LessWithAlicia: A New Journey

At the start of last year, I wrote a blogpost that scared me: Hiking with Hives. This year, I want to write another scary one – but in a kind of different way. That one was all about being more honest and sharing a part of the journey my body has been on for the past decade. Now, I want to be honest about the journey I’m about to start.

I’ve spent a lot of the last two years buying less things so I can afford to travel. Along with that “buy experiences instead of things” mindset, I’ve realized my life was full of things. I had a shopping habit – and honestly, I’m still working to break it. It’s taken awhile but I’m starting to question the worth of something. Like how a “cheap” dress from TJ Maxx or Target could buy me a night in an Airbnb.

So as I started filling my life with moments instead of objects, I became even more aware of all the waste around me. Pursuing a path that was better for my body, for the environment, and for my life – I became even more aware of all the toxins and negativity I was surrounded by. Both literal and figurative.

I was in pursuit of a “simple” life, but also insanely stressed by all the things out of my control. So if none of this is making sense, I’ll simplify it. I want less. And I hope that will give me more.

I want to start watching what’s in the products I use, what’s in the things I eat, where my money goes, and how much I accumulate only to throw out. I’ve been on the start of this kind of journey many times. I’ve done the research on the meat industry, and “fast fashion,” and environmentally friendly practices. And all of it is really hard.

But I think making small choices every day is the way. I’m not going to change over night, but I can give myself time for this new lifestyle. I think by keeping my day to day simpler, I’ll have more time for the things I really want to put my effort into. So all this to say, I’m focusing on being more mindful. And if you’re at all interested in following along or seeing my journey, you can find me here: Intro to Simple Living

Here’s to less stress, more adventure, new experiences, and happy days for 2019!

The Southwest Regon of the National Parks System (Finished!)

Wow.

I did it!

As you know from the previous blog, I have officially been to every National Parks site in the Southwest Region, which is Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. In only a little more than a year! What’s exciting about this is that I’ve been blogging and picture-taking from the beginning, so I remember so much about these 41 sites! Today I’m talking about my favorites – and even a couple that I need to go back to check out! So even if you’re not on a journey to see all the National Parks, these are places that should be on your travel bucket list no matter what.

White Sands National Monument
I kind of can’t talk about the National Parks without talking about White Sands. It was my first site and where my passport stamp collecting journey began! This place is so beautiful; it looked like being in another land. I hadn’t really known what to expect but what little expectations I had were exceeded.  The hike was too hot but the sand sledding was so fun! This was a terrific first start and introduction to my love for New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park
I had only been to baby caves in the Austin area, so I was blown away by the enormity of these caverns! I even made it out a second time to check out these bats, but will admittedly say their “sunset flight” is not super exciting. Luckily, my first time was spent exploring the Main Room with no crowd. This was another site that felt like another world – and the surprise of every turn is what makes it one of my favorites!

Big Bend National Park
Well, hello, Texas! I can’t wait to go back because even with a three day weekend and a highlighted map and plan, I only made it to half of this massive area. Being from Dallas, I’ll always have a soft spot for Texas, but the nature is known to be mostly plains. With Big Bend, I was introduced to a whole new side of the great Lone Star state. The canyons and cliffs are so pretty – and the Rio Grande Wild and Scenic River is an added bonus site to this one.

El Malpais National Monument
I had looked up very little for this guy, leaving time in the schedule for whatever we could get up to – and I’m glad I did! Allowing myself the time here meant we got to go on an incredible hike to the Big Skylight, which first led us across ancient volcanic rock. Besides being one of the harder hikes I’ve yet to go on (because of terrain and then ascending into the cavern), it was a surprise wonder. Hiking down the big boulders into the cave we spotted the skylight early, but it just got more and more other-worldly as we went. This place was magical.

Buffalo National River
Arkansas turned out to be a nature-lover’s travel getaway! Fall was beautiful driving in through the Ozark Mountains and discovering every color of tree, but the hikes were a blast! Easy but long – offering stops for incredible views. It’s definitely on my list to head back to in the warmer months and explore more of the actual river.

Bandelier National Monument
The trees here taught me the true beauty of New Mexico and how it’s not just dry and empty land. I arrived here pretty late in the evening, and I know I didn’t even scratch the surface of what all this site has to offer. But just driving in and walking around was enough to feel like I had entered into a magical forest. This might just be number one on my list of parks to revisit.

Big Thicket National Preserve
The rain had ruined our day of hiking adventures here, so I’d definitely like to head back and explore more of this massive land area. This is also another area where I’ll have to head back in the warmer months because they have an awesome spot for kayaking. I also have it on my list to try and find some of their carnivorous plants in person!

So, all that to say, it’s been such a blast collecting all the Southwest region passport stamps – but I’m not done yet! I want to keep exploring and finding every opportunity for new experiences. Not only do I want to check out all these ones again, I have many more regions to complete in my National Park journey!

Hidden Sites, Continued Culture, and Old Earthworks

Our second day in New Orleans started with picking up Jenna from the Greyhound Station and rain. Lots of rain. We picked a breakfast spot that wasn’t too far from the French Quarter, called Ruby Slipper. It was okay, which for the three foodies with me meant bad. The other unfortunate part of breakfast was getting a full stomach and then rushing off to our first stop: jazz yoga at the Jazz National Historic Park.

I definitely had thought this would be an easygoing, mostly empty class, but arriving only a minute or so late we found it was pretty full for a rainy morning in the middle of the French Quarter. We were full, wearing denim, but ready and willing. For the most part. Jazz yoga was a great concept because it basically just meant yoga with live piano accompaniment. After yoga, we got our stamps and headed to the nearby market.

This market was a tourism mecca, full of souvenirs and overpriced accessories, so even though it was fun to browse – it was not really my style. There was nothing any of us really needed or wanted, so we walked out into the rain to get to the actual stores along the street. We peeked in a vampire fashion boutique, a candy shop offering free samples of pralines, and finally arrived at the other site: Jean Lafitte National Historic Park.

This visitor center was in the French Quarter so gave us a lot of information about the culture, the food, and how New Orleans was founded. Unless you were looking, you might completely miss these two NPS sites hidden in the corners of NOLA!

On our way back the the car, my brother (literally) sniffed out some crawfish, the only location that had it since the season wouldn’t start for another two weeks. I’m not a big fish fan, but we stopped so my three fellow travelers could tackle 1.5 pounds of fresh crawfish. And if you think that ruined my appetite, you’re wrong, because after lunch I made them drive out of the main city area for my favorite – local homemade ice cream! As an aside, we stopped near the St Louis Cemetery No.1 which is famous for it’s above-ground graves, but we willing to shell out for an actual tour. Maybe one day!

We stopped at the Creole Creamery, where I got a scoop of Black & Gold Crunch. This was a fancier “cookies and cream” flavor and was so good! This shop was cool because you could get mini scoops and a little “sampler” style ice cream dish of different flavors. Luckily, everyone ended up glad I dragged them out there and it was conveniently near a market where we could pick up some pregaming supplies for our Bourbon night out! (My Bourbon St night out is detailed here: Bourbon Street Fun.)

The next morning we had one final National Park site to grab on our way out of Louisiana. Funnily enough, on the way to this site, we actually drove through Mississippi to get more of a direct route (because of the boot shape of LA). For some reason, I had no idea we would even be entering Mississippi let alone in it long enough to look up some National Park sites. There was one, Vicksburg, that was only ten minutes out of the way. We hadn’t planned on it, but we sure weren’t going to say no to starting a new NPS region! The Vicksburg National Military Park had the normal “decorative” canons and a drive heading to an old cemetery – and I’ve mentioned how much I’m just not into battles and war history. Sorry, Dad.

After four-ish hours in Mississippi we were back in Louisiana and arrived at a wet Poverty Point National Monument. This site was a state park also, but more importantly, my first UNESCO World Heritage Site. So the final site for my Southwest National Park region journey was actually important in many different ways! This area of land is a protected prehistoric earthwork, with a system of hills and ridges. My guess was some kind of irragation (mainly because it was currently so soaked while touring it), but the truth is they don’t really know why the mounds were built. Historians guess a settlement or some kind of religious gathering spot.

My brother and Gabby stayed in the warmth of the car while Jenna and I climbed up the main mound. The weather was pretty gloomy but it was a beautiful bit of land. And at the top we talked about how with this we had gathered all of the Southwest region stamps in our National Parks Passport. Wow! Then we were frozen, so we hurried down the hill, back to the car and got on the road to good ol’ Texas.

Frenchman Street vs Bourbon Street (NOLA)

I was in New Orleans for two nights – which meant two nights to immerse myself in the nightlife – which is obviously huge in NOLA. During my research on what to do while in the city, I couldn’t find what so much as where. They listed a few areas, French Quarter, Jackson Square, etc, and on this list I put down Frenchmen Street. Originally, we’d passed it in the day and couldn’t figure out why it was more special than any other street. Luckily, as we were in a Lyft coming away from dinner, we mentioned it and our driver said Frenchmen Street was something to do at night.

So we canceled our first night “easygoing” Bourbon plans, and headed to Frenchmen, not sure what to expect. Just driving in, I could see it was much smaller, but also more of my vibe (coming from someone who’d only briefly walked Bourbon, i.e. not an expert). We found parking on the street after only a little bit of effort, so that should tell you that it really wasn’t too crowded. String lights had caught our eye on the drive in, so we beelined to that big open area.

It was a little crafter and artist’s market! The string lights arched across an entrance on the street into a open pavilion of probably thirty booths set up. There was a sign at the back that said “Palace Market” in cool graffiti, so I guess that’s what we had stumbled upon. There were a lot of really cool prints (I bought two different ones) and a lot of handmade jewelry. I must’ve looked at every ring in the place twice, because I liked it all and the prices were really good.

By the time we finished looking at every booth and found ourselves back out on the street, a live jazz band was trailing from one end to the other. I kid you not! Then we realized there was live jazz in every bar on the street! This area was definitely for the starving artists, hipsters (I hate to say it), and people looking for some of the original culture of NOLA. It was so cool! Even though it was all jazz, every band was different, made up of unique instruments and singers. Male and female, lots of brass, more piano – they had whatever flavor you were looking for just next door!

But obviously, in New Orleans, you can’t really experience this city unless you hit up Bourbon Street. Saturday night, we made plans to do Bourbon right. Jenna had come into town to join my brother and Gabby and me, and with a bottle of rum and a stop at the Winn Dixie for sour mix, we were ready to pregame. Oh, and we also took a party nap just to fully prepare ourselves.

My brother had put together a “pub crawl” for us that started at one end and ended close to our Airbnb. He showed us Carousel Bar, which actually rotated and then stopped by the 21st Amendment, which was the classy part of Bourbon. They were known for their sauzerac (it was okay) and a live quartet was setting up just as we nabbed a front row table. Next was an absinthe bar, which was rough, I’ll be honest. You think you want fire and green drinks, but even very buzzed I could not finish it.

So buzzed though, that I was easily talked into the bull ride across the street. This bar was not on the tour, but we saw the bull and decided we were done being “classy” on Bourbon. Did I ride the bull? Yes, of course. From there we quickly moved through one (possibly two) “shot bars” which had fruity concoctions in test tubes and really cool lighting. My brother and I danced while making Gabby and Jenna take the shots from the trounced up women passing them out. We were sticking with a one drink per bar policy, sharing it if we needed help to finish it. This was our plan to make it through the crawl, but starting pretty drunk was not our brightest move.

We passed through Pat O’Brien’s, a cute bar with an outdoor space where we’d gotten a hurricane the night before. The Swamp was an alright bar, made better by the fact that it’s the only free balcony on Bourbon. We got up there and stared down at the people below, which normally would’ve been amazing – but we quickly got jealous of everyone down there seemingly having a better time than us. I know this is a lot of alcohol talk – but this is how you do Bourbon Street, at least from what I’ve heard.

We skipped ahead one bar, because I spotted “the original hand grenade” under the Tropical Isle Bourbon sign, the drink which I’d been calling the “green drink” and knowing it was a must. Here all four of us got one. I am honestly not sure why because not one of needed another drink – but being newbies Jenna and I were obligated. Side note: I threw my little toy grenade into a basket near the ceiling and gave myself a round of applause. Gabby had given me three chances, I’d cheated by taking four, so I bought us shots anyway. Seriously, we just kept drinking. Which was perfect, because the Cats Meow, famous for karaoke, was our next stop.

I was ready for some singing and attention from a crowd, y’all. I’m outgoing but a little shy at first, but the drinks had given me the right to flaunt my ego. My brother signed me up, and somewhere around the time for my name to be called, Jenna was joining, we’d picked ABBA’s Dancing Queen, and the four of us had had two rounds of jello shots. The rest is a bit of a blur – mostly me trying to figure out if my voice sounded good, if I was dancing too much, and if the audience was having a good time. Does this mean I’m allowed to cross “Become a pop star” off my bucket list?

The final stop, Blacksmith’s, was skipped. (Luckily, on my previous visit to NOLA which consisted of less than three hours I’d actually had a drink from there.) I don’t know how this decision was made, but I know Gabby was ready for bed and left the remaining three of us to find our way to Cafe Du Monde. Everyone has to have those world famous beignets whenever you’re in town. Everyone should also make sure they have cash, otherwise you will scramble last minute, make friends with the table next to you and Venmo them for a ten-dollar bill. Still, worth it.

So, the original question: Frenchmen Street or Bourbon Street? Both! They are just so different and have so many different experiences to offer. I’m not much for the nightlife anymore, but as you can tell from this long, long blogpost, I really went for it! New Orleans is one of those places that is about the bars, the drinks, experiencing the people and the night.

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.