Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Stranger than Fiction

"This may sound like gibberish to you... but I think I'm in a tragedy."

For the last couple of years, I have tried to keep this blog as a place to share my travel stories and keep friends and loved ones in the loop on my life's random adventures. Although I used to use it to vent about my life's ups and downs, I had really strayed away from it. Some of this was a conscious decision... and some of this was because I was truly happy with the direction my life was headed. [Editor's Note: I'm still very happy with the direction life has headed. That said, and as you'll soon read, life has made it somewhat difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel lately.]

As some of you know, the last two months have been hard. I've had to say goodbye to new friends unexpectedly, experienced two surprising disappointments in my personal life, suffered from a horrible case of strep throat and the flu (from which I am STILL coughing), and recently learned that an ill family member's health has suddenly and rapidly declined. On top of this, I was summoned to jury duty, which led me on an unexpectedly emotional and draining journey that I haven't been able to shake for weeks. As a result, my sleep has suffered and I've been more emotionally distant from friends and loved ones than I have been in a long time. 

My family's story is one that you wouldn't believe if I told it to you. On paper, I look like the stereotypical middle class, white collar worker bee... steadily working at a corporate job and working to pay off debt and support her family. What you don't see on the surface, however, is the series of events and familial history that have shaped me into the rather strange woman that stands before you today. I don't talk about my family to a lot of people... not because I'm not proud to be part of my family, mind you, but out of respect for their privacy. I am incredibly (and somewhat frustratingly) loyal to my family - their lives have a direct impact on how I live mine. But my immediate family has experienced such enormous tragedy that I'm amazed that any of us are standing at all. And while I've kept this to myself for the most part, and revealed it only to a small circle of selected few... I have to get a bit of it off my chest. 

You see... what I didn't expect from jury duty was to find out how unusual my life story is from so many. After being summoned to jury duty, I was almost immediately selected to sit on the initial jury for a trial. During the group Q&A, the judge asked us a lot of typical jury questions... "Do any of us have conflicts that may exempt us from participating in this trial?" "Do we personally know the judge, the attorneys, or the accused?" "Have we ever served on a jury before?" After these questions, the judge got more personal, asking: "Have you ever been the victim of a crime?" raises hand "Has anyone in your family been the victim of a crime?" raises hand "Have you ever been accused of a crime?" whew - not me! "Has anyone in your family been accused of a crime?" raises hand

As I raised my hand to some of these questions, I was shocked to find that I was only one of two people (out of 17) that had been the victim of a crime, I was one of only two people whose family member(s) had been the victim(s) of a crime, and was the only one who had either been accused of a crime or had family members who had been accused of a crime. Really? Out of 17 people? I knew my family story was rare, but not THAT rare. I heard audible gasps from one of the attorneys and from the remaining jury pool as I listed the crimes that either I or my family had been the victim of: burglary, assault, kidnapping, robbery, rape, murder... When the judge asked me to list crimes committed by family members, I became even more shy as I described the cases I knew about, including drunk driving, drug trafficking, drug smuggling, assault... The attorneys and the judge took down lengthy notes as I listed this out, and I hung my head as I felt the eyes of every juror and person in the room watch me as I finished.

Later in the day, the attorneys took turns questioning random jurors... trying to evaluate whether each of us (or any of us) was worthy to sit on the jury for the trial. Most people got simple questions about their feelings on crime or police in general, and were asked about minor things that may be potential issues for this case. Each time a question was aimed at me, however, I felt as if I were on trial. I was asked very personal questions, and was asked to describe in great detail the cases I knew about where either myself or my family was the victim of a crime. The judge took note of this, and quickly asked if I would prefer to continue the Q&A in private - I happily accepted the offer. 

What ensued for the next 10 minutes (which felt like an hour) was a quick shootout of questions from both sides. I understood why they asked the questions, but I didn't expect them to make me feel the way that I did. I became so emotional that I had to choke back tears while describing one family member's trial in particular (where the family member was the victim in a highly publicized case back home), leading the judge to stop the questioning. I felt horrible. I was not trying to get excused from the jury, but I worried that they may think I was. I couldn't bring myself to even look the accused in the eyes... I felt like I had failed them (I have no idea whether or not they are guilty... I just felt like they deserved a good juror). 

I cried all the way home when I was finally excused/dismissed from the jury at the end of the day. I was exhausted, and I really just wanted to fly home to New Mexico to hug everyone in my family. On a day to day basis, I try to live in the moment and not focus on the past. Our past is too hard, and while I certainly don't forget what has happened, I don't think it does anyone any favors to wallow in what has happened to us. Life is a terrific gift, and every tragic moment is fleeting. Things can and do get better, so I always try to focus on that. 

Earlier tonight, a good friend of mine treated me to dinner and I told her a bit of this story. I revealed to her a bit of my family's history (stories of murder, suicide, cancer, and accidents), and was unsurprised when my friend said that she was shocked at how much my family has experienced. Heck, I think that if I were to write down each of these stories into a memoir, some of my best friends might not believe what they had read. That said... I know that there are people in the world who have experienced unthinkable tragedy and have suffered unbelievable loss. While my story is rare, it is not the worst I have ever heard. People are amazingly resilient creatures, and my family (and me myself) are a living testament to that!

Lately, I've been down in the dumps. I'm trying to focus on positive beginnings and direct my energy toward the future, but things keep happening that knock this optimism down a peg or two. In the last 10 weeks, however, I have re-discovered a love for the gym that I had long left behind in college. Although I had attempted to get back in the habit occasionally in the years since then, I had always given up and wallowed in work rather than mustering up the strength to move past it and dedicate my free time to my health and wellness. I'm not sure if it was the falling of the dominos in my life over the last couple of months that have forced me to rediscover my love for fitness, or if it is my body telling my heart that I need it in order to get through this moment in my life... but whatever it is, I'm glad to have found it again. Working out has been the therapy my body has so desperately needed... and I'm oh-so-glad to have it!

I know I dropped just enough bombs in this blog post to probably pique your curiosity and interest, but I do hope you respect my reasoning for keeping it intentionally vague enough so as to not violate my family's privacy. Someday, I hope to tell this story... I think it's one worth telling, and it may even help others feel less alone. But for the time being, this little (long) blog post was just the therapy that I needed. This... and the gym time I am already committing to tomorrow :) 

If you stuck with me through the end, kudos! And if you did stick through this and want to talk, just let me know. But please don't be offended if I don't share as much as you may want to know (also... don't be surprised if I tell you more than you expect!). Either way, I'll be happy to know you care :) So... thank you. I love y'all more than I love cake (and that's saying something from a fat kid like me... ha!)! 

Until next time...

--- Becks

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Sleepless... So Let's Blog About Seattle!

“She was back in western Washington state, where rain was so prevalent that a day of sunshine was the lead story on the local news.”  -- Susan Mallery, Barefoot Season

As much as I like to travel, Seattle never seemed to come up in my plans. I lived in hot, cloudy, rainy Houston back when I was in my traveling prime... why would I want to travel to cold, cloudy, rainy Seattle? That said... it was somewhere I had always wanted to visit. It just never came up. This changed in the winter of 2011 when my very good friend EP invited me to go with him for a weekend getaway! He had found an amazing deal online, and I would have been a fool to say no :) Sadly, EP's father passed away shortly before our trip and he understandably didn't go. I almost canceled myself, but I figured... when would I go again? So off I went for a quick trip to Seattle. No plans. No hotel. Just me.

Seattle was everything I expected it to be and nothing I expected it to be all at once. Yes, it was cold(ish), cloudy, and drizzly. But the rain here was nothing compared to the rain in Houston! I was warned of the infamous Seattle freeze... but people were surprisingly warm, friendly, and helpful. Having zero plans, I asked the hotel concierge (thank you, Hotwire!) for a recommendation on my first day. I was pleasantly surprised when he directed me towards the Olympic Sculpture Park on the north end of the seawall. I took a TON of pictures here (including the picture above of yours truly), but I will spare you those. Instead, I thought it would be fun to point out a fun fact I discovered while visiting this side of town. 

Just south of the park lies the Pier 70. This is the most northern pier on the Central Waterfront, and was home to The Real World's cast in season 7. The Real World had to get special permissions and make certain accommodations to allow the cast to reside there - residential development is actually prohibited on the harbor front, so they were only permitted to use it if they classified it as a 24 hour film set (which it technically was). It looks nothing like it did on the show, and I wouldn't have recognized it had my waitress at Waterfront Seafood Grill (now AQUA by El Guacho) not clued me in. The Real World: Seattle was famous for several things, but is most infamous for the slap heard around the world - when Stephen slapped Irene as she left the roommates (and the show) due to complications from Lyme disease. I won't embed the video, but if you're curious you can watch it here (note that the slap occurred roughly near where I was standing for this picture, and Irene's poor teddy bear met his fate in the water pictured above). 

Having had no car, I was limited in my tour of Seattle to areas I could walk to or take a short cab ride to/from. Since I wasn't terribly far, I decided to make my way next to the Space Needle. The Seattle Space Needle isn't the tallest building in Seattle, nor is it the oldest... but it's certainly the most famous attraction in town. I originally didn't care to visit it (I had many other sights I wanted to see, and only had a weekend to do it), but I eventually succumbed to the allure of the beautiful tower. I had to see it! The tower itself is stunning, and sits in beautiful and culturally interesting Seattle Center - site of the 1962 World's Fair. The views below are cool enough...

But the view from the top is AMAZING! I got to the top just before dusk and stayed until just after nightfall. Luckily, I had a good camera with me to capture the amazing view! Seattle is such a beautiful city and what better way to see it than from the top of the Space Needle : )

That evening, I met some friends from New Mexico that now live in Seattle for dinner. Oh, how I wish I could remember the name of where we went! It was fantastic! (Shameless plug: My friend has a terrific food blog based mostly in Seattle - check her out if you ever want honest reviews with great pictures! We then headed down to Post Alley where we tossed back a pint at haunted Kells Irish Pub! They also took me to see the famous (infamous?) Market Theater Gum Wall. Sadly (or not), I don't chew gum so I couldn't partake in adding to this display (although someone kindly added a bubble gum "B" on the window there... so weird). 

The next morning was my last in the Emerald City, so I woke up early and headed directly to Pike Place Market to do some shopping and grab a cuppa joe. Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously running outdoor markets in the United States. It's home to a number of local farmers's shops/stands, merchants, craftsmen, and the famous Pike Place Fish Market - home of the flying fish! (Warning - they are mighty proud of their fish! I'm sure it's great, but it was way pricier than on the gulf coast. I was so surprised!) Pike Place Market is a wonderful place to spend a morning. I loved the sights, the street entertainers, and the conversations with locals and tourists alike.

Now, I love me some coffee and I know there are probably better coffee joints in Seattle than Starbucks... but how can you not go to the "Original" Starbucks while you're at Pike Place? (Note: Soooo... not the original Starbucks, but close enough. The original was actually a couple of blocks away on Washington Ave, but that building was razed so I guess the Starbucks guys figure this is close enough). To my knowledge, the Original Starbucks is the only place that still has the original logos and furnishings and is the only place you can buy merchandise with the same. Of course, I had to buy my very own Original Starbucks mug, which I'm drinking tea from as I'm typing this post! Haha!

I ended my trip with a short jaunt on the Seattle-Winslow ferry to Bainbridge Island. As a longtime fan of Grey's Anatomy, I always loved the scenes that they did on the ferries. Hey, I'm a desert kid... ferries are cool and unusual to people like me! And it was a steal of a deal - a really inexpensive way to see the entire Seattle skyline while visiting an outlying community sans car. (Another note: I've made it a habit to always look for interesting ferries in cities I visit since living in Houston. They're a great way to explore! Best one to date? The NYC-Staten Island Ferry. Easily the cheapest and easiest way to see the Statue of Liberty! Ha!). But as with all good trips, they eventually come to an end and I left the ferry back on the Seattle side of the Puget Sound and headed directly to the airport. This trip completely changed my mind about Seattle, and it quickly became one of my favorite cities! I can't wait to go back again :)

I have more pictures from my second, more recent trip to the Emerald City, but I figure this post is probably long enough! So with that, I bid you a temporary adieu... Hope you enjoyed the pictures!

Until next time...

--- Becks

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Adios, 2014

Happiest of New Year wishes to you!!!

Hello, my lovely friends. I hope each of you is having a much happier and healthier start to 2015 than I am today! I started mine very sick and spent the majority of the last 48 hours in my bed. Boo hiss. That said - I can't complain. I'm lucky to be off from work, so I don't have to worry too much about being anywhere or doing anything for a few more days. 2014 was a very good year. No year is perfect, and my year had plenty of ups and downs... but all in all, I had a pretty fantastic year. I predicted in my last new year post that 2014 would bring a lot of change in my life... and it did. But 2015 is already primed to bring even more change, and I can't wait! But before I dive straight into the new year, I figured it would be good to review the last twelve months.

Ordinarily, I break the year down month by month, but this post would simply be too long if I decided to do that. Instead, I thought I would highlight some key events and milestones. I know I've been terrible about giving attention to this blog... maybe 2015 will be the year that Blogger Becks is back! Guess we'll see... Anyway, let's begin!

While many, many, many people visited in 2013, only one long distance friend came to visit in 2014 - my BFF. If you follow my blog, you'll remember she was last out here visiting during a work trip in August 2013. We had so much fun on that visit, I was excited she was willing to come back for a Dodger game in 2014. We packed a lot in to her short four days here, introducing her to friends both locally and down in Los Angeles, eating our way through Southern California (sushi, italian, and Bottega Louie - oh my!), and enjoying a lazy day in Santa Barbara. I was supposed to end my year with her in Denver, but had to cancel my flight at the last minute due to illness - don't worry... I'll make it up to you in 2015!

AG and I became friends at a mutual friend's wedding in 2013. We've been pretty inseparable ever since! She was my constant event companion throughout the year, and I can't wait to tackle more adventures with her in 2015. Some of our adventures in 2014 included her birthday tour of LA, many trips to Bottega Louie and Cat & Fiddle Pub, a Dodgers game with the BFF, Hollywood hopping, MANY celebrity encounters, film location stalking, museum visits to the Grammy Museum, FIDM, and LACMA, a cruise, trying to discover the city's best latte, Halloween stalking, and the lighting of the trees on Christmas Tree Lane. I'm sure there are many more events I'm forgetting to mention, but we had a blast! 

In June, my company sent me to a business conference in MontrĂ©al, QC, Canada to both take an exam and attend some board meetings for our professional industry association (of which I was the president in 2013/14). What a fantastic treat to go to MontrĂ©al! And as a bonus - I got to visit with my longtime friend Caroline while I was there! You can read a bit about my visit in this blog post - I still need to write a post about the beautiful churches. Give me time. Sigh.

For a girl that loves theme parks, I don't nearly go as often as I could... but 2014 gave me the opportunity to do a bit more of that. One of the teams I support invited me to do a team building activity at Universal Studios Hollywood in early 2014, where we competed against colleagues to make films depicted famous scenes from various movies. It was a blast! Over the summer, my colleagues were invited to go to Disneyland for a different team building experience. It was so fun watching my coworkers and friends act like kids at the happiest place on earth. A cancelled flight serendipitously led to another adventure in Disneyland in December when I met up with one of my best friends in Anaheim as she was visiting for the holiday from New Mexico. So much fun! I'm a lucky girl :)

Fall brought another visit to our west coast industry association conference, only this time it was held in Vegas. Now anyone that was around me knows this was something I was NOT looking forward to. It was being held on my birthday, and the last thing I wanted to do was spend my birthday working. But... we ended up having a blast! I played golf with several good friends, met a wonderful couple from England who were on their honeymoon, had the BEST view of the Bellagio fountains from my suite (see top right), and spent my birthday with my good friend enjoying a dinner at Serendipity and a Britney Spears concert the next day! This will teach me to not be such a sour puss - I need to be more grateful for things in 2015. For real. 

November brought me on my first cruise ever - AG and I joined friends from work to cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada, Mexico! It was a very short cruise, but a vacation I desperately needed. I hadn't been that unplugged from life and work in a very long time. It was lovely! If you haven't done a cruise, I highly recommend it. This little three day cruise was the perfect way to see if you have the sea legs to handle a longer cruise in the future. I can't wait to go on another one!

I packed so much in 2014, I can't even begin to cover everything. My sweet friend EB allowed me to tag along with her to so many fun events this year, including a special winemakers dinner by Madorom and a tour of both Getty museums - the Getty Center and the Getty Villa. I also got to squeeze in a trip to Albuquerque to visit some of my best friends from college - the visit was short and sweet, but I enjoyed it just the same. (I also used the time to do some film stalking of one of my favorite TV shows - Breaking Bad! You can read about it here, here, and here.) Lastly, I also got to meet a bunch of really cool girls thanks to a little show called The Mindy Project. These girls have been great friends and confidants over the year, and I really appreciate them!

Alas, I couldn't make a year end appreciation post without thanking my family. We have had a very rough year full of a lot of loss and trials that some would find unsurmountable. The strength of my siblings and my parents will never cease to impress me, and I pray every day that they have the strength to overcome the challenges that lie in front of them. I love them to pieces, and wish them the best of every happiness this life has to give. I miss them terribly, and hope that they'll visit me in California in 2015.

There were a couple of things not pictured that I really wanted to brag about for a minute... and since this is my blog, I'll do just that. As I mentioned before, 2014 was primed to be a year of great change... and while I always leave statements like that fairly vague, I thought I should clarify what a few of those changes actually were. The biggest change was not so much a change as an accomplishment. I paid off my near $50K in student loan debt in September of this year. I paid it 100% on my own, with no government, employer, or family support. I am SO proud of that feat! I also passed my certification exam for my profession, making me one of only 5,000 people in the country to have earned this designation. And the changes I can't mention? Well, let's say that something has changed that has allowed me to grow (and will continue to allow me to grow) as a person from here on out. I'm free to do things now that I haven't done in a long time, and I don't remember when I last felt this good (aside from this stupid flu I'm currently fighting - blech). The Becks many of you knew in college is slowly coming back, and I can't wait for more people to get to know her (instead of the overworked, overstressed post-college Becks that many of you have regrettably tolerated for so long). So, onward and upward as we head into 2015! May it be my and your best year yet!

Until next time...

--- Becks