Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Starting the Secret Sauce: Three Lessons on Marriage

A huge thanks to Harness Magazine for publishing this article I am so proud and humbled to share.

“I never want to get married.” These are the words I whispered only to myself as a little girl. The words I told myself as I left church as a teenager hearing a pastor utter phrases like, “a woman needs to be submissive to a man.” The words I told myself as I applied to graduate school, deciding I wanted to dive head first into my career and dreamt to be a successful girl boss one day. I told myself I didn’t want to get married as I looked to my own family and realized that children have never been something I dreamt of.
And let me tell you quite frankly, I was very wrong.
I look back on the little girl I was, and I am proud of how brave I was then. The courage was buried deep inside of me for years with words I never spoke out loud until a drunken evening in college with a childhood friend. We were standing in a tiny bathroom, which four messy girls all shared. The door was never locked as it was a constant stream of someone always needing to shower, put makeup on, or simply sit on the windowsill as I was doing this very evening. “I never want to get married,” I simply said with heavy makeup on my eyes as we sipped our low calorie vodka cranberry cocktails. The universe and fate had different plans for me: just 10 months later, I met the man I would marry seven years later, while studying abroad in the romantic city of Barcelona.
I’m only two and a half years into this adventure called marriage. I look at it exactly that way: an adventure.A bit of a different spin on it than most women might think of marriage. I don’t have the secret sauce to marriage, and the real secret is no one else will. But each of us has the power to start a damn good sauce – finding the right ingredients to get us going and move to that beautiful simmer. But here is what I have learned both from my own marriage and listening to the wisdom of others in healthy marriages.
1) Dream big. Each and every year, sit down with each other and write out your own ‘State of the Union.’ What do you want to accomplish this year? What’s your mission statement? As a married couple, in your career and as an individual. What do you want to focus on this year and make your rallying cry? Write it down and save it. Look at it often. This will get you through those days where the world feels like life is crumbling around you, or you feel like you’re broke because you have to turn down the exotic vacation a friend asked you on because you’re hustling to pay off your student loans. Revisit those dreams throughout the year and for those type A people out there, check the goals off as you accomplish them.
2) Share. Have the courage and confidence to listen with your whole heart. One of the reasons I feared marriage as a girl and young adult was because I thought I would have to change who I was to fit in and be someone else’s companion. I slowly opened my heart up to my husband year after year, and have been rewarded with him saying to me, ‘I love that. Tell me more.’ We say those words to each other frequently, building courage and confidence to keep sharing with each other. To keep being true to whom we are. We don’t have to agree with each other. But we both know we can say some of our deepest fears, evil thoughts, confessions or dreams and know we won’t laugh at each other. We respect each other and all of our crazy ideas, which has brewed a beautiful confidence in me. A confidence I didn’t always have, which has allowed me to be exactly the women I should be. Never stop sharing your crazy thoughts.
3) Date night. We learned early on the power of a date night. One night a week or every other week, we go out and don’t look at our phones, don’t check email or social media and plan an evening together just focusing on us. Usually this involves wine at our house and then dinner out somewhere. It doesn’t have to be super formal or fancy. It’s an intentional evening together sharing what’s on your heart and mind, slowing down for just a few hours and enjoying being together. These nights have made such a difference in our marriage and have been something we’ve each protected when other opportunities arise. So many times I’ve had to say, ‘Sorry, I can’t that night, it’s date night for us.’ And you know what? Your true friends, the type of people you should be surrounding yourself, your tribe, they will understand. They will support your decision to put your marriage as the most important relationship in your life.
Writing about these three lessons, I realize I wasn’t looking for a man to complete me or a man to define me. A man to tell me how many children he wanted. A man to tell me what meals he wanted for the week or tell me no to a business trip. And the reverse was equally true – he wasn’t looking for a woman who wanted to stay at home all day, or a woman to tell him no to the next trip he wanted to take. No, we were both looking for a partner to run with towards our dreams together in life.
Your story and dreams will probably look very different than mine and I love that. I love all of the messy stories behind each marriage. The beauty lies in what you make of the mess. My husband and I have taken these 3 ingredients above – dreaming big, sharing, and date night – and daily made them a part of our marriage. Building a sauce that isn’t so secret and filled with beautifully messy ingredients.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Off the Grid

Since my career began, I’ve forced myself to disconnect on every vacation I take. No email. No phone calls. Minimal text messaging. Minimal social media. How can I resist posting an Instagram photo from time to time? Other than that – I try to completely check out. But I’ve always given everyone a fair warning, usually starting weeks in advance. Usually I say something like, ‘When I’m out, I will not be checking email. So don’t try and find me. Let me know what you need this week.’ It feels like a very un-American thing to do. Completely disconnecting. But it’s a lesson I learned early in my career – to embrace the 10 days of vacation I get each year and truly unplug and recharge. Work hard play hard. 

I’ve never been faced with what has happened the past 9 days. For the past 9 days, I have been without a cell phone. Completely 100% unreachable via cell phone or text message. I left my phone in Chicago from a fabulous wedding weekend, and couldn’t get it back until tomorrow morning. I wish I could tell you that like my vacations, I loved it. I wish I could tell you that I loved being disconnected. I’ve learned three things these past few days 1) I am still awful with directions 2) I keep in touch with many of my friends and family spread throughout the entire country with frequent texting and calling 3) I love phone calls.

I’ve busted out my old cell phone, which is basically a glorified iPod. I use it for my alarm, and when I’m on WiFi (God bless Wifi), I can surf the web, check email, and send iMessages via my iCloud. Oh, but if someone doesn’t have their iCloud setup, they won’t receive my text or I might not receive there’s.

I traveled a few places I had never been before this week. What do I usually do for directions? I use the amazing Google Maps. When you have a glorified iPod that can only access Wifi, you’re screwed once you’re out on the open road. It felt like the 1990’s. Even though I couldn’t drive in the ‘90’s. I relied solely on looking at maps ahead of time. I even got lost one time and busted out my 2010 Garmin. It hadn’t been turned on in so long that the maps wouldn't load. Great. I got crafty and started taking screen shots of the directions ahead of time.

Three friends told me, ‘I thought you were mad at me since you didn’t respond to my text.’ And I’ve never sworn so much at a phone in my entire life. Words have come out of my mouth that I didn’t know I’d ever say at a device for it being purely ignorant.

I traveled to Atlanta today. A city I’ve never been to, and a hotel I’ve never visited. No cell phone the entire time. God bless my cab driver for knowing exactly where I was staying and a flat rate with square for my credit card. Even with my job, which is in marketing, I have a desire to stay connected with our franchisees and all of our social media channels. Facebook has been my sole friends via a desktop device or when my glorified iPod is on Wifi. When making plans, I’ve desperately muttered a few times, ‘Email me!’. It felt like AOL days with, ‘You’ve got mail!.

Why didn’t I crack sooner and break down and get an interim cell phone until mine arrived in the mail? Purely frugality and stubbornness. And you know what? I survived. Barely. I wish I could type right now how refreshing and liberating the experience was. But I missed things like calling my husband on my way home from work. I missed sending encouraging text messages to my friends. I missed calling my father on my own cell phone on Father’s Day. I had to redirect friends to call my husband for a party we hosted on Saturday in case they got lost. And damnit, I missed Google Maps and Instagram.

I’m curious how many texts, phone calls, and WhatsApp messages I’ll have tomorrow when my cell phone arrives in the mail. More than that though, I’ve learned that I truly am a part of a culture where technology allows me to feel connected to those I love. I live hundreds or thousands of miles away from so many friends and family members I love. And I use my cell phone to stay connected. It’s part of the reason I love living in Dallas. I feel connected even while being far apart from so many people. I love to see the smiling faces of my nieces and nephews from my phone. I use WhatsApp to text my best friends things that inspire or frustrate me.

I still want to turn off my cell phone for the weekly date nights with my husband. Or not look at my cell phone when catching up with a dear friend for drinks. Gosh, I really do love disconnecting from technology. But on my own terms. I’ll be making a lot of phone calls this week, and text messages to repair my radio silence. And life will go on. Cheers. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Living My Dream: La Ciudad de Mexico City

I had a dream. Years ago, as I sat in a trivial English class with no windows in the entire room of my high-school, and I was instructed to write myself a letter for where I would be in 10 years. It was thoughtless work at the time. Mundane. However, I went through with the assignment and wrote myself the letter. Almost a year ago I was home in Chicago and stumbled across the letter and could not resist the temptation to open it.  Inside were the dreams of a 16 year old with dreams of adventure and love. Two words that make my heart sing in this world 10 years later.

I sit here on this stormy night in Mexico City, watching and listening to the thunder outside, as rain pours above my head while sitting at the hotel bar sipping a Malbec wine. Comforts of home swim in my head with each sip of my favorite wine. I smile as I look up to the dark sky. The rain pounds above me on the window above, and I realize the 16 year old Kelly would be proud of me. As a culture, we tend to listen to society and let it dictate what life steps you should take next. Sometimes we give into pressures of what is expected of us, and don’t listen to our heart. My heart has always yearned for adventure. I knew that as a girl when I would frequently run away from home. I was curious. I hope to be curious for the rest of my life. Curiosity is what makes my heart sing. It’s why I “pin” endless quotes on Pinterest about adventure. It’s why my custom artwork vibe at my office includes the word “adventure” on it.  I've taken risks this last year and strayed from what I feel society would have thought otherwise. 

Adventure takes all shapes and sizes. Adventure does not have to be traveling thousands of miles to see new places. I've learned this whole heartedly these past few years as my international travels slowed from what they used to be. I've learned that adventure is a state of mind. It’s saying yes to all new experiences. It’s putting yourself in uncomfortable situations with new people. It’s a risk. Adventure is about leaving a piece of you behind in everything that you do.

I sit here on this stormy night and feel like my heart is singing. Travel mixed with adventure ignites and stirs my soul.  I become a different person when I travel. I see more clearly. I see the big picture of life, something I crave and look for everyday. No, it’s not just the wine in me that speaks. It’s the free spirited little girl in me that comes out. I see myself as exactly God intended me to be when I’m in a new place, in a new culture. And you know what? It’s beautiful. My heart and soul are beautiful in these places when I travel. A girl who sometimes gets muddled when she’s in her day-to-day routine.

But here I am, in Mexico City experiencing new people, speaking in Spanish, and eating lots of tasty food. My work brought me down here on my first international work trip. Somehow I know more are in my future. The 16 year old me is cheering and clapping right now at what I've accomplished. The 16 year old girl said, “I had a dream” in the letter I wrote to myself. No, I am living that dream. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Chapter 7: Courage

The following is a work of fiction, and a continuation of the previous posts, Chapters 1-6: 

Companionship has a funny way of lingering. Even hours after someone is gone, you can still hear their laugh, smell their sweet cologne, or see lip marks on the rim of their wine glass. I left the party after literally saying the exact and simple phrase, "hello, how are you?" to two other individuals. That was my quota for the evening. I left the party and immediately took off the tall shoes I was wearing when I walked into my bungalow. I hadn't worn any type of wedge or heals in what felt like decades, when my feet used to endure the pain of heels for hours while dancing.

I was walking the short distance to my back deck barefoot, already with a lit cigarette in my hand. I told myself I had earned it after this evening. The companionship of talking with the sweet girl lingered in my head. Sure, I had interacted with strangers these past few months - waiters at restaurants, grocers at the supermarket, tellers at the bank. But all of these people were paid to do their job and talk to me. They all had an agenda. I let out a long exhale from my cigarette and realized one word described my life at that moment: secluded. That's exactly what I had come down to Florida to do. Seclude myself from life. Seclude myself from my past, from friends, from family, from my secrets, from my regrets. And I had succeeded. I realized that Cindy stirred my soul. A small part of me wanted a friend to talk to and sadly, this little girl Cindy seemed like the most genuine person I had met in decades.

Others might judge me for how much I've smoke and drank. But my clearest and most profound thoughts seem to come to life in those moments. My current lifestyle of smoking and drinking was probably slowly killing me; but my seclusion probably put me on an even faster track. So judge away, but I chose drinking and smoking during that time.

I smoked a few more cigarettes that evening and realized my past could never be fixed. Never could I go back and redo conversations I regretted, impulsive choices that led me down this secluded road, or the people I had surrounded myself with. I didn't know where I needed to begin, but I knew I needed to talk more with this girl Cindy and remind myself of how to be that 15 year old girl again.

I woke the next morning with the most awful headache. This was only a result of being hungover. Oh wait, it was a result of getting drunk from too much wine and smoking what must have been half a pack of cigarettes. I didn't want to move when my alarm went off for my usual morning run. It's a shame the high you get at night can't last through the morning and instead you feel pain from your poor life decisions. Although, maybe that's why God designed things that are bad to consume in excess that exact way.

I mustered the courage to pull myself out of bed around midday and immediately made myself a large pot of coffee after downing two glasses of water that tasted like heaven. I looked over on the wooden kitchen island, and saw a scribbled note. I must have written the note the night before while in my incapacitated state of mind. There was a small word in cursive black writing written directly in the middle of the paper: courage. I smiled through the pain of my headache and realized my drunk self was a lot smarter these days than my sober self, and I needed to change that. I only had one thing I needed to do that day, find myself a bottle of malbec wine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Start Again

With the new year, brings new perspective on life. Take a break from my book, and instead take a peak into my words and soul... 

Her head was a whirlwind of emotions. She couldn't think straight even though she was completely sober. She could hear her favorite song rippling in the background of her thoughts. She was smiling and felt like she could fly. So much anxiety had crept into her life this past year. So many responsibilities. So much loss, but oh, oh so much love had snuck in. She was a whirlwind of emotions as she looked out the window of her tiny apartment, the remnants of a vanilla latte still lingering on her tongue. It was more than an adrenaline rush that swept through her. Years of regrets swept through her brain as she closed her eyes and tried to leap free. She looked out that window and felt like a little kid again - just for those remaining two minutes and forty three seconds of guitar and lyrics. In that moment, she felt like the little girl she once was with unkept ringlets and dangling barrettes in her hair, dirt stains on her knees, and the smell of grass all on her clothes from being outside all day. Such magical years of life with no responsibilities or worries in the world. Such a sweet and pure life. She felt like that little girl on a swing for that brief moment and continued to absorb the lyrics buzzing in her head, "Come to me my sweetest friend, can you feel my heart again.." Songs have the power to transform the girl you're looking at. She's swayed by many things in this exhilarating world, and songs transform her. They fuel her soul.

She sat there and closed her eyes with a huge grin plastered across her flushed face. Her worries crept away for that moment, and she remembered the good in the world. She remembered the optimism and adventurous spirit God gave her in this chaotic world. She looked out that cracked window and continued to have optimism, hope, and love not for tomorrow. Oh no, optimism for today. We're all spoken to in different ways. For some, it's through music, others its writing or art. For the girl you're looking at staring out that window, it's music that speaks to her soul and fuels her brain to write stories of truth and speak words of compassion to others. 

She let her worries drift away - the same way the song faded from her laptop next to her, "We'll go home and start again... start again..." The words 'start again' hung in the air even after the music ended and the usual street noise crept back into the apartment. Her life wasn't starting over, no, the word 'again' lingered in her thoughts. She could be that six year old girl with ringlets and barrettes again on the swings. She could start again everyday with a carefree, loving, and optimistic spirit. And she would. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Chapter 6: Malbec

The following is a work of fiction, and a continuation from the previous posts, Chapters 1-5:

I walked into the house wearing my black dress, and immediately was greeted by a sea of smiling faces. Everywhere I looked, it looked like fake smiles were plastered onto the faces of these strangers. I immediately regretted my decision coming here as I saw there was a dining room table where we would be seated this evening. I had envisioned the evening standing only – standing while drinking my cocktail and standing while I held onto appetizers passed around. I hadn't dared think of how I was going to endure an entire evening seated next to others. With that type of setup, it wasn't as easy for me to make a quick and early exit from the party. I was destined for failure.

"You must be Elizabeth, I'm Sue Ellen and this is my husband John," the woman stretched out her hand with her fake smile plastered across her face. So she and her husband had known her name, contrary to how she addressed their invitation. They looked like lovely and friendly individuals. I turned on the manners that had been engrained in me since I could walk and returned their greeting, "Thank you for inviting me to your home this evening. It's a wonderful place and smells great in the kitchen." I was surprised at how naturally the words had flowed from my lips. Manners were like riding a bike for me. I had met so many important people in my life. But what I said was true. The bungalow I lived in could be eaten up by this place as it must have been about 10 times the size. The walls were modern but mostly bear with only a few black and white photographs. It was a lovely home and I could smell lofting spiced butter coming from the kitchen where I saw someone dressed in a tuxedo walk out of carrying a tray of some sort of appetizers.

"Why thank you, we are enjoying ourselves this summer quite much and are so glad we could have people over to get to know our neighbors," Sue spoke back while nodding at me. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the image of dark hair being tossed over someone's shoulder who was much shorter than the rest of the crowd. She wasn't facing me but I heard that infamous laugh and knew immediately that it was Cindy. I turned my gaze and saw the girl turn and smile as she spoke with an elderly couple in front of her. I was only half listening to Sue and John make small talk in front of me, when I realized it was my turn to move on from the conversation, as they needed to greet new guests who had arrived in the door. I was grateful for the excuse to retreat. I immediately walked over to the area where a bar had been set up and saw my only options were wine and beer. Looks like I was destined for a wine evening, which might have been a good route to take, as I might have drowned in vodka sodas that evening from my nerves alone.

I poured myself a hefty glass of white wine and looked at the small crowd gathered in the living room. I didn't have any ounce of courage or strength to walk over and converse with any of them. I thought of Henry in that moment, and I felt a small smile on my face as I thought that if he had been here, he would already have made friends with at least 3 people and the host, John, would have befriended him and poured him a glass of his finest bourbon. I shook myself of those thoughts and instead caught sight of a door that lead to their back patio. Well, patio was an understatement. It was more of a back grand entrance – two sets of patio tables, a small garden, a swimming pool, and greenery lined this back area. If that weren't enough, there were tall strings of lights that illuminated its entirety. I stood in the threshold of the door to this outside wonderland and heard laughter from inside coming from the ever growing party. I took a sip of my wine and was startled when I heard, "It's pretty cool, huh?" I recognized the voice immediately, and was not the least bit surprised to see her holding a glass of wine in her very own hand as I turned to look at her. I had only met her once, but her presence felt like a breath of fresh air. Maybe it was relief knowing she was such a curious girl and would do majority of the talking. Or maybe it was a relief to escape the world of adulthood and all of the anguish I carried around and instead think back to the girl I was at 15. Or what was it? Gosh, I was a magical and carefree soul filled with so many dreams at that age.
"It is a wonderful backyard," I finally replied to Cindy, returning back to the present conversation rather than letting my thoughts run away.
"By the way, you never introduced yourself the other day," Cindy replied holding out her free hand. She was polite and social. I already liked her character and realized exactly why – she was probably a lot like me at this age.
"That's odd, your mother knew who I was – I assumed you did as well."
"Nope," Cindy replied sweetly.
"Hmmm –" I replied back looking back outside taking another sip of my wine.
"You don't like talking with others do you?" Cindy asked. She probably could sense I was dodging answering the question.
I let out a small sigh as I looked at the girl, collecting my thoughts on how to answer that question.
"I used to like talking with others" was all I could muster.
"What changed?" Cindy asked. So bluntly, so honestly. The true heart of a child.
"Me," I answered and continued with, "Age, time.. being an adult."
Cindy listened but I could tell I hadn't answered the question with what she wanted to know as there was still a look of uncertainty on her face. She slightly nodded before saying, "That's a shame, you look so beautiful in that dress and laughter with others is the best recipe for any party. Well, I guess, I think it's the best recipe for my life."
I suddenly forgot that I was talking with a just a teenager in front of me. How could she speak such wise words at this age? Words that I dreaded to hear but desperately realized were truthful. They were words I had mustered in my 20's. It's strange how some of the most pivotal years of your life, turn into your blurriest memories. That was what the '90's looked like to me. My twenties were the most life changing years, and looking back on them now, I could barely remember them. Yet somehow I was reminded of them talking with this girl, for what had only been a couple minutes.

I nodded at her in agreement with her statement and took another sip of wine while Cindy did the same.
"It's good isn't it?" she sweetly asked and I remembered how surprised I was that she drank wine at all the other day, but now after seeing a more thoughtful glimpse into who she was, it didn't shock me in the least bit.
"It's perfect because the Chardonnay is chilled slightly more than usual on this humid evening," I commented towards Cindy. Somehow those words again seemed to flow naturally from my lips.
"Is Chardonnay your favorite wine?" Cindy asked curiously.
"It's one of my favorites, but not my favorite," I replied already anticipating what her next question might be.
"What is your favorite wine," she asked. My assumption had been correct.
"My absolute favorite wine is a Malbec wine," I immediately answered.
"Malbec? What's that wine? Is it a red wine?"
"It's a red wine from Argentina. Known for it's boldness in unusual flavor," I replied educating her, while I thought back to the first time I drank a Malbec. It had been right after my 21st birthday and Henry had taken me out to a fancy restaurant in my small college town to celebrate "properly." It had been a perfect evening with the combination of drinking and eating too much.
"Sounds wonderful. We should drink it together sometime," Cindy replied. It's something a woman in her early 20's just starting off her career, might have said to one of her girlfriends. Casually and hopefully wanting to try a new type of wine, but needing the courage to do so with another friend. I hesitated not knowing how to answer. It was an invitation and it made me feel completely vulnerable. All I could do was nod as I took another sip of my wine.
"Cindy?" I heard Sue ask. She was looking for her daughter and probably least suspected her to be caught here in the doorway to their backyard talking with me.
Cindy saw her mom and waved to her, acknowledging she would be on her way over.
Cindy looked at me and took a tiny sip of wine, and said, "Duty calls."
I gave her a small smile and said, "Go make others laugh."
"That includes you, don't forget that," and with that, she disappeared back into the room. I sat there for quite some time thinking of how those couple minutes of exchange had stirred part of my soul. I had shut off the world for so long, that in turn, I had shut off the part of my soul that was curious. I used to thirst for knowledge and answers. I was always the kid asking, "why?" growing up. And I wasn't usually ever content or felt settled until I knew the answer. After talking with Cindy, a part of my soul started asking more questions about her life. I tried to shake them and shut them off and venture back to my cave of a world back at my bungalow that evening. I hadn't conversed with anyone other than Mary in so long, that talking with another person like that, even that simple exchange, had stirred my soul.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Chapter 5: The Mirror

The following is a work of fiction, and continuation from the previous posts, Chapters 1-4:  

I would be lying if I said I didn't go to the party thrown by my neighbors that Friday. However, if someone had asked me, I would have pretended not to be interested in attending. But my curiosity had peaked when I held that invitation in my hand at my mailbox, and had been sealed after the girl had introduced herself to me.

I had starred at my closet for what felt like a couple hours as I fretted over what to wear. I hadn't been to one of these in years. I hadn't been into someone else's home in a few years. I hadn't talked socially with others in God knows how long. If I had had my entire wardrobe with me that were hanging on lonely racks back in Los Angeles. If I had had that entire closet, I would have spent half a day trying to decide what to wear. My entire closet was a beautiful story – it was filled with cocktail dresses that had danced with famous souls, sun dresses that had tasted the ocean waters in far off places. But the best were my favorite tops that had wine spilled on them from a party I hosted. You see, I hated to throw out anything of mine. Even though I hadn't worn some of these clothing items in years, I refused to let them go. Instead, I continued to line the walls of my closet with clothing that's filled with stories of my past life. My closet here in this bungalow in Florida was a very different story than Los Angeles. My closet was basic - it was filled with neutral colors. White blouses, black t-shirts, dark jeans, one beige jacket, a black dress, while most of my closet was filled with running attire of some shape. Still, I somehow fretted over what to wear for quite some time. It probably was the vodka soda speaking to me that early evening when I decided on the one black dress I had brought with me. I hadn't worn a dress in what felt like years. I slid the dress over my head and zipped the side up feeling and looking like a completely different woman than the last several months. It hung loser than when I had worn it last, whenever that had been. I couldn't even remember what I had purchased the dress for. My skin was more bronzed that I remember, and my calves and arms held toned definition. I stared at myself in the mirror, with no trace of makeup on my face, and realized I hadn't truly looked at myself in the mirror since I had arrived in Florida. Of course I had looked at myself each morning and evening when I rose or got ready for bed. But that was habit. That's the habit we all get into in life. Looking for the flaws – "what makeup needs to be removed?" "What makeup needs to be added?" "Where did that blemish come from?" We look for imperfections at this time of day - when you rise or before you go to sleep - and try to correct. That wasn't what I had neglected to do. No, what I hadn't done in what felt like eternity was truly look at myself. I stared at myself for quite some time in that mirror, inspecting each crevice, outline, wrinkle. My cheeks were not as bronzed as the rest of my body, but they were more tan than usual. There were a few more wrinkles under my eyes than I last remembered. Oh, the joys of aging as a woman. My dark brown eyes were the same. Or were they? They were filled with years of regrets – could you see that now as I continued to age? My dark long brown hair even had hints of caramel coloring from all the time spent in the sun. I sighed as I stood there in the mirror peering at myself from what felt like an outside lens. I had heard how beautiful I was over the years by countless strangers, even Henry told me if not every day, every other day. Yet I was one of my toughest critics and hardly thought it could be true. It was much easier to ignore those comments than embrace them and face what that truly meant for my life. I stood there in the fluorescent lights of my tiny bathroom and felt like I was discovering what I looked like for the first time. A part of me, a very small part of me, liked what I saw for the first time. It suddenly hit me as I stared at my glowing face, that the beauty I disliked was the lack of beauty inside my soul. I downed my vodka soda and eventually made my way to the party. What a mood to be in while I ventured to my fist party in years.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Chapter 4: Cindy

The following is a work of fiction, and a continuation from the previous posts, Chapter 1-3:

The next few days looked exactly like the past few months – sleeping in, runs and walks on the beach, gluing my eyes to a book, intricate dinner feasts made and prepped for one person, lots of wine, and vodka sodas. I had turned my life into somewhat of an auto pilot with these activities being my daily rituals. It was almost as if I was living a gray daze. I was in denial about my future, and even more petrified to look at my past.

One evening after I had been on a walk for a couple hours, I stopped at the end of my driveway, and checked the mailbox. There had hardly been any worthwhile mail thus far my stay there. Most of it had been spam, anything from oil changes, grocery coupons, or advertisements intended for the owner of the house I was renting from. I continued to have my mail sent to my current address in Los Angeles, and had my assistant, Mary, who I wildly overpaid collect and organize it. Mary kept my life together – she paid my bills, did my taxes, helped me book my travel, amongst other things. She basically kept me from getting into any trouble and did all of the things I had never learned to do from a young age. She was the one who found this house and paid the rent each month.

When I opened the mailbox, I browsed through the usual spam mail, until I saw a mint green envelope addressed to, "Our Neighbor" in hand written black cursive. There was no stamp on the envelope or return address, so I quickly tour it open and found in my hands an invitation to a dinner party for the following Friday, thrown by none other than the new neighbors I had waved to on their dock the other day. It was themed, "a dinner by the sea." It probably would entail lots of champagne and sea food. Typical for any out-of-towners who ventured here – they all had to embrace the fresh and local caught sea food.

I immediately thought of two things after I opened that letter from who I now knew were The Chambers living next door to me. Immediately, and a large part of me regretted acknowledging them in anyway that day. I no longer felt invincible, even if they had put these invites in every mail box on our street, and I just happen to live right door to them. Or was I the only person invited who they didn't know by name, so they had to write, "Our Neighbor" on just my envelope?

Although, a small part of me was intrigued by this invitation. I hadn't spoken in-depth with anyone in months, outside of the staff at the grocery store and local liquor store in town.

I was walking towards my house when I heard a bike wheels come to a stop and a girl say, "You coming to our party?"

I turned around, still holding the opened mint green envelope, and looked into the eyes of that girl I had seen the other day on the pier. Her long dark hair was pulled back again into a pony tail, while she wore white jean shorts and a navy blue tank top. She had some red skin around her shoulders and cheeks – most likely some sunburn from the scorching hot Florida sun on her pale skin. She had a smile on her face that was almost contagious to look at.

"I'm not sure," was all I could muster as a reply.

"You should come – it should be a great turn out. And lots of food and wine," this girl replied back. She still didn't look over the age of 15, and yet her eyes light up when she mentioned wine.

I sat there in silence unsure of what to say to this girl. Instead I tried to change the subject and quizzed her, "Aren't you quite young for wine?"

"You're never too young to drink wine in small portions," she quickly and slowly retaliated. There was poise and sophistication in her voice. The kind you most likely get from years of a prep school, but it was even more than that. I thought she must be that kind of girl that was born a grown up – ahead of her time in maturity.

"I couldn't agree more," I replied.

I glanced up towards my house, signally to this girl that our time was at an end. I was always a polite woman. I was just less and less chatty these days.

"Promise you'll think about it?" the girl asked as she put one foot on her bike pedal, signaling back to me she would soon leave.


I was about to walk back inside when she said, "I'm Cindy by the way." And with that, she smiled and slowly pedaled away. Now the girl who laughed and smiled a lot next door had a name.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Chapter 3: Liquid Gold

The following is a work of fiction, and a continuation from the previous posts, Chapter 1-2:

I thought it would take me much longer to figure out who my new neighbors were, due mostly to the fact that I had turned into an extreme introvert. I wasn't the kind of neighbor who would bring in your trash can for you if you were out of town. Or for that matter, I wasn't the kind of neighbor who was ever asked to do a simple task as that. I had kept to myself on the usually vacant street, and I had preferred it that way.

I had woke that next morning, still with no idea what day of week it was, and heard laughter again. It was again like a bullet piercing my chest. Oh how I used to laugh. My twenties and thirties were filled with endless laughter, cocktails, and traveling. My forties had turned a different path. It looked something like a mixture of insecurity, seclusion, sadness, but still endless cocktails.

I had lived here with a constant sense of not knowing what time it was. I lived instead under these four time tables: morning, lunch, afternoon, evening. Since the laughter had woken me from my slumber, I decided to get out of bed and make some morning coffee. The light didn't look as bright as it usually did – I presumed this meant it was earlier than I usually rose, so I turned to the trusty companion of coffee to get me through the morning. That was when I first noticed what time it was, when I opened the coffee maker to pour a cup of water into the black plastic container. Heavens, it was 7:41 in the morning. I probably hadn't been up this early in years. I found some coffee grinds I had purchased when I first arrived in this house, months ago buried in the back of the cupboard, and started the coffee maker after loading it up – not following the instructions on how many scoops were needed.

I saw and heard the coffee maker start dripping, and walked over towards the sink, seeing if I could catch a glimpse of who was outside. Who was outside laughing at the early hours of 7:45? I could make out an image through the trees that divided the two houses. I saw a red shirt dancing around in the trees. Was this person dancing to music? Good heavens, it looked like a rather young person. I caught a glimpse of her outline continuing to move behind the trees, she couldn't have been more than fifteen years old. I sat there seeing this figure dancing through the trees and thought of what I was like at 15. All of the images that danced through my mind could be summed up in one word: adventurous. The woman I saw in the window's reflection looked anything but that. Sure, I had sun marks and some skin damage from my earlier years of adventurous. When I thought back to my 20's and 30's, I feel like all of my fondest memories were outside. Whether I was drinking wine on the beach, eating at a cafe outside with a friend, or touring some exotic country. My fondest memories were outside.

I slowly drifted out of my momentary time lapse of day dreaming, and refocused on the window outside of me as I heard the coffee maker crackling the last of the water. I retreated to the coffee maker and poured what tasted like the heavens into my cup. I hadn't had coffee in ages and it instantly made me feel like I was floating. Half a cup of this liquid gold left me jittery and did just the trick to get me through the morning on my less than usual amount of sleep.

My restlessness moved me to put on my workout gear and head outside. My legs were too antsy for a walk. I couldn't settle for that – I needed to run. So I ran for what must have been five miles and came back walking along the beach, holding my shoe laces attached to my shoes swung of my shoulders, with my damp and smelly socks nestled in their front toes. The cool salty water under my toes felt incredible after a run in this humid weather. My face felt like it was glowing with dark, blotchy crimson circles. A similar reaction happens when I get very nervous too. It had gotten better over the years, but from time to time, my cheeks fill with little red blotchy circles, that no amount of makeup or a scarf can cover.

I was walking towards my house when I saw my mysterious neighbors on their dock. The entrance of the dock must have been only forty feet from the edge of my house's property. In other words, it was close. It was though, a long and beautiful dock that jetted out into the water to hold two boat hangers, two ladders, and for the first time I noticed a diving board nestled there at the end of the dock. A family of just three for that large of a house, with just one daughter. They saw me walking and waved towards me. I heard something along the lines of, "Hi there neighbor", from what I could make out over the motion of the waves in the ocean. I nodded and only slighted lifted my hand in what must have been the most pathetic looking of a wave. 'Good enough' I thought to myself. The parents looked normal. The type of parents that I had seen visit this island before.

I glanced towards the end of the dock and saw a girl turn around and look towards me. It must have been the same girl I saw dancing through the trees earlier this morning. She had been starring off towards the ocean and glanced towards me, where I noticed she was holding a fishing rod, with the biggest grin plastered on her face. She lifted her free hand and waved to me as I started towards the house. From afar I made out that she had long dark hair, pulled into a lose braid, and a bright yellow sundress. I don't know why, but that yellow dress stood out to me. As if it was something important for me that I should remember.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Chapter 2: Vodka Water

The following is a work of fiction, and a continuation from the previous post titled, Chapter 1: 

The next few days looked almost exactly the same as the previous weeks. I woke up late in the morning, went for almost an hour walk on the beach, ate a late brunch, read in the late afternoon, and if it needed it, I did some house work. Dinners were the most intricate affair of my day, involving homemade creamy pastas, or angel hair lemon pasta with a garnish of capers. My love for Italian food stems from the time I lived there in my twenties, but more on that later. Cooking made me forget about everything else in my life. For that hour or two I spent in the kitchen inventing new recipes, chopping anything from peppers to fillets of fresh fish caught just that day, to eating the final dish, I escaped from the world. I was creating something – something every human craves to do in this world, whether it's painting, writing, cooking – we all crave and need to create. Cooking was what I yearned to create at this time in my life. Years ago it was painting, and for majority of my life it was dancing. Oh how I loved to dance.

My evenings would usually end with back porch cigarettes and red wine. Sometimes, I would get creative and make myself a more interesting cocktail, which involved two ingredients: water and vodka. That my friends, is the key to every woman's trim figure.  Wine is the dessert in my life, while vodka is the drink to get me through cocktail parties or bar outings. And the best part of a vodka and water, which of course always needs a lime, is you get to drink quite a few in one evening without needing to go for a 7 mile run the next day just to burn off the calories.

That was my usual routine for weeks. I frequently lost track of what day of week it was, and one time forgot what month it was. It was as if I had paused my life there in that tiny Florida house. I had paused my life refusing to move forward or look back on my past. No one here bothered me about my past, judged me for my mistakes, or the worst of them all, judgement of disappointment. I could see it in other people's eyes when I told them Henry and I were no longer together. Or people asked what I was doing with my time, and I said, "Oh, not much." It was the damn truth – I wasn't doing much with my time. Honestly, I wasn't sure what to do with my time. And people judged me for that. I could see it when they would nod their head after I would say, "not much," and they would instantly change the subject or drift away from me at a dinner party to make conversation with someone else. That happened for months, so I eventually stopped venturing to any type of parties. 

The house next to me had been vacant since I had landed here in Florida, until that evening I saw a red mini van parked in the driveway and lights on in the house. It felt like it happened in an instant after I came back from my bike ride to the grocery store to start preparing dinner. A part of me was angry there were neighbors next to me – I had had my own little oasis here on this part of the island, and I liked having it myself. Since it was the thick of summer, most of the owners only retreated down here when it was much cooler temperatures. It would get up to one hundred degrees Fahrenheit during the day. The ocean breeze was the only thing that made this tolerable. Still, most people didn't stay here in the summer in their 5,000 square foot mansions, they would only venture down here during the winter months. I retreated to my home and went about making my dinner as usual.

I was washing fresh shrimp over the sink, when I glanced out the window towards the house with now all of the lights on. A part of me was curious who was inside that home. I presumed a family since there was a mini van in the driveway. I finished prepping my shrimp scampi dish, and took to my usual ritual of sitting on my back porch, with a glass of Malbec wine this evening. The palm trees were dancing in the wind as I smoked what I told myself would be my last cigarette, when I heard it. I heard laughter in the distance, coming surely from the new neighbors house. I realized at that moment I hadn't heard laughter in months, maybe years, and the sound surprised me.