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Ireland and why you should throw away that guidebook

The guidebook – the all-encompassing bible for travel enthusiasts – is what has united travelers across the world in their search for adventure. Even though we travel to see new places and gain new experiences, we often find that our own experience mirrors many other travelers’ experiences.

This comes as no surprise with the plethora of guidebooks out there (Lonely Planet, Fodor’s, Frommer’s, and Rick Steves, to name a few), which means everyone ends up traveling the same roads, eating at the same restaurants, frequenting the same bars, and staying in the same hostels.

Our reliance on these guidebooks has contributed to a fundamental shift in the way we travel. Gone are the days where we fly by the seat of our pants. Instead of being open to the unexpected and the endless amount of possibilities at our fingertips, we’ve become what Hemingway calls “over-itinerized”, in which our main goal in travel is to mark off everything on the “Highlights” checklist. Thus, we spend our time running from one place to the next without fully experiencing the moment or our surroundings.

There is nothing more obvious than burying your nose in a guidebook and following the tourist trail to show that you are, in fact, a tourist. And, there is nothing I despise more than looking like a tourist (even if I am one).

So I’ve thrown away the checklist because when it comes to exploring new places, I’ve found that less is more. It’s far more interesting to get to know the history of the town and talk with the people who live there than it is to figure out the most popular bar to go to or the best party hostel to stay at. These are the things that are important to me and it has always made my experiences more enriching.

So, I encourage you to stop treating your guidebook like the bible. Instead, devote your time to the one or two things you find most interesting about the country you are traveling to. In France, I would spend my time in the Loire Valley sampling their world-famous Valençay and Crottin de Chevignol cheeses and pairing them with local wines. For my friend who has a love of art, he might be content to stay in Paris and casually explore the Louvre over a full week so he can explore all of its treasures.

In Italy, I would savor the best pizza and pasta and pastries in the country. I would ask the locals what their recommendations are and that is where I would go, not even caring as I watched my waist line grow. For my parents who are wine lovers, they’d spend their time in Tuscany in a perpetual state of tipsy-ness.

In Spain, I would learn the Flamenco and eat tapas, then take a siesta and eat more tapas. My adventurous friend would run with the bulls and another who is deeply religious would hike the El Camino Santiago from beginning to end.

In Ireland, I would revel in Irish music and eat Irish food and drink Guinness and sit by the sea and explore the Irish countryside. And, when I actually went there this past month, this is all I did. I spent hours in pubs listening to Irish jam sessions. I ate beef and Guinness stew and bangers and mash and seafood chowder and Irish soda bread. I stayed in a cottage by the sea and collected sea shells. I hiked 14 miles through the country side and climbed the Connemara Mountains where I got to see the formation of a rainbow from start to finish.

I missed a lot. In particular all the popular and famous tourist attractions that every other traveler I met was going to or had already been there. I missed the Blarney Stone, New Grange, Dingle, the Burren, Cork, the Wicklow Mountains – pretty much everything the guidebook said I should do. And you know what? I had the best trip ever. I may not be able to relate to many other people’s experiences of Ireland but I did experience a part of the country that many of them didn’t, which I think is pretty unique and cool.

My point here is that you should do what interests you. And, if you stumble upon something that is completely different from what you set out to find or do, be willing to change it up. Because when you finally throw away that guidebook and itinerary, you will undoubtedly have a more authentic and rich experience.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

The family I stayed with for a few days had a dog, Winnie. I took her to the beach. We played fetch and collected sea shells.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Hiking through the Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Connemara Mountains.

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Some more Connemara Mountains!

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He's crazy and fun.

Did I mention I met the star of Deadliest Catch? We hung out for a few days. He’s crazy and fun.

Captaining a fishing boat, "The Happy Hooker".

Captaining a fishing boat, “The Happy Hooker”.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

There is a wall in Galway where you write a note to the sea. This one was my favorite.

Galway Bay.

Galway Bay.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Okay, so I did do one touristy thing. Many of you may recognize this as the entrance to the Dark Hedges in Game of Thrones.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

Antrim Coast.

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had "Worm Hole" spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

On my 14 mile hike I came across a rock that had “Worm Hole” spray painted on it. I followed the red arrows and came to this perfectly carved hole in the middle of the cliffs along the sea. So cool!

Keith and I.

Keith and I.

 

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Filed under exploring, guidebooks, hiking, photos, travel

A love letter to Eaux Claires

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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

Jackson County: Black River State Forest

Since I’ve been traveling out of state a lot this year, I decided to keep my summer adventures close to home. This past weekend marked the beginning of a summer chock full of camping, hiking, and kayaking adventures, which fits in perfectly with my county by county project. For sure my favorite part of living in Wisconsin is the abundance of outdoor activities available to me in my own backyard. Finally, all that investment in outdoor equipment will pay off!

For the first camping trip of the season, a few friends and I headed 2 1/2 hours north to black bear and timber wolf country, where Black River State Forest offers some of the best hiking, canoeing, and fishing in the state. Our camp site was at East Fork Campground, which is one of the more rustic places to stay as there is no electricity and you have to use vault pumps for fresh water. I prefer rustic sites like these over those close to showers and plumbing, primarily because sites with more amenities mean camp sites are literally sitting on top of one another. Though the sites at East Fork were somewhat spread out, they were still pretty close to one another, which I found to be the only downfall to staying there. Usually I prefer hike-in sites that are off the beaten path (the ones where you carry water in and carry trash out) solely because you’re nestled in the woods and further away from other groups, which means you don’t have to abide by quiet hours or worry about how much noise you’re making. Plus, I appreciate being nestled deep in the woods.

I think back to this trip and I can’t help but laugh at all our misadventures, especially for two of my friends who were camping for the second time ever. I only wish the weather hadn’t taken a turn for the worse – from bright and sunny to a torrential downpour – since I doubt they have any desire to tag along on future trips. Between the abundance of ticks and mosquitoes and the flooding of their tent, I feel bad their introduction into the great outdoors was less than ideal. To quote one of them, “This was the worst night of my life.” Haha.

If anything, I think we all learned the importance of hoping for the best but preparing for the worst, as well as investing in quality equipment (especially tents). My buyer’s remorse over a $200 tent? Completely wiped out! That sucker held up in a massive thunderstorm with no leaking whatsoever.

But my most exciting purchase of the season was my kayak, though I will admit it came with its own frustrations. For one, I’m weak in my upper body strength, which means lifting the kayak on top of my vehicle alone is almost impossible. There was a lot of cursing on my end. Plus, my anxiety level went through the roof since I had to keep stopping on the side of the highway to readjust the kayak as it kept popping out of the rack. I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos since then to figure out what I’m doing wrong. Hopefully I get it right the next time around. If anything, I’m determined to do all this without needing the help of someone else.

Also, somewhat disappointing is the fact that Miley absolutely hates being in the kayak (actually, hate is an understatement). And, getting her life vest on is a difficult task in and of itself. Basically, I have to wrestle and hold her between my legs. Once I get it on, she makes every attempt to tear it off. She becomes a wild child. On the bright side, she looks super freaking adorable in it!

Though I thought she would love being in the kayak given her love of water, the further out we got from shore, the more she whined and started shaking. Not to mention the fact she nearly flipped me on several occasions (it will happen eventually, I’m sure of it). Plus, she ignored all my commands. I feel like this photo pretty much sums up life with Miley on a daily basis, especially the bottom right box. 🙂

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Hopefully her comfort level will change the more we take the kayak out. I mean, it has to!

Despite some of the frustrations of this past weekend’s camping trip, I had a pretty good time. Check out some of our photos below.

BeFunky Collage

BeFunky Collage3

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Filed under camping, County project, kayaking, outdoors, parks, photos

Yes, it was worth it

Last weekend, I traveled back to Missouri to attend my Master’s graduation ceremony and to celebrate with friends and family. At the same time, my email has been bombarded with requests for articles on “Why getting your degree is overrated,” and “Is it really worth it to get your graduate degree?” At first glance, it seems like most people take the stance that the financial commitment outweighs the benefits such a degree can offer. Yet, I find myself taking a different view-point. Sure, it takes considerable financial investment, but there are numerous advantages to getting your graduate degree.

For me personally, getting my Master’s widened the job pool for positions that I wouldn’t have even been able to apply for if I hadn’t gone to graduate school. In the three years it took me to finish the degree, I obtained a Director-level position and more than doubled my salary. I know this isn’t true for all fields (for example, the wage you receive in a non-profit with a bachelor’s degree isn’t all that varied from what you’ll receive with a Master’s degree), but generally speaking I believe you have to spend money to make money.

However, there are a lot of non-financial benefits that perhaps, given their pricelessness, outweigh the financial benefit. Not only did I get to become an expert in a field that I love but I gained a skill set I otherwise wouldn’t have been able to master on my own. Sure, I love data analysis and I’m good at program evaluation but I wouldn’t have known how to design research studies or know how to prove or disprove that programs are in fact making a difference in the lives of the people they’re intended to affect. I learned an invaluable skill set that not a lot of people are trained in, which makes me a critical asset to the field I work in. No one can ever take that away from me. I guess what they say is true: knowledge is power.

In the end, choosing to get your graduate degree is a personal decision, but for me, it was totally worth it. In a sense, I understand how it can be a bit overrated but I also don’t think we should dissuade people from bettering themselves career-wise. I had never been more proud of myself walking across that stage to receive my diploma. It was empowering and my commitment to the program has had such a positive impact on my life. Even though I couldn’t have done it without the support and encouragement of friends and family, it reminded me that hard work and tenacity pay off. I loved being able to share that feeling with those who I care about most. Here are a few photos of one wild and crazy night, although it doesn’t encompass everyone I got to see (still waiting to get photos from others!).

PicMonkey Collage PicMonkey Collage2

Congratulations to all the other graduates out there and for those still in their program, keep on keeping on!

On a completely unrelated note to this post, I am writing an article on what’s different about dating in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and beyond. I created an anonymous survey and it’s short (5 questions)! Please take a moment to provide your feedback here. The more responses, the better the insight, the better the article!

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Filed under family, friends, graduation, photos, school

Good riddance, 26!

I often put puzzles out on the filing cabinet that sits outside my office at work. I also have a white board hanging there, both of which I use as a means of engagement with my coworkers. Puzzles are fun for breaks and what I put on the white board varies by the day. Anything from “What are you grateful for today?” to “Goals for the week” to “Let’s play hangman!” It’s a fun way for me to foster a positive work environment and if you’ve ever worked in state government, you know we could use a little light-heartedness at the office.

I’ve had a running countdown in the corner of the white board since January, keeping my coworkers guessing for months what it could possibly mean. This week they finally figured it out. What was the countdown for? My 27th birthday, of course!

April 30 is a day I’ve been looking forward to pretty much since the day I turned 26. FINALLY, I get to kick my 26th year to the curb. Sianara, sucker! Good riddance! Adios! I most certainly will NOT miss you!

I started out 27 by spilling coffee all over my shirt but coworkers were quick to the rescue with tide-to-go pens and shout wipes (I should really start carrying those) so it turned around quite quickly. Everyone has made my birthday feel special – from sending flowers and cards to taking me out for lunch to sending me loving and thoughtful messages. But the best birthday present of all?! The birth of my nephew, Sawyer Dean. It is so cool to share a birthday with him!

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Even though 26 was a trying year and I’m happy I never have to live it again, I learned some not-so-bad things too.

What I Learned About Life
Everyone, everywhere basically wants the same things: to love and be loved in return; to be joyful and happy; to feel like we belong; to have a sense of purpose that is greater than ourselves; to feel validated; to have a sense of security; to have enough money to enjoy things beyond our basic needs.

It doesn’t matter where I am in the world or who I talk to, it seems like this is always what my conversations circle back around to. Early on in my twenties and up until this past year I was fairly ignorant about that. I thought that no one else could possibly understand what I felt or what I was going through or the things I desired. I was wrong. And at some level, in the back of my mind, I already knew this. But now, I know for sure.

What I Learned About Love
I’ve learned more than I ever wanted to about love in my 26th year. I couldn’t possibly list them all here but what sticks out to me the most is this: at 26 I realized people do things to each other all the time that are awful, disappointing, and devastating. The way I was treated and the things that happened to me at the hands of someone else were flat-out cruel and deeply traumatizing. I don’t know why what happened to me did. But it did. It happened. And even though it makes no sense to me and I don’t have the answers to all the “whys” I can at least acknowledge that despite its horror, it transformed me (and for the better).

Now, at 27, I realize people also do things to each other all the time that are beautiful, uplifting, and genuine.

What I Learned About Myself
Put simply: I am brave, courageous, strong, and willing to both challenge and question myself. I am worthy of good things happening to me.

What I Learned About Work
In December 2014 I accepted my dream job. Six months later I quit.

I am unwavering in the values and beliefs I hold about creating a positive work culture – it’s probably the number one thing I look for in an organization. When a leader does not share those same values and instead abuses their position of authority, it lights a fire so deep inside me. I didn’t know this about myself until I actually experienced it.

I was fortunate enough to work for someone who became like family in the 4 years prior to accepting this particular position. With affection, we called her Mama Bear because she was fierce and firm in protecting us. If you find yourself in a situation where your supervisor does not do this and instead treats you like less than a human being, please stand up for yourself. Their authority does not give them the right to abuse you or your coworkers. No job is worth creating unhappiness in your life.

What I Learned About Family and Friends
I’m quite honestly horrible at keeping in touch regularly with my friends and family. We may only talk every couple of months but if any of us are suffering or hurting there is no doubt we will come out of the woodwork in waves to lift each other up.

I spent a long time presenting one face to the world, which had little resemblance to who I was at home alone. In fact, I was a skilled magician creating an illusion where people only saw what I wanted them to see. When that mask came off I shouldn’t have been surprised to see how many people loved and cared about me. But I was. They are the most important in my life. I didn’t fully realize how much until I hit rock bottom. I have mad love for you guys!

What I Learned About Water Parks
Best way to celebrate your birthday. Ever.

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Filed under birthday, family, lessons learned, life lessons, love, photos, self-awareness, work

Getting all sentimental

I recently read somewhere that images last forever but minds don’t.

It makes sense we wouldn’t necessarily have the capacity to remember all that has happened in our lives. Plus, you would think that more recent events are more important to the here and now than something that happened years ago. Of course, there is a sense of nostalgia that comes with being able to recall our past.

I had been wanting to go through old family photos in hopes of jogging some memories between the ages of 7 and 13. For whatever reason, I have vague memories during this time period and I find it frustrating at times to not be able to recall that part of my life. I even get a tad envious of my friends and family who are able to recall stories of their adventures and misadventures during their younger years fairly easily.

So, on a mission, I went home last weekend and enlisted the help of my parents to sit down with me and go through a number of boxes filled with what was probably thousands of photos. And boy did we find some gems!

What I loved most about going through the photos was being able to share some old memories. I particularly enjoyed seeing pictures and hearing stories of my parents, aunts, and uncles growing up. It seems like we have such a limited view of our parents as only having existed from the time we were born. We forget they had this whole other life before us and went through the same awkward stages, fashion faux pas, and heart breaks we did.

While I wasn’t able to recall much from the time period that feels lost to me my parents were able to fill in the gaps. Although it’s disappointing to not remember that part of my life, going through the photos gave me a greater appreciation for my family and along with it some sentimentality. It doesn’t matter how much time passes by photos will always be there telling a story – of a person, a scene, or of a family. We may think they are lost forever but they can certainly live again.

This is my momma. The only red head out of  six kids we often joke she is the mail man's daughter. I have a striking resemblance to her even now.

This is my momma. The only red head out of seven kids we often joke she is the mail man’s daughter. I bear a striking resemblance to her even now.

I treasure this photo from my first communion. My great grandmother is standing to my right and my great aunt stands to my left. Both have passed away. My great cousin (if that's the word) is on the far left and has dementia.

A little fuzzy but I treasure this photo from my first communion. My great grandmother is standing to my right and my great aunt stands to my left. Both have passed away. My great cousin (if that’s the word) is on the far left and has dementia.

My grandparents and their kids on the family farm. My mom is on the far left.

My grandparents and their kids on the family farm. My mom is on the far right and I believe this was shortly after my big brother Brandon was born.

I so love this photo of me and my childhood dog, Bailey. She was in our family from when I was 5 until I was 20.

I so love this photo of me and my childhood dog, Bailey. She was in our family from when I was 5 until I was 20. Pets are like family. She saw me through my teen angst.

My grandfather passed away when I was 13 and it was probably the first major depressive episode I went through. Few photos exist of us two but he was my favorite person ever. He had the biggest belly and I used to hug him, my arms barely reaching around his stomach. He had a deep hearted laugh that I still remember to this day.

My grandfather passed away when I was 13 and it was probably the first major depressive episode I went through. Few photos exist of us two but he was my favorite person ever. He had the biggest belly and I used to hug him, my arms barely reaching around his stomach. He had a deep hearted laugh that I still remember to this day.

Always a rock star!

I still break out these dance moves. Always a rock star!

 

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