Architecture, Alcohol, and Adventures in Voodoo

Besides having some National Park sites in the area, New Orleans has been on my travel wish list for two reasons: I’ve been in the city twice for only a couple of hours (so all I’ve done is Cafe Du Monde) and it’s where my brother’s fiance, Gabby, is from! I’ve wanted my brother and her to show me around town for some time, and finally we put it on the books. They’re some of NOLA’s biggest fans, so I knew they’d be perfect travel companions.

My brother was set on leaving Dallas around 3AM and getting into New Orleans by noon, his so-called perfect travel time, so that’s what we did. I was able to take a bit of a nap after work so I was prepared for the early, early morning start. By the time the sun came up, I took over driving, and was enjoying Louisiana. The beautiful trees always surprise me for some reason.

We got in a bit before noon, and found our Airbnb was just shy of Esplanade Avenue, meaning our first drive to check out the colorful houses was perfect. Along this neighborhood drive, we also spotted Edgar Degas’s house! The famous painter once lived as neighbors to our current Airbnb. I was glad we’d picked such a cool area, especially after checking out our temporary home’s decor. They were clearly emphasizing the New Orleans wild and fun time.

Speaking of, the first item of the itinerary was at a craft rum distillery, Old New Orleans. None of the three of us had been to a craft distillery tour before, so we were excited. They had two cocktails available when we got there as they took us on the tour. It was so tasty and we were worried we wouldn’t get our money’s worth, so we asked for refills (even though no one else did). Luckily, they kept filling us up as we learned more about how rum is made. It was pretty cool! This distillery in particular is also the oldest rum distillery in all of the US.

At the end of the tour, we were surprised to find they had shots of all their rums lined up for us. Uh oh. I don’t know why we didn’t realize they’d have samples of all their flavored rums at the end. We were pretty tipsy already, but we weren’t going to turn down delicious finely crafted rum. I’d say we definitely got our money’s worth! We even grabbed a bottle of their Cajun Spice Rum for our pregame planned for the following night.

Now that we were nice and buzzed, it was time to head off to explore some of New Orleans. We stopped by the famous “Umbrella Girl” on our way to the French Quarter. This graffiti is one from Banksy’s famous New Orleans series, originally twelve all around the city to make a statement on Hurricane Katrina. It was really cool, and preserved with a plastic shield so no one would try and destroy (or “add” to) it. Then we walked through town, to enjoy more architecture.

The French style of all the old historic houses was so awesome. Lots of trellises and working shutters and colors an balconies and columns. It was almost like being in a completely different country at some points. I love when every house is different and unique – and New Orleans is most certainly that! It was after enjoying all the beauty that we found ourselves on the hunt for voodoo. I originally knew I’d want to look for “something voodoo” because it was such a big part of the culture but I had no idea exactly how many voodoo stops we would find.

There were several shops all over! Anything that had voodoo, witch, or occult in the title, we stepped into to explore. I discovered potions, and prick dolls, and satanic idols. Sachets of herbs for good luck or “get out of jail” luck. It was so fun to just inspect all the wild stuff they had in their shops. I’m not sure if they were over the top for tourists or if they were pretty typical for a voodoo shop, but there was a lot of crazy and interesting stuff. Honestly some of it a little scary (haha).

As we were making our way from the French Quarter to the Bourbon Street area, we stopped to watch a street performance in Jackson Square that was pretty entertaining. That particular area reminded me a lot of something similar to New York City. More walking got us to dinner for the night, a fancy place called Pêche. So fancy in fact that when we ordered a few side plates to try things and when we asked for big plates so we could share, we definitely got a look. We were still feeling great from the day’s activities so we didn’t give a fuck; we also stuck to all waters. It was all really good! Recommending this “family style” tip for all broke people going to fancy restaurants if you can stand the judgement from your waiter.

Checking Out the Local Psychics (at a Dallas Fair)

When my friend Giselle asked me to check out the Dallas Psychic Fair with her, it was never a question of if I’d go but when I’d go. Just recently, I was finally able to make it. With a quick google search to checkout their website (and grab a coupon to the fair), all I really knew was their tagline: Spiritual growth through mind, body and soul connections. That didn’t give me a lot to go on, but since I’m fascinated by any kind of open-minded event or personal growth activity, I went anyway.

We entered into a large ballroom setup with different tables of handmade items and chairs circumventing the room. These chairs were set up with one-on-one sessions for psychic readings. After checking in, Giselle asked the woman who took our money how to go about choosing between them all. The woman told us to take our time walking around the room and just go with our gut to see which one was “pulling” us to them. I hadn’t come for a psychic reading (since I actually have one planned with the Jefferson psychic) but I was digging this fair already.

I mostly wanted to look at all the handmade jewelry, the mass amount of crystals, and the essential oil-based skin care. These assorted booths were all over and everyone was really friendly. Honestly, everyone was above and beyond nice about both Giselle and my questions. We didn’t know what orgonite, or lunar water, or channeled massages were. Or where the chakras were and what they meant. Or how to spell something. Or how to use a smudge stick. We asked a lot of questions. A lot of questions.

Across the room, we saw a food stand and went over to inspect. Everything looked very healthy, with fresh salads, vegan, gluten-free, and other specially baked goods. We decided to split a chocolate chip almond cookie, which was vegan and low carb. I’m not going to lie, it was very dry and bland. Haha! I’ve done my fair share of “healthy” baking and know it’s hard – that’s why I don’t bake as much now. But having a guilt-free cookie isn’t a bad way to spend a couple of bucks.

We lapped the outer rim of the room once again, and this time Giselle spotted her reader. He was an older fellow, cherub-cheeked, and looked like he’d know how to knit you a sweater. His name was Michael Runningbear. Giselle checked his availability (he had an opening in ten minutes) and decided she was going to go ahead and do it. Why not? She had a couple of questions she could ask and hell, we were at a psychic fair for some reason, right?

I sat awkwardly at the empty table next to Giselle as she got her reading, for anyone wondering. Having to half-listen to the irritable psychic who had graciously let me sit, but then wanted to mutter under her breath about how she most likely wouldn’t be back next month. Talk about bad energy. Giselle was five feet away and in a completely different world. Runningbear was reading her vibe and letting her draw the Tarot cards to give insight to her future. She came away a little awed. (Just like my mom if you’ll remember. Are psychics really real? I’ve got two people close to me who are now believers.)

Some homemade soaps from Moonlights Apothecary had caught my eye just before the reading, so once Giselle (who was anew woman) was finished, we checked out that booth. The owner, Jordyn, let us know what each one was made with and the intention behind it. She had spelled its energy on a certain focus. I bought two soaps, one because it smelled so freaking amazing and one because it smelled great and was on sale. Please don’t read anything into the “meaning” behind my purchase. Ha.

Overall, it was a great experience! We learned a lot, opened up our minds, made plans to work on ourselves (Giselle with her path in life, me with my skin care). The world will never cease to delight and inspire me. I’ll never possibly explore every unique and interesting facet.

Change of Plans, What to Do in a Small Town

With only two National Park sites left in Arkansas to visit, and those being a battlefield and a fort, we planned to enjoy our drive back home by peppering in some nature. The hikes had been so awesome the day before, it was only fate that rain would balance out our trip and steal the opportunity to visit Devil’s Den State Park. But also because of this rain, we got incredible fog at our first stop of the day.

We got to Pea Ridge National Military Park first thing on the morning of our last day, and it was chilly, quiet, and foggy. I browsed the visitor center to refresh my civil war history, but mostly I just stared out at the big (battle)field, which with the current weather conditions made it easy to imagine how terrible a battle would be and how it must’ve felt to not have any kind of comforts of home nearby. Y’all probably know by now, I’m not much for battle sites, forts, etc., but this one was pretty cool.

It was time to head south down the edge of Arkansas, but Jenna and I both knew the weather wasn’t going to clear up. The closer we got, the more cloudy the sky got. Yet another day of rain on my trips; another day of hiking stolen. So it was time to scramble and I knew Fayetteville wasn’t too far and I also knew one of my friends who was a Razorback would have some last minute suggestions. My friend Megan came in clutch with some helpful tips that led us directly to the downtown square.

We had literally come one day past the last farmer’s market of the year, but not too far was a bookshop called Dickson Street Book Shop. I love small independent bookstores so I was pretty excited before we even parked. After arriving, I realized this was no “small” bookstore – it’s deceptively massive! Most of it was cramped aisles full of books (my favorite). Megan definitely wasn’t lying when she said, “Bring bread crumbs to find your way back out – it’s a never ending labyrinth.”

After some quality book browsing, Jenna and I had a bit of a sweet tooth, so we headed over to Hurt’s Donuts. That place was insane! Unpopular opinion: I hadn’t been that impressed with VooDoo Donuts. But Hurt’s Donuts had so many more unique flavors, amazing colorful decorations – it was hard to not want to leave with more than one! I got a blueberry cake donut (my go-to) and then decided to grab a chocolate peanut butter one for later down the road. The blueberry honestly wasn’t as good as the every day small shop ones – but the “Reese’s” inspired one was phenomenal. It was truly decadent but I needed it after hours on the road with no food stops in sight.

Kissing Fayetteville goodbye (with a promise to be back to explore not only Devil’s Den but more of the town when it’s not a Sunday), we headed on to Fort Smith. Here we were looking for our last Arkansas National Park site. We expected a typical fort, with some battle ruins or history on war, but that wasn’t the case. Fort Smith is classified as a National Historic Site, and their claim to fame is more about their criminal system – jury, judge, and imprisonment. (They still had a clearing where the old fort used to be, but the main attraction was definitely the big courthouse.)

The big visitor center had two different styles of jails to tour and a mock courtroom. It was fun to walk around a true model set up; one where you could actually lie on the prisoner cots or sit in the audience of the jury. Outside, we checked out the gallows, which wasn’t too interesting only because they’re the gallows you’ve seen in almost every Western movie. To my delight, a little theater town was set up right near this, with a saloon and a guy dressed as a cowboy. Not too far from that, a cute trolley was idling. Definitely worth the stop, but in that small town quaint way.

It was getting late in the day and all that was left was to finish out our drive through Arkansas by taking the scenic route through the Ozarks, winding our way around the Boston Mountains. It was so, so beautiful. Gloomy sure, but the trees were colorful enough that it was no bland drive. Even though I’ve checked off those National Park sites, Arkansas will definitely be seeing me again soon!

We wanted one final fun stop on the drive back home, so when we saw our route was taking us through Paris, Texas, we decided to do a quick google for anything good. Believe it or not, they have an Eiffel Tower! Well, with a cowboy stop. I sure do love weird road trip stops.

To the Edge and Back, Whitaker Point

While talking to the Buffalo National River park ranger, she let us know that if we went to hike at Lost Valley (which we did), not too far away was Whitaker Point. Even though this was outside of the Park, it was apparently the “most photographed spot of Arkansas” and worth it to check out. That recommendation was good enough for Jenna and me, so we were headed off down a looping, ascending six miles of dirt road.

We didn’t really know anything about this hike, neither the elevation nor the distance. The sun was due to set in two hours and this seemed like enough time to at least try to attempt the hike. (Also, let me be clear these are all no-nos when going hiking. The main reason we proceeded was because there were a ton of people hiking with us. People in jeans, people who looked like they’d never hiked, people to the front and back of us. My one complaint with Arkansas is how many people there are out on the trails- haha!)

The way to the point was a lot of downhill terrain, so Jenna and I were both preparing for pain coming back up and out. Passing people headed out who were red in the face and stopping for breaks had us both a little weary. But what are we going to not do it? No. We wanted to reach “the most photographed area of Arkansas” even if it meant a serious workout. After enjoying our time in nature, taking a few preliminary pictures along the trail, we reached Whitaker Point.

It was a big cliff edge that opened up to big rolling hills of Arkansas where you could see only trees for forever. It was really impressively beautiful. But also crowded. About forty feet ahead of this point on the trail is a little opening in the treeline where you can get a pretty cool shot of the ledge, so Jenna and I took turns taking each other’s pictures. But also kind of battling back the crowd of people hanging around in the trees.

I want people to go out and hike. I want people to enjoy nature and see what this beautiful world has to offer. But these Arkansasians are out of control. They’re out in hoards. And I’ve learned from my time in the state that I’m not a fan of sharing a trail with more than a few people. If I’m constantly in eyesight of someone (other than a hiking buddy), I’m one unhappy hiker. I don’t know if it was because the sun was out after a cold front, because it was a Saturday, or this was the typical, but I was ready to go back to having the trail all to myself.

On our way back, Jenna and I decided we would try and just plow through it. We’d take breaks if needed, but we didn’t want to drag out our misery. This speed hiking back uphill business has kind of become a strong point. We just focus, grit down, and go. It had taken us about an hour and half to get to the point, and we estimated it would take us just as long to get back out, trading picture time for ascent time. But with our sheer force of will, we made it out in half that time, legs and lungs burning.

We had a nice middle-of-nowhere drive (with gas station snacks) back to civilization. Or as close as Bentonville gets to that moniker. After showers and meeting up with our hosts, my friend Margaret and her husband, Matt, it was time for dinner. We went for Mexican at one of their favorite local spots. Afterward, I was bugging them for ice cream even though the temperature was dropping to the forties, so they took me to Sweet Dream Creamery. This cute little shop was a food truck located in the downtown square area, right across from the newly opened ice skating rink. We enjoyed the lights and then decided it was time for us old ladies (and man) to head home. I can’t wait to head back and focus more attention on Bentonville because it seemed like a neat little town!

Chasing Fall(s) in Arkansas

I wanted to strategically plan my trip to finish up the Arkansas National Park sites in fall so I could enjoy all the beautiful colors. I’d been to the area earlier this year for a wedding, and my drive to the northwest corner of the state was so beautiful, I was excited to head back with some yellows and reds added. One of my best friends, Margaret, lives in Bentonville, so after work on Friday me and my friend Jenna headed that way. Side note: I will never head out of town between 4PM and 7PM again. Dallas traffic is pretty dang awful.

After arriving late enough that there wasn’t much to do, we woke up early the next day to enjoy the sunshine in the cooler weather. We started with a two hour drive further east into Arkansas, which I wasn’t at all upset about. The state is truly beautiful, with its rolling hills and plentiful trees. Arriving at the Buffalo National River visitor center, we chatted with the ranger for a good half hour trying to figure out where to head for the day. We’d done minimal research and I was excited to get the insider perspective on the hot spots.

In fact, I had only looked up one major lookout to see the river (which the site was named after obviously), but the ranger recommended a closer river lookout that would save us almost two hours of driving round trip. As a planner, I’m really trying to figure out how to plan future National Park trips. There’s always so much to do that we never have enough time, but the rangers aren’t always available for me to ask an hour’s worth of questions over the phone long distance. I’ve learned the best approach is to research using a full map of every trail (and driving distance between!), look up any pictures you can find (which gets hard), and then start your convo with, “What do you recommend?”

So we headed to the nearby River Overlook Trail to checkout “America’s First National River” and see the land. It was an easy twenty minute hike through a field with some surrounding woods. We passed the Sod Collier homestead on the way, a few buildings that were preserved by the Park. The crunching of leaves under my feet was so nice – I was glad to be hiking in a new season! Getting to the overlook, I was impressed by the view of the river, but also glad I hadn’t driven somewhere else when this view was great. Plus, we saw the river – worth it! I hope to head back in summer to enjoy some kayaking or other river sports.

We headed to the west area of the park where the most popular hikes were found. First, it was time to take on the Lost Valley section. This turned out to be such a busy trail! I don’t mind seeing people every now and then on a trail, but I guess I’m a bit of a selfish hiker. Having to pass people, or not feel rushed when trying to get a good picture, or wait on switchbacks so everyone could proceed safely – it was kind of terrible. We did our best to be on our own, but people were out in hoards. I guess Arkansasians love their outdoors!

On this trail, we first ran into an off shot of the Eden Falls which had a little cave you could hike through. After a couple of pictures, I slid and slid and slid. Even with my hiking boots on, the moss on the side of the rock was so slippery, once I started – I didn’t stop until I was in a puddle of water at the bottom. It was cold, but mostly I was just embarrassed and glad nothing hurt. People saw me (because of how busy the trail was) so I hurriedly ushered Jenna and me along through the cave to escape their concern. Then just as we were able to laugh about it, going down a hill of roots and steps – I fell again.

Seriously, I have never fallen on a hike – and here I’d fallen twice! In the span of fifteen minutes, on the busiest trail I’ve hiked to date, I embarrassed myself by falling probably about six feet each time. An older gentleman helped me up from my second tumble and this one had hurt a bit more (my legs are still bruised up) but I awkwardly laughed and rushed forward to the falls.

The falls weren’t too impressive, though they were nice minus the loud surrounding chatter from so many people on the trail. The trail looped back through the trees and it seemed most people decided to go back the way they’d come, so finally we got the trail to ourselves. And we found fall. The trees were so beautiful with the golden hues. Ah, peace and quiet – and flat ground.

Thankful for Coffee (Vol II)

I guess we’re starting a Thanksgiving tradition here on the blog, because yet again, I’m bringing you the hookup on the coffee shops of Dallas. (Last year’s edition: Thankful for Coffee. ) I love coffee! And even though I’ve been trying to budget my spending a bit more – which means less coffee – I’m also trying to write more (after almost a full year of writer’s block). All this to say, let me share more of the independent coffee scene in Dallas!

Houndstooth Coffee
9730 N Central Expy, Dallas, TX 75231
Hours: 6a-7p, Parking: Lot, Seating: Always something open, indoor and outdoor buildings, Tip: Try their different flavored espressos, especially something floral

The original (Dallas) Houndstooth is super close to my house but I hate the lack of parking and the limited seating, so I was so excited when I found out they opened a third location that’s exactly halfway between my job and my home! It’s much bigger, with a real parking lot, and a little bit longer hours. Also everything is so stinking cute. It’s also pretty great if the weather is good because it’s got a trendy outdoor space.

Mudleaf Coffee
3100 Independence Pkwy #300, Plano, TX 75075
Hours: 6:30a-8p, Parking: Lot, Seating: Options but might have to share big tables, Tip: Chat with the baristas they are the friendliest!

I kind of accidentally stumbled on this new shop because it’s close to my parent’s house (in Plano). Since it’s in a Dallas suburb it’s very spacious. It’s still new so they’re going to be adding stuff as it fully sets up, including more seating and cool merchandise. I love the openness because it makes for a very private writing time (i.e. I’m not stressed someone will want to read over my shoulder). The staff is super cool and ready to chat with anybody and everybody.

Drip Coffee
3888 Oak Lawn Ave, Dallas, TX 75219
Hours: 6:30a-6p, Parking: Shared lot, Seating: Good for 1-2 people, Tip: Add extra shot(s) because their espresso is a little weak

This is another coffee shop that recently opened a second location and I love their new one way more. Their original shop is fine, but dark with not much seating. This one has lots more tables (for couples or singles though) and is a much “happier” space. They’ve really figured out their merchandising and I love how they incorporate their “drip” theme! They also roast their own beans, so when you get their black coffee it’s always fresh. Any place with freshly roasted coffee is okay in my book.

Peridot Coffee
2240 Royal Ln #101, Dallas, TX 75229
Hours: 6a-7p, Parking: Lot, Seating: Limited but never full, Tip: Grab one of their homemade muffins

I discovered this little gem by needing to get away from work on a break (haha). It’s on the smaller side, but in a far off part of town so I’m not sure how much business it sees. The decor is cute and simple, and the seating seems to be focused for “students” or people who are ready to work. The man who served me was very friendly, but also promoted the atmosphere of a library, i.e. it was very quiet. Go here if you’re looking for good coffee and a focused mindset.

Fiction Coffee
1623 N Hall St, Dallas, TX 75204
Hours: 6:30a-6p, Parking: Good luck, Seating: Limited but not usually full, Tip: Always go for something “seasonal” or on their special menus

I passed this coffee shop so many times on my way home, I knew it was time to finally check it out. I’m not a fan of a place when parking is hard to come by, but luckily I went on a weekday and was able to snag a spot on the street. (If this place was open later, no way.) It’s so hip inside, very modern and bright. It’s probably a great place to get work done, but for me it closes just a tad early. It’s a great “pre-game coffee” for a Deep Ellum evening, though!

Native Coffee Co.
4319 Alpha Rd, Dallas, TX 75244
Hours: 7a-5p, Parking: Lot, Seating: Always something open, Tip: Oat milk coming soon, yum!

This shop just opened very recently and I kept passing it on the way to my boyfriend’s apartment. I recently decided to stop because I liked the name, and I was pretty excited to find a big clean open space with lots of seating. It’s so funny because it seems new coffee shops are definitely going with the trend of bright lighting, minimalism, and big spaces as opposed to the cramped cozy feel. This coffee shop is attached to a church (which I found out is a thing?), but honestly I didn’t mind that. The chai was good and the barista was friendly, so I’ll definitely be back!

And Happy Thanksgiving!

Road Trip Essentials

Obviously, the most important thing to a road trip is a car – and I just recently got a new one! After having many struggles with my first and only car, a 2006 Kia Sportage with over 200,000 miles, I made the jump to a 2016 Subaru Forester. I rented one when I drove to the Oregon coast and loved it so much,  I had my eye on it when car shopping. Of course, I got green! I picked this size because it’s not overly big but still fits my road trip mattress in the back. I talked about road trips quite awhile ago, mainly focusing on car camping: The Good of Roadtrips, the Bad of Car Camping. But today I’m sharing some things I always try to have on a road trip! Always be prepared.

Instead of blowing money on whatever mediocre snacks I can find at the gas station I stop at, I always try and get snacks a couple of days before a road trip. Not only does this help me save money, it helps when I know I have something I’ll want (that’s also healthy!). I will usually bring protein bars, like Clif, RX, or Lara. I love bringing a bag of apples because that freshness is always welcome when you’ve been in the car for a few hours. And weirdly enough, chips and salsa is one of my favorite road trip snacks! It’s easy enough to dip straight out of the jar and easy to keep mess-free if you’re careful (or not driving). I’ll also pack pb&j ingredients because it’s my favorite hiking food, but after a terrible mishap in California I’ll never make another sandwich while on the road again.

The truth of road trips is you’ll probably have to have fast food now and again if you’re trying to save time and want something warm. Being a vegetarian, it’s not always easy to get something good. I’ve definitely learned where my favorite stops are. The market base salad at Chik-fil-A is great because it’s cheaper without the meat and is full of yummy fruits and nuts. I’ve also become a fan of the simple egg biscuit at McDonald’s. I’ve learned that too much fried food when stuck on a road trip is a bad idea, so I definitely try and stay away from fries and hashbrowns even though they’re so delicious. Of course, it’s not always easy to count on a certain fast food place to be around on the route, so I’ve learned to be flexible with the side items on the menu.

There’s only a couple of comfort items I keep on hand, mainly because I usually have a bed made up in the back. It’s an old futon mattress I cut to make it a single or double sized depending on how many of us are on the trip. We usually make it with one sheet, one pillow, and one blanket so that stuff doesn’t take up too much room. (Especially when we also have our sleeping bags with us.) One of my most important items is a pair of easy slip-on shoes no matter the weather. Getting out for a tank fillup without shoes – or having to put on boots – is so obnoxious that I always throw some sandals in my door side. It’s a no-brainer and I have a few pairs at all times in my car, but sunglasses are obviously essential for any road trip.

One of my favorite thing about road trips is discovering new things you hadn’t even thought to  look for. It’s important to know in your trip itinerary when you have extra time for stops. It’s when I leave this time that I love looking for billboards or shops that look fun or interesting. These random stops are responsible for me checking out the Georgetown caves in Texas, stopping to pet a baby alligator in Louisiana, and  the cute coffee shop find in the middle of nowhere New Mexico.

It’s important to note there’s a few things I bring just in case of emergencies. I always have a lot of stuff for the car: spare tire, automatic air pump, various fuses and tools for easy fixes. I always have lots of water just in case. (Water! Yes! Always water, usually in jugs that I pour into the two different water bottles I have with me.) I always have my taser just in case. (Especially if I’m camping or doing a lot of night driving.) I also always have my mini first aid kit with me because accidents do happen. I got a splinter at a gas station once (gross) so I was glad to have the medical tweezers.

What do you bring on your road trips?