The Best of the Best: Travel Edition

When you travel as often and fabulously as I do, it’s important to sneak small moments of reflection and gratitude somewhere between the time zones. I want to remember how wonderful it is to wander this world.

I usually relax into this reverie just as soon as I’ve organized my Diane von Furstenberg toiletry bag into the seatback pocket, loosened and buckled my seat belt low across my hips, and laid an airline blanket over my legs as if tucking myself into sweet travel. Mark is usually busy firing off last minute emails or reading some depressing world-news, so my brief contemplation of the places we’ve been hardly garners notice at all. To him, I simply look like a young woman blissfully sipping her champagne. And he’d be right about that; I am quite happy that our airline offers preflight bubbly to get into the jet-set spirit.

On this occasion, relaxed and ready to return home from an engagement excursion to London, my gaze fell upon my drink. Like the golden bubbles rushing to meet my greedy lips, memories of some of the very best bits of our travels sprang to mind.

The Best Spa Facial Treatment:

Prepare to raise your brows in disbelief. The very best spa facial treatment I’ve ever had, and I’ve had easily a hundred all over the globe, was inside an Embassy Suites Hotel in Huntsville, Alabama. I’ll pause for a moment; allow you to blink your eyes back down to size. In all seriousness, I mean, this is beauty we’re talking about here. I’m not joking or exaggerating about this in the slightest. ‘Bama brings the beauty.

Let me paint you a picture: Huntsville is a relatively small, but notable city due to its U.S. Army affiliation and southern sensibilities. Every meal resembled Thanksgiving Day and my lengthy bar tab was possibly the cheapest I’ve ever seen it. The Embassy Suites is the nicest and highest rated hotel for miles. It’s located downtown and has pretty adorable views of a large geese-filled pond. The “spa” is located on the 2nd floor and while its lobby area made me feel like I was waiting to see the dentist, the treatment room was warm, quiet, dimly lit, and expertly enhanced with soothing music that didn’t make me want to pee. I have no idea what product line graced my face; all I recall is the movement with which she applied, massaged, and removed everything. It was as if she had an orchestra in her mind and her hands were performing its exquisite sound on my skin. What’s more, I was radiant for days. Should life ever send you to Alabama, pack your fat jeans and book a spa facial.

London Bridge bath time

The Best Bath:

Beginning to see a theme of relaxation here? Yes, I’ll admit; I am fully committed to chilling out. Consider me a lady of leisure. But back to the bath: It’s not every trip that I take time to relax in the bathtub. Considerations like the country’s water quality or my tired tourist desire to hit the sheets usually thwarts the tub’s calling. However, a Japanese style soaker tub overlooking 48 -floors of London’s skyline just couldn’t be ignored.

The view came complete with one of those cup/book racks and bath salts. My clothing hit the floor faster than the salts could sink. Hair up, butt down, this was some of the best sight seeing I’d ever done. The Tower Bridge was even more marvelous from here than it had been from a safe selfie distance. As if on cue, Mark strutted in with bubbly, binoculars, and that generous grin. Channeling my inner Bond Girl, I spied on the royal city, sipped expensive champagne, and began this very blog thanks to that handy book-turned-iPad rack. All details considered, I’ve never had a better bath in my life. Get yours at the Shangri-La Shard, London’s tallest building — boasting brilliant bathtub views.

The Best Hotel Staff:

Constantly checking in and out of hotels, as glamorous as they may be, can be a little daunting at times. True jet-setters come to appreciate things like quality toiletries, turndown service, a high-end well-stocked minibar, and prompt dry cleaning service. To us, it’s so much more than just a place to crash; it’s our home away from home. Which is why a professional, courteous, and well-dressed staff offer the awesome ability to make it more than just a hotel stay; they can make it feel like home sweet home.

Our sweetest stay to date was at the JW Marriott in Hong Kong. We decided to squeeze in a 32-hour layover on our way home from Malaysia since I’d never been before. We arrived starved and sleepy so imagine our satisfaction when hotel staff was prompt to greet us outside of customs, handle our bags, and escort us into a spacious executive hotel car that smelled clean and was stocked with cool water. The china-clad tea and fresh fruit that was hand delivered to our room only accentuated the spectacular city and harbor views that stunned me from the comfort of our bed. Room service was divine. The executive breakfast lounge was the best I’d seen since Bangkok. Doors were opened, cabs were fetched quickly, and staff was always accessible, which really helped make the most of every minute. In Mark’s early corporate days, he lived in this hotel for four months. Ordinarily I’d be baffled by a living arrangement like this, but two sleeps later and I could see why he felt so at home inside this high-rise. Upon our departure, sitting pretty in another luxury hotel car, I whispered a little promise to myself that should life bring me back to Hong Kong, I’d be checking into this JW once more.

Hello Hong Kong

The Best Layover:

When it comes to international travel, layovers are unavoidable. Even a lot of domestic ventures will have you held up in some city for a short time. Consequently, frequent fliers discover their own airport comfort zones across the time zones. The Charlotte airport, for instance, is wonderful for getting your rocking chair-on and enjoying “flights” of wine at a surprisingly trendy bar conveniently located between gates; I’ve done my taxes over a steamy baked potato inside Houston’s Pappadeaux; and sweet Mark satisfied my sweet tooth when he gave me a cupful of skittles to pair with my cold, complimentary beer inside the Dulles United Lounge.

While we do our best to make the most of our ground-bound travel, nothing beats having enough time to ditch the airport and explore where you are. It feels like stealing time and playing hooky simultaneously – a truly fortuitous adventure! When you visit a place briefly you have to take care to take it all in quickly. Rush to visit various landmarks or relax with a view. Either way – experience it. Listen to the language, savor the cuisine, study the architecture, feel the weather on your skin.

Come to think of it, the 32-hours we spent in Hong Kong was the most eventful and exciting layover I’ve ever had. The city was loud, colorful, and crowded. The architecture was stacked and eclectic. The nightclub was surprisingly familiar and its music was on point. Aside from Arabic, this was the biggest language barrier I’d met. High-end and knock-off brands shared the same block. But the champagne cocktails were exquisite and the views were unparalleled. Honestly, sky, water, greenery, cliffs, rolling hills, modern and historic buildings, ships and yachts, old and new – it all combined to be one of the most scenic memories I’ve ever made. Life may never return me to this financial metropolis, but I’ll always have my post card-worthy memory.

The Best Meals:

In the past five years, I traveled to 11 beautiful countries as the Marketing Manager for a defense company, and four more by Mark’s side just for fun. But none of these places ever stood a chance, because I’d already been to and eaten my way through Italy. In 2008, my mama, “nonna”, and I – dubbed the “3 generations” – toured and tasted Italy for two weeks in celebration of my college graduation. When I tell you that we ate pizza, pasta, gelato, and drank wine daily, I am not exaggerating. In fact, I gained back the five pounds that I’d lost the year prior when I nearly starved in Ireland. Everything about Italy is enticing. Its food, its language, its history, its picturesque sights, its people, its arts and culture – it’s all flirting with you. And who doesn’t like a little flirtatious fun?

mj Paris love lock

The Best Sightseeing:

The more you see the world, the more you fall in love with it. I’ll never forget the crashing waves and eroded cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, or the grassy knolls of Ireland – they were perfectly manicured by sheep and highlighted with a rainbow. Talk. About. A. Sight. To. See. Most destinations can offer something special, but truthfully, only one place continues to enchant me: Paris, France.

I’ve been twice and I can’t wait to go again. I’ve seen most all of the landmarks, galleries, and museums, and I’d see them all once or four times more given the opportunity. But there’s something about Paris – it’s like you’re not just seeing the sights, you’re living amongst them too. Take, for example, the time I winked at Mona Lisa over top the heads of Chinese tourists. They flashed a million photos of her iconic face, while she and I simply made eye contact. I wondered if they saw her at all. Or the late afternoon I spent strolling the gardens of Versailles. Sure, I snapped photos, because it’d be negligent not to, but I also paced about imagining what it might have looked like if all the tourists were replaced with 12th century Parisians, making me a member of the court, quite worthy of the crown. Mark and I have taken leisure like the locals, people watching at a street-side café with wine and cheese while embracing as if we were the only two people in the city – Paris belongs to the lovers. We’ve hopefully, and rather cutely I might add, attached a love lock to the Pont des Arts bridge and slipped into lesser known museums and enjoyed the space to gaze. But perhaps the most beloved Parisian experience to date was our early afternoon picnic underneath the Eiffel Tower. I don’t know which I enjoyed more: the fresh baguette with jelly, the bottle of bubbly, or the good-looking American laid out next to me like a Greek god, but I instantly became a big fan of picnics – and Paris.

The Best View:

I’m not the type to willingly stay somewhere that looks like it could be just anywhere, because you have to admit it, this wide world has a lot more beauty to offer you than just some alleyway. I’m talking about a view. To me, it’s absolutely necessary. Just to put how pivotal I think something like “location, location, location” is, realize this: when I watch House Hunters -which is pretty frequently because I’m obsessed with homes, travel, and the competition of guessing which one they’ll choose – nine times out of ten, I forsake all other “wish list” needs and choose the property with the best view. Personally, I’ve signed a lease and even bought a home because they provided me with a majestic mountain view. I wanted the beginning, middle, and end of all my days to be influenced by that scene. Perspective matters!

My hotel homes are no different. The only thing better than slipping on kicks to explore the city is being able to open the curtains and see it bustling right below you. No shoes required.

As far as the best view I’ve ever squinted at – Mark is constantly opening the curtains earlier than I’d prefer – honorable mentions go to: The JW Marriott in Hong Kong, but you already know all about that post card appeal and top-notch staff; the Shangri-la Shard in London, because there’s something powerful about being inside the tallest building in the city, and the Shangri-la in Sydney, Australia, because with sights like the world-famous Sydney Opera House glistening in an orange sunset, sail boats and cruise ships navigating in harmony, and a harbor bridge that normal, everyday humans can hike over like a mountain, the Aussies put on a good show. But ultimately, and with much deliberation, the best view goes to the W Hotel in Washington DC.

All right, I might be a little biased here. After all, this is the place where Mark and I fell in love over a rather tasty room service club sandwich. Or perhaps it’s the career girl in me who will always hold DC in a special place in her heart. Either way, I’ve always felt privileged to be within its walls.

As a guest, I spend nights at the rooftop bar, appropriately named POV, toasting champs with direct view into the White House. I especially like raising my glass when I’ve noticed that the porch light has gone off. “Good night, Mr. President!” I broadcast with drunk-girl enthusiasm. And in the morning, I wake to the sun shining on the Washington Memorial. Its fifty encircling American flags wave good morning, beckoning me to rise and shine. I know it sounds sentimental, but being there makes me happy to be an American.

And that’s what it really comes down to. I’m proud to be an American; grateful to have the opportunity to experience the very best of this world; thrilled to be sharing a life and love with this hunk checking his emails in the window seat; and oh so glad that the flight attendant has just refreshed my glass of champagne. Again.

My Floridian Learning Curve Continues

They say it takes just 21 days to create a new habit. When you really consider how short that segment of time is, it seems entirely possible to not only reinvent your life, but to gracefully cope with its changes, too. Think about it, you could be a whole new you in less time than it takes for one month to pass the calendar. Continue reading

10 Life Lessons My Mama Taught Me

This year, not unlike last, I was out of town on Mother’s Day. At a global rate of $1.99 per minute, I phoned my mama from Istanbul, Turkey to show her the love that had been promised to her back in 1914. You see, thanks to a mother-loving American woman named Anna Jarvis and, according to The University of Virginia, a self-described mama’s boy, President Woodrow Wilson, Mother’s Day is a bona fide national holiday that we Americans celebrate on the second Sunday of May. But let’s be real here, with things like clashing calendars or procrastination in shipping her gift, Mother’s Day could just as easily be celebrated on the third Sunday as it could on a Tuesday. It could even be recognized in an extremely tardy blog post on June 25th. Simply put, the month of May (or June in my case) belongs to the moms. And I’m cool with that; after all, every other day of the year is (insert creepy voice) consumed by the children.

My mama and I rarely talk on the phone; we’re more into the “how have you been?” or “leaving the country again!” texts. Sometimes we FaceTime, which is really awesome now that I’m living on the opposite side of the country and Mexican food lunch dates just aren’t possible anymore. However, it was her holiday so I wanted to hear her voice, and she seemed grateful to hear mine, too. We chatted about my Istanbul sightseeing and how much room service I’d devoured, and her upcoming travel to the Philippines. I warned her of the typhoons and cyclones threatening her next destination and urged her to stay safe and dry – who was the mother here?

After our 20-minute and $40 USD phone call, I scrolled through my Facebook to see how everyone else in my world was honoring their mother. Nearly every single friend took time away from their usually political, travel, partying, or culinary posts to wish their mother a happy day and proudly proclaim that their mom is “the best;” “the kindest;” “the most amazing;” “the most beautiful.” And while that was very thoughtful of them to declare, if it were me and I had to pick just one attributing adjective to describe my mom, it wouldn’t be any of those ordinary words. She isn’t basic, so I’d never assign her a baseline descriptor. She’s complex and charming. She’s fun and funny. So instead, I’d tell you how inspiring she is.

Our relationship is unique. Looking back, I think she was my best and first friend. As a child, I mostly just remember my mom as a beautiful, young person who played and laughed. She had long hair and wore bold lipstick. Her teeth were perfect. Even at such a young age, I could see how persuasive her smile was – I’ve been faithfully brushed my teeth for as long as I can remember. She would put the cereal low so that I could make it myself while she got ready for her day or caught up on her beauty rest. She most definitely molded me into the anti-morning person that I am today. I think my desire to pay people compliments began with her, because whenever I told her how pretty she looked or how great her earrings were, I got to stay up later or she’d play a game with me. We watched soap operas and played hockey in the street. On rainy days, she played Barbies with me and taught me how to write my name in cursive. There’s never been any doubt in my mind that my mom was one of the cool moms.

Time ticks on…the very act of aging alters perceptions…reality rolls right over you. As an adult, we have this ability to look back and see things as they were, not as they seemed. It’s been recommended that I remove my parents from their pedestal. I’ve been informed that they’re just people, not super heroes. With a nose crinkle, I ponder the cool cloud I had her floating in all these years:

In the third grade, three grades beyond the rainy day cursive lesson, I discovered that I’d been doodling a cursive G instead of a J. I was, of course, teased for this error because I had been, of course, bragging about my cursive skills up until that point. I wondered if she hadn’t corrected me because she thought it was cute or because she wasn’t really paying attention. My mother has always been very interested in her own life. She wasn’t one of those moms who drove you all around town or took you to the mall everyday or prepared envied lunches or even baked a birthday cake of your liking – there was a span of a few years where she gave me chocolate with chocolate frosting because that’s what she liked. But, she was one of those moms who painted your nails and put curlers in your hair. She was trusted and well liked. I could tell her my secrets and was never embarrassed to have her around. In high school, my girlfriends and I would put on skits and my mom would video tape them for us. We were never shy of what she’d think because she’s never been a judgmental person. I also appreciated that I could shop in her closet whenever I pleased because she has never ever worn mom jeans.

Sure, I probably could have used more of a mom than a friend during those formative years. I mean, I don’t know how to sew or French braid my hair. And the only real meal I can cook with confidence are her tacos. But based on how damn delicious those are, I wouldn’t trade that one recipe for seventeen.

My mother – the friend, mama, college-graduate even with two children, talented TV producer, and the girl who still sometimes snorts when she laughs – isn’t a conventional parent. But somewhere along her wayward path of parenting, she managed to offer me snippets of unique support and advice that left me inspired enough to actually do what she said.

Of all the things she did and didn’t teach me, here’s what I have come to value most:

NEVER REFUSE SPONSORSHIP:

This wasn’t bestowed upon me until I was old enough to enter a bar, so kudos to that moral compass. She explained that if someone, particularly a friend amongst a group, wants to buy you a drink – let them. Note that creepy men are exempt from this party lesson. Roofies are bad – all moms know that. Right now, as I’m typing, I just paused to consider my financial commitment to one of most beloved hobbies, that being partying, and I can honestly say that I have invested very little in myself. I can also promise that I have smiled and said “thank you!” for every single beverage that my wallet didn’t pay for. No one likes an ungrateful bitch.

DRINK AND MOVE:

Keeping with the party theme here, this rule is really very simple. Why sit at one bar all night long when you could pick a few in the area and visit them all? Note that this is only recommended when you utilize something like Uber, a taxi, or your own two feet if you’re lucky enough to have a cozy bar scene in your neighborhood. And when the bar-merry-go-round has concluded, finish up where you began and see how different everyone looks there. They’re likely to be bellied-up to the bar telling the same story with a slur while you’ve just sashayed into the place with windblown hair and might even make a cameo on the bar top.

ALWAYS HAVE FRESH FLOWERS BY THE FRONT DOOR:

During my mom’s second marriage, she started filling our house with fresh flowers. Perhaps it was to appear more domesticated? Maybe she suddenly discovered that their mere presence made our house more of a home? Either way, it really impacted me. I enjoyed walking through her front door to be greeted by a colorful and fragrant bouquet. My college living arrangements always sort of had a scent of Taco Bell or beer, and I never really felt at home. As an adult, I take a lot of pride in setting flowers by my own front door. It seems silly, but I take a moment to look at them whenever I leave the house. They make where I live my life seem real and beautiful – and who wouldn’t appreciate that?

GO TO COLLEGE:

This was actually mandated. She didn’t care what I majored in so long as I went to and graduated from a university. When I moved into my dorm at Arizona State she mailed me a letter cheerleading me on, but also recommended this: “don’t let your education get into the way of your experience!” I saved that letter somewhere in some box, and even though I haven’t looked at it in years, I can see it perfectly. She wrote in all capital letters with a dull pencil on an ASU letterhead and personalized it with a lipstick kiss at the bottom. Throughout college, she helped me with math homework and laughed as I told her spring break stories. I think it was a healthy balance. And when I was all done, she toasted me with champagne.

IT’S JUST A BREAK-UP. YOU’LL BE OK:

This is pretty self-explanatory. But just in case it’s over your head, this is where resilience comes into play. Break-ups suck, but they’re a process. Just go through the motions. Be angry. Be sad. Be wild. Be open to new things and new people. And then, one day, you’ll be happy again without even having to focus on it. That’s the “ok” part. But I can always take solace in the fact that if my mama ever sees that one ex-boyfriend, she’ll “run him over” with her car. See, you’ll be laughing in no time at all.

YOU ROCK ‘EM, YOU WEAR ‘EM:

This is referring to the generally uncomfortable shoes we women wear. Strutting your stuff isn’t easy when the balls of your feet are numb or your toes are pinched, but if you make that fashion commitment early in the night, you had better keep them on all night. There is nothing tackier than a shoeless chick zig-zagging her way through a casino at 4 am because her little feetsies just couldn’t take it anymore. Let’s be honest, we all know that you had them off inside the club too. You want to know how I know this? I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I have been walking through a nightclub and literally tripped over a high-heeled shoe. No foot. No body. Just one shoe. Disgusting!
Didn’t your mama teach you better than that? Here, borrow mine.

THAT’S KARMA FOR YA:

I can’t even count how many times this phrase was declared in my house growing up. Whether it be some bully brat spreading a rumor about me one day and then getting benched from the team for poor grades the next, or my mom leaving a generous tip to our lunch server only to be rewarded with an even more generous tip during her next shift, or my failure to hold the front door for her and then immediately tripping over the dog, she always sang, “that’s karma for ya!” Big or small, what we do and how we treat each other matters. Karma’s only a bitch when you are.

BOYS ARE DUMB. GIRLS ARE PSYCHO:

This is fact. If you were to really magnify the problems, almost any problem, that arise between a man and a woman, you will see that a single indifference can run amuck because he’s an idiot and she’ll take it to crazy town. I wish this weren’t true, but I’ve also learned that it’s better to date a dumbass than a lunatic. Guys, leave the wickedness to the women.

COLOR COORDINATE YOUR BRA AND PANTIES:

Even if no one will ever see or know you made the effort – you will, and you’ll feel damn pretty for it. I’ve been matching my unmentionables since I was 16, and while I can’t say for certain if anyone has ever appreciated it, it’s always made me feel fashionably in control.

AND FOR GOOD MEASURE, THOU SHALT NOT KILL:

That’s it. She never elaborated beyond that. But what kind of a mother would she be if she hadn’t at least taught me that?

Proud Auntie

If the saying is true, that pets make great baby practice, then I appear to be “put me in, coach” ready – on most days.

On most days, I take care to cuddle, feed, and water my pets. They have toys and space. They are loved and looked after. But on other days, I’m pretty much flunking out: like the Monday I had to take the puppy to the vet because I gave him an ear infection from bathing his face too well, but not drying it enough; or the Saturday I had to confirm the death of our clown fish’s anemone and cringe as Mark netted him out to be unceremoniously tossed into the trash; or the Sunday I wept as Mark boxed our baby bunny for burial, somewhere pretty I implored. Mama had a rough week.

I’m rapidly learning that being a parent is really hard. There are highs and lows; challenges and joys; triumphs and tantrums. I’m just holding onto some promised hope that practice really does in fact make perfect. This is what everyone says, after all.

Fresh out of the practice zone is my best friend of 27 years, Jennifer. She recently had a human baby boy. He’s a soft-skinned babe whose fist is always fuzzy in the photos she sends me so I get the sense that he’s already enjoying life. I watch the videos she sends and stalk photos she posts. I still can’t believe that she made a person and that, from as far as I can see, she’s good at being his mom.

Female best friends have this longing to be very similar. We coordinate outfits; do the same diets; share makeup; borrow shoes; get matching tattoos; order the same cocktails; and even pose the same way in pics – better sides observed, of course. In my usual longing to bear a striking resemblance to my best gal, I started to think how special it’d be if I had a little human, too. She’s at a place I’m yet to be. But as far as I know, you can’t just borrow babies to match your bestie and overnight shipping does not apply here. I needed a new plan. Then I realized that it’s kind of great that she’s charting this new territory first. It’s like she’s voyaging to this dark, mysterious, likely exciting, but potentially scary and absolutely life-changing land and all I have to do is sit back and wait for her to give me the map, inviting me to follow.

Awaiting this treasure map of giggles and baby burps, I resolve to condition my parental skills – you know, put someone else first; exert an unbelievable amount of patience; be bursting with an inexplicable fierceness of love that no one else quite understands; etcetera; etcetera. I recall that back when I was wearing braces and writing poetry, my mama once joked that my twenty-something aged cousin and her new husband were getting a pet in an effort to thwart baby blues. Even then, I thought it was a smart idea; everyone knows that dogs are man’s best friend, but I’ve encountered some real asshole-ish children over the years. Plus, actual little humans still sort of bewilder me – despite my years of education studies and babysitting like a boss – so the decision was clear: a furry fix was precisely what I needed. Consider it a four-legged bridge to a more selfless future.

So, ten days before Jennifer went into labor, I distracted that strange inner “I wanna be a mommy” desire with a dog. But not just any dog, an unbelievably adorable 2.6-pound designer dog that we named London. No bull shit, he looks so much like a teddy bear that his breed is actually called Teddy Bear. Go ahead, squeal with delight – I did. Cuddly sound effects aside though, getting London was a must. I  couldn’t be completely shut out from this mom experience – my FOMO (fear of missing out) pretty much dictated that. Besides, a puppy is the only cuteness contender that even begins to rival baby beauty. Bonus facts: I can dress him up, too. Football jerseys? Ugly Christmas sweater? Preppy button-up? Rain boots? You betcha.

One week and three days down the calendar, on October 30, 2014 to be exact, baby Dylan (Jennifer’s human) graced the planet with his endearing existence. And it was just as I suspected; the new mama peered back from the mystical motherland to reveal that this whole baby thing is downright awesome. In fact, she insists that it’s even better than we’d ever expected.

It’s still wild to realize that our conversations no longer revolve around what to wear or how some dude tried to pick us up. Now, our reality is consumed with furry puppy and bouncing baby pictures and our conversations are almost always interrupted with baby noises or barking. We can’t help it, we just go on and on about our little boys.

IMG_1261

Despite our boys’ very different genetics, we’re discovering that raising them brings about very similar experiences and emotions. For instance, we’re both totally capable of functioning with one arm. In fact, most of this blog was written with one thumb because my little babe was napping on the other one. Pardon any typos associated with being his pillow. Now ssshhh, the baby is sleeping. We’ve both learned to time our outings with inclusion of all the “ooohs” and “aaaaahs” people slow us down with. Even the grumpiest of people have been brought to a smile in their presence – it’s like watching Christina Ricci’s character, Wednesday, from the Addams Family movie when she tries to smile with all the happy little blonde girls; beyond awkward yet hilarious. Suffice it to say, all the coos and awes have made us more patient women. Additionally, we’ve both admitted to being devilishly happy if our boy whines when we leave him. We think it means he needs us, and apparently we need that. Is that twisted? Good thing I’ve got more time to practice. We also spend quite a bit of time reconciling fears and phobias about how others interact with our boys. I’m constantly freaked out by how often total strangers want my dog to lick them. I imagine this sort of heebeegeebee to be similar to how some moms feel when strangers touch their pregnant bellies, or living offspring for that matter. “Look with your eyes, not your hands!” Huh, I do sound like a parent.

I’ve got to pump the brakes here; the delete button has been called off the bench. You see, I had this whole long list of more similarities, but let’s be honest, raising a human is a game changer. I can prep all I want; I can brush the dog’s teeth, give the bunny lettuce, talk to the fish so that they recognize me, blah, blah, blah, but when and if I actually do bring a human into this world I am going to be a collision of fear, gratitude, happiness, and pride – and that’s only what I can anticipate. Truthfully, I bet there will be a whole bunch of curveballs coming my way. Not to worry though, I’ll catch them with one arm while the baby rests in the other. Mom skills.

Baby Dylan will be 6 months this week. He just started eating solids and naps every couple of hours with the aid of my sleep machine gift. I didn’t realize it until right now, but he’s my best friend’s new best friend. He is bringing her newfound happiness she never knew existed. She is his entire world. They make a great pair.  And I have to admit, seeing her as a mother is certainly one of the coolest things I’ve seen her do – well besides that wet t-shirt contest freshman year, that was crazy cool. I won’t even be bashful about it; she was my party hero. But now, she’s my mama hero. At least Dylan scored an adventurous one!

I am a proud Auntie. I have been so humbled by my bestie turned mommy. Even Jennifer is committed to her new role as an “aunt.” She obliges my puppy stories and kindly asks how he is. It’s very thoughtful. I am obsessed with my puppy, but I am so looking forward to the day I can give her the sense of pride that only comes from seeing your best friend over the moon in love with a little human of her own. Until then, I’m going to go walk the dog – he’s potty trained now and that makes me damn proud.

Change Your Seat / Change Your Life

I rarely sit in the window seat aboard any airliner. I don’t like the way the flight attendant leans over hoping you’ll help her do her job; as a highly hydrated individual, I feel positively trapped; and I rarely bother to look out the window so what’s the point. Don’t put this baby in the corner.

In fact, beyond the age of six, I can recall only three total times I’ve wound up in a window seat.

Two Years Ago:

Two years ago, this very week to be exact, I departed to a place farther than I’d ever traveled before. The UAE. Since my boss was a loyal American Airlines passenger, I’d have to become one also. Talk about a long journey to start from scratch.

When you fly alone you have a lot of time to just look around and think. I remember how oodles of unpleasantries flooded my mind as the boarding process persisted two minutes past the scheduled departure time: I had virtually no status here despite actually having some mileage with this alliance – it was very clear to see that American must have hit it out of the park with business travelers, let’s say oh, three decades ago, because every single dude in a crusty suit boarded before me. I knew I’d have to pee, but I was stuck between the window and a thankfully thin, but very sleepy looking woman who, believe it or not, had even less status than I; and they didn’t serve champagne, Dos Equis, or any other kind of suitable adult beverage for those of us who aren’t red necks.

All right, rant over. It was time to put some major patience powers into place because after an obscene amount of time, I’d be landing in a place that was sure to be a culture shock and that fact both intimidated and intrigued me.

So, I let this tinsel jet and two other One World birds take me to and from the sandy and stupidly opulent Middle Eastern city of Abu Dhabi – where, as fate would have it, my life was forever changed.  I’ll pause for your laughter or scoff, and I’ll even admit to reading that last line dramatically while proofreading. I’m completely aware how storybook “fate” and “forever” sound, but I’m no bullshitter either, everything truly did change.

It was there, over six hundred days ago, in a smoky bar with an eager, yet talented expat cover band, I met the man who would, at another place in another time and in a whole separate blog of its own, make me second guess every romantic decision I’d made to date, ultimately coming to the realization, with fear and excitement, that what was meant to be for me was still to come (spoiler alert: it’s another window seat).

Sounds flowery huh? And it is; in fact, my days are now filled with said flowers, real talk, laughter, understanding, dancing, affection, and a yearning I’ve never experienced in all my years of chasing where I am now. Yet, the most baffling part of it all is that I discovered all of this while away in some land where gender equality is non-existent and people smoke indoors like it’s 1940. I guess sometimes taking a few steps back really can move you forward in the right direction.

One-Year Ago:

I was sky-bound to a place strikingly different from the sheik and Ferrari-filled streets of the UAE. This time, I was flying to a land below sea level where flavors of creole and gumbo, sounds of trumpet-led bands, and the joys of to-go alcoholic beverages, bare breasts, and blinking beads shun the modesty of the East, all while contributing to the culture and celebration known as Mardi Gras. High-five, Thomas Jefferson.

It had been during one of our real talks that we shared our bucket lists with one another. He wants to take the kids and I on a safari one day, which is perfect because I want to ride an elephant again. We both wanted to party on a yacht somewhere picturesque, attend Fashion Week in NYC, and check out Mardi Gras.

In all honesty, hype aside, Mardi Grad isn’t that spectacular. It’s crowded, dirty, and smelly. For me, it was the company I kept that made the rolled ankle on a pile of deserted beads over hundred-year-old cobblestone worth it. We just laughed and danced and took a million pictures we’ll never even share because they seem to belong in that private memory bank. You know, the ones that are just for you and him.

Perhaps it’s to preserve how special it was. The moment I watched him dance without a care in the world. That smile, that rolling shoulder motion. It was like everything else around me fell silent and slightly transparent, because he was all I could see. Or the moment I caught him smirking at me as I chatted up total strangers because I wanted us to make new friends with people we’d never see again. He just let me be my butterfly self, and even though there were hundreds of loud people all around us it somehow felt like we were the only ones at Mardi Gras. Simply put, they’re the moments you can’t recreate even if you tried.

Today:

I’m once again going to give the “I’m a Western girl, in a Middle Eastern world” thing a go. Mark has business to tend to, but being as dedicated to nostalgia as I am, he’s invited me along for the ride.

Not to brag, but we have a pretty impressive list of both similarities and contrasts, which I think contribute to our compatibility as a couple. One of which is that he’s a window seat guy and I’m an aisle girl. It really is the simple stuff, guys. So I’m standing there in the aisle, tucking my belongings into the overhead compartment, when this ever-thoughtful man of mine offers to switch with me because our business class seats faced towards the economy class and he figured I wouldn’t be real keen on being gawked at by Arab men eating cheap airplane food on plastic trays. Yes, my hair is visible and blonde and my body is curvy, now lower your gaze, sir.

Looking around, I knew right away that they’d still be able to see me in the window seat, but when your man is chivalrous it’s best to accept his kindness. Plus, as my mind smartly shifted to my last few window seat experiences I was quickly reasoning how unwicked this seat must actually be. I mean, occasionally sitting there has kind of worked out wonderfully for me. Besides, I don’t feel so trapped in between him and a view. And there won’t be anything awkward about crawling over him to use the restroom. In fact, I think I’ll drink more water now.

Honestly, and in total hindsight of it all, it’s crazy how different things can look when your perspective changes. Now, I can gaze out this double pane window overlooking the middle of anywhere and know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. Or I can neglect to look out the window at all and just see him. Either way, the view is nice.

Before lying back to let sleep help dissipate this 14-hour journey, I begin to wonder where my annual contract with the window seat will take me next year? If it’s with him, I’ll go anywhere.

Dear John: The better letter the man of your world needs to receive

Historically, Dear John letters have been bad news. For the recipient that is. With one opening salutation, women were given the passive power to announce, without any chance of rebuttal from the man, that she was done and it was over. Talk about hand-delivered heartbreak. Or freehand freedom. Potato, potata.

I couldn’t have been more than seven-years-old when I first learned of such a tactic. I doubt it was even appropriate for me to be watching this particular television program, but what can I say, pop culture had a heavy hand in raising me. Now, I can’t recall the exact program I was watching, but I do know that a woman left the letter in an envelope on the fireplace mantle and departed with several suitcases. And when the man returned sometime later, he removed his cowboy hat with great sorrow as he gripped the letter between his fingertips. I had questioned how he knew it was for him as the envelope had been marked Dear John, but his name was Matt.

My parents vaguely explained that this was her way of telling him she didn’t love him anymore. I remember feeling so sad for that cowboy. What had he done to deserve this?

Nowadays, people dump your ass via text message or by simply changing their relationship status on Facebook to single, only to receive 43 likes all at your humiliating expense. It’s still a passively cruel world.

So what about the great boyfriends? What sort of letters do they receive? Somewhere over a Midwestern sky, Denver bound, I started pondering this optimistic outlook. Whilst in a champagne cloud, my gaze fell upon my sleeping boyfriend’s face and I knew right then what this “John” and all the great “Johns” deserve to hear:

Dear John,
I love you. What, you’ve already heard that seventeen times today so now it seems impersonal, or even tired? That’s the thing about that three worded phrase. It has this awe-inspiring way of being everything you ever needed to hear at one moment, and then just some words the next. I understand that. So how about accepting one of these three worded phases instead? You’re so special. You are great. You deserve happiness. You’re my friend. I support you. You are hot. Let’s make babies. I trust you. Hold my heart. I am yours.

You see, when I simply say that I love you, my dearest John, all of those phrases are what I actually mean. Now do you see how much easier it is to just sum it all up to “I love you”? And you thought I couldn’t keep a long story short.

But because this letter is long overdue, and there really is so much more to say than these three worded phrases permit, allow me to continue.

I believe in you. I believe in who you are and what you’re living for. I believe you’ll do what you say and say what you mean. You are a good man and you have my support to pursue your dreams and enjoy this life.

I am happy to be apart of your life. After all, you’re the man my heart’s been searching for. I want to be your friend. I want to be the one your smile falls on. I think you’re smart and I know you’ll succeed.

I have faith in our future together. Quite frankly, tomorrow just wouldn’t be the same without you. You’re my favorite person to spend time with and talk to. You’re damn funny, and keeping up with your wit makes me happy.

I recognize that you work hard to provide a comfortable lifestyle for us. These efforts and dedication do not go unnoticed, and are very much appreciated. I am proud of your professional accomplishments. It’s with immense gratitude that I say Thank You and Go Get ‘Em, Babe!

That being said, if your work world took a financial hit of any kind for any reason, I’d gladly serve tables or clean houses or drive a taxi, paint my own nails and shop at Walmart if that meant helping take care of us. What I’m saying here is that my love for you is completely impervious to the economy. I have your back, as you have mine.

I know you have my heart, too. I can sense that it’s always on your mind. You wonder how it feels and make great strides to keep it full and safe. You never intend to hurt me. You’re a man, you will make mistakes, but I know you hold my heart in a safe and adored place.

Speaking of hearts, I love the chest that holds yours. You are extremely good-looking. The attraction I feel towards you is powerful, and borderline perverted. I have a yearning for you that even my lingually-inclined tongue can’t articulate. To put it mildly, I want to be near you or on you as often as possible.

This attraction is smothered with friendship. You’re my bro and I’m your best gal. We can depend on each other and feel fortunate just be hanging out and to have found a connection so real. I won’t ever undervalue your friendship, great boyfriend.

Last, but never least, I love you.

Love always,
Your smitten and adoring girlfriend who wishes you’d wake up so we can share some sharp banter and cold champagne

It’s no surprise to those who know me, but my “John” is actually a good man named Mark. On the rare occasion I’m not ogling over him, I will catch him watching me, looking and loving through all my layers. And I will let him stare even though I feel self-conscious, because it feels good to be under his gaze, and I trust him. I trust him with my heavy heart and eclectic emotions.

I am meant to experience this world and all its love with Mark. And he with me, I do believe. I’d ask you to wish us luck, but we don’t need that; we have love and our love has a letter filled with sincere three worded phrases, plus all the other words “I love you, dearest John” really mean.

Saint She

When a young woman flies an airline with zero status a few unfamiliar things happen: she boards nearly last and undergoes/ignores curious and bored stares from sardined passengers who have already fastened themselves into their seat belt as if claiming uncharted land; she gets to sit in the window seat instead of the coveted aisle – which has always felt like such a trap; and she, quite surprisingly, re-discovers herself.

Today she wears sunglasses, as all cool yet aloof girls do, and she actually looks beyond her smoky lenses and through the window her new seat has afforded her.  Alas, this real estate may be more “excuse mes” away from the lavoratory than a hydrated young lady would prefer, but it also offers something unexpected, and splendid – the great wide world in the shape of an oblong rectangle for as far as little brown eyes can see, which is plenty far for her.  And today, she just so happens to need to see her world.  As her anomalous aircraft takes-off she numbingly looks down at the routes she cruises, the places she frequents, the mountain she hikes, the life she lives and the memories she makes.   Today she is leaving most of what she knows behind for a new world she knows nothing of.  A world of splendor, religion, and tradition – a far away world that she knows nothing about and this makes her heart skip a beat.

There’s always been love, to some capacity at least.  To her, love is all there is.  It can take her places, and then bring her home again.  It is as right as the rain couples embrace under, as true as the beat in her fighting heart and as extraordinary as an Arizona sunset.  Love is what makes her world at peace.  She isn’t a hippy.  Not really, anyway.  She is, however, an absolute romantic, sort of a heartbreaker and, even though she wouldn’t know what to do with a beautiful ending, an inconsistent ever-after seeker.

She has always brought love, evoked love, made love.  She’s even made a few men pine for and fall in love with her in just a single night’s time – quite frankly, this is most of all she’s ever known.  And this inspires her.  You see, to her there is no “happy ending,” because that concept is yet to exist, assuming that it really does, of course.  She revels in the now so hold on tight.  She is the woman who reveres her past even if it’s sticky for the simple truth that it’s made her who she is today; impulsively and passionately makes the most of her present; and bashfully throws out a rope to wrangle her future half accepting that it might not catch anything proud or pretty.   Despite all this, she is an opportunist; she is heartfelt and kind, playful and fun; and she loves.

She is the type of lover who smiles at her suitor; finds the good in him, and commends him so; she laughs with him; encourages his story-telling; cheerleads his dreams, caresses his arm; leans on his shoulder; and looks longingly into his eyes as if she’s been searching for him all along.  No, she isn’t methodically misleading him into serving her the full moon on a silver plated platter; she’s simply exercising all the female finesse she’s ever known and expecting nothing but the very best from “the one.”

If you’re in search of her, find her.  If you’ve just met her, don’t stop getting to know her.   If you have her, keep her. If she’s left you for another world, ask her to come home.   If you’ve already lost her, hope that the next man realizes her worth.  May there always be red roses and blue violets in her Valentine’s Day.  And may you find your Saint She.

And the Beat Goes On

Music has always rocked my world.

I find it inspiring and comforting.  Its ability to bring me back in time to a single moment or instill excitement about moments to come perpetually pleases me.  There are few things in life that prompt this type of spontaneous stroll down memory lane.  Consider this: you can stumble upon a memory, the good, the bad, and the ugly, with something as simple as cruising to FM radio, looking through a jukebox or giving your iPod the reigns with Shuffle mode.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve heard a strum of a guitar, a DJ mixing beats, the keys of a piano or a hum of an artist and unlocked the past to moments and events like: the dance routine I choreographed with my girlfriend Amber in the 5th grade; when I told my high school sweetheart that I was going to the Prom with someone else; the time I spilt an entire bottle of coke in my lap and had to air dry my skirt out Jennifer’s car window on our way to a party; the trip to Mexico when I danced poolside for hours on end with my mama and her girlfriends; that wild college party (I say that loosely, there were many.  And certain songs are the only real evidence that those nights ever happened!!); my college graduation; my trip to Italy with my nonna and mama; dancing in Vegas with thousands of my closest friends; crying in bed all by myself; feeling in love and hoping it lasts; breaking up yet again and eventually letting go.

I also depend on music to do the things that I can’t do by myself.  When I need to be strong, I feel as though I can pluck the lyrics right out of a song and wield a shield out of them.  I’ll admit it, when words evade me I use lyrics to text or facebook how I feel.  And when I’m unable to provide myself the support that I need, it’s like the lyrics flow right out of my iPod and swirl all around me, touching my heart and embracing my pain; they give me the strength that I can’t find in myself.

I suppose that music has also cradled my world.

That being said, here is my musical journey:

I am an 80s baby in every sense of the term. According to my blunt mother, I was conceived to Van Halen’s Jump. I knew every word to Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet album; and never hesitated to belt out the lyrics every time my mama popped in the cassette. Now can you imagine a toddler singing, with absolute conviction, “working for her man, she brings home her pay for love – for love?” (Well believe it, and love the fact that I just did the very same thing in the backseat of my boss’s car on our way to a business trip earlier this week!)  I recall most kids my age wearing Nickelodeon t-shirts, but I rocked my t-shirt from Aerosmith’s Get a Grip Tour on a regular basis. Some kids hummed nursery rhymes; I jammed rock ballads.

In the 5th grade I rocked my parents’ world when I fell in love with hip-hop. I played my Gangsta’s Paradise soundtrack on repeat every day after school until it became riddled with scratches and refused to bump out of my boombox. I wanted to name my dog Tupac, but my parents thought it absurd. That dance that Amber and I choreographed was to Whoop!  There it is!  by Tag Team.  Over the years, I’ve swayed my hips and bobbed my head at numerous concerts and even finagled my way to the stage to dance alongside Dem Franchise Boys, Ray J and Chris Brown – pre his Rihanna outrage, of course. Juicy J once complimented my flashy style after I charmed a bouncer into letting my girlfriends and I roam around backstage.  And I’ve been to more Snoop Dogg concerts than I care to admit.

I think I developed an addiction to country music when I experienced my first break-up in middle school, because I’ve been faithful to its allure ever sense.  I have two preset buttons dedicated to country stations in the event of heartbreak.  But I’ve also come to appreciate the genre’s genuine way of expressing love. Every female singer says what I’ve always wanted to say and every male singer is like my Ken doll; I just want what he’s saying to be true and to happen to me.  My girlfriend Sara and I have even contemplated moving to Nashville to marry cowboys.  This idea seems like the ultimate fix – so we’re not ruling it out just yet.

Murberry

I’ve recently become obsessed with dance and house music.  This is probably because I’ve frequented more clubs and partied harder in the last 9 months than I ever have in 25 years.  I’ve also taken a new approach to heartache.  I like to call it Dance it off.  There is something inexplicably liberating about dancing to music that’s louder than my thoughts.  The lyrics are occasionally foreign, always heartfelt and sometimes even ridiculous, but the music never ceases to engulf me.  Even in a room full of people, I can close my eyes and lose myself.

Being the hopeless romantic that I am, particular songs will always resonate with me.  Here is my love affair with music:

When my parents split up, I played Wonderful Now by Everclear on repeat for hours on end for nearly two years.  And still to this day, whenever I hear Journey’s Faithfully I recall the better days of my childhood.

When I need to break it off with someone or get out from under someone’s thumb, I jam Mariah Carey’s Shake it Off through my Corolla speakers on full blast.  I find it subliminal is a way.  I’m hoping to convince myself that moving on is best and that it won’t be all that painful.  At the very least, it’s a fun song to sing along to.

When I started regularly listening to Nelly Furtado’s All Good Things Come to an End and humming along to Fergie’s Big Girls Don’t Cry, I realized that my college sweetheart just wasn’t “the one.”  Only now do I see that I threw a quality catch back into waters that are seriously lacking tens.  And I’m reminded of this every single time my iPod finds these songs.  Shuffle is, without a doubt, a love/hate relationship.

Since then, I’ve been listening to Rihanna’s Take a Bow every time some new heart-throb tricks me like it’s Halloween.  The lyrics somehow seem to sting more when you know that you only have yourself to blame.  So in an effort to take some responsibility for my tears and triumphantly forge ahead to my next ex, I blare Since You’ve Been Gone by Kelly Clarkson.  Talk about empowerment sister!

I adopted the Dance it Off approach when the most beautiful person I’d ever laid my lips on or began a life with changed his mind.  Even months later, I hated that I still wondered what it would have felt like to see his perfect nose on top of a baby’s face, so I sought refuge in David Guetta’s Gettin Over You and Calvin Harris’s You Used to Hold MeThey helped me lose my mind when my memories were driving me mad.  And all the Just Jamie dancing wasn’t bad for my bod either.  But true to my country junkie self, I woke each morning with sore thighs and a raging headache and depended on Jaron and the Long Road to Love to help me find humor in my humiliating heartache with Pray for You.  Call it my version of Sunday School.

When I broke the man’s heart, whom I genuinely hoped would still love me when my teeth are no longer mine, my wrinkled hands shake all the time and I need help remembering my memories, even with a musical aide, broke my heart right back, I felt like literally every single song was speaking to me. I sobbed in tune to Third Eye Blind’s How’s it Going to Be.  I never anticipated there being a day when we no longer knew each other.  So in an effort to outrun my heartbreak, I slipped into my running kicks and ran 4 miles to Leona Lewis’s Better in Time on repeat.  I’ve never once ran that far.  If I ever meet Leona, I won’t hesitate to hug her, even if I’m sweaty.  When I wonder how long I’ll be running for, I listen to Martina McBride’s Wrong Baby Wrong; I long to sit down with her in hopes of absorbing just an ounce of her courage and practicality.  It really isn’t the end of the world.  I am going to be just fine.  Eventually.  I’m resilient if nothing else.  And I always taste my tears through a smile whenever La Roux encourages me to be Bulletproof, next time that is.

As my 26th birthday approaches, I can’t help but wonder what the next year will bring.  I foresee champagne, dancing, laughter, tears, love, joy, hurt, travel, success and happiness.  Memories to cherish.  Memories to forget.  But I know for certain that music will touch me, move me and cure me. And years from now I know that it’ll also bring me back to 26.

Music makes my world go round.