California Dreamin’: Finding ME, again

Friends, this is my Santa Barbara story. Enjoy! XOXO, Elaine

E1My best friend, Rebecca and I do an annual girls’ trip every summer. She works in the public school system so summers are her time to roll and my business slows down in summer. It’s a win-win for both of us. Most years we hit local or easy to-get-to spots, like Austin or Galveston, but this year we splurged.

I found an incredible deal on for a four night stay at San Ysidro Ranch in Montecito, California. Well, I could lie and say the reason I booked it was because it was a good deal or I could tell you the truth and say that I’ve always wanted to go there and I felt like NOW was my chance.

The good news is, I could literally call Rebecca and tell her we were going to watch fireflies mate in Fulshear, Texas and she would be game. As long as we had a few days of freedom and each other – all was good.

We got into our fancy new rental car —  a bright red Dodge SUV. I took it as a good sign for the trip because red signifies power and love. Little did I know, the latter would become a running joke throughout our trip.

We plugged our destination into Google maps and I casually suggested we take the longer, more scenic route along the Pacific Coast Highway so we could see Santa Monica and Malibu. I wasn’t quite sure how Rebecca would react but she immediately replied, “Yes! Are you kidding me? I’m up for anything. We don’t have anywhere to be and nobody depending on us, so let’s do it!” Those few, yet profound words became the mantra of our trip — screw everyone who depends on us, we are in California, damn it!

We headed towards paradise and felt an easy energy take over. The song Take It Easy by the Eagles played in my mind:

Take it easy, take it easy.
Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.
Lighten up if you still can.
Don’t even try to understand.
Just find a place to make your stand
And take it easy.

We hadn’t talked much on the plane because I fell asleep. Any moment I can doze off, I take full advantage of because life feels a bit overwhelming right now. But we started to find our center and acclimate to the awe and wonder of our surroundings and began to catch up. We discussed kids, jobs, summer plans, etc.

As we drove through Santa Monica and then Malibu, the natural beauty was mind blowing. We fell silent as I’m not sure we could process what we were actually witnessing. Dramatic cliffs butting up to the crystal clear waters of the Pacific Ocean was a jaw dropping sight to see.

4seasons1We rolled the windows down, and as a slight breeze crept through the car, our conversation became giddy, uninhibited and hopeful. I felt overcome with excitement and an internal levity began to take over. I think it was actually hitting me that I had four full days of freedom — freedom from people, freedom from time, freedom from schedules, freedom from stress. In essence, freedom from MY LIFE.

We decided about half way through Malibu that we should stop and eat. We Googled restaurants and stopped at a place called V’s Restaurant and Bar. I suddenly realized that there was something quite liberating about the sequence of events that had just unfolded — we both were hungry, decided on a restaurant, and happily found ourselves sitting in an adorable place with a front row seat to incredible people watching in gorgeous Malibu. I kept thinking: this never would have happened with my family. Not everyone would ever be hungry at the same time, no one would have agreed on a place to stop, and we would have argued over where to sit and who’s sitting where at the table. 

Okay, it’s safe to say that Mama might need a break. I couldn’t help but feeling — is this real? This can’t be so easy. Elaine, you really do need a break. Has it been this long since you have felt this free?

We sat down, ordered a pizza and salad and people watched. We couldn’t help but notice that everyone just seemed at peace and relaxed with their mid-afternoon Sunday routine of heading to the beach with family and friends. Even the parents looked relaxed. There’s just this Ca-li-for-ni-A vibe that’s irreplaceable — a laid-back, effortless, sun kissed aura seems to pervade everyone’s spirit. I started to analyze it deeper and I wondered if being surrounded by such natural beauty all of the time heightens your senses and creates an internal glow and peaceful spirit. I also thought, there has to be also be a downside to all this, right? It can’t be this good.


flowers1To be perfectly honest, I don’t know a lot about California. I have fallen in love with it over the past several years because we visit Disneyland once a year primarily for my daughter. She’s obsessed with all things Disney. It’s her thing. She loves the rides, Mickey and Princess Elsa, and I love the freaking weather. Other than these fun, short trips, I don’t have much experience in California. But, as Oprah would say, I do know one thing for sure (well, maybe three things for sure): the weather, the natural beauty, and the relaxed atmosphere are incredible. If I do have any misconceptions about California it is mostly about the people. They can be somewhat aloof, even a tad shallow. That sounds harsh, but I have mildly experienced this from time to time.

I communicated my angst to Rebecca about it all, and how I was experiencing an inner conflict. I knew I loved California, but I really needed someone to help me hate it. She looked at me after listening to my inner turmoil and said, “I’m sorry E, but I totally get this whole California thing. I mean, seriously, how could you not be a little aloof and shallow. Look out there. I would be too!”

And then I thought, Californians can be this way because they are so consumed with the beauty of their surroundings that the people around them just block their view. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m a die-hard Texan and trust me as I sat in that Malibu chic pizzeria, I started to think about all the great things about Texas — we are friendly, we have great bullshit, and our Tex-Mex is killer, but being in the center of such beauty was too much to fight, so screw good bullshit, let’s surf.

flowersIf Texas is all about the people then Cali is all about its natural beauty. We finished our late afternoon snack telling ourselves that Houston really was an incredible city and place to raise our kids, but deep down we knew: these damn Malibuians have it SO DAMN GOOD! As I gazed off with a look of confusion on my face, Rebecca looked at me and bluntly said, “You know E, this will still be here tomorrow and these people will still be here when we leave, living this life of paradise and you and I will be in Houston sweating our asses off wishing we were people watching in Malibu.” Her moment of clever awareness annoyed me and I instantly responded, “I know, I get it. Let’s order another round.”

We continued our trek through paradise and as we drove through rural farm country, we knew we were getting closer to our exit for Montecito. I felt so excited. My heart was racing. I kept picturing Oprah on her Montecito estate interviewing spiritual gurus for her Super Soul Sunday show. I even got so desperate to think maybe we’d will see her. (I know, I’m pathetic.)

We took the exit for San Ysidro Road and began a drive up the mountain to Mecca. As we drove, I was struck by the beauty of manicured hedges, private pebble driveways and tropical, lush gardens — the bougainvillea was jaw dropping, the rolling mountain views — breath taking, the Mediterranean inspired homes — stunning. I do think the glorious combination of where the mountains meet the ocean is unique. It seemed like Hawaii and the French Riviera had a child and they named her Santa Barbara. I love you Santa Barbara. I was in Heaven.

We turned into the lane that leads us to the ranch and a lovely man greeted us at the gate. We quickly turned on the charm and acted as if we belonged at such a luxurious destination. I’m almost positive our red Dodge gave us away, but our nervous giggling and incessant head nodding compensated for our lack of occupying an overt, luxury vehicle. We arrived at the lobby and were given a water and a cookie.

The woman who checked us in was perfectly nice and professional. You know, she was nice enough but not overly nice. She was the perfect California employee, effortlessly accommodating without overdoing it. We were graciously escorted to our cottage. It was the perfect hideaway — quaint, private, relaxed, yet completely luxurious.

As we walked in, Rebecca noticed our names posted on the outside of the door, she looked at me and said, “I think they think we are a couple.” I blew her off and said, “No they don’t, I told them it was a girls’ getaway.” But as we walked inside and saw the champagne, chocolates and two robes laying on the romantic, mosquito netted canopy bed, I quipped, “Well, dear, what’s the plan for dinner?”

As you can imagine, the next few days began to magically unfold. We ate breakfast every morning  on our private patio, watching the hummingbirds feed and the butterflies flit. We had no schedule and turned our phones off as often as we could. We took naps in the late afternoon, had massages, window shopped, ate late dinners, and talked until one in the morning about God knows what.

With all this ease of living, I began to realize how much I missed ME, I missed HER, I missed THIS — just the two of us being together without restrictions on our time, without kids monopolizing our attention, without husbands telling us to get home, without work emails popping up in need of our reply. It was just us — two life-long friends being together without a care in the world relishing in the natural beauty around us and indulging in our own needs. It reminded me of college when our biggest stress of the day was deciding if we were going to El Arroyo or Abel’s for pre-party drinks? (GOD, take me back to El Arroyo!!)

This might sound woo-woo, self-indulgent or even narcissistic, but it’s how I felt and it felt real to me. I communicated my thoughts to Rebecca, and she pondered my words. I could tell she also seemed to be experiencing a mix of emotions. I know she too was feeling and thinking the same things, but the fact that I communicated it brings it into the light and this can create a timpani of anxiety that just sits right under the surface of our skin.

As moms we are trained to serve, we are trained to feel guilty, we are trained to NOT express our own needs, but I just did, and it opened Pandora’s box. She peacefully gazed at me and said, “Well, E, I think it’s true. I think maybe you and I didn’t realize how much we needed this, so I guess all we can do is try to take a piece of Santa Barbara back home with us.” I smiled and said, “It’s like we are both longing for peace, and we just need to figure out how to create more peace amidst the chaos of our daily lives.” We left it at that and enjoyed our last evening there together.

We headed to the airport the next morning and our trip home was not as smooth as our trip out there. It was probably destined to be that way to better prepare for the reality that lay ahead. Our armor began to thicken and adrenaline began to build. We checked our bags in the last minute of time allotted to do so and ran to the gate frantic, sweating and stressed. We barely made the flight back home, but once we sat in our seats in the back of the plane, we both started to laugh at how traumatic the day of travel had been.

We landed in Houston, and I can’t lie and tell you my re-entry into reality has gone smoothly. It hasn’t.  Those four days in paradise were a humble reminder for me to remember ME. I think visiting a place so serene, so beautiful and so carefree was a much needed reminder for me. I realized just how stressed out I am on a daily basis and how I need to bring more awareness to this reality. If we aren’t careful, we can unconsciously find ourselves in unhealthy dynamics and routines, and as much as I think I try, I need to try harder — more yoga and maybe even more wine. (Give me some grace here. I’m still trying to figure it all out.)

As I got back home and walked in the front door, I was desperately trying to hold it together and act like I was happy to be back. But I think those that know you well sense an unease. Marlie joyously ran up to me and hugged me tight and then said the universal, “Did you bring me something?” And my son Harrison, very casually and seemingly detached said, “Hey Mom, I missed you. Can I go to so-and-so’s house tonight. A few friends are getting together over there?” (Code for: I want to go to the party).

Well, what happened next led to a night of horror. I snapped back an ugly response, “Harry, can’t you just stop with your demands and chill out for one night?” Needless to say, he was shocked and told me how much he did not appreciate being talked to in that way to which I replied, “Ditto!” To save you the back and forth of what ensued, we ended up getting into a fight and he didn’t go to his party, and I didn’t unpack, and Marlie didn’t get to open her gifts and we ended up in a family meeting called by my husband, Jim.

I apologized, cried and then told them my feelings about how much I needed this break and how the trip had brought some things to light. I went on to tell them how I felt unappreciated, depleted and exhausted by them and my life. Don’t get me wrong, I adore and love my family but our situation is complicated. I run and own a business. I have a special needs child, a 16-year old teenage boy, a husband and a mother with stage four breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy treatment. I guess you could say I’m tired and maybe even a bit traumatized. The kids looked sad. But I felt good that we all communicated to each other and at the end of it, we ended up in one big group hug.

The next morning, I woke up determined to go through the day with peace and love emanating off my body. Of course I felt guilty about my behavior the night before, but my husband was being especially sweet sensing the vulnerability of the situation. I think most husbands are walking the fine line of doing all they can to mitigate the risk of the next big break down. I walked into the kitchen after going to a quick yoga class and there it was, a $7.00 hanging basket filled with beautiful pansies and a note that read:

Hi Honey,
I tried to find you a little Santa Barbara in Houston at Kroger today.
I hope this helps ease the re-entry process.
I love you, Jim

So the moral of the story is: Don’t get to where I was. Take care of yourself. Tune into what you need and create a sense of peace around you. Or, if all else fails, try to find a good husband.
E beach

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