Friday, June 5, 2015

tennessee vacation - part two

Our first stop in the Smokies was at Cades Cove. We drove the loop and saw lots of wildlife, including a black bear. Good thing we were in our car and there were park rangers standing guard so I felt completely safe. The bear could have cared less about the dozen or so people taking pictures of him from the roadside, he was probably too busy foraging for food.

We drove up one of the mountain roads and went on a short hike.

Just look at that view!

It was my brilliant idea to stay in a tipi. Ebert grew up camping and has wanted us to camp together for sometime but I haven't camped since I was a kid so I wasn't as excited about it...tipi camping was our compromise. I was truly excited about this experience though. All of the reviews raved about what a magical experience it was. The tipi was decorated with cute vintage furniture, had a full size futon mattress and came stocked with everything you need. The hosts even bring you fresh homemade bread, hen eggs and milk for breakfast. I was even excited about the outdoor shower and composting outhouse. Can you believe that? Everything about the tipi sounded so unique and lovely!

But the one thing we didn't think about, and that none of the reviews mentioned, was that a tipi doesn't have zippers or nets so anything creepy crawly can come in and anything creepy crawly did. I can't be certain because I was half-asleep but I think something was on our bed that I kicked onto the floor. I vaguely remember feeling the weight of something by my feet and the second after I kicked it off there was a sound on the tipi rock floor. At first I thought maybe it was the comforter but then I kicked the comforter around and there was no way it could have moved the rocks enough to make any kind of sound. There were other noises outside the tipi we weren't sure about and even Ebert got a little nervous. He would hear something, sit up in bed and shine the flashlight around but we never saw anything. He finally figured out what the sounds were, or at least he thinks he did. He says they were moths flying between the flaps of the tipi and the sound was their wings brushing up against the material. I'm not so sure about that, but at least he was able to fall asleep. He tried to reassure me by saying that you get used to the sounds of the forest after a night or two. You might be thinking that I'm too accustomed to city life and not used to being in nature but Ebert did have to brush a few beetle like bugs off of him so there were definitely creepies in the tipi. I think if we had the safety of a zipper, even though a tent zipper isn't really going to protect you from anything big it just gives a sense of security, I would have been able to sleep but sleep evaded me that night. I would try to sleep but as soon as I'd turn the flashlight off the pitch blackness (and my imagination) would cause all of this anxiety. I'd have to turn the flashlight back on to calm myself. Ebert told me I could sleep with the flashlight on but even that didn't help so I stayed up all night reading.

Once the light of day appeared I was finally able to get a couple hours of sleep. It was really a disheartening experience for me, I felt like I was ruining our vacation especially since this was all my idea- Ebert assured me I was not. But here we were surrounded by the beauty of nature making breakfast on the camp stove listening to the babble of the creek and the birds chirping and it was so serene, but the magic wasn't there for me. What was I missing? Why was I so nervous being isolated from the outside world? Maybe I'm not as adventurous as I thought. And if that's true then what does this say about me? I'm probably putting too much thought into this, trying to find a bigger life lesson here. It could just be that I don't like camping or bugs crawling on me and that's perfectly fine. I am, however, willing to try camping again but it will have to be in a tent and without the creepy crawlies.

We still wanted to explore more of the park so after breakfast we went off to see what we could see .

We did a short one-mile hike on the Appalachian Trail.

If you're looking for a good book to read this summer then I highly suggest A Walk in the Woods. It's Bill Bryson's story of his adventure walking the Appalachian Trial. It's a great combination of humor and history. I haven't finished reading the book yet but I know for certain that the one-mile we walked was enough for me. I just found out that a movie version was made. I think the cast is great so hopefully the movie is as good as the book.

We came across a fallen tree in the middle of the road. It was a fun afternoon exploring.

And the Smokies are beautiful.

However, I really couldn't handle another sleepless night so at lunch I proposed an alternate ending to our trip. Thank goodness Ebert agreed. We left the Smoky Mountains and arrived back in the Nashville area just in time for this picturesque sunset. We're so thankful for our friends who were kind enough to let us spend the last couple of days of our trip back at their lake house. It was the perfect way to end our vacation...and critter free!

Of course, the next morning we awoke feeling great! A full night's sleep, without the fear of something crawling on you, makes everything better. We enjoyed a leisurely morning on the deck eating breakfast, drinking coffee and reading. Our activity for that day was going to be either a hike or kayaking. Ebert and I both really wanted to kayak but the weather report said there was a storm coming so we decided to go on a hike. We figured if we got caught in a storm it would be better to be under the protection of trees rather than in the middle of a lake. The hike was more rigorous than we expected- it's quite steep in some areas and in no time at all I was huffing and puffing. It's also a very dense trail. The path is along the lake but is so full of trees that we couldn't see the water even though we were just a hundred yards or so away. And because of the overgrown vegetation we had to watch out for ticks and poison ivy. Ugh! Then there was the posted sign at the trail head warning hikers about the venomous snakes in the area. Double ugh! Needless to say I was a little worried throughout the hike but luckily we didn't encounter anything and since I survived unscathed I can say that it was a nice hike.

After our hike we had a picnic and went swimming in the lake to cool off. We didn't get to swim for very long before the predicted storm came through, but we did sit under the cover of the trees for a while enjoying the rain sprinkling down on us.

Our route home was through the backroads of Tennessee and Kentucky. It was fun meandering on these roads seeing all the lush, green farmland. But somehow we missed a turn along the way and as we were making our way back to the right road we saw a sign for an artisan cheese shop so we had to stop. We ended up at Kenny's Farmhouse Cheese and it was the best detour ever. First of all, the cheeses we sampled were amazing! They were so good that we had to buy 3 different kinds to bring home with us. The other great part about this experience was just how friendly Jeanette, the manager of the cheese shop was. She took us back to where they were making cheese and gave us so much information about cheese-making and the history of Kenny's Cheese. It was a lovely stop along the way. And, luckily for us, Kenny's is sold locally in a few shops around Chicago.

Even with one anxiety-ridden, sleepless night we still had a great vacation. These past weeks have been like a mini-summer retreat. But I'm definitely ready to get to work creating my happy!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

tennessee vacation - part one

Ebert and I went road trippin' down to Tennessee last week. We planned a little get-away so we could spend some time together, knowing that once school starts life will become extremely busy and we may not see much of each other. It's the good kind of busy though because I'll be creating my happy- super exciting!

After much discussion we decided a road trip to visit friends was our best option. Since we visited Nashville last summer we didn't feel like we had to do touristy things this time, so our itinerary included lots of relaxing and hanging out- exactly what we wanted. We spent a night at our friend's lake house which is the absolute best place for relaxing. This was our morning view. Not too shabby.

We spent the afternoon cruising around on a pontoon boat...

And even on a holiday weekend the lake was so peaceful.

But the best part was getting smooches from this little guy...he is just too cute!

If you ever go to Nashville then you must go to Martin's BBQ. We were craving it ever since we ate their last summer so, of course, we had to go there again and it's just as good as we remembered! We also got to have dinner with some other friends who recently moved to Nashville from LA. I love that so many wonderful people from our time in LA, which seems like a lifetime ago, are now within driving distance from Chicago. We're hoping to see all of our Nashville friends more often.

After a few days in Nashville we continued our road trip eastward to the Smoky Mountains where we were going to do some hiking and camping. And that is where I will leave you because that part of our trip was quite the adventure and deserves its own post.

Friday, May 1, 2015

believe you can

I'm least for one or two posts. To be honest I haven't really missed blogging. What I missed was creating and writing, but not necessarily expressing that creativity through my blog. I have somewhat mixed feelings about blogs right now- there's so much curated content and product placement that it just doesn't seem real anymore. It feels like blogs have become part of the social media conundrum of only sharing the best 1% of life. As much as I may not like it, I get it. I get that blogs have had to evolve from when I first began reading blogs and writing my own blog. I'm happy for my favorite bloggers who work hard and make a successful living at it, but it may not be where I want to create anymore and that's ok.

Anyway...I digress. I'm not here to say goodbye (at least not yet), I'm here to share with you some exciting news!

The first bit of excitement is that I've been accepted into the School at Steppenwolf. My entire summer will be spent studying the craft of acting and I'm thrilled! It's a very intensive program so the only thing I will be doing for 10-weeks is learning and growing as an actor. I've never had an experience like this before- I wasn't a theater major in college and I always worked a part-time job during school, so now I get the opportunity to just focus on what makes me happy. It's going to be incredible!

It's funny how everything worked out. I was in a play this past winter and didn't have anything planned afterwards so with only a few weeks before the deadline I decided to submit an application. The application process involved writing an essay, getting a letter of recommendation, and then if you're invited to audition you have to prepare a monologue, as well as a scene from several play options they give you. I worked with an amazing teacher to prepare for my audition, which really helped me to feel confident going into the audition. My goal was to just do my best by committing to my choices and being honest. I left the audition feeling like I was successful in doing just that.

I wasn't fully attached to the idea of getting accepted into the school, but when I didn't get a callback (I thought not getting a callback meant that I didn't get accepted) I was still disappointed. Isn't that how it always works? I had heard from several actor friends that there is a callback process and if you don't get one you're pretty much done. Although now I know that I probably didn't get a callback because the casting director was in the room when I auditioned, so there was no need for a callback, but I didn't know that at the time. I just thought that I didn't get in and that was that. I allowed myself to be disappointed for a few days then I realized that I needed to do something. I needed to create. I decided that the something I needed to do was to finish a short film script that I'd been working on for quite some time. I figured if I was going to spend money on tuition for Steppenwolf why not use that money for making my own short film. I was taking action to create energy.

When I received my acceptance email on April 1st I was completely shocked! I thought it was some cruel April Fools joke...good thing it wasn't. I was then faced with making a decision- to accept or not to accept. I asked for some advice from a few trusted individuals before coming to my decision. It was this perspective from the acting teacher I coached with that excited and inspired me the most.

"Yes, now you’re in the position of really needing to decide whether or not you want to DO IT!! What an awful place to be! ;-)

But - here’s how I look at it - it’s one summer of your entire life - you can shoot the film anytime - no need to see this as an end to that. It’s a great gift to be amongst artists and collaborators for ANY amount of time - money comes and goes. Why not grab the bull by the horns and live life on the edge for a summer? Of course, there’s also power in saying no, you need to gauge for yourself what decision inspires you more!"

She is wise and inspiring and I'm so grateful that our paths have crossed. So I decided to live life where's it's most exciting- on the edge- so I said yes. But it's good to be reminded that there is power in saying no. And I can always make my film another time.

The second bit of exciting news is that I quit my day job last Friday. To be honest, it wasn't a happy ending. I didn't go into work that day expecting to quit my job. I had already requested to take a leave of absence while at Steppenwolf, knowing that when the school was over that I probably wouldn't be going back, but I still wanted to leave on good terms. It was good to have an end date though. I knew that I could handle four more weeks of this job, but then something happened that day and I just couldn't put up with a certain kind of behavior anymore. It wasn't an easy decision. I've never just quit a job like that. I've always done the responsible thing and given notice, but sometimes enough is enough and you have to do what's best for yourself. I won't go into details about what happened. I don't know if this blog is the place to discuss it, maybe some day, but not today.

I think it was inevitable that I eventually just had to walk out. Honestly, it was a long time coming. I'd put up with outrageous behavior for 3 1/2 years too long. Sometimes you have to deal with people and situations that you don't like- that's part of life- and I stuck it out that long for various reasons, a few of them being that the job was easy, I had flexibility, and I liked my co-workers. There comes a time though when you have to stand up for yourself and no longer accept being treated unkindly by another person. You don't bring out the best in people by being mean to them. Leaving that negative environment has probably been one of the best decisions I've ever made. I've been so much happier this past week. I'm taking this time before Steppenwolf starts to focus on me and get back to creating my happy. Sure, we might have to tighten our wallets a bit since I stopped working sooner than we anticipated but I'm trusting that it will all work out. I'm living on the edge of trust. It's a scary but exciting place to be.

So whatever it is that you want, believe you can and do it.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

the rest of the 24 days

Christmas is over. And I am relieved that it is. Not that I didn't enjoy the holiday season because I did, especially since the 24 Days of Giving put me more in the holiday spirit than I have been in a few years. It's just that now I can get back to…well, my life. It feels like the holidays are so consuming, and sometimes that distraction is necessary, but I'm ready to be rejuvenated not by distraction but by doing a lot of work- by creating my happy.

Here's how the 24 Days of Giving wrapped up -

Day 17 - I had a bag of food in my car that I've been meaning to drop off to a food shelter. Then I saw a makeshift bed set up underneath the train tracks by my work so I decided to leave the food for whoever was staying there. I wrote a note on the paper bag wishing them well. It wasn't much but I hope it gives them some nourishment for a few days.

Day 18 to 23 - To be honest, I don't really remember what I gave, if anything, these days. The intention was always there to give but some days it just didn't happen.

Day 24 - I baked this cake for my co-workers.

Even though I missed quite a few days to give this was, overall, an amazing experience. In some ways I feel like this ended up being more of a gift to me than anything because these moments of giving were so joyful and filled with love. It's kind of how I want every day to be.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Day 16 of 24

Day 16 - This by far has been my favorite giving day. Not only was I able to give something to one of my favorite people, my sister, but the way everything worked out was like magic.

I called my sister when I got home because, due to some emails I had received from her earlier in the day, I knew she had a rough day at work. She was on her way to meet a teacher friend for dinner after staying late at school to tutor some students. I asked her where they were going and she said "We're teachers, all we can afford is Pei Wei." Immediately I thought how fun would it be to buy them dinner. I casually asked her which Pei Wei they were going to, then came up with an excuse to get off the phone with her. She was already in the parking lot so I had to act fast. I called Pei Wei and the manager I spoke to was so helpful- she didn't hesitate at all. It was almost like this sort of thing happened to her all the time and she knew exactly what to do. She said that if I trusted her I could give her my credit card info and she would enter it in manually. That sounded like a good plan to me. The only thing was that we had to make sure that I would be buying dinner for the right people. I had no idea what my sister was wearing so I could only describe what she looks like. I've never met my sister's friend so we didn't have a lot to go on. I kept saying something about them being teachers. Then all of a sudden the manager tells me to hold on. About a minute later she comes back on the line and said that she recognized them and had to make sure that the cashier didn't charge them. At this point I had no idea if it was my sister and her friend but I just had to trust and go with it. I gave the manager my credit card and contact info and thanked her for helping me make this happen. Then I texted my sister to tell her to enjoy her dinner, but also to find out if it was indeed her that I had just bought dinner for. And it was! The best part is that my sister and her friend didn't know it was me until that text. They just thought it was some random person on the phone who was doing a kind deed. It caught them completely off guard. My sister's friend was ordering first and when the cashier told her that someone had bought her dinner she started crying. My sister then ordered not expecting someone to also pay for her dinner and was just as surprised when the cashier said that her meal had also been paid for. And it was only when they sat down to eat and saw my text that all the pieces came together. My sister knows that I'm doing this 24 Days of Giving but she never put it together that it was me on the phone, and since the cashier only said "the person on the phone" and not "your sister" they had no way of knowing anyway. It also helped that my sister's friend was wearing a shirt with the name of the school on it.

This spontaneous and random act was a perfect example of how an awesome opportunity to give can just present itself at any moment. There's no way I could have planned this. We just have to be opening to see these moments and to give.

Here's a little snippet of the text. Just thinking back on this moment makes me smile. So much happiness being created right now.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

year six ornament

This year's ornament is from Fred Arndt Artworks- another great etsy find. He has about 200 mid-century wood ornaments in his shop. I'm sure you can imagine how long it took me to narrow it down to this ornament. Good thing I let Ebert help me make the final decision, otherwise I probably would still be deciding on which one I liked best. You can see all six ornaments here.

The wall art work is also stunning. I'm currently loving this design.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Day 14 and 15 of 24

Day 14 - On this day I was actually given gifts of kindness from strangers - someone held the door open for me, when I dropped something while standing in line someone came over to help me pick it up, and someone let me turn in left in front of them so I wouldn't be blocking traffic. Those small acts of kindness kept happening to me throughout the day and meant so much to me, especially since when I wasn't feeling so happy or jolly. It really is the little gifts that can make such a big difference.

Day 15 - I'm part of an actors meet-up group here in Chicago and on this day we had our annual holiday hurrah fundraiser party. I gave my time to volunteer at the event and also bought raffle tickets to support the group. It was fun giving back to an organization that gives so much to actors in the community throughout the year.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 10, 11, 12 and 13 of 24

Day 10 - My sister asked me to adopt a couple of her students for Christmas. The package was filled with all sorts of goodies - chocolates and gum, bike lights, chapstick, toys. I had so much fun shopping for these kids! I can't wait to see pictures of them opening their presents.

Day 11 - I gave a co-worker my banana. Ha! Just writing that is funny but she was hungry and I had something to give. No picture necessary.

Day 12 - I made these DIY boozy hot chocolate gift bags and gave them to my cast mates. It was fun working with this group again, even if it was only for a one-night event.

Day 13 - I contributed to this.