Adventure Clothes

When I look at my clothes I see what I did, where I was, and who I was with when I wore them.  The shirts and dresses, pants, skirts, and bandannas are more than just cut and sewn pieces of cotton, silk, modal, polyester, lace: they are things that happened while I was wearing them and the people I was with.
When I travel (and this is not just me, I’m sure!) I oh-so-carefully select my clothes. This shirt and this pair of pants for this occasion, and a this pair of shoes in case it rains, and this dress to look stunning in. The problem is, I end up with a mountain of potential pieces and not enough room in my luggage. I sit and go through the pile: the maybe’s, the probably not’s, and the definitely yes’s. It can be hard to let go. Impracticality often wins. Spring? I’d like to believe I can wear my lace pineapple dress and not worry about cold or rain.
I have at least one dress that I love, but which I am not willing to wear because the last time I wore it was such a special and important night. Instead, I will admire it on it’s pretty floral hanger and think about that summer party. Again, I’m sure I am not alone in this.
At the end of last summer I went to San Francisco and I challenged myself to bring only one thing to wear. I found a pretty and versatile dress from Postmark (a la Anthropologie). I wore it faithfully for a couple of days and then decided that I really wouldn’t mind a pair of pants and a shirt, so I went to the Mission and scoured a couple of kitschy-chic thrift shops until I walked away with a pair of skinny jeans and a flannel shirt. Perfect. Those items are still in my closet and now I think of all my San Francisco adventures that happened when I wore them (abandoned racquet ball court in Golden Gate Park, anyone?). While I love my clothes, I think this might be an ideal way to deal with the stress of trying to decided which of my clothes make the cut. It’s wonderfully freeing! Just be sure to bring more than one pair of underwear, since no one wants to thrift that.
I am packing again and I pretty much have my selections laid out. I’m taking a break to type this, and even though I’m lounging in shorts and a t-shirt, I threw on a pretty pair of Seychelles heels that have been sitting in my closet all winter long. It’s time these beauties saw daylight.

Are Photos Making It Hard to Enjoy Travel?

Since sites like Instagram have become a mainstay for social media the popularity of snapping and sharing the “perfect” photo from your travels has exploded.  I can’t tell you how many shots I see that are this: a pretty girl wearing a maxi dress and sun hat, back turned to the camera, standing in front of a mosaic wall.  It sometimes feels like you are not a “real” traveler unless you have been photographed standing in front of some kind of wall in Southeast Asia or somewhere in the Middle East.  That said, I think any person who has the chance and the ability to travel somewhere wonderfully different than their homeland is lucky and I would jump at the chance to take a boat around Ha Long Bay or see the hot air balloons rise into the air at dawn in Cappadocia.  The oddball girl in me, the one who has never been quite on-trend, and the one who would rather by riding in the hot air balloon than watching it, rebels against falling into the same old pattern as everyone else.

I love posting my latest photos on IG.  I also love digging up old memories (Ireland 2006?  Hell yeah, I rocked that Guinness sweatshirt in the mossy old castle we visited!) and posting them.  I have been wondering lately though, is my eagerness to capture the perfect picture on my trip stopping me from just experiencing the moment?  I have caught myself watching things- once in a lifetime moments- through my camera lens rather than just watching them.  I do end up with pictures I am proud of.   Does that make the moments any less special?

Some people would say yes and complain about selfie sticks, Instagram filters, blah blah blah.  These are the ones that hate “selfies” and ridicule the people who take them.  I find that I don’t side with them on the whole.  As a frequent solo traveler I often use my Nikon’s self timer to take a picture of myself.  After all, I want to be in at least some of my travel photos.  

On the whole, I think it comes down to a delicate balance between taking the time to smell the proverbial roses (or the fresh mountain air at dawn, or rich aroma of roasted coffee beans at a small cafe, or the exotic spices in a marketplace, etc), and being comfortable with pulling out your camera to try and capture a beautiful moment on your journey.  I, for one, love my camera, and I don’t plan on putting it away any time soon.

A photo I took myself of myself at Ocean Beach in San Francisco, CA. No regrets.
Tent selfie taken on my latest solo camping trip. You wouldn’t believe the number of up-close-nose photos I took while playing around with the camera.
A goofy photo that has turned out to be one of my favorites from my time in Botswana.

Cafe Life: Boulder, CO

I drove up to Boulder, CO today to do a little thrifting and hole up at a cafe.  I found Laughing Goat Cafe on Pearl Street and I’m enjoying the warm spring afternoon at a table outside with an IPA next to me.  This area is clearly geared towards tourists, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t exciting little boutiques, cafes, and eateries here.  I stopped in nearby Red Letter Books (used books crammed floor to ceiling with only the barest hint of organization), found some comfy pants at Common Threads, and picked up a birthday gift for a friend at a boutique called Bliss.

But back to Laughing Goat-

It is very lively here, even though it’s a Monday afternoon and ostensibly most people are at work or school.  Inside the cafe most tables are full and everyone seems to be working on their laptops.  I guess I fit right in.  The vibe is cozy pub and their selection on coffees is impressive.  They keep two beers on tap (both are IPA), and have a long list of bakery and sandwiches.  I saw about half a dozen different kinds of kombucha in their refrigerator and my mouth fairly watered.  One was called ‘Rowdy Mermaid’ and I nearly bought it just based on the name.  The crowd looks to be mostly young professionals and students, but sitting nearby is a woman and two young girls practicing their reading.  

I’m not sure if this cafe could accurately be called a neighborhood spot, since Pearl Street is not exactly a neighborhood street, but there is an eclectic mix of clientele, as well as a variety of food and drink options that could keep just about anyone happy.  Boulder is a popular spot for visitors due to it’s reputation for ritzy mountain living.  Let’s just say Whole Foods is big here.  It’s a bit of a haul from Denver, but perfect for daytrips.  Plus, you can’t beat the thrifting options at Common Threads.  I like this cafe, and even though I don’t spend a whole heck of a lot of time in Boulder, I would come back again.  

How My Time in Botswana Helped Me Find Roller Derby

It’s kind of a cliche that travelling or doing a study abroad trip help you to “find yourself”.  Don’t get me wrong, they often do.  This post is not about some cathartic moment out in the African bush being surrounded by elephants and figuring life out.  (If you want to read about that, you better hope that my submission for a travel writing scholarship gets picked- then you can read allll about those kind of moments).  

This is about how my friend Diana came over to my dorm room and innocently asked if I wanted to watch a movie that she liked.  Since Diana is one of the coolest people on the planet I said sure.  The movie was Whip It and it’s all about a girl in rural Texas who stumbles across the sport of roller derby when it was in the beginning of it’s modern day incarnation in Austin.  The movie is directed by Drew Barrymore, who also acts in it, and also features some people you might not expect to see out on the track, like Kristen Wiig (my personal hero), Eve, and Ellen Page.  

Anyhow, if you’ve seen it you know: it makes roller derby look reeeaaalll glamorous.  And the sport it glamorous, to some degree, in a sweaty-dyed hair-tattoos-and-glitter kinda way.  Modern day flat track derby doesn’t look like Whip It much, apart from the relationships between skates.  That is dead on.  I didn’t know any of this when I watched the movie though, so I fell in love with this broken bones kind of excitement for the whole rest of my stay in Botswana.  When I returned to the states I brooded over my new-found roller derby love.  In Bots, there is no opportunity for derby, or even just roller skating.  Suddenly back in Madison, WI there was an established league and a rec league waiting with open doors.  

Ah, Bots
Diana, her sister Maria, and her wonderful mother

Shit, bluff called, now I needed to act.  So I spent a summer learning to roller skate around my neighborhood on $7 used roller skates.  In the fall I joined up with the Mad Wreckin Dolls who taught me how to actually skate, how to fall safely, how throw a hit (appropriately), and how to take one.  I learned how to block and how to jam and I was even voted MVP jammer, a feat which is still my crowning athletic achievement.  

Wreckers!
#12 S.P. Arrow
That’s me as a jammer

I stopped skating eventually as life got busy and I began to value my free time more.  I still skated outdoors for fun on my Frankenstein outdoor skates built from various pieces of other skates.  Now here I am Denver, CO and the siren song of the track is calling.  Today I purchased my new WFTDA insurance- something required for all skaters- and I have all my gear ready to go.  I start skating again on Thursday.  Here we go, game on, cheers to a new adventure.

I have Diana, Botswana, and Drew Barrymore to thank for it.

The Travel Item You Should Never Be Without

I want to talk to you today about a travel item that can keep you warm, cool, safe from who-knows-what creepy crawlies, and is silky smooth.  It is THE SLEEPING BAG LINER.   Oh yes, those of you who have one probably just went “Yup, yup, yup that sucker is magic.”  I got mine when my mom took me to REI before I went to Africa.  We did a major haul (just think what those dividends would have been if we had been members…) and the liner was something of an afterthought.  Here Is the link to the kind that I have.

Claim 1: It keeps you warm.  It does; if your sleeping bag or blankets just aren’t cutting it by themselves then this handy addition will help keep in the heat.

Claim 2: It keeps you cool.  It does; if you are sleeping somewhere hot (like Africa) then you can sleep in just the liner, sans blankets and sans sleeping bag.

Claim 3: It will keep you safe from creepy crawlies.  When I went with a group of friends on a trip to Mozambique we stayed in a hostel our first and seconds nights and everyone woke up with weird bug bites EXCEPT ME.  I slept in just the liner and woke up with the same itch-free skin I went to bed with.

Claim 4: It is silky smooth.  It is; mine is made of silk.
*I don’t work for REI or the maker of this product, I am simply writing about a product I love.

Hiking-grams

It’s beautiful outside today!  The sun is shining, the snow is gone, and the weather is about 70 degrees.  In other words, it is a glorious day to be outside exploring some new terrain.  I, however, am not outside, because I am on the cusp of what feels like a cold and I am trying to stay low-key enough to beat it.  I put together some of my favorite snaps from my hiking trips in my post today as I daydream about them inside with my mug of tea.

Rocky Mountain National Park…the dark clouds heralded snow.
My first ever trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. We saw plenty of the famous elk!

This view is thanks to Eldorado Canyon State Park.
Dog and I stumbled across a herd of deer at Red Rocks.

Eldorado Canyon State Park
Roxborough State Park

Gotta Pay the Troll Toll: My Last Day In WA


On my last day in the great state of Washington I finally ticked another goal off my list:the Fremont Troll.  Oh yes, it was everything I envisioned.
But first- I nearly missed the last commuter train (and only train) into the city that morning.  I had planned to meet up with two friends from my Wisconsin days for lunch and some city exploration.  Since it was my last day, and because our previous plans to meet up had all been foiled, I was pretty set on not missing that train.  I ran to the station.  And I made it.

My friend Cyrus picked me up from the University of Washington stop on the Link line.  We parked and walked down what I guess is referred to as The Ave.  The Ave is a street in the district of the UW that has all kinds of shop and cafes.  We stopped inside a fragrant smelling biscuit place for about two seconds before Cyrus declared that we were leaving.  When Stevie found us she suggested we get bahn mi’s from a little place instead.  Oh, that made my heart sing, that’s for sure.  I’ve only been a little bit obsessed with trying to create the perfect bahn mi sandwhich at home.  I just can’t get that darn tofu consistency right!  The restaurant Stevie took us to was small, busy, and hot.  The woman at the register who took our orders addressed Stevie and I as “sister”, and Stevie as “Miss Stephanie”.  The sandwiches didn’t take long to make and turned out to be quite sizeable.  We took them and walked to a little wooden seating area in a small harbor.  The sun was out and the air was warm.  It was a perfect place for lunch.  After that Stevie went back to class and Cyrus and I were left to wander.  As any respectable tour guide would he insisted on finding a spot to view “the mountain” which is, of course, Mt. Ranier.  It was a rare sunny day and the visibility was unbeatable.  We walked around the UW campus trying to catch that glorious view.  The campus was stunningly beautiful; it would have looked right at home with Hogwarts.

We finally did find that view!  My one photo, snapped with just my phone, doesn’t do it justice at all.  Mt. Ranier is what we would called a fourteener, or a mountain that is fourteen thousand feet.  It’s pretty visible from most places around the Pudget Sound in western Washington.  This volcanic mountain stands alone from the other mountains in the Cascade and Olympic ranges.  On grey days it is all but obscured from view.  This was not a grey day, thank goodness.  After our mountain viewing we tossed around some ideas about what else to do on my last whirlwind day in the city.  I though, Of course, I’ve still never seen the Troll... Cyrus was all for heading over to Fremont for a viewing.  “We can see their statue of Lenin too,” he said.

Wait- what?

Fremont calls itself ‘the center of the universe’.  No really, look it up.  This eclectic neighborhood in west Seattle prides itself on public art and quirky shops.  The enormous statue of Lenin was originally created and installed in Poland, but after one short year communism was on the outs and the statue had a long journey here and there before landing in Fremont.  That is just one of many stories about the crazy kinds of things you’ll stumble across in that part of the city.  There’s a wide variety of food on every block, and the inhabitants are only too happy to live in their strangely decorated apartment buildings and cross their fancy bridges.  I don’t mean to sound bitter, just a little jealous perhaps.  One of the excellent places we visited was called Ophelia’s Books and was a shop with two and a half (a loft) floors crammed with used books.  I didn’t even know about the spiral staircase leading to the basement until I couldn’t figure out where Cyrus had gone and I nearly fell down the stairs.  Among the shelves down there I heard the distinctive munch munch of a rabbit and sure enough there was a nicely sized hutch housing two happy looking bunnies.  A bookstore and rabbit home all in one?  Needless to say I happily purchased a t-shirt with their logo and a rabbit from a beaten up old cardboard box full of book related clothing.


Cyrus took me back to the train station and I caught the Link to the Sounder and then road it back to Puyallup.  My aunt and uncle were at an orchestra concert that my cousin was playing in, so I walked the short distance back to their house.  It was a lovely night; not too cold, clear sky with plenty of stars, and an overall feeling of accomplishment.  This trip was tremendous.  I don’t take vacations to relax, I take them to explore and experience, and I feel like I did both to the fullest extent.  I was able to spend time with family that I don’t often get to see, and friends that live far away.  I was able to tick some things off my list that had been growing a little dusty on said list over the years.  I saw new places and even got to leave the country for a little while!  Traveling solo has become second nature and I don’t know why I ever doubted that I could do it in the first place.  Yes, this trip to the PNW was everything I hoped it would be.  When can I go back?

Seattle Day 2, and The Seedy Underbelly of Puyallup, WA

It’s Day 2 here in Seattle, WA and so far this day is magnificent.  I mean, if you ignore the blasting wind and off and on rain.  It would be quite pleasant and mild without the wind, but c’est la vie.  Last night I learned all about the seedy underbelly of life as a parental in Puyallup.  Puyallup is a small city south of Seattle. It looks all cute from the outside- coffee shops, pizza places, schools, neat little houses- but as I learned the people that live in those neat little houses are bloodthirsty.  It all began when my aunt, mother of my cousin, Jackson, who is in 6th grade, not-so-innocently invited me to join her for a meeting with some of the other parents to discuss a 6th grade class party at the end of the school year.  It’s February now, and school lets out in June, so they have four long months to discuss exactly how they are going to ruin the end of their childrens’ last year in elementary school.  Sure a party for the kids sounds like a good idea, and it would be, if it weren’t for their thin, blonde, bored mothers, who want to throw a party for themselves that the kids get to tag along to.   The meeting of the Beasts was held in a house that reminded me of the model home from the show Arrested Developement.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about: STOP.  Go to Netflix.  Watch the show.  Proceed.  Anyway, this was a house filled with wine and the worst intentions.  We sat there for around 40 minutes as they discussed their plans for the party.  We left at the chitchat descended.  Almost nothing had been accomplished.  It was an interesting social experiment to listen to these mother’s who clearly could not hear themselves.  Good luck 6th graders.

On to today!  Today I slept in, which is a rare feat for me.  I managed to catch the last Sounder train into the city, and I got off at King Street Station, which is right in the middle of Chinahtown.  It’s also where I got off yesterday to wander around. Having trekked the area already, I caught another train further north and disembarked in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where I am currently sitting at Oddfellows Cafe enjoying my cappuccino and a cup of soup.  Both are delicious.  It’s quite crowded in here (it’s the lunch rush), but the waiter/barista working behind the counter I’m sitting at was friendly and helpful right off the bat.  I managed to gesture that I needed a laaaarge cup of coffee and he understood immediately.  This cafe is sizeable, and mostly seems to be a restaurant.  The decor is turn of the century chic, and there is apparently a bookstore attached.  I can’t wait to investigate that!  All of the servers look like people I want to be when I grow up.  The cappuccino is fully living up to Seattle expectations (and the adorable sea foam green mug and saucer, with a tiny spoon and cube of brown sugar doesn’t hurt).  The soup is a minestrone and is hot, spicy, and savory.  Perfect on this blustery day.    

That’s all for now.  I’m about to finish my drink and head on to the bookstore.  More later!

Cafe Life: Seattle

I got off the plane in Seattle, WA about two hours ago and it has taken me this long to get a bowl of cappuccino in front of me.  This is the CITY of coffee.  I couldn’t be more excited about that fact, and I am currently sampling my first taste in a cafe called Zeitgeist, located near Pioneer Square.  I’ve been to Seattle a few times before, but my knowledge of the city and it’s neighborhoods is very minimal.  Thus when I got onto the train that heads from SeaTac into the city I pretty much picked a random stop somewhere in the middle of the map.  I ended up in China town and started walking.  It’s been raining heavily off and on- and I mean it pours for ten minutes and then the sun comes out, and then repeat.  I dashed inside Zeitgeist after ignoring several other cafes that looked more chain-y and less interesting.  The theme in this cafe is appropriate: world exploration.  There are old globes scattered around, blown up black and white photos of children looking at globes, and old coffee pots and various caffeine making machines on display.  This place was clearly once part of a factory: the ceiling goes up and up and is a networks of beams and cross beams.  One wall is brick, one is drywall, and one is a big window looking out into the nearby streets.  Zeitgeist is pretty size able and business is booming.  The baristas are polite and efficient, dare I say even friendly.  Friendlier than I would be in a Seattle coffee shop during rush hour, anyway.  

The other patrons here look as though they all have important financial or marketing jobs.  Everyone looks to be under forty and well dressed.  There are plenty of open Macs on the counters lining the big windows.  At the tables energetic young professionals talk about whatever they talk about over delicious looking sandwiches and salads.  I’m clearly a traveler with my two backpacks and my casual clothing, but not really all that out of place.  

Next to my trusty iPad is my big beautiful bowl of cappuccino.  There’s plenty of espresso under that foam!  It tastes much like a cappuccino I might have had in Denver or Madison though, so the jury is still out on all the coffee hype and what that tastes like exactly.  Now the sun is coming out again,so hopefully it’s still out there when I leave Zeitgeist and continue my exploration.  Is that a National Parks store across the street…?

That Fabled First Trip Abroad

I grew up privileged enough to take fabulous vacations with my family.  We would go one of two, maybe three, destinations every year: Lake Superior or Germany.  Usually Lake Superior; we saw family in a city in northern MN called Duluth, but we also traveled as far as Canada and Michigan on our trips.  Making the pilgrimage to Germany was rite of passage in our family, as well as a tradition.  My mom was born on an army base in Bavaria, so I guess she had a leg up on all of us, but my dad and older siblings made fairly frequent trips.  The first time I was able to go was when I was twelve years old.  


I think twelve was the perfect age to go for the first time.  I was enough of a kid and an introvert to prefer the company of my dad and the other adults on the trip (it was a church exchange) to the teens and pre-teens that were there.  I gleefully filled up on all the delicious chocolate I could get my hands on and soaked up the language like a sponge.  I’ve had a lifelong love of collecting a particular type of German toy called Steiff and on this trip my dad took me to a large German department store and brought me to the room that was shelf after shelf filled with these gorgeous Steiff critters.  “What do you want?” Dad asked, which was basically like all twelve of my Christmases and birthdays combined into one magical afternoon on the Steiff store.

Since we were with a large group Dad and I dutifully went along with the cultural activities that were planned and we different families that hosted us.  I stayed in a cute and very typical German house with a single mom and her two daughters.  The elder daughter, Britta, was just a little older than I was, but light years ahead of me in terms of music, clothes, and personal fashion tastes.  I could tell that she found me juvenile and was doing her level best to be polite to the annoying Amerincan she got stuck with.  The younger sister, Pia, was about eight and was a lot friendlier.  I think if I had been any older I would have had a hard time staying there, but I was mostly blissfully unaware of the awkwardness between Britta and myself, and Britta’s mom was very good at mothering me in her German way.  In the end, I loved it.


On a weekend the rest of the group decided to take the bullet train to Paris for a whirlwind sightseeing trip.  Paris!  HOw glamorous!  At that point I had no French (I ended taking French for four years in high school and I still try to keep up with it) but the idea of going to another European country was quite romantic.  However, Dad had other ideas, and so as everyone else got on their bullet train to Paris, Dad and I got on a train north to a region of Germany on the Baltic Sea called Pommerania.  Aka the Mother Land where that side of the family originates.  Now, let me explain: you know that family in My Big Fat Greek Wedding?  The one that speaks Greek at home, goes to Greek class, and has a subtle tribute to the Greek flag on their garage?  Yeah, that’s us, except we’re German, not Greek.  My parents’ garage code if the year the family emigrated from Deutschland to the USA.  It’s also my phone code, one of my brother’s, and my Dad’s phone code.  Anyway, so as a twelve year old I had a hard time at first skipping Paris for Pommerania, but as soon as the Baltic Sea came in sight and the medieval looking town appeared I came around to the idea.  Of course it was a wonderful day trip, and of course I’m so glad we went.  Isn’t it great to sometimes go along with someone else’s ideas?  *Sometimes*


Berlin was an exciting town and a big change from sleepy little Paderborn, where we had spent the first part of the trip.  We visited official buildings, a cathedral, took a river boat tour, and saw some of the Berlin Wall remains.  I pocketed a piece of the wall, not thinking much of it at the time.  That chunk of history is long gone now.  I wish I still had it.  One of my favorite parts of Berlin was visiting the Pergamon Museum.  You can’t tell from my face in the photo, but for a kid and her Dad who both love history, it was a thrilling afternoon.


I have traveled with my Dad since then- we make excellent travel companions- and have even been back to Germany with him.  I know most kinds aren’t lucky enough to take fantastic trips like this, or if they are, they go in a big group while their parents stay home.  I think if you’re a kid enjoy the trips your parents care enough to take you on, and if you’re a parent, don’t just leave the kids at home because “they won’t appreciate it”.  You never know what’s going to stick, but boy did this trip stick with me.  It’s fifteen years later and I’m still thinking about it (and writing about it!)