July 27, 2016

Coping with Loss and Grief

Grief is a cruel thing to have to experience. It's been two weeks since Oz, my cat of nine years, was put to rest. I received his ashes in a carved wooden box and a clay imprint of his paw just a few days later. They now sit on my mantle with one of his favorite toys and his collar. When I brought them home I pulled them out of the blue bag they'd been wrapped up in and set them on my kitchen counter. I starred at them for a few minutes before a wave of grief wracked my body. I cried. My heart cried. My soul cried. My memories cried.

Years ago my mom gave me a canister she'd found at a store. It was shaped like a cat and looked exactly like Oz - orange with a little pink nose and white belly. It sits in my kitchen window and has since we moved to Charleston. Now it holds Oz's inhalers, some syringes we used for his oral medicines, and another toy. I sealed it up and will likely not open it again, but I wanted to have those things. They were crappy items to have to need for your cat, but they were a part of my life with him.

I still look to the spot where his bowls sat in the dining room. I expect to feel litter under my feet when I go into the bathroom because he was so messy and kicked litter everywhere. Sometimes I feel like I still see him walking toward me or climbing down the stairs out of the corner of my eye. One night I swore I heard him having an asthma attack and I sat up and flew out of the bed before remembering he was gone. My mind was playing tricks on me. After listening for those attacks for 6 years, my mind still thinks it hears them when it doesn't.

That's grief though. I'm glad he's at peace and no longer having asthma attacks or taking medicine with each meal, but when he was here, I was happy to give him his inhaler and mix up medicines into his meals for him. I vacuumed the bathroom nearly every day, and while I shook my head the whole time, I did it because litter on the floor meant he was there for me to take care of. Sometimes I wish I could still do those things again, just so I could see his sweet little face or hear his meows for dinner one more time.

Grief still hits me at moments I'm not expecting - like in the movies because a preview commercial for Blue Bunny ice cream came on and the bunny's face made me think of Oz. I quietly sniffled and tried not to cry. Sometimes someone will mention my pets and it makes my heart sink because now I only have one. Oz will always be in my heart though and nothing can take that away.

July 15, 2016

Charleston Eats // 1

I love, love, love food and eating out. I don't consider myself a foodie by any means though. I've never blogged about food before! But, being in Charleston may just change that. Charleston is a city where local food reigns. There are tons of restaurants here and if you go to Red Lobster over a local seafood joint, you're going to get major side-eye. And rightly so because you can't throw a rock without hitting a great place to eat in Charleston! These are a few places I've tried out since moving here.

Roadside Seafood 
(My order: calamari appetizer; crab cake, shrimp, fries, and onion rings basket)

We went on a Thursday night and had to wait 40 minutes for a table because i's a tiny restaurant that is far from fancy, but good night do they have good food. I've never tasted calamari so fresh and flavorful before. I love clam strips and wanted to try those out, but ordered a crab cake since they were out. That crab cake was one of the best things I've put in my mouth in a long time. The flavors were like the calamari's - it was super flavorful and melted on your tongue. The dining experience wasn't my favorite due to the crazy wait and the crowded nature of the restaurant, but you can call an order in to take home and I'll definitely be doing that or going at a less busy time in the future.

JB’s Smoke Shack
(My order: dinner buffet - pulled pork, ribs, green bean casserole, mac & cheese, corn nuggets, and banana pudding.)

Barbecue is king in the Carolinas. JB's has a buffet for lunch and dinner that has a large selection of bbq meat and southern sides. It's in a building that literally looks like a shack both inside and out, but once again, dang their food is delicious. The staff was constantly cleaning the buffet and brought out new food several times, which calmed my nerves about eating at a buffet - something I generally say no too. The ribs practically fell off the bone and the green bean casserole had me swooning. JB's serves up damn good southern food, hands down.

Southern Brews Coffee
(My orders: iced cafe mocha and iced caramel macchiato)

This coffee spot is right around the corner from my house, which is extremely dangerous since I love iced coffee. Their coffee is good, rich, and strong. My only qualm is that the iced coffee isn't made from cold brew - it's prepared hot and poured over ice. I'm not a coffee snob, so I really don't care, but some drinkers might.

Duke’s Barbecue
(My order: pulled pork, corn nuggets, mac & cheese, and coleslaw)

I think Duke's is a small franchise chain with one location in Charleston. They have a drive-thru (yes, barbecue drive-thru!) and you get a gigantic portion of food in a huge styrofoam container for $10. Other local barbecue is probably better, but it's good if you need something quick to take home. They have all the southern staples and I easily got two meals out of my order.

July 13, 2016

I'll Love You Forever

In Loving Memory of Oz
March 2007 - July 10, 2016

I brought Oz home in the spring of 2007. I was a college student and wanted the companionship of a pet. I'd never had a cat before, but when I visited the animal shelter and laid eyes on Oz, I knew he was meant to be mine. I signed all the papers and ran to the pet store. I wanted to give him the best of everything, so I bought expensive food and pine shavings litter. I set everything up and brought him home. I showed him his litter box and he backed away from it, not knowing what the pine shavings were. He was only 7 months old and had only used clay litter at the shelter. When he had to go, he decided my couch would make a decent enough litter box and pooped on it! I promptly went out and got the litter he was used to.

A few years later, Oz was diagnosed with asthma. It took years to figure out how to best treat it and get him on an inhaler routine. Before then, I'd watched him have asthma attack after asthma attack. The oral medicine he was on didn't do enough to help him day-to-day. It broke my heart, but Oz was a little fighter. He hung on and when I got the inhalers, he was able to breathe a little easier.

He had all sorts of weird ailments over the years, including having his cornea scratched twice because he loved to rub his face on cardboard boxes a little too much. Nothing compared to the ordeal we went through last year with his hyperesthesia though. It came out of the blue and was a long, hard road. Oz was never quite the same after that.

This past weekend I noticed he was having trouble going to the bathroom. After finding him in a ball on the bathroom floor growling in pain, I rushed him to the emergency vet, where an x-ray showed his bladder was full of stones. Surgery was his only option. They emptied his bladder and I brought him home to weigh my options. After a lot of thinking, I decided to put Oz's life before my own desires. I didn't want to let him to go, but I also didn't want him to be in pain or suffer any longer. He'd been through a lot in his nine years and I wanted to give him a peaceful ending.

That was the single hardest decision I have ever made. I worried I would feel regret, but days later, I know I did the right thing for him. My heart is broken and a piece of me went with him. I will grieve for him for a long time, but I know he is resting peacefully now. When the veterinarian started administering the injections, he looked up at me and then buried his face in my arm. I howled as he slipped away in my arms, turning to me for comfort in his final moments.

I never thought a cat could teach me so much or make me feel love like this. Oz was my four-legged child. He taught me compassion and patience, to persevere and not give up on those you love. He taught me that even when you feel like you have nothing, you have love to give. Oz loved me unconditionally and always knew when I needed a kitty in my lap to pet for comfort. He was so special. I lost a very dear soul in my life, but he will always live on in my heart.

Mommy will love and remember you forever, baby boy. Rest in peace. 

July 04, 2016

The Most Important Things I've Learned in 30 Years

After writing, reading, and editing this list, part of me thinks it’s all very cliche. And maybe it is, but these things have become valuable to me nonetheless. Maybe they’re cliche because they’re lessons everyone has to learn? Either way, these are my thoughts behind some of the most important things I’ve learned in my 30 years.

1. Live in the moment.
At a very young age, I learned that life is precious. It really can be taken from you in an instant. Sometimes I wish I hadn’t learned this when I did, at the tender age of 12. I never did anything reckless as a teenager...never stepped outside my thoughts on what was safe. I was too scared. “What if something happens” was always in the back of my mind. But then, I had a sense of maturity and wisdom most kids didn’t have that pretty much shaped me into who I am today. All of this to say: enjoy where you are right now. Try to put down your phone, step away from work, and be present.

2. Take chances.
I’m a very strong believer in doing things outside your comfort zone. It’s a great way to grow as a person and challenge yourself. Have you been eyeing a dream job, but don’t feel confident in your ability to get it? Tighten up your resume and portfolio and go for it! Do you want to befriend the girl you work who has her cubicle covered in things you also love? Making friendships as an adult is hard, but ask if she’d like to hang out sometime - you could end up being great friends.

3. It's ok to make mistakes or admit that you were wrong.
This is one I struggle with on a daily basis. I’m hard on myself. Like, really hard. I’m working on this though, because as much as I try to do everything just so, no one is perfect. I also think one of the biggest things you can do as an adult is to swallow your pride and admit when you are wrong. If you said something hurtful, forgot to do something, or just inadvertently screwed up in general...apologize. Say you’re sorry. Both parties will feel better and it creates trust when people know you have the ability to fess up to a wrong-doing.

4. Be kind.
It always eludes me why people cannot just be nice. It makes me mad to hear people judging others or talking about them behind their back. What does that do for you? Does it make you feel superior in some way? It shouldn’t. Everyone deserves kindness. It especially irritates me to hear women putting other women down. Build each other up instead - help a fellow lady feel confident and put a smile on their face.

5. Stop caring about what other people think.
There are always going to be people who disagree with your opinions, think your dress is ugly, judge the things you eat, give you the side-eye about the laundry pile in your bedroom, or any other number of things. Guess what? Who cares?! Those people are not you and do not live your life. You do you, always.

6. Surround yourself with awesome people.
Find your tribe, as they say. Everyone needs a support system! Spend time with family and friends who will build you up and make you feel loved and valued. If there’s someone in your life who constantly brings you down or fills your life with negativity...they’ve got to go. Obviously be tactful about it (don’t say “bye, Felicia” and be a jerk yourself), but what does having a person like that in your life do for you? It probably just makes you disgruntled and you should probably share your friendship with someone else.

June 30, 2016

Living in the Lowcountry

I think it's been just under a month since I last blogged. Life has been full and busy, but good!

We've been in Charleston for about three weeks. Our move went really well and we love our new home. It has three bedrooms, which has turned out to be perfect. Upstairs is our master and a room we use as an office/dressing room. S has varying work hours at the hospital, so we wanted a space either of us could get ready for work without disturbing the other. His desk is also in that room and it's a nice retreat for him to get some studying done. The house also has a guest suite downstairs and we've already hosted my best friend and her husband.

I found out I got a job the day before we moved. What timing! I had a phone interview and then an in-person interview with the company. I was sitting on pins and needles waiting to hear back. I was elated when I found out they wanted me for the position because it's a field I've always wanted to work in: publishing! I had two weeks off between moving and starting my job, so I've only been there for just over a week, but so far, so good. I'm excited about the possibilities and opportunities I'll have at the company and the type of work I'm going to be able to do.

S starts his residency along with all the other residents in the United States on July 1. It's going to be an adjustment to have him go back to work since he's had the last two months off. I'm excited for him and know he's anxious to get started with his career. I signed up to join the hospital's auxiliary program and am hoping I'll make some friends through it. I'm a social person and not having friends in Charleston makes me a little sad.

Two other big things happened this month: my brother got married and I turned 30. My brother's wedding was wonderful! I was a bridesmaid and am honored I got to be a part of their big day. I'm so happy for him and my new sister-in-law! I had a quiet 30th birthday. My best friends came into town and the night before we had a delicious dinner at a local seafood restaurant and then came home to have cake and play games. On my actual birthday, S took me to a barbecue joint near our house and we came home so full we could barely move! I'm very much a chill person and prefer casual to not, so local dinners and fun nights at home were perfect for this milestone birthday.

While I miss my family and friends immensely, Charleston is treating us well and we're happy to be here.

June 14, 2016

Orlando Strong

Last weekend the deadliest mass shooting in United State history happened in the neighborhood I'd been living in until one week prior to the shooting.

I went to the Dunkin Donuts next to Pulse weekly and drove by Pulse itself twice a day on my way to and from my job in Lake Mary. My home was 5 minutes away. Five minutes away from a terrorist attack that killed 49 people.

You never believe this kind of thing can happen in your neighborhood, but it can. It did. Orlando is a growing city. It's previously just been known as the home of theme parks, but in recent years the city has begun to come into its own and grow as a community. I'm heartbroken that this happened in my hometown...the place where I grew up and will always consider home.

There was an impromptu vigil Monday night at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts. Thousands came out and listened to leaders from the city, LGBTQ community, and Latin community. I wish I had been there to see the unity - the coming together of people after tragedy. Hundreds people went to blood banks on the day of the shooting that they had to be turned away due to a lack of supplies. That is the Orlando I know. It's full of good people, good opportunities, good businesses, and good vibes. A very disturbed young man took the lives of many people that night, but what he didn't take was the city's pride and ability to unite. Orlando is strong.

I often don't voice my political opinions, but the nation needs gun reform. I'm not sure what the answer is. Is it taking away all guns? Possibly not. That could cause things to end up like the illegal drug market - simply done under the table. Ending the sale of semi- and automatic weapons seems like a starting point. No one but soldiers needs those types of guns. A tighter background check and longer waiting period on those wanting to purchase handguns also seems like a fair option. Whatever the solution, something needs to happen. Too many innocent people have died by just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

May 18, 2016

Washington, D.C. Vacation: Monuments Bike Tour

Finally, the end of the D.C. vacation posts. I thought our favorite activity should get its own post since we enjoyed it so much.

I knew I wanted us to do a monuments at night tour. The monuments are stunning at any time of day, but at night...wow. They can be breathtaking; the soft light, the tall figures, the quietness. Something about seeing them at night makes the experience even more profound.

After researching different tour companies, I decided we'd do our own tour by renting out Capital Bikeshare bicycles. Capital Bikeshare works like this: for $8 you can rent a bicycle for 24 hours. You can have any single bike out for 30 min, after which you have to exchange it for another bike at a station or start paying a fee that gets charged to your card automatically. There are rental stations all over the city and tons near the monuments.

I crafted our route after viewing the station map and using Google Maps to determine how long it would take us to get from one monument to the next. I wanted to be able to drop our bikes off every 30 minutes so we didn't accrue the overage fees. By using the directions feature and selecting bikes as our mode of transportation, I was able to figure out how long it would take and which stations we'd need to stop at versus those we could skip.

Here's the route we took if anyone is interested in taking it. In the map above, the red circles indicate the bikeshare stations used in the route. (Note the additional orange station in the third bullet.) All memorials/monuments visited are indicated with a blue checkmark. The route is also laid out with the black line.

  • Get off the Metro at the Smithsonian stop and rent bikes at the station on 12th & Independence (right behind the Metro stop).
  • Bike around the tidal basin to Jefferson Memorial and leave the bikes at the station near the concession stand while touring.
  • Check out new bikes and go across the bridge to the Roosevelt Memorial. Pushed your bikes through this if there are crowds and then head to the MLK Memorial. (*Alternate Option: If you think you'll visit the MLK Memorial for more than 10 minutes, stop at the bikeshare station that is noted on the map in orange after you are done at the Roosevelt Memorial.)
  • Keep your bikes while looking at MLK, then head to the Lincoln Memorial and return the bikes to the station. 
  • Tour the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (as well as any other memorials of interest nearby) on foot and cross Constitution Ave. to see the Albert Einstein Memorial. 
  • Pick up new bikes at 21st and Constitution, then head to the WWII Memorial. Keep your bike while you tour the site.
  • Bike toward, then around the Washington Monument before dropping the bikes off at your starting point on 12th & Independence.