Let Love in this Lent

Love is in the air.  No it literally, it spelled out in the air.  Katie and my own lovely hands captured love at Lollapoolza in Chicago, August 2012. Photo credit to Dr.Alan

Love is in the air. No it literally, it spelled out in the air. Katie and my own lovely hands captured love at Lollapoolza in Chicago, August 2012. Photo credit to Dr.Alan

Last Wednesday kicked off the annual Lenten season across the world. My family went to Church every single Sunday together at St.Johns in Westminster, come hail, sleet or snow, until us kids got our own driver’s licenses. Then we kind of just started doing Mass at different times or us kids’ attendance kind of secretly slacked off, unbeknownst to our parents. Sure I’ve had sprees of going for weeks at a time in high school, college, post-collegiate, but I wouldn’t say I was a regular attendant of Sunday Mass… until now. I have gone to Mass every Sunday since November 2012, when I had a near death experience.

Christmas with my fun family 2013

Christmas with my fun family 2013

Long story short, one miraculous Tuesday, my black CRV’s hood wasn’t closed all the way by accident from my own hand. It whipped open once I hit 50 mph, blinding me and breaking my windshield, causing glass shards to fly everywhere, including on me.  A Good Samaritan, who was also a mechanic with a shop a mile away, saw my cracked windshield and bent hood.  He quickly swerved to my side of the road to help a very hysteric me.  Sam was this Angel’s name.  He said he’s seen people beheaded from windshield glass going just 5 miles faster. Lucky doesn’t cut it.  That experience proved to me three powerful things: 1.God is good. 2. It was not my time to go for some reason(s) 3.I need to spend every Sunday thanking God for the second chance to remain on this Earth by worshiping and celebrating His good love.

Sunday funday after Mass, hiking in Pacifica, California.

Selfie on Sunday funday after Mass, hiking in Pacifica, California. We are in the age of the selfie aren’t we?

Since that day, I’ve learned “that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him,” (Romans 8:28).  My mom and I joke that I have never had it easy – I’ve always had to try a little harder than most to get what I want. I was never one of those fortunate people who didn’t get pulled over, that won killer raffle prizes, that got upgraded to first-class for free on flights, or that scored the sickest job at the flick of a wrist.   Since my near death experience, I’ve found love, the life-long, knows all my secrets and loves me more for them, kind of amor.  One of the first and best compliments my boyfriend ever told me was that he admired my piety.  In one of the first thank you notes I ever wrote him, I quoted Romans 8:28 and I knew I struck a chord with him. I could see the sincerity in his hazel eyes: Arya genuinely appreciated my piety.

Canal Street, New Orléans, after the amazing and famous Endymion Parade with the SF Katies

So here I sat at Our Lady of Good Counsel in Baltimore last Wednesday evening, forehead decorated with ashes, heart gushing with love, nose stuffed with unbalanced congestion (I’ve been viciously sick), reflecting of how my life’s developed since that fall.  Ash Wednesday last year, I was still recovering from 5 intensely spirited days in New Orléans, gallivanting around VIP parties on Bourbon Street thrown by oil companies who run NOLA with one of my best friends from college (Katie) and her amazing friends from Idaho.

This year’s Ash Wednesday was also my dateaversary with Arya.   To expand, this was the one year anniversary of when the guy I digged so much paid for a quiet, uptown dinner just days before he moved to Northern California. Prior to our sit-down dinner date, I just “splurged” on a nice budget cut night out with him by buying us tickets to Silver Linings Playbook, a movie colored by mental illness.  We went to this local hipster theater (Charles Village Theater) he had never been too as part of his bucket list, despite being a local for years.  I had reveled in a few movies there solo style since I moved 6 months before because it is a $6 movie ticket if you get there before 6 p.m. and I like to support non-franchises, one of my socially liberal attributes. Plus, I like to revisit my California days by dressing  skater chic when I catch a movie there to better blend in with the clientele, the artsy, creative types going to see the newest documentaries on the Sudan or why sugar is the devil…

Cazbar in Baltimore

Cazbar in Baltimore

Post flick, Arya asked if I wanted to grab dinner with him so he could pay me back for the movie (“But Arya, your ticket was basically $5 stud…”). We both rattled off dinner ideas all over the city, but then agreed to stay in Mt.Vernon because we hardly ever hang out around there.  He had been dying to try this restaurant he had heard great things about called Cazbar.  At the age 27 (then 26), I’m interested in trying new things and honestly, my palate needs to be expanded. “It’s kind of Mediterranean style restaurant, so if you love hummus, lamb and feta like I think you do Jessica, I think you’ll like this type of food.”

Arya's amazing parents

Arya’s amazing parents

While we dined, I felt like I was let in a big secret: that Persian Arya was actually part Turk.  This is why he suggested us to eat at Cazbar since it is a Turkish restaurant.  I learned that both his parents are from the Turkish part of Iran called Tabriz.  Tabriz is located in present day Iran, but it once was a part of Turkey.  While at Cazbar, we chatted about how was ironic it was that there is a Turkish restaurant next to my house owned by an Iranian owner called Tabrizi’s, named after the town Arya’s parents are from.

Tabriz in Iran, the city where Arya's parents grew up

Tabriz in Iran, the city where Arya’s parents grew up

So a year later (last Wednesday), bi-coastally, we were celebrating our dateversary via our textual conversation because we are long distance and it was a work day. From the office, I ordered surprise Turkish food for Arya from this place called Bursa in San Francisco because the dynamite Yelp Reviews convinced me this food flew in first class from Istanbul.

No Turkish restaurants deliver in SF I learned after days of calling and researching in advance, so I told Arya he had to pick up a package for me 9 minutes away from his house.  Arya said was leaving the gym shortly, so he’d pick it and he didn’t ask up any questions (talk about trust…). When I called Bursa, I requested my order for pickup, then starting rattling off my nearly memorized credit card number because of its high frequency usage. The gentleman on the phone stopped me because the restaurant only accepts payments live, but after I explained this was a surprise for my Turkish boyfriend because he took me on our first date last year to this Turkish restaurant a year ago today and I am in Maryland ordering this food, he laughed and happily jotted down my numbers with a smile seeping of sentiment that I could hear on the line.  “Rules were made to be broken,” said my new Turkish friend.

Arya's Turkish Lunch from Bursa:  1. Dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with herbed rice, served with cucumber yogurt sauce 2. Fried Cigar Pastries, which are pastries filled with barrel aged feta & fresh parsley 3. Adana Kebab, spicy ground lamb and beef served with Turkish rice and salad

Arya’s Turkish Lunch from Bursa:
1. Dolmas, which are grape leaves stuffed with herbed rice, served with cucumber yogurt sauce
2. Fried Cigar Pastries, which are pastries filled with barrel aged feta & fresh parsley
3. Adana Kebab, spicy ground lamb and beef served with Turkish rice and salad

Later that day, Arya asked what I was giving up for Lent via text.  I replied I am  giving up chips as I weekly eat far too many chips with guac or loaded nachos when out.  He texted back immediately, “I will give up chips too, then.  #solidarity.” I can’t help but think of that Lorde’s song lyrics, “And you know, we’re on each other’s team.” He visits our favorite Mexican taco shop (shout out to Cancun) biweekly where everyone gets free chips, so I know this will be a struggle. But Lent is a time of sacrifice, stemming from Love.  God loved us first so we could love one another.

This season, I was at the office one day playing the top 100 Tracks on Spotify including Lorde’s “Team.” It ended and then, “Let it Go” from the Frozen soundtrack came on next and my fantastic coworker, Karen, a great mother of three little ones, cheered, “Yes! Frozen!” I said “Oh, I don’t know this one, so that’s where this song is from. Nice.”

Because of my general distaste of modern animated movies/Pixar (minus Finding Nemo and Shrek),  I shortly after skipped to “Bastille” by Pompeii, without even really thinking about it or taking the time to listen to the lyrics, despite Karen’s excitement.   I just chalked it up to my disinterest for not having princess-loving daughters of my own yet, but yes, I wasn’t listening.

Conflict expressed by Darla in Little Rascals

Fast forward to a stretch of a few days was I was involved a bit of a conflict. I lose sleep and seek advice on upsetting issues like this, so this just wrecked me.  I remember talking to my mom about it because she knows everything that touches my life as we talk nearly daily and she piped up, “Jess, I have the perfect song for you to listen to.”  She whipped up the music video and I sighed because this was the song I sort of dissed at work, but at that moment, I found such comfort from.  The song’s primary premise is to take the high road and to not let things weigh you on you because they just drag you down with a heavy heart.  This is something  I struggle with in and out of Lent because I am quite sensitive if you really know me.  But my mom’s advice, coupled with Karen love for this song, did the trick that day and I played “Let it Go” on repeat for days.

Last week, Idina Menzel performed at the Oscars.  John Travolta introduced her, but due to his dyslexia or just from nerves, he pronounced her named “Adele Dazeem.” The silver lining here is that more people know Idina Menzel’s name now more than ever because of all of the attention that moment caused.  Seconds after Idina’s performance, Ellen DeGeneres, took it upon herself, to even say Idina’s name twice,  so her correct name would be ingrained in people’s heads.

Even if you aren’t religious, there are a series of other happy and loving holidays across the globe that intertwine hues of Lent’s love.  These miscellaneous days weave real life with religions and cultures, providing challenges and lessons for us to live through, love along, and learn from. If you are Jewish, you celebrate the love of your people taking over an Empire through the costume-oriented celebration of Purim (March 15th) this month (think a happier Halloween equivalent).  Whether you are Irish or not, people deck themselves out in green and celebrate the luck of the Irish (and love for the Irish).  Baltimore, for Pete’s sake, celebrates St.Patty’s Day for three weekends.  During March, NCAA basketball fans celebrate the love of the game through their March Madness participation.  Persians celebrate their New Year on March 21st.  I remember this because that was the day Arya moved last year and I thought it was symbolic for his new California chapter to begin.   April Fool’s day brings comic love to the table, by playing practical, not painful, jokes on meaningful people in your life.  Taxpaying American citizens celebrate the money they get back from the IRS during this Lenten season as long as they send in their taxes by April 15th. Not to mention,  I’m sure accountants rejoice on April 15th for love of busy season being finally over.

Kris, our friend Brad, me and Antol at an O’s game with our kicbkball team a month before Matt proposed to Kris – May 2013

So back to me in my pew last Wednesday, watching 11 minutes of people getting Ashes causing my pensive brain to wonder… I was thinking just like Arya moved last March, my best friends, engaged fiancés, Kris and Matt, start their next chapter on lucky March 7th (last Friday) in Austin. Arguably, these two seriously shaped my pre and post California time in Baltimore.  I remember living in California and  loving my life, but still found myself daydreaming of living in Baltimore and paling around with these two lovers, the amazing people who helped me grow into my own this decade.

Kris, Kaitlyn, Antol and myself in San Diego's Mt. Soledad, one of the city's best views to see bay and beach at a high elevation.  Holy lovers take pictures with crosses you know?

Kris, Kaitlyn, Antol and myself at San Diego’s Mt. Soledad, one of the city’s best views to see bay and beach at a high elevation. Holy lovers take pictures with crosses you know?

They came to my grandmother’s viewing.  They brought me a birthday cake to my Belvedere hotel party last year and brought me a balloon/bouquet after I successfully passed my polygraph (a work related test) this winter. Kris, after spending nearly $4k on their dog because of an emergency surgery just days before, gave me a new cross necklace this year for my birthday because I had tarnished my current one. These two were my moral compass, my psychologists, my ever-laughing audience, my support system, my fastest friends to text me back, and just some of the best friends God could give me.  I will miss them terribly. Daily. Thank the Lord for Gmail/ Imessaging/Group threads/Snapchat.

Now back to my pew a week ago…. In so many aspects of my life, I am surrounded by many people.  But on Sundays at Mass, that is my time for just me and the Big Man Upstairs. So the choir was on to their 3rd song because there are so many people receiving ashes.  I really was in awe of how many people wanted to start their Lenten journey out right by attending Mass on this holy day of obligation.  The choir serenaded my eardrums and soul with “Without Seeing You”  and of course, next thing you know, I’m getting a little emo, tearing up by myself.  I cry in church probably once a month over ridiculous stuff like Baptisms for babies I don’t even know. (The first was a precious, little black babe, then a baby whose parents were named Jessica and Ryan, Arya’s middle name. Go figure.)

“Without seeing You we love You. Without touching You we embrace.Without knowing You we follow. Without seeing You we believe.”

My mom took this picture of me in 2nd grade at my Holy Communion. Pictured with me is Msgr.Art Valenzano and an angel’s wing, we believe.

And it takes me back to my relationship with God, my parents, my family, my friends, Arya.  I know God was in my Honda CRV that day deciding to keep me on this Earth.   I never need to make an appointment to talk to him. I haven’t physically seen Him, but I have seen Him in the grin across my darling nephew’s face and in the elderly woman who sits in front of me in Mass who shakes all of her friends’ hands on her way to her seat.

I’ve felt His soothing effects all over.  I know I’ve been in His presence and He’s recruited angels to guide me (see my family’s angels pictures).  My parents, family, friends, embrace me with well wishes and kind words that touch my heart in ways I wish I could bottle up and save for later in my medicine cabinet.  And Arya, the greatest guy who lives a continent away, is ever-present. I see signs of him all over my house, inside jokes that float in the air, and in my funny anecdotes I share with my friends and coworkers, he plays the ever-leading character.

My dad and my brother gearing up for a near impossible mission trip to Appalachia with this newly renovated trailer for a handicap woman. However it all miraculously worked out at the last minute due to the angel in the right head side of the picture we think. My mom took that picture. Notice the golden wings, billowing dress, floating presence on the right hand side of the picture.

When I visit San Francisco, I attend Sunday Mass  at my west coast Church, St.Agnes in Haight Ashbury.

St.Agnes in Haight Asbury on Masonic, San Francisco, CA

St.Agnes in Haight Asbury on Masonic, San Francisco, CA

There are so many amazing things about the weekly masses at this church.  I won’t divulge all of them right now because this post is long enough, but I genuinely like that during the Eucharistic procession, the last row goes first and the first row goes last. It makes me think of the Gospel reading by Matthew 19:30, “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” During the Mass, we always recite the beautiful, St. Francis’ Prayer, I think because the city was named after St. Francis, but I made it my Lenten promise to myself to memorize this prayer for my personal prayer arsenal.  I extract so many powerful things from this prayer and I wish this Mass tradition was a part of the South Baltimore weekly Mass regime. The prayer goes as follows:

“Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.  O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.”

All people are born with original sin, but I still believe people are naturally good as you see love transcend different cultures and obstacles daily.  Read a Buzzfeed article, a Huffington Post blog post, or (hopefully) your news feed on Facebook to see acts of kindness.

Dateaversary lilies last Wednesday

Dateaversary lilies last Wednesday

Lent is a time of sacrifice, but that sacrifice derives off of love of the Lord because He loved us first, so that we could love each other.   After Ash Wednesday Mass on the day of my ridiculous dateaversary, I came home to surprise lilies. At my house because 365 days ago from last Wednesday, I told Arya (after many a glass of wine) they were my favorite flower because he asked. I didn’t have one at that time, but I didn’t want him to know that because it made it sound like I didn’t get flowers (truthfully, I had only received roses prior, but not many and certainly not a lot from guys other than my dad). I knew girls liked lilies, so I just rolled with that answer assuming they must be pretty if I’ve heard girls talk about them in casual conversation.

When he moved to SF on the Persian New Year, March 21, I received my first bouquet of sweet-scented lilies, each more lovely than the next in summer shades. I remember I thank him and asked them to enlighten me on what type of exotic flower these were.  He thought I was kidding. “There your favorite flower, lilies, just like you told me at your house after Cazbar.”  A year later, I was still surprised and stoked that we both made plans to surprise each other despite the distance.

A week later, they are still blossoming the day before we rendezvous in New Orleans. Photo by me taking with my Canon Rebel  T3i and 50 mm Lens, the greatest birthday present ever from Arya.

A week later, they are still blossoming the day before we rendezvous in New Orléans. Photo by me taking with my Canon Rebel T3i and 50 mm Lens, the greatest birthday present ever from Arya.

After I cut the stems, used the flower food and added water to the vase, I crawled into my bed with tissues to watch Modern Family, sick as a dog, waiting for the cough medicine with codeine to kick in. In his closing remarks during the episode on Ash Wednesday, my favorite character, Phil Duffy said, “the truth will set you free.  It brings us closer.”  Wise words for the first day of Lent I thought to myself.

phil dumphy gifSo I invite my readers to be truthful, to set yourself free, to let it go, to look for the silver lining in your own life’s playbook, to cut one food from your routine diet as a sacrifice, to surprise a loved one, to write thank you notes to those you love, to reflect on a near death experience, to hit up Church or reconciliation (if Catholic), to accept things out of the ordinary by making exceptions to rules (like going out on a limb by accepting a girl’s credit card payment over the phone), but above all, to just let Lent’s love pour into your life, however that may be.  Happy Lent loving to you all.

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Coast to Coast Road Trip Home

Patriot Steve in his favorite place in the world, camping on the Shenandoah River. See Tattoo on his side that praises the uphill flowing river. I’m in his shadow in the famous aqua zebra jacket probably trying to find my wallet and dignity.

When my best friend since childhood could not commit to a cross country voyage due to a final round interview, I had a male model  (think cooler than Ben Stiller in Zoolander) and good friend on deck for my San Diego to Maryland journey.  My dad said he would do the trip with me part deux (he helped moved me there during the fall of 2010), but basically wanted to launch 3,000 miles back home fast and furiously.  “One way flights are cheap, so find a friend, preferably, a guy, who can handle car issues just in case something happens.”

I knew just the man, I thought.   I anxiously dialed Steve, envisioning him answering his indestructible non-smart cell phone in plaid shorts, sans shirt, charcoal Chuck Taylors, maniac yet, masculine facial scruff and brazen “Mount Airy”  pec tattoo to tow.  A month before, while visiting home for Thanksgiving, bonfire-front, marshmellow stuffed, and Natty drowned, I confessed to studly Steve I had been mentally Mortal Combatting home vs. back east and if the time came, would he interested in driving with me.  “Oh, this road trip could be gold.  Keep me posted on how the war ends, Roenick.”

December 8th at Hotel Del Coronado, after romantically iceskating beachfront with Lauren, I saw this black and white decor piece in their gift shop that spoke to me so much that day. I edited it a bit, but say these three words a lot still.

At age 20, he joined the full-time ranks of the Girls and Boys Club of America, serving as  a mentor, role model, and hell, probably even a crush for kids across the county.  “Mr. Steve” the giddy girls and guys chant as he bounces into school classrooms and cafeterias alike.

Steve-Local celeb (Frederick Bachelor), esteemed philanthropist, and great friend with his lil kids.

So, I proposed my serious question to Steve over our shotty cell phones, 3,000 miles away and 3 weeks after I originally asked him at our usual hangout house over the Turkey holiday. “I do have a hectic schedule, but I might be able to pull this off since I have a week in advance. Plus this is a once and a lifetime opportunity.  Let me figure this stuff out and I will give you a definite answer tomorrow, Roenick.”

Steve’s affirmative answer came the next morning with a rush of excitement similar to hearing the wonderful news that Arrested Development was coming out with another season on Netflix.  “All I ask is that we stop as many Goodwills as possible.

This guy scored himself a brand new wardrobe and some great gifts for his loved ones at that mecca of good stuff Goodwill in Tenn.

I mean I can imagine the South has some pretty great, no-where-else-like-it kind-of-stuff.”  Are you kidding me?  Easy peezy request.   I was swallowing this guy’s week up until Christmas Day in moving my life back to the four-seasons climate and he just wanted to be a glutton of Goodwills?  Be still my hometown heart. Inside, I thanked the Lord for great friends  and my deep appreciate for inexpensive retail.

My last sunset. An unforgettable and favorite PB December 17th sunset (I’m the hooded being on the right)

Once I texted Steve a reminder text to check in for his flight, I took off to wave goodbye to the Pacific waves one last time that Saturday night.  It was my last sunset on the west coast as a California resident and I wanted to celebrate it solo style.  That collection of hues and rays scored the gold medal in  my favorite San Diego sunsets I’ve ever experienced.  It was highlighter pink, my favorite color of the neon rainbow.

Nothing silences my ever-wandering mind like a California sunset. 12/17/11 photo

I can still smell the solace that sunset session gave me and it is 3 seasons later as I write this.  I stood on the Pacific Beach pier, teeming with locals and vacationers alike, for a solid hour in silence, soaking in the comfort that coast had given me at some pivotal periods of my life. California was the answer to my questions at one time, but then I answered that pang.  That hour set of the melodic surf was the crescendo to the finale of my California Tour concert.  I was so in tune with myself, with nature, with life, that I almost wanted to cry, but I was not feeling downtrodden one bit; there weren’t any  tears to stifle back.  Since October, I learned “Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” by one of my favorites bands of all-time, Coldplay (Mia and I went to our first Coldplay in July and I’m a lifer).  I knew I did not need a good cry like some girls need sporadically (it happens dudes…not often, but it does).  I was gracefully slacklining serenity and just wanted to honor that inner peace in silence.  I can still taste the reassurance that sunset seasoned up my taste buds.  God painted that sunset just for me that night, knowing the internal wrestling I had done within myself the last few months.

Steve, Steph and I just finished packing my car, so we walked a block to the Tower 23.

My life story at age 24 fit in my HONDA CRV for 3,000 miles

The next day, Steve flew in to San Diego a day before our our descent down (actually it’s flat and across…) on Route 40.  I was tied up with last-minute packing in the morning and an all day affair of that epic Ravens Chargers game in the afternoon/evening, so Steve gallivanted around town with one of our best friends Steph and her husband, Mike, showing Steve his first views of Californaaay.  Steve scored some buys at two Goodwills in Pacific Beach, blocks from my house, toured La Jolla, watched the sunset from Shore Club (one of SD’s finest dives with a sick oceanfront view) and imbibed brews while playing games at Steph’s bayfront home, just how Steve envisioned a great full day in San Diego.

My car was packed up the day before with Steph, Mike and Steve’s help. By some miracle, all my crap fit into my Honda CRV (the C%RVix or Crave as some calls it). So at 8 a.m. Monday morning, we were off.

Steve the wet bandit in Nevada.  Note Shore Club glove, his drinking glove, which he still loves and wears today.

We bro’ed out at times with intermixing of  talk surrounding movies, sports (CAPS, Fantasy, NBA), our friends, our futures, our recent relationships, our families, our fears.  We occupied the silence with my favorite Road Trip game,

Thought of you, Beall!

The Alphabet Game (basically Categories rattled off through the 26 letters).

Sedona, AZ

The Grand Canyon

Wagon Wheel exit off Rte 40

Steve and I marveled at the scape of Sedona,  we jaw-dropped (and I Tebow’ed) at the Great Canyon

Tebowing in the Grand Canyon Dec ’11

and all along, we pelted the lyrics to Pandora’s finest.  We jumped out of our seats over exit 7 on Route 40 being called “Wagon Wheel” (town in Arkansas  as it’s our Shenandoah River camping trip’s anthem song.  As we drove into Amarillo  Texas, we cackled at the joke of “is EVERYTHING bigger in Texas?”  Together, Steve and I shared shock over snow on the ground in states such as New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas.  We discussed the pros and cons of Albuquerque after we saw it. We noted the monotonousness of Oklahoma City. We smelled the Barbecue and river run in Memphis.

Neyland Stadium at the Univ. of Tennessee! The Vols Football stadium holds 105,000 people.

We knocked out a a windshield tour of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and  I wined over the wonder a new bridge being built over the Tennessee River (I got a thing for bridges…).

A bridge in Knoxville, Tennessee

A bridge in Knoxville, Tennessee

Craving deadlines, loving high stress, sucking in no sleep- is the recipe I usually follow in my Top Chef kitchen of life.  Sometimes, unfortunately, my daily intake of Women’s One Dailies do not act as God’s perfect pill of health. Eventually, the duress, malnourishment and insomnia coalesces into sickness.  Of course that is what happened the week of my road trip. During a  decent amount of the voyage, I overdosed on Robitussin and was out like a light during a fair amount of the drives.  All I could was to sit (drool while sleeping) in the CRV, be silent (had nearly no voice) and be sick.  I apologized profusely to Steve for having being cursed with the plague. Poor guy had to share close quarters in the car and hotel rooms with sickly me. I just kept saying I better get my energy better for Nashville, which Praise sweet baby Jesus, I did.  Steve was such a man that even when I offered to drive throughout the week, he wouldn’t let me (or he feared my driving?…).  He looked so legit driving one-handed with that Shore Club (PB bar) wet bandit glove on.  I learned miscellaneous sports facts from Steve and Dan Patrick that week during my no-voice Tuesday.

Steve’s wet bandit in downtown Memphis. Notice my rosary, blessed by the Pope at the Vatican Jan 2008 with Aly, guiding us safely through the lean streets.

Before between Memphis and Knoxville, we raveled in two whole days of country music magic in Nashville.

Gaylord Hotel in Nashville. One of the 8 Atriums that mega hotel has.

Boots on Broadway in Nash

We spun around Gaylord (the largest of Gaylord Hotels hosting 7 Atriums , Vanderbilt, Belmont University, the Ryman Auditorium (the original Grand Ole Opry), Bridgestone Arena (where the Predators play hockey), and LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.

LP Field aka Titans stadium. Notice the flooding.

Tootsies menu

We dined at Tootsie’s for lunch one day (Willie Nelson couldn’t make it that day…), we shopped for Christmas presents at the boutique Broadway stores and Steve  purchased himself a brand new wardrobe practically at the Goodwill Nashville.  A constant long running joke was that despite the car being stuffed to the brim and borderline uncomfortable up til Nashville, at least we drove safely with Steve behind the wheel.  But if anyone were to rear end us, we would die at the hand of the arts (my paintings) and our Christmas presents purchased for our families.  After the Nashville shopping sprees, we kept saying if this tough drive does not kill us, then the recent addition contents of the car just might murder us: 4-foot umbrellas disguised as ninja swords, photo frames, life sized stuffed animals, new shoes, bags of vintage apparel, 5 ceramic mugs and a partridge in a pear tree constantly poking at our heads or on our laps during the drive, especially when the brakes were moderately touched.  The sword umbrellas really did have the capability to slice my head off in one false move from a bumper hugger.  But, cowboy it up-it was all part of the experience and I secretly loved every minute of it despite my complaints.

After a few nights in hotels (Gallup, NM and small desolate town in Oklahoma we cannot remember), we wanted to see a city from a local’s eye.

Broadway Boot County baby

Thankfully, at the Ravens Chargers game days before, my San Diegan girlfriend Ginny (a proud Vol) set us up to stay with her college bff Mike,

Mike, Steve and I on our Tour de NashVegas Honky Tonks. We went to The End, The Stage, Broadway Brewhouse, Legends and we arent sure the other 1 or 2, but who cares. Honky tonk!

who showed us southern hospitality by opening up his home (letting us two stranger dangers crash), mind (full of info), and liver (honky tonk!) to us during our 3 day stay. Our last night, the three of us took Tennessee by storm by bar hopping on Broadway to a few amazing honk tonks in NashVegas.  The next morning, even hungover as Hades, Steve still honorably took the wheel because he is a Chevy-like a rock.

During that Christmas break, Steve drove me all 2,896 miles across America.

We saw a basement concert at The End, where this sign hangs, near Vandy. A lot of greats got started here performing before the big leagues.

Katie, Aly, Raha and I at a club in the meat packing district near the Gansevoort Hotel

NYE 2011 with Aly, Colleen and Rach

I walked into my parents house on Christmas Eve, celebrated the holiday with my family for two days, then left for Manhattan on December 27th for my annual Upper East Side stay with a great group of college friends. Couple days later, I was soaking up the Atlantic salt water in Ocean City, Md, with of college dorm mates for the New Year- officially concluding my Coast to Coast trip. I went from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean, peppered in Manhattan’s Hudson River in a week.

NY Hudson River from Raha’s Upper East Side apartment

If you zoom out, I shimmied from the San Francisco Bay (Coast cruise with Katie the week before) to the Chesapeake Bay in 2 weeks.

I remember when I finally got home from Ocean City, it was January 1st, 2012, at 4 p.m., and I had not unpacked a thing. In that month, I re-learned God was a script writer and an artist.  I was welcomed home by a majestic

January 1, 2012 4:00 p.m. rainbow in my development, welcoming me home for good.

rainbow over my neighborhood, Sun Valley Farms, when there had not been a drop of rain to account for that week.  What a way to polish off 2011, another rad year for the books.  Tired as F, but happier than ever is how I started 2012, one of my favorite years of life so far, if not my favorite. Despite being exhausted from a month of packing, travelling and well, partying, I thanked the Lord for keeping my safe and for that 7-colored high five in the sky before I collapsed into a much need, 15 hour straight slumber starting at 4:05 pm New Years Day.

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Cruising up the California Coast

Coronado bridge, San Diego

(8 word Preface: Prepare for mass backtracking and past tense tone…) So my move became real.  I landed a cross-country copilot, ahem, driver, and booked my platonic hero Steve’s flight from BWI to SAN for the following week.  This spurred us to wave a 5-finger adios bright and early after the Ravens Chargers game (see previous post) on Monday, December 19th .  Now that I had a California expiration date, I had to eat as much of California pie as possible.

My old backyard basically at my last house in San Diego-PB pier at Christmas 2011. This was my last San Diegan sunset.

In route for 900 miles up the famous PCH in my Honda CRaVe

Being he firm believer of the buddy system that I am, I heavily recruited one of my favorite friends and newly recent California residents to brace the beauty of the California coast with me. Katie’s contemplated, “Well,  your exodus of California would be a legitimate reason to tackle this trip only after being here for 2 months.”

SOLD.  Locked and loaded, I solidified a lifelong friend to be my California coast copilot, embarking on the most beautiful drive in the United States.    I had one  last free voucher from a wonderful mother and friend (Susan-love you!) who knew my story inside and out. I informed her I was going to use it to tie up loose ends with California by flying Katie down from SF to SD on a standby flight. Katie consulted her calendar against the Wide Open Spaces (cue Dixie Chicks) of unemployment serenity and we hashed out the days of our adventure up the coast, concluding with my nestling on Katie’s couch for 5 days after the voyage.

Photo taken during the Santa Con bar crawl of San Fran’s hills

Afterall, if you break up with the state of California, it always takes awhile to work out one’s unfinished business because it is so big. In one email thread we have with our girlfriends, Kris or Al asked our game plan.  “Yeah, so we think Katie is flying down on this day or the next day and then we will probably just figure out what we will do when we are together I am guessing. Our plan is to not have a plan.”  And so it began the beauty of that ambiguity from San Diego to San Fran.

Different kind of Golden gating (The League reference)

Pacific Coast Highway in Orange County, California

After mild shrieks from yours truly, scaring San Diegan airport bystanders, accompanied by a deep belly Katie cackled, my copilot mounted herself into Honda CRV, newly crowned the G rated title, my HONDA CRaVe. “Whelp, we’re really doing this. This is crazy last-minute and great.  I wouldn’t expect anything less from us in all honesty.”

Within 5 seconds of Katie being in the car, laughter poured from our bellies like champagne on New Year’s 5 times before we even hit The 5 (California State highway).  I confessed this was the most I’ve laughed all week, reassuring myself I had already made the right decision to move back east and to fly Katie down for my last hoorah with her. We kicked off this best friend road trip retreat from St. Diego to the City of Angels.  Fittingly, we stay with my angelic girlfriend, Kral, who is sweeter than key lime pie, living in West Hollywood or WestHo. Before Katie and I killed the coast, of course we took it to the streets, collecting intel from trip veterans.  Surprisingly, more people than not, were so jealous of our trip and had yet to do it- even Californian natives.

At an outlook of the Santa Monica pier in LA-December 2011

Kral had done this trip years ago, but helped mold the first part of our trip with offering great advice of what to see and do in Santa Monica, Venice, and Malibu.  “Oh you can see Moonshadows, the restaurant that’s famous for contributing to Mel Gibson’s DWI.”  Wrote that note.  What a shame, but yes it was a landmark for us on the Pacific Coast Highway.

I didn’t realize this until this trip, but when I travel, I am obsessed with bridges, universities and golf courses.  We penciled a part of what we wanted to see, and by we, I mean me.  Off the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) or Highway 101 or 1, I demanded to youth movement hunt at UCLA (next time I’ll see USC), to survey the Venice [Beach] Canals,

Pepperdine University in Malibu

to snap shots of a scenic overlook at Pepperdine University,

Pebble Beach Golf Course in Monterey-a shot where all Pebble Beach players take evidence of their $500/round.

to pop into Pebble Beach Golf Course and to applaud the surf at Half Moon Bay.

Katie was just happy to go along for the ride as she did not object to any of these meticulous, ever-demanding, time-consuming ideas of mine.  This was the best kind of copilot I could have dreamed of.  The other cities along Highway 1, we both agreed we wanted to stop and stroll around, specifically allowing enough time to make to Big Sur for sunset.

Why did I want to see the above?  Welp, UCLA was close and it’s a great baseball school, plus Saved by the Bell: The College Years was fictionally set there.  My friend Liz once threw up a status saying, “There are canals in this Venice, too,” accompanied by a Venice Beach canal image, inspiring this treasure trove to be revealed.  Afterall, Venice was my favorite city in Italia and anything to make LA look quaint I would respect, so I had to uncover that Lala land hidden aqueduct gem.

I’ve been pressed over Pepperdine, crowned the prettiest school in the country, even before I scored a Pepperdine hoodie for 4 bucks from a Maryland Goodwill (the irony I score a cheap sweatshirt on the east for the most expensive west coast school is rich).  Pebble Beach was a must see, but noble challenge because I knew it was a picturesque, high security golf course from years of watching the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

Katie was down for any and all of it, the free spirit friend, helping me cross off my CA bucket list. After Kral contributed some more recommendations and we consulted Google Maps briefly, we made a plan of continuing to play it by ear.  Tentatively, we’d plan on crashing in a Monterey hotel we will book on the road because we will have service (though not true because in remote California sections).

Canals of Venice Beach, Calif.

That night, we probably both slept maybe 3 or 4 hours combined because it was like Christmas morning starting this California coast chaos-we were so anxious.   We hit UCLA first and brushed off that we are so glad we don’t have finals anymore. We parked it in Santa Monica to soak in the view of the coast and the carnival pier.  To pay our respects to ever sinking Venice, Italy, which we both love from study abroad, we cruised along the canal with coffee on foot.  From there, we bounced to the Venice Beach boardwalk and pier to see the freaks and physiques of LA’s population. By this point, it was 8 a.m. and we starting sleeking up the coast to Malibu. We scored a visitors pass at Pepperdine to snap some fast photos of a killer, high vaulted view of Malibu while google searching all the celebrities who live there in ‘Bu.

Santa Barbara

For the rest of the PCH, we were buzzing in and out of radio station reception.  Katie didn’t pack her iPod (I don’t own one still), so we made our own music.   We swamped more secrets, current life philosophies, Zeitgeist tidbits, and  other generic bullshit stories that kept two best friends busy for a grand total of 900 miles without a drop of silence. Santa Barbara was stunning, colorful hybrid collection of Redondo Beach (LA area), New England, and Hawaii.  It’s quiet by day, but boisterous by nightfall and known for a distant mecca of celebrities who want to avoid the LA limelight, like my obsession, Rob Lowe (this is a proud plug for you to read his audio book).  Barbara was also built for tourists hosting a plethora of look-out spots, shops, and ships.

marina in downtown Santa Barbara

Eventually, Katie dusted off an old Taylor Swift CD that we jammed out to as I weaved in and out of California’s coastal curves.  Sure the CD may have skipped a little, but  spring break Acapulco prepared us for this moment of pelting the lyrics to every heartfelt lyric Tay sang about all the dudes who have screwed the girl over as the CRaVe’s CD player skipped.

Us taking it all in in Santa Barbara

Big Sur from Pheiffer State Park, Big Sur, California

We were tipped off to secure a highly recommended sunset hike at EPIC Big Sur.   It was a bigger and better, visual game changer than I could have anticipated.  Big Sur stood natural, tall, mountainous and never-ending in the best of ways.  It was so picturesque, breathtaking, vast, colorful, and alluring.  I honestly first heard about it years ago because I saw a photoshoot of Jeremy Piven (Ari Gold on Entourage) at a beach in Big Sur with gargantuan boulders, but had no idea of it’s magnitude til my California years and specifically this moment.  Anyway, just when we thought it couldn’t get any prettier, we would come out of another bend and see the coastline again, revealing a whole new slew of rock formations and oceanic drop-offs that I cannot even do justice. Even the late Bob Ross could not paint this picture as well as God did for us that day.  We laced up our “white Nikes” (Friday Night Lightsreference) thinking we had an intense hike ahead. (Please view this zany video of us driving into Big Sur California Coast Big Sur video)

Big Sur natural waterfall and lagoon, Big Sur, California

We ooh’ed, aah’ed, coo’ed, and cried at the sight of the sun dipping down into the horizon with Mother Nature’s beauty backdrop of cliff and coast, waterfall and weeds. Eventually after a couple of hours, we continued to race the ever -setting sun and trugged on in the battle against the CRaVe’s gas light. We stopped off to calmly carouse the Thomas Kinkade’s inspired town (he lived 70 miles away) of Carmel-by-the Sea, California. Carmelis known for being a unique California beach town, producing Upton Sinclair and actors including  Bette White.

Carmel-by-the-Sea shops at Christmas. None of our nighttime photos came out clearly sadly.
Photo from: http://thisismyhappiness.com/2012/01/08/carmel-at-night/

It actually was one of America’s first artist colonies and gathered momentum after the 1906 earthquake had many of San Francisco’s artists fleeing to the beauty and inspiration of Carmel. Our friend’s mother texted us to eat at “Hog’s Breath Inn,” which is part of the charming shopping and restaurants there.  We didn’t ask any questions and didn’t have internet, so we just went with it when we stumbled across it.  Little did we know it was former Governor and current actor, Clint Eastwood’s restaurant (he sold it recently).  Afterwards, we trolled the town who celebrated Christmas the way Jesus wants-festive and well lite, unlike San Diego who does not celebrate Christmas well enough to my expectations due to budget cuts, I swear.

Pebble Beach on the Spanish bay, right outside Tiger’s usual quarters. Monterey, California. Does this resemble a late Thomas Kinkade painting minus my nomadic outfit?

Carmel is known to have the softest sand on the west coast, so we fell from a natural Vinyasa flow to a downward facing dog on moonlit beach before we spun off. Namaste.

Pebble Beach golf club on the Spanish Bay

That night, we successfully  scored a killer one-day deal of 25 bones each at the delightful Monterey Surf Inn off Priceline.  We slept like babies to rise and shine and hit the links early.  Pebble Beach and the 17.5 mile road were calling our name like the 69 year-starter does in a shotgun start on 18.

The head Pro gave us his blessing to be chauffeured around in a golf cart with Juan, Pebble’s Landscape Director, since we couldn’t tee it up (no room for clubs with my beach cruiser and luggage you know and no funds since unemployed-$500/round).  Juan rambled on about his favorite celebrities that frequent Pebble including Tom Brady, Romo, Giants coaches and players, Bill Murray, Tiger, Vijay, Belichick, George Lopez (member), etc.  Cruising 18 was bliss as the Spanish Bay was blindingly blue and the greens were pristine green.  Juan waved at the regulars calling them “cowboys” instead of man, dude, bro, etc.  I was smitten with Nor.Cal at this moment.  Fun fact-The most expensive house in the world sits on Pebble, cashing in at a net value of $65 million, owned by Will Smith, not the rapper.  It is a green estate. Feel free to watch this ridiculous video of our golf cart ride with Juan-Pebble Beach golf cart ridePebble Beach golf play

After we teed off at Pebble, Kate and I rallied next unto Santa Cruz, basically a quiet, Mary Jane-loving, Jersey shore in aesthetics equivalent, little beach town.  If you recall, Santa Cruz’s marina was the only part of California that suffered injury from the Japanese tsunami in 2011.  We also ran with the horses at Half Moon Bay, a desolate beach town known for west coast good surf, though naked in non-pony life at noon.

Santa Cruz

Jersey- ish right?  Santa Cruz, California.  Above Monterey, but below Half Moon Bay.  Nor.Cal Dec ’11

Half Moon Bay, California

Wine advice from Napa Valley. Sequoia Grove Vineyard

Sunset happy hour in Napa Valley, Northern California

Next, we slid past San Francisco on our way to Napa as I knew I would be in SF for the next 5 days touring and raging. Afterall, it was 5 o’clock somewhere (in Maryland actually), so we sprinted for a sunset happy hour.

Katie and I were just shooting the breeze with a wine connoisseur employee at Sequoia Grove, who was biting at all my jokes, God Bless his soul. Next thing we know, we are ushered to have an intimate barrel tasting.  Katie looked like the Queen just asked her to give a personal toast at the Duchess’ wedding, while unbeknownst to me, this was a big deal. Putting the “ass” in class, I had no idea this was an honor as I usually hang out with $5 Andre over vino.   Hilariously, Katie stealthy elbowed me to shape up and act flattered.

Continuing to chase the Napa Valley sun, we jetted across the street to Robert Mondavi, a famous vineyard that produces zillions bottles a year.  Cliche, but creative, Mondavi once said, “Whatever you do, pour yourself into it,” a quote eternally embedded in my head to coax my high volume demeanor and self inflated ego. Katie insisted I see Roberto Mondavi because its reputation precedes itself. At the time, I literally had never heard of Robbie Mondavi, but when I came back to Maryland, the Rob Mondavi was everywhere.  We sipped a little sip and I casually planked a little plank in Napa (see photo).

Just a casual plank in public-Robert Mondavi Vineyard in Napa Valley, California

Delighted but exhausted, we giggled our way over the Golden Gate back to San Fran, specifically Marina, where Katie resides.

The curviest road in America-San Fran

Santa Con 2011 outfits, courtesy of my dime at Goodwill, despite knowing we will be the only non-santa in a sea of claus’s

The next few days included the madness of SantaCon (thousands of Santas on the streets of SF).  We, good Catholics attended the drinking event as Advents calendars to distinguish ourselves from the pack and also because our outfits costs us 10 bones at Goodwill (budget cuts in my unemployment life made me penny pitch on day drinking costumes). Every Catholic girl and guy loved our different, but recognizable Christmas costumes. Literally, Thank You, God.

One bar we went to for SantaCon in SF. 10am Saturday morning and I was in a cycle of parking rocking St. Nicholas’

Later, that week we heard a former

Stairs inside Alcatraz, SF

Alcatraz jailbird (29 years sentenced) speak at Alcatraz, we roamed the Redwood trees,

The famously tall redwood trees in Northern California-Muir Woods.

we toured around the city sights (AT&T Park, Ghirardelli Square, Mrs. Doubtfire’s house,

The Painted Ladies-the houses based on Full House’s opening credits in Pacific Heights

Full House house (The Pretty Ladies), Mrs. Doubtfire’s house, the curviest road in America, and I camouflaged myself as a Marina district local while Katie did her 9-5.

Thank God and Guetta (a DJ that brought Katie and I together), that week-long adventure was one for the books. I was blown out of the Pacific by the tens of islands California’s coast secretly hosts.  Like all good things, our trip came to an end and I had to sell my remaining “assets,” and pack.  But upon my return, I told everyone this: If  my honeymoon with a dude goes half as well as the  bliss I shared with Katie on our California coast, then will be one lucky girl.

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Play like a Raven, Ball so Hard

Baltimore's Federal Hill and Harbor January 2012. Photo from the Ravens Facebook Album called "Paint the Town Purple."

If you have seen me or been following me in recent months, you know Ravens football made the biggest cleat footprint on my life lately.  This was especially true because I followed football closer than ever due to being in a fantasy league and also because I wanted to feel a sense of home 3,000 in San Diego every Sunday when they played.   Purple Sunday became a weekly holiday for me and I would “ball so hard” as Terrell Suggs says.  The Baltimore Birds whipped up a 12-4 season and will be vying for the AFC Championship this Sunday in Baltimore, the first home playoff game for the Ravens in 5 years vs. the Houston Texans.  Baltimore  has beat the Houston the last 5 times or 6 times they have played them in fact.

Baltimore City Hall January 2012. Photo from Ravens Facebook album called "Paint the Town Purple."

In addition, The Ravens have never lost a game in the playoffs when they have scored first or when they have had someone rush for more than 100 yards. Coach Harbaugh is 25-7 at the Bank .  The Ravens were blessed with a first round bye , are competing against a rookie quarterback, and are home in their own hood- all signs are pointing to the birdcage on Sunday being a giant step towards a Purple Superbowl.

Torrey Smith (Terp and ever grateful player according to his tweets), Jimmy Smith, and Pernell McPhee, all young ravens, up for rookies of the year for the team.

In San Diego, I ran in one circle of remarkable Baltimore birds fans.  When the Ravens played the Steelers at home in September, 30 of us enjoyed having shipped live blue crabs from Maryland to do the game right.  My friends Kirby and Brad arrived at the freight gate at the San Diego Airport at 8 a.m. that September Sunday to pick up bushels of skiddish, beady eyed blue crabs.

Our live at the airport blue crabs from Maryland in San Diego in September for the Ravens Steelers game

These two guys conducted an insane about of research on prices and preparation for this epic Purple Sunday.  To cut costs and enable this crab feast, those geniuses steamed those blue bad boys in a keg.

The keg the blue crabs were steamed in. Notice the Ocean City, Maryland city slapped on it.

We watched the game on a gargantuan projector outside where we could get tanner and cheer on our squad with Old Bay on our cheeks and fingers.  At halftime, I lost miserably playing cornhole on a Ravens bags set with some of my Baltimore San Diego friends, but Lesbi honest… I didn’t care because I was just stoked to see a Kirby’s Ravens designed set of bags in his backyard.

We were ready-a raven flying over Heinz field in Pittsburgh in November 2011.

Later in the season, we faced Sh*ttsburgh again but away.  In San Diego, a block from my house stands the Baltimore bar called Dirty Birds.  It’s like Cheers minus Jersey plus a sea of purple and great people who can relate of Merry Land and “mov[ing] those chains.”  You walk in with one set of friends and then recognize 3 other sets of people through the grapevine who all love B(eing)MORE.  It’s Baltimore bliss in a bar.

I’ll never forget that game because I shed my first tear over football that night.  There were 4 minutes left in the game and we were down because Steelers just scored, but we had been leading the majority of the game.  My pupils were glued to that SONY with unrivelled concentration on every play as tears started to slowly streamed down my face as negative thoughts surged from my Baltimoron heart.  I was starting to think those terrible towels might be getting an anlawful W against us, but the Baltimore birds bounced back and I rejoiced hallelujah from my bar stool and kissed the football gods and the lucky Ravens fan next to me.

All amazing Maryland girls living on the golden coast at the beginning of that epic Ravens Chargers tailgate. Miss you Gargs, Kim, Eryn and Lara

The third great Purple Sunday I had this year was  Ravens vs. Chargers on December 18.   That day was also sentimental because the way I planned my busy California Coast trip, my raging stressed December, and my trip across America, that Sunday was my last day in San Diego before I took off the next morning  for my vehicle voyage across America with Steve.  I could not have asked for a greater tribute to both fabulous cities (other than having the Ravens win, but still).

Just a small sliver of the giant Ravens tailgate at Qualcomm December 18, 2011

It was a perfect blending of the two cities, the one I lived in and had dreamt about living in one day since I was 17 and the one city that is my happy place, the key source of glee to my next job and house.)  I’ve been to zillions of great tailgates, but this  was one was one for the books, especially since I was done one chapter and was about to start writing the next.

God Bless the Ravens, friends and tailgating. December 18, 2011 Ravens Chargers photo

Everything in my life had been leading up to that pinnacle of a day in some way or the other for months including driving to Goodwill 4 times to donate things before the big move.  One time in particular, during my final week in SD, the radio played, “I’m Coming Home” and I sang and teared up tears of joy.  So when the Ravens produced this video earlier this week, I never felt a pump up video resonate with my sports team and my life so much until then.  Hope you are touched too. 

Time in: back on track.  So, I helped orchestrate tickets  for a  big group of Ravens friends (the crowd that cracked crabs earlier in the season) and their local or visiting friends for the the Ravens Chargers game at Qualcomm Stadium.  We all did an all inclusive set of party buses that took us from Pacific Beach to the game and back, plus catered food, all you can drink brews, bathrooms on the buses, zero cleanup, tons of chairs, TVs to watch the other NFL game while we tailgated for 5 hours, sick DJs, and tables for Flip cup and Ruit.

Us locals and some visitoring Bmore friends at our rad Ravens Chargers tailgate.

There were hundreds of Ravens fans at our enormous tailgate of all ages, sizes, and hometowns, but we all were big fans of Ball So Hard University.

Poster made by our friends for the Ravens Chargers game. Ball so hard.

I dance all the time-watching Ellen, out on Friday nights at midnight with  my friends, solo in the shower.  But one of my favorite dance-a-thons was grooving with girls and guys under the San Diego sun at our tailgate 1 o’clock in our Ravens attire to Ball So Hard (“Ni**az in Paradise” by Jay-Z and Kanye West.  The game was not for another 4 hours, but we transformed those parking spaces to Sunday Night Fever midday.

Paint the Town Purple. Ravens Facebook photo.

God bless tailgating and I will be there Sunday at the Bank rooting for the Ravens in my Flacco jersey.  BALL SO HARD- The Ravens have a new anthem song thank God (“Who Let the Dogs Out” was not cutting it. We’ve already painted the town purple and the Natty Boh sign has changed to that gorgeous royal color as well.  On Sunday, in the locker room, the players will play some their traditional game of Cornhole before the game (also a Ravens set like Kirby’s) and the defensive line will sing their gameday ritual of the Ace Hood’s “Hustle Hard.”  John Harbaugh says the Ravens practices have got to be the most fun practicein the league and it is probably because the stars of the Baltimore show have been around together for so many years.  It’s a fraternity, a family, a team, who all have their eyes set on the prize for the love of Charm City.

Gosh I love Baltimore. I love the Ravens. I love the Baltimore Ravens. Photo from the Ravens Facebook album "Paint the Town Purple." January 2011.

My friends, the media, the city and suburbs are so amped for Sunday.  One thing is for sure,  the tailgates, blaring “Ball So Hard,” outside M&T Bank and Baltimore’s roars inside the birdcage on Sunday will be KRAY..

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The League and my 1st League: Good Looks

Poster of The League. The 5 Chicago guys and wife who shut down everything in their lives for football.

When I first moved to San Diego, I was dating a guy who was hell-bent on watching a handful of television shows.  Some of his shows I was a fan of already, some I was not.  One of the ones I was not familiar with was the The League, which I quickly became a fan of.  In fact, after one episode, I even wrote an email to my best girlfriends raving about the show and ranting about how 100 percent next fall, 2011, I am throwing myself into a fantasy football league.

Now I always prided myself on being a sports girl and can shoot the shista on most sports. After all, I grew up in a male dominant household, I played 3 sports in high school (field hockey, basketball and lacrosse), I worked for the Washington Capitals for 4 years in college, and I went to a big sports school (Go Terps!) and went to every home football and basketball game.

January 2009 photo of me and Kaitlyn at the Maryland v. UNC game in The Washington Post

I’ve loved NCAA basketball since I was in elementary school when I developed my first athlete crush on Steve Blake, who now plays for the Lakers (I loved telling people that on the west coast).

But in all honesty, I loved football for the culture.  By culture, I mean the reason to drag me out of bed at 8 a.m. to celebrate kegs and eggs on a Saturday morning in college, having hot guys happily grill hamburgers and equip me with cold silver bullets at tailgates and finally, having my guy friends tossing me up in the air like pizza dough inside the Byrd Stadium 14 times if we scored 14 points because it was a football tradition.  I did not really understand all of the positions other than QB (usually white), wide receivers, running backs (fast) and that the guys on the line were large and in charge.  I could hang ten during a Ravens game, but was never one to announce what the ref just called, but was more likely to act angered by calls, though I had no idea what just happened.

Here is a short excerpt from that email I sent my girlfriends from fall October 26, 2011:

My first full weekend in San Diego was Halloween, so here we are us League fans at Shore Club in our costumes.

“My first full day in San Diego, I woke up to a text from Flo (short for his last name and his friends deem him sauve) requesting a cameo appearance  by me for Sunday Funday at Bubs to watch the Raider game with him because he ‘bleeds black and silver.”  After I munched on my usual double order of celery and buffalo sauce and the Raiders lost, Flo threws his bike into my CRV  (laugh here if you know my car’s real name) and we arrived at  his place to watch The League.  Let me tell you, The League is my new fav show….It’s about some Chicago BFF Bros in a Fantasy Football League.  Now girls, not sure who has heard my rant on how I decided next fall, I am 100 percent, launching myself into a fantasy football league.  Plus, this will definitely make me more marketable in the male department and I will actually have a better reason to be at bars other than faux watching the game and eating exorbitant amount of celery with mild sauce.  I urge all you girls to contemplate it…This could be a gold mine. Hot girls who keep checking their points on their fantasy football app while sitting at the bar already have two things in common with the others guys in the bar: we both are drinking and we are both in a league. My God, we could make guys squirm for us.  Anyway, I told Flo this theory of mine and I swear,  I  saw his brown Indian eyes sparkle like the lights of Times Square.”

So, this past summer, when I was invited to an old boyfriend’s fantasy league after attending Valerie and Tom’s wedding together, of course I jumped at the chance to fulfill this void in my life and to get in touch with my inner Madden.  I actually had kind of forgotten about my previous year’s intent because it was the first week of August, but hell, I was not going to pass this up.  This was a grand opportunity to become proficient in the language of the NFL and to impress 9 bros from college.

I should give you a brief background that I was actually a pity invite to this league I think.  My wedding date was complaining about how they needed a 10th man in their league and no one  could decide who was worthy enough for the role. Some candidates were either annoying, lackluster in managing their leagues in previous years, or some guys  just offered to help their friends out, but did not give a flying field goal about football.

Just hanging out with Art Donovan of the Colts at his Baltimore country club bar during Val's wedding. No big deal.

At that wedding, my date and I were on the heels of just hanging out with Art Donovan, 5 time Pro Bowler and Johnny Unitas’s lifelong friend because he owned the country club where Val’s beautiful reception was.  Art, because we are on a first name basis now obviously, asked if I was married and of course I told him I was “a free agent, just like [you]  once  [were]!” to which I scored a raspy laugh from the walking man of Baltimore football greatness.  Anyway, my date, knowing I was a fan of FX’s The League, turned and said, “Hey!  You watch The League!  Do you want to be in our league?  I mean we have a black president, why not has the first chick in an all male league?”

So when I gave the okay that I was down to touchdown, texts were sent to the league members for approval.  All gave their thumbs up except the commissioner at first, who wanted to ensure I would be serious.  My college boyfriend reassured the commissioner I would do at least 5 to 10 hours of research before Draft Day and that was 5 to 10 hours more than last year’s 10th man, so I was in like Flynn.

“Five to 10 hours?!?!” I thought to myself.  What the H have I gotten myself into? The week before draft day, I was skimming the World Wide Web like there was no tomorrow and I was going to die in my fantasy football league with a strong roster (‘rosterbating’ if you League fans will).

Judgment day arrived, I mean Draft day.  I had exhausted all my jokes about popping a Xanax to chill my fantasy football nerves.  I arrived at home early to get set up with all my printed research, my laptop, and some BLLs in perfect position for this ESPN session.  I even shot gunned a brew or two with my NFL consultant Henrik, a loyal friend and diehard Pats fan.   It was 9 p.m. draft   for my east coast Terp guys, 6 p.m. for me.  And I scored the No.4 pick.  

My fantasy team, TEAM BIG A** TDs during the Fall 2011 season

I have followed football (mostly knowing Ravens players and the good looking athletes who date other celebrities) to an extend for years, plus I was topped with 10 hours of research my belt.

Henrik and I overlooking a golf course poolside at his friends Green Bay Packers friends house. I look tired at 8 a.m. in the Valley, but not really anxious like the day of the Draft.

I knew names, but I didn’t not know every player histories or even current teams of a lot of these guys, but Henrik provided that information during the 10 seconds we had during each round to pick a player.  He always gave me the last decision respectfully.  For example, he played devil’s advocate on why I should choose Vick over Brady despite Henrik being a Pats fan, but I made the right decision.  During our draft and even throughout the season, I talked smack keenly to these guys who never thought of me as a shista talker.  And I even embraced being the only girl in the league of 9 bros with my ingenious title of “TEAM BIG A** TDs.”  Say it out loud for the full effect readers.  My picture was a set of you know whats in a Ravens cheerleader outfit.  I was aiming to be like Jenny, the hot wife on The League, who has proven she can hold her own and was granted a place in The League.

Within an hour, my anxiety had settled as the draft was over and I had molded my roster into shear greatness…before injuries and weak sauce performances lessened my team’s merit at times, but I am still very pleased with my first season in the league as I surpassed all the 9 bros expectations from the first broad even blessed with the ability to rage in their league.

Passionate about my 3 Patriots players makes move for my Big A** TDs this year. Wes Welker and Tom Brady pictured here.

Tom Brady, Wes Welker, and Rob Gronkowski  (all New England Patriots) and Peyton Hillis, AJ Green, Neil Rackers, and Packers Defense secured my   5th place.  #Nottooshabby for my first season I thought.

Not only did being in a league justify my presence at the bar (my house did not have NFL Sunday ticket whereas most bars show all the games because they do), but I learned a filthy amount of information on the sport.  In addition, I impressed more dudes than I could have ever imagined this past season.   I even ended up dating a  one of the coolest, smartest guys I’ve ever met for a while because I used my league as the attention getter, believe it or not, in Vegas.

Party rocking VIP at LMFAO at TAO in Vegas for Red Foo's birthday with the Hilton sisters

How’d I do it you might ask?  My 4 girlfriends and I had just arrived TAO in the Venetian for LMFAO.   The TAO employees asked if we wanted to be hooked up with a group of guys in VIP.  I politely accepted while maintaining my cool, not to blow our cover that we were thankfully amped for bottle service, which we had grown accustomed to in Vegas through our various connections.  I sat next to my favorite  sandy-haired dude in a silver dress shirt and framed glasses.  He was a tall drink of water and a confident intellectual, not a boy.  I introduced myself, exchanged pleasantries and then whipped out my cell phone asking his opinion on how he thinks my team is shaping up. Boom.  A bromance was born because I was speaking guy fluently.  Once I buttered him up with that, then I could keep his attention on more personal and feminine stuff like my background, my blog and my life ambitions.

Anyway, it was a great year to join because last year there were so many injuries and so many trades making this season unpredictable and even more exciting with unexpected performances.  Plus, not only is the NFL bigger than ever, but religion has never been so dominant in the game thanks to almost canonized Tim Tebow.  I always loved the guy because he is ridiculously good-looking, has always had a nice girlfriend according to my cousin who lived right next to  him at University of Florida, plus he didn’t score so high on the SATs, so I sympathized with him on that.

Casual Tebowing in The Grand Canyon December 2011. Three of the 8 Wonders of the World are in this photo

But boy does he know how to throw one up to the Big Man and he’s reaped the benefits of prayer this year with his breakout performances.

Personally, I am jazzed about my Ravens rolling into the playoffs!  YEA BUDDY!  But just to spite those senseless Steelers fans, of course I, and the rest of America, minus any Shittspurgh fans, wanted the Broncos to defeat the Steelers and God himself answered our prayers through the handiwork of Tim.

Huffington Post photo of Univ. of Florida Tim Tebow post game in undergrad

Tebow threw for 316 yards and averaged 31.6 yards per pass.  His stats  in Sunday’s game mirrors the numbering of the Biblical passage that Tebow at times had painted on to his black eye paint during his undergrad as a Florida Gator — John 3:16:

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

Tebow bro also threw a BIG A** TD to Demaryius Thomas, who happens to have been born Christ’s birthday, for the winning touchdown in OT  vs. Pittsburgh on Sunday, ending the fastest overtime in the history of the game.  Heavenly coincidence?  America and the ESPN Analysts in Bristol, Connecticut, think not.  Think angel wing motion by Joseph Gordon-Levitt  in Angels in the Outside, but instead drop to a knee, bow your head in prayer while placing your TEBOW on your knee.

My fantasy league is over now and even though I had 3 spectacular Patriots on my team this fall, it’s 2012 and I don’t want to vote against God when we all may die this year. So, I am rooting for the Denver Broncos when God plays Belichick this weekend. (And note, Terp Lance Ball is on their team too).  But remember, I am ultimately hoping for a Ravens Superbowl Championship, starting this Sunday vs. the Texans for the AFC Championship (see later this week’s blog post about Ravens football).

Baltimore City Hall January 2012. From Ravens Facebook Album 'Painting the Town Purple"

A grande gracies to my old crushes for the opportunity to familiarize myself with the wonders of The League and being in a league.  From now on, I will always be a league.  In fact, I’ll probably be in two next year, one with my local guy friends (little boyfriends) and one with my girlfriends and I will be the Commissioner of us Baltimore broads.  I’ve told my friends who are already stoked.  Some of them already watch The League because of my rave reviews and   because their cool boyfriends watch it.  We all laugh about how fantastic Ruxin, my favorite character is and how every guy appreciated my Facebooks status of “Golden Gating” because of Rafi when I was in San Francisco last month for 5 days.  I’ve had the greatest time in my fantasy and I want them to appreciate how rewarding, yet stressful being a league can really be.  After all, it’s all about the little people.  So let’s go big.

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Rain Showers Bring Special Powers

I haven’t left the house in 3 days minus a brief field trip I took yesterday to the end of the driveway for the mailbox.  Since it’s always trendy to be grateful, I whipped up a thank you note for a recent  job interview that I had and needed to mail it on a rainy Tuesday.

Just to further embarrass myself in the neighborhood since I have zero shame, of course I was dressed in  hybrid outfit composed of sketchy pajamas, lazy lounge wear,  finished with Paddington Bear like boots because they were the closest in sight. All in all, I think most neighbors and UPS men would do a double take on my multicolored insanity I called typical Tuesday attire on unemployment row.  I grabbed the thank you and charged for the door.  Realizing it was raining puppies and kitties, I decided I was missing one last accessory, the umbrellie.  The best part of my day was the giddy I amusement I felt right before I crossed the garage door threshold seeing the pile of rain gear  our family keeps near and dear.

One of my best friends after a high school dance on a rainy night proving that rain doesnt ruin every parade. Photo by Nick McDaniels

I cracked a smile as I scanned the Roenick plethora of umbrellas.  We own gargantuan golf umbrellas, charity donation umbrellas, feminine pattern umbrellas and sans-personality umbrellas.  I had 7 to choose from next to our garage door and that doesn’t count the 3 or 4 we have in each of the four family vehicles. I laughed out loud as I thought I haven’t opened an umbrella to use in over a year.


I smirked at the memory of my parents reassuring me that I just HAD to move to California with 3 or 4 umbrellas in my Honda CRV just in case I or any my passengers had to brace the elements.

If you have ever lived or ever just visited Southern California, you know it doesn’t rain more than 15-20 days a year and it is always a brief mist, not even a drizzle.  Regardless, getting so amped up for my .3 mile charge up the driveway to the mailbox was the highlight of my day because I was reunited with an accessory I didn’t realize I really missed that much until it represented itself.  A few days this year, when it was “misting” in San Diego, I wore my beloved rain boots to work with a somewhat matching dress.  Each time I strutted those rubber bad boys, my coworkers glared at me like I had just brought a porterhouse to vegetarian house party. Tough crowd…

As I’ve slowly started to tell people about my big decision, I’ve gotten  mostlyrave reviews.  On purpose, I actually did not tell too many people my internal struggle until after it was official for fear of biased fanfare.  The one response I do not like to hear is “I’m sorry California did not work out for you”  or “You’re giving up?” False. California did work out for me.  I could continue to make it work if I wanted to, but that desire just isn’t as high as it is for Maryland.  You shouldn’t be sorry or accuse me of failing, but rather you should be happy that I have intuition to know that is right for myself and when, my friends.  I kindly responded saying no need to be sorry as I am happy and this is what I chose and both guys responded well that is all that matters.  Tis true.  Thank you.

Rain washes away dirt, dirt that blurs our sight and temporarily marred our externalities-glasses, clothes, cars.  But people forget that rain showers bring beautiful flowers and for some, special powers, powers of might and serenity.  I was more productive in that mismatching Joe boxer pair of shorts from age 13 with the Cape Charles, Va. fishing tee, Washingtonpost.com hoodie and different colored neon socks (who has matching socks nowadays anyway?) outfit on my couch all day, then I had been in awhile.  That’s a power that the rain enabled.  The wet weather kept me glued to that recliner and my non-Steve Jobs laptop.

My life's mantra: "Less Pants, more Dance." If you know me, you know I dance nearly every weekend. This is one of my favorite pictures of all time taken at Lightening in a Bottle music, yoga and spirituality festival in Irvine, California, where hippies and goddesses go to pray and love.

Finally, when my roommates of 17 years who just happened to be the people who gave me life, Jim and Ro, dipped for their weekly ballroom dancing lessons, I was granted the power of song.  I stripped down in the bathroom and celebrated “Less Pants, More Dance” in a new way.  I worked that shower with my moves like Jagger as I sang an empowering, off key version of “Return to Innocence” by Enigma for a glorious 5 minutes until I nearly wiped out like President Taft in the tub mid dance move.  The best part of the song is the Chorus where there aren’t any words and just hodgepodge made up sounds.  It was a tribal cry of mine from Iroquois Lane (my lifelong address on the east coast).

Baby Bennett, a slice of innocence, in a food coma at his first Thanksgiving on Iroquois Lane as an Indian tribal member

The words of the verses, which of course, I didn’t really know and always fudge, parlay to my life right now too:

“If you want, then start to laugh…

Be yourself don’t hide
Just believe in destiny
Don’t care what people say
Just follow your own way
Don’t give up and use the chance
To return to innocence.”

"Man of the House" movie poster

I think I actually first heard this song back in the 90s when “Man of my House” ruled my life and crush department (who didn’t want to have their first kiss with JTT?).  Well, last night, when my parents left to go dance with pants, I was the “[Wo]Man of the House.”  Hail.

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Thankful for Clarity and Charity

This Thanksgiving I am thankful for one thing that happens to be inanimate object: clarity.  Realizing the right answer is something difficult to do, but freeing once you accept it.  For me, even diagnosing the problem was even an issue as I have the tendency to lie to myself and put on shows for people (I’m addressing my vices in my old age).  Internally and quietly, I struggled on what my next move would be since the October layoff- would I stay in San Diego or go back east? Originally, the answer was easy. I will finally do a job I find invigorating and that suits the contours of my personality and strengths.  All along I did not want to give up on my dream city because after all, it had only been one year if you read my last post, Loyal Reader.

But as I sat in my unemployment sweat and anxiety-ridden living room on November 10th, I felt like the only remedy for my mental sickness was to go home for a bit: to coo with Baby Bennett, to celebrate Jimbo’s real 60th birthday (not his 59 and a half) and attend the Terp Notre Dame game with my college best friends after striking poses for a photo shoot outside our soon to be leveled former dorm room, Wicomico.

Looks like we are protesting Wicomico being knocked down. We actually did not plan that. November 12, 2011. L to R: Alan, Me, Con, Baby, Kait, Rach, and Hulia

Wicomico is a stunning brick plantation-house-esque mini-dorm, where Rihanna would say we fell in love in a homeless place.   Due to University of Maryland’s need for more money, more students, they are tearing it down with 2 other dorms to build a mega high-rise dorm this year (I understand, I’m not hating, but just saddened).  Tis a serious bummer for when I am a MILF one day, trolling around CP’s campus with my kids,   I won’t be able to show my little munchkins where I made the best and worst and best worst decisions of my life.   Sigh. (Side note: If anyone knows anyone at the Diamondback, we would like love a photo of ours to accompany the demolition article).

We found love in a hopeless place: Wicomico Dorm. You are always #winning when you have the love of best friends. Nov.12, 2011 before the Notre Dame game.

Anyway, blessed with best friends who were willing to cut me checks for a last-minute flight urged me to stop drowning in my living on California unemployment pity since my severance ended and by Katie sending her last one-way flight for a cheap handful of Alexander Hamiltons (translation: 10 dollar bills friends), and a friend’s Stewardess mother mailing me Southwest Buddy Pass vouchers to get back west cheaply on standby, I was able to take solace in the comfort of home R&R indefinitely with a one-way flight. My parentals weren’t down to drop over a grand on Thanksgiving and Christmas flights especially when I was in between interviews and when my trips would not be long,  so I was blessed with the love of friendship, friends who flew me back when I needed it the most.

It’s tough to say when you need help because no one wants to be someone’s charity.  But when you are friends, it’s not necessarily charity.  It’s love, love disguised in a Tacky Tourist costume when they hate Halloween, but came to visit because I was a Debby Downer.

Two weirdo hugging is always moving. Katie is and was such a Halloween present. I found out I was Nicki Minaj later and Katie dressed as PB Tacky Tourist. Halloween Saturday 2011 in my kitchen.

It’s love when it’s in monetary form to ignite my flight home.  This is the lovely love that I love and also love to talk about. I thought it would be a jaunt home to fill my homesickness void and celebrate the holidays while I worked out some inside kinks, but as time pressed on, I slowly was uncovering the truth.

My fantastic Alum contact (I met through my SD Terp Alum involvement) even dropped a Benjamin for my ticket to the Notre Dame as a future investment in me.  I was able to see the Terp shelmets in person from the 9th row 50 yard line (UMD has new eccentric Oregon inspired Under Armour unis), Fed Ex Field for the first time, and I saw how ceremonial Notre Dame traditions are live.  It was a great day to rage even for a Green Irish spanking because it was perfect tailgating weather in Terp Nation.  After every photo we took, I exclaimed that “That felt right.”  In the peak bliss of autumn shot gunning, Pinnacle and crab dip, I even rejoiced at the top of my allergy stricken lungs: “EVERYTHING FEELS SO RIGHT RIGHT NOW,” to Rachel, who loved it more than anyone and  I felt the tinge of soon-to-be-decision-making clarity.

Fed Ex field for Maryland Notre Dame game 11.12.11.

I first identified the truth when I sat the the Terp Alumni office for a networking meeting and I told my business contact and friend I was looking on both coasts now just to maximize job chances.  He gave me a few big whig San Diego contacts and I realized over the next few days I did not want to contact them. Red flag?  YUP.  I also got a text from Amanda, my San Diego, but Baltimore born Terp girlfriend who said in a textual message, “My friend who works at a start up needs a Marketing Coordinator.  Pays high 30s, but chance to advance. Interested?”  I wrote back with excitement, but knew I was lying with my fingertips touching my hellion Android.  Finally, I went to a family party that night and realized that talking it out to extending family kind of made me hear my uncertainty firsthand out loud as oppose my heart’s silent shrieks.

Up until that point, I was telling people I wanted to say in California because I have the most perfect house and life and that I have not seen enough of California yet.  But I think that was me just afraid to throw in the towel so early and vanity talking.  Despite being a wild child, I have a practical side of me with twists of safe spontaneity.  For instance, before I visit a new city, I make arrangements of where to stay. I moved to San Diego with a job, not the I’ll figure it out when I get there thing.  If I am to ever bungee jump, I’ll research the safest bridges and miscellaneous facts on the chance of death. Finally, I knew it would be easier to get a secure job in Baltimore because San Diego’s economy is one of the worst and DMV (DC-MD-VA) area is thriving in comparison as well.

Federal Hill, Baltimore Harbor by night.

Later that weekend, during sips of Bloody Mary’s, Ravens commercial breaks, 7 hours of catch-up conversations with Antol, Al, Kris and Emily at a beautiful new Oasis in Federal Hill called The Hill, I finally constructed my San Diego vs. Baltimore Pro Con list, a task I had been postponing because inside, I already knew who won and was afraid to see the truth.  We passed the list around all day around for more insight, making additions and asking friends of friends and the sagacious bartender who was from my town and actually lived in Hawaii for a few years before venturing home.  I turned the qualitative information into quantitative data (pros minus cons) and Baltimore, without frivolous reasons, was up +4 and San Diego parked at -3 (with less vital reasons, Baltimore was +5 and San Diego was 0-break even).

SD vs. Bmore Pro and Con list. This is not the original as this was rewritten to exclude illegible people's handwriting and inside jokes, but all of this prongs were on the original bar-composed list.

I didn’t lose anything and gained a great year of wonderful friends, new places and fun. I raged in Vegas 6 times this year, did the real OC a few times, camped at the largest nation’s largest country concert (Stagecoach), played in LA, splashed/eat/drank/biked/shopped all around San Diego, and relaxed in Palm Springs. I cruised home from Federal Hill with my own thoughts as my invisible copilot that night, not realizing that I listened to the radio on SCAN from the minute I whipped my belt on till the minute I perched over driveway.  I fell into the “not now, I’m in the frickin zone chief,” I guess, that even a new song or commercial every 7 seconds couldn’t shake my concentration til my hour later arrival.

After more reflection and meditation, I realized that my San Diego year was like a study broad experience.  I, as a broad, was studying myself, in our country, but it might as well been Prague as it was the same distance and I was going to school for on my studious MBA.  Pacific Beach was like going to summer camp for a year or living a life of The Endless Summer every day and especially on the weekends. Unlike the documentary, I was in search for the perfect “self” (and a little bit of the “perfect wave”).  I needed a thrill wrapped up in a challenge with a side of guacamole and strangers to befriend, which is jubilantly what I got.

Mission Beach September 2010

I never had an Ocean City, Md. summer experience, but instead I had a year of paradise to fill a void that needed to be addressed and I escaped my familiar to get my craving for San Diego taken care of.  I did San Diego; I lived in my dream city.  However, all along though, I was seeking something greater than the city: a sense of home- all of my best friends there are east coasters, I became heavily involved with SD Terp Alumni Chapter and Ravens fans and I lived for when my Maryland friends came to visit.  Yellow flag?

In looking in at my resume, it appears like I have serious commitment issues in my jobs, which is not the case, but rather just the hand I was dealt with my post graduation experience.  Between the Washington Post merger, the event planning company position and my SD university losing enrollment numbers, I know that my next position needs to be something of longevity and I need to start getting established in my career.  So, the two primary things from my pro con list, the game changers for me were: #1-I need to be in my job for the next 2 to 5 years…Do I want to be in California for that long? No. and #2- And I haven’t seen all of California yet.

Photo by friend Drew Parysz of the Full House street in San Fran November 2011

The second issue can be solved in a road trip up the coast before I go to see what I need to see (Santa Barbara, Malibu, Big Sur, Carmel, San Fran, Napa, Sonoma, Santa Cruz).  And I was living 30 minutes from Mexico to see things I could see on own my exodus, so staying seemed impractical. And I will even get to see more  as I will road trip across country once again taking the Southern route this time to see New Orleans, Nashville, Austin, etc.  Plus, I will go back to California to visit Katie in SF again (next year for sure with our bffs), to board in

My girlfriend Shannon who lives in Tahoe just killing a jump in South Lake.

Tahoe (I will visit you Shannon!), and to go to Coachella soon in my raging 20s with my SD girlfriends to name a few visits.  But living in California with my next job that most likely will not have much location flexibility,  I realized all my vacation time would automatically would go to visiting home, which is not giving me the spontaneity of more travel I want right now.  When I am home, I can use vacation time elsewhere.  And there are still things I want to do on the east coast: Boston, Miami (ULTRA), and Electric Zoo in Manhattan to name a few.

The key thing here is living in Baltimore.  If you’ve read my previous posts you know how much I have come to love that city since graduation and that I never got my Baltimore fix other than numerous visiting nights. I have drank, danced, lived, sweated and worked DC to the bone.  Baltimore is less pretentious, more preppy, more down-to-earth, cooler, cheaper, less traffic-ed, and a cozier city than political DC to me.

If you ever hear me talk, you know I love love (already mentioned) and trends.  I love talking about trends whether accurate or fictitious.  Well once again, I’m ahead of the trends of breakups: Demi and Ashton (don’t date young), Ali and Roberto (don’t date on Reality shows-serious bummer though), and Saint Diego and myself (don’t stay longer than necessary).  To my San Diego friends, I am sorry I am cutting short my staying classy life.  I will be back to visit, but in the mean time, be grateful I am good at keeping up with people and thank you SD ragers, this Thanksgiving, for creating the best study broad experience a girl could of asked for. Love you long time. Duh.

So this thanksgiving, I am thankful for clarity.  Clarity I got at that hazy crazy tailgate with my college girlfriends, clarity I self-noticed when I listed my fears of cutting my California dream too early to my aunt who said so much by saying so little as I figured it out on my own, and clarity I got when I realized I lied in a text about a California job opportunity.  Friends and family were the sounding board and I am so grateful to have them.  I am thankful that God opened California to me last year and provided the adventure medium I needed. To get historical, I am thankful Lord Baltimore founded MerryLand.  To get personal, I’m thankful I am wise enough to address a problem and have the intuition to listen to my gut, despite caring what other people think as that has trapped me before.  I guess I am thankful for this quarter life crisis (I’m 25 on February 19th and I still happily accept gift cards to Forever 21 by the way) of being officially unencumbered by absolutely no guy, no job (soon though), and nothing other than  logic, a heart, and an adventure to get have me downshift me into a thankful and right-for-me decision.

“Maybe mistakes are what make our fate… without them what would shape our lives? Maybe if we had never veered off course we wouldn’t fall in love, have babies, or be who we are. After all, things change, so do cities, people come into your life and they go. But it’s comforting to know that the ones you love are always in your heart… and if you’re very lucky, a plane ride away.”- Carrie Bradshaw played by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City

Posted in age 24, California, life lessons, love, mistakes, retrospect, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

I’m an Aunt! Meet Bennett Gibbs

Katie and Steve's wedding on Oct. 20, 2007 at the Sheraton in Towson, Md.

There are many milestones in one’s life.  Looking back on my viva so far, I’d say my big milestones were first day of public school (public high school was terrifying), first field hockey goal I ever scored, first homecoming and prom, first car (1998 silver Honda Accord with a sunroof most importantly), moving day at the University of Maryland, my brother’s wedding day (my family’s big dance, my first bridesmaid wedding, gaining a sister), my college graduation day, my move to San Diego, and the day I became an aunt.  TODAY.Meet 8.6 lbs and 20 inches long Baby Bennett Gibbs, the newest addition the Roenick clan.

This baby is born a big deal.  How do I know this?  Well, it is holiday-heavy.  It’s not any old regular hump day baby. Nooo, noo.  This baby was conceived on Valentine’s Day, the celebration of romantical love.  In addition, I was informed of my aunt-hood on Easter Sunday, the Sabbaths of all Sabbaths.  In addition, originally, the first due date was Jimbo’s birthday too, November 9th.  Finally, in October, the doctor changed the due date to October 24th, but said if the baby doesn’t arrive by November 1st, we will induce you, he told Katie.  When I got wind of this holy and magical news, that the baby would be born 11.1.11., I told Katie we didn’t have to bother with a Baptism because the bebe would be born a saint if born on All Saints Day. I was obviously just kidding, but Katie reassured me that immediately after the birth, the canonization process would commence.  Plus, with all those “1”s, I knew this baby would be a natural-born winner.  I did not realize that the baby would also be born as an innate Skins fan…

Bennett Gibbs Roenick fell from the heavens and slide from Katie’s body simultaneously at 6:12 p.m. tonight.  No one knew the sex of the little nugget until tonight, but I had numerous bets it was going to be a boy (I’m a gambling man nowadays because of Kris and Antol’s sports betting rivalries).  Because of my unemployement status, don’t worry, I wagered crackers and hummus, not my withering wallet, and oh man,  will I be rolling in some Pine Nut Hummus for a few weeks!  But, I just had that aunt’s feeling, you know?  That feeling may just be bologna, but it felt right to me, Aunt Jessica, or Jess-ka, as I was called my whole life by my brothers, Katie, friends, and soon Bennett because that ‘ica’ sound is hard to hack.

Steve, Katie, Me, Slick and Mia (Slick's lover). Steve's shirt says "2011 Dad to be" and Katie's shirt matches the theme with "Babe" pointed up at her and "Baby" pointed down at her belly. I am looking my usual relentless in a Ravens tee. Slick and Mia just look seasoned and styled in patterned tops. June 2011 photo by Jimbo

Myrtle Beach family photo July 2010. Now we have Bennett to add from now on!

Katie’s family is hard-core Ravens fans, along with my mom’s side of the family, the Italian, Baltimore side.  My dad’s side of the family, the DC area based Roenicks, are diehard Skins fans.  Both sides have season ticket holders and feverish tempers for their teams.  Despite having Roy Helu for a few weeks on my fantasy football team (Team Big Ass TDs as I’m the only girl in a 10 bro league), I do not really like the Skins that much (but this baby might change that.)

Lee Evans of the Baltimore Ravens and uhhh some Washington Redskin player. Like I said, I don't know much about them.

I can recite the roster of Baltimore better than the Skins as I’ve only been to Ravens’ games and enjoy watching them play.  Plus,  I  just generally love Baltimore more than DC (why be less when you can b-more?), so I classify myself as a Birds fan.  However, my brothers grew up following the Redskins at our house on Iroquois Drive (Irony on Indians/Redskins) because of my dad posted up in his arm-chair on Sunday afternoons watching his team.  Steve, my Redskins raging brother, introduced  Gibbs as a potential middle name on the table because of legendary former Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs.  I assume Katie suggested Bennett and wah-la! , an angel was named, a compromise was created despite ardent team affiliations.

Katie and Steve, proud parentals to brand new Baby Bennett Gibbs

Grandpa (Jimbo, my dad) and Bennett

It’s an oddity to see your kid have a kid, isn’t it Bernie?”My dad asked Katie’s father while I was on the phone with him tonight.

I asked my dad, “Hey, I know a lot of energy and chaos is  going on in that hospital room and waiting room right now, but for selfish reasons, can you ask the proud parents if they will throw me a bone with my photographic requests?”  “Speak English, Jess.  What do you want?”  “Can you send me a picture of Katie and Steve high-5’ing over baby Bennett??”

Present: Victorious looking Tiger First Pump. A tad bit unsafe, but can be done with a baby if modified.

Laughter in the background, but he agreed to try his best.  And then I said, “Wait, one more request!

Can you send me a picture of Steve Tiger first pumping while holding baby Bennett?”  Avid golfer Jim cackled.  “Good thought. We will try.”  Today was a heavenly victory, first pump worthy, for both teams, the Kraus’s and the Roenicks,  the Ravens and the Skins, now that Bennett Gibbs Roenick has landed on Earth for the “W,”  the World and the Win.

Dear Bennett, I love you without even meeting you. I cannot wait to meet you, kiss you, hug you and play with you. Make good choices and keep fighting the good fight, bro. Love, Aunt Jesska Photo by: Uncle Slick

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Happy Anniversary, California Love

Jimbo and I after "Proud to be an America," at the Bellagio Watershow on October 22, 2010.

Happy travellers because we got to stretch our legs at this Colorado Mountains truck stop restaurant off Route 70. We even got free pie because it was our first time.

One year ago on October 23rd, 2010, I left Las Vegas with my handsome dad, bound for San Diego.  We did the road trip across country leaving Maryland at 6 a.m.  on Wednesday, the 20th, travelling 11 hours for the first 3 days and 5 hours on the last day from Nevada to Southern California.  My dad mapped out our road and potential hotels to stay in, but we didn’t have much of a  plan in my eyes other than to hop on Route 70, get to Denver and turn left (and down) to arrive in San Diego on Saturday, October 23rd midday. My dad flew home the next day, leaving me the former family SUV, all of my belongings piled high, his best wishes and a kiss.

"YA...WE'RE IN THE ROCKIES!"-My first time seeing the Rocky Mountains

We cruised through Indianapolis, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver, but spent real time in Vail and Vegas.  Vail I had never seen, but Vegas and I had not seen each other since 3rdgrade when the Excalibur Hotel was a dream come true to any fairy tale fan.  On our father- daughter road trip, my dad and I marveled at God’s handiwork

God's Handiwork in Utah from my windshield. The most fun I've ever had driving because of wonderment and awe was in the Rockies.

and hours of windmill farms as I met the Rockies and tornado country for the 1st time, his second.

Tornado Country-Kansas or Missouri...they blend together as looking exactly like this for hours.

We didn’t particularly enjoy the comedian CDs or the books on tapes we bought, so we ditched them for high quality games such as the Alphabet Category Game (Best play of one round: My Quinnipiac for the College Round Letter “Q”) and “Marry. Kill. *#C&.”  It’s funny to play that game with your dad as we eventually had to let go of ages and genders and use everyone from Olympians to politicians to athletes to weather chicks to Fox News guests and Analysts (his personal fav).

Luckily, with my job, I was able to go home for a total for 24 days since I was started working for the small university on October 25, 2010.  Because of Facebook, Google video chat, cells phones, Gmail, Gchat, decent airfare costs, and loving friends and family, I have not felt the distance as much as most people who leave their everythings back east.

The beauty of Google Video Chat-live web cam conversations with my cousins Chris, Melissa, Carina, my Gma and my parents : )

I honestly did get plagued with my first homesickness pain in August, but that was bound to happen 10 months in.  Thankfully and I cannot stress this enough, I have the BEST best friends who came to visit this beautiful place and me. 

Best friends on best beaches-Five of my best friends visiting me on the 4th of July, 2011. Sunset Cliffs in Ocean Beach before the country's largest beachfront marshmallow fight after the fireworks show. From left to right: Eric (local good friend), Me, Katie, Kaitlyn, Kris, Antol, Kelsey, and Goose (former roommate and local good friend).

Two weeks ago, I strolled into work energetic as always.  I was informed of the news that our company had not made their enrollment numbers in several quarters and many people from several of our offices were being laid off today because of the numbers, not performance, including moi.  Downtrodden on Day 1 only, just like my college breakup, I broke the news to who I care about the most while holding back tears of embarrassment, but ending each dialogue with hopefulness-that this was a blessing in disguise and that when God closes one door, He opens another window.

My oxygen-my college best friends from left to right: Aud, Jules, Me, Kaitlyn, Kel, Shannon, Aly, and Rachel (Not pictured: Con)

Everyone knows I am a natural networker and comical storyteller.  I should be in a field where I can thrive on energy and be being just as dynamic and animated with clients and coworkers to accelerate our company into the future as I am live when I rattle off a hay day tale to my friends at Taco Tuesday.

I know this is not a SD Taco Tuesday, but it is only pic I have of my telling a story to my girlfriends who appear to be attentive. This was taken is at happy hour in DC Fall 2009 during The Washington Post's Going Out Guide's Happy Hour. Photo by Dakota Fine. Check out more of this work at http://dakotafinephoto.blogspot.com/

"My persuasion can build a nation."-Beyonce...This is me persuading event attendees to take Washington Post chapsticks in DC. Photo by Dakota Fine (see his material at http://dakotafinephoto.blogspot.com/)

This means tapping back into my ideal fields of interest: Communication, Public Relations, Marketing, Sales, or Human Resources.  I’ve been told countless stories since revealing my news to all sorts of people and the resounding response was that things like this have a way of falling into place for the best.  I moved out here for the Mexican food and the sunshine, with a job, not for the job.   I consider myself fortunate for that position as it was my ticket out here and I met life-changing people.

So, here I am, laid off, but loving all the love around me despite the grey unemployment skies.   I’m as free as a bird, but broke as a joke.  This Baltimore Raven does not have a reason to fly away other than love for the locale and the thirst for 2ndchances.  It’s not time for me to leave this Californian fiesta just yet -I don’t think.  I want to leave on my own watch and I don’t think mine is done ticking yet.  So I am trying my best to stay afloat, snag a job that revs my engine as I enthusiastically apply to positions where I can see myself grow in my niche.

I have not conquered California yet and actually just got settled in my own skin here.  I have my best set of friends here and my usual crowd I run around with.  I don’t have homework anymore as I finished 20 percent of my MBA at my university, but being laid off means losing the luxury of taking classes for tax cost only. Because I am now freed up from homework, papers or projects, I can go on more frequent getaways to visit friends within a couple of hours. My long-term parade of visitors is over (when I knew of at least 3 or 4 people coming to visit or coming to town in advance), so I can just really live my settled life (not that I was not happy to host you all obviously!).

A big source of my happiness is my royal living quarters.  I live in a killer casa, crowned “The House of J.A.C.K.s,” because of our first names initials (Jessica, Alan, Connor, and Kyle) and it being male dominated (3 v.1 ratio).  It is too good to be true I’ve been told, one block from any landmark you might ever want (beach, boardwalk, bay, the garage, grocery store, bars, organic market, Trader Joe’s, post office, fro yo, a plethora of taco shops, insert more perfection here.  The House of JACKs is composed of 3 fantastic guys and me, plus a braided culture of friendship, respect and fun.  There’s only one working TV in the house for 4 people and it’s amazing we do not dispute over the TV, but rather embrace each other’s interest especially the guys on my girlish TV.

The New Girl, a show on the CW about 3 guys and a girl named Jessica living together

My roommates even watch the Fox’s New Girl and relish it because it is story of our house in a way.  It’s about a dark-haired, blue-eyed girl named Jess, who works in Education (not anymore as of 2 weeks ago), lives with 3 guys in a big city and recently escaped from her familiars.  A month ago, I paused the DVR while watching Glee and told Connor, my roommate, I was going to watch Glee upstairs in bed. “Wait, why? Why don’t you watch it next to me?”  Sigh.  What a roommate.  Any one who knows me knows that I am constant firm believer in the buddy system and hearing Connor values my presence was just enlightening.  When us guys aren’t watching one of our common shows (Modern Family, The Office, etc.), they watch Gleehappily for the hot girls and catchy tunes or the Kardashians for the hot girls and the NBA athletes.  Too cool they are.  I’m one lucky gal.

I’ve been told the best things in life are free.  In my immature youth, I used to think how could this be true.   Consistently, that is pretty relevant for my life – powerful quotes, PB sunsets, uncontrollable laughter sprees, my first niece of nephew’s smile (born next week!), a best friend’s free flight last-minute to visit me when I’m bummed (thank you Southwest frequent flyer miles for bringing San Fran’s newest addition, Katie, down to me), and my priceless relationships with so many fabulous friends and family.

Katie and I's hands in Ocean Beach, San Diego, CA July 4, 2011

After reading The Shackand just by generally “growing up,” I realized money doesn’t buy happiness.

Save Gas. Ride a bike. "I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike..."

So now that I am penny-pinching more so than usual, I see the world even more differently. For example,  last weekend, I was riding around on my primary vehicle of transportation, my bicycle, a sky-blue whip, kissed with vintage appeal.  I pedaled past a homeless man who was practicing his best air guitar to “Sweet Child of Mine” outside the first SD Five Guys (yay Arlington, VA in CA!). Ten minutes later, I biked by to be pleasantly surprised that two homeless men joined the original hobo.  They were offering the original one pointers on how to perfect his air guitar.  I pedaled back to my pad with the comforting notion that this world is seriously about people helping people.  Whether you are a business professional who meets me at a coffee shop

Remember Jewel, the singing guitarist? She once was homeless in PB where I live until she was discovered performing in a coffee house.

and requests my resume or if you are a street nomad who could take advice on how to improve the air instrument to look more legit, the Big Man above taught us this love to pay it forward. Carina, one of my favorite friends and my insane cousin,  threw up a status offering me words of wisdom I pray that will reign true for me:  “Sometimes in order to go forward, you have to learn to fall back. ”  Butterfly kicking off that, I am hopeful this lay off will jumpstart my career in something that highlights the best hues of my demeanor and talent.

Chapter 2 of my San Diego book coincidently happened right before my 1 year anniversary with my current lover, California.  What’s even better is that of my 4 best friends here, we all celebrated our anniversaries with California love over the same weekend.  Two years ago, Sam, Lauren and Amber arrived on October 21.  One year ago, on the 23rd, I pulled into PB with my dad.  Finally, one year ago from Oct.24th, Caroline arrived in San Diego too.  And we didn’t even realize it till our anniversary weekend.  The Big Man braided those timelines together for a reason.

My San Diego girlfriends: Sam, Caroline, Lauren, (Amy-miss you-but back in MD now), Lorenzo (our Italian friend), Amber (peekaboo), Me, Eric

A problem arose, so I jumped to be an instantaneous captain, sailing the ship on the Chesapeake Bay Fall 2009 on Rachel's boat in Annapolis.

On my actual anniversary, us girls got breakfast with our friends and then we took off for Kate Sessions, a hill top park with views of the bay and beach in PB, that I had never been to despite being minutes from my house.  Armed with a volleyball, a soccer ball, a football, a blanket and my favorite board game of “Things,” we were set.  It was a perfect way to a honor a first San Diego near -perfect year. One of my favorite authors, Mark Twain, once said, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  I guess I need to keep praying to the Big Man, dream weaving  like Twain and sailing the SD bay to discover my next play for my today.

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“I love love.”- A tribute to guys who roast us girls

Words cannot describe how insanely hard I die laughing watching these guys 100 percent of the time, every time.  I saw it I think last winter and my girlfriends and I have been quoting it religiously ever since.  Some of it, being stupid girls ourselves, has already fallen from our lips before.  

These guys really nailed the essence of girl talk.  Girls boast about their adorable Target (use the French pronunciation though please-be cultured!) purchases,

Target’s Fall Fashion that girls always sweat

chicks reluctantly can’t take compliments about their bodies, and broads use constant abbrevs (abbreviation for abbreviation) in any light fare conversation (“totes” being short for totally and “dramatic as H” short for hell).  In addition, using SMS (social media systems) in live conversation has become trendy.  “#Sorryforpartying” and “#SorryImnotsorry” are familiar phrases derived from great talesoff Twitter and Texts from Last Night.

Neon Night in Newport Beach, Orange County, California. Aren't you loving the love in this photo?

Like senior citizens and Asians, broads can be disastrous behind the wheel when it comes to parallel parking.  My guy friends here have bought me drinks taking the odds that I’m not great at parallel parking.  Thankfully, because of free street parking in San Diego, I’ve nailed that machinery art form, but I know that is a rarity and these humorous guys bring that chick weakness to the surface.

Sam and Lauren, die hard Penn State fans and two of my best girlfriends, in Vegas at 7am July 2011

My friend Sam and I had that exact conversation about Lauren Conrad’s book. Though I still haven’t read it or returned it to back to Sam, but she really did praise the fact that LC wrote this book solely on her own, no editor.  And oh boy, all girls really do know where they were during 1. 9-11 and 2. when Marissa Cooper died (The OC reference). It’s awful-we know. My girlfriend  Lauren and I always bust this line out of our back pocket seeing as we are an hour south of Orange County.

Rachel McAdams character, Regina George, in the movie Mean Girls

Plus, a little Mean Girls action was weaved in with the fetch socks comment.  Recently, I Facebook status’d something about Hurricane Irene being a bigger b**ch than Regina George and many people iliked that status knowing Regina’s character in Mean Girls.

Broads sometimes date a challenge because they think they can change a bro into something better, so the project line was pretty great too.  Foolishly, many relationships die because girls cannot successfully change their guy into what they want.  Many sets of friends have that one girlfriend who is in a relationship defined by chronic break-ups and make-ups. As these girls point out, all girlfriends think that no guy is genuinely romantic- it takes a lot of effort and brain movement to craft something romantic. And generally speaking, girls naturally want a boyfriend, so one of them b*itching about being single and having all the other lovers around him leaving him in the single dust is rather commonplace in a lot of best girl friends dynamics and probably bro dynamics since they are mourning the loss of a wing man.  Despite not being bitter like this guy, a recent single of 4 weeks, I’ve been the token single chick for awhile now and in three sets of my friends: The Clones (HS girlfriends),

Down-to-Earth High girlfriends. I love hearing their love stories via email.

the Down-to-Earth high school girlfriends, and my college girlfriends.  After I left my college friends in Arlington last month when I went home for a Clone

The first Clone Wedding August 2011

My college girlfriends. 7 of the 10 of us are in serious relationships and I love their lovers who are all as sweet as pie.

wedding, Kait, Colleen and I high-fived as I bid them adieu. Kaitsaid, “Us single girls, we three of our 10 girlfriends, gotta stick together!” We laughed in slight self pity, more humor and

James Cameron, the human cat. I had a short stunt this summer of being a crazy cat lady and temporarily loving a pet for the first time.

I made some joke about growing old with my cat, James Cameron.

But above all, I love love.  My SD girlfriends especially (and my MD girls have picked up on it too as of late through our email threads)  and I use that sentence and variations multiple times each day.  For example, when creeping on the love between Michelle Money and Graham on the Bachelor Pad on Monday night, pretty sure we all agreed, “We loved their love.”  We might not be in it, but we still love that noun and love seeing it.  Plus, we constantly reassure ourselves that being poor in your 20s is “trendy” like going g-free because of this video.  Thanks guys.  I probably get dumber, but simultaneously get happier every time I watch this video.  Below is the first video by these bros, which isn’t as funny in my opinion though others beg to differ.

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