Saturday, July 31, 2010

Day 231: Yo Yo Yo Foria

I considered calling this entry, "Sunday Funday," but that would imply that I haven't had a Sunday Funday before and that would be a lie. Sunday Fundays are my favorite, and Day 231 was of the unexpected variety.

The day started at Treehouse, where I met some of my closest girlfriends for brunch. Despite living in the same city as them, I'm ashamed at how rarely we all get together, and how much advanced notice was required to make this brunch happen, especially considering that when we met, our single most important priority was hanging out. I know that adding jobs, boyfriends, husbands and (soon) children to the mix will only continue adding to the challenge, and though it's certainly not worth fretting over, I marvel at how my friendships with these women continues to evolve.

Regardless of the notice required, I was happy that we were able to nail down a time that worked for all of us. I knew this was going to be a good afternoon when I showed up and was the first one there. I could tell my friends, especially Trish, were impressed, as this never happens. Never.

"Let's all get together and have brunch," quickly turned into, "Let's eat some food (raw for Steph), drink mimosas (pretty sure not raw, but really who cares at this point?), and talk about what's been happening in our lives over the last couple of months. And if it takes us almost five hours and two venues to do it, we're going to catch up if it kills us."

Four a half hours later, we succeeded at our plans to catch up. When the epic brunch started to wind down, we looked at our watches, realized how long we'd been there and some determined it was time to go.

I'm not sure if it makes sense or was just a coincidence that the only two left with nowhere to go were the two unmarried girls of the group, but so it was, Maribeth and I were left with nothing but each other.

"I need a pedicure," I told her. "You?"

"Ok," she agreed.

The pedicure that I got was at first seemingly no different from any other that I'd ever had. I chose this particular nail salon, Buckhead Nail and Toe, because during the pedicure, a woman will come over to massage your shoulders while you're sitting in the spa chair. Of the many simple pleasures in life, this is one of my favorites.

At one point during the massage, she asked if I wanted her to continue.

What kind of a question is that?

"Of course I do," I said.

"For how long?"

Is "forever" an appropriate response?

"Um . . .," I found this line of questioning strange. "Ten minutes?," I finally asked.

"Ten minute. O-kee," the woman said in broken English.

When the pedicure was over and I went to pay, I made the shocking discovery that these nail ladies are running the nail salon's version of a telephone hotline! First five minutes, free, with purchase; one dollar for each additional minute, meaning I owed them, in addition to the pedicure, $10 extra dollars.

My neighbor growing up learned about these scams the hard way when he spent an entire day calling the Alyssa Milano hotline for a chance to speak with her, only to rack up $23 on his parents' phone bill, a cost that at the time completely devestated him, as it wiped out his entire life's savings.

I, like Michael's parents, had to suck it up and pay for the services rendered, but I wasn't happy about it. And for the record, I'm not sure who told the masseuse her services were worth $1 per minute, but I think that's a gross exaggeration.

I tell you all of these other stories for no other reason than I wanted to and it's my blog so I can. But they all bring me to Day 231's thing that I've never done before and that was to try a new kind of frozen yogurt on the scene in Atlanta, Yoforia.

Seriously, could this Sunday get any girlier? Brunch, mimosas, idle gossip, pedicures . . . and now, frozen yogurt.

Only this isn't your run-of-the mill TCBY frozen yogurt. Yoforia is different, better, it will make you skinny and give you wings to fly. According to Yoforia, anyway.

Maribeth described it as less sweet than regular frozen yogurt.

"It's more tart," she said. "Like plain yogurt from the grocery store, only frozen. Like Greek yogurt!" ll of this explanation, I think she was trying to describe the taste to herself, not just to me.

When I walked into Yoforia, I was reminded of my first trip to the Apple store so many months ago. The super modern, almost futuristic decor gave off an heir of superiority much like Apple does, so you think you're at some super hip nightclub that only the cool kids know about. Only it's not a nightclub, it's frozen yogurt, and you're with your only other single friend while all of your other friends are at home with their boyfriends and husbands doing "Sunday" things.

I fully suspect that also like Apple, Yoforia likely thinks they are a lot cooler than they actually are. It's probably just a matter of time before they're handing out numbers and taking reservations for people to eat there.

Another reason for me to hate Yoforia: because everyone else loves it and can't stop talking about it. I mean, this is me we're talking about. The one who still has a Dell computer and a flip phone.

So we walked in, I'm faking excitement for the sake of Maribeth's feelings, but I'm fully prepared to be annoyed that like the Twilight series, this yogurt couldn't possibly live up to the hype.

I wanted to hate it, but I could not.

That's because Yoforia is as delicious as advertised. I didn't hate it at all. In fact, I loved it. I love it. At the risk of giving you Maribeth's confusing and vague description, it's really light, refreshing, and has a mere 25 calories per serving.

And I hate to admit it, I'm convinced that it actually could make us fly. Or maybe that was just the mimosas.

Some Changes In the Home Stretch...

As I push through to the final stretch of Project 29 to 30, I wanted to share with you some cool new things on the blog.

This is evidence that my social life has hit an all-time low, because instead of hitting the town like most people during the last precious moments of their twenties, I stayed at home last night listening to talk radio (I'm serious, wait for Day 306), and figured out some new cool tricks on Blogger.

First, I've listed some of my favorite blogs up in the righthand corner. Don't be offended if you don't see yours yet, it took quite a few tries just to get those two up there. I'll be adding more as soon as I can.

Probably the BEST new thing, is that now ANYONE can leave a comment with or without registering on Blogger. This is really for the sake of my Dad, who either refuses to register for fear that doing so will then reveal his name/social security number/credit card information, or just doesn't understand how to register at all. Well, now anyone can. So comment away!

I've also made it easy for you to share my blog with those who haven't experienced the joy that is Project 29 to 30. So I hope that you will, often. Like a lot. Like now.

Suggestions for new things are obviously always welcome.

Gotta go, I think I hear my twenties slipping away.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Day 230: Bayou Cooking School

Weeks before going to Panama and embarking on the juice fast, I'd planned what I was going to do on Day 230.

Actually, it was my friend Tray, a Louisiana native, who decided that for Day 230's thing I've never done before, I was going to learn how to boil crawfish. And he was going to teach me.

Of all the activities to welcome me back into the world of eating solid foods after a 72-hour hiatus, I'm not sure this was the best one. Not because I don't love crawfish, but because presuming I was successful in learning how to cook them, I wasn't going to be able to eat them since I was still only permitted to eat things that were raw. I wasn't even supposed to enjoy the second best thing at a crawfish boil, ice cold beer.

Damn you, Arden. And your stupid garden.

Like it or not, this was the day of Tray's annual charity crawfish boil, so I had no choice but to make this the day that I learned how to cook the little critters. My friend Emily came along with me to the event, for the second year in a row. Last year's crawfish boil turned into an all day affair that ended in a parking lot in the pouring down rain and may or may not have involved splashing strangers in puddles and a dance off. Though we weren't sure we were ready for that kind of fun this year, there is no doubt that Tray and his friends know how to throw a good party.

We arrived at the event, which is in a big yard behind a house in an Atlanta neighborhood called Virginia-Highlands. After a stop at the beer truck (That's right, I drank a beer. I may have had two. This was me giving the middle finger to fasting and to Arden's Garden), Emily and I started walking to a sectioned off area at the right side of the yard where Tray had set up to boil the crawfish. We could see several pots already in progress, but Tray was nowhere to be found. Not surprising, since he is one of the hosts of the event, and has quite a few responsibilities. I imagine it's a labor of love for him. He works his tail off the weeks leading up to the boil and on the day of, but he does so surrounded by all of his friends from Louisiana who come into town to support the cause. I think he manages to have a little bit of fun while working so hard.

But because he was running the show, he was sometimes difficult to track down.

Once we arrived at the cooking area, Emily and I both ran into several people that we knew, but we still didn't see Tray. I knew I needed to be near the pots of crawfish, but wasn't ready to cross the makeshift barrier into an area where I knew no one. Instead, we opted to stand outside the barrier looking longingly, and awkwardly toward the pots, like we were trying to get into a party we weren't invited to.

Finally I spotted Tray and said, "I'm ready to get my crawfish on!"

He shook his head laughing and said, "Where've you been? I've been cooking for three hours."

Emily and I received permission to cross over into the sacred crawfish boiling area.

"Alright," I said, "Let's get started."

Tray handed me a lighter and told me to light a flame on the gas burner beneath the pot.

"Sure," I said, confident this task would be easy. Only it wasn't. I don't know if I was scared I was going to burn my hand off or if my clothes weren't permitting me to get low enough to see what I was doing, but regardless, I couldn't make it happen; couldn't get the flame lit.

He didn't say so, but I'll bet Tray was thinking it was going to be a long day of teaching if I can't even light the burner.

Once he got it lit, Tray instructed me to cut lemons, potatoes, and garlic bulbs in half, and then throw them all in the boiling water for ten minutes.

"How many of each do I need to cut?" I asked, my need for a recipe rearing its ugly head.

"I don't know," he said, as he walked over to another pot already in progress. He lifted the lid and said, "This many."

I shrugged my shoulders and said, "Ok."

I hope you're not reading this entry in hopes that I can give you a legit recipe for a crawfish boil. There was no recipe, there was only Tray eyeballing my work and saying, "Yep. That looks about right."

He showed us where all of the ingredients were and handed us knives so Emily and I could start chopping, a task that seemed easy enough, except that the only table reserved for the preparation of this meal had just a square foot of open space, and we were fighting each other for it.

Not to mention, once everything was cut, getting it all into the pot of boiling water meant putting myself and those around me at potential and serious risk of 3rd degree burns.

I'm not sure if it was safer, but Emily and I turned our crawfish cooking into a basketball game, standing way back and hurling the lemons, potatoes, and garlic into the pot.

Tray had, at that time, disappeared again, leaving Emily and me by ourselves in this sectioned off area that consisted solely of Tray's friends, none of whom we knew. You can imagine, then, I'm sure, the understandably strange looks we received from some of them wondering what two random girls were doing in their VIP section chopping lemons and potatoes. Most of them stared at us, wondering who we were and why they'd never seen us before, and, likely, what we were doing there.

Others had the guts to ask, "Who are you?" or "Do I know you?," which inevitably led to me telling them that I was friends with Tray, and about the blog.

As usual, I said, "blog," they heard, "geek," and quickly walked away. Others were intrigued and wanted to hear more. One in particular was extremely concerned with us getting the full crawfish experience, especially if I was writing about it.

"Wanna see where we're keeping all of the crawfish?," he asked us.

I thought that might've been a pickup line or a euphemism for something else. It was not.

"No, seriously," he said, "They're over there in that truck." He led Emily and me up a small hill, opened the door to the truck and we climbed in to find several white coolers, all filled with live crawfish.

I was amazed by them, crawling all over each other, likely unaware of what was about to happen. I picked one up, feeling mildly sorry for the little thing that would soon meet its death in a pot full of boiled water that I'd prepared.

We thanked our new friend for giving us the behind the scenes tour of crawfish, and returned from our short field trip to find Tray waiting at the boiling pots.

"Has it been ten minutes?" he said to me.

"Ten minutes?," I asked.

"Yeah," he went on, "Has it been ten minutes since you put the potatoes in?"

"Uh . . .uh . . .," I stammered, "I don't know . . .I don't have a watch . . .I just picked up a crawfish . . .with your friend!"

Tray shook his head at me again, still smiling, realizing that I'm not as quick of a learner as he'd hoped, and that I needed constant supervision on this project. I realized that Tray wasn't just teaching me for the fun of it, he was counting on this batch of crawfish to be edible. I couldn't slack off any longer.

Once the potatoes (and the garlic and lemons) had cooked for 10 minutes, it was time for more ingredients--corn, sausage, and seasoning.

A lifetime Lowcountry boil fan, I looked over to where Tray was motioning towards seasoning and said, "Oh, like Old Bay?"

He glared at me like I'd killed his dog right in front of him.

"Fuck Old Bay," he said.

Then he held up a yellow bag of what I can only assume is the real deal, legit crawfish boil seasoning that obviously is 1000 times better than Old Bay.

"Well excuse the hell out of me," I said.

The final ingredient to go into the pot was the most important--the crawfish.

Now, I was there to help and do as much as I possibly could to aide in the crawfish boiling, but when it came to dumping the crawfish, the best assistance I could provide was to get the hell out of the way. That's because the pounds and pounds of crawfish are stored in long, white coolers and require those with a lot more physical strength than me to lift them high enough to dump into the boiling pot.

Tray and his friends took care of that as gracefully as they could, losing only a few runaway crawfish that creeped into the woods behind the pots.

Once all of the ingredients were cooking, it was time for me to stir them with a brown paddle that reminded me of the paddle Ben Affleck's character uses to beat up freshmen in Dazed and Confused.

So far I'd managed to show up late, not light the burner, forget to keep time, and offend Louisiana spices, but I thought for sure that I couldn't screw up stirring the pot. I was wrong. Tray informed me that stirring a crawfish pot is less round and round, more up and down motions. When I was doing it right, I was almost pushing the food into the seasoned water and letting it come back to the surface.

Despite having messed up nearly every step of the way, when it was time to go to work on another pot, I was feeling confident enough to ask Emily for assistance. In other words, I was feeling confident to start bossing Emily around.

"Bring me the corn," I said to her, while I was still stirring the pot.

"Oh, so now you have a sous chef?" Tray joked.

I don't know about that, but thanks to Tray's instruction and our teamwork, Emily and I managed to boil two batches of delicious crawfish for charity go-ers consumption.

We didn't eat any, because Emily hates crawfish and I couldn't eat anything cooked, but Tray gave me two thumbs up on a job well done and to my knowledge, there were no reports of food poisoning.

Anyone that got sick at the crawfish boil did so because of too many trips to the beer truck, not because of me.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 229: Am I in Hell?

On the third and final day of the Arden's Garden Love Your Liver 3-day cleanse, I accomplished quite a few firsts, which is a good thing for me because I was not in any mood to seek out any new activities.

I, along with the help of my colleagues, counted down the hours until I could go home, go to bed, and wake up to eat solid food. Nothing cooked, of course, but at that stage in the game, I didn't care. I'd eat raw for the rest of my life if it meant I never had to drink Multi Max again.

Day 229's things I've never done before were to:

Carry around and consume a gallon jug of distilled water similar to how beefed up guys wearing Zubaz pants do at the gym. Water was the only thing that I could actually drink without any negative reaction.

Stand up for myself when a coworker in New York belittled me and tried to bully me into doing something for her. The entire confrontation (or perhaps the starvation) made me shake like a leaf and almost cry, but I'm happy to report that juicing makes me less of a pushover.

Nearly hallucinate. This one is questionable, but I can tell I have never felt so strange in my life. The ride home from work was foggy at best, and when I heard the me new song by Usher's OMG on the radio and I thought I might've died. And gone to hell.

In an effort to not make Day 229's thing I've never done before to throw up at work, I opted not to push myself with the juices. My gag reflux was working overtime and I was done with the entire experience. If that makes me a quitter, then I resolved to be just that.

I did reconnect with my dad on Day 229, confessing to him that the reason I hadn't returned his phone calls was because juice fasting makes me want to cut myself off from the world. And I was afraid to call him, or anyone, back because I was afraid if I did, I'd act like a bitch.

Without getting too graphic, if cleansing was supposed to cleanse the body of "sluggish elimination" (that's what Arden's Garden calls it, I'm not kidding), then it was a colossal fail. My pants definitely felt looser, which is a plus, but I'm not sure any of it was worth it.

And maybe I could've achieved the same results having taken it easy on the Coors Lights, added a few more vegetables to my lunch plate and logged a few more minutes in the gym.

Perhaps I'm a glutton for punishment, but I'm not opposed to fasts or cleanses, and might be up for trying another one.

Just not this one. Ever. Again.

Day 228: Line 'em Up, Take 'em Down

The morning of Day 228, I woke up with a better attitude than I had gone to bed with.

But after the second round of Multi Max and Carrot juices, I sent Katy a text message.

"I don't think I can do it," it said. "The fast. It's disgusting. I want to cry it's so bad."

I don't like to think of myself as a drama queen, but I once told Katy that I was so tired that I was pretty sure I had mono, so I pictured her on the other end of that text message laughing and shaking her head at my theatrics, certain the first day of the juice cleanse couldn't have been so bad.

And to be honest, before trying it myself, I would’ve thought the same thing. But with just one day down, and still two more to go, I doubted my ability to make it out alive.

Not eating solids wasn't the problem. As I told everyone that would still talk to me despite my sour attitude, I would’ve rather not eaten at all than had to have endured the taste of the juices. To me, they were that bad.

They were not, as Arden's Garden guy said, "A little weird." They were terrible.

I got through the first few rounds at home and went to work, just as I'd done the day before. Lunch (Apple Juice) was delicious as always, and gave me a small sliver of hope.

A few hours later, when facing my nemesis—the mid-afternoon Multi Max snack, I decided to get creative.

Arden's Garden doesn't care how I'm drinking the drinks, just that I'm drinking them. Right?
So I went to my company's break room and gathered up handful of water cups and went back to my desk.

Day 228’s thing I’ve never done before was to take shots at work.

Wait, didn’t I just say that I wasn’t a drama queen? I realize all evidence is pointing to the contrary, but at that moment, I believed that drinking these juices hard liquor style was the only way.

Right before getting started with this utterly ridiculous, but seemingly necessary approach, my friend and co-worker Devon turned the corner to see me sitting behind my desk, with a stack of Dixie cups lined up in front of me, and one in my hand, one fourth full.

"What are you doing?," he asked, sounding both disgusted and amused.

I looked at him, pleading with my eyes for him to understand, and said, "I'm shooting these horrific juices. I have to."

Before I could wait to hear his response, which he was already wearing all over this face, I shoved my camera in his hands and said, “Here. Take pictures.”

And he did.

The experience was sad on many levels. Looking into the bottom of those cups was like looking into the barrel of this horrible decision and realizing I could fail, or that maybe I’d already failed. I felt sad that I was this depressed about drinking juice instead of eating real food and sad that this cleanse hadn’t really rid me of anything except for my will to live.

And really sad that I’d always wanted to take shots at my desk. Just not like this.

Once again, I never made it to Salad in a Glass and I went to bed almost immediately when I got home, knowing that I couldn’t be awake in my house with grapes and not have a complete meltdown.

I fell asleep fast, thankful Day 2 was done, and that I only had 24 more hours to go.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Day 227: All Juiced Up

**Editor's Note: The picture associated with this blog is misleading and does not reflect the author's views on the subject matter. The author is simply vain and was taught at a young age to always smile for the camera.***

Day 227's thing I'd never done before (and vowed never to do again) was to get this detox underway and begin the Arden's Garden 3-day Love Your Liver juice fast.

I woke up excited and optimistic about trying the juices, about all of the bearded Arden's Garden guy's promises for renewed energy, about releasing all of the toxins from my body and feeling lighter on my feet. This optimism, and desire to succeed, allowed me to overlook a lot of things that a normal person would, like the fact that I wasn't allowed to consume solids for 72 hours and that most of what I'd be drinking smelled like grass.

The words, "Oh hell no, I'm not drinking that!" never even came out of my mouth, even after reading the ingredients, which should demonstrated how dedicated I was to the process.

The worksheet that homeboy at Arden's Garden gave me spelled out exactly what juices I needed to drink and when.

The Fast:

On Arising: 2 TBS Lemon Juice in distilled or reverse osmosis water

Breakfast: 8 oz. carrot + 8 oz. Multi Green

Mid-Morning: 16 oz. Multi Max

Lunch: 16 oz. Apple Juice

Mid-Afternoon: 16 oz. Multi Green

Dinner: 16 oz. Salad in a Glass

Before Bed: 2 TBS Lemon Juice in Water

I downed the water no problem when I woke up. Lemon water, check!

I'm one of those people who eats immediately upon waking up so while I wasn't sure if this was following proper protocol, after drinking the distilled water, I measured and drank the Multi Green and Carrot juices.

I drank the Multi Green first, because it was green and I just had a feeling it was going to be the more painful of the two. I was right. Multi Green contained Cucumber, Celery, Spinach, and Parsley, things that separately, and tossed in a salad in solid form, I love. Liquefied and mixed together, however, they were every bit as tasty as you might imagine. Still, I thought, it was just 8 ounces. I can do this.

The Carrot juice was a bit of a reward for taking the Multi Green like a champ. Carrot juice is sweet and though I found this juice's consistency and color a bit off-putting, I drank it with no problem.

Breakfast, done.

The Multi Max was the mid-morning snack, and while it was also green in color, I found it easier to take than the Multi Green, presumably because the main ingredient was distilled water. The other ingredients listed on the bottle: Cucumbers, Celery, Lemon, Spinach, Parsley. The cucumber taste was most prevalent and I found it sad, and a little unappetizing, that I had rubbed cucumbers all over my sunburn just a week prior, and now I was drinking them.

Lunch became my most favorite, most coveted meal of the day over the next three days. Apple juice. Simple, delicious, exactly as advertised, Apple Juice. A whole 16 ounces of it. I think you're by now on to the fact that I don't have a lot of nice things to say about Arden's Garden because of this experience, but their Apple Juice, and other fruit juices, are pretty damn good.

Because of my funky work schedule, I drank lunch around 3pm, and then had my Mid-Afternoon snack, a second round of Multi Green, at 7pm or 8pm. This round was a little bit more difficult, because instead of just 8 ounces, I had to drink 16. It went down slowly. Like a newborn still figuring out how to eat, I was drinking every few hours, but taking a least an hour to finish anything. I felt that by the time I finished one the drink, it was almost time to drink another.

So I suppose in a way, the bearded Arden's Garden guy was on to something, at least as it pertained to my hunger, because after drinking the last Multi Green, I was full. Or perhaps I was so disgusted by its taste, that I didn't want to drink anymore. Regardless, neither my mind, nor my body, were hungry.

The final "meal" of the day was called Salad in a Glass, which sounded completely terrible, but looked so pretty, I wanted to believe that it could taste good. Bright red and frothy, like a smoothie. With the exception of the Apple Juice, I'd been fooled all day by Arden's Garden, though, so I knew better and checked the ingredients: Beet, Parsley, Carrot, Celery, Cucumber, Spinach.

"Noooooooooooo," I thought, "Beeeeeeeeets."

Still, I said to myself, it's 16 ounces. I can do it. I HAVE to do it. It's for the fast! It's for the blog!

I took one sip and dry heaved. The smell, the taste were both beyond foul. I tried, I truly did, to finish it, but I was full, and completely grossed out. I'll make room for pie or cookies or ice cream when I'm full. But this drink? No thanks. Not hungry at all. So, after a few painful sips, I quit.

That's right, I'm a quitter.

I wasn't quitting the entire cleanse, whole juice cleanse, I just quit the Salad in a Glass that first night, promising that I'd try and do better the next day. I realize skipping one of these delightful beverages could've offset the entire cleanse's effectiveness, but I could not stomach Salad in a Glass.

I left work feeling bit like a spoiled brat who wouldn't eat her vegetables. I also felt like Arden was kicking my ass.

I was defeated, tired, disgusted. With myself and these juices.

I went to bed depressed, wondering how I was going to be able to do this for 48 more hours.

Day 226: Raw Living

Back from vacation, still nursing my sunburn (which had taken an interesting and even more disgusting turn that had caused my feet and ankles to swell), my body was in need of some TLC.

The timing felt right to try a cleanse or a detox program of some sort, something that I’d wanted to try since I started the blog.

My friend Katy was interested too, having had several friends complete various cleanses of their own. We both did research and were both overwhelmed at the varieties that exist, ranging from day-long cleanses to month-long ones. Some are so intense, taking off work is recommended because the lack of nutrients makes you so weak. Others require drink mixes and supplements costing hundreds of dollars. I knew I couldn't spend that much money, and I knew I couldn't commit to much more than a week or a few days, so I opted to do the Arden's Garden 3-day Love Your Liver Cleanse.

What is humorous to me now (and trust me, there wasn't much that was humorous about this experience. At all.), is that Arden's Garden offers another detox cleanse that is two days long. But I chose the three day cleanse for some unknown, terribly stupid reason. I've attacked a lot of challenges this way. When I learned to knit, I wanted to knit an entire sweater that day. When I learned to rock climb, I expected to make it to the top of the mountain instantly. When I fast, I want to fast as long as I possibly can. I mean, why suffer for two days when you can suffer longer?

Ahead of the cleanse, which started on Day 227, I had to prepare, so Day 226's thing I've never done before was to eat raw for an entire day and purchase the juices needed for the cleanse.

Before going to Arden's Garden I did enough research to share with Katy exactly what was expected to see if this cleanse was one she also wanted to do. She instantly said yes, and then I told her what it would entail.

Monday and Tuesday we'd need to prep for the juice diet by phasing out cooked food and replacing it with raw. Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we'd consume nothing but the juices they provide, and then Saturday and Sunday go back to eating raw.

"So it's three days?," she asked me over email.

"Well, the cleansing is three, but the eating raw is supposed to happen two days before and two days after," I explained.

"I'm out," she said.

She went on to tell me that she was headed to New York that weekend for her brother's graduation, a weekend to be filled with big family dinners in nice fancy restaurants.

"There's just no way," she said, apologizing for leaving me on my own to complete this task.

"No worries," I said. I can't say I blame her. I know she's not a quitter, she's just realistic.

Regardless, I was on my own.

Eating raw was easy. With the exception of beets and sweet potatoes, I love all fruits and vegetables, so eating them exclusively for a couple of days was different, but hardly a challenge at all. I started a modified raw diet on Day 225, but sneaked in a piece of frozen pizza, mainly because I didn't want it to go to waste, but also because I wasn't quite ready to embrace the raw experience just yet.

Day 226 was strictly raw, however. I made a big fruit salad in the morning, and ate salads for lunch and dinner. There were no limitations on what vegetables and fruits I could eat, so I ate quite a bit of produce ranging from spinach, avocado, tomatoes, strawberries, bananas, and mangoes. The food was delicious, and I felt quite satisfied.

When I went into Arden's Garden on Day 226, I spoke to the bearded guy behind the counter and told him I was interested in the Love your Liver 3-day cleanse.

"My liver needs some lovin'," I said, laughing, certain that he would think I was both hilarious and charming.

He didn't crack a smile.

He wasn't unkind, though, and was extremely knowledgeable about "juicing," as he called it and eating raw. He said that the body digests cooked food differently than raw food, so eating "raw" helps the body prepare for the juice fast. Juicing, he explained, was sort of like hitting a "reset" button on our bodies, apologizing to them for all of the harmful things we've done.

Alright, maybe I indulged a tad over the last couple of weeks, but I don't know if I'd call fish tacos and grilled chicken harmful, necessarily. That sounds a little dramatic. Now the rum punches and the Coors Lights, that's a different story.

I told him that I had already started the raw part of the diet and thought it was going pretty well so far. I was feeling rather proud of myself until he nodded and said he only eats raw foods.

All the time. Nothing cooked. Ever.

"Ahhh, that must be the reason for the frown," I thought to myself. I'd be a stone cold bitch if I never ate cooked food.

This revelation about bearded Arden's Garden dude was insanely interesting to me, so I instantly abandoned my own questions about the juice cleanse and went on to ask him at least 10 questions about how he lives a normal life while only eating raw foods.

What about going out to eat? What about Christmas? What about birthday parties? No cake? No ice cream? What about pizza? What about french fries? Don't you ever want to fry something? Grill something? When's the last time you at something that was cooked? No french fries, really? Ever?

I could've substituted all of the specific questions for just one that probably would've covered what I really wanted to know and that's, "Why?"

Why? Why? Why would you only eat food that is raw?

Midway through our conversation, which was making me both tense and excited all at the same time, a woman came into the store and asked for a shot of wheat grass.

As if my conversation with the Arden's Garden guy hadn't already led me to this conclusion, hearing her request made me certain that I had come to the wrong place.

Some people take shots of tequila at bars on Friday nights, and some people take shots of wheat grass on Tuesday afternoons.

I am an A kind of person. They are B types of people.

Not necessarily by type, but they were friendly, and seemed to know what they were talking about, so I listened to what they had to say, knowing full well that the cleanse would be good for me, but wouldn't likely change my eating habits permanently all that much.

The next thing he said turned out be one of the most interesting points I would consider over the next few days throughout the cleanse. Because the point he was making turned out to be spot on.

"Really pay attention to when your body is telling you that it's hungry and it needs nourishment and when it's your mind telling you that it's time to eat something," he said.

Hmmm. . .eating only when my body is hungry? Now that's a new concept.

I, like a lot of people, eat when I'm bored, or because I want to taste food, or because it's noon and everyone else is going for lunch. Eating is a social activity and one that I happen to find very enjoyable. I love big meals with lots of people and lots of food that go on for hours and hours.

The juice cleanse would take all of the joy out of eating. And living. I didn't know this then, of course. I was still excited and delusional enough to think completing this experiment would cause me to drop 20 pounds and give me beautiful skin and hair.

So bring it on, Days 227, 228, and 229, I thought, when I left Arden's Garden with $50 worth of juices and distilled water.

Time to detoxify and start loving on my liver.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Day 225: Vacation Brain

Proving that my mind was still on vacation, I showed up for work at the wrong time on Day 225 as the thing that I've never done before.

Not late, as you might suspect.

Oversleeping after vacationing for two weeks would've been embarrassing, but at least would've made a little bit of sense. But I've overslept for work more than once in my lifetime and definitely showed up later than I was supposed to.

This time, though I actually came in early. A whopping four hours early. Not the best way to kick off my first week back after a two-week vacation, and I could've used that four hours to sleep or work out or do laundry. But I was already dressed and at work, so I ran a couple of errands and spent the rest of the extra time deleting the onslaught of emails that had arrived when I was traveling.

I blamed my early arrival on just being really excited to get to work and tell everyone about my trip and show them my tan.

That's a lie. I'm an idiot who misread my email.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Day 224: Produce-Only Shopping

Day 224 was Mother's Day, so on my way back to Atlanta from the beach I met my parents in Columbia and took them to lunch.

I've taken them out separately before (I took my Dad out for the blog, as a matter of fact). I'm pretty sure that was the first time I'd ever taken them both out together; I remember finding the bill to be quick shocking.

That's not what this blog is about, though.

Lunch wasn't too terribly eventful. I told my parents all about the trip to Panama and Lindsay's birthday weekend, all while stuffing my face, knowing that I was headed into a vacation detox the next day.

I went to the grocery store upon my return to Atlanta and Day 224's thing I've never done before was to purchase items from the produce aisle only.

This wasn't particularly difficult and it made for a very colorful shopping cart. Like I did when I went vegetarian, I bought nearly every last fruit and vegetable in the place, so while the trip was quick, it wasn't cheap.

"You seem really healthy," the grocery bagger said to me as he loaded all of the produce into my canvas bags.

If only he knew that I'd been frying my skin in sun for two weeks, playing flip cup for 48 hours, and smoking cigars the night before.

I did feel good about my purchases, ready to get back to work and my regular life. But as the next week of blog entries will demonstrate, the produce-only shopping turned out to be the easiest part of what became one of the worst diet experiences of my life.

Day 223: Classing Up the Place

Back on the day that I ended up eating Krispy Kreme donuts hot off the line, my friend Tray invited me to a steak restaurant, Hal's, to smoke cigars with him and some of his buddies as the thing I’ve never done before.

I declined his offer for several reasons, but mainly because I wanted my Hal's experience to be just that--an experience. I wanted Filet Mignon, red wine, dessert, coffee, and, of course my very own cigar to enjoy following dinner. We’d sit in a candle lit, smoke-filled room with a big dark, wooden table and talk about our lives while puffing on stogies. Like a scene out of the Godfather, minus the Italian food.

Yes, that's exactly how I envisioned my first time smoking a cigar.

But if there is one thing that I've learned since starting this little project, it's that nothing ever happens quite as I planned it in my mind.

Weeks later, I found myself enjoying my last weekend of a two week vacation at my friend Lindsay’s 30th birthday bash on Folly Beach. She had managed to corral a large, spirited group willing to celebrate her milestone birthday with a weekend full of fun, debauchery and dance parties.

Among those who made the trip to Charleston was my brother’s old friend Ben. I’ve known Ben for a long time, but it had been a while since he and I'd seen him. He hadn’t changed a bit, though; he is still one of the nicest, most optimistic people I’ve ever met. He and his wife Mary Ann are such great people and so much fun.

At one point during our beach day, Ben announced he was headed back to the house and wanted to know if anyone needed anything. I had been contemplating how I was going to manage my need to use the bathroom, since I refused to reveal my sunburn for all to see by disrobing in front of the masses on the beach to use the world’s largest toilet, the ocean. So I hitched a ride with Ben back to the house to use the facilities.

That was all entirely too much information just to tell you that on our ride, Ben was, no surprise, a wave of positivity, talking about how much fun he was having, how there was still more fun ahead that evening, and how he’d hoped he and Trey, our other friend, would be cracking into some Cubans later.

Come again?

"Cubans," he said, seeing that I was confused about what he was talking about, "Cigars?"

"Oh, right, of course," I replied. Apparently the sun had fried my legs and my brain.

Ben went on as he opened the door to the beach house, "There's just something about a cigar that really classes a place up, you know?"

I laughed.

First of all, what a hilarious thing to say, and Ben said it with such conviction, I knew he believed what he was saying was the truth.

Secondly, we’d spent all day pounding domestic beers on the beach and the entire night before playing flip cup (did I mention this was a 30th birthday party?), so if ever there was a party in need of “classing up,” it was this one. I’m just not sure there were enough cigars in the world to pull it off.

But, if he’s got cigars and I’m in need of doing something that I’ve never done before (I know you’re not surprised that I’ve spent many a domestic beer drinking days on the beach and I’ve played quite a bit of flip cup before.), then maybe I should abandon my whole steak dinner, red wine, cigar fantasy and ask Ben if he would let me try one.

So I told him about the blog and he was happy to help, making Day 223’s thing I’ve never done before to smoke a cigar.

Later that night, after a positively glorious day on the beach, we continued Lindsay’s party back at the house with a cookout. And soon I was being summoned to the grill to partake in the cigar that Ben had promised me. He'd already lit it, and by the looks of the stubby thing, he'd already been smoking it for several hours.

He handed it to me, and I kind of held it awkwardly, staring at him for direction as to what to do next, as if I hadn’t ever seen anyone smoke a cigar before. Ben didn’t give me the instructions I was seeking, he just reminded me, as several people already had, not to inhale it.

I did as I was told, and took a couple of puffs, careful not to inhale the smoke. The end of the cigar was soggy, because apparently, as Ben and Trey demonstrated, smoking a cigar is really just chewing on the end of it, puffing it occasionally for effect and hooking it dramatically with your pointer finger to remove it from your mouth.

I expected to be disgusted by the taste, but I wasn’t at all. Because cigars, at least this one, didn’t really have much taste at all.

And as far as “classying up the place” goes, I didn’t feel classy at all. In fact, I felt kind of dirty. Maybe it’s that whole Monica Lewinsky thing?

After taking a few puffs on the cigar, I shared with the group, who all wanted to know what I thought, that I was underwhelmed. I handed the stogy back to Ben and went about the evening enjoying the birthday celebration well into the early morning.

The next morning, we had to clean the party house before packing up and heading home. I thanked Ben for being a part of the blog and as I took a load of trash to the dumpster, I heard Trey's husky voice calling out to me from the master bedroom.

"Hey Steph, did I make the blog?" he yelled.

Indeed, Trey, you did. You classy thing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Day 222: Do the Shuffle

Since given to me on Christmas in 2006 by my then-boyfriend Mark, my iPod has become one of my most prized possessions. The gift on its own was generous, but what made this iPod so special was that Mark took what I can only imagine was an extremely long time to download music onto it, so I was ready to go right away.

And when I say he "downloaded music," I mean Mark tracked down every single album that he and all his friends ever owned and put them on this iPod--close to, I'm not exaggerating, around 7000 songs.

I've added quite a few albums of my own since he gave it to me, bringing the total number of songs to 8584.

I have no way of knowing for sure, but of those 8584, I'd probably listened to no more than half of them. Because while completely appreciating Mark's selfless act of filling the iPod with his music, I confess I usually end up scrolling past many of the artists and songs I don't know to get to the ones that I do know and want to hear right away.

But that was about to change. Because on Day 222, I opted, on my way to Charleston, South Carolina, to put my iPod on shuffle as the thing I've never done before and listen to whatever song popped up. Regardless of how terrible. For the entire time.

I imagine half of you are rolling your eyes, shaking your heads at this "new" thing that I did as being lame, and not hard to do at all. That's because you're in the camp of people who listens to your iPod this way all of the time. Well yea for you for downloading everything onto your iPods yourselves. Congratulations for knowing every song that exists, who sang it, what album it's on and when the last time was that another band covered it. I'll bet you don't even have a favorite song because you like every song the exact same. Yippee for you.

I do not like every song on my iPod because I don't even know 70 percent of the songs on it. My music taste (or lack thereof, depending on who you ask) spans all genres. Rarely do I ever even know the names of songs or who sang them. But I like new music, so here, I thought, is my chance to hear some of these songs that Mark thought I should've listened to three years ago. Time to shuffle.

I started my car, docked the iPod, and selected "Shuffle Songs," leaving my road trip soundtrack to the iPod Gods.

Song #1 - Joni Mitchell, Conversation. I love Joni Mitchell, but she usually makes me feel very melancholy, so I rarely listen to her. I wouldn't classify this song as the greatest road trip song, but it was ok. Not a bad start.

Song #2 - Modest Mouse, Breakthrough. I'm not a huge Modest Mouse fan, and this song didn't do anything to change that opinion. I hear they're good live, but I honestly don't see how.

Song #3 - Michael Franti, Crazy. Crazy. Crazy. Michael Franti is awesome, and I decided, after this one, that I needed to listen to him more. He puts me in a good mood and I was starting to get that road trip, on the way to Charleston feeling. Wheeeee!

Song #4 - Phish, Driver. I think my feelings about Phish have been made well known to anyone who reads this blog, but this definitely isn't one of my favorites. Not bad, though, and "Driver" seemed fitting for the occasion.

Song #5 - Donna the Buffalo, Blue Skies. I'm embarassed to admit that I've skipped over Donna the Buffalo since receiving my iPod, but since hearing this song, I've gone back and listened to every track I have by the band. They are fabulous, and I hope they play near me soon so that I can see them live.

Song #6 - Sunday Morning Song, Howie Day. This song is non-descript. Kind of like Howie Day.

Song #7 - Zac Brown Band, Chicken Fried. If Mark is reading this, he's banging his head on the computer, because I'm pretty sure he wouldn't want to be associated with any iPod holding songs by Zac Brown. Yes, this download was all me. And I think you're all starting to see what I mean by my vast music taste, or lack thereof.

Song #8 - Ricky Skaggs, A Simple Life. Great song, beautiful lyrics. Ricky Skaggs is not someone on paper that I would've thought that I would like, but Mark introduced me to him and I'm glad.

Song #9 - Creedence Clearwater Revival, Hey Tonight. Unbeknownst to me when I saw the name and artist pop up, I knew this song. I just never knew who sang it, or what it was called. And before Day 222, I most definitely would've skipped it. But I like it!

Song #10 - Trey Anastasio, Small Axe. A nice way to round out the top ten first songs on the iPod. Love the horns.

Out of the first 10 selections, I knew six of them, which surprised even me, even though its my iPod. But I felt good about it, and I was starting to think that relinquishing my reign on the music choices wasn't going to be so hard.

I will spare you my thoughts on every song, because the trip to Charleston takes almost five hours and that's a lot of music, but here's the rest of the playlist:

11. This American Life, A Teenager and his Dad, (I was turned on to NPR's "This American Life" in college and have downloaded several "best of" albums from the Ira Glass collection. What was good about this one coming up in shuffle is that this selection was 24 minutes long, so it took up a chunk of the trip.)

12. Marvin Gaye, One for my Baby (One for the Road), 13. Jackopierce, Sweet Ocean, 14. Perpetual Groove, Long Past Settled In, 15. Phish, Brother, 16. Leo Kottke & Mike Gordon, Middle of the Road

17. Led Zeppelin, Moby Dick (I'd heard this song dozens of times at least, but never knew what it was called. Now I know.)

18. The Band (plus Joni Mitchell), Coyote, 19. Widespread Panic, Happy, 20. Oasis, Morning Glory

21. Trey Anastasio (with Dave Matthews), Thank You (this is one of the songs that I've actually seen performed live at Jazz Fest in New Orleans in 2005, so it had special meaning for me. I got a big smile on my face when it came on.)

22. Tenacious D, The Road (this song is ridiculous)

23. Phish, Carini, 24. Jerry Garcia & David Grisman, Hot Corn, Cold Corn, 25. Phish, Guyute, 26. Ray Charles, Unchain My Heart 27. Paolo Nutini, Autumn

Right around here was when I started to unravel a bit. Not because this song is particularly terrible (it is slow and depressing in a way that makes me want to lie in my bed and sob), but I really just wanted to listen to what I wanted to listen to. I was done leaving the musical selection to chance.

This exercise is really about control, at least it was for me. I'm not a particularly controlling person, but I had to sit on my hands not to scroll to the next song sometimes. I felt myself wanting to manipulate the game, deciding that if I hated the song, I could change it after five minutes. I didn't, but I really wanted to. Luckily the next song saved me.

28. The Contours, First I Look at the Purse (this song is awesome and I could listen to it everyday.)

29. Tom Petty, Wildflowers, 30. Stanton Moore, Nalgas, 31. moe., Tambourine

32. Toad the Wet Sprocket, All I Want (this was another download of mine, and reminds me of high school. In the best way.)

33. Elton John, Sacrifice (this song made me doubt rather or not Mark ever really loved me. Why would he download a song onto my iPod that would make me want to run off the side of the road and die? This song is exactly five minutes and seven seconds long. I know because I listened, and hated, every note of it.)

34. Grateful Dead, One More Saturday Night (this one amped me up for the weekend), 35. Keller Williams, Casa Quetzal, 36. Johnny Cash, Brown-Eyed Handsome Man, 37. Creedence Clearwater Revival, Cotton Fields, 38. Johnny Cash, Southern Accents, 39. Pearl Jam, Pilate, 40. Coldplay, Daylight

41. Natalie Merchant, River (my sister-in-law Katie called me while this crap-filled song was playing, adding to the already long list of what reasons why I love her. I used to love 10,000 Maniacs, but for some reason Natalie Merchant by herself makes me want to claw my eyes out.)

42. Derek & the Dominoes, Crossroads, 43. Huey Lewis & the News, The Power of Love

44. Bob Dylan, Tangled Up in Blue (a classic song, perfect timing)

45. Phish, Undermind, 46. Led Zeppelin, LA Drone (15 seconds of nothing but noise, weird.) 47. Johnny Cash, Mister Garfield, 48. Neil Young & Crazy Horse, Western Hero, 49. Gov't Mule, Slow Happy Boys, 50. Ray LaMontagne, Narrow Escape

51. Michael Franti & Spearhead, Feelin' Free (I was feeling free at that moment, and so ready for the weekend, so this song was appropriate, and it was the second to last song that I heard.)

The final song was definitely one of my favorites, by one of my most favorite bands. It was nice to cruise over the Folly Beach bridge to My Morning Jacket singing, "I Needed it Most."

Fitting, too, because getting acquainted with my iPod was something that after three years, I needed to do. And I did.

I wouldn't say that I will make a habit of letting go of the iPod reigns all of the time, but I could stand to familiarize myself with the great music I already have right at my finger tips. But when I want to hear Tina Turner, I'm scrolling ahead. Sometimes I just can't help myself.

DAY 300

Friends and Blog Readers--

Saturday is Day 300 of this experience and I have NO ideas for what to do as the thing I've never done before. I've been reluctant to ask for help because now you can see how terribly far behind I am on writing and posting the blog.

But I need your help, so there it is: I'm almost 80 days behind on writing.

How can I celebrate Day 300? I'm open to suggestions. Please.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Day 221: Oatmeal Scrub Down

Besides a few good rides on some Panamanian waves and a new vacation friend, my marathon surfing lesson with Chapo on Day 217 also earned me severe sunburn on my backside.

I've glossed over it in the last few blog entries, just because I didn’t want to talk about it while still trying to enjoy the last few days of vacation, but I feel like I'd be lying if I didn't tell you that it was one of the worst sunburns I've ever had.

Besides physically hurting (I was moving with the agility of a woman nine months pregnant with triplets), I was extremely emotional about getting this burned, mainly because of the minor dermatological procedure that left me scarred in January and my subsequent vow to be mindful of my time in the sun. After all the tears I'd shed on that day, I couldn’t believe I'd allowed myself to get sunburned again.

I had taken the proper precautions all along the way: wearing hats, spending time in the shade, applying and reapplying 50 SPF multiple times throughout the day. But all of my diligence was ruined in a mere four hours out in the water with Chapo.

Unfortunately for me, the damage done in four hours could not be undone as quickly. And though I had already been suffering the burn's wrath for several days, I faced many more despite my will to rid myself of the sunburn immediately.

I Googled, "at home sunburn remedies," which yielded thousands of results.

Not surprisingly, aloe was mentioned the most. I had already been applying aloe to the burn for several days, along with lotion, and cold compresses at night. I'd also been popping what Maribeth later told me was an overdose of Aleve for the pain. Some of the other recipes for remedies I hadn’t tried included milk, oatmeal, vinegar, egg whites, olive oil, cucumber, and cold water.

I texted Maribeth because she's a nurse and she already knew the extent of the burn. And because I was used to talking to her every minute for ten days and I missed her. She called me back and weighed in on all the remedies I'd read about.

She said I really couldn't go wrong with any of them, but cautioned me from being overly optimistic. I wanted the burn to be gone by Friday (it was Thursday); she reminded me that healing sunburn takes time and told me to be patient. She also urged me to take it easy in the sun over the weekend, since I was headed to Charleston for my friend Lindsay’s 30th birthday beach extravaganza. I told her I would, and packed an ample supply of muumuus and linen pants.

Looking for some immediate relief, though, I decided to make, as Day 221's thing I've never done before, my very own at home remedy for sunburn.

I followed one of the recipes I found on the Internet and mixed cooked oatmeal with olive oil and egg whites. Then I added mashed cucumbers on my own, just because I knew they’d be refreshing and cold, and could possibly take some of the sting away. I chilled the mixture for half an hour before spreading it all over my face first, and then the backs of my legs. And just because I wanted to see how unattractive I could possibly look during this little experiment, I sliced a couple of cucumbers for my eyes.

The mixture did feel good because it was cold, but I’m not at all convinced that it was doing anything to heal the burn. After my conversation with Maribeth, I was pretty sure nothing would, except for time. I could've rubbed jell-o or mayonnaise or hair gel and it probably would've felt the same, and yielded the same results.

Having to lie down on a beach towel on my stomach in the middle of my living room while oatmeal dripped down the backs of my legs was one of the most humbling and horrible experiences of my life. I felt defeated.

When Lauren emailed me and asked me what I was doing, I told her.

"I think this is rock bottom," I said.

It got worse. When I felt like I had let the oatmeal do what it was going to do, I got up to get into the shower and left a disgusting trail of slop from my living room, through the kitchen, and into the bathroom. I was a mess, the house was a mess, and I was nowhere closer to healing my burn than I was when I started. If there was a silver lining, it was that I took a cold shower to rinse the oatmeal off my legs, and that was soothing.

The at home remedy was overall a fail, to follow up the bigger fail of letting the burn happen in the first place. I said I learned my lesson back in January, but I mean it this time. Absolutely no more sunburns for me.

Unless Chapo is around, and then I make no promises.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Day 220: A Delightful Return

On Day 220, after an action-packed nine days in Panama, Maribeth and I got up early and boarded a plane back to Atlanta. I was sad to come home and sad that vacation was winding down, but knew my body couldn't take much more. In fact, I felt a little beat down, like I was going to need a vacation from my vacation.

I was looking forward to kicking back on the plane with some refreshments courtesy of Delta and continuing the extended nap I'd started the day before. But as we had already learned on our way to Panama, Delta no longer offers any sort of refreshments other than pretzels, peanuts, or cookies, and a drink on flights. Even international trips.

Maribeth and I had to leave our hotel at 5am to catch our flight, leaving no time to stop for breakfast. So once we'd been in the air for a little while, we were both starving.

Day 220's thing Maribeth and I had never done before was to purchase, and consume, a Delta Flight Delights box.

The cost of the entire package was only $5, but I still get mad thinking about us having to buy food on an international flight. It's not about the money, it's the principal of the matter. I spent all this money to fly to Panama (actually I didn't because I used frequent flier miles, but still) and I had to pay $25 to check my luggage, and this airline can't scrounge together some crappy airline TV meal to serve us? Ridiculous.

The box that we purchased came just as advertised:

A deliciously healthy and high-energy collection of bagel chips, Asiago cheese spread, olives, pomegranate-vanilla glazed cashews, dried cranberries & pineapple, Swiss chocolate, and a collectible card highlighting Delta’s exciting world-wide destinations.

We laid out all of the box's contents onto Maribeth's tray table, and looked at our delicious bounty opting, like children, to eat one item at a time.

Luckily, Maribeth and I saw eye to eye on the fact that we should eat what we anticipated would be our least favorite items first and gradually work up to the best ones. She and I also agreed that we should take pictures of the entire Delta Flight Delights experience, guaranteeing to annoy and freak out everyone sitting in close proximity.

We ate the dried fruit first. I love dried cranberries, but other dried fruits weird me out, so I wasn't a huge fan of the pineapple. After we polished off that bag, we moved onto the pomegranate-vanilla glazed cashews, which were delicious. The combination of those flavors was unexpected and strange, but quite tasty.

My favorite item was the olives, which were called "Oloves" and were served in a bag with a light vinaigrette dressing. They tasted good, but I think I liked the fact that they were served in the bag as much as everything else.
We saved the Asiago cheese dip and bagel chips for the end because we knew they'd be awesome. I mean, come on, it's cheese dip.

Maribeth and I enjoyed the Swiss chocolate while watching Leap Year, a romantic comedy that ranks up there with Felicity as far as being completely unrealistic and lacking intellectual stimulation. I cried at the end, though, proving that I'm a huge loser and a hopeless romantic.

All in all, the Delta Flight Delights box was, as its name might suggest, delightful. I'm still not happy about being forced to purchase my own food on an international flight, but for $5, we made it to Atlanta in one piece and not completely starving.

And then we went out for pizza.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Day 219: !Digame! Servicio de Cuarto

One of the first things I learned in Senora Melo's Spanish class in 9th grade was how to order drinks and food in a restaurant.

"Psssst...Camarera! Quisiera una agua, por favor."

"Perdon, Quiero un taco con pollo, por favor.

"Necesitamos dos cervezas. Gracias."

Senora Melo was an excellent teacher and because of my affinity for eating, I'm thankful that she taught me how to order food first. I may not be able to read a map, or apply for a job, or introduce myself to anyone, but as long as I'm standing in a restaurant, I'll never go hungry.

Thanks to her, and all of my other Spanish teachers over the years, I was feeling good about my ability to communicate in Panama, but I'm well aware that what made me successful was as much non-verbal as it was anything else. Between pointing at things, miming, and nodding my head, speaking Spanish for me is like a game of charades.

Talking on the phone in a different language is a completely different animal, however, because you can't motion to anything, or see the other person's expressions. All you have is words. And as I learned in Spanish IV my senior year of high school, this makes communicating extremely challenging, especially if the person the other end of the phone isn't Irmo High School's Senora Stafford, but a 16-year old Panamanian waitress talking your room service order.

Day 219's thing I've never done before was to order room service in Spanish.

To understand why we were ordering room service at all, I'm going to have to go back to the start of the day.

When Maribeth and I boarded the plane from Bocas del Toro to Panama City, we looked like death and we felt worse. The sun, the sand, the rum, it had taken its toll in a big way and all we wanted to do was sleep. In an air-conditioned room.

So back in Panama City for less than a day and one night, we opted, instead of more sightseeing, to hibernate, literally, in our hotel room.

These plans to camp inside our air-conditioned room had been hatched long before we ever even arrived at our hotel, and were almost derailed when we got our room key, walked into a room that was so hot, we might as well have still been on the beach in Bocas.

At that moment I wished that the first thing Senora Melo had taught me in Spanish class was how to say, "It's far too warm in here and all my friend and I want to do today is lay around in air conditioning and watch old American sitcoms. Isn't there anything you can do to make the air colder? Please? Now? Please!"

I did the best I could with the bellman, who was extremely accommodating. We moved to another room, which felt slighty less like hell in the summertime, but not by much. I kept repeating, "Hace calor," until he fiddled with the vent on the window unit and got some air flowing.

We drew the blinds, crawled into our beds, too tired to care about the heat anymore and slept. I'm not sure how long we slept, but we woke up starving. We went back and forth from our beds, about whether or not we should go out to lunch, and enjoy one last afternoon in Panama City.

And then an advertisement for an episode of Felicity came on the American television channel, and the decision was made. We looked at each other, our eyes wide with excitement like we'd won the lottery. Room service it is.

Thankfully Maribeth and I wanted more or less the same thing, which made ordering somewhat easy. Grilled cheese, french fries (patatas fritas) for her, plaintains (platanos fritos) for me. I also wanted a fruit salad (ensalada con frutas) and she wanted a Crunch bar, which they didn't have, so we ordered chocolate cookies (oreos) instead. I had to repeat myself several times and I often found myself still pointing at the menu item as if the girl could see what I was referencing. But when I was done she repeated the order back to me and it sounded right.

I hung up the phone, turned to Maribeth and said, "I'll be very interested to see what they bring us."

Within a half hour, we heard a knock at the door and we nearly tripped over each other trying to get there, we were both so hungry.

I was elated at the sight of food, but even more elated that everything I intended to order was there on the room service tray. We dove into the food, spreading it out on our beds so we wouldn't have to sit upright for very long. Gross, I know. The only mishap seemed to be the sandwiches, but when we went back to the menu, we realized that the order wasn't lost in translation, we simply ordered incorrectly. Instead of a grilled cheese sandwich, I ordered us a cheese sandwich with lettuce and tomato. I did not care. It was tasty.

After we ate, we laid back down to watch some more mindless television. For those of you who are curious, this episode of Felicity was the one when Ben's father is ill and his mother opts to give him a kidney or some organ to help save his life, which upsets Ben because his father is abusive and not a very nice man. His dad ends up doing fine with the surgery, but of course his mother does not, so Ben and Felicity stay at the hospital and talk about how much they love each other and how love is blind. Solid. Gold.

We did not leave our hotel room the entire day. Actually, I did leave to go to the computer lab to post a blog (you're welcome) and walked briefly out on the roof to look at the pool. But when I walked outside the sun nearly blinded me and the heat on my over sunned skin was almost more than I could stand. I quickly returned to the room for more air-conditioned napping.

Maribeth and I finally rose from our comas in the early evening, but only long enough to go to dinner at a restaurant that looked like it was decorated with the Love Boat in mind (the food was excellent, the decor was just a little dated) and then to the grocery store so I could get some aloe for my burnt backside.

Yes, that's how we spent the last day of our 10-day Panamanian adventure. Sleeping, watching Felicity, buying aloe.

We are old and lame.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Day 218: Operation Relaxation

I have a difficult time relaxing.

Anyone who knows me, reads this blog or has met for five minutes would probably say that bit of information is not breaking news.

I've even showcased some of my attempts at calming myself down (bikram yoga, cell-phone free car rides, facials) in my year-long quest to do things that I've never done before. So far, I've succeeded only in completing each task, but never fully embracing its purpose, always returning to my over-thinking, often anxiety-ridden self.

I'm told I hide it well and any nerves I may be feeling on the inside simply manifest themselves on the outside as my upbeat, quirky personality. I don't know if I believe that, but in 29 years, I've learned to accept the fact that this nervous ball of energy is simply who I am.

Still, I thought that at some point in the 10 days Maribeth and I were in Panama, I would find a way to decompress, disconnect and finally take a much needed deep breath from life. Unfortunately, though, since we'd landed, we'd been on the go. And I was constantly thinking about what we were going to do next, where we were going to eat, if we were going out how I was going to be able to blog. Granted, these are not big, important decisions, and Maribeth made most of them anyway, but the slowdown I had hoped for had not yet happened.

On our last day, Day 218, I woke up in Bocas del Toro for the first time since we'd left to come on the trip, without any plans at all. No tour to go on, no cab to catch, no activities planned. Maribeth decided to go back to La Buga to dive again, and while I would have loved another surfing lesson/conversation with Chapo, I decided to stay behind and do nothing.

Only doing nothing is not an easy thing for me to do. I was on vacation, I know, I should have done or not done whatever the hell I pleased, but I couldn't just lie around the hotel on my last day. I opted instead to take a walk, so I took a left out of La Coralina and headed away from town, to the less developed parts of Bocas.

I had no plan, really, other than wanting to see if I could catch a glimpse of the filming of Ecuador's Survivor, but I never saw any of the contestants, just some of the props they use for competitions.

I walked far and for a long time, taking my time and pausing to reflect on the trip. I felt lucky to have had the opportunity to travel to Panama for such an extended time and especially fortunate that I had someone in my life willing to travel with me.

When I got back to La Coralina, I climbed the hill to a gazebo with three hammocks hanging underneath. They were shaded and there was a nice breeze coming off the water. I climbed into one to enjoy the view and then the next thing I know, Maribeth had returned from diving and was standing over me with her camera.

Day 218's thing I've never done before was to prove to myself and everyone else that I am capable of relaxing, by falling asleep in a hammock.

After getting up feeling completely refreshed, Maribeth and I grabbed some lunch, we napped, we played dominoes like senior citizens, and we drank our last rum punches at the La Coralina bar. Then went out for our last supper in Bocas del Toro. We talked about how much fun we'd had and how much we dreaded going back to our regular lives.

After dinner, we headed out for one last night on the town. While we were surfing, Chapo had told me about La Iguana, a bar that hosts "Naaaaaasty Mondays" each week. The event sounded intriguing (especially the way he said it), and obviously I wanted to be wherever Chapo might be going, so we were all set to go. But while diving earlier that day, Maribeth heard that La Iguana was going to be closed, so we went back to the same place we'd gone our first night in Bocas.

Unlike the first night, the place wasn't really crowded at all, but we met a group of guys from Holland almost immediately who were very nice. Young, but nice. I, of course, immediately started talking to one who was attractive, cool, and already in love with someone else. Holland dude and I sat at the bar and talked for several hours, about everything and nothing. As the night went on, I found myself in a super intense conversation with yet another stranger.

We talked about work and what we wanted to be when we grew up. I told him that I really like my job because it's challenging and I really enjoy the people that I work with, but I'm not sure that what I'm doing now is what I'm supposed to do forever. He said he was getting an MBA and planned on working in finance.

I told him I was single and I'm not sure if or when I'll meet "the one," but I am trying not to stress about it, though I confessed that it's a challenge not to sometimes. He said the girl he's been seeing for a year is definitely the one he wants to be with forever, and it's just a matter of time before he pops the question.

We both agreed that we didn't have what it takes to trade conventional living for the Bocas lifestyle. I said I enjoy living in Atlanta, but miss living at the beach terribly, and I'm not really sure where I fit in the most. He said he'll definitely live in Holland for the rest of his life because that's where his family is.

He, at age 23 seemed to understand a lot better than I do, at age 29, exactly what he wants, and exactly how to get it. Oh how I long for such clarity.

A few years ago, I may have berated myself for not knowing what I wanted to do for a living, or not owning a house, or not having found a mate yet. But when I looked this guy in the eye and said with confidence, "You know, I'm a work in progress, and my life still has a lot of question marks," I felt peace like I've never experienced before.

I've grown tremendously over the past few years, understanding who I am, who I'm not, what I want, what I don't want. But where I seem to have grown the most is in being okay with the fact that there is still a lot about myself that I don't know. And while this 23-year old Dutchman may have thought I should have all this sorted out at age 29, when I told him that I didn't, out loud, right there in the bar, I felt like I was giving myself permission to be me. Still uncertain, but always optimistic, me.

And for the second time that day, this time in a crowded, hot, loud bar in the middle of Bocas del Toro, I could feel myself, once again, starting to relax.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Day 217: Life Lessons with Chapo

Editor's Note: With the exception of the first picture, absolutely none of the photographs in this blog have anything to do with the blog itself. I'm sad to report there are no pictures of my Chapo.

I knew that I wanted to go surfing while I was in Panama, so on Day 217, Maribeth and I split up in the morning. She is a certified scuba diver and wanted to go diving. I opted to take a surfing lesson.

Erica said we could do both activities at the same place, La Buga Dive and Surf Center. She set it up.

"Oh yeah," she said, while dialing the phone, "We'll get you a surfing lesson with Chapo. He's this gorgeous Venezuelan guy. He totally has a girlfriend, but whatever. He's completely nice to look at."

I laughed, but I didn't really think too much about her comments. Not because I didn't believe that Chapo was good looking, but because I'm not overly attracted to Latin men. I'm not not attracted to them, I just wouldn't say that they are my type.

That is, until I met Chapo.

We showed up at La Buga and within minutes, the Chapo that I'd heard so much about emerged from the back, living up to all of my expectations. He had super tan skin, messy dark brown hair, piercing green eyes and a super friendly smile. And he wasn't super covered in them, but he had quite a few tattoos.

"Hola! I'm Chapo!," he said, waving, like we'd been friends our whole lives.

And here is where I became completely uninterested and unaware of what Maribeth was doing. I'm not really sure when her boat left to take her diving, or even how her trip went because I was completely engrossed with what I was doing, and with what Chapo was saying, doing, eating, touching.

Chapo asked me if I'd surfed before, and I told him that I had, but confessed that it had been a while, so he shouldn't expect much and should definitely treat me like a beginner.

We walked to the back of the building towards the bay and Chapo did a short demonstration on a foam surf board, while telling me what I needed to do when I was out there. A lot of what he told me I'd learned before in other surfing classes, but he also drew pictures on a dry erase board, showing me how the surf break in Panama worked. He said we'd head out to the break by boat and get dropped off in the middle of the ocean. I'd never be actually surfing into shore, but rather surfing and then paddling out of the break to get back to him.

I nodded eagerly, trying to appear brave for Chapo, but inside I was a mess. I was nervous enough just to attempt to surf the way I'd learned how to in the past. Surfing a break in the middle of the ocean and never actually going to shore was a different story and therefore was definitely going to be Day 217's thing I'd never done before.

My attempt to appear confident was unsuccessful and Chapo said, "Don't worry, you'll be fine." He went on to say that because the break is so rhythmic and predictable, it's actually a good place for a beginner.

In addition to being nervous about surfing, I was also nervous around Chapo. Not because he was so attractive; he was, but I have been around attractive people before. I'm not sure why, but I really wanted him to like me. I wanted us to be friends. And I wanted to do well surfing. I don't know what I wanted the most.

We gathered our items, climbed aboard the boat and headed out to the break. On the way to our destination, Chapo and Roberto (the boat captain who was also coming out to surf a nearby break) were discussing how the recent rain had brought some great waves and we were in for a treat today.

My brother surfs, so I know that a "treat" for real surfers is big waves and that's not exactly what I was looking for. Roberto, like Chapo, could also tell I was nervous because in between bites of his oatmeal he kept telling me that I was going to be fine.

When we arrived at the break, we stopped the boat and threw the anchor out. Roberto grabbed his board, jumped out and started paddling in one direction. I put my rash guard on, jumped in the water and Chapo (wearing flippers on his feet), and I paddled in the other direction.

Once in place, Chapo told me to hop up on the board, like he showed me how back at La Buga. The plan was for him to hold the back of the board where my feet were and push me when the right wave came. One of the hardest parts (and there are several hard parts) of surfing for me is not paddling fast enough to get on top of the wave to ride it. So having him push me gave me the extra "umph" I needed to be in the right place at the right time.

The first ride was dismal. I was super shaky and instead of walking my feet from the back of the board to the center, I tried to pop up and fell almost immediately. But I did as Chapo told me and swam out past the break and then back to Chapo.

I made it back with no trouble and went again, right away. Each time, my rides were longer and more successful. I don't know that I ever achieved finesse or grace on the board, but I was doing OK for a beginner. And I was having fun. Honestly, I'm not sure if that's because of the surfing or because of Chapo.

Every time I paddled back to him, we'd spend some time waiting for the next wave just chatting. About ourselves, our lives, our families. His mother is Venezuelan, his father is Italian, so he grew up in both Italy and South America. He is the oldest of three and his younger brother and sister still live with their parents in Venezuela. My attraction to him grew larger as the day went on because I learned what a cool person he is. His real name is Nicolas. He's been surfing since he was a young teenager, and was actually given the name "Chapo" by a group of older Venezuelan surfers.

Chapo's girlfriend lives in Panama City and works as a graphic designer. They've been together for five years and he knows she's the one, but he knows that when they get married, his island life will be over, since she works in the city. He spoke very sweetly about her, and I couldn't help but hope that someday my hot surfing instructor boyfriend would speak about me in the same way.

I asked him if living in a vacation town is difficult with the revolving door of good looking tourists ready to get drunk and make bad decisions in Panama. There has to be a lot of temptation, right?

"Oh yeah," he said smiling. He seemed very relaxed about their relationship. Not in a "I don't give a shit," kind of way, but more in a, "I know I love her and she loves me. We're going to be together forever so even though I may have slipped in the past, she's still the one," kind of way.

I don't know that I necessarily agree with that, or that Chapo's girlfriend would either, but I liked his confidence and I liked how much he obviously loved her.

I wish that I had a video of this next story because I'm realizing that doing it justice in writing is going to be a challenge. So much about the charm of Chapo is his accent, and the way he explains things. But I will try. "Last night I went to Aqua Lounge and girls were getting crazy. Dancing like strippers, jumping into the ocean." I laughed, remembering that Saturday night was the big party model/bartender was telling us about. I absolutely hated that Maribeth and I missed it, but loved that I was hearing about it from Chapo.

"There were these girls," he went on after I was probing him for information about how many girls hit on him in one night, "From Boston . . .and they were so drunk." He emphasized, "so drunk" several times.

"One of them comes up to me, and, aghaghaghaghagh," he demonstrated how the girl from Boston literally chased him around the hostel bar trying to stick her tongue in his mouth. "I mean, she was so drunk, she didn't know what she was doing," he said. "Crazy American girls," he said shaking his head.

I wondered what he would've thought of Maribeth and me a few nights before.

"So did you kiss her back?" I had to know. "Nooooooooooo!" he said. "She was sooooooooooo drunk."

In addition to teaching surfing lessons, and getting chased down by crazy American girls, Chapo is also a painter, and a tattoo artist. Most of the tattoos he had, he gave to himself and though I'm not generally a tattoo kind of girl, I was impressed. And after a couple of rum punches that night, Maribeth suggested that I let Chapo give me a tattoo as another thing I've never done before. I seriously considered it.

In the context of his life as an artist and his girlfriend living so far away, Chapo said being an artist wasn't exactly an easy thing to be in Venezuela because there, men are expected to go to college and get big jobs. But that's not him, and it was hard for him to fit in. Though not exactly the same, I was comforted to know that even in Bocas, the town of seemingly no worries whatsoever, people are still struggling to find the place, the job, the person that best suits them.

Every time I took a wave and paddled back, it became more and more difficult. The waves grew larger, I was more and more tired. Surfing a break was challenging because there was no downtime. I was either swimming, surfing, or paddling. There were a few scary times when I kept getting knocked by waves and couldn't swim fast enough to get out of it before getting knocked by the next one. Chapo struggled a few times too and even lost one of his flippers.

We were out there for four and a half hours and I was partially or completely submerged in water the entire time, and completely involved in my conversation with Chapo and surfing that I was unaware, until heading back to the boat, that I hadn't reapplied sunscreen since that morning. I had been super on top of the sunscreen, buying 50 spf (this is before I knew there was 100 spf) and applying and reapplying religiously throughout the day.

One morning with a hot surfing instructor, though, and all of my diligence leading up to that point turned out to be for nothing and I got one of the worst sunburns I've ever had. On the backside of my body. The sunburn will come into play in some later blog entries, as it did a number on me both physically (it hurt so freaking badly) and mentally (I was so upset with myself for not staying on top of it, especially after my scare back in January). In my defense, I was on a surfboard in the middle of the ocean, far away from the boat and any sunblock, but still, it was not a situation I should have put myself in.

Chapo, who wasn't wearing a watch, put his arm at a 90 degree angle on the board and looked at the shadow the sun created and said we needed to head back to the boat. I took one more ride and then we both paddled back.

Getting back on the boat was not easy because I was so tired, and my muscles were so fatigued, they were shaking. I needed Roberto's help to literally pull me out of the water and even with his help, it was not attractive, not graceful.Once back at La Buga, Chapo had the woman at the attached smoothie store make me a smoothie, because apparently that's what serious surfers do after riding the waves all morning: they drink smoothies. He and I, along with his dog, walked to a nearby dock and sat down to enjoy the view and our drinks.
I decided that I may not have surfed well, but I had accomplished one of my goals for the day and had made Chapo my friend. We sat on the dock and talked for a little while longer, our conversation eventually getting cut short by one of the Boston girls that had tried to face rape him the night before. She wasn't all that friendly to me, likely assuming I was trying to move in on her man. Then she said some ridiculous things about her antics from the night before and she was, "98 percent sure [she] was moving to Bocas."

Wow. Aggressive.

I decided to take that as my cue to leave, lest be ignored by Chapo for this little girl. So I left and went in search of Maribeth. She was eating lunch and having a beer at a nearby restaurant. We sat out there and talked of our morning apart.

Later in our trip, I realized I have but just two regrets about my time in Panama:

1. I don’t have a picture of Chapo so you can all see how gorgeous he is.
2. I didn’t stop staring at Chapo long enough to reapply sunscreen (Actually this isn't true. Sunburn or not, I don't really regret not stopping our conversation.)