Well, we’re home.
We’re home from our freeloading adventure in Orlando and in case you missed it, this is the part where you get extremely jealous Read the rest of this gem…
Well, we’re home.
We’re home from our freeloading adventure in Orlando and in case you missed it, this is the part where you get extremely jealous Read the rest of this gem…
I’m not saying you have to be a morning person… Read the rest of this gem…
Me: It’s so nice not hearing her annoying voice telling me what to do, you know? Read the rest of this gem…
Right now, I’m in the mountains.
Or at least on my way to them.
Not the craggy, hassleback peaks of the Alps or the snow-capped and rugged expanse of the Rockies, but the rolling, layered, ripples of the Appalachians.
Specifically, the Blue Ridge.
Unlike the jaggedly exuberant and youthful Himalayas (they’re still growing, you know), the Appalachians are ancient. Worn. Wrinkled remnants of a continental collision between masses of land that no longer exist. Like so many humans, they shrink with age and their beauty takes on the understated glow of wisdom.
In the summer they’re covered in blankets of green and blue, but in fall? Their famed and fiery warm hues are nationally — and perhaps internationally — renowned.
I can’t wait to see it.
And neither should you.
But right now, you can’t. So in the meantime, take a gander at these juxtaposing images from my 30th birthday celebration in the Florida Keys last week. (My little sister, Kelly, is the beauty with the long blond hair. My bff, Alaina, is the beauty with the short blond hair. I know. I like to surround myself with beautiful people.):
It’s hard to believe. One week I’m riding around a string of tropical islands on a motorized scooter with my new homosexual sugar daddy, and the next I’m facing autumn’s cool mountain beauty, nestled snugly in the warmth of crackling fires, spicy red wine, and a well-known embrace.
Life, when I travel, is difficult to grasp.
And that’s just the way I like it.
Where We Stayed:
Island: Key West
Hotel: Sheraton Suites
Recommendation: I’m not going to lie. I was initially disappointed when my sister Kelly, best friend Alaina and I waited until the last-minute to book a room for a Friday night in Key West because it seemed like all of the great B&B’s near Duval Street (the island’s “main drag”) as well as some of the larger beach hotels were completely booked. But Kelly pulled through with a 2 room suite at the Sharaton. For just shy of $300 for the night (after taxes, fees, and all of that extra hotel jazz), it was an excellent place to stay. The lobby (complete with complimentary virgin mojitos) was chic and welcoming, as was the staff. The outdoor bar was great, and the ‘tender made sure my non-virgin mojitos were very tourist friendly. The room was stunning with 2 queen beds, a pull-out couch, and an exemplary bathroom (granite counters and a tile shower surround). I’ll admit I was baffled by the fact that the hallway outside of our room had the ocean view, but really. Our main purpose for the space was to sleep. And I can guarantee that we probably slept much better there than outside of the crowded bars of Duval. Of course, it was a bit of a drive (5-10 minutes) to get to town, but we had a car and some locals with a free parking space, so it wasn’t too cumbersome. Also, the hotel offers a free shuttle and the phone numbers for cabbies if you don’t care to drive.
Have you ever seen so much cabinetry in a hotel room?
Also. If you can drive from Miami to the keys, do it.
Driving across a dotted chain of islands, over a series of bridges and out into the Caribbean ocean is an experience best tried first-hand.
And the thing is, you never know what gems you’ll unearth along the way.
Until a few years ago, I had pretty much been one of those I’m-going-to-dress-as-comfortably-as-possible-because-I’m-never-going-to-see-any-of-these-strangers-ever-again kinds of people when I was traveling.
It was just… easier.
I’m pretty sure it’s my mother’s fault (love blaming the parents) because I can trace it back to my family’s trip to Disney World when I was 8 years old. My little sister and I had never been on a plane, and for my mother, it was a rare treat. She was so excited that she ran out and bought all 4 of us those zippered nylon track suits in posh color schemes of the late ’80’s — my dad in blue, mom and sister in matching pink, and me, ever the coolest tween (so not), had the best one in all black with splashes of the hottest fuchsia.
At least, that’s the way I remember it.
(Not us. But it could’ve been. source)
We represented the epitome of stereotypical American tourists as we swish-swished down the airport corridors.
I’m pretty sure we wore visors.
And while at the time we honestly thought we were trendy as hell, the truth is that we were dressing purely for comfort. “And the jackets unzip!” my mom explained that morning as she tucked my long-sleeved turtleneck into the pinched elastic waistband of my swishy pants. “So you can easily take it off if you get too warm on the plane.”
Had I been at all in tune with my surroundings that day, the only warmth I would’ve experienced was that of embarrassment as we swish-swished past the besuitted occupants of business class and tucked ourselves safely into coach. Instead, I occupied myself by creating masterpiece drawings in my sketchpad of the wonders I saw outside the airplane window: a network of rectangles depicting farmlands on one page; some puffy clouds — aka. “The Kingdom of the Care Bears” on another page; and a genius blank page in between representing the time we actually flew through the clouds.
Hey. This was pre-camera and my first taste of travel enthusiasm. I worked with what I had.
The thing is, I’ve never been a proponent of doing something solely for the benefit of others.
I mean, hey. If you like that 6-gauge septum ring, then you wear it with all of the pride of the bull that you apparently think you are.
But when traveling? I’ve just learned over the past few years that dressing up, even just a tad, has several more significantly positive aspects than that of well-dressed strangers not wondering if you smell as wrinkly as you look.
For example. I was headed to the middle-of-nowhere North Carolina last Wednesday morning to drop my dogs off at their kennel before driving over an hour in the opposite direction to get to the airport in time to catch my flight to Florida. I’d taken Justin’s car since my beloved Chevy Tracker’s back right tire seemed a little flat and I didn’t think I had time to fill it before I left. So of course, as seems to be the general law when you make a decision that’s supposed to make your life easier, one of Justin’s tires blew when I was 45 minutes away from my house. And when I say “blew,” I mean exploded.
So there I was, on the side of the road with 2 mutts strapped into my back seat, cursing myself for never bothering to learn how to change a tire. It didn’t take long though, as I stood there making phone calls, for a friendly military officer to stop and change it for me.
I’d like to think he would’ve stopped regardless of what I was wearing, but let’s face it — my airport-ready sweater dress, tall boots, and leather jacket probably didn’t hurt.
And I don’t think it’s just because I’m a woman. I think a well-dressed man looking helpless on the side of the road is more likely to find assistance than someone looking bedraggled. It’s just human nature. Accurate or not, general scruffiness, ball caps, and saggy jeans conjure images of serial killers.
And people don’t tend to stop for serial killers.
Also, I think better dressed people are more likely to get assistance from airport employees. Think about it: They have one of the most under-appreciated jobs in the universe. They show up to work wearing pressed suits, uncomfortable shoes, immaculate hair, and they have to take orders from tourists all day. Have you ever had to work for someone who knew less about the job than you? Now imagine that person showed up to work every day wearing sweat pants and a fanny pack. Would you resent him more, or less?
Finally — and this is really the kicker — it turns out that “uncomfortable” dress clothes can actually be more comfortable than “comfy” clothes.
Think about it: Well-worn jeans can be the best if you’re working around your house or your yard or off running errands. They’re industrial, don’t wrinkle, and can wear coffee spills like they’re in style. But for travel? No way. After a couple of hours on that plane, you notice them squeezing in places they never used to squeeze — pinching in places they never used to pinch. You find yourself tucking belly folds of skin back under the waistband and urging them to stay there. And they ride up. They ride up like they’re in some epic race to see which leg can crawl up your butt the fastest, except for when you squeeze yourself into that miniscule airplane restroom. Then? Then you couldn’t pull them up if your life depended on it.
Jeans are no good for travel.
Think dresses. Long or short, depending on the season, in soft wools, light cottons, and other breathable fabrics. If you’re a man, think slacks. Again, soft. Breathable. What’s not comfortable about that?
Think layers. The more you wear, the less you pack. Airplanes can get chilly, so bring that cardigan or jacket on board.
Think comfortable shoes, but not tennis shoes. Unless you wear tennis shoes on a regular basis, don’t even pack ’em. Get yourself a nice pair of flats or boots with chunky heels — something you can wear rushing through terminals if need-be, but will also look nice with that sun dress or those khakis you packed and plan to wear later.
The greatest thing about looking good is feeling good. When I got off the plane in Florida, I was ready to grab some dinner with my sister without stopping to freshen up.
My sister. (Okay. Admittedly, at the Taco Beach Shack in Hollywood, Florida, dressing “up” means putting on a shirt. But whatever.)
And while my pasty northern skin will always give away the fact that I’m no beach local, the dress made me feel good.
It also allowed me the room to eat this:
Never could’ve happened if I’d been wearing jeans.
I don’t have time to write anything this morning because I’m already terribly late for a work-related breakfast meeting on this holiday morning, and I’m honestly not sure what’s worse — that I’m late for work on a holiday morning, when many other people are still tucked warmly in their beds or sitting comfortably at their own kitchen tables with a cup o’ java and their morning readery, or that I’m actually semi-excited for my greasy diner sausage cheese biscuit, crappy coffee, and glass of orange juice.
Hey. We do this diner work thing every month, and one gets accustomed to certain delicacies.
Anyway, in lieu of an actual post this morning, I’m leaving you with this:
A photo of the best mojito I’ve ever had in my entire life (Thanksgiving-ish, 2011, Miami, FL),
Me and my apparently giant hands, just trying to enjoy said mojito without the paparazzi getting all up in my bidness.
You know, because I’m famous like that.
I’m just going to say it.
Apparently I can expect a big, fat lump of coal in my stocking this year, because apparently I have not been a good girl.
In fact, not only am I writing this post on stolen property (this is Justin’s computer — mine is still kaput), but I’m also obsessed with sex and swearing.
This is what I’m told.
But the good news is, it’s not my fault.
Really, it all started with my mom’s vagina.
The Scene: Thanksgiving Day, 2011. My little sister’s adorable apartment is filled with smells from holidays past. Her culinary skills unthwarted by working with limited tools and nonexistent lighting, the turkey has been roasted to a goldeny perfection, and it’s literally oozing the butter and garlic she’s been injecting into it for the past 6 hours.
Our table is tiny, but it has all the necessities: Four plates full of Kelly’s avian delicacy, skin-on smashed potatoes, green bean casserole with fresh green beans, some kind of awesome stuffing I can’t even begin to describe, Mom’s homemade gravy, and my completely out of this world sweet potato casserole.
Except one plate — my brother’s plate — is missing the casserole.
I don’t want to talk about it.
But we also have wine. It’s good wine, and everything feels okay thus far because Ma had only just arrived, right on time to make her famous gravy using primitive cookware and completely sans tupperware shaker, oh miracle of miracles, and this night in Fort Lauderdale is the first time the 4 of us have been together in as many years. In fact, it’s the first time the 4 of us have been together unsupervised ever, I’m pretty sure.
I fill Ma’s glass.
So this is a family dinner, it dawns. The conversation is pleasant. We jibe and cajole — the things families do when it’s been a while, and the laughter is real. I look around the table and think about how different we all are, yet somehow the same. We siblings have the same sense of humor — it’s crass. But we make no apologies because life, after all, is too short. The humor must be genetic because we weren’t together long enough to learn it. Joel basically grew up alone with my mother, spending time with his father according to whatever arrangements the grown-ups had made, and then eventually my dad comes along, and Joel’s stepmother, and new families are created and he’s kind of stuck there in the middle dealing with that and who knows whatever else teenage boys deal with when the world is at its most confusing. He escaped when he was 17.
I managed to float through adolescence with nary a scratch. My father moved us to Nebraska (from Minnesota) when I was in 7th grade. I was awkward, to be sure — I never went to prom or involved myself fully at school, though my grades were superb. I flipped burgers when I was 15, then learned about the world of “white-collar” work when I accepted a 30-hour/week position at Best Buy during high school. Ironically, my co-workers at the one job for which I’ve ever had to submit to a urine test are the co-workers who taught me to smoke from a water bong. And the rest is a bit of a blur, until I emerged from the haze to attend college in Ohio, near-but-not-too-close to Joel.
Kelly is tough. Though only 4 1/2 years apart, it might has well have been the world for how little we knew each other. It seemed we were always pitted against one another — brains (me) versus beauty (her) in an all-out battle of who’s-gonna-make-it-out-of-this-with-an-ounce-of-self-esteem-intact? I’m pretty sure most women can relate.
We weren’t close. But then I ditched her for college, and somehow we became close, through the distance. And then when Dad left but didn’t physically leave, an event that gave our mom a proverbial eye twitch — a twitch that must have somehow sent electrical signals to the place in depths of her brain where all logic exists and shorted a fuse and suddenly everything was emotion — all emotion, all the time (can you really blame her?), Kelly begged me to come home. So I quit school, told Dad to move out, provided tissues for Ma’s spirals, and tried to convince Kelly that everything would be okay. That really, whose parents don’t get divorced anymore? But, at age 16, the damage had been done.
I’m pretty sure none of them remember any of it. That haze was far more potent than anything I might have smoked in high school.
But we emerged, mostly, and while the stale stench still lingers, we’re all creating lives. Pretty good ones, at that.
So we’re sitting at the Thanksgiving dinner table and I’m thinking about how the lines between blood and upbringing are blurry, for sure, and I realize it’s strange how the lives of 3 siblings could have been so diverse when, after all, we all came from the same vagina.
So I say just that.
Only without all of the background context and qualifiers, so it just comes out as, “Isn’t it weird that we all came from the same vagina?”
Sometimes my thoughts run ahead of my mouth and the actual words can’t keep up, so they paraphrase.
It doesn’t always work out.
For a moment everyone is quiet, of course, because who doesn’t want to take a moment to contemplate a thought like that while eating roasted turkey with cranberry stuffing and mom’s gravy and — “EWWWWWW!” (From my brother and sister simultaneously.)
Ma just looks at me — that knowing look — and says, “Katie, I know why you’re so obsessed with sex and swearing.”
Really? This is news to me. I mean, I like sex, and I have been known to cuss inappropriately from time to time (maybe more in front of Mom because I know it bugs her), but now I’m obsessed? This is how it works? You mention your mom’s vagina ONE time at the dinner table, and suddenly you’re a maniac? And certainly, while I mentioned a certain unmentionable body part, I was definitely not talking about sex.
“And I know it’s my fault,” she continued.
Now I’m intrigued. Because, while I’d argue ceaselessly about her use of the word “obsessed,” I’m willing to put that on hold to hear this.
“Well. Remember when I bought those DVD’s?” she asked, her voice losing its laughter and growing somber. “Those… Sex and the City DVD’s?”
“And you asked if you could watch them? And I let you, even though I hadn’t seen them yet?”
“And then, when I finally watched them, I couldn’t believe I’d let you watch them…”
Is this really happening?
“And now you’re obsessed with sex and swearing and it’s all my fault!”
I’m pretty sure, at that point, that some cranberry stuffing flew out my nose. We laughed. But hard.
“Well,” I retorted while taking a sip of my wine, “thank God I became an alcoholic too, so I could deal with all of the trauma! The trauma that was undoubtedly caused by Sex and the City!”
I mean, duh. Obviously it’s Carrie Bradshaw’s fault.
In fact, I’m pretty sure this excuse will now work for everything:
Honey, I know we can’t afford those $300 curtains. But Carrie Bradshaw made me buy them!
What? I know you wanted to save that nice bottle of Cabernet for our anniversary, but Carrie Bradshaw told me to drink it!”
Okay, I know I’m not supposed to talk about my mom’s vagina during Thanksgiving dinner, but it’s Carrie who tells me to do these things! She’s all up in my head!
And now, should I ever decide to see a shrink again, I’ll know who to blame.
*In case you’re wondering, no. I did not reach Miami and just keep on drivin’ — cruising along 1A with its bars and beaches and bars some more, dancing a jig along the twists and turns of this country’s southeastern tip before winding my way to Hwy 1, then following it across actual oceans of water, the highway like a big strand of drool dripping off the goatee of Florida, passing Key Largo and Islamorada and Duck Key and maybe stopping in No Name Key before reaching Key West because, let’s face it, No Name Key is probably more my style.
Not that I would know.
I did not do any of those things, though I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted.
I wrote this post last Wednesday. Today is Sunday. I’m posting it today because I finally have some internet access on a computer. Travel, while awesome, isn’t always convenient for blogging. And I do believe this is the longest I’ve neglected the blog in… ever.
Many things have gone down since I wrote this 5 days ago, but we’ll start here:
I drove to Florida yesterday — a trip that, theoretically, should have taken over 12 hours to complete, but instead only took around 11, including the 45-minute pit stop to catch up with an old college buddy off of I-95. It is for this very reason that I cannot bring myself to shun social networking; while the number of Facebook “friends” tallied on one’s wall has little to nothing to do with one’s real life social circles, it really is a fantastic way to touch base with people you would otherwise probably never see again.
Whether that’s good or bad, I’m not quite sure. But at least it’s interesting.
See, while most people don’t mind letting acquaintances slip away, I have this very odd way of wanting to hang on to people — of wondering how they’re doing, of what’s happened in their lives since we last intersected orbits — and Facebook provides that lost connection.
It keeps people neatly tucked inside my radar screen.
You think that makes me a stalker. I think that makes me… curious.
Okay. I have to interrupt myself for a second. I just took a bite of one of the most delicious items I’ve ordered from a menu in a long, long time. My sister has to work today, and my mother and brother don’t arrive until tomorrow, so I’m finding myself inexplicably untethered for the first time in a while.
And what’s a girl to do when she finds herself in a strange city with an entire day to indulge in whatever she chooses?
Head to the apartment pool? Nah… there’s plenty of time for that.
Walk one of the many miles of gorgeous ocean shoreline? I’m pretty sure sand is overrated.
Lie out, relax, and attempt to expose some of this pasty whiteness to the miracle of UV rays? For my skin, I’m afraid, the situation is hopeless until next May.
Plus, I think I may have divulged by now — I’m not your average girl.
So. Instead of celebrating what Florida is best known for — that brilliant, white-hot sunshine — I plopped my ass back in the car and headed 40 minutes north to West Palm Beach in search of a cafe I read about on Urban Spoon.
I had a feeling it would be worth my time.
And it is.
When I finally arrived at Casper’s on Park after many turn-arounds and indecision about whether I should really drive this far, I no longer cared about what I might be getting myself into. I didn’t care, when I pulled up, that the restaurant was nowhere near the water or any of the more fashionable areas of West Palm. I didn’t care that there wasn’t a single other patron in sight, or that they don’t have wi-fi (the owner/chef, Giuseppe, informed me he hopes to change this soon), or that it was too balmy for my northerner-at-heart self to sit outside on the dog-friendly patio.
Casper, by the way, is the name of the owner’s dog.
I was so hungry by the time I walked in that I asked Giuseppe to bring me the best item on the menu. After debating out loud between the gumbo and the jambalaya, he selected the slightly higher-priced (though not expensive at under $10 for the bowl) pasta jambalaya.
Alex, the co-owner, poured me a glass of sangiovese while I set up shop at a corner table facing the patio. He also brought me this:
Photo taken with iPhone.
And I think that maybe a part of me fell in love.
Some dreamy French music was playing when I arrived, but after multiple issues with skipping CD’s, they switched to something — a sultry almost-techno slow dance something-or-other — that was significantly less palatable, but who the hell cares because here comes my jambalaya.
I originally felt slightly ridiculous as the steaming bowl of bowtie pasta, hot sausage, shrimp, Parmesan cheese, and other New Orleans delicacies was brought to my table on this balmy afternoon, but now I feel like I am probably the most brilliant person anywhere with an 100 mile radius.
Photo taken with iPhone.
Another couple has just arrived and is sitting on the patio with their cocker spaniel. They ordered sandwiches. And while I’m sure he sandwiches are delicious, it’s taking all of my willpower to not run out there and tell them how crazy they are for not ordering Creole from a transplant.
Do I sound like a snob?
I’m pretty sure I can’t help it.
If it’s any consolation, I don’t look like a snob with my nose running from the not-spicy-but-not-not-spicy jambalaya.
It kind of sneaks up on you.
But I finished the bowl.
And now there’s no way I’m squeezing myself into a bathing suit.
If there’s anything I learned about travel, it’s that you should never rule anything out.
But for right now, I’m perfectly content to finish my glass of wine, watch Giuseppe lovingly pet the couple’s dog out on the patio, and wash everything down with the complimentary shot of espresso (looks like it’s been softened with something like cream — thank God) they just placed in front of me, which is exactly the motivation I need in order to plant my butt back in the car and head to Hollywood.
Hollywood Florida, that is.
P.S. It’s not espresso. Giuseppe informed me that it’s chocolate wine. Cocoa di Vino. Which pretty much tastes like a shot of Bailey’s.
And this just became my favorite place ever.
It’s happening again.
Every year, when the telltale signs of inevitable changes start appearing outside of my window — the deceptively warm-colored leaves trying their damnedest to pull a hood over my eyes to distract me from the dull winter browns and grays to come — when it seems like everyone else is excited about holiday shopping and knit sweaters and roasting chestnuts (do any of you actually roast chestnuts?), I get SAD.
Don’t let the beauty of these trees deceive you. They serve to tell tales of menacing things to come.
In fact, the only thing I really like about this time of year is the smell and taste of mulled cider. If I could sit in front of an infinitely fueled fireplace with a never-ending cup of mulled cider and the superpower of not needing to pee for 4 months (which would require stepping onto the cold, tile bathroom floors), there is a possibility I could remain content throughout the winter.
But probably not, because there’s only so much perfection one can take before it gets old, you know?
Like an awesome apple pie with vanilla ice cream. I love it, but could I eat the whole pie in one sitting?
I think not.
So 4 months of this is a little excessive. If winter lasted a week, maybe we’d have a better relationship.
But it doesn’t, so I get SAD.
Yes, I diagnosed myself.
Yes, I do this a lot.
Yes, I’ve sought professional help. It didn’t go well.
Normally, I am a morning person. I willingly get up at 6:45 — maybe 7:00 or 7:30 on the weekends — just to have my coffee, do some morning reading, and maybe write a blog post, all before showering and heading to work. (When you’re dependent on coffee, like me, you don’t drink it — you have it. Like it’s a part of you. Is that wrong?)
However, come the chilly months, I just don’t want to get out of bed. Like… at all. And not just because stepping outside of the warm covers means my body temperature will instantly drop 20 degrees, and not just because it’s still dark outside, but simply because I don’t want to face the day.
How SAD is that?
It’s like one of those horrible depression commercials where they talk about it physically hurting (and sometimes it does), except I know what is happening and why it is happening, which, I think, somehow makes it a little less depressing.
Because I know it won’t last forever.
Which is good, but not good enough to make it go away.
So, like last year, I’m taking a bit of a reprieve.
It’s time, once again, for the beautiful people of Miami to squint — not against the ever-present God of the Sun, but against the phenomenon of my blindingly pasty skin, pure and white as the freshly fallen snow. Well, maybe snow that’s been sitting for a day and has a light coating of freckled sand from the trucks that stop the streets from getting slippery, if we’re going to be honest.
And you know we’re nothing if not honest here.
This year will be different, though. Interesting.
See, this is going to be a reunion of sorts, which is exceedingly rare for this brokedown family. My little sister Kelly, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, is not only going to be hosting me for Thanksgiving, but we are also cooking for our mother on her first trip to the Sunshine State since my sister took up residency, and our brother, whom Justin and I recently visited in Cleveland.
The last time the 4 of us were together was about 4 years ago, when we decided to visit Kelly when she was living in Savannah, Georgia. So apparently, if we want to continue having these little get-togethers, my little sister needs to keep moving.
Joel will be getting a hotel room after the first night, which is why we usually refer to him as the intelligent sibling. Because with my mom, sister, and myself holed up in a tiny apartment for an extended amount of time, there’s no telling what might happen.
It could be a really interesting study for any burgeoning sociologists out there.
You’re right — it’s best to stay away from a lit fuse. Which is why we decided Justin should stay behind, as should Ed, my mother’s significant other. (Really, the reasons were more financial than anything else, and while it’s weird for Justin and me to spend this holiday apart, we figure we’ll make up for it by spending Christmas together. You know — fires and chestnuts and all that jazz.)
What’s even more exciting is that I’m getting a road trip out of the deal. Yep, the Tracker and I are headed south for part of the winter, and we couldn’t be happier.
I just wish I had a little more time to do some exploring, but maybe I can still cook something up for the arrival of spring. Because nothing is better than celebrating the return of warmth, sunshine, and — you guessed it — my sanity.