Category: Adventures

Half-way Home

I’m half-way through my 60-day detail in DC as of this weekend! There are only four work-weeks left until I’m back at home full time with H and Leo.

These past 30 days have been long and busy, but time is also flying by. Half of 2014 is gone. I’m nearly half-way to age 29 (how can I possibly be so dang old?!). Christmas is less than six weeks months away. In just a few months, it will start getting colder and colder in Chicago, and I’ll have to say goodbye to arms and legs and shoes worth looking forward to wearing.

I’m not ready. There are so many more things I want to do before this year is over. A lot of my internet friends are posting half-year updates, and while I don’t want to go line-by-line through my plan for this year, I do want to say two things.

First, this year I wanted to attack my life instead of letting it pass me by. And for the small things I haven’t. I’m still more likely to watch television than exercise, or to stay home instead of going out, or to blog or tweet instead of making that phone call. (Sorry Mom, it’s just really hard.).

But for the bigger things, I’m really proud of myself. I have been more intentional about saying what I want to do, where I want to go, what I want to eat. I’ve prioritized traveling and seeing friends and doing what I love. And I took a few big risks this year, including that writing boot camp and my writing conference, not to mention saying yes to this job in DC.

Second, I’m starting to feel like my own person (getting older is pretty awesome on that front, huh?) and feel very confident about my skills and abilities. Over the last year I have been so lucky to work with an incredible boss and mentor; his continued support, guidance, and trust have been incredibly affirming for me. I have a newfound comfortableness in my own skin that feels incredible. I’m no longer afraid to let people see how smart I am. (I dream of a world where all women everywhere fearlessly and confidently use their whole selves and full abilities to make our world a better, safer, healthier place.)

That’s where I am right now, and it’s still hard, but I like it. I’m weirdly happy, even though I’m itchy from a crazy rash and tired from constant flights and sick of eating at restaurants and still using my iPhone 4 with weak battery life and low memory. This year is half-way over and things aren’t perfect but I am happy, and that is awesome.

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What I DIDN’T Love: June 2014

I’m supposed to write to you about what I was into in June.  It’s on my blogging schedule.  Well, what’s left of it. 

I was talking with a co-worker about admitting responsibility for mistakes.  If I’m even remotely responsible for something, I take the hit.  I fess up and say “this bad thing happened, and that was my fault, and I’m sorry.”  He laughed and said that the thing we were discussing wasn’t at all my fault, and that my quick acceptance of guilt was probably due to my Southern Baptist upbringing.  (We each just found out that the other grew up Southern Baptist yet now attends a more mainline Protestant church.  So now we have this little joke we make. It’s weird how you find random connections with people, isn’t it?  Anyway…)  And so, here’s my confession:  my blogging schedule has turned to complete chaos because living in a hotel alone without my cat or my husband or my closet or my kitchen is kind of rough.

But while I really want to remedy this issue by telling you What I Loved about June, here’s the thing.  Before I can tell you about the good things that happened in June, I have to tell you about the bad things.  Because, just being honest, June was kind of the worst ever.

You already know that I got a cool job offer and that we said yes to it even though it meant that I would be living away from home for 45-60 days this summer.  And I love my job even though it is super frustrating and I love the project I’m leading even though it’s probably more likely that global warming is no big deal and that we’ll have a Middle East peace agreement by Tuesday than that my project will end well.  But, did you know that on my third day there I fell all the way down a flight of stairs, busting up my leg, breaking four fingernails, and bruising the entire right side of my body?  That totally happened. I’m pretty sure the security guards all secretly know me as “that girl from the stairs video.”

Here’s something else you might not know:  I was so stoked to finally get a new phone, that I went all in:  I ordered a fancy new iPhone 5s with a big memory card for photo-taking and better mobile blogging.  It was the first time I’d ever paid for a phone and I was so excited. Two weeks in I dropped it and the screen shattered, so I had to pay to repair it.  Then, the day after I picked it up and purchased a new case to protect it, it was stolen.  Yes, seriously.  And so that’s several hundred dollars down the drain and, also, now I don’t have a phone.  I’ll be re-activating my iPhone 4 so my adorable tweets and life-changing instagram photos will return to your feeds soon but, since I had been hating on that phone for months and basically living for the day I could upgrade, I’m pretty bitter about the whole thing. 

H and I have started saying that this new phone was probably cursed, so it’s good that I’m rid of it.  Unfortunately I don’t believe that for a second.  (Related note:  having no cell phone while you live alone in a hotel away from your husband is not awesome.)

Oh, and on Sunday I went to brunch with two friends to celebrate a very exciting birthday.  And we all ate a delicious meal and then got food poisoning.  That was really cool too.

So June, I will have to check you later. I need a re-do for Father’s Day and my parents’ anniversary, for celebrating my best friend’s big move and for making a cake for Flag Day. (Yes, Flag Day. All patriotic holidays matter).

Long-term Work Travel Advice: the good and the bad

When I decided to accept a short-term detail in Washington, DC three weeks ago, I had only a few days to prepare for my departure. Like any Millennial faced with the unknown, I took to Google to gather information. I searched “long-term business travel” and read message boards from the suitcase brethren who had traveled before me.

A lot of the advice was pretty spot-on, if not a little obvious. Many commenters mentioned how easy it was to forget comfortable evening/weekend wear, and that packing a pair of sweats and a few cute, casual outfits was essential for any non-work activities that might pop up. Others articulated more health-conscious commentary, including the difficulty of maintaining weight-loss while eating so many meals in restaurants, or ensuring that the workout clothes you pack could do double-duty for either a quick jog or an impromptu yoga class.  One of the best pieces of advice was about the dangers of unintentionally over-consuming alcohol: when every dinner is a once-in-a-blue-moon evening out for your friend, it’s easy for a glass or two of wine at a nice dinner to become a glass or two of wine at every dinner. It’s okay to have iced tea, or seltzer with lime, even if you are hanging out with a friend you haven’t seen in years.

But, the one comment that I couldn’t forget was about coming home. Don’t do it unless you absolutely have to, one poster said. Coming home means leaving again, and you want to leave as few times as possible. Avoid coming home as much as you can.

It’s true that saying goodbye is incredibly hard, but I have to tell you that, at least for me, coming home this weekend was exactly what I needed. The stress and anxiety of a new job melted away as I talked with H about my worries, my goals, what I’m doing well and what I want to do better. (I want to arrive earlier into the office each day this week, for example, and do some significant early-morning research so I can stay ahead of deadlines.)

Seeing H and having an intense round of cuddles from Leo the Cat helped me remember that my physical presence in Chicago is not essential to the daily functioning of my family – the boys are just fine without me. I don’t have to feel guilty for leaving or be distracted from the cool and important work I’m doing, because they are just fine and my professional goals are important to all three of us. Well, maybe Leo is more concerned about getting his white fur on my black work slacks than he is about financial outlays or budgetary priorities or spreadsheets or regulations, but he’s a cat so I think we can give him that.

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And just in case this isn’t obvious, spending the weekend in my city was also pretty dang fun. Fun is important, and having fun with the people you love is the most important thing of all.

I’m back in our nation’s capital today, working hard and learning a lot and enjoying hot muggy weather [for America]. Going home helped me remember why I left.

Hotel Living: What I’ve Been Eating

I’ve been living in a hotel for the last ten days, and thought I’d share a little about how I’m doing that.  I always love reading those sorts of things from other bloggers.

I’m very lucky to have found a hotel with a kitchen (two burners and a full-size refrigerator) instead of just a mini-fridge and a microwave.  If you’re ever dealing with long-term hotel stays, I absolutely recommend a similar set-up.  It is the best.

When I arrived last Sunday, my flight had been delayed three hours and I was exhausted.  So, CVS was my grocery supplier.  I picked up a half-gallon of milk (still barely used), a carton of half-and-half for coffee (barely used, but WORTH IT), a box of multi-grain cheerios (barely eaten, but they were on sale), a box of knock-off whole wheat crackers and a container of Sabra hummus.  I didn’t love any of these items, but they were essential in getting me through my first few days in the new job — particularly since I was way too exhausted to think about shopping for groceries on Monday evening after my first day.

Monday evening I grabbed Thai take-out and a six-pack of beer.  (Classy, I know.)  That Thai food fed me for three straight evenings (and the six-pack is still going strong in the fridge, right by that nearly-full half-gallon of milk).  With dinner plans Thursday and Friday, I made it until Saturday afternoon without purchasing additional rations.

I had brunch with a friend on Saturday morning.  It was beautiful, and we ate on the back-patio at Kramerbooks.  I walked her to the metro and then sauntered over to the Logan Circle Whole Foods to do a little grocery shopping.  After purchasing my lunch all week last week, I really needed to eat a little healthier this week.  I could only purchase what I could carry, and wanted to spend as little money as I could while still eating healthy this past week.  Here’s what I purchased:

  • The basics:  olive oil, salt, and pepper
  • A package of quinoa (easier to cook than rice, in my opinion)
  • 4 nectarines
  • A pint of blueberries
  • 2 avocados
  • A pint of cherry tomatoes
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • A large container of pre-cut stir-fry veggies (broccoli, onion, peppers, etc.)
  • Citrus:  1 lemon and 1 lime
  • Whole Foods’ brand soy-ginger sauce (15 calories per tablespoon and pretty good-tasting)
  • Two fage yogurts, honey flavor (the best flavor that exists)
  • 1 package of Ezekiel  4:9 cinnamon-raisin bread
  • 6 individual servings of Justin’s Almond Butter (80 calories per package)
  • One microwavable packet of brown rice (I hate cooking rice)

All of this together wound up costing about 80 dollars.  But, it was Whole Foods, not Safeway, so I still think that was a pretty okay deal.  It was probably $12 just for the olive oil, salt, and pepper alone.  Here’s how I used the ingredients:

  • I ate a slice of cinnamon-raisin toast with almond butter for breakfast each day, along with a large handful of blueberries and a yogurt (until they were gone.  Then, same thing without yogurt.)  I also had coffee.  Obviously.
  • I made a quinoa salad with quinoa, cherry tomatoes cut in half, one avocado in small pieces, juice of the full lemon, olive oil, salt, and pepper, which I ate for dinner Sunday as well as took to work for lunch Monday and Tuesday.  It was a great work lunch because there was no need to reheat.  Nectarines were for lunches too.
  • Stir fry with brown rice, veggies, chicken, and soy-ginger sauce was dinner on Monday and Tuesday nights.
  • To finish off the leftovers, tonight I cooked up sliced chicken breast with quinoa, veggies, and avocado to take for lunch on Thursday and Friday at work.  I’ll squirt the juice of the lime over the top of the avocado once I cut it so it stays green.

I plan to take my olive oil, salt and pepper, and cinnamon-raisin bread to work on Friday and leave it at my desk so I don’t have to purchase them again.  I’ll leave the half-and-half in the office refrigerator too.  Otherwise, I need to finish everything off tonight or tomorrow night and throw out the rest.  I’ll start again next Sunday when I check back into my hotel.

Any tips from your own hotel-living adventures? 

Living the Dream

On Tuesday of last week I was asked to accept a short-term assignment in DC.  It was a fantastic opportunity — doing work that I’ve always wanted to do, that I can’t do from Chicago — and with only 24 hours to decide we said yes.  It was kind of surreal, one of those outside-your-own-body moments.  I don’t know that I actually ever wanted to say “yes! I’d love to leave my home and my little family and my beach-access apartment and spend 45 days in the hot humid DC summer,” but I knew somehow that I was supposed to say “yes!” and so I did.  I don’t like to make uninformed decisions and I don’t like surprises and yet, somehow, I did it anyway.

Even now that I’m here and in the hotel and enjoying my lovely desk (with a window!) and doing the work, I’m still not sure how it all happened.  And I’m not sure it wouldn’t be better if I was in Chicago following my normal routine and making sure Leo gets enough cuddles and H gets sufficient calories from baked goods.

I spent the weekend soaking up the early Chicago summer.  We biked to the beach and went out for burgers and drank my favorite beer.  I purchased a new suit (it’s navy blue and from Ann Taylor!) and packed a TON of clothes and more shoes than I’ve ever traveled with at one time. In one large checked bag and one Vera Bradley duffel, I packed work clothes, hanging out clothes, gym clothes, work supplies and my bike helmet.  (You know, just in case I need to ride one of those  rental bikes around the national mall while I’m here.  Safety first.)

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Everything I’ll need for the next two weeks is crammed into these two bags. There was a little rearranging due to that pesky 50-pound weight limitation.

I spent 8.5 hours traveling on Sunday, due to repeated delays and airplane events and bad luck.  When I finally checked into my hotel in DC everything around was closed.  I was tired and hungry and had just paid $98 for a cab ride that was worth every single penny.  I went grocery shopping at the 24-hour CVS.

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Life essentials: multi-grain cheerios, half-and-half for coffee, hummus and crackers, and 100-calorie ice cream bars.

I’m lucky to have the greatest of friends and family here in DC, which is my first love of cities and was my first “real” adult home.  I’m so happy to be back here, for a little while, making memories and learning a lot and building on my work over the past year.  But while you absolutely can go back (you just purchase a ticket and pack a bag and leave), it’s never quite the same.

It’s hard to really embrace a new home, like my new home in Chicago, unless you let go of your former residence.  If you spend every spare minute talking to old friends and every holiday visiting old places, you don’t give the new things in your life a chance to change you.  These past ten months in Chicago have been hard (and remarkably cold), but they’ve made an impression.  I’m still a DC girl at heart, but I’m not a DC resident anymore.  I miss my skyscrapers and my lakefront views and my ever-present breeze.  I miss my short commute too.  (Seriously, even shorter than my train ride from the hotel!)

It’s a lot easier to be a game changer when you’re just talking about pipe dreams.  Being a fierce independent woman is harder when it means traveling 700 miles from home and seeing your husband every-other-weekend.  But also worth it. These 45 days could open a world of possibilities.  And even if they don’t, a dream fulfilled is a life well lived.

My weird obsession with Tupperware

Nearly every time I’ve made cookies or baked a cake or pie or otherwise created something delicious to share since leaving home ten years ago (wow, I’m so old!), I’ve wished for Tupperware.  I’ve used gallon-sized Ziploc bags, discounted IKEA cake holders, and a lot of creativity to store and carry the goodies I’ve made, but each time I’ve thought: oh, if only I had Tupperware for this.  Because Tupperware is L-E-G-I-T the best brand of storage containers ever.

I’m not sure why I didn’t put Tupperware storage containers on our wedding registry, or order some after we were married, or after I started working, or at any other point over the last ten years.  I’ve definitely purchased a lot of other unnecessary kitchen gadgets that I didn’t want or need as much as I wanted Tupperware.  I’m looking at you, giant muffin tin, martini glasses, rhinoceros-shaped cookie cutter . . .

Earlier this year, my cousin had a Tupperware party online and I got very (very!!) excited and ordered a cake taker and a pie taker.

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Cake Taker!

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Pie Taker!

The pans are white with turquoise lids and they are perfect and wonderful and I couldn’t be happier.  H did not understand why I would be so excited or spend so much money on plastic containers, and he’s been making fun of my purchase for a while.   But this weekend, our new cake and pie takers earned their place in our home.

On Saturday, I made a two-layer banana cake (this recipe) and frosted it with peanut butter-butter cream frosting for H’s birthday.  I packed that cake into our Cake Taker and slid it onto a shelf in the refrigerator.  On Monday, I made this zucchini-potato casserole in my fluted tart pan, which I packed into the pie taker.  We grabbed both containers and a six-pack of beer as we headed out to my friend’s Memorial Day barbecue, and I didn’t worry one minute about the tart pan leaking or the cake getting knocked around in the car.  Everything was in perfect condition when we arrived, and it was so easy to carry items to and from the car.  Nothing spilled, nothing leaked, nothing was dropped.  Because Tupperware is the best ever.

Today, I tested the cake taker on the  bus during my commute to work.  I made it safely onto and off of the bus with my purse, tote, and cake taker without getting yelled at by strangers and without the cake flipping over or spilling.  IT WAS AWESOME.  My 1/3 cake looked pretty cute (you know, as good as 1/3 of a cake can look) in its blue and white container, and I particularly appreciated the handle while navigating the bus ride, crowded sidewalks, and full elevator.

And so, I have arrived.  I am now officially a grown-up lady who has her own cake AND pie/cookie holders and is prepared for any potlucks or parties you’d like to invite me to attend.

Are there any weird tools or gadgets that you’ve always wanted but never made the effort to purchase?  Share in the comments or link up on twitter!

 

This is just me loving my new cake and pie takers, and not a sponsored post.  I don’t actually know how to make sponsored posts because what are sponsors?  Don’t worry if you hate Tupperware and want to hate on it in the comments.  That’s totally fine. 

Writer’s Block — Back to the Bones (of Natalie Goldberg)

In her book Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg recommends keeping a list of topics for you to focus on during your writing time.  (Page 26.)  If you have a list of subjects for your writing time, then when you have time to write you can pick up and begin instead of sitting around trying to find something to write about.  She adds random things to the list each day.

I’ve been struggling to find something to write about.  I dug up my list from last year to jump-start my fingers, and I found these words from my friend Natalie.

Natalie Goldberg also recommends gathering up your “first thoughts,” which are your unedited, original ideas at the first draft stage.  She suggests timed writing activities — you know, like the ones you did in that creative writing class, where you walked into the room and there was a quote or prompt or something written on the whiteboard that you had ten minutes to respond to, and if you were late to class you wouldn’t have time to finish — to practice getting the words out.  Just sit down for ten or fifteen minutes and write about something on that list, making sentences one after another.  Stay loose.  (Page somewhere around 24 to 29.)

Apparently, if you keep a list of writing topics and spend some time writing about those topics, your first-draft thoughts will become something worth sharing with others.  At least, that’s what Natalie Goldberg says.  Lately I’m struggling to find this.

I have never traveled so much as I have these last few weeks.  I’ve been chosen by the TSA Pre-Check Randomizer five times out of six in the last two weeks, which would be lovely if it didn’t mean that I’d taken six flights in the last fourteen days.  I have enjoyed hearing so many other people order McMuffins from the Burger King at the airport.  (There are no Mc-anythings at Burger King.)

I keep forgetting to search for the hotel receipt from my business trip.  I know where it is:  the outer zip pocket of my wheeled carry on bag.  But I haven’t yet found the time to unzip that pouch and pull it out.  The thing is, I could do it now, but my husband is asleep because we woke up at 3:30 a.m. today to fly home from Nashville.  I should be sleeping too, but I don’t feel tired, so much as numbish or empty.  I hope I remember to get the receipt tomorrow morning, but I won’t be surprised if I forget again.  Wednesday is the very last day or else my travel privileges could be suspended.

I might be maybe somewhere inside okay with that.

I think that Leo has forgotten that he loves me more than H.  I’m giving him a lot of treats so hopefully he will remember.

Somewhere between page 31 and page 44, Natalie Goldberg writes that the details of our lives are important, and that we should write them just as they are.  Not the beautiful pieces, but the real things of our life: whether we are a few (several?) pounds overweight, or the weather is grey, or whatever, we should just say yes to real life because there are too many noes already.  We should say “yes” to the lives we are living, so we can keep living them.

And so, in the spirit of Natalie Goldberg’s beautiful hilarious truth-telling, I am starting again, telling myself “Natalie MB, you planned to write.  Now write.  I don’t care if you feel nuts and lonely.”  (Page 105.)

 

I woke up at 3:30 a.m. this morning in Nashville, flew to Chicago, worked eight hours at my office, went to an office lunch-event to celebrate a coworker’s promotion, cooked dinner, ate dinner, watched the season finale of SNL (very disappointing Mr. Sandberg, and what in the world was that musical act thing?!), edited a friend’s 1000 word draft down to 825 words so she could get a fresh start, and then wrote this mess of words to you.  I brushed the cat and gave him four treats and am about to do the dishes and head to bed.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, and I’m going to eat breakfast and go to work like I do on every Tuesday.  Hopefully I’ll remember to find that hotel receipt so I can finish my expense report.

Or, whatever.