Tag Archives: Virginia

Closure & Contemplation

“The only way to find out if you’re in the right place
is to stand in the place.”
- Amy Poehler

During a brief respite from determining how I can force Amy P. to adopt me, I took a few minutes to watch this Smart Girls video of her speaking on courage. The above quote kept echoing in my head after I heard it for a few reasons.

Most obviously, I thought about our time in Virginia. Clayton and I had been so excited and optimistic to leave Florida. We’d talked about that leap for years, imagined it over and over, and finally had an opportunity. We were so ready. Never in a million years did we think that journey would circle right back to Florida two years later, at our own choosing.

nat shenandoahIn some ways, it felt like we’d failed. Scratch that, it felt like I’d failed. I was the one who couldn’t hack it less than a year in, I was the one looking for PA jobs in Florida (no one would even see me for an interview) after building up this dream of what life would look like anywhere but here. But Ames reminded me that we wouldn’t have known if that move was for us unless we actually packed up and moved. Turns out, Newport News did not hold the Noas’ glamorous, reinvented future. It did, however, hold a lot of military bases, terrible traffic and an insane job in a trauma hospital. (But weekend D.C. trips were pretty fantastic.)

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So we moved on. I think about those years quite a bit, for better or worse. Maybe moving on didn’t necessarily have to mean moving back, but Clayton and I were both so desperate for relationships. Tampa had a whole vending machine of prepackaged, ready to consume friendships waiting for us. It would have been hard to take another risk in a new city at that point. Plus, I was pregnant and wanted my mommy.

When I think about where we’ll be five or ten years from now, though, I don’t know that Florida is sustainable. Crazily enough, I’m the one who will probably initiate another foray outside the Sunshine State. Clayton has the personality that accepts things as they are; I am the wanderer and questioner. He can’t sit still literally, but I can’t stay still figuratively. After only a few years being back, I cherish the family and friends that fill my life but still wonder what might be waiting. And, quite simply, we won’t know if there is another place for us until we’re standing in that place

Apart from an actual get-up-and-go battle cry, A.Poehls reiterated some thoughts I’ve been wrestling with about my work. Writing as a career in and of itself still thrills me. Factor in doing it from home, on my own schedule, and in between caring for kiddo(s), and it’s oh so tempting to ride this wave as far as it takes me without changing course.


But then some days, like today, I will catch a glimpse of what writing about things and people and places that truly inspire me would feel like. And I know with certainty I could do that. That’s about where the debilitating blackness of the Unknown begins to stretch out ahead. I have no idea what “writing about what I want” looks like. A book, a column, a blog that is actually maintained, a journal that never sees the light of day. Or a more creative day job that nurtures me professionally but prevents me from nurturing my family in the way I am used to.

So far, I have not felt a strong enough pull to make any effort to change my work load. I take what I am given by my current clients, weathering the hectic months along with the silent ones. Thankfully, my income has remained pretty steady and everything balances out by the end of the year. Except for taxes. God forsaken taxes.

Now that baby number that’s-it is coming along, I’ve been getting a different thrill thinking about what comes next. I am sure this was a crux, but it seemed a little pointless to dive into a new lifestyle, hobby or work situation knowing a baby was about to be on board. Could I have opened a new business or enrolled in a doctorate program in my second trimester? Sure. Would it have led to a mental breakdown ending in a murder-suicide primed for a Lifetime movie? Probably. All signs now point to the imminent end of childbearing, and I’ll be “free” to and (eek!) responsible for creating what life will look like raising babies instead of making ‘em.

It’s an exciting proposition to feel like anything is possible. I honestly feel that way, as cheesy and PSA-sounding as it is. I’m looking forward to training for all sorts of running PRs in the next decade, planning trips that require air travel and being able to take the necessary sedatives to follow through with them, visiting far away friends more regularly, and who knows what else. I was semi serious about the doctorate program. Always the scholar.

oh the places

My future second mommy Mama Amy offered an added reassurance that yes, all those plans may crash and burn—okay, not cool to use that analogy related to air travel; double my dose, please—but taking steps to stand in those places, no matter what the result, is courageous. Even more, it’s living.

Liebster “Award”

After a seven month hiatus, I found out that Molly tagged me for the Liebster Award, something I’ve never heard of before but supplies me with a free blog post that requires minimal creative energy. Sign me up!

liebsterThe gist is to hype up smaller blogs (less than 200 followers) by providing 11 random facts about yourself, answering a few questions from the nominating blogger and then tagging other bloggers to do the same. I may just do the first part. There’s a reason I fall into the under 200 category.

So here are 11 things that you never cared to know about me.

1. I sometimes like that I am always late because I feel like it ties me to my Spanish roots. But in reality, it probably only ties me to an offensive stereotype. Cubans eating cubans. Cubans eating cubans.

2. I have bits and pieces of two unfinished books carelessly scribbled in journals, and different chapters mentally planned out for a third, a future memoir.

3. I have broken up with and taken back coffee three times in the last six months. Currently I am at a half-caf morning cup compromise.

4. In a moment of pregnancy-inspired spontaneity, we recently bought a keyboard off Craig’s List so that I could try to recapture those three years of lessons I took as a child. My dream Friday night involves candles, a song I wrote, Clayton playing guitar, me playing the keyboard and our glorious harmonies filling up the living room. And then Addison trips over the keyboard bench, topples into her play kitchen and I am ripped away from daydreams back into reality. Kids really put a damper on self improvement.

5. A few other things on my bucket list include learning Spanish, traveling to a country where I can actually use my bilingual abilities to get us around, visiting every continent and taking a massive road trip with the kiddos out west.

6. If you couldn’t tell, I am obsessed with traveling. I am also terrified of flying. I am a complicated lady.
The meds had most certainly kicked in before I took this picture.
The meds had most certainly kicked in when I took this picture.

7. Obligatory mention: I was valedictorian of my graduating class of 33 students. Roughly 80% of them are doing more awesome things than I am right now.

8. Even through college, I used to despise and rage over getting anything less than an A, even an A-. And then I took Organic Chemistry, discovered what actual studying and preparation feels like and wanted to make myself a medal for the B I earned in that class. (I got an A in Organic Chemistry 2. Boom.)
Take that, hydrocarbons!
Take that, hydrocarbons!

9. Last week I was pleasantly surprised when I counted the books I read in 2014 and realized I actually followed through on my resolution to read one book a month. This victory was greatly impacted by the “Divergent” week, when I cranked out three books in seven days. My notables were: “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green and a reread of “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The book tower I scaled for one semester in 2012.
The book tower I scaled for one semester in 2012.

10. Being a mom feels nothing like what I thought it would feel like, in the same way being married didn’t feel anything like I expected. You imagine yourself becoming this totally new, redefined person that is altogether different from the previous non-married or childless version. But you’re not. You’re exactly the same person who now has to figure out how to fit this new identity into who you are, in a way that works for you. Having a kid did not automatically make me love cooking meals or cleaning the house or have a strange affinity for pipe cleaners and Elmer’s glue. That realization was actually a relief; I didn’t want to give up me for them. I am happy to have both.
nat addie walk

11. There are 16 names on our baby #2 name list. I am thinking of doing my first blog giveaway. The winner gets to name our child.

And here are my answers to Molly’s 11 questions.

1. online shopping or in-store shopping - Online shopping since Cyber Monday became a thing and since having a kid.

2. black or white – White. Because I feel guilty for choosing black. Thank you, private school.

3. summer or winter – Summer now that we have the paddleboard, even though I have developed a rather surly attitude toward and complete inability to tolerate the Florida heat after living in Virginia.

4. elephant or moose – Elephant. Trunks FTW.

They also make cuter costumes.

5. traffic or standing in line – Traffic because at least I can sing while waiting.

6. piano or guitar – Depends on the day. I like female vocals with a piano ballad and rough male vocals with an acoustic guitar. Skinny Love by Birdy is my spirit animal and one of the first songs I want to learn on the keyboard. Did I read too much into this one?

7. share it or keep it a secret – Keep it a secret. As a textbook introvert, the less talking the better.

8. dance or watch others dance – DANCE. Even if you don’t feel like it, just dance. You’ll always be glad you did.

9. filter or no filter – Filter. Even if you don’t feel like it, just filter. You’ll always be glad you did.

10. beer or wine – Beer. It’s been one of my most intense pregnancy cravings. Sigh.nat beer

11. Jonathon Taylor Thomas or Jesse from Free Willy – Secret Option C: Jared Leto from My So Called Life.

On Being Back

Last month was the year anniversary of our very first home purchase. Coincidentally, it also marked the first time my carpal tunnel eased up from all the paperwork we had to sign. Since our family became a trio, I am constantly looking back and comparing where we were a year ago, two years ago, five years ago, to where we are now.

It feels like we lived a lifetime in the past two years. Our time in Virginia seems hazy now, and we honestly don’t keep in touch with anyone we met except for Clayton’s former boss. And that’s only because Sean likes to continually remind Clayton that he has a standing job offer if we ever move back. (Which we will not, Sean.)

What I do remember about working and playing in Virginia is the wide openness of the future. We had never lived outside of Florida, and then all of a sudden, we’d done it. We had all of our sad, college-quality belongings in a tiny apartment with snow piling up right outside our door the first weekend we were there. At least at the beginning, we were hypnotized by the romantic ideas of adventure, escape and newness.


The short list of perks of Newport News included easy access to a whole smorgasbord of intriguing cities and small towns. What I miss about that life is deciding on a Thursday to go away that weekend. I miss planning trips simply because we stumbled on an incredible deal on Priceline. Of course we can still do that here, but there is little that is unknown to me about this place. I know Tampa like an old pair of shoes I can’t bring myself to throw away, the way the soles are worn in deepest under the ball of my foot, where the shoelaces are fraying. We go way back, and while sometimes that comfort is exactly what I love about living here, it’s also the piece that the eternal wanderer in me rebels against.


Something tugged at Clayton and me, both separately and together, that pulled us away from being safe and expected. That something has stirred at the base of my heart since I was 15 years old, and it still rustles when the scent of adventure wafts across my path. When friends without children plan vacations to Africa. When single girls mention kickball games and staying up way past Conan on a weeknight. When advocates introduce a cause that ignites my hunger to do something that matters. These are the adventures that I see just out of reach for a new mom, a housewife, a work-at-home part-timer.

P7141794 - Copy

I can’t predict what this life will look like five years from now. Will we have one five-year-old or three kids under school-age? Actually, I can pretty much guarantee it won’t be the latter. Maybe I’ll have jetted over the ocean to soak in a Mediterranean sea or to sleep in a tent serving food to starving kids. Or maybe I’ll have joined up to fight a battle against some worldwide monstrous foe like sex trafficking. Or, most likely, I’ll be right here penning taglines during naptime and jetting to the park in the afternoon to elicit some seriously important giggles on a rusty swing.

What I am so, so grateful for today is that any of those scenarios makes me smile. And proud. I know there were some sacrifices we had to make to grow roots in Florida. The Noa’s will probably never make another trip to D.C., despite my love affair with its grayness set against its significance. I may never live within day trip distance of a mountain hike. And my relatives can show up at my door totally unannounced.


But here is home. Maybe not forever. But for our little family right now, this is where our heart is.    


Wobble, baby, wobble

Last weekend Clayton and I attended a wedding dinner cruise in Norfolk. I’d never been on a big boat and wasn’t sure how the ol’ aging equilibrium would respond. Not well, friends. Not well. I took Dramamine about 30 minutes before getting on the boat, just like the doctor my mother ordered. But we didn’t actually get moving until hours after boarding, so maybe that was the issue. Everyone who came for the wedding showed up for the ceremony and some wedding festivities for the first two-ish hours, which meant we had the boat to ourselves. But then our party waited for The Outsiders to board and the boat filled up with strangers. And then that baby took off at the rousing speed of a gigantic ferry boat and my head was all, “What. Is. Happening?!”

We were on the second level, so there wasn’t any open air, and after I headed down to the bathroom in the windowless dungeon while we bobbed and weaved, all bets were off about how long I was going to keep that toasting champagne down.

I came back to our table and Clayton was having some friendly conversation with a stranger who happened to know where Pace, Florida was, and I tried to force myself to sit in the chair and pretend to listen. But all I could hear was the internal monologue of Captain Seasick vs. Princess Good Manners. Before I really knew what I was doing, I’d whispered to Clayton in the middle of his new friend’s sentence, “I’m going to the deck,” and took off upstairs. 

Best decision of my life. Not only is that obviously where you’re meant to hang out on a cruise, but the chilly, 50-degree night air worked magic on my inevitable dizziness. Why would anyone shuffle around in a closed-in box when they could be teetering over the edge of poorly constructed rails three stories over freezing water? Mystery. I stayed up there a long time looking at the lights and getting what I believe could be considered “my sea legs.”

I got to eavesdrop on the smokers’ conversations and even enjoyed an unexpected chat of my own when a man came and stood near me at the railing.

Him: You’re really getting your stare on.

Me: Mumble incoherently, as I so often do in social situations.    

Him: Jump in.

Me: Huh? You couldn’t pay me enough to jump in there.

Him: Really? I’d do it for $1,000.

Me: I think you’d have to add another zero to that for me to do it.


Him: Wait. Do you think there’s sharks in there?

Me: Yep, there are freshwater sharks that swim in this water.

Him: Oh, never mind then.

And just like that, I’m pretty sure I won that conversation. He left, probably to find me some sort of plaque or medal, and I had the view all to myself again until Clayton came to keep me company. He brought cheesecake, so actually, he ended up winning that round.

clayton nat cruiseI tried to convince him that life was just better on the top deck, but someone refused someone else’s prodding to “bring a jacket just in case” and was freezing his little tushy off. Someone else was warm and toasty and not nauseous on the upper deck in her winter jacket.  

So I compromised and after nearly an hour of fresh air isolation, I went back down to the party deck. When I joined the group with my newly acquired sea legs, I learned that standing was much better than sitting in terms of keeping the swaying of my brain at bay. Even better than standing? Dancing.

September 20113

Electric Slide. Cupid Shuffle. Some 70’s disco song that totally justifies the above finger pointing (but def not the open mouth). We rocked it all, with the exception of The Wobble, which we’d never heard of until that night and were utterly enthralled with. Man, people love to get their Wobble on. I officially decided we need to head to Da Club more often. You know, if they ever get Da Club in Newport News.

Thankfully, the wobblin’ of my head subsided long before last call, and we had a great time. It does throw a big question mark behind our plans to one day take a cruise, but I kicked that fear of flying (if “kicked” means flying once, for an hour-long flight, quoting Bible verses Rainman-style for the entire trip), so seasickness can buh-ring it.

The Mandatory Evacuation of My Common Sense

Hurricane’s a comin’. I have done a teensy bit of trash talking around these parts about my Floridian-ness and capacity to withstand hurricane-force winds with only my Cuban eyebrows to protect me. But I will level with you because we’re pals. I bought water and ice and a ridiculously expensive flashlight from a camping store because it was the only place that had any left. I’m pretty sure I could use it for Morse code with my mother in Tampa. That mess is strong.

I also went to three different stores before I could find C batteries for our 38-year old flashlight that I am certain will not last past a heavy slamming of the front door, much less our gal Irene. So that’s why I got candles, too. Target only had really random scents left. For the next 7-14 days our apartment is going to smell of Grandfather’s Cigar Hanging from the Chair of His Rocker Near the Fireplace and Load of Laundry Washed with Generic Detergent that Could Have Used a Pre-Soak. I know, total score.

Hopefully we don’t lose power at all and I can update you with minute-by-minute reports of hiding out in our master bedroom closet with my dog for 21 hours. Or maybe an “I’m a’ight” tweet would be more appropriate. Gonna play that one by ear.

If you are anywhere near this cranky beast, stay safe and don’t judge that girl traipsing through the wreckage in those fabulous galoshes. Maybe she bought them last year and has been dreaming of irrefutable justification for wearing them in public. Tidal flooding = irrefutable.


Them’s my hurricane boots. And my silver lining.

I also like to leave my left blinker on for the duration of my drive.

I guess it’s downhill from here. Since turning 27, I’ve noticed that things have been changing up in here.

Last night I didn’t seem to care if it was rude to be sitting at a coffee shop during open mic night with our backs to the performers. Clayton and I just really needed to communicate to these emo adolescents that we will not be contributing to that highly conspicuous tip jar. Don’t get me wrong, the Noa’s are nothing if not supportive of the struggling artist; in fact, one of us is one. But we’re not supporting a 15-year old singing dangerously off-key to his front row sitting, awkwardly crying girlfriend. Stay in school, buddy.

I think Aroma’s must mass produce these crooners behind the espresso machines. On our way to our car, at least four other acoustic guitar-toting, long bang-flipping, insanely skinny jean-wearing musicians were practicing their depressing wailings along the sidewalk.

nat aromas2

If I had a nickel for every voice that cracked in the middle of an emotional bridge, I could possibly afford that hurricane survival kit the news keeps suggesting. Suckers. We’re from Florida. We ride out Cat 4’s in our sleep, beyotches.

Also troubling to my notions of being in the prime of my youth was this discovery upon my return from Florida:


Um, really? Not only are those three family-sized boxes of raisin bran, those are the only boxes of cereal we own at this time. My husband checked the pantry, saw we had just one measly box of RB left, went to the store and decided what this family really needed was a trio of the same fiber-rich cereal. Apparently, we are 27 going on 89. If you know me at all, you know my diet consists of coffee, trail mix, more coffee and cereal. This is a shopping failure of catastrophic proportions because I refuse to dodge paranoid Virginians in a desperate search for AAA batteries and bottled water just to right this wrong with some Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. Just saying the Cap’n’s name makes me weepy. I really, really miss him, guys.

I wanted to feel like my sprightly, chipper self again, so Bryson and I took a trip to the park. And then we caught The Black Lung trying to walk through the smoke blowing through town, compliments of the Dismal Swamp Fire. Basically, it’s a lovely time to be in Virginia.

We stayed long enough to break a few rules.


And to make a few suggestions to the higher-ups.


And to be all manner of adorable.


Call me crotchety, but that’s the only ambitious, hormonal teenager I’m willing to support financially at the moment.

Irene, et al.

The weather is crazytown over here this week. When we left for Florida, the temperature was consistently in the upper 90s in Virginia. I returned to a yummy, crisp morning in the 70s and a high of 82 on Tuesday.

And then there was an earthquake. Odd for Virginia. Bryson and I managed to hold down the fort unscathed. The apartment did rattle, but I thought an overweight upstairs neighbor was possibly rearranging some furniture. Nope, earthquake. Scratch that one off the bucket list.

After our little babyquake, the weather was still rockin’ compared to the inferno I left in Florida. I decided to make a date with this pretty lady, a birthday treat from my husband who obviously perused the wish list. Good boy.


Don’t worry, that’s when I got home, not when I left. What’s throwing you off is that my wrist is not saturated with sweat. Who knew I’m not a disgusting manbeast sweater when the humidity drops below 95%?! Also aiding in the lack of exertion-related sweat? Walking the last half mile because I haven’t even pretended to exercise in six days.

This run was toooough. Usually my legs protest for the first half mile or so. Tonight, they whined and moaned every single step during their reintroduction to running. They weren’t having it.

But I had to get this trot in before that finicky Irene comes to town. (Source)


Just to recap, that’s a wacky change in temperature, an earthquake and a hurricane in one week. I’m officially in the market for an underground apocalypse shelter.

Save me from myself.

I promise I’ll stop referencing our vacation just as soon as our regular life becomes any form of exciting. Tomboy’s honor.

When Clayton and I ventured out on that mortifying-for-me kayak adventure, it was exactly like everything else we jump into: we were about 30% prepared for it. I’m beginning to think that whole “sun causes skin cancer” storyline could have some merit beyond skyrocketing the Banana Boat stock, so I’ve started using sunscreen for selected activities.

Of course kayaking for four hours in July qualified as a “selected activity.” But, per usual, my well-meaning intentions resulted in horribly unfortunate consequences. No research beforehand and not glancing 13 feet in front of me to see the actual kayaks informed my assumption that my knees would be bent at 90 degrees during the trip. Like in a canoe, a watercraft that makes much more sense to me (hello, space for coolers full of hard pear cider) and with which I have tons more experience.

The pressure of that one guide waiting to drive the jam-packed group of me and my husband to the drop-off point in his personal mini-van really kicked me into high gear. I had to make some tough decisions crouched behind Clayton’s car, including whether or not to change out of my underwear into bathing suit bottoms. One glance and one sniff at the port-a-potty situation made that decision for me. With the kayaks safely secured with a few hundred shoestrings atop the mini-van, it was down to the wire. Rather than slathering on the SPF from head to toe, I opted for a more conservative approach. Conservative for the sunscreen, I mean, not for my chances of catching The Melanoma.

I calculated the angle of the expected knee bend, our anticipated hours in the sun, the placement of the life jacket, the speed of the river during the summer months, rain fall over the past seven days, cloud cover, carry the two, take the square root and easy peasy, I figured out where I needed to apply the sunscreen. Thighs? Check. Ear lobes? Done. Love handles? Double layer. Shins? Eh, pass.

Funnily and painfully obviously enough, YOUR SHINS ARE DIRECTLY IN THE SUN EVERY SECOND YOU SIT IN A KAYAK. I don’t care if it’s midnight, your shins are going to take a UV beating in those too-skinny, ill-fitting boats. Clayton and I had our glistening, pasty white shins propped up without barrier for a good four hours in July during one of the hottest summers in the Northeast.

Those babies were scorched like that one time I tried to make homemade spaghetti sauce and burnt the insanely expensive, wedding-gifted pot beyond repair. Instead of heading to Bed Bath & Beyond the next morning to pick out a new pair of lower legs, we had to walk around with lobster red shins for the next week. Both of us. Super sexy, like always.

To make it even worse, Clayton hadn’t put on any sunscreen . I know, I know. Send me your lectures via email, but I can guarantee you he’s heard those arguments from me already, and I probably used more profanity and a better developed guilt trip. He knows for a fact that our children will look up at me with large, doe eyes and ask, “Mommy, why did Daddy love the sun more than us?” And I will say, “Brysona and Natalie, Jr., I wish I knew. But all he said was that he would rather have his skin sizzle off his body than raise a bunch of girls.”

The immediate impact of this sun-tastrophe was that any irritation on our shins felt like being lit up with a blow torch. Unpleasantness ensued, especially during showers.

Even more mentally and hygienically painful are the unforeseen consequences, which we are currently battling. In a word: skin. Skin, skin everywhere! My shins are peeling like I got a thousand dollar chemical peel to remove all those pesky shin wrinkles, and Clayton is shedding the old winter skin from every surface of his body that was not covered by his shorts or life jacket. He is sporting a fresh, baby pink complexion just in time for summer.

I would show you pictures, but I’m desperately hoping in the back of your mind you believe I’m embellishing.

Theoretically, we could just scoop up those nasty flakes and toss them in the trash. In real life, our burnt skin is flying off our bodies every other second, scraped by furniture, a blast of cold air, a skin flake from the other spouse, Bryson’s obvious scorn—anything and everything causes an exodus of peeling epidermis.

I’m not going to list the places we’ve found these escaping skin flakes. But it would be long. And incompatible with any sort of simultaneous food consumption.

It’s embarrassing to wear shorts, but it’s also dangerous to my well-being to wear pants in a heat wave, so passers-by just have to deal with wondering what communicable disease I’m flitting around one skin flake at a time. It’s been quite the nuisance trying to vacuum up the piles every day. And maybe on some of those days it was more like shoving them in between couch cushions and under rugs. Don’t worry, I’ll get to them. Eventually.

It seems like such a waste to expend all that effort and then wake up to Clayton’s side of the bed and wonder when a King Cobra slipped in to shed its skin.

Through all of the itching and flaking, I can’t help but think of my favorite skin-licking villain. And yes, the big ones go in the skin box. (Source)

"This is a keeper."


The Staunton Series, Part 4

Well. It’s 7:48 on Friday night and my husband has been asleep for an hour and a half. I don’t think he’s prepping for a wild night. I think this is our Friday night.

Being old and married and having a husband with craz-o all night on-call shifts is doing wonders for my blogging.

Let’s talk some more about Staunton, mmkay?

By Saturday, our last full day, we were spent. We didn’t set any alarms Friday night and figured breakfast hours be damned. We just wanted to sleep off the soreness of hiking, kayaking and squinting at fictitious celebrities.

After we stumbled out of bed around 10:30, we decided to check out a restaurant that had been packed the night before. Byers Street Bistro was delish; I had a wacky, non-traditional, kitchen sink kind of lunch and Clayton had a classic cheeseburger, and we both loved our meals. Plus, waffle fries came in to seal the deal.

When we couldn’t really stand up straight from being impregnated by frying oil, we took to the streets. I’d had my eye on this one adorable store from our very first night. Honestly, it’s the only reason I threw on hiking clothes and tore through rapids in a kayak—I knew Clayton would owe me big time. Dude paid up with two hours in a boutique and some yummy nude pumps. My love for them is as explicit as that description. A staple, no? Especially because they’ll complement my pajama pants and oversized t-shirts during my phone meetings.

Afterwards, when I was fat, well soled and perfectly content, I tried and tried to convince Clayton that he could splurge on any mantastic item he wanted. Even with a cigar shop, a theatre showing at least one movie sure to have poor acting and cars exploding, and a reminder of the brewery that was thirty minutes away, he swore he, too, was happy if I was happy. (A couple of weeks ago someone shared with him the saying “a happy wife means a happy life” and he took it as solemn, prophetic life advice. Mainly because he’s spent more than two seconds with me when I was less than happy.)

So we walked around and snapped pictures.

Ten minutes later, we realized Staunton’s not exactly a booming metropolis and were back to square one. Clayton was breathing in way too much of that mountain air, so when we got into the car, he yanked out the GPS and just started driving. I was mildly terrified of the sudden change in personality but also thought we might end up somewhere that served ice cream. I love road trips!

The tractor on the main road slowed us down a little, but we didn’t mind because the drive was absolutely stunning. Grey-blue mountains rising out of the horizon behind acres of rolling green farmland and bright red barns. We were happy, aimless campers.

I was slightly less impressed with Waynesboro, where we ended up. I humored Clayton by actually getting out of the car at a park, but we both knew it was time to get the hell out of that nowheresville when a grown man with his elementary-aged daughter began screaming at a punk teenage kid. I think the kid may have thrown something at the man when he walked by, but I can’t be sure. All I distinctly remember is being on the verge of tears and begging Clayton to drive away as the man got inches from the kid’s nose saying, “Hit me. I want you to do something.”

You know that whole fight or flight thing? My response is on the utmost end of the flight spectrum and typically involves repeated apologies, assuming responsibility for everything negative that’s ever happened in the world, a healthy outpouring of tears and a handful of inappropriate sarcastic comments that make the situation infinitely worse. So yeah, I probably need life coaching.

Clayton’s guilt at the social awkwardness that was Waynesboro manifested itself in the form of an iced caramel macchiato. It was like National Husband Bonus Points Day.

For me, one of the most luxurious feelings in the world is to get ready without a stopwatch. The restaurant we chose for dinner didn’t take reservations, and since my husband had made it clear this was a non-GPS type of day, I had no timer on my get-pretty prep time. Isn’t that fabulous? If you have kids, you’ve probably forgotten that such a thing exists, but I encourage demand you to request this very indulgence for Christmas, your birthday, Mother’s Day, Columbus Day or whatever random holiday is next on the calendar. I hear Sunday is Pioneer Day in Utah, so there you go.

You have the freedom to wait until you look exactly the way you want to look before leaving. Within reason, of course. Ninety minutes of staring into the mirror did not do much for my wackadoo-shaped nose, but you get the idea. Underwear not working with those jeans? Change ‘em! Eye shadow turning goth rather than smoky? Re-do it! All it takes is a free NC-17 television station included in your hotel room to occupy the husband, and you’ve got nothing but time, ladies.

(I’m totally kidding. “Despicable Me” was the distraction of choice. I told you about those bonus points.)

All I need to say about the dinner experience was that when I asked the server (who also happened to be one of the bartenders) if he could make me a mojito, he said, “Sure. I’ve got fresh mint in the back.” Yes, and yes.

After a delicious dinner, Clayton read the chocolate frenzied look in my eyes and took me to get some ice cream/gelato. Staunton has some seriously good eating. We had to burn off all those empty calories, as well as drink some more of them, and we found ourselves sneaking up to a rooftop restaurant that had live music.

The only person on that roof who enjoyed Bryan Elijah Smith and the Wild Hearts more than my husband was the lady sitting directly to our right who’d obviously gotten a 100-yard head start to those liquid calories. She was somewhere in the neighborhood of her early fifties, and she was smashed. All night long she talked way too loud, in the way people do when they think they are making complete sense and hiding their inebriation so well from everyone else. Except everyone knows you’re gone and they’re only talking to you so that you respond in that funny loud voice that you think is totally normal. And then everyone laughs at you.

She yelled. She danced. She screamed at the lead singer to take his shirt off. She repeated to her husband that she had just screamed at the lead singer to take his shirt off. She made her way to the top story of the building and called out the window to her husband. She kept hollering when her husband ignored her. She tried to get strangers to dance with her. She sat on a cowboy’s lap.

I thought of her and her splitting headache often the next morning.

As for me and Clayton, reveling in a few hours that felt deliciously like those dating days was the perfect way to spend our last evening away from things like all night on-call shifts.

The Staunton Series, Part 3

After a busy day of mentally abusing pre-adolescents and scoffing at natural wonders, it was time to get classy. A hidden push for staying in Staunton on this mini-vacay was the American Shakespeare Center in the middle of downtown. They’ve recreated an indoor Elizabethan theatre called the Blackfriars Playhouse and put on plays throughout the year. We were hot-diggity-dog lucky that they were performing “Hamlet” Friday night.

The Painstaking Preparation

I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought this all the way through, but I over-packed for almost every possible occasion that could have arisen on this trip. Three bathing suits (didn’t swim once), nine running outfits (didn’t run once) and twenty-eight pairs of underwear. But in the way of potential Shakespeare-worthy ensembles, it was a complete disaster. The only two options I had that covered more than my upper thigh were skinny jeans and a cotton maxi dress.

I dismissed the jeans, assuming The Bard would roll over in his grave if I wore denim to his psychological masterpiece, and had no choice but the summer dress. It was all kinds of wrong, and none of my bras worked with the dress. Clayton was two thumbs up for the torso commando idea, but I was not about to accidentally show boobage to Hamlet, Polonius or any of their counterparts and contaminate the whole production. So I went with the least of all the evils and walked around the entire night terrified my plunging neckline, zero cleavage and ill-fitting strapless bra were creating a PG-13 encore of their own.

Are you still with me? I know for a fact my brother dipped out as soon as he saw the word boobage. I swear this seemed really serious at the time.

Because we refused to pack all that Noa bad luck in our luggage, we were actually attending opening night. On top of that, it was a “Pay What You Will” performance, which meant admission was FREE (do you know the indestructible good mood those four letters provide for my husband?) and you could make donations to the Center on your way out. If you felt so inclined. I had a hunch about 36 hours before that Clayton was not feeling so inclined, so we had the “We WILL be paying those starving actors who have reached the pinnacle of their career in Staunton, Virginia on our way out of the theatre” conversation way ahead of time. I didn’t want it getting all oh no you didn’t just walk out without paying in the vestibule (+1500 points for Southern Baptist word usage).

A Night at the Theatre (which you should always say a little louder than normal with a high-pitched British accent in hopes of being recruited for next season’s productions)

We were advised to get to the theatre a good 45 minutes before the show time to get a seat. “Pay What You Will’s” are pretty popular in artsy fartsy Staunton, especially among the frugal twenty-something tourist set. We pulled up right at 6:45 (don’t get mad family and friends, we’re only on time for dead sonneteers, promise!). I hopped out to scout a fab seat while Clayton found a primo parking spot, only to discover the doors to the theatre didn’t open until 7. Meanwhile, the fine folks of Staunton and beyond were forced to fake casual pleasantries while inconspicuously inching in front of anyone not paying close enough attention to the informal line.

“Hi, are you here for our meet-up group?” a stranger asked my exposed bra while I was standing alone.

Darting, confused eyes and an insincere apology followed. “No, I’m sorry, I have a husband and a real world life. I don’t ‘meet up’ with internet strangers wearing a mostly topless dress.”

Or something to that effect. Clayton should have known better than to leave me alone to fend off these poetry-hungry wolves.

Even though Grandma Sneak Attack tried a last minute ditch and dive as I was being handed a program, she got hers with my long, flexing stride across the doorway. My maxi dress created an impenetrable barrier of fabric that she would have had to lift and crawl under to get ahead of me. I won, and my prizes were two center seats in row J.

I was pretty stressed out from all that perceived confrontation, so my dear husband fetched me some red wine from the traditional Shakespearean drink cart on stage. Meanwhile, the actors serenaded us with traditional Shakespearean Goo Goo Dolls cover songs from the on-set balcony. It was all a bit surreal.

After some other top twenty hits performed on acoustic guitars and flute-ish type thingies, we got to the main event. Clayton and I both loved it. The theatre only holds 300 people, so everyone is right in the action. No set lighting, no elaborate props, no sound amplification. Simple, bare bones Shakespeare.

I was enjoying it so much, I decided to celebrate with more wine at the intermission. That was a bad idea. After drinking through the majority of the play, I almost ate it after hopping to my feet for the standing ovation. I had to quickly re-focus my attention on not ovating and just standing.

Live from Blackfriars Playhouse

I don’t know if it was the red wine or my obsession with pop culture, but OMG Seth Myers was playing Horatio. Dead serious. I couldn’t stop staring at him after the show (he was one of the kind gentlemen holding a bucket so that we could “Pay What We Would” on the way out). Those dimples. Those tights. My bare clavicle. I mean, it was like a fairytale. In real life, it was more like I was seeing three Seth Meyers’, probably drooling down my naked neck and Clayton couldn’t let go of my arm the rest of the night because I was wearing three inch wedges through Staunton’s hilly terrain.

On a side note, we were the most formally dressed patrons at the show. Staunton keeps those American Apparel and TOMS people in business, let me tell you. Really should have gone with the skinny jeans. Or a bathing suit.  That would really have gotten Seth’s attention.

We ended the evening at a pub scarfing down the unhealthiest items on the menu while one of us took down glass after glass of water because her husband was tired of babysitting.

I bet Seth would have found my rambling, slurred critique of the performance perfectly charming, thank you very much.