Variety is the Spice

Two Girls' Quest to Taste the World

4 Countries & A Wedding: Europe 2012

by Jane Moneypenny

10 days. 4 countries. 6 cities. 1 wedding.

Traveling will always be my sanity and therapy. I’m my best self when I’m backpacking through the world. At that point, I’ve done everything I can in preparation for the trip so if anything goes wrong, it’s out of my control and I can only smile and roll with the punches. If only real life could be the same way.

With that said, I’m never ever backpacking with newbies again. Or at least ones that didn’t do research beforehand. I took for granted that they were ready, but when one of your travel partners takes out her phone at the London airport in attempt to text home, you know it’s going to be a long trip of babysitting. Although she never once complained or whined, she was unaware of what country we were in most of the time, it seemed. Perfect manicured nails, face full of heavy makeup, heeled boots (?!). Between her and the 23-year old that overpacked clothes and then proceeded to buy three “das boots” in München, I was exhausted by the end of the trip. I emailed my favorite European travel partner and told her I was never going there without her again.

I came home to my apartment bathroom and kitchen still being renovated and a thousand fruit flies. Ah, real life, what a slap in the face.

But it’s going to be okay. Because I just got to eat delicious fondue and drink hot chocolate on Luzern’s snowy Mount Pilatus, fall in love with the incredibly efficiency of Swiss transportation and breathe in the fresh air of the Alps. Biking around Interlaken was such a treat.

Interlaken Lake Brienz

Interlaken Lake Brienz

I witnessed one of my dearest friends have her German wedding in a little church on a hill in Lörrach and hug her when her tears fall at missing her father, who died a day after her American wedding two years ago. Although I didn’t understand a single word during the ceremony (nor did she), I felt my heart swell at what a wonderful husband she’s found.


View from a hill on Lörrach

München was more than I thought it would be. The food was delicious (although, really, these four countries need to work on their vegetables and fruit offerings) and the history was fascinating.

Neuschwanstein Castle

Neuschwanstein Castle, inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty

Vienna was freezing cold and raining. The Austrian National Library was one of the biggest highlights; too bad we couldn’t actually browse the stacks! One of the first things we heard getting off the train was, “Don’t worry, this number is unlisted.” Intrigue! Also, really giant delicious wiener schnitzel!

Austrian National Library

Geeking out at the Austrian National Library

And Budapest, perhaps my favorite. It held that feeling of old world and mystery and everything I love about travel. While the three other girls seemed shocked at how different it was from Switzerland, I found beauty in the architecture and graffiti.

Buda Hill

On Buda Hill, overlooking Pest

So I return to a chaotic apartment, a job I still hate and a slightly still broken heart.   But it’ll be okay, right? Just have to believe in myself and all that jazz.


Vulnerability and Shame

by Jane Moneypenny

Vulnerability is not weakness…Vulnerability is the our most accurate measure of courage.

 Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame” (TED)

A week and a half later, I’ve returned back to a fairly normal Jane. Or at least faked myself into believing it. The tears are hopefully long gone, which is a relief to a non-crier like myself. The sadness lingers lightly, the hurt dances quietly in my chest, and the anger has mostly disappeared. The cycle of sadness, anger, regret, guilt and empowerment is a vicious one, isn’t it?

After days of over thinking and introspection, I’ve come to the realization that it was never about what he did, as disrespectful and cruel as it was, or the fact he saw me as only a friend in the end. These painful things, I know I’ll get over in a few weeks as time goes on. What really bothers me was how I presented myself in the short time we dated, especially at our last talk when I made the choice to walk away from a friendship.

I was nothing but myself, but I was perhaps my best self: nice, sweet, friendly and open-minded. He may have never saw all of me: the girl with the notorious dirty jokes, the almost mean quick wit and the ability to dance and have fun without drinking among the drunkards. But when has this become about “Win the Guy”? I have to let that go.

When I get past that, I’ll have to get one the true heart of the matter: vulnerability. When he left a long rambling voicemail apologizing, should I have not called back an hour later? Should I have waited for days? Should I have not gone over that night, exclaiming I didn’t want this in my life another day? Why didn’t I just confront him angrily and spitefully, taken my things with forcefully angry curses? Why did I have to emotionally throw up a mixture of angry, hurt, sadness and worst of all, vulnerability?

In the moment, I wanted to get every feeling, thought and ache out, so I spewed it to him, knowing I would never get a chance to say these things to him again. How many times have I hated the lack of closure and never getting the chance to express myself to the person that injured me? This was my chance! Then why did I feel so upset at myself days later?

I was angry because I lost the emotional advantage. I was vulnerable in a time that I thought I should have been Empowered Female. I gave him too much in the end. That loss of control sent me into deja vu into the old me, the girl that was in a very stupid emotionally abusive relationship for too long of her formative years. I had worked so hard to not be that girl anymore and for a split moment, I was back in that spot.  Even after I cried in front of my friends for the first time, I felt ashamed and embarrassed.

In the words of my friends, “Why are you not being a Jane fan? You’re being a Sean fan! Be a Jane fan!” Isn’t that the lesson I’ve been struggling to learn and remind myself all these years? How many friends (and blog readers) have pushed me to attract the positive and what I deserve? It’s why I packed my life with travel and hobbies and friends and a life worth living.

“There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”

Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability” (TED)

Logically, I understand the theory. Mentally, I’ve never been able to fully believe in it. Do I miss Sean? So much. Sometimes the ache knocks the breath out of me. But in the moment that I walked out the door and said I no longer wanted him in my life, I put myself first for once. In two days, I’ll be putting myself first in a fabulous European backpacking trip. It’s a start.

“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Law of Attraction or Something

by Jane Moneypenny

The power of positive thinking and attracting what you believe in have always been mantras people throw at me. I laugh, nod and admit that I half-believe in it because I always seem to attract the negative on my life. For whatever reason that no one can comprehend, I can’t seem to think positively for too long. I default to realism due to fear of getting hurt or disappointed. Low expectations = no disappointment.

“No, you think like a realist, but you act like an optimist, which means, you’re probably a closet optimist,” one friend claims. She’s right. I know the relationship wasn’t going to work, but I continued forward in some optimistic cloud.

“STOP saying these things out loud, Jane! Your record is ridiculously dead on. I’ve never known you to be wrong when you say something will happen, especially with men,” another friend exclaims when I call her distraught.

She’s right. My predictions are always eerily dead on. The night of the incident that ended it all, I jokingly said it would happen thirty minutes before it happend to my friend Dan. Tonight, while out with Dan again, we mused how strange it was that I predicted the exact situation.

“I hope to God I don’t see him out tonight. But I will because I’m with you again and Austin is tiny and everyone’s out.”

Thirty minutes later, I spot him in a crowd of hundreds across the street on a corner alone. I stopped breathing and felt like I got punched in the stomach as he turned around to avoid me. He may have never realized I saw him first or maybe he did and turned around because he knows I don’t want to see him. Whatever the case, I could feel myself meet a wall of pain, replaying the incident in my head on repeat. This is the first time I’ve had such a finality to a relationship. In the past, I’ve stayed friends or had some kind of connection through other friends, work or indirect situations. Seeing him made me sad and miss him all over again. And then mad. And then another cycle of emotions. I’m not crazy, kids, but the emotions are all over the place.

Dan, and all my close friends really, has to see me break down again in the matter of days. “You’re right. He is good-looking,” he jokes. I lament that I look horrible after a day of SXSW conferences.

“You look cute. You always do. And he looked great because you miss him. He, in fact, could have had a shit stain on his pants and you wouldn’t notice.”

I laugh because it’s true. Should I have waved? Nodded? Said hi? I suddenly wanted to run home, email him and tell him that I didn’t want things to be weird when we saw each other. But I did nothing. I came home, was calmed down by friends and took a breath.

I can do this. I know I can. I’ve thrown away all things from our short relationship. I’ve blocked him on Facebook so I don’t stalk him. I made an appointment with my friend’s highly-recommended therapist to deal with my anxiety and trust issues. He did a horrible thing to me and I need to remember that. I emailed a job lead that I met by fate. I’m playing tennis with a fervor. I’m going to bed earlier than my usual 1:30am. Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger” seems to always be on the radio when I get in the car. It will get easier. I just wish he was feeling as shitty as I was.

Don’t Linger

by Jane Moneypenny

One feeling that is impossible to ever get used to is being hurt. No matter how strong you are or how many times you’ve been through it, the hurt slams into your chest with a familiar force that makes you want to curl up in a ball and never see the light of day.

I did, seemingly, everything right this time and still got brutally hurt. I’ve never had someone be in so much awe of me and manage to rip my heart out so badly at the same time. When it ended, it ended with so much raw honesty that I cried for an hour, a record for me. Somehow, in less than two months, he had wrangled his way into my heart with his good looks, goofy smile and easy charm. And then he did the one thing I dreaded and the most cruel way to hurt a person.

I somehow drove myself over to a friend’s house that night. He fed me pasta, put a blanket around me and told me not to linger. I was only allowed to take an apology phone call, tell him off and walk away. Lingering around take back all the years of work and lessons of past jerks, abusive exes and horrible treatment.

For the first time ever, I got to say my piece. I got to truly let everything out: how much I hated him, how much I was disrespected, how much he truly hurt me. And he apologized over and over again until I told him the apology meant nothing even though he took full responsibility.

So maybe it had to end this way in a flurry of emotions and chaos and tears. He wanted to continue a friendship. It’s all he ever wanted but I’ve come too far to linger in something that would only continually hurt me. I wanted to be the empowered female, storm in, curse and punch him and walk out. Instead, I walked in quietly, cursed him, punched him and let out all the emotions and thoughts I had.

The truth of the matter is, I will honestly miss him and I told him such. I would miss him in my life, our ridiculous fun times, our little jokes. And it’s sad to miss someone that turned out to be a jerk. It’s sad to want to curl up against his side as we’re having this talk about me hating him.

And then I walked out, swiftly deleting him from my phone, unfriending (and blocking) him from Facebook and went home to experience my first breakup surrounded by friends. The guys, who didn’t know what to say, brought ice cream and made me laugh; the girls cried with me and said all the right things that I needed to hear.

It isn’t all about him; it’s the pain that I can never seem to get a good relationship. I just desperately want one good one to hang my hat on. Despite it all, I don’t consider it a failure despite the unending ache. I learned what it felt like to be liked for a moment, to be taken out to dinner, to be told “You’re pretty.” I got closure for once instead of being a dirty little secret that disappears into the wind.

It’s only day one. In less than two weeks, I’ll be healing in Europe. Somehow, a big trip always comes right after bad heartache. I know I’ll be okay, but right now, it hurts with an intensity that I haven’t felt in years. The smallest moment will remind me of him and the pain pushes in again.

Guess my trust issues keep building. It’s time for therapy.

The New Normal

by Jane Moneypenny

The toothbrush sat passively in its clear individual packaging. I stared at it as I squeezed the tube of toothpaste in my right hand.

“I’m going to use this toothbrush, okay?”

I say it quickly as I can as my breath hitches. He replies back some form of affirmation from the other room, but I’m too panicked to hear the exact words.

That’s when I notice the little individually packaged earplugs sitting idly near the contact case and small travel contact solution. Panic sets in as I rapidly brush my teeth and scoop the ear plugs into my pocket. He’s left them for me, knowing that I’m a light sleeper and he snores at the decibel of three bears. We rush out of the apartment to meet a friend for lunch and nothing else is mentioned again about the offending bathroom products. He’s a quiet, but a sweetheart during lunch and impresses my disbelieving friend who was set out to hate him by paying for our entire meal.

Exactly a month has gone by since our casual pizza-eating first date, our adventurous second date dinner at at abandoned mall food court and a third and fourth where I dropped all boundaries and we slept at each other’s places.

Maybe it wasn’t for me. Maybe it’s always been there, deposited after his last dentist visit. Maybe he has a closet of ear plugs and toothbrushes for overnight guests. Maybe he’s just a very good Texan host.

“Or maybe, he just likes you, dummy.”

“Or he has three wives!”

My friends laugh at my shocked face. I shake it off. I can’t trust in it. I refuse. For the first three weeks, his phone number wasn’t even saved in my phone. I still can’t say, “I’m seeing someone” out loud or “he likes me” or believe that he won’t disappear tomorrow. The past weighs on me heavily, so I take one day at a time. When all my experiences have been bad, I have nothing but fear. But I’m trying: Cautious, but open-minded. Independent, but letting go very slowly.

We had the DTR (Define the Relationship) before we even kissed. Neither one of us is necessarily looking for something serious or even a significant other, but I was honest that I was staying open to the idea as I was a neophyte to dating. He didn’t want to waste my time and I didn’t want to lose myself. He promised to be honest and not disappear like every guy in my life and I promised to not go crazy like girls in his past.

And then he kissed me and the world suddenly started spinning faster. He’s incredibly attractive, sweet and interested in my life. Each time I think I know what’s going to happen, he surprises me with the opposite. He says, “You look pretty” out of the blue and I’m so surprised that I can only reply back with, “You look pretty, too.”

Last night, we order take-out and buy pints of ice cream while watching  an old movie.  A week later, the toothbrush is still sitting in the toothbrush holder. His name finally goes into my phone.

So what if the new job hunt is really depressing and I’ve gotten rejected a few times? What if he’s not the guy I always thought I would date? He may not be “sparkly” or have that one quality that really defines him yet, but he’s my new normal. And the new normal has made me realize I’m actually pretty damn sparkly and amazing.

Coming Around the Corner, Here She Comes

by Jane Moneypenny

Men search: Tepid.

Job search: Warm.

Trip search: HOT!

Yes, I’m off on another adventure soon. A close friend is getting married in Lörrach, Germany, near the Switzerland border at the end of March. Although I was hesitant at first since Germany was never high on my list, I’ve long ago established taking travel chances when the fall into my lap. Next thing I knew, I had wrangled two new Austin friends to joining me and our trip snowballed from traversing around southern Germany and some of Switzerland into Germany, Switzerland and Austria in ten days.

But then my flight stalking proved fruitless when the flight went up $120 right when I hit purchase to confirm. Ten minutes later, we made the crazy idea to fly out of Budapest because a $797 flight (especially out of Austin) is too hard not to grab.

Tentative itinerary:

Basel > Lörrach (wedding) > Interlaken (adventure!) > Munich > Vienna  > Budapest.

In twenty minutes, I purchased a flight after the last moment Budapest addition, sprained my ankle when I literally slammed into a co-worker running to ace a phone interview with HR for a job prospect.

So despite the fact my ankle is swollen and I have to miss the gym and tennis for a week, I’m gloriously happy because on two months, I’ll be off to my happy place.


This is Dating?

by Jane Moneypenny

I’m not used to being liked. 99% of my history with guys consists of very stupid choices with not so great (usually drunk) men. These decisions are even worse since I don’t drink and don’t have alcohol has a legit excuse.

When I started this dating thing, I figured I would get what I put into it, which at this point, is still not a priority. The most recent guy, Mr. Reporter seemed to hold so much potential. For some reason, I ignored those silly numbers; I don’t remember why. Probably because he was one of the very few attractive guys to message me.

After a slightly strange, but flirty meet-up one night before New Year’s, we finally went on a first date. And it was awesome. Sushi, good conversation, cute nudges, flirty winks. I wasn’t over the moon about him and there was no hot lust that I was used to from previous guys, but it was a warm feeling of affection. So this is dating?

We hung out again the next night and we seemed to be past the first date politeness. When he offered for us to hang out somewhere or watch a movie at his house, I was quick to nix the latter. That night, he ranged from being incredibly sweet to being rude. He slipped strange little barbs that almost came off homophobic. Other jokes were patronizing comments about anything I did or said. The little feeling in my gut was starting to grow. The night ended with a few kisses, but nothing to get weak about. Actually, they were pretty subpar.

But hey, I’m keeping an open mind, right?

Long story short, we hung out again the next day and his jokes and attitude got ruder, stranger and possibly more homophobic. He may have called me a prude somewhere in that time. Needless to say, I left, thinking the situation was pretty over. No guilt, no sadness, nothing. I was relieved my gut was right and when looking at those silly numbers again, discovered we were only 50% compatible and 25% enemy. I guess the numbers do have a point. I deleted his from my phone right after.

To my surprised (but not shock), he popped up again today, wanting to hang out. And I ignored. And continued to ignore. But later on in tonight, I started to get a pinch of guilt wrapped up in loneliness and boredom. I suddenly had an urge to text him back, make out with him and feel that feeling of being wanted. He was a terrible guy and not a great kisser! Why the hell would I even entrain the idea? Yes, there are tons of fishes in the sea, but that nagging feeling kept bugging me. I was finally forced to call a guy friend over to watch a movie to keep me distracted.

Is this what will keep on happening? Dating is exhausting!

Oh, 2012

by Jane Moneypenny

Happy New Year! 2012 came out of nowhere, huh?

The dating thing has been relatively quiet. I get a few messages a day, most of which I ignore because no matter how open-minded I’m trying to be, I need to have some standards and feel some kind of attraction! There’s been a few back and forths, but nothing substantial yet. So as of now, it’s a pretty dead lead, but I’m staying open to the idea and keeping on with my life.

What doesn’t help is the continual flurry of weddings. In 2011, I had six. This year, I have ones in February (Vegas), March (Germany), April (Houston), May (Missouri) and November (San Diego). Among that, three or four babies will be born (if not more). Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing something wrong with my life, no matter how many people tell me I’m doing just the right thing.

So here are my resolutions, outside of the standard “save money for travel” and “exercising”:

  1. Date.
  2. Find a new job.
  3. Learn another new skill.
  4. Treat myself well and know what I deserve.

I feel like 2012 will be a great year for me, but don’t I think that every year?


There She Goes

by Jane Moneypenny

For everyone that’s known me for a short time knows I haven’t really “dated” ever in the traditional sense. Apparently this is not normal.

I’ve avoided online dating for as long as possible. First and biggest reason: fear. Maybe it’s due to never really having dated. Maybe it’s due to never actually having one single good experience with a guy in my life. Maybe it’s due to just putting yourself out there for people to judge.

I’ve heard every case for it: You’ll meet new people. Don’t take it too seriously. You can filter. You can say no. It boosts your self-esteem. It’s fun. Makes for good stories. Free meals!

I’ve heard every reason why I should just go for it: You’ve tried every other hobby possible. You’re cool. You like sports. You’re fun.

So I gave in, but every time I went to set up a profile, I had a panic attack. I genuinely found it terrifying. After a lot of goading and hand-holding, I let go the fear and did it.

A week later, it’s an old hat and I’m already bored by it. It’s funny how much advice you get when you start this dating thing. My closest guy friends told me to never ever reply back to men that I’m not attracted to. They’re experts at this dating thing and are like little birds on my shoulder, making sure I’m not going out with losers with no jobs. My first date Sunday morning to watch football didn’t go great; no chemistry and a lot of red flags but I found myself completely okay after it. It was like a tiny bleep on the radar.*

The most interesting thing I discovered is I rated very compatible with my guy friends that were on there. This isn’t a complete surprised because we’re friends, but I’ve realized I really honestly want someone who’s just like my close guy friends (personality-wise) that I’m actually physically and sexually attracted to. And here, I thought I was trying to avoid dating friends after such bad experiences. Ladder theory, anyone?

This experiment has also really forced me to think about what I truly want. I’ve always thought college education was mandatory, but is it, really? I believe in God (even if I’m a shoddy Catholic) but do I require the same of someone I’m dating?

No matter what happens, I’m pretty proud of myself for taking that giant step. I hope 2012 brings wonderful things; 2011 has been pretty epic.


*Update: Oh geez, let’s call him Mr. Cook (not a chef, mind you) just messaged and asked if I wanted some turkey  noodle soup because he made too much. And he’ll drop it off at work (he used to cook in the building that I work). Huh.

Rich People Problems vs Me

by Jane Moneypenny

“Well, we were in Paris, so I HAD to go to Chloe and get two or three items. Two weeks later, I found my daughter wearing what I got. I mean, I was just furious!”

I sit there quietly, thumbing through the newspaper, pretending to read and trying to ignore the conversation. The CMO of our company is a pretty cool lady from DC. Tough, successful, pretty and rich. Very rich.

The nice thing about working for a small company is the top honchos are as very much part of the every day culture as any other employee. They’re accessible, eat lunches with us and are to a certain degree, the every man. They’re work at our levels, pitch big ideas and are at every step of the way for projects. The one difference? They’re rich, as indicated above.

There were two Forbes magazines on the lunch table. One is about travel so I excitedly flip through it to find there’s a special about travel in Africa. But, their version is Tanzania was on the complete opposite spectrum of mine (I’m not complaining; just comparing). Beautiful lodgings, first class flights, the best of the best.

Today, the CMO has returned from a long client trip to Vietnam. She regals the lunch group with her adventures and shows us a picture of a squatter. I shrug; squatters are completely normal to me and personally, a little cleaner than regular toilets. But she is completely horrified. And equally horrified at the “dirtiness” that is the streets of a very beautiful country. We all know Asia is a very different region from America. In fact, most countries are very different from America, but that’s why we travel, isn’t it?

The conversation is making me claustrophobic and I can feel irritation clawing inside me. I gracefully slip out and catch up with the office manager, who also had escaped.

“The price tag for her to fly first class was $32,000. She insisted because there may be ‘goats and sh*t’ in coach.”

I have no words. I can practically feel my heart drop and my brain try to compute. The price tag is so ridiculous that I’m speechless for five minutes. That kind of money would get me around the world for a year and she (well, I guess the company) spend it in a blink of an eye. Now, no one likes coach. I always said if I won the lottery, I would travel the same way I do now, except for flying. But 28K for a first class flight for a person that is “one of us” is one the most ubsurd things I’ve ever heard.

So the job search continues. Obviously, the rich aren’t the reason I’m leaving, but in the last year and a half I’ve been here, I’ve felt claustrophobic about the “whiteness” and “first world problems” the people here represent. For them, ordering pad thai is culture. I stand at this blurry line of wanting nice things for myself and appreciating everything I have from growing up in America, but also anger at those that think America is the only and best country and everything outside of it is dirty or crazy.

Next up: my ridiculous fear of dating, especially online.