Only in Montecito (Or, Still Finding My Hedonist/Blowhard/Narcissist Self in California)

So I’ve been silent on this blog ever since my Thanksgiving manifesto declaring my intention to stop being such a narcissist.

But I didn’t say anything about giving up Hedonism, did I?

Thank God.

Hubby and I spent most of this week celebrating our eighth wedding anniversary (and ten years together) at the Four Seasons (Biltmore) in Santa Barbara.  It’s one of our favorite places when we decide to indulge a little — even our dog, Tasha, knows it’s far better than any Marriott.  Plus, there’s an excellent dog beach right in front:

dog beach in Santa Barbara in front of the Four Seasons

Sometimes the best breaks are close to home (two hours away in this case).  Such trips are generally easier, often cheaper, and usually safer.  You may recall that on our original honeymoon in 2004, Hubby and I managed to avoid the tsunami in Phuket by a single day simply because my brother-in-law “happened to” gift us with an extra night in Bangkok on our way there.

Luck was with us on this anniversary trip too.

Since the resort was half empty after Thanksgiving, we were able to upgrade to a suite nearly half the size of our house:

our suite at the Four Seasons, Santa Barbara

They even gave us welcome champagne and cute little anniversary treats after every meal:

anniversary treats at the Four Seasons

And don’t get me started on the food and wine … Santa Barbara is just far enough north to “get” wine country cuisine.  The sea bass at Tydes was divine.

Okay, this is starting to sound like one of those blog posts we’ve all seen too many of: “Look at me … my life is perfect.  Don’t you wish you were ME?” (There’s that blowhard narcissist voice again …) 

Speaking of which, I actually did have my first ever obligatory SoCal beachfront photo shoot while we were there.  And I have to apologize to all the models I’ve ever scoffed at; it’s nowhere near as easy as it looks:

Kate's first beachfront photo shoot in Santa Barbara

I’m also a little annoyed that I look so short next to Hubby:

Kate & Scott's eighth anniversary photo

(I’m 5’8″ but am used to wearing platform stilettos to get closer to Hubby’s 6’4.”)  But I digress yet again.

So why am I writing this?  I’ve spent eleven years in California now, and this place is as seductive as ever.  I try not to be too shallow.  I really do.  But sometimes, five star treatment really does feel nurturing and healing.  If you fully live in the moment and truly appreciate it, that is.  I sometimes have to remind myself that:

More is more, but plenty is more than enough.

A few years ago we met a very rich, very miserable woman on a Crystal Cruise.  She actually lived full-time in the boat’s presidential suite, but still kept a penthouse  residence at the Four Seasons in Sydney, even though she was never there.  In fact, she proudly informed us of the exorbitant amount of money she had once refused when Mick Jagger wanted to rent her home for a week.  Whereas many would be happy to rub shoulders with celebrity, all she could do was complain the hotel had deigned to approach her with the offer.

The more some people have, the more they bitch

I’m certainly not exactly low maintenance either, but lately I find myself getting sentimental and tearing up nearly every day over all the beauty in life.  All I feel like doing is kissing the earth I walk on and giving thanks.  Life isn’t perfect — our kitchen still needs to be renovated, I’m getting more wrinkles, I’m still childless and jobless, the budget isn’t always balanced, I still have MS, my vision is getting worse — but it’s still MY life.

And Life is a Gift.

December 21 is less than three weeks away now.  If it really were the End-of-the-World, I could honestly say I’ve lived an exquisitely beautiful life.  Indulging in places like the Four Seasons from time to time is not so much what has made this so, but I view such trips as more of an affirmation that life is here to be savored and enjoyed — even if this means stretching the budget sometimes.

In my experience, not all healing is physical.

So the photos are not so much to show you how great my life is, but to document and remind myself of this.  The shots I like the best are not even the ones people would call “pretty” but the ones where I just look happy:

Kate laughing outside the Biltmore Four Seasons in Santa Barbara

You don’t need to stay at the Four Seasons (although I recommend it!) to appreciate the little things in life.  (Like those five bottles of L’Occitane verbena lotion I lifted from our suite ...)  Notice and give thanks for the big things too:

Like going through life with the person you love.

Hubby probably needed this trip even more than I did.  He’s been traveling for 15 weeks straight now, and this is the first truly “low stress” break we’ve had for a long time. So I can’t really blame him for being slightly careless on this trip.  When we went to dinner on our last night in Montecito, he accidentally left his front car door wide open the entire time … with his iPad sitting in plain view on the driver’s seat.

Pierre Lafond Wine Bistro in Montecito

Pierre Lafond’s Wine Bistro in Montecito

This being Oprah’s hometown, no one bothered to steal it.  (Or the car, for that matter.)

Only in Montecito.

So, yes, we’re still incredibly lucky.  And spoiled.  And blessed.  And I hope you realize that SO ARE YOU.

—-

Question:  What little (or big) indulgences help you to affirm your life is beautiful?

I want a divorce!

Time is running out until 12/21/12, and I’m forcing myself to face some pretty large issues I’ve been in denial about for a very long time.  The truth is, things just aren’t working the way they used to.

I want a divorce.

I want a divorce! 

But not from my husband.  I hate to admit this, but I think it’s high time to divorce …

MYSELF.

I wish I meant this figuratively, but I’m afraid it’s literal this time.  You see, back in 2008 at one of the many personal development seminars I got caught up in, we all participated in a wedding ceremony where we actually married ourselves.  Of course this event was no different from most — 99% of the participants were single women looking to find themselves.  I suppose that’s why no one bothered to ask me if I objected to polygamy.  (Hubby was raised Mormon, so I guess he had this coming.)

But I’m tired of me.

And I want a divorce.  Today is Thanksgiving, and as I reflect on all of my many blessings I wonder what is truly going on in the personal development world.  Why all the constant striving to be, do, and have more?  Can’t we just be happy with and truly appreciate what we already have?

As Joan Ocean writes in Dolphin Connection, “So often we no longer see the planet’s beauty … the absence of gratitude in our world results in the demise of our planet.  Expressing heartfelt gratitude is one of our intrinsic purposes, a sacred responsibility.”  Speaking of which, I am extremely grateful to be where I am today, surrounded by beauty near my in-laws’ home in Rancho Mirage:

Rancho Las Palmas with Scotty and Tasha

Rancho Las Palmas with Scotty and Tasha

We even enjoyed smoked salmon and mimosas on the golf course this morning:

Mimosa and smoked salmon on the golf course

Life is good.

Darn good.

So why do I keep striving for more?  I’ve even committed to attending a workshop in Hollywood next month called Orgasmic Wealth.  (Ok, that’s not the real name, but it’s awfully close.  Just don’t want to defame anyone here.)  It’s one of those self-actualized woman things.  You know the pitch: just use your feminine powers and the Law of Attraction.  Relax, learn to receive, delegate more, work less, and the money will magically flow into your life.  Rock your purpose. Change the world.

And we’ll all be Wealthy, Wonderful, and Wise

As long as you pay $50,000 for a high vibrational mentor to “coach” you.  (Non-refundable.  Because of course if you fail, this is your fault.) 

(Shoot, there’s that pesky sarcasm again ...)

According to Debbie Lachusa we’ve become a culture of success addicts, and  narcissism rates are exploding about as fast as the obesity epidemic.  Just look at FakeBook and the proliferation of self-absorbed blogs like this one.

ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME. ME.

Even typing that last line felt icky.

So I’m off to spend time with others.  My family.  And I hope you are appreciating yours.  Yes, I’ll be back to blog about my travels soon, and maybe even give you the inside scoop on the orgasmic wealth event, but today I would really rather hear about YOU.

—–

What are doing today to celebrate Thanksgiving?  And what are you grateful for?  Do you ever feel like I do, that you just want to relax and stop trying to improve everything all the time?

What to Do When Your Guru Wants You to Scratch Her Butt (or, What Living YOUR TRUTH Might Look Like?)

Despite all the sarcasm I’ve been guilty of on this blog, it appears I’ve finally met a Guru I have complete faith in …

Vista - my guru is a horse!

The only problem?  She wants me to scratch her butt:

Horse butt

I’ve been away from blogging this week because I’ve been too busy attending an Equine Therapy retreat with my Mother at a dude ranch in Tucson, Arizona.

Kate with Horses at Tucson's White Stallion Ranch

The trip was titled Reconnecting to Truth Through Horse Wisdom.  Before attending, I had little idea of what this meant, as I’ve never owned a horse and have ridden only a handful of times in my life.  I came into the week with few expectations, but the brochure promised to “compel [me] to reconnect with the truth of who [I am] through the mirror of the horse” and that the horse would “[provide] instant, non-judgmental feedback, reflecting back to [me my] inner-landscape and how [I move] through the world.”

In other words, the horse would definitely see through all my BS and give it to me straight.

Shit.

So I came prepared, armed with pockets full of sugar cubes and big bags of organic carrots and apples.  (Surely horses are amenable to bribery too?)  

I should have known better.

Even getting to the ranch should have alerted me to the fact that my usual way of being in the world was not going to work here.  As usual, I got a little lost trying to find the White Stallion Ranch.  I had driven six hours to be here, and somehow managed to make at least three wrong turns in the last ten minutes of the drive.  We were going to be late, and I was just a tad frustrated.

Fortunately, a friendly Arizona guy on a motorcycle offered to help. 

In exchange for giving me directions, he invited me to either: 1) donate $206 to the Grand Canyon State coffers, or 2) attend traffic school (a bargain at $185).  He claimed I was driving 47 in a 35 zone.  (But can’t you see I’m lost?  I didn’t see the sign.  Everyone else is going the same speed …)  But for the first time since I was twenty-two,

There was no way to sweet talk my way out.

But what does getting a speeding ticket have to do with horses?  There is a saying that the way a person does one thing is the way she does everything.  Perhaps if I could use this week to improve my communication with the horses, my communication with people would improve as well?

Kate & Pallomino - we blondes have to stick together!

We blondes need to stick together …

The first horse I gave a sugar cube to nearly knocked me over later begging for more, and the second spit it out in disgust at my feet.

So much for bribes. 

And the horses didn’t appear to like excuses or prolonged explanations either.  They just wanted us to be real.  Without giving away too much of what happened at the retreat or breaking any confidences, I can say it was a week full of physical, spiritual, and emotional breakthroughs for all nine of us who came together from across the country.  Here are just a few of the healings I witnessed:

We saw a horse come running to a woman who feared she would be less lovable by setting healthy boundaries, a horse roll in the dirt in pure ecstasy at the feet of a woman who expressed her desire to live in the moment, a horse walk away to test the faith of a man who strongly wanted to believe he is a child of God, a horse comfort a grieving woman by nuzzling her heart and head, a horse stand between another woman and her observers to block their opinions from harming her, several horses neigh in unity to confirm a man’s desire to collaborate more with others, a horse show another woman how to gracefully accept acknowledgement and applause, a horse help a woman express who she is by only coming close when she stated her real truth.

And my horse?  She made clear she wanted me to scratch her butt right after I confided to her my aspirations to become a writer.  It would be SO easy to just laugh this off (my normal way of being in the world), but as another participant pointed out:

If you’ve got an itch, scratch it.

In fact, the horse seemed perplexed when I asked her for permission to write about her.  It was as if she were saying, “Why do you need to ask?  If you want to write about me, go ahead.”  It seems to me that we spend an awful lot of agony asking the world for permission to pursue the desires we keep safely hidden away in our hearts.

A horse would never do this.

Here are a few more things I learned from the horses:

  • If your mind, heart, and spirit are not aligned, a horse knows it.
  • A horse isn’t interested in excuses.
  • Horses live in the present moment.
  • Horses are incapable of lying.
  • A horse won’t pay any heed to your inner critic.
  • A horse knows you can do a lot more than you think you can.
  • Horses do not understand why we ever do anything that isn’t living our truth.

And there’s plenty more.  (To be continued, soon …)

—-

Question:  What lessons have you learned from the animals in your life?  How much do you think animals understand?  Do they know things we do not?

Politics and Family in the Land of Beer, Brats and Cheese …

Barack Obama consults his campaign itinerary and looks at my little brother.

“How the heck do you pronounce the name of this place?”

My brother pauses for a moment, and decides to answer with candor:

“Well, white people pronounce it “Ruh-SEEN.  Black people say “RAY-seen.”

Barack gets that slightly puzzled look we’ve all seen so often now on TV.

“Ok, thanks.  That’s … helpful.”

The town President Obama and my brother were referring to is Racine, WI.  It’s about 65 miles from Janesville (the ostensible home of Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan) and roughly 40 miles from where I’m sitting right now.  (Little Bro is not currently in politics, but was the former WI governor’s press secretary during Obama’s 2008 campaign.)

Hubby and I have been spending this week at a lakefront McMansion in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.

I had nearly forgotten how peaceful Midwestern summers can be.

Powers Lake - view from house (Lake Geneva, WI)

view from the McMansion

The only catch? (besides the mosquitos)

We’re sharing the house with my entire family — all 15 of us (including five flaxen haired little monsters children).  If this were a reality TV show, it would be some strange combination of The Simpsons, Family Feud, Survivor, and Yo Gabba Gabba.

The adventure starts with our drive from Chicago’s O’Hare airport to the Flatlander-Cheesehead (Illinois/Wisconsin) border at about 10pm Tuesday night.  Hubby is famished, but I am morally opposed to (and physically disgusted by) fast food.  We see few other options.

Right after we pass another vetoed McDonald’s, Hubby spots his mecca:

The Brat Stop in Kenosha, WI

He slams on the brakes and does a U-turn.  I whine a little as we swerve into the parking lot, but what can I really do?  We’re in Wisconsin, and avoiding bratwurst and cheese here is like going to Italy and trying to stick to a carb free diet.

If you’re not from the area, you may not realize that “brat” is not the term used for high maintenance housewives and spoiled children; in Wisconsin it’s pronounced BRAHT and is shorthand for “bratwurst.”

We enter the Brat Stop and I’m immediately transported back to my high school days.  Every appetizer on the menu is deep fried (how many ways can you fry cheese?), the beer choice is seemingly unlimited, and house wine (the only available option) costs just $4.50 a glass.

The bar is humongous with at least a dozen large screen TVs blasting the day’s sporting news.  Most of the guys sport baseball caps and tattoos; all drink beer.  The woman next to me must weigh about 300 pounds, which would stand out pretty much anywhere — except for here.  In the restroom, a poster of one of the place’s most loyal patrons (think Norm from Cheers) pleads for donations to help cure his liver and bowel cancer.

And yet … the place is packed.  Late on a Tuesday night.  People keep eating their brats and deep fried cheese.

Hubby enjoys his brat.  I steal a few potato chips and stick to my house Chardonnay.  I’m actually quite enjoying myself (I feel so thin here!), and am tempted when Hubby offers to buy me a souvenir t-shirt.

But somehow, even though I’m rapidly approaching Cougar-dom, I can’t quite bring myself to wear a shirt promoting myself as a “Brat Stop.”  (And I can’t help but wonder if Senate candidate Todd Akins would link the wearer of such shirt to an “illegitimate rape” should a guy take advantage?)

The next day, back at the McMansion, the plumbing goes out.  Nothing brings a family together more quickly than having to work out an emergency toilet plan.  Brother-in-law does the only sensible thing and hightails it back to Chicago, leaving my sister and their baby to fend for themselves.  My two brothers and their families quickly disappear too, leaving poor Mom to nurture Sister through her crisis-of-the-day.  No one knows where Homer Simpson Dad went.

Hubby and I do the only thing we can think of to help: we buy a bunch of wine and host a tasting for the family. By the time the plumbers finally arrive to pump the family sludge out of the basement, we are all buzzed and happy again.

I don’t know if our actions were correct, and I really doubt that blogging about my relatives will endear me to them.  But what I do know is this: families are complicated, complex, and messy.  Even for those of us with “happy childhoods” and “fully functional” adult relationships.  (Tolstoy was wrong?)  Our families force us to face again and again all those issues we convince ourselves we’ve left in the past.

But for those of us who are lucky, our families are the people who know us the best in the world and hold up the clearest mirrors.  In most cases, our families didn’t choose us and we didn’t choose them — and for me, that makes the love I feel for my relatives the most remarkable gift of all.  They know I don’t eat “brats” and that I’ve been a “brat” in one way or another most of my life.

Somehow we manage to love each other, warts, scars, and all.

But I haven’t finished the Obama story.  “So which pronunciation of Racine did Obama choose? The black or the white? ” I ask my brother.

My brother didn’t remember (or wouldn’t tell me).

——-

Question:  Which pronunciation of “Racine” would you have chosen in Obama’s situation?  Do you feel that getting along with your family is similar to politics?  Have you ever gone on vacation with your family as an adult?  Tell me all about it …