Happy Earth Day, all! To celebrate, I am throwing it back to my South American journey this time last April, and the most breath-taking natural experience I’ve ever had. Almost one year ago to date, I spent a week camping and trekking through Torres del Paine, a national park in Chile’s region of Patagonia. It was the most rejuvenating and testing (both physically and mentally) 7 days I had ever experienced, and each day brought even more beauty than the previous.
My travel teammate and I traded in our late-nights for early mornings, our cell phone screens for glaciers, the weight and distraction of social media for our 85-liter backpacks and our own thoughts and, perhaps begrudgingly, our showers in order to bathe in nature’s silence and acceptance. The magnificent ability of our natural planet to heal mind, spirit and overall wellbeing journeys far beyond words. Alas, here is my attempt at capturing the majesty of this park, and our astonishing planet Earth, in a visual post. Enjoy!
Day 1: April 5, 2016
Entering the Torres del Paine National Park at the tail of the ‘Q’ route. On this path we saw guanacos (relative of the alpaca) and wild horses, though I searched for mountain lions all week.
Day 2: April 6, 2016
The most vibrant and saturated blues and golds I’ve ever seen; this shot is of Lago Pehoé. This part of the trek offered unbelievably strong winds as we marched north into the park.
Day 3: April 7, 2016
Despite our sore knees, we hiked a little extra one afternoon to catch a glimpse of the beautiful Glacier Grey. By the time a gentle snow flurry began, I was in awe and in tears.
Day 4: April 8, 2016
In beautiful irony, the soundtrack to this pale and delicate sunset were the thunderous sounds of avalanches tumbling down mountainsides above our camp.
Day 5: April 9, 2016
One of my favorite days of the week was this one spent in the French Valley. It was also the most strenuous– think trekking 25 kilometers in one day with 85-liter packs on. Bless hiking poles!
Day 6: April 10, 2016
April meant autumn in the southern hemisphere, and we caught just the start of changing foliage in the park, despite celebrating Easter in the coming week.
Day 7: April 11, 2016
Watching the sun rise on the Torres del Paine is the ultimate reward and grand finale for the strenuous and breathtaking weeklong experience in the park. Kicking off day 7 at 6 a.m., we hike-raced uphill in darkness to watch Patagonia’s famous glowing sensation.
I will never forget my experience in Chilean Patagonia. My week fully immersed in nature reminded me of our planet’s magnificent healing properties, among returning me to my true self. This Earth Day, let us marvel in all that our planet offers us and remain mindful that it deserves the same healing and protection in return, today and every day. This year, I vow to create some healthier and more eco-conscious habits. What sustainable changes can you make today?
My Earth Day 2017 vows for healthier & sustainable habits:
- To purchase my produce at local farmer’s markets
- To invest in a clothesline for natural clothesdrying
- To unplug electronics from outlets when not in use
Let’s talk about forgiveness. Not too long ago, I was in a darker place. I was not surrounding myself with kind, insightful, loving thoughts, and that reflected in the life I led, my notion of self-worth, my dreams and the low-vibrating, also struggling, like-minded company that I kept. I was stuck. And I knew the health of my well-being and spirit desperately needed to spread their wings to fly and soar into a space of love.
Fast-forward to my present, and Good & Grateful‘s blossoming in the beautiful San Diego. I found that space of love, but I did not find it in California. I found it in myself, though distance from the negative associations of my prior helped allow for my discovery.
There is an important distinction here in running from problems that are within, and removing oneself from an external environment that no longer serves us. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will find that my environmental struggles were only mirroring my unhealed internal, as everything comes back to the self. I am sure, as I continue on this learning-journey, I will be able to return to those once-places of pain, and lend enough love to them in order to rewrite their scripts. That, I believe, is true growth.
But back to forgiveness. In this current life-chapter, I have focused intensely and intimately on self-love. I am, like many, often too hard on myself. I hold myself to unrealistic standards of perfection that only perpetuate a mindset of not being, and never being enough.
Intensifying healthy, loving scripts and positive mantras have helped me to shift my thought-patterns. Meditation, exercise and conscious eating have aided me in a newfound understanding of self-care. Treating myself magnificently, and humbly, remembering that I am the full moon as I am the mud that hosts the lotus, has taught my new company to honor, respect and love me in the same ways.
But at the core of it all, I am relearning that we are all and only human. If we are the universe and the earth, then we are every piece of it. We are the full moon and the sun, as we are black holes and vast emptiness. We are the flowers and the trees and the ocean, as we are tornadoes and dirt and the tectonic plates that crack and shift. We are everything while we are nothing. We are light and dark.
A flower isn’t perfect with its curved stem or curling petals, but it is beautiful. The sunset is only as spectacular and special as the clouds that blur and shape it. We humans were not made to be perfect. We are breathtaking and magnificent only because we are not so.
In this space of love, within myself, I have come to forgive myself for my shortcomings, my mistakes and my pain of the past and current. I am freed from the suffering that I clung to for so many years. And remembering that I’m trying my best and that our best is all we can do has helped me to heal painful relationships of the past. I am able to forgive others and accept that they are on their own journey– one that I may never understand– and they are learning and trying, too.
Self-love has permitted me and encouraged me to break free from the past. I am ever-growing with deeper learning and loving, and I am ever-releasing myself as pain’s prisoner.
With forgiveness, I have tasted unwavering joy and contentment. My relationships with my self, and others, have peacefully heightened and become more enriching.
We are much less defined by the outcomes as we are the way we handled things in getting there, for it is never the destination: it is the journey.
And I plan to continue making this joyous journey beautiful: to be ever-learning, ever making mistakes, ever-falling and ever-getting-the-heck-back-up, gently and lovingly. And now, once again, I am soaring.
And now that I am here within myself, I can finally say:
I forgive you. I forgive me. I love you, and I love you, me.
This week’s #humpdaypoetry goes out to all of the brilliant flowers in my life, and in the world. To you flowers, who have learned to seek your own light, nourish your own soul-soils and cultivate your own safe spaces of self-love. Happy #InternationalWomensDay! May we always be blooming.
Part 2: How I’m Embracing, and Remaining My Inner “Yes Woman”
The waves were small and the water was chilly. The air was 50 degrees when my alarm went off at 7:20 a.m. I wanted so badly to snooze a little more until waking up to spend my day typing cover letters. But my surf partner and I went out into the ocean anyway.
And the universe rewarded us. Also playing in the small, friendly waves were none other than a pod of dolphins. After a solid five minutes of me slapping the water in disbelief, cupping my jaw-dropped face, paddling out closer to them, inquiring if their presence indicated that sharks were also around, whispering, “oh my god,” incessantly, and wondering why these so-called-waves had to be in my viewing way, I decided to do like my finned-friends and try and catch one, only to paddle back out and repeat the process.
I continued on this way for another 10 minutes. My poor surfing partner was probably experiencing his own disbelief in that someone could have such a reaction to a wild animal, but he tolerated it all the same.
There were few others in the water to witness my enamor and accept the sea’s smaller feat, but after the dolphins left, one nearby surfer caught my eye. He was seasoned, with a white beard, turquoise eyes and tan, weathered skin. He paddled on his long board only on his knees and pursued each small but promising curl in the same manner he would have as if it was the biggest wave he’d ever seen. He reminded me of my father.
After a few catches and misses, I called over to him.
“That’s quite the paddle, I’m not sure I’m there just yet.”
The man laughed and told me it took years of practice. “You should turn next time,” he told me, in regards to my last attempted ride.
I learned that while a self-proclaimed surf-bum now, he was also an avid skier and climber in his years, and had worked as a guide in Switzerland, set rock-problems all around the U.S. while living out of a van for two years, has his Masters in Chemistry, was diagnosed with prostate cancer and now has it under control and spends his time living in San Diego funded by his work as a researcher and online course professor at Vanderbilt University.
Darrel looked back at me and though beginning with, “I’m not sure I’m good for dishing out advice…,” he continued, letting the gentle ocean-waves wash over his surfboard and nostalgia-waves wash over his memories.
“Don’t get into debt,” he said after a moment. “Don’t fall for the illusion of things. Don’t spend your money on a big, fancy car… You don’t need stuff. I had a fancy home and things all back in Nashville. I even have a closet of fancy things here that I never look in. I don’t miss it.”
A wave rolls by.
“Do it while you’re young. Be good to your body. Don’t drink hard alcohol, it takes a toll. If you want to have a beer every once in a while, all right. If you want to get high, smoke weed. But don’t smoke it, bake it. Bad carcinogens.”
We float over another set of baby ocean-movements.
“Get a lot of skin.”
“As in tough skin?” I interjected, in due parts because I’m soft as a flower petal and because I wasn’t sure that’s really what he meant.
“No. You know,” patting his wetsuitted-arms, “affection, touch, love. That’s science…
And if you don’t like something, don’t do it.
“And this.” He looked at the water around him and ahead of him. “Do more of this.”
And whether he had more to share or felt he was done, I’ll never know. Because my transfixed state broke when Darrell spun around faster than I might ever be able to to catch the wave that was upon us. I made it over and looked back to see if he had caught it. He must’ve, I thought, going after it with the same energy of a pro at Maverick’s.
But he hadn’t. And it didn’t make a difference to him, because he was already on his knees paddling back out to catch another.
He didn’t need to put that last lesson into words after all: go after life like you want it badly. Go after it with full force. Pursue it and lean into it wildly. And if you miss? Get up and try again.
So living my new life in San Diego, I will go outside. I will walk around alone. I’ll look up. Smile at people. Make eye contact. Engage in conversation. Say “hi” to strangers. Accept invitations. Invite people.
I will say yes. Say yes to life. Because when you start saying yes to life, life starts saying yes to you.
And just like that: magic had happened.
Be sure to check out the prequel to this piece– Part 1: How I Found My Inner Yes Woman.
New Orleans, L.A.
My first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, had me head-spun, swamp-enamored, voodoo-entranced and quite possibly considering ending the cross-country road trip early and setting up shop. It was in all senses delightfully overwhelming and magical. A melting pot concoction of culture seeps from the city’s every crack, crevice and corner, and my anthropology loving mind was absorbing it all like a sponge.
New Orleans, a province of colonial Spain sandwiched between two periods of French rule, retains traces of around-the-world today as it exists as part of the U.S. under the 1803 Louisiana purchase. Toss in an incredible amount of African influence and the ever-entrancing voodoo religion, a touch of spicy cuisine and blaring brass bands, and the high-energy, semi-addictive personality types (like my own?) who have come to get a taste of this culture-soup and gotten their feet happily planted in the Louisiana swamp. Now, paint everything with the brightest, most vibrantly cheerful and charming colors and year-round Christmas lights and celebration beads: NOLA.
Our killer weekend in the Big Easy began with nothing other than piles of crawfish at the local NOLA brewery, beautiful art at the NOMA, and even better live music: an intimate show of Arkansas blues-duo Handmade Moments, at the Apple Barrel, a cozy venue that plays live music every night of the week.
City tip: The Apple Barrel bar is located in Marigny, a history-rich, authentic NOLA neighborhood. Live like a local and delve into the area’s delicious food and great music, or, start your night here and make your way down to the French Quarter, where the craziness is only a stroll’s away.
The city embraces an open container law, so our walk to the French Quarter and Bourbon Street was extra warm and enjoyable. Like in Nashville, live music typical of the city sounded from every bar. Some of our quieter moments that night were stumbling upon an open-air artist’s market on Decatur Street and Galerie Rue Royale, a sweet and small art gallery that was bustling even at 9 p.m. on a Friday night.
City tip: The French Market District teems with trinkets, treasures, traditions and tasty treats and makes for a great daytime activity. Don’t forget to get a beignet from Cafe Du Monde: the cafe is famous for the city’s traditional treat of a square of fried dough topped with confectionary sugar. Check out the nearby Mississippi River to imagine the historical trading, importing and exporting that took place in this port city in years prior.
After a night on Bourbon Street, our Saturday in the Big Easy called for a relaxing morning of yoga and wandering through Audubon Park. The low-key day prepped us for dinner at the famous Parkway Bakery and Tavern for what USA Today named “The Best Po’ Boy In Louisiana” in 2016. The Obama’s even made a trip there!
City tip: Po’ boys originated in New Orleans as free, hearty sandwiches for union workers on strike. It comes from the term, ‘poor boy’, a name that gives insight to the work ethic and conditions of NOLA natives in the 1920s and 30s. Order it dressed– topped with lettuce, tomato, pickles and mayonnaise– to sound like a local!
We topped off the best shrimp po’ boy in the state with the best spontaneous performance of NOLA live music one can hope to find: the epic, up-and-coming Tank and the Bangas. An eclectic combination of jazz, soul, funk, folk and extremely high energy, this band is a name to remember. Check their upcoming tour dates to see if this band is performing during your Big Easy visit- you won’t want to miss it.
City tip: Get a better taste of the magic encompassing you in the Big Easy: check out the Historic Voodoo Museum near the French Quarter and gain a deeper understanding of the mysterious religion. The museum is a small, dimly-lit hallway that connects three rooms full of voodoo history, talismans and shrines. The voodoo religion has its roots in Africa and arrived to the U.S. during the time of slavery in the 1800s: a cloud of racism combined with the religion’s lack of scripture and inaccurate Hollywood portrayal all contributes to its mystery and conceptions of evil. In truth, it is benign and empowering like any religion.
There is only one way to end your weekend and Sunday in NOLA. The final adventure capping off your Big easy experience is to witness and partake in a second line parade. Second line parades descend from the city-famous jazz funerals, and usually take place on Sunday afternoons with joyful dancing, brass bands and outrageous uniforms. Today, many organizations perform second line parades, and while for varying reasons and in varying neighborhoods, at any given event you can find locals and tourists alike spilling their open-container drinks, dancing and walking the route.
We danced and paraded with the second line members for miles until our feet ached, our stomaches growled and our cheeks had tightened from laughter. It was time to wrap up our New Orleans adventure and we had one last experience to cross off our city bucket list.
In the spirit of Mardi Gras, we bought a King Cake: traditionally a Christian honor to the three kings and now, a NOLA Mardi Gras favorite. The King Cake comes with a small plastic baby, in which you hide somewhere in the cake. The story goes that the person who receives the slice with the plastic piece in it must throw the next party. We enjoyed our King Cake with some wine and friends on the Mississippi River as the sun went down: our weekend in magical NOLA had us contently partied out.
Beneath the captivating surface, locals helped me understand that NOLA was a city of extremes. For every vibrant house, there was a homeless person in the French Quarter asking for a sip of beer. For every victorious band, like Tank and the Bangas, there were the sounds of second line parades that once voiced their aching losses of loved ones. For every tourist that comes sweeping full force into the city to get a taste, there are natural disasters, like flooding and hurricanes, that the area is prone to enduring. For every person that gets sucked into the magic of the swamp, there are people who cannot get out and get un-stuck from the sinking land.
New Orleans was a bursting city, overflowing in every aspect. It wasn’t until our drive out of the swampland to our next destination of Austin, Texas, that I felt a moment of clarity about my heart-set move to San Diego. It was as if I regained consciousness after a trance that had claimed me finally broke– but for a colorful moment there, I had my feet and heart firmly planted in the swampland of NOLA, too.
From our nation’s capital, we headed south to Music City: the capital of songwriting and country music.
Hello, flashing lights, buy-one-get-two cowgirl boots, home of hot chicken and the Man in Black. Nashville, the first official stop as co-pilots on our cross-country adventure, was only slightly warmer in temperature than D.C., but lightyears warmer in southern hospitality. We saw sun here for the first time in weeks, and light shone on the incredibly kind friends who hosted and welcomed us with homemade beer and great taste in music, and the equally friendly strangers who shared locals-only city tips and histories.
City tip: Head to East Nashville for a more hip, locals scene. Visit Drifters and sit at the bar for some good stories and even better BBQ!
It was a taste of the south, a taste of aforementioned hot chicken, which is absolutely no joke and caused my road trip partner to shed (or sweat?) a single tear of fiery deliciousness, a taste of a Bushwacker, a very boozy adult milkshake originating from the Caribbean and milking its way up the U.S. east coast, and a taste of rich entertainment industry history.
Our daytime activities consisted of seeing the Johnny Cash Museum, visiting Acme Radio and hiking in Percy Warner Park, while our nightlife involved strolling down Broadway, with its Honky Tonk music pouring from every bar, a Country Burlesque show at Skull’s in funky Printer’s Alley, and karaoke and mechanical bull riding at Wild Beaver.
City tip: Musician’s etiquette asks for a dollar in the performer’s jar upon entry to a bar. Consider it a thanks-for-getting-up-there-and-making-Honky-Tonk-for-us, and a great-job-tip because in Nashville, every performer is talented enough to win on The Voice (we met one who actually had).
City tip: In the 1960s, Nashville’s early years in becoming the booming country capital it is today, musicians would perform at the Ryman Auditorium and head over through the alley entrance of Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge for a night-cap. To this day, the bar brings in performers and tourists alike.
All in all, Nashville was pleasing to the senses: great music for the ears, delectable treats for the tastebuds, intriguing history and sight-seeing for the mind and the eyes, and twangy charm for the heart. It was a city recognizable to this day for its role in shaping the country music genre and proclaiming itself as a place of hopeful and determined musicians and songwriters with aspirations of making it big time.
When sitting at Drifters’ bar chatting with a local, I asked, “Are you a musician?”
I caught myself instantly rephrasing my question in response to his jaded chuckle- “Is everyone a musician here?”
“Throw a rock in the air.” He responded. “It’ll land on one.”
So long Nashville, the city of aspiring dreams, rockstar karaoke singers, Honky Tonk bars, Country Burlesque and flashy lights and cowgirl boots. Next up, the Big Easy.
Check out the adrenaline rush below that was post-mechanical-bull-ride: my karaoke version of ‘He Can Only Hold Her’ by Amy Winehouse at Wild Beaver in Nashville!
The second stop in my cross-country move to San Diego.
Washington, D.C./ Arlington, V.A.
On January 19, 2017, my babe squad and I collected ourselves from our time in the Big Apple, drove disappointedly through Newark without finding any New Jersey bagels, gained another college best friend on our weekend mission and got settled into to our Arlington home with our incredible host for an empowering next couple of days.
Four of my closest girlfriends were joining me on the first stretch of my cross-country road trip to march on the Capitol for the Women’s March on Washington, the largest demonstration of human rights in history.
The night prior to the march, the babe squad broke out the glitter. And the cardboard, Sharpies and paints.
When Beyoncé’s “Formation” sounded our alarm the morning of January 21, we made ourselves sandwiches and put our game faces on to fight for what we want. Because we very damn well can do both.
My girlfriends and I marched our way into the Capitol and screamed, shouted, cried and danced our way among nearly 500,000 like-minded human rights activists. There was an overwhelming feeling of solidarity and togetherness in the capital of the United States that day.
Amongst all of the recent fear and heartache infiltrating our media and minds, there was consoling joy in realizing we weren’t alone in being afraid and demanding change. There was a blissful freedom in being surrounded by kind, good-natured, loving individuals who were on our team. Our human, heart-pumping, blood-flowing team.
Marching alongside a record breaking amount of women, men and children gave a sense of hope, happiness and faith in the togetherness that the next four years will demand of us.
There was something magically empowering about utilizing our voices, bodies, passions and devotion to goodness with close, caring girlfriends and thousands of equally-minded strangers. It was a record-setting highly-emotional, highly-charged day in my life, the lives of my good friends and the lives of everyone who participated. We made history that Saturday, and my children and grandchildren will hear about it.
However, the work has just begun. Despite my cross-country adventures distracting me from the “real-world” and filling my active mind with awe-some people and places, this journey to nationwide goodness and equality will require persistence. Stay tuned into the national organization of Women’s March on Washington for their campaign, 10 Actions in 100 Days to continue our communal efforts for change.
Take 5 minutes out of your day to call your government with the organization, 5 Calls. Their platform is based on the effectiveness of calling our representatives to voice our demands. 5 Calls provides appropriate government phone numbers based on location and offers scripts for those unsure of exactly what to say. We’re already on our phones- let’s take one minute to dial instead of swipe right.
This great American journey has shone light on all of the wondrous people in this country that we’ve been lucky to share time with. From our incredible hosts and hostesses to the strangers that have given us their “locals-only” city tips, to complimentary treats and beverages, to souvenirs and keepsakes, we have been reminded that amongst all of the darknesses brooding, there is still goodness and light everywhere in this world. There is still goodness and light in this country, too. Let’s channel that in ourselves, and let’s bring that out in others we encounter.
Check out our talented photographer and videographer friend @DeveneyWilliams, and her capturing of our experience at the march: https://vimeo.com/202389845