Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Soup, Diwali, Learning Hindi and Devanagari!

     My internet has been out for a week. And by "my internet" I mean the open wifi connection I have been using since I moved here is no longer working and it's time to find an internet provider because I have been spending every day at the library! So, I missed a few days of writing. But that doesn't mean I haven't been on my travel game hard!
I have done some research on what people are eating in the countries we are going to. Here's a great site if you would like to do something similar. I went to a few libraries and read the books they had on asian cooking.  This is so I can start learning to use the ingredients and getting familiar with the tastes so I can cook when I arrive! I checked out a  a book from the library on basic Asian cooking. I know these books are so broad but I figured I would start with some familiar tastes so I can get myself going! I made a soup with chicken, corn, spring onions, chili sauce, cilantro, lime and vermicelli noodles. It was a pretty simple recipe for most but for me a challenge because I don't have a pot yet! So, I made my chicken stock and soup in a pan! The noodles were easy, you just boil some water ( I used a coffee pot) and then just let them sit in the water so they come to life! I made chicken stock but you can buy it. You can use any veggies you want! It only called for spring onions and corn but I added thick chopped onions and peppers that I roasted before hand. In the chicken stock I added pepper, a lot of chili sauce because we like it hot, corn, a little juice from the can and spring onions. Let it simmer, salt to taste and add chicken. When it's in the bowl, I added in some noodles, squeezed in some lime and used a little shaved lime rind. And then mixed in the fresh chopped cilantro! This soup was amazing and Andrew loved it also! We ate it for a few days. The next day I bought boneless chicken thighs onions and peppers and marinated them in Teriyaki, honey, ginger, soy sauce and pineapple juice for 5 hours. (2 is sufficient, over night is fine). And then instead of using the skewers I presoaked, I got lazy and just through it all on a pan (after draining the marinate i made a new sauce with just the honey, ginger and soy sauce so that the sesame seeds would stick! Pour on the seeds and cook! I want more right now. It was all so good. So, I hope to learn more about Asian flavors that are available here and there!

     Another thing that the library has helped me with is that I have begun using Rosetta Stone Hindi! I have learned in the process that Devanagari is the written language and it's also used for Nepali which I will need and Sanskrit! So, I am pretty happy to start practicing. Brenda came up with the idea for each of us to learn a few languages. That way as a group we can talk a little in each country we visit. I have read that you should give each new language atleast 6 months brewing in your mind before throwing in a new one. So, I am learning Hindi, then because it is also using Devanagari, Nepali, and then Vietnamese. I have a year and a half until we leave so that's six months with each language. I would also like to learn a few hundred words in the other languages so I am not clueless!
    This process has made me feel like a kindergartner all over again. My hand writing so far is atrocious haha. Example above! The interesting thing about Hindi is that each letter is only pronounced one way. It's not like English where you have circus and cactus starting with the same letter! The letters are all sounds. So you can never pronounce it wrong once you understand it because the way something should be said is exactly written for you! The first thing I am teaching myself is Hindi vowels!
The first letter that looks like a 3T is A. It represents all words that have an a like in the word alert (ugh). The second, which looks very similar with a 3TT, is also an English A, but it is used for words with a sound like the "a" in father (ahh). These distinctions make it easy to know how to say words! It's pretty genius. One thing that's weird about learning a new written language is just like English fonts, most of the words I have seen in Hindi are on a computer so the written form of these words aren't going to look the same as a font which is much prettier. Take the letter t in English. The typed leltter has a curved bottom but when I write a t I just write two lines crossing one another. So its these distinctions that I have to figure out. I am loving Rosetta Stone though! It's something I used before for Spanish but I never stuck with. And I am hoping to really put in some time with Hindi because I am excited to learn. It's the fourth most popular language after Mandarin, Spanish and English. I know that most places we are visiting not only have their own forms of languages AND have English on most signs but I think its important to speak the language if you are in a new country. It shows respect and it really makes you a part of the culture.  Speaking of delving into the culture.
     I was thinking about how I may not have Christmas the way I am used to and so I started looking up other holidays in Asian countries that we might be able to attend. I mean, after all it's not about what you are missing out on, it's about what we are gaining knowledge of! So I figured out that right around the time we wanted to arrive India will be celebrating Diwali!!! I am so excited about this. And it sounds like everyone else is on board too! Even though my only experience with it was on The Office, I have done my research and it's more like Christmas than Halloween as they depicted lol. Diwali is the festival of lights and it represents the inner light you have that keeps away darkness. Diwali calls for cleaning and fixing up your houses, buying a new outfit, lighting lamps inside and outside of the home, fireworks, and of course, feasts! There is also a present exchange.We are hoping to stay with a host family so we can really experience a true Diwali!

Friday, May 1, 2015

KC or Bust: BBQ, Art, Comic-Con and Adult Slushies.

      I know I have been obsessing over my future trip  planning as I love to do. So, I am going to do a throwback entry about our weekend in Kansas City, Missouri. It was definitely much more than I expected and would love to go back. Kansas City is famous for it's food and music. We experienced plenty of one and unfortunately none of the other while we were here. Can you guess which one? BBQ!! My favorite part of the trip was all of the art! It's absolutely a beautiful city. The eerie thing was it was by far one of the quietest cities I have ever been to though. Walking the streets I felt a silence and emptiness that was almost scarier than being surrounded by thousands of strangers. I wonder why?
Kelsey Wroten
     We came to Kansas City for Comic-Con. It was my first time attending and I really went just because I wanted to make sure the trip included things that everyone enjoyed. So it was nice to surprise Andrew with tickets since he always tries to lure me into going and I always weasel my way out. Well for one thing, if you haven't been it's definitely an experience. I was smart enough to pay extra to cut in line so we didn't end up having to wait. Wow, I am so glad we did that. A line that wrapped around a block and went completely through the convention center into rows and rows of people who ranged from sexy costumed patrons to pale computer nerdswho may have never left a basement but for these events. As we were ushered around the line, through miles of people and up an escalator we met the hundreds who also purchased these early tickets who already filled the room entirely! I can't tell you how crowded it was. The people in line were definitely going to go far beyond capacity, So come early!  Enough haterade. I actually had an amazing time. We bought a few things and it was really awesome to speak with the artists (many who were female) who were inspiring and talented.  I couldn't get the photo to go the right direction but I couldn't leave it out! So, what I ended up with was a variety of awesome artwork. I also had a few larger pieces one being a Beyonce drawing that's truly phenomenal by local woman and comic book artist Kelsey Wroten who was definitely our favorite artist at the whole event!
     When you enter Comic-con after you have already waited in a momentous line you are then escorted to a room full of more lines. Lines to get food or drink, lines to buy things, and the longest lines are to meet and greet with Sci-Fi related celebs. I was totally blushing over George Takei but he had the longest line so I just snuck on the side and tried to catch a pic of him. Brenda went ballistic over a power ranger  who just ended up wanting a bunch of money for an autograph- (not thanks- and we all were impressed by the Back to the Future Car! Oh and there's face painting- so we HAD to do that which we continued to wear out to the bar that night and made me pretty damn happy! And yes, there was a line! lol

      Ok, let's talk food. We really wanted to get BBQ. That was the main game plan. We asked a few locals and walked about two miles but we finally arrived at Jack Stack BBQ. It was a bit expensive for us but it was hella worth it. Now I am thinking about these ribs and how to get them! You can choose from a variety of meats and we got a sampler of a few different things with a bunch of sides (potato salad, mac, bread- you know the bbq drill). We were highly impressed! Because we were on a tight budget we chose to get the food to go, it was a bit cheaper than the eat-in menu. There's a take out area and everyone was very friendly. The waitstaff who passed by us made comments about the makeup and we all had a good laugh! All and all a great experience.

Brenda picking her first try! 

Andrew excited about his flavor choices

     Then it was time for drinks. We headed to Snow & Company. I can't talk this place up enough. I was so impressed. I actually think about it very often! And when we were heading back across the coast from West to East the second time I was bummed we couldn't reach Missouri because this place was so fun! There is nothing I love more than strong drinks and water ice ( as we call it in Phillly) Slushies are the best alternative to that and alcoholic slushies really hit the spot!
    The place was fun, modern and had the convenience of being indoors but had an open garage style doors so it brought in a nice breeze like a deck. The tables are huge and the seats are comfy. The waitresses aren't like regular restaurants- they all walk around and help everyone. So, don't be afraid to ask any of them questions or for help. I found it confusing at first but after they explained it- I thought it was pretty convenient. We all got testers. They are a pretty good size and you can get 3, 5, 10 or 15 and since they are shot glass size you assume you need more than you do! We got about 25 of them! We tried every flavor on the menu. And we were drunk-fast! My favorite flavor was Kick To The Peaches. There are a variety of flavors to choose from and they were all pretty good! They print out a slip for you to remember all the ones you chose and you can look at the menus to check all the flavor combos much like a beer flight! They also had hot drinks but we didn't try those. We all had so much fun!
     Two blocks over get yourself some food at YJ's Snack Bar. 24 hour service from the friendly and wonderful and beautifully androgynous staff makes this place a must go to destination. The inside of this place is small but picturesque. You really feel like you are in someone's house getting dinner. Why? Because there aren't any  menus. The food is based on what they got and what they want to make. They switch it up daily. We went twice and were happy both times. The decor is pretty damn interesting and theirs just a history to this place that makes it feel special. There's a piano with many different hot sauces on it, pictures of Martin Luther King, the walls are adorned in all kinds of different signs and art and the prices were fair! There's also outdoor seating! Plus, it's open any hour of the day! Can't go wrong!

 I am one lucky lady. <3 

         Thank You Kansas City! We had a lovely time! 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Researching South East Asian Cuisine.

Es Teler (Coconut Milk, fruit juice, shaved coconut, floating fruit)
     This post is all about food! Whether it's food I am cooking or restaurants we found  that I just loved- we will be talking about it. The reason is because research about the upcoming trip to SE Asia has me thinking about foods I can cook with a whole new array of spices and foods readily available at the market. Spending an extensive period of time in a region of the country I haven't been can be scary when it comes to finding foods you like. I will admit it, I haven't had Indian food or Thai food. I have heard that Portland, my former home, has amazing Thai food but I just hadn't been interested when I was living there. Andrew has been begging to go out for Indian since we met. I will say, the way food looks has always been important to me and Indian food can appear a bit sloppy, dark and gooey. I have been assured that it tastes much better than it looks though! So, in the upcoming year I will let you know about my pursuit to have more Asian food in my diet. My only experience is a one time stop for Indonesian food and the constant ordering of  American style Chinese food which I am sure doesn't do justice to the real thing and we aren't going to China!  So, I won't know just yet. I found some recipes and I will update you on how they go. If you are trying to cook Asian food for the first time I recommend just starting with the recipes with few ingredients or just ingredients you know you can find. When you feel more comfortable check out the Asian food markets for those things you couldn't find at your market. They are very well priced. One thing I really like there is Chrysanthemum Tea. I am excited to learn about the different fruits and vegetables available in Asia that maybe aren't ones I eat regularly here. We had some crazy concoctions at the Indonesian place like Es Teler, a floating fruit milk drink.  I am just hoping that if I am open minded all will go okay. I mean, if they have chicken, pineapple and rice. I will be good.  Here are a few of the ingredients that I have found in almost every cookbook on Asian food that are essential basics for asian recipes. I am not sure which are most used in what countries yet. And I don't know a ton about them but here are some of my initial feelings.
1. Bamboo Shoots
2. Bean Sauces and Pastes
3. Besan (Chick Pea Powder)
4. Black Beans (which I have learned are not the same as mexican black beans they are fermented soy beans.)
5. Bok Choy
6. Chili Paste ( The only thing I use on the regular on this list!)
The time Brenda's Squid exploded at Hardena in Philly
7. Crisp- Fried Onion garlic and shallots (Sounds awesome like the stuff on green bean casserole)
8. Dashi Granules (dried fish) I am weary of this but I'll update you.
9. Dried Shrimp (Not sure yet how I feel about this!)
10. Fish Sauce. (Apparently it's in everything asian but it sounds weird the brown liquid run off of fermented fish?)
11. Ginger - ok I do love me some Ginger.
12. Hoisen Sauce- I have heard of it but haven't had it. I chose a recipe with it this week though
13. Lime leaves-  not sure where to get these at yet.
14. Kecap Manis- a dark sweet soy sauce that tastes like brown sugar and soy sauce mixed. I am excited to try this!
15. Lemon Grass
16. Miso Paste
17. Mushrooms- I have been trying to eat more mushrooms. They aren't my favorite. Yet.
18. Mustard Seeds- I do love mustard.
19. Nori Sheets- made of algae? I'll have to let you know about this, I am a little scared though.
20. Sake- ok i have had this.
21. Snake beans- they look like string beans, not sure what the difference is yet.
22. Soy Sauce- got it!
23. Tofu- The texture kinda bugs me out, but I am going to try again with this.
24. Water Chestnuts. Good.
25. Won ton wrappers- I tried cooking with these before and they came out pretty well.
     So, my plan is- get as familiar as I can with the products that  I will be able to purchase elsewhere and make good use of the kitchens I have the pleasure of cooking in while in South East Asia. I hope that I meet many locals or travelers with great new recipes and techniques to better my cooking skills. The influences could help me create many fusion dishes and it be great to maybe share some of the ways we do things with some locals. There's something sacred about preparing and sharing a meal with new people and bringing that experience of family to those traveling without one and those families who share their food and culture with you.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Fourth time is a charm

     I have officially made it to the fourth post of this blog. That is double the success of more than half of my other blogs! I know, sad right? But it's actually pretty awesome. Consistency is key to getting good at this whole blogging thing. Today I am at the library with a stack of books on South East Asia. Why? Because Brenda, Andrew, Ethan and I are planning a big old trip bigger than any we have been on before. Why? There are many reasons people travel to South East Asia. Currently, the southern part of Asia is the cheapest place in the world to travel. A big reason people go is to do volunteer work. An advantage to spending your vacations in underdeveloped countries rather than 5 star resorts is the cultural experience. Another reason could be language study, experience teaching, on the job free training for social work and it looks great on an application. Some people just want to get away from everything and others want to be apart of something new or meet new people. Let's talk facts.
    According to priceoftravel.com  out of the top 20 cheapest places to backpack- including dorms, food, attractions, transportation and of course beer- 65% of them are South East Asian. That means  meals for 1-2 dollars and a bed for five bucks a night! Somewhere like European or American travel could be double or triple the daily cost of visiting these countries. Most people travelling here tend to stay for 6 months to a year. That's because after you purchase your tickets, shots, visas- which you would need to purchase anyway, you are looking at pretty nominal fees.  So it just makes more sense to stay longer! And why  not right? I found an apartment for rent for 15 dollars a day, it's a two bedroom. Divide that by 4 people and I would say that's a hell of a deal. It is fully furnished and includes utilities. I am absolutely thrilled. But, as Brenda has told me that does not mean we should rule out hostels. As she put it: "Hostels are where you meet the most people, it's a big part of the travel experience for me. Plus, they offer day trips."  So, our planning will probably consist of a little of each.

Cheapest Places to backpack in the World
1. Pokhara, Nepal
2. Hanoi, Vietnam
3. Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) Vietnam
4. Goa, India
5. Kiev, Ukraine
6. Kathmandu, Nepal
7. Chiang Mai, Thailand
8. Vietiane, Laos
9. Delhi, India
10. La Paz, Bolivia
11. Quito, Ecuador
12. Luang Prabang, Laos
13. Hoi An, Vietnam
14. Phnom Penh, Cambodia
15. Bangkok, Thailand
16. Cairo, Egypt
17. Bucharest, Romania
18. Sofia, Bulgaria
19. Colombo, Sri Lanka
20. Jakarta, Indonesia

     One large reason people travel to SE Asia is for the volunteer work. There's a huge focus on human rights advocacy, education and women's health. There are orphanages and animal rescues. You can also teach basic dental health, sex education or English. The opportunities are honestly endless and are totally based on your skills. In my research I have seen volunteer opportunities for all of the following fields:
General Care- Volunteering is always welcomed in kindergartens, clinics, orphanages for homework, games and just showing love for kids who need it most.

Teaching- There are many teaching opportunities ranging from language, computers, music, sports and health.

Conservation- Our planet needs help worldwide. Marine conservation opportunities in the gulf of Thailand in Cambodia, wildlife research in the Himalayas, or reforestation in Thailand, marine life and coral reef research in the Andaman Sea.

Building- Developing communities are always in need of schools and libraries. The Philippines needs help with Typhoon recovery and Nepal may need skilled laborers to rebuild after the devastation.

Brenda, a daily inspiration. <3
     One of the main reason I love to travel is for the cultural experience. This is one of the biggest joys in my life. Being elsewhere always gives you a feeling of stepping back outside of the snow globe and really examining the way we live. It helps you reevaluate and appreciate everything you have. When you find yourself in a place where you are upset that the DVR didn't tape your shows, your car is an older model than you would like, you wish you could have gotten a newer model of your phone- these problems are really put into perspective when you see what life is like for others. Some of the worlds happiest people are in countries we would consider extremely poor. There lives are rich in family, quality time and the experiences we often forget about when staring at tv and computer screens.
     Some of the richest experiences in your life could come from some of the poorest places in the world. How? The food isn't processed. It is fresh, cheap and available everywhere. Can you imagine a year without the need for supermarkets and their boxes upon boxes of preservatives? Taking a step back from the hustle and bustle of everyday life to enjoy meals at a table with other volunteers, nights by the fire and swimming in the beautiful ocean. One thing I look forward to the most is absorbing all that each culture has to bring. The language, the food, the different customs, the clothes, the laws, the way they drive or talk or eat or gesture. Everything is new. I want to see how people interact and how they choose to live their lives. What makes them happy. What peace they find from their religion and how blessed they truly are. I want to understand their history and see their temples, museums, art and hear their music. And I also would like to share with them a little of who I am.
     One great thing about volunteering abroad or travelling abroad is how many world travelers you meet. There's nothing like first hand knowledge. The best advice comes from those who have failed and failed and now know how to do something right. That's one of the reasons I wrote this blog in the first place. After multiple cross country trips and many more day trips and weekend road trips I feel confident that I have some good advice to share with those who haven't partaked first hand. And hopefully after Asia I will have plenty more info to share. In the mean time I will share with you what I learned from my reading and research and what Brenda has passed on to me. She is a big reason I want to go to Asia NOW. She traveled, alone throughout Asia and South America,  a woman by herself which I find so commendable. It's not easy! And here I am her much older cousin and I want the luxury of a tour guide! All of her experiences have pushed her up a few notches and now we can benefit from that experience! So, now's the time!
     My main reason to go to SE Asia is because I never thought I could. And so, as I like to do, I must prove myself wrong. I didn't think I could drive a car. And I didn't think I could drive to Virginia. I didn't think I could drive across the US, and I sure didn't think I'd be planning a trip to a country who doesn't even share our alphabet (how do I say these words?!?). I think growth comes from leaving your comfort zone and for that I will be heading to a place that's least like anywhere I have ever been. Hopefully coming back a stronger, more zen person. I mean it worked for Julia Roberts in Eat, Pray, Love right?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

How To Make The Ultimate Road Trip Playlists

      It's no coincidence that Hanoi Rocks is playing while I research a trip to SE Asia. I like to sync up music to whatever I am doing to get me pumped up! While it's clever, I know they are unrelated so I did some research for bands that are actually from SEA and I found a bunch of great stuff! I will link some at the end if you are interested!

Brenda's Moving To Portland Playlist
     Things you need to consider when making playlists for the road are all the moods you might go through on this trip. Sometimes you need something that gets you pumped to keep you awake. For me that was 90's hip hop, 80's hits, 50's classics or albums from high school that I loved to sing all the words too. Other times you just want something light and relaxing. It's hard to be in the car for long periods of time and if you don't have downtime music you may give yourself a headache. Remember who you are driving with and try to pick things everyone will enjoy. Allow each other a few vetos because no one wants to be uncomfortable for hours in the car. The rule we stuck by was- if you are driver, you get to be the most comfortable. That means, your seat gets to be the most obnoxiously back, your music gets to play on the radio and you get to ask everyone to search for your songs on the ipod. As the passenger it isn't a bad job to keep yourself busy. But I will admit I didn't get board driving the whole first 3,000 miles. It wasn't until the long days or driving at night got to me that I was even affected by it. You will be shocked at how much driving you are trying to find something to do with yourself. The diverse landscapes of the United States kept me pretty occupied. In fact, when you are driving it kind of sucks to not be able to look out and take pictures! Switch up the driving frequently and make lots of stops to keep yourself comfy. We planned to stop every 2 hours and the longest we went without getting out to stretch was 4 hours I think. I also planned for us to only be in the car during daylight. But sometimes, when things ran late and we decided to sleep in (which happened a lot) we got off to a late start and then were kicking ourselves later when we are stuck on a dark road of just corn fields and no way to see where we were going! Ok, back to music!  I have many awesome playlists and formats for playlists to get your favorite hits that will really relate to what you are doing like the playlist I did based on the places I was going i.e. Mississippi Queen, in Mississippi, I did an Indie road songs playlist and a playlist just about America. Those will be for other blog entries. But today, I want to just give you my top songs for any American Road Trip!

     Some of my essentials songs  for road trip playlists are:
1.  Life is a Highway- Tom Cochrane
2. Born To Be Wild- Steppenwolf
3. On the Road Again- Willie Nelson
4. I Drove All Night- Roy Orbison
5. Midnight Rider- The Allman Brothers
6. America- Simon & Garfunkel
7. Free Ride- Edgar Winter Group
8. Slow Ride- Foghat
9. Go Your Own Way- Fleetwood Mac
10. Riders On the Storm- The Doors
11. El Paso- Marty Robbins
12. Train Song- Vashti Bunyan
13. Immigrant Song- Led Zeppelin
14. Rockin' in the Free World- Neil Young
15. The Time Has Come Today- Chamber Brothers
16. Low Rider- War

     For my road trips I try to spend some time making playlists for the road. My main source for music now is Spotify. If you haven't tried it I recommend it. I never really liked any of the other music clients I tried. I wanted to like them. I had Pandora and  8 tracks and a few others. But the thing that I really love about Spotify is that it has the newest music. If you want to discover music that's touring right now, its on here and every week there's New Music Tuesdays where you can check out any of the new albums of the week. Spotify allows me to download full albums of anything from the stuff I had in high school to everything I want to download today. Plus, you can check out some of the most popular playlists like NPR's All Songs Considered or your even your friends playlists and just add them to your page. And Spotify updates you on when new albums or singles by bands you like are out so you can always be up to date. It also syncs with an app called Songkick which scans all of your playlists and then tells you which shows are coming to town that you would want to see. It's brilliant.
     I have a few tips for road music. First- if you are using an app like Spotify download the music prior to the trip that way you won't have to use any data while driving. Data is expensive. Streaming music will kill your data bill. Second, you need to figure out what you will be using for taking road trip photos and what you are using for road trip music. For me, I used my phone for music and photos but I dropped my photos every night to my computer to save space. If you don't have a laptop or don't have this option you may want to download your music to an ipod so that you aren't using up too much space! Nothing worse than having to delete a playlist because you have no space for photos!
     As a back up, I made good old fashion CD's for the trip also. This was so I could have music if my phone died and it allowed me to have my essential stuff with me no matter what. Instead of making mix cds, I just copied my top 10 full albums that I wanted for the road. To get a few extra albums- just add all of the songs to your media player playlist and it will split them up. So, you will probably end up with 1.5 albums per CD and so just number them, label them, and play them all the way through- the way they were meant to be heard! I can't tell you how excited I was to have full length albums for my trip. It's been too long, too many years that we have forgotten this concept. Remember album art? And secret tracks? That stuff has really been lost in this digital age. So, I thought it be awesome to have a few albums I could hear from start to finish. And I ended  up really listening to them a lot!
My picks were:
1. Small Town Heroes- Hurray for the Riff Raff  This album was perfect for those back country roads especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
2. In the Aeroplane Over The Sea- Neutral Milk Hotel
3. Burn Your Fire For No Witness- Angel Olsen
4. Ziggy Stardust- David Bowie
5. Rubber Soul- The Beatles
6. Tomorrow is My Turn- Rhiannon Giddens
7. Be The Void- Dr. Dog
8. Bookends- Simon and Garfunkel
9. Pushing Against the Stone- Valarie June
10. LA Woman- The Doors
11. Beyonce - Self Titled
12. Almost Famous Soundtrack
13. Darjeeling Limited Soundtrack
14. Lorde- Pure Heroine
15. Sgt Pepper- The Beatles

Some of them were played on repeat and others got lost under the seat and I am sure yours will be ones that are closer to your heart! But remember, have some fun with it and pick things that are good listens for the car. I through in a few soundtracks because they are my favorite kind of album but also because they are good background music for conversation! You aren't going to want to sing the whole way, you may even want to talk to the people in your car. I hope some of this helps you when making your road trip playlists! Here's the list of SE Asian Artists and Songs I mentioned in the beginning of this post. It's Indie, fun, mellow music. Perfect for my day at the beach. All of these songs can be found on Spotify on a playlist I made called SEA Indie. Thanks!
1. I Don't Know- Yellow Fang
2. Unreal- Yellow Fang
3. Di Na Babalik- Ang Bandang Shirley
4. Jonestown- The Strangeness
5. Cain Was Furious and He Was Downcast - The Strangeness
6. Season Of Joy- Ballads of the Cliche
7. Back In The Old Days- Ballads of the Cliche
8. Friend's Guide- Ballad of the Cliche
9. Vacation Time- Part Time Musicians
10. Would You Mind? - Part Time Musicians
11. Finding a Leaf in Your Girlfriends Hair- Lullatone
12. Letter to Montecarlo- Lullatone
13. Khristine Anne- Archaster
14. Senandung Maaf- White Shoes & The Couples Company

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Weekend In The Windy City

Brenda shocked and Andrew trying to pose at Chicago's Willis Tower Skydeck
     Chicago is the third most populous city in America and is a premier tourist destination for US and International visitors. During our first road trip across America this was one of our favorite stops for a weekend getaway. We tried to keep this trip as budget friendly as possible because it was going to be one of our most expensive stops but little did we know how much. Our beautiful Liberty Bell (98 Corolla) broke down - get this- directly in front of our stop for the night. We counted our blessings and went inside to call a mechanic.
Brenda and Andrew shot number two of Malort
     What we ended up wasting on car repairs ($500- as the mechanic says, "You are gonna wish you didn't break down in Chicago") we made up for in a cheap, comfortable bed while using one of our favorite sites AirBnb. For a mere 60 bucks a night. This artsy and colorful 1 bedroom was in the Bucktown district of Chicago, a fun hip place to visit with coffee shops, lots of food options and bars in walking distance plus a quick cab ride to downtown.  With free internet access, Netflix and a dvd player you really can have it all with the comforts of home and a stove to cook on and utensils unlike any pricey hotel stay! We didn't watch any movies but we did find it convenient to upload pictures and surf the internet! Street parking was a plus in a city with sky rocketed parking costs and walking around we found tons of shops to peak our interests and a lot of very fashionable residents! We were unaware of how fashion forward Chicago was but of all the cities I have visited they were the best dressed!

     Our first night we walked to a local bar in Bucktown called The Corner Bar. This local dive wasn't too crowded when we entered but the action got moving as the night went on. The bartender was very interested in our journey and had some awesome advice for places to go and eat. When he heard it was our first trip to Chicago he said we must have a shot of Malort, on him. The Label made a bold statement:
Most first-time drinkers of Jeppson Malort reject our liquor. Its strong, sharp taste is not for everyone. Our liquor is rugged and unrelenting (even brutal) to the palate. During almost 60 years of American distribution, we found only 1 out of 49 men will drink Jeppson Malort after the first "shock-glass." During the lifetime of our founder, Carl Jeppson was apt to say, 'My Malort is produced for that unique group of drinkers who disdain light flavor or neutral spirits.'
It is not possible to forget our two-fisted liquor. The taste just lingers and lasts - seemingly forever. The first shot is hard to swallow! PERSERVERE [sic]. Make it past two 'shock-glasses' and with the third you could be ours...forever."- Carl Jeppson
The morning called for a good breakfast. We found a place  called The Map Room that doubles as a bar by night and a breakfast joint by day right down the street. The food was good,  there were a variety of cappacinos, coffees and hot chocolates and free wifi.  The sausage and cheese bagel hit the spot.  The eccentric design with maps along the walls and the ceiling adorned in flags made us tourists feel welcome and so did the bartender. There's tons of space in here and most people were quietly typing away on their computers while we enjoyed the quiet morning before the nightly bustle. My favorite thing about this place was the morning rush of the workforce walked  right past the Starbucks next door and headed on over  each with a friendly greeting for the bartender.
Andrew over the city at night
Standing in the Skydeck
Next it was time for the big show, the Willis Tower, formally Sears Tower. Yes, there's a wait. My recommendation? We got there at the perfect time. What you want to do is give yourself an hour and a half for the line and movie and check the time the sunsets that day and make sure you are up there! We were lucky enough to catch well lit pictures, sunset pictures and night pictures all within two hours upstairs. It was magical. First you begin with a movie of the history and then you are brought up by elevator and you can stand in line for the actual Skydeck- a glass box you stand in off the side of the building that shows the whole city below you like you are floating above it. This thing freaked me out. The butterflies when I stepped on it wouldn't stop! It was so strange how I knew I was in a secure place that I could probably jump up and down but I had trouble placing that first foot on it! And watching all the people before and after you is quite a show too! Be prepared in line for what kind of photos you want to do because the line is long and you don't get a ton of time! But some people lay down, or put their kids in the corner to take interesting pics. We opted for our feet!

Food! We know why you are here! It's the good eats! We went to two very highly recommended tourist destinations and so we are going to play a game of- Which is better?! The excitement behind getting an authentic Chicago Deep Dish Pizza was pouring out of us. It was definitely BIG! But when given the choice....

 A Chicago favorite, Portillio's slid ahead for the win! A must see experience right from the entrance you are taken into the uplifting feelings of  carnival fun! The excitement of the number callers on microphones make the short wait for a long, quick moving line way worth it!  It's truly phenomenal seeing the sandwich makers crank them out so fast! Listen for your ticket number and be pleasantly surprised by a fun rhyme over a loud speaker "number 9, your orders fine" "Number ten please come again" it's fun for all! Don't let me tell you just look at these happy faces to know the food was good- so good we couldn't get a picture before they were gone but here's the smiling faces! Get a milkshake too! 

Art was everywhere we turned in Chicago, a beautiful city with tons to see just walking around. Here's a few of our favorite things we checked out. 
Cloud Gate Bean

The many ways to take a picture of the bean! 

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Photo from the street of an art piece inside of a building lobby in Chicago.

 We had a fabulous time in your city! Thanks for having us Chicago! 

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Making the most of this life

 If you were to write the ultimate online profile for yourself what would it entail? What is it that you want to be? How would you like to be a part of this world? How do you describe yourself? What will be in your obituary? What would you do with a million bucks? You know the questions. I  had trouble for so many years pinpointing what it is I could say about me, based on my interests and my actual accomplishments. One day, not too many years ago I had a revelation. There was a lot more talking then their was doing in my life. I wanted to be so many things and I talked a big game but how many of these dreams were coming true? I felt inside like I was a writer, my best friends knew it, my family knew it was a big part of who I was- but was I writing? I read a lot about travel and roadtripping but I couldn't even drive. I constantly said I wanted to get out of my hometown but there I was. Even with the support of loved ones I didn't push myself. I had many opportunities to save money and go and do anything with my life but those things didn't seem in reach or realistic. A huge cloud stood over me that said I wasn't good enough.  I would fill my head with my doubts and the doubts of others telling myself that almost no one makes a living writing, or travelling is for people with rich parents. Meanwhile I spent most of my money partying and talking about all these things I wanted but not making any concrete steps to do it. When I seen my friends going off to college I just remember thinking, I couldn't ever afford it. I pretty much quit on myself before I even started. I would lie to myself and say that I wasn't good enough to get scholarships before I even looked to see what was available. I had gone to community college but dropped out before finishing and working for my dad part time.
      I had also been through a few tough breakups over the years. I lacked independence and clinged to the men in my life for identity. Instead of being who I wanted to be, I just dated who I wanted to be. I felt accomplished in knowing they read great books, they could play musical instruments, they could fix old sports cars, they knew about music and movies and politics. As if it somehow reflected back on me. I had a void and instead of becoming whole myself, I looked for someone to make me whole. But each time it ended tragically and I felt more empty. Then- a real breakthrough. Why did I look for these qualities in someone else- instead of having them for myself? If I thought fixing  up old cars was cool- why not learn to do that myself? If I found world religion interesting- why not study it myself? If I wanted to see great movies or hear great music- why not discover it on my own? And it was taking on different tasks that really built me up. Made me feel complete. Made me who I was. There is nothing that will take you out of a depression like trying to do something and not stopping until you achieve your goal. Achieving things are like self esteem points. If you don't want to leave the house you have to throw yourself into things even when you don't want to, and often. And then you will finally see that you are awesome. It just takes discomfort and effort and trust. Believe in you and you will be more. I went back to school. I got my Associates degree at that community college. I started to write. I took writing classes. I did national novel writers month each year. I felt like a million bucks. I wasn't even thinking about dating. I was in love with who I was and it felt awesome.  And oddly enough, it was when I finally was not looking for a man to make me feel loved, and was loving myself wholly that I met the man who is still in my life today. Funny how that works out huh?
     It really began when my mom pushed me to get my license. For years I was carted around by boyfriends, my parents, my brother, anyone I could find or the bus. My mother always stressed independence for me. She knew all too well the struggles women had when they were taken care of by men. She didn't want that for me. As a young housewife she didn't want it for herself and so she got a license and went back to school and made her own money. And that was a game changer for her. She wanted the same for me. The strength and experiences my mother had really impacted my life. It was not uncommon for the girls in my  neighborhood to be pregnant at 13 or 14 years old. There were many girls in my 7th and 8th grade classes with children many of them ended up dropping out. My mother always talked to me about how hard it was to not have your own money. Although she loved my father and he always provided she wanted me to make my own money so I never had to answer to anyone. Her influence on my life is one of the main reasons why I steered clear of that life. Thankfully I still had dreams and I knew they would be much harder to accomplish if I couldn't finish school or if I had a baby to take care of.
     Getting my license was my first real feeling of independence. There is nothing better than knowing you can go anywhere and you don't need help from anyone to do it. It also allowed me to find work a lot of times in places that were farther away and I was able to do so many things I couldn't have done before.
     When Andrew and I began dating it was different than all the times before. I felt that we both brought so much to the table. We had so much to teach each other. We pushed each other. We made goals and we kept them. We were both writing and discovering things together. And for the first time I had genuine mutual love. We even tried to elope on our second date. We are now coming up on 6 years. And I am still waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's like that first date still. And I am forever grateful to have found him and to have found myself beforehand which I know played a huge role in our happiness.
     I started doing a lot of research and reading on road tripping. It intrigued me to just go- and see all the things we hadn't seen before. It was also during this time that I started using Yelp, to really look into new places  nearby to eat and stay. We planned our first real road trip to Connecticut with as many stops as we could find to see and do along the way. It was amazing.  We were watching a lot of travel shows and one of the goals I had was to cook more so cooking shows too. A combo of the two was diners, driveins and dives a show about finding cheap good food. This was exactly what we needed so we mapped out all the places he said on the show and we went to find them. We also found a bunch of parks, a castle, a river, a winery, and much more.  But more than anything it really pushed me to think of what I wanted out of life. I really liked this travelling thing. And it wasn't too hard to do. Save a little money and go on weekend trips. One thing we knew for sure we didn't want to spend another weekend on a couch or in a bar drinking beer and shooting the shit. We had a whole world to see.
     Now, it was around this time that I became really fascinated with Europe. I had audiobooks, podcasts, the travel channel, movies all luring me in. I wanted to see the countries of my ancestors. I studied geography like I never had in school. Learning all European countries, then all the world's countries, then all their capitals and anything else I could learn. I was trying to understand life from a world perspective. I wanted to know what made us so different and what made us all the same. And so I fantasized daily inputting my locations on the around the world ticket sites. How would I do it? So I made charts and lists and calculated totals and looked up ways to save money and make money and calculated new totals and planned and planned but never purchased anything and never made concrete plans. Also, in my life, I started to really truly for then first time feel a bit of patriotism. It was something I had always teased my family for, their houses adorned in American flags. But the more I read, the more I saw that America was pretty damn awesome. I mean, all these mountains and rivers and oceans and different cuisines and different cultures I was reading about- I could experience all those things here. We had it all. We not only had it all, but we had it without a passport, without a 1000 plane ticket and without learning 20 new languages. So, I started doing some research on roadtripping in America.
     By the time I turned 29, I had a concrete list of things I wanted to do before I was 30, and one of them was travel across America.  I had wanted to be a travel writer all of my life but I felt that I didn't have the knowledge or vocabulary. So I tried to write everyday, take a writing class and I set a goal to read 100 books in a year. Which I accomplished and really gave me the confidence to do more things. I had quit smoking after 10 years of it and felt like a million bucks, I could do anything. Now it was time to start doing. What better place to start this travel quest then in my own backyard! Looking back it seems like something so easily accomplishable but at that time it was my Everest. I had trouble driving to work without getting lost. I had never left my hometown for anything more than a vacation, in a plane. How would we do it? I spent about 8 months planning all the places I would hit along the way, also planning to move to the west coast when it was all over. That would be another goal off of my list- get out of this town. My nights were spent reading travel guides, reworking the trip in an online mapping program to estimate times to wake up, times to drive, times to stop for meals and places to see. That way, I could optimize our time. I wanted to be spontaneous but I was coming to realize the more carefully planned, the better on the pocket. I could buy groupons, and makes sure that with arrival times we could see all the big things we wanted and not arrive after they closed. I found an awesome site- Airbnb for us to use to get cheap rooms. And this site is so close to my heart now! What an awesome way to meet fellow travellers and feel the comforts of home. The lifesaver of it all was My Scenic Drives though. This site was the only mapping site online that could input say, 300 stops on a cross country trip- it ran much faster than roadtrippers and had driving times, gas prices, and stops all logged in. I used this site in accordance with about 5 other sites to really optimize our plan. And in the end it was me, my cousin Brenda and Andrew and they loved everything we had planned. I left some days open for us to really just find out was locally fun- and we added some stuff that everyone liked (Comicon for Andrew! Omaha Zoo for Brenda!) All and all it was the best experience of my life. After that, we lived in Portland for two years. Exploring as often as possible. Now, we are  in Virginia for the 2nd time after a 2nd cross country trip that included the whole west coast and then all the way across the south! We are in the process of taking it to a whole new level and planning a year long trip to SE Asia!
   Sometimes making the most of my life is just enjoying myself where I am. I won't say I am only doing doing doing. I like to watch tv for hours if it's something awesomely written like Homeland or Breaking Bad. I definitely have days where I just read music reviews or lay on the beach. I am forever still developing into who I am as we all are. But what really makes me happy is to see new places and just do new things. I love to write about them and I love to take pictures and map out everywhere we've been and where we are going. Most of all I love to make myself uncomfortable. It sucks. But we are a generation of people who are babied. I like to think of this as my un-coddling. I like to think of the buddhist idea of suffering and how each new experience is pushing me to be better. To never get to comfortable. And when you feel cushy, when you feel like you are relaxed- its time to move. Train your spirit the way you would train a muscle. Don't let it get comfortable. Don't stay in one place and do one thing over and over. Be a part of a growing changing world. This next trip is different because travel has taken on a new level. I have been enjoying learning about how people live differently. I enjoy the new cuisines and the genuine outlooks the varied for east to west coast but I don't want to be an observer anymore. I want to be the change. I want to do something that makes this world better. So we w

ill be looking to volunteer and really get to know people around the world. That;s a purpose I feel deep in my core. And I will be also rewarded with the beauty of the world while doing it!
     I know a lot of people get excited about the new  year. It's the time when resolutions come out and the gyms are packed with people who want a new start. I try to make that new years feeling last every moment.  What I mean to say is- you get a new chance everytime you breathe in. If you don't like how that last moment went- breathe again. And give thanks to the universe or your god for that breath. You are here for a reason, you have a purpose and you will and can achieve it. Believe that you are more than the couch. Believe that you deserve just as much out of life as anyone else. Don't let money or judgements or any decision you made before keep you from your dream now. You decide who you are in each moment. It's time for you to be the truest and happiest form of yourself now.