013 stressing about it.

But then I realized that one of the things that I wished I could change about 2013 was how anxious I felt, the composed show I put on, and the feelings I hid. I spent a lot of time struggling internally with how others would view me and what they would think, and the shoulds and the coulds and the have-tos took over. It made for some unnecessary unhappiness, and I didn’t want to do that again. 2014 is going to be different.

So I put on my big girls pants, and I owned up to my true feelings in a text to Danae.

“So I’m feeling really weird about tonight… I’m almost feeling like this year was so crazy that I want something more mellow and less crowded with college students than downtown.”

I held my breath. I had officially entered the zone of marriage decreptitude I had been violently denying and fighting tooth and nail since July. I’m only 26. That’s too young to die on the inside, right? But to my surprise, Danae’s response echoed mine.

“Oh I totally feel the same way! I’ve been going non-stop and then this cold kinda killed it for me. Honestly, I’m happy watching a movie and drinking champagne. I know I’m a party pooper, but I really don’t want to go out.”

If she’s a party pooper then I’m a party pooper, because that sounds like exactly what I had been hoping for over the last few days. I just wasn’t brave enough to say it out loud… until now. And guess what? I said it, and I felt SO MUCH BETTER. We explicitly decided to spend this New Years’ Eve in a way that would set the tone for the year to come, and the result was beyond spectacular. A simple night celebrating good friends manifested in Danae and I in sequined dresses and drinking peach champagne… while watching comedies and putting together a good old-fashioned puzzle in the company of her husband, her siblings, and – at the end of the night – Bill.

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Not only were the activities of the night a perfect mix of simple and glam, but the company was just as fantastic. Danae was such a wonderful addition to my life last year as our wedding stylist/coordinator with her company Danae Grace Events, but more importantly as a friend once the nuptial craziness died down. As you can see, she has an uncanny ability to make simple things beautiful, without second thought. I am constantly inspired around her.

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Simple does not have to mean ordinary!

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A snapshot of the season. (I often say my favorite food is champagne, but even more so when it’s enjoyed from gold-rimmed flutes in front of a Christmas tree.)

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The husband and I just after midnight, looking forward to what’s to come!

So in the end, we wore our sequins, drank our champagne, and shared a glamorous night in. Our night was quiet. It was cozy. It was comforting. Oh, and it was marvelous, of course.

Just like I hope the next year is – in every way, shape, and form.

There’s Something About Inner Peace

Bill said something about a week ago that really stuck with me.

We were in the car about 6 hours into a 7-hour drive, heading home to my family’s house for the holidays. He was driving, and we were tired. We were both in our go-to traveling clothes – his idea of comfort being unshaven and wearing warm-ups and a sweatshirt and no shoes, mine a faded plaid flannel shirt and stretchy skinny jeans and boots. My initially straight-up posture had evolved into the slouched posture of a slob with my butt almost off the seat and one knee up on the door. The dog had been climbing all over us in the cramped space, and we were covered with her obnoxious and persistent black fur. The sun was just about to go down to the left, and for some reason Bill kept looking over at me from the driver’s seat.

“What?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why do you keep looking at me like that?”

“You… you just look like a wife.”

Huh? “What does that mean?”

He thought about it a second. “It means you look happy, and like yourself, and like you’re not out trying to chase boys or impress anyone. You look beautiful.”

I looked down through my aviators at the made-for-comfort-not-for-impressing-boys outfit I was sporting, surprised. First that he thought I looked even remotely attractive, but then because he was right. I haven’t consciously felt fully like myself in a long time, maybe ever. There was always some motivation to be on my toes, someone to impress, or a reason to worry or feel insecure. But here I was, with the person I would most want to impress on the entire planet, and he was appreciating me as I am right now, this second. And it wasn’t the outfit, or the makeup, or the clever quip, or the funny story, or the playing hard-to-get, or even the smart anecdote that shows off an ability to converse intelligently about anything you might throw at a person. It was the rare moment of peace I didn’t know I was feeling on the inside, and Bill saw it from all the way over on the other side of the car.

I’ve been thinking a lot about that exchange in the last 8 days. How strange it was that even though I was the one experiencing the moment, it took Bill bringing it to my attention for me to truly see it. It’s sad that a feeling of calm and contentedness with ourselves is such a foreign feeling. What is it that makes us worry and stress and keep up with the Jones’, when what we really want is already there within us everywhere we go? All that other stuff that we continuously inject into our lives is actually just getting more in the way as it builds and builds, not helping us reach our happiness. So just for this second, no matter how fleeting it is – and it is fleeting – I’m going to vow revel in that feeling. And the next time it happens. And the next and the next. Maybe then it will become a more frequent realization, and ultimately, a habit.

For now, I’ll just have to use that memory from last week and let it soak in as much as I can. That memory of when my husband glanced over at me and told me I looked like a wife, and for the rest of the drive, I couldn’t help but look over at him, with our little monster of a dog on his lap, and think of how grateful I am for what I had.

Driving

That memory of when he looked like a husband, and the dog looked like a dog, and I felt like me.