Fully Raw February- Week Three

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For about a week now I have been lazily anticipating a blog post where I summarize all of the wonderful benefits I’ve experienced on the raw food diet as well as some challenges I’ve faced thus far. The weather in Denver has been particularly cold and dreary over the past few days and I could not find the motivation to put my food down, roll over and open my laptop to type this summary (clearly the most profound benefit of this diet has not been an increase in energy levels). As I arrived home from work this morning and began stuffing my face with some zucchini noodles covered in a delicious raw marinara sauce I had made, I decided that it’s about time I get to work on telling you all what the deal is with all this raw food mumbo jumbo.

 As you may already know, I have been following a whole foods, plant-based vegan diet for over a year now and I have only good things to share. Much of my life up until this point was spent in search of optimum health and I am here to tell you that the magic lies in plant foods. Over the past year I have experimented with many different variations of the vegan diet, taking note of what makes my body feel its best. With full confidence I can say that raw foods have always treated me well, and a diet consisting of mostly fresh fruits and vegetables in the form of smoothies and salads is one that I keep coming back to. In recent months I have begun to question how I might feel if I put the potatoes and rice down (don’t cry, Callie, don’t cry) and commit myself to a month of eating fully raw. You can find out more about week one here. For now, I will be sharing my experience in weeks two and three.

 

 

 

My very favorite thing about the raw food challenge so far has been discovering new foods. In all of my research on plant based foods over the past year, a few key ingredients seemed to pop up in nearly every recipe, often deemed staples of the vegan diet- ingredients so revolutionary, one may even be tricked into thinking they were eating something cheesy or held together with eggs. A lot of these ingredients never appealed to me, as I was just fine eating fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately after all, there were moments in the beginning of my raw food experiment when I realized that my food was missing something (sugary gluten-filled carbs perhaps?), that I was getting bored (and hungry) eating bananas and apples at all hours of the day. I finally decided it was time to expand my resources and try some new raw vegan foods. I won’t go into great detail, but I will say that this is how I discovered the wonders of kelp noodles, nutritional yeast and most importantly, my precious dates, which will forever hold a place in my kitchen cupboard (and my heart). I never believed that these roach-like dried fruits could be so tasty, but I have purchased several pounds in the past few weeks and I keep going back for more.

My addiction story began like any other, starting with just a single date, spiraling out of control to the point where I began spending countless hours of my free time googling “dates in bulk” to find the biggest bang for my buck, and purchasing date nectars and other date products to feed my desire for everything I eat to taste like dates. Recently, my brother came to visit me in Denver for the first time, and setting aside all that there is to do in the city, I dragged him to the nearest health food store on a Saturday night and we purchased some of every type of date they had so that we could sample and rate them in order (my idea of fun). I have raved about these things to the point where my girlfriend called my local Whole Foods all the way from Puerto Rico and had them specially deliver a fuck ton of dates to my doorstep on Valentine’s Day. This is true love if I’ve ever known it (Me and the dates, I mean).

This leads me to my next point of Becoming a gourmet raw chef. Yes, this is a self declared title. But I swear, if you have never tried raw vegan brownies (made of dates, of course) or raw spaghetti and sauce, then you must do so immediately. I have said it before, I am no genius in the kitchen. But raw food is pretty simple in that literally nothing has to be cooked. Most of the “cooking” involves mixing or blending together different flavors and textures to mimic that of cooked food. It is fairly easy but allows one to be creative and find the perfect combinations through some trial and error. I have made a few recipes from the internet and have recreated some raw dished I’ve tried in restaurants (hello beet ravioli with cashew cheese). These past few weeks of eating raw have truly inspired me to experiment with food. I am fairly certain that any cooked (or non-vegan) recipe can be made into a spectacularly delicious and healthy raw vegan masterpiece and I am determined to try it.

Learning to prepare gourmet raw foods has been a blast, but sharing healthy raw foods with others has been even better. When my brother came to visit, we attended a raw vegan pop up dinner at Vital Root, a local plant-based restaurant. My brother, a chef himself, has been known to pass judgements about vegan foods (cooked or not) and you should have seen his face when he tasted the raw pesto. It was so exciting to see someone so skeptical of the vegan diet consider ordering a second helping because it was just that good. I often worry that a vegan future for our world is just wishful thinking, but it is moments like these that give me hope. Vegan food is the most healthy, sustainable, ethical and delicious food that there is. It is the only food that there is. Sharing this lifestyle (especially raw veganism, an even more healthy and sustainable option) with others has become one of my greatest passions in life and I am eager to continue spreading this message. I am already looking forward to preparing a raw vegan dish on my family vacation in April. Vegan or not, I know they will love it just as much as I do.

Yes, yes we know, Callie. Raw foods are healthy, sustainable, ethical and delicious! But how have they made you feel? Well, if you must know…

This is a complicated answer. I do feel more motivated to be active and have taken up running again after a few months off. I also feel healthier in general because I have cut out all processed foods and added sugars. I feel that I have slept much better and am more awake in the morning. I have not, however, experienced anything so unbelievable it defies all laws of nature as many raw foodists would have you believe, but I would like to point out that this is only month one and I am still experiencing a lot of trial and error.

Eating raw vegan is no easy feat. It takes a lot of will power to say no to some of your favorite foods or sip on a fruit smoothie when it’s thirty degrees and snowing outside. Being social can also be tricky, as it is nearly impossible to eat out in restaurants and can be awkward to tell others about your new lifestyle.

Over the course of these past three weeks I have had a few slip ups where I just genuinely craved peanut butter and had to have it, or was out with friends and decided I’d have a taste of their non-raw dinner because it just looked so good. I have certainly eaten too many dates in one sitting only to spend an entire yoga class in corpse pose because I couldn’t move my limbs and I have suffered some severe hanger because I forgot to bring a raw snack with me to work or to the store. Although I did stay 99% raw, it was not always easy or enjoyable. Additionally, I have noticed that eating raw entails eating a lot of food in order to receive sufficient calories. There were times when I just didn’t eat enough and later helped myself to several handfuls of nuts which I’ve also realized, do not make me feel my best when eaten in excess. While I don’t regret these decisions, my body has learned from them. I hope to make my final week of Fully Raw February the healthiest and most enjoyable week so far as I apply all of the information I have learned in my first three weeks raw. I do believe that raw foods have healing properties and will truly make me thrive if I let them, but I still have some experimenting and learning to do.

As my last few days of raw food approach, I question whether or not I will continue exploring this lifestyle in March. Although it is a very dynamic and challenging lifestyle to sustain, it has definitely initiated a habit of eating raw foods that I hope to adhere to throughout my life, even if I am not eating 100% raw foods all the time.

 

Stay tuned for my final thoughts on the raw food experiment and updates on whether or not I will continue eating fully raw in the months to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Friends in New Mexico

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A few weeks ago my roommate Frankie and I found ourselves pacing the living room in search of a plan for Marti Gras weekend after our trip to visit my girlfriend and friends in St. Louis fell through. We had both taken the weekend off and were not about to spend those precious days in our beds eating snacks and chuckling at internet videos of little kids falling down (although this is something we both thoroughly enjoy- I say this only with an ounce of guilt), much less tell our employers that we would in fact be around to pick up some shifts. 

In recent months we had been turning ideas over in our heads, fantasizing about future trips we could take that are in our budget. As my efforts to take monthly vacations in 2018 come together (surprisingly quite easily thus far), inexpensive trips to new places and opportunities for new experiences are constantly on my radar. One that particularly struck a chord with us was the possibility of visiting Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, an attraction that features different forms of art, allowing one to explore a non-linear story through it’s interactive and very mysterious artistic presentations. Sounds trippy, I know.

With a wide open weekend ahead of us, a brand new camera, and Frankie’s trusty car, Esmerelda, we decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to road trip to New Mexico and check out the art exhibit we had been dreaming about. We soon began counting down the days as our getaway approached, only to find out the evening before our trip that Meow Wolf would be closed for the weekend. Oh, the horror.

Being the overly ambitious and positive women that we are, Frankie and I brushed off the disappointment and made it our mission to have a rad weekend in Santa Fe regardless, and boy, did we.

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Making the most of our weekend in Santa Fe came naturally. I am a firm believer in seeking out unique experiences to the point where I feel that unique experiences have started combing the earth in search of me. I wonder how else we could have stumbled upon a llama ranch that happened to be renting out a 70’s airstream trailer on its property. As we pulled up to this beauty in the middle of the dessert, we were greeted by an old hippie wearing jean on jean (yaaas queen) and a dog that probably hadn’t had a bath in months. 

It was clear in the first few moments of our encounter that Bill and I share many of the same ideals and values. I was beaming from ear to ear as he began discussing his love for animals, desire for adventure and disbelief in western medicine, arguing that almost anything can be cured with the proper diet. If you know me at all, you know this is my type of guy right here. 

Bill gave us a tour of the trailer we’d be staying in, explaining it’s history and sharing each detail about the sustainability of living in a trailer rather than a house. Over the years, he had made adjustments throughout the space to save heat and water, making it even more environmentally friendly. It was inspiring to see his eyes light up as he told the story of his trailer and the adventures he once had on the road with his wife in their youth. As a young man with an arts degree and a belt buckle business that hadn’t taken off as he had expected, Bill set off to explore the West Coast, making a living by creating brochures which highlighted different attractions and restaurants in the cities they passed through.

We were invited to go rollerskating at Bill’s alien themed roller rink on Friday evening, admiring the remarkable artwork he had created and decorated the space with. We also had the pleasure of meeting Bill’s wife, Robin, a petite woman overflowing with a love of life and so many passions and stories to share. Robin had always dreamed of having llamas, and here she was in her old age, enjoying sunny days on the ranch without a single regret to her name.

Getting to know Bill and Robin was as much of a treat as getting to know their llamas, each with a name and distinguishable personality. We got up early on Saturday morning to help feed them, learning so many interesting facts about the animals- llamas actually have claws not hooves, their ancestors are rabbits, and they originated right in the Colorado/New Mexico area- just to name a few. 

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Bill’s love and compassion for his llamas was just as prominent as that of any dog or cat owner I have met. I swear I saw tears welling up in this man’s eyes as he spoke of each one- some more nurturing, some bossy, others more mischievous than the rest. “They’re a spiritual being, they’re a living thing. These people, they claim they respect life and then sit down and have a good steak dinner. Excuse me, no you don’t. No, You don’t respect life at all.”

Frankie and I were surrounded by a regard for these animals (and all life for that matter) that was overwhelming and so special, serving as a reminder of why it is important for humans to coexist with all other life on earth, sharing the planet the way it was intended to be shared. Although this has been our mantra for a while, it was refreshing to be a part of a community where respecting life is normal and almost expected- contrary to the way most of society lives.

As we packed our bags and hit the road again for a seven hour drive back to Denver, we began reflecting on the wonders of a simple weekend in a much simpler world than the one we are used to. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise to miss out on the initial purpose of our trip, for we must come back again- No doubt we will be paying our new friends in Santa Fe a visit along the way.

 

 

 

Fully Raw February: Week One

Before I go any further, I must confess that I am mildly addicted to youtube, especially vegan youtube. I have gone through many phases over the years, binge watching videos about health and nutrition, makeup (I was a much different person back then but damn my eyebrows were killer), workout routines, fashion… you name it. I remember stumbling upon Freelee the Banana Girl, the infamous vegan youtuber known for eating thirty bananas per day. At the time, I probably had to open another tab to look up what a vegan even was, nevermind a raw vegan. You can imagine my horror when I realized that eating fully raw meant eating only fruits and vegetables. My jaw dropped (in shock or perhaps to shove another handful of cheez-its in my mouth).

When I transitioned to the vegan lifestyle about a year ago, I began educating myself on the benefits of raw foods and toyed around with the idea a bit more, watching some raw vegan videos on the web and incorporating some more smoothies and salads into my diet. Since then, I have learned much more about why going raw is beneficial, especially for resetting and nourishing your body after some less than ideal days of eating (We all know the kind). The idea behind eating fully raw is to consume only whole, uncooked or “living” foods from nature in order to reap the benefits of their nutrient contents. When plants are heated above 110 degrees, some of the nutrients die. Cooked food is also said to be more addicting than raw food (I mean it isn’t often that we binge on apples and carrot sticks, is it?).

In my Recent trip to Chicago  I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fully raw vegan restaurant, Chicago Raw, and my mind was blown. If you are a vegan and are passing through the city, you must go check it out! I discovered that some of my favorite cooked recipes can be easily made into delicious raw masterpieces- something I knew I wanted to experiment more with. Upon my return to Denver I decided that February would be a great time to take my vegan lifestyle to the next level and eat raw as much as possible.

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It has now been a week of eating solely raw foods and I’m super excited to continue this challenge for the month of February. As someone who ate lots of smoothies and salads before committing to this challenge, fully raw was an easy transition for me, and it truly has opened up a whole new world of food (and health!). Here are some things I have noticed about eating fully raw during week one.

Easier Meal Prep

On a day to day basis, eating raw has been easier because I haven’t had to plan many meals. At the beginning of the week I grocery shopped for fresh produce, nuts and seeds. It is easy to make a meal of these items because any combination tastes good, and they also taste great by themselves! I love having smoothies for breakfast, fresh fruit or veggies and guacamole for lunch and a large salad for dinner. I eat some mixed nuts or dates as a snack (Not sure if you can call it a snack when a quarter of my daily caloric intake is coming from dates… But these things are so good). There isn’t much thought involved in the preparation of meals, I simply eat whatever sounds good in the moment.

Feeling Lighter and Having More Energy

I have found in my first week of fully raw eating that I feel so much lighter and have a lot more energy immediately after a meal. In the past year I have experimented with many different versions of the vegan diet and my general conclusion is that the closer to nature that I am eating, the better I feel! Of course eliminating meat and dairy provided an enormous change in my energy levels- going from immediately taking a nap after eating to feeling much more alert. It only makes sense that eating fully raw would give me copious amounts of energy- and never the “crash” that is often experienced after a giant plate of pasta and sauce with added sugar.

It is Expensive

When it comes to the vegan diet, there is a large misunderstanding that everything is so expensive. I can honestly say that I spend about $35 per week on groceries for myself when eating a standard vegan diet- Pretty cheap I’d say! Unfortunately, when it comes to eating fully raw, there isn’t any way around spending more money than I’d like. Fresh fruits and vegetables (not including potatoes, a previous staple of my diet which is ridiculously cheap and filling, but can’t really be eaten raw) are expensive. Additionally, it takes a lot more food to feel full after eating. In my first week of raw food I had to grocery shop twice, which is pretty unusual for me. This month of raw food will certainly be an investment.

I have to eat A LOT

I have always been a person with a hefty appetite and munching on raw fruits and veggies seems to maximize it. I have to eat a ton of food to feel satisfied. This usually means putting four bananas and a large cup of blueberries in my smoothies, making a salad with at least five cups of greens, a whole tomato and at least half an avocado, or eating several zuchinis worth of zoodles. On the other hand, I can eat a ton of food without feeling bloated and uncomfortable from eating too much because it’s all healthy and generally lower in calories than the standard American diet, or even the standard vegan diet. This is a good thing for someone who just really enjoys eating.

There Are So Many Great Recipes

There is a running joke in my family that I am a horrible cook. I’m not sure where exactly this life-long label originated, but I plan to overturn it by making some really easy and delicious raw recipes that even non-vegans will go crazy for. My brother has been visiting me in Denver this week and came up with a raw vegan Alfredo (stay tuned for the recipe!) that was out of this world. It was super easy and tasty, opening my mind to a new way of preparing dishes with simple, uncooked plant foods. In the next few weeks I plan to test out a variety of recipes for tacos, pasta sauces, snacks, “nice-cream” and other desserts.

 

In this next month I hope to challenge myself and gain a greater understanding of the raw food diet and how it impacts health and wellness. I am excited to explore new combinations of food and create some of my own recipes, all the while documenting how I feel relating to sleep, exercise and mood. I’ll be updating often and including some great recipes in the weeks to come so keep reading and feel free to join in on my Fully Raw February!

 

Chicago Inspiration

We were stumbling down the sidewalk with heavy backpacks, facing a heavy wind. It seemed to come out of nowhere, as we headed towards the famous bean sculpture I had been hearing about, still recovering from a four hour night of sleep and a candy coma after spending too much time and money in Dylan’s Candy Bar. We couldn’t hold back our laughter as I was knocked off my feet and thrust against a brick building, ignoring the many skeptical faces of young professionals passing by (I mean come on people, live a little).

There were few moments in Chicago last weekend that weren’t spent laughing and talking about our dreams. My roommate Frankie had invited me to visit some of her family for a few days and I jumped at the opportunity to see a new place and meet new people. Frankie, although she grew up in Michigan, spent much of her childhood in Chicago visiting her Grandmother and eventually her older sisters, who moved there to pursue their careers. I was eager to see what her childhood city was all about, and to become familiar with a part of her I hadn’t yet gotten to see. Unable to calculate all of the hours spent in recent months telling jokes and planning our unconventional futures with some inappropriate banter in between, I knew that three whole days spent with my best friend wouldn’t fall short of a grand time.

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We arrived at the airport much too early the morning of our flight with tired eyes, enjoying an expensive cup of coffee and a conversation about our weekend trip, wandering away into talk of everything that would come after. We spent a lot of time mooning over thoughts of the Appalachian Trail which has been consuming the space in our minds since we made the decision to start training for the sixth month expedition a few weeks ago, later plunging into a conversation about her clothes. For the past several months, Frankie has been taking her childhood aspirations of becoming a fashion designer a bit more seriously, learning more about sewing and designing while working at a thrift store in which she seeks out the perfect clothing candidates to cut up and turn into recycled masterpieces. These conversations seemed to unknowingly pave the way for an incredible trip that lacked any sort of planning.

Most of our time in Chicago was spent wandering. We walked several miles as Frankie pointed out the gorgeous Chicago River and many of the buildings we passed. I was fortunate enough to spend time with her sisters (I now see who she gets her road rage from), hearing their unique life perspectives and travel stories. On Saturday we enjoyed brunch with her Grandmother, an intelligent woman who talked mostly of books and a career that once lit a fire within her. She gave us a tour of Northwestern University, or rather, a tour of the sidewalks, nearly plowing over a group of students.

I was able to understand more about Frankie in this experience, seeing her in her element, exploring a place she once roamed with much smaller feet, and spending time with the strong, capable, hilarious women who had raised her to believe that anything is possible. It was reassuring to hear their thoughts about our AT hiking plans, ideas for an upcoming project we are starting (stay tuned for details) and support for Frankie’s clothing line. Even her grandmother requested a hand stitched, recycled jacket.

We further explored Frankie’s territory spending a good portion of our trip shopping. Although I am definitely not the fashionista that I once was, I loved every moment spent pointing out different ideas for her clothes and hearing the confidence in her voice as she exclaimed “Oh, I can definitely make that!” We spent some time poking around in the typical stores and then hesitantly entered a shop upon the greeting of a well-dressed doorman and racks of thousand dollar dresses that I feared even resting my eyes on. Frankie had warned me prior to our trip that Chicago is a high heels and lipstick sort of city, but here I was standing next to her incredibly stylish frame wearing jeans and a baggy Goodwill sweater.

We spent a lot of time admiring the pricey and elaborate clothing. “If you could own one pair of these shoes, which one would it be?” Frankie asked and I chose the converse-like white sneakers (at the not so converse-like price). This did not come as a surprise. Since Frankie and I moved into our apartment together in Denver, I have designated her my personal stylist anytime I need to look presentable, which happens to be a rare occasion. In our Chicago shopping endeavors, I came to the realization that my aesthetic could use some adjustments and decided, to Frankie’s delight, that we’d get to work on revamping my closet (More on this in another post). Needless to say, I spent a little more money than I had intended, as did she (Seriously, someone enter this bitch into Shoes Anonymous).

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Venturing into Frankie’s territory, of course, did not come without my own self-exploration. In addition to getting in touch with my more fashionable side, we made it a priority to try a new vegan restaurant at nearly every meal. We spent lots of time capturing images of delicious food, picturesque city scenes and ourselves, making every effort to document the experience (another one of my monthly vacations for 2018). As the light began to shine through our windows each morning, I got to work on my writing (and snuggling with the adorable puppy, Milo). There was so much inspiration involved in this trip and it seemed to follow us in the form of romantic architecture, quaint restaurants and funny stories exchanged among family members.

As Sunday evening approached, we hurried through the airport, each of us sporting a new pair of shoes. There was a certain joy and anticipation in boarding a plane to return to Denver, a feeling of novelty that came as a surprise to someone who is always looking for the next adventure. I was certain that this time the inspiration would follow us home, and it has- materializing in Frankie’s original clothing, in the hikes that prepare our legs for 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine, in video footage that will soon be compiled into our “project”, and perhaps most relevant, manifesting itself in these very words.

 

 

Plant Based in Venice Beach

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As an East Coast girl, the idea of visiting the West Coast has always fascinated me. My Dad lived in Los Angeles for years, collecting stories of warm waters, diverse people and some of the best food he had ever tasted. When I began packing my bags for the big move to Denver, he assured me that city life would promise excitement and opportunity, and perhaps the most important detail: Good food available at any hour of the day.

Upon moving to Denver, I was determined to try the surprising number of plant based restaurants, a new concept to someone from a small town hosting only an AppleBee’s and a handful of local restaurants including The Proper Pig (Yes, lets cut him open and eat him. How proper). Although I don’t eat out often, I find that when I do, I can’t help but spend far too long staring at the menu like a small child in Toys-R-Us, overwhelmed by the knowledge that I can order anything I want. Before I know it I am signing a forty dollar bill and struggling to walk to the car after polishing off a fancy drink, appetizer, dinner and dessert. Needless to say, this kind of power is not good for any vegan.

As I begin planning my monthly vacations for 2018, I have come to terms with the fact that spending a bit of extra money on gourmet vegan food is worth it after weeks of stuffing my face with the cheap and easy potatoes with salsa. I have tried a few plant based restaurants over the past few months and have decidedly made it one of my goals to eat vegan all over the world. When I spontaneously booked a flight to Los Angeles last week, my thoughts were flooded with fantasies of this delicious Southern Californian food my Dad has been talking about for all of my childhood and knowing that Los Angeles is the hub for vegan hipsters, I was so ready to get a taste of it.

Although I would have loved to eat out at every meal, I packed some food to keep me satisfied until dinner and then began googling vegan restaurants in the area. I came across many places with good reviews, finally answering the growl of my stomach with a place called Cafe Gratitude in Venice Beach. They have a few different locations in California, and if you are ever passing through, (vegan or not) you must try this restaurant.

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One thing I know about the plant based community is that they are all about the vibes, and this place definitely caters to that. Since it was my first time eating out alone, I was a bit uneasy walking into the restaurant, reluctantly telling the hostess that there was only one person in my party. And a goddamn party it was. The staff welcomed me onto a heated patio and sat me at a small table with an outlet nearby upon my request. I was introduced to Cafe Gratitude by an adorable man who explained the menu in great detail. “Here at Cafe Gratitude, our guests order with affirmations.” With a quick glance at the menu, I realized that every dish was labeled with a unique adjective. I placed my three course order (because a girl has to spoil herself sometimes) by stating that “I am eclectic, I am liberated and I am awakening.” When my food arrived at the table, the server repeated the affirmations back to me. Additionally, I was offered a friendly question of the day: “Who can you acknowledge?”

The restaurant was decorated with inspirational quotes and unique artwork to keep the aesthetic alive. It was very casual yet had a classy feel with dimmed lights and candles at every table. I felt at peace in this atmosphere surrounded by people stuffing their faces with plants. What could be better?

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The waitress was probably getting impatient with my long decision making process but stayed calm and collected (the true job description of anyone who works in a restaurant) as I flipped through the menu and asked for a drink refill fifteen times before ordering. I finally decided on the ole vegan favorite of buffalo Cauliflower followed by some raw kelp noodles in a Thai sauce. I have been making an effort to eat more raw foods lately and was surprised at how tasty and complete the meal was. I am looking forward to testing out some similar raw recipes in the future.

With a mouth full of food I ordered key lime pie for dessert, a rich treat made of avocado with a nutty crust. I am a firm believer in the idea that avocados can be eaten with any meal (even dessert!) and this served as some strong proof for anyone who has their doubts.

Each time I indulge at a vegan restaurant I am pleasantly surprised at the flavorful and filling recipes that can be created with simple plant matter. The vegan diet recieves a bad reputation for being boring and unsatisfying, often by those who have never truly committed themselves to giving it an honest try. I would highly recommend Cafe Gratitide to vegans and non vegans alike who are looking to try something new and different. I promise that the expectations you may have of a small plate of lettuce that leaves you sad and hungry will be greatly exceeded.

My First Solo Trip & Thoughts On Traveling Alone

When I graduated high school I had never stepped foot in an airport before. I took my very first trip in the summer of 2016 to visit a friend who was staying with her family in the Czech Republic, somehow managing to maneuver airport security, long flights and international layovers that had me running down crowded hallways lost in the midst of time changes, unfamiliar airport signs and foreign languages (with only a few tears shed). I have flown many times since, almost exclusively by myself, but there has always been someone waiting for me when I reached the destination.

For the past several months I have had a bad case of wanderlust, spending much of my time researching cheap flights to absolutely anywhere, seeing visions of Expedia deals and Justfly.com in my sleep, begging friends (and some people I barely know) to be my travel partners. I had this idea in my head that the reality of my travel aspirations would depend on the people around me and the limits of their schedules, budgets and desires for adventure, hardly considering my own capabilities. When I saw that I had a few days off in the coming week, I decided to take a leap into something unknown by going on a spontaneous trip to Los Angeles by myself.

The night before my flight I hardly slept. I was eager, yet unsure, worrying I hadn’t done enough research, that I wouldn’t know what to do when I arrived. As part of a big family, I am not used to spending much time alone. Since I moved away from home I have surrounded myself with good story tellers and good listeners, always itching for conversation. There was a small part of me that feared feeling awkward or lonely by myself, but when I stepped off the plane into an unfamiliar January heat, surrounded by families, couples, school groups and friends, I felt confident to be taking on this experience alone.

With little time to spare, I set off into the heart of the city for exploration. I spent hours in downtown Los Angeles observing the buildings, the people, the food, and the music. I visited Grand Central Market and ate lunch outside, entertaining myself with bits and pieces of conversations from those passing by. I checked into a hostel in Santa Monica by mid-afternoon and spent the remainder of the day at the beach and on the boardwalk, watching a magic show in which a man swallowed a twenty dollar bill and then cut open an orange to reveal it inside, and listening to renditions of popular songs on saxophones and ukuleles. Come dinnertime, I found a trendy vegan restaurant and enjoyed dinner and dessert, all the while relying on my own company.

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The most unique aspect of my trip was that I never had to compromise. I spent as much time as I wanted in the city before heading to the beach. I ate out at a restaurant of my choice. I went in the direction of anything that caught my eye without having to consult the next move with those around me. It was wonderful and liberating not having to please anyone aside from myself.

The silence that previously worried me became a peaceful way to relax and really take it all in. My mind wasn’t prone to wandering away into a conversation about work stress or otherwise irrelevant matters. I was at ease listening to the sound of crashing waves, stopping every now and then to hear music and observe what was going on around me. I was able to stay present and be engaged in my surroundings, absorbing so much more without the added distraction of a companion.

The greatest thing I learned while on a trip by myself is that anything can be done alone. I met so many people in passing who inquired about where I am from and what brought me to Los Angeles. I explained that I was simply taking a short trip on a whim by myself “just because.” This opened up incredible conversation with people who seemed to fear the thought of stepping outside of their comfort zone the way I previously had, hypnotized by the notion that being alone has to feel lonely rather than empowering. These conversations made me feel more confident in my abilities, questioning why I hadn’t even eaten out alone or seen a movie by myself in the nineteen years of life prior to this trip. I ‘d spent so much time planning around others, constantly seeking the approval of those around me, that I forgot how to just be myself and go after the things that are important to me regardless.

My solo trip came to an end too quickly, but I know it won’t be my last. The morning of my departure from Los Angeles initiated deeper thoughts about my experience traveling alone and looking within myself to achieve the things I never thought I could as I sat on the curb and waited for my ride to the airport. The driver arrived at the hostel to pick me up and we began making small talk about classical music and hiking as we drove into a dark sky soliciting the sunrise. Our conversation took many turns before he asked if I believe in alchemy, a means of creating your own destiny by emitting an energy that attracts good things from the universe, allowing you to achieve that which you desire most. I considered that perhaps this short trip was just a small piece of a larger dream I have of seeing the world and that I need to take responsibility for its execution. I have a sense of pride mixed with exhilaration knowing that I am well on my way to achieving it.

Upon my arrival in Denver I was greeted with a tedious weekend of working doubles alongside some angry and hungover coworkers, confronted by familiar faces complaining about school, jobs and all of the bills they have to pay. I try to resist the vacuum that sucks me into this negativity, making me feel that there is no end to it all, holding tight to a few words that my Dad has assured me with: “It is temporary. You’ll be traveling soon.” And I know he is right.

 

 

How I Plan To Take At Least One Vacation Per Month In 2018

 

 

Having recently moved to Denver, Colorado from Maine, I truly believed that my entire existence would become a vacation. After a long day of hauling pallets up to the top floor of my apartment complex (yes, pallets. Photos of a homemade couch to come), I hopped into a friend’s convertible and cruised into a navy sky with the pristine outline of mountains illuminated by city lights. I remember thinking that the only thing that could possibly make the moment better would be if I had an elastic to prevent my hair from whipping me in the face. The rest was just too magical to be tampered with.

It was not until a few weeks later that I realized living on my own was not all it’s cracked up to be as I tried to hold back the tears while on the phone with my Mom. I had walked all over the city and managed at least twenty interviews but hadn’t yet found the job of my dreams. Shocking, I know.

Months later, I have finally settled in my new home and enjoy all that it has to offer. Most days the weather is gorgeous. I am able to go on frequent hikes with my incredible roommate Frankie and discover museums, libraries and coffee shops all over the city. I enjoy both of my jobs and feel very fortunate to interact with new and interesting people on a regular basis. That said, every day is not the vacation that I thought it would be.

Over the past year I have quite literally been dipping my toes in new waters, learning so much about the world around me and only craving to know more. I have discovered that no matter how wonderful my life is, I am not comfortable being stagnant. For this reason, I have made a New Year’s Resolution (not that I’m into that kind of thing..) to take at least one vacation per month. Here is how I plan to do it:

Demanding What I Want Out of Life

If you are a people pleaser much like I am, then you understand where I am going with this. This is probably the most important aspect of taking many vacations. As soon as this idea was born, I forced myself to state it aloud, to speak it into existence. I had to tell myself and everyone else that this is something I am going to do, not something that is up for discussion. I had to learn how to be firm with my choices and ignore any backlash from those who are stuck in the motions of the life that society has imposed upon them. I had to truly believe that this goal is achievable, and know that it is what will make me the happiest.

Defining Vacation

A vacation does not have to be an elaborate and expensive two week adventure across the country, but it can be. Taking a vacation to me simply means allowing myself a few days off per month to explore a new place or experience a new thing. It can be tempting to lay around in bed all day when you have the weekend off, and although this is relaxing and necessary once in a while, it does not get your heart racing and it does not promote growth. These are the two things I look for when taking a vacation whether that means taking a short road trip to visit a museum or flying across the world to experience a whole new culture.

Working Hard In the Mean Time

I have been called a workaholic by friends and family since the day I turned sixteen and began working at a fast food restaurant. It does not necessarily matter what you do for work or how much money you make. What matters is that you work hard. For me, this means working several days in a row, picking up shifts, and not asking for a lot of time off unless I have a specific event to attend or travel plans. This makes it hard for employers to say no when I ask for a few days off.

Taking Advantage of Opportunity

An easy way for me to save money on vacations and visit a multitude of places is to keep an ear out among friends and family for travel opportunities. Over the next few months I will be visiting my roommate’s sisters in Chicago, staying with my brother at his work-away program in Thailand, and meeting my family in Myrtle Beach for our annual trip in April. Taking vacations every month is much easier when you make connections and aim to share your experiences with others.

Understanding Wants Vs. Needs

A big part of taking vacations is saving money, whether that be to pay for my trips or to simply feel financially comfortable taking some time off of work. While I do consider myself a minimalist for the most part, there will always be the sweet scent of Indian food wafting into my nostrils from a restaurant nearby, or a cute pair of shoes that is practically begging to live in my closet. Although I do indulge every now and then, I try to remember that experiences are more important to me than material things. That said, one can take being frugal to the next level. A few days ago a resident of my apartment building advertised his need for a mattress, wondering if anyone might be looking to get rid of one. I was seconds away from hitting send on an email offering to sell him my bed. I had to give myself a gentle reminder that sleeping on the floor for the next several months is probably not worth the extra hundred bucks. Likewise, when I am on vacation, I try to limit what I splurge on, understanding that certain travel expenses are inevitable, but luxury accommodations and excessive eating out are not.

Embracing Each Moment that Life has to Offer

Although I am eager to stock up on new memories and collect stories to share, living vibrantly in the moment is the most important aspect of taking vacations every month. Additionally, I know it is something to keep in mind even while treading the same waters religiously, counting down the days until the next time I can experience something new and exciting. Taking frequent vacations is just one of many ways to feed my hunger for adventure, and finding that adventure on a day to day basis matters just as much as finding it in my travels.