Weighing the options

“And if I face indecision, don’t let me face it alone” – Carbon Leaf, “Indecision”

So, do you remember that time I wrote about how badly I needed to get out of Richmond?  I may yet live to eat those words.  I recently started Instagram and Facebook pages called Taste of RVA to highlight some of the many goings-on about the city (even though I don’t actually live there right now).

Right now, I’m trying to justify staying in the DC area.  This is where my life has been most of the last nine (!) years.  Am I really so burned out on it that I need to leave?  But even though I dig my current job, it alone doesn’t pay enough for me to stay.  So my options are:

1)  Hustle harder–just start freelancing already, do more Lyft rides, pick up more shifts.  Because while I could leverage my blog to be an Amazon affiliate or be a paid blogger/spokesperson for a brand, I would still make very little money off of it (*waves to my small but loyal readership*), aside from the fact that that’s just not my deal.

2)  Find a cheaper place to live, which up here usually means living in the sticks and having a long commute to work or having several roommates…or both.

3)  Move back to Richmond.

4)  Find a job somewhere that isn’t DC or Richmond.  (That travel agent job in Asheville would’ve been pretty prime, but of course, they weren’t interested.)

5)  Write that surefire-Emmy winner of a teleplay already.

Stay tuned, and be good to each other.

Is it fall yet?

Well, summer is nearly over.  Hard to believe, right?  It’s been a busy one.  I’m done with all of my classes (for now, at least).  I really enjoyed learning a lot from my teachers and being around other talented writers, but at the same time I’m glad to be able to reclaim some time.  This week marks my last at the cheese shop, as I am starting a job at Trader Joe’s, very conveniently located right by my house.  I put myself in the unfortunate position of working 10 days in a row, but I look forward to about six days off afterward. Leaving the cheese shop is bittersweet because I like all my coworkers (even though most of them already left to go back to school, and still more are leaving soon), but I’m not really going to say no to a better-paying job walking distance from my house where I won’t have to pay to park or commute.  (Plus, who doesn’t like Trader Joe’s?)  Working at the cheese shop has had an unusual and unexpected side effect:  The food there is so rich and heavy that I now look at the menu and turn up my nose–something I never expected to happen (you’ve seen my Instagram feed, so you know what I’m talking about).  Recently, I’ve found myself eating more bland things like graham crackers and English muffins (you know, totally balanced diet).  Last week, I started going to the salad place next door!  You know things are serious when that happens.

There isn’t really much else to report because I haven’t been anywhere–I haven’t taken a trip since I went to New York in February, six whole months ago!  I really need to rectify that soon!

In the past year, I’ve had a number of good friends embark on new adventures:  Two have had kids, one bought a house, friends got married earlier this month, and another moved with her husband and kids to Ghana for two years to teach at an international school. Meanwhile, all of my grand ideas about moving away from Virginia have pretty much withered on the vine because I’ve lost interest.  You may recall that not all that long ago, I had an obsession with moving to the West Coast, and while that still sounds like it could be fun, it just seems like a hassle aside from being financially unreachable (Serious question:  How do people afford to live in San Francisco?).  Besides that, all of my family and almost all of my friends are in Virginia, and with the mounting unexpected issues my grandparents have had in recent years, I’m not sure I want to stray but so far from home. That said, the fight to not just be complacent–to not settle–continues…

 

Where have your adventures taken you this summer?  Where should I consider going when I finally get out of town again?

15 years ago today…

In high school, I was in a special program and one of the classes was an economics class.  I was an absolutely dreadful econ student, but the teacher, Mr. Zinn, was really cool.  So cool, in fact, that as an alternative to all the Europe trips students could take “where you just go visit a bunch of churches” (not that there’s anything wrong with that), he was putting together a trip to Australia and New Zealand, as he had done before.  Originally, we were supposed to go in 2000, but no one would be quite ready to go in that timeframe, and plus there was the whole Sydney Olympics thing happening around the time we planned to go.  So we decided the trip would take place in July 2001.  Two students from a previous trip decided to go; and of course, my parents decided they needed to chaperone and my uncle and a friend of the family ended up joining as well.  Due to alphabetical order of last names, I was fortunately seated next to the cute guy on our trip (bonus:  he had a bag of fun size Twix bars for the flight).

On July 11, 2001, we left for our trip.  Just getting to Australia was a little more challenging than we’d anticipated; we stopped in Fiji for fuel and spent an hour circling Sydney.  After an hour, our pilot gave up and flew us to Melbourne, a city we weren’t even scheduled to visit.  No one had gotten enough sleep to be useful and yet we set out to explore the city where we’d gotten a bonus night.  I was so tired, I announced my intention to go to bed, at which point my parents insisted that that was silly and I needed to go out. I think the thing I remember most about that evening is nearly nodding off numerous times while sitting down to watch the cheesy tourist-bait movie they showed in the tower, but I’m still glad my parents had the sense to get me out of the hotel.

Uncle Ken and I in the Great Barrier Reef
My uncle and I in the Great Barrier Reef.

We spent a couple of days in Cairns, which is in a rainforest and serves as a sort of gateway to the unparalleled beauty of the Great Barrier Reef, before heading to Sydney.  I remember snippets of our time there:  The bus tour around the city to see Olympic sites, Bondi, Manly, going to the fancy jewelry store to learn about opals and buy the best ones in town, freezing as the wind blew off the water as we waited for our Opera House tour to begin, our cheeky tour guide Megan, going to the Blue Mountains despite feeling awful, going to Planet Hollywood for dinner with most of the rest of my classmates, everyone buying Australian-made cowboy hats (yeah, I have no idea why that happened).  But needless to say, the city had a hold on me. Afterward, I would tell anyone who would listen that I wanted to live there one day–if only it weren’t so far away…

me and Sydney Opera House in background 7.17.01 crop

We spent time in Auckland and Rotorua, New Zealand, where we did home stays for a night, took boats through glow worm caves and saw locals perform a haka.  Yes, the country is exactly as green and hilly and gorgeous as all the movies show it to be.  (Go see Taika Waititi’s fun and wonderful Hunt for the Wilderpeople in theaters now–there are some knockout shots.)

So how did this trip change my life?  It showed me what travel can do to you–make you obsessed with places you’ve been, where you see things both natural and man-made that you could never have imagined and you can engage with a different way of life.  And yes, I still miss Sydney (Hobart too) and want to go back even though there are so, so many places I haven’t been yet, entire continents that I haven’t even touched.  It’ll happen, one day.

me on BridgeClimb 12.25.13

How has travel changed your life?  How do you want it to?

Hard Reset

You remember that post I wrote last year about non-negotiables?  Well, a few weeks ago I quit my job with no backup plan because my boss had driven me to the breaking point.  It was a miserable environment to work in and it just wasn’t worth it to stay there anymore, despite having awesome co-workers, a nice paycheck and amazing benefits (plus I had already met the deductible on my insurance 😥 ).  But truly, I am so much happier and better off for having left, and despite all my fears and doubts about pulling the plug on my job with no new job to go to, I have no regrets about it.

So what have I been doing in the meantime?

  • I have a job at a gourmet cheese shop (hard life, right?)
  • Applying to jobs
  • Reading up on the ins and outs of being a freelance writer/editor.  It makes sense to pursue that considering that’s where all of my professional experience has been so far, and I’m good at and enjoy both of those things anyway.  But SO many people have blogged/written about freelancing that you slog through reading it, especially when they’re all trying to sell you something.  “Buy my e-books about freelancing and how liberating and lucrative it is!”  “Get this e-book for free when you sign up for my e-mail!”  (I can’t tell you how many of those I signed up for… -__- )
  • Taking classes on travel writing for publications and screenwriting.  Screenwriting has been something I’ve been meaning to get into for ages and just never have.  I figure it’s time to get more serious about it so I can try and get my ideas out in the world.  In July, I start a continuing education class at Georgetown, which I’m really excited about.  (Not going to lie, I was really hoping I could get a Georgetown ID out of it so I could be like, “Oh yeah, I’m a student at Georgetown” and get student discounts.  Oh well, I’ll have to settle for a Georgetown e-mail address.)
  • Reading.  After not having read Dean Koontz in years, his Ashley Bell has me hooked. I’ve also been keeping an eye on the contents of the little free library in my local organic grocery, by which means I have finally obtained a copy of Gone Girl.
  • Having lots of singalongs in the house when my roommates aren’t here.  This afternoon it was John Mayer’s Room for Squares, that high school-era quintessential album for millennials trying to figure out their lives; haven’t listened to it in years and still remember all the words.

I haven’t planned any trips as of yet, but I hope to go somewhere before the end of the summer.  We’ll have to see what happens!

What are your exciting summer plans?

To buy or not to buy?

The premise of cheap tickets to Australia this week has been awfully tantalizing.  The chance to revisit old haunts (Sydney, Balmoral Beach, Hobart) and find new ones; catching up with my former roommate Lulu; just being in Australia again; getting dark chocolate Tim Tams).  But one of two things holding me back is I’d be afraid i wouldn’t want to come home (which is itself an up-in-the-air concept as I attempt to figure out my next move).  I was so disappointed with the fact that I came home after only four months last time; I still think about Australia all the time (it doesn’t help that it’s all over my Instagram feed).  The other:  I’ve done a terrible job saving money.  I haven’t had a car loan for six months and haven’t taken advantage of that fact.
But the flights are so cheap i almost can’t help myself.  I was actually able to find the sale fares on United because I searched for it as soon as The Flight Deal tweeted it out (I happened to still be awake and on my phone after 11 pm last night).  Two tickets for an 18-day trip starting November 1 were less than $1200 roundtrip from Seattle.  (Sure there were day-long layovers in San Francisco on some of these flights.  Still not much of a downside there.)  Even my parents agreed it was almost too good to pass up.  That’s cheaper than one normally-priced roundtrip ticket!

But would I go back to Australia for a fourth time when there are still so many other places I haven’t been?  I’ve been to two countries in Europe.  That’s it.  (Yes, I know. #privileged) And for the money I’d spend in Australia, could I stretch it further somewhere else?  (Well, probably not anywhere on the Euro…which eliminates most of the places high on my list.) Currency exchange rates now are $1 American to $1.32 Australian (compare that to €.88)…but it’s still an expensive country.  But it’s Australia, a country I’ve been obsessed with since I first visited in 2001, nearly half my lifetime ago.

Like most things worth considering in life, there is no easy answer.

To be continued…?

Old Themes/New York

Two weekends back, I was in NYC for yet another concert, this time to see the fantastic Mayer Hawthorne, the fabulous Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and legends Hall & Oates at Madison Square Garden. Such a fun show.  I had reserved a room at the Holiday Inn a couple blocks from the venue and a few minutes’ walk from the Vamoose bus stop.  Times Square is only about a 20 minute walk.  I’d stayed at the hotel before so I knew it was decent, and it just made sense to stay there in light of how convenient it was.  (Also, free breakfast!)

My Vamoose bus got in around 1:30 and I went to the hotel to drop my stuff before getting a late lunch/early dinner at Haymaker, a great restaurant just next door to the hotel.  The burger was great and the beer menu was excellent.  Cool space, great atmosphere. Didn’t expect to find a place like that in that part of town, but glad I did and that it was so convenient.  I think it had only been open a few months.  Definitely worth checking out if you’re in that part of NYC.  Before the concert, I walked to Ayza for hot chocolate and dessert.  The hot chocolate was delicious, but I thought the dessert was a bit overpriced for what it was.  Also, I practically had to stare down the staff to help me even though I was sitting at the bar.

Saturday morning I was up early.  I had actually booked a room for that night at the 70 Park Avenue, so I schlepped my way over there, dropped off my bag, and headed out again. I had made plans to see a matinee of Aladdin on Broadway and had a few hours to kill.  You may remember that I saw the Star Wars:  The Power of Costume exhibit in Seattle last May; well, I saw it again in NYC at Discovery Times Square.  I was excited to find that there were even more costumes this time, and not just additions from The Force Awakens.  There were some parts of the exhibit where the staging was fantastic (a mirrored room creating the illusion of a clone army, the background from Padme and Anakin’s wedding), but the lighting wasn’t always great and I’m pretty sure there were signs that did not sync up with the costumes on display.  But overall, I was still glad I went.

I still had time to kill after wandering through the exhibit (since I’d seen most of the costumes already, there were only a few where I lingered) and figured I should get lunch before the show.  I wanted a relatively authentic New York experience, but where are you going to find something like that in Times Square?  I walked a block over (the theatre wasn’t far from Discovery, so I didn’t see a point in going too far away) and found yet more chains and places with mediocre reviews.  But I stopped short when I saw reviews for a nearby pizza place called 2 Bros with fantastic reviews and cheap pizza.  A giant slice of tasty pizza and a bottle of water for $3.50?  Practically unheard of.

The theatre opened at 1, so I took my seat, glad to have a chance to sit after walking all morning.  Aladdin was great, with new songs and a few changes from the movie, although as expected, Genie is just as much of a show-stopper here.  The pop culture references have been updated to reflect current memes (Genie says “Ain’t nobody got time for that” and does the Whip and Nae Nae).  The show was lots of fun, but I still like the movie better, and not just because no one could ever beat Robin Williams.

On this trip, I had also pledged that I would attempt to find the memorial near the late David Bowie’s apartment in SoHo.  I’m not sure how close I was to where he had lived (the memorial was probably long gone anyway), but I found the studio called The Magic Shop where his final two albums The Next Day and  were recorded; it apparently wasn’t far from his apartment, so I can’t have been too far off.  I was sad to read that the studio will be closing this month; it made me wish I had been bold enough to buzz the door to see if someone would give me a tour.

I sauntered around SoHo a little more until I ended up across the street from the famous Apple store (another place I’d been before).  I was thinking about dinner and I figured SoHo would have far more options than the area around my hotel.  Just after recognizing the Apple store, I saw there was a food truck with empanadas outside.  (This was my train of thought:  “Oh there’s that Apple store I went to that one time OH S*&^ THERE ARE EMPANADAS.”)  I found yet another place to get dessert and hot chocolate, Jacques Torres, before getting back on the subway back toward the hotel.

The 70 Park Ave is a Kimpton property, and if you are a member of their Kimpton Karma rewards program, you get a credit to use at the bar or to raid the minibar.  This one was $15; I think outside of NYC, it’s $10.  Either way, free stuff just for being part of the program!  Who says no to that?  I treated myself to a drink and a snack at the bar (the credit only covered the drink).  The room itself was fabulous; I wish I had taken a picture. Even though the hotel was off the beaten path for me, a bit more expensive than the Holiday Inn room, and there wasn’t much of interest around it, I would consider staying there again just because I liked it so much.

It was yet another good, full-to-the-brim trip to New York (but still no Umami Burger). My overall impression of the city hasn’t improved:  It’s dirty; it’s full of tourists and ways to leach money from you; I tired of hearing car horns within a few hours of arriving.  But it still unfailingly provides you with new adventures even when retreading old ground.

Striking skyline.

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All About Asheville

Did I really just accidentally take another four-month break from the blog?  Sigh.  Time does fly.  How is it 2016?  Weren’t we just celebrating New Year’s last year?  At any rate, happy new year!

So yes, my trip to Asheville was several weeks ago, and it was lovely.  I made a last-minute decision not to head to the Biltmore since I had already been and even discounted tickets were crazy expensive.  This worked out really well, because I discovered on this trip that there was a lot more of Asheville I hadn’t gotten to know (and a lot more beer to drink).

I got in several hours late Friday night as a flight was delayed (next time, I’m driving…), so the fun part of my trip didn’t really start until Saturday morning with a fabulous breakfast at Mamacita’s.  I noticed that people were lining up on sidewalks with chairs and cold weather gear and was told that the holiday parade was later that morning.  I walked around for a bit, discovering a whole part of downtown I hadn’t seen when I had been there four years prior.  I got some sustenance from French Broad Chocolate‘s new fancy and fabulous lounge (I dare you to read their menu and not start drooling).  The parade was much longer than I expected (nearly two hours!) and I ditched a bit early to get lunch at Farm Burger, which was easily my favorite meal of the whole trip.  The burger was delicious and came with gourmet free toppings such as roasted garlic and paprika mayo (there were even fancier toppings that were definitely not free).

In wandering around after the parade, I found a rally called Unchain AVL. Asheville is full of boutique stores (even several awesome local bookstores like Malaprop’s) and locally-owned businesses and restaurants.  An Urban Outfitters had just opened and locals were worried that its arrival would mean an influx of chain stores.  I hadn’t realized it previously, but in order to go to any chain stores like Target, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, you had to leave downtown.  It seemed to me like a rally was unnecessary–if you don’t want a store to survive, don’t spend your money there.  But I guess they want to ensure the livelihood of all the local businesses there, and it’s hard to say no to that.

That night, I went to the North Carolina Arboretum to see their Winter Lights display.  I’ve seen displays that I’ve liked much better, but it was a good way to spend an evening.

This tree was the coolest. #ncwinterlights

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I had stayed at the Asheville Hostel and Guest House during my first trip to Asheville and had loved how easy it was to walk everywhere from there. Its proximity to downtown was ideal, and parking wasn’t too much of a fuss.  But if you’re a beer lover, now there is the added bonus of being close to loads of breweries.  I think someone told me there were seven breweries within a few minutes’ walk of the hostel!  I only visited a couple (I wish I had gotten to Highland, but it was outside town) but was overall impressed with the quality of beer in the area.  Wicked Weed Brewing, one of the more popular local breweries, was so full Saturday afternoon I left without trying any of their beer; same with Burial.  I didn’t make it to Green Man, but did have some of their porter at Farm Burger, and it was delicious.  I did get to Twin Leaf but wasn’t a fan of their stuff–not my style.

Top Tip:

If you want delicious doughnuts, beer and barbeque in Asheville, go hang out on Banks Ave.  I started my Sunday at Vortex Doughnuts, had lunch at Buxton Hall Barbecue, and then had amazing beer at Catawba Brewing.  They’re all in the same building, so you don’t have to go too far!

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 4.11.44 PM
Google Maps results for breweries in Asheville.  (Asheville Hostel and Guest House is to the right of Asheville Brewing Company’s tag; one block apart, you can see ABC from the hostel’s front yard.)

My last morning in Asheville was spent the same way it was during my last trip:  Driving up the Blue Ridge Parkway.  I didn’t get very far, turning around after I reached the visitor’s center (which was very nice, by the way) and heading toward the closest location of Tupelo Honey, a local restaurant.  Conveniently, they now have a location in Arlington, so I can satisfy my curry fried chicken craving and have a taste of Asheville whenever I want…although I might have to have French Broad send me some of those coconut macaroon brownies.

To sum it up, Asheville is a cute small city in the mountains with an interesting mix of hippies and hipsters, all of whom love their food and beer and want to source locally as much as possible.  Hard not to admire that.

 

Want to read about my previous exploits in Asheville?  Click here.