Traveling anticipations

What are you most looking forward to?

I posed this question to Aaron over drinks last Friday. Our conversation had drifted to our upcoming vacation to Ireland and Scotland, two countries that our respective ancestors called home.

Both of us had been dreaming of these visits for years. In fact, when I was an undergraduate student in Arizona, I had pursued a study abroad program where I would have enrolled at the University of Cork in Fall 2005. I could have spent the days reading acclaimed Irish writers, playwrights, and poets or mused over the prevailing political theories that had resulted in Western European’s attempt to paint itself as colonialists with compassion (note: you’re only fooling yourselves, colonizers.)

Alas, I did not make it across the pond that year. Instead, I was elected to serve as the Chairperson for a student-run nonprofit called Camp Wildcat…and I never looked back. To satiate a small taste, I did enroll in an Irish Literature course that fall, falling in love with “Eureka Street” while remaining in a state of confusion over “At-Swim-Two-Birds” (that has remained through present day).

What I was most looking forward to regarding our adventure wasn’t unique to our destinations of choice. Rather, my anticipations and expectations are borne from the very essence of why I desire to travel: it’s about being surrounded by not-yet-known people where I’m given the chance to listen, absorb, and experience a different way of being.

Recently, Shankar Vedantam, host of “The Hidden Brain” podcast, dedicated an episode to research showing how diverse groups of individuals generate more creative solutions. Whether it is a gathering of musicians from different cultural traditions —

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Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble is a perfect example of how incredibly talented musicians from all over the globe and create harmonies together

or top scientists in the relentless pursuit of a cure, we are able to tap into creativity in unprecedented ways when we sit around a table of people who are not cookie-cutter images of us.

Exposure to other cultures through traveling gives us the glimpse, even briefly, of what exists beyond the walls we have built. We may claim to hail from diverse areas of the country. Yet, when we look at the people who make-up the various constituencies in our lives — co-workers, friends, neighbors, congregations — how often do the people in these groups look/sound/think like us?

It’s not wrong to build relationships with others who do fall more in-step with our way of being. In fact, it’s important for us to find partners and companions who share our identities and experiences, to a point. Where it gets murky is when we only begin to allow individuals into our lives that resemble what we consider our best selves.

Yes, it may feel safer or easier to engage in conversation, as we can say: “I know how you feel” or “I’ve been there.” But, we can be empathetic and understanding to individuals whose life experiences are vastly different than ours as well. It may take more work. We must be willing to abandon our bias and actively listen. We must be able to let go of our singular perspective, which has been shaped by a lot of luck and a little bit of our own accord.

The good news: we don’t have to travel around the world to gain such insights through new connections. Sometimes it is literally us knocking on a neighbors door — you know, the one you’ve maybe thrown a hand up at in acknowledgement as you mutually wheeled your garbage bins to the curb or seen carrying a bag of groceries after a morning of errand-running.

Each day, let’s challenge ourselves to chisel into the walls we’ve built in our own lives. And, when we have the chance to explore, let’s say yes whenever it is possible.

After our “family meeting” on Saturday to walk through our trip logistics (does that really surprise anyone who knows us?), the hunt for the next adventure was on — sketching out itineraries in Colombia, Vietnam, or Peru….for 2019.

Time moves fast. We have to be intentional about creating those opportunities to see, smell, hear, taste, touch, and surround ourselves with difference. Which is why I am most looking forward to being in Ireland and Scotland — to hear fragments of conversation that I may or may not understand; to inhale fragrances from the local flora and fauna; and to arrive with a sense of wonder. I am thrilled by the sense of possibility of what I will learn and who I will meet.

That’s not such a terrible mindset to adopt each day, no matter which side of an ocean we wake up on.

 

Recap: Wanderlust 108 – Charlotte 2016

Wanderlust 2016 - Charlotte

Where it began

Run. Yoga. Mediate.

The trifecta of health and balance for one’s mind, body, and spirit. Back in April, I had the opportunity to engage in these trio activities with two incredible friends. We hopped on the Amtrak in Durham after work on a Friday, heading to the Queen City (Charlotte).

Sheila, Michelle and I outside the Charlotte Amtrak station

A group of 3? Talk about synergy!

Wanderlust, known for its enormous yoga festivals, often in exotic locations, created day-long spin-offs dubbed Wanderlust 108.  Under “what to expect” the site notes:

lots of high fives, a little sweat, and a deep chill.

Wanderlust 108: Ready to start the 5k

The chill factor was in full effect – brr!

If I could offer some additional “what to expect” thoughts, I would include: an incredibly array of multicolored yoga pants; patchouli; and

Kombucha

Kombucha, of course.

As this Saturday neared, we kept a close eye on the weather. North Carolina had plunged into a cold snap, and Saturday’s temperatures were not looking ideal for outdoor recreation. It was windy – several yoga mats attempted flight. And it was cold – at least at the start. Fortunately, the sun provided respite and made the experience much more bearable.

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Queen City Yoga

The day began with a 5k run followed by a group dance party with MC Yogi (I kid you not), a Vinyasa flow, and a guided mediation (more on the last part below).

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Michelle is in to win

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Sheila gives peace and… brackets?

Wanderlust 108 - Charlotte

Look ma! I’m sitting on a slackline.

A mindfulness triathalon. How zen. How challenging.

Never before had I meditated. I certainly had read my fair share of articles on the importance of mediation and centering and breathing exercises…blah blah blah. Yes, I shut those out because – let’s be real: we’ve got to get physical.


This is where the reader (that’s you) should leap from your chair and say:

 

YouLie

Ugh. I’m a bit ashamed I included such an image in this blog post. But, back to the subject at hand: my pursuits of strength have resided solely in the physical. I’m all about doing. I make to-do lists. I complete projects. I’ve got a plan. I’m constantly moving and moving and moving.

Not only does this lead to energy depletion, but it denies me from living fully. I don’t allow myself the space to turn inward and be still. For too long, I viewed that as a weakness. Diving headfirst by mediating in an open field among hundreds of strangers allowed me the first taste of meditation’s power.

I wish I could report that since attending Wanderlust 108, I’ve walked down a more enlightened path, prioritizing a time for quiet reflection each day. For the first two days after Charlotte, I tried to establish a morning routine. And then…oh, you know. Life happened.

Still, I had the opportunity of knowing what could be and now I can practice the intentional time-out.

As soon as I finish that run…

One of the other best takeaways from the 24 hour Charlotte adventure:

Vegan pimento cheese

Yes, that is VEGAN pimento cheese!

Do you meditate or engage in intentional mindfulness? If so, how did you end up making the practice part of your life?

On a cold, rainy day in the South

it’s hard not to miss home. We had a chance to return to the Valley of the Sun in early February. Feels like eons ago already. Knocked off several hikes, see the Frida Kalho exhibit at the Heard Museum, visit two breweries [Four Peaks and Wren House], eat good vegan eats (Loving Hut, Pita Jungle, The Coronado, Picazzo’s] and lots of family and friend time, and a day at the Waste Management Open.

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Composting at the Waste Management Open?! I am all over that.

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In true Millennial fashion, Danny and I are at a brewery, together, on our phones.

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With Mom outside of the Heard Museum. Yes, sleeveless in February — BRING IT!

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Being a ham next to my Dad

Open 3

We brought our own lanyards.

Open 2

Which one is the out-of-towner?

KTAT

Out on the Go John trail in Cave Creek

Dabbing

Saguaro dabs. I dab.

 

What if you did win the Powerball?

Since I’m still writing in this blog, consider this my admission that I was not a major winner in Saturday’s record-breaking Powerball jackpot.

But, I can say that I am walking away with more money than I invested. Thank you lucky number 13.

What will I do with that $12? Don’t worry – I won’t spend it all in one place. While it could purchase a six-pack of beer, it will likely end up in the “kitty” where stray dollar bills end up. (Previously, this was our swear jar when Aaron and I were trying to kick the habit of one particular word in our vocabulary. I can’t speak for Aaron, but I can say that having to put money where my mouth was did help curb the frequency of usage of that particular word. Have I been as faithful to following protocol as of late? Not really. Add it to the resolution list.)

Let’s play a visioning game for one moment. Now, the Powerball for Wednesday night is $1.4 billion. Granted, if you opt for the 30-year payout (which would carry me to retirement), that overall winnings are reduced to $868 million. Plus taxes. But, at least in this country we have all those loopholes for wealthy people, right?

This Wired article walks through the various deduction scenarios, projecting a final payout of $394 million. That leads me to ask you:

Dirty Harry aside, can you actually imagine having $394 million dollars? What would you do with such a sum of funds now overflowing sock drawers, bank accounts of the Cayman Islands, etc.?

I can barely imagine having one million dollars. Of course I’m a nonprofit professional because I don’t want to make money.

[cut to: tumbleweeds rolling through the desert]

Fact check: not true. 

Back to winning the Powerball though because it’s fun to fantasize about the Amazon shopping spree that would await me. [Glass Pyrex containers for DAYS!] Think of all the books I could buy! And then I would need more bookcases and shelves to put them on! And then more lamps to read by!

In truth, if and when I can make more money or win the Powerball, I want to give it away. No, not all of it. Please. I can be a selfish human, and I have a family and want to see the world. Still, I recognize the constant need in our society for additional resources – from  providing funding for pre-K and after-school programs who success rates are rooted in evidence-based practices to increasing access to health care resources for vulnerable populations/rural communities to investing in clean energy technologies that allow us to reduce our dependence on dangerous fossil fuels.

And more. Helping to support animal shelters. Investing in racial equity training to dismantle our white supremacist systems. Supporting scholarship programs to vocational and university programs. Increasing access to the Internet. Putting music programs back in public schools. Oh, this list could go on and on and on…

Sure, I would mind overthrowing a corporation or two, or trying to compete with these guys in the 2016 Election:

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But that payout..it’s really just peas and carrots when you step back and look at our political landscape…which is scary.

So, in the meantime, I’ll put my money where my mouth heart is – investing in creating a more equitable, sustainable future for all people, not just the privileged, not just the ones who can and have access to the right resources. Money can’t fix problems, but it sure can help support the people on the ground, in communities, committed to helping build a better quality of life for all.

And take that trip to Ireland. Because, you know: #yolo.

 

 

Recap: Knoxville Marathon 2015

Despite another long absence from the land of blogging – extended due to falling ill with the plague – it’s time to share the joys of the Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon that took place on March 29, 2015.

Yes, I mean joys. Honestly, I had SO much fun during this race. Part of the happiness stemmed from my fear of hearing the wall at mile 19 again. But, a bigger part came from all the external inputs – the great crowds, the sights of a city I know very little of, hot jams from strategically placed bands, and that overwhelming sense of accomplishment bursting out of all the other runners participating.

Our entire stay in Knoxville was chilly, and race morning was no different:

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I was feeling ok. I may have been kissing on a baby that may have had croup (d’oh!) but I had my traditional pre-race breakfast (peanut butter + banana toast) and a cup of coffee + a cup of tea (this may become problematic later?). It was an easy drive from our friends’ house to the University of Tennessee. A lot of folks were huddling in the convention center for warmth, but the forecast was promising – and it delivered.

11080836_10102965434582215_945296493093939163_oWho doesn’t have time for a quick World’s Fair selfie?

The stage was beginning to set. Runners milled at the starting line, filled with nerves, caffine, and relief that the day was finally here.

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And then, it was time.

14979_10102965433943495_8705945705637753727_nI can do this…?!?!

I had a goal of running a sub-4 hour marathon. Originally, I intended to find the 4 hour pace group and hang out, but the first mile was a bit of a cluster. We were assigned to different corrals, and I’m going to venture a guess that some people were not as honest in their finish time predictions as others. Oh well – the first mile was my slowest, and then I begin to find a groove.

About eight miles in, I had to make a critical choice: hold the bladder for 18 more miles, or concede and make a pit stop. I do not regret my decision one bit. It may have been a 30-45 second difference on my time. But, I could then allow my mind to be free to focus on everything but finding a port-a-john.

When the marathon split away from the half-marathon, it became a bit quieter. No, not just a bit: it was like we were running in isolation. This is when we hit old town Knoxville – the grittier sights and sounds of a city. Still, the neighborhoods came out in support. I kept my smile on from this point forward through the:

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The result?

marathon finish3:53:34

Woo! I actually passed the 4 hour pacer in the last 3/4 mile. He noted that he was about five minutes ahead of the pace. I turned on the engine and cranked it in.

10995856_10102965432421545_4456085235924401843_nWoot woot!

The course was definitely challenging (hills a plenty), but I thought it was fair. We got to run over not ONE but TWO bridges! And, finishing in Neyland Stadium was incredible. I must give major props to my sherpa, Aaron J, for sharing his former home and university with me, for inspiring me to try 26.2 once again, and for traversing Knoxville on foot to ensure I had all the goo and water one girl could need.

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So now…oh yes, I want to run another marathon. New goal: 3:45. I’ll find out in a couple of weeks about Chicago. Until then, my focus is on getting better. In just one week, I went from crushing hills with ease to finding myself out of breath reaching the top of our stairs. And, the pollen explosion here has not helped matters. I’m just taking it one day at a time and giving myself the space to restore…because as my yoga instructor said yesterday: “When did the idea of self love become radical?”

Airport etiquette (an oxymoron?)

In pursuit of professional development (and crossing off another city from Aaron’s travel bucket list), we ventured to Austin, TX so I could attend the 2015 Nonprofit Technology Conference (#15NTC) – I will geek out on this experience in a future post.

While we didn’t fly out together on this particular trip, Aaron and I often watch (and lament) our fellow passengers throughout the entire air travel process. I admire (but don’t envy) people who spend a great deal of their time traveling through the friendly skies. Because, from my experience, these skies are not so friendly. And, they certainly do not offer the opportunities to see humanity act in its finest form.

Why is that? What about boarding a metal cage with wings and some inflatable sides causes people to turn from this:

niceairplane

to this:

angryairplane

Is it the confined space? The narrow aisles? The layovers? Hangovers? Or, is it simply because this type of activity fully reveals that most of us are selfish creatures who lack empathy and awareness? Aaron opined about our travels last year during a particularly time-crunched deplaning opportunity. One of the flight attendants kindly asked folks who didn’t have a connection to “stay seated, allowing those passengers with connections the opportunity to exit the plane quickly.” Take a wild guess how many people stayed seated on that flight?

Maybe I’m being unfair. I don’t travel by air that often – about five to six times a year, on average. I acknowledge that my experiences wouldn’t qualify as valid data for a research project. But, there’s just something that seems to emerge from even the arguably most practical people upon entering an airport.

Airport travel can be stressful, especially for those of us who like to control situations. You essentially surrender your control in order to fly. This may explain why people are so unwilling to give up even more when asked. For example, because most flights are booked to the gills, overhead bin space becomes a premium. And, if you are not in the first or second boarding group, your bag may not find a home. To counter having to check bags during the board process, airlines have moved towards offering checking your bag at the gate – a great way to circumvent baggage fees (unless you fly Southwest because they still rock the “bags fly free” motto).

Each time I have witnessed this plea from the gate attendants, I see so few people take advantage. Yes, if you check a bag, you will have the additional step of retrieving it at your final destination, which may add another 7 to 10 minutes to your journey. But, how much time will you delay the boarding process if you’re that person who just can’t find a spot to put your bag? Or, the person who starts manipulating items already in the overhead bin in order to make space for theirs? “Oh, I’m sorry sir – can you actually put your bag under your seat? My enormous duffle needs to fit up here.”

I realize this post may be verging on the petty, but I think I just feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment, as I often do when I see a chance for people to put others ahead of them. It’s more than just not checking a bag or staying seated when others are trying to make flights. It’s the avoiding eye contact with people boarding, internally begging them not to sit in that open seat next to you. It’s the carrying on loud conversations in confined spaces on topics not needing to be shared by the public. It’s allowing your children to watch movies with no headphones. If I have to hear that Dora the Explorer song again, I’m pulling that chute.

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What have your air travel experiences been like?

Walt Disney World and vegan eats

Besides evenings chocked full of activities for other organizations, my failure to fully complete the 31+ days of Veganuary recipes can also be partly blamed on a mouse.

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Yes, that’s evidence of Mickey Mouse and me breaking it down on the dance floor. The impetus for all of this happening was to celebrate the marriage of my good friend and Teach For America trenchmate Kacie (and her now husband Preston!). Kacie’s fondness for WDW, and Preston’s fondness for Kacie, led to this magical occasion in Orlando.

Not only was this my first time at Walt Disney World – this was my first time in the state of Florida. (thus knocking another unvisited state of the list!) In this post, I’m going to focus mainly on the food. The sights, sounds, and rides of the four parks will be featured in subsequent narratives.

Bottom line: eating vegan isn’t easy at Walt Disney World, but it’s possible and likely some of the best service you’ll receive.

Before we left, Aaron and I did our homework, thanks to other bloggers for jotting down their plant-based eating journeys of the various resorts, parks, and surrounding restaurants. Overall, there were two shining gems among the rougher choices, and both of them happen to be at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

1) Sanaa, Animal Kingdom Lodge

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Touted as “African cooking with Indian flavors,” this restaurant was on the must-hit list. In fact, it was the first eatery we dined at post-arriving to the grounds (reservations recommended).

On the basic menu, Sanaa offers a vegetarian sampler featuring Lentil Dal, Chickpea Wat, and more. Unfortunately, the naan here is made with ghee, but there are lentil chips as substitutes. Even better: there is a full vegan menu. I let our server know, and boom: it appeared.

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Major decision time. I ended up opted for the three-salad sampler (chickpeas with cucumber and tomato; watermelon, cucumber and fennel; and Bhel Puri) and an order of the Chana Tiki appetizer.

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Everything was delicious. We’re talking poppin’ flavors in fresh-high quality food. It didn’t hurt to also have Cigar City available:

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Sanaa set a high bar for the rest of our Disney experience. Needless to say, expectations fell short along the way. However, this first day continued strong as we ended up having dinner in EPCOT.

2) Tangerine Cafe, EPCOT

Another suggestion that came from both our bride-to-be and several other online resources. Located in the Morocco section, Tangerine Cafe provided some of the best falafel and couscous salad that we both have ever tasted. I went with the vegetarian platter, which came with falafel, lentils, tabouleh, hummus, bread, olives, and this crazy good Tangerine couscous salad.

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Aaron – not a surprise – went for the vegetarian Falafel wrap, which he loved (not vegan).

Editor’s note: I just read that the lentil salad is actually not vegan. Well darnit. Who puts mayo in lentil salad?! Also, if you abstain from honey, you can request honey-free pita bread.

3) Boma – Animal Kingdom Lodge

On the final day of our magical experience, we landed at Boma for the last possible breakfast seating (10:50am) before our flight. Boma was the first restaurant that came out of most people’s mouths for vegan-friendly recommendations. During both breakfast and dinner service (no lunch, folks!), the restaurants offers an enormous range of options on a buffet.

Thanks to some sleuthing that morning, I knew that the chefs here went above and beyond for guests with food allergies or dietary restrictions. Our server, Dilly, brought out Chris (who apparently is Internet famous) from Detroit, MI. He kindly walked us through the various buffet options, which were plentiful – from fresh fruit to tater tots (with the most amazing spices!) to steamed veggies and much more.

But – then he threw out the offer I was hoping for (I have little shame since hot breakfast is such a rare treat out). He offered to make us vegan Mickey waffles AND a tofu scramble. While we waited, I made a small plate to at least sample some of the buffet offerings (the copious amount of tomatoes made me so happy):

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And then, these arrived:

10955798_10103610984659692_8395477499621154745_nOh Mickey, you’re so fine. You’re so fine you blow my mind. Hey Mickey!

10947259_10103610985023962_8687163987092169712_nShadow scramble of fresh jalapeno, red & green bell peppers, tomatoes.

I credit the blur to the sheer ravage hunger I was feeling on the inside. Everything was outstanding. I can’t even tell you the last time I ate waffles. These had a nice crunch on the exterior (the ears in particular) and a soft, warm doughy quality underneath. The scramble had a tinge of spice and was quickly inhaled.

Continuing to exceed my expectations, chef Chris brought us some chocolate chip cookies that accommodated the eight major food allergies. They may have been from Enjoy Life, and as you can see, there are no photos of them because they were gobbled up. They were a nice blend of both crunchy and soft cookies. I would never – ever – have known they were egg/soy/treenut/dairy/gluten/etc. free.

These were the highlights of our food tour – which is a bit disappointing. Unfortunately, my phone died during the wedding or I would have captured the incredible quinoa loaf served for the vegetarian/vegan crowd at the reception. Accompanied with sauteed mushrooms, steamed veggies, and topped with a sun-dried tomato-balsamic reduction, it was one of the best wedding dishes I have ever tasted.

I will note that despite not having photos, I was able to secure a vegan burger at the Magic Kingdom (on a gluten free roll as the regular rolls are not vegan) with plain corn on the cob. It was easier to be labeled as having a food allergy than trying to explain the ins and outs of veganism.

Our own resort – Coronado Springs – was not a grand haven for non-meat eating as well. I had two meals here: a roasted-veggie pita with a balsamic reduction (which I learned recently may contain various fish oils, so this might be something one should ask about), and the one-two breakfast punch of oatmeal with sliced almonds and fruit. Nothing out of this world exciting or overwhelming. These meals served more as “filling” than “fulfilling.”

Here’s something I didn’t know: you can actually bring food into the parks. I kept snacks in my purse at all times, which saved us some extra $ and allowed us to typically eat only two meals out a day.

Also, one last plug: from the research files, I learned the popcorn at the parks is vegan. I really hope this is still true because it was finger-licking good. I almost requested a second souvenir bucket. Almost.

There are tons of additional resources out there on eating vegan at Disneyworld, including:

At some point you’ll say: “Oh, these are all naming the same places.” Undoubtedly, as Downtown Disney undergoes revamping, there will be more options on the grounds. Until then: Animal Kingdom Lodge – no mater which places you visit – is a must see. Plus, there are savannahs on the grounds where you can watch cranes, zebras, antelope, and giraffes from your dining room window (or your room if you are super fancy).

Have you visited the Mouse and have a favorite place to dine or snack at? Please share!