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:

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(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:

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(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

Weekending: Run or Dye!

I am a child at heart. And not just a child, but an awestruck puppy-hugging, rainbow-chasing, bubble-blowing, anything-with-sprinkles-loving small child. So imagine the squealing that was going on inside the composed grown-up shell we call my outward appearance when THIS happened:

Are you kidding me?! A giant party with dancing and loud music and everyone throwing COLORS at each other??? And these people are SOBER?! (Well, for the most part anyway.)

Basically, what I’m trying to say – but my giddiness won’t let me – is that last weekend, Run or Dye came to San Luis Obispo. This is a huge deal. Years ago, I stumbled across the Holi Festival, a Hindu religious festival of color and love, and since then I haven’t been able to get the gorgeous images out of mind. Witnessing this in person was bucket-listed immediately. So as you can imagine, while I am dying to attend the actual Holi Festival in India, the rising popularity of color runs in our culture is definitely something I’ve gotten on board with. However, for some incredibly frustrating reason, I have missed any and all of the sort that have come remotely near my current location, which has resulted in fairly intense depressive episodes any time color run pictures bombard me through Instagram or Facebook. To make sure that this never happened to me again, I took matters into my own hand by Google searching any and all organizations that travel with these events, even sending in my own request to the Color Run to set up shop at the Madonna Inn at some point (no such luck). But I put my name on every list that would give me alerts on when one was coming around, and lo and behold, earlier this year I got my first announcement from Run or Dye. They got my name, they got my number, and they got my money – all in less than two minutes. I’ve never been faster, cheaper, or easier in my entire life.

After so many painful years of waiting, wanting, and anticipating, my dream finally came true.

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Of course, no color run could be complete without asking yourself, “Which of my amazing friends would be most likely to lose her shit to the same extreme that I will?” and then recruiting said friend to experience wonderland with you. Meet the fabulous Katie, who is by far the closest thing to a small-child-at-heart as I am.

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Here we are, temporarily clean. Please note the sweetness that is my leggings, courtesy of Forever 21.

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Oh, the anticipation.

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The funniest thing about this race is that we were so preoccupied by the “color” part that we almost forgot about the “we-are-running” part. Check out the beautiful El Chorro Regional Park, right off Highway 1 between here and Morro Bay. I will be back here, mutt in tow.

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In all honesty, I wanted to punch some people because 1) they were walking, and 2) I WANT TO RUN THROUGH THAT. (I didn’t punch anyone.)

Check out this quick video, and be sure to listen for Katie revealing her real age at the end.

BEYOND ADORABLE.

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Can’t wait for the blue!

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3.1 mile domination.

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As it turns out, the run itself was not the greatest deliverer of color, but it was sure as hell so fun to run through it all. The after party, however…

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…was delightfully out of control, even at 9 a.m. We finally joined up with some of my favorite people – Courtney, Emily, and Ryan – and I’m definitely winning in the “Must Have Rubbed My Face In It” category at this point.

In fact, it got laid on so thick at one point that…

Yes, that was necessary.

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So there you have it. It has been a LONG time since I have had that much fun or that much permission to let loose. We all agreed afterward that we are all hoping to find one in a bigger city and do it all over again. I mean, who wouldn’t want to relive that?

Now, what is the obvious thing to do after a morning like this? Well, go to brunch of course. In public. At a place that serve mimosas (i.e. classy).

Looking. Like. This.

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Peace.

 

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.

The New Tastes of Home

In this post a few weeks ago, I wrote about all the things I would miss after starting my new gluten-free dairy-free lifestyle. At the top of this list were the comforts of home: my dad’s waffles, my mom’s quiche, my step-mom’s french toast, and my family’s infamous Christmas butter cookies. With a trip to Redding planned the weekend right before my birthday, this was about to be put to the test.

Not only was I still trying to figure out what the heck to eat, I was nervous about my family trying to tackle the task, especially with the pressure of birthday dinners. Both my dad and my mom chose to cook for me instead of going out, which is exactly what I prefer when heading home to the parent’s houses. However, I felt a little helpless since I couldn’t send them recipes or tell them my new favorites simply because I didn’t have any yet. I anticipated some fumbling on their part and some sadness on mine at missing out on my staple requests.

Was I ever surprised.

I didn’t have the waffles, the quiche, or the french toast, but what I had was even better.

Saturday morning started off with shuffling to the car at my dad’s insistence that we head to the local health food store. Now, a Redding health food store is not exactly the shiny gorgeous sister to the likes of Whole Foods or San Luis Obispo’s local New Frontiers. It’s more like the stray dog wandering the back alley behind the Whole Foods beaming exterior. With that said, his enthusiasm was contagious as we wandered down the short aisles, and seeing my dad reading labels and asking questions was so endearing. We ended going home with a few basics, but a stronger connection.

Little did I know he was going to sneak back to the store while I was at a friend’s bridal shower that afternoon OR that I would come home to a spice cake with vanilla frosting, homemade and sans dairy and gluten.

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He made the whole thing from scratch himself. I love the Proud Papa look on his face in that picture.

Another conversation my dad and I had before I ventured home was how much I was going to miss his waffles. And of course he did everything in his power to make sure I had some while I was home. They looked similar yet tasted different, but that was alright with me.

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Next on the birthday agenda was my mom’s house for a Sunday dinner celebration. Mama had dropped hints that she had found a recipe she wanted to try, which was really exciting because she has always let it be known that she does NOT enjoy cooking. She wouldn’t tell me what it was though, so I was pleasantly surprised that she found a recipe for a Gluten-Free Tamale Bake from Cooking with Trader Joe’s. Mexican food is especially exciting these days, since I haven’t had anything like it since “That Day At The Nutritionist”. However, the fact that she went to four different stores to find the ingredients to make it dairy-free as well and that we got to cook it together made it all the more special. So special, in fact, that I cared not one single bit while my brother complained about Daiya Cheddar Flavored Shreds and Tofutti’s Better Than Sour Cream Sour Cream.

To top it all off, my amazing little mama gave me an arsenal of cookbooks with which to arm myself.

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I made her sign the page of the recipe she made for me, just for memories and safe-keeping.

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So after all that, it turns out that I will in fact miss out on the comforts of home and some of my best-tasting childhood memories. But what has taken and will take their place in the future is most likely even better. Because while I didn’t get the breakfasts and dinners of the old days, we (non-dairy cheeseball alert) created new memories, and I got the feeling of being more loved and supported than I can ever remember being in my Eat-Whatever-The-Hell-I-Want Glory Days.

And that, of course, tastes better going down than any cheesy, carb-y forbidden monstrosity you could put in front of me.

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!

Make Your Home Happy

The single best piece of advice I got on marriage came from a coworker at the bridal shower my office threw for me a few weeks before our wedding. This instruction came from a particular coworker who is someone I look up to greatly: she is always fun, doesn’t take life too seriously (in the best way), lives in a constant state of utter fabulousness, and is generally the life of the party, whether you like it or not thankyouverymuch. Her advice, which I have taken to heart is simple.

“Always try to make your home happy. Do something, no matter how small, every day to make it that way.”

Every few weeks, she comes up to me at work with the sole intent of asking me, “Ashleigh, are you making your home happy?” The anecdote that came with this question on the last occasion really shed some light on just how central this practice is to her marriage and just how well it works. “Even just lighting a candle. Sometimes when my husband and I are fighting and we can’t solve it, we stop talking, light a candle, and just sit in silence. It totally works.” Then she fell into her contagious little fit of laughter that seems to convey just how little she cares about how absurd she thinks she’s being. Well, oh-role-model-of-mine, I don’t think you are absurd at all. I think you are quite marvelous.

Putting this into practice is not always easy, and the simple things are often the ones that fall through the cracks. This is even more true due to the fact that Bill and I have opposite work schedules, and it is quite the bummer. I work a normal 40-hour work week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Easy enough. But layer on top of that Bill’s schedule of Friday through Tuesday from 2 p.m. to midnight, and things become tricky. We almost never have a full day off together. Case in point, from September 3rd to December 24th, we will not have had a single day off to spend together. So basically, as newlyweds, we are not only trying to figure out this whole marriage thing, but we’re trying to figure out this whole marriage thing with very limited time together. I find find myself wanting to put a lot of effort into making the moments we do have a little extra special, but life often gets in the way and the “important” things take over.

This Sunday, an autumn-themed breakfast prepared while Bill was still asleep meant that he woke up to a home warmed with the smell of pumpkin and cinnamon, and we spent a very rare quiet morning sharing a lazy breakfast at our dining room table. To bring the spirit of fall inside, I pulled one of my favorite things out of the cupboard.

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This stuff is to die for. Pumpkin plus cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg is QUITE the combo, let me tell you.

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I decided to add a little something extra in the form of honey and chopped pecans in place of the traditional butter-and-syrup staples. Great decision.

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One of the things that makes home happier for me is having flowers in plain sight, so these autumn lovelies took center stage on the table.

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A surefire way to measure success when it comes to Bill and food? A severe lack of eye contact while said meal is present. This quick little spread took about 20 minutes to prepare but made a huge impact on my week. I easily could have poured myself a bowl of cereal and called it breakfast, but it was much more rewarding to hear the grizzly bear upstairs awaken from his slumber to the whiff of something delicious coming from the kitchen and subsequently follow his nose, stumbling loudly down the stairs. The payoff that resulted – the look of utter surprise followed by hungry anticipation followed by genuine appreciation followed by complete mutual contentedness in our full, happy bellies – will always be worth the effort.

Sounds like a happy home to me! This is officially my mission from here on out.