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Category Archives: The Squeeze

Living single… at 33.

Taking in the view on my own.

You might recall a popular TV series in the mid-90’s, “Living Single”, that followed six black singletons living in Brooklyn. They were in their twenties.

Because that’s when most people are single, right?

I haven’t written about my (lack of) dating life in a while – in fact, when I searched through the archives of this blog, it’s been at least a year. Why? Well, until possibly yesterday, I didn’t have much to say on it.

I used to look at being single as sad, and then it became a badge of honor. Now it’s just nothing – or at least, nothing that defines who I am or what I do each day.

I know I’ve got some new readers here – Welcome! – and it’s likely that you never thought this was once a place where ALL I talked about was dating. Why?

Because I did a lot of it in my twenties. I dated, I wrote columns about my experiences, I bartended and met more people to date, and then I published books about it, and spoke about it at open-mic nights… and now I just live it.

I had some fun experiences, some really bad ones, I fell in love a few times, and I also strung myself through abusive relationships.

And then I decided to be single.

Not the single where you have crushes, and “talk” via text, and meet new people on Tindr, and have casual sex. The kind of single where I just get to know myself.

That was at least five years ago, and I’m still in that space.

I definitely never planned on being single at 33, but I also never planned on living in Texas, eating mostly vegan food, or contemplating what life at 55 looks like for a singleton like myself.

At times, being single is scary. I have Miranda’s fear of dying in my apartment, alone, with my cat, and wondering how that ends. And some nights, settling into the covers of my big bed is just a weird reminder of how long it’s been since I fell asleep next to someone I really cared for.

Most of the time, though, I’m happy with my life. Many days, I can’t even remember what it was like to be in a relationship, or to even have a crush on someone. I can do nearly anything I want, and for the most part I do. That was always my saving grace at the end of a relationship – I was free.

If that doesn’t tell you anything about the kinds of relationships I’ve experienced, I don’t know what will.

My jump into being single likely got off to a bitter beginning; I was single because I’d been burned. And there are still remnants of that – it’s embarrassing to admit that I’ve never had a relationship that I’d classify as good or healthy.

But even between relationships, I would quickly meet someone new and move to the next person; one rebound after another.

So being single was a much-needed blow to the cycle. For awhile, I found it difficult to even look at a man, whether at a restaurant or when checking out at a store. I was convinced all men were the same, and I wanted no part of their game.

Don’t worry, I have softened a little since then, and although I don’t meet many people whose relationships I envy, I do follow a few bloggers that give me hope in dating, relationships, and possibly even marriage.

When I graduated from college (10+ years ago), it seemed like everyone was getting married, and many of those same people got divorced, and/or had children. But really, a study came out last year saying the number of marriages in the US, and around the globe, have been declining since the late 90s.

A report from the Urban Institute also stated that many millennials won’t get married until age 40. In the past (say, in 1960), people married for many reasons – to have children, for financial gain (taxes, military, etc.); there was also less pressure on education and careers, for women at least.

Today, being single can mean a plethora of things, and it can look many different ways. That’s the catch 22: there’s almost too many options on how I can spend my years. Do I adopt? Travel? Move elsewhere? Get more hobbies?

I suppose I’ve got time to decide.

In these five years, I’ve gone on a few dates, and unfortunately they’ve been really bad reminders of what I don’t miss about dating – ghosting patterns, mixed messages, messy homes, boring conversations, and selfish sex.

It’s unlikely I’ll go on a date before 2020 rolls around, but when it does, I have a better idea of what I’m after – someone who has it together; a good, fun sense of humor, an appreciation for life, and a kind heart.

Until then, I’ll be obsessively reading library books, cooking new recipes, and planning my next vacation.

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Staycation Diaries: That’s a wrap!

It’s oooovvverrrrrr.

Okay… it’s almost 10pm on a Sunday night, and it’s about to be official: the end of my Staycation.

I’m definitely savoring these last few moments before reality hits when my alarm goes off at 6:30 tomorrow – I cooked a meal (I’ll be taking the leftovers for lunch tomorrow), I spent three hours on the patio with Blanche and a book, I soaked in the tub, and am currently in bed watching TV while I type.

On Friday, I felt this urge to be productive: I had freelance work to do, laundry to do, groceries to get, and I had an evening rehearsal. I also needed to get to bed early because the shoot for the music video was at 6:30 Saturday morning.

But, at the advice of a friend, I decided to do some work, but also have a little fun. So, I did finish my laundry and about an hour’s-worth of freelance, but I also took myself to Taco Shack for lunch (that was my first time there) and I took an afternoon nap before my evening rehearsal.

I didn’t make it to bed early – I stayed up until midnight talking on the phone – and then I still had to shower and do ALL the face/lip/eye masks… so it was at least 1am before I went to bed, and I got up at 4:30 to do my hair and makeup and make it to Bull Creek by 6:30.

I was soooo nervous about the shoot – there were parts of the dance I was less-confident about, and I was also worried about it being outside, and hot… but honestly, it was a lot of fun. All of us worked really hard and I think it will be a great video – it premiers July 29!

The shoot wrapped at 10:00 am, and I felt like I’d already lived an entire DAY. But it was starting to rain and I was exhausted, so I immediately came home, took a shower, and got into bed to binge season 3 of “The OC”.

I actually took a three-hour nap, but then I watched several episodes, hit up the grocery store, and was still in bed early.

I woke up this morning so, so sore. Dancing outdoors, on a picnic table, jumping off rocks, and skipping through the river took a toll on me!

This morning, I got up and got ready for a brunch I’d had on my calendar for awhile. A woman I met through dance was hosting a brunch with all of the creative women she knew.

Honestly, things like this make me a little nervous – I knew I wasn’t going to know many people aside from the hostess, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. I could have easily stayed in bed, but who knew – maybe it would be great.

And it WAS. It was about 10 women, and we went around the table explaining all of the things we do and it was so neat to hear how different, yet similar we all were. It’s really cool (and comforting) to meet people who are dabbling in new things, facing fears, starting new businesses, and overall just being awesome women!

I am really excited to have possibly met some new friends, and to try new classes and hopefully go to more brunches with these ladies! I felt like it was just what I needed after a draining few months at the office.

When I got home from brunch, I really just wanted to continue to abandon all responsibilities and sit on the patio with a book – so I did exactly that. I went IN, too – I laid a blanket down, laid on a pillow, and read outside with Blanche for hours! It was really nice.

In general, I’m really sad that my Staycation is over. It was really nice to be able to have a whole week all to myself. But on the other hand, I felt like I was still pretty busy during the week, and it was a huge reminder of all the things I’ve got going on – which, on any other day, I would tell you is a great thing, but when you need a rest, it’s nearly impossible to put your entire life on hold.

I’m a firm believer that Newton’s First Law of Motion: a body in motion, stays in motion – applies to life as well. When I’m at work during the week, it’s easier for me to stay moving, go to dance after work, get freelance done, eat healthy, etc. But when I’m on vacation… I’m a slug (relatively speaking).

That’s not a bash to slugs; I also wanted to say that this week was a reminder of just how important it is to take a break, rest, step away. Even if it’s just for an hour, for a day, or whatever you have, you owe it to yourself to rest and restore, and you’ll be a better person for it.

So, I’m wrapping up this Staycation (I’m still going to stay up and read a little), but I’ve decided I’m going to stretch these vibes into the weeks coming. I’ve already booked a facial for Saturday morning, and I’m going to treat myself to meals at restaurants I’ve never been to much more often.

#StaycationForLife

Staycation Diaries: Day 4.

Day 4!

Howdy! Here we are, on the evening of Staycation Day 4 – I just got home from the Drafthouse where I saw “Tag”. But, more on that in a minute.

Since I last wrote about Staycation, I’ve been a busy bee. I had an informal jazz rehearsal Tuesday night (our video shoot is Saturday morning, and I’m feeling “meh” about it), I went to one of the restaurants on my list – Veracruz All Natural (it was delicious) – and I even made the other recipe on my list: Vegan Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts! You can get the recipe from Rabbit and Wolves.

I also started on a necklace for my Etsy shop, worked on freelance, and did some work around the apartment. It’s really easy to see how days fill up when you’re not at work.

Yesterday, I didn’t think I was going to get to go to the ONE activity I actually had planned this week: the July 4th paddle boarding on Lady Bird Lake under the fireworks! It was raining and storming all day… until it was time to hit the water!

I know in the last post, I mentioned my mental health, and you’re probably going to hear more and more about it because I’ll be starting my treatment plan ASAP (I found a place to complete an assessment today).

I’m not entirely sure what my diagnosis will be, but in general, I have severe anxiety. It’s so severe at times, that it makes normal, every day tasks difficult for me. Let’s take the paddle board thing for example.

I almost didn’t even buy a ticket because I knew driving there and parking would stress me out. And I was right, it did, I even had a stomach ache over it, and had to do some deep breathing… but hey, I did it, I got there, and it was worth it.

I got on the water around 7:30 and was out there until about 10:30 – I am so sore today! I paddled as far down as we were allowed, getting as close to the fireworks as possible (obviously), and it was really nice to just sit on the board with my feet in the cool water, watching a pretty big fireworks show. I have always enjoyed July 4th!

When the show was over, everyone was racing to paddle back by the curfew – and I will say that paddling in the dark is much, much different than it is during the day. It’s a little creepy, and it’s difficult to see juuuuust how far you are away from the right dock. It seemed like it was taking forever to get back; I was really happy to see the dock, and to relax on my couch once I got home.

Today, I worked some more on my Etsy jewelry, soaked in the tub, and went to the movies! Let’s talk about “Tag” – let me know if you’ve seen it! Here’s the description from Google:

One month every year, five highly competitive friends hit the ground running for a no-holds-barred game of tag — risking their necks, their jobs and their relationships to take one another down. This time, the game coincides with the wedding of the only undefeated player. What should be an easy target soon becomes an all-out war as he knows they’re coming to get him.

The movie was really, really funny – I felt like I was laughing the entire time, honestly. There was a part in the end that was a little sad, and it’s impossible to forget that this movie is based on a true story, because they show footage from the real story (which is equally as funny)!

In the movie (this isn’t a spoiler), a reporter for the Wall Street Journal is along for this epic game of tag because she’s writing a story on it – and in real life, that story was published in 2013 (I wanted to read it but you have to subscribe). Surprisingly, the movie wasn’t that much different than the real story – these guys really did play tag for almost 30 years, complete with formal rules, and hiding out in odd places to tag the next person.

It makes the movie that much more funny! You’ve got to see it if you haven’t yet.

Tomorrow is my last official day of Staycation! Ugh! I am going to sleep in, but I’ve also got to be productive. I’ve got laundry to do and I need to go to the grocery, all before a jazz dress rehearsal. What a difference a day makes…

Staycation Diaries: Day 1.

If we’re not counting the weekend, today was officially my first day of Staycation! But, I did have a good weekend – I went to two places in town that I’ve never been – Counter Culture and Capital City Bakery (both vegan).

I also laid out at the pool, finished reading a book (and am already close to finishing a second), and went to Sprout’s Farmer’s Market for the first time.

As difficult as it is for me to admit, my mental health has been suffering lately. Sometimes, I feel like my brain is about to explode! It’s difficult for me to tell if it is grief, work stress, fatigue, or a combination of all three, but what I know is that my usual comforts haven’t been reliable, and that’s scary.

So, part of my staycation will be giving my mind and body the rest that it needs, but also moving “Find a Therapist” from the bottom of my to-do list and move it to the top.

Yesterday, I started making the vegan Banana Cream Pie that was on my Staycation list – it took awhile since the filling had to set overnight, but it was worth the wait. I finished it this morning and immediately had a slice – it was very good, very light! You can get the recipe from the Minimalist Baker.

I spent a majority of the morning on my patio, drinking lots of coffee and reading – it was really peaceful and nice.

But, it wasn’t long before I ventured to my computer, because even though I’m off at my day job – freelance work means you’re never truly on vacation. It also didn’t help that my boss from my 9-5 is also on vacation and she set me as her backup – le sigh. Communication really is key, folks.

I’ve talked some about my freelance career on here, but it’s something I’ve always done on the side to earn extra money and to keep my skills fresh. I find that no matter the day job, I am always looking for a change of plans.

Currently, I’m really lucky to have several steady jobs going at once, and they’ve really broadened my horizons because most of them are in other countries, including Switzerland and Columbia.

But it also means lots of organizing, juggling, and time management. For a few hours, I actually felt like I wasn’t on vacation at all. Then I remembered that I do have a whole week ahead of me, and even though I’m still doing work, it’s nice to be doing the work while posted up in bed, binging on MTV’s “Ex On The Beach”.

I did take a break to run to Michael’s, because I need to ship an Etsy order tomorrow! Ps. I am currently running a summer sale in the shop – get 20% off + free shipping when you order any two items!

I did get some supplies to make a few new items for the shop, so you’ll have to keep your eyes open for those.

In about an hour, I’m heading to a yoga class, and tonight I’m going to cook dinner, and probably head back out on the patio to finish reading a book!

I was gifted the LUSH sleepy shower jelly and lotion, which I have been dying to try – I’ve heard you really zonk out after using it – so I’m going to try that. Really partying hard over here!

Stay tuned for Staycation Day Two… and keep up with me on social media @OrangeJulius7 (especially if you want to see how my pie turned out)!

Staycation, all I ever wanted!

I am fairly certain its bad blogging etiquette to say how exhausted I am, but it’s been a crazy few weeks at work, and life has just been SERVING it to me. Lucky for me, I planned a staycation for myself months ago and have the entire week off!

At first, I didn’t think I’d be that excited about a staycation (I’ve never really had one) and I also thought a week (or 9 whole days) off work would be almost too long. Turns out, I’m already feeling like I probably should have asked for two weeks off.

Regardless, I made a list of things I might do next week – with an understanding that I also might just lay in my bed until the morning of July 9th, when I’m expected back at the office. So, here’s what I’m thinking:

Brunch at Holy Roller

This downtown gem is known for their witty, religious twist on their decor and menu items. They are also home of the “Trash Fries” – but I’m also eyeing the “Grilled Cheesus”. Take a look at their menu for their full offering.

Head to the Movies

It’s been a minute since I’ve been to the movies, and I really want to see “Tag” along with the new “Jurassic World” – I even have a free movie pass to use, so I’m really hoping for one of those afternoons where I’m the only one in the theatre…

4th of July Paddleboarding

This is the only event I know for a FACT I am doing because I already bought my ticket… plus, I’m pretty excited about it. This is a 2-hour stand-up paddle-boarding session on Lady Bird Lake at night underneath the Downtown Austin fireworks on July 4. I can usually see fireworks from my apartment, but each year I always wish I would have actually gone somewhere to see them closer… and I think this is about as close as I can get! I have only been paddle-boarding once before, but I didn’t fall, so I’m hoping I have similar luck!

Lounge by the Pool

It’s a no-brainer that at least a few times, I’ll be at the pool with my head buried in a book, alongside a cooler full of snacks (and white wine).

Binge on ‘The OC’

I bought seasons three and four and have no had a chance to start either of them! I really have some catching up to do.

Lunch at Veracruz All Natural

I heard that Round Rock’s Veracruz All Natural has THE BEST shrimp tacos in Austin and I will happily forgo my vegan diet to try these bad boyz. They also serve 32-ounce agua frescas and I am so freaking excited to get a pineapple one!

Cook in the Kitchen

While I do plan on eating out and enjoying food at the Drafthouse during movies, I do want to cook a few new vegan goodies right at home, including Garlic Buffalo Brussels Sprouts from Rabbit and Wolves, and a Banana Cream Pie from the Minimalist Baker #treatyoself

And so concludes my list. I sort of wanted to include a few productive things on my list, like renew my passport, renew my car registration, and wash my car… but I decided to drive myself insane and did it ALL this week so that next week – I’m completely without obligation.

I’ll let you all know how it turns out on Instagram and SnapChat @OrangeJulius7

The Road to Marfa: Reasoning.

Beautiful!

I leave for Marfa, Texas early tomorrow morning – my bags are packed, my rental car is ready for pickup, and I’m reflecting on why I wanted to make this unique trip in the first place.

I heard about Marfa for the first time on an episode of “Courtney Loves Dallas” (on Bravo), when her friends join her for a road trip across Texas to see Prada Marfa. I honestly can’t remember if they did much else, but she later went on to make a Marfa t-shirt for her blog followers, and continues to shoot promotional items for her blog within Marfa:

I thought the Prada Marfa was cool enough to see one day, and when I moved to Austin almost 3 years ago (!), I knew I had to visit one day.

Truthfully, I’ve always enjoyed camping experiences. As a kid, my babysitter had a pop-up camper and I thought it was such an adventure. I loved walking around the campground to see how other people set up their temporary homes – with lights and patches of plastic grass.

I also loved it when the local mall had their camper and RV show – I loved looking through all of them, and thought they all looked so fancy.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted an adventure in some sort of desert (or deserted) environment. I have long romanticized life out west – perhaps that’s why I love Texas so much. The cacti, tumbleweeds, dust clouds, and horses have always appealed to me.

Like my dad, I’ve got a bit of a fascination with small towns – how people inhabit them and never leave; how they create lives off-the-grid; and how it all contributes to some semblance of meaning for us city folk.

Like anyone about to hit the road, I’m looking for clarity, a bit of a challenge, and a new perspective. I have always believed that in order to create, we must constantly work our creative muscles; always looking for new things to discover and digest.

But of course, I’m looking to unplug a bit, too. Work has been incredibly stressful, and lately, the weekends just aren’t enough time for me to recharge. I also randomly picked this weekend to travel, and as the days have crept closer, I see I’ll be well west on Father’s Day – I’m really thankful that I won’t be able to see anymore online chatter about the holiday I’m missing this year.

Grief has been so hard on my heart, my mind, my body, and my social life. I know one weekend won’t solve it for me, but I hope that with each adventure I take on my own, I grow stronger and more confident in the daily challenges I face.

I’m really looking forward to actual quiet, the quiet I’ve only experienced in the Tennessee mountains at night. That same darkness, too – it brings rest.

And of course, I’m hoping to have fun, meet people, share stories, eat local food, and take pictures; spend some time in a hammock with a book, or sit outside with my journal.

Whatever happens out there, I look forward to telling you all about it.

Travel is about the gorgeous feeling of teetering in the unknown.

-Anthony Bourdain

Taking the high road… or hiding under it?

Is this what the ‘high road’ looks like? Cuz I should hang out here more often.

I had an entire blog post ready for today that looked a lot different than this one does. I was going to post screen shots of some text messages I received from a guy I went on a few dates with almost a year ago (the texts are just a few weeks old).

The texts he sent me were mean, and I was hurt. So, I was prepared to put him on blast – because that is what I have done on this blog every time a man treats me poorly.

Originally, I started this blog more than 10 years ago as a place to keep notes for a memoir I was writing (it has since been published). Over the years, this blog has undergone changes in the same way my life has – at one point, I was dating a lot, boy-crazy, and all I wanted was to be loved.

Things have since changed, and a large part of that changed was a result of how I’ve been treated by boys and men over the course of my life. Many men I’ve dated have later seen our stories here; they’ve gotten embarrassed and called me crazy, told me I was “Taylor Swift”, or that I’m just looking for attention.

I don’t like being told any of those things, of course, and I also realized that dating has never been worth it. I’m not here to bash men, and I am not out to be Taylor Swift. But looking back, I feel like those were just hurtful things said to me because I was simply presenting the truth. I know I am not alone in the way I’ve been treated by men, and it’s not okay that any women get text messages like the ones I am talking about today.

So, even after I drafted a post, I then saw an Instagram post (via Stories) from Color Me Courtney, and basically it was a message she’d gotten that said really mean things. And Courtney’s takeaway was, when you get hateful messages, don’t spread hate, spread love.

And that made me think twice about what I was about to publish on this blog. Would I just be putting more hate into the world? I don’t want that to be the vibe of this blog.

Honestly, that has never been my goal – I have only posted my personal stories so that other people can relate, and know they are not alone.

But maybe I don’t have to post texts and my wannabe reply to do that. Is it enough to just say that yes, even though I’ve been single for 5+ years and have only been on about two dates during that time, those dates still end up awful.

Those are the guys that are finding new ways to hurt me (i.e. texting my friends saying they actually liked them and not me).

Years of therapy has taught me that the reason I have dated so many assholes is because I have a history of not valuing myself, so I accept less than what I’m worth. I was hurt, so I attracted people who were also hurt; people that could (and did) take advantage of me in many ways.

Because of this, I often associate dating with being broken – that only the weak need a partner. This is something I know is not true for most people, but I have never dated someone while I’m feeling whole and confident.

And even in these years of growing and learning and feeling confident – I still end up with the mean texts and actions of rejection.

So, is that all it takes? Am I taking the high road, or am I just hiding under it? Am I doing women everywhere a disservice because I’m not being clear about this situation, or is that how it’s done properly?

If I posted the texts, the person I’m talking about would probably text me again and that’s not something I want. Or maybe the blog post would just say more about me than it does about him.

So, I’m leaving it at that: just a simple message to let you know that even approaching 33, 5 years single, I still cannot seem to get things right in the dating department.

And, I’m still okay with that, but I would be even better with it if I didn’t have to get texts about it 🙂

My Bucket List Trip is here!

Denver, Colorado.

The chances are likely, that as you’re reading this, I’m on my way to, or have already arrived at my Bucket List Trip destination: Denver, Colorado.

But why Denver for a Bucket List Trip? I’ll explain.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to take a trip to a city I’ve never been to and see a concert. So, when a band or a musician I like goes on tour, I always look at the entire list of the cities they’re visiting to see what might work for a possible Bucket List Trip.

Several years ago, I booked a Bucket List Trip with my best friend to Las Vegas to see John Mayer. I bought our concert tickets and was ready for the trip of a lifetime.

And then John Mayer had to have surgery on his vocal chords, and he cancelled his tour. I refused to believe it until I checked my email and saw the refund from the ticket company. My friend and I still went to Vegas, and we had a blast, but it didn’t end up being one off my Bucket List.

As many of you know, I’ve been going through it (what I would consider Hell) since September, when my dad had brain surgery to remove a mass. He passed away in February, shortly after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer.

I am still very much in pain, and sometimes it feels worse than it did the day he died.

In November, after my dad’s surgery and diagnosis, I saw on Twitter that R&B artist Khalid was going on a new leg of his tour. I’d wanted to see him so badly, but the tickets were always so expensive.

I looked at the stops on his tour, and yes, he was coming to Austin, but he was also performing at the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – a place I have ALWAYS wanted to see a concert. If you’re not familiar with Red Rocks, it’s the only natural acoustically perfect concert venue in the world. Basically, it’s at the bottom of a canyon, and the pictures look insane.

The tickets for the show went on sale just a few weeks after I saw the tour list, and I vowed to get myself a ticket. So, on a Saturday morning between dance classes, I locked myself in a dressing room at the studio and purchased a ticket for the show at Red Rocks.

Red Rocks Amphitheatre; photo from Denver.org.

At the time, I had no idea I’d be grieving, no idea that I would so desperately need a vacation, but alas, here we are, and I’m so thankful I’ve planned this trip for myself!

But I’ve been waitin’ all year to get the hell up outta here
and throw away my fears.
– Khalid

I started listening to Khalid about a year ago. I heard his single, “Location” on the radio during my commute to work and I liked it so much, I wrote it down in my phone.

Months later, I took a trip to Indianapolis to see friends, family, and a guy I liked. Well, one of my friends refused to see me, my family lied to me, and the guy turned out to be an asshole with a house straight out of an episode of “Hoarders” (and recently confessed to my best friend that he actually liked her all along). 

I couldn’t get out of Indiana fast enough. When I got to the airport, I decided to download “Location” and I had it on repeat for a few days. Slowly, I started buying other songs off his album, “American Teen”, and before I knew it, I was listening to the entire album on a loop.

In September, when I flew to Chattanooga to see my dad before his surgery, I was listening to his album to comfort me while I was hysterically crying in the airport:

I cried for my entire Lyft ride to the airport, through security, and once I got to my gate, I found a corner and cried. I cried so hard that someone from TSA came to talk to me to see if I could calm down.

The truth is, how could I be any semblance of okay after what had just happened? In just four days, I’d received the news about my dad AND all of this drama that comes along with my dad’s side of the family had come crashing into my face.

I felt alone; I feel like I don’t have anyone rooting for me; and I was scared shitless that I’d never hear from my dad again. I knew one thing for a fact: I wouldn’t be getting updates from his partner anymore.

Two things stopped me from crying for my six hours of travel home: my trusty Khalid album, and the Dallas Cowboys’ burger kiosk at gate A21 in the DFW airport. It’s the second time I’ve eaten there, both times I was upset, and both times I’ve abandoned my vegan lifestyle to get the Cowboy Blues burger and it is so worth it.

It’s cheesy, but music has always comforted me, and it’s something my dad and I had in common. He loved all sorts of music, and my very first concert was with my parents, seeing one of my dad’s favorite bands, Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs.

So yes, I’m AMPED to see Khalid, and I’m as equally excited to see Red Rocks… I will probably cry over stimulation overload and I’m okay with that.

The thing about Red Rocks is that there’s always a 99% chance of rain given its location and natural setup. Part of planning for this trip meant reading lots of guides and other blogs from people who’ve been to Red Rocks before. From that, I learned what kind of shoes to wear, and what to pack: an empty water bottle, warm clothes, and a rain poncho.

The concert is rain or shine, and many times it does rain, and the concert keeps going. But sometimes, they cancel it. And I will be damned if this turns into another John Mayer/Vegas/Non-Bucket List trip!

I’ve kept this trip very close to my heart – I’ve only told a few people – because, well, this trip is for me. I’m traveling alone, as I often do, and I’m experiencing this on my own. So many people I know have been to Denver already and I wanted to keep things new to me – sometimes it puts a damper on things when people share their experience with a place before you even get there.

Ever since my dad’s passing, I’ve been very aware of my own mortality. I’ve always felt some sense of pressure to live life, and do things, and don’t regret a moment… but that feeling is very amplified as of late.

I’m also very aware of people around me and what they’re doing with their life: whether it’s planning and taking trips, or building a business, or having a family… I’m just here, and I feel like I’m being left behind. So, this trip is coming at a perfect time – a time when I feel like I need to just get out there and live, and do something I have only dreamt of doing.

I wanted to plan my own activities and make this trip a complete getaway. So, aside from the concert, I do have a list of restaurants and breweries that I want to indulge in, and I’ve got a few sightseeing things on my list. I also treated myself to a fabulous hotel right in Downtown Denver. I’m looking forward to a true adventure.

For the sake of being present, I’m keeping the social media documentation to a minimum. I plan on posting a few Instagram pictures (@OrangeJulius7), but will be staying off other channels.

I’ll tell you all about it when I get the chance.

The Writer’s Retreat!

On Saturday, I packed a backpack and headed about 40 minutes outside of Austin to Elgin, Texas, where New Republic Studios is located. I was going to my first ever Writer’s Retreat, and it was also the inaugural Writer’s Retreat hosted by the Austin Film Festival, where I’ve been volunteering for the last two years.

I have always wanted to go to some sort of writing retreat, and I was excited about this one because it was just a day event, so I could test the waters. When I registered, I got an email saying to just pack my writing supplies, lunch, and any snacks – everything else would be provided.

I feel like I always have so many ideas in my head for things to write, but I’m not very good at just sitting down and bringing it to fruition. This is a problem many writers face, especially if we’re doing other things to pay the bills (there’s no shame in that game) and/or if there’s no deadline or reason to write, other than to satisfy our minds. We are all guilty of putting ourselves and our needs last, right?

The thing is, one of the major projects on my mind involves my dad, and I’m still very emotional about it. I know that is a big reason I’ve been putting it off. I’m so emotional, in fact, that the entire WEEK leading up to the retreat, I felt anxiety and grief. I finally just had to keep telling myself that this retreat was for me, and if I went and didn’t feel comfortable working on that particular project, then I didn’t have to – I have so many other things I could work on. I also reminded myself that I was under no obligation to stay the entire time. If the retreat wasn’t beneficial to me, then I could leave.

So, I packed up my laptop, notepad, journal, pens, headphones, and lots of snacks, and headed on my way. The little road trip to Elgin was a treat in itself. I am a sucker for scenery, and some of these tattered curves seemed straight out of a Nicholas Sparks’ book – there were dusty roads, cattle, and rolling fields of bluebonnet. I even spotted a cardinal perched along the road!

When I got to New Republic Studios, I was impressed. I’ve been to movie and sound studios before, but this was such a neat setup. It’s right along the Colorado River, and has multiple studios for filming.

The schedule.

Upon checking in, we got a schedule for the day, and there was free cold brew coffee and snacks. A few different people welcomed us, and talked about the day, and how important it was that we were carving out this time to work on our craft.

Then, everyone sort of went their own way and got to work. Some people went to an optional improv hour, and others (including me) went to write. I chose a spot outside – it was such a beautiful day, and I feel like I don’t get outside enough.

I worked on my project about my dad for as long as I could, and I also worked on my blog some, but I spent hours just journaling. I started writing in my journal in October, when I felt like I couldn’t turn to my blog as an outlet, and I stopped writing in it about three days before my dad died. I think I was scared to even go there – but I filled many pages on Saturday!

I sat outside almost the entire day – moving to a shady spot in the afternoon. I’d packed a small blanket so I could sit in the grass, and that was nice.

However, one of the people who is affiliated with Austin Film Festival, was at an outdoor table for most of the day, and spent that entire time talking and laughing to a few other people. I don’t know if anyone else was bothered by this, but I definitely was. It’s really difficult for me to concentrate on my work when I can hear other conversations.

This was a Writer’s Retreat, not a talking retreat, and this was someone who had just given us a speech, “You are a writer, no one can write the story in the way you can.” And here he was being so loud that he even said, “Sorry if we’re being too loud,” but then continued to talk! How about not being sorry and simply being quiet?

I put in my headphones and listened to music for a little bit, but then I realized, what is the point of me sitting here with my headphones in? We all paid to be here, and I could sit anywhere with headphones in. So, I packed up and left about 30 minutes early. I’d gotten all I was going to get out of that day.

All in all, I really enjoyed myself. But I would encourage the Austin Film Festival staff to be more respectful to those of us who need a quieter environment.

I couldn’t help but think about how much it takes for some people to write. I have had this blog for more than 10 years, among other blogs I’ve had, and am always doing something that involves writing. And maybe I’m a rare breed, but I do feel like many writers will go out of their way to avoid actually sitting down to write.

This is something Stephen King talks about extensively in his memoir, that writing is something you just have to DO, even if it means locking yourself in a room and doing it, and it often doesn’t look like anything fun or glamorous.

I met so many people at the retreat who were scared to even call themselves writers – because they hadn’t been published or hadn’t had a movie made… it takes work! And even sometimes, the result might not be what you planned.

It certainly does help to have retreats and environments that support writing and creativity. But sometimes you’ve got to make those spaces for yourself, or you’ll never get it done.

After the day at the retreat, I felt relaxed, like my mind was a bit clearer. And that is something I haven’t felt in a really long time. I’m so thankful for that.

Pedometer: Week 2.

Getting those steps in!

So two weeks ago, I got a giant news flash when I started wearing a pedometer given to me as a part of the United Healthcare Motion program. I found out, I don’t ever walk… like at all. During week 1, I walked 18,599 steps.

For week 2, I really wanted to amp things up and try to hit 10K steps at least one day. So, on Monday I took three long walks during my work day, which was nice. I could blow off steam and get some sunlight. I went to my usual two dance classes on Monday night, and when I went to bed, I’d gotten 8,091 steps – compared to the 2,954 steps I’d gotten the previous Monday.

I continued taking walks during the day all week at work, and I started parking my car further away and took the stairs instead of the elevator, and it was working – and I could also feel it in my legs and feet.

On Thursday, I took a mile-long walk at lunch, and then did my usual three-class Thursday, and I got 11,252 steps. When I’d hit 10K, a little trophy came up on my pedometer, and I earned $1 toward my health insurance. I was also so as hell when I laid down to go to bed that night.

I haven’t hit 10k since then, and I’m feeling much less obsessed over the pedometer today. For week 2, I got 47,607 steps in total – more than 2x what I got in week 1.

Here’s the thing: yes, I think it’s important to move and take steps, but it’s annoying and stressful to me to constantly be worried about how many steps I’m getting.

I make an effort to eat healthy and generally active, but I feel like an idiot when I’m marching in place while heating up my lunch in the break room just for the sake of satisfying an app. Is marching in place really that much better for my health than just standing in place? Also, what is the stress and obsession doing to my body?

I also simply DON’T like wearing the pedometer. It’s ugly, and well, it’s spray-tan season, so how is that supposed to work? There are issues, people.

I have also noticed that walking around my apartment complex in the evenings is not really gaining me any social points. I don’t have a baby or a dog or a husband, so me just taking laps around my little neighborhood just makes me look like a creep and/or a robber. Because of this, I am looking into purchasing a pet stroller for Blanche… because then it will look like I have a better reason for walking – my child, my cat, obviously.

We can just blame it all on this pedometer – this dollar-earning pedometer.

So, I don’t know. I am still wearing it today, and have two dance classes to take tonight, but I haven’t taken any walks today, and I don’t know if I will. I’m so obsessive over everything else in my life that I just don’t know if I have room for this one. We will see.

Speaking of obsessions, I just added 15 NEW listings in my Etsy shop – and I’m currently having a sale, so head over there if you’re in the market for new jewelry!

Meanwhile, I’ll be on “Magnolia Watch” all week – my Louisiana Magnolia bush has at least six buds on it (more than I’ve ever seen) and I’m constantly looking outside to see if they’ve opened. I love the scent!

…Stay tuned…

Pedometer: Week 1.

I need to walk more.

About a month ago, the HR department at my job told us they’d be switching our healthcare provider. So when I enrolled, I saw that our new provider, United Healthcare, had a “Motion” program that involved getting a pedometer, setting fitness goals, and earning money toward our care. Sweet!

I have never really tracked my steps. I have been on diets before where I counted calories, and also tracked how much I worked out, but that’s about it. Several years ago, I wore a cheap pedometer as an experiment for an article I was writing. I remember being surprised at how tough it was to get steps and I’d be marching around my apartment at the end of the night (while brushing my teeth) trying to up my tally for the day.

Well, I guess I’ve learned no lesson, because after week 1 with my fancy pedometer, I’ve determined I must just be the laziest person ever.

Let me back up. After signing up for the Motion program, I got a credit of $55 that I could put toward a pedometer. I picked the one that was $55 – the cheapest option. It was black, tracked steps, and said it had an app you could sync with to see the stats on your phone. Works for me!

Another coworker signed up for the Motion program, too, and we got our pedometers in the mail just a few days later. I was told I would get a $40 “Swift Start” bonus if I put the pedometer on right away, so I did – I put it on last Monday around 5:30pm when I got it out of my mailbox and then I headed to my usual Monday night routine: two 1-hour dance classes back-to-back.

Week 1.

That Monday evening I got 2,954 steps.

The days following weren’t much different – I admittedly don’t really move once I get to work, which I have heard is WORSE than smoking cigarettes. I’ve heard repeatedly that we’re supposed to get 10,000 steps per day, and I barely got that in seven days. I know. I’m half ashamed.

However, I decided week one should just be an honest look at my life, and then now we make a change. Right? But I’ll admit that each day, only getting 2 or 3,000 steps, I was getting frustrated and I wondered how people got 14,000 steps each day?

I consulted other pedometer-wearers and they all said that getting steps is a challenge. You really have to set yourself up to get steps – whether it’s parking further away, or setting an alarm every hour to walk a few hundred steps.

A friend of mine tracks her steps and when we went to Vegas last year she would tell me when we’d hit 10K – and I remember thinking, “Wow, we’ve walked a TON,” and I felt very sore.

Hmmm. During week 1, I took a few less dance classes than normal, but I also rode a workout bike for 6 miles, and still only got 2,883 steps for the whole day. My best day was Saturday, where I took a 1-hour cardio class and then a 3-hour nap. Go figure.

So, this week – my goal is to walk more while I’m at work, even if that means simply taking a lap around the office every hour. It still may not get me to 10K, but it will be more than what I got last week… right?

If you track your steps, is there a trick that helps? Walk every hour? I’d love to know how you’re getting your steps in!

Getting a good night’s rest…

Sleepy kitty.

I’ve written a solid amount about the trouble I have had sleeping over the years. As a child, I have always had very vivid, colorful dreams while sleeping – but I also have had terrible, life-like nightmares (some of them I can still remember). I can recall many nights waking up in the early hours, scared from a nightmare, calling for my parents to come comfort me.

My parents, as far as I can remember, stayed up watching late-night talk shows. We always lived in relatively small houses, and I was comforted by the sound of the TV, and/or the hallway light still on. It made me feel safe knowing someone was still up, even if it was likely they were sleeping on the couch.

I don’t remember having sleep issues in high school or college, but since then, it’s been pretty bad. It started after a rough breakup several years ago. I had such bad nightmares that I would wakeup sweating, or crying, and I often couldn’t fall back asleep. After months of trouble, I started seeing a therapist.

After years of learning where my issues were coming from and how to cope, I hadn’t had a nightmare since. Until recently.

I know I am under stress and am still experiencing grief, so I’m not surprised to see the return of these dreams and nightmares. I will say that even though they are scary and force me awake, they aren’t as bad as they were years ago.

Still though, I am working to get myself some quality sleep. Yes, I am currently looking for a therapist, but I know that isn’t going to solve all of my sleep issues.

You see… I hardly ever just want to go to sleep. I know all of the things you’re supposed to do to get a good night’s sleep – set a bedtime, get ready for bed plenty of time before you actually want to fall asleep, don’t sleep with the TV on, don’t look at electronics at least 20 minutes before bed… la la la. I never do any of these things, because I often want to stay up and watch TV or read or work on my blog… it’s rough.

Over the years, I’ve tried various, all-natural sleeping pills and even the strongest of medicines cannot put me on my ass. My mind is always buzzing. However, I have been taking a sleeping pill as of late – really just to force myself to take the pill and tuck myself into bed.

I have found that I have to approach sleep with a combination attack: many things working together to get a quality sleep. I have tried sleepy tea, boiling bananas and drinking the water (which was so freaking boring that yeah, I fell asleep), essential oils, rigorous workouts, hot bubble baths… but this is what’s been working for me lately:

Regular meditation:

I have NOT been meditating lately and I’m paying for it. I’ve noticed that we tend to ignore the things our bodies often need the most – whether it’s exercise or healthy foods, water, or sleep, we just do the opposite. But when I was regularly meditating (about 10 minutes a day), I was getting a more restful, quality sleep.

I am still using the free version of the Calm app – it has tons of free content, especially for those who need help getting to sleep. Try it!

Essential oils on the skin:

I have an oil diffuser that I use regularly, but that isn’t enough to lull me to sleep. So, after trying a sleep oil blend (it’s Lavender, Vetivert and Camomile to calm both mind and body, soothing you to sleep) in my Birchbox, I bought a set that is a roller and pillow spray that helps me sleep. It’s not too intense, so it doesn’t bother my cat (who sleeps in the bed with me) and it’s not something I feel I have to scrub off in the morning.  Perfect for travel, too!

I actually keep my roller and spray in a little cosmetic bag under my pillow so that if I’m settled into bed I don’t have to even move to get them. I also keep some lavender foot lotion in there, too! After a night of dance classes, sometimes I rub my feet and calves with it to help prevent soreness and relax before I try and sleep.

Tea and/or supplements: 

I recently tried Moon Juice’s Dream Dust, and it was about the same as any sleepy/calming tea I’ve tried. Here’s the scoop on it:

Dream Dust® is an adaptogenic blend of tranquil superherbs and Chamomile Flower that help combat the effects of stress to soothe your tension for deep, nocturnal rest.*

Contains ingredients with proven benefits:

  • Reduces stress to help promote more restful sleep*
  • Helps to alleviate the effects of stress and tension*
  • Helps promote better sleep*

I have also tried melatonin pills, and those usually help me sleep for about three hours.

As I said, I use a combination of all of these: meditation at some point during the day, a cup of tea or a melatonin pill about an hour before bed, and essential oils on my wrists as I’m hitting the pillow. It takes a village, y’all!

Stage Five: Acceptance.

Part five of a five part series.

Ah, here we are, the final stage: Acceptance. This stage can come across as a giant sigh of relief, but the truth of the matter is, acceptance does not equal joy or mean that life goes back to the way it was.

Instead, it simply means that we are accepting life without our person; and we’re figuring out a way to create a new normal. This may mean that different people fill different roles, or that a daily routine looks a little different.

As I mentioned yesterday, my dad wasn’t a part of my daily life so not much changes in that regard. But I certainly feel different.

When I went to Tennessee for his memorial, a majority of my family was there, and it certainly felt so weird without my dad there. He was always keeping in touch with everyone and it would be strange to have all of us in a room without him. When my friend drove me back to Indiana the next day, things just felt a little colder, a little more empty.

I am still trying to learn a lot about my dad and the life he lived. Of the things I’ve heard, I’m starting to realize just how full of a life he did have, and how many obstacles he overcame in such a short time and did so without hesitation.

My dad wasn’t a man looking for fame or fortune – ultimately, I think he was just trying to find a little bit of happiness, perhaps even a touch of adventure in each day. He loved stories, loved meeting people, and even in the confines of what appears to be a reclusive last few years, he found joy in hobbies: fixing fountain pens, attending garage sales, reading, and playing chess competitively.

I am never going to be okay with my dad being gone. But I know my dad would be okay knowing that we are all going to try and find a way to go on without him here, physically. I hope this brings my family together – they’re pretty cool – and I know he’d like seeing us lean on each other.

My dad was cremated, and I flew my portion (1/7th) of his ashes from Indiana to Texas. Right now, they sit on my bookshelf while I wait to decide what I actually want to do with them. I know I’m scattering some of them, and am lightly planning that now. I know my other family members have their own ideas for how to honor my dad, too.

I have no idea how long a journey like this lasts. In college, a close friend unexpectedly passed away and I felt like my heart was ripped to shreds. I remember pulling over and calling my dad when I got the news.

That was almost 10 years ago, and sometimes I still get choked up about that loss. But I am someone who believes in spirits and signs, and I have a connection to radio waves (I know, it’s super weird but I hear meaningful songs nearly everywhere I go), and I’ve already seen a few signs from my dad.

Even just last night, I went to a dance class and we danced to Demi Lovato and DJ Khalid’s “I Believe”, and the lyrics almost brought me to tears: “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do, As long as you’ve got hope, you’ll find your way.”

I know we’re all going to come out of this on the other side, and I have always believed that we aren’t given anything we can’t handle.

Don’t look back at this time as a time of heartbreak and distress, remember me.
…I don’t want you to cry and weep, I want you to go on, living your life.

-Hanson, “With You In Your Dreams”

Thank you so much for reading my grief series – I know it was not a cheerful read. There will be more on this, I’m sure, as I continue on.

If you knew my dad, and have anything you’d like to share with me, please do not hesitate to email me at: Holly@thebitterlemon.com – I would love to hear from you.

Stage Four: Depression.

Part four of a five part series.

Stage four isn’t that shocking – it’s depression. Why wouldn’t someone going through grief suffer from depression? I have been slogging through the darkness of depression and sadness since my dad’s surgery in late September.

Although depression can come in many forms for different people, for me, there was one telltale sign: things that normally made me happy, no longer did. That is why my blogging fell to the side, my Etsy shop (I stopped making jewelry), I stopped cooking and relied on meal delivery, and my sleep suffered.

Things are slowly getting better – and I know that it’s okay if I have a bad day – now is the time to go easy on myself.

Expectations when it comes to grief are really weird. I got cards in the mail from so many people, which was great, and I’m so thankful – I hung them all in my living room. But on the other hand, some people just expect me to go on and be normal, like nothing ever happened… And well, that’s just not how it’s going to be.

People respond differently to people who are grieving. They reach out. But depression is so very isolating. It’s hard to explain to anyone who has never been depressed how isolating it is. Grief comes and goes, but depression is unremitting.

-Key Redfield Johnson

Some days DO feel normal. After all, I didn’t talk to my dad on a regular basis. Before his surgery, I hadn’t talked to him in almost four years. But nothing can explain the finite feeling that is death. He is gone, and I can’t talk to him like I did before, no matter what I do.

Other days, I feel like I keep freaking seeing CANCER… BRAIN CANCER, everywhere. It’s in the books I read, it’s on TV, it’s online… and I just never want to see it again.

Right now, there are two 50-pound boxes of his things in my closet. I have dug out a few of the items – a wooden chess board and pieces that I’ve set up on my dresser, an antique fountain pen that’s on my home desk, a glass paperweight that’s on my desk at work, an LSU sweatshirt, an Atlanta baseball hat, and a half-used journal.

Some days, I wear the hat or sweatshirt – the last few nights, I’ve slept with the journal at the foot of my bed. Other days, I don’t want to even think about opening up the boxes to see what else is in there. I’m just not ready.

I’ve found that reading is a good escape – I’ve read three books in the last week. I’ve even cooked a few meals and am starting to gather materials to make a few pieces of jewelry for my Etsy shop.

I am someone who likes to DO things; I like to be productive. But even with the greatest intentions, sometimes I still end up laying in bed for long chunks of time. It is a slow process. Writing about my feelings – even at a surface level – has helped me this week. Planning for the future also helps, and gets me excited about things coming up this year.

I’m taking it day by day, as cliche as it sounds.

Tomorrow, I’ll be talking about the fifth and final stage of grief: Acceptance.

Stage Three: Bargaining.

Part three of a five-part series.

Stage three of grief is an interesting one. Bargaining refers to promises that may have been made before the person passed away. For example, praying and asking God to please spare your loved one; or perhaps making a promise that you’ll never do anything bad again if only this person can live longer.

These types of promises, or bargaining, may also occur after the person has passed, only now, they are imaginary. We may start to think back and wonder what if I’d done this, would the person have lived longer?

I’ll be honest, this really has not been a part of my grieving process, at least not yet. I know that there’s nothing I could have done to change the course of my dad’s life. I think many of us are probably in a position to think, well if we only took charge of our health or if we only exercised more, etc… but the truth is, our death is already planned. And it may not have anything to do with health or food or exercise.

I also know that my dad was given the best care possible once he entered Erlanger hospital, and I know he was grateful for all of his surgeons, doctors, and nurses along the way.

The thing is… guilt is also a part of stage three. And I cannot say I’ll walk away from this without feeling guilt. I wanted so badly to repair the relationship I had with my dad so that we could enjoy his final days, months, years laughing as we once did.

It’s a hard thing to imagine how somebody copes with grief and at the same time has to build a new life. 

-Caitriona Balfe

But despite everything I did, there was still a barrier. And the truth is, I will die not knowing what really happened there. There is one thing I did that I feel wrecked with guilt for, and I obviously can’t take it back.

Because of the nature of my dad’s death, I was blessed to have the opportunity to say goodbye. He was not capable of responding to me, but he was breathing, and I said – albeit through hysterical tears – everything I could think to say. And I apologized.

And that’s all I could do; and I just have to know that he heard me, and that he died knowing I was sorry, and that we were at peace with our past.

At this point, and as I continue coping, I know that I’m going to have to forgive myself, and the only real thing I can change, is how I act in the future.

Tomorrow, I’ll discuss Stage Four: Depression.