Perfection in a Bowl

 

 

PhoRarely captured, perfection is fleeting. Few and far between, perfect moments leave a lasting impression.

It has been nearly ten years, but I remember the afternoon perfectly. It was soggy. Rain had surged in making for a wet, damp day. This was nothing new or unexpected. Washington State averages 147 days of rainfall a year.

Josh and I were work friends. We were as tight as any two work friends could be. It had been a crazy day, and we were in need of a break. Grabbing lunch was the perfect opportunity. Josh wanted Pho. He was coming down with a cold, and hoped the soup would help ward off his cold before it really set in. I’d never heard of Pho, but I was up for an adventure.

As luck would have it, the restaurant wasn’t too far from work. Walking through the door, we were greeted by delicious aromas. Sitting down, we were served tea and water as we looked over the menu.

Knowing what he wanted, Josh put his menu aside. Looking over the selections, I felt my apprehensions grow. I was starving, but nothing captured my attention. Seeing my struggle, Josh urged me to just have what he was getting. He assured me I would love it. Nodding in agreement, I warned him it had better be good. I was starving. He laughed, and told me not to worry. He ordered us each a bowl of chicken Pho and an appetizer of spring rolls to share.

The spring rolls came first. The translucent paper thin skin of the roll showcased large plump shrimp, glass noodles, and slivers of cabbage. They were delicious. Although, I must admit I didn’t care for the peanut sauce accompanying them. It was too sweet for my liking. Preferring a little spice, I dipped mine in a little Sriracha sauce. While we ate our spring rolls, the waiter brought us a platter of Pho garnishments: lime wedges, fresh jalapeno slices, bean sprouts, and Thai basil. The rest of our lunch took no time at all, and soon the waiter set before us two large bowls brimming with a scrumptious broth, meaty hunks of chicken, and rice noodles.

Unsure of what to do, I watched my friend. Adding the garnishments to his soup, Josh told me everyone has their own preferences for Pho. This being my first time, I thought it best if I simply try it his way. Copying him, I squeeze one of the limes releasing the juice into my broth, float two fresh jalapeno slices into my soup,  before topping it off with several bean sprouts. He warns me that the jalapeno’s will heat up my soup. Not as brave as him, I forgo the chopsticks. Only on our lunch break, I didn’t want to slop Pho down the front of my suit.

Spooning up a bit of broth, I took my first taste and find perfection. Perfection in a bowl of Pho.

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Sakura-Con

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An annual anime convention, Sakura-Con takes place at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle, WA.

Excitement hangs in the air. Costumes decorate the city streets. Sakura-Con is here.

My daughter has spent months planning, crafting, and sewing together her costumes. She loves anime, and this particular convention holds a special place in her heart. It is the first, she attended.

Walking into the convention center, I’m instantly transported into a world of imagination and make believe. It is a world, I struggle to understand.

There are throngs of people everywhere. Hesitantly, I follow my daughter’s lead through the crowd. I don’t know what to make of the scene around me.Looking around, I wonder if saying “yes” to this event was such a good idea. People are everywhere in various states of dress – women and men in skimpy outfits, furry creatures, people decked out in armor, women and men in beautiful gowns, and anime characters galore. Moving about the crowd, I’m struck by the overwhelming sense of friendship and camaraderie. People talk, laugh, and pose for pictures with the characters they like.

Picking up a schedule, we map out our day. There are numerous activities, we can participate in – various panels, costume contests, fashion shows, meet and greets with different voice actors, band performances, anime video premiers,  gaming competitions, and more. The options are endless.

The stamina needed to keep up with it all is insane. Constantly on the go, the events run from early in the morning until after midnight.I’m exhausted by the end of the first day.This anime world is a crazy, but I’m comforted to know it is all in good fun.

The stamina needed to keep up with it all is insane. The events run from early in the morning until after midnight, entertaining everyone and keeping them on the go.

On the second day, I know what to expect and better prepare myself. Bringing my laptop and camera with me, I sit myself at a central location while my daughter goes to the events with her friends. Sometimes, I join them. Surprisingly, there are events that hold my attention. Other times, I simply wander about taking pictures.

By the third and final day, I’ve learned a few things. The panels have helped enlighten me. The anime videos have entertained me. The detailed work put into the costumes have astonished me. The friendly open people have helped to welcome me into their world.

We’ve attended several Sakura-Con’s over the years, and I still struggle to understand the world of anime. I couldn’t begin to tell you which character belongs to which anime. However, I have fun every time I go.

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Juneau, Alaska: A Photo Essay

Nestled along the Gastineau Channel at the base of glaciers and mountains, Juneau is a remote town that can only be reached by boat or plane. Reminiscent of the old mining town it once was, Juneau flourishes in the summer months, but basically shuts down during the winter. Armed with a camera, I spent time exploring Juneau’s unbound beauty.

 

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The Musings of a Mom Raising a Teenager

 Raising a teenage daughter has been one of the scariest experiences of my life, but the end is in sight. At nineteen, my daughter and I can almost close the book on these years. At this point, I’m feeling pretty confident. My chances of surviving this war and coming out the other side without any significant wounds seems to be extremely promising.

The teen years aren’t easy. There were many times I wondered if I’d make it through unscathed. I happened to be one of the lucky ones. Many parents aren’t nearly as lucky. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees. There is no predestined parenting path anyone can take to guarantee your child’s safety, well being, and happiness.

When my daughter was younger, I’d worry and stress over nonsensical things. Anxious that her head size wasn’t within the normal range for other infants her age, I worried that this would somehow affect her ability to learn. I drove myself crazy wondering if she was getting enough protein in her diet because she would refuse to eat meat. A working mom, I didn’t want to be an absentee parent causing my daughter to resent me, so I’d kill myself trying to juggle and rearrange work to make it to every recital, play, and soccer match. If only I’d have known then what I know now, I wouldn’t have worried quite so much. Perhaps, I’d have a few less grey hairs or gotten a little more sleep.

As children get older the dangers compound. My mind swirls with the possibilities of dangers lurking out there threatening to damage or destroy my daughter’s well-being: peer pressure, bullying, depression, a destructive unhealthy self-image, eating disorders, cutting, underage drinking, drugs, smoking, texting while driving, sexting, car accidents, sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy, rape, fighting, school violence, being kidnapped, shop lifting, an over-inflated ego and a sense of privilege, and my list of worries goes on and on. Ever vigilant, I was often accused of being over protective, but it didn’t matter. I simply didn’t care. I would do everything within my power to ensure my daughter’s well-being.

A relatively good girl, my daughter is a sensible, intelligent, and beautiful young woman who has the world in the palm of her hand. After taking this last year off, she’ll be attending college in the fall. Some would say my vigilance paid off, they’d be wrong. The truth of it is, I simply got lucky. My daughter could have easily fallen prey to any number of the dangers I feared. There is absolutely nothing any of us can do to guarantee our child survives the tumultuous teenage years. All we can do is watch out for them, love them, and hope we get lucky.

U.S.A Traveling Tips and Tricks

 

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I’ve been on the road for a year, but people still don’t understand. I’m often questioned by people in my old life. Why? How? Their looks of confusion and sometimes derision are both amusing and annoying. They can’t seem to understand why or how I could give up my old life to live this way, but that is okay. They don’t need to. My journey is not theirs. However, for those of you who share my interest in living this way, I’d like to share with you a few things, I’ve learned along the way.

  • This is a life not a vacation. 
    • Before deciding to take this step, I read everything I could on the subject of full time travel. Like a sponge, I absorbed information and advice from all directions. It was one of these articles, in particular, that resonated with me. It was about a powerful executive married couple who gave up their stationary lives to travel the world. However, in less than a year, they were broke and working ‘menial’ jobs, so they could eat and have a place to sleep at night. Instead of living within their means, they blew through their money on extravagant activities, four star hotels, and elaborate meals. Bemoaning their new lives, they warned people in the article not to do what they did. No, they weren’t warning people not to blow through their money as if there’s no tomorrow, they were warning people not to become full time travelers. This couple’s irresponsibility served me well. I continuously remind myself this is my life, not a vacation. It is important to budget accordingly. It also made me question myself on my dedication to do what was necessary to live this life. Would I be willing to stop traveling if needed to re enter the workforce, and take on ‘menial’ jobs (as they put it) to build up my travel fund if needed? The answer came only too easily. Unequivocally “YES.” There is no shame in a hard honest day’s work. I’ve done it before, and I’d gladly do it again to be able to be a full time traveler.
  • Cutting costs from the very beginning, we did everything we could to eliminate extravagant monthly bills that would prevent us from traveling.
    • Shopping around, we found a second-hand RV within our means. Paying cash for it up front, we bought it outright. Working together, we invested hard work and sweat equity into it to making it a comfortable, accommodating home that is distinctly ours. By doing this, we were able to increase the value of our RV while saving ourselves from having costly monthly payments.
    • Debt can be destructive to freedom. We avoid credit cards. If we can’t afford to pay cash for what we need, we simply do without.
  • We rarely eat out. Cooking at home is economical, healthier, and simply tastes better.
  • We avoid buying snacks or drinks from convenience stores when filling up our vehicle with diesel. It is an expensive convenience, we do without.
  • We are a family of five which can become expensive very quickly when traveling and sightseeing.
    • Fortunately, the United States has a wealth of free and low cost fun, entertaining, and educational attractions and activities. Doing my homework ahead of time, I google each state we travel in, and notate what is available.
    • I keep my eyes peeled for discounts, coupons, and offers that may make sightseeing more affordable and accessible.
      • The America the Beautiful: National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is one such amazing deal. For a low yearly cost, this pass provides entrance or access to more than two thousand Federal Recreation Parks and Sites through out the United States. It is definitely a great deal, and has saved my family a ton of money.  Find a Federal Park
    • Get off the beaten path. I love big cities, but small towns have their own distinct charm. Explore what is out there.
    • For those attractions that may be more expensive, we simply do as other families do. We save until we have the money to go. Disneyworld may be the happiest place on Earth, but it is definitely not the most affordable.
  • Campgrounds and RV parks are often spendy. Boondocking is a great way to combat this expense.
    • Wal-Mart’s, Home Depot, and Lowes are usually pretty accommodating if you park at the far end of their parking lots. However, I always call and speak with a manager to receive permission beforehand. There are some cities whose ordinances forbid boondocking.
    • Free Campsite Interactive Map is another wonderful tool, I frequently use. This interactive map is a great way to locate various free and low cost campsites in any area you happen to be in. Providing reviews and coordinates, this map is easy to use.
  • Always be safe. 
    • Trust your instincts. image
    • Do NOT catalog where you’ve been on a map you adhere to the side of your RV. This is a dangerous practice. By doing this you are notifying everyone that you are a full time traveler who has everything you own in your RV (electronics, jewelry, and personal documents). While it is fun to document and record your adventures, just keep it to the inside of your RV.
    • Invest in a weather radio. These radios will alert you to storms along the way that you may not be aware of. There is nothing worse than driving into something you could easily have avoided.
    • Joining AAA is a travel service that is well worth the money. If you have a breakdown on the road, help is only a phone call away.
  • Be friendly and meet the locals. They often know about the best places to go, to shop, and to eat (when you decide to splurge).

I’ve only been on the road for a year, but I can’t imagine going back to my old life. Why would I? This is the life, literally. I may have had a large home with four bedrooms, two and a half bath, but I was never there to enjoy any of it. 70, 80, 100 hour work weeks were the norm. I saw my family in passing on my way to work or my way to bed. Now, I live simply but the rewards are far greater.

 

 

 

A Small Town Festival

watermelonI’m a collector – a collector of experiences, not possessions. For me, there is nothing better. As a traveler, I’m always looking for opportunities to add to my collection. In every small town, big city, and state we visit, I keep my eyes peeled for anything that promises to be interesting: events, museums, workshops, parks, exhibits, fairs, trails, galleries, festivals, beaches, and the like.

You never know when opportunity will present itself, but you must always be ready. Recently, I had such an opportunity.

On a quiet Saturday morning, we were headed to the store to restock our groceries when we came across a festival. No wonder the small town was so quiet, everyone in town seemed to be here. There is no time like the present to seize the day. Groceries were quickly forgotten as we pulled into a designated parking lot. Setting off to enjoy the local festivities we were presented with a question – How much watermelon can you eat? You can test your stomach’s holding capacity for the pink meat of this sweet fruit at the Watermelon Festival in Chiefland, Florida. Held annually on the first Saturday in June, this small town festival has something for everyone.

Festival goers can try their skill at the Watermelon Seed Spitting Contest, watch the floats in the Watermelon Parade, and enjoy intelligent, beautiful, young women square off against one another in hopes to win a scholarship at the Watermelon Pageant.

Children race from activity to activity. Some gravitate towards the giant wading pool with inflatable ride-on toys. Splashing about, they enjoy the cool water against the stifling heat. Others forego the water to jump on the bounce house.

Artists and craftsmen lay out their wares trying to entice customers into shelling out their hard-earned cash for items they just can’t resist.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more substantial than watermelon, you’re in luck. Food vendors are prepared to offer you the finest foods…gator, gyros, cracklins, snow cones, kettle corn, sandwiches, sausages, lemonades, and so much more.

How much watermelon can you eat? It is a question, anyone can easily answer at Chiefland’s Watermelon Festival.

However, it is a question I could’ve answered even if I hadn’t attended this event. None. I don’t actually like watermelon. Weird, I know. There is just something about the fruit, I’ve never cared for. My family all adore watermelon, and have never been able to understand my distaste for it. Nevertheless, I had fun adding the 62nd annual Watermelon Festival to my collection of experiences.

Watermelon Festival Information

 

 

Chicago

Bumper to bumper traffic mixed with suffocating heat is making for an angry commute. Pulling onto the off ramp, I remove myself from the fray and decide to spend the afternoon exploring. My detour takes me to downtown Chicago.

Driving along the city streets, I wonder where I should begin. At a glance, I find old and new merged together. A city of contradictions, Chicago is distinctly unique. It is a city with rough edges that are slowly being smoothed away.

Old charm mingles with modernization. Lovely greystone homes line the streets of old neighborhoods creating an idyllic picture. Street art and graffiti adorn buildings and signs. The L’ glides along the tracks quickly carrying people to various neighborhoods through out the city. Shopper’s with discerning taste stroll along the Magnificent Mile on Michigan Avenue exercising their debit and credit cards. Stunning cutting-edge architectural glass and steel buildings highlight the river front. Old plastic pop bottles, discarded papers, and plastic wrappers liter street corners and sidewalks. Artistic monuments stand in tribute to the city’s culture. Revitalization signs promise to breathe life back into old neighborhoods.

Wandering the city streets, we worked up quite an appetite. Deciding to splurge, we stopped at Home Slice on Webster Avenue to indulge in some of Chicago’s famous pizza. We had always heard there was nothing quite like Chicago pizza, so we were excited to try it. The inviting patio tables and chairs lured us into dining outside. Sitting down, we were immediately greeted by a friendly server who saw to our needs and made some excellent suggestions. Enjoying a relaxing lunch, we talked, laughed, and people watched while we refueled our bodies on thick slices of pizza, savory garlic bread, and spicy stuffed jalapenos. We ate until we couldn’t eat anymore. The food was exemplary. Everyone was right, there is nothing like Chicago pizza.

As day began to give way to the evening hours, we made our way to the interstate. It is time for us to be moving on. Chicago wasn’t a planned stop, but it was a lovely detour. All of us agree, we can’t wait until we are able to visit again.