Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Candle's All Burned Up

The last six weeks have been jam-packed, and the last nine days in particular were positively insane. Here's a quick rundown on what I did, in rough order:

- Met up with friends in town for SXSW
- Hosted friends in town two weekends in a row (and by "hosted," I mean they stayed with me)
- Went on four first dates (bleck)
- Hired and met with a career coach three times
- Hosted my cookbook club at my house
- Vacationed in Mexico for five days
- Went to LA to visit friends for four days, followed by an impromptu 18-hour detour to see my parents
- Attended far too many veterinary appointments for Juliette
- Met up with friends for drinks, lunch and dinner on way too many occasions to count

I haven't had a single free evening in the last nine days. I celebrated a friend's birthday with dinner at Texas French Bread, participated in Austin Restaurant Week at Parkside with more friends, ate dinner at NXNW with even more good friends on what would have been my third wedding anniversary (because I'll be damned if I'm sitting home alone and moping on that day), went off to LA and detoured to San Jose on the way home, saw David Sedaris live, and then finally capped it all off at the Railroad Revival Tour last night with two great girlfriends (one of whom summed up the evening quite nicely here). I think it all finally caught up to me, because I had a couple more beers than I'd planned on at the concert and flirted with a guy in a most obvious and embarrassing way, but all in all had a good night.

I generally think of myself as being someone who doesn't like to be too busy, and I was dreading the rapid fire pace of the last six weeks. Everything on my calendar was something I really wanted to do, though - it was just the timing that sucked a little. I think my fatigue was beginning to show a little by the end, because my boss noticed that I seemed to be "burning the candle at both ends." I did enjoy myself, though, and I learned something valuable about myself, too - I actually like to be busier than I thought I did. I used to think that I'd prefer to spend most evenings at home, but that turns out not to be the case. I actually like going out and meeting up with friends and being a bit busier than I realized - it's fun. Just not quite this busy, perhaps.

The next few weeks are decidedly quieter, which I'm looking forward to. I still have things planned, but they're spaced out better. The thing I'm most excited about in the next few weeks is getting back to cooking and working in my garden. I really haven't had time for either of these lately, but they're both very therapeutic for me. They require me to be very "present," because one teaspoon too much of salt or one bad snip could ruin a dish or send a plant to the compost heap. I'm also going to make a more concerted effort to get to the gym regularly and be more active in general - I feel better when I do it, and really, this situation has gotten out of control. I'm 30, and it's time to make a healthy lifestyle a habit instead of something I keep putting off until next week/month/year.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Blog Post with No Name, Because I Couldn't Think of One

Three years ago today, I walked down an aisle with my parents by my side and got married.

I tried to write that sentence a dozen different times, beginning it "Three years ago today, I walked down an aisle with my parents by my side and married the man that I...." and then getting stuck. I want to write "loved," because I did love him, in a way. But not in the right way, which I suppose was our ultimate problem.

I was genuinely happy that day. It's one of the few moments I can point to and say definitively that yes, I was happy. Our families and dearest friends were there. We danced and drank and devoured the most delicious cake I've ever eaten. But in the months that followed, I knew something wasn't right. I found myself wondering, "Is this all there is to married life?" I felt like something was missing - some sort of excitement, or depth of emotion, or... something

I thought maybe my idea of what marriage should feel like was unrealistic, so I tried adjusting my expectations. I thought maybe we needed to get away and remember why we got married in the first place, so we went to Italy. I thought maybe I really just needed to find happiness in other areas of my life, so I started going out with my friends more. Except I could never quite adjust my expectations enough, and Italy was great but when we got home real life remained the same, and more and more I found myself looking forward to time with my friends as an escape from my failing relationship at home.

We got divorced last summer. I'm sorry that I hurt him. I certainly didn't mean to - when I said my vows, I never imagined that less than two years later I'd be breaking them. And I do regret not bringing my ex-husband into the conversation about my unhappiness earlier, though I'm still not sure how I could have done that. I spent a year trying to figure out exactly what was wrong, and by the time I put my finger on it I think the relationship was too far gone to fix. In some ways, it was broken from the start: we established unhealthy patterns early on, and I didn't understand what I really needed and wanted from a partner.

Today is a strange day for me. On the one hand, I haven't been dwelling on my marriage and divorce as much lately, and I don't feel the overwhelming sadness I thought I would today. But on the other hand, I do feel some grief for the relationship I imagined we would have and the plans we made together. I think that's normal, and even appropriate. A year ago I was drowning in the grief; I don't plan to do that today. I'm going to work in the morning, and I have dinner plans with a friend tonight. I'll probably cry a little at some point, because the end of a marriage is a sad thing, and then tomorrow I'll wake up and go about my life.

And it will all be fine.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Beach Reads

Before I left on vacation, I solicited reading recommendations for my beach vacation. Ultimately, I selected three books for my four-day vacation - a little ambitious, I thought. Turns out to have been just right - I finished the last book on my final evening there.

I started with Aimee Bender's The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, which is about a girl who discovers at nine years old that she can taste the emotions of the people who prepare her food. It was a quick and easy read, if a little confusing at the end, and had a healthy dose of magical realism (which I love). I picked it up the afternoon I arrived, and finished it the following afternoon.

Next was Jasper Fforde's The Well of Lost Plots, the third in a series I recently started reading. Another quick and engaging story, with some mystery and humor thrown in - really perfect beach reading, in my opinion. I started it the second day and finished it the following morning.

Last was Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I was most concerned about this choice since it's nonfiction. I knew it would be good - several people whose opinions I trust said so - but I was worried it might be a bit too "heavy" for vacation reading. Luckily, my concerns were entirely unfounded. Skloot's writing style was very accessible, and the story is told in a narrative form that drew me in from the start. I wrapped this one up in the last day and a half.

One of the things I enjoyed most about my vacation was how it forced me to disconnect from my life at home. There was no television or phone in my room, and the only wifi access was limited to the restaurant area. If I was bored, my choices were to nap, people watch, take in the scenery, chat with another visitor, cool off in the pool, get a massage, or read. I did a little bit of everything, but leaned heavily toward books. I haven't devoured three books in four days since I was a kid, and I remembered how much I enjoyed consuming a good story. As an added bonus, the decreased "screen time" forced me engage more with my surroundings and melted my stress away. The instant I re-entered the world of airports and wifi and cell phones, I felt my body and mind tense up again in an all too familiar way.

I'm determined to bring this lesson from my vacation back home with me. I know I spend far more time than necessary staring at a screen - I eat dinner in front of my laptop, I watch television in the evenings, I check my email and Twitter first thing when I wake up and last thing before I go to bed. It's all-consuming at times. I'm going to start working more reading and other slow and mindful activities into my everyday life, with the hope that the next time I head home from vacation, the return to reality won't be quite so jarring.

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Day in the Life

Some of you might wonder what I do for a living. Basically, I research and write the exhibits you see at Texas state park visitor's centers. It's about as glamorous as you think it is (although I really do enjoy it). Luckily, I have some pretty amazing coworkers. We've been a team for almost four years now, and it's gotten to the point where we have some long-running inside jokes. I'm sure our banter is beyond bizarre to most people. Here's a recent IM exchange I had with a coworker that began with a simple enough (and honest) question.

Preface: This coworker is an endless fount of trivia; has a thing about scientific accuracy, especially concerning mosasaurs (don't ever say they were dinosaurs in front of her); and harbors an intense hatred of pandas. Don't ask.

Me: are fish animals?
Coworker: def
Me: ok
Coworker: jellyfish are even animals
Me: i can never remember what the kingdoms are
Coworker: even jellyfish that don't eat are still animals
Me: what about mosasaurs?
Coworker: yes
Me: pandas?
Coworker: no
Me: what're they?
Coworker: they are assholes

That's around the point where I burst out laughing and almost choked on my tea.

This is precisely why I wake up and come to work every day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

I've Had the Time of My Life

... and I owe it all to you. 

Okay, well, not really. Really, I owe it all to Sayulita.

Last week I embarked on Part One of my One Big Thing for this year and went on a 4-day trip to Sayulita, México. I've been trying to come up with one word to describe it, and I just can't. It was amazing, relaxing, invigorating, gorgeous, and everything I needed. It was perfection (hey, wait, I did just come up with one word!).

I've traveled to México before, but my trips are usually more about exploring than relaxing. This was the first time I can remember going somewhere with the express purpose of lying around and not doing a damn thing. Discovery: not only am I good at being lazy, but I quite like it too!

Sayulita is about 40 minutes north of Puerto Vallarta, and it's a small beach town that's mostly full of surf bums and American ex-pats. I stayed at Playa Escondida, a small boutique-style hotel located outside of town. It was the perfect combination of amenities - a restaurant, bar, and spa on site; English-speaking staff; the ability to book excursions through the hotel - and an off-the-beaten-path feel. Each unit was different, they were all open-air, and they were literally built into the jungle hillside (one unit had a large tree growing up through the bathroom wall). Being on a budget, I booked the smallest, cheapest room they had, Bungalow 2. I was totally fine with this - I didn't plan to spend much time in my room, and it had the one amenity I knew I wanted: a hammock on my private patio surrounded by lush tropical plants.

When I arrived I was informed there were some loud repairs going on near my room, so they'd upgraded me. I was a little bummed to hear this at first - they'd rebooked me into a room in Bird Canyon, which was an area way at the top of the mountain and therefore not in walking distance to the beach each morning. Plus, no private hammock. But after Cristian took me to see Casa Chachalaca (the name of my new accommodations), I was absolutely over the moon: a two-story treehouse, perched at the top of a canyon covered in tropical jungle. That upgrade was the best thing that happened to me. I slept with all the doors and windows open, and each morning I woke up at sunrise to the sight of the morning sun pouring down into the canyon, lighting up the palm and banana trees. Bird calls were my alarm clock. It was amazing.

This was the view I had as I sat up in bed each morning. I left the folding doors open each night just so I could have this first thing.
Another view of the canyon.
The room's interior was almost as nice as the views. My favorite part was the open-air shower - it felt so exotic and luxurious.

Warm sun and rain showerhead. *sigh*
I got over being way up at the top of the mountain pretty quickly because they gave me my own personal golf cart to get up and down the hill each day. Coral, the resident black lab, went crazy for the golf carts. She would hear the beep as you put it into reverse and come running, racing all the way up the hill. On more than one occasion she slept on my downstairs porch after an exhausting run. And one morning, she greeted me and started the day with another exciting race.

Getting ready to go.
She pretty much always took the lead.
Coral was such a tease - this was as close as she ever let me get to winning.
Besides racing with Coral, my days pretty much revolved around lounging on the beach and reading. 

Day 1: Reading in a hammock on the beach. No, I didn't manipulate the colors in this picture: the sky really was that blue, and my legs really were that blindingly white.

Day 2: Reading on a chaise lounge on the beach. Pacifico was my drink of choice - I mean, you can't drink the water, right?
Day 3: View of a hammock from a chaise lounge on the beach. The best of both worlds.
To my surprise, I made some new friends while I was in Sayulita (yes, other than Coral the Racing Dog). I'd imagined that I'd really keep to myself and read (and drink and eat), and I didn't go out of my way to talk to anyone at first. But Butch and Chris found me and I'm so glad they did. It turns out Butch grew up not far from where I live now, and Chris went to high school about four miles away from where I went to high school - small world! Those guys were so funny, and fun to hang out with, and really generous too. Their parting gift to me was a "beso" from Pie in the Sky, a bakery in Bucerías (about 30 minutes south of Sayulita). The "beso" was a dense chocolate brownie with a creamy, fudgy center that was so killer! I wish I had ten of them in the freezer for dessert emergencies. Thanks, Chris and Butch!

I'm pretty sure I was the only single person at the hotel - everyone else seemed to be part of a couple or group. And that was really fine with me. I'd expected it. But what I didn't expect was how many people seemed surprised that I was traveling alone, and how many called me things like "brave" and "independent" and "impressive" because of it. I was even told I have "moxie" (I have no idea what that means). I generally responded to these comments (sometimes out loud, but usually in my head) with: "Am I supposed to stay at home and never go on vacation just because I'm single?" My answer remains a very firm "hell no!"

I never went into Sayulita to explore the town, although several people assured me it was worth the 30 minute trek down the beach, clambering over rocks and stubbing their toes (suckers!). I did venture down the beach a little ways, just far enough to see some gorgeous scenery. The waves were up and the tide was coming in when I was doing my exploring, and it made for some pretty pictures.

The rocks were covered in small crabs who scurried away whenever I came near, but I still managed to get a few good pictures of them.

This guy looks like he's keeping watch for something.
This little one is in full camouflage mode.
I like to imagine this was a little crab family.
I didn't spend all my time on the beach. Occasionally, I made my way up to the pool, which provided some shade and some equally lovely scenery.

The pool, with the patio restaurant in the background.
And next to the pool was the restaurant. In addition to serving some really good food and drinks (not your standard hotel fare by any stretch of the imagination), it had some great dinnertime views.

Really, the perfect dinner atmosphere.
It really was the perfect vacation. I haven't felt that relaxed in a long time, and I enjoyed it so much that I'm thinking of making Playa Escondida an annual destination. And I'm already looking forward to my next solo trip - I just have to pick a destination first.

If you're interested in seeing some more photos from my vacation, head on over to Flickr and check out my Sayulita photostream.