Untethered: Growing Up and Small Towns

I’ve lived in the city… I’ve lived in the country. I’m pretty adaptable…

I’m not quite sure how I would like this entry to go. I have had some thoughts bouncing around in my head regarding this topic and what it means to me. I have lived in busy cities and rural towns… I find friends easily no matter where I go, but rarely do they stick. It seems that more often than not I am the one putting in the majority of the effort to maintain the friendship and then once I realize this, I give up and the connection is over. I suppose I find it hard to relate to people, and lately I have found it especially difficult to articulate to people who haven’t moved much in their lives, what it’s like to feel untethered/having no home base. Or even when I do stay in one place for a year or two, I don’t feel like I fit in. In some ways, it is freeing, and in others it is lonely.

Before I was 5 I moved twice in Michigan and then moved to Batavia, Illinois. I spent my freshman year of high school in Cedar Falls, Iowa then returned to the suburbs of Chicago. I went to undergrad down town Chicago, received my masters in rural PA (Slippery Rock University) and now I am pursuing a doctorate in Pittsburgh (Duquesne).

I grew up as an only child, though I do have two half sisters that are substantially older than me. So I did not live with them and they did not move around with me and share in my experiences. Maybe because I am an only child, I matured faster since I was used to being around and talking to adults. But contrary to popular belief, I do not like being the center of attention, as the stereotypical only-child might.

I distinctly recall in elementary and middle school in Illinois trying to fit in with this group of girls I had started to talk to, but they would get mad at each other for no reason, dumb reasons–as I termed them, anyway. An example could be taking someone’s seat at lunch. Who cares? I never did. But not feeling like I belonged did take a toll, I think, and has carried over into my adult life. Looking back, it reminds me of the movie Mean Girls: who is mad at who and “we don’t like her, do we?” I couldn’t do it. So eventually I found it not worth the mental stress and effort to try to understand or be part of it. This may be coming to mind for me now because I see the core groups of those girls in IL and IA that I was a fringe part of, are still good friends today in and around those towns. And I couldn’t join in. I, for whatever reason, couldn’t be part of you, even if I so desperately wanted to at the time… I knew I couldn’t if I were to be true to myself. I couldn’t share in that. It’s hard to not have a core base of friends that are all in the same area and town sometimes. I really wouldn’t trade my life for anything, I love it for the most part, but friendships are tricky because of time zones and such. One of my best friends is in Malaysia and I am in Pennsylvania, US… so… it’s hard to Skype when the time of day is almost opposite. It makes weddings tricky and just simply staying in touch and hanging out. Sometimes I envy people who have the majority of their posse in close proximity … for whatever reason that just wasn’t in the cards for me and it has been weighing on my mind more heavily lately. Probably because I’m just tired and it’s hard having the people you care about most be so widely dispersed. It’s hard to keep up to date with everyone and have them all keep up to date with you, even though I really try.

Or maybe this is just a basic-white-girl journal entry about not feeling like I fit in anywhere. I still sort of feel that way, but I do have a select few people I relate to well, even if I don’t see them on a regular basis. I just miss the feeling of “coming home” or feeling like I truly belong in a physical area or feel like completely comfortable around people. I haven’t had that in a long long time and I miss it.

Any of my fellow travelers/movers out there feel the same? lol. I love traveling and all of the experiences I have had in and out of this country, but I do wish I had a way of grounding myself, spiritually, in a sense. How do you do it?

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The Shack – William P. Young

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5/5 Stars.

Though I found the book to be a bit cliche and corny at certain points, I will say that a book hasn’t moved me like this one has in a long time. It actually made me feel something aside from just interest in seeing what happens next.

The work tackles some very deep philosophical questions like why bad things happen to good people and the problem of evil in the world. I think that for the most part, these issues were addressed in an eloquent way. Though, I have to say that I was pretty surprised when I saw a few articles about how this book is heretical. Really? Claims like that get me fired up because the people who make those claims seem to think that their interpretation of “reality” or the Bible are the “correct” interpretations. I’ve always thought that was dangerously close to playing God. I digress…

Though fantastical, I found myself being able to “go there” throughout reading this book about Mack’s journeys of reconciliation. I think the author did a pretty good job illustrating the messages he wanted to convey through various activities and conversations that Mack experienced.

I think what made my reading of this work so poignant was that it actually made me look at myself, and I don’t usually get to that point with most books. I realized my capacity to judge quickly and continue to hate even when it does not serve me well. It also made me recognize how I’ve looked to other people (relationships) to help me heal myself or look for meaning. Not that relationships aren’t meaningful, but my inner peace and serenity should not be solely based on them.

I do have to wonder, though, if the people who hate this book are put off because it criticizes institutionalized religion. I have to wonder if the people who hate this book are just so indoctrinated in that way of thinking that they would be offended at the mention of anything else. I loved how “Jesus” in this book didn’t identify as a Christian. Why would he?

I think I enjoyed this book so much because it seemed to do more of the spirituality thing than religion thing for me which I found attractive. I felt sort of free to interpret as I would and it fit in with how I normally make sense of things and the world. Though, I do try to be open minded to thinking of things differently: like recognizing how I often over-emphasize romantic relationships like I’m thinking most women do.

Anyway, this was a quick, emotional, but easy read. Definitely worth it. Maybe I’ll even see the movie.

Jamaica Vacation 2017 and Safety in Jamaica

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My boyfriend and I recently took a trip to Jamaica (April 11-April 16) and for the most part it was absolutely wonderful, but there are some things that I have learned and want to share beyond my normal travel tips and reviews, but let us begin with the positive. We booked our airport to hotel (and vice versa) transfer via Rocky’s Tours and actually met Rocky himself! He was very pleasant and talked with us on the beautiful coastal drive from Montego Bay to Negril (where we were staying). We will definitely be booking with Rocky’s again on our next trip to Jamaica. On to our hotel, the Tensing Pen…

Oh, the Tensing Pen

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This hotel, I have to say, made this my most favorite vacation I have ever been on (even though I still maintain that the south island of New Zealand is my favorite place on the planet). Let me explain. I love swimming and snorkeling, but am not very found of sand. This hotel is right on some cliffs so there is no sand to contend with! There are a good number of ladders to descend into the water and some fresh water showers right there near the ladders, so you can wet your hair before going in (which I find helps combat effects of salt water) and rinse off when you come out. It is the perfect set up.

(me on our balcony)

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Seagrape II from the lounge area near the sea.

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And the hotel is not your typical huge apartment style-looking hotel. The rooms are set up in villa-like styles and we stayed in the Seagrape II which is on the edge of the property so it afforded even more privacy, as I don’t think anyone was staying beneath us. We had air-conditioning and a balcony… it was just so perfect. There was no tv, which I actually enjoyed! The only minor complaint I had was that our shower wasn’t always consistently running warm water, but, obviously that will not deter me from going back. There was just one night when a neighboring resort had music so loud that it was hard to sleep, but that is hardly the Tensing Pen’s fault.

And ladies if you need a hair dryer, just ask the staff, but I think you’ll find that attempts to dry and straighten your hair will be futile lol. And that’s ok. Hair and clothes dry off fast. I found myself just now perusing some of the negative reviews of Tensing Pen on trip advisor and one comments on bugs… maybe it was the time of year we went, but there were absolutely no bug problems in our room at all! It was so beautiful outside that we slept on the balcony a bit and often had the doors open! Which could have invited some small lizards or bugs, but we had absolutely no issue. Maybe different times of year the bugs are different? Anyway, just wanted to address that. Do be aware that some units do not have AC, but I think it says so on the website. I honestly think we would have been ok without it at this time of year. You will likely also encounter two lovely pooches named Sugar and Beezy while lounging or dining at Tensing Pen. They are delightful and well-behaved and really add to the homey and welcoming atmosphere.

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I will say that I was also attracted to Tensing Pen because I would say it’s more of an adult playground, not that young children aren’t welcome, but I would say the ladders and swimming in the sea might be a bit much/dangerous for them. So I was happy to find that there were really no children there, no screaming, it was so incredibly peaceful. Exactly what I needed. Additionally, we wanted to be able to snorkel right from the hotel and this, apparently, is hard to find! So please, anyone reading this, if you know of a place where you can snorkel right from the hotel and it isn’t 10,000 US dollars a night, please let me know! Share the wealth of knowledge, like I am, as Tensing Pen is such a gem. The snorkeling was lovely, and when the sun was out (which was often this time of year, almost to the rainy season though!), you could see so many beautiful colors of the plants and fish.

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One thing I will say about Jamaica, is that we experienced seeing a lot of jelly-fish looking creatures, but didn’t really feel their effects? We were told to only beware of flat looking ones and I can’t say that I saw any! I’m fairly certain I must have touched a few of these creatures accidentally, and at worst I felt a little irritation on my skin. Anyone have anymore information on jellies in Jamaica? They certainly didn’t ruin our stay! But initially I was scared when I saw them in the water, maybe I’m immune? Not sure. haha.

As an aside, I especially love traveling because you never know who you may meet. We met author Mark Sullivan and his wife! Being an aspiring creative writer/novelist… it was just awesome, and they recommended Ivan’s next door for dinner at the Catcha Falling Star hotel, which was superb. We had awesome jerk shrimp and banana flambe for dessert under a clear sky full of stars. Just lovely. And, as a testament to how awesome Tensing Pen is, everyone we talked to there said it was not their first time and they have been coming back for years! Sigh. I just love traveling, you never know you may run into, and for me, I took it as even more of a sign that writing is what I am supposed to do, and not just academic writing, but creative as well. So. Cool.

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The food at the Tensing Pen was wonderful, everything we had was lovely. I especially enjoyed the seafood pasta, and for breakfast I liked their smoked salmon with cream cheese. There is a light continental breakfast included (fruit, toast, cereal, yogurt, tea, coffee), but any dishes beyond that are very reasonably priced. I think the most expensive thing was 12 US dollars for breakfast and was actually the salmon I had. Dinner is reasonably priced too and very tasty. You can also stock your fridge with sodas for just a few bucks! I did also try their Red Stripe beer, and even though I’m not a beer drinker, I did enjoy it.

Some other cool dining spots we hit outside the hotel was the Sweet Spot after an outside snorkeling tour which I will detail below as well as Cool Vybes right outside the Tensing Pen. Both were wonderful places to try some authentic Jamaican cuisine, and it’s neat to see how places make their jerk sauce differently– as Jamaica is known for their jerk chicken, among other things. I was especially taken aback by how their curried chicken was not at all like the Indian type curry that I find too spicy and painful to eat. I really liked how they did their curry in Jamaica. Though, I am a wimp when it comes to spicy food, I didn’t find the curried chicken over-powering. Very good. One thing I will say, though, is that they cook their meat on the bone to retain flavor, which it does! However, be aware that you are likely to pull bones out of your mouth and that is just the experience. So don’t chomp down too hard! And the mango in Jamaica is absolutely to die for. Sometimes, at least where I’m situated in Pennsylvania, the mango spears you buy just are so fiberous and not ripe, it tastes like… you’re gnawing on bamboo! Not so in Jamaica, they were so flavorful and juicy! Yum!

We booked a snorkeling excursion to Booby Cay through Juju Tours and were extremely happy with everything. Our driver and guide, Richie, went snorkeling with us and pointed out a cave that we could swim through! The snorkeling was wonderful and we actually saw some unexpected critters. Sometimes turtles and rays are around too, Richie said. We definitely recommend Juju Tours and would love to book more excursions with Richie in particular when we return.

Surprise Eel

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Oh boy, now on to Holiday Services. I consider myself a savvy traveler, and my boyfriend and I did extensive research online with reviewing testimonials, different companies, etc before booking. I will say, that we booked two excursions with this company (through trip advisor, they were highly rated!) and the first was fine, and enjoyable, but… the second experience… well, let’s just say we will never use them again and I would encourage you to steer clear as well. Read on.

The first experience, in which we had fun, we were headed to Mayfield Falls and picked up by a really nice and knowledgeable woman who picked up her nephew as well, which we were fine with. She shared with us more about hopefully starting a biking tour within a year or so and explained more about the culture of Jamaica and how some people still, understandably, don’t like “white people” because of the history of the island (colonialism). I’m really glad she brought this up and talked with us about it and mentioned how some of the locals who make crafts for sale are continuing to be “sensitized” regarding how tourists, and white people, are not coming as threats anymore, but as friends, and to not be too pushy with their selling tactics. I really appreciated this insight and conversation and it helped me to further kind of, conceptualize their culture.

Our guide at the falls was Sean and he was incredibly friendly, took pictures for us, and showed us various plants and fruits along the way, like bread fruit! You walk up the falls, which is crystal clear. Wearing water shoes, I think, is a must, even though most of the rocks are smoothed over because of the waterfalls, it helps with grip. I would also recommend bringing towels, even though we pretty much dried on the walk back to the car. Mayfield falls are definitely worth a morning/afternoon of your stay in Jamaica.

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Now on to the nightmare… ok, the Luminous Lagoon itself was lovely, but that was separate from the Holiday Services transport we utilized to get there. I will say, though, that if you are staying in Negril like we were, maybe driving the 1.5 hours there and 1.5 hours back maybe isn’t worth it, but that’s just my opinion. Definitely check it out if you can and if you are staying close to it (pretty close to Montego Bay), then it’s worth it for sure. What is disappointing though is that it’s impossible to photograph without advanced camera equipment, but still a neat experience! Now… onto the transport fiasco.

The guy was 10 minutes late, which isn’t a huge deal, but it’s just one other thing on a huge laundry list of errors and mishaps that made this experience quite terrifying for my boyfriend and I. I have never been this afraid for my safety in any of my travels. Anyway, it was uncomfortable from the start as he started literally harassing us, asking why we didn’t book other things with Holiday Services, saying that snorkeling is a waste of our time in Jamaica. Um, excuse me? Do you get to tell me what I find enjoyable on vacation? Anyway, so the car ride there set the uncomfortable tone, but I never would have imagined what was to come. Again, the lagoon was fine, but the drive back was what was terrifying.

So, the driver tells us he is going to play Bob Marley, proceeds to start speeding and screaming the lyrics like a maniac (like he was high) and then tells us he needs to stop somewhere to pick up papers. I guess it was the headquarters for holiday services, but it was on a back road, off of the main road, barbed wire all around, not well lit, a really scary looking place. So he leaves us in the car, makes phone calls, grabs papers, then stops AGAIN halfway in the parking lot and halfway in an alley to talk to someone. My boyfriend and I were just looking at each other in disbelief like, what can we do? We didn’t know who to call, contemplated having him just drop us off at another hotel closeby so we could hopefully get different transportation because we were so uncomfortable. We didn’t know what to do. So he did drive us back to Tensing Pen and I honestly don’t know how we didn’t crash. He was going so fast, passing unsafely, behaving erratically … and believe me, driving in Jamaica can be an experience as they drive on the left side of the road and overtaking and beeping is custom and the norm, but what he was doing compared to Rocky’s Tours? completely unacceptable. I was literally in fear for my life. So I sent feedback to the company, didn’t hear via email, and then when I posted my review on Facebook, they were less than understanding. You can check that out here. 

And just in case the link doesn’t work, I copied and pasted the interaction here.

Natalie Ann Drozda reviewed HOLIDAY SERVICES1 star

My boyfriend and I recently used your transportation service on April 15th, 2017 to the Luminous Lagoon, and to say that we were severely disappointed would be an understatement.

We were picked up around 5:10 pm from the Tensing Pen by someone who called himself “cowboy.” I could have overlooked that he was late, but he started to berate us for not booking other tours with your company and asked us unanswerable questions like “why do you not want to know more about Jamaica?” Believe me, I am a world traveler, and I know there are cultural differences in communication, but this was well beyond cultural differences. He was beyond forward and we were uncomfortable on the way there, and terrified on the way back. He took us to the WRONG place first for our excursion– the actual lagoon was fine, but then after the excursion he took us to what I assume, was your headquarters? To pick up some paperwork. There was barbed wire all around and parked tour buses with no one in sight. He left us in the car in the middle of nowhere with Bob Marley blasting while he made phone calls, talked to some random person who showed up in the parking lot, and it looked as though we were on the back roads in some alleyway. Believe me, if I had thought we had another option, I would have called someone else for a ride back, but we didn’t feel comfortable just being left there and were unsure what to do.

It gets worse. We felt terrified on the way back. He was blasting music, screaming lyrics to songs like a lunatic, speeding, passing unsafely, and going 110 km/hr in a 60 or 80 zone. I realize driving is different in Jamaica and over-taking cars is the norm, but this was NOT normal. He might have been high as his behavior was erratic. I have never. EVER. felt so unsafe during any of my travels. I will never use your service again, I will tell all of my traveling friends to never use your service, and I strongly recommend you fire this person and utilize a better screening process for your employees. Rockys, for example, does an excellent job. You may want to contact them.

HOLIDAY SERVICES It is a shame that you did not give us the time or opportunity to address your concerns prior to just writing a bad review about our company. I will review your comments and provide a detailed response.
HOLIDAY SERVICES We have evaluated your review and have the following comments:
You failed to note that you booked a group tour. We do have a 6 person minimum and instead of cancelling your tour, we upgraded you to a PRIVATE tour at no additional charge.
This was actually Cowboy’s 2nd day on the job and funny enough we received a call from other people who interacted with him at the lagoon commending on how pleasant he was and they were not even on our tour.
He was 10 minutes late for the tour and our office was aware of this, he went to the wrong location and realized at 4:55 that he was at the wrong place and then he headed to your hotel and picked you up. It was only 10 minutes.
In an attempt to be friendly he tried to engage you in conversation. As a ‘world traveler’ you should have been able to pick up on that. It was an attempt to engage you in conversation (why talk about the Black River if you had already been there). If you did not want to engage in conversation you could have just said so.
As I mentioned before this was his second day on the job. He made a mistake and went to the more ‘common’ location which was 2 minutes away from the location we use. He did apologize to you and as you said you enjoyed the tour.
At the end of the tour, he did stop at our main office, under my directions, which is on a service road beside the main road. The barbed wire’s you saw beside our property is actually a security company and the person he was on the phone with was me and I was inside the office at the time. So it was not a ‘random’ person it was me the owner of the company and I was also in uniform. If the music was ‘blasting’ then why not ask him to turn the music down.
In regards to his speed, we have vehicle tracking in all of our vehicles and according to our tracking report his fastest speed was 90kmph or 56mph. I am happy to send you this report.
We do not see any reason where a 1 star review was warranted. You did not contact our company (until after you wrote this review). I would have happily issued a partial refund and explanation to your concerns. You also decided to ‘recommend’ an individual driver on our company page.
We apologize you did not enjoy your experience and it is unfortunate that you did not give us the opportunity to make it better before trashing our company on the internet.

 

Natalie Ann Drozda
Natalie Ann Drozda I actually sent an email review to your website before I commented here. 

You weren’t there to be part of the conversation in the car, so I don’t understand how you can tell me what I “should” have done.
And I think you should be appreciative of how scary it can be to feel unsafe in a country that you don’t know well and be taken to some backroad location in pitch black off of main roads and be left there. He stopped at the main building and stopped again to talk to someone in the parking lot. It was remote. Not well lit. It was very unprofessional with little explanation and I think you should be more compassionate to the people who book tours with you and are SCARED because of your employees actions.

 

 

Please, please, though, don’t let that one experience we had deter you from coming to Jamaica, do your research, have back up plans, and enjoy this wonderful island. Just be aware that the culture may be vastly different from what you’re used to, and vastly different from more touristy spots. People may be smoking weed randomly, you will see really nice homes next to not so nice homes, some huge looking hotels that flopped and are now in disaray. Just be aware. Overall, though, we had an awesome time.

Some last quick practical tips:

  • You don’t have to tip, but it’s appreciated, and when you get bills at restaurants, there is often a tip included that you can see.
  • When eating chicken, goat, or fish, be aware you may find bones! It does add flavor, but could be a bit dangerous if you’re not expecting it.
  • They take US dollars everywhere we went, so I think that is pretty common place so we didn’t bother with exchanging any currency.
  • Don’t be naive like I was, have a plan B when traveling somewhere. Have a number of the US Embassy in Jamaica or have an alternative taxi service or the number to the manager or headquarters of the company to try to prevent the situation that happened to my boyfriend and I.
  • Sunscreen … reapply it, and often. I got burnt, but it wasn’t awful.
  • Never a bad idea to take towels on excursions, just in case they aren’t supplied.
  • Invest in water shoes, they may even save you from getting poked by sea urchins.

Travel on, my friends! And please let me know of any other spots you like where you can snorkel right from the hotel!

New Orleans, Louisiana

My boyfriend and I took a trip to NOLA in November 2016 for a long weekend. It was actually a lovely time to go, it was around the 70s most days, and not too humid. Perfect for walking around the French Quarter and perfect for a bayou airboat trip!

Being completely upfront, I did not go to New Orleans to party or drink, so this entry will not tell you where the best places to drink/party are … I’m not big on either of those things. I’m fairly certain I had two drinks the whole time we were there… and it was pretty odd/hard to get used to people just walking around drinking in the streets, but it did add to the atmosphere. lol I should also point out that not every street in NOLA is crazy insane… mostly just Bourbon. And I’ll be the first to say that if partying and clubbing isn’t your scene, you can still have an amazing time in New Orleans. There is so much history and so much to do! We actually spent probably a total of half an hour on Bourbon Street and spent most of our time elsewhere. That’s what I absolutely love about NOLA, there is something for everyone and within just a few blocks you can have insane debauchery as well as a lovely gourmet restaurant with beautiful street music flowing  through the air. If you like good food and tunes, this city is for you, regardless of if you’re a drinker or not. The atmosphere of the city streets at night is unreal… not all the streets are raunchy, some are absolutely beautiful and street music lulls you as you walk under the draping plants from the balconies. It’s a little mesmerizing. There are insanely talented street performers and musicians peppering the streets. Here are two of my absolute faves: Tanya & Dorise, check out their website: Here. Or a quick youtube search will yield some of their magnificence! Their perch, we learned, is often on the corner of St. Louis and Royal. We did pick up one of their cds, so pay the duo a visit if you head down to the Big Easy. Heartbreakingly beautiful music and we were lucky to hear it from our hotel room!

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Though more expensive, it is fun and nice to be within walking distance from all the action. We stayed at the Omni Royal Orleans hotel right in the French Quarter… it was beautiful and had a lovely pool and viewing deck on top.

Having only been there this once (thus far), I’ll go through what I think are the “musts.”

GHOSTIES!

If you do any research on the city’s history, it has a pretty gruesome, troubled past. Even if you don’t believe in spirits, the ghost tours are fun and you can learn a lot along the way! Grayline offers some fun walking ghost tours at night and you can also take a tour of the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. I think these are totally worth it for the history itself, but being a sort of spiritual person myself, I totally geek out on ghost/spiritual tours. It was nice that everyone on our tour was respectful, but be advised that you need to be part of a tour to walk through St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 because people suck and chose to vandalize some graves… some ruin it for everyone. There are, however, other public cemeteries in other parts of the city. I found the cemeteries just gorgeous. What a piece of history.

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Walk through the French Market and get yourself an eccentric hat! Though, it likely won’t make you stand out, as there are all sorts of characters down town in the squares… regardless of if it’s close to Halloween, so if you’re a weirdo like me, you’ll fit right in. Find some snacks and all sorts of trinkets as you browse… I did see a real gator claw as a back scratcher…

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On to food, oh my God, yes, food. Obviously check out Cafe Du Monde for some beignets, but be advised, their coffee is off the chain strong! Prepare to be covered in powdered sugar and wired. I’ve seen Cafe Du Monde completely packed with a line down the block, and I’ve also seen it with many open tables. It’s open 24 hours, so just keep a look out to find an opening and you’ll be able to sit down. Hopefully you’ll be lucky enough to lodge near all the action like we were!

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I would almost bet my arm you can’t go wrong with food in NOLA, be sure to try a Po’ Boy (classic NOLA sandwich, I had the plain roast beef, but heard it’s also good with shrimp!) wherever you can. Now I’m not big on oysters, but my boyfriend loves them. The Royal House Oyster Bar is the place to indulge! It’s a lovely atmosphere in the evening and my guy said the oysters rocked. I did try one, but uh, since I’m not big on them, my review likely wouldn’t be stellar lol. The pasta I did have, though, was A-mazing.

Also hit up Stanley’s in Jackson Square for some delicious breakfast food. I had the banana’s foster french toast and my boyfriend had soft shell crab eggs benedict! Yas!

While you’re at it. Teach yourself about the culture and cuisine of this unique city at the New Orleans School of Cooking. I think they have different classes. We chose the one where you sit, listen, and eat, but there is a more hands on option where you actually cook! We learned about, and nommed, gumbo, jambalaya, and pralines [actually pronounced praw-LEAN, not pray-LEAN, like I thought]

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On to the bayou! Catch yoself a glimpse of gator! I love nature, so this was probably my favorite part of our trip besides walking around in the music filled streets at night. The airboat ride was fun, but loud, we were provided earphones which helped. It was beautiful! We saw a lot of different critters including a lot of different birds [ a bald eagle! ], gators, and turtles basking themselves.

 

Now on to the more practical tips: I’m from Chicago and a pretty city/street savvy individual. Be advised that there will be street people trying to shine your shoes, sell you things, etc. It’s best to just not make eye contact and keep walking if you don’t want to get caught up. Some will literally try to push a hat into your hand… just pay no attention. I’m used to this sort of thing so it doesn’t bother me/overwhelm me, but don’t let yourself be stopped. Also, ladies, I’d suggest carrying a zip-able backpack or cross body purse, they’re easier to keep secured and keep track of in crowds.

I will say, though, when it rains, it pours… quite literally in our experience. When we heard it would rain one day, it did not deter us from going out, we thought, naively, oh, a little drizzle, no problem. My boyfriend and I did try to make it out to the mansions by taking the street car, but got caught in a torrential downpour and walked around a nearby cemetery instead. We. Were. Soaked. Through. No matter, because it was warm, but we looked rather like wet rodents upon returning to our hotel! The water stays in the streets a long time, being that the city is below sea level in many parts and the rain water needs to be pumped out! Even in summer, consider taking a pair of closed toed shoes! Yuck! I had flipflops on, and regretted it.

I think it goes without saying, we will definitely be back. Do let me know if you have any suggestions for other places to check out!

Milford Sound, New Zealand

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Before embarking on a month long journey to Australia, New Zealand, and Fiji in the summer for 2016 (June-July) via the Collette tour company, I expected to be captivated by the Great Barrier Reef, which I was. However, I naively did not expect that I would absolutely fall in love with the south island of New Zealand, which is why I am choosing to start blogging about New Zealand first. Everywhere I went in New Zealand was magical, but in this particular post, I want to focus on Milford Sound.

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Milford Sound isn’t actually a sound, oddly enough, it’s technically a fjord. Fjords being depressions formed near the sea, by glaciers, oh how I’ve grown to love glaciers and their beauty! — whereas sounds are formed by liquid water. Located on the southern island, Milford Sound is surrounded by magnificent looming cliffs.

Prone to motion sickness, I did take some Dramamine before the boat ride and ended up having no issues, though the waves did get a bit choppy when we came closer to open sea. I initially was a little bummed because it had been raining, which, duh, make sense because New Zealand is a temperate rain forest; however, do not be discouraged if it rains before/during one of your tours to Milford Sound, there will be even more waterfalls than usual!

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As for wildlife, we did see some seals basking on some boulders, how they managed to shimmy up there, I haven’t the faintest idea… but what literally made me teary, was that we saw wild dolphins. I totally did not expect this. Being the water nymph/fairy that I am… I just wanted to jump in!! It was hard to get a good image because of the rocking boat… which was extreme (extremely fun!) at times, but you can make out here a mother and her baby!

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Please excuse the squealing in this video, everyone was losing their minds, myself included.

The sound just looked completely unreal. I have seen mountains before in many different parts of the world, beautiful seascapes, etc… but nothing has compared to this. It looked like it was straight out of a fairytale.

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If you are at all interested in travel… do put New Zealand on your “must go” list… anywhere in the South Island… I have no doubt that you will never be disappointed… and as my pictures are lovely, I do not think they do New Zealand justice.

Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars – Juan Martinez

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5/5 Stars

I remember having followed the proceedings carefully when they were airing and thinking how brilliant and clever Martinez was. I really enjoyed this and was happy to have some insight into his strategy and mindset. I loved seeing his tenacity in the courtroom and how hard he worked to not let Arias get too comfortable. And I did take some pleasure in seeing her uncomfortable when he put pressure on her.

Definitely worth a read, it was an easy read.

The only angle/argument Martinez took that I thought was rather weak was when he was grilling LaViolette about how she claimed communication was 90% non-verbal… but that’s obviously irrelevant if you’re looking at patterns in text communications. Sure, something may be lost there, but I think he shouldn’t have belabored that point, as text communications were all she had as Arias had killed Travis (no way to get his side). However, how he saved the unveiling of his knowledge of her purchasing (and not returning) the 3rd gas can for the latter part of Arias being on the stand, was absolutely brilliant. No time for her to prepare and she didn’t see it coming.

I also found it interesting that 11/12 people voted for the death penalty (second time) and I believe it later came out that the one opposed, was opposed on principle and shouldn’t have been a part of the jury from the beginning! Because of that fact. Ugh. How infuriating. At any rate, both the defense and prosecution had their work cut out for them with Arias… so interesting to see how everything unfolded.

When Ghosts Speak: Understanding the World of Earthbound Spirits – Mary Ann Winkowski

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4/5 Stars

I have to admit that I was skeptical before reading this book, as I always am with such works, even given my own experiences, connections, and abilities with the spirit world. However, overall, I was pleasantly surprised and did find a lot of useful information here. Mostly, I had it reinforced that my abilities usually do not entail communicating with earthbound spirits, but rather people who have crossed over, and then communicate through dreams etc. However, I have definitely had experiences while awake, though I do not see spirits as vividly or as often as Mary Ann. At any rate, I did find this book rather validating to my own experiences, with both regular and the more rare evil spirits… and I especially liked the information near the end about protecting yourself. I have had my own ways of doing that, but it’s good to have more information.

At first when she mentioned creating the light for people to cross over, I thought she was sort of playing God in a way, but then better understood when she explained that spirits can find the light on their own too.

I will say, though, that as a mental health professional I was put off by her calling suicide selfish, as when people are in that suicidal state, they are often not thinking as they normally would (in many cases) and impulsively act because they just want the pain to stop. In other cases, maybe with chronic illness or mental illness, it has been planned out. Either way, I don’t see the point in calling them selfish, despite the collateral damage that may be caused. I do acknowledge that some people do kill themselves to spite others, that may be a different story. I think the bottom line is I often cringe when I hear people call suicides selfish as a gross generalization of a really complex and complicated behavior.

Other than that, I did agree with most of what she said, though I wasn’t aware that tarot cards could invite spirits into your house… I’ve never used them, but have never heard that before. Anyway, if you think you may have some spirit abilities/intuition, this is worth checking out and is just interesting in general.