Champagne, naptime, and bathroom breaks

It was only our second day in Paris, and we’d made it to the Eiffel Tower, Champs Elysee, Tuileries Gardens, L’Orangerie, Notre Dame, the Pantheon, and too many cafes to count. It was time to get lunch in the Latin Quarter. Overwhelmed by the choice and my hunger, I started to panic (I’m fun, she sobbed). Sam helped choose someplace nearby and we were ready to rock and roll after a nice mid-afternoon steak – I love France.

I can be – how you say? – a bit of a headcase when I travel. I want to do everything, but I want to relax. I want to see paintings, but I don’t want to be stuck in a museum for 5 hours. I want to see famous resting places, but I don’t want to linger too long on my own mortality. I want to try every wine bar in the neighborhood, but I want to get up at 6 am to see the sunrise. I want it both ways.

Part of my self-care journey has been learning to accept that I am the way I am. There are things to work on and strive for, but some things are just a part of my personality. This trip, I wanted to accept that I am only adventurous to a point, and that I need to have my needs met to really enjoy the unique things Paris has to offer. Society often tells women that having needs makes them high-maintenance or needy. Breaking free from the burden of these labels, I decided to regard my impulses for a relaxed pace, regular meals, and plenty of cups of champagne as prerequisites for a great trip, rather than outrageous preferences.

Did I succeed? Of course not, but boy did I try, learn, and get better. The trip was beautiful, fun, romantic, and restorative, even when I sometimes struggled to take care of myself. Here are some strategies I tried out.

First, I tried to always verbalize my needs. I told Sam when I was getting too hungry to look at another tomb. I asked for naptime in our weird loft bed with the skylight. I requested a slower pace down cobblestone streets. Another thing I noticed myself verbalizing was apology after apology for these needs. This is something many of the women around me are working on. Most of the time, “I’m sorry” was unnecessary and triggered a bit of guilt in me – food for thought on my next trip.

Next, I limited the number of sites planned to two a day. Eiffel Tower and L’Orangerie naturally turned into Champs Elysee and the American Embassy, but having two clear goals meant we didn’t feel like we were missing out, and the rest was gravy.

Of course, when I needed a breather, there was only one thing to do: find une coupe de champagne. Breathing and relaxing while enjoying something so quintessentially French helped with our barking dogs (do we all know that means hurting feet? Is this a Midwest thing?), our sunburnt noses, and our non-stop sightseeing fatigue.

Finally, I practiced the ancient Martin family practice of the “No Thank You Pee.” This might be too personal for some. I ask that you come with me on this journey. In France, people queue up to use pay public restrooms that are hit or miss, cleanliness-wise. To avoid this, I used the restroom everywhere we had already paid to be: Museums! Cafes!  Bars! Gift shops! If there was a free bathroom, I was checkin’ it out. This was my tour de French toilettes.

My last bit of self-care on this trip was choosing an amazing travel buddy. Whereas I struggled to remember how to pronounce bird (hint: it sounds like whazzzupppp), Sam spoke French even when they spoke English back to us. He illuminated the French practice of bringing you a check for your drinks before you’ve had a chance to contemplate a second round. He knew the subway system frontward and backward – but he still conscientiously checked the map. He reminded me to look in someone’s eyes before saying, “Santé!” This made the trip a lot more fun and infinitely easier. Sometimes, taking care of yourself means choosing people who care about your needs.

Now, I’m going to sleep for 36 hours. Santé!


Continental countdown

The first and only time I traveled overseas by myself, my arrival didn’t go according to plan. There were many factors at play: I was going to Greece, where I couldn’t speak the language or read the alphabet. I had packed a way-too-big hockey bag I could barely lift. I couldn’t figure out how to use a phone card to call my ride. The person I was supposed to meet at the airport had a delayed flight. I sat down on my enormous bag and gave myself over to exhausted crocodile tears.

On Saturday, I do it all over again. This time, instead of Greece, I’m flying to France. The anxiety I feel about hopping on a plane by myself to go to a country where I don’t speak the language comes in waves, sometimes eclipsing the excitement I feel about baguettes, museums, and my long-distance boyfriend.

In true idiot fashion, I’ve also overbooked myself on all the days leading up to the trip. “Sure, I’d love to go to that show or that happy hour or that skeeball game or that haircut!” I said, weeks ago. This has ratcheted up my anxiety ten-fold.

I’m a worrier – I almost find comfort in worry – but there’s just no time for it in this particular instance. Instead, I’ve been self-soothing using five simple tricks.

  1. Tackle one thing a day. On Sunday, I shopped for warm socks (I have no use for these in Texas, so I have donated the many, many, many pairs I accumulated in Chicago). On Monday, I shopped for travel toiletries (will I NEED make-up removing wipes and also two kinds of face wash? Only time will tell). On Tuesday, I stocked up on medication, remembering the time I got a cold in Germany and was without my beloved Dayquil. Today, I’ll do some light packing. I have no time off before Saturday morning, when I hop in a RideAustin (RIP Austin Lyft, my only true friend in this town), but little by little, I’m chipping away at my list.
  2. Do all the internet stuff at once. I’m on a computer or phone at all times because I’m a monster millennial, but instead of letting the anxiety of everything I have to do online eat away at me, I decided to dedicate 30 minutes to doing the following: emailing Sam a list of phrases I want to know how to say and pronounce in French (“you are a very pretty cat”); emailing my parents my flight itinerary; notifying my banks (I’m very wealthy) that I will be out of the country; and of course, downloading 400 podcasts for the plane ride (what up, McElroy brothers).
  3. Pack all the stuff I won’t need before the trip. This means that right now my suitcase is a quarter full of: English language books for Sam; travel toiletries; a charged external phone battery; and all those warm socks. The dresses and jeans will come later.
  4. Pick out my outfit for traveling. I don’t know if it’s because I’m an artist, a visual learner, or an ocular neurotic, but I like to envision things that cause me anxiety. I can’t picture the Philadelphia airport aside from the map. I can’t picture the American Airlines desk in Paris where my host will be waiting for me. I can, however, picture myself being comfortable and confident on the long plane ride. This step has helped a lot.
  5. Aggregate suggestions. I made a Google map of every bar, every restaurant, every museum, and every garden my friends suggested, so that I can target things in a given vicinity efficiently. This was fun and relaxing. I read top ten lists in travel magazines, laughed at funny French tales sent to me in text messages, and poured over the long list of Facebook responses to my call for Parisian suggestions. This little tool feels like having a person Rick Steves in my pocket. Thanks for your help.

Sometimes I fear that these listicles make me sound more ~together~ than I actually am. So, to be perfectly honest, I’m still petrified. These little things cut down on the nausea and the nightmares, but nothing can take the place of the relief and happiness I’ll feel when I reunite with Sam in Charles de Gaulle.

In case you missed your chance to give me Paris and Caen tips, please do so in the comments! I’d hate to miss something you just love, love, loved.

To tequila, with love

A few weeks ago I wrote about how my body and I were drifting apart: we weren’t on the same page about how to look, how to act, how to feel nourished. We still really like each other and we send Christmas cards and text a little bit, but it’s going to take a long girlfriends’ weekend to get us back on the same page.

The long girlfriends’ weekend marches on. I continue to pay close attention to what I eat and how it makes me feel and how it makes my body function; I still drink 3 liters of water a day; I still move as often as humanly possible (I see you FitBit)- but what I didn’t write about was alcohol.

I have a complicated relationship with alcohol. This story has nothing to do with anyone else’s drinking, just mine – but hopefully it will resonate with more than one of you.

I started drinking much later than most people I know. At age 22, I decided that abstaining was causing me to be inflexible, judgmental, and more than a little uptight. Maybe “causing” is the wrong word: my teetotaling was symptomatic of something larger. It was indicative of my desire to detach myself from the social aspects of people my age, to protect myself from foolishness, and to remain in total control. Total control, of course, doesn’t exist, and this is why I started to go mad.

I love to drink – wine, whiskey, gin – and I love the effects of drinking. I love relaxing at the end of a long day with a glass of wine over Skype with Sam, or trying a new cocktail at Rio Rita, or mixing up tequila and sodas for pals. I love feeling more laid back, less inhibited, and more talkative.

So what does all of this have to do with self-care? I’m not America’s Next Top Moderator – when I find something that makes me feel great, I tend to want it in bulk. That’s why I own 5 pairs of the same American Apparel (RIP) leggings; that’s why I have 3 pints of Halo Top in the freezer; and that’s why I sometimes wake up a little upset that I had three glasses of wine when one, one and a half, would’ve sufficed. Self-care sometimes means treats and indulgences – it means a glass of rosé in the bath. But more importantly, self-care sometimes means moderating indulgences. That’s the part I’m working on.

Here are two drinking resolutions I’m trying out:

  1. Stick to alcohol that is easy to stop drinking

I love, love, love Deep Eddy ruby red vodka. It’s delicious, it’s refreshing, and when you drink it at the pub for an early morning Liverpool match, it’s basically like getting a breakfast serving of fruit (right? right??). However, it’s so sweet that I can easily forget that I’m drinking, essentially, poison. I can drink a ruby red and soda in about 5 minutes, and then my glass feels lonely! It wants another delicious pink friend.

Alcohols that taste like alcohol are more conducive to moderation. A tequila and soda with lime is delicious, and the  lack of sweet means I’m fine with having just one or two. This is also true of whiskey. A whiskey neat  burns so good, but it doesn’t leave me wanting a bucket of the stuff with a straw…unlike a margarita.

  1. Remember my future self in relation to drinking

When I got my first hangover ever, I was 22 and I called my mom crying like a baby. She put me on speakerphone so everyone could laugh at me, if you believe it. It turns out when you’ve been high-and-mighty about sobriety for 22 years, people are entertained by your immoderate turn. It’s not just when I over-over-overindulge that I feel the effects of alcohol. If I have two glasses of wine, I can feel it on my run the next day – or I might sleep too long to do the run at all. Future me appreciates the good night sleep and the powerful legs she gets from that run. I’m going to try to have a conversation with my future self before I get out the corkscrew. Keyword here is try. And sometimes, my future self might resolutely say, “Let us drink wine.”

• • •

I feel lucky that I have never felt my life obstructed by alcohol, and that I’m always in the driver’s seat (figuratively- I’m RideAustin’s biggest fan). Alcohol is first and foremost a drug, and our relationships to it are very different. But, in the name of my personal self-care, I endeavor toward moderation, not deprivation, and I’ll buy myself a damn big trophy once I stop at one El Sapo margarita with chili salt.