Denver Pride Fest 2017 

So I am loving this city so much lately (if you’ve read some of my other posts you’ll know that I just moved into a turn-of the-last-century apartment in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Denver) and this weekend Denver just knocked it out of the park.  Work was tedious and stressful yesterday, but my wonderful friends drove all the way from Boulder to come and see my new place.  We drank wine, played board games, admired the cats, and then headed out to enjoy some nightlife.  Drinks and pizza at City O’ City (my new favorite place), and then some fried confection at Voodoo Doughnuts.  Needless to say, I slept in this morning.  It was the first time in a looooong time that I had no obligations to get up for, and the temperature was cool enough that sleeping was comfortable.  When I did finally get up I heard crowds.  Cheering.  And honking.  And more cheering.

Denver Pride Fest 2017 was happening right in Cap Hill and my apartment was at the epicenter.  I had seen plenty of flags and colorfully dressed people the night before but figured most of the festivities must have happened Saturday while I was at work in Louisville.  I was wrong!  I threw on my lemon tree dress- a colorful summer print seemed very appropriate for the occasion- grabbed my Nikon, and headed out into the festivities.  I happened to catch most of the pride parade as it passed by on Colfax Ave.  The cheering, the glee, the colors, the emotions were all running high today.  Here are some of my favorite photos.

Being A Vegetarian Abroad

Plenty of people have diet restrictions these days, whether it’s a no-meat diet, gluten free, or no carbs not-now-not-ever.  I have been a vegetarian on and off again for 11 years.  The brief times times that I added meat back into my diet were because A) I eat really poorly at first and it was a contributing factor to a hospital stay I had in 2008 and B) I studied abroad in a non-veggie friendly country.  Now that said, when I was studying in Botswana one of my fellow American classmates was a vegetarian and stayed that way.  There are a lot of factors that go into the why of why people restrict their diet and I don’t want to go into all that here.  I am lucky enough to be able to eat freely if I choose and I have no major allergies, so I was able to add meat back into my diet with minimal fuss.  When I left Africa and landed in Germany I immediately- and with great relief- left off eating animals again.  Now I have reached a comfortable point where I occasionally eat fish (that’s called being a pescatarian) but eat healthy and well all the time.

That’s me at home in Colorado.  But abroad?  How feasible is it to be a vegetarian abroad?  When I was 18 I travelled around China with a group of students from my high school.  We had been invited on the whirlwind trip by two nearly-retired teachers who liked to bring students of fabulous trips around the world every summer.  I was able to stipulate ahead of time that I was a veggie person and so I didn’t have too much trouble eating whenever we went to a restaurant as a group.  My friend and I ventured to a grocery store across the street from our hotel in Beijing and did some exploratory shopping.  I think we came away with a bag of Hawaiian rolls, brightly colored candy, and a strangely shaped fruit that we later learned was dragon fruit.  However, if we were left to our own devices for a meal or if we were at some kind of cultural touristy type event there was inevitably some awkward situations.  Like the time we were in Shangai and a restaurant proudly served up a traditional city favorite: steamed chicken feet.  Or the Peking Duck (complete with it’s head, just like in A Christmas Story) we had in Beijing.  I ate a lot of fried eggplant in sauce on that trip.

In Ireland I had a little more trouble finding satisfying meat-free meals, but perhaps that’s because I just wasn’t very good at knowing what to order, or because I was still relatively unwilling to eat cooked vegetables.  Irish breakfasts feature sausage, black pudding, bacon- all that salty, fatty goodness, but they also serve eggs, potatoes, and fruit.  Lunch and dinner were a different story.

People always want to say, “But sometimes it would be rude not to try the food!” That is true to a certain extent.  I attended a funeral in Botswana with my host family and understood almost nothing of what was going on (my Setswana was basic at best). I spent the five hours I was there sitting in a plastic chair in the shade, watching a group of men skin, quarter, and hang cow meat in a tree to dry in the sun.  At some point some of the liver, which had been prepared inside, was passed around and each funeral-goer put some on their plate.  I had never had liver, and certainly never liver from animal I had see whole recently.  There was not a question though: when the large serving bowl was passed to me, I took a piece from it.  I found the taste bland, the texture terrible, and the sight disconcerting, but I still ate it.  That was probably the only I time I risked actually offending someone by refusing a meat dish.  People, as it turns out, generally want to be friendly towards their guests and with their friends, no matter how foreign the person is.  If you say, “No thank you, I do not eat meat,” they respect that.  World War Three is not going to start because you don’t want  a steak, so get over yourself.

I choose to eat meat in Botswana, but not elsewhere.  It made sense for me.  It made sense for the time, the place, and the circumstances.  I think that’s all you can do in any situation.

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!