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.

We Walk By Things

Sometimes we walk by things, and we keep on walking because they are things we have seen a thousand times.

Sometimes we walk by those same things, and for some reason we stop walking. Sometimes, for some reason, these same things seem a little less ordinary and a little more extraordinary, and our minds just have to soak it in and say “Whoa.”

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa, in the very heart of my beautiful little town, is one of those things.

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Whoa.