Mary's Adventures in Wonderland

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.