The Best Things About Being Home (Briefly)

As summer winds down it turns out a lot of people are taking trips.  I guess I was always under the assumption that as September rolls around and fall starts to settle in people hunker down.  I was wrong!  I have been delightfully busy house sitting for some of my favorite Colorado dog owners.  While this means that I get to cuddle and play with some wonderful pups, it also means that I haven’t been home much.  My cats are feeling a bit neglected!  While I was home for a few days this week I feel back into my Capitol Hill routine.  There are some great things to do if you ever find yourself in this part of Denver, so here are a few of my favorites.

The street art around here never fails to disappoint

Pizza at Benny Blancos.  This is truly a hole in the wall establishment, as it is a narrow shop nestled in between bigger and louder buildings.  I literally walked right past it twice!  Different people had recommended this place for a slice of New York style pizza and they knew what they were talking about!  For $2.50 you can get an enormous slice of pizza. You can add just about any topping your heart desires for a little more (something like .50).  Be warned, only about three or four people can fit inside at any given time, so you might end up standing on the sidewalk outside while you wait!

Drinks at City O City.  This place is mainly known for it’s tasty vegetarian fare (wohoo!) but I actually end up coming here more often to grab a cup of coffee or to take advantage of their great Happy Hour specials.  Happy Hour takes place for several hours at a time, two times a day!  They serve craft cocktails, a selection of beer and cider, great coffee, and even house made kombucha.  Not to mention the artwork you can take in inside the building is gorgeous, OR you can sit outside and sip your libation in few of the golden capitol building.
Relaxing at Cheeseman Park or City Park.  I know I’ve written about the parks in this neighborhood before, but I just can’t praise them enough.  As if the colorful history weren’t enough (haunted parks!) both feature plenty of shady space to relax, open grass for dogs to play, and playgrounds for kids or adults-who-just-want-to-swing.  I like to bring a blanket, thermos of beer or coffee, and my ipad or a book to kick back for a few hours.

The Denver Art Museum Is just down the street from me.  You can’t miss the iconic chrome structure gleaming in the sun!  Not to mention all the crazy sculptures out front.  This place has plenty of cool exhibits on display, plus the architecture itself makes for a very trippy experience just walking around.  Plus, the first Saturday of every month is a free day!

Voodoo Doughnut Is another place I write/talk about frequently.  Yes it is a bit of a tourist attraction, but for a good reason.  This place has the perfect quirky downtown vibe that I love and the donut selection is pretty magical.  I have my favorites, but whenever I bring friends here I try to think outside the box and try a new creation!  Creation, not flavor, is the right word since some of these donuts looks like pieces of delicious art piles high with peanut butter, cereal, marshmallows, coconut flakes, frostings- you get the picture.  There are even vegan donuts available! Plus, since this joint is open 24 hours, there is no wrong time for dessert.

So yeah…those are a few of my favorite things.  I have could go on- there are tons of tiny cafes, restaurants, and bars around here but I think I would run out of battery life before I got done trying to type it all up!  If you ever find yourself in Denver head towards the golden dome of the capitol building and spend some time in Capitol Hill.

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Cafe Life: Duluth, MN

If you spend some time driving up and down the [very steep] streets of Duluth, MN to find free parking, you will no doubt then spend some time walking up and down those same [steep] streets in order to find a cup of coffee. I did that, and I ended up sitting here at Duluth Coffee Company.  There is a sunny bench when you walk in, but to get to the coffee you venture into a dim and delicious-smelling back part of the shop where there is a counter to order at, a wall of guitars made out of what looks like drift wood, and Duluth-themed gear to bring back home.  The menu is straightforward and to the point: actual coffee drinks that promise a caffeine rush and plenty of flavor without making your teeth ache from a bunch of unnecessary sugary syrup.  Excellent.  I have ordered my usual, a cappuccino, and it’s excellent.  I also enjoyed not paying an arm and a leg for it (lookin’ at you, Colorado).  

There are a few locals chatting with the barista, and a mix of what I assume are other visitors.  I can tell that they are visitors because, like me, they pause to peruse all the Duluth-themed gifts for sale.  My friends back home would like that stuff, right?  It’s pretty quiet overall, with just a bit of conversation and some music.  It is a Sunday morning, and unlike some cities, this one seems to actually sleep in on Sundays.  The street outside- which is a main drag of the downtown area- has minimal traffic.  The temperature outside is somewhere around 68 degrees, and with the sun shining it’s a perfect morning to lounge around outside with coffee.  

Between the guitars made out of driftwood (and I see one made out of an old aluminum tin!), the collection of old coffee pots on the wall, and the handful of attractive people in here, I am definitely happy to set up camp and enjoy my drink.   This place could easily fall into the trope of tourist trap if it weren’t for the good coffee, interesting people, and comfortable feel that attracts regulars as well as visitors.  I don’t recognize any of the bands that are playing softly in the background, but I know that I like them.  My cappuccino is almost gone and it’s time for me to pack up and continue on my journey, so I will hurry up and post this now.  Cheers!

City Places: Cheeseman Park

I want to write about city places, by which I mean particular places of interest within the city. I don’t mean tourist traps, and I don’t mean entire neighborhoods. Right now I am sitting in Cheeseman Park in Denver, Co, with a thermos of cold beer, a book, this tablet, and a Turkish towel to sit on. The light is fading and somewhere nearby someone is lighting off intermittent fireworks. I can hear a fountain some ways behind me, but more immediately I hear dogs, people having picnics, and laughter from from friends sunning themselves on their towels as they trade stories. There are plenty of people in Cheeseman Park tonight, which isn’t surprising as this sprawling green space in the middle of the city is a popular escape for those in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.  Cheeseman Park used to be a cemetery. That fact is interesting enough on it’s own, but coupled with the fact that when the city officially moved it’s cemetery somewhere else around 2,000 bodies were left unclaimed is even more interesting. This park is beautiful, but I think part of the draw is also all the ghost stories. Plenty of locals who have lived in the area for years will talk about “the regulars”, or ghosts that everybody talks about. Other people report feeling negative [read: bitchy] for no reason. I can’t speak for any of that, although my friends and I did detect a funny smell when we visited one afternoon…
This park seems to be a hub for twenty-somethings to play frisbee or have a cookout, or for people to let their dogs run free for some sunny exercise. The people/dog watching opportunities are excellent. Bordering this park is the historic Capitol Hill neighborhood and it’s hard not to walk along the streets with your mouth hanging open over all of the big brick mansions. A city hotspot, Voodoo Doughnuts, is less than a ten minute walk away. In my book that’s a major bonus.
If you find yourself in Denver, or in Colorado for that matter, this park deserves some attention. Sure it’s not a mountain to climb, or a canyon to raft through, but there’s more to Colorado than just geology!

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.