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.

 

 

 

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.