Monday, June 24, 2013

It Never Gets Easier

You do get used to the 8 hour time difference, to flight delays, to lost luggage, to foreign currency clinking around in all of your bags, to attending events solo, and to texting "wish you were here" a thousand times but thinking it a million more. You may not like it, but you grow accustomed to it, and you know what to expect, and how to deal with it.

But the goodbye, no matter where it takes place - on a curb-side drop off under the DEPARTURES sign, or a ticket counter, or on your front stoop with an airport shuttle waiting - that never gets any easier. In fact, it might even be the one thing that gets harder.

We've been long-distance for almost a year (two weeks shy, in fact) and have had to do this good-bye 7 times. And it's the worst. Sometimes I almost think a hasty tuck-and-roll out of the car would be better, or a high-five, or a "good game" butt slap. I don't know. 

You get used to a lot of things, and accept a lot of things as "normal" when you're in an Extreme Long Distance relationship, but the good-bye is not one of those things. 

I'd rather stick with hello.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

"Are you guys even long-distance anymore?"

So says Hot Curry, during our Skype session with her husband Lee (who sent me THE BEST birthday gift, beeteedubs - more on that later). It was in reference to the fact that The Gentleman is currently in town this week, and we are burning through more of our precious PTO to take a couple of days and head 'downy ohhh-shun' like good little Baltimoreans. Pick crabs, drink beer, ride waves and carnival rides of questionable stability and just generally hoot 'n holler and be down home for a long weekend. This is a change from our usual hooting and hollering and classless behavior that usually takes place in much more exotic locations. This time we'll probably even blend in.

But, yes, the last I checked, the United Arab Emirates hadn't crept any closer on the map to Baltimore City, so we are indeed still in an Extreme Long Distance Relationship, albeit one where we've gotten lucky enough to see one another every month for the past four months. Through internet finds on cheap flights and the help of a friend who works in the airline industry, we are racking up trans-Atlantic miles on the cheap and getting to spend good, quality time together.

After this trip, unfortunately, we will probably go back to that good old fashioned "seeing each other every 3-4 months" routine, which sucks, but is much cheaper and allows us both time to rack up more PTO from work. Le sigh.

But, for now, I'm packing sunscreen and plenty of books to go lie in the sun with all the other lobsterish tourists, The Gentleman by my side. We are lucky, lucky, lucky and I'm trying to enjoy every moment before he has to fly back to the Land of Sand (which, by the by, is NOT where you want to be June-July-August - average temps of 100 and up with like 500% humidity which makes Maryland feel so pleasantly mild). 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

31 Before 31....or How Failure Lead to Success


I had all of these ambitious goals for things I was going to do when my boyfriend moved overseas. Like...make a quilt, and a really dense reading list, and write a novel, and get up every morning at 6am to run 10 miles, and cook everything from scratch, and find a cure for cancer, and finally get around to achieving that nagging chore of world peace.

Well, I did make a quilt. Behold:

That was definitely thanks to my buddy Jenn. She is amazing and can make anything and walked me through this quilt process step-by-step, almost every Sunday between October and March. I will do an entire post at some point to show you how this magical quilt came to be. 

I was also going to write a novel, and while that didn't happen, I did sketch out some pretty great ideas and I can feel some good stuff marinating. And I wrote Chapter One. That's always a good place to start, no?

But that whole 31 Before 31 list...oof, I utterly fell down on that. To refresh your memory, here was the original list:

1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing 
4. Lolita, Nabokov
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig
6. For Whom The Bell Tolls, Hemingway
7. The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Dandicat
9. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
10. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
11. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond 
13. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
14. Cities of Salt, Abdul Rahman Munif
15. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand
16. The Satanic Verses, Salmon Rushdie
17. Native Son, Richard Wright
18. The Savage Detectives, Bolano
19. Jesus' Son, Denis Hale Johnson
20. Notebook, Agota Christof (NOTE - not "The Notebook" by Nicholas Sparks. Come on.)
21. White Noise, Don DeLillo
22. Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
23. Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
24. The 19th Wife, David Evershoff
25. As I Lay Dying, Faulkner
26. The Prophet, Khalil Gibran
27. A Room of One's Own, Virginia Woolf
28. Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut

You'll notice it halts at 28. I kept meaning to add three more to the list, but the fact is, as I got closer to my deadline (my 31st birthday), it became more and more daunting to even THINK about more books. Those three empty slots haunt my dreams.

Here's what I actually read:
1. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyceskimmed, hated it
2. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
3. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing - started, never finished
5. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig - started, never finished
7. The Rules of Attraction, Brett Easton Ellis
8. Breath, Eyes, Memory, Edwidge Dandicat
9. Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann
12. Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond skimmed, actually really liked it, but nearly fell asleep during the thirty-some odd pages explaining carbon dating in detail
13. The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan Out of 31. 

I do still have ambitions to read the rest of the books on this list, but the pile of books beside my bed has grown exponentially. I've found that books seem to come organically into my life - a flirty affair with a cover in the library, a gift from a friend, a loaner from someone who talks excessively about "this book that you HAVE to read!!"....books find their way into your life, and they always seem to do so in such a seamless and perfect way that it felt almost sacrilegious to force-feed a reading list. A lot of these books I simply never got to, not because I haven't been reading, but on the contrary - because I've been reading voraciously as books have been sauntering into my life and pulling my attentions away from the homework I've assigned myself.

I've read some pretty fantastic books in the interim. And not only will I hand over these dreamy suggestions, but I'll tell you how they came into my life as well....

I. Love. Ann. Patchett. I think she is one of the most acutely beautiful writers I've ever read, and  although it's a total cliche, she has the ability to get you to accept human behaviors you might normally judge, and get too drawn into worlds where a lesser writer might leave you with  enough of a sense of distance that you're not too involved. Ann gets you involved. I didn't even know she'd written a new book until I happened to be in Target picking up sun screen and various items for our trip to Mexico, saw this, and read this thing cover to cover in the first 24 hours of the trip.

This was a Book Club pick, and a hilariously educating one at that. I find myself frequently mentioning parts of this book, like "Oh, speaking of pottery, DID YOU KNOW THAT ONEIDA  WAS ACTUALLY A POLYAMOUROUS COMMUNE IN UPSTATE NEW YORK IN VICTORIAN TIMES?!?!" I have tried to get multiple other people in my life, outside of Book Club, to read this book solely so I have more people to discuss it with.

After hearing about it so many times, and possessing a vague understanding of He-La cells, I heard an in-depth discussion on my favorite podcast - Stuff Mom Never Told You - while out on a run one day, and decided I needed to read it IMMEDIATELY. Thank God for the Kindle app on my iPad, and thank God for Enoch Pratt having ebooks that you can download instantly for free. 

A beautiful recommendation from one of my very best friends, Stupid, who shares my taste in contemporary literature and always has great suggestions. This dark novel explores the stigma and social pariah of AIDS and homosexuality in the 1980's told through the voice of 14-year-old June as she makes sense of the recent death of her beloved uncle. 

Quite possibly my favorite in this list - I read about it in a magazine, and  read it in  its entirety in one day. (Granted - I was in Mexico on vacation, so I had the time to spend reading entire novels in a single day.) Based on Ray Bradbury's 1954 short story, "All Summer In a Day," the novel is told through the voice of an adolescent girl. The crux can be summed up in this sentence from an Amazon review: "[t]he world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper." Essentially, one day, the Earth's rotation just suddenly starts to slow down. An hour at first, here and there, and then suddenly whole days of direct sunlight and complete darkness. Crops die, people get radiation poisoning, and the world is divided between "Clock Timers," who try to go on with life as normally as possible on a 24 clock; and "Real Timers," who revert to using the sunlight as a time keeper and thus will sleep for days at a time, be awake for days at a time, and exist in their own realm. All, of course, relayed to us through 11-year-old Julia, who is dealing with her parents' fighting, her first crush, and worrying about whether or not there will still be soccer practice.

I couldn't sleep one night, and bought this on Amazon Kindle (Thanks, The Gentleman!) and devoured it in a matter of days. I think I initially read about it in Elle magazine, but it's hilarious and dark and wickedly smart.

So, I utterly failed at my "31 Before 31" list, but I see success in that every book that magically comes into my life and turns out to be so utterly memorable is nothing short of a gift. And I do intend to read the rest of the books on my list, but I'm not so pressed for "getting them done" in a finite period of time. I'll leave that kind of stringency to workout regimens and excessive itinerary planning for vacations.

I do have a stack of books next to my bed that I've recently acquired through various means (gifts, library, random fits of whimsy) that I intend to work through this summer. But I'm sure new ones will be added, and some shifted around, and that's the nature of reading as a hobby - love and desire have to be the driving forces, not a timeline.

Or maybe that's just what terrible procrastinators say.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

I Kissed a Dolphin (and I liked it....)

I think I've already mentioned that we stayed in a resort that had dolphins swimming around RIGHT OUTSIDE OF OUR ROOM, and I may even have alluded to some dolphin cuddling. 

Yes - that happened.

For $150, you too can have a "dolphin encounter" which involves a lot of petting of the dolphins, kissing, hugging, and - the crowning glory - a "dolphin push" which involves a dolphin swimming up behind you and pushing your feet so that you are raised up like some sort of majestic mermaid and fly across the surface of the water, balanced on the dolphin's head, at a rather alarming pace. 

Unfortunately, the encounters were completely sold out by the time we sauntered up to the tourist desk to do so. I was able to snag a spot from a cancellation, but The Gentleman was unable to get up close and personal with the dolphin, so he had to be satisfied with taking pictures of me and hearing me talk about my experience for hours and hours afterwards.

Here's something I never expected: dolphins are kind of scary. They look so super cute when they're like this:

(image courtesy The Institute for Marine Mammal Studies) all, "Hello there! I am a friendly creature of the sea, who might possibly be smarter than you and also contain magical powers, and my best friends are unicorns!"

But they're actually kind of really intimidating. You forget that they're roughly the size of a small horse, because most of them is underwater when you look at them, and you have no idea how incredibly strong and powerful they are until you feel one swimming by you. Also, they have lots and lots of teeth. 

I got over my fear of being in deep water surrounded by beings much larger than I and was able to go with the flow. It helped that a seven year old boy and a nine year old girl were in my group. They didn't seem scared and, I reasoned, they were smaller and weaker and would be picked off more easily should we have a case of Rogue Dolphin on our hands.

High five? No? Gonna leave me hanging?

Dancing. This was the point when I realized how freaking big dolphins actually are. I got a little scared at the point. 

But then I got to hold the dolphin like an upside-down baby, and all was well.
So, something else happened during this experience. There are probably 6-7 dolphins in the pen at any given time, and each dolphin has a trainer, and a small group of about 6-8 people. The dolphin must hug, kiss, cuddle, and "push" each of these tourists who have paid an exorbitant amount of money to fondle wildlife. Understandably, the trainers are highly sensitive to the fact that they're working with very large animals around very dumb tourists. The dolphins' needs HAVE to come first, and a trainer who knows his/her charge well will understand his/her personality quirks and triggers, and will lead the experience accordingly. I have nothing but respect for these trainers, who do the same shows multiple times a day, and are responsible not only for the safety of these scary beautiful creatures but for tourists who pile in from around the world for the opportunity to get up close and personal with a marine mammal.

But "Debbie from Texas" in our group apparently just didn't get it.

"Debbie from Texas" had a bee in her bonnet from the moment we were ushered out of the small hallway where we were assigned life jackets and watched a brief and depressing film on dolphin endangerment (as well as a terrifying brief documentary on how dolphins are wild animals and have been known to attack humans if provoked) and onto the dock where we lined up to "meet" our assigned dolphin and trainer. "Debbie from Texas" was pissed off because, apparently, she wasn't aware that a "stranger" (i.e. - me) was going to be put into her group which consisted of her, her best friend, her sister, and her best friend's two kids (who I purposefully did not get attached to in the event that they got eaten by a dolphin - better them than me). But another group had a cancellation that I was able to snag. However, the other group was assigned to a dolphin who, for whatever reason, the trainer had decided needed a smaller group to work with on this particular afternoon. Whatever, dude; we're talking about wildlife with teeth - I absolutely defer to your judgement. 

So the extra tourists were divvied up amongst other dolphins, and I wound up getting assigned to "Debbie from Texas" and her crew. And "Debbie from Texas" apparently felt that this inconvenience had ruined her entire vacation.

"Debbie from Texas" bitched about this for a solid twenty minutes as we adjusted our life jackets, lined up, and had our first encounter with the incredible sleek, gray creature who silently slid by me in the water and eagerly opened her mouth for the (very dead/slightly frozen) squid that I tossed in. I was amazed - with the tiny squinty eyes of our dolphin, to her powerful tail, to the scratch marks on her back and fins which are common among penned dolphins who "rough house" with one another.

"It's no offense to you - hey, what did you say your name was?" "Debbie from Texas" went on.

"Um, me? Lindsay?" I said, still mesmerized by the fact that I was touching a dolphin for the first time in my life.

"Right, Lindsay, seriously, nothing personal, ok? It's just I paid for a private encounter, you know" (bullshit, private encounters are for only two people, and it's five times as expensive as what you paid) "and I didn't know they were going to try and pile on random people when I'm just trying to have a nice experience with my family and friends, you know?"

Shut up, "Debbie from Texas". Just shut up.

The trainer, a very kind and patient man named Marco, asked "Debbie from Texas" to please be respectful of the fact that the trainers have to make decisions based on the needs of the dolphins, who work very hard every day, and that he could assure her as intimate an experience as possible even with the extra person (me) present. He, and the staff of the resort, would do everything in their power to ensure that her experience was as once-in-a-lifetime as she wished.

"How about free T-shirts?" "Debbie from Texas" requested. I'm pretty sure Marco would have given her the shirt off his back if it would shut her up at this point, so he eagerly acquiesced.  "And one for Lindsay, too," she said, smiling at me as though we were in this thing together.

No, "Debbie from Texas", we are not.

As Marco went to ask one of the staff members to round up some T-shirts for us to shut "Debbie from Texas" up, she leaned over to me and whispered, "Seriously, no offense to you, at all, but, I mean, you know how these Mexicans are. If you're not careful, they'll just screw you over in any way they can! They're just out for your money."

I was aghast. I was shocked, first that "Debbie from Texas" would say something so completely inappropriate, and second that she would say this to a stranger and expect that person to commiserate with her bigotry. 

I wish I could say that I defended Marco, the dolphin, and the whole damn team, but I was so taken aback that I just kind of stood there in the murky pool water with one hand on the dolphin. I was halfway between a magical sea world of wonder that my child-like self was wholly absorbed in as something truly otherworldly, and halfway between wondering if I would get kicked out of the Dolphin Encounter for bitch slapping "Debbie from Texas". 

Fortunately, we were both saved from the experience of her being slapped and me probably being removed from the dolphin pen by Marco, who re-appeared and, clapping his hands together excitedly, said "Ok, friends, let's meet your dolphin up close and personal!"

I mostly forgot all about "Debbie from Texas". And I did get a free shirt. It has a giant heart on it with dolphins leaping out of it. I have reassigned feelings of guilt and anger towards that shirt and now look upon it with fondness of the memory of the time I overcame my fears of large marine mammals and let one kiss me on the cheek.
The dolphin is kissing me.

Mexico - cOcO bOngO

"You HAVE to go to cOcO bOngO," my friend, Lauren, said. I could practically hear the creative capitalization of nouns.

"What," I asked; the pray tell part of the sentence left unsaid because I was 30 at the time and Lauren is a pretty little 26 year old and therefore would dismiss me for using the phrase 'pray tell'; "is cOcO bOngO?"

"You know," she said, "like from The Mask. Only it's much crazier now."

Coco Bongo (I simply cannot keep typing it as cOcO bOngO or I am going to go cOcO f-Ing bAnAnAs) is a club very near to where our resort was in Cancun. The Gentleman and I had divvied up our vacation time as such: three nights for quiet dinners and relaxing after-hours listening to live music and sipping wine so that we could get up early in the morning, one night relegated to the resort's on-site club (which turned out to be...not what we expected) and one night "out on the town." Like - THE REAL SPRING BREAK, YA'LL.

Here's how the whole Coco Bongo thing works - our second or third day on the resort, we stopped by one of those desks in the lobby with tons of flyers for ANCIENT RUINS TOURS or SNORKEL WITH DINOSAURS (a slightly stretched truth, I imagine) and tried to sign up for some excursions. There were some really awesome ones - snorkeling through ancient ruins and caves, zip lining through jungle trees, day-long boat rides that went from reef to reef for diving. Unfortunately, we waited too long to sign up for things, and most everything was booked.

NOTE: go to those touristy-desk things THE FIRST DAY YOU GET THERE. Shizz fills up fast. I managed to sneak in a dolphin cuddle, but there was only ONE spot left, and The Gentleman was forced to stand off to the side and drink free beers and take pictures of me getting up close and personal with a dolphin because the entire "dolphin experience" was sold out, and I only got in due to a cancellation. More on that later. 

But we were able to buy two tickets to get into Coco Bongo, and they were worth every penny. $75 a person gets you tickets to not have to stand in line (which you probably will anyway, but at least not with the "general admission" putzes who pop their collars or have sun burned tits), and open bar. Apparently, in recent years, all of the clubs in the area moved to the "huge cover charge, but open bar" theme. I can't imagine why (a million credit cards left behind at the end of the night and/or a million unpaid tabs walked out on). At first, I was kinda pissed - like how enraged I used to get when Seacrets would charge ungodly sums for cover charges in Ocean City in college (most likely to keep out the rifraff like myself- a college kid with no problem coughing up $11 per drink but balked at a $10 cover charge),  but then we got to Coco Bongo. And, lemme tell you, this club put anything I have ever seen to shame. Including Vegas.

We donned our wrist bans, and headed out for our big night on the town in Cancun during Spring Break.

Holy shit.

I'm not even going to give any commentary. I think the photos stand alone on this one.

Cancun, MX - Grub

My dad tells me I'm in trouble because he added my blog to his iPhone's feed, and there haven't been any new posts in a really long time. Oops.

The past few weeks have been seriously busy, with the highlights being my first attempt at air yoga and my 31st birthday. (That is not me performing the air yoga, by the way. My attempt was much less graceful. I got stuck upside down at one point, and my friend Emily had to untangle me. But I did not, as I feared, hang or otherwise fatally injure myself, so I declared the whole thing a success and signed up for three more classes.)

But let's get back into the swing of things (no air yoga reference intended) and talk about all the delicious crap I ate whilst on SPRING BREAK in Mexico

We stayed at the lovely Dreams Cancun resort, and don't believe any lies that people tell you about the dangers of "all inclusive." We've stayed at Dreams both in Mexico and in the Dominican, and both had exquisite food choices, especially when it comes to fish and produce. 

This is a terrible picture, but I needed to include it because this phenomenon was both frightening and life-changing to sample. This is octopus tartare, and it's ridiculously delicious. I was a little skeptical about it, because I mostly hate octopus sushi because of the consistency, but this little pile of deliciousness was perfectly tender. 
 I think I may have mentioned before how much I love breakfast/brunch, and most especially breakfast/brunch in other countries. They just do it right, you know? There's no tomfoolery, there's no "Oh, here are some runny scrambled eggs and some dry crackery toast and some burnt-up bacon." Which is shameful. SHAMEFUL. No, other countries proudly incorporate all kinds of deliciousness into breakfast, including food items usually intended for other mealtimes. Like beans.

Or sauteed cactus to put on top of your eggs:
And papaya, and grilled tomato, and bacon-done-right, and ham, and beans, and spicy sauces. Yum.
This is pico de gallo and vegetable chips and I CANNOT FOR THE LIFE OF ME make this picture behave normally despite the fact that I've reformatted it 7,000 times. ANYWAY IT WAS DELICIOUS.

Snail ceviche - amazing. I've had escargot before, but never in a ceviche-style. It was bright, citrusy, and had that rich, snail-like taste that's less garden and more ocean. 

Al fresco dining might also be one of my favorite things. I have a lot of favorite things.

Shrrrrrimp tacos!

Ridiculously fresh salmon with couscous and some sort of light, citrusy barbecue sauce. 

Avocado and hearts of palm salad for an appetizer. Only I ate it, because The Gentleman is deathly allergic to avocados. This is no lie. 

This is not a food item, but lemme tell you a little bit about this - it's half a cerveza and half a Bloody Mary. That sounds really, really weird, I know - but, believe me, it's kind of really delicious. Refreshing, even. Also, "Klamato juice" is not the same thing as "Clamato juice," so you shouldn't be worried when they tell you that they don't have any Bloody Mary mix and will be mixing your vodka and beer with clam juice. Klamato juice is basically V-8. I can't find any evidence of this online, but I assure you - no clams were utilized in the making of Klamato juice. It's allllll veg.