The Astromaid Chronicles

Slow Travel, Creative Living, and Speculation

Category: Woman Things (page 2 of 3)

A Night, or Two, With Hanson

Listen, I’ve been a Hanson fan since 1997 and I’m not even gonna sugar coat that. It’s true. I’m out. Deal with it.

Since 2009, I’ve seen them roughly every two years, except for when they came around while I was living in Chile. Making the biannual trek to Cleveland (House of Blues, specifically) to see them play has been something of a personal pilgrimage. It’s important to check in with the guys every couple of years, too. Like re-visiting old friends.

I remember the first time in 2009 was a big deal because not only was I going to attend a concert by myself, I was also confronting the ghosts of my adolescence on my own, with adult eyes, and with a whole different perspective than when I’d seen them last (which was somewhere around 2003).

I felt kind of awkward that time, rocking out to Hanson and screaming like a freak by myself. The screaming isn’t really negotiable, it just erupts out of me like hot magma from a volcano. When those boys play any track from Middle of Nowhere…shit. I lose it. And somehow, doing those scream-y, fangirl things with a friend by your side makes you feel like it’s more acceptable…less lame, somehow.

But all alone? Nope, gotta own that lameness.

It was easier the second time around, in 2011. I had more fully accepted the fact that yep, I’m just a 20-something Hanson fan coming to shows all alone. 

But now, in 2015, I had some companions. I was hesitant to bring them, since the solo journey to behold Hanson has become not only a pilgrimage but also a sacred time-out for me. For whatever reason. Or maybe I just like routine.

Whatever the reason, I knew that these companions were more important than sticking to a tradition I made up out of necessity.  Both companions were willing, for the record. There was no coercion. None that I’ll admit to, at least.

Heather and I at the Hanson concert

Companion for Night #1, Best Friend Heather

Zac Hanson greeting fans

Zac Hanson greeting fans toward the end of the show. Why can’t my hand be up there, grazing his ever-so-slightly???

Going to Hanson concerts is a strange departure from almost any other type of show I’ve been to. The type of music I see live most often these days is folk and rock, local music, acoustic stuff…or underground house music.Their concerts back in the day were admittedly much larger. I’ve seen them in arenas, in huge amphitheaters, and then…the House of Blues, where several hundred aged-up fans can gather comfortably without too much elbow-brushing or accidental pushing.

I think that’s just the thing–the crowd is so respectable. Looking around, I see mostly white, middle-class women with pressed blouses and carefully straightened hair and I laugh and then I reflect, I am one of them. And being comprised of all women and a small handful of obligated male significant others, I don’t feel comfortable resorting to brash, relentless pushing to get to the front, or get a better spot, etc. Is this what happens when a teeny-bopper gets older, wiser, more thoughtful?

Back in 1999, I would have knifed a bitch to get closer to Zac Hanson. My friend and I even forged permission slips to hand to a guard to sneak back stage (which didn’t work out.)

Now, I worry that my dread pile might block another paying fan’s view.

First Night with Hanson in Cleveland

First Night with Hanson in Cleveland

Hanson is doing a shorter tour this year, but playing for TWO nights in each spot. I wasn’t even going to go the first night because gas money and adult stuff. But then I figured, fuck it, I bought a ticket to see Hanson for two nights and I damn well better gaze upon their faces for as long as humanly possible.

Night #1 was all covers (with a few original tunes sprinkled in), followed by a beer party to showcase their new beer which is called, I shit you not, MMMHops. Then Taylor Hanson DJ’d, which I DID NOT SEE, BECAUSE IT WAS A WORK NIGHT AND SOME PEOPLE HAVE TO GET TO BED IN SANDUSKY, HANSON. OKAY?!

This is hilarious, and totally real.

This is hilarious, and totally real.

But seriously, I sort of regret not going. How many of these respectable 9-5’ers were popping drugs as Tay dropped the phat EDM? Yeah, I bet none. Work night, after all.

Wednesday, night #2, was a day that Jorge and I had to be in Cleveland for some unrelated matters in the AM, so we had a Cleveland Fun Day (or, as I like to call it, pre-Hanson activities, since when Hanson is in town, all references to time revolve around them).  The Cleveland parking system and their museums siphoned most of my disposable income for the month, which left me feeling slightly more educated and unnecessarily broke.

By the time Hanson Time rolled around, Jorge was briefed on what awaited him. Night #2 was the night of the Original Songs, so this was gonna be the big shebang–the screaming, the crowd swelling, the Mmmbop! We saw a good handful of Obligated Significant Other’s (OSO’s) there–you know, the bored boyfriend, embracing his girlfriend from behind as he chugs back a beer while she writhes desperately to the music in his arms.

I give Jorge a lot of credit, because he at least screamed for Hanson to hurry the eff up while we were waiting for the curtains to lift. Also, I caught a few of his errant bellows into the Hanson ether during the show.  So, it was something like enthusiasm, which counts.

I don’t know if it was the fact that I was already tired from a whole day of standing, museum-gazing and being slowly sucked dry by the Cleveland Art Scene, but it seemed like the crowd was less energetic than what I remembered from previous years. Maybe that was the effect of seeing Hanson two nights in a row–by the second night, it’s not quite as scream-worthy. Don’t get me wrong, there was tons of screaming. But there’s something precious and sacred in that build-up of waiting to see Hanson. Having seen them the night before, it was like we had already blown our loads.

But the second time around was still reallllllly freaking awesome.

Hanson, House of Blues 2015

*sigh* The boys.

Hanson, House of Blues 2015

OH, TAYLOR, YOUR SWEET VOICE AND MILKY SKIN STILL MAKES ME SWOON

The thing about Hanson is they have some of the most loyal fans in the WORLD. They have been a cohesive, touring unit for 20 years. TWENTY FREAKING YEARS. And they still put out new albums, tour regularly, meet with fans, and continue upping their game (with, as we saw this year, DJ sets and a beer brand).

It’s funny how we’re all getting older alongside them. At the concert the first night, I gestured to the audience and told Heather, “We grew up with all these girls.” Because we did, in a way. We didn’t know them, personally, but we all were coming of age and growing up together with Hanson as the center of our universe. And that’s a really powerful uniting force. So powerful that 15 years later, we’re still coming together to see these guys.

After the show wrapped on the second night, a very drunk fan told me she’d met them in Toronto the weekend before (yep, these fans still tag along for the whole tour!) and waited outside by their bus until they came outside. JUST LIKE I’D ALWAYS PLOTTED AS A TEENAGER. I considered the idea for a bit, knowing deep inside my heart that waiting a couple extra hours to meet the boys just wouldn’t make sense for my O.S.O who had a 7am wake-up call the next day.

I still want to meet Hanson. SO badly. Like, gazing upon Zac Hanson is something that stirs things inside my soul that are inexplicable and so deeply ingrained that I cannot even articulately express what is happening. He was so important in my adolescence, yet has no idea of who I am or what impact he had. Yet he knows–because how many girls have this same story?

I’d love to meet them someday, just shake their hands, stare intensely into their eyes, and really thank them for existing. They inspired so much creativity in my life. They are also one of the biggest inspirations behind my writing.

Jorge and I left Cleveland without lingering near tour buses or stalking back doors for signs of nearing voices. In fact, we were home by 10:30PM, because it was a work night, after all.

I didn’t meet Hanson this time…but someday, I swear to God, I will. We’ve been best friends since 1997, it’s high time they finally find out about it.

Hanson and their back-up musicians, signing off.

Hanson and their back-up musicians, signing off.

Post-Wedding Questions (Wedding Woes & Wonders Pt. 3)

I’ve been married for a week and two days–my personal (and only) record. Through the flurry of well-wishing and good tidings Jorge and I have received, one question rises above all the rest.

How do you feel now?

As a human being, throughout my bony structures and my intestinal functions, I feel exactly the same. Maybe even a little bit better, because that pre-wedding stress has disappeared, and my memory has improved (I can even remember plans I’ve made within a few days of making them again!).

But in my innards, in my soft spirit space? I feel buoyed by all the people sending notes, cards, and leaving comments for us. I feel completely and utterly overwhelmed by the amount of people in our lives that are able to share our joy. I feel so stupidly LUCKY to have so much support and happiness in my life; and it’s a sort of feeling that I don’t know if I even deserve, can only sit back and give thanks.

I feel a shit ton of gratitude that cannot be properly contained in a thank-you card.

I feel a little dizzy from all the recent happenings, from all the heartfelt sentiments coming from all corners of the globe.

And I feel pretty pumped for the rest of the moments that are yet to come.

The other question I’ve been getting lately: So what’s your new last name?

When I repeat my real last name in response, there’s usually a laugh and a disbelieving ‘Really?’. The fact that this surprises people surprises ME.

I haven’t changed my last name because I never intended to give away my identity, the name-identity I’ve held my entire life. It’s more than just being comfortable with it (which is also a big part of it for me). I am building a career around this name, and I don’t see a need to change it to represent a marriage that is real regardless of my surname.

I’ve been called by this name my whole life. Why should that change now?

People can call me by Jorge’s last name; that’s fine. I won’t be offended if someone makes the assumption that I took my husband’s last name. I’ll probably giggle and repeat it, because it’s cute and I love him and I often doodle his full name in the margins of my notebooks even as I near age 30. (Really, the name I’d prefer to go by, if you’re interested in knowing, is Mrs. Horgles. But I won’t be legally changing anything in that vein.)

I did ask Jorge if he’d like to take my last name, since I briefly considering changing my last name if he were into it too–like both of us adopting BOTH last names. But it didn’t appeal to him either. Our kids will have both our last names, which makes sense to me. They are born of both of us. But I didn’t come from Jorge, no matter how much I try to make my way inside his body via gnawing or burrowing.

He just takes it, too. Photo Credit: Fenna Blue

He just takes it, too. Photo Credit: Fenna Blue

I respect people who choose to take the name of their husband, or vice versa. I think it’s a symbolic way to represent a family unit. But for Jorge and I? We don’t need our surnames to do that sort of legwork. We’ve already got it covered, via our actual marriage, and our relics, and our altar full of representations of our family unit in the form of tiny sewn families from Peru.

There are a lot of different reasons that women do or don’t change their last names after marriage, as this Mic article explains. It references a 2010 Basic and Applied Psychology study that concluded women who change their last names are seen as “more caring, dependent and emotional”, while those who don’t change their last names are seen as “smarter and more ambitious”. As the article asks, how should a woman choose?

I don’t know if those findings would be necessarily true if I were to ask a random sample of people at the local mall, but what I DO know is that I don’t like the amount of stress and fretting surrounding details like changing a name-identity while men do not have to ‘deal with it’, per se.

Also, hell if I’m going to renew my passport, my driver’s license, every single credit and banking card, my lease, my utilities accounts, every online account ever conceived of, my work email signature, my work EMAIL ADDRESSES, and a million other things I can’t even fathom right now just to reflect a different last name if my partner doesn’t have to go through the same damn thing.

Equality, people.

[Here’s another piece from Bustle.com interviewing 27 women about why they didn’t change their last names.]

With This Relic, I Thee Wed!

On August 18th, 2015, Jorge and I TIED THE KNOT!

We kept it small and intimate, and a little inconvenient: business hours on a Tuesday afternoon! Just to, you know, see who really loved us by calling off work. Just kidding! 

Being that I’m the Astromaid, I delight in the inappropriate, zany details that comprise the periphery of daily living. And some of the highlights of this event were the following:

  • The wedding was in the municipal courthouse, and in order to “check in” for the wedding, I had to go to the office labeled “Criminal/Traffic Division”. Romantic!
  • Our wedding was inserted between totally normal, daily proceedings. So when we walked into the courtroom for our wedding, several pairs of unfamiliar eyes stared back at Jorge and I–and my friends and family were nowhere to be found. These people must have been waiting for their own hearings, or verdicts, or whatever, and had to go through my wedding before they could wrap up their own business! Sorry guys, just a quick wedding to perform!
  • The judge not only was a total jokester badass, he also spoke Spanish. But the wedding would be performed in English, so I made sure to translate the whole set of vows just so my future husband knew what he was getting himself into.
  • The backdrops of the courthouse were sometimes hilarious, and also informational. My favorite was posing near the poster advertising the physical effects of abusing heroin. It’s a courthouse wedding, you guys!

As Jorge and I were running over the vows in the judge’s chambers, I noticed the part that reads With this ring, I thee wed. We opted to not purchase or exchange rings, since its a tradition that doesn’t resonate with us very much. If we do ever decide to do rings someday, it will be jewelry that we find somewhere in the world, some day–and not just some bands we pick up because tradition dictates.

Instead of rings, we brought two pre-Incan statues that we picked up in Lima, Peru over a year ago. They spoke to us because its a male/female duo that were used in actual wedding/religious ceremonies, and used to hold the coka leaves mixed with whatever powder, to be consumed throughout the ceremony. Both the husband and wife would attach the figurine to their clothing or belts, so they could partake in coka leaves throughout the procession of the wedding celebrations.

A year ago, we knew we were life partners, and purchased these as a token of our commitment. It was fitting to use these instead of rings on Tuesday.

Pointing at the infamous line, I asked the judge if he could change the world ring to relic. He shrugged, unfazed. “Sure, why not?”

As 1,100 times before, a couple was wed during business hours, in the presence of friends and family and complete strangers waiting for their court date. But maybe for the first time in Ohio history, the deal was sealed with two small pre-Incan relics as a symbol of our love and commitment.

“With this relic, I thee wed!”

We're married!

We’re married! Where are our relics? Jorge must have pocketed them. But that’s the marriage license in my hand! Judge Erich O’Brien waves himself off the stage, like the rock star he is.

A Non-Traditional Dress, A Very Traditional Meltdown: Wedding Woes & Wonders Pt. 2

Let’s get one thing straight: I’ve spent about 25 years of my almost 30 years on Earth expecting to not get married.

It’s not that I have anything wrong with lifelong commitments, partnerships, or any manner of family-rearing. I’m totally down with all those things. But the pomp and circumstance of weddings? The hullabaloo that is the dress hunt, the mile-long registries, the nail-biting adherence to tradition?

No, thank you!

Approaching my own wedding has been, to say the least, a difficult process of figuring out what I do want and why. With every new decision and task, I have to consult my gut. And often times it rumbles its disapproval with the potency of a Ren & Stimpy episode.

One of the things that I knew would not be happening for my wedding was the ubiquitous white dress. I’m sure it comes as no surprise to hear that I’ve never, not even once, dreamt about what dress I would wear at my wedding. I did once imagine what a pleasing dress might look like, because around age 14 I thought my ambivalence about the whole thing was disconcerting, and the only thing I could think of was ‘strapless’. Good try, 14-year-old Astromaid.

Not-White was a good starting point for this hunt, but unfortunately it wasn’t quite enough. A couple of my best girls and I set two dates to scour the environs, to begin getting ideas. Because no matter how much I thought it could still fit under the umbrella of ‘non-traditional’, I knew leggings were out of the question for this event (I mean, seriously, I can wear something other than leggings at least 1% of the year, and especially for my own wedding).

Secretly, though, I was hoping they would find the perfect dress for me and I would only have to give one convincing, emphatic nod. And preferably that it would be the first dress we found.

The first scouring took place at our local mall, which had a dismal selection. I put on a total of one dress and needed two of my friends to get out of it. Score.

The next scouring took place at a larger mall about 45 minutes from my house. The selection was larger, but not quite as formal as what I thought I might want.

What I thought I might want. I still didn’t know what I wanted, at all, and tried on anything that remotely caught my attention. Some of the options I loved, but were totally not for a wedding; and other things looked like I was trying to be my own flower girl (which, hey, would be cool. And perfectly non-traditional).

Not exactly the best option for a wedding ceremony...but really freaking cute nonetheless.

Not exactly the best option for a wedding ceremony…but really freaking cute nonetheless. ALSO HEINOUSLY EXPENSIVE (the belt alone was $50).

We realized, after fingering far too many flimsy blouses at H&M and Anthropologie, that we might need to go to a place dedicated to formal wear. So off to David’s Bridal, the number one place I had been hoping to avoid.

Let me be clear: David’s Bridal is very good at what it does. The shudder I experienced when signing into the bridal registry had nothing to do with their business plan, and everything to do with my own disgruntledness with the wedding industry. When they asked me who the bride was and I felt my lower intestine try to strangle itself, it had less to do with the perky and helpful employee Taylor and more to do with my own skin-crawling aversion to being labeled ‘a bride’.

The whole place is set up to honor and uplift brides preparing for their big day. And that’s cool—if you’re into playing the wedding game. I know a lot of women who love this sort of thing, and I respect that. But I’m not someone who wants to play the game, not even for a second.

So I beelined it to the bridesmaid section. The store only had three non-white wedding dresses, which all had trains. What even is that for? I could google it, but more importantly, I know I don’t want it. Taylor helpfully collected the dresses I selected and started a dressing room for me. Soon, I had about five options and went to dutifully present them to my friends on what was a literal stage.

A fucking stage. Because this is our chance to be the belle of the ball, a princess for a day. But I’m an astronaut mermaid! I hide in the depths of the sea or the soundless oblivion of outer space. I am really not okay with so much attention. And this became piercingly clear to me when, from inside the cheery stall of my dressing room, shimmying into a sequined gold floor-length dress that might have come from the Mother of The Bride section, I heard a bell ring…a few screams of surprise…and then applause.

One of the other girls in the store had made her selection. SHE FOUND THE DRESS!

My stomach catapulted and I growled through the door at my friends outside.

“If they ring that bell for me,” I told them, “We are walking the fuck out of here.”

I was surprised by my own vehemence, and I admitted to my girlfriends later that I would be unpacking these feelings for a while. Good thing I have a blog, huh?

It’s not that I disagree with looking pretty for a day, or dressing nicely for a special occasion. It doesn’t bother me that other women go the traditional white dress route. Plenty of brides make choices that are different than mine, and that’s totally fine.

So what is it?

I thought about this as I grunted and shimmied into my remaining options. Most were immediate No’s. I tried on one regular wedding dress, for shits and giggles. I felt so weird.

IMG_8081

Strapless. Just like the 14-year-old me would have wanted.

And then the last dress was the one. I knew, because my friends made that “ooooh!” noise when I came out onto the freaking stage. As I admired the plunging backline and the perfect shade of mossy pink, I knew this dress would work just fine.

No bell was rung. I didn’t even make a purchase that day, since the dress I tried on was just a bit small, and my proper size was located in a different store. So I was able to slink out of there without any overzealous bride-to-be harassment—I mean, uh…celebration.

There it is.

There it is.

A few days later, I called the store that had my size and ordered it. A regular transaction like any other person. Which, after that full day of intense bridecitement raining upon me from the World At-Large, I desperately needed a respite.

Dress ordered. Purchase made. One more detail taken care of. I was sitting pretty, able to breathe a little easier now that the looming detail of the Wedding Garment was taken care of.

The dress arrived a few days later in a box that was comically beaten up. I hung it on my bedroom door, inspecting it, re-familiarizing myself with it since our last meeting.

A few hours went by, the dress in the back of my mind as I continued with my work day. I don’t know what the shift was, or why it happened. But somewhere between the dress’ arrival and later that afternoon, I became completely convinced that I had made the hugest mistake of my life.

I furiously googled “non-traditional wedding dresses”, something I hadn’t done previously because I felt secure with finding something I wanted on my own. But now? Now I had no idea what I was doing. And all these dresses were white,  or mostly white with a little bit of a different color. I even googled “courthouse weddings” to scope what other non-traditional brides were wearing—and they were wearing long traditional dresses, or short white dresses, or short red dresses that I definitely wouldn’t pick.

Hey guys, just here for my non-traditional courthouse wedding. [Photo Credit: www.austinweddingday.com]

Hey guys, just here for my non-traditional courthouse wedding. [Photo Credit: www.austinweddingday.com]

And the doubt crept in. I thought, Holy hell I really messed this one up. I should have gotten a short dress. I should have gotten white, because maybe I really do want white now. And look at all these courthouse weddings in short dresses! You’re gonna look like a freak showing up in pink, much less a floor-length dress, in the middle of August. What were you thinking?? ABORT. ABORT.

At this point, I had about two weeks until the ceremony date and not a lot of free time to go dress-hunting again. So I thought I might google a dress, find something online, and hope that a totally new dress that I couldn’t try on prior to my ceremony day would work out perfectly. Yeah, great idea.

I searched for two full hours, stress mounting with each new website that originated in China. Nothing I even remotely wanted in my price range could arrive by the ceremony date, and the pressure to find this sudden, elusive perfect dress was like an ogre breathing down my neck. I reluctantly tore myself away from the computer to go pick up Jorge from work, and I cried the entire car ride there.

And then I cried the whole car ride to drop him off at this next job. I JUST WANT TO LOOK NICE, I wailed to him.

And then I cried more on my way home.

Jorge was a champ; he took it all in stride, and reminded me that whatever I wore for the ceremony was fine (even leggings). When I got home, I consulted some of my best friends on the issue.

I THOUGHT I WOULD BE IMMUNE TO THE DRESS CRAZE, I texted my best friend and honorary maid of honor, Becky, during a binge session of Google Shop and hummus with pita chips. I EVEN CRIED ABOUT IT. WHY IS THIS SUCH A BIG DEAL?

Because this is a preeeeetty big event in your life, she gently reminded me. I felt better after that. I really had thought that my non-traditional approach to planning a ceremony and reception would somehow exclude me from stress or confusion…especially of the dress variety.

But as it turns out, stress and anxiety aren’t linked to only white things. And after a few hours I felt less like a dress-doubting maniac, aided by the fact that I had settled on the dress for my reception with the help of both Brian and Jorge. I knew it might not arrive to my house in time for the ceremony itself, but either way it was one more item off the to-do list for the reception itself. Clicking ‘Purchase’ makes a lady feel good, even if she hasn’t tried the damn thing on.

The next day I woke up, bright and early as always. I looked again at the pink dress in the bright light of the morning, appraising it with fresh eyes and a clear head. I couldn’t identify at all with the stress and clamor of the day before. It felt like a dream, or perhaps a slightly lame edition of Say Yes To The Dress; and as I fingered the lacy pink bodice, I thought…Eh, it’s not so bad. This dress is perfectly fine.

Nobody rang a bell; I’m not wearing white; and I sure as hell dodged the bride moniker as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t qualify for my very own bride-to-be meltdown before the courthouse wedding day!

On the next edition of Wedding Woes & Wonders: What’s your problem with the wedding industry, anyway?

Interviewin’ A Badass Series: VANESSA ALVARADO

Vanessa Alvarado is another stellar member of the #LoudLadies community who lives a life full of passion and creativity. Her blog, Thrift Core, is one of the most interesting spots on the world wide web, where she shares inspiration for living a life outside of the status quo. Plus, she’s the only herbalist I’ve met with an affinity for both anime AND cephalopods. Let’s learn some more about this awesome ex-pat #loudlady!

Thank you so much for appearing on my blog! Can you give my readers a summary of what your current projects are?

Right now I’m finishing my studies to become a certified herbalist and loving it! I’m working with my mom and boyfriend to launch a line of natural body care products and plotting behind-the-scenes on some fresh re-branding for my blog. I was selling vintage and taking clients for random projects but cleared most of that from my plate. I’ve stopped trying to do one million projects at once…for now!

Phew! That’s a lot of awesome projects! And WHERE are you right now?

I’m in the best apartment in Riverside, Jacksonville, Florida with my best friend and boyfriend 😀 But you probably meant in life? I’m feeling dizzy from the array of choices I have with my two big projects right now and just trying to buckle down, focus, and make them the best they can be.

Ms. Vanessa herself, in a hotel in Tampa rather than in her lovely apartment.

Ms. Vanessa herself, in a hotel in Tampa rather than in her lovely apartment.

Your life location AND physical location both sound pretty dang great. Mmm, Florida! I’ve only ever visited Fort Myers, and that was for a wild whirlwind vacation with my girlfriends where I think all of us technically got married on the beach. So you were raised in Naples, Italy and Jacksonville, Florida. Did you split your time between both places, or spend a set number of years in each place?

My dad was in the Navy so we moved around a little bit. I was born in Norfolk Virgina. We moved to Naples, Italy where I only spent four years. We then moved to South Carolina for two years. After that we moved to Jacksonville, Florida where I’ve remained ever since. It’s been two decades since I’ve lived in Italy and I still miss it.

What is your mother tongue, and where else do you consider home?

I’m half Mexican (mom) and half Puerto Rican (dad) but my parents raised my brothers and I to speak English and only English. They said we rejected Spanish completely by about age 3 and refused to speak it. I consider my eclectic bohemian neighborhood (Riverside, Jacksonville) home but I have severe wanderlust and love to explore everywhere and everything. I want to travel the U.S.A in an RV and travel the world from there!

USA by RV is also one of my travel goals. I salivate thinking about exploring the Wild West that way. Do you travel much during the year to new places, or do you mostly make the rounds to visit family and friends in the same spots across the globe?

I visit family in Puerto Rico sporadically, they live in the Southern part (Ponce) away from the tourist scene so I get to indulge in the “real” Puerto Rico. We rarely explore the island outside of that, but try to. Otherwise, I try to go somewhere new in my area at least once a week or go on weekend trips to areas that are 2-5 hours away. My friends and I have a big calendar of explorations booked for the summer and I’m saving up for future, farther trips!

Caracoles, La Parguera, Puerto Rico

Caracoles, La Parguera, Puerto Rico, where you get dropped off via boat to reach one of the tinier Caribbean Islands.

What is something you’ve learned about travel the HARD way that you can share with my readers?

Really be alert when planning your trips and when you’re on your trips. I had a friend book a trip to Key West for us and he accidentally booked the hotel one hour away from Key West. We had to drive an hour each time we wanted to see more in the key! Also, pay close attention in the airport. I had a fast connector flight from Tokyo to Washington and didn’t hear that I got to skip ahead in the customs line for it. I had to dash across the airport and nearly missed my flight!

Just hearing about your near-miss at the airport made my heart rate spike. That’s really good advice, especially about double-checking your hotel bookings. RyanAir in Europe likes to make their own airports, claiming they’re in a city like Barcelona, for instance, and then when you land there you realize you’re actually an hour outside of Barcelona and have to spend even more money to get to the freaking city you wanted in the first place. SIGH. But, moving on…

You have a self-proclaimed love for cephalopods. Would you still love them so much if you woke up with an oversized, creepy, bottom-of-the-sea-feeder, electric blue mollusk poised to suction cup itself to your face?

I really would.

That’s so creepy. Have you ever been deep-sea diving and/or handled a mollusk? If not, can we try it together?

Nope, but it’s been a childhood dream. Let’s do it!

You’re one of the nerdy website girls of the late 90’s, like I was. Most of my time between ages 11 and 15 was spent teaching myself HTML so I could perfect the frames on my Hanson fansite (yes, yes, I know…) What were your websites about, and did you ever use Angelfire?

Haha, no shame. I had two of their CDs and my friends had wall-to-wall Hanson “wallpaper” (pages ripped out of teen magazines.) All the eyes everywhere made it terrifying to attempt sleep! I made several different anime fan-sites on Angelfire before switching to hosting them off my own domain name in the future! Oh, memories! I was sucked in and addicted from my very first Angelfire website. I had stupidly long URLS and abused the animated gifs.

The animated GIF’s! Ahh, what great times with those!

What is the biggest lesson you learned from your time spent as a corporate copywriter? And how do you use that experience to direct your freelancing career?

It would be hard to narrow it down to one! I value the search engine optimization tricks I learned, but learning how to phrase things to sell is my favorite lesson. The importance of communicating value was practiced and refined during my time in an office.

And those aren’t easy things to learn or refine! I certainly could stand to learn more about it (so I’ll probably let you know when I need a crash course sometime down the road…)

What’s your favorite non-American recipe? Share as much details as possible, because I want to make it like, tonight.

A classic comfort food staple I learned to make in Italy was a classic Italian-style Caprece salad with fresh buffalo mozzarella. It’s very healthy and fresh, a beautiful reflection of “real” Italian food, which is lighter and fresher than the Italian-American counterpart. You cube ripe tomatoes, cube fresh buffalo mozzarella from the market, julienne freshly picked basil and toss it all with extra virgin olive oil. Top with a dash of sea salt. Simple. Perfection. Makes your mouth very happy and takes very little time, too!

Dinner tonight = ready. Thanks for joining us, Vanessa! Don’t forget to check out her blog, Thrift Core!

Interviewin’ A Badass Series: STEPH SHAR

Stephanie Shar, you’re a pretty bad-ass chick. A mid-western girl by birth, you left home and moved out west several years ago to grab life by the balls: something I really admire in others. And in doing so, you started your own business; have launched a professional modeling career; you started a family; and you provide hope and inspiration to tons of ladies. It doesn’t get much better than that. So I’m here because I want to pick your brain a bit. Okay? Okay!

Let’s get right to it: in your life, what was the scariest trip you’ve ever taken, and why?

Well, first off, thank you so much for having me and for your kind words!  Wow!  I’m honored to be here.  Hmm, so scariest trip.  I’m not sure, because honestly traveling isn’t scary for me.  But I’d say it was the plane ride on my way to New York in high school, because I hadn’t been on a plane in years and I was nervous!  I’ve flown a bunch of times since then though, so I’m totally used to it now.

Yet the thrill of riding in a plane or going to the airport doesn’t ever totally wear off. There’s something so romantic about boarding a plane and taking off into the air. Sigh! Before you moved out west, what were your greatest fears? And how did you overcome them?

I was actually very naive and optimistic before moving from Michigan to California.  I had no plan and barely any money.  I didn’t have a job lined up and didn’t know what I was going to do there; all I really wanted was to leave!  I’m proud of where I’m from, but I wanted something different (and was sick of the snow).  So when my boyfriend at the time told me he was going, I decided to go too and off we went.  Things went smoothly at first, but it was rocky for a few years.  Moving to a new place was an easy decision, but ended up being a difficult adjustment.  Finding the right support system in LA definitely helped!

Well said, and SO true! Sounds a little bit like my own move to South America, in fact. But the bottom line is, packing up and moving elsewhere is a BIG DEAL. Oftentimes, there are a lot of naysayers who disguise their fears as ‘advice’. What did your family and friends think?

My mom cried and my dad barely spoke to me for 6 months.  I was raised in a conservative home and moving across the country to live with someone out of wedlock was far from what my parents wanted.  The rest of my family and friends were pretty supportive, because I think they always knew that even though I was a goody-two-shoes, I had a secret rebellious side.  I’m happy to report that, 6 years later, my parents are totally used to me being gone; of course, they do still miss me (especially since I now have a little one in tow).

Seeing your parents react that way must have been so heartbreaking. I’m glad you followed your dreams and that they came around to it in their time (though I bet they wish their grandson was around more!) Let’s talk numbers. Before you took the plunge, did you have a nest egg? Or did you just wing it? What would you recommend to other ladies looking to make a similar leap?

Haha, I wouldn’t recommend what I did to anyone!  I think I had a little over $2,000 when I left (which is NOTHING in Los Angeles).  I was fortunate to find a job right away, but it wasn’t something I was passionate about… it just paid the bills.  I would suggest doing lots of research before moving to your destination — figure out how much your cost of living will be, and then how much you’ll need to make in order to sustain yourself.  Try to save enough so that if you move and can’t find a job right away, you’ll be okay for a few months.  The job market still sucks in most cities.  Proper planning is really important and I wish I’d done more of it — but at the same time, if you wait until you’re “ready” then you’ll never be ready.  So pick a moving date in advance, create a plan and stick to it!

Stephanie Shar, creator of Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

Stephanie Shar, creator of The Loudmouth Lifestyle. Photo Credit: Megan Burke

You could drop 2k on a pseudo-luxury hotel room in L.A…for one NIGHT. This is all great advice, Stephanie. I think the line is quite thin between adequate preparation and never being ready. Somewhere in that tiny gray area, you gotta take the leap like you did.

Have you traveled abroad? If so, what was your favorite place? And if not, where do you most want to go?

The last time I went out of the country was when I was 19 for my friend’s bachelorette party, and we went to Canada because it wasn’t far from Detroit and we could drink there.  Ha!  I’ve been to Europe a couple times but I was really little.  So… I’m just going to say no, I haven’t traveled abroad, or at least not from what I can remember.  I’d love to go to Italy and France, maybe Spain too.  And Poland, because I have relatives there still!

For growing up only 2 hours away from Canada, I am embarrassed to report I’ve never been there. Someday…I’ll get there. I think your international travel list sounds great, and I heartily recommend Venice, Italy to you! As well as every other place you want to go, because EUROPE! So, did you hear about the travel apparatus that prevents people from reclining their seats, so long-legged passengers can have a more comfortable flight experience? ISN’T THAT CRAZY?! What do you think?

Wow!  Well, it looks rude, but I’m 5’8″ and I’m always uncomfortable on planes anyway, so I don’t think I would even notice if someone was using one.  Lol.  I always try to save for the bigger seats in front, or grab one in the emergency aisle because I think those have more room!

Would you rather have an honest-to-god Italian pesto in Venice, or some bizarre, once-in-a-lifetime dish from some obscure country you’ve never heard of that includes animal guts only so you could have the bragging rights?

I’d take the pesto.  I’m a wimp!

Be real: Malbec or Merlot???

Merlot, because I think it’s cheaper.  But if you’re buying, I’ll take the Malbec.  I just like alcohol, okay!?

If that’s the case, I’ll certainly buy us a bottle of wine the next time we’re in the same area! Or, you know, three. What do you miss most about home?

My family, the fresh air and wide open spaces…

Word, sista! Did you know that growing up, we used to refer to Michigan drivers as “insane”, “crazy”, and “out of control”…simply because your highway speed limit was 10 mph higher than ours in Ohio? Since living abroad, I’ve realized that Michigan drivers are none of those things…because in the USA, we drive so CALMLY compared to other countries!

That’s hilarious.  You haven’t seen crazy ’til you’ve tried to drive in LA!

What is one piece of advice you’d like to offer to my readers in terms of relocation, goal-acquisition, and starting their own enterprises?

Have so much confidence that you don’t need anyone else’s approval!  But be humble enough to ask for help.  Like, you know, from a coach or something…

 

Thank you so much for joining me today, Stephanie! Don’t forget to check out the Loudmouth Lifestyle website, or follow the conversation on twitter via #liveloudly or by following Steph here.

Traveling To India? 9 Tips for Solo Female Travelers

If you’re traveling to India…

…And you’re alone, female, western, blonde, or have strange hair in any capacity…

LISTEN UP.

I’ve got a few things to share with you.

1. BE PREPARED FOR STARES. And I mean, a lot of them. And by a lot of them, I mean a SHIT TON OF THEM. I have traveled through Central and South America by myself, and through the Middle East with a partner. Never, in any of my forays, have I received so much attention as I did, alone or otherwise, as in India. I’ve never been to China, Japan, Vietnam, etc, so maybe the attention rivals travel experiences in those parts. I’ll let you all know once I make my way over there.

2. Turbans, hair wraps, and over-shawling doesn’t always help. These are good ways to ‘blend in’, but let’s be real, ‘blending in’ is a bit of a misnomer. Covering exposed skin, wearing loose pants or long flowy skirts are all good ways to attract less attention. But really, there’s no way to hide the extra-fair skin of your face, neck or hands, or the 5 foot 8 inches of bulky American womanhood. My dreadlocks tended to create a Marge Simpson-style pile on top of my head when I turban-wrapped the locks. It drew looks, but it was still better than leaving them exposed.

3. It’s okay to say no to photographs. And trust me, people WILL ask you to pose for pictures. Because the more you say yes, the more others nearby will begin to request photos, which prompts others nearby to request photos…and so on, and so forth. This is a fact I learned the hard way in Vrindavan.

4. The staring isn’t necessarily rude. I mean sure, we might think it is. And after several weeks of unforgiving staring, it even feels rude. Like, viscerally, gut-wrenchingly rude. But remember, some of these people have never seen somebody like you. Don’t take it personally. It’s in our culture to avoid getting caught looking at somebody — ever been on a subway or bus while you people-watched, and then one of those people caught you doing it? So awkward. And mildly offensive. But that’s in AMERICA, where our own special set of cultural norms prevails.

5. Do your research and prepare accordingly. India makes the news for a lot of different reasons, but one of the things I was most concerned about prior to my trip was the prevalence of sexual assault against women. Sexual assault can occur anywhere, at any time. But knowing that I was going to be flying solo for a large portion of my trip, and on top of that, attracting a lot of attention for looking ‘different’ AND as a woman, I wanted to be prepared — mentally, emotionally, AND physically. Luckily, thankfully, I had no issues during my trip. But I helped mitigate the possibility by traveling in 1st class on the train, arranging taxis in advance when I needed to go to the airport or the bus station, and going halves-ies on private cars with a friend when possible.

Sexual assault is not a problem unique to India – but when traveling alone in ANY country, it’s important to be aware of potential dangers and how to best protect against them, to the best of your ability. For some women, this means personal defense skills, carrying mace, never traveling alone, and so forth. For me in India, I did my best to travel WITH somebody when I could, or to otherwise arrange as many parts of the travel route as I could in advance.

6. Interesting conversations are lurking everywhere. One of my favorite memories from the trip through India was my overnight train ride from Haridwar to Delhi, where one of my cabin mates was an older Sikh man who worked as a nuclear engineer. One of his conversation starters was “What god do you follow?” followed by “What do you think about reincarnation?” These are excellent conversation-starters; for people who like to talk about that sort of stuff, that is.

By the same token, one of the classic pieces of advice given to single female travelers is to be careful when younger men try to engage you in conversation. Sometimes, western women are stereotyped as ‘easy’, so it could be an attempt to woo you, scam you, or just get to know you. Who knows? You gotta use your gut when you travel the world, and as a solo female traveler in India, it’s no different.

7. Get a phone. Even if you get a cheap flip-phone with a SIM card while you’re in India, having a phone serves a couple key purposes. It’s a good idea in case of EMERGENCY, and it also makes buying bus/train/plane tickets easier online. My train ticket was originally waitlisted, and I had no idea until my friend informed me mere hours before the departure. She knew because all the ticket updates were coming to her phone, since I had used her number for the obligatory mobile input for purchasing the ticket. Furthermore, I ran into many situations where utilizing the free wifi of a coffee shop or restaurant entailed inputting an Indian mobile number…places like the airport, Starbucks, super-classy malls, etc.

8. Be careful at night. As a general rule, I didn’t go anywhere alone after nightfall, even in Rishikesh where I felt overall much safer and less observed. Coming from a country where I can safely and soundly wander most streets by myself at night, this was a difficult adjustment. It really depends on what area you’re in, as it does for ALL countries. For example, when I used to live in Valparaiso, Chile, and even here in Cusco, Peru, there are parts you know to avoid at night, and other parts that you feel fine walking alone after dark. However, given the general spectacle that could be created with the hair and whatnot, I tried to arrange all my after-dark dealings in the company of friends.

9. Adjust your expectations as much as you can. Arriving to India as open-minded and prepared as possible will go a long way for your first experience. I had a lot of friction at the beginning of my trip because I felt stifled — needing to stay in at night, cover myself up, avert the eyes of men because it might be construed as a sexual invitation, etc. Those things are hard for me adapt to, and it’s just the way I am. I adapted, of course; but the different social standing and attitude toward women in general was a tough pill to swallow. Just being open to going with the cultural flow, wherever that flow might take you, will do a lot to make your trip more pleasant…and possibly less fraught with feminist flares and diatribes (like mine).

Only five weeks in India taught me A LOT about myself as a traveler and seeker. I’m EAGER to go back, and can’t wait to visit more of the country; but I know that when I go next time, I will most likely have a full-time travel partner (hopefully my boyfriend!) to make things a bit easier.

 

For more information about sexual assault and personal safety in India, check these resources:

Solo Female Travel in India: Is It Safe?, from Adventurous Kate

Sexual Violence in India: Women See Little Progress, from CBC News

Court Convicts Four Men for Sexually Assaulting, Killing Woman in New Delhi Bus, from Huffington Post

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