Irmageddon

My family and I weathered our first hurricane together on the night of September 10th and into the morning of September 11, 2017. While the storm has moved on and dissipated, my internal climate has taken more time to calm down. The entire event was surreal, and the second major disaster I’ve experienced since turning 30.

Around September 3rd, I began paying attention to a new major hurricane in the Atlantic, but my main fears mostly went out to the people of the Caribbean. Hot on the heels of Harvey, Irma formed and gained intensity quickly as she menacingly traversed the Atlantic.

The news outlets of this area were quick to whip the people into a frenzy over Irma’s approach, and I wasn’t interested in jumping on the wagon. Hurricane Hermine swept through north Florida last year as did Hurricane Matthew, and in both cases, I saw folks either freaking the eff out or being nonchalant. No in-between. Given that this wasn’t our first rodeo with disaster preparation, we remained calm and did what we needed to. Ahead of the crowds, we bought a couple backup cases of water, gassed up our cars using fuel rewards offered to us by Shell, ordered in a crank powered emergency radio, and started going over the “plan.” It could be a real emergency or just Governor Scott trying to scare us all again (note: last year, he told us all that Matthew would KILL us and our children, so we don’t place much stock in the things he says) but we would be prepared either way. For the sake of our babies, we would be prepared.

As the days went by, the storm tracks released by the various models used by television meteorologists and The Weather Channel all placed Irma in differing vicinities of Florida. The earliest predictions showed her devastating the Islands and then turning sharply northward, missing Florida. Then later, they showed her grazing the east coast of the Sunshine State. By about September 6th or so, I got fed up trying to decipher what weather man Bob was trying to tell me, and just started studying Irma, hurricane patterns, wind patterns, and weather on my own.

I told myself the only reason to really be concerned was if Irma decided to swing west. Being that we are only about 45 miles inland from the Gulf Coast, as opposed to 90 miles inland from the Atlantic Coast, a western impact would cause us to feel things more. She had also strengthened to a Category 5 by this point, and my prayers were that she did not enter the Gulf and shift upward. Such a track would’ve put our family, as well as a lot of others that I know, in lots of danger.

As we crept closer to the weekend, it became clear that we would indeed experience this one. As I looked around me, I noticed things I haven’t ever since we moved down here. The stores began running out of basic needs items. Shelves were empty. Gas stations began running out of gas. Main Street here in my town became uncharacteristically crowded as South Floridians began their mass exodus of The Keys and cities like Miami, Naples, and Ft. Lauderdale. They were using any route to escape, and since the I-75 freeway literally turned into a slow moving snake of traffic (at times, a parking lot even) they were using the state routes to travel north. I wasn’t mad, just astonished…

Church marquees even displayed ominous messages such “Peace Be with You in the Storm,” and this one:

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I contacted our nanny to ask about her mother who lives in Miami, and she informed me that her family wasn’t going to make it out ahead of the storm. She asked if she could come ride it out with us, and we agreed it’d be best for her. It’d be nice for the kids to have another familiar face around, too. Kennedy’s school canceled preschool for Friday and Monday, and many businesses began boarding up.

Then came the weekend. Hurricane warning alerts were sent to our phones, along with tornado watches and severe weather warnings. I’d never seen anything like it. My father scoffed at the notion of it being that serious, but mandatory evacuation orders were issued for our county for all those in unsafe structures such as trailers and RV’s.

 

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I didn’t really start feeling nervous until I saw that.

I began cleaning the house from top to bottom. I figured that if we were stranded at home for a few days, I at least wanted the environment to be a clean one (clean is where I’m most comfortable). I cooked up a giant pot of chili that could easily be put on ice and heated bit by bit over the gas range in the event of power loss, and I started listening more closely to the weather radio to hear updates on the warnings. Sunday would be the day, but nobody knew just when.

It was midnight, actually.

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I was grateful it was at night when the kids were asleep. Mentally, I think that was easier on Kennedy. Adrian was awake as we had him sleeping in our bed and K was on the floor. The sounds were frightening – big limbs falling off of the trees and hitting our house; loud, swirling winds that made the doors and windows creak and crack; buckets and buckets of rain being dumped on us all at once. It went on this way for about four hours. Then total darkness as the power went out.

In pitch black, I kept myself calm as I quietly wrapped my hand in Fabian’s behind his pillow. Adrian was still cooing and making baby sounds, the dogs were stirring, K was sleeping. It was pretty perfect, because there was no panic, but I did dread the morning when we would have the light of day to inspect our home and property.

When morning came, we found tons of tree branches and limbs scattered everywhere, but nothing serious to our structure. The fence, the windows, our cars, all were intact. I was so grateful…

So many folks were not this lucky. There’s been widespread power outages, flooding, structural damage, and irreversible destruction in some places. Our babies were safe, as were our pets, and so were we.

The official report states Irma entered our county as a Category 1 and weakened to a tropical storm. If that’s what Cat 1 feels like, my heart goes even further out to the people who weathered storms like Katrina, Wilma, Rita, Harvey, and any other catastrophic storm. Cat 1 was scary enough.

But the experience is not lost on me. I’ve had to toughen up a lot since moving down to this crazy state, and Irma certainly aided me on that journey. She was a major trigger for my anxiety, but with the tools I’ve gained, I’m managing that okay. Kennedy’s school reopened today and she was excited to get back to her normal routine. We’ve all been happy to get back to doing what resembles normal in the wake of Irma. Here’s hoping we don’t have to tango with any more hurricanes for the remainder of our time as Floridians. Supposedly, Irma’s landfall in Florida was the first major one since Wilma in 2005.

 

 

Retiring the Machine

Every walk of life includes peaks and valleys, and for much of the journey we can imagine ourselves participating in an ongoing climb. We strive to do more, be better, achieve things we’ve never had, etc. Look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need further clarification on this part of the life cycle.

I’ve been climbing my own mountain for quite some time now, longer than I had initially imagined. I can remember standing in the den of our house in Vista, holding a then only 4 1/2 month old Kennedy, discussing with Fabian the plan of action for how we would relocate ourselves, our baby, our careers, our cares, and our belongings to the other side of the country for the greater good of our entire family. The clock started then, and so did the climb. After that decision was finalized and we started the process, everything just got faster and faster…

Ever since, I’ve had momentary pauses, but I’ve been in motion the entire time. If not to put together the puzzles of a cross country move, then to learn the new lay of the land here in Florida, to find a job, to get back into school, to find something fun to do as a release, to adjust to online teaching as a career, to run in five directions consecutively in order to keep relationships intact, and to somehow keep my head above water through it all. In the midst of this, I also decided to start a business of my own. Where I found the time to do that I will never ever know, but that’s what I did and I’m just about a year in with it. Oh, and add an escrow to the tail end of that. Those are never ever fun or easy. If you can recall the Myth of Sisyphus, the former king had been condemned by the Greek gods to roll a boulder up a mountain with the aim to maybe leave it at the top or let it roll down the other side only to find that each time he would near the peak, the weight of the boulder would result in its rolling back down the path it had traveled. Sisyphus’ plight demonstrates the concept of insanity to us, because for as long as Sisyphus rolled that boulder, the outcome always remained the same. To do the same thing over and over and expect different results is exactly what insanity is, and week after week, month after month, and (I can actually say) year after year I felt the weight of the insanity that has been my life for two years.

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One of the momentary pauses I got to have during this two-year period. Kennedy is only 8 months old here, and though the move was happening when this photo was taken, I wasn’t completely buried under my obligations yet. I was still able to freely be a wife mom here, and I’m so, so anxious to get back to this place again. (Photo credit: Primrose Plum Photography)

 

But unlike Sisyphus, I actually get to realize a different, much more triumphant outcome.

I hold two masters degrees now. I run two businesses from home and make my own work schedule. I live in a house that has everything I need in it and is located near people I care about living close to. All of these achievements were goals and milestones I set for myself, so I’m elated to have been blessed to realize each one of them.

But what it took…

Time and energy are just the surface sacrifices. Those moments of watching cartoons with my little one, going on dates with my husband, helping my mom and dad around the house, and sitting still long enough to talk on the phone or have lunch with a friend have also been sacrificed. My personal care has been sacrificed. Don’t worry, I kept showering through all of this 😉 but I could’ve used more sleep. I could’ve used more time to myself to think. My soul could’ve benefitted from more time spent playing my guitar. My body could’ve done better with more exposure to the sun.

I symbolically crossed the finish line on Friday when I defended my way to a perfect score for my MBA capstone, with boxes and blue painter’s tape still strewn about my newly moved into house. On Friday, the journey ended, and so did a chapter of my life that I didn’t even know I was capable of living through. It will go down as the most painful, difficult to budge, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore’ shouted through tears chapter in the Antoinette book, but it was so, 100 percent, absolutely necessary for me to write. I’m a better woman for it.

It’s time for me to retire the machine. A piece of her will always be present because of who I am by nature, but in much smaller doses. It’s time for me to recoup some of what I lost personally while I also process all of the ways in which I’ve been made different.

I would write more, but I hear my daughter calling me…

 

 

 

Why I Can’t Go Back (at least not right now…)

I can’t believe it’s June already!

It’s been just a little over nine months since we made the move and while the adjustment has been rough in some spots, we’ve still managed to move forward, even if only by making baby steps sometimes. Though I’m sinking into my new home, I still have a fondness and nostalgia for the old one. I don’t think it’s possible to live somewhere for 25 years and not miss it when you leave. I was scrambling to come up with a plan for visiting San Diego this summer, but it just didn’t come up as feasible. Normally, when I talk about trips being impossible it’s because of the monetary cost. However, in trying to formulate a California vacation, I found that making such a trip would be of an emotional cost to me – a price that I didn’t want to pay. Here’s why:

  1. I’m trying to be strong and accept the aftermath of the changes I’ve set in motion.
    That sounds negative on the surface, but it really just summarizes my acknowledgment of the fact that this move was largely my choice – my husband had a say in the matter, but all the while he decided to go along with this because he knew how much it meant to me – and my choice has directly affected five people. I don’t take that lightly. I’ve mentioned on here before that I tossed all of the playing cards in the deck up in the air a million times, and every time they’ve fallen, they’ve always pointed to the fact that moving here was the right decision for our family’s future. I have to be accountable for the choices I make, and in doing so, I can’t just allow myself to go running back to San Diego just because I miss some of the people there.
  1. I’ve had to sort out just exactly what I was missing.
    It’s easy to make the blanket statement that, “I miss home,” or “I miss San Diego,” but truthfully, those are misguided statements of what my heart is really longing for. My heart longs for familiarity, routine, my old comfort zone, and to see certain faces on a regular basis again. Making a trip back doesn’t necessarily bring these things back, though. As much as I miss my old coworkers and would love to visit the campus to say hi, the fact remains that I do not work there anymore. I’d love to go hang out at my favorite spots and bask in the beauty of that place with nothing more to do, but not if I have to pay for a rental car, a hotel, and airfare to do it. The people who mean the most to me exist separately from that place, and friends like Allison have shown me that even if San Diego were to fall, our friendship would still be intact. I’m remembering things the way they were when I lived there, but I don’t live there anymore. Things are different now.
  1. I have to get over some things before I can truly set foot on SD soil again.
    Even though many of my relationships have maintained their continuity, there are quite a few that ended poorly before I left. The outcomes weren’t always my choice, but they’re the reality I have to accept. I need to get over those relationships first before I try to be a visitor in the town where I used to spend time where certain people who aren’t a part of my life anymore.
  1. It doesn’t make sense for me to look back, because I’m not going that way.
    Andy Bernard on The Office said the most profound line ever of that show, which was, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve left them.” My husband tells me all the time to cherish this time we have with our daughter, cherish the time we have right now because life will change, realize that things aren’t that bad. He’s right. What’s even more profound about this whole concept is that many of us are begging for God’s mercy and blessings, but we’re too consumed with what we don’t have to be grateful for what we do. Would you shower your child with Christmas presents if all they did was complain all December about how they don’t have anything cool to play with? Would you serve a second helping to someone who complained about the meal? Why do we expect God to continue to bless us when we can’t even be grateful for the work he’s already done to keep us safe, fed, and happy? This is changing my attitude immensely.

The bottom line is this: My life is here now, not there. I have to make the most of it. Though it’s easy to get lost in reflection and think back on days we miss, the direction of time is still moving forward. My daughter is still growing up quickly – I won’t have a cuddly toddler anymore pretty soon. One day, our family will grow, and I will think back on how easy things were when I had just one. I should probably appreciate having just one right now while I do. Some people have none…

Our lives in Gainesville can’t officially start until we’ve let go of our lives in San Diego. They’re over. My life there is over, and I’ve finally mustered the courage to really shut the door on that chapter. It’s taken me 9 months, but better late than never.

Going back now would only undo all this work I’ve done.

Yeah, I’m a pole dancer.

I suppose this confession has been a long time coming. Everybody kind of already knows, but I haven’t ever truly confirmed publicly that this is indeed what I do – one of the many, many things that I do. So here you go: Yes. I am a pole dancer.

I’m also still a wife, a mom, a professor, a God-prasier, and graduate student. (Yes, naysayers. It’s possible to do all of those at once.)

Let me start from the beginning.

It was October 2014, and I was sitting in my parents’ living room on a warm fall evening. At the time, we were all living with them after moving here from California. My primary job hadn’t officially started yet as I was still in the training phase. Fabian had only been working a couple of weeks. I could feel myself beginning to buckle under the weight of my father’s rules and habits at his home, just as I’d predicted I would after living with him again for a few months. I hadn’t started the MBA program yet, but was slated to begin in a matter of days.

I needed to find a way to get out of the house for a while, alone. I was going stir crazy. Wake up, feed the baby, attempt to spend time with my spouse while watching my parents’ television, in their living room, of their house. Listen to music, but not too loud, because it’s still mom and dad’s house. Go take a walk, but let someone know where you’re going, because you know, you still live at mom and dad’s house. Break. The damn. Cycle.

I started cruising the Internet for deals or events in my area that I could throw myself into. Starting over means everything – new group of friends, new residence, new driver’s license, and new hobbies. Groupon and LivingSocial were my best friends in those days (truthfully, they’re a couple of my mains forever and always, but ever so clearly then) and I was desperately searching for new restaurants, new play groups to take Kennedy to, new ways to connect with this new town I lived in.

I saw a Groupon for “pole fitness” classes offered at a premier studio in Gainesville. The photo had some bright and happy looking chick, doing Lord knows what on the pole, but she looked graceful, classy, and happy. It was $54 for three classes. I figured if I wasn’t feeling it or her I’d just bail after the three classes. I purchased the Groupon and let it sit for a few days before calling to schedule my classes. Even after they were on my calendar, I gave myself permission to back out.

The first night I showed up and met Jacqueline Valdez at her small home studio. No other students attended this night. I’d washed all my lotion off my legs per her rules and made sure to show up on time with a yoga mat in hand. I was wearing what I thought were short shorts at the time and I nervously did floor work with her to warm up my arms, hamstrings, ankles, wrists, and pelvis.

That first class, we started with basic walks around the pole, with stepping and dragging the feet. I looked ridiculous in the mirror, but I tried not to focus too much on how I looked, rather just on what I was doing. She taught me a few simple moves, like 360 turns, none of which I got, and then showed me a few more advanced tricks (advanced by my skill level then) before concluding class with me, bidding me farewell until that Thursday, three days later.

Class two was a lot like class one – me stumbling around the pole trying to keep up with the most basic of moves, her reassuring me that not everyone picks up things easily and quickly. We scheduled one more class meeting to satisfy my Groupon purchase, and I returned the next week. Once again it was just me, and we chatted a bit about the soreness I was feeling in my body from my previous lessons, but Jackie assured me that it was all normal. It was on this night that we stepped to the poles again to run through basic tricks, but something was different for me – I nailed my 360, and I even managed a pole sit. She let me take a selfie in the mirror on this night.

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Pole sit selfie. I only had the bruises for 5 days afterward.

“You’ve progressed,” she said to me with a straight face. Knowing her as I do now, I realize that she was recalculating her plan of action for what she’d teach me moving forward. I identify that as my “hooked like it’s cocaine” moment for pole…

We continued that way for six months with a slight break in between while my husband and I moved out of my parents’ home and into our own place. As we dug our feet into Gainesville as our home, I dug my heels (and ankles and thighs) deeper into pole.

When I first arrived in Gainesville, I was depressed, lost, and conflicted. I had a good life in San Diego, and I left it all behind so that I could bring my family together again. I gave up friendships, familiarity, and my home so that my daughter could grow up near her grandparents and my husband and I could have some backup as we continued to grow our family. In some ways, I view myself as arriving in Gainesville empty handed, and when I started pole, suddenly I had something to hold onto again.

Even more than this, though, is what pole does for my character. Yes, it sculpts my body and makes me stronger physically, but pole dancer Antoinette holds her own much better than non-pole Antoinette ever did. Because pole dancing carries such a negative connotation, the people who do it have to be really motivated to practice it constantly and want to progress in it. The ante is doubled for those who choose to share their craft with the world. Because I know what the majority of the world has to say about my practicing this as a hobby, it truly is something I have to do for myself. For the record: I do not do this for my husband. I do not do this out of rebellion. I do not do this out of desperation. I do not do this because I’m trying to be someone else. I do pole for me and me only. It is my selfish indulgence.

Pole allows me to unashamedly claim the right to be sexy. Men are allowed to be sexy without consequence – nobody throws shade on the male manager that all the females in the office swoon over. Women must always pay for being sexy – in labels, in whispers they think we can’t hear, in missed opportunities to be taken seriously. No thanks.

Pole frees me. ALL of me.

Plus, it was either this or join a fight club, and I like my face too much for that.

That Time I Learned How to Fire a Gun

I’d always been interested in spending some time at the target range upon hearing some of my friends talk about it. Guns are glamorized in popular media, with characters like Pam Grier’s Foxy Brown, Lara Croft from Tomb Raider, Alice and Jill Valentine from Resident Evil, and Maya Lewis from Scandal making them seem sexy. On the polar opposite end, in a culture where blatant violence against innocent bystanders is becoming more prevalent, the idea of being armed seemed like a sound precaution to protect both my growing family and me. My husband and I talked it over, and he surprised me with a concealed carry class admission at Gainesville Target Range as a Christmas present.

Our instructor for the day was a previous cop who now does competitive shooting as a hobby. The number one most important and crucial thing he stressed was gun safety. He gave us explicit instructions on how to handle the guns before we went through practice runs to load and make ready as well as unloading and clearing. He also talked to us quite a bit about laws concerning gun usage, where civilians are permitted to carry guns, how to travel with guns and ammunition, and when shooting a person can be argued as justifiable in court. Being that I live in the state of Florida now, my mind immediately jumped to the Trayvon Martin shooting, which we discussed a bit in class. In order to justify shooting and killing a person as a civilian, one must follow AOJ – ability, opportunity, and jeopardy. Ability refers to whether or not the person is able to harm you. If they’re significantly bigger than you are, or they are armed and you are not (at the time), that qualifies as ability. They have the power to cause you harm. Opportunity refers to whether or not the person has a chance to harm you. A large person carrying a weapon 50 yards away from you does not have much opportunity to harm you. A large person standing a foot away from you brandishing a weapon does. Jeopardy refers to whether or not the person clarifies through actions or words their intent to cause you harm and/or kill you. A person simply walking around with a gun in plain sight has not placed anyone in jeopardy. If they point that gun at someone, they have.

Florida catches a bad rap because of the “Stand Your Ground” law, which many people (including lawmakers) describe as granting carte blanche to people to shoot whomever they choose, even when all areas of AOJ are not satisfied. This is the excuse that many of us were told for why George Zimmerman was acquitted. Actually, the Stand Your Ground law was not applicable for Zimmerman’s trial, as this law states that a person is not required to retreat from any place he or she has a right to be in legally, such as a home, a place of work, or places of commerce. Zimmerman walked out of his home to where Trayvon was, (which in my opinion makes him a dumbass who deserved whatever “pummeling” he got from 16 year old Trayvon) which makes the Stand Your Ground law irrelevant. Evidence in that case showed Zimmerman’s blood on the sidewalk and lacerations to the back of his head, satisfying all areas of AOJ, making Zimmerman’s shooting of Trayvon justifiable. I didn’t know any of this stuff before I saw these sections of the law broken down. My feelings on this trial haven’t changed, though. Zimmerman should’ve received a second-degree murder charge at least, but I’m not here to discuss that.

Once we finished with the textbook portion of the class, we started practicing loading and unloading the guns, which were 45mm glock pistols. This was challenging because of the safety precautions that I wasn’t used to having to practice. Always point the gun in a safe direction. Index finger on the frame, not the trigger. NEVER, place your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. Place hands and palms in safe spots on the gun. Don’t let your hand pass in front of the gun, even while just loading. Remember the live round. Remember the live round. REMEMBER. THE LIVE. ROUND.

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Rotate palm from base of cartridge to the slide…

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Index finger on the frame until ready to shoot. (TMNT apparel optional)

After we learned to load and unload our guns, we put on gear and went to the range…

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Eye and ear protection.

Being on the range was a sensory overload for me. Guns are loud. They pierce your eardrums and your target. They can be difficult to load. They have recoil. It’s not a sport for the jumpy. However, once you get over the sound of pops happening all around you, and you start to focus a bit on not flinching and nailing your sight alignment, it’s kind of cool.

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My obliterated target. I was a little bummed that I kept missing the X, but my instructor said I had good groups, meaning my shots hit the same spot consecutively. You wouldn’t believe what all goes in to being that steady.

We plan to get licenses for concealed carry, and will likely return to the range to shoot again. I didn’t feel like a powerful goddess or a badass while shooting – on the contrary, I felt very vulnerable while doing so. Once we purchase a gun, I won’t be using it to intimidate my landlord or neighbors, but rather I will store it in a locked case in my closet up high where my child can’t reach it, and hopefully only take it out to shoot at the range. In the event that an intruder should enter my home, I will use it as necessary to protect myself and my loved ones. I pray that I never have to, though. Shooting a person, and potentially taking a life, is a huge burden to carry, and I’d prefer not to ever have to.

Pictures in Frames

I just caught myself rockin’ out to Franz Ferdinand in the kitchen of our new place. Not too hard – Kennedy’s asleep upstairs. But just enough to get a “whoo!” from my neighbor across the way who saw me through my window that I didn’t realize the drapes were pulled up on.

We moved just after the first of the year, and settling in has been difficult. We moved from California into my parents’ guest room. We stayed there just long enough to accumulate a few more items, and then we moved again. We compounded our moves. Unpacking has been a nightmare. I opened one box labeled “Kitchen” and found speaker equipment that had clearly been packed by my husband. I won’t harp on him too much, though. After all, he did have the task of completely emptying out the California house by himself in the week after Kennedy and I left. Oh, and he drove all of our stuff across country, too. I digress…

Yesterday, one of our pictures got damaged as we shuffled furniture around, so today I decided it’d be best to put our art onto the walls to prevent further casualties. I’d say this act was the symbolic breaking in of our new residence. I spent a good hour and a half arranging photos and art onto wall space just as I had done three and a half years ago when we bought the California house. Little did I know then that I’d only be there for a short stint. When I moved in there, I was queen of the castle. I thought I’d never leave, and if I did, it would be for something bigger and better.

In the months since the move, I’ve thought back on that house every day, remembering the things I loved about it, what I miss most, what I hope to have again in my next home purchase, etc. We certainly didn’t move on up when we settled on the 1200 sq ft townhome we currently live in, which is about one bedroom of living space smaller than what we had in California, and a little under one half of the price per month. However, as I happily bounced around in my kitchen this evening, cooking my dinner as Kennedy ate hers from her high chair, I realized that my pictures and mirrors and clay-tile-discounted-at-Kohl’s-art were making me feel like myself again – my whole self. It’s as if my grandparents are happy to be out of the box and back on the wall again. And I feel so relieved and normal and comfortable and Antoinette again seeing their faces gaze over my living room once more. The point I’m getting to with all of this delayed imagery: it doesn’t really matter what the abode is. You can live in a 600 sq ft apartment, in a farmhouse on four acres of land, in a 1400 sq ft house in the neighborhood you’ve dreamed of living in since you were a teenager, or in a penthouse – it’s what you bring there that makes it home. The walls don’t comfort and hold you. Your memories, treasures, and keepsakes do.

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Welcome home, everyone.

A Tale of Two Cities – My 2014 in Pictures

Let me take you on a photo journey of what my 2014 was like.

Here’s what my baby looked like when the year started…

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A four-and-a-half-month-old Kennedy just barely began to sit up in January.

I got to begin the year by feeding her purees and limited solids…

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She tried to feed herself a few times, too, as seen here.

I also got to help shower one of my dearest friends as she anticipated the arrival of her own baby…

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Meanwhile, we also started working to fix our home up in order to sell it…

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Those who know what our guest bathroom looked like before know what a vast improvement this was. I also learned how to pull a toilet from its pedestal in order to paint behind it. I’m going to flip a house myself one day…

I reconnected with some people I was missing…

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An old friend came to visit, and brought her adorable baby girl along. Kennedy enjoyed her girl time with Mariah!

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I decided to make my first Mother’s Day with Kennedy a memorable one for me and her, and my mom…

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We flew cross country and showed up at my parents’ door just in time for the Mother’s Day weekend. My mom had no idea we were coming. This was one of the best moments of the year!

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We flew home with an awesome new piece of luggage – my dad!

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Kennedy did so well with flights this year.

We touched down in San Diego just in time for this to happen:

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A glimpse of the ever-destructive, arsonist-started Cocos Fire.

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Surf, sun, and smoke plumes.

Later that month, I got to host a bridal shower for my BFF Allison, whom I’ve written about in this blog before…

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The following week, I got to work my last graduation as a CCSD instructor…

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I think this is my favorite selfie of 2014.

Then, the next day, we partied, bachelorette style…

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Rawr.

We drove to LA to celebrate my friend and fellow CSUSM alum’s marriage…

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Mr. & Mrs. Foss 🙂

When the Del Mar Fair opened (because it will always be the DEL MAR FAIR to me), we packed up the family and went…

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Soon after, we packed up again to drive to the top of a mountain and take part in this…

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Newlyweds! So beautiful! 🙂

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Momming on the road – we did it, Manda!

Around the same time, this happened:

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…and to our surprise, very soon after that, this happened:

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So, lots of this started happening:

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For the Fourth of July, Michelle and I got fancy on her balcony with Doritos, wine, and sorry ass fireworks. We made some drunken promises that night, too…

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Class out the ass.

We also attended another wedding this summer, for Cassie and Todd!

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First dance 🙂

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July 24, 2014 was my last day at CCSD…

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And another dear friend of mine shipped off for deployment that same week…

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You can’t sit with us. Don’t try.

To take my mind off of being sad and in-between jobs, April decided we should go to the Wild Animal Park.

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It was hot.

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The kiddos had fun though. I swear it.

I started planning for my daughter’s first birthday, and decided I’d also get a tattoo in her honor:

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We celebrated Kennedy’s first birthday at our home, and this is the only picture of the event that I have…

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Home-made cake for Princess Kennedy 🙂

I dumped ice water over my head for a good cause…

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I snapped one last selfie with the A-Team…

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And then Kennedy and I boarded our one-way flight out of San Diego. I left plenty of people and places behind that will always have dear spots in my heart…like this girl…

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Fabian followed behind us with the moving truck and arrived a week after we did.

We slept a lot, sat in silence, then contemplated how to start a new life.

So we found a new farmer’s market to frequent…

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…a new spot to drink our beers…

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Mean muggin’ at the Brass Tap.

New places to vacation…

Omni Resort at Amelia Island Plantation

Omni Resort at Amelia Island Plantation

…and new memories to create.

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My first new friend in Gainesville, Jacqueline Valdez. She’s also my coach. 🙂

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Another family pic fail. Thanksgiving Day.

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