On New Orleans, Belatedly

I’ve always wanted to go to New Orleans. My little brother – rather, younger brother, as my little brother towers over me at 6’4″ – is getting married, and I am now a bridesmaid (although I tried to explain I really didn’t need to be one), so I was invited along to the bachelorette party in New Orleans.

Now, I do love my brother’s fiancée quite a bit, but the thought of me, a Colorado woman whose very low maintenance beauty routine generally consists of “when’s the last time I wore makeup and where is it?”, traveling to a beautiful city with beautiful Dallas women who know how to curl their hair intimidated me immensely. However, I own a super sexy black dress, and I’m Katie Fucking Barry (sorry Mom, it’s a figure of speech), so I figured “I got this,” grabbed my makeup bag, stuffed it in a backpack with my laptop, and headed down there.

I spent the time waiting for the flight seated at a bar, chatting to an oil and gas intern who had recently relocated to NOLA and had been in Colorado for a conference. He was fresh out of college and seemed to enjoy his chosen industry, although did not express love for living in New Orleans. I spent the flight seated next to a very loud contractor who thanked every flight attendant for coming to work that day, as if they had any choice, and who proceeded to advise me on upcoming home remodel work. He was attending his sister’s book launch in New Orleans, and clearly had not been on many airplanes. I prayed he’d stop talking at some point, because he was so loud, but he was so enthusiastic and kind that I just let him continue, whispering back responses. We talked about books, and his pet bird, and wood floors. He promised he’d read American Gods.

I really do have the strangest but most wonderful conversations with people.

I arrived too late and exhausted (I had spoken at a conference for court reporters on cannabis and employment law, complete with a super amazing Jeopardy PowerPoint I made before flying to New Orleans) to meet up with the lady crew, so I curled up in a twin bed (note to self: never again) and fell asleep, after realizing that I’d left all of my jewelry and my toothbrush in Denver.

Shit.

I woke up in a strange house in a strange neighborhood, and immediately set off to procure dental hygiene products. Our Airbnb was in an interesting neighborhood. I’ve lived in Chicago, and in interesting parts of Cape Town, so I’m really not bothered by much. I strode into the nearest store, which was an oddly compiled bodega carrying everything from canned beans to beer to purses to free condoms to one tube of toothpaste.

Joy secured, I returned to my temporary home. The women were surprised I’d walked in the neighborhood alone. I  reminded them that daylight is a beautiful thing. This Airbnb, a remodeled shotgun house with a cute red front door, was full of weird gnat-like flies. Obviously, I wasn’t sure about the local insect game, so I withheld judgement until I realized that this is absolutely not normal. However, I made my peace with the flies after the first two hours of continuous aggravation. The showers were odd. It was a nice reminder to me that I should absolutely pay someone to do my tile work for me. They had done a decent job remodeling the place, complete with bright turquoise accent walls and exposed brick and newer appliances, but man, were they inept at tile work.

And I have to imagine that neither am I. So as my bathroom remodels get underway (ha, eventually?), I will have to remind myself that my DIY mindset does not extend to actual DIY practice. And I will have to bring in skilled assistance or risk being mocked mentally by anyone who ever uses my bathrooms.

We got ready to go to fancy brunch. However, immediately after brunch, we were headed to an alligator tour. (I have so many thoughts about this tour – we paid $105 each for this adventure, and I found similar ones on Groupon for $16….so I complained, but only mildly.) I donned overalls that my brother’s fiancée had brought for me. They looked great on her, but I was just swimming in them. At least they were comfortable! (I’m generally too long for one piece things, which is annoying. I guess they don’t make clothes with the long torso-ed in mind, and it ends up touching you in places you’d rather not.)

We made it down to brunch, two of us wearing overalls, one wearing obscenely short shorts, one wearing a vest made out of Bud Light boxes and held together with leopard print duct tape, and a fanny pack with a naked male belly button on it (as though it were an outcropping of exposed stomach), and attempted to enter the restaurant. The man guarding the door, I mean, the host, dressed in a suit and bowtie, looked us up and down and said, “None of this is going to work,” while he waved his pointed index finger back and forth, up and down.

So, banned because of the way that we were, we went next door (same freaking restaurant) and sidled up to the bar, where I ate delicious gumbo. (Rabbit, duck? Something gamey that I’m not usually keen on. But still enjoyed. Would eat again.)

Then, the alligator tour commenced. I’m a naturally curious person, and I love adventure, generally. I enjoy nature and I enjoy water, so this was bound to be a good time. We climbed into a giant SUV with a couple, and were carted off into the swamplands surrounding the city.

I am in love with trees. I have been in love with trees since spending most of my childhood in and around the apple tree in our backyard, and the trees in the South do not disappoint. (See also my obsession with tulip trees in Kansas City. Not trying to say that’s the South. Adding additional context for tree love.) They are both formidable yet graceful. They loom large above you, and I imagine I could happily build a cabin and live beneath one forever.

I had never been on an airboat before. These things are awesome. They glide over floating foliage, loudly, and gather speed. I held my arm out, as one should, feeling the wind on my exposed skin. I loved it.

We navigated through a larger water channel before turning into a smaller passage, and eventually arrived to float among some plants. The guide brought out marshmallows, hooked them onto a pole, and then we met our first alligator, who floated up next to the boat, eager for food.

A smaller alligator joined that one, and the two of them chased pieces of raw chicken and marshmallows while I peppered the guide with questions about the alligator market (which is not what it once was, despite their utility as a food source), alligator lifestyles and territorial habits, and their lifespan. Turns out, they’ll eat anything, they grow to about 17 feet, live for up to 70 years, and grow very slowly. They’re very territorial, and are left to fend for themselves immediately after birth. You used to be able to get about $5,000 for a decent sized gator – but now the going rate is roughly $500 for the same gator. Hunters are given tags based on the land that they own, and it’s a good thing for population control. Alligator skin isn’t as popular as it once was for outerwear, and as such, the industry has suffered. I do believe I ate a gator nugget in Florida once.

I also learned a lot about water and land ownership rights. Turns out, in Louisiana, you can own water as though it were land, where in other places, you cannot. (You generally buy land with bodies of water on it, but you do not have claim to said water other than by the deeding of water rights, which are generally shared amongst those whose land butts up again or includes that body of water.) I need to do some more research, and learn how to more effectively communicate my understanding of water rights, but from what I gather, there are different applications of water rights depending on the potential for usage of a given waterway, and your water rights extend roughly 6 inches below the surface of the water. (Again, this is not legal advice, and should in no way be construed as such. I was drinking alcoholic beverages and asking questions that I don’t know the guide was qualified to answer.)

I enjoyed the afternoon immensely, and it culminated in me holding a baby alligator! He was very squirmy, and clearly not in the mood to be manhandled by humans. But he was sweet, and I imagined he’d feel right at home in my bathtub with Carl for a brother. They could hunt mice and squirrels in my backyard, and I would build him a pond for summer relaxation.

We left the alligator tour and went and ate the best fried chicken I have ever eaten in my entire life. I love fried chicken. I would eat it all the time. And man, the sides. Sweet potatoes, collard greens, mac and cheese, beans, rice. Heaven. This is what my heaven buffet includes.

We went home, napped (very necessary), and then became beautiful for our evening adventures. It included Hurricanes at some famous bar, then somewhere else, then a club. By this point, I was ready to go home, but they refused to let me go alone and thus, I danced wearily for several hours, while holding onto a railing, until we could leave.

The next morning brought beignets and I was able to pick up a new set of tarot cards. My friend Madeline had gifted me some in high school, and I’ve since lost them. While I am in no way blessed with the ability to remember anything about the tarot, I do enjoy possession of said cards, and was happy to procure them. The voodoo shop was lovely, cluttered, and full of things I could have spent hours looking at.

We wandered until it was time to check into my hotel, and we all hauled ourselves and our stuff there to wait until it was time to go to the airport. As soon as they left, I  immediately put on the bathrobe (because in theory, bathrobes are amazing but who actually bothers to use them in real life?), and then sprawled out across the bed.

I ordered room service. Obvious mistake, but the exhaustion deadened my bones and my fear of committing some GrubHub faux pas in a hotel lobby loomed larger than it should have, so with that, an over-priced Caesar salad and turkey club were whisked to my room. I opened the door in my bathrobe, hoping that wasn’t too weird. But I would imagine they’ve seen worse?

The next morning, I had formulated somewhat of a plan, and took the streetcar to a cemetery. I am obsessed with graveyards. I find them to be beautiful places of quiet reflection, the immensity of life somehow compacted into tiny markers of who once was. I’ve often stared at gravestones, caught in my own head, thinking hard about what it is to live a full life and then be reduced to a few lines of text for future consideration. In New Orleans, due to the sea level situation, you can’t really be buried underground, as your grave would just come back up, rejected by the earth. So instead, you are buried above ground. This cemetery housed graves going back to the late 18th century, I believe, and I wandered and wondered until the heat of the day and the weight of laptop digging into my back signaled that it was time to depart.

I perused a local bookstore for about an hour. I could read forever. I have lost my gift of immediately knowing a book is worth reading by looking at it, overwhelmed by the offerings of language and stories. I selected two, finally, one, a memoir by a well-known blogger known as The Bloggess, because she’s magical and hilarious and I would happily support her by purchasing her book, and the other, because the story felt compelling. I also had one more book in my backpack, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, a man whose writing I adore. So now, with three times the books I had with me when I started this three-day adventure, I sat wearily and made a new plan.

I had a few hours. I was exhausted. I was sweaty. The air was thick. Since I’d just spent $30 on books, I didn’t want to Lyft anywhere and I wasn’t sure what else I needed to see; although I had a couple museums in mind, I did not have the time. So instead, I decided to take the city bus to the airport, figuring I could just curl up at a bar somewhere with a book. So that’s exactly what I did.

I am not the most adept at public transportation, nor am I the least, so I figured that even with my several hour window, I’d manage to arrive in time. One streetcar ride, to the end of the line (I got to ride past the Loyola New Orleans campus, so that was cool), two buses, and a half mile walk in between seemed not that daunting. I made friends with a woman at one of the bus stops. We talked for half an hour about everything from high cholesterol to Chicago and weather and fried chicken. She said the locals don’t love the fried chicken place I’d fallen in love with as much as they used to, and I agreed that once something gets too popular, its quality generally decreases. However, I swore I’d come back to sample more chicken offerings, and we laughed about the quality of fried chicken in Denver. When she left the bus, she waved at me and shouted for me to have a blessed day. I loved her.

I arrived at the airport, having lost more fluids to sweat than I ever have in my entire life, exhausted and content. I found a quiet bar, curled up, and brought out my book. After the couple next to me left, a large man sat down, and immediately began talking crazy. I gave him some insight into adoption, after he told me a completely rambling story about a niece that had been given up for adoption who had reached out to the family, but the family was not getting along and so they refused to give him her information, and this and that and everything. So, I directed him to where he might find additional resources for tracking her down and I assured him that knowing is important, and that meeting her might provide some important closure for his sister, her birth mother.

With no ability to create any sort of insightful conclusion, I conclude. Alas, that was New Orleans. I’ll go back; it was beautiful.

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On Long-Awaited Life Updates, Determinedly

Oh man, life is indeed a roller coaster.

I’ll do the briefest of brief updates, just because I can’t go back and catch up on everything.

– The last spring snowstorm we had in Colorado cracked two of my tree branches in our backyard. I was heartbroken. I loved that tree because of its crooked branches. The boys spent an entire afternoon taking down the tree branches, which had narrowly missed power lines. My backyard is a bit more naked, but I’m grateful that I still have part of my tree. 

We keep joking that we’re going to make a treehouse out of a boat and put it in the tree. As we walk around our neighborhood, I get exited every time I see a boat, no matter how ridiculous it might be to image it in our tree. Boyfriend remarked sarcastically to my mom the other day that having a boat in the tree is a great idea because it’s clearly so structurally sound.

– My recovery from the torn EHL tendon has been slow. I have regained about 50% of the movement. I am now a full 8 weeks post surgery. I am working on keeping my foot protected but also trying to get it to do some movement on its own. I was finally cleared to leave the boot two weeks ago! I have some nasty looking scars, and I’m not convinced I’ll ever have full movement back, but I’m alive. And I can sort of wiggle my toe.

– I lost my job two weeks ago. Long story short – bad business practices and disagreements about my working conditions (they wanted me full-time back in the stores due to nearly a dozen people quitting; I cannot be on my feet full-time, nor do I want to be). I filed for unemployment, which they told me they would not contest. Heartbroken again. I had been finally really starting to enjoy myself but also to utilize my strengths as a leader and as someone who wanted what was best for all of the stores.

— Boyfriend and I are thinking about moving to Mississippi. It’d be more of a study-abroad deal for me, since it’s going to be such a huge culture shock. He’d be pursing a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics or similar and I’d be after a Master’s in Public Policy and Administration.

I feel that Mississippi is a state in dire need of help on a very real and large scale, and that my involvement there would be a fantastic kick-start to a rewarding career in public policy of all kinds. (Non-profit administration also stems from this degree, and over the years, I’ve come to realize that it’s something I’d love to do.)
The reason that the Public Policy and Administration program intrigues me is because it is the only Master’s degree that really encompasses my loves of government, social issues, writing, and law, while furthering my drive to make a lasting difference in our world.
I’m hoping that this degree will help me sharpen my leadership and communication skills, but also allow me to participate fully in the community in the most effective way.
— I lost my car keys. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I lost my car keys. Like, gone. MIA. Nowhere to be found. I am so frustrated. We went to Costco the other day, and I came home and opened the door and we haven’t seen them since. I have torn my car and house apart to no avail. I am waiting. If they don’t turn up by Monday, I must have my car towed to a dealership so they can make me a new key.
— Acorn is definitely part shepherd. He plays basketball. It’s the most adorable thing I’ve seen in a long time. He comes with us to a school by our house, or a park close by, and runs around while we (usually the boys, only sometimes me) play basketball. He’ll play defense and try to get the ball from you, he’ll bark while he’s waiting for the rebound, and he’ll jump up to get it. Once he gets it, he’ll shepherd it around the court until he gets bored with it. He’s just like Air Bud, sort of!

On the Puppy, Delightedly

I’m going to need more than one post to discuss the Thanksgiving trip to Mississippi, but I’m going to start with the most important part: the puppy.

Boyfriend loves dogs and has been wanting one for a while. He wanted a chocolate lab. (So does my brother.) I always object. I have nothing against chocolate labs, but why have a chocolate one when you could have a black one? Or a yellow one?

We spent the last week or so at his grandparent’s hunting getaway in Mississippi, which is a few miles outside of a tiny town. One of the neighbors came by one night to ask if we’d lost a black lab puppy, which we hadn’t. I was curious though, and kept saying that we should check on the puppy to see if he’d been claimed. (I was mostly joking, but hey, wishful thinking isn’t the worst thing.)

A couple of days later, we were prepping for a bonfire when a different man came by with the same puppy and said that he’d found him running along the road and wanted to know if we’d like to have him. (He must have had some sense that we were in the market for a puppy. I’ll just assume that he was pulled in by our radiating need for puppy love, like a magnet or a force field.) Boyfriend was the one who talked to him, and then he yelled my name as he carried an armful of black something into the house.

I opened the door and there was the black something, tail wagging and sniffing around. My heart stopped for a second – a puppy! We leapt into action and lured him into the bathtub with a piece of deer steak and then boyfriend held him while I began the soaping process – yuck. So much dirt! Poor puppy just rested his head on the edge of the tub and gave us sad eyes while the water went from clear to muddy brown. Boyfriend joked that he was doing the “Carlos submission” because when the cat gets a shower he just sits there and waits it out with the most pathetic look possible.

The puppy stayed the night in our room on a blanket folded by the side of the bed. He’s house-trained and very well-behaved, minus his chewing problem. He left the room in the middle of the night and returned with my hiking boot. When I took that away from him, he returned with a slipper, so boyfriend put all shoes outside the door and closed it. Throughout the next few days, he’d run into the grandparents room to steal slippers and bring them back to his place in our room to munch on them.

I couldn’t stop smiling. He’s the sweetest thing. Boyfriend wasn’t about to let himself get so excited so soon; he wanted to wait until we figured out if we were going to keep him. (I knew we were. Boyfriend’s eyes did that shiny-gleaming-love-at-first-sight look when he watched the puppy and I knew there was no way we’d be leaving him.)

After the first night, we knew we were going to keep him. We had some work to do with the land his grandpa owns for hunting, so we took the puppy with us. He followed us around constantly, running back and forth between us, sleeping on a pile of coats in the car when we were traveling. We bought him some puppy chow and a toy, plus a leash and collar so he’ll look like a proper dog with a family.

We decided to name him Acorn (pronounced “A-kern”). We took him to the vet as soon as we got back to Denver for his puppy shots and a general wellness check. He’s about four months old and he weighs almost 37 pounds. He’s got the biggest puppy feet I’ve ever seen. The vet looked at him and said, “My, you’ve got a long way to grow!”

I’m in love.

The cat hates him, but is possibly realizing that since he’s not going to attack him, the puppy might be all right after all. Fingers crossed. We’ve been closing my bedroom door at night to separate them, but there haven’t been any daytime attacks yet, so I’m feeling optimistic. I don’t think Acorn’s ever seen a cat before, so that helps.

I’m also absolutely exhausted from the drive back and am running on very little sleep – this puppy mothering business is rough. If it’s not chewing on shoes, it’s toilet paper, or mail, or clothes, or…..

So now it’s off to work for me. I’ll post more Mississippi stories soon!

On Thanksgiving, Excitedly

This year will be the first year in a long time I’m not in Denver for Thanksgiving. (Not counting 2010, when Mike and I were in Africa.) Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. It’s not as stressful as other holidays; there aren’t any gifts; it’s more about food than it is anything else. Since I’m not one who eagerly anticipates the shopping season, I have nothing to do that day and the next except lounge around and eat leftovers.

Thanksgiving leftovers are the best leftovers. (Cranberries! Stuffing! Gravy!)

This year is a big year. I’m going to Mississippi with boyfriend. I’m going to meet part of his family and go hunting. Oh god. Me hunting deer? I’m most excited about a road trip. I drive. He sleeps. Clears the mind.

I think I’m most nervous about deer hunting. What if I’m bored? Sitting still isn’t my strong suit. Sitting still and being quiet definitely aren’t things at which I excel. What if I actually kill one? Not likely. I told him I’d most likely either cry or be super into it.

I met his grandfather last week. We went to a hockey game and then had dinner the next night. I’m a huge fan – I love families and his grandpa had some great stories. I’m less nervous about the family liking me now that I’ve met him.

Still, I’ve never been to the South. I’ve already made the silent promise to myself not to say anything until after we’ve left. I want to take it all in and experience as much as possible. It’s going to be a very new adventure, but it’s also going to be a very necessary week off of work for me, which I’m looking very forward to.

In other news: I’m now the assistant manager at my store (officially, since I’ve been the assistant manager in all but name for quite some time now). I’ll be assisting with the revamping of the store as well as the training of the three new kids we hired. But more exciting than that is the prospect of some marketing and office work. The owner and I have yet to sit down and actually hash out all of the specific duties, but I’m thrilled about the opportunity to do more of what the marketing and administrative stuff while still being able to keep up my cake decorating and customer service.

Things are looking up, which is good. Finally a nice break for me and the chance for more positive opportunities and career growth, which are things that I’m looking forward to taking advantage of.

On the Wedding Weekend, Happily

The road trip was a success. We left a little bit later than I had anticipated on Friday morning, but the drive went smoothly.

We stopped somewhere in Wyoming:

Rapid City is only about 7 hours from Denver – maybe I’ll have to start making the trip more often!

We grabbed some barbecue for dinner and then headed back to the hotel, where I promptly fell asleep. I was exhausted.

This is the view from the Rapid City airport, where we rented a car. (Mom’s car is too old for road trips and Simon has a pending transmission issue, so we took my grandma’s car. It’s thirteen years old but only has 38,000 miles. I don’t think it had ever gone over 100 mph.) We needed to rent a car because the road up to the wedding was very rocky and nearly impassable by regular car.

This is a lovely picture but it doesn’t do the road justice. It was rocky. It was rough. I’d never really done off-roading before, so I threw the car into low gear and proceeded cautiously. I managed just fine.

The site of the wedding was about an hour and a half outside of Rapid City. Rural South Dakota is beautiful; it’s a lot like Colorado. After leaving the highway for a dirt road, we came up on the rocky road (just after I’d declared that we hadn’t needed to rent a car after all). Following the rocky road for probably the better part of a mile led us to another dirt road, which was the driveway.

We parked. We were the first ones there. They were still setting up for the traditional sweat, so we hung out for a while. It was hot! The couple on whose property the ceremony was held had an adorable granddaughter who was eager to help out.

The sweat was really cool. I was a little nervous going in because I’ve never participated in a sweat lodge before, but it was awesome. (This one was an abbreviated version, so that helped too.) We crawled in to the inipi (a dome-like structure) and then hot stones that had been cooking for several hours were added before the inipi was sealed and we were left in the pitch black.

As soon as the inipi was sealed, it got hot. I started sweating immediately. (The good kind of sweat, like two back-to-back hot yoga sessions.) They pour water on the stones, which are set into the earthen floor. That’s when it really gets steamy. We went around in a circle and said prayers for the bride and groom, and then we sat there for a little bit. Then it was over and it was the men’s turn!

I was bright red after the steamy sweat session, but i felt amazing. After changing clothes and putting on a much cooler dress, I waited for the men to be done with their sweat so we could have the ceremony.

The ceremony itself was beautiful – I’ve never seen a Lakota wedding before. The man who officiated was hilarious. He was half-German, half-Italian, but he had at some point come over here and become a Lakota. (His wife was the one who held our sweat session.) He told us all about what a Lakota wedding ceremony entails (flesh offerings!), and reminded us that this is a forever marriage. There is no option to divorce.

“What are you going to tell the Creator?” he asked us. “That you left your partner because it got hard?” He explained that in Lakota tradition, you go with your spouse to the Milky Way after you both die. He also reminded us that all that you can really own is your body. None of your possessions are really yours, because you can’t take them with you. Of course, your body doesn’t go with you, but it is your vessel for the time that you are here on Earth.

My birth mom, Lise, and her husband after the ceremony:

There is so much love between them and I’m absolutely thrilled for them to begin their lives together. (Well, continue their lives together.) He’s such a calming presence and they make a really wonderful couple. I’m thrilled to have just added more people to my family.

Speaking of family, I got to meet some of my blood relatives! My birth mom is one of twelve kids (so many!) and this weekend, I met four of my aunts and one uncle. They were very cool about it, and it was a no-pressure situation. It was awesome.

My birth mom gave me a ring that belonged to her mother! It’s an opal ring that her brother had made for their mother when he was in college. It’s so unique and absolutely beautiful. I am so overwhelmed with love and gratitude.

We made the trip back on Sunday after a somewhat disappointing trip to the Cosmos – it was exactly like Casa Bonita: go as an adult and it’s not the same at all. I kept expecting it to be longer, but it was so short! I hope that everyone who was with me had a good time – I’m worried that I wasted an hour of everyone’s time, but alas, it was great to get to hang out with everyone for a little bit longer.

I was tired and ready to be home – I cut about an hour off of the drive back home by taking advantage of the quiet back highways. We got home late on Sunday and I went home and immediately crawled into bed (I’m never in bed before ten, but I was wiped out). A very grumpy Carlos was there to greet me – apparently he’s not a fan of me taking road trips and leaving him home alone. He’s been very loud ever since, reminding me that I do indeed have a cat son and that he demands attention and love. I’m not leaving any time soon, the yowling is super cute but gets annoying very quickly.

On Adventure, Happily

Sometimes the need for escape trumps everything else. I have never believed that it is possible to lose sight of the grand vision that is life for the blinders of the present more than I do now. There is only today, and there is only tomorrow, and the endless list of tasks yet unfinished, emails unanswered, deadlines unmet. There is no great whooping joy, no time unaccounted for, nothing but the drudgery and confinement of the current moment, the oppression of the here and now.

I never take fun days. But early last week, after getting an invite to romp around in the wilderness, I threw my hands up and (with permission from my bosses, of course), I took the day off.

We drove two and a half hours outside of Denver to a tiny swimming hole. We parked, pulled our supplies out, and hiked in and down to the small pool surrounded by rocks. It was magical. The road was freeing. I held my arm out the window, breathing in the possibility of not knowing when I’d return home. There was no set schedule. There was only the music and the company and the water.

I was nervous to jump off the rocks into the water. Some military guys that were there told me that if I jumped, they’d give me a beer. I laughed, and steadied myself, taking a deep breath. (The rock is only about 15 feet from the water, but from up there, it looks like it’s so much higher.)

I reminded myself that I’ve done one of the world’s highest bungee jumps. That didn’t help at all. In fact, I remember how much I hated that. But as I stood there, nervous, I realized that it’s something I’ll never regret not doing, and that spurred me on. I jumped.

Paradise Cove, Colorado, Guffey, Swimming hole, secret spot

(That’s my splash. And there’s Gina, who counted down for me because I am a chicken.)

It was freezing. The boys gave me a beer, and seemed very proud of me. I was proud of me. The feeling of accomplishment far outweighed the terror, but it was not enough to get me to jump again.

We had the very best day. It was the perfect way to say farewell to one of my best friends, and to be perfectly happy with a crew that I’ve come to love fiercely.

I returned home late that night, exhausted. I was in charge of hosting a small get together for a girl who graduated from a culinary program. I was tired. I offered to cook for the people, and Evan refused to let me, ordering pizza instead.

And then came Las Vegas. I dragged myself out of bed at 5 am and was ready when the car showed up to take us to the airport.

This was a cousins’ trip, a chance to bond and be with family in a fun setting. I was looking forward it, although I’m honestly not a huge fan of Vegas. I discovered blackjack this time, and had a blast – I didn’t lose! Mike is a great and patient teacher, and the dealers were all lovely.

As usual, my favorite part of the trip was the pool time.

And we saw Jersey Boys.

And we had dinner and saw another show. (Side note: the dude from 90210 who is now a Chippendale is terrible….)

All around, it was a lovely weekend.

On Wedding Weekend, Spiritedly

I forgot how much I love to travel.

Love. The other morning, I had the urge to just throw things into the back of my car (including the cat – who doesn’t hate the car as much as you’d think), and run far away. I wanted to drive until there was no more road, until I’d come upon the glorious nirvana that is endless waterfalls and starry nights that never get too cold.

I love grabbing my “mountain backpack” (that’s what I call it, I bet it has a proper mountain term) from the closet and filling it to the brim with whatever I’m going to need for the next three to five days. I love the travel-sized toiletries. I love the bits of brightly colored fabric straps that have been tied to the zipper pulls for the past four years. I love the way I feel when I wear it.

I love shouldering the always too-full pack (always. I’m going to be the worst backpacker ever) and heading into the airport. In those moments, before the back aches set in and my feet start to hurt, I am filled with the possibility of adventure, with excitement, with a tingling in my fingertips as I hand over my boarding pass to the TSA agent.

I always try to make the exact awkward face I’m making in my driver’s license or even worse (better?), the face from my passport. I don’t know if they find that as hilarious as I do, but it’s worth it.

Chicago, gold coast, streelights,

The view from my friend’s apartment downtown. Oh Chicago, your cold spring winds caught me off-guard and were terrible. But the magic of the city is palpable. Its energy flows around you. It’s sublime.

This is where Katie and Eric got married. Between those two trees. I started tearing up when I saw her start walking down the aisle. I teared up again when her dad gave a speech, but it was her mom’s that put me over the edge. It was beautiful.

White wine. Photo booth. I kept calling it a “king hat.” It’s very obviously a crown. I’ve always been good with synonyms. Dancing. It was so wonderful to see my friends. I have missed them.

On Sunday, my friend Anne drove out to the burbs to pick me up and then we went back to her place and watched new episodes of Arrested Development and got frozen yogurt. I went with her to a birthday party before heading back to Denver.

I’ve been telling Evan that I want to go camping with him (athleticism and adventurous spirits are so sexy, but I’m nervous that I don’t have enough of that – maybe enthusiasm can make up for it?). My goal is to go to Conundrum Hot Springs, which is a very lovely 8.5 mile hike each way. While I was in Chicago, with my “mountain backpack,” I took the stairs as much as possible at the train stations to practice hiking. (Obviously this is a very flawed approach, but you have to work with what you’ve got.)

Sunday was great – I woke up early and went to REI with Evan. I’m really not having great luck with not losing Nalgene water bottles (I left yet another one in Spokane), so I thought I’d try yet again.  (80th time’s the charm, right?) We’re two days in and I’ve not lost them yet.

[Hah, I just have to insert a thought here that has nothing to do with anything, except losing stuff. My freshman year of college, while being young and dumb, I lost my camera at a bar. Shortly after, my mom sent me a care package with a package of cards with a note attached that said, “Maybe these will entertain you on those Friday nights when you don’t want to go out and lose something.” I love my mom.]

After REI, we went to brunch and then, faced with the prospect of an entire day off, I went to see Jacob. There was coffee, cleaning (I owed him – he’s helped me clean so many times), and then we met up with my brother and his friends for some grilling in the park.

Delicious.

Evan was at work, so I brought him dinner – tucked into an empty 6-pack was a cornucopia (ha, mostly) of delicious picnic foods: a brat with grilled onions and German mustard, chips, grapes, and cookies.  He loved it. (Relief. I was a bit nervous that it was going to be the worst thing.)

Summer is coming and I’m in full adventure mode. I want nothing more than to take road trips and to see things I’ve never seen before. Also, I’d love to actually get around to planting my garden (too late, but whatever), and doing yard work, and relaxing in my hammock. I’m filled with the same excited anticipation that I get waiting to get on the plane. It’s endless possibility and experience and it’s all in front of me. This is going to be the best thing.

On Spokane, Productively

Greetings from Spokane! I’m here until Wednesday on a business trip.

Total confession: I got in late Sunday night, and the first thing I did after arriving at the hotel was put on one of the fluffy bathrobes and jump on the giant bed. It was everything Ferris Bueller would have wanted for my first night in a Four Diamond hotel. 

(This is a self-portrait.)

The rental car I got is a Toyota Prius, and I’m in love. It’s cute, the turning radius is beautiful, and it’s fun to drive, but holy cow, touchy brakes. I’m sure the people who have to drive behind me hate me. I love the constant display of battery usage vs. fuel consumption.

Last night, I took it on a drive. I didn’t go very far, but I wanted to see part of the city. I think I’ll do the same tonight, but I’ll go in a different direction. Perhaps I’ll try to see something scenic.

I got back to the hotel last night with a bag of Burger King (yeah, I know, lame. I think I’ll go for steak or something tonight) and I vegged out. I don’t veg out, ever. It was weird. I clicked aimlessly through the channels on the tv, realizing that I no longer have any idea about television programming. Doing nothing felt weird, but it felt sort of good. I think I’ll have to do it more.  (That’s my goal for 2013 – “do less.” I looked at my calendar for the rest of May, and I realized that I work or have plans nearly every single day. Doing less is difficult.)

You can buy the beds at this hotel, and I’d like to expense one – it’s like sleeping on clouds. The sheets are so soft, the pillows are even softer, and the bed is that perfect blend of support but comfort.

The cool thing about this conference is that vendors (me!) are on the balcony of the ballroom where the majority of the conference is being held. The session today is about learning how to reduce stress and avoid burnout. (I’m having one of those moments where I’m thinking about how fortuitous my presence here is….)

(My view from my vendor table)

The material in this session matches the material that I’m currently reading for my Leadership through Emotional Intelligence class. Don’t you love it when that happens? I love it when things fall neatly into place like that. I was going to get a bunch of work done today like I did yesterday, but I’m actually really interested in what they’re talking about in this session, so I’m listening to that, trying to absorb all of the information.

This whole mindfulness thing is fascinating. It’s so simple, but so easy to overlook. They’re sitting here talking about “thinking brain,” which I’m assuming is their simplification of mindfulness. They’re talking about “survival mode” – which is what I’ve been in for the past few months. It’s amazing to think about the physiology behind it and its effects on your life.

We’re looking at setting boundaries, saying no, and recognizing stress signals. I love things like this. This trip is such a nice little break – not a break, necessarily – but it’s a nice chance to remove myself from my routines and my regular stressors. I’ve been enjoying it immensely. One of my strengths is interaction and assistance – which is weird because I consider myself to be so shy – but I love being able to meet our clients and listen to them and try to offer solutions, assistance, and support.

I think I’d like to be a fixer. Can that just be a job description? (Sort of like in Breaking Bad where they’ve got that guy who does the hiding of the bodies and the other stuff…he’s the fixer. I want to be the person with the power to solve problems and the knowledge of available solutions.)

I was nervous to come out here by myself, but I read a horoscope last week (I know, I know, but I read an article about positive encouragement as a way to increase productivity and technically that counts as positive encouragement) that said that even though I’m walking on a tightrope with no safety net, I shouldn’t look down because I’m going to make it. With that in my mind, I haven’t looked down. I’ve been staring straight ahead and I’ve been taking baby steps forward.

Of course, there are still five hours left of interpersonal interaction and there’s still time to fall off. But I don’t think it will happen like that. I am comfortable, content, and capable. I’ve got this.

On Longing for Home

There are days when I wake up and my heart hurts. The sadness settles down around me, and the longing pangs begin. And they don’t go away – they are a dull ache of wanting that can’t be soothed by anything. I get online, and stare at pictures of the places that I came to love fiercely, and I pray that I never let the memories slip away.

I know they eventually will. The way to Long St. is obfuscated already. The way to Muizenberg Beach, however, will stay fused to the very core of my soul until the day that I die. And even then, I imagine it will refuse to let go.

South Africa is not my current home. It is not my birth place. It is not where I’ve spent a majority of my time. But parts of my heart linger there: on the scent of a fresh morning, on the sounds of crashing waves, in the metal of the chain that holds the gate together, in the sand. There are some things that you can never take away. There are some experiences, that no matter how brief, will leave you changed irrevocably.

The three months we spent in South Africa were comprised of sublime experiences: the disparity, the music, the nightlife, the sadness, the love. Yes, I was ready to leave when we left, but I swear, if I could somehow let you feel what I felt in the most magical moments, you’d understand.

Cape Town, South Africa

Table Mountain, Cape Town, South Africa