Cruisin’ into Stress

So this post has sat in draft form for nearly 3 months because as usual, life got in the way. Because the outside world keeps stressing me the hell out, I thought now would be as good a time as any to relieve our big cruise vacation at the end of July.

We had originally planned on going to Belize with another couple and those plans fell through pretty quickly. My boss didn’t let me take the original start date of the vacation off after all, and then we waited too long and the couple couldn’t go. We thought about what else we could do since we could still take a week off, but just not go to Belize anymore since we also waited too long to get our money refunded (don’t worry, we used the credit for a trip to the Bahamas in December, so it all worked out just fine).

I ended up finding a 7-night cruise that took us from Fort Lauderdale, Grand Cayman, Honduras, Belize, to Cozumel aboard the Caribbean Princess from Princess Cruise Lines.

I absolutely LOVE cruises! There’s just something about boarding and not having to worry about anything: no driving, no taking luggage all over the place, no having to worry about drinking or where to eat or how to get to different places. You just get on the boat, unpack, and let the ship take you to the next location.

With the exception of maybe 4 major cruise lines, I’ve now been on them all at least once. I had never been on Princess but had only heard good things, so we booked and off we went!

And it wasn’t that great.

Let’s just say that the week started with me PMS-ing haaaaaarrrdd, and I wasn’t exactly the most delightful person to be around. Combine that with Timmy’s incessant lateness, and we didn’t have the best start or middle part to the trip. It was like the perfect storm of ugh.

The boat was beautiful but old, and many areas really REALLY needed an update. Our room was in the very back with a beautiful view and a huge balcony, but other than that, it was very late 80s in decor and nothing incredibly special.

Added to this delightful mix was the HORRID customer service we received from most of the wait staff at nearly all the locations except the specialty restaurants that cost extra,  the lackluster food selection, and we were left totally underwhelmed. And we spent a pretty penny on this trip, from the additional packages, massages, drinks, room, and food…just 100% disappointing all around.

We actually left one dinner early and ended up skipping our last two nights of the main dining service because our servers were just that bad. I’ve really never experienced anything like the service we had on board. At all the bars, the coffee places, the frozen yogurt spot, all of it was terrible. I’ve had better service on Carnival, which is just for like spring breakers and 20 year olds. I’ve had better service anywhere but Princess.

But let’s not dwell on the bad (believe me, we did enough of that on the trip). The excursions were the saving grace of our trip. Everything we did on port was something active and totally worth it. We’re usually not excursion people because they cost so much most of the time, but this trip we agreed we wanted to see the sites in a unique and active way.

Our first stop was Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We’d both been here before, so we decided to sign up for a bike ride around the town, which was super fun. We saw the major sights (including the Turtle sanctuary we stopped at during our Disney Cruise 5 years ago), sweated a ton, but definitely spent a unique afternoon seeing Georgetown!

Our next stop was Roatán, Honduras. I had never thought to go to Honduras, but this little tiny island was so interesting. We took about an hour-long ride to get to the other side which was totally uninhabited and free of most tourists. We passed through some of the most abject poverty I’ve seen. It’s always so hard to go these types of places but you know tourism is their main economy so support is necessary. This day, we did horseback riding in the ocean, which is an item we can now safely check off the bucket list. The views were incredible, the staff was amazing there, and we had a really relaxing, memorable time there.

The next day we were in Belize City, Belize, which, if you can believe it, English is the main language spoken there! We were so surprised, expecting to speak in Spanish first, which we still did because practice makes perfect. In Belize, we booked a zip-line tour of the jungle and underground cave tubing adventure. It took us almost an hour and a half to reach our location but the tour guide was one of the best we’ve ever had because it only felt like 30 minutes! We learned a crazy amount of information, like most Belizeans had kept panthers as pets before an educational campaign told them this wasn’t the best idea, most Florida orange juice contains a majority of Belizean oranges, and more! After our adventure above and below, we got some fresh coconuts (yum!) and when we did the additional rum, the bartender went overboard and I’m pretty sure my coconut ended up being 70% rum.

Our last stop was Cozumel, Mexico. I’ve been here, honestly, I don’t even know how many times. It’s such a popular cruise stop, and I’ve done the bar drinking, partying, and seeing the ruins before. Timmy had seen ruins in Belize in high school, so we made the decision together to do something totally different and took a cooking class instead.

This ended up being my favorite day the entire trip! We each had our own stations, and there were only 5 of us there: one other much older couple, a woman from Montreal, and us. We made delicious food from start to finish (nearly. It would have been even better if we’d been able to make our tortillas from scratch) and the staff was amazing.

The best part was when they learned I spoke Spanish. You would’ve thought I was a goddess who came down from heaven, the way they treated me. It made me laugh so hard because it reminded me of our senior year trip to Cancun when my mother and her best friend were our chaperones. One night, they went to dinner and when the staff learned that they were Spanish, OMG, it was like their own personal spring break. The waiters were just lavishing attention on them, giving them an entirely free bottle of Bailey’s, and were just crazy about them!

The chefs were all about me, let me tell you. If I ever need a self-confidence boost, I know EXACTLY were to go! 🙂

We also didn’t factor in the fact that we live in a beach town year-round now. When we went on our last cruise, we lived in hell-hole Lakeland, so a Caribbean trip was oh-so-needed. This time, we were like, “Oh cool, more hot weather. Nice, more palm trees. Cool, clear blue water again…” Not to sound jaded, but St. Pete is amazing and we’re no longer in that head-space where a trip in the Caribbean is a needed getaway.

Unfortunately, the cruise brought some crazy news regarding both Timmy and my jobs that undid any relaxation our amazing massages gave us (and they were no doubt, the best massages we have ever had). I’d give this trip overall a C+. It certainly wasn’t our worst trip together, but it definitely doesn’t land amongst the best (other than our excursions, which truly were memorable and awesome).

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our anniversary package

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one of the last nights on the cruise

Oh well, we can’t win them all, can we?

♥, VB

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The Horror of Today

I would say 75% of my friends on Facebook are parents. I know because all I see are a never ending parade of pictures of them with their children every time I’m online. Pictures of teeth lost, of birthdays and swim lessons and first and last days of school. Memories and love all documented for the world to see.

Now, I’m not assuming that many of them don’t care about what’s going on because of their lack of comment on FB. However, the lack of commentary in a public forum on the abhorrent practice that is going on right now is concerning enough. One would think that something as relatable as having a family would be something that could unite parents into doing what’s best for the child.

I’m not a parent and I’m quite frankly sick to my stomach.

Lately, I literally cannot decide what I need to be more outraged by with this current administration and I’m starting to get pretty fatigued, as I’m sure you all are. But we can’t just stop caring, especially when it’s as fundamentally a human rights violation as SEPARATING PARENTS AND THEIR CHILDREN. Whatever you believe on immigration and the rights of immigrants, this practice is WRONG. Christian-defined wrong, Islamic-defined wrong, Judaism-defined wrong, ALL RELIGIONS-defined wrong.

There is no middle ground here on deciding the morality of this practice. IT IS WRONG.

Dozens of “Families Belong Together” rallies are planned for Thursday, June 14, to protest the Trump administration’s practice of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Above, a rally on June 1 in Manhattan. Spencer Platt/Getty Images 

The fact that something that is also fundamental to our country, like separation of church and state, is also being ignored by this current administration is killing me. How dare our Attorney General use the Bible to justify any piece of this atrocious practice. HOW DARE ANY OF YOU TRY TO JUSTIFY THIS BY SAYING IT’S ABOUT DEMOCRATS AND LOOPHOLES IN POLICY AND RELIGION AND IT’S JUST ENFORCEMENT OF LAW.

Seriously, Fuck You.

I’m getting to the point where I’m feeling ready to shut down entirely. I’m sensing that depressive fog start to take shape and hover over my body and when that happens in full, there is no hope, no fun, just a vast sense of nothingness. I’m clinging to my job like there’s no tomorrow because at least through my work, I get to help, I get to connect students to their community, and I get to see first hand how knowledge can change lives.

If you’re a parent, I hope that you stop to think about if you had been born a different race, a different SES, in a different country with a different language, how separating your child from you could damage everything and everyone. I hope just as a human being you can and want to put yourselves fully in someone else’s shoes to understand their struggles and challenges. The ability to do that is called empathy, and the world could use much more of it.

We have survived as a human species this long because of our ability and desire to co-exist. Our earth is absolutely not going to be around forever because we’ve clearly already destroyed that. I hate to think our collective recognition and appreciation of our shared humanity is also on its way to extinction. Some of my colleagues, friends, and loved ones are rightly horrified about the state of current events and want to do something, anything to help. But my main concern is that not everyone is as deeply enraged as they should be.

I thought we were all better than this.

♥, VB

April/May Fun Brings on the Rain

I love this time of year. It’s when classes end and I get a break! Don’t get me wrong, I love my students, and the overwhelming amount of enjoyable interactions far outweigh the tiny few negative ones. There are just those that get to you deep down, and thank god classes are done for a bit for me!

I still work full time in the summer, and though it’s a break from teaching, it’s not a break at all. We’ve hired 2 new staff members, 1 of which I will be supervising full time. So we have to onboard and create brand new policies and procedures for these new positions, so it’ll take a lot of time for those conversations and planning to happen. I also have to still do outreach and programming for campus, so in reality, it never really ends.

But that’s ok because I love what I do. And I can’t complain about that.

This has been a pretty eventful semester (not that most semesters haven’t been) but the biggest news is that I will be attending the USF Doctorate of Public Health (DrPH) program starting this fall. It was a big decision and it was one I had wrestled with for a while. I always knew I wanted to continue my education but was so burned out after my Master’s program that I put any ideas of attending school out of my head for a long time. I’ve never been interested in getting a PhD because I don’t want to do research nor have a job that is tied to my amount of research.

What’s great about a DrPH is that 1) I can continue to work full time (which in most PhD programs you have to quit or go part-time) because the point is to apply what I’m learning in real time; 2) it’s like the other side of the PhD. They do the research and we apply that research in real life and make sure it’s being implemented and evaluated and being advocated for in leadership positions; 3) I get to further my career with an advanced degree that fits perfectly with what I want to be doing.

Another bonus is that my job will pay for it, so the cost for me will be completely minimal. Who could turn that down??

Oh man, I’m freaking out a little bit though because life around here is going to change big time. I remember how studious and non-procrastinating I was in graduate school and that was the main thing that kept me from losing my mind. But I only had 2 part time jobs at the time and very minimal responsibilities. It’s completely different now with a house, dog, husband, and full time job. So word to the wise people: if you haven’t visited us yet, do it this summer before the offer expires in September and I lose all ability to properly host someone.

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April

Other than my upcoming academic career, life around here has been excellent. We had our porch rescreened in April and have really enjoyed being able to use both the upstairs and downstairs porch without fear of being eaten alive by mosquitoes (even though, let’s face it, it will happen to me a million times this summer, without fail). My parents gave us their old hammock, and we’ve put it downstairs and it’s a dream. Privacy, fountain sounds, crickets chirping at night…well, if I haven’t made it clear in the past, WE LIVE IN A VACATION.

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We also had Timmy’s mom and stepfather visit us for the first time in our new house and we showed them a good time the only way we know how: by drinking, eating well, and going to the beach! It was their 5th wedding anniversary and so we treated them to dinner and dessert at Bern’s steak house, which is a historic institution in South Tampa. They hadn’t been properly warned by Timmy of the kind of experience it would be nor how long it would take (3 hours on average, which goes to say, this is not your average, run of the mill dining experience). We laughed so hard that night, it was really a delightful evening. We finished the weekend with absolutely perfect weather, bocce ball on the sand, and lots more laughs and time by the water.

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May

May is a big birthday month around here, what with 2 of my nieces, my sister in law, my father, 7 friends, and myself all enjoying another trip around the sun. It’s been a little lonelier celebrating birthdays here than it was in Atlanta, but this year, that didn’t stop me. Timmy had to work a conference in Orlando the weekend of my birthday, so what’s the next best thing to going to Disney with him?

GOING TO DISNEY BY MYSELF. And it was awesome.

I couldn’t decide at first if a solo Disney trip was the most incredibly confident thing I’ve ever done or the most sad and depressing. I mean, 35 is a big milestone, and yes I still get super amped about birthdays, even now. How could I not? So many people we know passed away and can’t have any more life celebrations. I feel it’s my duty to be as thankful and celebratory as I possibly can simply because they no longer can.

My first stop was to get the ever-so-popular birthday button in Epcot, which was way less exciting than I thought it would be. I asked one person and they said to go to the blue kiosk which had no one manning it. I had to stop another employee and ask if I could get a button from the kiosk and he just kinda tossed me one. I then had to ask for a marker, and he had to find someone else to get me one. Very anti-climactic.

But dagnabnit, I rocked that thing out pretty much all weekend.

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I ended the day with a drink with my former NYU-er Kelly who works at Disney and then headed back to the hotel. Later that night, Timmy’s boss treated us to an amazing meal at Norman’s in the Ritz Carlton, which was just amazing. Great food, the bartending staff kept giving us free alcohol (which also included mezcal which I DO NOT RECOMMEND)…such a good night.

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The next day, Timmy still had to work so I went back to Disney with our friend Jessie and her son Aidan, who live in Sarasota. We had such a fun time in Hollywood Studios. Honestly, WHOEVER DOESN’T HAVE FUN AT DISNEY DOESN’T HAVE A SOUL. We finished out the weekend at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure because we are theme-park-going whores.

The following weekend my father turned 70 so you’d better believe we got our asses back to Atlanta (or rather Athens) to surprise him on such a momentous occasion. Thursday night, Timmy got us a room at the Marriott Marquis in downtown Atlanta and while I’d been there for DragonCon, I’d never stayed. He got us upgraded to a suite on the 46th floor and the views, well, they were just incredible.

We held the party that Friday night at my sister and brother-in-law’s new house in Athens (which is STUNNING btw), and since my father didn’t know that Timmy and I were in town at all for his birthday, it was a 2-for-1 surprise! My sister got the catering, I got the decorations, and we lay in wait for him. Perfect weather, family, and good food…another awesome night in the books.

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This past weekend, my sister did her annual mother-daughter trip to come visit us, this time with Anna! We planned to go to Universal again, and despite the non-stop rain all weekend, we did actually get beach/pool/sun time in on Friday. The rains came but that didn’t stop us from hitting most of the rides at both Universal parks (which was new not only for Anna but most of it for Carla too) and then did some outlet shopping. I was impressed by how much we got in, and especially considering that the rain isn’t going to stop until sometime next week, I’m super glad we did what we could before Timmy and I basically become shut-ins.

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So now it’s Memorial Day weekend, and we don’t have anyone visiting (thankfully because hello rain) nor anything planned. It’s been a pretty active two months, so maybe we should actually just rest for once.

Probably not though if we’re being honest.

Enjoy your weekend and thank you to all who have served this country of ours.

♥, VB

 

Surgeries for Old People in Young Bodies

If you like feet, then you’re really going to like this post. If not, sorry but just skip right through to the end.

God, I’m too young to have this much damage going on in my body. I have talked a lot on this blog about my chronic back pain and the never-ending search for relief, including pain management, MRIs (I just went through old paperwork and since 2011 I’ve had 6 MRIs on my back ALONE…that can’t be good, right?), yoga, PT, chiropractors, heat, ice, acupuncture pressure pads…it sucks. It’s stuff that as a former athlete you know is going to come your way, but no matter what, you’re really never prepared for how much mental energy it takes to deal with on a daily basis.

When I was younger, from ballet to basketball, I sprained my ankle nearly 14 times. Around my mid 20s, it had gotten to the point that I was wearing a brace daily because of the weakness and constant pain. No orthopedist could tell what was wrong because on the MRIs, I had no scar tissue. Well, it turns out I had continuously stretched out the ligament but hadn’t torn it in years. It wouldn’t even swell anymore when I would sprain it.

All the years spent overcompensating on my left leg had left my right leg with underdeveloped muscles and general weakness throughout. I still struggle with this today, which is no doubt why my back pain persists so much. For close to 15 years, my gait, how I stand, sit, everything was affected by my ankle sprains and over-strengthening of just my left leg.

I finally met with a podiatrist who correctly diagnosed my issues and boom, we had a plan. I had reconstructive right ankle surgery in January of 2011 and that was a GNARLY surgery to heal from. I was in crutches for 3 weeks and a walking boot for 3 more weeks, and it still took WELL over a year for me to move around almost normally.

That surgery was life changing, and all thanks goes to Dr. Camasta at Village Podiatry. The surgery took my pain away, allowed me to really pursue exercise full throttle without having to hold back.

No don’t get too far ahead of me. I still can’t put my right foot flat without some discomfort in Warrior 1, over 7 years later because it seems the ligament was put back together and overtightened. But that surgery was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

As the years go on, other things start to fall apart, much quicker than expected. I’ve had bunions since my pointe shoe days destroyed the normal shape of my feet. They never really hurt and never bothered me except aesthetically. But in the last 4 years, the pain came on and got worse as the days went by. My left in particular became more and more deformed and was constantly in throbbing pain. I decided this past year was the final year with that hideous, malformed, and painful bunion.

I’m 34 by the way, not 60.

Here’s the before picture (I warn you, it’s bad):

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Calcium deposits and all. The blood underneath my big toenail was from when I dropped a full paint can during our renovation period last year. It was super fun and not painful in the least.

That bunion was so painful. My big toe was starting to go behind the other toes which is definitely not a good sign. It wore holes in shoes, the nerve was being compressed between the bone and skin, and it was just fugly. Once again, a podiatrist entered and changed my life last August.

I was terrified for this surgery, honestly. All I’ve ever heard is how painful the surgery and recovery is, and oh god, I have such a low pain threshold…I just knew I was in for hell. I also don’t do well under general anesthesia as I get VERY nauseated. Did it happen again where I was vomiting in recovery because they didn’t give me enough anti-nausea medication? You betcha!

Lo and behold, my doctor, Dr. Gary Katz was a godsend. I only took 2 pain pills the day after surgery and never again after that. Not a single shock of pain, nothing, nada. He was a wizard.

Every week I had to go back to change out the wrapping, which was worth it because that meant I could have a walking boot immediately after the 1st week and for nearly 7 weeks after (thanks Hurricane Irma). I didn’t need crutches this time, I could drive since it wasn’t my driving foot, and the walking boot meant that I could exercise and move around freely-ish.

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the day of surgery, Aug 3, 2017

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my surgeon had jokes for me to discover

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after the initial splint was removed

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hello bruising, 2 weeks later

It was night and day. The pain was finally gone, and every week got better and better.

I returned to have the pin removed in December and that was it. No mas follow ups, nothing. I’m free.

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These days, it aches a bit when I stretch it, but that’s to be expected. I recovered about 10x faster than after my ankle surgery and no doubt, it’s what really caused my back to go nuts. I’m now down to 1x/week for PT and working daily (sometimes hourly) on strengthening the hell out of my right leg. It’s a work in progress. Slowly but surely, I’m eradicating pain where I can and doing what I can to alleviate it where there’s no sure path.

Today is a good day when I think of how far I’ve come.

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Now go and enjoy lunch!

♥, VB

 

No, I Didn’t Forget I Had a Blog

It is laughable how terrible I’ve been at updating this thing.

I’ve been stepping away from using FB more and more ever since I rejoined last year after close to a 9 month hiatus. It just sucks. I’ve had to hide so many people now: the majority of my extreme right-wing friends — the ones who keep posting about how gun control is the same as “giving our rights away” (complete effing nonsense); the ones who keep posting about Rodan & Fields/Plexus/stupid ass diets that don’t work; the ones who keep posting pictures of their half-naked bodies in an attempt to get compliments but who claim modesty and humility (EITHER STOP DOING THIS OR JUST CALL IT WHAT IT IS); the ones who go on just to start fights with anyone who doesn’t 100% agree with their political views.

This is just exhausting and no longer fun to look at. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I miss the days when it was just all weddings and babies and football posts.

So instead, I’ve been living my life on Instagram and/or offline as fully as I can. We’ve been having so much fun as a couple lately, ever since NYE (WHICH WAS 3 MONTHS AGO) and I don’t see this train stopping anytime soon. Life has been busy, as per usual, what with my full time job, 2 classes that I teach Monday and Wednesday evenings, supervising 3 part-time student employees, completing my Wellness Coaching certification, and getting ready to hire a full-time employee whom I will be supervising starting this summer. Whew.

We’ve been busy on the weekends living it up in FL, which has included the purchase of a new sectional couch (“HELL YES!” says my back), some pool days during an unusually hot February, a Beer and Bacon Fest, an extremely awesome day of surprises for Timmy’s 35th birthday which included a wine making class and an escape room (which we won with only 38 seconds left on the clock!), Phantom of the Opera tickets (where I def cried), a quick trip to Miami that resulted in no pool days but 1 long spa day for me while Timmy worked a conference, and lots of trips to Disney World.

I’ve hit Disney 3 times since January (which as you know is my favorite place on earth, and no, I won’t apologize for it). It actually comes in handy when your family comes to town for spring break and you’ve got the skinny on how to plan out your days and paths at any given Disney park (you’re welcome familia). Which is exactly what happened last week, my first spring break I’ve taken off in 5 years.

God that was fun. I couldn’t wait to see Disney through my nieces’ eyes, the magic of it all. What I didn’t expect was their willingness to wait in 2+ hour lines which we didn’t do because eff that. But all in all, we hit every ride (almost) and the whole family had the best time ever. It was also maybe the fastest week in the history of ever.

The one thing I’ve been struggling with since last October is my chronic, never ending, mind-erasing back pain. Around the time I got rid of my walking boot after my bunionectomy last August, my back decided to go haywire and destroy my emotional stability. I couldn’t do anything without severe pain that would take my breath away for nearly 5 months.

I decided after my last facet injections in January didn’t work that I would try anything, and I meant ANYTHING. There have been a few days at the beginning of this year where I just couldn’t take it anymore. Timmy would have to help me get up from a sitting or lying down position or pick something off the floor or help me put socks/pants on. I was immobile many, many days and hysterically sad about it the other days. I broke down, cried nonstop, and fell into a hole of despair and hopelessness that my pain would get any better, that I could have a normal life, that I would ever be pain-free.

In short, I was completely miserable.

I got an epidural in February which reduced my pain from super crazy intense to a dull 24-hour bother. I started going to cryotherapy, which at the time I thought helped, but I haven’t gone in about a month and I feel no difference (= it was probably mentally helpful). It is as cold as you think, if not colder, and every time my legs would turn a bright lobster-shade of red, and it hurt the skin on my thighs like whoa. If that’s the beginning stages of hypothermia, then I have a new respect for people who go hiking in crazy cold places.

I started seeing a chiropractor (which I still believe that the adjustments are nonsense) but the TENS treatment, massage, ultrasound and physical therapy 3x/week have been making a difference. I’ve only worked out once since my injection because I’m terrified to do so. The last few times I worked out in January, my lower back muscles seized up and I was immobile the rest of the day. So I’m doing things at a slower pace, trying to remind myself to slow down and be patient (which is my opposite nature, so you can see how this would be difficult for me to do).

I should be released from physical therapy this week, so wish me luck as I try to regain a new sense of normalcy and control over my life. I now have a standing desk at work, and that’s been a game changer. Help me stay patient and calm as I try to integrate exercise back into my life.

That’s all for now. There are still some HUGE changes in my life on the horizon, so stay tuned for all the insanity that will start to happen around here in the next few weeks!

♥, VB