August 31, 2012

Road Trip Part 1: The California Coast


The week after our one-year anniversary, the boyfriend and I took a 2,291.5 mile long road trip together.

We'd been planning a long road trip that would take us about two weeks, and then life kind of got in the way, forcing us to change our plans. Originally, our travels would have been in September and would have taken us all the way up the California coast, through Oregon and Washington, and we'd have reached Vancouver, Canada before making the trip back to San Diego. Then, I found out my cousin was getting married in Oregon in August so we moved the trip up a month. Then, we discovered a legal hiccup to the whole border-crossing plan, so we settled on Seattle to see various friends there. Then, I got laid off and the whole plan was up in the air for a couple weeks (We'd still go to my cousin's wedding, but it might involve a couple days straight of being in the car and very little actual vacation). Then, the boyfriend got a new job (yay!) and got week off for the trip. Then, I got a new job (double yay!) and got the same week off. While this meant we'd definitely make it to the wedding, it also meant we had just the week and nothing more. Unfortunately, the wedding was on a Saturday, leaving us just Sunday to be back in San Diego for work on Monday. By car. Holy hell.

Fortunately for the boyfriend, he was able to also get Monday off, but I was too chicken to ask (my hints went unnoticed or ignored), so no matter what we'd be doing Oregon to San Diego in a day. We had all sorts of intentions to have a very relaxing, leisurely drive up so that it actually felt like a vacation, and for the most part we pulled it off.

Shopping and dining in Santa Barbara

We left San Diego on Saturday and spent the weekend with my family for a  make-up birthday party for my sister and a celebratory we-got-jobs-toast for myself, the boyfriend and my mom (whose job announcement wouldn't come until later), and pay increase and new-step-in-life toasts for the sisters. We had a relaxing weekend, then early Monday morning we were on the road to Big Sur.

We saw a lot of this.

My little car was packed full of camping supplies, plus we had our nice wedding clothes to worry about and a dog with us... The drive to Big Sur took us around 7 hours on the 1, through crazy small towns you're likely to read about. I did the driving while the boyfriend had his camera out and ready. We felt like such city slickers going through those small towns, wondering aloud to each other how their lives were different from ours. We saw a surprising amount of local theatres, too... seemed no matter how small the town was they had space for a community theatre.

OMG SQUIRRELS!!! Eating from my hand!!!

Probably the most fun detour (oh hell, most fun part of the whole trip) was feeding the squirrels overlooking the coast somewhere along the highway. We pulled over to see elephant seals, and then again at some random look-out point to take in the scenery we'd been driving along for hours, and there was a whole colony of ground squirrels who were practically hand raised. I'd brought a box of Honey Chex with for morning snacking so I went back to the car to grab a handful. And we fed the squirrels! I was having the best time, seriously. They were so gentle about it: when I reached out with a single Chex in my fingers they'd hold on to my finger to steady themselves (or me?) before grabbing it with their teeth. I gave some tiny little broken pieces of Chex and they were so cautious and slow with it that I didn't worry about being bit. Not one was aggressive or pushy (though one fat one did shove the others out of the way, but he was still gentle with us), and all just wanted the sweets we had. I felt like if I held onto a Chex piece I could probably reach out and pet one, but didn't want to overstep my bounds. We stayed for several minutes taking turns feeding the squirrels and taking pictures and it was so much fun. I really didn't want to leave, but we had so much more waiting for us.

I'm the happiest camper right here.

I wrote about the Big Sur camping experience already, so I'll just skip that part. After we left Big Sur (which is gorgeous, by the way... I'm totally going back there to spend a few days, sans dog) we headed up the coast towards Monterey, another place I want to spend more time (AQUARIUM!). We took the 17 Mile Drive in Carmel and oh my goodness the fanciness. I had no idea what we were getting into, and the boyfriend just had heard it was a beautiful and famous coastal drive, but it turned out to be that and a mansions-on-a-golf-course show-off. House after house... seriously, how do these people get that kind of money? Beach access housing, golf course access housing, and beautiful forest housing, all in one. We had to pay $10 just to get on the roads. And at some club house they were getting ready for some luxury car show. Ridiculous. I'm pretty sure our mouths were open the entire time. We did get some nice photos though, including a sexy shot of my car on the beach.

Zoom zoom, baby.

After leaving Carmel we drove through Monterey. By then it was lunchtime so the boyfriend looked up a nearby fish place that had 4 stars. It. Was. Fantastic. He got halibut, I got albacore tuna, and we shared fried calamari. We both ordered off the specials menu, which was the first time in my entire life that I'd ordered something without first knowing the price. The boyfriend justified it with, "we're on vacation, we can splurge." And boy was it a splurge. We drank free water and the bill still came to over $70 before tip. Yikes! But it was very, very worth it. That was some of the best fish, if not the best fish, I've ever had. After we drove around Monterey, saw the outside of the aquarium and the little touristy shops. Then got back on the 1 to Santa Cruz.

Eat here. Monterey Fish House. Say hi to Jose.

We headed to the boardwalk in Santa Cruz to meet the boyfriend's friend and there were "no dogs" signs everywhere. Like, every where. The weird thing was there were people walking around with dogs all over the place! For such a laid back coastal community I certainly didn't expect it to be so dog-unfriendly. The boyfriend's friend met us and we walked to downtown Santa Cruz, which was pretty much exactly what I expected. Bums on the outskirts, but once you're in the center of downtown it's very small time and locally owned shops (the friend pointed out a Forever 21 that just opened, kind of surprising the area, since almost no other major chains exist there). She took us to an ice cream kiosk that sold hand made ice creams. I got mint chip and it was made with actual mint, and topped with very decadent hot fudge. We saw a man dressed as Mario juggling plungers, various singing groups, and a man playing a giant African instrument (one of those log-type things you blow in), which was awesome.

He got some dollars.

Much later than we intended, because the boyfriend had some catching up to do with his friend and because walking around downtown Santa Cruz was way fun, we got back on the road and headed to Oakland, which ended our excursion on the 1. I wrote about staying with his parents in Oakland, so I'll skip to the part where we did touristy stuff in San Francisco.

We woke up at 5 to make it to San Francisco by sunrise, something we didn't quite make it to but ended up not making any difference. True to the bay, there was fog everywhere. Thick fog you could touch that almost made driving difficult wrapped around everything. We wanted to drive up to a look out point next to the Golden Gate Bridge and photograph the sunrise, but the fog didn't let up even a little bit. We parked on Hawk's Hill and walked to the very top, where you'd see the top of the bridge. And saw a lot of gray. 

Super artsy photo of the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise.

Giving up, we crossed the bridge into the city and had breakfast at some hotel restaurant (totally not knowing that Boudin's does breakfast now) in Fisherman's Wharf where I got a pretty decent bagel with cream cheese, smoked salmon and avocado (yum!). I hadn't been to the city in a couple of years, so we went to Pier 39. I got some socks for a gift, used a disgusting public toilet out of desperation, stepped in a puddle of sticky water (and furiously cleaned my flip flop, foot and jeans with an antibacterial wipe in the car), we saw Alcatraz and the sea lions, went into a few touristy shops, drove down Lombard Street and through Sausalito, and headed back up to Hawk's Hill for attempt #2 at getting that picture of the bridge poking through the fog (no such luck). We were back on the 101 before noon.


Before we got to Eureka we did two fun things: we saw another couple driving in a silver Mazda 2 and honked and waved at them and drove my silver Mazda 2 through a tree.

It looks roomy but it did not feel roomy.

I did the drive through tree thing once before in my Accent, but it seriously does not get old. I mean, you're driving your car through a living, breathing tree. There was a hole in the tree not only big enough for my car to drive completely through it, but much larger cars to fit and drive through. It's so fun. There were some people behind us in an SUV sticking their hands through the sun roof touching the tree's insides. Pretty great to watch.

We're inside a tree.

Camping in Eureka went a lot more smoothly, especially considering we had no idea where we were going to stay. On the 101 our phones were working (hooray!) so the boyfriend found a campsite right off the freeway called KOA Kampgrounds. We had to drive behind an industrial warehouse so I was a little sketched out, but it was a lovely campground. Designed for families, they had an ice cream social, hay ride and community campfire planned. Cute! Our camp site was a small grassy patch with a picnic table, tiny fire pit and a spigot for washing. It was pretty empty and our neighbors were interesting: a few families in RVs, another couple, and a single man with just a motorcycle. Like the last time, we set up camp, ate the snack we'd brought, napped, and woke up just in time to start the fire. However, this pack of logs, while far cheaper than in Big Sur, did not come with a fire starter. So it took us a while. The boyfriend laid out a nice stack of sticks and dried leaves, and laid the logs on top. Because the fire pit was small and short he couldn't stack the logs tee-pee style so it was nearly impossible to light. That, and it was Eureka to it's not like the sticks were terribly dry. Still, we weren't expecting to have that much trouble lighting the fire, and it was way dark by the time we actually got it going with the help of a paper bag I had in the car to seal in the heat and act as a starter. But once we did, we opened the last of the beers from Big Sur and popped more soup on the grill.

Forgot to photograph the actual campsite...

We watched the hay ride go by our site and saw a couple of families gather around the communal campfire, roasting marshmallows. We stayed up talking pretty late, waiting for our fire to die out. We woke up in the morning (after a night of successfully not setting off my car alarm) to discover it had rained overnight. Hooray for our tent being rain resistant! We're quite pleased with our tent purchase: spacious enough for us, the dog and our stuff, warm enough for Eureka, and apparently good for rain. Once again, we packed up quickly and quietly and got back on the road.

Our last detour in California was to see elk.

For "brevity," (even though this was far longer than I anticipated), Road Trip Part 2: Oregon is here.

August 30, 2012

Meeting The Parents

XKCD. Always relevant.

During our road trip the boyfriend and I stayed a couple of nights in Oakland with his parents. Which meant I got to meet them. I'd actually met his dad once several months ago when he was in San Diego on business, but all that entailed was the three of us having dinner. This time we spent 40 hours with them. I'd met parents before and it was fine because I'm awesome and parents love me, but frankly it never really mattered before, and it was always very early in the relationship. I'd never cared enough to worry because by the time my past relationships were into the serious stage I was already well acquainted with the parents. This time it mattered far before I met either parent. Plus, I couldn't help but wonder if being the white girl that stole her son's heart would matter to my boyfriend's mom...

The boyfriend prepared me a bit by telling me stories and talking about how they interact with each other. And meeting his dad many months ago certainly helped. I was a little nervous because I didn't know if his parents were aware of the seriousness of our relationship and if so if that affected his mom's impression of me. And, as previously mentioned, I already cared (deeply) about this one, so being liked mattered.

Not long after we arrived, his mom showed me to my "residence," as she called it, which was a room that was better appointed than most hotel rooms. She told me, "I'm sure you and [the boyfriend] are close..." I stopped her and said I understood and expected that we would be in separate rooms (she had called my mom "very liberal" for allowing us to share a room at Thanksgiving and Easter, something she got a huge kick out of). My room had a queen size bed with my own full bath, and she placed fresh roses from her garden in a vase on the counter. It was ridiculous. I had to camp after that...

One of the most interesting aspects of the day and a half we were there was his parent's interaction. It's been a while since I've been around still-together-parents (my lady friend's parents being the only ones I know) and watching them with each other, and with their son, was... different. His parents have been together for so long that it seems they've just gotten used to being together, and worrying about their fully grown son must feel... weird. 

His mom interjected her stories with "[the boyfriend]'s father says" about the situation she was describing, like she was annoyed. Which, who knows, after being married that long maybe they are rather annoyed with each other. But there is a very clear level of respect between them, too. Every time the boyfriend's dad would forget a part of the story he was telling (where they'd eaten, who said it, what the occasion was, what day of the week...) he'd ask his wife and no matter what she was doing or if she was in the other room she'd answer in a second. They pay attention to each other, which tells me that even if they're annoyed they probably talk to each other, which has to be a step in the right direction. 

His mom was also very concerned with my diet, and it took some convincing for her to feel comfortable making dishes she thought I wouldn't eat. It is hard telling new people what I do and do not eat, and I've more or less adopted a mantra of eat-what-you're-served when in someone's home, and try to make them feel less guilty when I refuse a meat. She made red beans and rice, putting in ground turkey and hot links (I didn't know what those even were... sausage?), and it was delicious. When we stopped back to pick up the dog she had made ribs, and I asked for the red bean and rice leftovers (I've never had ribs, I think... not really any desire to try).

It was nice finally meeting them (well... her). We've been together for long enough and he's met my family a number of times already, so it was kind of starting to be weird that I hadn't met his mom yet. All in all it was a very pleasant day and a half, though I do have to say I feel a bit more comfortable around his dad (sorry, Boyfriend) having known him a bit more. But that might also have something to do with the distinct feeling I was being judged, and not unrightfully so, seeing as how I am dating her only child and he's clearly very into me... I just never really experienced that before. The impression I got from the parents of ex-boyfriends was more along the lines of them being happy their somewhat troublesome son had got himself a nice girl. But if there was a test this time around I think I did well enough to at least earn being called "a nice girl."

August 29, 2012

Kicked Out Of A Hotel

It was surprisingly nice and I'd have enjoyed paying for a second night.

The last two nights of our week-long road trip we planned to spend in a hotel in Oregon, where we were attending my cousin's wedding. The location was a very small (like, 4 square blocks) tourist and vacation place with a smattering of hotels. Being the slackers we are, we didn't book until the week before and the first couple of places (which were super cute and super cheap) were all booked up. 

Fortunately, the Best Western in the next little town had a room, and they had free breakfast. So we booked it. Our stay was for Friday and Saturday nights; we checked in Friday afternoon, after a night of camping and a very long drive. We were actually very pleased with the room. It had a king size bed which was comfortable and clean, a nice view of a some cows by a creek, and was spacious. It even had a pull out couch, microwave and fridge. 

Friday night was a great night. We showered and changed clothes, then headed out to find lunch (went to an awesome little fish and chips place literally on the dock) and met up with my cousins. We got back pretty late, crawled into bed and turned on a movie. The next morning we went down for some passable eggs and a decent waffle and were back in the room by 10am. We ran into housekeeping, who asked if we were checking out and we told them we had another night. We lounged in the room the rest of the day, watching movies and taking our time getting ready. We left at 2:45 to drive the 4 miles to the wedding location, all dressed up and dapper, and didn't return to the hotel  until 11:30.

And our room keys didn't work. I thought they'd been deactivated because they were scanning red immediately, so we headed to the lobby. I told the girl at the front desk, who happened to be the same one that checked us in the day before, that our keys didn't work, thinking she'd just assign new ones. Instead, she said, "Yeah, we checked you out. You only booked one night."

Uh, no.

I pulled out my phone while she looked up the paperwork I signed Friday (with my initials next to the check-out day and my signature at the bottom) to show her my confirmation email. Sure enough, two nights. She had found my paperwork by then and right on the front page, next to my initials, was our check-out day of Sunday. Not Saturday.

She was a little apologetic, but not what I would have expected from someone who had two guests thrown out of their rooms. She told us she wasn't the one there that afternoon and mentioned something about telling whoever was there that they needed to get all guest phone numbers, which they didn't do with me. To top it all off, they had removed all of our things (clothes, toiletries, computer, camera, camera equipment) for us, placed them in trash bags in an unlocked cabinet in the lobby, and gave our nice room away to someone else (which means that when we were jiggling the handle and retrying the keys a bunch of times there was a couple in there who were probably terrified... and if they'd looked out the eyehole they'd have seen what they assumed to be either drunk kids at the wrong room or a black guy and some girl trying to rob them). 

So, at nearly midnight, we were without a hotel room. Turns out there was one room left, but only because whoever had booked it hadn't shown up yet. The girl had no choice but to give it to us, and unfortunately we had no choice but to take it. It had two queens (measly fulls) and was a smoking room. It was disgusting. It was smaller than our other room, the bathroom was difficult to work with two people, and wasn't anywhere near as nice as the room we'd been kicked out of. And everything smelled like smoke! I couldn't believe it. The girl offered it to me at a $30 discount "for my inconvenience."

Somehow the boyfriend was able to keep it together, which stopped me from either bursting into tears with anger and frustration or screaming at the front desk girl. I was beyond furious. When we got into our smelly room we talked about the situation as we went through our bags to make sure nothing was missing (the food we'd left in the room was lost and I can't find a sweater, but I'm not entirely sure I can blame them since I thought I checked for it). The boyfriend could see my anger and I could feel his... they really needed to make this right. While we were still good and angry we got on social media and wrote scathing reviews, although our anger at the situation has yet to subside.

In the morning we went down to the lobby to CHECK THE FUCK OUT LIKE NORMAL PEOPLE,  and there was a different front desk attendant. She knew exactly who we were when we walked in. 

"We got our room switched on us last night."
"I know." She was obviously embarrassed and ashamed. She shook her head and could almost not even say she was sorry.
"Look, I don't want to pay for that room."
"OK. That's absolutely fine." She came just short of saying we shouldn't have to. It was a huge relief to get such an understanding woman. She seemed truly dumbfounded by the situation and could not even believe it had happened.

While she worked to delete my credit card information from my file (my card had already been charged for the first night when they checked us out), the boyfriend got us some coffee from the breakfast area. The woman could tell we were itching to go and couldn't get the computer to cooperate, so we left with a signed statement that the room was free of charge.

The part that confused me the most, which this woman brought up, was that housekeeping or whoever did the checking out had decided to check us out, go through the room and pack up all our stuff without checking the paperwork sitting right in the drawer. They took the effort to do all that work when a quick trip to the lobby and a look in the file drawer would have cleared up the whole thing and we'd have never been kicked out. Obviously we thought we'd booked a second night because we left all of our stuff strewn about the room in absolutely no attempt to pack up, and we'd left several thousand dollars worth of computer and camera equipment in the room, which no one would leave behind. Furthermore, check-out was at 11am, and we were in the room from 10am to almost 3pm, a good 4 hours after we should have vacated the room, and no attempt was made to contact us. The staff could have called the room at 11am to verify we were checking out, they could have come up to the room at any time, they could have looked in the parking lot to see if my car was there, they could have emailed me, or they could have talked to the housekeeping staff who we told we had another night. Some person at the hotel got it into their heads that we were checking out on Saturday and didn't bother to do any verification whatsoever when they realized we clearly had no intention of checking out. They just did it for us anyway.

As of writing this, I'm monitoring my credit card account to make sure the pending charge doesn't go through and am in contact with Best Western to get a full refund. They're lucky nothing happened to our equipment when they removed it from our room and they're lucky we're nice people. I should say they're lucky my boyfriend is the nice one, because I was all ready to show my anger and make some serious demands.

The most disappointing thing is that this is now the first thing that comes up when we talk about our trip. Neither of us had ever heard of this happening before (the boyfriend's dad travels frequently for work and he'd never heard of it), and we'd had such a nice stay Friday night, which made it feel even more ruined. We looked at the photos as they uploaded to his computer, saw the picture of the room from when we first got in, and both said, "awww" sadly. Things had been going so well up to that point, making that disappointment a little bit worse.

Needless to say, if either of us stay in a Best Western again it'll probably be because it's a last resort. If there's any other option I know I'll be staying in any other hotel in the future.

August 28, 2012

In Which I Am An Asshole

Our campsite! Spacious and by the creek.

Apparently I suck at camping. Not only did I forget to bring all sorts of things we'd planned on packing (chairs, bottle opener, pillows, butane, spoons) but doing anything with me is a sort of comedy of errors (comedy only because the boyfriend can't help but laugh... a lesser person would have been frustrated beyond belief). If my life were a sitcom I'd be that awkward clumsy character everybody laughs at. Believe me, this gets good.

First, when we got on the road from my hometown I figured we should fill up on gas so we wouldn't have to in Big Sur, because I'd heard it's the most expensive gas in the country (by the way, holy hell). What I forgot was Big Sur was several hours away and my tank is only 8 gallons and we were taking the super scenic Route 1 through some really amazing small towns, farmland and rolling-hills-meets-ocean. Beautiful. But when we realized I was getting too low on gas for comfort we were on that windy coastal road we were doomed to buying the most expensive gas in the country- if we made it. 

Then, right when we thought we were supposed to be arriving in Big Sur we saw a giant "Welcome to Big Sur" sign. Relief! But after that there was nothing for miles. Every so often there'd be a campsite, but we didn't recognize the names (couldn't remember the exact name of the campsite and the phones had no service… knew it started with a P though!). After about another 45 minutes of driving we started to get worried. I was still low on gas and had no idea if we'd passed the campsite. Our only option was to keep going till we found the site or a gas station. After a while we decided to stop at the next general store and luckily they had a map of the campgrounds and knew ours by name. "Oh, Pfeiffer is down in Big Sur." OK. Turns out we still had another half hour of driving to get there. The girls in the store also said there were three gas stations in Big Sur, but none until then. 

We made it to our campground with maybe half a gallon of gas left. We got a great spot: right next to the river and not too close to the bathrooms and trash containers. We set up our tent and sat down to eat our snack and have the two beers I'd nabbed from my mom's fridge (she wouldn't drink them). But neither of us had packed a bottle opener, something I didn't think about until the beers were in our hands. The boyfriend tried opening the first beer on the picnic table, but the table crumbled. He finally got them open on the cooler but lost about half to foam… Oops.

The 6 pack of Coronas and the opener cost $15...

After finishing the beers we walked down the road to find firewood and butane. The guy at the check in booth was one of the least helpful people and it was clear he'd been having a rough day. He sold us firewood and told us where to go for the store. There was a restaurant and ice cream shop before the store so I went in to ask. The girl at the counter didn't know what butane was… I said, "Like propane, but a different chemical." She pointed me to the store. The store only had propane so we were going to be lantern-less for the night. But they did have beer and a bottle opener, so we bought some (at a serious markup) to have with our soup.

Getting back to the campsite we were pretty tired and decided to take a nap. We woke up just as the sun was setting, the boyfriend started the fire, and I got out the pans. I bought soup thinking it'd be an easy camp dinner, but I forgot if the cans had pull-tops, and of course I did not bring a can opener. After verifying I'd bought pull-top cans I confessed my near mistake with the boyfriend who laughed but was relieved. I popped open the first one, put it on the fire, and went for the second can. And pulled the tab right off. Still no can opener. My poor boyfriend, who had just gotten done saying he was glad there were two cans and we didn't have to share, just shook his head at me (smiling, because of course this would happen). A combination of force, the bottle opener and a multi-tool I had in my car finally got the can open, but it took far more frustration and work than it should have. Things were happier and easier when the soup was on, the beers were open, and the tripod was set up for starry photos. We ate, took photos, had our beers and watched the fire and the stars. 

The Milky Way!

The tent we bought was super comfortable and fit us, the dog and the things we wanted close to us perfectly. We got in and fell fast asleep. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up having to pee.  I got the flashlight and fumbled around for my shoes. I put my palm down on something hard and all of a sudden my car alarm was going off. In the middle of the night. In a campground. In the forest. It was only on for a few seconds but that was enough. I heard, "Come on, babe" from the boyfriend; I can't even imagine what he was thinking. I murmured, "God I'm such an asshole," and scurried to the bathroom hoping no one would come after me with a pitchfork. In the morning we realized probably no one except our immediate neighbor knew who it was, but they for sure knew. We packed up quickly and were out before the people in the next site got up the courage to confront me.

That car, creeping in the background, made a lot of noise.

Moral of the story, next time hopefully I'll be better prepared for camping (though in my defense this was a two person trip and we were equally responsible for the forgetting of the things) and hopefully will not break the soup or wake up everyone within a two mile radius with my car alarm. 

August 26, 2012

Living Comfortably

I bought a shiny because I could afford to.

For the first time in my life, most of my friends and I are living comfortably. We are no longer broke students, scraping together money for gas and beer, we are no longer in our entry level, grunt work positions where we worked full time and still had no cash, we are no longer buying frozen burritos simply because it's cheap food. We are doing OK.

Finances have become manageable as our positions have improved, and suddenly there's room in the budget for nicer dinners, nicer clothes, and nicer furnishings. Weekends don't revolve around what's cheap or free so much anymore, and we don't worry as much about spending a few dollars on an activity for entertainment. Vacations no longer have to be a visit to see the parents up the state simply because it means free food and a clothes shopping trip, if we're lucky. Vacations can mean actual plane tickets we bought ourselves to go to events we planned ourselves, even with our own friends. We can buy shiny things, things we've wanted for years but couldn't afford, things we needed but made do without, things that are the better versions of the things we currently have, and even things that are completely unnecessary.

Our homes have become a little less dorm-y and a little more comfortable. We've reduced the number of roommates we have or eliminated them completely. Some of my friends own homes and some are looking to own soon. We still keep our cars until they break but now we can afford to replace them, and with brand new vehicles that we love! We still look on for used furniture, but our maximum prices have gone up, our taste is a little more refined and we're slightly more choosy. In fact, instead of scouring the internet for used IKEA furniture, we go to IKEA to buy things new and buy far nicer things used online. When we see something we want we have the disposable cash (to a certain extent) to buy it, and don't have to save that long to buy the more expensive items. 

A $4 burrito at a taco shop is no longer dinner out, but a lunch at work, while a $12 plate at a sit-down restaurant can happen during the week. We still shop at Target, but can buy name brand. We have leftover cash to support our favorite charities. We might even donate to our Universities. If our jobs offer health care we can buy into it, and even go to the doctor or dentist without incredible fear of the costs. We can contribute to a retirement plan, and even start to believe that might one day be a reality.

All in all, we still live pretty cheaply. We don't have the major expenses like the older members of our generation, such as kids or expensive hobbies, and our extravagant excursions are still done with cost savings in mind. But we're now able to look ahead and see that being broke won't last forever, that if we just keep making smart decisions and keep rising up in our careers we'll get to the point where we can afford the more expensive parts of adult life. 

We're still in a recession or depression or recovering economy or whatever buzzword politicians are making up to make us feel better about the lack of jobs and social services, but us young adults are pulling through. Maybe it's because we happened to graduate college and earn a good year of work before the economy really tanked, making us a small group of successful young adults (far more so than the sorry kids who graduated after 2009) to be able to rise above, or maybe we've all just gotten lucky. Whatever the reason, we seem to be doing rather well for ourselves, and I think that even though we were all fine with our broke-student and post-college lives while we were living them, having a taste of disposable cash is going to be a great motivator to keep doing what we're doing. And we seem to be perfectly OK with that.

August 25, 2012

Paying Attention To Ads

Actual Facebook ad on my profile

If I were to pay attention to all the ads that are tailored for me (though their methods for "tailoring" are total crap) I would feel the need to change everything about myself.

I signed up for the LivingSocial and Groupon emails, and also now get emails from Amazon and Amazon Local. My morning inbox gets crowded, and my trash box must be overflowing. The vast, vast majority of those deals are about beauty and weight loss. Body wraps, eyelash extensions, gym memberships, bootcamp classes, hair coloring, liposuction, and so on. Occasionally dental services, which I'm actually interested in, but still many of them focus more on whitening than teeth health. A quite small portion of these ads are for fun events (some runs, even), restaurants, or services and those are the reason I'm even signed up for these promotions.

Then, if I were to listen to Facebook I should be picking out my engagement ring and bridesmaids dresses. Having used Facebook ads for work before, the engagement ring ads I see must target a very wide audience, the requirements being only that the target individual is female and in a relationship. Since I don't include my age or my anniversary date with my boyfriend on Facebook, these advertisers must only be going off the two bits of information I provide them with. I've experienced this with Facebook before, and have dealt with ads that were promoting fertility (along with engagement rings) the last time I was in a relationship and then ads offering help on getting a man when I was single. It seems that no matter what I can't just be happy with the way things are; I always have to be wanting something more. Thank goodness I have Facebook!

Oh, they also have access to my likes and interests. I have a lot of environmental organizations that I like and very frequently post about animals or conservation, so the majority of these engagement ring ads are trying to sell me an eco-friendly diamond engagement ring. Now, I don't know a whole lot about the eco-friendly ring or even the diamond ring industries, but I know how diamonds are mined (think big gaping holes in the earth), leading me to think "eco-friendly diamond ring" sounds a whole lot like "clean coal." It's an oxymoron. I'm sure that makes a lot of women feel great about their rocks, or will convince them to even pay more for them. I'm also thinking that eco-friendly or conflict-free diamond rings are the result of the whole green movement in general, and I imagine rings are more subject to being "green washed" than things like tea and soap.

Even if a ring is "conflict-free" or "as-eco-friendly-as-a-diamond-ring-can-get", the fact remains that the majority of the world's diamonds come from the same place and pass through the hands of one company (which, to be fair, has decreased from 80% of the world production and market to less than 50% in recent years) and diamonds were one of the reasons there was so much war and death in the Congo (which hasn't stopped yet). Diamond mining and production caused a whole lot of other environmental problems, namely the destruction of habitat for war and the extinction or near extinction of many species. Thanks at least in part to the diamond ring industry, the Congolese people are literally fighting for survival and do anything to stay alive today, thinking nothing of depleting resources for tomorrow, which includes killing endangered animals and destroying habitat and mining the earth for pretty rocks.

End tangent, back to the ads: these ring ads are even pushing the get engaged now timeline without knowing (or caring about) the length of time I've been in a relationship, by telling me I can view rings on my phone, order, and then go pick it up in the store with my fiancé. How romantic. Although it wouldn't surprise me to know that people get engaged that way. I know most women want diamond rings and most women want to love their rings, which makes sense considering you plan to wear it for the rest of your life, but to not trust that the love of your life can pick one out that you'd like seems a little sketchy. My sister had the unfortunate experience to go through an engagement she didn't want with the ugliest ring I'd ever seen, in a style she said she explicitly told the guy she didn't want (red flag!), so I get wanting to make sure your ring is something you like. But having it all picked out and telling your man to go pay for it and then give it to you seems to take all the fun and surprise out of it. Ideally (and maybe this is my problem), you'd be with someone long enough for him to get a sense of your style and what you'd like and if he was still having problems he'd feel comfortable enough asking a friend or close relative for help. But what do I know... the idea of diamonds in general isn't exactly appealing to me. It would be difficult to look at something every day and wonder where it came from; even if I were to get an eco-friendly diamond I'd mistrust it and would be more inclined to think the eco-friendly part was more marketing ploy than actual truth. And I don't know if that's something worth wearing every day, much less spending thousands of dollars on it to do so.

Luckily for me, I have a pretty decent body image, generally high self esteem, and am quite pleased with the relationship I'm in, so getting emails for body "enhancements" and seeing constant ads for tying the knot don't phase me too much. Admittedly, they annoy me enough to write a whole post on it, but clearly I've done it before.

August 7, 2012

The First Year

Getting distracted making dinner.

Today marks a full year since deciding to date one of my great friends and it's easily one of the best decisions I've ever made. But while we've been dating a year, our relationship started more than two years ago when we met. I remember telling someone once, slightly more than a year ago, about our friendship and how I didn't think it would come to be considering how it started, and then saying how very glad I was that it did.

Right off the bat this was the person I texted more than anyone else. We had immediately established a mutual love of food and burritos (and what he was eating, normally way past normal bedtimes) became a frequent topic of conversation. Part of this was fueled by my late night job which required me to eat dinner around 11pm, which was right around the time he'd be grabbing a burrito or carne asada fries. After I left that job I remember laying in bed once just before midnight and checked my phone: no text from my friend. And no texts the whole day or day before that, either. Suddenly that felt weird, even though we didn't necessarily text daily. I must have just gotten used to that communication.

A few months before we started dating I was fed up and frustrated... I had been off and on seeing someone I felt meh about and was ready for someone I'd feel more for. My mind kept going back to my friend, making me ask myself why we weren't dating. I couldn't explain it but something just wasn't there, and by then he'd become too good a friend to risk a short term fling (I really liked him and I didn't exactly have a good track record of staying in touch, much less staying friends, with people I dated). But I caught myself thinking about him more than I should if we were just friends, and way more than I should if I was sort-of-seeing someone else. This was someone who was ready to be there for me, someone who talked me to sleep when my psycho housemate had some sort of night terror, who picked me up to take me to get my car at a mechanic, who made me leap out of my bar stool at a restaurant when I saw him so I could go say hi, who felt comfortable asking me about the brief time we pseudo-dated to assess a strange rejection, who introduced me to great little restaurants, who took me to the zoo for our friendship zooversary, who took me on a day date to a theatre matinee... why, again, weren't we dating?

And then all of a sudden, through a strange turn of events I still don't fully understand, we were. And it was the easiest, least awkward, and most exciting time. When my phone buzzed from a text it was already likely going to be from him, but now my heart was doing little skips hoping it was him. I hadn't had that in... a long time.

It turned out that year of being friends, and growing into good friends, was what made me fall in love with him without even realizing it. All we did was acknowledge it. And because of that, I've been lucky enough to have spent the last year with someone who:
*Pulls me closer in the middle of the night, without realizing what he's doing
*Dances with me in the grocery store (rather, dances next to me while I stand there looking awkward)
*Tells me I'm weird. And silly.
*Turns on Friends and laughs hysterically at all the same parts
*Brings me a cupcake from our favorite dessert place, just because I was having a bad day (and flowers just because)
*Sends me romantic text messages randomly, even ones that just have a heart
*Wanted to collaborate on a blog about food
*Looks at me in a way I've never been looked at before
*Is not afraid to be honest or direct with me
*Will eat anything I make, even banana bread
*Noticeably talks with me openly about our differences or disagreements
*Makes me feel like a real partner, an equal

Now this is a better representation of us.

When I wrote about having a boyfriend a week after we made things official I had said that I'd never felt this way about someone, that there hasn't been a person I've been this crazy for. Ever. A year later that's still true. I still, 12 months later, get that in-love feeling. I look at him when he's just sitting there, or playing with his dog, or editing photos, or (my favorite) out cold asleep, and get this wonderful surge of love. 

I get a similar feeling from his dog. From night one Argo has slept next to me (that might have far more to do with me being new than with me being me, but it still feels nice), sandwiching me in between him and my boyfriend, and as time has gone on he's seemed to get more attached and more comfortable with me. When the boyfriend is in the other room, Argo will come and hang out with me on the couch, and he's relaxed enough now to fall asleep on the couch spread out up against me or let me bury my toes in his warm fur. Through training and conditioning, partially due to my efforts but mostly due to the efforts of my boyfriend who immediately wanted us to have a deep connection, the dog now listens to my commands (mostly) and has developed an interesting level of respect for me that's entirely different from the respect he gives his dad. I'm still the fun one, but when I have to lay down the law he listens. And I can't help but think, when all three of us are cuddled on the couch, what a great little family we make. Now, to get the cat on board...

August 5, 2012

Working Woman

Oh god yes.

Aaaaaaand I got a job. Quickest bout of unemployment ever! Haven't even gotten an unemployment check yet, even, so that'll make taxes next year less confusing. 

I went through this blog from the last year or so and found six separate posts that are almost entirely about my job, why it sucked and how working full time and still not having money to do little things was wearing me out. I so wanted to find some awesome job, walk in to work and quit in a fantastic style, but being laid off because the owners couldn't work together anymore robbed me of that story. But on the other hand, I wouldn't have found the job I'm starting tomorrow had I not been looking in the middle of the day on a Tuesday. And for the first time in years, I'm taking a job not because it's there, not because I was offered the position, not because it's at least slightly better than the one before, and not because I have to have a job, any job, but because I wanted it when I saw it, because I think I fit in to the culture, because I have the same beliefs as the company and I believe we will support each other. For the first time since 2009 I'm excited to start a job that I think I will do great in, a job that suits me.

I spent the last three years in one job or another that paid the bills (sometimes barely... I still amaze myself with how little I actually need to survive on) and had its upside, but was mostly soul sucking. Working in the one department at the Wild Animal Park that didn't care about the animals and asked its employees to do whatever it took to make money was eye opening in a very bad way (especially for me), working for an English language school for international students that couldn't give a shit about the students' actual experience in San Diego and ruined many of their ideas of this country and this city was horrifying, and working for what I thought was a remodeling and home improvement company when all the owners cared about was signing a contract and cashing a check, flat out telling their employees they don't care about the customers and that we run a sales company, not a remodeling company and one that had favorite employees and employees that were constantly taken advantage of was shocking. And the job hunting process wasn't exactly a cake walk either, considering I'd been looking for months. When I was looking while still employed I wanted to find the right fit, and when I was looking while unemployed I was worried I'd have to once again take a job just because it was a job, don't much care what it is (watched a lot of Firefly last night).

I think, finally, I've found a company that not only does what it says it does, but cares about what it does (can you imagine?). Their mission statement includes the word passion in it. And from what the extensive interview process showed me, they really care who they hire because it's going to make a difference to the team, their creative process and their clients. I don't think a company would go through such an intense interview process if they didn't care so much. And I'm really excited if that's the case. I would love to be able to stay with a company for a few years and really grow with it and learn. I think I may have my chance to stop hopping around year after year.

Also finally, the boyfriend has a job he loves. After freelancing for... 4 years?... he landed a great job doing what he's been doing, only for an established photography company that gets its own clients and doesn't require him to do the whoring-himeself-out-for-work part. Which means all that stuff he doesn't like about the job he's doing for an hourly rate, and all the stuff he loves (photographing cars and food and animals) he can still do on his own time. And everything he does for the company gives him more skill. We've got the first step of the DINK system down now and one day we'll be those annoying pet parents real parents can't stand because we have disposable income for funzies (but we'll make it up by being a great aunt/uncle pair). The future is definitely looking good!