Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gainesville's Last Hooray

It’s great to have such a good connection with someone that even if you haven't talked to them in ages, you pick up right where you left off. Most of us have those people in our lives, the ones that when you see them and get that first hug, it’s like you just saw them yesterday. I had the privilege today to visit some of those people in my life at Arbor House and it was the perfect spot to officially kick off Optimism Tour 2009!

I worked at Arbor House in 2005 and was shocked when I did that math today that it was only for about six months because I enjoyed the work so much it had felt like much longer than that. Arbor House is one of Gainesville's gems, a true testament to the sense of community that exists even outside the walls of UF. As a positive and safe place for single moms to live, the staff there offers all sorts of support to these families from a beautiful home to daycare and educational classes. It has grown over the years tremendously thanks to the tireless efforts of Gwen, Lenora and the rest of the passionate team. From the moment you walk in the door you know that it’s a home filled with a remarkable level of love and support that not many get even from one's own biological families. Tau spoke to the residents and staff this morning about optimism and fortitude and who better than a single mom as someone who wants to improve their skills on handling challenges in a positive way. This was the first of many talks that he will be giving to individuals and groups of all shapes and sizes. Arbor House was the perfect place to start the tour.

Although the Arbor House visit was enough to make the day successful, it continued with even more fun people and fun new discoveries! Gwen, the Executive Director of the organization took us to a relatively new Gainesville bistro that is now officially on my top 10 Best Gainesville eateries (in good company with Satchel's, Maude's, Leonardo's/706, Top, Cafe Gardens, etc.). East Side Eatery is a perfect lunch destination that is just enough off the well beaten University Ave. track that you may just miss it, unless of course you read this blog and then by now are well caught up with Gainesville's best. Anyway, East Street Eatery welcomes you with their chic meets classy country decor and then really gets your attention with their menu. "Grilled Vegetable Panini: Seasonal vegetables, marinated and grilled, on whole wheat bread with your choice of Swiss or provolone cheese and Dijon mustard, $5.75". Anyone who knows me well knows that this immediately attracts my attention; it’s simple yet delicious (and affordable!). They don't even mention that it comes on a trendy abstractly shaped plate and comes with a perfect-size small bowl of fresh fruit seasoned with fresh mint! After your order is taken by one of the good looking guys at the counter, you take your seat at the light wood and baby blue tables and get a moment to soak in the rest of the atmosphere. The eatery was started by a small catering company who ingeniously used the clean design of various catering supplies to decorate with. There are stacks of shiny white plates, rows of bowls and baskets and even multilayered food display racks. Some of these things may sound like ordinary kitchen “stuff”, but they are perfectly displayed. There's a loungy area with a few modern sofas, 2 huge bookcases filled with foodie favorites and a shelf of board games for those who want to hang out and enjoy a pot of French Press. The beverage area has the typical soda dispenser but also features fresh made lemonade and iced tea and big water pitchers and polka dotted cups for us simple water-drinking folk. The cherry on top of this great bistro was discovering that their cups and other take out materials are all corn products and many of their menu items are locally grown and/or organic. As you can probably tell, I could write pages about this place, but I must move on as there was still more fun to be had on this Thursday. (photos to come this weekend)

After some work and some errands (including a quick trip to Urban Threads), we packed up our things from the Red Room and said goodbye to our Zen Center/Gainesville Hostel friends. I'm hoping to see Mike again as he truly has so much to teach and inspire, I'm crossing my fingers that Casey gets that job in DC, that Sunflower's kids, Hannah, Skylar and Ocean all continue to play all day long in the yard, Dominic finds the cure to heart disease and B's art flourishes. I hope that Tobe can keep the spirit of the place alive for many more travelers to come.

It was our last night in Gainesville, and there was only one place that came to mind as the best way to end a great visit - we had to go to Satchel's. I don't remember who first introduced me to Satchel's, but I'm forever thankful as this restaurant is one of those places that you just can't help smiling the whole time you're there. I'll do my best to describe the indescribable, but you really have to go there yourself to truly experience it (or visit his awesome website to get a decent taste). Nestled in NE Gainesville off a street that you probably would otherwise never be on, Satchel's is in a league of its own not only compared to other restaurants, but really to anywhere. Its part pizza place, part junk shop, part artist sculpture, and part bar with live music, but all highly entertaining and deliciously fun. You know you're there when you can see the glow of the christmas lights that hang outside and the outline of the old school green VW bus parked out front (that you can also eat in). The wait for a table can sometimes be quite a few minutes, but no worries because there is plenty to do in the meantime. Adjacent to the restaurant is a Junk Shop featuring an endless variety of knick knacks, toys, candy and mementos. There are flip books and fake mustaches, old fashioned candy and puppets. Asian lanterns hang from the ceiling, and every inch of wall space is decorated with stones, shells or any other colorful object that Satchel could find and glue down. It’s a sensory overload in the best of ways. The newest features on the property are an enclosed bar-like large dining room with live music, a "Fountain O Junk" in the middle of the parking lot that is too hilarious to even try to describe, and a tree house that you can eat in with a sandbox for the kiddies (or frat boys I suppose). After you wander around this artist world and get your table, you'll find the menu to be pretty straightforward-Pizza & Salad. But this isn’t just any pizza, or any salad, no, no. Satchel's Salad features the perfect mix of the right ingredients including almonds, sunflower seeds and topped with their in house dressing and you can get your pizza with a million different toppings including tempeh!

This visit to Satchel's was even more fun than usual because I got to chat with the artist/owner himself. If you happen to see a happy scruffy guy wandering around with a smile on his face, introduce yourself and you may get to hear some of the fantastic travel stories from him that I did. I never would've guessed that he once slept in the bushes of the Miami airport waiting to catch a flight home, or that he actually lived in that bus outside. Satchel shared just a bit of his long traveling history when we shared with him the goals of our own travels. He did the cross country USA trip, only his version was in old car that he literally cut the top off of to make into a convertible. It was great, until it rained. He's been all over Europe and the east, but happily ended up in lil ol Gainesville to fulfill his dream of opening his own pizza place. He's the kind of guy that may have had his rough days, but it makes you like him even more, it makes you even happier for him that he now is flourishing and successful surrounded by his art and pizza. I wish we would've been in town longer to hang out the next morning; I would've loved to hear more stories and learn some life philosophy from him. Artist first and businessman second, Satchel is a another perfect example of the best Gainesville has to offer.

You may be reading thinking, wow, what a great day, but it’s not over yet! It was just after 9pm and we were finally on our way to our very first Couch Surfing experience! I had emailed Ashley and Nick last week asking if they had a friendly couch for us to sleep on for a few nights and she was great with immediately returning my email and welcoming us to stay. It’s a shame we only stayed one night, because they are the nicest people ever! Both from West Palm Beach and Gator grads, they live in a really cute apartment not far from Satchel's. Ashley is in the midst of studying for the bar exam (good luck!) and Nick runs an online T-shirt business (
threadpit.com) while also renovating the fixer-upper house they just bought in the Duck Pond area of Gainesville. The four of us (plus Charlie the adorable dog) started chatting as soon as we got there. I'm incredibly envious of how much they've traveled, and loved that the apartment features photos of many of those adventures. There was also some fantastic graphic art up that Nick had done, he's incredibly talented as you can see through the shirts online. We stayed in their guestroom on a super comfy futon and even had our own bathroom! (we are getting way too spoiled with our accommodations!) I really do wish we would've stayed longer to get to know them better too, but we had to travel on to Jacksonville first thing in the morning. As someone who was logically skeptical about the whole sleeping at stranger' houses experience, I'm totally a fan now. Ashley and Nick offered the perfect Couch Surfing experience!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dreamville, USA

Life in Gainesville this week has been fun. Its been peaceful, educational and productive. Today's adventures included a short visit to the Union Station Famer's Market, a nice long meditation session by our housemate Mike, and an egg sandwich at Louie's Lunch, a seemingly hole in the wall family owned diner that has been serving burgers and eggs since 1938. (Think vintage Coca-Cola signs and Gator-related newspaper clippings featuring Steve as a ballplayer). The crowd was mixed, but all shared one thing: they were local enough to know that Louis was good luch stop. (Fried egg sandwich with lettuce and tomato, $1.09).

Last night Tau and I ate at the Top, a veggie-friendly restaurant right on Main Street downtown. We've been trying really hard to live as inexpensively as possible, but we decided that a fun dinner out was in order. This eccletic restaurant opened while I lived in Gainesville and was well known as the "emo" place. (If you're not sure what that means, ask someone under the age of 35, or a guy that wears eyeliner and they'll explain.) Regardless though, people of all sorts go there, although I have to mention that most of the men there last night had some serious beards. This wouldn't be worth mentioning unless it was an absurd percentage, which it was, and if the beards were't incredibly long and wirey, which they were. Anyway, I'm always up for eating anywhere whose sign outside says "Vegan Chocolate Cake". Tau and I both love eating "family style", (my dad is also a big fan as its an easy way for him to get to have both things on the menu that he really wants). So we got pesto gnocchi and pecan encrusted tofu with shitake mushrooms with broccoli and the Top's famous sweet potato fries. A damn good way to spend $21. I actually only ate half of my half, so it was also lunch today :)

Whenever I read travel blogs I always wonder how people fund their fantastic adventures, so I’ll be quite frank with you and explain how I’m doing it: basically for now its all savings. I have several fixed costs each month as we all do, they are the following:
  • Cell phone: $65 ($50 for unlimited minutes + $5 texts + taxes and all those other fees that we all pay for no good reason that I know of)
  • Internet: $60 (via a T-Mobile Lapstick. Gives me 5G of data each month, I have no idea if that will be enough, it’s new, so we’ll see.)
  • Health Insurance: $52 (Blue Cross Blue Shield, hospitalization and surgery coverage only)
  • Car Payment: $161
  • Car Insurance: $200
  • Gas: ?? A few weeks on the road will determine what this will look like each month
  • Food: ?? Also don’t have a real budget for food. I need to work on this, but I’m trying to eat deliciously healthy while being affordable, so I'm pretty sure that means cook as much as possible!
  • Accommodation: $0 – the plan is never to have to pay to sleep, and I plan on being a fantatic about this.
  • Storage for all the stuff that didn't fit in my car: $0 thanks to mom's hospitality and attic space

(This is where MasterCard would be really happy if I said, "Spending well earned money on amazing travel adventure: priceless.)

So those are the basics in terms of financials. Of course there are going to be other expenses, like the 4 really fun postcards I bought in Micanopy the other day, so we’ll see how this all works out. The majority of this trip will be funded by savings with the addition of some part time consultant work. Let me know if you have a project that I may be able to help you with from the road!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday Night in the Middle of the Universe

Blog note: This blogging one day behind is sort of annoying, so after this post I'm going to try and write one each night instead of the next morning. This may more information that you need, but thought I would share anyway :)

Monday at the Zen Center/Gainesville Hostel started out quite nicely, but it was the evening activity that was really the noteworthy part of the day.

First though, more about where I'm staying. The location of the Hostel is fantastic because its directly behind Maude's coffee house, one of my favorite Gainesville spots (and I don't even drink coffee). Maude's Classic Cafe, is so classic in fact that according to my google search it doesn't even have a website, its too cool and classic to need one apparently. With old movies being projected on the dimly lit inside, and live jazz being played on the covered patio outside, who needs a website? Throw in shelves of board games for endless entertainment with friends and delicious desserts to eat at any time of day, and its pretty easy to see why this is what a coffee house is truly supposed to be! Sorry Starbucks lovers, you can go next door, literally. (The ever growing Starbucks giant actually planted one if its little green boxes exactly next door to Maude's back in 2003 or so, but Maude's continues to flourish thanks to its latte sipping regulars.) So with all of that, this is one reason why the Hostel's location is superb. I worked all day at Maude's, being able to use Gainesville's free Downtown Digital WiFi and was close enough to walk back "home" for lunch and to do my Daily Beauties of sweeping the sidewalk and helping to fix the rain water system.

At some point during the day, B, a guy that lives in the house adjoining the Center was chatting about a man named Michael Singer. He shared that Michael owns a large piece of property just north of Gainesville and offers yoga and discussions on Monday and Thursday nights. B said that "Mickey" was a local philanthropist and shared some of the same ideas that Tau and I have been discussing regarding living life as an optimist. One google search later and we had directions that sounded something like, "13th street north until you feel like you're in the middle of the nowhere, then go right and you'll be on the 800 acres that houses The Temple of the Universe." Dum, dum duuuum!!!! (insert dramatic music here). Not long after that we were driving down a canopied street and joking about what to tell our relatives in case this was the end of our journey.

After parking in a small dirt lot of sorts we followed the lantern lit path through the woods to a large wooden building that had a pile of shoes outside the door and a simple ceramic sign that read "The Temple of the Universe". We didn't know what we were doing there, or what we would find, but we slipped off our shoes, decided to keep an open mind, and walked in to a world far, far away from where we were just a week ago, or even an hour ago...or maybe ever.

The room was large and lined with windows that looked into the forest and small circular pillows were placed in stacks of two throughout the big open space. There was a central focal point of a small bench size altar of sorts that held framed photos of various religious leaders including Jesus, Gandhi, and several others I can't name. There was a large Hindu goddess statue and small candles to light up the entire homage area. A few people sat in lotus, still meditating I guessed, as a yoga class had just ended. I desperately tried to stop my eyebrows from seriously raising as I tightly held on to the thought of keeping an open mind. I chose a stack of pillows that was next to the wall, thinking that my lower back would be much happier sitting with a bit of support since I had no idea how long we'd be here. It was just after 8pm and people of all shapes and sizes started to trickle in and chose their own sitting spot. There was an elderly couple, early 70s, the man with a long white beard and the woman with a flowy skirt. There was a young 20 something guy sporting a Gators Tshirt. There were (of course) quite a few "hippie" looking women with stereotypical "hippie" clothing on, as well as a 30 something short haired woman who spent at least 10 minutes trying to get her two circular pillows in exactly the right position so that they didn't tip over when she sat on them. A couple single men were also there, both noticeably tall and intellectual looking (funny how wearing glasses makes anyone look "intellectual"). A very elderly man then came in and began to adjust some things next to the "homage area". Everything he was working with was on the ground- a music board, something about 4 feet by 2 feet covered with a blanket in the front, and a clip-on mic that got attached into a ground plug. My initial thoughts about this man were, "is this Michael Singer?", "his shockingly bald head reminds me of Powder" and "he is amazing agile for an elderly man, the way that he is kneeling on the floor with his ankles behind him is quite impressive". As I watched him prepare everything I realized that he was not the speaker Michael, but instead must be a helper of sorts. Sure enough, about 5 minutes later a new man walked in that I knew was the speaker Michael. He was wearing khaki pants with a tucked in long sleeved dress shirt, his salt and pepper hair was combed over and included a small pony tail and he had a mad-professor inspired mustache. Saying nothing, he knelt, bowed towards the homage area, then sat facing us (which now consisted of about 25 people, legs crossed on their circle pillows). He revealed the covered mystery object which ended up being a not that mysterious keyboard. Without a word, he began playing a simple tune and started a Sanskrit chanting that I have never heard. Before long most people in the room were chanting along and swaying back and forth to the rhythm. Hands started clapping and I was jamming right along with this group of interesting individuals. I had no idea what they were saying, but it was a fun 10 minutes or so of rhythmic music.

As soon as he ended the chant he began speaking and for the next hour he discussed that there are two main ways to live your life. He's premise was that we are all living for one purpose: to be higher (happier). With that being said, he claims that there are 2 ways to be happier. Option #1 is to make decisions each day and base those decisions on which option you think you will like better. Sometimes you'll be right, and sometimes you'll be wrong, but you use your knowledge and past experience to try and figure out which of your options is the best one for you at that time. Option #2 is to like everything, and therefore decisions aren't about which option you like vs. dislike, but rather just about enjoying everything so that either option is fine, not only fine, but great! The first question about this seeming overly yogi Option #2 is "how can you possibly enjoy everything?" Your cat dies, and you're supposed to enjoy that? You are in the middle of a painful divorce - that hardly seems "enjoyable". Michael's main point was that everything is part of our experience and that it all exists for a reason and therefore you might as well take it as what it is.

I definitely don't agree with everything that I heard last night, and have no idea what kind of creditability this man has as I'll let you google him if you'd like, but I did take a few things from his presentation. First a fairly basic 'enjoy everything' type of thought - if its raining, enjoy the rain, don't bitch about it. If its hot outside, ok, drink some water, its not the end of the world. Life isn't nearly as much fun when you're constantly unhappy, so do what you can to see the positive side of things. Second, be authentic, be who you are. Don't put a shirt on with the hopes that it will make someone like you. They'll either like you for you, or they won't, the shirt doesn't matter, and neither does the size of your house, or the model of your car. I think it was the ever-wise Dr. Seuss who penned the quote, "Those who mind don't matter, those who matter don't mind". If you are authentic down to your soul, it doesn't matter what your soul is wearing or if it drives a valet-only car.

At the end of the night I was happy that I spent the evening listening to a passionate leader discuss ways to be a happier you. Although I liked some pieces more than others, its always interesting to learn about different ways that people live and thrive.

Status:
Location: Zen Center, Gainesville, FL
Mood: contemplative
Best Moment of the Day: going someplace totally new, and totally different
Challenge of the Day: getting tiny seeds out of a water filtration system at the hostel
Quote of the Day: "Handle every stressful situation like a dog: if you can’t eat it or hump it, piss on it and walk away.", shared by Tau's mom Lana

Monday, May 25, 2009

Travel Day: Tampa to Gainesville with a few stops along the way

It’s amazing how different your morning can be to your night when you’re constantly moving.

My Sunday started by waking up in R&R’s guestroom at 7am. Here we were in our temporary South Tampa home, surrounded by other houses full of young families, retirees, guys mowing their lawns and families gathering for a Sunday waffle breakfast. After a few Luns family photos on Tau’s bike, which are always fun and I’d recommend asking for a sidecar ride whenever we make it your way, we headed north, out of Tampa, allll the way to…New Tampa! New Tampa is a suburb about 30 minutes north of Tampa that has sprouted up recently. My friends Dr. T and his beautifully preggo wife live there as they expect their first little one in the next few weeks. (“Little one” just being a nickname as I’m sure he’ll be at least 6’2.) We met them for breakfast at First Watch (think IHOP, but nicer and with WiFi). It’s always great to have good breakfast company and it was fantastic to see them at such an exciting time in their life. After 2 scrambled eggs, tomato slices and yummy multigrain toast, we really headed north to Gainesville. I-75 north of Orlando makes you really start to taste the north as the palm trees of south Florida seem very far away compared to the hanging spanish moss that appears around Ocala. Just south of Gainesville is a quaint little spot called Micanopy. This tiny town is well known to antiquers, Florida history buffs, and UF students who have been in Gainesville long enough to wonder what else is surrounding them. It was a must stop in my opinion as Tau had never been there and certainly there would be some photo opportunities. Sure enough, just as we’re pulling into the main historical district, we come across this house, complete with St. Francis statue, perfectly laid multicolored stones, and the biggest (and only ) peace sign on the block. Success! Small town idealism found!

Micanopy’s “historical district” is about 6 blocks long, has a variety of antique stores and a few cafes to keep you hydrated, especially important in the summer months. Our first stop though was at the very east end of the street, Mosswood Farm Store. Owned and operated by a mother-daughter team, this fair trade, organic “farm store” is a terrific and relatively new addition to Micanopy. Products range from overalls to hand cut soaps, fresh baked bread to Dr. Bronner’s soap. There are instructional books on how to knit, make cheese, grow veggies, or eat local. The whole store carried an aroma of the organic bread that had just been baked in their big oven, and friends sat on the porch out back discussing what their purpose in life was (no joke!). Mosswood Farmhouse is a Micanopy gem, so be sure to stop by when you’re in town.

Although from this post it seems as if we just ate breakfast, after the farmhouse it was lunchtime. We picked the cafĂ© with the live blue grass band out front, Coffee and Cream. It was part ice cream parlor, part sandwich shop, part watering hole for local friends, and all perfect small town fun. With a few vegetarian options on the menu, we opted for an egg salad sandwich on pumpernickel and a veggie wrap full of everything green and crunchy they could find. There were plenty of small tables outside surrounding the 5 member band so we grabbed a two top on the porch. The band was a combination of men and women mostly 60+, there was a guitar, and a few other instruments that I recognized, but can’t name. There were songs about Shenandoah, My Sweetheart and of course Home Sweet Home. After lunch we snagged a few 1920’s postcards from an antique shop and were on our way.

We could see and hear the rumble of a storm creeping up on us, so it was time to get to Gainesville. This time instead of highway, I steered us towards 441 north and simultaneously popped Tom Petty into the CD player. “American Girl” is the only acceptable soundtrack for riding across Paines Prairie into Gainesville. There’s nothing like letting your hands glide through the wind while belting out “she could hear the cars roll by out on 441, like waves crashing on the beach!”. We pulled over at the observation area to get a good look at the prairie and see if we could spot some of the elusive buffalo that supposedly roam. I’ve seen the pictures, I’ve heard the stories, but I’ve yet to see a buffalo in the swamp, shocking, I know. We did however get greeted by an alligator! Laying amidst the marsh and muck there was one lonely gator just sloshing around (waiting for football season was my guess). There was also another nature spotting that turned into a bit of a nature attack. There was thick spider webby looking stuff floating around everywhere, as if we were being bombed by tiny flying spiders. With some wiki research, I’m hoping to find the explanation later, because at the time it was very strange, and alarmingly sticky.

Again the storm rumbled on our heels, so we jumped back on 441 north. Our destination was the Zen Center, a place I found on Couch Surfing and our home for at least the night. Thankfully I know the area farily well and we arrived just as the first few raindrops fell. Located one block south of central downtown, the Center is an old Gainesville home that has been converted into a friendly hostel. Greeted by a big front porch with tired but inviting couches, we found the front door open and the house empty. The living room was lined with book shelves and the wood floored creaked a bit as we walked around the meditation pillows that were on the floor. Following the directions that I received via email, we put our stuff in the first room on the right, the Red Room. Named for the color of its walls, the room had a double bed and a set of bunk beds, an antique clothes closet, end table, 2 lamps and an AC unit in the window. Down the hall was 2 computers set up for guests, shelves with sheets for the taking, and a few other bedrooms for travelers. There was a good sized bathroom with a claw footed tub, and a large communal kitchen with jars of beans, rice, and spices as well as an unidentifiable something in a bowl (more on that later). Just outside the kitchen is a large back porch where clean laundry was piled on top of the dryer and you got a view of the cluttered backyard. In one corner of the porch there was a door to an outdoor bathroom, complete with covered toilet area and privately enclosed bamboo shower. If I ever build a dream house, it will definitely have an outdoor shower.

We soon realized that we were the only ones home in our Zen Center so we proceeded to get settled in – I unpacked a few things and Tau read the Beauties Book which listed the chores that each guest was asked to do one of during their stay. After picking numbers from the basket and comparing them to the book we learned that I would be sweeping the sidewalk outside while Tau was in charge of front porch cleaning. Eventually a few of our housemates arrived – Casey, maybe about my age, really sweet personality; Mike, meditation teacher and food sharer; and Tobe, the man in charge of the center whom I had spoken to on the phone. Tobe was only at the house briefly, as he was off to play his harmonica with a pick up band; but he did tell us about a movie that the Civic Media would be showing the next night, and that the Farmer’s Market would be on Wednesday afternoon in the downtown plaza if the weather was nice.

After an email check and a few phone calls about accommodation for the rest of the week, it was run time. Tau and I made a deal that we would do some sort of physical activity each and every day without exception, so today it would be a run around downtown Gainesville. With big old houses and constantly changing scenery, downtown made for a good running backdrop. We even found a park behind the library to do some sprints in. I showered in the outdoor shower wondering what kind of view the upstairs window of the neighbor’s house got, went to Publix for a simple dinner of lentil soup and crackers and was ready for bed. It was only 10pm, but I was done! Tau and I ate dinner in the kitchen with Dominic, a researcher at UF working on how to stop recurring heart attacks by using stem cells. He was explaining what the big upside down mushroom cap filled with white gooey substance was in the jar on the table. It was a bit much to take it, but the jist was that the mushroom type thing “ate” a tea like substance and then its byproduct liquid gets ingested to help clear out your liver. Hmm. I’ll stick to my lentils. (anyone have any other info about this mysterious thing?)

I curled up in the Red Room of the Gainesville Zen Center and felt light-years away from where I had woken up. I went from a young family’s home to a house full of travelers. Instead of a Wii and 58 inch plasma in the living room, there was a meditation rug and a Buddha statue. As I drifted to sleep I thought about how much work still needed to be done to put this project of a trip together, but for the moment I was very happy just to be on it, whatever it may be.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Saturdays are for Smiles

Saturday was a good day. It started with sleeping in until 10am, a nice break from our usual 7am start time. The Saturdayness continued with lazily laying on the couch watching some bad movie with R&R while Tau scrubbed every inch of Sonya so that her lines shined like new. We finally got moving and headed to Borders for a productive afternoon. First though, I bought a shiny new computer! It is actually a bit too shiny, but as the only cosmetic downfall, I decided to get it anyway.

Over the past week I’ve been swimming in research about laptops. Could I get one of those tiny Netbook things? Nope, they just aren’t powerful enough. Is it worth buying a Mac? They’re customer service people are called Concierges! Eh, side by side, the MacBook doesn’t stand up to my tiny HP’s insides. So after one too many Consumer Reports, I finally decided and bought the HP Pavilion Entertainment PC. That’s what its called in the tiny print on the machine, however I've never heard it referred to as that. It’s more commonly known as the dv2 I believe, and available at Office Depot and Staples. MayMay bought one about a month ago and has been really happy with it, and luckily she doesn’t mind a copy cat, because now we have matching computers.

After my fun purchase it was back to Borders for more planning of course. Thanks to the friendliness of the Gainesville Couch Surfing community, I think we’ll have no problem finding a place to lay our head this week. Its going to be very strange going back to Gainesville without knowing any students, that must be some sort of coming of age thing. Something like, “you know you’re an old alum when…”. I think its right up there with you can’t name the best bars downtown because they’ve all changed their names 3 times since you’ve left.

The day came to a close by a great run around our temporary South Tampa neighborhood and then watching Princess Sophia eat 2 organic hotdogs (only 5 ingredients), mixed veggies and applesauce, all while being possibly the cutest toddler ever. (Is one and a half considered a toddler yet?). My great friend at the Tampa Theater had given us free movie passes so we got to see the theater in its full glory by going to see Little Ashes, a film about Salvador Dali during his twenties when he had an affair with famous poet Gorda Lucia. Quick movie review: gorgeous colors, good storyline, dialogue a bit hard to catch sometimes because of super thick Spanish accents. Its currently only playing in 12 theaters across the country, but with Tampa Bay having the notable Dali Museum close by, it made sense that it show here. After the movie we did a quick stop at Mays to say our good byes and that was the close of a good Saturday.

Status Update:
Location: Rachel & Rob's, Tampa, FL
Mood: happy
Best Moment of the Day: catching up with Munch
Challenge of the Day: keeping a good running pace after not running for weeks
Quote of the Day: “Viva la revelucion!”, Little Ashes &“Why not try a watermelon?”, Ricky Gervais

Saturday, May 23, 2009

JA and Tampa Theater


We finally were able to put planning aside to actually get out and see some of what Tampa has to offer! I organized visits at 2 local nonprofit organizations: Junior Acheivement of West Central Florida and The Tampa Theater.

I was lucky enough to work for Junior Achievement in Tampa back in 2005 and was excited to visit and see how the program was going. JA is a worldwide organization that works "to educate and inspire young people to value free enterprise, business and economics to improve the quality of their lives". They work toward this mission by engaging community volunteers to educate students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Volunteering for JA is a great experience that I would recommend to anyone, especially those who think they would enjoy teaching in an interactive classroom environment, but have chosen a different profession.

In Tampa, JA has a very unique program called JA BizTown. JA BizTown is a bustling simulated community where 5th graders run businesses (CVS, Bank of America, Tampa Tribune, etc.) and operate a full townlike economy for a day. They each have job-specific responsibilities such as the reporters writing news article, hospital staff givingyou a health checkup, and the DJ accepting song requesting that get played throughou the town. The students get paid throughout the day, manage a personal banking account, go shopping at fellow students' stores and learn all about life in the "real working world". Its a wonderful program that really engages students and shows them that some of those silly things they learn in school, like addition, is actually useful!

JA in the Tampa Bay area has an incredibly dedicated staff that operates not only JABizTown, but also a long list of other financial literacy programs in a 12 county region. The team is a true example of what passion is as they have worked together for years to educate Florida's students.

Our second stop of the day was at the beautiful Tampa Theater. "Built in 1926 as one of America's most elaborate "movie palaces", the Tampa Theatre today is a fiercely protected and generously supported landmark. Designed by famed theatre architect John Eberson, the Tampa is a superior example of the "atmospheric" style of theatre design. Inside the Tampa, audiences are transported to a lavish, romantic Mediterranean courtyard replete with old world statuary, flowers, and gargoyles. Over it all is a nighttime sky replete with twinkling stars and floating clouds."

We were lucky enough to have a private tour by a friend of mine who works for the Theater and had some time to show us around this magnifigant building. As you walk in the theater it's as if you are transported back in time to an era when the arts were celebrated with detailed architecture and lavish shows. The architect's attention to detail (and obsession with birds) can be seen on all 3 floors of the building. The basement floor has restrooms complete with "smoking palors" (as women smoking in public wasn't accepted of course), a tiny toliet for younger patrons, and ceramic statues that doubled as water fountains. The main floor includes a large lobby with all original tiles, tapestries and artwork, two winding staircases up to the balcony and tinted star-shaped hanging light fixtures that set the mood of the building. The theater itself seats just under 1,500 guests on two levels, has a smallish stage that is perfect for small performances and a movie screen that is constantly in use. Every inch is elaborately decorated with intricate carvings, entertaining characters and colorful flowers.

The stage itself has too many details to be captured here, but I really recommend a visit to the Theater if you are in the Tampa Bay area as its a historic gem in a city that is quickly filling up with condos. They host a variety of shows from concerts to independent and classic movies, so be sure to check out the website for upcoming events.

Both of these organizations are perfect examples of what the nonprofit sector provides to our community. They may seem different from afar - one educates students on entrpreneurship and financial literacy, the other shows movies in a truly unique atmosphere, but both add huge benefits to the Tampa Bay area and the local here are lucky to have them.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Working My Way Down The List

When I left on Tuesday I knew there was still lots to be done this week to really "prepare" for this trip, but I feel like as much as I've done the past few days, I don't really feel like preparations will ever stop. I had a to do list as long as my arm and though I've put quite a dent in it, it also continues to grow. This has made me think about how important it is to find a healthy balance between work/play, planning/spontaneity, budgeting/conscious spending, efficiency/?, etc. There is always going to be a million things that you have to do, so prioritizing is essential so that you don't waste your time on things that really could've waited until tomorrow and therefore never get to what really needed to be done today.

One big thing on my To Do List was shopping. Good for those who like to shop, not as fun for those who just stopped their regular income! Regardless, as part of my transition from living in Ft. Lauderdale to living all over, I needed to buy a variety of things, and so far this week I've acquired:
  • Waterproof digital camera - a must for every traveler. This one is small enough to slip into your back pocket, but still takes great photos and can go up to 10ft underwater.
  • Glasses - I'm blind without my contacts, so needed a back up plan, and why not have a really fun back up plan like blue glasses?
  • Laptop - this is next on the list to be purchased this weekend, but at least I've finally decided on which one (I think!). Small enough to easily carry around, fast enough to do what I need and affordable enough that my credit card won't crack.
  • Mobile Broadband Laptop Stick- to be sure I can update while on the road, even a bit off the road, this little stick will hopefully keep me online everywhere, or at least everywhere T-Mobile works!
  • Dress - although this may not seem as essential as the others, I have a wedding next month, so I needed to get this done while I was in a city with a mall. 
Status Update:
Location:
 Rachel and Rob’s House, Tampa, FL
Miles: 270 + inner city Tampa driving
Mood: amazed that its already Friday, excited to visit JA's BizTown and Tampa Theater this afternoon
Best moment of the Day: hearing Rachel's daughter Sophia giggle while she ate a squished banana and gluten-free mini waffles for breakfast
Challenge of the Day: Remembering to keep stretching! I'm super sore from two days of workouts with Trainer May. 
Quote of the day: "Where'd I go?", Sophia said as she covered her face with her tiny 1.5 year old hands. 

Rain Delay

...and Blog Delay due to computer crashing! I promise I'll be back soon, my computer dying on Tuesday has made nightly blogging difficult. 

Full update will come this weekend though!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

First Stop: Tampa, FL

Despite an insane rainstorm that descended on South Florida, we made it out on Tuesday morning with the car and bike packed and ready to roll. I added a few more fun things to the packing list: boxing gloves (fun and exercise!), yoga mat, reference books, camping lantern, talking stick (Tau's), deck of cards, and of course a magnesium fire starter, because who can leave home without that?

Route Update: We'll be in Tampa until Saturday or so, and then next week is still TBD. Maybe Savannah? We got great news yesterday that we'll be able to work Hostel in the Forest for the first week of June, and stay with a good friend in Asheville third week of June, so hopefully with a little rearranging to stay at Eagle Feather Organic Farm the second week, our schedule will be done through the end of June!

This week is a super planning week, so lots to get done so that the true adventure can start next week.

Status Update:
Location:
May’s House, Tampa, FL
Miles: 270
Mood: happy to have gotten started and excited to see friends in Tampa, a bit overwhelmed by a very long to do list for the week
Best moment of the Day: watching Tau stand up on his bike while going over the Skyway bridge (photo to be posted soon)
Challenge of the Day: Computer crash!! I was planning on buying a new computer this weekend, but that's been pushed up to tomorrow because the laptop died today! :(
Quote of the day: "Cheers to Tampa!", May, Tau and I at The Village Inn

Monday, May 18, 2009

It's Go Time!

"When we come to the edge of all the light we have
And we must just take a step into the darkness of The Unknown, we must believe one of two things:
Either we will find something firm to stand on,
Or we will be taught to fly."
-John Drury, Awaken Your Soul

Its 12:45am on Sunday night and I’m finally just done packing.

In some ways I feel over prepared (do I really need 4 sweaters?), but in other ways I’m sure I’m under prepared (not sure where we’re sleeping in 2 weeks), regardless though, we’re heading out tomorrow morning!

I just checked my email for the first time in 2 days and I’m thrilled to have responses from so many people from when I announced my plan to the world (or at least my world as the email went out to basically everyone I know). I'm so excited to have lots of follow ups to do tomorrow on the great ideas that were sent my way. Keep them coming!

Status:
Location: Mom’s House, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
Miles: 0
Mood: excited about the adventure beginning, sad about goodbye hugs
Best moment of the day: today had several good ones as I got to see friends and family
Quote of the day: “So it’s finally hitting me that we’re really doing this and actually leaving tomorrow”, Tau (6:30pm!)
Most looking forward to tomorrow: Starting the journey and heading to Tampa!

(any other ideas about daily status updates to add to this list?)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Exactly how big is my trunk?

You may have noticed that I haven't mentioned how long this endeavor will go one for. The answer is simple: as long as it does. So, with that in mind, what in the world do I bring?

"Lots of socks", says Dad.
"A tent", says brother Mike.
"Sunscreen!", from Mom.
"OMG, what about shoes?", lil sis Mary of course.

As helpful as all that was, I went to my trusty source for everything from packing lists to how to bake tofu - the internet. Friends may say that I'm slightly addicted, but I just find it incredibly useful; I google everything. So despite much teasing that I may get from this, I typed in "roadtrip packing list" and whala! A quart of oil? good idea! Fork? Yes! The wonderful world wide web produced all sorts of useful things, so I added in a few of my own ideas and here's the list so far (thinking that I'll be traveling for at least 6 months or so):
Basics:
  • Cooler
  • Basic eating supplies - silverware, plates, napkins
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Notebook
  • First Aid Kit
  • Blanket
  • Pillow w/ case
  • Tent
  • Towel
  • Toilet Paper
  • Re usable water bottle
  • Map - in case the gps crashes
  • Sharpie (because you always need one)
  • Extension cable?
  • Batteries
  • Compass - in case gps crashes
  • Garbage bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Collapsible Tupperware?
  • Camera
  • Laptop
  • Checkbook
  • Emergency cash
  • Copies of wallet
  • Backpack
  • Umbrella
  • Fitted sheet (double)
  • Detergent?
  • Pocket knife
Camping:
  • Camping stuff - need list - lantern, basic cooking, etc.
  • Sleeping bag

Car:

  • One quart of Oil
  • Two quarts of Radiator Coolant
  • Small Funnel
  • Tire Pressure Gauge
  • Pocket Knife
  • Rags and Waterless Hand Cleaner
  • Assortment of Combination Wrenches, Screwdrivers, and Pliers
  • Flashlight / Spare Batteries for Flashlight
  • Electrical Tape/Duct Tape
  • Battery Jumper Cables
Clothes:
  • lightweight long sleeve shirt
  • Goulashes (sp?)
  • Hat/visor
  • Bra (sports and regular)
  • Dress shirts
  • Dresses
  • Jacket
  • Jeans
  • Sweater, sweatshirt or fleece
  • Light jacket
  • Long sleeve shirts
  • Pants
  • Sleepwear
  • Sarong
  • Shoes-sneakers, boots, flip flops, dress
  • Shorts
  • Skirts
  • Socks
  • Bathing suit
  • T-shirts
  • Underwear
  • Laundry bag?
First Aid & Toiletries:
  • Bug Spray
  • Band aids
  • Compression bandages
  • Pepto
  • Gaze
  • Iodine/hydrogen peroxide
  • Motion sickness tablets
  • Motrin/ibuprofen
  • Scissors
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pins
  • Anti-bacterial cream
  • Sunscreen
  • Aloe
  • Extra contact lenses
  • Med script information
  • Compact mirror
  • Soap, shampoo, conditioner, razors, loofaa, lotion, tooth brush/paste, face wash, etc.
  • Manicure set and polish
Misc Fun Stuff:
  • Camera
  • GPS
  • Beads
  • Sewing kit
  • Kite
  • Cards
  • Gifts for hosts

For those of you that like lists and/or are thinking about a longterm trip, this may have been useful. For the rest of you, I apologize if it made your head explode.

Anything else I should add?

Thursday, May 7, 2009

That's what friends are for

Last Friday night I walked into California Pizza Kitchen and burst into tears. Relax, no, its not closing, let me explain.

When I first got the idea to quit my job and travel around the country to volunteer at amazing organizations and learn about passionate leaders, I of course shared the concept with my friends and family, and the response can be summed up in one word: amazing. I am incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by people who truly love me. Love me enough to first say "yes! that sounds so exciting", before they then say "Oh shit, I'm so going to miss you!". Its the thinking of me before thinking of themselves that really makes a difference when you're discussing things like major life adventures. The support that I have received since that first reaction, and in the countless conversations that we've had since then, is priceless. Its like getting a gigantic hug.

I just moved back to Ft. Lauderdale about two years ago, so my friends and family here had just started to get used to having me around - for Friday night movies and Sunday family dinners, for just stopping by on a Tuesday to game nights on a Thursday. And to be honest, I was fairly comfortable too. When I moved back I got a great job fairly soon, a cute apartment in exactly the area of town that I wanted to be in, and had embraced living in Ft. Lauderdale as an adult. ...but I did say "fairly" comfortable. Something just wasn't right, I was restless, I haven't been truly happy, and I don't like settling for not truly happy. This wasn't a logical feeling according to my logical brain - I had the good paying job, I was financially comfortable, I had my family close by, lifetime friends down the street. So with all of that, who was I to whine about not being happy?! I tend to have trouble with things like this because just as I always see the silver lining, I can also come up with plenty of "worse than" scenarios, like I could be broke, or not have a great support group, or a crappy job. So I ignored the feeling for awhile, decided I was going to stay in Lauderdale and make the best of it, and I did that for several months, but the feeling kept creeping in - that I need something more. More exciting, more interesting, more anything but the regular hum drum of suburbia life. Thus, this new endeavor.

It makes a huge difference when you have a supportive team around you to encourage you to follow a dream, to make yourself a better person, to live the life that makes you happy, even if it isn't necessarily their first choice for you. I'm lucky enough to not only have a family that offers their encouragement, but also great friends that are equally supportive. So back to California Pizza Kitchen...since I would be leaving in about two weeks, my friend Nillie had told me she wanted to have dinner with me and Tau before we left, and picked one of my favorite restaurants, CPK. I walked into the restaurant that night and saw not only Nillie and Jaime but also my Mom, Dad, Connie, sister, hotlanta, 1984, Nillie's mom and Bob, Liza was on her way and P (who was supposed to be in Tampa!). They had all come together, my Ft. Lauderdale family, to send me off in style. I was so overwhelmed that I literally burst into tears, which is not something that I do often. But it was so much more than a pizza dinner. It was them saying "go for it!", "follow your heart!", and "have fun!". It was them, all of them, being behind me 110% and that my friends is something that is truly amazing to have. Its the defintion of love and I am so incredibly appreciative to have it in my life. So thank you for those who are already supporting this journey, and thanks to those who will also be supporting me along the way.

None of us are alone in any of our journeys, so be a good friend to those around you, and hopefully they will appreciate it as much as I do.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Where to?

This of course was the next question. All my typical fantasy places popped up - Italy? Fiji? Australia? Thailand? I researched all over and then simply decided that sometimes the best things are right in front of you, so why not jump in the car and explore the good ol' US of A first.

Here's the route so far, but I'll warn you, its definitely going to change. The plan is to only plan just enough to keep moving forward, with plenty of room for complete and utter improvisation. I want to go to big cities and small towns, stay at a variety of places from farms to friends' lofts to strangers' couches. With anything this big though, you need some Guiding Principles:
  • Travel around the country learning about a variety of things ranging from effective leadership to gardening.
  • Stay in each spot for about a week, just enough time to really get to know the area and the people there, but not too much to really settle in.
  • Volunteer at an organization in each location. Find these organizations through research, friends and family and local referrals. I'm looking for people that are making a real change in their community.
  • Financially survive by securing accommodation in exchange for a few hours of work or the generosity of supporters of this project.
  • Document everything - photos, videos, interviews, journals and blogs!
With these thoughts in place, the next step was to figure out how to do this exactly. Specifically regarding accommodation, I don't want to have to pay to sleep. This trip would be financially impossible if a motel bill was involved every night, and I'm not a huge fan of camping for months on end, so I needed a solution, and came up with 3 really: HelpX, CouchSurfing, and the Friends & Family Network.

HelpX (aka Help Exchange) is "an online listing of host organic farms, non-organic farms, farmstays, homestays, ranches, lodges, B&Bs, backpackers hostels and even sailing boats who invite volunteer helpers to stay with them short-term in exchange for food and accommodation." Perfect! You can search for places that you want to go to and then refer to the HelpX map to see what kind of accomodation is around there, contact the Hosts to see what their program is and whala! fun (& free) sleeping. The work and type of accommodation can really range from one place to another, and I mean really range. Some places want you to build a wall around their pasture land, while others want you to help babysit their kids. Some places offer a guest room while others you can park a camper outside but also provide some meals. The great thing about HelpX is that you, the Helper, contact the Hosts directly and discuss an arrangement that suites everyone's needs.

CouchSurfing is a somewhat well known organization to some people, but not to all ("I'm sorry, did you say 'surfing'? and this has something to do with strangers' couches??", said mom). Wiki explains it well for mom, so for other nonsurfers: "Members use the website to coordinate contacts and home accommodation (or "surf" others' "couches") with other network members around the world. The website allows the creation of extensive profiles, and uses an optional credit card verification system, a personal vouching system, and personal references to increase security and trust between members. The site offers other features such as discussion groups, events and meetings, and live chat". So I get to automatically meet new people in new towns and get a free pillow? Fabulous.

The last option is the Friends & Family Network*, and no, I'm not refering to something your cell phone company wants you to sign up for. Thankfully, I know alot of people that live all over the country, and so does does Tau, my traveling partner, so between the two of us we can find lots of friendly pillows along the way.

Hopefully with those three options, there will be no paying for sleeping!

*This includes you! Let me know if you have a pillow to offer, organization to suggest that I visit or place that my map would just not be complete without!

Monday, May 4, 2009

I decided to quit my job today.

The economy seems to be going nowhere fast, unemployment is at record high and people are living in fear, but I chose not to be one of those people. I will not stay at a job simply out of fear, I will continue to lead a happy and exciting life despite any attempt to convince me that I should be doing otherwise.

Recently I had realized that I no longer had a passion for what my position at work required. Passion is very important to me, I believe its what motivates people to get out of bed in the morning and its what keeps people going regardless of almost anything. Without a passion for what you are doing or why you are doing it, what's the point? So upon reaching that conclusion, it was time for a bit of soul searching to determine what was next. There is one thing that always seems to be on my mind, it has been for as long as I can remember, and never seems to fade despite anything else going on in my life -traveling. I always want to be traveling more- more than I do, and more than I ever take the time to. I love meeting people from different places and hearing about their version of life, its education at its finest. And since I already mentioned how I think its rather silly not to do what you really want to do, traveling is what I've decided to spend my energy doing.

The other thought that has been in my head for quite some time is that I would like to do more hands on work in the community. It seems that wherever I've ended up in my previous jobs, its been one or two levels away from feeling like I'm personally making a real impact in the world. I know using that "I want to make a difference" line can be quite cheesy, but its that direct impact and direct connection that I'm looking for instead of being up in an office away from real work.

So, put those two together - traveling and impact-based work and you get the opportunity of a lifetime: travel around the country meeting engaging people who are passionate about their work to improve their spot in the world. Add in a great traveling companion who will be doing speaking engagements and documenting these organizations and you have the perfect recipe for a truly exciting adventure.