Monday, December 16, 2013

vitamin-D day

After snowing 7 consecutive days, it finally stopped for the afternoon. Almost a bluebird day...but hey, I'll call this a vitamin-D day!

quaint downtown Petoskey

breakwall...with 2 feet of hilly ice

finding purpose

When you are unemployed, it is easy to fall into the slump of sleeping in and doing absolutely nothing...what is the point of getting up if there's nothing to do, right?

So to make myself purposeful, I've gotten into the rotation of yoga, shoveling, reading, photographing walks, and cooking.

Cooking might be the most rewarding to me because I've also made it the most challenging. I have purchased a local CSA winter share, which means a bag of veggies every 2 weeks. Which means, the only things really in season (or in winter storage) are carrots, turnips, kale, potatoes, winter squash, and radishes. It will be interesting, considering my go-to is to sauté everything.

One of my first experiments is kimchi! My version is carrots, daikon radishes, and garlic, which is currently soaking in salt water. It is a couple days away from being ready.

And complete sidebar...I made flour tortillas from scratch! Olé!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

christmas morning...every morning

It doesn't stop!

I thought I'd return the favor and shovel the neighbors sidewalks. Afterwards, Drew told me that the CITY paves each and every sidewalk here. Not that you can tell after a few hours and a few inches...but insanely enchanting nonetheless.

Friday, November 8, 2013

back to midwest roots

With a farm name like True Roots farm, we're constantly talking about not just our vegetable roots, but also our heritage roots. After closing up the market for the season and put all but the still-happily-living brassica beds to rest for the winter, I have made my way back to my roots...back to Michigan.

I'm in a quaint little town in Northern Michigan, called Petoskey. It's situated just south and a little east of Lake Michigan...which tends to confuse me where the sun rises and sets.

A cloudy and chilly 39 degrees today. I try not to peak at Denver's 68 degrees and sunshine. After all, Denver's apple blossoms froze this year...definitely not the case here!

A bag 'o' apples a day keeps the doctors away!

A clear Lake Michigan.

The almighty Lake Michigan in all her glory.

Empty winterized docks.

Bear river. And thankfully, I did not get mauled by any bears on this hike.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

lifestyle of a hippie

I never expected to be lifestyle just sort of evolved this way. To the small organic farmers, it's the norm. To the outside world, it's craziness.

Here are some examples:

1. We save water. That's right...sometimes we don't flush. And sometimes I don't shower...for like a week.

2. When I do shower, I use this natural shampoo and I'm not even sure it really cleans my hair. It doesn't lather, my hair is still a little greasy afterwards...but being a hippie, I just go with the flow. Besides deterring certain people, grease also seems to deter rats nests, aka hair knots, aka no need to put a brush through my hair. Simple!

3. As a jobless hippie, I also tend to wear the same clothes day after day. Typically my pajamas...but occasionally I'll rotate with my farming clothes. You know you're special if you see me in jeans or a skirt.

4. Butter is like gold in this house. We have every kind of vegetable in every cool corner of the house, and homemade of course our bodies crave some fat with all of that! Big tins of olive oil are out within a few weeks as well. You're probably wondering if that's healthy for us farmers. Yes! Fat is healthy, and so is salt. Sea salt. Bring it on!

5. No chemicals. Vinegar and baking soda are the best cleaners of 'em all. And some elbow grease.

6. No deodorant. I used to think this was crazy and smelly, until I read about harmful ingredients...and the first one listed on Tom's (infamous 'natural') deodorant was one of the most toxic ingredients: propylene glycol. In the off-chance I have an interview or care to impress people, I have a homemade concoction of baking soda, coconut oil, and shea butter.

7. Lots of bikes. My car has been parked in the same spot for months. As a former city-kid, I'm not much of a fan of driving and reparking, so I put the Schwinns to use. And when I have to haul stuff to/from the farm, I'm sure I look crazy with a backpack of stuff, trying to balance the load on my bike.

8. Lots of books. I loved reading until those weird teenage years when you've outgrown the young adult books but the adult books look SO BORING. Small text, no pictures, no drama, adult stuff, lots of pages. But now, it's a whole new kind of love. There is so much to learn in these inches of pages. If I continue to be poor and jobless, all I need would be a library card to learn how to be stable again, if not a millionaire doctor.

9. Lots of living spiders. One huge spider in particular has become our pet, after we caught him on our dining room window, tossed him outside, only to have him reappear in the same window. He adds to his web each day and it almost covers the entire window. We're really not sure how he is so big since we don't have many bugs in the house, but perhaps he is to thank for that!

10. Hankies and water glasses. Living at a higher elevation (not altitude...that's for airplanes!), your headaches will dictate if you consume enough water or not. And with the ever changing temps here, especially cold early mornings, our noses run wild. Kleenex just does not hold up, or feel as soft.

And I'm sure there are plenty more...

Saturday, August 31, 2013

when life gives you heirlooms...

When one of our sweet, yet particular, Polish customers praised the farm of the work, told me that she too was from Peoria, and then asked me to bake her zucchini bread this could I say no?

'You know, a crispy crust. Not soft. Baked well, o-k, yes?'

'I don't bake much, but for you, I will try my best!' I replied, as I questioned what I was committing too, especially with Christa, the baker of our household, out of town this weekend.

I knew it had to be just right, so I dedicated my entire Friday to cooking. I found 4 recipes online that looked normal and easy enough, 1 from an Iowa church cookbook, and 1 from my mom. I decided to merge the recipes to find the most middle ground, and what I thought would be the safest route.

It's not that I mind cooking, but I think it depends on who I'm cooking for, and who I'm cooking with. If I don't know what I'm doing, per usual, I'm usually moving back and forth aimlessly in the kitchen, so having others around seems intimidating. Either they want to help me and I don't know how to delegate when I myself don't know what to do, or they are distracting my limited attention span or making my mess even messier. I know I'll eat whatever I fix, but don't like making others my guinea pigs for new recipes (which is pretty frequent unless it's sautéed...which is how I cook everything these days really).

So Friday rolled around and I was ready for the challenge. I just dropped my roommates off at the airport, cranked up the speaker system, and away I went.

Let me tell you, it was fun! Everything looked pretty good, and once the first batch was in the oven, I realized I'd have no way of knowing if I had cooked it right unless I had a sample batch, so I started another round.

And after sampling the first batch, and not properly waiting for the 2nd batch to cool...I quickly realized I needed a third batch. Pressure was on at this point. A quick bike ride to the store helped clear my thoughts as I restocked on ingredients. Round 3 was perfect. I applaud the glass dishes for making the bread look all the more professional!

While I was in the kitchen, I was getting hungry for dinner, so decided to do something about all our picked-over tomatoes. Which reminds me of a perfect comic I found yesterday too:

The tomatoes were so ripe that the skins just peeled right off. I added farm fresh onion and basil. And simmered.


proof that i actually was cooking

I also started a sourdough starter, and finished it tonight. 

Looking at it through the lens again, I see the full beauty of it. Tasting it makes me appreciate the flavors beyond everything I've sauteed this summer. And heck, when there's wine and music, I can appreciate the romance of it all. 

I think I'm at capacity for the month :)

Monday, July 15, 2013


With a name like Shannon, I grew up pretty jealous that all my siblings could shorten their names to have legit nicknames. Shortening my name gave strange results...and my parents are the only ones who can get by calling me 'Shan,' and it leaves a sour tone hearing it from anyone else, unless of course it's family, and they have asked permission.

In junior high, a friend called me 'Nun'... high school, some friends called me Dils or Shannonbobana. At work we referenced each other by the order by which we were hired, so I didn't mind being called "#1." My college roommates started elongating my name to Sha-nay-nay or Shananigans or something. Those became too difficult and didn't stick (thankfully). My first job out of college, my coworkers had fitting nicknames for everyone, which is where 'Pickles' began. They questioned renaming me 'Fish' when they found out I swam in dirty Lake Michigan on my bike ride to work. Thankfully that didn't stick either. And when I switched jobs in Chicago, my coworkers were hesitant to tell me that since there was another Shannon in the office, they came up with an ingenious nickname for me that they hoped I wouldn't mind. What was it? Pickles, of course. Sure, just call me 'Pics' for short! Or if you're my coworkers daughter whom I babysit and who wasn't old enough to understand, call me 'Packles.'

Then came nicknames from boyfriends. It started with 'sweetie' and 'honey' from a southern gent which made me feel a bit old. I felt just as photogenic as the A&F model I was dating when he called me 'babe' until I realized he was that skinny from cocaine. My serious BF couldn't choose between 'crazy pants' or 'sleepy pants' depending on if I was flying a plane or taking my 2 hour train commute that day, so he eventually settled on just 'GF' (for girlfriend who was queen for acronyms). The next serious boyfriend called me 'babe' as well, which I decided to enjoy again...until he started calling all his friends 'babe' and the word was like a great song that was quickly overplayed on the radio.

Lately the nickname of the year seems to be 'baby'. I get it. It's like the Patrick Swayze line in 'Dirty Dancing': Nobody puts Baby in the corner. It was romantic in the movie, sure. But she's not a baby, nor is anyone who is of the age to date. Perhaps the nickname can be justified by the delivery...using a deep voice vs. a coo. No, nevermind. As a dude, how would you feel if I called you 'baby'? I might as well call you 'cute' too. Ew. Like I said, great for others, not for me.

'Hey' or 'Hey there' or 'Hey you' takes the cake for worst way to address someone though, in my opinion. Either they've forgotten my name or they are too lazy to say it. Let's get personal.

One of my couple friends call each other 'Love'. Though the word is a little overrated, I appreciate this for a nickname. As a couple you (should) know more about the person than anyone else, so I think a great nickname reflects that special connection. After going through a painful breakup with the 'babe' and having a new guy call me that...I challenged him to come up with a better one and it's probably my favorite yet: Honeysuckle. There was a lot of thought and meaning involved and I felt like one of a kind.

They say it's the small things in life that mean the most. Maybe this is one of those for me. So some rules of thumb: if we just started working together, or if we date...let's just stick with first names.

Turns out I'm actually quite fond of the name Shannon. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

safety words of affirmation

It makes my day getting messages like this from none other than a client! I've been bike accident free for two years now!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

plant-based nutrition

I go back and forth with being vegetarian or not. What tends to dictate my decision the most is the availability of it.

As I've learned to do with most of my big decisions and life changes lately, I decided to read to influence my decision more on this subject. I, for lack of better wording, half-assed a 3-week cleanse called 'Clean'...which had me eliminate grapefruit, oats, honey, and coffee...which was basically the reason I loved waking up in the morning! It basically eliminated acidic foods (even veg like tomatoes and citris) and allergic triggers (caffeine, dairy, gluten). It did not eliminate meats, but encouraged small meals, and smoothies to replace some meals...and most importantly waiting 12 hours after your last dinner bite before eating your first bite of breakfast. I do agree that too much acidity is bad for our bodies and promotes the environment for cancer, but I'd actually prefer to have tomatoes and grapefruit any day over's just a gut feeling :)

Now I'm in the middle of a book called "Healthy Eating, Healthy World" about focusing on plant based nutrition, and I think this aligns more with my gut feeling. So many diseases have been reversed by diet...even just a week sort of cleanse. And being a so-called vegetarian seems like a cop-out. You can eat boxes of crackers and cheese from the spray and call yourself a vegan even, but this isn't plant-based, and sure isn't healthy.

I shared some of my reading with my roommates a couple months ago, expressing that I'd like to possibly just eat fish once a week, otherwise mostly plants. Turns out they were interested in joining in. We're calling ourselves 'free-gans' though...we will eat meat if others share it with us, or we will cook meat if we have company over.

For the first time in a month or so, I had meat last week...chicken one night, ribs another. Perhaps I've never paid attention, or perhaps I just never had this reaction, but I definitely didn't feel as light and energetic the next day. Not that I enjoyed the stomachache, but I was happy to feel my body react. Even happier to have plenty of veg to go back to!

It's as if I can taste food flavors again. I know it's mostly from having such fresh produce that we're blessed with from the farm. After harvesting some bug and hail damaged kale, I set to work making kale salad, frozen kale, kale chips, and kale burgers. Will have to look into some kale brownies next :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Taking apps!

My little feets are getting twitchy for some more world travels! Anyone who's interested, let me know!

Timeframe will be between Halloween and March 1. Preferred Thanksgiving and Christmas in the midwest. I'd love to visit a couple continents I haven't seen, like Africa and Australia, but I'd go back to SE Asia in a heartbeat. Maybe Europe fall, and winter/New Year further? Bueller? 

Wild neighborhood animals

Yesterday, I was blanching and freezing our boatload of hail-damaged swiss chard, when I went outside and saw this!...

I didn't have my camera to capture the exact puppy, but it was a black chihuahua giving me the same 'who are you? what are you doing here?' expression...that mimicked my thoughts exactly. I had a hunch he belonged to our neighbor, but there were no tags. I didn't want him to run further, but he yelped when I tried to pick him up, so instead we did a little 'I chase you, you chase me' act to the neighbors house. I was pretty impressed that he followed. The little freaky yipper behind the fence turned out be a pretty cute pup after all!

Monday, June 24, 2013

when you love someone...

I'm not married, I don't have kids, I don't have a ('real') job. People must think I have it easy. But I promise, the farm is a relationship like no other. I won't say it's worse than the rest...heck, I'm barely in the dating world these days, so I can barely compare it to anything.

In church last Sunday the preacher was talking about having something so small and innocent can just take everything from you. Energy, sleep, money, time, etc... with absolutely NO return of investment. Except for a return of pure love and joy.

My previous farm manager would constantly tell us she wasn't dating because she was married to the farm. There was no time for anything or anyone else. Alas, I can relate to both of these.

And last week, I'd do what any sane person in a consuming relationship would do...the farm and I took a break. How could I go even say hello to it when it was breaking my heart. I tended hours and hours of backbreaking weeding, yet it stuck its tongue out at me, mockingly, as the weeds overgrew once again. We found tomato leaves on a few plants: diseased. We yanked them. We stepped closer, our noses to the ground, where we found thrips...hundreds of them, frolicking in our dirt...hopping onto our plants. Infesting, tomato plant by tomato plant, they must be. And bed after bed in the field we looked, only to find that these pests were coating our entire field. Somehow most of the plants were surviving, but I still felt defeated. What can we possibly do to save our entire supply of tomatoes?

The markets are getting business, and we're selling more now that we're getting our name out there. Yet still, we need to double sales each week in order to just break even in the end! When I think of it that way, the weeds seem like a waste of time to pull, and the tomato disease seems even more devastating.

Thankfully with 4 partners involved, I was able to step back and find some silver lining again. Maybe we just needed space. I came back today after a huge rainstorm last night, and remembered how much I love this place. I was happy to weed through the jungle and find the hidden, yet strong growing basil. Happy to see that thrips were still happy and frolicking, but at least not spreading more tomato disease (that I can see). And happy to see new seedlings and new colors emerging now that I've been patient.

When you love something, set it free. So they say.

Friday, June 7, 2013

who knew

This is the moment we've all been waiting for...all the months of planning...all the hours of labor...all the thoughts and conversations and disagreements and growth...for the big debut: our first market.

Who knew 9 years ago when I was learning how to make the world's best sandwiches at the local bistro, that today I'd be growing its very ingredients. Who knew 8 years ago when I was designing Ritz Cracker boxes and DiGiorno pizza trucks, that today I'd be avoiding as much of that processed food, especially from big businesses under Monsanto's wing. Who knew 5 years ago when my boyfriend gave me a copper watering can that today I'd be using it to urge seeds to sprout. Who knew 3 years ago when I took a sabbatical from corporate Chicago that today I'd call Colorado my home. Who knew a year ago as an intern that today I'd have a farm of my own. And who knows what will happen in years to come! I have a feeling this will just be a stepping stone to the next great undertaking. Whether or not it's a farm undertaking...well, tomorrow and Saturdays for the next few months will determine that!

If I thought anyone was crazy for working more than 40 hours in the corporate environment, perhaps I have just deemed myself crazier. I had such a great on/off switch, perhaps because I'm so great at conserving energy that I could usually work with the lights off...and could never understand how a picture with 2% more magenta could keep someone awake at night, until I'm wide awake thinking of tomato suckers which account for about 2% of the plant...after I've already put in 60 hours of physical labor for the week. My friends wonder why they haven't seen me in a month. I wonder why I have 'rubber bands' written backwards on my face. Yes, my hand is a great notepad at night...apparently also a great pillow.

So we have sprouted and watered and mulched and weeded and fertilized and pruned and weeded and watered and sung to the plants in the field for over 2 months now. Some couldn't survive the living conditions. Some we forgot about. But the ones that grew, they soared. It's been unbelievable to watch how these tiny seed packets can make a field a little green. And then we harvested. In the field, you can hardly notice we harvested. Yet back at our house, we are overflowing 5 coolers, 2 bins, and a fridge with all these goodies. 50 bunches of arugula, 50 bunches of kale, 30 bunches of broccoli rabe, pounds of spinach, a basket of herbs. It's a blessing to have more than we imagined...I think it will be a great impression for the community to see that it's not just a teeny tiny garden plot.

Our neighbors excitedly come over and ask us about the farm and what we're growing and when it will be ready. Our friends ask how it's going. We post on Facebook, on our website, we have people naturally spread the word, and we have a busy street of passing cars. Will it all be enough?! Tomorrow our hours are 9-noon, or until we sell out. If we sell out fast, we should have more land. If we sell too little, we will be swimming in kale for days. I'm sure it will be somewhere in-between, but who knows! To be continued!!! 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

sprouting sweetness

I rekindled an ol' flame: grapefruit! I think I only semi-liked them as a kid because they were another breakfast dish that allowed me to get my daily dose of a few tablespoons of sugar. Maybe that's why I still like it...but now that they are in season (at the end, actually), they are much more sweet than tart. So needless to say, I'm going to miss these when they are out of season, and will have to find a new fruit or berry to top my oatmeal in the mornings!

And to have a part of them in my life everyday...and since I've attempted with some success with other fruits...why not try to sprout some grapefruit seeds and grow my own tree? Considering my other stone fruits haven't sprouted and my roommates rolling eyes from all these cherry, peach, plum, avocado, and mango pits...I was surprised when I unrolled the moist paper towel to find these beauties! Perhaps my next venture will include orchards...

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Same same, but different they say in Thailand. That seems to explain my situation these days.

I'm finally feeling a little settled into my new place in Wheat Ridge. It's been a bit tricky merging two households, but I like being forced to fit my belongings within a space, and purge all the unnecessaries. I know I still have too many clothes for those 'just in case' instances, when really, all I will wear this summer will be a couple rotated dirty farm outfits, and a couple casual summer dresses for when I want to be seen in public. I would love to burn all my corporate work attire, but I'll hold off until the farm, and or my freelance design, becomes sustainable income.

Long gone are the days I could pack with 4 suitcases vs. 4 vehicles.
My roommates may be some of the most compatible roommates I have had to this day, with the exception of my dear Kate from the farm, or my siblings, if that's fair to count them. Obviously our lifestyles and values are quite parallel, especially owning an organic farm together. So we equally appreciate healthy meals, bike rides, our backyard complete with perennials, a huge grill, and fire pit, local restaurants, zero cable, and overall just simple living. I especially enjoy that they love to cook and I can trade-off with washing dishes. And when Christa saved two bites for tomorrow's leftovers, it felt as if we've been sisters our entire lives.

Homemade leek and potato soup, with a side of chicken salad on a rice cake...mmm...

Thankfully Dan and Christa have lived in the neighborhood for a year and a half, so they know the in and outs of where to go. They too came from Cap Hill and have my same appreciation for the city life, while finding home a little further out. Wheat Ridge is a wide mix of grandparents and retirement homes, Italians, Hispanics, and newly married hipsters who just can't quite afford Denver Highlands...and/or, they want bigger yards and fixer-upper houses. A brand new Wal-mart just opened a few blocks from us. I hate to admit that I've already been there twice in the past two days for a silly watch band. Somehow I'd feel better buying a knock-off in SE Asia because it seems like it would support a local small business. My watch broke a month too late though!

Anyway, the farm is a few blocks from Wal-mart, along the other main road of 38th. I'm sure many folks will drive past it on their way to Wal-mart or other chains and not think twice. But here's hoping we might peak a bunch of curious minds, enough so that they stop in. There is probably no chance of us beating the price of big chains, but I believe we'll provide much more valuable produce. First up will be peas and radishes...they are looking great from all this snow we've had!

Peas surfacing!

In many ways it feels as though I'm on a sabbatical again: farming and living with roommates in this (semi) country space. I even saw a fox on my walk one of the first signs of wildlife that I saw up in Loveland. I've spent so much time in Highlands over the years that it's practically home...I do wonder if I'll have the desire to move six miles back to the city or if I'll stick around here for awhile...or go even further out where there's more land. Only time will tell!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Was 'planning' in my job description?

'What is the plan for today?'

I think that is my new least-favorite-question-of-the-week. My friend Jess is here for a week. I'm not sure I warned him much as I loved traveling for the past few months, my focus has shifted drastically. The mountains have sunk in from all this snow this week, yet we just went up one day to board (yes, I frustrate myself being the slowest driver in the snow, even with my week-old all-weather tires). Last week my focus was on de-cluttering my apartment in prep for my houseguest and for my upcoming MOVE. This week my focus is on THE FARM. This is why I traveled, cramming in as much as I could before settling back down on a career that will consume me much more than any 9-5...but one that I'm feeling will be much more fulfilling.

So yes, this blog will most likely return to its farming theme...its roots, if you will. Just like the name of our farm: True Roots Farm. It was time-consuming to make a consensus for our team of 4, but I think we're all pretty proud of the name, and think it's solid enough to last for awhile! You can bookmark the website now, although it will still be a month before it's officially launched with our brand:

The farm is located in the heart of Wheat Ridge, the first neighborhood west of Denver. I'm refusing to call it a suburb because I will be moving there in 2 short weeks...and I refuse to believe that I'll be living anywhere besides a city or the country. It will be hard to say goodbye to my apartment of 2.5 years: the longest place I've lived since high school! The apartment has been perfect with its close proximity to everything: the city, city park, cheesman park, my church, the library, whole foods, the post office, my friends! Perhaps I won't miss the close proximity to the fire station and sirens...until my house catches on fire, or my car gets buried under a pile of snow again.

My travels have prepped me well for this transition though, as they taught me how to live with less, how to live with others (again), and how an apartment is just a place...home can be anywhere. Which makes me strangely thankful that my apartment still smells like that dang smelly Irish Spring boy makes it easier to leave if it's still cursed with that stench!

And I'm excited to move in with friends again! It's just a few blocks walk from the farm, and a decent 6 mile ride to my current neighborhood if I'm craving some summertime in the city. Did I mention our big backyard with a huge grill? We will have lots of bbqs this summer.

And that is my generic plan, if I were to make one. Design logos today, farm tomorrow, bbq this summer. Done. Enough planning already.

Monday, March 11, 2013

How was your trip? What was your favorite place?

Impossible to answer these questions. Perhaps that's why it has taken me two weeks to write...that, combined with jetlag (boo) and family ski trips (yeah!).

Since my last blog in Koh Phangan, Em headed home after a few days and Jess took her spot from then on. He rented a scooter, so needless to say the quiet lazy beach days were over...and I (first very much opposed, til my legs finally exhausted themselves on the 20% graded hills) hopped on the back of the scooter and we explored the island the rest of the days. I nearly got seasick on a jet ski, hiked my way up a narrow dry waterfall in flip-flops...and enjoyed a fantastic last day on the beach, breathed in the last of the warm summer night on the long scooter ride to the bungalow...silently saying goodbye to the journey.

I left Tuesday morning, nearly 48 hours before my arrival home. A .5 hour scooter ride, 2.5 hour ferry, 2 hour minibus, 5 hour wait in the airport (a very small airport, mind you), 1 hour flight to Bangkok, 1 hour airport transfer bus, 1 hour wait in the ticket line, .5 hour wait through security, 1 hour delay, 4 hour flight to Shang-hai, 2 hour security check then 6 hour layover to return back to the same airplane, 12 hour flight to LA, 1 hour layover, and 2 hour flight to HOME. Let's just say layovers on the way home are the worst, because at that point, the only thing on my mind was my cozy bed, and everything that wasn't my bed was getting in the way. My cranky self got hungry for specific food when the options were only processed convenience stores. Then when I was hangry again, I nearly drooled at a Burger King burger, then concluded I didn't have enough baht for the $8 burger (not including drink and fries). The indoor smoking rooms in Shang-hai airport must not have been properly sealed and my all-too-fancy doctor mask was not helping me much either. It took me a few of creepy stalkings to figure out how to dispense cold water from the fountains. Perhaps when I forget about my cranky attitude will I consider China for the bucket list. AND I'll stop. Wait, the food on the plane was a little sketch too...neon green desert, packaged radishes...and they've run out of wine after I received one round with an inch of wine...on a 12-hour flight? Ok now I'll really stop...

AMERICA! Alas! Crankiness is cured. My backpack and I wiz through customs. WELCOME HOME. Those words from customs get me every time! I walk to my terminal. There is a Starbucks directly after the security check. And everyone speaks English. And everyone is talking on their cell phones, probably about what happened on reality TV last night. I board my final plane of the trip, and my pilot greets me at the door. Everything is rainbows and butterflies at this point. I thought for a minute about questioning the smelly big dog that was on the plane a seat ahead and diagonal from me, but whatever, I was almost home!

And then there was my snowy little town. I ran out of the airport to say hello, guys behind me yelling remarks about my flip-flops. 40 degrees! Whatever! My heart's overflowing with warm fuzzies at this point! I hop on the bus...and at my stop, I practically skip home, 15kg is weightless now! I keep telling myself to expect the worst from my renters when I get home, so I can continue being pleasantly surprised. Nearly two weeks later now and I still can't get the silly boy smell out of my apartment. Men, take note. Irish spring does not equal manly mountain smell. Irish spring = YUCK. I may be used to hippie odor by now, but seriously. Yuck. Thankfully yesterday I spotted the culprit...a forlorn bar of soap behind a claw foot of my tub. Perhaps it was intentional to bring a sort of Irish freshness to the room...or to intentionally claw away at my senses. I have never scrubbed my apartment with so much cleaner and vinegar and cleaner and baking soda. Ironic, coming from lands of overflowing toilets where I was content in my flip-flops.

Jetlag was pretty bad the first couple days. I could stay up late (10/11pm), only to wake 4 hours later...WIDE awake! My older sister came to town the 2nd day...questioning why I was sleeping on the couch til noon then. It was definitely a rollercoaster ride like that! I was so excited to see my family again, even if it didn't show once I started dragging after every 3 hours. Conditions were great for skiing/boarding...a powder day followed with bluebird spring days. And delicious food (thanks Karen!) that my mouth was dreaming about in Asia.

Back to reality, family and friends will ask me exactly what I'd ask my traveling was my trip and what was my favorite place? Hopefully this blog has spelled out enough of my stories. I'm sure there are more that will surface with conversations. And perhaps you can decipher (even better than I) what my favorite place was. I can choose a favorite place in each country...each place was unique and beautiful in their own way. Like people. My favorite people are those who are in their element. Just being who they truly are. As much as I want these countries to be as well-off as America...I hope they don't lose their charm.

Friday, February 22, 2013


When friends ask me about my reasoning behind this trip, my response is not clearly defined. I don't feel like I was trying to find myself. I think I am trying to take advantage of my life circumstances the fullest way possible. I'd like to give a shout out to those who made this happen...and to those who inspired me along the way.

This summer was my big 3-0. A few weeks before it, I had made a small and determined bucket list to learn how to mountain bike, longboard, and drive stick. I'd say I accomplished them all, even though my manual driving skills could use a lot more work. I decided then on that making small bucket lists in short time frames was the only way that I'd accomplish them, instead of making them too grandeous and for 'someday'. That's the relaxed procrastinator in me.

This summer I was fortunate to meet some friends with unique life outlooks as well. The first was so sick of losing himself to the daily grind that instead of just taking a vacation, he quit his job to travel. After all, you can always find a new job later! He was a vagabond for nearly a year, visiting friends and unique countries. He and other friends told me how a month in Thailand would be equal in cost to one week in Europe...if done right, it would cost less to travel around here versus live back in the states.

His inspiring book was The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. I read that as favorite takeaways from that being: do one thing a day that you fear and each day you will grow. And also, to take a bunch of mini retirements versus saving up for one big retirement when who knows what your situation or health will look like then. Time and tide wait for no man.

Another friend told me about the book A Milllion Miles In A Million Years by Donald Miller. After reading that I wanted to quit my job to create my best life story...because no interesting story starts in a cubicle.

During my Monday morning pipeline meetings at work, set for one hour but always dragging on for two, I'd drown out the others and make this my own personal pipeline meeting. After all, I was one of the only designers amongst the construction discussion. Most of the meeting did not pertain to san serif fonts and white space. I would make lists about where I would rather be than in those meetings. Looking back in my life what were my greatest work moments? Working in a coffeeshop or working on the farm. If I had a year to live, what would I be doing? Who would I spend it with? If I had a month to live, a week to live, a day to live. Every moment counts. Aside from this personal insight, this work meeting has just taken away two hours of my life.

My good friend whom I currently garden with was feeling the same feelings of escaping the 9-5 to start a farm. So we decided, along with her husband, to go for it. Next spring we'll start a farm! So from then on I'd make any downtime into researching what I'd do to startup this farm. Come fall I took the beginner farmer class with my friend's husband. I was planning to step down to part time at work when the farm started in spring, so when I was laid off, that changed everything.

Suddenly I had a couple weeks to spend with my family, instead of the few days for holidays. Then after that, instead of sitting around waiting for spring, why not travel before I have settled on a farm with a very small income??

I chose the places I did purely based on acute interest and how far my money would stretch. I wanted to visit each continent but realized that would be far fetched with money. Also, I chose some of the least romantic places since I'd be traveling mostly solo. I hope that my travels don't bring jealous fact, I hope people are able to laugh at and with me through my stories. And if I can inspire others to find what it is they truly want to do in life, their happiness makes me happy. It doesn't need to be travel. But I enjoy seeing others passionate about life and what they are doing, fulfilling their life dreams before retirement, even if its cleaning toilets. I've seen too many hours go towards complaining and that saddens me. Life is too short.

So huge shout outs to my friends and fellow farming partners, Christa and Dan for putting farm dreams to reality and still being so supportive of my travels. Although the growing season doesn't start until March, there's still a lot of planning and prepping that happens in the dead of winter. I'm excited to hit the ground running when I get back, as this is still very unreal to me that farming will be my full time job!!

More kudos to my supportive parents. Friends constantly ask how my parents reacted, and I just shrug. My parents have always given my siblings and I free will to explore and find our own way...offering insight or asking questions when appropriate. They never pressured us to be a certain profession, but encouraged where we had our God given talents...stopping us if they saw us making the same mistakes they did. I wasn't one to get bad grades, but if I did, they didnt give lectures, rather, they'd ask me if I had learned from the bad grade. So yes they did question why I wanted to travel, especially to the other side of the world and to poor countries. I encouraged them to come with! But realize they have their own places in mind if they were to travel next time :) for now they sent me off with lots of prayer which has been the ultimate love and protection.

Many kudos to my coworker friends back in Chicago who probably thought I'd get here in a boat. Or anything besides a plane. They encouraged me time after time about the safety of flying. And I was nuts for all those six hour drives to Minneapolis instead of the 30 minute flight. I would have them tell me about their worst flight experiences and how they had handled them...most importantly showing me that they had survived. I couldnt understand how some even LOOKED FORWARD to flights. It took me moving far away from family and having planes be the most practical mode of transport before it finally sunk in. I am forever grateful to them, as a whole new world has opened up before my eyes.

I want to thank all my friends and new travel friends who shared their travel experiences with me. Those who gave me ideas on where to go and what to do and what not to see. Cat for sending her travel itinerary and book suggestion for BA. Rajesh, not only for setting up an itinerary for me in India, but for being my guide in Mumbai and welcoming me into his family's home so i could experience the real welcoming beauty of India. To the fellow backpackers whose paths just happened to cross with mine, whether we'll ever cross paths again or not. You all (or from the Scottish term I just learned 'yous') were more helpful than any guidebook. Your stories much more relevant and colorful. It's the fellow travelers who have really shaped this trip into something worthwhile. You don't make goodbyes any easier, even in crazy SE Asia.

I'm gracious to have supportive friends like Keri and LB for being way too generous when I dog sat before my trip! And to my freelance clients who were understanding of a much needed vacation, who paid me way far in advance to have funds for this trip and not so much as make a peep to interrupt my time off. Thankful for my tenants for watching my place while I'm gone, and my landlord for being flexible with that arrangement.

I have felt so loved from those friends and family like you who are reading this and sending me words of encouragement and excitement. I don't feel like I've ever been alone on this trip as I open my inbox each morning and hear from you. I'm so blessed.

What would this trip be without my true travel companions, Jess and Emily. Jess for showing me the ropes on planning and booking everything. Something I DESPISE doing. So thanks for doing the dirty work. And for somehow always having great ideas like me so that we'd never argue, even though we should if we want to be advanced travel partners! Who would have thought when we would party together in college 10 years ago that we'd be a great travel match. For those of you with wandering minds, we are JUST friends!! promise. He loves Chicago, electronica, glow sticks, and the Packers. Not sure how we're even friends actually :) then there's my lovely Emily! I could not be more thrilled to do what we do best...catch up in the sand and water while discussing everything under the sun. My experiences and thoughts from this trip was a jumbled plate spaghetti...afterwards she helped me make sense of it all. She's so great with putting everything into perspective. Offering insight and laughter is her best tagline because its true! I haven't laughed like that in a long time. I think I have a six pack now :)

And last but not least...Greg! He fits into most all of these categories as a former Chicago coworker and friend who passed on words of wisdom. But probably the most insightful thing he shared, also the one I noted but thought I could forget...he told me to smile. Really? Well duh, I generally think I'm a happy person and smiling all the time. That is until, I found out, you see slums and pollution and just chaos in the streets and people just staring me down with a look. And just when you think you hear your mom calling and you have to go WANT to go smile. Even if its fake. And the glaring eyed person smiles back. And suddenly your smile softens into something more real. That's the secret!! That's it! No one can NOT smile when someone smiles at them. Heck, most people turn 180 on their motorbike in confusion to why this white chic is smiling at them. I distinctly remember getting overwhelmed a few times in cities...questioning why this country girl chose to be in these crazy cities in the first place. So I gave myself a pep talk to make the most of the situation...and smile. And suddenly I'd have the best day, feeling like I made someone else's day just with a smile. Greg, your advice has been paid forward, as I have now told other travelers this secret. They too have put it to practice and gotten the same positive reaction. Here on out I hope I don't come across as that quiet lonely person sitting in the corner, keeping to themselves, when there are travelers just a few feet away with stories to share over beer and Oreos...and who are waiting to hear my story as well.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Last stop

A mere 18 hours after leaving Cambodia, I arrived in Koh Phangan...a mere two hour flight, elongated by a layover, delay which caused me to miss my direct ferry...a 1.5 hour ferry to Koh Samui, taxi, speedboat, then another taxi. But I made it to our little bungalow on the hill! Emily was waiting in the outdoor common area. What a sweetheart ad warm welcome for this tired traveler! Her familiar voice was music to my ears, and she gets the trophy for worlds best hugs.

It's a beautiful spot, quietly nestled in the trees with a great view of fishing boats on the Gulf of Thailand. We are nearest to Haad Son beach, a private little cove with clear blue shallow water and no waves. It is definitely a little paradise.

But I'd be lying to say that I'm convinced of it yet. There are tourists, mostly (russian and french) families and couples. Relaxing. But to me it's far from the Thailand that I experienced a few weeks ago. I do miss the backpacker camaraderie, meeting new travelers and hearing their stories, experiencing what I think is more authentic Thailand and its people. And the cheaper prices.

All that aside, it's been a blessing to catch up with Em and swap travel stories. I never made it out of the airports to actually see Bangkok so she filled me in. I'm still digesting my experiences slowly, and she's so great to get me to talk and process them.

There are steep hills every few houses, so needless to say, we keep our walks to the point. 7-11, beach, and dinner. Since I'm here a whole week, I will eventually explore more of the island, if only for new food and shops. But for now it's been great to just sit and relax and soak it all in!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Rumbling of the earth...

I left Laos and the 4 thousand islands via bus, crossing the Cambodia border with some new American friends I just met on the bus. We all held the pink tickets to Siem Reap. Upon crossing the border (my first via land for this trip!) an immigration officer stuck a small looking hair dryer up to my neck. She was taking my temperature. I giggled. Seriously? Yes, this is not a joke ma'am. You must be healthy to cross into Cambodia!

The roads were paved with lots of gravel and bumps along the way, making the journey long and, well, interesting when having to use the bathroom on the bus. Halfway to Siem Reap, we switched buses. We pulled up to the new bus, already full of passengers, and we (mostly backpackers, 16 deep) joked that we might have to camp out and sing kumbayah together, as it was 8pm by now. One girl from Israel was at her wits end and started questioning the bus driver with a raised voice. What is going on? We paid for a bus and now this one is full? Give us some direction on what we should be doing! The bus driver (as they always do when someone complains), said nothing and got on his phone, then handed it to her. Someone on the phone said that a bus would be coming in 30 minutes if she could trust him and wait. A few other backpackers have been on the infamous sardine-packed overnight bus from Vientiane to Hanoi, so decided that this would be a piece of cake in comparison, so lets just pack onto this bus. And that we did! I lost my earring on this bus...a stud from when I first pierced my ears. A part of me thinks it's symbolic. I've lost it a few memorable times in the past few years on some great adventures (upon moving to CO, on my 30th birthday, but always finding it after). This time I looked for it but decided to let it go. Like a fresh start.

I got to the hotel at midnight, three hours late, but awaiting me was my friend Jess! Back for more travels! The next morning we headed out early to bike 10km up to the Angkor temples. We were too late for sunrise, but made it before the crowds. What beauty! I especially enjoyed the trees that were growing out of, and taking over the temples.

On our ride back to town, I saw one of the guys from the bus and he said he had just donated blood, to help the kids here with some disease. It sounded like a great cause to me, but I hesitated at the sound of a needle from this foreign country. As sanitary as it might be, I will go back to the states and look into options for donating from there...maybe try to twist your arms too :)

The town of Siem Reap seemed fairly small. We stayed in the downtown near restaurants and bars and the markets which were all an easy walk. The ATMs dispense US dollars, as this is the main currency for big bills, and vendors would give change in riels. An easy conversion!

The next day we took a 6 hour bus to Phnom Penh. After flying for most if my first city connections then taking buses now for my later connections, I do prefer buses. No matter how long and how dirty and how rough, they still have a lot more stories and lot more personality than sterile plane rides! And they are easy to book last minute for this non-planner :) there's a lot more time to soak in the atmosphere of the country, making the drive a part of the full experience. Glad I enjoy airplanes now...but nothing beats a road trip :)

We arrived in Phnom Penh, a super friendly tuk-tuk driver excitedly came up and asked where we were from. He even knew about Denver and the mountains there! After first refusing his $2 offer for a ride, we made a u-e and decided he (David) could save us a mile and some time and strength. And he connected his iPod to speakers and played country...what's not to love?! We wanted to visit the killing fields the next day, so he offered to drive us there as well.

For those who don't know the killing fields, it's basically like what happened in Nazi Germany, with the killing of millions of innocent Cambodians, purely at the discretion of the regime in the late 1970s. Religious, educated, military, foreign, no one was safe. Even innocent children were killed as they said, if you will to remove grass you must remove the roots as well. They did not want children to grow up and seek revenge later. The regime was attempting to make the 'revised' nation self sufficient. So those who were safe were forced to farm or labor, though they had no previous experience.

This was a very sobering experience. Bones and clothes from the mass graves were still being unearthed due to rain. Very touching to hear that the people consider perfect strangers as brothers and sisters through this tragedy and even today. Besides our driver, each person we met was full of friendliness and not anger towards us or anyone. They are true examples of forgiveness...most importantly remembering the past only to help move forward and be optimistic about their future. I was truly touched. And hello first tears of the trip!

With Jess going on to Laos for a few days while I head to Koh Phangan for my last week, David drove me solo to the airport this morning. He even gave me a hug goodbye! I appreciated how he was the first and last person I'd see in that city. As excited as I am for the next place, it's hard to say goodbye to these places that have become my home for a few days!