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Gratitude

My husband went all out for my 40th birthday. And it was great. We indulged in luxury and relaxation with some of our favorite people. We spent memorial day weekend in the California desert at the Ritz-Carlton.

Some years back, my old work partnered with Ritz-Carlton to develop a program for the organization. And I heard a lot about the Ritz-Carlton experience. It planted a seed that one day I wanted to stay at a RC property. Back in January, we visited the NOLA property to listen to jazz and have drinks. And I remembered my desire to stay at one. So we decided to plan a trip for my big 4-0.

We chose the Ranch Mirage location because we could make it a weekend that included friends. This way some friends could stay at the resort with us. The others stayed locally at a condo they owned.

We barely left the resort except to drop our kids (and the dog) off at the Holiday Inn Express and to go to the spa at the JW resort (it’s cheaper). We didn’t splurge for the adult children, but I think they still had fun coming back to the RC for breakfast.

The property is situated up on a hill overlooking Palm Desert, Palm Springs, and the other desert cities. It was actually great to be off away from the busier Memorial weekend crowds. The weather was unusually cooler all week in Southern California, which was great for our trip. Cooler meaning it was in the 90s in the desert. Our room was next to the adult pool which meant less kids and more lounging. Our room had a patio, a fire pit, and a deep soaking bath tub that I made a point to enjoy!

The service was the highlight of the property. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly and helpful. It was an exceptional customer service experience. Service like laying out towels on the longer chairs before you sit down by the pool. At check in, spending 15 min showing us the map of the property, getting ice for the wine we had brought, and putting our luggage away for us. There were a lot of kind greetings and helpful staff.

Our dinner was on the property at State Fare. We had great service and everyone loved their food. I was bummed that they had run out of the specific vegetarian meal on the menu. I got pasta primavera and it was decent. But most of all, I had great company and felt very grateful for my husband, my kids, and my friends.

My friend Kristin said she felt so grateful for our weekend trip to the desert. I told her she deserved to relax. She answered by saying that there are so many people who work hard and deserve it, so she knows she is lucky. And it’s true. We are very lucky to have been able to have a weekend like this.

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Self Care Saturdays

When I was planning my transition out of my weekend job, I started thinking about taking some time for myself. It was something I started calling self care Saturday. I usually left for work at 0540 in the mornings on Saturday and finished up at three in the afternoon. I realized I was pretty tired on the weekends. Most days, I took a 15 minute nap when I got home.

But when I found another job during the week, I was able to plan leaving my weekend job. At the same time I had been thinking about how I needed to take care of myself. On a weekend that my daughter was home from college, she and I got some face masks to do one Saturday. I also bought some tea treat oil and started doing a foot soak on Saturdays. Sitting in my back yard for 15 minutes with my feet soaking in warm water with the smell of tea tree oil is really relaxing.

I have also started a exercise routine with my running buddy, Teddy. I drag myself out because I know it makes me feel better. It helps my mood. And I know there is tons of evidence that exercise is beneficial for your mood, but sometimes I really forget how true it is.

I really want to continue this kind of self care into my 40s. I’d like to do more things to honor myself and my time instead of watching TV or scrolling through the internet. What are you doing for self care? Do you have a routine?

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One Last Foot In

I mentioned last post, I have 3 jobs. One is on the weekend. It’s teaching nursing. But I am about 2 weeks away from being done with nursing. In fact, today I took my stash of scrubs from the job I had for 8 years and put them in the goodwill pile. I decided I don’t have to hang onto them just in case.

I have a hard time explaining to people why I changed careers. It seems confusing to everyone, even though it makes sense for me. I liked helping people. I was good at it. But nursing wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t my dream job. It was something I did because, I needed a job, I was good at math and science, and I liked helping people. I don’t resent it. Even my therapist was like, but why did you quit.

Because I want to pursue things I have loved for my whole life that are not a part of nursing. Words. Language. Writing. Literature. Critical analysis of all of the above.

It’s kind of scary leaving an economically stable field like nursing. Union wages. Hospital benefits. Yearly raises. Teaching adults is a field of mostly part time jobs, which is why I have 3. Hopefully this year I can whittle that down to one.

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Making Room for Joy

I’ve been working a lot, every weekend and Monday through Thursday a lot. One of my friends, during a discussion on professional development classes, said that I am always going somewhere. He said it because I told him I am going to Canada in June, so I can’t take a class with him. I replied back with the fact that I have 3 jobs. And one day off a week. So, yeah, I need some time for travel.

So far, this year I have gone to NOLA and Vancouver. One with my husband and the other with the best travel girlfriends a person could have. We had a great time and they made me laugh so much.

We did touristy things like visit Granville island, visit the Capilano Suspension Bridge, and shop in the city center. We also ate at cute neighborhood markets, had afternoon tea in neverland, visited a whiskey bar in gastown and laughed so hard we cried. We watched women’s Olympic hockey in a Canadian bar, and we were the only people cheering for USA (and USA won!).

I’ve known these girls for years. We are completely different. We don’t have the same beliefs and politics. But we were all teenage mothers who lived on the same street as single moms. We are connected by a shared experience and our continued friendship is an amazing kind of sisterhood. When I returned, I really reflected on the joy they bring me and how grateful I am to have them.

Remember to find joy with the people in your life.

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Happy 300th Birthday New Orleans!

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This year is NOLA’s 300th birthday. Which is part of the reason every travel expert/magazine is telling you to visit this year. I didn’t know that when I booked our first trip of 2018. I just wanted a cheap flight (offset by miles) and somewhere fun my husband and I hadn’t been together.

Some years back I went to NOLA for a conference but my husband hadn’t been since he was in the army, stationed in Louisiana in the early 90’s. His mother had lived in NOLA as a kid, and when she was in the hospital told us about running around the city at 13.

We stayed at the Embassy Suites (Hilton property as usual) which is conveniently located in the warehouse district and has a free breakfast. They also upgraded me to a balcony room, bonus, but the trip was during that crazy cold storm that hit the east coast. It was like 30-40 degrees and we weren’t hanging out on the balcony in that weather (hello, we’re from California).

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It was a great way to enjoy the new year. One of the best places we ate was Peche, which was blocks from our hotel. We had a planned list of a lot of places to try, and we had divided them up by day. We were only there from a Wednesday night to Saturday afternoon, so we divided the two full days between us to plan. I had Thursday and my husband had Friday. We found Peche Wednesday night completely unplanned, which is how travel usually goes. The usually packed bar was pretty empty, probably because it was the Wednesday after new years but before the beginning of Mardi Gras, and it was 35 degrees outside. We ate so amazing food, oysters, smoked tuna and saltines, and some cheese croquettes. I tried the sazerac, a classic whiskey drink that originated in NOLA.

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Part of our Wednesday night included the Davenport lounge at the the Ritz Carlton, for cocktails and jazz. 

The plans for my day included hitting up the essential NOLA institutions: Jackson square to see the Louisiana live oaks and contemplate Whitman’s poetry; coffee and beignets and Cafe du Monde; visiting the Presbytere, across from Jackson square to learn about the rise of New Orleans through slavery (this is a must history lesson for only $6), jazz on Frenchman street; and dinner at a local black owned business, The Praline Connection. During the day we also walked through the 8th ward and saw street art, and had coffee in the newly refurbished St. Roche market. I tried to plan our outings to mindful of the impact of tourism, gentrification, and the history of the city. What’s good about St. Roche is that it was part of post Katrina revitalization, but has local businesses making amazing food stalls. Like Fritai (Haitian), Empanola (Argentinian), and La Mezcla Mexicana. All three of these include female part owners and Latinx or black owners. When watching food videos before my trip, I saw a lot new cool restaurants with white chefs doing creole or soul food. I decided to make an effort to support business owned by non-white people.

We saw this amazing art through the window of the federal building. Powerful Katrina image that many of us have forgotten.

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New Orleans Museum of Art

At the art museum: This was the inside of a Lincoln cabin-esque house built by gold, bullets, iphones, pills, etc on a foundation of shackles for slaves.

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The Time Twitter Found Me a Taxi and I Slept in the Airport

Sometimes travel is crazy. Sometimes you take turns sleeping on a restaurant bench in the airport waiting for staff to arrive. Sometimes you can use the internet to find English speaking taxis to pick you up from your Airbnb in a foreign country in the middle of the night.

Earlier this year, my friend and I went on a crazy adventure to Europe. We flew Air Serbia because we found a ridiculous flight deal for $149 round trip. This meant flying to Belgrade and flying out of Belgrade. I booked an Airbnb for our arrival and one for the night before our departure. This was because our flight times to leave were changed by the airline, which interfered with our train from Vienna connection. Originally we were going to take the long train and then fly home. Instead we had to take the train the day before, sleep one night in Belgrade, and fly out very early.

 

I looked for an Airbnb closest to the airport with some decent reviews. All of my Airbnb experiences have been pretty good, so I had a lot of faith. The host and I corresponded about my arrival to the train station and for an extra bit of money, she said she could arrange transportation from the train station to the Airbnb. Since we were arriving after dark, fairly late, I thought this would work out well.

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After the long train ride, we were pretty tired. Serbian trains are cheap but NOT super luxurious. We played games on My friend’s phone, are strange flavored chips, and tried to cope with the smoke from other passengers. It was not my favorite part of travel. We looked around the train station for our ride, and picked up snacks from the shop in the train station while we waited.

I heard someone say my name, and turned around to find two girls ready to drive us. Um, they were not the Airbnb host. One of them said the host asked them to pick us up, but her English was pretty limited and I had only learned thank you in Serbian. On the drive, the car died twice. They didn’t appear to know exactly where they were going, as in maybe had never been there, and they were reading directions off of the phone with a lot of questions. Along the drive I used google maps to be sure we were going the right way. I didn’t want to get lost with two girls who could hardly say anything to us. when we arrived, we weren’t in the same apartment as the photos. Also it smelled like smoke everywhere. The plan was that we were supposed to be picked up from the train and be driven to the airport in the early morning. The girls said they would be back in the morning.

I’m aware that I sound like a western spoiled traveler, but I wasn’t feeling like their car was absolutely for sure getting us to the airport on time. I have late to airport anxiety  (its real) and I am not one of those it will work out people when it comes to air travel. Also I can’t stand sleeping in a smoky apartment. I was raised by a smoker and I have no more tolerance for smoke on everything while I am trying sleep. So I got on the internet and searched for English taxis in Belgrade. Eventually I found one on twitter and one I could contact via Skype using the apartment wifi. Yay!

I called us a taxi, and dragged my friend to the airport at 1 am. The only problem is, Belgrade’s airport is so small, you can’t get a boarding pass or go through security until everyone shows up. SO we slept for like 4 hours on food court bench seats. I always tell my kids, I can find anything on the internet, and so far, its worked out pretty well. Have you had any stressful travel moments where the internet was a lifesaver?

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Therapeutic Conversation

In nursing, there certain skills you learn to talk to people in a therapeutic way. I try to teach my students these skills each weekend (for 1 of my 3 jobs). Things like active listening, open ended questions, and helping patients talk about their goals instead of listening to you try to give them goals. Mastering this with patients doesn’t mean you master them in your personal life, but I will credit these skills with creating a less confrontational me and a more patient me in my relationships. I also have learned to not assume everyone’s problems are about me, which has been HUGE.

Despite that, I still struggle with relationships.

This year, when I returned from my glorious trip to Europe, I didn’t work for like a month. And then I got kind of scared because I am still paying for a kid and college and was like, ok, I need a job now.

And now I have three jobs. Basically. Because people don’t hire full time teachers for adults unless you have a PhD or are willing to work for $25 an hour. I know. No one feels sorry for me because I won’t accept $25 an hour. But I can’t. So instead I got 3 part time jobs to add up to a full time one. And it’s hard. Sometimes I feel like quitting. Or running away. And I started to feel trapped by my responsibilities. And lonely. And depressed. For no apparent reason.

So I found someone to pay to listen to my problems and use therapeutic conversation skills on me. And even though I would probably say the same things to a patient that she says to me, it seems to take hearing from her to believe it.

But it’s also pretty crappy. Basically I paid someone to open Pandora’s box. All of the crappy things that happened to me in the first 19 years of my life, that I thought I had managed to shove down a deep, dark pit have now resurfaced. I knew I had baggage, but I just remembered why I don’t like talking about it. Because it sucks so much.

Anywho. Here’s to being almost forty and still trying to figure it out.

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Is Vegas Still Fun?

For Veterans Day weekend, my husband and I headed to Vegas. It was a combination of birthday/holiday/bachelorette weekend all rolled into one. We were looking forward to getting out of town and spending time together. But once we arrived on this fifth or sixth trip to sin city, we found ourselves wondering if we really still liked Vegas.

One of the things that was always fun to see in Vegas was the over the top themed hotels. But Las Vegas is changing and hotels like the Luxor, New York, New York, or Treasure Island are older. And over the top and opulent becomes tacky and grotesque over time instead of classy. Especially in a smoky, flashy casino. Vegas just doesn’t age well.

But it’s not all terrible. What do you do in the desert if you don’t gamble a ton and you want to avoid the flashy Vegas? You hike Red Rock National park.

Red rock was free on Saturday because of the holiday. But it was also crowded. It was a beautiful sunny day and not hot. We hiked at the third stop along the scenic loop which was short but moderate. You can get the map at the entrance and choose the hike that works for you.

Some other things we did included Indian food at the Royal Indian Bistro, free Veteran’s breakfast buffet at the Paris hotel and casino, and discounted tickets to the worst Vegas show I have ever seen, WOW. Our Indian food was good. But eating in hotel casinos are expensive and sometimes not worth it. But we enjoyed our dinner and the service. WOW was like a wannabe Cirque du Soleil show that was incredibly sexist and cheesy.

For the bachelorette shenanigans, we dressed up, dined sashes and went out for dinner, a show and dancing. We had a great meal at Wolfgang Puck’s Cucina. The bride to be enjoyed everyone congratulating wishing her well. And I went to bed at a very late 3:30 in the morning.

We had a good time celebrating the upcoming wedding. Vegas is still a good place for that.

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Weekends in Santa Cruz

I just got back from another weekend of visiting my college kid. Really I think I was just escorting my dog to visit my kid, because she seemed less interested in the family, and more interested in our dog, Teddy. I mean, he is the cutest dog ever but, what am I? The person who pays tuition?

But Santa Cruz is great. I love it there. I’d like to win the lottery and move to that area and enjoy the nearness to the ocean.

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I’ve been up to the north end of Monterey Bay numerous times and have formed some opinions of what is good on a typical visit. Smelling the redwood trees on the campus: good. Getting stuck in the highway 1 traffic at 4 pm: bad.  I also have some go to locations for food and lodging.

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One of my favorite places to eat is Assembly. This place is right in the heart of the city on the main street, Pacific Avenue. They have indoor and outside seating, a great menu, and even better a fun appetizer menu. I am all about small plates these days.

IMG_2920We also always pick up coffee to take home from the Santa Cruz Coffee Roasting Co. They are also n Pacific, so its an easy stop to get a pound before we go. And a latte. And a cookie.

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In terms of hotels, Santa Cruz has a lot of options and many of those are old style motels advertising that they are close to the boardwalk. But that isn’t where I typically stay. My favorite location in the Scotts Valley Hilton (disclosure: I am a Hilton rewards member, so I do stay at a lot of Hilton properties). It has a cabin in the woods feel, has a dinning room and it has a pool. It’s also dog friendly. The picture above is from the lobby with it’s giant chandelier. It feels cozy and quiet. It could be where you spend a lot of time, if you don’t feel like heading down to the city of Santa Cruz. If I can’t stay there, I don’t usually book the other Hilton property, the Hampton Inn. Because it smells. It smells every time. I tried it twice and that was enough. I liked the Holiday Inn Express across the street better. This last time we drove up, a lot of hotels were booked completely so we ended up staying north in Cupertino at the Juniper (another Hilton property-dog friendly). It was really nice and we had a great dinner onsite, but we had trouble getting good service for breakfast. Also, Cupertino isn’t as fun for hanging out as Santa Cruz, it’s basically a city of strip malls and business parks.

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When we visit, we love going to Natural bridges, walking along the beach and we don’t usually visit the Boardwalk. We have before, but our kids aren’t small anymore. So we do old people things, like walk along Pacific Ave early, shop at funky bookstores and kitchen gadget stores, or check out art. I can’t believe I still haven’t stopped by the Mission. I have been seriously considering a road trip to every California Mission in the summer.

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Me Too: The First and The (Hopefully?) Last Time

Next year I am going to be forty. I am going to tell you the story and the first and most recent time someone put their hands on my body. 

The first time, I was nine. I remember what I was wearing, blue shorts and a matching blue and white striped tank top. I was excited about the outfit. Our clothes were regularly hand me downs or purchased on layaway from Kmart. Layaway meant waiting for the clothes we had picked out and by time we would get them, I had usually forgotten what I had picked out. I was the type of kid who HAD to wear their new clothes immediately. So there I was in my shiny new outfit at my neighbor’s apartment.

We were there a lot. Our parents were depressed single mothers who commiserated over Yahtzee and cigarettes. Me and my sister, Danny and his brother. We played games, watched GI Joe or Voltron. Danny was the older between him and his brother, like my sister was the older among the two of us. I tended to be quieter and was always the odd one out. I didn’t want to watch wrestling or sports or GI Joe, like the three of them. On this day, we were playing in the bedroom that Danny and brother shared. The door was proped open with a bag of matchbox cars. My sister and his brother had just walked out. We were headed out to play hide and go seek or some outside game, when Danny said come here. He was older than I was, by 3 years, but I was tall. Almost as tall as he was.

When I came over to him, I was trying to ignore that weird feeling when you know something is off. He shoved one of his hands down my shorts. He moved his hand into my underwear. I froze. And then I left. My outfit didn’t seem so exciting anymore. Playing outside didn’t seem so fun anymore. I pretended on the outside like it didn’t happen but inside I wondered why it happened. I never said anything to our parents. I felt awful for letting it happen. Why didn’t I punch him or push him? Why didn’t I stop him? Why did I freeze?

A few years later, because yes, our parents still hung out, so we still were around each other…but years later, he was angry and ranting about the fact that his sister was raped. His sister was a lot older, lived in another state and I had never met her. He was telling us that he wanted to find the guy raped her and smash his face on a curb. By this time he was wearing all black, buying the anarchist cookbook, regularly tried to shock us with violence. He told us in detail how he was going to hurt the man who hurt his sister. When he was done, I turned back to the television. 

There is a photo of me in that outfit somewhere. Sitting in the room that I shared with my sister. The bedroom that was across from the bathroom which shared a wall with Danny’s bathroom. This is because when you get section 8, kids of the same gender can share a room. So you get a two bedroom apartment.  I am sitting on my bed holding a my tropical island Barbie and so very tan from hours of play. I had not yet begun to look uncomfortable in photos, because I did not yet feel uncomfortable under the gaze of others.

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Once I was in my thirties, I believed I had mastered the face that keeps men away from me. Not from their stupid catcalls, but from thinking they could touch me. I don’t let strangers get close to me. I am not big on hugging just because we know each other. I am protective of my body.

The most recent time was a few years back at a friend’s house. We were invited over to celebrate a her birthday. We arrived and we were greeted in the dinning room by my friend and her husband. They were big on hugging and had always insisted on it. I was starting to get over my avoidance of it. My husband was in front of me so it was a line of greetings as we walked around the table towards the kitchen. My friend’s husband was obviously drunk. 

He hugged me. I made a joke, something about cooking or food. He grabbed my breasts. With both of his hands. 

I backed up immediately and he threw his hands up in the air. He knew what he had done. He offered to get me a plate of food. I said no angrily. In the kitchen, I wondered what I should do. It was my friend’s birthday. So I waited. I sat at the table pretending like everything was fine until I got into the car. I told my husband what happened. I was pissed. 

I called my friend for coffee and told her. We are no longer friends. I decided. She decided. We mutually agreed to be friends but stopped speaking to each other. We were part of a friend group.

Some of the things I have heard about his behavior:

Just grab his balls and you’ll be even.

He was drunk. He doesn’t even remember it.

Why didn’t you say something earlier?

He is like that with other women but they are the kind of people who don’t get upset about it. It’s just a joke. 

I asked myself harder questions. Why do people think they can do that to me? Should I have not hugged him? Did I send signals that it would be okay? And then I asked myself why I was questioning myself. I don’t have to question myself. These are two events that I like to think of as book ends. I’d like to believe the last one will be the last one, but I don’t believe it wholeheartedly. But even if they are bookends, there are many stories between them.