Category Archives: fun

A love letter to Eaux Claires


I’m proud to say that last weekend I finally popped my music festival cherry at Eaux Claires. Seriously!? How is it that I’m 27 and never been to one? My friend M heard (all the way from California, mind you) about an under-the-radar festival Justin Vernon from Bon Iver was putting on. I was familiar enough with the headliners Bon Iver and The National so I checked out the rest of the music line-up. Not surprising to me I hardly knew anyone but I decided to go anyways. Open heart, open mind people! Here is a write-up I just submitted to the curators. (Mom and Dad — you may not want to read the third to last paragraph).

A Love Letter to Eaux Claires

For someone with no real music knowledge or festival experience, Eaux Claires was the perfect introduction into what I always imagined that experience should be like – a space for intimate, authentic, and clear moments to emerge. A place where the sensations and emotions those moments provoke lasts well after the last chords are strung and the sunburns fade.

I couldn’t have imagined the magnitude of how much my feet would hurt or my back would ache or the fact that no matter how Instagram worthy you think you look all you are is a hot, sweaty, hair plastered to your face mess. I can’t count the number of times I audibly groaned wondering how many more times I would have to make the trek up and down the steep tree-lined dirt path up to the Dells stage. Yet all that uncomfortableness was totally worth it because in a sea of 22,000 beating hearts, it hit me. We were all here for one reason. Music. The driving force behind unity and belonging. That which evokes feeling through action and which begs for action through feeling. The one thing that proves we don’t just exist, but that we truly live.

Although I couldn’t sing along to a majority of the songs and half-wondered why I was there given I knew very little about the Eaux Claires music line-up, my lack of musical knowledge allowed me to experience the festival in a unique way. What my mind, body and senses were in tune to extended beyond singing the lyrics of a song or how well I could hear the bass on stage. I think it’s what made my experience unforgettable.

With no preconceived notions I let myself be saturated with a diverse mix of music genres. I listened to those sounds with an open heart and mind and I became mindful of how the music affected me as well as how it affected others. I noticed facial expressions, the way people around me moved their bodies, how a guy stole longing glances at a girl he liked, the enigmatic energy between a group of friends as they belted out the words to their favorite song, and the sense of comradery and admiration between collaborating artists.

I mentally cataloged these moments and the emotions they triggered. And every time I sat down – next to the riverbanks or under a tree – I was inspired to write it all down. Just a few short phrases or words here and there about time, people, and spaces. As I sit here reflecting on and writing about my experience these are the words and the moments I carry with me.

The one that most vividly stands out is listening to Colin Stetson play his saxophone. Standing there, I was moved watching my friend as he closed his eyes and held his hand over his heart, feeling it beat in unison with the fluid and powerful vibrations those gravelly sounds held. It was as if the music came through you, automatic and unforgiving and in full force. If anyone standing there listening to Colin play didn’t feel the emotion and the imagery and the awakening of their soul as me and my friend did, then they must be dead.

Then there was Francis and the Lights. To find a word or phrase that fully encapsulates what seeing his set was like is difficult. The way Francis sang with his entire body, bouncing and spinning around the stage, you could see just how completely in the moment he was. His devotion and love of music transcended through him. I wish I had moves like his!

To say I became obsessed with Elliott Moss after seeing him live is an understatement. I’ve been jamming to their music non-stop since and I blame that entirely on the emotional whirlpool his song Slip put me through. Almost from the beginning I felt a sense of anguish and personal pain. It reminded me of giving up on someone – or something – which I imagine all of us can think back to a time in our lives where we shared similar sentiments. Standing there, swaying to the beat, I noticed the entire audience was transfixed and quiet during this particular song. Mesmerizing and haunting, I was left with goose bumps in the midst of a 90-degree humid day.

In my humble opinion, though, Spoon brought down the house. Drinking beers and vibing out, I watched in amusement as three girls in front of me went crazy for a song I have no idea what the name of is. Bodies rolling, they yelled “I love this song!” The pure rush of musical elation was seeping through every pore of their bodies. It was infectious. And like them, I surrendered my body to the music; I danced my god damn heart out.

At one point, a friend and I found solace in the shade to listen to Haley Bonar’s set. It was a simple and sweet thing to be lying there under a tree, staring into the branches. The sun peaked through rustling leaves and I was mesmerized by their beauty. It was here I understand how music might make us feel love. I certainly had all the feels.

I will say what intrigued me most, and which I certainly didn’t expect from a music festival, was the blending of music with other interactive art forms. Like Phox’s documentary film premiere or the geodome where I sat on the ground with headphones over my ears and watched as artists sang behind a translucent screen. Intimate and visually appealing, it made my experience one of a kind.

The final performance will forever be burned in my memory not just because Bon Iver’s song Skinny Love turned into a giant sing-along but because of the debut of two new songs, which a special someone and I made love to by the light installations lining the path to the St. Coix village. I like to believe the curators of Eaux Claires and the pastor with gold teeth would approve. We were active participants in our experience. And what greater compliment is there to a musician than to say your message inspired an expression of longing, connection, and love.

Talking about these moments with other Eaux Claires festival-goers has been fascinating. The entire musical line-up was fantastic, yet the moments that stick out to me and what sticks out to them varies widely. The one thing that unites all of us, though, is the fact we were having the best fucking time of our lives.

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Filed under art, Eaux Claires, friends, fun, memories, music, photos

NOLA: the city that stole my heart

I had a trip booked to Cambodia and Vietnam in January but after being hospitalized in December I ended up having to cancel it. Since most of my savings went to moving and securing an apartment (and the fact I couldn’t take vacation for six months after starting my new job) I hadn’t been anywhere since June 2014, when I traveled to Nicaragua. My vagabond feet have been restless ever since then as I usually take a trip abroad at least once a year and smaller ones throughout the states every two to three months.

Considering where I was at just three months ago and the emotional roller coaster I’ve been through over the last couple of years, it’s incredible the recovery I’ve made in such a short time. I’ve put all my effort into taking care of myself these last few months so I figured it was time to let loose, have some fun, and explore somewhere new. New Orleans just happened to be my pick only because I found a last-minute ticket for $200 dollars (sweet deal!). In the end, I’m so glad I went because it’s a charming, lively city – one that quickly stole my heart.

At the suggestion of my friend M who used to live in NOLA I rented a bike for the four days I was there. It’s a fairly flat city and given my hostel was a 25 minute walk to pretty much everywhere it made getting around so much easier. Compared to other tourists I felt like I saw a lot more of the city instead of being confined to the French Quarter or Bourbon Street. I also got a shit ton of exercise.

One thing I’ve noticed over the last five years I’ve been staying at hostels is there are infinitely more people from Australia than there used to be. Of the seven of us who ventured out to Bourbon Street on my first night there, five were Aussies. In general, they’re wild and crazy and they certainly know how to show you a good time. I love them for that, especially since I’m shy when first meeting people.


That night I was also able to cross off on my to-do list eating beignets at the famous Cafe du Monde. Three-quarters powdered sugar and one-quarter dough, I’ve now had them sober and I’ve had them drunk. They are definitely better when drinking.

Perhaps one of the most beautiful neighborhoods I saw in NOLA was the Garden District, known for its architecture and historic 19th century homes. Most of the homes are enclosed by wrought-iron fences and many of them were draped in Mardi Gras beads. I found it amusing that such a wealthy neighborhood would add a touch of flare to their plantation style homes. It made me like them more. I would snatch one of these homes up in a heartbeat, if only I had millions of dollars.

PicMonkey Collage

I also spent part of a day doing a self-guided tour of the Lafayette Cemeteries. The St. Louis Cemetery is more widely known but my goal for this trip outside of food and entertainment was to do mostly free stuff. Lafayette was a viable alternative to St. Louis since it didn’t require you to pay entrance and guide fees.

Most interesting to me were the tombs that carried multiple family members dating all the way back to the early 1800’s (as shown in the photo above). What I found so touching was that family still visited their ancestors’ graves. I couldn’t even tell you where my great grandparents or great great grandparents are buried. In the tomb above, the flowers were fresh and I found the statue of Mary oddly comforting. At another tomb I stumbled across, a World War I medal was draped across the steps along with a picture. Seriously cool.

Days two and three were spent exploring the French Quarter and riding the ferry to Algiers Point. Algiers Point provides the best view of the NOLA skyline and you could spend an entire day in the French Quarter and still not see everything. The St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square are the focal point of the quarter and it pretty much reminded me of a castle in a fairy tale. I’d also recommend checking out the French Market, not so much for the stalls of cheap souvenirs but for the interesting food they serve there. Gators on a stick? Weird but kind of intriguing!

PicMonkey Collage2And I can’t forget the food! By far the best meal I had was at a dive bar in the Marigny called Mimi’s. C (who I met at the hostel) and I were skeptical when we first walked in but the atmosphere upstairs was pleasantly surprising. Mimi’s has the best late night tapas menu around. We started with one tapa and a few hours later had practically made it through the entire menu. Few tourists know of this spot but it’s popular among the locals and came highly recommended from M. Plus, you can actually hear each other talk. Other great restaurants I recommend are Surrey’s Cafe and Juice Bar for breakfast, Deanie’s for seafood, and Coop’s for some authentic Cajun food.

Perhaps my favorite part of NOLA though is the abundance of live Jazz music, especially in the French Quarter during the day and on Frenchman Street at night. I had a conversation with a local about this very subject and he told me about a local parade that happens every week from March to June. It’s not publicized and many tourists are unaware of its existence. C met me where the parade started and we walked along the route with hundreds of others who were playing music and dancing in the streets. Here is a short clip of the parade and another one of a jazz band we came across on Frenchman Street one evening.

It’s fair to say NOLA quickly became one of my favorite US cities. Pictures don’t do it justice but I do know I’ll be going back there someday soon.

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Filed under adventure, Algiers Point, biking, Bourbon Street, Cafe du Monde, exploring, Food, Frenchman Street, fun, Garden District, music, New Orleans, travel

Rock county: fearflying aka skydiving

My friend Eric jokingly sent me an email the other day asking if I was going through an early mid-life crisis. In the last two months, I’ve chopped almost 10 inches off my hair (I can’t even put it in a ponytail anymore!) and then I signed my life away to jump out of a plane, or what I lovingly refer to as “fearflying” (aka skydiving). Perhaps he’s on to something here but we all know I’m an adventurer at heart and a sucker for last-minute deals too. Along with my friends Aaron, Selina, and Kelsey, I got to mark another item off my bucket list this past Saturday at Great Lakes Skydiving in Beloit. It was an experience of a life time and since I’ve had a lot of people reach out asking what it’s all about I thought I’d recount the jump here:

Kelsey was the first of the group to go. I saw her squat and crouch to the edge of the door and just like that she was sucked out, disappearing below. It is unnerving to see someone you know and care about sucked out of a door into oblivion. You hear their first scream of “Oh my god” and even before the last syllable is spoken, the wind slices right through it and you don’t hear them anymore. They vanish. And then you become conscious that you’re no longer sitting in the back of the plane and in fact have been scooted so far forward that you’re next up on the chopping block.

At that point, I felt overwhelmingly anxious, fully awake, and absolutely terrified. Before making my jump, I looked up to the sky and closed my eyes. Looking back at the video, it looks as if I’m praying to the heavens above but it was more the instinctive realization that this was a terrible idea and there was nothing I could do about it now. My instructor’s final words before throwing me out the door were, “If you forget to breathe just scream.” I screamed alright. In fact, every second of my free fall I screamed bloody murder. It was the best therapy I could have asked for.

This photo sums up my entire skydiving experience.

This photo sums up my entire skydiving experience.

The free fall lasted about 60 seconds, which feels like a lifetime to spend diving head first into the ground at 140mph, but at the same time it goes quick too. When people ask me to describe this part of the dive, I can only muster up two words: terrifying and loud. Free falling from 14,000 feet in the air is not natural and every instinct in your body tells you to curl up in the fetal position (which you can’t do by the way). Then there’s the noise. I cannot possibly convey how loud it is from the moment you open the door to when the parachute finally opens. Think of a train coming through town or a fire alarm going off in your building. Magnify it by a 100 and maybe you’ll be close. It’s loud and deafening and exhilarating all at once.

So insane!

So insane!

But then something really wonderful happens. Your parachute releases and time almost freezes. The force and loudness of the wind vanishes completely and you are left with complete silence. You glide through the air and make your way through clouds to clear skies for jaw-dropping views. I saw the Chicago skyline and the smoke stacks in Rockford, IL all the way from Wisconsin. It was peaceful and serene and (somewhat surprisingly) I didn’t vomit from the free fall.

About five minutes after the parachute opened, we landed in a green pasture right by the airport. I love the photos from our landing because I just look so happy. I’m still debating whether my look of glee is from how much fun I had or if I was just incredibly thankful to have my legs firmly on the ground again. Regardless, it was a blast and I would recommend it to anyone looking to feel alive. The best part of skydiving is that 100 percent of you lives entirely in the moment.

I'm sooo happy! haha

I’m sooo happy! haha

Me and my instructor post-landing. He was great!

Me and my instructor post-landing. He was great!

From left to right: Kelsey, Aaron, me, and Selina. We all LOVED it.

From left to right: Kelsey, Aaron, me, and Selina. We all LOVED it.


Filed under adventure, fun, happiness, Joy, skydiving