One Last Road Trip Before Pandemic Panic Shut Down the World

Are you stuck at home on a Friday night worrying that the world is ending or just bummed that your plans got cancelled as a “social distancing” measure? I’m in the latter category since the Banff Film Festival screening in Albuquerque got called off, just like everything else it seems. So, to fill this unexpected spare time I’m having at home and provide you with a little hysteria-free reading material, here’s a new blog post about a 2+ week road trip to California and Nevada that we got back from last weekend…just in time to hunker down and embrace hermit life.

Far before the words “Coronavirus” and “COVID-19” began bombarding our lives, the husband, dog, and I began planning a trip to the Bay Area of California to visit his family and check out a few fun places along the way. We opted against taking the RV since that would have added significantly to our drive time and also because Bay Area camping is notoriously expensive, unavailable, or inconveniently located. Instead, we stayed at a local Airbnb in Point Richmond, California which was wonderfully cozy and really felt like a home away from home.

At seven months pregnant and with a dog in tow, flying never really crossed our minds for something as easy as this 17-hour drive. The main purpose of the trip was to visit my in-laws before my due date in case it takes a little while for us to get back out there again. Fortunately, I’ve been feeling healthy, and Baby Boy is already a great traveler.

My favorite things about visiting the Cali side of the family is doing art projects with my super-crafty sister-in-law and pigging out on my mother-in-law’s home-cooked meals. Plenty of that happened, but we also made time to hike in a few really cool places and check out some live performances too before cancellations started being the norm. Here are a couple of the craft projects we made together: the creepiest dolls ever and hand-painted rocks!

The road trip had a little bit of everything weather-wise: rain in New Mexico, snow in Arizona, and warm sunshine in California. Our new Jeep Grand Cherokee proved to be an awesome road-trip-mobile on this trip, the longest we’ve driven with it, with a smooth ride and plenty of space to work in the passenger seat and store stuff (and a dog) in the back. How we’ll fit a baby and all his stuff back there though in a couple months is still a baffling mystery.

While in the Bay Area of California, I also got to check out Muir Woods for the first time. We’ve been in that area lots of times before but were always turned off by the high crowds, mandatory shuttles, and no-dogs-allowed policy. But with Monkey stowed safely back at the Airbnb, we went on a non-shuttle-required weekday and surprisingly had the whole place to ourselves for a little while.

The husband has one of those little national park passport books that he gets stamps in and I collect national park patches, so we always make a point to stop by any NPS site along the way during our travels. For a lunch stop, we tried to visit the César E. Chávez National Monument around Bakersfield. However, there was some utility issue that closed down the visitor’s center that particular day, meaning that we could do no more than walk outside the grounds. At least the flowers were pretty and the sun was shining.

In fact, the blooming flowers all over California really wowed us after being in the desert during winter for so long.Another random roadside attraction we stopped by was Seven Magic Mountains, a bizarre art installation in the Nevada desert just outside of Las Vegas. This is a series of colorful boulders stacked into towers over 25 feet high, made by a Swiss artist named Ugo Rondinone. It isn’t far off of I-15 south of Vegas and a sweet place to get out and stretch your legs…especially while wearing pregnancy compression socks because some blog told you to.

On the way back to New Mexico, we stayed in Vegas for a few days to party it up…well, as much as one can party it up at 32 weeks. With a taro-flavored boba tea in hand, I made my way down Fremont Street, reminiscing about the last time I was here a year ago ziplining high above the crowds with my gal pals.

Since Vegas resorts are notoriously un-dog-friendly or charge exorbitant pet fees, we stayed in a LaQuinta in the suburb of Summerlin, which worked out well for our low-key vibe in Sin City. The trend of pretty spring flowers continued as well.

Since the weather was absolutely fabulous during our time in Nevada, we planned a few hikes to get outside and active. One hiking spot was the Desert Wildlife National Refuge, which had a dog-friendly trail that was pretty chill and well-marked for almost two miles.

Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument is one of the newest additions to the NPS system and doesn’t have really anything in the way of designated trails or signage. While I’m not totally sure what I was looking at or there were really any fossils where we were, it was super peaceful to blaze our own path and wander through the low-lying rock formations and wide open desert.  Our last outdoors stop on the trip was the Lake Mead Recreation Area, which was a first for me. The rock formations were more impressive than I was expecting, and the crowds much lower than I expected too. We only got a taste of what’s in this huge park, so I’m looking forward to exploring more of it again later – hopefully in a camper next time.

Before every concert and event started getting cancelled due to virus panic, we were able to squeeze in two really fun shows. The first one was a Korean band called Black String, which played at Freight & Storage in Berkley, California. This was a unique show featuring a geomungo (6-stringed zither), bamboo flute, electric guitar, and traditional drums with instrumental music that was jazzy, catchy, and improvisational. Apparently, the little guy inside my belly was a big fan because I’ve never felt him move as much as I did that evening.

The next show we caught was Richard Cheese & Lounge Against the Machine at the Red Rock Casino in Vegas, which was also fun in it’s own weird way. Mr. Cheese is a parody-style lounge singer that we’ve gotten a kick out of listening to for many years and finally got to see live in concert at our last night in the city. After the show, we played video roulette and walked out with a $4 profit, making $24 on a $20 initial bet. Big gamblers over here…watch out! 

So, as I sit here click-clacking away on a Friday evening, I’m feeling super happy that we made this trip work because virus-pending and baby-pending, who knows when our next little getaway will be. This two-week California/Nevada trip tided over my wanderlust for a little while so I can enjoy the first days of springtime in New Mexico with no regrets. Fortunately, it’s a beautiful time to be here and get outside, which seems to be the safest and healthiest place to be right now anyway.

Stay safe and sane, my friends!

Camper Life Month #8 in Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla

Well month #8 kicked off with a bang because this is when we traded in our old pop-up for a 33-foot RV. As I wrote in my “upgrade post,” this one decision turned our February upside down, for the better and worse.

Related: We Upgraded! How Our New RV is Making Life More Awesome…and Complicated

Before I get started with my monthly recap, I suppose I should explain the title a bit. We’ve been trying to come up with a name for our new RV, which is no easy task. You see, it has to be incredibly random, relevant, and packed with inside jokes…all at the same time. For instance, my Jeep’s name is Chief Surfs with Manatees.

Well, at least for now, we’ve settled on a name: Dragoon-A-Saurus Rex de la Mantequilla. It roughly translates to “a large mounted infantry that has been threatened and coerced into the mountains to be named the king of butter.” He/she will go by “Dragoon” for short.


Places We’ve Been: Month #8

Month #8 can largely be summed up by one phrase: “Stuck in Yuma.” It’s funny, because we never actually intended to go to Yuma, Arizona at all. We actually had a campground booked in the Palm Springs area of California back in mid-January but were scared away by excessive rain and flooding. Yuma was a backup plan, and we stayed there in one way or another for over a month and a half.

We stayed at two different campgrounds in Yuma, and then decided to take a trip to Mexico for a week of pure vacation. While in Mexico, we settled on the idea of upgrading our camper and bought a new one in Yuma. This decision sent us on a side trip all the way back to Atlanta, Georgia to take care of a slew of logistical nightmares. I couldn’t stand to go back to our old Yuma campground with the new RV, so we switched to another one. Then after a long-cross country drive back to Yuma, we finally got unstuck and made our way to San Diego.

Here’s a quick recap of this past month’s batch of “homes on the road”:

Yuma, Arizona: Home on the Road #31

  • Highlights: Switched campgrounds for one with more space and fewer annoying people, first few days in our new RV!

For less than 24 hours, all of our worldly possessions were in one place at the same time: RV, Jeep, 5×8 U-Haul

  • Lowlights: We are STILL in Yuma?!, new campground is out in the middle of lemon fields – kinda nice but so far to get to anything

Yuma to Atlanta Side Trip

  • Highlights: Seeing my best friend and meeting her one-month-old baby girl, drinking bubble tea, an awesome AirBnB in Chamblee, GA, donating lots of lots of stuff to Goodwill, squeezing in a hike at Rockhound State Park in Deming, New Mexico on our last day of driving

Best AirBnB (studio apartment) I’ve ever stayed at

10+ donation loads later…

Nice to see mountains and cacti again after a trip back east…missed New Mexico.

  • Lowlights: Driving 30 or so hours each way, having to leave our new camper behind because it’s a gas-guzzler and doesn’t make financial sense for a quick cross-country trip, dozens of logistical nightmares, DMV license and registration issues for the RV and Jeep, cleaning out and totally eliminating a 10’x12′ storage unit, being exhausted all the time and never sleeping, getting bug bites from cheap motels

San Diego, California: Home on the Road #34

  • Highlights: Amazing campground (Sweetwater Summit Regional Park), successfully towing our Jeep here with no issues, incredible weather, trails for running, greenery and wildflowers everywhere you look outside, pedaling the Bayshore Bikeway, kayaking in the fog from the Chula Vista Marina, cute “island” town of Coronado, Gaslamp Quarter outing in downtown SD, surprisingly no traffic anywhere, sitting outside in the sunshine to work

Yep, Monkey’s in the trailer!

  • Lowlights: No Wi-Fi but not a big deal, lots of bunnies outside that drive Monkey (and therefore, us) crazy

Yep, Monkey’s in that kayak with me too. Nice to have the boats back with us again. She’s an old pro at boating.

Realizations & Ramblings: Month #8

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #8 on the road.

  • During month #8, I started to understand why people DON’T full-time travel and just plop down in a house instead with occasional trips here and there. The logistics of making this work really get to you and can make the whole thing feel totally not worth it at times. Society is not designed for people like us and seems to just wait for us to fail and fall in line. I felt like this a lot in month #8. However, I know that if I just gave up and plopped down somewhere, I’d have nothing but regrets.
  • We upgraded to the new RV at the absolute perfect time. We were both getting a bit burnt out on the lifestyle for various reasons, and this new home on wheels has totally recharged us and reminded us why we’re doing this.

Only in Texas.

  • My anxiety levels were at an all-time high in month #8 due to all the hassles of trying to beat the system for the sake of keeping the lifestyle going.
  • But in the last week, things have slowed down and we have more time to relax because of simple time-sucks that aren’t an issue anymore (walking across a campground to use the bathroom, do dishes, etc.). With the extra time, I’ve found myself starting to play guitar again, organizing drawers, and catching up on shows (recently added Big Love to my mix).
  • Exercise-wise, I’ve finally worked up to doing 100 push-ups, squats, and various ab crunches per day. We retrieved some resistance bands from storage, so I’m looking to add these to the mix in Month #9.
  • Dealing with the sewage system in the RV isn’t as bad as I expected it to be.

My go-to road trip fare: egg, avocado & veggies on flatbread.

  • Camping with a pit bull mix has been getting increasingly difficult. We have run into blanket dog breed bans the most in Grand Junction, CO and Palm Springs, CA. Some campground owners are idiots and flat-out tell you that your dog is unsafe and unwelcome there just because of who it was born to. Other owners are apologetic and make excuses about their insurance policies and safety clauses, but it doesn’t make it much easier to accept. And it’s not just pit bulls either…doberman pinschers, rottweilers, and others are being discriminated against as well. Everyone who meets Monkey loves her. She is obsessed with people, getting petted, and rolling over to get better petting angles. If these assholes would simply meet her and give her a chance, they could have had our business. Pit bulls and pit bull mixes have enough trouble getting adopted from shelters as it is. If people knew about these types of hassles caused by faulty perceptions, it might be even harder. It all just makes me really sad and angry.
  • Totally unrelated to all that, we’ve also been trying to train Monkey to not pull on the leash. It really makes walking and hiking miserable, and it’s gone on for too long. The current strategy is using cheese as a non-pulling bribe, AKA “cheese therapy.” We’ve tried other things in the past, but we’ll see how this goes.

On a positive note, Monkey is starting to take to our new RV and loves staring out her very own window 🙂

  • We are literally spending hours looking for campgrounds that meet our needs lately. And honestly, our needs aren’t that unreasonable: internet and phone service in one way or another, campers under 55 allowed, pit bull mixes allowed. So much time wasted by the inefficiency of this industry’s searching and booking systems. I’ve heard about some tech-savvy people trying to improve this process and bring it up to 2017, but an industry disruption needs to happen sooner than later.
  • We downsized our storage unit in Atlanta (10’x12′ for $200/month) to a much smaller unit in Yuma (5’x5′ for $41/month). Not only is this helping us become more minimalist and cut the waste, but it’ll also make RV loan payments easier, keep the adventure going for longer, and save our extra things on the side of the country we’ll likely plop down on someday!
  • The San Diego area seems pretty ideal as a potential plopping spot, but damn it’s pricey.

  • We are now “those people” you love to hate on the highway…RVers with a really long towing set-up cruising at 66 max. On our last full day in Yuma, we got a tow bar installed on the Jeep. Five hours and $1,300 later, we are totally “those people.”
  • We have a checklist of probably 50+ items that are part of our new RV take-down process. This includes everything from draining the sewage to locking the outside storage cabinets and raising the jacks. I’m learning a lot, and it’s actually not as intimidating as I thought it might be. It involves less manual labor than the old pop-up did, but perhaps more brain power. Of course, it’ll all get quicker and easier each time we do it.

Looking Ahead to Month #9

We finally made it to California, nearly two months late, so we’re planning to stay here for a while. We’ve only been here a bit so far, but we’re already VERY familiar with all the issues of camping in California:

  • Private campgrounds are freaking expensive
  • Limited internet and phone reception in state/regional parks – an issue for full-time work
  • Discriminatory bans against pit bulls and other dog breeds
  • Silly 55+ age restrictions

However, we’ve gotten our next couple places lined up in the Banning, Burbank, and Santa Barbara areas of California. In fact, I’ve arranged for my parents to come out to Burbank to meet us for a long weekend! They’ve never been to SoCal before, so we’re planning to do some Hollywood/L.A. touristy stuff, and I think they’ll get a kick out of seeing our new RV.

If anyone reading this that I know is in these areas and interested in possibly meeting up or sharing some must-see tips, comment here or email me please! We’ll make the best out of you yet, California. It took 8 months to get here, and there’s no turning back now.

Catch up with the journey:

5 Months on the Road: Wait No More, Your Full-Time Camper Life Update Is Here

December greetings from warm and sunny Tucson, Arizona!


Month #5 has been a continuation of our journey in the West and Southwest, and I’m definitely still loving the region. We finished up our stay in Salt Lake City, spent a couple weeks in Moab, and a couple days at the Grand Canyon before showing up here.


We had to adjust our plans a bit due to cold and single-digit temperatures. Being in Tucson right now wasn’t the original plan, but I’m loving the 70-80-degrees and sunshine, so the switch-up was a success. These “snowbirds” really know how to live life right.


Another interesting development is that we bought a GoPro as a holiday gift to ourselves. So we’ve been experimenting with the different mounts and putting it on our heads, chests, windshield, and even the dog to capture videos of our adventures. I even wore it on a horse!


Places We’ve Been: Month #5

Here’s a quick rundown of how those places played out.

Moab, Utah: Home on the Road #24

  • Highlights: The otherworldly arches at Arches National Park and canyons at Canyonlands, horseback riding on Sassy (and she was!), mountain biking on the Bar M trails, slacklining festival on Thanksgiving, great campground Wi-Fi and scenery, nice community rec center in town to lift weights and swim laps, scenic winery next to a western film museum, Corona Arch as an uncrowded alternative to Delicate Arch, small-town Christmas festival


  • Lowlights: Restaurants are way too busy, and un-fun, mediocre local brewery, consistently cold nights in the 20s, hilly bike trails too hard to bike with Monkey’s trailer, getting a flat jeep tire on the side of the road

Grand Canyon, Arizona: Home on the Road #25

  • Highlights: Dog-friendly hiking trails around the rim, shopping for family Christmas gifts and finally finding some, a weekend that didn’t up feeling as cold as we expected, beautiful art gallery at Kolb Studio


  • Lowlights: Very icy sidewalks and trails that made hiking with Monkey really hard, being underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon (who’da thought that was possible?!) because of all the other amazing canyons we’ve been seeing

Tucson, Arizona: Home on the Road #26

  • Highlights: The amazing Saguaro cactus(!!!), Arizona Sonora Desert Museum that we could have spent several days at, private campground bathrooms (no sharing!), salsa dancing class for a different kind of Friday night out even though it was HARD, great bike trail right behind our campground, bringing home a little cactus to decorate the camper, discovering Govinda’s Vegetarian Restaurant, days warm enough to do yoga and work outside (or until my laptop overheats and powers down)


  • Lowlights: Many parks (including Saguaro National Park) not being dog-friendly for hikes, crowded campground with sketchy WiFi, Monkey getting cacti stuck in her paws on trails

Random Ramblings: Month #5

In no particular order, these are some random thoughts that came to me over the course of month #5 on the road.

  • Moab was the first place that really made me question why we keep moving on and don’t just stay put for a while. It’s an outdoor lover’s paradise in every sense of the word, and we would have been perfectly happy there for a while. In the end, the only reason we left after two weeks was because of the cold temperatures rolling in that would have made outdoor activities pretty miserable going forward.


  • I have a t-shirt that’s probably a decade old with Grover from Sesame Street on it that says, “Anywhere I am is here. Anywhere I’m not is there. I still wear this shirt occasionally and it reminds me of the old saying that wherever you go, there you are. No matter how what city or state we’re in or how long we’ve traveled, the same things still make me happy, annoyed, anxious, excited, frustrated, etc. Many years ago, I saw a shrink (hey, Tony Soprano did it, so why can’t I?). At that time in my life, all I wanted to do was move far away and start over. I wanted to get out of my rut, leave everything behind, and find out if the grass was greener somewhere else. I remember said shrink telling me some version of “wherever you go, there you are.” He suggested that I’d still have the same personality/issues when I woke up to different scenery. It all sounds pretty obvious when I think of it now, but it was a novel idea that had never occurred to me back then. And it still rings true today.


  • Division of labor makes camper chores manageable, and yes there are camper chores! Fortunately, we are both reasonable people who understand what sharing responsibilities means. For example, I take care of putting together (i.e. not cooking) breakfast and lunch, while my husband cooks dinner. He does the grocery shopping, and I do the laundry. And we take turns with doing dishes and dog walks. This goes for travel research too. He’s better at big-picture planning, and I’m better at figuring out daily details. So we tend to stick to what we’re each good at to avoid duplicating efforts and getting at each other’s throats. Been working pretty well for 5 months!


  • Constantly looking for things to do is exhausting, but it does keep us on our toes. Ultimately, I keep coming down to the same research topics no matter where we are, which reiterates the point that wherever you go, there you are. Here are some of the things on that never-ending research list: hiking trails, yoga, comedy shows, local theater, bar trivia, breweries/wineries/distilleries, community rec center, dance classes, festivals, dog parks, cafes to work at, driving range, bike trails, fun neighborhoods, concerts.


  • I really thought I’d have more free time while traveling like this but I really don’t. Between 50+ hour work weeks and squeezing in time to explore new places, there’s really nothing left. At the end of the day, I’m exhausted and just want to zone out watch The Sopranos in bed. Times that I draw in my sketchbook, do personal writing (like this) that’s not for money, and play guitar are few and far between. I thought I’d be trying to learn more new songs on guitar by now, but I’m stuck on the same old ones and not getting any better.


  • I prefer non-standard holidays to tradition. We celebrated Thanksgiving by going to a slacklining festival across a canyon in Moab. Admittedly, it would have been nice to see my parents and grandma back in Illinois. But doing the same thing every year out of nostalgia or sentimentality doesn’t appeal to me, and unfortunately, that’s what traditional holidays are all about for most people.



  • Monkey did great in a totally free-range, open-play environment the last time we “practice boarded” her in Moab. I think she’ll do great at the pet resort in Phoenix while we’re back in Illinois for Christmas. It’ll be weird without her, but I’m feeling much more confident about leaving her for five days.


  • We’ve run into a few more campgrounds with breed restrictions. I’m looking at you, Las Vegas. I won’t get on a soapbox for very long, but these pit bull bans are absolutely ridiculous and unfounded. I wouldn’t want to give my money to these types of discriminatory business owners even if they’d take it.
  • The dry weather of the west makes my hair so much more manageable and easy to take care of. No more Midwest/East Coast-style frizzy tangles!


  • I had to repair a button on a shirt the other day and it made me how much I miss sewing and crafting in general. My sewing machine is sadly sitting in a storage unit in Atlanta collecting dust 🙁
  • I also realized I miss swimming laps. I’m not a great swimmer by any means, but it’s great exercise and really helps relax my muscles and clear my head. I found community rec centers in both Salt Lake City and Moab with public lap swim hours and only a $6-7 daily fee. Also a great way to lift weights and work these noodle arms. I’ll be looking for cheap rec centers like this in future places we go too.


Looking Ahead to Month #6

Month #6 will be an interesting one because it’s smack dab in the middle of holiday season. This will be a nice taste of what’s it’s like to be traveling full-time during a very busy and traditional time of year.

We’ll be relocating to Phoenix soon for a short stay before flying out to Central Illinois to celebrate Christmas with my family. The plan for New Year’s Eve is Las Vegas, so that should be a fun way to kick off 2017. And after that, on to California!

If you made it this far, congrats and thanks for reading! Although I’ve still only been getting around to it once a month, it’s still nice for me to take a moment to reflect upon where we’ve been and where I’m at personally in relation to that. Cheers!



Songs about Gnomes & Their Curious Inspiration

With the recent passing of musical legend, David Bowie, an old song of his popped into my head the other day: “The Laughing Gnome.” To my knowledge, Bowie was never an avid gnome collector so why would he write a song about a gnome?


In fact, I’ve often wondered why musical artists name their bands and songs after gnomes, especially when they have little to do with our beloved little friends.

Bowie’s song tells the story of walking down the street, hearing footsteps, and turning around to find a “little old man” who chuckles away all day long singing “I’m a laughing gnome and you don’t catch me!” The song was released as a single in 1967 and features a sped-up voice and several puns on the word “gnome.” It’s radically different from much of his other work and has been described as a fun children’s song, a mod anthem, and an embarrassment.

Another gnome song from an unexpected band is “The Gnome” by Pink Floyd. The song appears on their album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, and tells the story of a gnome named Grimble Grumble. This little guy wore a scarlet tunic with a blue-green hood, and he had a big adventure in the great outdoors, followed by a bit of wining and dining. Sounds pretty fun, right? As far as I know, the British psychedelic rock band wasn’t into collecting gnomes either, but the song’s inspiration reportedly came random creativity and J.R.R. Tolkien’s books.


However, David Bowie and Pink Floyd haven’t been the only musical artists to oddly embrace gnomes…even if only for a short time. For example, the album of one Australian band simply named “Gnome” was described in a review as “other-worldly, blissful, euphoric, natural, and tranquil.”

It seems that many artists identify with what gnomes represent and are drawn to express those qualities through music. It also just goes to show that you don’t have to be a gnome expert to enjoy and celebrate gnomes’ clever, fun-loving, and mischievous nature!

So allow me to introduce you to few gnome-related songs and bands to listen to and decide for yourself. No matter what type of music you’re into, you’re sure to find a gnome song you enjoy, or at least get a chuckle out of.

  • David Bowie’s “The Laughing Gnome,” – AudioLyrics
  • Pink Floyd’s “The Gnome” – AudioLyrics
  • David the Gnome Theme Song – Video
  • The Alpaca Gnomes (band from Connecticut) – Video
  • Gnome (band from Cleveland, Ohio) – Video
  • The Gnome Addicts (band from Toronto) – Video
  • UnGnomes (band from Chicago) – Audio

Do you know of any other gnome bands or gnome songs? I’d love to check ’em out, so please share with me!

***This article will appear in the next issue of the International Gnome Club newsletter. Find out what else is going on in the world of gnome news, by joining our club!***

A Night Out in Miami’s Little Haiti

Most people who go to Miami for the first time make a point to visit Little Havana, the well-known Cuban neighborhood with authentic cuisine, local art, and domino players in the park. I know I did when I first visited.

Related: Miami: Beyond the Beach and the Bar

But there’s another “little” neighborhood in the city that often stays in the shadows. Little Haiti is South Florida’s cultural heart for the Haitian Diaspora, and unlike Little Havana, it retains an entirely un-touristy vibe.


On the third Friday of each month, the Little Haiti Cultural Center hosts a festival from 6-10pm that’s open to the public. The main goal is to provide a space to bring together people and ideas, while showcasing and supporting Afro-Caribbean culture in Miami.

It’s called “Big Night in Little Haiti” and it’s an evening of music, art, food, drinks, and opportunities to learn a little bit about Haitian history. I had no idea what to expect when I showed up and thought it could have been anywhere from a tiny neighborhood gathering of resident families to an all-out street bash.

It was somewhere in between…and totally worth a visit. Unlike pretty much anything else you’d choose to do on a Friday night in Miami, this festival is free to attend and has free parking nearby.


There were some local artists doing their thing and even an inviting classroom to wander into and create a sub par masterpiece of your own. The art instructors were doing an exercise using gold paint on black paper and invited me to come in and paint whatever I wanted.

As to not miss out on other festival happenings too much, I hastily painted an obscure nature scene, with of course, an awkward gnome lurking in the background.


Also inside the Little Haiti Cultural Center, there was a presentation/fundraiser going on to highlight the work of a famous Haitian jazz singer from a few decades ago. This was a place to bid on professional photographs positioned on the walls, listen to the artist’s music through headphones, and sip some free wine in a plastic cup.

And then there was the food. A cafeteria-style line formed outside beside a long table with Haitian home cooked foods like chicken, fried fish, rice, tostones, and spicy coleslaw. I washed my delicious dinner down with some rum punch with fresh pineapple!

The large meal was $10 and the generously-sized drink was $4. By Miami standards, this was an absolute steal. I’ll sit on the sidewalk and enjoy an authentic meal like this over an overpriced, over-hyped restaurant almost any day.


The monthly festival has been going on for a few years now and music is a huge part of the whole thing. A reggae-style band played during the entire festival and made me remember how much I really do enjoy a good reggae tune to bop along to in a crowd of strangers. Recently featured bands have included Moksha Roots, Harmonik, Tvice, and Zenglen.


Aside from the super-nice cultural center, other highlights in the neighborhood are the Haiti Sweat Records Building, Little Haiti murals, Churchill’s Pub, and small local shopping centers. A bronze statue of General Toussaint L’Ouverture, the father of Haitian independence, stands at Northeast 2nd Avenue and 62nd Street.

The Little Haiti neighborhood is totally off the beaten path of the tourist circuit and would be hard to pinpoint without a GPS. In fact, Miami residents have long been debating what to call this neighborhood because it has no formal boundaries or designated cultural protections. Some call it Little Haiti and and others swear it’s Lemon City.

“Nobody has a true definition of Little Haiti because there are no formal boundaries. It’s pretty subjective,” said historian and Miami Dade College professor Paul George.

“Every day you hear of a new group encroaching into what we know as Little Haiti,” said Marleine Bastien, a Haitian activist pushing for the designation. “These groups moved into Little Haiti, so I don’t understand why they don’t want it to be named Little Haiti anymore.”

Little Haiti gained its name as Haitian migrants, fleeing the regime of Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, moved into the neighborhood in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Haitian pioneer Viter Juste wrote a letter to the Miami Herald calling the area “Little Port-au-Prince,” and the newspaper headlined the letter “Little Haiti”. And the name stuck.


I’m all about finding authentic non-touristy things to do in places I visit…especially if it isn’t my first time in the area. Some of those ideas work out great and others are a total bust. The Friday festival at Little Haiti tops my list of recent undercover finds.

It’s pretty obvious that I’m not of Haitian descent, but I loved learning a little about Haitian history and joining such a specific celebration of local culture. So consider this an addendum to my previous blog post about non-transitional things to do in Miami and check it out next time you’re in the area!

How I Wrapped Up My 30th Year in New York City

While cranking out some sort of work article one afternoon, a random text message appeared from the void that read something like this: Hey, we’re road tripping to New York in a couple days to see The Unicorns’ 10-year reunion. Join us?

In a couple days? So soon. No way. Well maybe. Don’t be lame. Could be fun. Remember, this is a self-employment perk. Screw it, why not?!

The text came from one of my longest-time childhood buddies, who through all sorts of weird life events, has been my constant best friend for two and a half decades. At that particular point in time, he was halfway between a relocation from Japan to Ireland with his new(ish) wife (who I would have my stolen away as my new friend even without her marital ties). They were making lots of American pit stops along the way, and I was fortunate enough to be able to tag along.

And if convincing myself that spontaneous road trips were an essential occupational perk wasn’t enough, the trip was planned over my birthday weekend – a weekend that I had planned absolutely nothing. That sealed the deal, and off we went…in a Mustang!

In photos, here’s how I wrapped up my 30th year on this planet with two amazing travel companions in New York City.


A scenic vista in Pennsylvania beckoned the Mustang crew to pull off for a photo op and a leg stretch.

backseatwork‘Tis the rough life of a traveling freelancer. Over the past year and a half, I’ve pretty much mastered the fine art of switching on my work focus at the drop of a hat…or in this case, at the drop of a convertible top. Thank the Lord Almighty for tangled-hair-prevention bandannas.

hollandtunnel1$13 to drive through the Holland Tunnel? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. And I thought Chicago tolls were bad. hollandtunnel2The tunnel was pretty futuristic-rad, snapping pics in the backseat with the top down. But seriously, $13?nycThe sights, sounds and er, smells of NYC as we entered Manhattan through Chinatown. bridgedrive

(singing) New York bridges falling down, falling down, falling down. Fortunately not today.


Our first Airbnb experience: We stayed in a nice 1-bedroom apartment/condo in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. It completely suited our needs, especially since all we did here was sleep and stash our stuff.

walkingbrooklynWandering around Brooklyn with no destination in mind…my favorite way to explore a new place.

brooklynThis was my fourth trip to New York City, so I was more interested in exploring random neighborhoods that revisiting the crowded tourist circuit. Brooklyn was perfect for experiencing that sort of local, unpretentious vibe, with plenty of creative street art along the way. Brooklyn gnome muralThis photo goes to show that I have the uncanny ability to uncover gnomes absolutely ANYWHERE. You can’t imagine my surprise when I strolled past a garage door painted with climbing and roller skating gnomes. These particular gnomes belonged to a craft studio, Baked in Brooklyn. crappypretzelsStreet side dining has a nostalgic appeal that often sounds better in our heads than tastes in our mouths. Exhibit A: crappy soft pretzels in the park. sodabear#peopleleavingdrinks – I never found out what this bear did to warrant incarceration, but at least he seems to receive a steady flow of soda.
creepyfencecreaturesI have no idea why this exists, and I find it wonderful. miscellaneousbookstoreOne of couple Brooklyn bookstores that deserved a bit of browsing time.

oldcheeseAfter hopping on a subway with the Lower East Side and East Village in mind, we wandered around a few unique parts of Manhattan. The oldest cheese store in America apparently exists in Little Italy. I’m still curious how old their oldest cheese block really is though. shoe shopThere’s no time for a busted flip flop in New York City. Rj patiently waited as an aggressive cobbler ripped a dying flip flop in half before making it whole again. mosaic trailAlthough I was only able to follow the Mosaic Trail for a few blocks before getting distracted by something else, I’m sure it leads somewhere really colorful.
weirdasianstuffCreepy scenes never cease to amuse me. Anyone: what’s a “crust jacket”?

Brooklyn Bridge pic

After what seemed to be a never-ending journey to stroll across the elusive Brooklyn Bridge, we found it! Skillful photo credit goes to Sarah for capturing our next album cover.

Arcade Fire picSpeaking of album cover, the entire point of the road trip was this concert! Equipped with not-so-real tattoos x3, our photo booth shot was nothing shy of epic.

theunicornsThe Unicorns! Those mythical creatures do exist! Apparently this indie band hasn’t performed in a decade and reunited, at least in part, because of a 2004 “joke song”  called “The Unicorns: 2014.” The lyrics go a little like this:

“I looked in into my crystal ball – See gummies in the sunny – Riding moonbeams into money.”

DJ Dan DeaconAfter dancing our way through The Unicorns set in sadly empty stands at the Barclays Center, a DJ named Dan Deacon took control of the back stage. The highlight of his performance was when he called out the “people dancing to the Unicorns way up in the stands”. THAT WAS US. Five seconds of fame were OURS and no one else’s.

Dan’s crowd-interactive dance-off circle was fun to watch as well…a distant second highlight.
ArcadeFireThen came Arcade Fire, which was a ridiculously glitzy stage set with no less than a dozen people on stage at any given time. I knew a good number of the AF songs from radio play, some more catchy than others. But ultimately, they put on a super entertaining performance up down there.
expensiveboozeGetting too concert-drunk was a non-issue because one mixed drink cost a whopping $14.75. I expected to find chunks of gold at the bottom of my Jack & Ginger, but alas…nothing more than a few chips of melted ice.


Hellooo, Jersey City!

And in the true spirit of a whirlwind journey, we were back on the road again in the blink of an eye. So what if we spent nearly as much time going below speed limit on the interstate and taking rest stop breaks than actually in the heart and belly of New York. Road trips are about the journey more than the destination, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

About a decade ago, Rj and I attempted to road trip from Arthur, Illinois to Canada. However, we didn’t even make it past Beloit, Wisconsin. So in that regard, I consider this trip a huge success.

I loved getting to know Sarah over these quick and random road trip days and meeting her welcoming friends who kindheartedly fed us snacks and wine and engaged us in clever conversation one evening in their flat. A trip to visit the newlyweds in Ireland next summer is definitely on my travel to-do list.

Rj and SarahAnd for my birthday? At the stroke of midnight on August 24, 2014, I was half passed out in the backseat of the Mustang rolling through uber-depressing Gary, Indiana. But at that point, I had already celebrated to my heart’s content and had no idea that another adventure was planned for me back in Chicago when I returned home.

howoldareyouWhile passing through a middle-of-nowhere town in Ohio on the return journey, I popped into an antique shop in search of you guessed it…gnomes. Although I didn’t find any, I was entirely amused by this antique cloth print that read, “How Old Are You?”

Although 31 sounds like a totally insignificant number, I’m determined to make it an incredibly significant year. So pour me a glass of brandy and keep the adventures coming!

Whip In: Austin’s One-Stop Brewery/Indian Restaurant/Concert Venue/Grocery Store

I can’t think of another single place in the world that combines the best aspects of craft beer, Indian food, live music, and grocery shopping. Whip In does exactly that, and does it pretty well.

Roadside sign

Roadside sign

My boyfriend, who happens to be Indian, and I came across Whip In’s website while searching for breweries to sample in the Austin area. We were intrigued at the unlikely combination of Texas comfort food, traditional Indian food, and craft beer. From what I understand, Indians aren’t exactly known for their breweries.

The Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern even did a little piece on the place, however, I don’t feel he does it justice. Sorry to call you out, buddy, it’s going to take more than footage of your chewing to convince me of Whip In’s awesomeness.

Scoping out the menu

Scoping out the menu

Back in 1986, the owners, Amrit and Chandan Topiwala, bought a convenience store in the Travis Heights Neighborhood and made a living off the gas pumps and B-movie selection.

For whatever reason, beer sales began to outweigh gas sales and priorities were shifted.

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews

Texan-Indian Cuisine and Brews


The convenience store was transformed into a dhaba (traditional Indian/Pakistani roadside restaurant) pub with a full kitchen and homemade brew house. The menu features a mind-boggling fusion of Texan comfort food and authentic Gujarati cuisine. And since it’s in Austin, Whip In practically had no choice but to service local and organic fruits, vegetables, and meats.

Whip In is big on brunch and it has a big section for it on the menu. We settled on a combo dhaba bowl with chana masala, masoor dal, and Zambian corn. We also got an appetizer of samosas and a follow-up entree of dal sliders. With their warm naan, spinach, and mushrooms, the dal sliders were definitely my favorite pick.

Namaste Brewing

Namaste Brewing

Appropriately, Whip In calls its in-house brew house, Namaste Brewing. They had a surprisingly number of beers, although several of the taps had run dry before we showed up.

You can order a sampler of four beers for $10, and we did exactly that. Our picks were the Brahmale, Sitas Revenge, Austinerveisse, and Vishnavi Triple.


Outside seating space

Outside seating space

  • Brahmale = postcolonial IPA made w/goodflow honey, grapefruit peel & lemongrass 9.5%abv
  • Sitas = french saison made w/striselspalt&aramis hops 6.5%abv
  • Austinerveisse = berlinerveisse style german sour wheat made w/peaches 4.5%abv
  • Vishnavi = strong triple brew I seem to have misplaced my notes on
Feast time!

Feast time!

Nearly all the beers on tap were high in alcohol content, with 8% and 9% being totally common. I must admit, the combination of strong beer and strong flavors did do a number on my unsuspecting stomach after awhile.

Rambler Rose

Rambler Rose




For a Saturday night, Whip In was busy, crowded, and a little chaotic. As a first timer, I was a little overwhelmed trying to wrap my head around this place. Fortunately, we found a seat at the bar, so there was no wait time. If you aren’t so fortunate, you can push your way to the back and browse the couple aisles of groceries that seem wonderfully out-of-place. The owners have traded in their convenience store snacks for hippie fair like tofu-turkey and Tom’s Natural Toothpaste.

Namaste, ya'll!

Namaste, ya’ll!

Whip In has indoor and outdoor seating, and each space has its own stage. Rambler Rose, featuring a 8 1/2 month pregnant lead singer/percussionist, took the stage while we were finishing up our dinner.

Whip In definitely offers a unique dining/drinking/listening/shopping experience you can’t find anywhere else. Upon first impression, the spot seems to be a bit all over the board, and unable to decide what it is and what it wants to be when it grows up. But whatever it is, I like it. And I hope to visit another place like it some day.

South Dakota’s Red Wall Canyon Cowboy Music Festival

Get a true taste of the western way of life as you camp and relax in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Bring your horse (if you happen to have one) to join group rides in the area and get back in time for the evening entertainment. The Red Wall Canyon Cowboy Music Festival kicks off on June 21st and lasts through June 23rd.

Cowboyland_Voghera-3The entire event takes place at the scenic Allen Ranch in southwestern South Dakota.  The cost of entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights is just $10, and there is free music Saturday afternoon on the Cowboy Stage. Musical entertainers from around the U.S. will travel to the festival to play, including headliners Brenn Hill, Almeda Bradshaw, The Ramblin’ Rangers, and Paul Larson. Critics claim that Hill is the bridge between traditional and new cowboy music because his music evolves with the times. Bradshaw is a poet, songwriter, and oil pastel impressionist painter who has been performing at cowboy gatherings around Montana since 1997. All music performances take place along the river and guests are encouraged to bring their own chairs.

SDThere will be lots of opportunities to ride and camp with horses during the musical event. The Seven Sisters Range and Fall River trails offer great riding paths for both beginner and experienced riders. There are camping and RV hookups at Allen Ranch and tent camping is welcome as well. Food and craft vendors will set up shop during the daytime on Friday and Saturday, and a buffalo wings contest (and public tasting) will be held on Saturday at 3:30. Everyone is welcome to join the cowboy church service and breakfast meal at Allen Ranch on Sunday morning.

The Rapid City Airport is less than an hour from Hot Springs, where the festival is located.  The town of Hot Springs has plenty of other options for things to do as well during your visit. Make sure to check out the town’s unique shops, wild horse habitats, and soothing natural spas as well.

  • Comment: I’m actually heading to South Dakota in April, but perhaps a summer visit could be in order as well. Cowboys are really hot, and how often can you really find this many of them in one place?
  • Note: A version of this article will soon be published on a popular car rental website. Bragging rights link to follow.
  • Photo credit: Twice 25 via WikiMedia, Navin75 via Flickr

Celebrate Caribbean Culture in Los Angeles

Island cuisine, colorful costumes, steel-band music, and creative crafts make the Los Angeles Culture Festival a truly authentic Caribbean experience. One of the festival’s most popular events is the “Back on the Boulevard” Parade. The parade starts on Hollywood Boulevard between Vermont and Cherokee Streets.

The theme of the 2013 festival is ‘Expressing the Colors of Culture and Freedom’. International Groovy & Power Soca Monarch Title Winner and Trinidad & Tobago native, Machel Montano, has been chosen to be this year’s Grand Marshal.

Even though Southern California is nowhere near the tropical islands, there is a large Caribbean population in the area. The festival lasts for six full days and features a variety of events to celebrate National Caribbean-American Heritage Month. Fiftieth Independence Anniversaries tributes will be made to The Republic of Trinidad & Tobago, the mecca of Caribbean Carnivals, and Jamaica, the birthplace of Reggae.

If you can’t make it to the islands, the L.A. festival is a great place to experience what you’re missing out on. ‘Caribbean Carnivals‘ take place annually throughout the region with focuses on folklore, religion, and tradition.

Other festival events include a calypso competition, yellow & white party, and arts gala. A paint and powder party, band performances, and craft fair will also take place on scheduled days. Join local filmmakers and aspiring actors for the Los Angeles Caribbean Film Conference and Festival on June 19th through 21st.

Regulaz Entertainment organizes the L.A. Culture Festival and sponsors the events that take place. Regulaz is a non-profit organization that supports the cultures of West Indian communities. By offering events like this festival and other arts events, the organization aims to educate Southern California about the rich Caribbean culture.

The festival is free to the public and kid-friendly. Volunteers are always needed to help with the production of the festival events as well. If you would like to volunteer your time, you can complete the festival’s online form, call the Caribbean Heritage Organization at 818-605-1478, or send an email to [email protected] for details.

Sharing Colorado’s Native American Heritage

Article-powwowWith over 50 of the nation’s award winning Native American artists showcasing their pottery, jewelry, and artwork, you can spend the whole weekend at the Tesoro Annual Indian Market and Powwow. The festival celebrates its 13th year and takes place on Saturday, May 18th and Sunday, May 19th.

Set in beautiful Morrison, Colorado, the Festival is easily accessible from downtown Denver, Lakewood, Englewood, or Littleton. In addition to the crafts for show and sale, the festival features dancer exhibitions, drummer competitions, and a veteran honor ceremony. Tesoro’s Indian Market and Powwow has grown each year to include more and more performers and artists from Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Although Native Americans once composed a majority of the population in Colorado, they now only make up about 1.2% of the state’s total population. This fact makes the remembrance and preservation of the Native American heritage more important now than ever before.

The festival kicks off both days at 10:00am with a Gourd Dance and a ceremonial entrance. Through planned and impromptu demonstrations, Native American artists will share their arts and crafts with visitors and respected experts will judge art submitted in the festival. An inter-tribal contest Powwow will take place in the valley below The Fort each day. Dancers and drummers will share their heritage through competitions of Traditional, Shawl, Fancy, Grass and Jingle dancing.

There are nine contest categories for several men’s and women’s age groups, with prize money ranging from $25 to $200. Adult admission to the event is $6, but seniors get in for $3 and children under 12 are free. The festival organizers suggest bringing your own chairs and sun protection, since the event takes place outdoors. This event is family-friendly, open to the public, and parking is free.

To learn more about this and other similar events, visit the Tesoro Cultural Center website or contact the program director, Carolyn Doran at 303-839-1671. The event’s venue, The Fort, is a historic replica and true celebration of the West, complete with Southwestern décor, native foods, and local wines. During your visit to Morrison, you can also take a short drive to Red Rocks State Park and Amphitheater to check out one of most amazing views that Colorado has to offer.