Stand Up Paddle Boarding in Santa Cruz

According to my Myers-Briggs personality profile, I am a guardian of birthdays, holidays, celebrations, and traditions; not a keeper, a guardian.  I definitely identify with this description.  My family has always made a huge deal about holidays and birthdays when I was growing up, so I always assumed my almost ridiculous observance of birthdays was just normal.  Now I know, it’s not only the way I was raised, but it’s also part of who I am.

          On September 11, 1988, my favorite person in the whole wide world was born; my fiance.  I have had the pleasure of celebrating his 5 past birthdays with him, including this year, though we have only been dating 3 and a half years.  His 20th was an epic party at a certain house we call, “The Schwul,” his 21st was spent in Akron, epically not drinking, his 22nd was a party at a condo in Fort Collins, CO, and for his twenty-third I bought him all kinds of backpacking gear, and surprised him by renting a car to drive us to Yosemite National Park for our first Yosemite backpacking trip.  We began hiking up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail around 7pm, and did most of our hiking in the dark.  We set up camp almost completely in the dark, with the exception of Derek’s headlamp, and woke up to find ourselves in the middle of this:

It was the best camping spot I ever had.

         Since backpacking is pretty much Derek’s all-time favorite thing to do, I had to come at this year’s birthday surprise from a new angle.  I tried to think of all the things he likes to do: Trying new things, learning how to do something, working up a sweat while doing it, having some adventure, and seeing great sites.  With this, I came up with stand-up -paddleboarding (SUP).  It was something he had never done before, and we had not yet actually gotten in the ocean out here, so I figured it would be perfect; something new for us to explore together.
       So on the Saturday morning of Derek’s birthday weekend, I loaded the whole CA family up into my Focus, and we headed down to Santa Cruz (closest place for us to go to the ocean).  When I asked Derek where he thought we might be going, based on the direction we were headed, his first guess was Santa Cruz.  Oh well, when we pulled into the SUP rental place, he thought we were in that plaza for the  frozen yogurt. 🙂
We then proceeded to take 2 trips down to the ocean to get all of our boards there:

There was a 3 board maximum on top of small cars for SUP rental-2012
            The guy encouraged us that we would not need wetsuits because the boards were so big, there was no reason we’d be going in the water.  We believed him.  Well, Tomko, our experienced surfer-dude wore his own wetsuit.  He knew better.
            For those of you unfamiliar with SUP-ing, as I was, it is basically like a big, fat surfboard you can stand on and balance well.  They also give you a paddle so you can propel yourself in still water.  IT. WAS. AWESOME.  I was definitely the first person to fall.  Big surprise (not at all a surprise).
This is us, making our way out of the harbor. -2012

The ocean was freezing, and the salt kind of burned.  So, after enough falls on my part, I decided it would be much more fun for me to just continue in a less compromising position.  Other people must have felt the same.

Santa Cruz -2012
Derek and I taking a break while SUP-ing. -2012

After that got uncomfortable, we decided to just paddle while sitting on our butts.  Then, Derek got tired of  paddling, so since he was the birthday boy, I let him latch on to me while I paddled for both of us. 🙂

Braving the waves and trying to actually stand for the SUP again, so I can pull both Derek and I. -2012
         Once we got out of the harbor, THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING happened!!!  We saw dolphins!!!  Real, wild, dolphins swimming out in the ocean right next to us!  They were playing with wild sea lions too!!! I was SO unbelievably enthralled with them!  I couldn’t stop screaming about them!  They probably hated me, haha!  I am still not over the amazement of this experience.
There they are!  Tomko managed to snap this photo of the dolphins from his camera attached to his hip!  You can see 3 fins!!!

A couple of hours into paddling, we all hooked our boards together with our feet, and stopped for some lunch. Sean was wearing a backpack, in which he had packed some beef jerky; and yes, he had fallen into the ocean with that backpack on. 🙂

Lunch in the Pacific Ocean! -2012

After we finished SUP-ing, as suggested by Tomko, we went to play one of Derek’s favorite games, disc golf (frisbee golf), on one of the best courses in the U.S.

At the Santa Cruz disc golf course -2012
         The plan after frisbee golf was to build a fire on the beach with an above-ground fire ring I bought Derek for his birthday.  Unfortunately, by the time we got back to the beach, it was already after dark.  We climbed around with our headlamps in the dark for a little bit, but we were promptly kicked off the beach by the night guard.  We went home, stopped at the store for some camp food, and made a campfire at home instead. 🙂  There were many more surprises (24 total, including homemade carrot cake AND cream cheese frosting with no sugar or artificial sweeteners), but I won’t bore you with all the details.  I figured hey, when would I have the chance to give my fiance 1 surprise every hour, for every year of his birth, for 1 day again?   All in all, Derek said everyone really “hit it out of the park” for his whole 24th birthday experience.  Success. 🙂


Goodwill Hunting

Most people are big fans of thrift stores during the Halloween season every year.  After all, there is no better place to look for ridiculous pieces of clothing to put together in hideous ensembles for your perfect Halloween costume.  However, I am a big fan of thrift stores all year-round.  I often find my best clothes there (mainly because it’s the only place I’ll let myself buy designer labels).  I know most people find buying used shoes repulsive, but I’d be lying if I said I’m not eyeing the boot selection every time I walk into a thrift store.  Most of the people in my immediate circle are thrift fans as well.  My fiance only buys clothes from thrift stores, my brother’s junior year prom outfit came from Goodwill, and anytime I compliment my father on a new article of clothing, he responds, “Thanks.  I got it from GW fashions.”  It took me a long time to figure out “GW Fashions” is actually Centerville Goodwill.  (He’s right, excellent selection of clothes at that location.)  Additionally, this weekend I discovered my CA roommates are also huge fans of thrifting.  We made an afternoon of it, and success was had by all.
As soon as we walked in to the first Goodwill, I was immediately blown away by the amazing selection of actual Halloween costumes people have donated.  I have been to many a Goodwill in my day, but there is rarely anything good hanging on the single rack of actual Halloween costumes.  You are usually forced to scour the rest of the racks yourself, but not in Santa Clara.  They have several racks of actual Halloween costumes, AND they have taken the liberty of hanging any exceptionally obnoxious or ridiculous-looking clothing on those racks, so you don’t have to look so hard for your perfect Halloween  costume.  I had several things in my arms at one point out of sheer excitement that they were there.  I thought the selection of random objects in the back was pretty good too, but that COULD just be because it was the first time I’ve ever looked at the selection of random stuff in my adult life, while actually needing many of those things.  There was a huge DVD section too, but unfortunately I didn’t get the time to look through them as I spent most of our time there making googly eyes at the Halloween selection. My roommates asked why I was so amazed, and I told them I thought their Halloween selection was better than any I’ve ever seen.  They responded that it’s because there are far more “weird people” here than in the locations I’ve been to in the past.  They also told me, “If you think this place was good, just wait til we get to the next one.”  The next place was closed.

The last place is where I started getting scary.  It was the Sunnyvale Goodwill.  We walked in, and immediately spotted something shiny: fake weaponry.  My legs propelled me forward.  I lurched towards the box, and without hesitation pulled two swords up out of the box with great awe.  My words exactly, “Ooooooo! Ahhhh! I am always in need of a good sword.”  I looked at my female roommate with wide eyes, expecting agreement.  What I found was horror and confusion.  For the first time since we entered the store, I took in my surroundings.  I was standing in front of a large box full of fake weaponry, already holding 2 items, right next to my very nerdy  intelligent male roommates who were also gawking at the swords as if we needed them; this was supposed to be their thing, not mine.  I put down the fake swords and backed away slowly.  “What’s happening to me?” I asked my female roommate with a trembling voice.  We both knew the answer: too much time spent with engineers, and possibly too much exposure to Silicon Valley.  I ended up finding an amazing selection of teacher-related items, that were all $.49, which I excitedly purchased.  My roommates brought home a coffee painting for the kitchen, a jug for whiskey or something of the sort, 2 glass bowls, and coffee mugs.

                       And now for a series of hideous/amazing/maybe both outfits found at Goodwill:

Last Day of High School-2006
80’s night-2007
Halloween (Frenchy from Grease) 2007
Halloween (Lois from Family Guy) 2008
Halloween (Guys got their Braveheart costumes from GW) 2010
Pirate Party 2011
Halloween (Lucille Ball) 2011
Captain Hook costume for Peter Pan play-2012
When I was Captain Hook for a play this past Spring, I looked EVERYWHERE for decent fake swords, but they were nowhere to be found.  I could only find silly foam ones.  They were available online, but they were more pricey.  Luckily, someone else had a great selection from which she let us all borrow.  Then I walked into the Goodwill in Sunnyvale, and there they were!  Cheap and plentiful!  This is perhaps a better explanation of why I was so taken with them. 🙂

Leaving Ohio

         I have lived in Ohio my entire life.  That is, minus a brief stunt gallivanting around Colorado for a short summer in between undergrad and graduate school.  (More on that later)  I grew up in a stereotypical small town in northwestern Ohio.  Where I’m from, everyone has large families, and though my generation has started leaving home to go to different universities in Ohio, eventually most everyone moves back home after college to be with their large families.  I spent my life before college dreaming about only leaving my comfort zone for the standard 4 years, and then settling down in the lovely little town of Versailles, OH.  My new husband and I would live down the creek from all my family, and my children would grow up happily with their cousins and grandparents, just as I was fortunate enough to be able to live out my childhood.  

My cousins who are like brothers to me because I was fortunate enough to grow up so close to them

        Later in high school, I started to develop bigger dreams about moving away to NYC or LA to experience bigger and better theatre.  However, deep down I always thought I would end up back in Versailles, where I felt I belonged.  Little did I know then that every step I took away from home would bring new experiences, which in turn would bring curiosity and momentum to venture further for newer and bigger adventures.  

           The ABSOLUTE BEST group of high school friends in the history of the world

         My first stop out of Ohio (though I did not realize this at the time) was The University of Cincinnati.  It was not a pit stop.  It was 6 years.  It was in Cincinnati that I learned how much I did not know.  It became clear to me I had lived an evidently sheltered life.  This  should not have surprised me as the most recent crime in my area was an ATTEMPTED robbery of the town IGA when I was about 10 years old, and the fact that there is only one culture:  Catholic-European America.  I had much to learn about other cultures and the outside world.  The friends I made at college (my fiancé included) who are not from small towns tell me the way I speak about growing up and the terminology I use sometimes makes it seem to them like I’m from an entirely different country.  If you get the cultural reference, they actually tell me the things I say to them sometimes is like the things Robin says to the friends on How I Met Your Mother about her home country, Canada.  To me, the things they have not heard of are shocking.  Dancing in the hog trough?  Anyone?  Guess not.
Anyways, once I reached all the new experiences Cincinnati could bring me, I thirsted for more.  

The MOST AWESOME group of college friends in the history of the world at Cedar Point
Team Green Goats vs. Salmon Squirrels

       Around the fall of 2009, I had a new boyfriend for whom I was falling pretty hard.  I realized he had one co-op left 1200 miles away from me the next summer.  We had begun our relationship 1200 miles away so I made a passing comment that I wished we would not have to separate again.  At that time he said, “So let’s not.  Come with me.”  Well that was all I needed.  I immediately began searching for a summer internship so I would have a valid reason to join him in Fort Collins, Colorado.  It was at a perfect time for me because I would be graduating with my bachelor’s degree so I would be qualified to be an SLPa (Speech-Language Pathologist Assistant) in Colorado.  By November, I had lined up a place that agreed to let me intern for them over the summer.  Luckily, I was flying down to New Orleans for the national speech pathologist convention, as was my future boss so we were able to meet for an interview at that time.  Luckily for me again, that boss had a friend who was also interested in an SLPa for the summer, so by working for the two places combined, I had a full-time job for the summer in Colorado, and made enough money to keep me alive.
      My second stop on the way out of Ohio was Fort Collins, Colorado.  My boyfriend and I drove his family’s Honda Civic (stick shift) out to Colorado together.  When we got far enough into Colorado that I could finally see the entire Rocky Mountain mountain range laid out before my eyes, I could not help but cry.  My boyfriend looked at me and said, “If I would have known seeing mountains could make you this happy, I would take you to see the mountains every day.”  Every day that summer, we saw the mountains.  It was the greatest summer of my life.  

   Just another day of my magical summer romance in the Rockies.

      The things I learned as a result of yet again stepping outside of my comfort zone were priceless.  At the end of the summer, one of my employers offered me a job at her private practice for when I graduated.  I absolutely loved working for her.  Yet, as pleased as I was, and as safe as that felt, I couldn’t wait to see what the rest of the world had in store for me.

Getting some mad hops at the peak of our Colorado work-out regime.


      My/what was slowly becoming “our” next stop was back to Cincinnati.  Wait, what?  I guess it’s like when you’re flying from Colorado to California, and you have a layover in Dallas.  Sometimes you back track, and sometimes the journey doesn’t make any sense, but you still get there.  Flash forward a year.  My boyfriend and I were getting very serious and it was time for him to graduate and find a job.  I was in the middle of my master’s degree program.  For him, there were many possibilities.  Even within the company he had always co-oped for, there were 4 different locations: Boston, Austin, Fort Collins, and Sunnyvale.  We both had a place we didn’t want to live.  He’s not a fan of the east coast not having mountains, and I didn’t know anyone in Texas.  We knew we both loved Fort Collins, but we were also both curious about California.  I kept thinking if moving to Colorado was one of the best experiences I ever had, why not try other places and see what else we can experience?  Eventually things fell into place, and my boyfriend landed a job in Sunnyvale, CA.  There was talk of possibly seeing if he could transfer to Colorado after about a year or so of working.  He moved out and started working in August of 2011.  3 weeks later, I came to visit for 3 weeks.  I, and I think we, both fell in love.

                           Summer romance, now on the beach. 🙂
         (My Dad actually took this picture and insisted we kiss for it.)

     The birth of a niece, a proposal, and a master’s degree later, it was time for me to leave Ohio.  For most of the year, it was very easy to focus solely on the excitement I had for my new adventures, and for finally being with my fiance.  In fact, I chose not to think about the hard part at all.  Though it was subconscious at the time, I actually spent my two years of graduate school trying NOT to make new friends, and focus on quality time with all my old ones.  I guess I already knew I couldn’t handle the idea of having more people to say goodbye.  About a week before I was supposed to leave, I let myself start feeling emotional about all the goodbyes.

My surprise “Going-Away” lunch at the park. 🙂
No one can make me feel appreciated like M.  He wrote, “Good Riddance” on my cake, haha. 🙂

      Hanging out with all my favorite people one last time was really hard and saying goodbye to them was even harder.  At the same time, I still have all my favorite memories with these people I can always look back on, and because we became so close in my lifetime in Ohio, I know we will always be able to be friends.  Sadly, what I did not realize I was not prepared for was the gut-wrenching, heart-twinging, agony of missing out on someone’s life I did not get the chance to make enough memories with: my niece.  Saying goodbye to her was almost unbearable.  I truly believe that if my sister-in-law had not had the strength to take her from my arms, I never would have let her go.  I bawled the whole way home from her house.  Knowing how much I want to be a part of her life, and knowing how much I want to be a key player in her repertoire of early childhood memories, but won’t be able to is deeply unnerving.  For now, I must settle for the “cool aunt” who drops in on the holidays with gifts and goodies.  Also, with the modern convenience of Skype, I’m hoping she will at least be able to recognize and remember my face and voice.  Little E, if you should ever happen across this in the future, I want to say that my biggest regret will be not being there right next to you for every step and every success of your life.  I will hold dear to me the sweet memories of rocking you to sleep in my arms.  Know that I will be loving you every second of every day, and cheering you on like crazy in everything you do, no matter how far away or how close I am.  I hope someday I can explain to you why I left, and you will understand.  Also, I know this is a little cliché but if you ever really need me, I am only a phone call and 5 hours away. 🙂   

                       “Aunt T, you’re leaving me?!  Traitor!”
                                              (Aug. 2012)
And so, with all my goodbyes behind me, like Fievel on his journey out west, I must separate from my family and make my own way only to discover loved ones waiting for me on the other side.