beach

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The last few days have been a whirlwind of exciting things, and I want to go into detail on all of it, but the whirlwind won’t stop for blogging, apparently, so I’m just going to have to stick with the highlights for now.

First things first — I got a new camera! (Take that, number 33!) This was not a rash decision by any means. We’d saved up gift cards, and done research, and finally, this weekend, I realized there were a number of things I really wanted a Big Girl Camera for on the horizon, and, well, why not just do it now? And, to top things off, a nice guy at Best Buy gave me his 10% off coupon to use, out of the blue. I wasn’t even showing (much) cleavage!

I’ve quickly learned that the curse of owning a really nice camera is that you tend to photograph everything, and, well, I have so many pictures that it’s almost impossible to edit down to a few of the best. So, I’m saying screw the best, and I’m just going to show a couple of favorites. And you’ll like it. (Well, I hope you’ll like it, anyway!)

We went to St. Pete Beach with the dogs. I won a slogan contest at I Love Dog Friendly, and the prize was two nights at a pet-friendly hotel. We chose the Tradewinds Island Grand because, for one thing, it’s a gorgeous property, and it’s near where we got married, and my parents were spending a week in the area, so we thought it would be fun to hang out with them for a couple of nights. AND IT WAS.

The hotel was great — we particularly liked the little fenced in play area and the doggie room service.

island grand welcome

A warm welcome and gorgeous view.

ball fire hydrant

Classic Hollie. No interest in the fire hydrant or ball. Just hunting lizards.

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There are plenty of things I’m good at, like applying eye makeup, rapping “Ice, Ice Baby” (with accompanying dance moves), or opening bottles of champagne. But there’s something I’ve discovered I’m really, really bad at — turning off my phone and taking actual time away from work.

It’s not like I’m so important, or so damn good at my job. I’m just … I don’t know … neurotic? But by the end of last year, I was actually starting to crave some time (and more than a weekend) away from work, away from my phone, and just away. Oh, and the fact that Jared was heading to Hawaii for work without me (not his fault — we tried to make it work out and it just didn’t, plus he brought home presents!) kind of added to my itch for travel.

For the first time since we got married and went on a honeymoon nearly six years ago, we planned a vacation that had nothing to do with a work trip or visiting family or friends. We made plans based entirely on what we wanted to do and what we wanted to see. We booked a southern Caribbean cruise.

And you guys, it was awesome (and not like a hot dog; more like 100 billion hot dogs).

Not a bad view in Barbados. You can almost see the sea turtles.

Not the ship, although it was beautiful and totally impressive (and had a demographic of about 80% senior citizens — seriously, we were definitely in the running for youngest couple not there with a parent. And we’re NOT that young). And I’m not talking about the food, although it was delicious and hella plentiful. I’m not even talking about the hot dogs, which, of course, I didn’t eat, but Jared thought were just fantastic.

I’m not even sure it’s accurate to say the fact that my phone was off (TOTALLY TURNED OFF!) for 10 whole days was awesome in the true sense of the word, though it did feel pretty awesome.

No, you guys, it was the seeing and the doing and the experiencing. We explored the most beautiful natural settings, checking out the Baths of Virgin Gorda, which we only went to because a nice lady at the tourist information booth in Tortola suggested it.

The Baths

One of the few pictures of the two of us -- a hazard of traveling without anybody else!

Clearly, this is our kind of place.

Hooray beer!

We hiked through the rainforest in Grenada, smelling and tasting fresh spices from the trees as we passed them, and swimming in the crystal clear water of the Seven Sisters Falls. (We also smelled some other, uh, “spices” when our tour guide, Rooster, lit up a doobie while we swam. Do people still say doobie? Because I think that’s such a fun word and I so seldom get to use it.)

Jared and Rooster

Seven Sisters Falls (and us, and some lady)

The "popular" falls (AKA the easy ones to get to. Strange how "easy" and "popular" so often go hand in hand!)

Seriously, if you go to Grenada, book a private hike to this area and bring a picnic lunch so you can stay all day. I would still be there now if I had the opportunity (and could bring the dogs). I was literally breathless, which could have had something to do with the brisk pace at which we climbed the rocks, or the cold (COLD!) water, but neither of those things explain the pure joy I felt looking up at the top of the falls. Even though you know hundreds of people see these areas each week, it’s easy to imagine you’re the first.

We snorkeled with sea turtles in Barbados after running into a couple who mentioned that they’d gone swimming with sea turtles the last time they were on the island. (Paynes Bay, folks. It’s a cheap cab ride and you can swim right out from the beach, bypassing the super expensive excursions and tours.) After swimming out, I don’t know, 20 yards or so from where our comfy, shaded chairs were, I looked down and OH MY GOD THERE WAS A SEA TURTLE. I mean, yes, that’s why we were there, but that didn’t stop me from gasping and laughing in amazement while continuously poking Jared and pointing.

We zipped through the rainforest in St. Lucia, which, if you know me AT ALL, you’ll realize is huge. I’m absolutely terrified of heights — bridges, in particular. And not only did our “treetop adventure” take us on 11 different ziplines (some ridiculously high, others really long, and one which was crazy fast), but it also forced us to walk over two rope bridges — by FAR the most frightening part of the excursion. On the first, I shook so badly it made the entire bridge shake. That smile? Ohhh, that’s fake and plastered. (No, I wasn’t plastered. Yet. Just the smile.)

All I could think of was, "Hang on lady. We going for a ride!"

There were other sites that were, well, slightly less awesome (but still totally fun). In St. Maarten/St. Martin, we had no plans, so we headed over to Orient Beach. Yep, that’s the one that’s partly topless and partly fully nude. Now, we did not go fully nude (and Jared was the only Seymour who went topless), but we did walk the beach and HOLY COW WIENERS EVERYWHERE. Umm, in case you didn’t guess that. See also, BOOBS. Aside from all of the naughty bits on display, the beach was absolutely gorgeous, and we fully enjoyed the calm waters and cheap beers. And also, the Sexy Fruits.

I honestly have no idea what this means. But I still love it.

A warning of not-so-sexy fruits

Aruba was absolutely picturesque, and we did a snorkeling excursion on a pirate-type ship (with a rope to swing on! and rum punch!). We nearly didn’t make it because, well, to put it delicately, there was a virus. The most horrible, disgusting, miserable virus EVER, actually, and the day before (when we were in Curacao, which I’m sure is lovely) I really didn’t get out of bed (except to go to the bathroom, because, you know, DISGUSTING VIRUS).

Not a bad ride.

Anyway, I was thrilled to be feeling up to snorkeling, but at our first stop, the water was waaaay rough, not to mention there was nothing much to see. J and I headed back to the ship, along with pretty much everyone else — the waves were picking up quickly. I was next to climb up, but saw a large, older gentleman to my right who was really struggling, so being polite and kind like I am (oh SHUT UP), I moved aside to let him climb. It was a little tricky because I’d already taken off my flippers and was holding them in one hand, but since they’d made us wear life vests, staying afloat wasn’t a big deal.

Anyway, I saw him get to the top, I swung around to the ladder. BIG mistake, because he fell (yes, from the top of the ladder, a few feet above the water) ONTO MY HEAD. Aside from a lingering stiff neck, I’m totally fine, but the bitch of the whole thing is that he knocked my mask and snorkel off my head. My PINK mask and snorkel, which fit me and worked. Ugh. So, the next time you’re in Aruba, if you see a turtle wearing a pretty pink mask, you’ll know it was mine.

Awesome.

You know what else was awesome? Realizing that the world (and the internet, and my job) doesn’t end when I unplug for a few days. I still feel like I’m catching up somewhat, but considering I was able to completely forget what day it was on multiple occasions, I think that’s not a bad trade.

So naturally, now, we’re working on our next travel plans. Where have you been and what have you done that you’ve positively loved?

More pictures to come (yes, there are more!) on Flickr.

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I remember swimming in Lake Michigan one summer as a teenager. The waves were bigger than I’d ever seen them, and the warning flag was flapping brightly in the breeze. I went in the water and felt the undertow pull me down, and it was strong. Really, really strong. I was stronger. I pulled myself out of the water, but ended up probably 400 yards down the beach from where I’d entered the lake.

I remember thinking about how easy it would be for someone smaller than me, or someone who was a weaker swimmer, to just be swept up and away. It would be easy for someone to get tired, and, if nobody was watching or helping, they might eventually give up.

There has been a lot going on here. Some sad things, some scary things, some things that will improve and others that simply are what they are, and there’s nothing to be done. When I can look beyond these things, there are a million wonderful, beautiful things, too — amazing things are on the horizon. I’m lucky. We’re lucky. I know this.

But sometimes, it’s hard. Sometimes, if I didn’t have somebody watching or helping, I can see where it could drag me down beyond where I could pull myself back up. But I do have people. I have family and friends and a whole incredible support system. Plus, I’m tough. I am strong. On a good day, I might even be a bit of a bad ass, if I do say so myself.

Being strong doesn’t mean things are easy, but it means I can do it. In fact, right now, I’m not just pulling myself out of the waves; I’m swimming. It might be hard, but I’m moving in the right direction.

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I’m currently at the beach (well, inside at the moment, but there’s sand and ocean and sunshine about 20 feet from where I’m sitting), and I’m here for a good friend’s wedding. A good friend for whose bachelorette party I whooped it up so hard that I still have boo boos (but it was totally worth it).

And, of course, I can’t help but think about my own beach wedding a little over five (wtf, FIVE?) years ago, and what I would change. Not a lot, honestly. We had an amazing group of friends and family, a fabulous location, and my dress was perfection (Jared looked pretty snazzy, too). It was a good party. The only thing I wish I could change is how I handled things — I was SO stressed beforehand (and I had a number of very good reasons, but still), and I held onto a lot of the frustrations and disappointments for years afterward. Hell, I’m still a little pissed that there were carnation pink bows all around, because that is not tropical.

Ahem.

Anyway, at this point, I really am thankful that it was such an amazing event, and I know my friend’s wedding is going to be just as fabulous. And, if you (or someone you know) is getting married sometime soon, I wanted to point you toward a really cool promotion going on.

My friend Little Debbie (okay, it’s Deb, but she’s petite and cute and I just think Little Debbie suits her. Sue me) is an amazing artist/jewelry maker (omg who wants to buy me this?), and she’s part of the Ever After Wedding Market, which is hosting the Ever After Bailout Giveaway. You just browse the site (which you’ll want to do anyway, trust me), leave a comment on the giveaway post (NOT HERE) about which of their items is your favorite. The winner gets a subscription to Martha Stewart Weddings plus a tone of coupons from Ever After vendors. You have until May 15 to enter, so be sure to tell your bridal friends!

And if you’re not getting married, probably you should still check out Blazer Arts (Little Debbie’s company).

Photo: aaronlockwoodphotography.com

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So, I know it’s been, like, a week since you’ve heard from me, but I have good reason:

I was at the beach, relaxing and looking at my newly pedicured toes. I got a manicure, too (J won a gift certificate for me at the Puppy Hill Gala), but I ended up peeling it all off two days in. That’s still two days of pretty nails, which is WAAAY better than I could normally hope for.

Anyway, in between guzzling sipping pina coladas and Coronas and kicking ass at paddleball, J and I improved our minds through literature. He read a classic — The Three Musketeers – and I read The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way. Yes, we’re a little dorky, but I was completely enraptured with my nerdy little English book — it’s by Bill Bryson, and if you have any interest at all in things like which countries don’t have native swear words (praise jebus I don’t live in one of those!) and whether Appalachian hillbillies speak at all like Queen Elizabeth did, you’ll be fascinated.

I did a little bit of work while I was gone, but check out my office:

That makes going to work a little easier.

The beach we visited was the same beach where we got married four years ago, and my folks were nice enough to rent a place for a week and split the time with us (thanks, guys!). We were hoping to see a wedding while we were there, but no dice. So, we made due with watching the sunset and going to seriously delicious restaurants. Of course, there might be lots of other delicious restaurants there, but we wouldn’t know because we just keep going back to the ones we like: Conch Republic (twice) and Gigi’s. I’m still stuffed (which, by the way, I learned is a rather obscene thing to say in England, but you can tell someone you’ll knock them up in the morning …).

You know, one of the things that’s so amazing about the beach is that only two full days there can make the whole world feel new. And I know that I’m just lucky that I live close enough to the beach that I can do a short getaway like that, but wherever you are, I hope you have something nearby that’s worth visiting for a day or two so you can join me in my post-vacation bliss.

Well, bliss other than the sunburn part. Because I am DREADING having to wear a real bra right now.

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