Reflection: Growing Pains

2016 might be the most hated year ever. (It’s hard to say though since I’ve only been around for the last 30. Surely the years of the black plague top this.) Despite that I’ve heard many writers online say that while as a whole 2016 was the worst, personally it was a great year. For me, I would describe it as a positive year but overall it was a year of growth.

First off, I literally grew a person. It’s not often you get to use “literally” correctly but I really did. I have the traumatic childbirth memories to prove it (plus a baby).  Growing baby Haines was challenging in unexpected and totally predictable ways. The physical parts are trying- the fatigue, feeling physically weak, being sore in the third trimester, the discomfort of your organs moving to new places in the first. I hated having to slow down my lifestyle and feeling like I couldn’t do the things I enjoyed. Having those few months of discomfort and living in a body in which I felt little control taught me to be more aware and have empathy for those who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

I was surprised to find the social aspect challenging. While I loved discussing pregnancy and parenting with friends, answering overly personal questions to total strangers was frustrating and monotonous. And it didn’t help that many of my friendships have always included a shared love of beer. When one of your favorite social activities is visiting breweries and you’re pregnant, you’ve just damaged your social life.

img_1636

My last drinks before we knew about Haines.

Emotionally I struggled with bridging from a pre-pregnancy lifestyle to parenthood. As brain mushed from hormones so did my desire to be creative or try new things. My interest in the world narrowed severely as our little household began to feel like more than I could handle. Even now I have a hard wrapping my brain around all that is going on. Then again, I don’t think I’m the only one.

Second, I became a parent here in the last few weeks of the year. Childbirth followed by a taking a 2 week old to the ER were growing pains that I don’t need to repeat for quite some time. (Of course now baby Haines is teaching me how to handle his first cough/cold which I’m also not pleased to learn about.)  As an unexpected consequence of becoming a parent I’ve also learned that this little guy gives me strength I wouldn’t expect. No, I don’t sleep through the night now but surprisingly, it’s okay. Our trip to the hospital was terrifying, but also, it was okay. As long as Haines is here with us, everything seems doable. Even when it’s terrible.

img_2550

Professionally, I also evolved. For the first time I was in a position where I was speaking with high-level executives professionally on a regular basis. After years of experiencing anxiety with public speaking, I became my company’s Toastmasters club president, an organization dedicated to my top fear. It is with that same new confidence that I forged relationships and created programs that I’m proud of. It is also what allows me to feel comfortable taking 12 weeks leave to be with Haines. Thank goodness for that.

I expect 2017 to also be a year of growing pains… and perhaps every year going forward. We are still learning to get through the day and before I know it I will have to learn how to go back to work. I don’t have any resolutions for 2017 but I hope to learn about balance, who I am as a mother and a partner and my son.

img_0260

Photo credit: Zachary Sprague

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Post-Vacation Blues

I think of myself as a pretty good traveler. I’m relatively low maintenance. If we need to stay in a ten-person dorm to make our trip happen, then by all means let’s do it. I can spend all day walking around a city or trying new food or meeting new people. No itinerary necessary. I love it all! Recently I’ve discovered; however, that I am not a good person for coming home. Many people rejoice at the idea of sleeping in their own bed and being able to just grab something from their own fridge. That’s all good and well but that coming home slump is unavoidable for me. Even at 32 weeks pregnant when I really need my own bed and walking around a new city is more tiring than exciting, coming home is still tough to handle.

The last day of our honeymoon, a road trip back to Texas from our wedding in Virginia, Tyler woke up eager to get the long 8 hour drive out of the way. I cried all through breakfast and most of the way home. Sunday when we came home from a wedding in Georgia followed by a one-night “baby moon” I sat at the kitchen counter staring at my to-do lists just sinking into my disappointment at being home.

It’s not so much being home as it is being back in real life that gets me every time. It’s meal planning and no longer being able to buy things with the exclamation, “Who cares, we’re on vacation!” It’s setting an alarm for 6 am but hitting snooze and feeling bad for not walking the dog. Work days just aren’t nearly as exciting as vacation days. Bah.

We set out for Milledgeville, GA last Friday to see one of Tyler’s best buds get married. When they weren’t fishing on salmon and halibut boats he and Rex lived in a trailer together in Alaska on a 9-hole golf course. They worked and lived together for 7 seasons. Every year that Tyler and I were dating, I would go up for a week and stay with them. It was awesome to see them together again after these last two years apart.

Unfortunately we encountered several delays on our way to GA and the during the day before the wedding was a rainy mess so we really didn’t get to explore the town. We drove by Andalusia (inspiration for many a Flannery O’Connor story!) and walked into a couple cool shops. The rest of our time was spent watching one of the Steve Jobs biopics in the hotel and doing wedding activities.

Being sober at a wedding is not something I’ve ever wanted to experience, but I’ve now done it twice this year. It’s not so bad when there’s really good music! We were treated to a Motown-style band from Atlanta that truly killed it. They did an awesome job and while my dance floor time has been severely reduced I have managed to create a pretty sweet belly dance. Don’t be jealous.

The day after the wedding we met the bride and groom with some of their friends for a late breakfast at IHOP before heading down to Savannah. Flooding and downed trees had made the inland journey to GA pretty difficult so we opted for the coastal route back with a stop to celebrate our 2-year anniversary!

img_2257

We stayed at a very basic, but totally adorable place called the Thunderbird Motel. It was decked out in retro colors, super affordable and right on the edge of everything. We would have stayed in an Airbnb but we couldn’t find anything with that didn’t require a multi-night minimum without a pricey cleaning fee. Next time we’ll just have to stay for longer! Regardless, we weren’t disappointed. Our room came with 2 RC colas and 2 Moonpies. Um, amazing.

This was an incredibly short trip (less than 24 hours) so we saw the slightest peek into Savannah. We were able to walk the river area (pretty touristy), through Colonial Cemetery and down to Forbush park. So beautiful! Later I read a guidebook in our hotel room that informed me of the numerous dead bodies under the sidewalks surrounding the cemetery (apparently they needed the cemetery to be smaller- why not just pave over it, right?!) and the yellow fever victims buried in Forbush Park. Next time, I definitely want to do a ghost tour! I love learning about all that kind of stuff.

The houses and parks were incredible. It seemed like there was a small, green park with beautiful live oak trees every few blocks. While it would be hard to trade our yard and quiet street in I was definitely pondering whether or not it’d be worth it to live in an old home in Savannah where you could walk everywhere.

Savannah is also a food destination and I feel like we hit two awesome spots. We stopped for an appetizer at Public to fuel us up for the evening. I broke the rules and shared a salmon bruschetta with Tyler. We’re talking soft, lightly toasted bread with Boursin cheese, fig jam, smoked salmon and caramelized onions. Holy moly! I wanted it to last forever. Unfortunately our appetizer really set the bar too high and dinner didn’t compare. We ate dinner at Jazz’d, an Americanized tapas bar. Meh. I won’t waste time on it here.

img_2252

Breakfast was another story altogether! We splurged on a fancy breakfast at the Collins Quarter. Totally worth it! The owner is Australian so he offered coffee drinks like the flat white and breakfasts that included grilled tomatoes and baked beans. It’s been quite a while since I’ve seen a menu like that! We sipped on a vanilla milkshake with espresso (not me) and homemade chai (yes, me!) while raving over our meals. Tyler ‘s breakfast was buttermilk biscuits with a link of chicken apple sausage, a smoked bacon gravy, fennel-apple slaw and poached eggs. The weirdest part? It didn’t leave him in a food coma. My meal proved the impossible- vegetables are for breakfast too!  I ate squash and broccolini, ya’ll. For breakfast. And I loved it. It was braised short rib over potato hash cakes with avocado smash and sautéed squash topped with over easy egg and chimichurri. There was broccolini on the side as well. Life-changing.

img_2256img_2255

It was a wonderful trip. We got to see two incredible people get married, explore new areas, eat incredible food and be all lovey-dovey all over the place. And now that we’ve been home a few days, it turns out it’s pretty nice to be home again after all.

img_2254

I know I’m biased but he’s a pretty cute date. 

A Little Trip to the Lone Star State

This past week I got a chance to travel for work. It’ll be last non-local travel until I’m back from maternity leave so I had to take advantage of it. I’m not often given the opportunity to travel outside the state (but when I do it’s dangerously close to my due date and I have to refuse- er!) so making the most of each trip has been key.

This time I was being sent to Fort Hood (Killeen) Texas for a career fair. In case you don’t know that’s delightfully close to Austin. To make the most of a trip to Austin you must do two things. 1. You must eat very well. 2. You must go swimming. Otherwise you may not survive. And you just don’t know what you’re doing.

Austin Eating:

Snooze-

Snooze is a relatively new “A.M.” eatery which basically means it’s a breakfast/brunch place. I thought it was delicious and adorable but my eating companions did order various types of eggs Benedict and they were all- tiny. So just don’t get that.

Black’s BBQ-

Eating BBQ was a priority for me this trip. After an afternoon of swimming we weren’t interested in driving all over the countryside. Luckily since I’ve left Austin some of the best hill country restaurants have opened up locations in town, including Black’s! We all ordered way too much food and ate until our eyes bulged. It was totally worth it. This is the BBQ way.

img_2113

Juiceland-

So many delicious smoothie and juice options in Austin! Why don’t we have this in Wilmington?

Kebabilicious-

img_2114

Sa-ten-

I worked here one afternoon and really enjoyed it. By chance, my brother-in-law was also working remotely there. I sampled his lunch and it was insanely delicious. I have to figure out how to recreate it.

Vera Cruz-

We ate from the Vera Cruz food truck at Radio during bluegrass night which was delicious but didn’t rock my world or anything. The music and beautiful outdoor area there is awesome though.

Via 313-

So glad I didn’t leave Austin without a ladies night out dinner with Via 313. I would have certainly regretted it. That is a pizza with balsamic reduction and PROSCUITTO. Get overwhelmed.

img_2124

Swimming:

McKinney Falls is a nice, although more expensive alternative, to Barton Springs. We weren’t prepared for the line or the crowds so we headed east instead of into town for this swim time. I’ve gotten a little spoiled now that my swimming life is almost entirely in the Intracoastal Waterway or the ocean but this dip saved me from insanity. Texas, you are too damn hot.

Baby Love:

The best part of my trip? I experienced my very first baby shower as a mama-to-be! It was incredible. I can’t express how loved I felt.

There were peanut butter chocolate cupcakes, baby rubber ducks floating in mocktails, only ONE game and it wasn’t embarrassing in the least AND it was co-ed. Perfection.

I wish Tyler could have been there and that I could have spent more time with everyone who came. It was incredibly special.

_dsc3918_dsc4113_dsc4129

 

 

Like a Kick in the Gut

I think it was around 17 weeks that I started feeling kicks. They weren’t real kicks yet since presumably the baby still had little t-rex arms and itty bitty legs. They were flutters. A friend said it best when she compared it popcorn popping. It is a gentle burst of movement. The movement is brief, light and airy but undeniably there. Although I had been nervous about feeling like there was an alien inside, I cried when I when I felt the first movement. I felt totally overwhelmed and without words.

I have not yet reached the stage where a kick is clearly a kick or I can recognize an elbow from a foot. Munchkin is still small enough to do somersaults which are a move that stops me in my tracks. I hold my breath until it has finished, unable to do anything on my own. Equally there are kicks and stretches and what feels like drum practice. I watch my belly move now. I spend time picturing a baby inside so I don’t focus on this scene too much.

 

alien.png

I know, gross. Sorry.

 

When I was in high school (or earlier?) I read Summer Sisters by Judy Blume over and over. This is one of Judy Blume’s adult books and it focuses on two friends. It’s a story I am more familiar with now and recognize in other books. There are two girls- one is more outwardly wild, obviously beautiful, mysterious and attracts all the boys while the other is quiet, always watching with strengths and beauty she had to work to recognize. The teenage girls become adults, wives and mothers. I can’t remember what became of the quiet friend, what her hardships were as an adult or her successes. The wild one sticks out in my mind with her affairs and her gypsy life. She became a mother but in name only. Her lack of connection to actual mothering and the lack of relationship with her children stuck out to me then as it does now, like a song I can’t get out of my head. It is a terrifying idea- that you might have children but never commit to the job, never connect with your children, never really get it.

Among the many fears I contemplate- some irrational, some not- this is one. It’s not one I put a lot of stock in. I compare it more to fearing ghosts or something else that could totally be real but probably won’t affect me. Still it is the change in kicks that is the most reassuring. At first every kick was a curiosity but now it makes me laugh. Watching my belly move and feeling so many little movements immediately throws me into the giggles. I try to hold my breath to not miss feeling everything but I am too tickled to be successful. Tyler has missed many a good kick because I can’t stop laughing long enough for him to get his hand on my belly. 14 more weeks y’all!

Exploring Wilmington: Coastal Hikes

Fourth of July has taken a different path since coming to Wilmington. It’s Tyler’s busiest weekend of the year with sold out boat rentals and all the crazies on the water. The beach traffic on a regular weekend makes me hesitant to head towards the ocean so 4th of July weekend is even less appealing. Luckily my dad came into town for the weekend and he has no desire to hang out at the beach. It made our options a little simpler.

Instead of packing our beach chairs and fighting for a space on the sand we got up unreasonably early each day and found some walking trails. It gave both of us an opportunity to explore new territory and get moving before the heat and humidity fully set in. Although with the mornings starting in the 80s, “fully set in” is a phase with little meaning.

Fort Fisher Basin Trail

This is a quick and easy trail, although will little shade and high humidity, I was surprisingly wiped out after this 2 mile out-and-back jaunt. It’s primarily on a well-kept dirt path or boardwalk through marshland parallel to the ocean. It ends at an overlook with views of the Inter Coastal Waterway. We spent quite a few minutes watching the ferry boats and kayakers go by and could hear chatter from a nearby small commercial fishing boat.

This is a great little walk which I think would be especially fun with kids as it was full of bird sightings, little lizards and fiddler crabs. I forgot to take a picture so my thanks to NC Parks for this one.

fisher

Photo credit: NC Parks

We ended up walking through a market at Carolina Beach Lake Park afterwards which was a fun treat (as was the lemon bar we shared) and spending the afternoon buying used furniture for my porch! A very successful day.

There’s still a little work yet to be done…

Brunswick Nature Park

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about this park. Although Tyler had already visited and had plenty of good things to say about the mountain bike trails, I somehow doubted that the walking trails would be anything to get excited about. Not surprisingly… I was wrong. The park is only a short drive from Wilmington and very easy to navigate. We ended up hiking two out of the three trails with the Dogwood trail being my favorite. You can’t beat the river views! It was much more scenic than I could have anticipated. I’ll gladly keep this in mind for any time I need to get out of the city for a short reprieve.

IMG_1854

IMG_1859

Hikers!

Carolina Beach State Park

I was hesitant to drive towards the beach on the 4th of July but at 8 am, it was insanely easy. Having hiked a small portion of this park before it wasn’t the one I was most looking forward to. At the visitor center we grabbed a trail map and I was shocked to find out the park had way more trails than I had remembered with a total of six miles throughout. The park extended farther south than you might guess from a passing glance. We choose a 3 mile loop that would take us up a dune and past three ponds. While there was nothing epic about the dune overlook or the ponds we visited, it was an incredibly pleasant walk. The path was fine, white sand covered in pine needs, soft and springy below. The short oak trees still provided a beautiful overhang, protecting us from the sun. Despite being a popular park, we ran into only a handful of people on the trail. It was quiet and serene.

There were quite a few road cyclists zooming around on the park roads which means I will be looking to come back out with another activity in mind. And in a few months, I’ll be able to stop back by the park’s neighbor Good Hops Brewery! I really can’t imagine anything more perfect than a brewery across from a state park. Great job Carolina Beach folks!

So next time I’m missing the mountains and all the hiking I’d like to be doing up there, at least I’ll know a few options to explore in these parts!

The Hardest Part of Traveling- Coming Home

Last week my dad returned from 15 months abroad in Asia and Europe. It’s hard to say if he’s here to stay or he’ll be off again but his return reminded me of the hardest part of traveling – being back.

While you’re gone life goes on without you. People miss you, sure, but they live their daily lives as they always have, filling the hole that you left with something or someone else. They have to. It’s called living. When I came back from traveling, both times I found that nothing had changed. No major dramas, no deaths, no births- just everyone living as they had before. Someone might have moved or gotten a new job but nothing particularly dramatic. Except of course that no one knew I was there. I was left off of text messages or inadvertently not invited to gatherings. When I first left I was invited to events I couldn’t possibly attend. When I came back even my roommates forgot about me.You secretly hope everyone has been desperate with you, planning each day for your return. It’s not true.

37929_534541098788_4799886_n

My season in Wyoming is definitely best remembered by the view.

There is also the difficulty of adjusting to routine. As a returning traveler, many welcome routine back in, relishing the comfort of the expected but it can also feel… repetitive. When you’re traveling the day is what you make it. You supply the expectations for your day.

Do you explore today? Nature or urban setting? 

Do you relax today, take the “day off” so to speak and sit by the park, tree, beach, pool? 

Do you learn today? Will you take a tour, visit a monument or museum? 

Is today a travel day? Do you have someplace you have to get to?

Sometimes you work when you travel, whether or remotely or locally, but I imagine many other travelers felt like I did when working- that I was there by choice. At home, the sense of obligation and need for planning felt much stronger. In other countries  where I worked for local employers I wasn’t worried about my resume or burning bridges with my manager. My job was a means to an end AKA my next destination.

For better or worse, life at home involves a lot of routine. I take care of my dog, go to work each day (and care about  my job), clean my house, take care of the yard, weed my garden and so on. There are many positives to this habitual life. I don’t have to make new friends every day. The friends I had yesterday are my friends today and they live in the same city I do (well, some of them). When traveling you are constantly saying goodbye and hoping to meet again. I can take classes and join clubs. I have neighbors, not bunk mates.

23998_529065836258_6963997_n

Cooking my folks the most “traditional” Australian meal I could muster. Don’t judge. 

Coming back from traveling involves a lot of readjustment. First there’s jet lag, then there’s a little culture shock (So many SUVs! There’s a store here for everything? Oh, that seems familiar.), reintegration into family (reunion- hooray!) and then regular ol’ life. It’s a constant trade off between the comforts of home and routine and the absence of the new and different.

IMG_0466

There are some definite perks to living in one spot. 

Traveling seems so long ago now to me. It was only a few months here, a year there, a season elsewhere. It was all done under the umbrella of youthful exploration, missing the dedication that hardcore travelers have within. I have never figured out how to integrate into my “regular ol’ life” though I admire those that do. Friends Ardent Camper and Local Color XC are setting a fine example of American exploration. Who knows what they, too will find if they ever decide to lose the wheels and come on “home”.

A Love Letter To Wilmington

Last week at a gathering of storytellers at TheatreNow I heard many different stories of Wilmington. There were sad tales of heartache, violence and sickness. There were also tales of triumph, of coming together, of community. Every person’s story was different from one another’s and my own but the distinct traits of our city connected all.

I never wanted to move back to North Carolina. I grew up in Winston-Salem feeling very much an outsider. I wasn’t outgoing, athletic, religious, or conservative. Living in Winston meant feeling trapped and alone. My four years in Asheville were a relief but I knew I wasn’t in the real world- just a tiny hippie bubble in the backwoods. And even on my most nature loving days, I’m not a great hippie either.

seconddance.jpg

I do hippie dance well though. 

I traveled to Australia, Wyoming and Texas before I found my way back to North Carolina- here for a man of course. My husband could pick any coastal city in continental US and he finds a job in Wilmington. I’d visited here a dozen times and never really known it.

I remembered Airlie Gardens where my sister got married and Wrightsville Beach where we’d vacationed a couple times. Sweet and Savory stood out as a place my parents loved to eat. I knew where to find a few key Dawson’s Creek scenes. What more had I ever needed to know?

dawson

How about that Front Street Books is more community center than used book store? Or that Wilmington struggles with racism, poverty, and a dark, complicated history? I hate passing every Daughters of the Confederacy statue but I love hearing our mayor come out against HB2. All the same, Wilmington does not struggle with generosity. There is more community action and non-profit pride than you would ever expect to see in a sleepy coastal town.

There are times (again, HB2) when I wish we didn’t live here. I wish we lived some place that aligned with my values and beliefs. Some place you could describe as progressive. We could live in Oregon or Washington and have major concerns about “too many damn hipsters” and which overpriced farmers market to go to. But when it comes down to it I don’t want to live in a bubble with a lot of people who agreed with me. How will I keep myself in check, how will I prove what I believe if no one ever questions it? How will I know what I believe if I never have to really live it?

Beyond all of that, this is my North Carolina. Mine and yours. I am invested in this soil because I was born to it and because I know it is the dogwood tree that cradled me and rose me up and it is the blue ridge mountains that made seek out what was beyond them and it is bluegrass music that keeps me dancing. It is waving to strangers on every sidewalk and an understanding that everyone’s favorite room in the house is the porch. It is talking to strangers in line at the grocery store because when we are all together we are a community. And I, for one, am here to stay.

nc