major events

Nepal: The Cast of Characters

After my shower the next morning, I felt like a new woman. Sylvie and I headed downstairs and went to the small breakfast buffet, where they served Western foods like scrambled eggs, pancakes, and small boxes of cereal. We sat alone, chatting and people watching. The room held 50 people or so, and it was about half full with foreigners dressed in various cold weather gear.

A peephole window on the landing between the fourth and fifth floors of the Kathmandu Guest House

A peephole window between the fourth and fifth floors of the Kathmandu Guest House

Before we left she walked me to different tables and introduced me to some of the others in our group: David and Andrew, two Australians who were probably in their forties, were quietly sitting at one table. Four more Australians sat near them – Wendy, Joel, Julez, and Erin were a group of friends just a bit younger than I am. Sylvie and I were anxious to get in a bit of exploring before I met with Pippin, so we bid farewell to the others and set off.

street near KGH

I walked with a bounce in my step. The sun was shining and the blue sky was a welcome sight, and the temperature was cool, but comfortable. I could feel it – a familiar, slight smile that stayed on my face throughout the morning. My face reacted to the energy I felt – adventures and a new country to explore were laid in front of me, and I felt alive. Awake. All the anxiety from the previous evening had completely dissipated.

We walked to a small, open-air bookstore and spent some time checking out maps of the Kathmandu Valley. I couldn’t buy one until I bested an ATM, but we found a good map that Sylvie bought and I planned to get later.

bookstore

Continuing on, we retried the ATM from the night before. It refused both Sylvie’s and my cards. We decided to find an actual bank and continued our slow, exploratory walk down the road.

The area of Kathmandu we were in felt completely different in the light. The roads we walked on were rough and lined with multi-storied, low-key buildings that seemed to lean into the narrow streets.

Kathmandu street

On our way back to the Kathmandu Guest House, we found a bank of four ATM machines in a narrow room up a few stairs from the road. Other foreigners were happily pulling cash, and we all chatted as we accessed our accounts and filled our wallets. I withdrew 35,000 Nepalese rupees, which came out to $335 US.

We made it to the hotel lobby with time to spare. I was looking around, trying to spot our tall blond guide, when Sylvie called out to me.

“Mandy, this is Bipin.”

I turned to see a black-haired man who was roughly my age. For a moment I was confused, and then I realized I was an idiot: our guide wasn’t some eternally backpacking Westerner with a curiously cute name from a Broadway musical. He was a local.

(I learned later that Intrepid Travel hires trained travel guides from host countries. Smart.)

He motioned to a couch by the window, and we introduced ourselves. In clear English, like the majority of the Nepalese I’d encountered by that point, he explained what I could expect on the trip. I trusted him immediately and felt a sense of kinship with someone I’d known for five minutes.

Once we’d gone over the details, he smiled and excused himself so he could get ready for the day’s excursion. Others in our group were starting to congregate in the lobby, and Sylvie helped me meet each of them. There were 13 of us in total, including Bipin.

Andrew and David, the two Australians I’d met at breakfast, largely stayed to themselves during the trip. They often wandered off and did their own thing, sometimes skipping meals with the group and eating separately. Bipin was careful to make sure they were included as often as they wanted to be, but for the most part, the remaining 10 of us spent the most time together.

Nepal travel family

Clockwise-ish starting with the standing man in the gray jacket: the manager of the Famous Farm, Sylvie (in orange), Tasha, Chloe, Sian, Nick, Joel (throwing his best Blue Steel pose), Wendy (white scarf), three Famous Farm staff members, Erin (brown pants), Julez, me, and Bipin

Sylvie, my roommate, was a Canadian who lived and worked in Morocco as a teacher. She’s a voracious reader – I think she read six books during our ten-day trip – and casually dignified, with an adventurous spirit and quick wit. I had a lot of fun rooming with her.

The four other Australians I’d met at breakfast consisted of Julez and Joel, siblings of Filipino descent; Erin, Julez’s girlfriend; and Wendy, Julez’s friend. Julez was the most Australian Australian I’ve ever met, and was chill and very comfortable in her own skin. Joel was her younger brother, a naturally bright college (“uni”) student who, despite making duckfaces in his pictures, was always ready to laugh. Erin was a happy blonde who joined the group on her first-ever visit outside of Australia, which she handled with grace. Wendy was a spunky woman with a contagious laugh whose husband, regrettably, stayed home.

The siblings (Joel and Julez) with their selfie sticks. Say what you want about selfie sticks - they came in really handy on this trip.

The siblings (Joel and Julez) with their selfie sticks. Say what you want about selfie sticks – they came in really handy on this trip.

As the group assembled, I also met two New Zealanders, a married couple named Nick and Sian.

“How do you pronounce it? Shawn?”

“No, like ‘Shan’.”

“Wait… how do you spell that?”

Nick and Sian are Intrepid Travel regulars, a very thoughtful, fun couple. He had a camera around his neck like me, and his pictures from the trip are captivating.

I don't remember what they were looking at, but I love how confused they all look.

I don’t remember what they were looking at, but I love how they’re all obviously concentrating on something very important. (Julez, Joel, Erin, Nick)

Soon two Brits, Chloe and Natasha, came into the lobby. They’re friends who act like sisters, and even in their twenties they give off a air of grace and poise. Their proper manners made it all the funnier when Tasha talked smack during games.

Once we’d all arrived, Bipin corralled us into a waiting 13-passenger van. He sat shotgun, with a wide console between him and our quiet, reliable driver, Megh.

driving

During our drives Bipin often turned around and told us stories and jokes. He’d also share the history of Nepal and our destination, sprinkling in personal anecdotes that made the country feel more like a place where people lived, and not just a place where people climbed mountains. On longer drives, when most of the foreigners were sleeping, he’d turn and check on everyone, smiling at those of us who were still awake. A surefooted guide, Bipin quickly became a good friend. He was our teacher and leader, whip-smart like Joel, a skilled photographer like Nick, and witty like Sylvie.

All eleven of us loved to laugh. With Bipin as our guide, over the course of nine days we became a family. And our family was currently loaded into a plain white van and on its way to our first destination: Pashupati.

Nepal van

How to Move from Dallas to San Diego in 48 Easy Steps

  1. Move.
  2. Drop off empty trailer at U-Haul and marvel at how much lighter and faster your SUV feels.
  3. Giggle and clap while driving to get fish tacos.
  4. Laugh when the sweet kid at the counter apologizes for the bad, rainy weather.
  5. Put phone on vibrate so Jennifer, my new roommate and old friend from high school, doesn’t get annoyed at all the texts.
  6. Love my friends and family for blowing up my phone.
  7. Use the word “weird” as often as possible when describing how it feels to be in California.
  8. Eat fish tacos.
  9. Love fish tacos.
  10. Consider having them for dinner every night.
  11. Put together bed.
  12. Put memory foam mattress topper on bed.
  13. Make bed.
  14. Get really, really excited about bed.
  15. Lay in bed, answer texts and Facebook messages.
  16. Miss everyone. A lot.
  17. Sleep.
  18. Wake up parched with dry mouth.
  19. Drink water.
  20. Fall back asleep.
  21. Wake up.
  22. Unpack.
  23. Feel a bit more at home.
  24. Decide last minute to drive to the coast for the sunset.
  25. Witness beautiful sunset.
  26. Celebrate by driving with the windows down.
  27. Sing along to Kiss the Girl from The Little Mermaid.
  28. Make a u-turn.
  29. Realize I was going the right way.
  30. Turn around.
  31. Consider getting fish tacos for dinner.
  32. Return to apartment.
  33. Go to bed early.
  34. Sleep like the dead.
  35. Wake up feeling like I got hit by a truck.
  36. Unpack.
  37. Decide to buy a map.
  38. Drive to Barnes & Noble, which is five minutes away.
  39. Buy map after long search for the right one.
  40. Continue driving for over an hour.
  41. Get lost in a hilly area full of nice homes.
  42. See three or four hot-air balloons.
  43. Go blind from the sun.
  44. Feel very far away from friends and family.
  45. Return to apartment.
  46. The apartment where I live now.
  47. The apartment in San Diego where I live.
  48. WHOA.

Scotland. Yes, it was awesome.

Going to Scotland at the end of winter meant the landscapes looked less like the postcards and screensavers everyone’s seen. The colors of the land, and the sky at times, were muted, but the clear sky and water were brilliant. Rainclouds were dollops of whipped cream over water and quieting gray blankets over land.

Scotland has a rawness to it that’s incredibly appealing. Our whirlwind trip didn’t allow us enough time to sit back and get to know the country as well as we wanted to, but the bit we saw was [adjective]. Just… everything.

Caitlin and I visited Edinburgh, Inverness, Portree, the Isle of Skye, and Glasgow, and between us we took nearly 2,000 pictures over the course of five days. Here are 75.

The Art of Being Demoted

“You’re not being fired,” he said.

“We’re outsourcing marketing,” he said.

“We definitely want to keep you,” he said.

In January, after two years with the company and two promotions, I was promoted to Director of Marketing. I sat on the management team and advised on whatever marketing needs came up. In February I felt a shift happening, which quickly worsened, and I tried to find out what the problem was. On Monday, March 16, I was demoted and told they were getting rid of my department altogether.

“We’d like you to move into Account Management,” he said.

no

He was asking me to move from a writing-intensive, marketing-focused position I loved, one that was propelling my career forward, to a position that had nothing to do with my career path. I felt gutted.

Being demoted – or rather, having your department, of which you are the sole member, obliterated – makes you feel useless. All the time I spent studying industry magazines, doing research, compiling data, examining Excel files, organizing binders and files full of information. All the time I spent learning more about my work and figuring out ways to make it better. Everything I did as a member of the marketing department felt like it was unwanted, punched with a “YOU’RE NOT GOOD ENOUGH” stamp.

I’m good at what I do. When you can point out errors and explain why they’re objectively wrong, that must mean you know what you’re talking about, right? I do freelance work for two different agencies, and they both love me.

I think I’m good enough. Other people tell me I’m better than good enough. But my department, my job, the past two-point-three-three years of my career were going to be outsourced.

“You’re not good enough.” He didn’t, but might as well have said it.

After being demoted, your position outsourced, you want to angrily reach out to the world and proclaim your indignation to the masses. You want to write long Facebook posts, and update your LinkedIn profile, and tell anyone who will listen about the righteous wrong that’s punched you so hard in the gut you don’t know which way is up.

If you’re me, you get so angry and scared and confused you want to cry. And you do. And it’s the most frustrating thing possible, because no part of you wants to cry: every part wants to kick and scream and throw things.

I threw my business cards into the trash instead of against the wall. Didn’t help.

Blasting the company online won’t help. Talking trash won’t help. Anxiety attacks definitely didn’t help, although I got to have one of those, which was super fun.

no panic

From a business perspective, I understand. I don’t think it was the right decision, but it wasn’t mine to make. Sure, I wanted to march out the doors of the office with middle fingers high and all my files shredded. I didn’t, though.

My anger dissipated. I took that Wednesday off to get my mind right and spare my coworkers from my emotions. I’d accepted the offer to move into the other department, and as I stood over my stove cooking breakfast I felt better. The next day I was set to leave for a week-long trip to Scotland, one I’d been planning for months.

I answered my ringing phone. It was the owner. He was upset with how I’d handled the transition. “Mandy, I think it would be best if this was your last day.”

We hung up, and I stood there, stunned. I quickly called him back and apologized, but it was done. My worst fear – being let go – had come true, and anxiety erupted. Frantic breathing, crying, and shaking took over me, and I could barely stand.

Thankfully, over the course of the day I was able to calm down, go to the office and say goodbye to my coworkers. I apologized and hugged them goodbye. The support I received from family, friends, and colleagues was unbelievable, and by the end of the day I felt fine. A little nervous, but fine.

The anger came back, and I struggled with it for a few weeks. I don’t want anything to happen to the company, and I keep in touch with my former coworkers; they’re amazing people, and I’m grateful I was able to work with them.

After a month the anger finally went away again. This Saturday will mark my one-month Layoffaversary. I’m freelancing, interviewing, and feeling optimistic about the future.

Things are changing. Hopefully I won’t be unemployed for long. I am beyond good enough.

Stuart Smalley

Taiwan photos: the most important one.

March 28, 2012. It’s the middle of the week, Wednesday, and I’m going for a jog. I pull on my clothes, lace up my shoes, put my iPhone in my armband and my earbuds in my ears. As I stretch, I decide I want to go a full 5k, so I need to exit our winding little neighborhood and hit the main road, ZhuGuang. If I jog straight down to the hospital and back, I’ll hit roughly three miles. There are plenty of side roads, too, if I get bored going down the wide boulevard.

I normally don’t get too bored, though. Jogging down the boulevard gives me plenty of things to see and watch as I go, even in Hsinchu, even at night. The side lanes, sheltered from the main traffic by narrow plots of grass, will keep me safe from crazy drivers.

Earbuds in, I open our big front door and step into the night. Taiwan’s pollution isn’t great for a person’s health, but neither is obesity. Off I go.

I slowly jog to the end of the lane, wait at the light, then cross YanPing Lu to the mouth of ZhuGuang. Tonight I’ll go along the left side, the side where you can see the rice paddy stretching out a few blocks west.

A quarter of a mile into my jog and I pass the junkyard by the rice paddy. A few people are standing outside talking, and they smile and stare as the foreigner jogs past.

As I cross their path, a small black puppy bounds past them and toward me. It couldn’t be more than a couple of months old. I try to ignore it to encourage it to return to the people, but it follows me. I stop, turn around, and pantomime to the people that their puppy is following me. They look confused. It’s not theirs.

Oh, no, I think.

I continue my jog, praying the puppy stops following me and returns to her family. Every time I turn around, she’s gleefully behind me, looking at me, wanting attention. Panicking, I turn around, hoping that going past the junkyard again will make her go back to her dog family. I speed up. I try to lose her.

I can’t adopt her. My mind is racing, and my heart is breaking.

If she gets hit by a car following me, what will I do? What if she gets lost and can’t find her way? What if, what if, what if?

Back on our street, I briefly turn and don’t see her. I’m relieved.

A bit further down, I instinctively turn around again to check for traffic. There she is, happily trotting behind me.

My heart is in my stomach. I reach the house and sit on my parked scooter outside our walled-in front entry. She sits behind me on the concrete. By this time I’m crying, begging her to leave. I can’t take her. All I want to do is sit cross-legged on the dirty ground and love on her, but I can’t.

I can’t won’t stop screaming through my head. It’s debilitating, and I’m frozen, unable to decide what to do.

Finally, ten minutes later, I stand up, open the gate, let myself in, and lock her out. She immediately starts crying. I escape inside the house, lean against the door, and cry, too.

Up the three flights of stairs to my room, and I can still hear her. I’m freaking out, and reconsidering my actions. Maybe I can take her. Can I? Can I?

She stops crying, and I climb the stairs to the roof. Silently, I creep to the edge and look down to find her. The neighbor is petting her.

Okay, I think. She’s safe. She’s okay. I’m reassuring myself, albeit poorly.

The next morning, I can’t stop thinking about the puppy. After work I walk the neighborhood, trying to find her. I want to make sure she’s okay. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I find her, but the longer I look without any sign of her, the more heartbroken I am.

She’s nowhere to be found. Where did she go? Is she okay?

Then, some days later, I’m on the roof again, reflecting. Across the street, in our neighbor’s tiny front porch, I see something. The puppy.

I call down to her, and she sits, just as she did behind my scooter. She sits, staring up at me, her tail wagging furiously. She’s happy to see me.

That was over two years ago.

Before I left Taiwan in August 2012, I frequently looked down at the puppy, now taking up residence on my neighbor’s patio. I desperately wanted to go over and love on her, but I never did. As far as I could tell, she spent all her time on that patio. She didn’t go inside, or for walks. She was just… there.

In April 2014, I went back to Taiwan to visit. We stayed in my old room in my old house. I went to the roof, looked down, and there she was. She was bigger. She noticed me and held my gaze. I felt like she recognized me, but was no longer happy to see me.

I’ve been in animal rescue since early 2011. We like to say that an animal will choose you, that you know when you meet the right dog. It doesn’t happen often, but it’s a special connection between human and animal when an animal immediately, explicitly trusts you. Loves you. Chooses you.

The puppy chose me.

I abandoned her.

Before we left Taiwan this past April, I went to the roof with my camera and took a picture of her. As she lay there, I composed the shot. My heart was numb.

She lifted her head to look at me. I held my breath. She put her head back down, bored. I no longer mattered to her.

This is the picture of the puppy, now between two and three years old. This is likely the last time I’ll ever see her, as my former roommates moved out of the house this past June.

I have a hard time looking at this picture. It breaks my heart. I regret that night, and I wish it had never happened.

I keep it to remind me not to let it happen again. If another dog ever chooses me, I can’t say no.

the baby

New York: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island

Full disclosure: I totally thought the Statue of Liberty was huge. When you see pictures of it, with the Manhattan skyline in the distance, it looks gigantic.

From The Business Insider

Shoutout to Business Insider for the photo.

I also couldn’t remember what Ellis Island was. I knew I’d learned about it at one point, but out of sight, out of mind. I figured it was New York’s version of Alcatraz or something.

(My parents are super proud of my learnin’.)

Then Caitlin and I went to the top of the Rockefeller Center, and she pointed out the Statue. And it looked tiny.

Statue of Liberty from Top of the Rock

Can you see it?

Caitlin made the arrangements and prepaid for us to go on the 10am ferry. She did it online a couple of months before my visit so we could reserve pedestal access. $18 to take the ferry; $3 if you wanted to go into the crown (sold out months in advance); and no extra charge, though you had to reserve it, to go into the pedestal.

Before boarding, we had to go through security that bested any airport; my KIA bracelet, which never sets off alarms, set this one off. We walked to the dock, and the Statue of Liberty looked cold against the gray sky and steel water.

The ride out was short – maybe five minutes. Up close, the statue still looks pretty small. The base she stands on, though, is imposing and heavy, like a fortress.

There she is!

There she is!

It was cold, and the wind made it worse, but we were there, and we tried to act like excited tourists.

Ferry

Here’s our ferry docked at Liberty Island. The Statue is directly behind me.

You’re allowed to walk around the island at your leisure, and we headed clockwise around the Statue.

Check out the size of the people on the first level of the pedestal. I mean, it was hard to wrap your mind around.

Check out the size of the people on the different levels of the pedestal.

If the dock was at 6 o’clock, the entrance to the pedestal was at 12. The wait to enter was a half an hour or so. Since I had my backpack, I ventured into the tented area at the beginning of the line to put my stuff into a locker. I walked up to a machine, selected a locker, put in two $1 bills, then scanned my thumbprint in order to open the locker door. Awesome – there’s no way anyone else could possibly open my locker. Weird – hey, Big Brother.

Once again, after going through the line but before entering the base, we went through security. Hats, gloves, shoes, scarves, coats, jackets, jewelry, purses off. I remembered to take off my bracelet this time.

You can see the line, which was generally about 30-people deep outside of the tent. The first quarter of the tent is for lockers. The next two are a line zigzagging around, and the final quarter is a second security screening. Then out of the back, you're free to explore.

You can see the line, which was generally about 30-people deep outside of the tent. The first two sections of the tent is for lockers. The next three are for a line zigzagging around, and the final three are a second security screening. Then out of the back, you’re free!

Finally, we were free to explore. We entered, and inside the first floor was a life-size replica of the flame.

I really should've pulled out my other camera instead of shooting just with my 50mm lens.

I really should’ve pulled out my other camera instead of shooting just with my 50mm lens.

After finding the stairs, we made our way up several switchbacks to the top of the starburst-shaped base.

We climbed with an older couple, and I declared that I was stopping to take a picture. The man grinned and said, "Yeah, right. You just want a breather!" We all did.

We climbed with an older couple, and I declared that I was stopping to take a picture. The man grinned and said, “Yeah, right. You just want a breather!” We all did.

We reached the first landing and, looking up, you could see the inner workings of the Statue.

Looking up while inside.

We joined the crowd outside and walked around taking pictures of the Manhattan skyline.

The Manhattan skyline.

One World Trade Center is the tallest building on the left. It stands within the same block as the original two towers.

Chilled by the wind, we went back inside and climbed another set of stairs to the top of the second pedestal. The views were lovely of the harbor and of the city, and we were that much closer to Lady Liberty herself.

Aging gracefully

Aging gracefully

With little more to do, we quickly made our way back down. Multiple ferries shuttled passengers from each of the three docks at a 15-minute interval, and we were ready to be on one going to Ellis Island.

The view of Ellis Island from the Statue of Liberty pedestal

The view of Ellis Island from the Statue of Liberty pedestal. Manhattan is on the right.

As Caitlin and I walked to the dock, I think we were both a bit surprised by how unexcited we were by the Statue of Liberty. It’s cool, but it wasn’t really that inspiring; mayble I’m spoiled because I have birthright citizenship. Maybe if I’d had to earn it, or if I knew more about my family’s struggle to arrive in the States, or if my family had initially landed in New York and seen the Statue of Liberty, it would mean more.

The second ride on the ferry, I stood on the open-air back deck to watch the scenery and enjoy the quiet. We docked at Ellis Island, and Caitlin and I were, again, a bit lost emotionally. Did we really care?

Pulling into Ellis Island

Pulling into Ellis Island

We entered the main hall and sat. Our feet and legs were hurting from miles of walking and extended periods of standing, and it felt good to relax. There were a few options of exhibits to see, but I, quite frankly, didn’t really have interest in any of them.

Caitlin wanted to go upstairs to the main hall. We took the stairs and found ourselves in a bright, open room.

The receiving hall at Ellis Island

The receiving hall at Ellis Island

This was where thousands of people were examined in mere seconds by hurried doctors to determine if they were medically acceptable to enter the United States.

I was struck by how full the picture showed the hall to be, and how empty it was at the moment I was there.

I was struck by how full of people the picture showed the hall to be, and how empty it was while I was there.

I read the signs, and I realized just how nerve-wracking the experience must’ve been. Finally, as I stood in that hall and imagined what people went through, the gravity of where we were hit me.

According to this sign, I don't think I would've been allowed to enter because of my club feet.

According to this sign, I don’t think I would’ve been allowed to enter because of my club feet.

Here, in this hall, was were I wanted to spend time, soaking it all in.

The more I think about it, the more I really appreciated visiting this room.

It was also really nice that most tourists stayed downstairs, so the room was fairly quiet.

We were keeping an eye on the time, as we needed to have enough time to get back to Manhattan, grab lunch, and then make our way to the 9/11 Memorial at 3:00pm. Not too much later, we wandered back outside and waited for the ferry that would take us back to New York City.

Parting note:

Parting note: this manifest, in the fifth column, asks for the person’s “Calling or Occupation”. Caitlin and I loved the wording.

#42: see First Date on Bway

We’d gone one block in ten minutes. Traffic was at a standstill, and our taxi driver, even with his most valiant efforts, couldn’t snake his way though the parking lot of Park Avenue.

I avoided looking at the time. First Date was going to be my first Broadway show, and we had to make our way to Longacre Theater on West 48th Street. Two more blocks south, a little over four blocks west. Caitlin checked her phone again and sighed, and I saw. Ten minutes. Ten minutes until 7pm, and we were stuck.

Strangely, I wasn’t that worried. Caitlin looked like she was going to have a heart attack, and I guess my unconscious decision was to sit on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum. I found myself smiling and making jokes.

One block and $15 later, we bailed in the middle of an intersection in true New York fashion and raced to the theater. At times we broke into short jogs, only to be stopped in dense crowds milling around. Rockefeller Center, with its beautiful Christmas tree, was attracting throngs of tourists, and the block in front of The Rock was closed to traffic. 6th Avenue, which we had to cross, was barricaded by traffic cops controlling the flow of cars and pedestrians.

Times Square was a blur, as was Broadway. “It’s up there,” Caitlin declared.

“Where?” I was out of breath.

“The red and white sign, down there across the street.” We still had a block to go. It was 7:10pm.

Under the twinkling lights of the Longacre marquee, we finally, breathlessly, flung open the door to the theater and greeted the woman who stood as we came in. We were over 15 minutes late, but she was kind and quickly led us to the stairway. Laughter and singing erupted from the auditorium as we climbed the stairs to the balcony.

Our seats were in the center of the balcony. In the front row. We were those people, apologizing quietly as we desperately tried to make our way to our seats in the narrowest aisle ever.

As quietly as she could, Caitlin, who’d seen the show before, whispered the few details I’d missed. I nodded, wide-eyed with pure happiness. Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez, who played the leads, were bantering in the spotlight below. We were immediately giggling, and the entire audience was enraptured.

First Date is about a mild-mannered Jewish 30-something, Aaron, on a blind date with Casey, who’s far more adventurous and likes bad boys. Supporting actors play out the inner dialogues each character has with friends and family members. One of my favorite scenes had Aaron and Casey telling each other about themselves, and Casey tells him that she has a son. Aaron reacts, and Casey erupts in laughter and tells him she was just kidding. After he expresses his relief, Casey grows quiet and shares that she was lying and did, in fact, have a son. Stuttering, Aaron apologizes, and Casey cracks up again. Aaron, completely overwhelmed by the joke, throws up his hands and yells an expletive.

First Date Broadway

This picture is from the official First Date website. If I’d been close enough to take this, Zachary Levi would’ve smelled my pheromones and immediately fallen in love with me.

It’s a scene that sounds played-out and tired as I try to describe it, but his reaction to her joke made the audience break into delighted laughter and applause. The entire show was light and energetic, the script quick and witty, and I especially loved when Levi’s character was frustrated. In the final number, Levi was bounding around the stage, and Caitlin’s high compliment – calling him the next Dick Van Dyke – was proven true. We all clapped at punchlines delivered during songs and laughed uproariously at the banter. It was the perfect first Broadway show.

I’m a big fan of Krysta’s after first seeing her on the TV show Smash. She’s amazing. Admittedly, though, the main draw for me was Zachary Levi. I didn’t watch Chuck but, oddly enough, love watching Chuck bloopers on YouTube. That’s where I first saw Levi’s personality and became a big fan of his. I also love Tangled, but who doesn’t?

Sadly, there was no intermission; the show was short, but had it been much longer, it would’ve dragged. The cast bowed, and then Levi announced a fundraiser they were participating in for Broadway Cares. Buy a signed Playbill, a signed poster, or pony up for a photo with the cast on the stage. I bought a signed poster for $60.

This was the view from our seats after the show.

This was the view from our seats after the show.

Longacre Theater

The inside of Longacre Theater

Caitlin and I wandered around the theater taking pictures.

We went down to the orchestra section, but couldn't see the cast anywhere.

We went down to the orchestra section, but couldn’t see the cast anywhere.

We finally exited and waited on the street by the stage door to thank the cast as they left. A big, friendly man stood outside the door and assured all of us who were waiting that both Zachary and Krysta would sign autographs and take pictures with all of us. For the 20 of us waiting outside in the cold, it was worth it.

First Date marquee

He burst out the stage door with music playing from the speaker he was carrying and an ear-to-ear smile on his face. Zach was tall. I was taken aback by just how different he seemed standing in front of me, as opposed to on TV or on stage. He talked to our group and thanked us for coming to the show. As tourists saw that a celebrity was signing autographs, a few came up to take pictures of their own. Zach hid behind the man guarding the door and exclaimed that he was only there for the people who’d seen the show.

First Date - Zach

He’s TALL.

I didn’t get anything signed, since I had the poster, but both Caitlin and I took pictures with him. It was my first time to be around a celebrity, and it was unreal. We thanked him and then waited for Krysta, who was equally gracious and kind, but not as ebullient as Zach.

First Date - Krysta

She was TINY.

Once we’d said our thank yous, Caitlin and I set out to find a cab on 8th Avenue. I was sad to leave while Zach and Krysta were still talking to the rest of the group, but it made no sense to stay out in the cold just to fangirl.

As we tried to hail a cab, Krysta and a couple of her friends eventually walked past. I exchanged a look with Caitlin; the look on her face said This is totally normal while the look on mine consisted of exclamation points.

Caitlin laughed. “Welcome to New York!”

A Fort Worth wedding

On October 26, 2013, my sister got married. Planning her wedding, with all the details and countless To Do lists, was stressful, fun, frustrating (at times), expensive (though, compared to most weddings, the budget was modest), and the stuff nightmares were made of (literally, because all of us had wedding-related dreams).

Thankfully, we had help. A lot of it. Presenting, in alphabetical order, the people and places that made it all possible.

Allison Davis Photography

http://www.allisondavisphotography.com/

(For whatever reason, these pictures are not showing up in this post as crystal-clear as they should be, and that’s my computer’s fault. I can assure you that all of Allison’s photos are absolutely flawless. Just check out her blog!)

(c) Allison Davis Photography

First look.

Engagements blog post:
http://www.allisondavisphotography.com/blog/2013/04/23/maddie-steve-dallas-engagement-portraits/

Bridal portraits blog post:
http://www.allisondavisphotography.com/blog/2013/11/01/maddy-dallas-bridal-portrait-photographer/

Wedding blog post:
http://www.allisondavisphotography.com/blog/2013/11/25/maddy-steven-wedding-at-marty-leonard-chapel/

Allison Davis Photography

A shot from the piano/organ balcony inside the chapel.

There’s no question – if you’re getting married, Allison needs to be your photographer. See her Google+ page for my review. My family fell in love with her, and before the day was over, we were ready to adopt her into our clan.

shooting Mom and Mad

The great thing about this is you can see Mom and Mad mugging for Allison, and Tasha (mentioned later in this post) in the back right of the frame.

 

Bridal Boutique

http://bridalboutiquelew.reachlocal.net/

Mad found her wedding dress here, and Mom found her Mother of the Bride dress here. We fell in love with Mad’s consultant, Candice, and the boutique was great from the first round in the dressing room to final alterations.

Lewisville, Texas Bridal Boutique

Bridal Boutique - Candice

Carolyn

One of my Mom’s former room mothers and a good friend, Carolyn, took Mad’s decorations and ran with them. If you ever need an event decorated, and you’re in Texas, she’s your woman. She is selfless, generous, and can calm a first-time-Mother-of-the-Bride-to-be with ease. Just ask my mom.

Decadent Designs

http://www.etsy.com/shop/decadentdesigns

I placed a rush order with Decadent Designs for items for the bachelorette party and reception entry table. Lynsey was helpful and gracious, even when I placed the order, which usually takes 1-2 weeks plus shipping time, 9 days before the event. Of course, I managed to order one item in the wrong color, but it was all a hit.

Box and cards from Decadent Designs

bags and tags from Decadent Designs

Bags and tags from Decadent Designs, personalized wine glasses from Pickles N’ Vodka (see below).

 

Hobby Lobby

The number of times Carolyn and/or my mother were in Hobby Lobby is a bit ridiculous. It was our crafty-wedding-go-to store.

 

Jennifer Boyd Designs

http://www.etsy.com/shop/JenniferBoydDesigns
http://www.facebook.com/JenniferBoydDesigns

Jen is a great friend of mine and makes incredible wreaths. She made a custom Aggie wreath for Carolyn as a thank you for all her help.

Jennifer Boyd Designs

This wasn’t Carolyn’s wreath, but one for some mutual friends. It’s about 2 feet in diameter and at least 6 inches thick. Jen don’t joke around.

 

Kris

“Hey, Kris – I want a sign for my sister’s bachelorette in two days. Wanna help?”
“Sure!”

Within hours, I had a .psd file in my inbox. She even modified it to my specifications – here I am, asking for her help, and then getting bossy. But Kris went above and beyond. You need graphic design or multimedia design, then you need Kris.

Kris's framed sign

Marty Leonard Chapel

http://www.lenapopehome.org/marty-leonard-chapel/

The people at Marty Leonard Chapel were kind, helpful, and patient. The venue is elegant, uncluttered, intimate, and timeless. We loved it.

Marty Leonard Chapel outside

Marty Leonard Chapel inside

Melanie

Mel and I scoured Musicnotes for Mad’s ceremony music. Mel played the Forrest Gump Suite for the wedding party processional, Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” for Mad’s processional (the arrangement moves me to tears every single time), and The Wonderful World of Harry Potter for the recessional. Having a member of the family play such personal music for Mad’s wedding was moving and perfect.

Mel also catered the bachelorette party. I know. Woman’s talented.

yay Mel!

mini cupcakes

Allison Davis Photography

The piano in Marty Leonard Chapel is upstairs over the front door. Here, you can see Mel and her husband, Mikey, watching the wedding.

 

Party Time Rentals

Another go-to place for Mom and Carolyn – Party Time Rentals. They bent over backward for this wedding, and we will always be grateful for it.

 

Pickles ‘N Vodka

http://www.facebook.com/PicklesnVodka

Bri does graphic design, calligraphy, and artsy-craftsy stuff that just blows my mind. She made personalized wine glasses for Mad’s bachelorette party.

plain wineglasses made sparkly

Tasha

A family friend who recorded the wedding and created Mad and Steven’s wedding video.

recording the ceremony

Here’s Tasha in action.

(Thanks to my mom and Uncle Paul for some of these pictures.)

Facing mortality

January 8, 2013. At 10:30am, a message popped up in my Facebook inbox. One of the guys I’d gone to the Dominican Republic with in the summer of 2005 had suddenly and tragically passed away. It was shocking, and it took a couple days for me to process his death.

January 11, 2013. I got the news that Pop Pop, my mom’s father, had passed away at roughly 5pm. After shutting the door to my office, I folded over in my chair and cried big tears that hurt as I tried to stifle them.

When I left the office. I alternated between fine and tearful. As I pulled out of the parking lot, a thought, as clear as if it were spoken to me, came into my mind: “Pay attention to the sounds.”

Note

It was an odd moment. I typed the note to myself in my phone, and then I paid attention. I turned off my music and rolled down my window. I listened to the sounds of the traffic, the wind in the trees, the hum of my car’s engine. When the ambient noise quieted, I tried to hear the more muted sounds. I don’t listen enough, I realized.

I watched the red light in front of me. The world felt emptier. Pop Pop was gone. Our link to that generation, at least in my family, was gone. All the stories and memories of life before my time, before my parents’ time, were now lost.

The clouds moved overhead, as they always did. Life continued on, as normal, for everyone around me. The world didn’t stop spinning when my friend died, and it didn’t stop spinning when Pop Pop died, either.

The light turned green.

A week later we drove north to Indiana for the funeral. Pop Pop was cremated, as Grandmom had been, so we didn’t have to rush to have a service. My sister, her fiance, my friend Chris and I stayed in a hotel. I felt stressed, like if I cracked or made a mistake, everything would go wrong.

Before the service, as I was getting ready, I stood in the hotel room, fixated on my suitcase. My thoughts were simple, but I was having a hard time processing them. Chris was on the other side of the room, going through his things, and mentioned that my former boss wished me well.

“Oh. I need to thank her. And I need to thank Della. I can’t forget -”

“Mandy, you don’t need to do anything.” He said it gently, and I halted, staring hard at my suitcase. I heard him walk over to me, and I threw my hands up, gave in, and broke down. I sobbed as he held me.

Visitation felt like it lasted forever. Finally, Chris sat to my left, Mom on my right, Mad next to her, then Steven at the end. Dad gave the eulogy. I struggled to pay attention, so I closed my eyes and bowed my head as tears rolled down my cheeks. I kept it together.

The service ended, and we stood. Then, without warning, I couldn’t stop the flood of emotion, and I sobbed again. Mom and Dad hugged me, and as I quieted, I turned and hugged Chris. My parents went to talk to relatives and friends milling around, and Steven went to the restroom. Chris, Mad and I sat on the pew.

Mad and I looked at each other. I realized she was crumbling. With a look of sudden, sad realization on her face, Mad said, “We have no more grandparents.” Her emotions forced the words out just before she lost her composure. To my relief, Dad was suddenly at her side, and he comforted her.

Later, after leaving the funeral home, then spending a few hours at my aunt and uncle’s house visiting with family, we were back at the hotel. I was emotionally lighter, but exhausted. Chris held me as I fell asleep, and twice he asked if I was okay. Apparently, as I was drifting to sleep, my body was jerking and twitching.

This past Friday, I went to see a counselor for the first time. Over the course of an hour and fifteen minutes, I spilled my thoughts on my life as it is now. She wanted to know my goal. Why was I in therapy? What did I want to achieve?

“I hold everything in. I haven’t been talking to anyone, really, about how I’m feeling. When I do talk about it, I can feel myself reacting physically to all the anxiety. My eye twitches, my stomach is a mess, my heart will start racing and pounding out of my chest.”

“Those are definitely signs of anxiety,” Nancy said. “So what’s your goal?”

“I need to get it out, I guess. I can’t hold it all in.”

The only time in those 75 minutes that I lost my composure and started to cry was when I talked about Pop Pop’s death. I stammered and fought the tears.

“He fought for so long. He was miserable! We were so grateful that he let go. I miss him, I do, but it’s more… he’s gone. That generation is gone. Life is going too fast. I’m only 30, but I feel like I’m losing time. There’s just not enough.”

Since returning from Taiwan, I’ve been handling a lot of stress. It’s only been recently that I’ve been able to put a finger on the underlying thread of it all: I feel mortal. I feel as though I am running short on time, and that everything I want to do will take more time than what I have left, no matter if it’s 40 years or 100.

“We have no more grandparents.” When Mad said it, it didn’t affect me. Now, I think about it often. One generation’s length away from fighting life out on my own.

It’s a scary thing, to think that there’s not enough time. I have anxiety about it. I have to stop it from invading my life and taking away my joy. That’s the goal.

I need to live.

People Matter

Check Sevenly out. It’s a great organization. (http://www.sevenly.org)

Caitlin! The full itinerary and more Taipei

Caitlin was in Taiwan for eight days. I was quite intent on introducing her to the cuisine, transportation, and trying to show her the basics of Taiwanese life. At times I went a little overboard, shoving all kinds of weird experiences and foods down her throat, but she was a great sport.

During Caitlin’s entire stay, Typhoon Tembin was like, HEY! I wanna hang out, too! Thus, this lovely little storm circled back for a second trip to Taiwan. Luckily, it didn’t affect her trip too much.

Friday (August 24), her first day, I’ve already detailed: we went to Taipei for the National Palace Museum, Modern Toilet, and the Xilin Night Market (where we visited a large temple).

Saturday (August 25) we went back to Taipei and went to the top of Taipei 101 and visited the Jade Market.

Sunday (August 26) was spent in Hsinchu. We had brunch with many of the fine ladies and gents of the foreign community. Since it was raining, I’m pretty sure this was the day we saw ParaNorman! at Big City.

Monday (August 27) we traveled back to Taipei to fulfill a promise I’d made to a friend to take pictures of a missionary’s grave at Christ’s College in northwest Taipei. The weather was beautiful, and Caitlin and I both marveled at the mountains. After we visited the college, we took 45-minutes’ worth of metro rides to Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. We intended to see the Salvador Dalí exhibit there, but our timing was off. It didn’t matter, though; the memorial grounds were beautiful and welcoming, and it was there that I spent my two-year Taiwanniversary.

Tuesday (August 28) I showed Caitlin the two main temples in Hsinchu. For dinner we met up with some of my students, Sunny, and Annie’s Mom at the Train Station Night Market. Caitlin tried stinky tofu, and I gagged down some, too, at the kids’ insistence.

Wednesday (August 29): Sunny, Jack, and Jessica picked Caitlin and me up at 8am. Annie’s Mom, Annie, and Ting Ting were in a car behind us. Our crew drove to the other side of the island to Yilan, where we played in a river, saw a waterfall, ate incredible seafood at Su-ao Pier, prayed at a temple, visited a cold spring, and had shaved ice. We returned to Hsinchu at around 8pm, and I immediately jumped on my scooter and joined Yvonne, Polly, and some other work friends for dinner at a restaurant.

Thursday (August 30) we joined Hannah for dinner at a delicious Thai restaurant downtown. Other than that, I packed, ran errands, and tried to get ready for my move back. I had drinks with a few friends at Chocolate’s bar, but it was a very mellow day overall.

Friday (August 31) was similar to Thursday. I transferred my scooter to my friend Amanda, who promised to love and cherish it. That evening we had dinner with several friends to say goodbye, during which there were back-to-back earthquakes centered in Hsinchu/Miaoli. During the first, I punched Caitlin in the arm out of excitement.

She experienced the full Taiwan: typhoons, earthquakes, west coast, east coast, Taipei 101, Taiwanese hospitality, stinky tofu, street food, night markets, temples, scooters and trains and the metro and traffic. She did it all. Posts with pictures from Hsinchu and Yilan are on their way.

And then, it was all over. Early Saturday morning, September 1, 2012, I boarded a plane and left Taiwan.