My husband gets a passing grade, but there’s room to improve

How many of you looked up ASMR after I told you my husband hangs out in our guest room getting soothed? (After the honeymoon, husband & wife return to respective planets.) Probably not as many of you who wrote me emails saying “OUCH, your poor husband, you’re really giving him the gears. He doesn’t know better.” I got advice saying to accept that he’ll never change. I don’t accept that. One of his family members mailed me a book about getting along in relationships, and I thought, why don’t you just mail him a cookbook? Then we’ll REALLY get along! But props to the beautiful stranger who asked how I managed to not to scream at him. (The answer, by the way, is because I tried that in the past, and all it did was make him non-responsive and cause a break out on my face. Vanity wins.)

I guess there’s one big thing you should know: my husband proof reads all of my posts before they get published. He gets his chance in private to correct my grammar (those of you at our wedding may recall he vowed to try not to do that in public) and I get a chance to gauge his reaction by watching his face as a I describe my life with him. It’s not that it’s some type of censorship – I’m not sure I would change anything even if he wasn’t fully on board, nor does he want me to feel censored. He understands that the point of this is honesty, and nothing so far has been exaggerated. The only time he was (mildly) offended was over my slightly sexual portrayal of ASMR.

In actual fact, when he reads my blog, he usually laughs, specifically laughs at his own behaviour in disbelief. I usually find that the days immediately following a post, he becomes very independent and helpful, and I start thanking him for doing chores. (Thanking him?! Shoot me.)

On my kitchen table right now is a pretty dead bouquet of flowers. They’re there as a reminder of our first real married fight. We had a string of a few hard days, after I applied for a job back in Canada, after I discovered black mold in his shower, after I came home from a rehearsal at 9:30 at night to have to cook supper from start to finish because he was on the couch, hungry for 3 hours waiting for me. (But seriously – my stuffed bell peppers were pretty goddamn delicious, even at 10:30 pm. I’ll brag about that later.) The fight ended with me, looking very Bridget Jones, back sitting on my bath mats, pounding my fists on the floor like I’m a child throwing a tantrum.

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I threw around the words respect and partner a lot, and preached about maturity. (Tantrums are a sign of maturity, though, right?) Then I locked myself in my bathroom and texted with my friend for an hour to calm myself down. (Mature people always lock themselves in bathrooms, don’t they?) Then I slinked out of the bathroom after my hips were sore from sitting on the floor and refused to speak for the rest of the night. #potcallingthekettleblack.

The flowers were the start of a very sincere apology from my husband, and we have been making very real, measurable progress ever since. I’m still testing out some methods, but I feel confident that soon I can launch a boot camp for new husbands. I’ll wear a head mic and shake my arms in the air like Oprah in front of rows of betrothed young men and cheer “YES YOU CAN!” I’ll have a slew of inspiring guests, some of the very best husbands I know – the Hugh, the Richard, the Gerry. Maybe the odd webinar by Dr. Owen Hunt and Adam Braverman to give it star power to let me charge more.

Here’s our progress:

Every Tuesday night, my husband cooks supper for us. Tuesdays because I now have a commitment outside the apartment from 7:00-9:30 that night. Plan it, buy the required groceries, cook it, clean up after it. We’ve been trying this out for three weeks, and it’s… well, it’s probably the highlight of his new leaf, so I’ll put a positive spin on it. The first week was PERFECT. I came home to pasta, served with a side salad. I was impressed. My husband hates chopping so the salad was a pretty impressive sign of his commitment to the relationship. The second week was a flop. I wasn’t feeling great, so I texted my husband while he was still in his afternoon lecture and said I’d be home when he got out, and surprise! I was going to be super sweet and make supper for him. He came home without checking his phone, shocked to see me standing there, with a Taco Bell bag in his arm, as I’m getting homemade meatballs in the oven with cauliflower fried rice sautéing on the stove. I’m sweating from the heat of it all, and I see that bag of Taco Bell and it takes everything in me not to lunge at him and swat it out of his hands. He looks confused and disoriented, and then guilty. “Is my supper in there too?” I ask, not naive enough to truly believe that it was. Besides, given that he thought I’d be home 2.5 hours later, who would be gross enough to eat OLD Taco Bell? “I thought you said you could have soup or something,” was his only response. He meant one of the four cans of Campbell’s Tomato in the pantry. I ate my homemade dinner in front of him, pretty quiet, secretly hoping he’d choke a little on his hard taco shell. Week 3 fell somewhere in the middle. I bought the ingredients. I thawed the ground beef. But he seasoned the sauce and the pasta was delicious. Good save.

Every Saturday morning, my husband cleans his own bathroom. And not just by using a Lysol wipe to get rid of his whiskers from the sink. Like, really clean, including the bathtub, which he was surprised to learn is not self-cleaning. For Week 1, I stayed in the bathroom right behind him, first as a silent observer, but turns out I don’t do silent very well. “There, you missed a spot.” “Put some muscle into it.” “It’s called elbow grease for a reason.” I really should coach football or something. I perched on the counter, legs crossed at the ankles, swinging them back and forth, thoroughly enjoying myself as my husband could not get over how scrubbing the tub made his back feel tired. Tell me about it. It took me two hours to get rid of his mold. Week 2 came and went. Week 3 just passed. I mean, I hear you. I read your emails. You say to have faith. You say he’s lived on his own long before me. You say he won’t know until someone shows him. So, I showed him. And therefore I back off during weeks 2 and 3. I had no idea if he had cleaned them or not. I broke down last night and finally asked. All I can say is this paragraph should really begin with “One Saturday morning, my husband cleaned his own bathroom.” Yes, once. A failed mission.

Those are the two biggies, the weekly dinner and bathroom cleaning. But in general, there are chores that are now completely his: putting out the garbage, doing the dishes after supper, putting away the dishes, sweeping the kitchen at the end of the day. Plus our new rule in the kitchen, similar to “you break it, you buy it,” is “you use it, you clean it.” A pan he uses in the morning to cook his eggs can sit there until morning the next day, until he goes to cook again but then has to stop to clean it first. I won’t touch it. I will let it sit there. He used it, he can clean it. And if it delays his daily cooked breakfast, that’s okay. (Is that terribly mean of me? But like, really. Imagine if I left everything I used in the kitchen over the course of the day dirty for him to come to. It’s just gross.)

I used to have to “invite” him to empty the dishwasher. Yes, actually invite. I would stand in the kitchen, while he rewatched The Office and literally use the words, “I invite you to empty the dishwasher.”

“K, babe,” his eyes not leaving the screen. He stands up. He sits back down. I know in that instant he’s already forgotten.

“The dishwasher?”

“Right. Coming.” He stands up, takes two steps toward me, stops in his tracks and continues to watch tv like a statue.

“NOW.”

We trade places and he mutters “jeeze” and I stretch out on the couch. You can not only hear the tv from our kitchen, but you can also SEE the tv from the dishwasher, so it wasn’t like I was asking him to make a huge sacrifice. I hear no sound of dishes clinking, or of cupboards opening and closing, so I look over. He’s frozen again, bent over the top rack, mug in hand, eyes glued to the screen. It takes him about four times as long as it takes me to unload the dishes, but at least I didn’t have to.

Now I don’t have to invite him as often. And we’re hitting on some real stepping stones, like he’ll load the dishwasher until it’s full, and then go to school. We are almost at the part where he’ll put in the detergent and turn it on. Almost. He knows now never to leave his laundry in the washing machine, that’s been corrected. We are almost past the point where he treats the dryer as another dresser drawer. When he drys the pots after dinner, he is excellent at stacking them in the drying rack, so much so that it grows like a Jenga tower and removing one object to cook dinner the next day puts the whole shaky structure at risk. We are nearly there, though, nearly getting those pots, pans, lids INTO the cupboards. In the meantime, I challenge anyone to a game of actual Jenga, because i’ve gotten reallllllyyyyyy good.

We’re communicating better now, too. Instead of discovering that we’re out of peanut butter by finding the empty jar he placed back in the pantry, he’s beginning to tell me as he uses it up, so I don’t discover mid-recipe what’s run out.

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Baby steps, but at least they’re steps forward. I appreciate how much he wants to help, deep down. A for caring. C for execution. The comment next to the grade on his boot camp report card would read “room for improvement, a pleasure to have in class.”

 

I swear to tell the truth, the whole housewife truth, and nothing but…

(Disclaimer: YES I’m holding a gin & tonic in that photo. It’s okay, I wasn’t at home alone in the daytime, Karen Walker-style. I was a bridesmaid at a fabulous wedding in Connecticut, melting my ass off in polyester.)

Okay, so I know I’ve been posting less and less lately. But this time it’s because I think there’s too much I want to tell, but I’m afraid that I’ll OVERSHARE, much like I do when the cashier at Publix makes the mistake of making small talk with me. I don’t get the chance to talk to people very often here, so small talk becomes large, philosophical talk very quickly.

I’ve also been struggling with my blog. I’ve been trying to figure out if it’s always supposed to be funny now, because I’m surprised by how funny people have found it, or if it’s supposed to be my reaction to my new life, because the two are definitely not always the same, especially lately. I haven’t wanted to write about something that might concern my friends and family back home and lead people to think I’m unhappy. I’m not unhappy. But that doesn’t mean I’m always happy, and it can be hard to find the humour sometimes in what I’m doing here.

I recently cried at a dinner party in Connecticut after about a ten minute chat with a stranger named Rosemary, who was a fabulous conversationalist. Having a daughter my age, about to enter similar circumstances, she zeroed in on the changes and challenges in my life pretty quickly, and concluded, in those ten minutes, that my life sounded “horrible.” Except that writes harsher than it sounded coming from her, because she had a cool Australian accent. I’m not sure if it was the Veuve Clicquot Rosé I was tossing back, the heat of the kitchen with three dozen boiled lobsters, or the snugness of my Gap skirt I refuse to retire from 2003 that was making me feel hot and flustered on top of the interrogation. But I cracked. And I cried. I was sweaty and red faced already, so few people noticed. And I tried to explain – it’s not horrible. But it also wasn’t the plan. I had to reiterate to her that becoming a housewife, without a house, really, for three years, was not the plan. Giving up working and earning an income just when I was really getting started in a career back home was not the plan. Moving to the southern US to watch reruns of Will & Grace on my couch all day long was not. the. plan. But I’m attempting to be flexible enough to adapt to the new plan.

Upon reflection since returning from Connecticut, I’ve decided that this blog is not just supposed to be funny. It can be, I guess. I do laugh a lot. The Publix cashiers now call me Lucy, from I Love Lucy, because I laugh out loud so much, and apparently that’s not very common in a grocery store. But this is supposed to be real talk. My life, as it, funny or sad or awesome or horrible as it can sometimes be.

So I’m sorry, fam, if it bums you out to learn that I cry about once a week sitting on my memory foam bathmat, wondering what I’m doing with my life. But it happens. And I’m going to talk about it, because I was also reminded in Connecticut when chatting with an old friend from home, that I am not alone in my experience. It felt so good to talk to her about being a housewife, feeling at times without purpose, without drive. It felt so good to not feel alone. And I started to laugh a lot more just by talking with her. So maybe I’ll inspire another housewife with my honesty. Maybe us housewives can unite in our chores, our fears, our boredoms, our wonderful wide range of emotions, by just talking about how weird this existence can be. A life that really isn’t taught to you, or recommended to you, while you study and educate and dream about your life as a career woman. So sometimes it can feel awkward to describe to non-housewife folk. I’m not embarrassed by my life. Yes, it can make me cry, but then I think back to about two years ago when my boss moved to Toronto and I was left on my own, and I cried at my desk about once a week for the entire fall. So really it’s not so different. There are still struggles, but the obstacles can just seem much more insignificant now and therefore the tears much more silly.

Today’s post is not so much a story I’m sharing but a promise to myself to be honest. There’ll be no spin on what I write. I’m glad people have found my posts funny so far. I didn’t mean for them to be, it was just my life, as told by me. But writing about my life and sharing it with pretty much everyone I know is helpful to me. It keeps me accountable to myself and my feelings. It’s a wonderful tool for my husband’s own personal reflection. It keeps me from having to cry when trying to explain my new life face-to-face, because you’ll already be up to speed, and therefore when I see you, we can skip right past it.

I can be honest. I think, as the person who may have accidentally flashed her brother’s wedding guests, that it’s okay to own my actions. Own my life. Laugh at myself. Not deceive myself, though, either.

Two things I’ll share honestly right now:

  1. I poisoned myself with tzatziki sauce on Thursday and now as I write this, I’m still suffering from the effects of wrongfully, yet knowingly, putting such a diary product in my body. And in such great quantity. I have a HIGH intolerance for milk fat, but got swept away with my incredible housewifery skills in the kitchen last week, improvising delectable recipes night, after night, after night. I made Greek meatballs and an awesome Greek salad, and then proceeded to eat my face off because WHO DOESN’T LOVE FRESH MINT? Until about twenty minutes later, my belly distended so far, I looked 36 weeks pregnant and it hurt to breathe, let alone move. After a failed attempt of curing myself with ginger Gravol (it’s basically my candy), I dumped myself in a hot shower to stay conscious from the delirium and pain. But the shower made me want to faint even more, so I got down on my knees and proceeded to vomit, in and out of consciousness. Sounds terrible? Yes, yes it was. Frighteningly, it wasn’t the first time I’ve done that. (I once played a symphony concert just three hours after such an episode.) But what’s even scarier stupider is that I brought it all on myself because of my stupid love of Greek food. And who eats Greek food without tzatziki sauce?! Well… guess I do, now.
  2. I applied for a job in Toronto and I got it. I decided it was a worthwhile exercise for me to keep a current resumé and still actively pursue my dream of working for a non-profit arts organziation. So that maybe, someday, when I’m no longer a housewife, I’ll remember what it’s like to be in the workforce.

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I didn’t take the job, honestly, since I’m being totally honest here, because it wasn’t enough hours a week to make it worthwhile. Then, obviously, because I have a husband here in Florida. Then, because I have an awesome trip home already planned for several weeks and I feel okay about my life through to New Year’s. But it was a fun exercise. One that my husband and I are still hashing out in case some day it’s a job that is worthwhile. My self-esteem went WAY up that day, and I felt valuable. I felt smart. I felt strong and capable. I read that exact description in a crappy chic-lit novel recently. The author described a woman in one short sentence. “She was strong and capable.” And that was the most poignant part of the whole book for me. I would like to be described as strong and capable, I think, more than anything else. I shared with my old friend in Connecticut that these days, I often feel fragile. I hadn’t said that out loud before and I surprised myself when I did. But it was accurate. She looked at me, jaw hanging, with immediate awe and recognition and shouted “YES!” Because that was exactly her experience, too. And already in being honest out loud to her, I felt stronger.

So I leave you now with this JAM from Working Girl. An excellent reminder than a man’s name shouldn’t take top billing in any story (or life) with a female protagonist. Sorry, Harrison, not even yours.

Always the hurricanes blowing, but I and my welcome mat remained safe

No, Irma did not sweep me away! My lack of blogging for two weeks wasn’t because I was blown to Georgia, but because I was packing, storm-proofing, and travelling to crash at my brother’s place in North Carolina to avoid Irma altogether. And then I spent one week catching up on all of the how-are-you-surviving-Irma emails from family and friends. I feared for a while I had writer’s block. But I’ve been simply typed out.

It would have been helpful to issue a PSA of some kind that said: not only am I safe, I am absolutely unaffected in pretty much every way by this storm.

Truly. Few people in Florida have less to do than me. Leaving town for a couple weeks is very simple for me. (Partially because my carryon and toiletries are always packed ready to go in case I feel so inclined in moment’s notice.) I was not put out in any way and it was actually a pretty rare happenstance that I got to spend so much time with my brother, uninterrupted by Christmas, or weddings, or a revolving door of other people.

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I say “leaving town” being using the word “evacuate” seems dramatic and like we were in danger. We weren’t. I promise the only thing that would have happened to us if we had stayed was that we’d have spent likely one night without air conditioning. That’s all that happened to our building. One night without power. My car wasn’t washed away, no debris damage. I even forgot to take in my seashell welcome mat before we left, and it was still there when we returned over a week later! Our home, our belongings were all fine. No looters even cared to take my cello.

In reality, I didn’t have any reason to stick around for the storm at all. I could have hopped the next flight out to YYZ, or YYT for that matter, and escaped it all. But I’ve never done the hurricane thing here yet living as a Floridian, so I figured I’d see what it was all about, and also be a supportive spouse since my husband had to stay close to school.

How I prepped for the hurricane:

  • Bought a three days’ supply of non-perishable food, at the recommendation of the Florida Governor’s tweets
  • Made my own ice packs from the freezer’s ice maker and Ziploc baggies for the cooler because I listened to my husband when he said the town would be SOLD OUT of ice
  • Went to Walmart to buy a cooler to save all of the hormone-free, boneless, skinless chicken breast I’ve been hoarding in my freezer from the Buy-One-Get-One sales (#housewifelife) and discovered STACKS of ice cheaper than my Ziploc bags
  • Did a few loads of laundry in case we lost power
  • Took out some cash in case debit machines went down and ATMs ran out
  • Cleaned the bath tubs and sinks once we decided to leave the next day to prevent mildew from growing
  • Ran the dishwasher so nothing dirty was left to get gross
  • Emptied the fridge of everything perishable and turned down the temperature inside to keep it cooler longer in case we lost power
  • Made healthy chicken wraps and other snacks to eat on the road, foreseeing traffic would be bad and we wouldn’t have time to stop for food
  • Packed air mattress, sheets, pillows, cooler, important documents like our marriage certificate and visas, my passport (you know, in case I do get the itch)
  • Closed all the blinds and curtains to block out sun so that our air conditioning didn’t have to have a heart attack when it returned after a power outage, trying to cool down the place (and save me a heart attack from the bill)

How my husband prepared for the hurricane:

  • Put gas in both our vehicles
  • Unplugged the tv
  • Patted himself on the back for trading in his sports car for his pickup truck

…yup.

We did leave during the recommended voluntary evacuation when it looked like Daytona was going to get hit bad. I posted a quippy Facebook post from the road to tame the fear mongering back home. While CNN was likely showing footage of highway traffic out of Miami, I wanted to reassure everyone that we were fiiiiiiiine and it wasn’t THAT bad. Turns out it did get THAT bad, especially in Georgia, and then more so in South Carolina. We were crawling at 10 mph at best.

My pro tip for evacuating: DO NOT DRINK ANY LIQUIDS. I was a champ who held it for about five hours, distracted only by the mystery flavour pack of Haribo gummy bears. Skip the coffee before you leave if you’re just the passenger, because you’ll nap from the boredom anyway. Save yourself. The 8 hour drive took over 13 and I ate crow. I could also later safely eat chicken, though, because everything stayed perfectly frozen in the cooler #winning #housewifestsyle.

And while my brother was a terrific host, it felt like at times we had evacuated to a shelter. He’s renting, you see, before moving into a house, so he wisely left most of his things in storage until then. Things, you know, kettles, toasters, FURNITURE. So while I did bring an air mattress and sheets, I did not quite expect to find no other furniture except one very tiny love seat in the whole apartment. We ate every meal cross legged on the floor. I spent my time either watching Grey’s Anatomy from my slow-leaking air mattress, which transitions to a hammock pretty well, or using a Tupperware container of my brother’s kitchen stuff he didn’t care to unpack as a short desk upon which I’d answer emails. Okay, maybe it wasn’t quite like a shelter, but it was like camping indoors. Should have brought my beach chair. Boiling water in a pot on the stove to make coffee and using the oven broiler to toast bread was the closet to camping I hope I ever get again.

By the way, since so many of the emails I got out of love and concern could have been answered with this one reply, I’ll post it here so I don’t have to again: Yes, we’re fine, and no, please do not look forward to meeting a baby Irma, nor Irmo, in June #sorrynotsorry.

And although I was simply in a different apartment, not all that different from my life in Florida, it started to feel like time was crawling. My brother cooked, which was a treat. And it’s rude to clean someone else’s place so there went most of what I do with my time, except that one time his kitchen sink’s garbage disposal clogged and made the pipes spew rotting crap, and I got to sweep in and get my hands in some soap and help! My husband and I got so sick of seeing other all the time, from doing nothing, from sitting on the floor for hours until I eventually wanted to grab my sister-in-law’s yoga ball and scream WILSON!

We headed back the day before his school reopened come hell or high water (too soon?). We left not knowing if we had power, but at least driving back gave us something to do. Greenville seems to have held my attention about as long as Daytona does.

The drive back was equally painful as the way up. Slow moving traffic, inching our way through South Carolina. FINALLY we see four lanes again, and it’s clear up ahead, and we can put on cruise control and just drive. It was a little eery seeing the National Guard posted at every exit, but it was nonetheless delightful to be returning to Florida at such speed. I closed my eyes to doze off again, only to open them to find us EXITING the interstate, onto a small state road, definitely off course, and definitely the WRONG direction from home. My husband decided, clearly on his own, that it was the day (it was not) to taste his favourite burger chain in America, so he was taking a DETOUR from our already 12 hour drive to add another 45 minutes to it by driving to a small town for Whataburger. We were headed east, which is where Irma did her worst, as evident by the missing roof tops on a lot of buildings.

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Turns out Whataburger wasn’t even open to eat-in, so we didn’t get to stretch our legs or use the restroom, but instead we sat in the drive-thru for another 15 minutes. And I ate a burger that wasn’t what I ordered.

I’m sooo over evacuating. And I’m restless from boredom, and feeling useless when there’s so much help needed now.

I’ve applied to volunteer with the Red Cross. I’m pretty sure I won’t be sent to Puerto Rico, seeing as how under the section titled knowledge of: I almost wrote “West Side Story.” Didn’t think it was appropriate timing to remind them of the unflattering lyrics in “America.” Even Florida now is prone to tropic di-sea-ses, anyway. I could, though, potentially be sent to the Keys or Miami, because the clean-up down there will take months. I also wouldn’t mind being sent to Tampa where I hear Kristin Bell is still helping out. (We could sing Frozen duets.) They were looking for volunteers especially who had availability to go on two-week assignments. Considering my only true commitments left to 2017 are two weddings and one rehearsal dinner, I’m hoping they make use of me. I don’t, however, have a Social Security Number down here yet, so I’m crossing my fingers it doesn’t get my application tossed out.

But let me reiterate that we were very fortunate. Fortunate that we had nothing damaged. Fortunate we had family to stay with within driving distance. Many people here in our county alone have lost their homes, their cars, their belongings, and had to stay in hotels they could not afford, eating meals out they could not afford, lost time from work they could not afford, and stay in shelters. The shelters were run out of local elementary schools, which are now back in session this week, displacing all of those who needed that service and now have nowhere to go. The local Red Cross is asking for hotels to assist with free rooms, and people with extra bed rooms in their homes to be generous, because there is a desperate need.

I posted my husband’s old table and chairs on a local buy & sell group on Facebook this weekend. In joining the group, I got caught up in all of the ads of people looking for help. For extra paid work. For extra child care so they can go to work. For rides to work because they no longer have a car. But one ad finally broke me, and I cried. One woman needed to borrow four puppy pads until she got paid, because she couldn’t take shifts during the storm, and then she’d replace them for you. My husband found me sitting on the floor crying over that one, and he was the first to say that we should just go buy her a pack and drop them off. I searched frantically for the ad to reply, but I hope its disappearance means someone already helped.

So please don’t worry about how we are surviving. There are many who need your thoughts and prayers far more. Especially any child name Irmo.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Day I Moved to a New and Shiny Place (America)

I’m a pretty big Neil Diamond fan. And when I say fan, I mean more than Sweet Caroline. I love his whole songbook. It’s peculiar for someone my age, but I’ve loved him since childhood and more so since seeing The Jazz Singer. My mother believed I should grow up seeing key movies from the eighties – Beaches, Steel Magnolias, Ghost, Dirty Dancing, Footloose, Weekend at Bernie’s, and The Jazz Singer. My fandom of Neil Diamond has led me down a couple of very interesting paths in my life, but I most recently drew inspiration from his song America.

I had a direct flight from St. John’s to Orlando booked for my big move to America, three weeks after the wedding. It seemed easier that way, and safer for my cello. Add travelling at humane hours and Michael Scott would call this a win-win-WIN. I’d arrive in time to drive to Tia Cori’s for fish tacos. Delish.

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Spoiler alert: sadly, I tasted my favorite tacos two weeks after my arrival.

I was just taking 1/3 of my wardrobe, my music books, my cello, and a few pink tchotchkes. No furniture. No car. No coats (yay!). It was going to be simple because my husband could take an extra checked bag with him when he left. Oh, but right. Then he got sciatica and couldn’t even manage his own carry-on when he returned to Florida a few weeks ahead of me. Wait. Okay. (Counting number of bags on fingers.) Shit.

I ended up flying down with a little more weight and a few more bags than I intended, including one very heavy personal item, containing all of the wedding gifts from people who MISSED THE MEMO that our registry shipped directly to Daytona.

Few people have likely gone through airport security in St. John’s with Waterford Crystal in their bag, stuffed with ankle socks and wrapped in my Yale sweatpants. The agent peered at the screen and looked up at me to ask “hey, crystal? Nice!” And then I responded with the Richard Burke all-knowing head nod, and said, “wedding gift.” He nodded in solidarity, like he too had once flown with Waterford Crystal strapped to his body.

I landed uneventfully in Orlando, ready to be a wife! Got my married name passport to boot, whether I wanted it or not. Yes, I mean, deep down I guess I did want to change my name. But then “immigration” (actually, I think it was just a woman at my husband’s university named Judy) tells you you really SHOULD change your name, because it would make immigrating so much easier, and your paperwork to enter as a dependent would be processed so much faster, and entering through customs with a matching last name to my spouse would make it so much smoother. I followed Judy’s instruction blindly.

I stood in the customs line up with my paperwork in hand, Canadian passport sparkling on top. A Hector Elizondo doppelgänger was directing the flow of passengers. He took a look at my passport and asked me en français if I spoke French. I feigned all humble, and bashfully say “no, no, not very well.” And he said having a second language was the best thing a person could have in this world, after the language of music. And then I swept him off his feet by adding that I’m a cellist. And wouldn’t you know – his brother lives in Italy and conducts an orchestra there, but he himself was a drummer and plays the bossa nova exclusively. And then Hector closed his eyes and held up his hands in a partner hold and hummed a bossa nova while his feet took little steps.

Judy was right, this was going so smoothly! I’m obviously going to charm the pants off these people. Wait until they learn I’m from the place Come From Away is set.

But things quickly turned bumpy. I took my cello playing, NL butt to the customs desk, now humming The Girl from Ipanema myself, but this young officer just took one brief, casual, sideways glance at my dependent paperwork and said, “let’s just get a better look at this inside.”

But I am inside already. What did he mean?

He meant inside secondary customs screening, which I now believe was designed to replicate the experience upon arrival at Ellis Island. Except there was no feeling of hope. Just tears and fears.

No more humming. I sat in silence, deflated. I sat with my carry-on in my lap, so I could still feel the crystal and make sure it was intact. No phones were allowed. Someone had theirs confiscated not long after I arrived, so I didn’t even attempt to try to send my husband a message. He would be getting so worried. How long could this take anyway?

HOURS went by. I kept busy memorizing the government website posted on the wall to file complaints about my customs experience. I just knew I would have them. There was no rhyme or reason to the processing. I tried to figure out the delay, but there was no use reading lips, because I don’t speak Spanish. Judy didn’t mention this. My neighbor, though, was young and kind of cute, and he spoke a bit of English. He told me my name was beautiful, and pronounced it like LAO (like plow)-RA with a rolled “r,” and I thought, oooh, that’s kind of sexy. So we got to chatting away, and he was teaching me little phrases in Spanish and I started to re-inflate.

Until a woman threw herself at the glass door from the outside, screeching, hands splayed, most likely breaking her nose in the process. Seriously THREW herself at the door, like a bird flying into a window pane that then dies immediately upon impact. She knelt down, I thought to mourn her nose or possibly wipe the blood smear off the glass, but instead she slid a set of house keys under the door.

Until people were getting barked at to have their fingers inked and “booked.” WTF. Was I going to be finger printed? And all of a sudden my Spanish teacher neighbor was hauled out of his seat to be “booked” and taken to what I can only assume to be an interrogation room (I think they labeled it “tertiary screening”). A very large, intimidating officer then gruffly snapped a blue latex glove over his chubby hand, wriggling his fingers through to the very tips, and followed behind, letting the door slam shut behind him. JUDY!

Now, I’m no detective. But I’ve watched enough CBS crime dramas to understand a blue gloved hand is not good news. I was prepared for a lot in this new phase of married life. Plus I had this new name, didn’t I? This was supposed to make sure entering the country went smoothly. But I was definitely never prepared for this. Nothing about a blue gloved hand entering an a**hole was smooth. AM I NEXT?! IS THIS MY COMING TO AMERICA NEIL DIAMOND SANG ABOUT ALL THESE YEARS?

No, thankfully, I was not searched for drugs. As it turned out, processing was exceptionally delayed and slow because my new friend and several others were seemingly trying to enter illegally while carrying some illegal things (in WEIRD places), and they were being shipped back to where they came from. They were “booked” in time to catch a flight being held for them. Maybe it is the storyline for Come From Away, the sequel.

Almost three hours had passed, and the convenience of my four-hour direct flight was now moot. I really needed to let my husband know I was okay. I nervously approached the two officers and shyly asked to use the restroom. The now-gloveless officer grunted for me to follow him. We walked through some type of locker room, and then rounded the corner to the “restroom.” It was much more like an condemned high school gym’s forgotten toilet, with no door. The opposite of safe. The very contradiction of sanitary. The officer turned back on to the toilet, folded his arms, and I had no choice but to accept him as a human shield. Thank GOD I spent whole weekends binge watching Homeland. Because I *may have* pulled a Carrie Mathison, going rogue and breaking the rules. I was going to get a message out to my husband to tell him where I was, no matter the risk. He must have been worried sick. The officer is distracted, so I sneak the cold tap water on very gently to make it sound like I’m peeing longer than I really am, and I frantically try to connect to Orlando International’s wi-fi to send a What’s-App message. Trying to quickly get the important stuff out in as few words as needed: Landed safely, stuck in customs. No. In customs, go find cello. Mmm. Tighten it up. At customs, have tacos? SEND.

Discretely turn off water, flush, wash hands, feel like an absolute BAD ASS UNDERCOVER AGENT. I slip my phone back into my purse in the waiting room, only to see “failure to send” flash across the screen. Goddamn. I likely just risked the blue glove treatment because I was too curious about my tacos.

But they released me not long after, and I hustled out of there as fast as one can hustle with Waterford Crystal bouncing at your side.

I still had to pick up my cello and oversized suitcase, which were left standing helpless out in the open and seemingly free for the taking (thanks, MCO). I piled all my bags onto a cart to make my way to take the shuttle to change terminals. I’m stopped by two airport authorities who are peering down at me with their arms crossed, like they’re Harry and Marv. Nope, not allowed to take the cart. I had no option but to saddle up. Cello strapped to my back, crystal strapped to my front. I crammed my body, a hard shell cello case, two suitcases and my carry-ons onto an escalator, TWICE.

marv

This whole time a smug, short, middle-aged man in a business suit is taking the exact same route, wheeling one very tiny carry-on. He watches me try to load onto the shuttle. He watches me skid halfway down the shuttle as it launches forward and I have nothing to grip because for some f*cking reason people did not shop off my registry and I’m burdened with precious breakables. He follows me, and I avoid eye contact with him, even though I can feel he’s trying to catch my eye, because I’m afraid I will shout at him “CAN I HELP YOU? OH WAIT. THAT’S SUPPOSED TO BE YOUR LINE.

I channel every ounce of Gal Gadot I have in me (which turns out is not a lot except for our eyebrows when I don’t over-tweeze). One of my cello case straps snaps from the strain, and now I’m lopsided, and I have one suitcase with spinner wheels, one that needs to be dragged, and I’m sweating a lot, and WHERE IS MY HUSBAND? I just moved to a new country for him, he could at least show up.

I dig out my phone and call him. I’m breathless. I just carted well over my own body weight here in bags hanging off my body and I need someone to take something off me before I break. Literally physically break. I can’t see him anywhere. He must be worried sick…

It turns out I took so long, he got hungry waiting for me, so he went to a restaurant and ordered a salad, he’d be right there.

My coming to America. This land was not so sweet to me today, which is just as well, because in this moment I’m not exactly thrilled with it either. Of thee I do not sing. Not today.

newlyweds posing by vineyard in Napa

After the honeymoon, husband & wife return to respective planets

Even if that was our half-honeymoon, it is WHOLLY over. Remember how sentimental my last post (Men are from Mars, women are from Venus: together, they try to honeymoon) ended? How easily charmed I was that I found my husband doing *gasp* his own laundry once we got home?

I spoke too soon.

He did, to his credit, complete one full load. I found it seven days later in the dryer. He did attempt a second, which I found, also seven days later, in the washer. Let me back up:

We, duh, went to watch the eclipse on campus. Aerospace engineering students do not miss this rare phenomenon. Although campus ran out of glasses, we were able to sneak behind a laboratory thanks to a friend, and watch the whole thing through welding masks (yes, adjusted correctly). We left with plans for this friend to join us for dinner later, and off I headed to the gym.

I run now. (I’ll pause here to allow you to pick your jaw up off the floor.) I find it centers me or calms me down if I’m anxious from boredom or from living in a republican county. On this particular run, I was centering: dinner would have to be gluten-free. Fine, I have a stash of gluten-free pasta in the pantry just for this friend. Turkey sausages were already thawed, marinara sauce was two-for-one this week at the grocery store – I was set. I even remembered our friend can drink wine, not beer, so we picked up both on the way home from campus. My only other to-do item was my laundry. I hadn’t needed to do a load since we got back from the honeymoon.

I skip off the treadmill feeling calm. Quiet. Centered. Happy to cook dinner for my husband and friend.

I walk in the apartment to find the living room and bedroom empty, which is strange, because my husband’s truck is in the parking lot. (Oh yeah, we own a truck now, not a sports car. Another time.) The door to his office is half open, and I see a pair of cargo shorts on the floor. He’s lying on our brand new guest bed in his underwear, with his headphones on and eyes closed. (The guest bed he fought me on since day one. Obviously I won.)

Anyway, so he’s on the bed. He also doesn’t seem to hear me. His hands are folded over his chest like he’s been laid to rest. A woman’s face on his laptop screen on the desk next to him catches my eye and she’s very lovely to look at. Slavic, maybe. I have to break his trance to ask “WTF” and I’m informed it’s ASMR. Sure!

Oh, you don’t know what that is? Let me explain, because I didn’t either. ASMR stands for autonomous sensory meridian response. It’s when you’re soothed by the visual of someone caressing your scalp and it sends tingling feelings down your body. So that beautiful face you see on the screen? She’s pretending to touch you. He describes it as relaxing. Yup… that’s one word for it.

He looks annoyed that I broke him out of his trance, and I comment “she’s quite pretty,” channeling my best Emma Thompson impression from Love Actually. “She’s not even one of the pretty ones,” was his response. Ah, I think. That makes this better.

I back out of the room slowly, silently. Close the door behind me. I feel like the mother of a teenager who has accidentally walked in on her son and even though nothing was explicitly happening, it’s still pretty awkward and you want to leave him in privacy. Okay, stay centered, Stay calm.

Laundry! I’ll feel less irritated once I accomplish something. I open the washer to let it fill, but it’s already full of wet clothes. His clothes. Wrangled and wrinkly and soggy. I softly open the door to his office and sweetly ask how long has the wet clothes been sitting there. He reluctantly pulls the headphones down and apparently has no idea. I close the door again, and head back to the laundry room for the dreaded sniff test. I wrack my brain and can’t recall any time he’s stepped foot in the laundry room except for… no… it can’t be. I did not need to get very close to the clothes to know the answer was most definitely seven days. Great. So now I have to re-do his mildew scented laundry. (Did I mention the honeymoon was SO over?) I guess mine will wait until tomorrow.

Upon further inspection, his wet laundry consisted of a dress shirt, cargo shorts, a new ivory towel, and a black t-shirt, among other various smaller articles. Now, I may not be a rocket scientist, but that is one poorly constructed load. To his credit (I’m really playing it fast and loose here with the word credit), I did learn on our honeymoon that this aversion and disinterest in laundry is likely genetic.

And as tired as I feel from just having finished my run, I want to bolt out the front door and do it all again. I am so far from centered.

I open the door, this time with more force, and barge in. Relaxation be damned. “You know you can’t do that, right?” He looks at me, annoyed, and pulls his headphones down around his neck. “Guess quiet time is over,” he mutters, now also irritated. GUESS SO, I shout inside my head. But on the outside, I am smiling. Like Claire Dunphy laughing, but not with her eyes.

Fast forward to an hour later. I’m a goddess in the kitchen, with pots on all burners, chopping a side salad, setting the table. The boys are now outside measuring the truck. (I dunno, I guess it’s what men do when they own a truck.) They come in and pour up wine, and our friend takes a seat in one of our counter-height chairs facing me across the island. Jazz is on in the background. I’m chopping. I’m stirring. I’m sautéeing. Did I mention I’m a goddess? My husband has not lifted a finger to contribute to this meal, but yet feels so moved by the ambience of it all, he whips out a clean dish towel (after asking me where I keep them) and throws it over his shoulder so he can look like Sam Malone. I can’t. make. this. up.

Cheers

“Take. It. Off.” I don’t want him to even pretend that he’s helping.

Fast forward to the next day. I wake up to a sparkling clean kitchen, because, no shit, I cleaned it myself. Except for the wine glasses. We have an understanding I said once and he ignored that when he uses wine glasses, he has to clean them. They’re the shape and brand he insists on owning, but they don’t fit in the dishwasher. I see four dirty wine glasses strewn around the place, so I collect them all and line them up next to the sink. Next to the sink. In retrospect, I should have left a little sign propped up against them that said “wash me”.

I finally get to my laundry. He comes home from a pizza party at school. I head out to Wal-Mart for toilet paper. As I’m leaving, he’s heading into the bedroom for a nap. Guess that pizza party took a lot out him. After Wal-Mart, I head to the grocery store and buy a week’s worth. It’s time consuming, because I’m meal planning in my head on the fly, and trying to stick to his diet guidelines. Like a pack mule, I load myself up with every bag out of my Corolla, and slowly make my way up the stairs to our second floor apartment. I’m moving at the speed of one of those 150 year-old tortoises.

I’m winded at the top and can hardly fit me and my reusable bags through the door. Now he’s splayed out on the couch watching Friends reruns. Guess nap time is over. I drag the bags into the kitchen and within minutes, everything is stored way and I have beef sitting in a homemade marinade (thanks to my new friend Anna) in the fridge for two days’ time. The wine glasses are still just sitting there.

After dinner, I gently point out that they really need to be washed. I’m sticking to my guns on this one. I’m not going to clean them. If he thinks he’s gonna wait me out, he’s wrong. “I’ll get to it later,” he assures me.

Fast forward to 11:39 pm and I just made homemade oatmeal as a late night snack. We’re on the couch, still watching reruns, talking about going to bed soon. I look over at the sink and the wine glasses haven’t budged. I less than gently point it out, again. “Those will have to wait to tomorrow. It’s too late now. But I’ll put the rest of the dishes away.” He picks up his bowl, walks past me AND MY EMPTY BOWL and heads toward the dishwasher.

I’m exasperated. I lose my ability to make sound. I’m gesticulating wildly at my bowl.

“Are these clean or dirty?” he asks, standing immediately in front of the dishwasher. I manage to squeak out “I don’t know.” But it’s a bold-faced lie. I ALWAYS know. I always know because I’m pretty much the only person who ever empties it. And I’m also pretty much the last person to ever load it. I usually to have to re-do what’s been stowed inside. Maybe if I had married a civil engineer… “Open it,” is my helpful response. Good God, tell me you can see the difference.

Soon I hear laughter coming out of my mouth but I’m actually frightened. My husband does not see dishes. Or dirt. Or comprehend chores. It’s precious, really (thanks, Michael in TO, for the word choice inspiration). And I don’t want to nag. As gentle as I try to be (it’s not in my nature), he’s driving me insane. I’ll probably get an ulcer this way. And I know it’s not malevolent. I know he wants to help out and, most importantly, he definitely wants to end the nagging.

I plead with him. There must be a way. A better system. So we hashed it out. Wanna know what the PhD and I came up with? Here’s the new system:

I am to send him a daily text message in the morning detailing what chores he must accomplish that day. Yes, you read that correctly. A daily text message. From his wife. To tell him what chores exist in our two-bedroom apartment.

I’m about to send today’s message. There’s no text to compose, it is solely one photo.

FullSizeRender (1)

Men are from Mars, women are from Venus: together, they try to honeymoon

My goal was to write a blog post once a week. But then my husband and I took a pretty impromptu trip to California and I kept forgetting the wifi codes wherever we were staying, so I missed last week. Not that writing a blog on your honeymoon takes priority. It shouldn’t. So I kept sneaking notes on my iPhone so I wouldn’t forget.

We actually aren’t sure if that was our honeymoon or not. His family seemed to have declared it so in a family email. It was somewhat half-assed in its planning. We booked flights one week beforehand, hotel about three days beforehand. We knew we wanted wine, and that we needed a break from the oppressive humidity of central Florida in the summer. Northern California seemed like a good match for both. I wore sneakers most days, rode a bike for two of them, and hiked for one. Not exactly what I thought my honeymoon would look like. But it was our first trip together as a married couple, so perhaps that is the only criteria that matters. Maybe my wardrobe criteria are secondary.

I knew before moving to Florida that there would be times when my husband and I did things differently. I knew, for example, that he plans his bedtime so that he always gets 8 hours of sleep, whereas I only sleep once my Netflix series binge du jour has come to a sufficient emotional cadence.

Once I moved in, there were others. Small. Many.

  • I prefer Dove soap, he prefers Ivory.
  • I like the fresh linen scented Bounce sheets, he insists on free and gentle. Though I do all the laundry, I’m not a monster, so I buy both and only use linen for my things.
  • He cleans using paper towels, I use soap and dish cloths.
  • I like to decorate with area rugs and cute pillows. He likes to decorate with coffee mugs and beer bottles half full. Sometimes I think I’m on the set of the M. Night Shyamalan sci-fi thriller, Signs. 
  • I like to take my shoes off in the porch, he likes to walk his all over the carpet. (I should introduce him to our vacuum and he might change his perspective there a bit.)
  • When he decides it’s time for bed, he simply turns off the light, makes a beeline to the bed, promptly gets under the covers, and begins to snore. When I decide it’s time for bed, I first turn the light back on, tidy up the living room, put anything dirty in the dishwasher, wipe down the counter tops one last time, refill the Brita filter to make coffee in the morning, take out something in the freezer for dinner the next day, bring in the garbage can from the nightly collection service, deadbolt the front door, set an alarm for the morning, and floss.

So it shouldn’t surprise me that when preparing for our half-honeymoon, we would also have different approaches.

Usually for a two week trip, I plan months in advance. Make lists. Monitor weather forecasts. Read travel guide books. Make more lists. Break in new shoes. Refill my miniature toiletries. I’m packed usually a few days before I go. Every outfit gets tried on before going in my suitcase. It might sound crazy, but the payoff is worth it. My travel usually unfolds seamlessly – never overpacked, or under. Never overdressed or under. It’s a process that works for me. I didn’t have months this time. I had a couple days. And since I’m trying to embrace this beachcomber life, I was playing it cool. I was stifling the Monica Gellar within me.

Only two days of weather forecasts. I would shout out loud so my husband could hear me that the temperatures in San Francisco are just like St. John’s – foggy, cool. Only a couple Google searches on San Francisco packing tips. Again, I would shout out loud so he could hear me that layers would be smart. I searched for vineyard dress codes. Confession: I did also Google what to wear while riding a bike, since I have not done so in 20 years. I put the outfits for the second week of the trip on the bottom of my suitcase so that everything I need for the first is on top, and things remain folded and less wrinkly from constant rooting. I was packed the night before we left. I was even the gracious housewife I’m grooming myself to become by doing two loads of his laundry.

His process is different, I’ve now seen it firsthand. How he waits until three hours before our flight to get out his suitcase. How he balls up anything clean in his closet and quite literally dumps it in. How he packs only toothpaste and deodorant because he assumes he will either mooch off of my shampoo or use what he can find in the hotel. A hunter/gatherer approach to travel.

Three hours before we leave, he asks “do I need pants?” And I facepalm. I choke down what I/Monica want/s to say – I’m trying to be gracious. This man is a rocket scientist. Quite literally a rocket scientist.

Two hours before we leave for the airport, he holds up a pair of dirty black shorts hung on the back his bathroom door I missed and asks “these didn’t get washed?”

One hour before we leave for the airport (while he’s finishing his first load of laundry since I moved here), he leaves to buy new shoes. Yes, leaves to go shopping. For shoes he needs to wear every day on the trip. When he leaves, I also dart out to Wal-Mart to buy him miniature shampoo and conditioner because I’m definitely not gracious enough to share my mini supply.

And while all of this made me want to scream and shout ARE YOU KIDDING ME, I didn’t (#growth). But it bespeaks how the rest of our trip unfolds.

For instance, day one in San Francisco was à la Laura. The night before, I had researched a must-do spot for brunch (cross-referenced with its Yelp review). I checked to see if we should take public transportation there or if it was easier to Uber (Uber won). Next, I had already reserved our bicycle rentals online to save 20% and pickup was conveniently right next to brunch #coincidenceIthinknot. We cycled about 9 miles, including across the gorgeous Golden Gate bridge. Lunch was in Sausalito, and then we were to cross by ferry back to SF. My husband deviated from my plan slightly, but we reconvened at the Aquarium before riding a cable car to Chinatown for an epic, five-star Szechuan dinner. It was an expertly planned, well-executed day, knocking off lots of San Francisco highlights.

Day two was up to my husband. We started by waiting for a bus at a bus stop that no longer existed. After a quick rerouting, we ended up in an hour and a half line up for brunch. Then we bailed on the line and waited for another bus. Then we bailed on the bus and walked on foot… And although the day improved dramatically from there (once I took the reigns again, whether they were offered to me or not) – you can see how our styles remained polar opposite.

Similarly in Napa, I would pour over the wine country magazines with rankings and suggestions based on grape, cross-referencing with the recommendations from his uncle Kevin to map an entire day of wine tasting in a convenient driving loop, with lunch stops between winery 2 & 3. So we came to agree that I am a natural travel agent and guide, and he is content to be a passive participant, to be led to wine like a horse to water. Once we settled into this groove, we were all the happier for it.

I’m still uploading the several hundred photos I took before I share the highlights. And now I’m also distracted losing the SEVEN pounds I gained. Jesus. Imagine if I hadn’t gone cycling or hiking.

But most impressive is the fact that he did two loads of his own laundry upon our return before I had even finished my first coffee. Maybe it was our honeymoon after all…

 

 

colorful ceramic mosaic tile in Old Town of American and Spanish flags

First Florida Expedition: St. Augustine

My husband and I love road trips. We loved driving my old Yaris to Keels & King’s Cove in the summers and his old Jeep to Humber Valley for ski vacations in the winters. I bake cookies and we sing along to Neil Diamond and Barenaked Ladies like we’re a couple of soccer moms and dads. (I still need to learn all the words to Desiree because it’s getting embarrassing.)

Our least favorite road trip was the one where we towed all of his stuff from Newfoundland to Daytona Beach in four days. Because it’s practically impossible to cover that distance in four days comfortably, safely, and with your sanity intact. Roughly 4,000 km (that’s 2,485 mi for my American friends) and Google Maps clocks it at 50 hours. The engineer half of us (note: I am not the engineer) did not account for the weight of tow load. So our speed was reduced and we were driving for 16, 17 hours a day with no time for breaks. Just drive-throughs and roadside hotels, leg cramps and an overnight ferry crossing with no air conditioning. It very nearly ended our relationship, much like our first ski vacation where he thought he could teach me to downhill ski for the first time by simply letting me loose at the top of the slope.

So we were overdue for another fun road trip, finally, two years later. Our first destination in Florida was supposed to be Miami, but thesis life had other plans. Instead, our first road trip came highly recommended by his Aunt Michelle – St. Augustine, about an hour north of Daytona Beach.

We set off in my new Corolla. We were dieting, so this time there was no homemade cookies. We took the slightly longer, but much more scenic route, the A1A highway, which follows the coast from the unsubtle “World’s Famous Beach” sign, along the oceanfront and sandy beaches, lined with coastal mansions, palm trees and Trump supporter signs. Ignoring the latter, it’s a very beautiful drive.

 

St. Augustine is a lot like St. John’s, the small city where I’m from. St. Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement on the continental USofA, founded in 1565 by a Spanish admiral. St. John’s was officially established as a permanent community sometime after 1630, but because it existed on maps as early as 1519, it is the oldest city in North America.

St. Augustine was the capital of Spanish Florida for over 200 years, until Spain gave up Florida to the US in 1819. St. Augustine still looks like a small Spanish village on the Mediterranean, and its historical character makes it a major tourist attraction. That, and it’s the birthplace of Ray Charles. Enter: me.

 

The change in pace, in setting, in culture, in beauty from DB was instantly refreshing and I felt like I was transported to Europe. The first stop of the day was the Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in the continental US. The first coquina stones (rock made up almost entirely of seashells) were laid in 1672 and it was completed in 1695. This makes it about 100 years older than the original fortifications at Fort Amherst in Newfoundland.

coquina stone, made almost entirely of seashells

I admit I was too cheap to pay the admission to actually go in the Castillo (just as I was content to view Stonehenge through its looped wire fencing), but I enjoyed walking the perimeter of the impressive fort, with the gorgeous view of the Matanzas Bay, and witnessing an awesome awkward family photo.

 

siblings posing next to canons all in a row

This would make a great pregnancy announcement for their 8th baby

Then we walked the historical district, on the pedestrian-only roads of St. George’s and Avilés, packed with little local shops and galleries and cafés that spill out into the cobblestone streets, where you can touch the textiles, taste the tapas, and see original oil paintings. There’s endless handcrafted jewellery and gauzy asymmetrical dresses. The streets look cheerful and colorful, almost like an Epcot pavilion.

St-George-Street

I’ve noticed something that I’ve come to admire about Americans and that’s their unrelenting enthusiasm to celebrate their own history. Signs everywhere for “the first school house”, the “first drug store,” all looking slightly inauthentic and cartoony. Here, they also have embraced the European history, too, with a one-tenth scale (and hilarious) replica of the Moorish Alhambra Palace in Granada.

 

We had lunch at a small Cuban restaurant, and headed off on a quick walking tour before the real point of our afternoon. We saw the tiled mosaic, the Government House, the Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. Augustine, the former Hotel Alcazar (now the Lightner Museum and City Hall), and Flagler College. There are trolleys and horse-drawn carriages to cart you around, but the whole town is very easily accessible by foot.

 

I really loved seeing the gift from St. Augustine’s sister city, Avilés, in Asturias, Spain. Displayed in Old Town, on Charlotte Street, it’s a beautiful ceramic tile mosaic depiction of the history linking to the two countries against the backdrop of their respective flags.

colorful ceramic mosaic tile in Old Town of American and Spanish flags

But for us, the highlights of the day were our FREE tours of the St. Augustine Distillery and the San Sebastien Winery, both of which also included FREE tastings! If you look on Trip Advisor for the top things to do here, the Distillery tour is #1. It’s locally owned in a restored ice plant from 1907, and produces handcrafted, award-winning rum, bourbon, whiskey, gin, and vodka. (All made from regionally grown, sustainably sourced ingredients, if you’re into that kinda great thing.) Our guide Amber was wicked and the tour was quite brief (mostly one room, in fact). But you don’t mind the brevity once you realize you’re being herded into a tasting room as your last stop and get to sample not one, not two, but FOUR craft liquor cocktails.

Now, I’m not a big drinker, except for gin, and there was gin, but I loved tasting their craft bourbon, rum and vodka. I had the best gin & tonic I’ve ever tasted there, and sure, the Rum Tiki was very popular. But the Florida Mule blew me away and I wanted to make off with a giant bottle of that gingery mule mix and take a bath in it.

A stone’s throw away was the San Sebastien Winery. We were there on a Sunday afternoon, which meant a self-guided tour (read: speed walking from tasting station to tasting station). This free tour came with not two, not six, but EIGHT free wine tastings, from dry whites to fruity reds and sweets rosés and then a port and sherry. Just call me Fraser Crane. The wines weren’t that good, but the cheese samples were delish and I had a brief nap in the video theatre where I remember hearing Florida is (surprisingly) the birthplace of American wine.

 

We strolled back to the old part of town, stopping for one last wine flight for my husband, before cruising back to Daytona, all in time for me to cook a two-veg-one-protein supper. The day was a win, and one of the best days in Florida we’ve had. I plan to go back once the school semester starts up so I can properly shop in the boutiques and maybe pick out something to hang on our walls. I also want to stay on the other side of the Bay and climb the famous lighthouse. This day trip will also be a highly rated “must-do” for any visitors that stay with me. Thank you, St. Augustine, for being the beautiful little European-esque oasis that you are. I’ll be seeing you.