Travel snacks

Hello friends! Good morning to all of you. I haven't been outside yet, so I can't say whether it's frosty or not, but for the sake of my drive I'm crossing my half-painted fingers. This evening I will be jetting off in my little yellow bug as I head down to Memphis, Tennessee for the United Professional Theatre Auditions. Not one to deny myself some exploration, I have lengthened the trip by a few days, with plans to stop in Blacksburg, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, and Tyler, Texas.  It didn't really occur to me until I relayed my plans to loved ones exactly how far I was driving. When they asked about my audition, I replied "I'm driving, and taking a little road trip." Maybe because I'm not crossing or reaching an ocean it doesn't seem that far to me. (Although a pit-stop in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't sound too bad...Bud Light Lime on the Sarasota shore sounds quite divine...!!)

So when I took in the length of my trip, my mind went to one thing: food. And gas. And money.  In the past, when I've traveled cross country, I've stopped at Mom and Pop dive-y restaurants, or sought out Anthony Bourdain's favorite dishes.  In New Orleans, I had Alligator Sausage and Shrimp Cheesecake and a Watermelon Mojito.  This, on top of two entrees I split with my boyfriend at the time, we also had an $80.00 bill. Worth it, but also not your everyday kinda meal.

Food is important to a traveler. It allows you to taste the scenery, examine the culture through another sense.  This being said, I will be sure to nom upon several of the local (and thrifty) eats as I make my way southward, in addition to having my epic baby cooler full of amazing travel goodies. 

1. Dry roasted almonds

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If you've been reading my blog, you are already aware of the slightly-beyond-platonic relationship I am maintaining with almonds.  I never thought I'd be one of those women in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, the ones who wear La Perla and count almonds as a snack, but hell, here I am. They taste really good. I even bought dark chocolate covered ones yesterday, but I don't have a picture because I ate them all in the parking lot.

2. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate

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If I could have any job in the world, I'd want to be one of those kids on the chocolate cooking show sketch from All That. Do you remember it? They were called Randy and Mandy or Candy or Sandy or something rhyme-y and on the brink of stripperdom, and they attempted to make chocolate inspired recipes, but it always just ended up exploding into chocolate warfare. One time Chris Farley guest starred as a man who was addicted to ketchup. I miss the 90s.

Here I have regular dark, dark with raspberry (because ya gotta get a little crazy), and dark chocolate covered cacao nibs. If you've never had them, I highly recommend. They're crunchy and bitter, providing you with a slight endorphin kick and leaving your taste buds melting in rich bliss.

3. Luna Protein

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One of my favorite things ever are things that are not cookie dough that taste like cookie dough. The raw real stuff will always win, but when it's not around, I find substitutions. Chocolate covered cookie dough bites, cookie dough pop-tarts, cookie dough truffles. I love them all. So when I found Luna Protein offered a "HEALTHY" option, I nearly punched the GNC lady in a fit of joy.  For those mornings when I need to get on the road ASAP and have to skip a proper breakfast (silent tear will fall), these might just do the trick. And then I'll be eating cookies for breakfast, which I was never allowed to do, because Cookie Crisp, while it tasted like a brown unicorn, contained about 60 grams of sugar.

I also bought mint chocolate chip and lemon vanilla, and I'm surprised I stopped there.

4. Kombucha Multi-Green

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YUM! Who doesn't love getting in their daily dose of Algae? This girl does. This is like drinking the cast of The Little Mermaid. There are all these weird green-bits dancing around the bottom, and if you don't think about it at all, then the stuff is amazing.

5. Red Wine

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This is not for the road trip, rather the road trip unwind.  One cannot travel without a way to properly say goodbye to the road each night. You need a comfy bed (or couch, or sleeping bag) and a glass of red. The first, Velvet Moon, is something Trader Joe Guy encouraged me to try.  The second, Red Truck, is one of my favorite wines, rivaling the WalMart Lucky Ducky.  Kate first introduced me to Red Truck when we ate cheese and dried apricots on the floor of our shared bedroom at the Renn Faire.  I brought it to share with one of my good friends, Joshua, and he hadn't had it since college, when they drank it outside of trailers under the Texan stars. It's an easy-going, comforting red blend, that wraps you like a warm cheese and encourages you to sit down and snuggle into an afghan blanket.

6. Granny Smith Apples

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Crunchy and tart, these are the highest one the sour apple scale, and I love them for that.  They remind me of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan peels an entire apple in one long spiral. I love them for that even more.

7.  Baby Carrots

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Because what's a road trip WITHOUT Vitamin A?!  Like the apples above, carrots provide a solid crunch. I wish I could say, "studies have shown...", but I heard this from word of mouth so who knows if it's true--crunchy foods relieve anxiety and energize you.  Regardless, this bag will approximately last me one hour of this over-a-week-long-trip.

8. Bubble Tape

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This had to come along for the ride, because sometimes, when you're on the road of some Tennessee Highway, and Jerry Lee Lewis starts playing, the one thing that will perfect the moment is blowing a bright pink bubble.

look ma, I've got wings!

Dear readers, I hope you have all enjoyed your Superbowl Sunday. (When I first  typed this out, I accidentally wrote Superball Spoonday. I don't know why, but I think it sounds like a fitting title for an episode of Adventure Time.) Mine was laid back, an evening of counting one dollar bills and putting them in one of the small drawers of my high school bedroom, which I have labeled "travel."   This little growing sum of money that I earned pouring IPAs and shaking up Alabama Slammers will serve me as a I drive to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas over the next two weeks!

I was recently hired with a freelance group and am now writing from my bedroom, a booth in Panera, and on the road. This is exciting. Two short articles buy approximately a little over a half tank of gas. I can make that work!!

My last travel consisted of a brief trek up to NYC for an audition with the National Players.  While I was there, I stayed with Alex and Ian in their little cloud apartment, and we ate rocket salads with watermelon radishes and creamy polenta with balsalmic reduced chicken thighs, garlic, and portobello mushrooms. Our wine was white and our little bottoms sat on the floor around a square table.   We folded our hands and talked about men and about moving from state to state. We talked about why we were the way we were, and wondered who we would be in twenty years. (After all, Martha Stewart didn't get her start until she was 40.)

In New York, I questioned my relationship to earthly possessions, and decided to throw some clothes away upon my return home. I have since filled three trashbags with things to either donate or toss.  I drank champagne in a restaurant called Buvette, where I met with my Uncle David and we talked about Bobby West and our trailer park heritage.

On my last morning, I woke up (hangover-less, by some miracle after downing an entire bottle of red wine), and made Alex and Ian a simple frittata with leftover portobello and fresh oregano. We had coffee with cream, and we sat around our table. It was a lovely trip.

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So yes! As I work, work, work and save, save, save I shall leave you all with a little travel poem that's keeping me inspired to jet.

"I always wonder why,

birds stay

in the same place

when they can fly

anywhere on the earth.

Then I ask myself

the same question."

-Harun Yahyah

when the mood swings come a-knockin'

I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm posting about yet ANOTHER smoothie recipe, but I can't stop.And I have a good reason. 

At times, maybe while running on the treadmill or when I'm murdering my hair with the straightener, I start connecting weird thoughts and sentences. Sometimes these moods instill a feeling of fear, sometimes they trigger beautiful clauses that  I instantly tap into my iPhone's notepad. Melancholic seems too sad. Ambivalence implies something more distraught. I feel at peace, while simultaneously a little useless, and pensive.  

It's almost the sensation of walking on a tightrope. Weirdly balanced, but acknowledging the fall. Seeing the other side. Seeing the hard work it demands. It makes me want to lay on my back and collect golden teardrops in my palms. 

I hang out in these places. Feel the feels. Wonder if it's due to menstruation (about one fourth of the time, it is. And if you are grossed out by reading that, go slap yourself with a car. Kidding. But seriously. If men can talk about the shape of their poops then I'm allowed to bring up PMS.) Once that's all over and done with, I instantly try to think of a remedy, form of comfort, or at least something useful so I don't sit in my brain like a hottub of chocolate pudding. (Hottub of chocolate pudding. OMG.)

And I have found a wonderful solution.

Matcha green tea powder. (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) 

If green tea is the mood-boosting, metabolism-ass-kicking tomboy little sister, Matcha is the matriarch of all things green and delicious. She is Red in Orange is the New Black (**SPOILER**) before all that kitchen shit went down. She is Heisenberg.  She is Beyoncé singing Drunk in Love at the Grammy's. If there was a fictional movie about this stuff, Chloe Moretz would play regular green tea and Meryl Streep would play Matcha.  And then somewhere, Steve Martin would pop up as some trippy herbal shit, and chaos would ensue. 

The point is, this stuff is legit. It gives you clean energy, as well as a natural sense of balanced euphoria. It makes the road seem a little bit easier, especially when the road is pretty damn expensive, and you're planning an eight-day road trip on a post grad's budget. The leaves are grown solely in Japan, and then are powdered down into a fine heap of green dust. You can mix with water, milk, or use it as an ingredient in smoothies (!!), cookies, cakes, or anything else. At a writer's conference last Spring, we ate it in the form of ice cream out of white chocolate graham cones.  I would like try a matcha tiramisu, though this might be the last thing I do ever, because I'm sure the ecstasy from such a treat would launch me into a blissful, and somehow weirdly productive, coma. 

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Kale and Matcha Green Smoothie

½ cup greek yogurt (I like vanilla for this recipe)

1 cup ice

½ orange juice

1 tbs. matcha green tea powder

half a frozen banana

2 bunches of kale, leaves torn

spurtle of whip cream (optional, but not to meeee.)

 Combine in a blender or VitaMix and blend blend blend!!!

There are so many variations on this so I don’t know if this can be improved, I’m sure it can. I may try adding mangoes, or swapping in almond milk. It’s great pre or post-workout, or all on it’s own. 

dying engines and embracing change

 

Dear reader, it is time for a confession.

I have my anxious moments. Since I’ve stopped taking Ocella and chewing ice like a sloth it’s gotten eased up a bit, but I still have my little bits of hysteria every now and then. These typically occur when things do not go my way.  Again, typical Libra.

One of my friends, John, told me it makes sense that humans are always anxious, because we are constantly dwelling over the past, trying to make the most of the moment, and worrying about the future. He’s a wise one, that John.

I read in the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, that part of life is accepting it’s various cycles.  There are times we let things grow, times we let things live, and times we let things die. The letting things die part can be incredibly difficult for me. I don’t often like change. I embrace consistency, wanting to snuggle myself deep in its fort of silk coziness. I want to light candles and not leave.  Like a sleepy sparrow, I nest. Ironic, because I love traveling.

 For some reason, driving or traveling long distances has never given me any form of anxiety.  I love the airport, and eating a packaged Air France meal while watching Jurassic park.  I love stopping at gas stations in foreign Virginia towns, only to buy a pack of a gum and some Arizona Iced Tea. I even love ten-hour drives through the mid-west and sketchy hotels in Arkansas. But tell me to drive to the bagel place five minutes down the road and I immediately start cursing to the heavens, questioning the decency of mankind because some guy in a sedan is actually going to speed limit.  (I’m currently debating this entire post, wondering if I’m simply a really, really poor example of Gen Y.)

However, when there is #traveldrama on longer trips, I am pretty solid at keeping the peace. Example.  I was going to visit Alex in NYC a few days ago. When I’ve had a really good week at the bar, I splurge and get an Amtrak ticket instead of my normal, penny-pincher bus ride.   Maybe my pours were heavy-handed, lending me to earn some extra tips that week, I don’t know.  Regardless, I could afford the train. So I bought a ticket, hastily pushed some kind folks out of the way to get a window seat, and set up camp.

I sat lazily, googling future travel endeavors and reading some things on my new boyfriend, the Kindle Paperwhite. My travel neighbor was a friendly, 30-something year-old man named Greg, who offered me Rolos and commented on my cracked cell phone screen. I think he had a wife named Dana, or maybe she was his girlfriend and they were planning on going to Barcelona in the near future.  Regardless, the combination of this calm companion, the words in my chosen piece of fiction, and the blurred landscape whizzing past me created a very soothing environment.  And then, somewhere around Delaware, the train began to slow and we came to a halt.

Did I whine? Did I kick the seat in front of me? Did I smash Greg’s laptop and blackberry, thus cutting off all communication with Dana in regards to their Barcelona adventure?!!?! If I were driving to the supermarket, I might have. However, since we were on a train, I got a beer. I came back. And I waited.

What ended up happening was that our poor little engine reached the end of its life. It was the little engine that could not.  And so we bid our farewell, and skipped over to the neighboring Acella when it stopped about thirty minutes later.

Ms. Pinkola Estes may not have intended to be speaking of travel when she wrote about the various cycles we face throughout life, but I thought of it again when our new train started to move.  The dead engine was not the end of the ride.  Maybe I drive myself crazy in other situations of “rides halting” because I don’t know when they will start up again, or if another train will come along.   I agonize over the time I’m spent waiting, because I don’t feel like anything is happening. I don’t let things die, because I don’t know if they will ever live again.

But they do. Even if it’s a jump-started engine, or a new train, or you simply need a beer to get through it all, they do. 

 

Here are a few travel tips for when #traveldrama pops up.

1. Get a beer.

2. Or a glass of wine.

3. Or a bag of peanut M&Ms.

4. Talk to your neighbor, if you have one. Might as well make a friend!!

5. Make a list of things you love.

6. Make a list of your favorite moments.

7. Make a list of things you are most looking forward to in life.

8. Take pictures of your boots.

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words, words, prosecco.

Maybe it’s because I like to write, or maybe it’s because I cannot dance.  Whatever the reason, I think that words are one of the best things in the entire world. I love letters, typed or in cursive. I love ink, either on skin or parchment or the white tableau of the computer.  I love the words canoe, quartet, and prosecco.

Say it.  Right now.  It’s fun, right? Prosecco reminds me of orange marmalade, Italian tablecloths, and the smell of waffles crisping before a Sunday Brunch.   For those of you who have not encountered its bliss, prosecco is as lovely a drink as it is a locution.  This sparking white wine is the less fussy sister to champagne, and it’s bubbles never fail to disappoint.  (Right now I’m imagining the sisters Prosecco and Champagne in their little wine household. Their mother is a Chardonnay and their father is a Port. I don’t know how wine reproduction works.)   Prosecco is carefree and a little magical.  In the play, Reckless, by Craig Lucas, the protagonist, Rachel, describes her experience with sparkling wine, and how she would turn her head upside down to watch the bubbles fall like snow. I always loved this image.  Prosecco is falling snow. Clean, pure, and divine.

A few months ago my friend Hannah and I enjoyed a prosecco-esque beverage outside The Standard Hotel in Chelsea. We were in New York City on one of our days off from the Renaissance Faire, and had a few hours to kill before meeting up with our friends Kate and Brett before heading back to Pennsylvania.  Being in our early twenties and without any immediate obligation, we decided to drink the afternoon away.

We sat outside, among the young professionals and silver-haired men dining alone, craftily tearing their focaccia and using their napkins to dab at their faintly wrinkled chins.  Hannah and I stood out, wearing out brightly colored sunglasses and talking too loud. I like Hannah, because when I half-jokingly suggested we order an entire pitcher of a drink, she shrugged her shoulder and with casual smile said, “Why not?” It wasn’t like we had already each had a beer and taken a pickle-back shot. (We had.)

Regretfully, I forget the name of our drink. I do, however, remember it coming in a glass pitcher with a wooden spoon placed in the center like a lone oar.  Inside was the dangerous concoction of prosecco, vodka, muddled berries and mint. The bubbles and our Renn-faire personalities made us giddy and attempt exuberant conversation with our waiter, Serge. He disinterested in being anything more than our server, and even that role seemed to cause him mild annoyance. No matter. We had a blast.

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About two weeks later, I tried to replicate the drink. It was a Wednesday night in September, and hot for the mountains of Pennsylvania.   To understand this next part you must understand the Renn Faire set-up; behind the actual Faire, there was a place affectionately known as “The Commons” which consisted of the actors housing and living arrangements. Behind that, there was a small settlement of independent acts, consisting of musicians, gypsies, jugglers, stilt-walkers and knights.  It was a breeding ground for creativity.  One of the artists, a gypsy named Aly, arranged a 50s theme party and potluck, so that the actors and the independent acts could socialize and get to know one another.

 Everyone was excited for this event.  I, on the other hand, was in a state of stress. You see, a few days prior, I had taken another trip to New York City, and accidentally left my cell phone in a rest stop about two hours north of the faire. Dumb, dumb, dumb!   I found the only spare time I had to make the four hour round retrieval trip, which was the same night as the 50s potluck. Originally, I had been planning on using this time to make something delicious and theme appropriate, but by the time I arrived back at The Commons, people were already in their polka-dot dresses and sporting bright red lipstick. I immediately thought of what I could bring that would requite little to no cooking time and then it came to me. Booze.

I had vodka. I had berries; I used them in my oatmeal for breakfast. For some odd reason I also had mint and my mother had recently given me a bottle of prosecco. This was too easy.

So, in a quick flurry of creation, I made the drink.  Due to the fact that we could not remember the name, Hannah and I called it “Coopy’s Cup.”  The name Coopy came from earlier in Hannah and I’s friendship; she was playing a game of Pokemon and needed a name for her Pidgey, so I suggested Coopy. The name stuck, and then we used it to honor an alcoholic treat.  The berries weren’t as muddled as they had been at The Standard, but it would do. 

By this point, the sun had melted into the unseen depths of sky and we all playfully intermingled, snacking on deviled eggs and apple pie, and then washing them down with cold beer or a glass of the Coopy’s Cup. I wore my favorite yellow dandelion dress, which carried a small orange stain from when I was painting a Styrofoam version of the Sun.    The prosecco electrified my bloodstream. With the hanging tapestries and tea lights, I felt as if I were in modern version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, minus the love-struck donkey man.

I think of this night often.  The images, the tastes, and the touches all resonate and remain etched in my mind; but the only way I can communicate the memory is using my words.  I cannot explain the feeling of the humidity, but I can tell you my skin stuck to the cotton of my dress.  I cannot describe the giddiness that echoed down my wrists and into my fingernails, but I can say prosecco.  I cannot even accurately translate the buttery, minty taste of the Coopy’s Cup. I can, however, give you the recipe.

 

Coopy’s Cup (serves 2-6, depending on your thirst.)

 1 bottle of prosecco

1 cup of vodka (I like Absolut. A flavored vodka also does quite nicely, but can make it a tad too sweet for the sensitive taste-budded.)

½ cup strawberries

½ cup blueberries

A handful of fresh mint

Tear and muddled the mint at the bottom of a large pitcher. Add the berries and muddle a bit more, but not to the point where all the berries are crushed.  Pour in the vodka and prosecco.  Stir gently. I like to use a wooden spoon, but this is more for feeling than flavor.

Enjoy on a hot night, or a cold night when you turn up the heat and pretend its summer.

 

**Photo cred to Wallace Bidelspach!! 

two sisters, part one

I've been reading many fairy tales recently, and find them very inspirational. I like the simplicity of the characters, the brevity of the prose and the way everything tastes like a mandarin orange. Note: the word "bossy" here is not meant to sound negative.  Bossy was an adjective that was frequently used to describe my personality when I was a small child. Some of us need to feel in control.

Two sisters, part one                                                                                                                                                                       There were once two sisters who shared the same hair and eyes.  In fact, they were almost identical, and traded sweaters depending on their mood.  They lived in a cabin deep in the middle of the forest, and though the one would have preferred the beach, she enjoyed the constant smell of fir and that whenever it snowed it looked like Christmas Day.  This sister ate salty snacks, like popcorn with fresh herbs and oils and smoked meat that she would occasionally purchase from the butcher in the town nearby.  The other sister preferred fruit, coffee, and chocolate as dark as the earth.

One of the sisters, the one who liked the saltiness of the sand and her snacks, was quieter than her twin.  She dressed herself in ink and scarves, and stayed inside playing spools of thread while her sister assembled stones to build a pathway from the gate to the front door.

They rode bikes together when it was warm outside and this is when they got along the best.

When it stormed, they were both afraid, and the held hands under the afghan blanket their mother had left them before she went to study rocks in Burma.

The bossy sister, the one who loved the trees and the crinkles in shortbread, told the other sister what to do whenever they faced frustration. They often argued, with sparks of blue and green bursting between the two like fireworks.  The beach-loving sister would go to bed angrily, quietly, until the next morning when she awoke to her sibling making olive oil and orange pancakes, and she immediately forgave her.  Through her bites, she still felt woefully misunderstood. 

...to be continued!!

the year of the fearless

Seeking some familiar faces and simple entrance into the New Year, I spent the 2013-2014 transition in Harrisonburg for a reunion with college friends, Buffalo Wild Wings, and gin with soda water and rose simple syrup. The night was lively, filled with high-heeled stumbles, jello shot genitalia, bottle rockets (a terrible idea), and plastic cup table games. We survived. And more importantly,  enjoyed ourselves.

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So. Hi, 2014.

I've never been good at New Years Resolutions.

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I often make vague ones, and ones that I tend not to really ever end up doing. (Last year, however, my resolution was to drink more wine, which I definitely did.)  I understand the appeal, of course. New Years is a great landmark to assess your life, and decide what changes you want to make.  It makes you feel so much better about indulging in those shots of fireball and late night pizza, because, heck, you will never do that in the next year. The hard part is forcing that change. You're essentially turning on a green light and yelling GO NOW DIFFERENT and then expect a change to occur.  From my experience, there are two types of change in the world. Forced change and decided change. The forced change come from habitat, or things beyond our control. It comes from when you stand outside a bluestoned dorm room, waving as your parents drive back to their house without you in it for the first time. The first time the wrong person says "I love you." When you're working your first job within your field of study and harshly realize "I hate this." When you go to call someone, and realize you no longer can. That's when we change, because we have to. 

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And then there's the type of change that requires a decision. Change from within. I WILL go to Cycling, even if it kills me. I WILL stop making out with thirty year old men when I'm drunk and in a foreign country. I WILL call my parents.  I WILL get over ______. 

I am not good at either.

Perhaps it's because I'm a Libra.  

Luckily for me, sometimes change is unneccesary. Because like some deep intuition, that thing that we crave already exists within us. It's stays, even when untouched, balanced within us like a mustard seed. An ever-present plant that without the proper care and attention, remains deep in the soil.  There's no need to "change," only to observe, listen, and let the damn thing grow. 

A few nights ago, I enjoyed the company of my good friend Stacey, the Pajama Men, and a snowy DC evening. We ate spicy salads. The food was good, but not nearly as delicious as the conversation between Stacey and myself. Stacey had recently returned from a trip to Israel. Over our greens, we traded stories from our adventures across the pond; hers consisting of camel rides and nearly getting married off, and mine of ginjinha and bike rides along the Portuguese coast.

"So," Stacey asked me at one point. "Tell me your favorite thing, your least favorite thing, and the thing that you learned about yourself." 

Favorite thing: everything. Least favorite thing: leaving. Thing I learned about myself: Uhhhhhh.  

It took me a sec. I hadn't really thought about it before that moment. But upon consideration, I found I learned I have a seed of utter fearlessness.  It was always sitting there, like a box of Samoas in my freezer I totally forgot I had.  

In foreign countries (and even the foreign United State), there is no embarrassment. There is no failure. There's NO (!!!) regret! You're surrounded by people you will most likely never see again, in a place that you may never return to. You are only expected to live, learn, and enjoy.  It's a sense of freedom that explains the wanderlust in all of the adventurers of the world.  

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So for this New Year, I want to remember that a little nugget of bravery exists. I don't want to change; I want to remember: fear can be conquered. Fear is weak. Fear should never be a roadblock in our own little Route 66. 

It's much more fun this way anyway. 

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All of the things there was to love about 2013

Happy last day of 2013! I hope all of you had a fun, inspiring, and growth-inducing year.  May you celebrate tonight with champagne toasts and spiced nuts and a glittery outfit, or whatever pleases you to start your 2014 year. Mine will include a reunion with college buddies in our old stomp ground and some illegal fireworks. I have learned from my last New Year's Eve that even if the cider looks non-alcoholic, it almost definitely has some sort of proof. I learned that sometimes when you are pursuing a New Year's kiss from an attractive gentlemen, he might think you are pursuing something that you are definitely too drunk to be doing. And I learned that bagels and coconut water can fix just about anything. Knowing this, I am prepared to enter the 2014 threshold fearlessly, and several B12 vitamins. 

I liked 2013. It was very scary and never boring. I stayed up very late. I listened to stories. I let myself fall down, a lot. It felt good.  A wise woman named Rachel Gitel told me this year, "I gotta crash and burn in order to learn." 

My favorite things included: 

1. College improv troupes and weekend trips to comedy conferences. 

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I said goodbye to my own troupe after working with them for four years. I've never been surrounded by so many people I simultaneously wanted to snuggle and murder. We may have fought desperately with one another for attention and for control over the youtube channel, but then there were always the nights of Futurama, crying on kitchen floors, and falling asleep to Bob Ross.

2.  Lorde

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This woman is clearly a badass.  And anyone who hasn't had a slow-motion pillow fight to "Royals" yet is severely missing out.

3. James Madison University 

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Maybe it was because it was my last year of college, but my school spirit absolutely soared. I loved staying up late and sneaking into the tunnels. I loved eating five pieces of pizza at d-hall. I loved jumping into the Burruss Fountain  in the middle of the night and then forcing a couple to take a photograph.   I really just love JMU, and am very proud to call it my alma mater. 

4. hellogiggles.com

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This website has so many fantastic articles written for women, by women. It celebrates quirkiness, passion for life, and opinions. I spent so much time reading the articles this year, and it provided the inspiration I needed to start using the internet for creatives motives. Hellooooooo, adorable!

5. Crappy beach houses/motels

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I went to the beach twice this summer. Once at the beginning as a post graduation treat with the fellas above. Our beach house was called "the pong house" and consisted of ten bunk beds, a terrifying shower, and two beer pong tables (hence the name.)  It was relaxing, and the eleven of us attending all created "beach week" bonds that will stretch far beyond that summer.

The second time I stayed at the Safari Motel in Ocean City, MD with a large group from the PA Renn Faire. Despite the chilliness of the beach during this time of year, we drank tequila on the balcony and watched the sunrise from lifeguard chairs. You don't need to be ritzy in order to have the time of your life.

6. The Kindle Paperwhite

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A true "When Harry Met Sally" relationship. When the Kindle first came out, I despised it. I like books. I like the weightiness, the glue-y smell of the pages, and the expedition of actually going to a bookstore.  But at 23 years old, I have over six boxes stuffed with paperbacks and hardbounds alike, and it may be time to look for something that travels a little better.  I got the Kindle for Christmas just a few days ago, and I have fallen in love. We are inseparable. I love that I can  look up a word at a moments notice, I love that I can buy a book whenever I want, and I swear it even smells a little like Elmer's.  

7. Jennifer Lawrence

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I think she be may one of those things, like Will and Grace or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, that is literally impossible to hate. 

8. Same Love

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Not just the song, but the actual idea.  Five states voted for or repealed former anti-marriage laws this year. I'm aware that there is still a l-o-n-g way to go, but improvement can (and should) be celebrated. 

9. RVs and living in cars

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I spent a lot of time this year in mobile homes, specifically during my time at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire. Some of the most fascinating people I've ever met travel in these cozy little homes, bringing with them intoxicating stories and unique talents. I learned henna from a beautiful gypsy and drank Ketel One from a mason jar. I made friends with a very tall man (whether with or without his stilts) who made fluffy homemade bread. We ate in the coziest of kitchens.  I asked my parents (half-kidding) for a teardrop trailer for Christmas, and while they entertained the idea for a bit, I think they're a little wary of the intensity of my wanderlust. Despite that, RVs, I am not done with you just yet. 

10. Kate Rozycki, Hannah Storch, and Brett Nicol

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Car trips to Myrtle Beach, Baltimore, and New York City and tears and beers and cuddles. I could not have survived this fall season without these three. 

11. International travel, and thrifty finds.

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Living social, you got me a $700 trip to Portugal. Airbnb, you got me an adorable flat in Porto for only 22 euro a night. I freaking love you both. Thank you so much for allowing a poor post-grad like me to still have international experiences.

12. Women Who Run With the Wolves

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This. Book. I've purchased ten copies for friends thus far.  Kate first introduced it to me when she was reading it during our time at the Renaissance Faire. It's a lovely examination of the natural instincts and intuition of women, comparing them to qualities similarly found within the wolf species. This book will make you want to run with scarves in your fists. It's necessary for women to read, and highly suggested for any man who wants to run with women who run with the wolves.  Read and run.  

12. The Pretty Hurts Music Video

 

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Because changing the way we look at the "beautiful" stereotype is the true definition of beautiful. 

 

 

Some nights are made for afghan blankets, and some are made for nostalgia.  Thursday I spent the evening at my old stompground, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, to visit friends, pick up a rug, and see the Christmas Spectacular, "A Dickens of a Christmas."  Sentimentality, commence.  I'm one of those people who saved the napkin-my-used-to-be-best-friend-wrote-a kind-of note-on for me, so this visit had me gushing and hugging. My brief trip consisted of draft beers in festive dive bars, fir-scented garlands in a mansion, and a few rounds of Fluxx in ye olde common room.  So surreal to see the place blanketed in snow. 

Several people asked me about Portugal , and I found myself searching for the right words to describe that country. It's been over a month since I trekked across the pond with Alex into the playground that is Lisbon. I've neglected to write about it, most likely because I liked to keep it secret for a short bit.  More likely out of laziness.  The memories felt safe in my mind, but now I have to write about because I don't know how long they'll stay in my brain without proper documentation. 

To put it simply: Portugal was freaking amazeballs. 

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The film pictures are from Alex, and he is kind enough to let me share them here; the rest are from the iPhone.  I have a few digital photos, which will find their way to internet-land shortly, but for now these will do.  Day one consisted of jetlag and complete dependency on a Lonely Planet guidebook.   Said guidebook solved miracles, and jetlag was quickly remedied with two glasses of wine at lunch.  This was a mission of ours: we wanted to have two glasses of wine at lunch at least once. I was inspired by an episode of Gilmore Girls to add this task to our Portugal Bucket List. For those of you who have seen this show, Richard and Emily are arguing one evening and the topic of international travel arises.  Essentially, Emily is gonna pack her bags, sling them over her bony shoulders, and shout "BYEEEE" as she avoids letting the door hit her on the ass on the way out. It goes down something like this.

Emily: I'm going to go to Europe all on my own. And I'm going to order room service, and sleep in, and drink two glasses of wine at lunch.

Richard: Only prostitutes drink two glasses of wine at lunch!

And so that's how we became prostitutes. Totally worth a good Pinot Grigio. 

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After two glasses of wine and two shots of espresso, we visited a restaurant called Guilty, where we ate salty pizza and drank sangria.  Rather than call a cab, we opted to walk home without any idea of how to get back to our hotel. A would-be disaster in many a foreign country, the high hills of Lisbon allowed us to pick out our hotel from the tip of a skatepark, and we walked back with a sense of discovery. 

On Tuesday, our first full day, we ventured into Alfama to visit Feira da Ladra, the thieves market. There were all sorts of bizarre knick-knacks. There were all sorts of tourist traps. There were all sorts of black and white pictures of Portuguese people from how ever many years ago. I gleefully purchased a pair of gypsy pants (which Uncle David later hated on) and two tiny juice jars to serve as Alex and I's wine glasses for spontaneous sips along the water. 

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Lunch was ham, cheese, and butter sandwiches Alex had prepped for us back at the hotel, along with a bottle of white wine. We ate on stone steps and watched the waves. There was a dog who decided to be our friend. A man tried to sell us weed, and then sunglasses. We declined. It was nice.

We heard rumor of a place called Principe Real, a neighborhood with a little park and several adorable little shops for browsing, including a patisserie with a large oil painting of Marie Antoinette and pistachio flavored macaroons.  Fortunately and unfortunately, we had a very vague idea of how to actually find said neighborhood, which meant an uphill adventure through the winding and colorful backstreets.  As useful as a guidebook is, it will never properly illustrate the gleam of Portuguese desserts through shop windows, the feel of the cobblestone underneath one's foot, or the delicate roar of a foreign melody dancing in a traveler's ears.  Neither will it satisfy the accomplishment of finding Principe Real all on own's one, AKA stumbled upon randomly after taking several wrong turns.

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Principe Real was Mt. Olympus, essentially. It sat on top of the city, allowing us to peer down at the glorious city lights below. We wandered, and then dined at Lost N Esplanada, a part restaurant/part gypsy camp overlooking the yellow windows of Lisbon. We sat on cushions, accompanied with iron lanterns and silk slippers on dark green walls. Tea lights hung from the ceiling. Fellow explorers lounged while they sipped their red wine.  Alex and I had our own little corner carved in the giant mountain of shops and restaurants, privately glancing over the city that we so barely knew. When we left, we somehow made it back to the main road in five minutes, despite our blatant intoxication. I made friends with the cab driver and tried to convince him Alex and I were brother and sister. I cannot remember if he believed me. 

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Porto was next. Porto was beautiful. Porto was our private flat where we danced to Miley Cyrus like "cultured Americans" and perched on our balcony with cheap glasses filled with cheap wine.  There were sketchbooks on bed, and The Best Spongecake in the Universe in the sheets. 

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We met Miguel number one, a Chai Latte gent with green eyes and a leather jacket. (News Flash: Portuguese men get a thumbs up.  If I knew the words, "I am a single and not looking for commitment" in Portuguese, I would have said them. Unfortunately, our guidebook had no such translation, although it DID have the phrase, "I have many diseases." I didn't need to use this, BTW.) Anyway, Porto was even better on day number two when we rented bicycles and sped along the coast up to the beach.  We opted to buy beer from a convenience store rather than the ritzy restaurant, and sat on the rocks rather than in chairs. You know what feels amazing? Getting saltwater splashed while holding a can of Superbock as you stand barefoot on the rocks.  There's a lot of ocean. I'm glad I get to see it from multiple angles. 

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Lesson learned from our day in Porto: I will always run into the ocean, no matter how cold it is or how see-through my shirt will become.  I have pictures from this instance, but mama always said don't put your nudes online for free. 

In the evening we witnessed live Fado.  Fado is Portuguese music, sung by Portuguese people, about how much they love Portugal.   While watching the red lips of our music artist, Alex and I dined on cod fritters, fava beans, and sheep's milk cheese from the Azoures. At one point in our lives, Alex and I ate Dairy Queen in a parking lot. I like our friendship.

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Alex jumped for joy the day we went to the Ocenario. It was my first Aquarium, and now I can never go to another one ever because I'm positive this is the best one that has ever existed.  There was a scary crab and a sneaky Octopus.  I liked the sunfish, because it was awkward and yet still demanded attention and I think I identified with that.  That night we were lazy and drank in the hotel room. I sang Alanis Morissette to our bidet, and we ate cheese and clementines and climbed onto the balcony, where we scared away pigeons.  

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To end the trip we took a renegade tour of the city where we were able to say goodbye to each of these places. The sun was setting and we took pictures, and at the end of it all we drank ginjinha, a cherry liqueur that is the bee's knees of Portuguese booze.  Miguel number two, our two guide, thought Alex and I were the bee's knees of the tour group, and gave us the remainder of the bottle to chug on our own time.  We did so after drunkenly walking through the botanical gardens around 10/11 o'clock at night, while sitting on stone and overlooking the city (again, God bless the hilly geography of Portugal.) Miguel #2 also recommended that we skateboard down the hills on trashcans, but we neglected to do this. Next time. 

SAPPY MOMENT WARNING. As lucky as I am to travel, I am even luckier to have had such a good companion, especially one who loves eating and drinking and walking as much as I do. Alex is a friend who constantly makes me feel like dancing. We have a rhythm and language. My Uncle David tells me that when the two of us are together, we tend to disappear into our own "Alex-and-Amanda" land. We are a little insane with one another, and always have been. We've eaten raw sugar cookie dough on the playground and recounted the story of "Kiki's Delivery Service" via Photobooth. We are the picture definition of weird-o's.  Below is 2009! 

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Foreign travel is a B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G!!!!!!!!!!!! Having a friend who will run through the streets of life with you...is even better.  :) 

Saying yes is saying a lot.

This morning, sometime around 8:30am, my Uncle David absentmindedly perused Grinder, sipped espresso, and then gave me some solid advice.

"Just do," He said, his new feathered haircut glowing in the morning light. "Constantly be doing something, even if it's the wrong thing, it's not, because doing is the right thing." This was post our four-day-champagne-binge-drinking-Thanksgiving and pre David's trip back to New York City.  I took solitude in this advice, because after I was supposed to drop David off at the Orange Line, I was to drive another six miles to the Professional Bartending School to start my very first class. I was, at least, doing something. Even if the doing meant pouring colored water into a highball glass. 

I signed up for bartending classes a few weeks ago.  It was a spur-of-the-moment decision, kind of like when you're at Starbucks and decide to get an Eggnog Latte for the first time or when you drunkenly buy a plane ticket to Portugal. 

After day one, lesson one, I'm quite glad I did. It was fun. 

Did you ever go to a children's museum when you were little? You know, those interactive ones where they set up bubble stations and foam playgrounds? If you have some idea of what I'm talking about, you may remember the fake grocery store, where they had aisles of "groceries," which really consisted of empty cardboard boxes and plastic containers.  I worshipped these places. It was the most interactive, detailed game of house EVER. Not only could you be in your pretend kitchen and make pretend Swedish meatballs, you could go to the freakin' GROCER and buy the pretend freakin' ground beef yourself.  I got the same vibe from this place, but instead of a grocery store, it was a bar. And instead of cereal boxes full of nothing, it was Jack Daniels filled with brown water.  The "bar" was completely stocked, from grenadine to Maker's Mark to Drambuie.  Beyond that, it was educational.

What I Learned My First Day at Bartending School

1.  Have you ever gotten pissed because you thought a bartender was making you a weak, watered down drink by adding more ice? False, apparently! Adding more ice makes the drink colder, and therefore less likely to melt and water down. On top of that, a good bartender will add the liquor next, and so even if there is a lot of ice, the amount of booze stays the same. The amount of mixer (which is last) will go down, making your drink stronger and putting some hair on your chest.

2. Water enhances the flavor of liquor. So if you ever want to really enjoy the flavor of your Ketel One, add a splash of H20. It makes the liquor more aromatic. 

3. There's a highball, that until now, has been off my radar. It's goes by several names: Freddy Fuddpucker, Mexican Banger, or Cactus Banger. If you like Tequila, order it. Trust me. 

After four hours, I headed back to my car with a few drinks under my belt and a solid understanding of how to eyeball an ounce. More importantly, I was doing. I have no idea what this experience will bring, if anything at all.  As for today, it brought new friends, new knowledge, and a pretty damn good Monday afternoon.