Welcome to the Jungle

It all started almost a year ago when my friend Karin asked me to go to Costa Rica with her. I imagined sunny beaches and swim-up bars so of course I was into it.

Turns out she had something very different in mind. She sent me links to a website for Finca Bellavista, an eco treehouse community in the jungle. I have to admit…even though I had been all in for the beach, I wasn’t sure the treehouse in the jungle was for me. Because snakes. Especially since snakes are the first three horrible creatures on this list.

But I decided, in the spirit of trying new things and being adventurous, that I would do it. I would say YES to living life to the fullest and taking advantage of new opportunities. Also, at this time, the trip was about 9 or 10 months away so I had a TON of time before it actually happened so it didn’t even seem real.

And then January was here. We had both purchased hiking boots, 40L backpacks, and small daypacks for our epic journey. I was both excited and nervous.

We arrived at the Finca, which has a base camp including an office, a community center for serving meals, and “The Rancho” where people can hang out anytime of day and, more importantly, where they held the daily happy hour. Base camp is also the only place you can access Wi-Fi for any sort of connection with the outside world.

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Ready for action (or so I thought)

Our treehouse was about a 10 minute hike out from base camp and I was excited as we started the journey. But about 1 minute into said journey we encountered a sign that said, “Once you cross this bridge, you are in the jungle…” and included some warnings about making sure your ankles were covered every time you entered the jungle. Because, like I said before, snakes.

But I was still determined to be excited. And then I actually saw the bridge.

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It’s like the Indiana Jones bridge.

Um, ok. I took one step on it and felt it start to shake under my feet, so naturally I muttered (not really under my breath), “You have GOT to be kidding me!”

Once we got past the bridge I felt better. I was looking forward to checking out our treehouse and I wasn’t disappointed. It was beautiful, and had two balconies looking out into the jungle. Amazing.

We packed up our day packs and started to explore the jungle. We hiked to a beautiful waterfall first.

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OMG! It’s a beautiful waterfall in the jungle!

We explored the Finca’s garden and, while hiking along afterward, discovered these adorable dandelion-like plants that we dubbed “kerfloofs.”

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Hey look! Vegetables!

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Because what else could this be called besides a kerfloof?

Even though these things were technically “fun,” I unfortunately found my anxiety starting to ratchet up. While I was enjoying hiking the steep, crude trails, I found myself looking down at every single step I took, certain that if I didn’t I would step on a snake. Because snakes. In the meantime, I was mostly missing the beautiful views and scenery around me.

That first night, we went down to the Rancho to join our fellow adventurers for drinks and then dinner at the Community Center. One of the women we met looked at me and very pleasantly asked, “Would you like to see a pit viper?” To which I very pleasantly replied, “No, I would not.”

As we finished dinner, I suddenly realized why we had headlamps. We had to hike back to our treehouse in the pitch black.

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Headlamps: Not just a fashion statement

What was more, the pit viper woman and her husband were determined to show everyone “their” snake. I preferred to stand alone in the dark while a group of others went to see the snake. Just, no.

Every night as we made the journey back to our treehouse in the dark, I used both my headlamp and a flashlight and spent the whole time looking down at my feet for movement. Because (do I have to say it again?) snakes.

Karin or some of our newly-made friends were looking around for cool spiders, frogs, and toads. I was happy to stop and check them out.

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I am not at all afraid of spiders so I had no problem checking out this dude.

But guys, I’m going to be honest here. For the first day and a half that we were there, I was terrified most of the time.

So terrified, in fact, that when we were at base camp the second night I frantically texted my husband, telling him that I had made a terrible mistake in taking this trip and that I wanted to come home. This trip just wasn’t me and I was so afraid of the bridge, the jungle in the dark, and the snakes. Dear God, the snakes. (For the record, I had not yet seen a single snake but I just KNEW they were out there, waiting for me…)

My husband talked me down a little. Reminded me that I was brave and strong and that I COULD DO THIS. That I was already doing it!

He also reminded me that I was, in fact, on a vacation and that I should try and find some way to enjoy it despite my fears. He wisely told me that I could find a way to be ME and still be here. In the jungle. With the snakes.

So there was also to be zip-lining, and beyond snakes, I am afraid of heights. However, I have zip-lined before and it wasn’t so much about the heights as the fact that I didn’t really enjoy it.

I decided to be ME and let Karin know that I was choosing not to do it. So off Karin went, zip-lining solo while I relaxed at the Rancho and read my book. We both had a great time.

Things got much more fun after that; after I decided to make this trip more enjoyable for myself in any way possible. I borrowed some rubber boots from the Community Center and felt a lot better because, even if I stepped on a snake, my rubber boots would protect me.

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Rubber boots! This girl’s new BFF.

I can’t say I wasn’t still afraid after getting my snake-proof (sort of…at least that’s what I told myself) rubber boots. But it was so much easier to have fun after I got them.

I can’t say I ever stopped looking down at nearly every step I took. But I loved trudging through the river in my leaky rubber boots and exploring the beautiful jungle.

I can’t say I ever really came to enjoy the night hikes. But I came to realize and love the fact that this was a truly amazing, once-in-a-lifetime adventure that I was on.

We spent more time exploring, ate meals with some really cool people, cooked a few meals at our treehouse, and played a lot of Yahtzee (which I mostly lost. Don’t ever play Yahtzee with Karin–she is a pro.)

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Actual footage of me losing a Yahtzee game.

In the end, this was a beautiful and amazing trip with a beautiful and amazing friend. Despite my fears, I wouldn’t change a thing about it (especially since I didn’t see a single snake the whole time. Winning!)

I learned so much about myself and came to realize that I AM brave, because I do believe that there can be no courage if you are not afraid. Courage, bravery, is going on despite the fear. That’s exactly what I did and I am so proud of myself. I was terrified, but I pressed on and found a way to not only come to terms with the jungle, but to love being in it.

 

 

 

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Of Business Trips, Mom Guilt, and Airplane Bathrooms

I’m writing this on a plane home from a work trip to Phoenix. The guy in front of me has graciously reclined his seat so my computer is tilted at an unnatural angle and I can barely see what I am typing. My seat is located directly next to the bathroom and I swear everyone that goes in there is inexplicably flushing twice.

But I can’t complain too much because the middle seat in my row is empty and I love when that happens. It’s a nice place to put my phone, glasses and water bottle so I don’t have to keep awkwardly reaching under my seat to haul these things in and out of my backpack.

I also can’t complain because my trip was amazing.

I had never been to Arizona and I didn’t expect to love it there (snakes and such) but I did. It had a beauty I had never experienced before and the resort where I stayed for my company’s annual conference was absolutely gorgeous.

(Someone just double flushed again and now she is blowing her nose, in case you were wondering.)

I was also a speaker at the conference and I think I did all right. My initial comments—introducing myself and explaining just why in the hell I had the background to be considered an “expert” in content marketing—were a bit of a disaster. My hands were obviously shaking as I held the mike and my voice was noticeably trembly and high-pitched. As I realized how trembly my voice and hands were, I got even more trembly and high pitched, which was awesome.

It didn’t help that I was the first one to introduce myself, that I actually hate introducing myself in any detail besides my name, and having my boss and a ton of my colleagues in the room watching made the stakes even higher, at least for me.

But as the talk ramped up, I relaxed and got into my zone. The shakiness stopped and, as I watched the audience taking fervent notes as I talked, I became more confident that I was, indeed, an expert (of sorts) with some good information to share with them.

When it was over, the moderator (our Marketing Director) told me she hadn’t realized how much of the presentation she had placed on me but I handled it well, and my boss sent me a text congratulating me on “leading” the panel. I had several members of the audience come seek me out after the presentation and later in the day to let me know how much they enjoyed my talk and even asked a few more questions one on one.

In the end, I was proud of how I did.

Besides my presentation, I had great dinners every night with my colleagues and some awesome clients. I enjoyed the beautiful weather and the camaraderie of our team throughout the course of the conference.

I reveled in the solitude of my hotel room, with a huge king bed just for me and its own balcony looking out over some beautiful scenery of cacti, palm trees, and a pond with a bridge over it. I spent some time reading a book out there, slowly drinking my coffee…which I bought at the coffee shop that served Starbucks coffee and was only about 100 steps away from my room. (Bonus!)

(This just in—the person in front of me with their seat reclined is actually a woman in her 20s wearing a hoodie. I know this because she just went to the bathroom, and, in case you were wondering, she only flushed once. She has now kindly un-reclined her seat and I can see my computer screen clearly now.)

But guys, I didn’t write this blog to tell you about my lovely trip to AZ. (Well, I kind of did but there’s more.)

I wrote this blog mostly to tell you about how, as a mom and wife, I was sometimes guilt-ridden at leaving my family behind. My daughter didn’t help as, on the rare occasion I was able to call home at a decent hour given the three hour time difference and my busy conference schedule, she would say in a mournful voice, “Mommy I miss you sooooooo much.” (Cue knife to the heart)

I knew I was leaving my husband with a packed schedule that included ushering for me at church on Sunday, bringing Emma to her audition for Annie, waiting around for the furnace guy, taking Cooper to the doctor for a shot, and attending a cross country meet and a back to school Open House.

Because he has no flexibility at work, Drew had to take two days off to do all these things.

Then I was asked to stay an extra night in Phoenix following the closing of the conference to attend a “meeting of the minds” with some of our company leaders. I was honored to be invited and felt it was important for me to go.

I knew this was adding even more stress to my family because my husband would have to go in late to get Emma on the bus (after being off for two days) and Cooper would have to skip cross country practice to get her off the bus.

It has been extremely difficult for me to balance my enjoyment of my trip and my guilt at putting this additional stress on my family while I was gone.

I have often though that guilt is a useless emotion because all it does is steal joy, but this is easier said than put into practice, isn’t it?

But to me the statement still rings true, because what has this mom guilt served to do, anyway? In those guilty moments, all that happened was a diminishing of my enjoyment of a really great trip I took without my family.

It has been hard for me to grapple with this—I ENJOYED A TRIP WITHOUT MY FAMILY—and to me it goes back to the balancing act that women seem to face on a daily basis. I say this not to diminish the role that men play in day to day family life, but to point out my personal observation that women more often struggle with the guilt factor.

(Side note: another double flusher and I think I have figured out that most people seem to be flushing before and after they use the toilet. Mystery solved.)

It should be okay for me to go home and tell my family what a great time I had, but I will probably downplay that and instead focus on how much I missed them.

Don’t get me wrong, I did miss them tons and there were so many beautiful things to see that I wished at times they were there with me. But there were also plenty of moments when I was glad to be able to focus on work and enjoying my colleagues and a beautiful place without having to family multi-task.

I wore nicer clothes. I did my makeup full on and didn’t have to rush doing my hair or jump in and out of the shower because Drew was waiting to brush his teeth or hair and our bathroom is possibly the size of a shoebox.

I found the security checkpoint at the airport much less stressful than I usually do because I didn’t have to worry about being THAT FAMILY who holds up other travelers because the kids and all the stuff and the explaining to Emma that it’s ok to walk through the metal detector, because I swear I will be coming through right behind her.

I am enjoying this flight, the quiet and solitude to be able to write this blog uninterrupted. (Except, of course, for the constant stream of bathroom-goers.)

I am enjoying the time to myself and trying very hard to not feel guilty about that. (I am not always succeeding. Obvi.)

Because aren’t women always supposed to put their families first, often at the expense of themselves? I feel this pressure often and struggle with opportunities like this one to focus on me, on my career, and just the sheer joy of having some time to myself.

Time when I don’t have to worry about who’s done their homework, who has or has not brushed their teeth or hair, who is about to miss the bus if they don’t HURRY UP RIGHT NOW, or what activities are on the family calendar and how I am going to balance them with my work schedule.

It was like a vacation just for me. And I deserve to enjoy that.

Ultimately, I think the lesson here for me is that it’s ok to take time for myself guilt-free, even three days of stimulating and inspiring work in a beautiful resort setting with lots of great people and good food…and that I thoroughly enjoyed all these things even without my family.

Even as I write this I feel the guilt dissipating, and I will arrive home happy to see the people I love dearly. Because I did miss them, but it’s ok that I didn’t miss them every minute.

Another important lesson I’ve learned is that tons of people use the bathroom on an airplane and many of them are double-flushers, and generally speaking I’d probably prefer not to sit next to the bathroom again. So there’s that, too.