Category Archives: travel

emerald isle, ahoy!

So, here’s the deal, since I’ve been fairly absent of late and a lot has been going on…

I decided to take a trip to Ireland. Why? Well, during one of many long discussions with my coworkers about my relatively poor mental health recently, one of them mentioned his past trips to Ireland. It reminded me how much I’ve always wanted to go there, so I thought, Why the hell not? So I’m going. October 3, 2009. The flight is booked already.

Why Ireland?
There are several reasons. To me, Ireland epitomizes laid-back culture: quiet villages, neighborhood pubs, friendly locals, green landscapes, seaside cliffs, rolling hills – it’s like a freaking wonderland over there, but still so understated and navigable. While I’d also like to see Italy and Australia, those are places that require more than a week’s vacation. And while Ireland deserves more than a week, I can manage the Republic in 7.5 days, so that’s what I’m going to do.

What’s the plan?
There isn’t one, really. I started planning this transcontinental getaway about a week ago, with the intention of going the first week of June. But various obstacles cropped up and I found a cheaper flight in October ($600!!) than the already cheap flight in June, so I thought I’d save $100+ on the flight, $70 on expediting my new passport, $50 on lodging (low season in Oct.), various fees on being an under-25 car renter, etc. Besides, I now have 5 months to make that plan that I’m thus far lacking.

No, really – what’s the plan?
If you must know, IrishTourism.com got the ball rolling with all their awesome self-drive vacation packages. I started out with their 7-day tours of the Republic and wasted invested a lot of time figuring out details, prices and the like. At this point, I’ve decided to take the reins entirely and go with straight B&B vouchers, no strings attached, no requirements for where I need to be or when I need to get there. I will plan ahead, of course, but nothing will be set in stone. I will rent a cheap car (maybe even learn to drive a stick before I go, so I can get around even more cheaply) and set off into the green. I’m salivating a little just thinking about it. =)

ALONE??
Most likely. Though I’ve had vague interest from a few parties when I issued an open invitation to join up, I rather doubt anyone will accompany me, and I fully intend to hit the trail alone. I’m OK with that. And Ireland? It’s one of the safest countries for me to do it. Not entirely safe, of course, but I don’t plan to enter any dark alleys in Dublin either. In fact, I’ll probably stay away from the cities as much as possible, hitting the Dublin highlights my last day or so before hopping my flight back to the States. But I’m not afraid. Not of long flights, a crazy number of unknowns, staying in various rural B&Bs by myself. I think I will be cared for in Ireland, and I will keep my eyes open and my mind alert. Except when I’m gazing out over picturesque cliffs into deep blue waters beyond. Then? I’ll just gaze.

So, that’s what I’m doing in October. What about you?

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keep it ashy

Much to report since last time, though it’s been only a few days. It’s a mixed bag, so bear with me…

My first therapy session was at lunch on Monday. I can’t believe I’ve managed to stay away from therapists for the past 24 years—I’ve been needing to visit one since well before high school even started. I think my counselor was pretty aghast at that, too, but she kept her facial expressions under control.

Session one was mostly an overview, an intro to my crazy, so she’d be familiar with my background and history. I filled out a questionnaire beforehand, so she referenced some of my answers there, asked about my family, etc.

The funny thing about me: I know a lot about my mental issues. I not only recognize having them, but also can point to where I’m being an idiot about things, what I should be doing differently, what may have caused the issues initially, etc. Basically, one part of our conversation went down like this: “So, you realize that (x, y & z) behaviors not only caused problems in your past relationships but also ended up driving away your significant others completely, and you want to stop this pattern from repeating?” “Yes.” “Well, that’s easy—that trims a couple days from our schedule!” What can I say? I’m an easy therapee.

In the end, it was just nice to talk through some things without feeling any sort of guilt for dragging someone else down. My friends and boyfriends have never indicated irritation at being my sounding board, but I feel guilty nonetheless. Even if that’s “what [they’re] there for,” who wants to be in constant contact with Miss Wet Blanket 1997 – 2009? I wouldn’t. So having someone there who not only understands some of my neuroses but also is being paid to listen to them and help me solve them? Awesome! Session two happens next Monday at lunch.

Monday night held the first meeting of my new Bible study at … wait for it … St. Louis Catholic Church! (Yes, I know. Leave me alone till I can come up with a good explanation.) It’s a 10-week study on the Mass and the Eucharist, topics I feel I’d benefit from knowing a lot more about. So I now own a Cathecism and a workbook and have a daily reading/Q&A assignment. Very exciting! I’ve learned a lot already and we haven’t even had an official “study” session yet.

Basically, Mondays are going to be sweet from here on out. How many people do you know who can say that?

I participated in Ash Wednesday mass today at St. Louis CC as well. As of last night, I was under the impression that A.W. was not for non-Catholics (or those Protestant denominations who don’t find it necessary), but I was wrong. After reading a bit about the difference between a sacramental and a sacrament this morning, I hopped in my car and headed for the noon mass. I was nervous about what would be expected or how it would work, but it was a piece of cake. I even saw three female co-workers there!

The rest of the day, I’ve experienced strange looks but no questions. I was kind of hoping for questions, as I feel I can answer them properly, much more than my high-school classmates could back in the day when asked. That has always been my biggest thing: I do not want to misrepresent. If I’m going to wear ashes, I want to be able to explain their significance, in history, to the church and to me. If I’m going to label myself a Christian, I want to be living a lifestyle that reflects my faith and my obedience to God. Which is why I rarely label myself: I’m not always great at keeping up with things. And not just appearances—realities. I want to truly be who I claim to be, not just look like I am that person.

The boyfriend (hereafter referred to as Dennis, because that is his name) and I are still laughing at each other’s jokes and talking way too much on the phone late at night. We talked last night about a wedding in April that’s taking place on the beach in Gulf Shores, AL. I managed to weasel my way in as his plus-one, so that’s something about which I’m really excited. He narrated the website of the condos rentable at a discount to wedding guests, but that may still prove too rich for our blood unless we can get some roommates, so we’ll see. There is talk of an early arrival on Friday and staying at a seedy motel so we can spend the day on the beach together. Hopeful!

My sister, BIL and niece are planning to visit on Easter weekend! Before my niece’s traveling soccer season starts up and just in time to try to relieve some stress over my BIL’s job-loss fears at Ford, they’re hitting the road and planning to stay at the nearby RV park in Memphis for a few days. I’m looking forward to attempting another tour o’ the town! And considering the rift that once existed between my sister and me, it’s a pretty big deal that they’re coming here. I’m happy about that.

Well, tonight was to be trivia at the local pub (ashes and all)… and apparently it’s still going to be. Peace!

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the birmingham debriefing

So, this post is long overdue. A handful of you know the full story already, and a few more have gotten the generic abstract, but I felt I owed an explanation to the rest of the lot. Actually, scratch that – I’m writing this post because I’m pretty darn excited and happy about what transpired in Birmingham, what had been transpiring for the two weeks prior, what’s been in the works for three days since.

For those of you who are new here, you probably haven’t read any prior postings mentioning “Alabama guy.” (There were only about two, so you haven’t missed much.) But that’s where the story began, with a 27-year-old guy from Alabama who I met on OKCupid.com after I expanded my horizons – and my geographic search – a little. His profile spoke of writing, working for a Web site, overthinking things. He listed “House” and “The Office” among his favorite shows, made me laugh before I even finished with his bio and measured in at 6’1″ – really, could there be a more perfect combination?

OKCupid gave us hope at a 95% match, but our first actual conversations affirmed that. We transitioned from IMs to phone calls, talking for more than 24 hours in the course of less than two weeks. One phone conversation lasted 9 hours straight, and I cannot count the number of times I laughed or smiled or was forced to really think hard about something I hadn’t considered previously.

It was somewhere in the course of those long conversations about everything under the sun that we decided we should meet. The plan morphed from an indistinct halfway point in Mississippi to my trekking the full four hours to Birmingham to spend the weekend making s’mores, seeing the sights and getting to know each other face to face.

The whole second week of phone calls, I couldn’t wait to pack my bags and head to Alabama. I probably should hesitate to admit that so openly to the Internet, but it’s true – it’s been one of my most highly anticipated adventures to date. And the end product did not disappoint. We met safely (though inadvertently in the parking lot) at his local Panera. It took me some time to get over my initial shyness, but once I did, it was a great time.

We did see the sights in spite of the chilly weather, and I was astonished at the beauty of Birmingham. I had expected flat, boring and backward, but I got hilly, robust and impressive. I felt so much more comfortable there than in Memphis. I don’t know if it was the city or the company, but I’m definitely looking forward to going back soon. Imagine neighborhood after neighborhood with houses built on hillsides overlooking the streets below, the cityscape beyond. Cozy little diner-shacks on ridges, views dominated by gaping, uninhabited valleys. Little pockets of downtown reminded me of Ann Arbor. His office building, housed alongside two restaurants and a coffee shop, was just the right mix of modern-industrial and old-style-newsroom feels. We ate at a wonderful little Greek place where we were serenaded by a roving violinist, and we walked up and down the undulating streets of a Birmingham suburb, feeling utterly safe even well after dark.

Highlights of the weekend: the initial meeting, the first hand touch and kiss, finally getting to see “The Dark Knight,” the discussion about being a couple, cuddling on the couch watching “Mythbusters,” eating bowls of generic cereal side by side on Sunday morning and every opportunity we had to talk or just look into each other’s eyes. Oh, and the additional kissing after the first kiss? That was pretty good too.

As I mentioned to him tonight on the phone, I don’t know what to think about this whole situation. For me, it’s a totally different experience from past relationships for several reasons. But, even above and beyond those reasons, there’s something significant in the air between us. It’s definitely electric, but it requires more exploration to define fully. I look forward to investigating it further in Birmingham, in Memphis, through Verizon’s invisible grid. With any luck, you may even get to be in the loop – something I imagine you all will anticipate with bated breath. Hope that sates your curiosity for now!

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quick update from the freezer

I hear the weather’s going downhill again for the afternoon, so the plan to do a full update has been set aside so I can shower and get to the gym earlier than normal. Hopefully the lunchtime crowd won’t be too horrendous.

This vacation has been difficult. It’s really hard being home and trying to be here for my mom, but not really knowing how to help or what to say. When I’m encouraging and telling her to move forward with her OWN life, she’d rather be wallowing (totally understandable). When I try to be comforting and tell her to take her time recovering, she says she’s tired of crying and being a burden. It reminds me how bipolar we are in my family. =P It’s quite pronounced.

In spite of that, I’ve made an effort to get out of the house and keep moving. I’ve gone to the gym 5 times thus far, which has been great for me. My biceps are looking dangerous right now. =) I’ve made it through one library book and am now reading a book Carla gave me for Christmas. I beat Guitar Hero on Easy with my band, “E.” I still need a lot more practice though. I’ve also been practicing my shooting on the Wii Play target-shooting game. Thinking I’d like to visit a shooting range when I get back to the South.

On Friday, I went to my old office (GLARO) for Nina’s farewell lunch with the portion of the crew who made it in despite the nasty weather. The next night, Nina and I ventured over to the Heidelberg in Ann Arbor to watch Tommy play with the Ben Daniels Band at the Club Above. I saw about a dozen Chelsea-ites, many of whom were in my class. And I didn’t talk to a single one (besides Tommy). =P As Carla said, “Just like high school.” Sunday, my brother, SIL, her nieces and my dad drove out to Battle Creek for dinner with the extended family from Indiana. We ate at Clara’s on the River, which was just OK. Fortunately, the weather was not prohibitive for anyone. I met Mandy & Carla in Chelsea for lunch on Monday afternoon, made a caramel Heath pie, took that to the GLARO Christmas party yesterday (braving more bad roads – I’m pretty sick of the snow and ice already!) and am making another pie tonight for Christmas.

Future plans: Christmas on Thursday with the siblings and their families, Saturday dinner with Tod & family and Sunday (hopefully) a trip to Mecosta to see my BIL’s parents at their new lake house. I want to get my mom out of the house and go on something of a road trip. I know I have plenty of driving ahead, but not for a while yet. Hoping the weather holds off whenever we/I have to be on the road. I got lucky on the way up here, so we’ll see.

Time to shower. Peace.

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white Christmas likely

Last night’s snow definitely made things interesting. One minute, it was clear and the forecast said, “Sometime tonight.” The next, I opened the gym door and stepped out into a mini blizzard. It was very sudden. It didn’t amount to much in the end, but there’s call for more in the coming days, so we’ll see how it pans out…

Today, Carla and I drove up to see Mandy and her new digs. It was so good to hang out with them all day, even just doing the normal stuff like eating pizza, browsing at Meijer and driving around the Lansing area. Mandy and I tried on some semi-ugly, satin, feathered, Christmas-themed lingerie, then tried to scale the dressing room partition to show each other. It was a less-than-successful effort. =P I got some necklace-making supplies at Joann’s and Mandy was nice enough to put them together with a clasp – it looks really awesome, so I’ll have to take a picture and post it sometime. The three of us browsed Babies ‘R’ Us for a long while, thoroughly enjoying the gliders. I also thought the convertible pack ‘n’ plays were pretty freaking sweet. They play music and sounds, and they switch from a changing table and higher-up baby lounging area to a regular pack ‘n’ play underneath. I know it’s weird to say, “I wish I had one,” but it was cool. =) Also, I wish some of my hoodies had bear ears. What’s it to ya? =P

On our way back from Lansing, I tried to figure out what I’m going to do about my housing situation in Memphis. Still no answers though. I feel pretty lame not being able to handle my current accommodations better. I just feel uncomfortable, ill at ease, awkward and guilty about everything I do. I know it’s not possible to live at the office or on the property, but if I could, I would. I feel so much more comfortable there, for some reason. I glanced at some local condos last night online, but I just cringe at the idea of a one-bedroom, 1.5-bath townhouse-style condo costing $160k+. That doesn’t include association fees, I’m sure, and obviously not utilities. However they were calculating the monthly cost, it came out to the mid-$600s, which really isn’t bad. The overall dollar figure still makes me queasy though. I definitely feel the need to save for significantly longer than a couple months before making a leap like that. I still feel better about the idea of landing somewhere mid-range for my first place – nowhere near a huge house – but I’m just not sure how great a buy a condo will be. Renting makes me feel so much less stressed. I don’t know. I hate throwing money away, but I hate not knowing for sure that it’s the right place before I actually get to live there for a while. Bah to adulthood. Bah, I say!

I’ve stayed up way too late the last few nights, so it’s time to hit the hay. I think it’s midnight already, but since I think my laptop is still on Central Time, I’m not entirely sure… Either way, goodnight!

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not quite as planned

Well, I made it to the mitten yesterday around 5. Surprisingly, it didn’t feel like 11 hours at all. More like 6 or 7. Either way, utterly endurable! However, what greeted me upon arrival sort of killed the rush of finally being back… I knew it was coming, as I’d been forewarned on the phone en route, but actually seeing my mom in tears when I walked into the kitchen was too much. Earlier the same day, her fiancée left her. After nearly 10 years together, he just suddenly said they were two different people and he didn’t think it would work out. After hearing most of what he said from my mom, I realized it was just one long line of bull. He said that our family never really accepted or embraced him, which was the last straw. Every gathering we’ve had for the last 9 years has been timed and planned and scheduled around when he needed to milk cows back at his farm. We’d start at a certain time, clear out early, rush through my niece’s birthday party and eat dinner at weird times just to make sure he could come. We’d pick out gifts he actually WANTED for Christmas, even though he claimed he didn’t want anything. I don’t think there’s a harder embrace on the market today! My sister was pretty miffed to hear that, too, since many of the rescheduling requirements were on her part and her family’s. It just makes me wish we’d never accommodated him, if we’d just known he was going to turn out to be a total jerk who didn’t give her any chance to know something was wrong or try to fix it. He just up and told her he was done, handed her the list of things he needed to get back from her and then left.

Seriously, it’s taking pretty much every ounce of my self-restraint to keep from driving the three miles to his house and raising hell. I guess there’s a little southerner in me after all. I can’t stand to see my mother crying, to hear her say it’s all her fault, that she always manages to screw everything up, that she’s going to be alone forever. I told her, only partly in jest, that we could both be alone forever and she could move to Memphis and live with me. I don’t want that and neither does she. But to go back there and think of her alone here, trying to survive through tax season without someone waiting for her at home every night like she’s had for so many years… God. It just breaks my heart. I don’t know what to do.

Sigh. In other news… I tried out the local Anytime Fitness today, after being told I could use my member key fob to get in at any AF in America. It worked! I did an hour on the elliptical and several weight machines. I went during the workday, so very few people were there. Sooo nice. I came home and made a makeshift shrimp stir fry for my mom and me. I didn’t have anything great for a sauce, but ended up mixing together honey BBQ sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper – it actually wasn’t too bad. I threw in some peas and put it over rice. I think she enjoyed it, which was the intent. Then I cleaned the stove top and washed the dishes. We watched “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” (that’s the order they’re supposed to be shown in, southerners!) and then watched the movie “Penelope.” Very cute, very good. I loved the Tim Burton-esque feel of the whole movie.

I’ve raised $100 so far for DU! Very exciting! Of course, my six donors have all been former or current DU employees (or people directly linked with the company in a professional sense). Either way, though, that’s $100 for the ducks! I’m still looking for blog-related donors so I can match your donations… It’s never too late. Donate today!

Wednesday, Carla and I are slated to drive up to Lansing and see Mandy’s new place! Woo! Friday, I’m going to GLARO for Nina’s farewell lunch. Excited to see everyone there and wish her well. Sunday is a family Christmas meetup in Battle Creek at Clara’s, so that should be an interesting change of pace. The 23rd is the GLARO Christmas party, the 25th is Christmas here and the 27th is dinner at Tod’s. I actually have a lot on the agenda, which is good. I’m planning to work out as much as possible as well. And sleep. And work. Just the usual, really. =)

TV notes… 1) I just saw one of the funniest episodes of “Family Guy” ever, and 2) I am currently watching the most ridiculous show in the world. I just don’t understand this “ion life” digital channel. Ion is this sort of Christian-esque channel, right? Well, ion life has shows like “Girls Gone Fishin'” and “Get Out!” which is all about girls with their midriffs out playing with monkeys and giggling. You know, I get that skinny blonde girls are hot. I also get why guys like to look at their bare bellies and tan limbs. But can’t they just be smart? A little less giggling, that’s all I ask.

All right, it’s late. In short, I’m glad to be home, I’m sad for my mom, thanks for considering donating, I’m excited to be seeing everyone soon and I shouldn’t bother watching TV. =P Goodnight.

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long time coming (and going)

Well, I finally made it back to Memphis. The smooth perfection that was my air travel history up to this point was marred last night with the delay of my Detroit-to-Chicago plane. The eventual boarding time was 8:40 EDT, and with a Chicago-to-Memphis flight to catch by 8:40 CDT, there was no way I’d make it. So flights got rescheduled to this morning and RP picked me up at MEM at lunchtime. Thankfully, new flights meant great seats (one with an empty seat alongside and another on the left side of a 1-2 regional jet—you were right about those A seats being the best, Matt!) and I landed about 10 minutes early. Phew. I was a little concerned that I’d end up being late for my connection after all, especially with 10 minutes spent idling on an O’Hare tarmac holding pad, but I jogged from the K gates to the G gates and had time to spare. Air travel can be kind of exciting sometimes. =)

However, all this excitement (and early rising, and lack of sleep—drank most of a latte last night before I realized I’d need to change flights and go back home to bed…) has left me completely drained. I just indulged in an hour of “Gossip Girl” on my laptop and now I’m going to unpack and clean till it’s an appropriate crashing time. Going home was just what I needed, I think. Didn’t realize it till I got there, since it was such a whirlwind, nearly-unplanned trip, but seeing my friends and family… great. And it made me even happier to get back here, feeling grounded and joyful about life. I hope that feeling lasts!

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