Mary's Adventures in Wonderland

April 16, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on Everyone loves to make fun of LA food faddists.

Everyone loves to make fun of LA food faddists.

Sometimes that’s justified. I will submit that the “bread-free bánh mì” I recently saw offered by Veggie Grill, a Southern California vegetarian restaurant chain, is one of the most ridiculous things ever, especially since the literal meaning of “bánh mì” in Vietnamese is “bread.”

I recently attended a baking class at Sur la Table in the Los Angeles Farmers Market, to learn how to make croissants. Croissants consist of large quantities of delicious butter, barely held together by paper-thin layers of yeast dough. And love.

Well, as soon as the class began, one of the students announced that she is vegan, which means she doesn’t eat butter. She then proceeded to ask at every step, “how can you make this vegan?”

If I had been the instructor, I would have said, “You can’t. Get out of my class.”

Yet for the last three weeks, I’ve been subscribing to a vegan meal delivery service called Vegin’ Out, and I have really enjoyed the food. In fact (spoiler alert) Mike is now here in California with me. He loves meat, and when it comes to tofu, I believe he is on record as hating it with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. But he likes Vegin’ Out too.

So what is the food like? I would describe it as “clean.” It’s flavorful, with a nice spice and salt level, and it is mostly low-fat, minimally processed and healthy, with lots of veggies and plenty of high-quality protein. It’s basically what we all know we should eat, but made by someone with skills and much more patience than most of us can manage.

For a single person, each week you get three generous servings of three entrées, for a total of nine entrée servings. Generally there has been a whole grain pasta entrée, something based on beans or lentils, and a tofu or seitan (meaty textured wheat gluten) item. You also get a three-serving container of soup. The soups have all been hearty and high-protein, so I consider them entrées as well.

You also get four side dishes, each containing three servings, so that’s twelve servings of sides. There are usually two sides that are mainly vegetables – like a kale salad and a roasted veggie salad – and two heartier sides that are based on whole-grain starches, such as bulgur, quinoa or brown rice.

There is a paper bag in every week’s delivery that contains five vegan cookies. I’m not a huge fan of the cookies and would rather get my dessert calories from something really decadent, preferably containing butter and chocolate. I guess the up side is, I have no issues with being tempted to snarf down the whole bag in one sitting. Not that I would ever do that with cookies, of course…

I learned about Vegin’ Out from a LivingSocial deal that worked out to two weeks’ worth of food for one person, delivered to my door in Santa Monica, for about half the regular price (which for LA delivery is $127.99 per week). They will also ship overnight to other areas of the US at a higher cost.

After the first two weeks, I liked the food and convenience so much that I ordered another week using a coupon they sent me, since as you know, I love coupons. Even at full price or close to full price, I think it’s an amazing value. Also, I love that you’re not locked into anything. You order by Friday at 5:00 pm if you want the next week’s delivery, and don’t order if you don’t want it. The delivery arrives in an insulated cooler bag with a large ice pack.

At first I thought it was kind of odd to have such a random number of servings (9 entrées, 12 sides, 3 soups), and I was a little puzzled about how that would translate into actual meals. However, it seems to work really well for me, because I can mix and match depending on my hunger level and mood.

For dinner I might eat an entrée serving of lentil loaf and a side serving of Mexican bulgur salad. At lunch, maybe I’ll have a bowl of the split pea soup with the kale salad, or two servings of side dishes, such as Mediterranean roasted veggies and “Festive Quinoa” with walnuts, pomegranate seeds and dried cranberries.

The food is filling, even for Mike. Neither of us has been able to eat more than two servings (entrée + side, or soup + side, or side + side) in one meal. In fact, I’ve sometimes gotten an additional serving out of each container, because they really pack the food in there. The kale salad in particular reminds me of a clown car: every time you think “that’s it,” it turns out there’s more. I’ve ended up with a few entrée and soup servings left over each week, which I froze.

Since I’m not normally vegan, I haven’t been a purist about eating only food from Vegin’ Out. I’ve been eating in restaurants several times a week – always at non-vegan places – and I have sometimes supplemented the Vegin’ Out meals with extra salad, fruit and an occasional non-vegan snack, like a piece of cheese or a hard-boiled egg. But for the past two and a half weeks, all of my lunches and dinners at home have been the Vegin’ Out food.

The whole experience with Vegin’ Out has been a pleasant surprise. Having a fridge full of delicious and healthy vegan food, ready to eat after 2 minutes in the microwave, has helped me to lose a few pounds painlessly.

But I will still eat croissants, because they taste like butter and happiness.

 

April 14, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on I haven’t been suffering as much as expected.

I haven’t been suffering as much as expected.

When Mike decided to hike the Appalachian Trail, I announced that I would be heading for California and putting together a somewhat virtuous “spa month,” fueled by health and fitness deals from discount sites like Groupon and LivingSocial. I booked a lot of activities for the first two weeks after Mike’s departure, figuring that would help keep me occupied during the period when I was most likely to feel sad and lonely.

When Mike and I have been apart in the past, I was usually the one traveling. On the rare occasions when he’s been away and I’ve been home alone, I haven’t really cooked much: it hardly seemed worth making real meals for that day or two. I’ve usually eaten boring but easy stuff like frozen entrees, toast and yogurt. But this time, faced with a long period by myself, I decided I would cook what I felt like eating, when I felt like eating it.

What surprised me was that I immediately fell into the mostly-vegetarian eating patterns I had before I met Mike. For my first week in Santa Monica, I decided to buy whatever appealed to me at the local market. That turned out to be mostly vegetables and fruit and eggs. My landlords had left me a bottle of chardonnay, whole grain water crackers and some cheese, so with my little supermarket purchases, I was set for a few days.

The first activity I had scheduled was a spa day at a 5-star hotel in Marina del Rey. That was a spectacular success. I tootled down Pacific Coast Highway with no major traffic, valet parked since the spa was including it, and spent a blissful couple of hours getting pummeled and moisturized. I sat in the eucalyptus steam room and emerged looking like a lobster, but feeling like melted butter. Then I lounged by the pool and read a trashy magazine. I was so blissed out on the drive home that I lost my killer instinct and let people cut in front of me, with nothing more than a Zen-like shrug.

That evening I happened to read someone’s comment on a blog, in which he off-handedly referenced his “100 days of doing things that make me happy.” Ah, thought I. That’s even better than a spa month. Maybe I’ll just do things that make me happy this month, and see what happens.

So if I was in the mood for an omelet, I picked a few chives in the organic garden and made myself one. If I felt like a glass of white wine and a wedge of cheese for dinner, that’s what I ate. On Wednesday morning, I took a meander through the downtown Santa Monica Farmers Market. In addition to a beautiful artichoke and gorgeous tiny strawberries, I bought a baguette and a very small buffalo steak. And flowers, because they make me happy.

“Doing things that make me happy” was a freeing notion, and the results have surprised me. I like doing yoga. So I’ve done yoga almost every day. Circuit training makes me stressed, so I said to hell with the circuit training. I have gone for walks when I felt like it, and I have stopped feeling guilty about not doing Pilates. Some day I might try Pilates. But I’m not going to feel like a bad person if I don’t. Interestingly, the net result of this new attitude is that I have been getting more exercise than usual.

A few days after I got to California, my brother Don came to visit, and we had quite the whirlwind weekend. I picked him up at LAX and took him to the definitely-not-spa-food Umami Burger. It was delicious. After our late lunch, we went to the wacky Museum of Jurassic Technology in Culver City. I’d read about it, but nothing could prepare me for the sheer mind-blowing strangeness of this place. I can’t even describe it, really, except to say that I think it might be kind of an art installation that is meditating on the whole concept of museums. Or something.

After the “museum” we made a quick U-turn and drove a few blocks to Palms, where we used a Travelzoo voucher for a prix fixe dinner at Lukshon, a Southeast Asian fusion restaurant. The food and cocktails were fantastic. It was delightful to sit back and have our meal brought to us, with no decisions to make. Lukshon is located in the historic Art Deco Helms Bakery building, which is now a high-end shopping and dining center, so it was fun to wander around, too.

The next morning we explored the Getty Villa, which is six minutes by car from my rental house. It was a glorious day, which is ideal for the villa, since it has beautiful outdoor gardens. Neither of us had been to the villa before, but it’s now on my short list of favorite museum experiences. After a late Cal-Mex lunch (fish tacos!) we drove down to Huntington Beach, where we attended a tiki-themed event at Don the Beachcomber. In lieu of dinner, we had a mai tai and a piece of pineapple upside-down cake, because why not.

Then we shot back up the freeway to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, where we were spending the night, and had some late-night tapas at the Uva Bar in Downtown Disney. I was starting to feel pretty decadent, what with all this “doing things that make me happy,” but what the heck, it was my birthday weekend. Besides, Don is a bad influence.

We had planned to go to Disneyland the next day, but when we got up and pondered how crowded the theme parks would be on a peak Spring Break weekend, we said screw it, let’s go get brunch instead. We went to Ralph Brennan’s and listened to live jazz while we ate shrimp and grits. And then we went to a bar. Yep, we went to Trader Sam’s tiki bar at the Disneyland Hotel when it opened at 11:30 in the morning, and we drank fruity cocktails because we felt like it. It was awesome.

The Grand Californian is a modern Craftsman masterpiece, and it offers a one-hour tour focused on the artisans who created all the décor of the hotel. Don and I have always wanted to do the tour, but somehow there has never been time. Well, no more putting it off. We turned out to be the only ones who showed up, and the nice man taking us around saw how much we were enjoying it, so it ended up being a two-hour tour.

That evening Don took me to The Ranch, a farm-to-table restaurant he’s recently discovered, oddly located in a light industrial area of Anaheim. Apparently some rich guy has put this high-end dining establishment in the ground floor of his company’s office building, purely so that he has a nice place to take his clients. I’m all for benefiting from the whims of billionaires. The Ranch is completely unlike anything you’d expect to find in Anaheim, except that next door, also in the office building, is a Country Western saloon featuring line dancing. The waiter offered us a free pass to the saloon and was shocked that we didn’t want to go. Turns out there is usually a cover charge, and a line to get in. Oh Anaheim, never change…

And thus ended my first week “alone.” I hardly had time to breathe, much less pine over Mike — who, surprisingly, was often able to call or text me from the trail. In fact, a couple of times when he called, I had to call him back later, because I was in the middle of something. I guess when he went off to find himself in the wilderness, I found some part of myself too.

March 25, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on I woke up on Tuesday feeling grateful.

I woke up on Tuesday feeling grateful.

Well, okay, actually I awoke to the sound of the garbage truck on the street below, emptying a recycling bin full of bottles. I will admit to a momentary flicker of annoyance, but it quickly evaporated. I was in such a good mood that I stretched and yawned in the dark, and thought about how thankful I am that I don’t have to be up at 5:00 am, dealing with other people’s rubbish.

Mike can attest that this mellow state of mind is not as common for me as either of us might wish. Perhaps I felt so delightful because I was happy to be back in Southern California, which will always feel like home to me. But I think it had more to do with being on the receiving end of some unanticipated and amazing acts of kindness the day before.

It started with my trip to the airport. I booked a car service to pick me up at our Colorado house, since it doesn’t make sense to park my car in a lot for a month. The older lady (ha – older than me, at least) who was driving turned out to be a bit of a kindred spirit, and we had a pleasant conversation about the local women’s film festival during the half-hour trip.

I got out of the car, she pulled my enormous bag out of the trunk, and then I saw her reach toward me. I thought she was offering her hand, but instead she gave me a big hug. “I like to hug my passengers when they’re traveling alone,” she said. “I don’t think anyone should get on a plane without a hug.”

Wow.

After landing at LAX, I strolled to the baggage carousel and turned on my phone. I had a text from one of my landlords, apologizing that his own flight from Santa Fe was delayed, and his partner is in New York, so no one would be at the house to greet me. Instead he gave me directions to a hidden key. No problem.

My bags were almost the first off the plane. Nice. And as it turned out, my landlord was only a few minutes behind me. His car pulled up just as I was lugging the gigantic suitcase out of my rental car. He insisted on grabbing it and walked it into the house for me.

He apologized that the patio — which looked great to me — had some plant debris on it, and said he’d be back with a blower to clean that off. I went in to unpack and discovered that he and his partner had left me a Whole Foods gift card because they had not been home to buy me some fresh “starter groceries.”

When I finished unpacking, I found him still on the patio, fastidiously removing the dead leaves from some potted geraniums. He and I stood chatting. It emerged that he had flown to LA just to meet me at the house and make sure I was settled in! He was leaving the next day to join his partner in New York. It would have been much more convenient for him to fly there directly, but he wanted to make sure I was okay.

Another wow.

While my landlord was watering some plants on the patio, I took off to run some errands, including dropping off a UPS parcel. Naturally I left the parcel on the kitchen counter when I walked out the door. Fortunately I remembered when I got to my car. Doubling back for the package, I laughingly commented on how forgetful I can be. I mentioned that I had walked off and left my coat in Colorado, after carefully hanging it right where I’d have to walk past it on my way out the door. Oh well, I said, I doubt I’ll need it here.

After finishing several small, successful errands, I landed at the Whole Foods on Montana, where I got a great parking space in the tiny lot. That never happens, as this video attests:

When I returned to the house, my landlord had left a fleece jacket hanging on the patio, with a note attached: “Just in case.”

So is it any wonder that I felt like the luckiest woman in the world when I woke up the next day?

March 19, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on It wasn’t what I expected.

It wasn’t what I expected.

Ever since Mike started planning to thru-hike the almost-2200-mile Appalachian Trail, he’s been reading books and trail journals about the experience. On many occasions he’s mentioned to me that only about 25% of those who start the hike actually finish it. One day I asked him what reason most people give for quitting. “Well,” he said, “some of them have specific reasons, like they are injured or sick or they’re needed back home. But the rest mostly say ‘It wasn’t what I expected.'”

Just since Mike started the hike yesterday, we’ve heard stories. The day before we arrived, a guy started hiking the Approach Trail, which is a tough eight-and-a-half mile route up Springer Mountain to where the Appalachian Trail begins. It’s not actually part of the Appalachian Trail. Partway up, he quit. He turned around and called a shuttle to take him to the local hiker hostel. He gave up without even actually starting the Appalachian Trail. We’ve been told he was far from the first to do this.

However, to his credit, the next day this same guy decided to start the Appalachian Trail from a different direction (the same way Mike started it). You drive a long, winding Forest Service road to a parking lot located less than a mile from the top of the mountain, hike to the top, sign the log book and then reverse direction. You officially start the Appalachian Trail when you go back down. Most people do this and continue for many miles the first day. A common stopping point is Hightower Gap, another 8 miles along the trail.

Not this guy. He hiked the 9/10s of a mile to the top and decided to camp there. Halfway through the night, he announced to the other sleeping hikers that it was too cold. One of them offered him some warm bedding, but he said no, he was done. From the top of the mountain, he called the hiker hostel and begged them to meet him at the parking lot, which they did. His hike was, once again, over before it started, though I guess technically he did the first 9/10s of a mile of the Appalachian Trail when he walked down Springer Mountain to meet the shuttle.

Now, as a veteran of quitting things that didn’t turn out to be quite what I anticipated, I have some sympathy for those who find themselves in that situation. Heck, I quit my college year abroad at the University of Edinburgh. I was depressed, the winter weather had been much worse than I’d expected, and my flat had no heat. I was miserable, so I went back to California.

I also dropped out of grad school, twice. In between grad school stints, I quit a full-time job because my bosses were insane. They were brothers who had inherited a rug import business started by their father, and they hated each other. In fact, they didn’t speak to each other. One would come to me and yell, “you tell him to make a better price for that customer!” The other brother, standing six feet away, would yell at me, “you tell him he’ll ruin us with all this discounting!” And so on, all day long. One day, as they were shouting at each other through me, I stood up, picked up my purse, said “you know where to send the check,” and walked out.

So obviously when things are going really badly, I believe in cutting your losses. (I’ve also toughed out bad situations — sometimes for years — because I thought things would improve, or because I needed the money, or because other people were relying on me.) I can say, with the benefit of age and hindsight, that despite my worst fears, everything has worked out just fine in the end, even — and sometimes especially — when I have quit.

I thought about sharing that insight with a young man, earlier today. I dropped Mike off at the trailhead, in the pouring rain. As I started to put my rented Jeep in gear, a drowned rat knocked on my car window. This poor kid had hiked the Approach Trail yesterday and reached the top of Springer Mountain feeling triumphant. He turned on his cell phone and got a text from his girlfriend, saying her mother had just been killed in a car accident.

He felt he had to go home, so he packed up and started hiking down the mountain in the dark. He got lost. It started raining. He tried to set up his tent to get warm, but he was already wet through. He decided to keep moving so he could stay warm. He wandered around in the woods all night. In the morning he found the road and happened onto us. He asked how to get to the nearest town. When we told him it was over 20 miles by road, I thought he was going to cry.

So Mike set off on the trail and I drove the kid 40 miles to the nearest town with a train station. On the way, he spilled out his conflicting emotions: frustration that his hike was already over, sadness for his girlfriend, exhaustion, worry. I just listened. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that someday he would look back on this day and know he did the right thing. His Appalachian Trail experience was not what he expected, but he’ll never forget it.

March 7, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on The importance of proper attire should never be underestimated.

The importance of proper attire should never be underestimated.

Last night I was flipping through a travel magazine and found myself riveted by this quote: “Packing for a trip can be an experiment in sartorial role play.” Ah, I thought, someone who thinks like me. Unlike Henry David Thoreau, I am not put off by enterprises that require new clothes. In fact, as they say in the software biz, that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.

See, I’m a bit of a chameleon, or an octopus (well, without most of the tentacle-y bits). Heading out on an adventure always involves adjusting my exterior enough that I will feel comfortable in the new environment. Changing my appearance is a way of play-acting a new identity, and that’s half the fun of it all.

Oddly enough I hate shopping, except when it involves outfitting myself for a new experience. Normally I am not high maintenance. Too much upkeep scares me. At home, I’m happy when I remember to brush my teeth, wash my face and use moisturizer. When Mike says “you smell good,” it’s not because I am wearing an exotic new perfume: it is because I have bathed. Probably with fancy soap I brought home from a hotel.

But when I’m heading into a new environment, all bets are off. We’re going to Paris? Well, you don’t expect me to wear sneakers and a hoodie on the streets of Gay Paree, do you? Never mind that I own a closet full of perfectly acceptable clothing. I must purchase a few things so I can fit in.

There’s the Hermès scarf that I think sends the message “I am a woman of taste and sophistication,” and which I will order from Paris so that I can carry it to Paris. I may never wear it during the trip, but just by having it in my suitcase, I feel more French. There’s the just-right haircut, the search for perfectly cut jeans, a good-looking raincoat – trust me, I am so busy transforming myself into a Parisian for months in advance, it’s a wonder I ever manage to get on the plane.

When we book a trip to Europe, Mike knows that the boxes from Zappos will begin arriving on a daily basis, as I begin yet another round in my endless, hopeless search for stylish shoes that are also super comfortable for miles of walking on cobblestones. They need to have high heels and look elegant, just in case I am unexpectedly presented to the Queen. Yet they should feel like New Balance cross-trainers. Is that so much to ask?

Occasionally my purchases are fairly rational. When visiting the poles or the equator, I think I’ve been justified in buying a few things. I did need long underwear for Lapland and Antarctica, though the jury is still out on whether a fur-lined evening coat was strictly necessary. When we went to the Galapagos Islands – where it is so hot the blue-footed boobies wish they had oven mitts to pick up bugs off the ground, and so humid the mosquitoes wish they had snorkels – I bought some lightweight expedition shirts and pants, and I probably would have expired of heat prostration otherwise.

The thing is, though, that I do the same thing regardless of where I’m going. I want to become a part of my new environment, and clearly I’m not alone in this. The fish-out-of-water makeover is a cliché of Hollywood films, with probably being the most famous being Julia Roberts’ Rodeo Drive shopping excursion in Pretty Woman, complete with its delicious dollop of revenge.

But I relate more to the character Joe in one of my favorite obscure flicks, Joe Versus the Volcano. It’s about a hypochondriac who thinks he’s dying, and agrees to throw himself into a volcano to save a tiny island in the South Pacific. But before he goes, obviously he needs to get outfitted.

MARSHALL (Joe’s chauffeur)

And what do you got in the way

of clothes now?

JOE

Well, I’ve got the kind of

clothes I’m wearin’.

MARSHALL

So you’ve got no clothes.

Joe goes to Dunhill and buys himself some over-the top tropical explorer garb. (In a later scene he’s asked, “Why are you dressed like Jungle Jim?”) Then he gets a few other essentials, and finally he needs the proper luggage. That is pretty much my ideal pre-adventure shopping trip.

And what, you may be wondering, does any of this have to do with my upcoming “spa month” adventure? All I can say is, baby needs new exercise clothes.

March 5, 2015
by Mary Waring
Comments Off on It’s time for some new adventures.

It’s time for some new adventures.

I know a lot of my friends and family think I’m already pretty adventurous. After all, Mike and I have visited about forty countries and all seven continents. We just returned from Antarctica, where I suited up in my polar gear, jumped in and out of Zodiac boats and hiked in the ice and snow to see penguins. And I did it without embarrassing myself too badly: well, we won’t count the time I stepped into knee-deep slush and fell on my ass, hiking poles waving feebly in the air. Or the three, count ‘em, three attempts to get up out of the slush, which was well-mixed with penguin poo. Mike just stood there and laughed. I had to be power-washed when I got back to the ship. No, I am not kidding.

The truth is, while I love new experiences, I am pretty timid about physical challenges. Mainly I fear making a fool of myself. I’m a short, pudgy woman in her 50s with bad knees, and I’m all too aware of how silly I look when I do certain things. I manage to push myself outside of my comfort zone from time to time by thinking of myself as the mild-mannered alter-ego of a slightly eccentric superhero, or the world’s least likely super-spy.

Starting in mid-March, Mike will be heading off on a bona fide adventure: hiking the 2200-mile Appalachian Trail, which will take five or six months. I’ll go out to Georgia with him for a few days and see him off, but after that, there is no reason for me to rattle around in our Colorado house by myself, especially during the worst part of the winter. So I’ve decided that after Mike leaves, I’ll be heading to California, where I’ve rented a lovely house in Santa Monica for a month. Yes, while he is eating rehydrated Hiker Chow and slapping away mosquitoes, I will be sitting on the patio, drinking a glass of white wine as the sun sets over the ocean. (Don’t worry, I’ll think of you from time to time, possum.)

Since Mike is doing his bucket list hike, I have a perfect opportunity to try some new adventures of my own. At first I thought about going to a spa resort like Miraval or Canyon Ranch. Spas can be a great way to kick-start a healthier lifestyle, but they are wildly expensive and, in my experience, lacking any sense of humor. I’m feeling a bit too whimsical for much navel-gazing, and while I’m fine with increasing my kale intake, life is too short not to eat the occasional cupcake, too.

Recently I got an email from LivingSocial, which for the uninitiated is similar to Groupon: lots of random stuff to do, eat and learn, all at about half price. I almost never find anything worthwhile on that site for Colorado Springs, possibly because it is the world’s most boring city: yay, another coupon for 50% off steak and potatoes! Half off dry cleaning, woo hoo! However, it occurs to me that there are probably dozens of deals on spa treatments and exercise classes and other healthy stuff in Southern California.

Well, “dozens” turns to be a slight underestimate: there are 451 results just in the Health and Beauty category for the west side of LA. Even when I narrow the list to locations within 5 miles of Santa Monica, there are still 80 options. What? You mean all those jokes about image-obsessed rich bitches in SoCal are true? Okay, maybe not totally true, since everything is marked down.

Just in case I can’t find quite the right combination of hedonism and self-righteousness on LivingSocial, there are hundreds of other deals on Groupon, AmazonLocal, Travelzoo and Lifebooker. Turns out LA is bargain heaven, and I do love me a bargain. (Rumors that I am just plain cheap are unkind, but possibly a little true.) I quickly realize I can easily create my very own quirky DIY “spa month.”

The first offer that hits my radar is for two weeks of organic vegan meals, delivered, for $140. I’m not a vegan. But the meal service has great reviews and I figure it might be an interesting and healthy way to eat controlled portions for a couple of weeks. Plus there’s a coupon for an extra $25 off, and I love, love, love coupons. I will buy ridiculous stuff just to use a coupon. C’mon, you’ve got to admit, two weeks of “spa” meals for $115 is an awesome deal. And that money I’m saving will buy a lot of In-N-Out burgers if I get too famished. I click the Buy button.

Okay, if I’m going to be virtuous with the vegan regimen, I need to make up for it with some serious pampering. How about kicking off the month with a spa day at a fancy hotel? I’ve noticed those show up on Travelzoo frequently. Sure enough, I find one at Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey that includes a 60-minute massage and 60-minute organic facial, two add-on treatments, valet parking, and access to the pool, whirlpool and eucalyptus steam room. That sounds pretty decadent. And it’s $130 off – that’s serious ice cream money, baby.

Now for the tough part: getting fit. I dislike most exercise. No, let’s be honest: I hate all exercise. I am definitely a couch potato at heart, and would much rather read about exercise than actually do it. It’s true that I enjoy yoga, because I am strangely limber and find it easy, and fortunately it counts as exercise. You basically can’t walk two steps in Santa Monica without tripping over a yoga studio. In fact, I think daily yoga is legally required for all residents. So that will be no problem.

Um, what else? In the past – okay, it was high school, that’s the past, get off my back – I enjoyed taking dance classes, so I’ve been meaning to try Zumba. Really. Any year now. And I’ve heard great things about Pilates from my friends, but it is intimidating because it involves mysterious and terrifying machines. With all those pulleys and straps, the resemblance to a torture rack is very likely intentional. I can just tell those machines will give me ample opportunity to become a hilarious, entangled mess. But maybe a few private lessons will save my dignity.

There are 223 LivingSocial results for Sports and Fitness in the Westside. Sickening, isn’t it? I look through them all, read lots of reviews, and find a few yoga, dance and Pilates studios that don’t sound too scary. Then I carefully bookmark the most interesting ones for later consideration. There is no point in committing to such things without first sitting around and giving it some serious thought, right?

Just as I’m about to push back from the computer, I notice a highly-rated fitness studio that offers interval training classes several times a day, located literally one block from the house I’m renting. A 10-class package is $40. I cannot think of a single excuse: “too far away” – nope! “too expensive” – nope! Crap, I’ve got nothing. I buy the damn package.

So my “spa month” is starting to come together. I’ve decided I’ll expand it to include other, non-spa activities that are new, different, or just sound fun. There is a deal for the trapeze school at the Santa Monica Pier. I’m not committing to it, but you never know…