2011 Year in Review

January:  I rang in the new year over a traditional English dinner at Louise’s house. The majority of my EOG co-workers were laid off and their offices vacated. The new Florida Governor was inaugurated. (I was working at the Florida Capitol at the time so it was memorable.) This month, I wrote my 30 Before Thirty list and began a self-designed weight loss program. My friend Erin came to Tallahassee for my 26th birthday, and I celebrated with friends at my favorite Tallahassee restaurant, Food Glorious Food.

February: My brother, parents, and grandparents visited Tallahassee for a late birthday get-together, and my brother bought me a sorely-needed new mattress set. Valentine’s Day marked the 2 year anniversary of Shiloh’s adoption. I saw Anthony Bourdain (hilarious!) speak at the newly renovated Ruby Diamond auditorium. I also saw Geoffrey Gilmore present the film Win Win at a sneak-peak, exclusive movie screening. After 26 years, I stopped biting my nails. <— A major accomplishment.

March: This month mainly consisted of frantically applying to jobs and multiple interviews. The last Florida Suicide Prevention Day (planned by me) was held on March 30th.

April: I saw David Sedaris give a talk, and met him at the subsequent book signing. He was incredibly kind and down-to-earth. I went to a psychic fair with my friend Kellie and received some rather confusing advice. In late April, I left the EOG and began a new job in the education field. Inspired by a dream (literally), I began outlining the plot for a young adult novel.

May: This month I made a trip to Washington, DC for my friend Erin’s birthday, and saw my other friend Erin while I was there. (Yes, two of my best friends are named Erin.) We went to the Smithsonian, one of my very favorite places.

June: My brother and grandparents visited Tallahassee and we went to St. Mark’s Lighthouse and Appalachicola to try their world famous oysters. Later, I made trips to Viera, FL and Lakeland, FL for work.

July: I drove to West Palm Beach for Independence Day celebrations. While I was there, the (wrongful) Casey Anthony trial verdict was decided. (I was obsessed with this trial.) My good friend Kellie moved to Tennessee, I started volunteering with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and Borders closed (super sad).

August: I made an attempt at the C25K program but had to stop due to plantar fasciitis. I spent a lot of time volunteering at the Humane Society, and also began graduate classes at FSU. I took a work trip to Orlando to scout out hotel venues for a conference and had dinner with a friend I hadn’t seen in several years, Ritu. An old supervisor, Rosey, with whom I had parted on bad terms passed away of ovarian cancer.

September: Tailgated at the Florida State v. Oklahoma game with my good friend Shari who flew in from Los Angeles. I ushered at a Zakir Hussein concert, who is apparently a very well-known percussionist. Met the first Make-A-Wish child whom I will be granting a wish for!

October: Took Shiloh to be blessed by a Franciscan monk at the Mission San Luis Blessing of the Animals. I volunteered (dressed as Bellatrix) for the Humane Society Fur Ball fundraiser which was themed “Hairy Pawter and the Goblet of Fur.” Made a trip to Daytona Beach for work and my rental car was a brand new candy apple red Mustang (seriously awesome car). Shiloh turned 3.

November: Several meetings with FSU faculty about the PhD program and I made the decision to apply for summer admission. Attended the Greek Food Festival (yum!). Went on my very first Caribbean cruise which included Mayan ruins and swimming with dolphins. An absolutely unforgettable experience!

December: Studied my ass off for finals and ended the semester with a 4.0. Unfortunately, I had to go to the ER due to a kidney stone and was prohibited from traveling. My brother and parents came to visit for Christmas and I took them to the Tallahassee Natural History Museum and Wakulla Springs (where we saw manatees in their natural habitat!). My brother surprised me with a very generous Christmas gift – a new flat screen TV. I ended the year 95 pounds lighter than when it started.

Happy New Year!

– An American Twenty-Something

May Your Coming Year…

– An American Twenty-Something

Christmas 2011

None of my Christmas plans actually happened.

On December 21st, I woke up at 4:30 am with excruciating lower flank pain which I immediately knew from past experience was a kidney stone. Several hours later, lying on a rather uncomfortable cot in the hospital emergency room, a doctor confirmed that I had not one, but two stones in my right kidney.

Due to the likelihood of pain and the necessity of prescription pain medication in the following days, I was advised not to travel. So, my parents and brother came to see me in Tallahassee rather than me driving to West Palm Beach to see them.

I appreciate that my family came to visit, but Christmas in Tallahassee is just not Christmas to me. It was really depressing. I normally love Christmas and never thought I would say this, but this year I’m glad that it is over. I’m ready to focus on the new year ahead.

On a happier note, I received more gifts this year than the past several years. I truly wasn’t expecting much because most of my family has taken a big hit from the recession, so I was very surprised to receive a new 24″ flat-screen LCD TV from my brother. Most people would probably think 24″ is small, but when you have been staring at a 15 year old box TV that makes people orange it’s a major upgrade.

– An American Twenty-Something

The dessert spread at my work holiday gathering.

Geese-a-laying.

Authentic old traincar at the Tallahassee Museum.

My favorite ornament.

Not sure why this came out blurry, but it's my $7 Christmas tree.

 

– An American Twenty-Something

I Kissed A Dolphin, and I Liked It

Structural Dissatisfaction: Returning to circumstances that once pleased you, having experienced a more thrilling or opulent way of life, and finding that you can no longer tolerate them.”

The quote above is from A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, the novel I coincidentally began reading on my vacation, which perfectly describes how I now feel that I am no longer on vacation.

From November 20th – 27th, I was aboard the Carnival Valor cruising for 7 days and nights with my bestie and travel buddy Erin. I was completely disconnected from the real world and it was absolutely blissful. Nothing but island time for a whole week. Rather than go through my trip day by day, I’ve decided just to list the highlights interspersed with some of my favorite photos.

THE SHIP

Being that this was my first cruise I don’t have a point of comparison, but in my opinion the Valor was fantastic.  With 13 different decks the ship itself is impressive and immaculately kept. We booked an interior state room as it was the least expensive, and I was more than happy with the accommodations. My bed was very comfortable and there was a lot of storage space for luggage and personal items. Never did I feel cramped. Our room was at the very front of the ship, so in rough waters we could hear the waves crashing against it as we sliced through the water.

Sailing away from Miami, Florida.

The Valor docked at Cozumel, Mexico.

THE CREW & STAFF

I cannot say enough positive things about the crew, staff, and service. Our House Steward was simply awesome. He was so friendly and always had a kind word. The housekeeping staff was also very observant and paid attention to when you left your room so as not to disturb you.

Amos, from Bali, was the Team Headwaiter for our dining table, and our Bar Waiter was Siwapakorn (who we nicknamed Sip Sip), from Thailand. Amos was very charming and included all the ladies at our table in the dancing routines performed by the servers.

Dinner on the first night. (Photo credit to Erin.)

Towel swan.

FOOD & DRINK

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to want for anything on a cruise. There is constantly yummy food and even yummier alcoholic drinks at your disposal. One small complaint is that the healthy food options were not very tasty, so most people (including myself) opted for the non-healthy options. This makes it hard to not gain the 1.5-2 lb. per day that many people average. Drinks were more expensive than I thought they would be, but after a few days we figured out where the best specials and bartenders were to get the most bang for your buck.

Sunday drink of the day. It was tropical, fruity, and full of rum just like all vacation beverages should be.

Best. Thanksgiving. Ever.

THE SHORE EXCURSIONS

Erin and I booked shore excursions in the ports of Cozumel, Mexico and Georgetown, Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Both excursions were well worth the money we spent.

In Cozumel, we took a ferry to Playa del Carmen where we then caught a bus to the city of Tulum. Driving to Tulum involves going through rural, rather poor, areas of Mexico. It was interesting to see a part of real Mexico, rather than just another tourist trap. In Tulum, we hiked through the Mexican jungle to the Mayan Ruins of Coba. Our tour guide, Marco Polo (seriously) had a degree in history and was extremely knowledgeable in explaining the history of the area.

The Mayan Pyramid of Coba.

I did not walk to the top because stairs make me dizzy.

The second shore excursion in Grand Cayman took us to Dolphin Cove where we swam, danced with, and kissed dolphins. It was absolutely amazing to be in such close proximity to these creatures. After, we took a boat to Stingray City, which is a sandbar in the middle of the ocean where hundreds of stingrays live. Some of the rays are very old and large, up to five feet across in wingspan. They are very accustomed to humans and they glide around you and through your feet fearlessly. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures of these excursions because I couldn’t take my camera in the water.

Dolphin Cove - the weather was horrible.

Parrots at Dolphin Cove.

NIGHTLIFE & ENTERTAINMENT

Our dining time was 8:15 pm, and often it was close to 10 pm when dinner finished up, so I was glad that Carnival provided a number of late shows and other entertainment options. We saw musical routines, magic shows, three comedians and some classically bad karaoke. Even if we didn’t go to a show there was always the casino or a number of bars and dance clubs to hang out in. I felt like Carnival really catered to the younger crowd in that respect, which I appreciated.

Mexican dolls.

Indigenous man dancing in Belize City, Belize.

SERENITY DECK

Probably my favorite part of the actual ship was the serenity deck, an adults only sun deck with circular lounge chairs, hot tubs, sauna, steam room and bar. It was incredibly peaceful to just lay in the sun with the sea breeze blowing against my face and sipping a pina colada.

A dying moth in Tulum.

Sunken ship in Mahagony Bay, Isla Roatan, Honduras.

GUESTS

The success of every good party depends on the people who attend. We met so many interesting people who were all down to drink and dance the night away. The experience would not have been the same if the cruise guests hadn’t been fun! At one point, it was said that there is a 1 in 10,000 chance that you will ever see or hear from the other guests ever again, so just put yourself out there and live it up. While I agree with living life to the fullest, I have also located several other guests via Facebook because we (unknowingly) had mutual friends. So, the lesson here is to have fun but don’t be an ass. And, if you are going to be an ass, make sure you do it on the last night of the cruise.

Eating red beans and rice and drinking Belizean beer!

Erin and I excited to swim with dolphins! (Photo credit to Erin.)

Overall, I had SO MUCH FUN. The words I have written here cannot even begin to encapsulate what I experienced. We’re already starting to plan another trip. Going on this cruise and swimming with a dolphin also fulfilled numbers 18 and 30 on my Thirty Before 30 list! I can’t wait to complete all 28 other items!

– A Very Sad, Post-Vacation,  American Twenty-Something