A new year (and, let’s face it, the winter weather) always puts me in the trip planning mood. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane during these dark, cold months. Well, that plus Bravo and wine.
In general, XFE and I take at least three big trips a year
– one around my birthday in March, one in the summer somewhere beachy, and one around
his birthday in the fall (October-November timeframe).
2018 was a bit of an outlier – we only planned one big
trip last year. But it was a doozy in terms of time and money (18 days in
Tanzania and Kenya). On top of that, we had some work/friends/family/obligation
travel that took us to Las Vegas, New Orleans, Denver and Chicago.
It was a different type of travel year for us. And, I don’t
know if it was better. On the one hand, we both enjoy having several exotic,
big trips and experiences to look forward to throughout the year. But we also
liked having a bit of breathing room to really appreciate that one big trip to
Africa. And, workwise, it probably worked out a bit better that most of our
travel was domestic since it was a very busy year for both of us, but XFE in
So far, 2019 is looking a bit similar travel-wise, with work obligations cutting in a bit on our travel life. First up, a trip next week to San Francisco for a client’s conference. We’re going a couple of days early to meet up with XFE’s parents and enjoy a quick city break before the conference gets started. I’ve only been to San Francisco/wine country one other time (in May), so I have no idea what to expect weather-wise in January (I guess, rain?), but we have plans to go to the racetrack, tour Alcatraz and visit Muir Woods (Maybe. If the government shutdown doesn’t keep it closed, which is currently the case).
Originally, we had planned to go to Morocco for my
birthday in March, but we just couldn’t make it work. I have some work
deadlines that conflicted with when we could get flights using miles and it was
just turning into a lot of stress. So we’ve ditched Morocco for now (it’s still
high up on our travel bucket list) and we are instead going to the equally exotic
Asheville, North Carolina, aka the Morocco of the mid-Atlantic.
Actually, I’ve always been obsessed with that Gilded Age
palace of excess, the Biltmore, so we’re
finally going and I am really excited (I love a stately home). We’re doing the
whole Biltmore experience: private tour, falconry,
probably some high tea, plus there’s some sort of Land
Rover experience XFE has signed us up for. We’re finishing up the trip with
a couple of days in a remote cabin in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
In June, I’m going to Anaheim for a work trip. I’ve never
been, so I’m excited to see that city during my free time and the evening
events for this particular conference are insane, so I’m sure I’ll get a chance
to go to some venues and attractions that I’d probably never make it to
Our big trip this year is New Zealand for three weeks (!!)
in Oct-Nov. New Zealand is another one of those destinations that we’ve been
meaning to get to, especially after we went to and fell in love with Australia
several years ago. Seven years later, we’re finally going and we cannot wait.
We’re still in the planning stages, but this
place is definitely on the short list of places we want to stay.
That’s it so far for travel 2019! But you never know what
the year will bring and if a crazy, last-minute mistake fare shows up (like
that time we went to Chile
for Thanksgiving like a week after returning from our second trip to Africa),
we have our passports ready and our packing strategy worked down to an art
I have a new boyfriend. His name is Harry and he is a giraffe.
It’s ok. My current, longtime, long-suffering boyfriend, XFE knows about him. He’s even met him. And I gotta say….he seems a bit in love with Harry as well.
I realize that this is all a bit nonlinear and out of context and is in no way the proper manner to start writing about our most recent African safari. But, meeting Harry at Mara Bushtops really was the most exciting part of an overall incredible trip to Tanzania and Kenya in November and, well, I’ve been busting at the seams to talk about him. That’s how love goes, right? You just want to gush about your object of affection to everyone who will listen.
And when I say that meeting Harry the giraffe was the most exciting part of our trip to Tanzania and Kenya, let me assure you that that is no tall order (giraffe pun: INTENDED. Thank you, you’ve been a great crowd and don’t forget to tip your waitress.)
This trip, y’all. This trip. I’m still not fully recovered from the awesomeness of this trip. I’ll get into it a bit more in some upcoming posts, but let me assure you, there was no shortage of amazing moments.
But meeting Harry was definitely my favorite. Perhaps because it was so unexpected.
We had just gotten back early from a morning game drive. We’d been going pretty hardcore, full on, all day safari mode for the previous 12 days, leaving at 5:30 am each day and staying out till 5:30 or 6 pm. On this particular day, we decided to come back to camp early to have a late breakfast, enjoy our room, and get massages at the spa in the afternoon. We had just gotten in our room and set our stuff down when we noticed a giant giraffe hanging out right off the porch, peering in at us.
Turns out, his name is Harry and he’s pretty well known. Harry is a super chill, super friendly giraffe who likes to hang out at Mara Bushtops. He seems to really enjoy watching us humans. It’s like a safari in reverse: we came to see him, and he comes to see us. Except, instead of having sundowners and samosas like we did, he chews leaves. Acacia, I think.
Needless to say, I totally geeked out when I saw him. I know I sound pretty cool and calm in the video but I was squealing inside like a little kid. He must have hung out just watching us watching him for like 10 minutes. We started to get a bit antsy about getting to breakfast, but we didn’t want to disturb him by tromping off our porch and onto the path that connected our tent to the main hall/kitchen. So we went back out the front of our tent and around the other side to backtrack over to the trail. He still stood there, just watching us stand in awe on the trail for a while longer before he finally grew bored and walked away.
Then, a couple of hours later, we headed over to the Amani Spa for some wonderful massages (Best Spa in Africa according to the World Luxury Spa Awards for three years running and I wholeheartedly agree), and on the walk over to the spa, who do we see on the side of the road but our good old friend Harry! And, of course, neither of us had a phone or camera on them. But we were able to get really, really close and just marvel at his size. He was so, so big. And not at all bothered by us walking by and gushing.
Then I had what has to have been the world’s most exciting and not-at-all-relaxing massage (not because of the massage technicians, who were wonderful, especially Caroline).
You see, the massage room at Mara Bushtops is a tent, similar to the rooms, so it’s open sided. It’s really nice. You can hear the spa pool’s fountain gurgling, see animals at the salt lick off in the distance, and you get a nice cross breeze.
I had just settled in for 90-minute Afrique Gold massage when I heard a weird noise, sort of a snapping, tugging, chewing type of noise. The sound of leaves being ripped off a tree and ground into a pulp. I snuck a peek and there he was, on my side of the tent to my left, near the entrance to the massage tent….HARRY!! He came to watch us get massages!
I tried to relax but every time the chewing would stop, I would lift my head and open my eyes to see if he was still there. He must have been there for like, 20-30 minutes, just eating and watching us. I could not believe it. We had gotten a massage with a giraffe. Bushtops Camps motto is “Wild Luxury” and this experience really was the epitome of that. It’s something I’ll never forget. Oh, and the massage was excellent, as well.
Hey, have you heard? It’s a new year or something. And we’re all supposed to make big resolutions or goals or intentions or whatever.
I’ll admit it: I do get caught up in that whole resolutions business. It’s just the excitement of closing a chapter on something old and getting a fresh new start on something new. If my unconventional, nomadic childhood taught me anything it’s that you can totally run away from your current, crappy situation and start all over somewhere else with a new fake life and backstory. (Just kidding. Mostly.)
But to be honest, 2018 wasn’t that bad for me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like earth shatteringly great of anything either, it was just…..there. I guess it was better than 2017, but not “my best year ever!” or anything. And that’s fine by me. There’s something to be said for just an average year with no major highs or lows.
Professionally, 2018 was a pretty good year. I’m getting the hang of the freelance life cycle. I had a couple of clients cut back or go away completely, had some new clients and new projects to work on, the usual ebb-and-flow, and I was prepared for all that, both financially and emotionally.
Last year, my professional freelancing resolution was two-fold. The first was: Say yes to everything, even things that I think I don’t know how to do or areas where I don’t consider myself an expert. And I did do that, for the most part. I took on projects in areas that were challenging and guess what? I figured it out. I had to Google a lot of stuff but I got it done.
The second part of my 2018 professional resolution was to walk away from projects that weren’t worth the time or trouble. Which I did in a couple of instances. I went with my gut and walked away from a couple of projects that were more stress than payoff.
Now, I find myself thinking about what I’d like 2019 to look like. And, I don’t really have any great answers yet. I’ve read a bunch of other blog posts on setting goals, listened to a couple of freelance podcasts, and even recently joined in on a freelancers Twitter chat on the topic.
And what I learned is, man, freelancers really REALLY love to make goals. Like, really specific, actionable goals. And they love to make lists of all those goals. Lots and lots of lists.
It made me think that I really need to get my shit together. To really sit down and think about this a whole freelancing business a whole lot more. Maybe I need to do like a whole Poe Communications Freelance Business Retreat.
So, after all this, my resolution is this: I resolve to make some really good resolutions at some point in the future. Maybe in like 2020.
But if you too are looking for some resolution inspiration and can’t wait for my retreat, the fine people at Goop have a list of some incredibly inspiring and impossible ones (because….of course they do). I do suggest, however, ignoring anything that Mario Batali has to say: he’s gross and we all know the real reason he wants to “unplug” from social media, emails and texts.
It’s not like this is my first African safari. Or even my second. No, this is the third time we are going on safari. You could say, we really, really, really like it.
I should know the drill by now.
Even still, in the last few months, I’ve vacillated between, “Nope, I have gobs of clothes, I don’t need to buy a single thing for this trip,” to “Oh my damn, I have nothing appropriate to take on safari, I better buy a whole new wardrobe.”
I have a few excuses. First of all, it’s a really long trip. We are going back to Serengeti Bushtops in Tanzania for eight days and Mara Bushtops in Kenya for five days (plus a couple of days in Zanzibar and one day in Nairobi on our way home, and a whole lot of time on very long flights). All told, I have to pack for 18 days, which is a LOT of days.
Secondly, I’ve lost a little weight since our last trip two years ago. Not a lot but enough to go down a size or two.
Third, I’ve purged my closet several times since our last trip and got rid of things I thought I’d probably never wear again, ie: clothes bought specifically for a safari. (Except my safari jacket. I wear that thing all the time).
And fourth, I also tend to buy really cheap items to take on safari (t-shirts from H&M or Old Navy, linen or cargo pants from Gap Factory or Kohl’s), and well, those don’t generally hold up that well. Which is fine, but obviously necessitated some shopping.
In case anyone is wondering, the reason I buy cheap, fast fashion stuff for safari (besides the cost, obviously) is that these clothes are going to take a bit of a beating. It’s not that safari is extremely physical (it’s not like your climbing a mountain or something) but you are getting in and out of a very tall Land Rover multiple times a day and walking through some dusty brush, primarily, at least in my case, to squat and pee.
You also really only need a couple of outfits since they do daily laundry at the safari camps we stay at. So the cost per wear is actually pretty high. Plus, if anything does happen to my safari clothes during the trip, say a laundry mishap or a tear from getting in and out of the truck, I won’t be bent out of shape about it.
I actually learned this lesson the hard way on our first safari to South Africa, where I bought these really nice $100 hiking pants from Athleta. I was so excited about these pants, I can’t even tell you. I ordered them online and put them right into my suitcase, still encased in plastic and everything. When I went to put them on our first morning in Sabi Sands, I saw (or felt, actually) that there was a big tear in the fabric, right across the right butt cheek. I was crushed. I used my little in-room sewing kit and stitched them right up but they were ruined, in my book. Lesson learned: no expensive, fancy safari clothes.
A few other considerations:
Colors: White and light colors are a bad idea since they show dirt so easily. And dark colors like black and navy attract mosquitoes and even tsetse flies, which hurt like hell.
As for agitating the animals with bright colors? Animals are mostly color blind, so the sight of bright colors doesn’t send them into a tizzy at all. Plus, you’re in a truck most of the time, so they just see you as part of a large, dark mass, and most likely think we’re all just another large animal. But, having said that, I tend to stick with neutral colors like gray, tan, olive. Especially if you go on a walking safari, when you definitely need to blend into the surroundings a bit.
Weather: It’s going to be pretty warm while we are on safari, highs mostly in the mid to upper 80s, lows in the upper 50s, low 60s. Still, I wear long pants and bring long sleeve shirts to help avoid bug bites. And a hat for sun protection. But not a pith helmet, or any other colonialist gear that smacks of racism and oppression.
And even though it’s the short rain season in the Masai Mara and Serengeti while we are there, we don’t need to bring waterproof gear. They usually have rain ponchos in the trucks (along with binoculars, which is why we don’t bring our own).
Dinners & downtime: This one is tricky and all over the map. Each camp has its own vibe and the dinner attire varies. Sometimes people wear the same clothes they wear on the game drives, which is fine. At Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sands, people (including the staff) got a bit dressed up for dinner (sundresses or linen pants and camisole tops for the women, pants and button up shirts for the men).
I try to just go with a happy medium and bring something nice, then wear it over and over and over again.
Here’s my safari packing list
2 long sleeve shirts (I’m taking two lightweight button downs to wear over t-shirts in the morning)
1 sweatshirt/fleece (I’m taking my olive cargo jacket)
2 pairs of cotton trousers/pants – a pair and a spare while the other is being washed.
2 light dresses/2 dressy tops/1 pair of jeans – for dinners while on safari and time in Zanzibar & Nairobi.
A scarf – good for blocking dust or sun or bundling up on a chilly morning.
4 pairs of socks
6 pairs of underwear (I also bring a net lingerie bag for our socks and underwear to keep them together and it just to make it a bit less embarrassing.)
3 bras (including one sports bra – VERY bumpy roads. I wash this by hand before dinner and let dry overnight.)
Sunglasses (for the dust as well as bright sun)
Pajamas/linen pants for hanging out in our tent.
Lightweight, durable, waterproof shoes (I’m taking this tennis/hiking shoe hybrid pair I already have. Not terribly lightweight, but durable.)
Sandals for around camp/wedges for dinner & city
Antihistamine (for bug bites/stings and allergic reactions)
Aspirin for pain/headaches
Mosquito repellant (I especially like the wipes or toilette versions)
A couple of large Ziploc bags (to keep things like your camera dry or free of dust)
Pepto Bismal plus something stronger (we travel with Cipro after the Great Peruvian Giardia Adventure of 2013)
Band aids/antibiotic ointment for blisters, cuts, scrapes
Personal toiletries in small travel sizes, including hair and skincare products, or formulas that aren’t liquid, ie: powder or stick sunscreen, solid shampoo/conditioner)
Minimal makeup – really, just the basics: tinted bb cream, mascara, tinted lip balm.
Prescription medications/spare glasses and contacts, in my case.
Tissues — (I found having little packs of these in the pockets of my jacket VERY useful when “checking the tires” — ie: peeing – during those 6-hour game drives.
Antiseptic gel or wipes (handy for washing your hands when there’s no water around)
Gadgets and Gizmos
Converter plug to fit local sockets (if needed. We did not need one on our last trip to Bushtop. All the plugs were universal.)
Camera (with zoom lenses/tripod/whatever. I just use a Canon point-and-shoot)
Extra memory card for your camera
Binoculars (Again, we found we didn’t really need them and our safari trucks had them)
Spare batteries and/or battery charger for electronics (Bushtop’s safari trucks even had USB ports to help keep batteries charged)
I-Pad or Kindle for all your entertainment needs
Cell phone. I don’t take my computer but I will take my cell phone. But, while the camps do have wifi, but it’s always a bit iffy. I try to just unplug and be in the moment, which is what safari (and any vacation, really) should be all about.
This summer, instead of working on my tan or my fitness or my blog producing skills (hello! Zing!), I’ve been reading. Like, not just US Weekly but actual books.
I’ve turned to actual books, in part, because I cancelled my subscription to US Weekly after about seven too many glowing cover stories on a certain family headed by a bumbling Nacho Cheese Dorito who, (and this makes me shudder every single day) will one day have his very own presidential library, even though he can’t even be bothered to read anything more complicated than a tweet.
Speaking of books: here’s what I read this summer. And all of them were longer than a tweet.
April — For me, the summer reading season kicked off with the announcement of the Pulitzer Prize winners. As a former journalist, I love to read the stories that win this prize every year, but since I’d already glutinously consumed so much news this year, I decided to take a slightly different approach and read the Prize winner in fiction, Andrew Sean Greer’s “Less.”
I would describe it as “Eat, Pray, Love” with a gay protagonist. It was good, very, very funny.
May — Next up, since I needed some book recommendations, I decided to join the Girl’s Night In book club, which has a chapter here in Old Town, Alexandria. Unfortunately, the first book out of the gate was Meg Wolitzer’s “The Female Persuasion.” I’m afraid I didn’t like this one at all.
It’s ostensibly about womanhood, loyalty and ambition. I just kept thinking to myself, “How does this female protagonist end up writing a book, living in a Brooklyn brownstone, and becoming a key voice in the feminist movement by her mid-20s after literally having just one clerical job?”
June – This month, I plowed through three books, in part because they were all kinda fluffy, quick reads and in part because work slows down quite a bit for me mid-summer.
I stumbled on Tara Isabella Burton’s “Social Creature” on Twitter. I think someone I follow mentioned it when it was published, and the way she described it totally hooked me in. It’s a story about obsession and status featuring a con-artist/grifter/murderer (sort of an Anna Delvey-type but more murder-ey, obviously) who uses Instagram and social media to continue her con and cover up a murder. Perfect summer read. Vastly unsatisfying ending.
Another GNI book club read. “The Ensemble” by Aja Gabel was ok, not great. It’s about a group of friends (but are they though?) who are in a musical quartet and how their friendships with each other change over the years. It was difficult to understand whether they really liked each other or whether they were only with each other because they needed the quartet to stick together. Needed more rock-and-roll.
But the main reason I read Vikan’s book is because of an art heist much closer to home. A few years back, a former PE teacher/driving instructor/blackjack dealer tried to anonymously sell a Renoir she had “discovered” at a flea market to The Potomack Company, an auction house here in Old Town. Major family drama ensued as “Renoir Girl” and her brother fought over who owned the stolen painting. Exactly who stole the painting back in 1951 is still unresolved (it’s got to be the mom, right?), as Vikan details in his book, but it has been returned to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
July – For the GNI book club, the powers that be selected Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover. I had wanted to read this one for a while, but figured it’d be hard. While I did not grow up in a fundamentalist Mormon family in Idaho, I had a similar upbringing to Westover’s in a lot of ways. There was abuse, neglect, and (undiagnosed) mental illness. And like her, I knew from an early age that the way out of my circumstances was through education.
I also knew that the road to getting that education would not be easy, but like her, I probably wasn’t quite prepared for how difficult it would be or the costs that it would require. I personally have found that getting out in the world and changing your life can cause a huge chasm between yourself and those you leave behind, and sometimes that gulf is just too large to bridge. I’m different because of my experiences and education. There is no going back. When people say “don’t forget where you come from,” I just don’t get it because every single thing I did was specifically to distance myself from where I came from, which was a very bad place.
Anyway, this one really struck home and I really, really liked it even though it brought up a lot of bad memories.
The next book I read was recommended by another GNI book club attendee and since I was looking for something on the opposite end of the spectrum after “Educated,” it was a welcome relief to escape into “Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup” by John Carreyrou. Thankfully, I have no experience with Yale students who drop out of school to start a revolutionary blood testing startup in Silicon Valley, all while wearing black turtlenecks a la Steve Jobs and taking gobs of money from venture capitalists and investors while lying about the entire company, its technology and capabilities.
This book was head-shakingly, gob-smackingly good. I could not believe what Elizabeth Holmes got away with from a lot of smart people who should have known better. Seriously. If this was the Summer of Scams, she is the undisputed queen. The balls on this chick. Maybe my favorite book of the summer. Although…..
August – I really, really loved “Rust & Stardust” by T. Greenwood. It’s a historical novel based on the true kidnapping story in the 1940s of 11-year-old Sally Horner, which ended up inspiring Nabokov’s “Lolita.” Not gonna lie: it was creepy, definitely was on the edge of icky, but it was so, so good and just heartbreaking. I could not put it down.
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This was another GNI selection and was also on the summer reading list of the two big O’s – Obama and Oprah (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection). It’s about a newlywed man who is wrongly accused of a crime and ends up going to prison for five years before his sentence is overturned. Obviously, the marriage takes a hit and he returns home to try to reclaim his life and his wife. Another heartbreaker and also good, but a bit frustrating. It definitely made you think. What’s fair in a young, fledging marriage that’s been interrupted like this? What do people who were once in love owe each other? When is it ok to let go? Ever?
Finally, one of my favorite Instagram feeds, @notenoughhangers mentioned he was reading this book: The Husband Hunters: American Heiresses Who Married into the British Aristocracy by Anne de Courcy. It’s about the many, many American Gilded Age heiresses who married into British aristocracy at the turn of the century and how that worked out for everyone. Spoiler: mostly not great, but I did love hearing all about their amazing stately homes, fabulously over-the-top parties, and all other ways they blew through their daddy’s fortunes to console themselves.
September — The Alice Network by Kate Quinn – Only got about 20 percent into it before I ditched it for my current read. Loved the history angle and the female empowerment idea of the story (based on the true story of female spy outfit in France during World War II), but couldn’t stand the writing and the way the story was being told.
A place where you can “sleep with the fishes.” Where you literally sleep with fishes darting all around you. Except, if you’re like me, you won’t be “sleeping with fishes” at all because the whole experience of watching fish swim around your room all night while lying in bed makes sleep completely impossible.
I’m talking about the underwater room on Pemba Island, one of the islands that make up Zanzibar right off the coast of Tanzania.
Let me start by telling you a bit about Pemba Island. It is lush and green. It is surrounded by impossibly clear aqua waters, teaming with coral and fish. Pemba is also the leading producer of cloves, according to Brittanica.com.
Pemba is very, very off-the-beaten path. According to one tourism source, Pemba’s sister island, Zanzibar has 150 hotels. Pemba has just seven (including a couple that may be more B&B style lodging)
It is very remote – you can take a small plane from Dar Salaam on the mainland to tiny Karume airport in Pemba’s main town of Chake-Chake. Then you’ll need a driver to take you on the hour-and-a-half drive through Ngezi Forest Reserve and up to the Manta Resort on the far northern part of the island.
Along the way, you’ll pass by thatched huts, the only other traffic on the road is the insistent mosquito-like drone of a scooter or two.
Manta Resort is pretty remote. You won’t be venturing out to any neighboring villages to grab a drink or dine in an area restaurant. There aren’t any. Nor are there any TVs, telephones, gym. Wi-fi is only really available at the lobby/reception area and it is spotty at best. I pretty much gave up on checking email or Instagram after the first afternoon.
The accommodations are spartan – small, private stucco villas with open bathrooms and no air conditioning but stunning ocean views. It’s an all-inclusive setup and there is no menu. You’re server (or “fundi”) gives you two options at each meal and you pick one. But it’s all very fresh and healthy, and there’s almost always a fish option.
The entire vibe at Manta Resort is unpretentious, laid back and friendly. It’s clear that the resort is community-focused and gives back in many ways – jobs, schooling, fishing and coral conservation. Their foundation, the Kwwanini Foundation, has several initiatives aimed at sustainable economic development with an eye towards preserving what makes the island unique.
But what really makes Manta Resort unique and is, quite honestly, the main draw is its’ underwater room.
(*The title is an Iron Maiden reference, off the 1986 “Somewhere in Time” album.)
It was a friendship built out of a kindly act and a wave of gratitude.
I was the new kid at school. I was always the new kid; we moved around all the time, like a ragtag band of trailer park gypsies. It must have been 7th grade (?) at H.D. Hilley Elementary School.
It was before class (I don’t remember what class it was) and we had all trickled into the classroom and were waiting for the teacher to show up. A boy asked to copy my homework. Me, being the little prig I was back then, said, “No.”
He kept trying to intimidate me, hovering over my desk, reaching for my assignment, but I held my ground and just kept saying, “No. I’m not going to let you copy my work.” He started calling me names—“stuck up bitch,” “ugly white girl,” “you think you’re better than me,” “puta,” —that sort of thing—on and on.
I could feel the tears starting to build up in my eyes, and my nose running and my lip trembling. I clenched my fists. I could feel the blood rushing to my face. I tried to stay looking down, not looking at him. I tried to block out the embarrassment as he humiliated me in front of the whole class.
All of a sudden, out of nowhere, a voice from the back of the room said, “Dude, she said no. Leave her alone.” I don’t know if I’ve ever felt more surprise or relief than I did at that very moment. And with that, at the ripe old age of 13, Jacque Jean Parks of Socorro, Texas got herself a Stage 5 Clinger Best Friend For Life. Whether she wanted it or not.
She was my best friend through the rest of middle school and most of high school. I practically lived at her house. The Parks had a swimming pool, a fridge full of sodas, a microwave (we did not have a microwave in my trailer), a VCR (Beta at first, then VHS), and they were always ready to throw a frozen hamburger patty on the grill if us girls got hungry. Hamburgers! Already formed into patties! I thought they were rich.
I would go over there to spend the night and to get away from all the chaos of my own home. They would let me stay for days on end. Jacque and I would sit on the couches in our wet swimsuits, eating microwaved pizza rolls, and yelling out the lines from “Weird Science,” “Bachelor Party,” and “Labryinth,” which she insisted on watching in rotation, pretty much non-stop. I didn’t care. I was just so happy to be there, in a safe, normal house with normal parents. I never put up any opinions or questioned our entertainment options.
Jacque (and her older brother) both loved heavy metal. They lived for it. They’d both crank up Iron Maiden, Ozzy Osbourne, Dokken, MegaDeath, Slayer. Which, of course, annoyed the hell out of her parents, who were already a bit older than other parents. They were also very Catholic and pretty straight-laced. I would try to play mediator, urging Jacque to just turn it down a tiny bit. I didn’t care much for metal either, but more importantly, I didn’t want the Parks to send me home as punishment for Jacque’s disobedience.
Jacque would spend hours on her hair and makeup, perfecting her rock chick look with lots of Aqua Net and black eyeliner. And she really was gorgeous. I would sit on the floor next to her while she did her makeup (Sidenote: She used to give me a heart attack using a safety pin to obsessively separate her individual lashes between coats of mascara. We’d both sit there with our mouths agape the whole time she worked on those damn lashes) and we’d make all these big plans for after high school. We were going to become photographers and writers and move to England. We were both obsessed with everything British, even going to El Paso’s only British food store to buy PG Tips and McVities Penguin Biscuits.
I wasn’t as into makeup and hair in middle or high school, but I did let Jacque talk me into bangs one time. I also let her talk me into allowing her to cut them. After all, she trimmed her own bangs all the time, almost obsessively. However, Jacque had straight hair. I had curly hair. I remember sitting in her kitchen, looking to her cousin for reassurance and watching her shake her head. Jacque kept saying, “Let me just even them out,” as more and more snipping occurred. I ended up going into 9th grade (high school!) with a half-inch fringe of tight curls sticking straight out from my forehead.
A couple of years into high school, our interests diverged. She liked boys and going out, I was still that little prig from 7th grade. We each made new friends and pursued new interests, but we always came back together. We worked on the yearbook together and started our high school’s Photography Club. She picked me up and drove me to school every morning. Sometimes we’d hang out after school or on weekends, but usually I had extracurricular activities I was pursuing and she had her new friends to hang out with.
After high school, I got married and she was my only attendant. A few years later, she got married and we fought about it. I didn’t like the guy and I didn’t think she should get married. I was going through my divorce and I was bitter. I felt that I had put my life on hold for five years, had finally gotten away, and was now ready to make good on our high school plans. I was totally selfish and childish, and I expected her to just go along with my plans now that I was ready to pursue them.
Once my divorce was final, I moved to Dallas and Jacque and I didn’t talk again for about 15 years. She got in touch with me about 5 years ago through my work email. We caught up on each other’s lives—work, relationships, travel. We talked about loss—of time, of friends, of family members. We promised we’d stay in touch.
Then I was let go from my job and all her contact information, including her phone number and email– was on my work computer. Occasionally, I would Google her, try to find her on Facebook, but I came up blank. She was using a shortened version of her name on social media. I figured she’d find me again, at some point, and just like the time before, we’d pick up right where we left off.
A mutual friend texted me this weekend to ask if I’d heard about Jacque. The same friend who had texted me about her brother. I reached out to former classmates on Facebook, made a few calls, and found out that she was gone. She had died on July 5 at just 46 years old.
Hearing that news—confirming that news—is like a punch in the gut. I feel like I did that day in 7th grade. I’m clenching my fists. I’m looking down, lip trembling, trying to keep the gathering tears from spilling out of my eyes. I’m trying to block out all the voices in my head chastising me for not doing more, for not being a better friend, for not sticking with her like the Stage 5 Clinger BF4Life I had been in the beginning. And I’m waiting for the sweet relief that came from that voice from the back of the room.
This week though, am I right? It’s felt like an entire year of bad news and gut-wrenching images rolled into one giant horrible week.
Which is why I think most of us are just really looking forward to sitting at home, drinking wine in our underpants this weekend. Like, REALLY looking forward to it.
Well, good news. 1) You can (at least, I think you still can in this current, messed up iteration of America) and 2) the Scandinavians have already beaten us to it and they even have a name for it. Because—of course, they do.
Yes, the genius people from the cluster of countries who have already brought us the awesome celebration of all things cozy and comfortable (#hygge4lyfe especially in winter), have now given us a new lifestyle/wellness trend. Or, if not new, at least have given us a name for it. Two, actually.
And, it’s specifically the Finnish who are responsible for this one. I don’t know any Finnish people (other than that they are consistently ranked as some of the happiest people on Earth), but I feel like it isn’t really overblown to describe them as geniuses.
I am all about self-care. I love to relax and escape. But not the type of self-care I have to actually leave the house to enjoy or participate in or be around other people to partake in. I get annoyed by people at THE SPA. Do you know what kind of self-involved, anti-social hermit you have to be to get annoyed by people at the spa??
So, it goes without saying that I’m only interested in self-care that can be practiced in the privacy of my own home in its utmost, laziest forms. This one, according to Finish journalist Miska Rantanen, simply involves “drinking at home, alone, in your underwear.”
Oh yeah. I’m (mostly) down. I do have a couple of slight alterations to make, though. 1) Change “underwear” to pajamas or loungewear, and 2) swap out “alone” for “with my beloved significant other who is in the same room but likely doing his own thing, with his own drink and doing it silently.”
I love this bit in the Elite Daily article, because holy hotdog, this roundup of activities just speaks to my soul.
“To be clear, at no point does Rantanen suggest that Päntsdrunk should be equated with binge drinking. Rather, it’s all about allowing yourself to relax while being totally sequestered from the ‘real world.’ An ideal Päntsdrunk night for me would assuredly be homemade cucumber jalapeño margaritas, along with a few seasons of Girls, a face mask or two, followed by a bedtime of 9 p.m. sharp……It allows everyone to do exactly what they’ve always wanted to do (and have probably already been doing in secret), without feeling bad for it on a Friday or Saturday night.”
Since I am so here for this trend, I want to offer up some wine pairings with some of my favorite self-care activities.
Reading celebrity magazines at the kitchen bar while XFE cooks us an amazing meal – This is one of my favorite activities, and one that I am very good at. I usually offer up a weak, “Anything I can do to help?” while distracting him with various celebrity gossip tidbits. Pairs well with a nice, rich Cabernet Sauvignon.
Playing with/grooming/caring for Pinot and Port (our cats. Yes, they’re named after wine) – There’s a bit of an age discrepancy here, so I actually have two wine pairings. For Port, who is just over a year old and very active, I recommend a glass of crisp, dry Sauvignon Blanc. Because odds are pretty good that either myself or the cat are going to knock the glass over and spill wine all over the cream living room rug, so white wine = easier clean up. For Pinot, who is 7 years old, kind of lazy and literally plays while laying down, a bold Pinot Noir, naturally.
Bubble bath and face mask – Light a scented candle, fill the tub with a healthy dollop of Laura Mercier bubble bath, slap on some Caudalie instant detox face mask, and pour yourself a glass of spicy Malbec. Just don’t fall asleep. I always do that and there’s nothing relaxing about being startled awake by a mouthful of heavily perfumed bubbles. Or spilled wine.
Organize and purge – There’s just something about color coordinating your closet/significant other’s tie rack/pet supplies and/or throwing out all your unused and unloved crap that is so, so satisfying and relaxing. You’ll need a mellow Chardonnay, some equally mellow music (Might I suggest some 90’s trip hop, ala Portishead or Sneaker Pimps?) and a couple of hours to just disappear into the trance that can only be brought on by Marie Kondo folding techniques.
Pinteresting – While I mostly think you’re supposed to keep distracting and upsetting technology at bay, I’m pretty sure Pinterest gets a pass. It is probably the most used app on my phone and my go-to when I want to kill time and dull brain cells. I can save and organize pretty pictures of pretty things all damn day. Plus, Pinteresting is just so hopeful for the future! Am I ever going to live in a mid-century modern bungalow in LA with a sauna room built in? Eh, probably not. But it doesn’t stop me from pinning every damn photo I see. Will I ever have a need to make frozen bowls with delicate herbs and greenery suspended in them to hold votives in? No! But their so pretty and Scandinavian! Do I really need to save all these fondue recipes when Trader Joe’s has a completely serviceable fondue kit? Nope. Not even a little bit. But I like to save and organize all these ideas. Which calls for a delicate and eminently drinkable Rose that can carry you through a wasted afternoon of picture sorting.
So go ahead. Get Päntsdrunk this weekend or sans-pants-drunk, if semi-nudity is your thing. We’ve all certainly earned it. Plus, we’ll probably need to store up our emotional wellness reserves to face the next 942 days.
This is crazy, right? Nobody (particularly those over 40) puts this much time and effort into completely revamping their entire body and look without there being some underlying issues.
I knew that she had gotten into yoga while she was “away,” but this is waaaaay beyond yoga body. This is even past Crossfit Cult levels of enthusiasm.
This is a woman who has written four Italian cookbooks. A woman who likes her pasta and desserts. A woman who stopped by a diner for a breakfast sandwich and coffee before checking into prison in the middle of the night. A woman, who once “wrote” on her blog:
If you’ve gotten any of my 4 cookbooks, you know I love-love-love desserts! I call them “Happy Endings” because everyone deserves one! I’m releasing a new Fabulicious Dessert line and working on my next cookbook–all desserts!–but until they come out, I’ll post some of my favorite dessert recipes here for you.
Here’s a 2012 account of a typical day’s eats, including homemade pasta, cannoli, a mention of “Joe’s juicy meatballs,” and the line: “Honestly, I have no idea how some people deprive themselves.”
Is this the same woman? Getting to this level of bodybuilding had to take a ton of work and discipline and even deprivation, something that can’t be easy while basically being a single mother to four young girls.
Is this a cry for help? I ask because I care about all my Bravolebrities and I know she’s been going through a particularly hard time, with Joe in prison and everything.
However, you cannot blot out your problems with copious amounts of fake tanner and Muscle Milk, Teresa.
In all seriousness, I tip my hat to her, even if I do think she’s gone a bit too far. She’s always looked amazing, particularly for someone who has had four children (five, if you count Joe). I was just more impressed when she looked great AND ate carbs.
I’m not sure if the Bravo cameras were along with Teresa on this latest life journey, documenting it all for an eventual season 9.
But her transformation should make for an interesting reunion when Juicy Joe gets out of prison next March. He better watch his mouth because I’m pretty sure she could kick his butt pretty easily these days.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: having a cold sucks. Especially in the summer.
I’ve been sick for about a week. And it really sucks. It’s also been raining in D.C. for basically a month. Sure, there were a couple of days of modest sunshine, but mostly, it’s been rain: warm, humid, phlegmy rain.
So even if I were feeling 100 percent, I’d be housebound.
You’d think that with all that time at home, I’d have been more productive. But, you’d be wrong. I just finished up my big client project for the year and was gearing up for prospecting mode when this cold laid me out. I’ve got another big client project with no hard deadline that I’m working on and a few smaller projects, but I’ve got some breathing room. If only my gunk-filled lungs will cooperate.
However, when one is sick and housebound and hopped up on Nyquil/Dayquil, there really is just one activity worthy of a doxylamine succinate-soaked brain — watching a lot of bad TV on Bravo, including Southern Charm (both the original and the New Orleans edition).
I, of course, watched Southern Charm Savannah and I got to say: I was disappointed. I just couldn’t get into it. It was just missing something. Maybe a Ravenal. Maybe a Patricia. I’m just not sure, but I didn’t find a single character that I really liked and instead found several that I despised.
Southern Charm New Orleans snagged me from the first. Sure, it does seem that every marriage on the show is on the verge of collapse, which is never really comfortable or even fun to watch, but I dig this group of friends. They seem to genuinely be friends and have each other’s backs. I love how they can throw down and call each other out and then end up dancing to zydeco, all the in the same 10 minutes.
Don’t get it twisted: Tamica has a big ol’mouth and stirs the gumbo pot like it’s one of her many exhausting jobs, but, everyone seems to know that’s just how she is and not to take it too seriously. I especially love the tension and marriage-commenting that goes on between her and Reagan, neither of whom should be handing out any commitment advice right now. They are worthy adversaries who play off each other’s relationship blindness pretty well.
But it’s the guys that especially made this spin off so great – all of them, even Tamica’s cousin, brother, and assorted hanger-ons. They’re all strong, successful, and just chill. They’re clearly used to high drama women and know how to brush off the nonsense. Plus, we saw a little bit of vulnerability in all of them: Barry trying to instill confidence in his daughter, Jeff wrestling with some serious family demons, Justin being a mama’s boy who’s afraid of ghosts, and Jon Moody, who just can’t seem to find a shirt (seasonally inappropriate turtleneck, notwithstanding) or a pair of pants that actually fit him (son, them pants this season were snug!). Poor thing had to go without a shirt most of the time.
I haven’t seen the finale yet (it’s on the DVR) but I’m fairly sure it will involve the N.O. gang and all their friends and relatives getting together to eat great food, drink too much, make drama and resolve it. It’s pretty much a Bravo finale requirement. Jon will, undoubtedly, be shirtless (for his art, of course). Reagan will wear a giant hoop skirt and some lion-emblazed, doorknocker jewelry that I think only she can pull off. Tamica will meddle in some people’s business and go a teeny bit too far. Justin will dodge efforts to get him married off after only dating his current love for ONE YEAR (y’all just leave him alone). Barry will be silent and supportive.
In any case, I hope (and suspect) that Southern Charm New Orleans will get a second season and I can’t wait for it.