A Blog I Pay For and Rarely Update: UPDATED!

Well, it’s been a year. Truly. I haven’t blogged in a year! Not since my EPIK return to Korea (wink at y’all English teachers over there) for MinShik & Ara’s wedding.

And here those same people are celebrating their one year anniversary by having their first baby ON THAT DAY. That’s some Gattaca-level skill, I tell ya.

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Lots has changed. LAWD. Yes. Grab yourself a low-carb snack because y’all about to get the deets.

  1. Jobs

Two promotions at Grubhub and a sabbatical-turned-bowing-out at Titan Gym ALL IN THIS PAST ONE YEAR.

In January I became a Senior Sales Executive with Grubhub; it was a huge, out-of-the-blue honor and when I asked ‘what’s different than my current job?” my boss replied “Its what you’re already doing with the team, I’m just going to pay you for it.” How cool is that?!

Actual photo of said boss:

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Seriously one of my favorite things in my career was in our first ever one on one development meeting last year (right *after* the Korea trip) the first thing I said was “I want you to know I’m in grad school for training and development and that’s what I want to do long term.”

His reply? “OK, let me hook you up with the right person who’s heading up training.” Literally the next week she got me in a classroom training new hires in a session 1x every 2 weeks. MONEY/MOUTH AND ALL THAT. When does that happen?!

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And this past April when a new role opened up to become a sales trainer for new hires he recommended and she championed me for the role, which started May 1.

Y’all. I have never felt the Conan mantra of “If you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen” more. I joined Grubhub just to get a sales paycheck and have a regular schedule to pursue my passions and here this place that I thought would be a job I wasn’t going to put my heart into has given me such gifts. Managers that believe in me and CREATE JOBS that I wasn’t even aware of. I’m very blessed.

Now I’m the “Learning Solutions Associate” (ie. Non-Corporate Sales & Account Advisor Trainer) for all employees in those departments for Grubhub Inc. Nationwide. I’ve trained over 75 people in the last 5.5 months. That is bananas to me and I’m so grateful. All that in a year and a half at this company.

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Because of that role shift and wrapping up grad school I knew that my time at Titan Gym was coming to a close. I have loved and sweated and bled and cried in that place – sometimes all at once – and I leave with so many good memories and relationships. I felt like I couldn’t be both throwing my heart (and fists) into learning & teaching Krav while also trying to originate a role at Grubhub.

So with a final rooftop drinking session and countless hugs I left (by choice) no longer an instructor at Titan Gym. I’m still a certified Krav Maga Level 1 Instructor through KMA and I know if I’m ever interested in getting back into it that Daniela and Ivo have my back. And if you need a place to kick ass, feel stronger or find mental toughness I will recommend Titan Gym to the moon and back again and again and again.

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WHEW.

2. School

Yes, I finished my grad program at University of Wisconsin – Stout and now have my graduate certificate in Instructional Design. I need to frame that fancy piece of paper sometime soon.

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3. Comedy

BUT WHAT ABOUT THE LAUGH SQUAD?! Oh man y’all. So last October in the week after I got back from Korea I auditioned for a ComedySportz House Team and was cast into the most perfect circle of weirdos by two insanely talented coaches who happened to have the exact same initials – HMS. So naturally our team name became “Pinafore” after the famous Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera ‘HMS Pinafore.’ I have still never to this day heard any music from it although I did briefly glance through the Wikipedia page.

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No, I didn’t realize we were all serving fierce face. Or at least my genre of fierce face. Our team just had our final show on 10/6 and it has been a journey. I feel like I’ve grown with such a great team with depth and tears and joy. I have peed myself a little laughing so hard, which I can admit now that the team is done. I mean, I could have admitted it before but why BOTHER.

Truly I have loved the CSZ House Program; auditions for the next round are in November and I’m excited to see what the next group of people I get to fall in love with looks like!

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Other things I’ve been blessed to yuk it up on/with: I got cast into a RIFF Music Improv camp which has had me perform 3x with a stone-cold group of short-form music improvisers that HAVE PIPES, y’all. Some of these people I’ve watched perform for years in music improv and it’s an honor to strap on a Britney mic and make up songs for an audience with them.

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I’ve also done 2 seasons of MINt (Music Improv Night) at the Annoyance; such an open space to trying weird and beautiful things with music improv and our voices. If you’re looking for a community to fall in love with, the MINt crew is a good one. 4 teams every 4 months and you get such a wide range of experience, skills and strange, hilarious songs.

There’s been a few one-offs performing with friends’ groups and even a couple shows with some MI people I met in iO’s Music Program as an indie group named “AirBRB.”

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I’m moving into a season when I’m not sure when my next show is; it’ll be light this next month, which is kind of a fun thing. I’ll miss it. But I think it’s healthy to have a breather and come back hungry, whenever the next show is. And you never know when someone might text you at 4pm about a show that night at 1030pm and you gotta be ready to make believe with the best!

4. Health

OOOOOHHHH fun. Let’s talk about it! Since last year when I got my Krav Maga instructor cert in July (shoutout to the 3am Protein Squad) I’ve let things slip a bit. And why not?! When you survive that kind of thing you deserve to let yourself chill. But…I didn’t really reign it in. I was doing ok; maintaining some cardio but I knew things needed to step up. I was getting a little burned out on Krav. Here’s my 7am face on the way to teach class:

I let myself write excuses and they added up. Once I was done punching/kicking regularly I did CrossFit for a few months – it was great and ya girl loves heavy weights – but the price was really high. Especially when I could be going out of town to our Phoenix office for work up to once a month, missing a week at a time. It was an expensive habit.

So I jumped back into going to LSAC (Lincoln Square Athletic Club) regularly – it’s been 3 weeks in and I’m kind of loving my schedule:

Mondays – Pole Class at Brass Ring (I KNOW) and it’s so fun. Such an empowering environment and an hour flies by. Its slow but I see progress! And thigh bruises.

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Tuesdays – Workout at LSAC (trying to follow the schedule Brian (see Fridays) gave me the week before)

Wednesdays – Volleyball with friends at LPHS – y’all we had a double header last week and I burned 1,448 calories in 1 hour and 55 mins. WE WORKIN’.

Thursdays – Improv Day (aka rest and do some make believe in comedy class)

Fridays – Personal Training with Brian at LSAC

Saturdays – Yoga (at home right now using an Apple TV app but maybe at LSAC in the future)

Sundays – Intro to Olympic Weightlifting with Keith at LSAC (today was the first one; I did a 65lb bar snatch from shins to above my head! 9 times! Y’ALL! SHE BACK!)

Also I started attempting/doing a Keto & intermittent fasting on 10/1; it’s been a little rough but we’re getting into the groove of it. That first week, candidly, sucked. The low carb/Keto flu thing is for real. But now I’m used to it; the 12-8 fasting part is honestly not that hard now. Very manageable. It’s more the carb counting thing of keto that is taking slow (but progressive) shape.

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5. The Rest

a. Photography

I know everyone has a camera in their smartphone – I’m doing some photography learning – I bought myself a Canon T6i DSLR last year RIGHT BEFORE starting grad school so I hid it in the closet from myself until school was done in May. I’ve taken some pictures I’m proud of and I’m working my way through a couple Lynda.com (grad school got me a free account) photography courses to learn the camera. I’m a student of it right now for sure but here’s a few photos I’m proud of:

b. Norway

I found out last year that I’m 1/8 Norweigan; that doesn’t sound like ‘a lot’ but honestly I’ve never really thought about it. I generally classify my heritage as ‘SPF 75’ but have always known our family is generally German with some crossover to other classically pale squads (Irish, probably English, other various tribes of roving wild-haired people on/around Hadrian’s wall, etc).

Last year in October someone posted in this Women of Chicago Comedy Facebook group I’m in about a Norwegian TV show that 1. Flies you to Norway and 2. You good-naturedly compete with other Norwegian-Americans to win $50,000. SO I APPLIED OF COURSE and got to ask my mom and grandparents questions over iMessage about my heritage. Apparently one of my great-grandmas was first-generation American, born in the US. Her parents both emigrated from Norway in the early 1900s to Washington State, near Ballard. So…if one of the 8 people that made me is full-blooded Norwegian…then by the power of Punnett Squares or whatever that means I’m 1/8 Norwegian, right?

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ANYWAYS I did not get cast but I just realized they’re auditioning again so I’m going to throw ye olde application back in there. 1. Because it sounds fun and 2. Norway is GORGEOUS and 3. I did promise Neal Carlin that I would apply again. He’s gone in Italy doing an insanely cool apprenticeship so the least I can do is fill out info about my LIFE.

Our family doesn’t really do any celebrations of heritage. My great-grandma Harriman (she of the Norwegian blood) made lefse for Christmas, but I never really understood the connection as a kid. She passed when I was in high school and none of us kids ever learned to make it with her. Also, keep your traps shut but my real goal if I get on this show is to learn to make Fattigman cookies and then make them with my Nana for Christmas. KEEP MY SECRETS, INTERNET.

I think there’s a real beauty in appreciating where you came from and knowing you are a part of a legacy of choices – good ones, bad ones, ones that had to be made one way or another – and then choosing how you want your part of the story to be written. Sitting under the Northern lights and walking on glaciers would be a pretty jaw-dropping moment in life; 10/10 I’d be crying frozen little tears of joy. So we’ll see! I’m applying!

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c. Travel

I’m going to DC in less than 2 weeks – I’ve never been to DC AND I haven’t seen David Brown in 4+ years in person. That’s bananas to me. I genuinely cannot believe that there’s not some time/space blanket fold that I jumped through because it CAN’T have been four years.

But the internet says it has. So myself, Bekah, Adam & Dana (plus maybe their dog Millie) are all meeting up with David in DC October 25-27 and I could SQUEAL I am so excited.

I went to Ohio in March just to see my loves Xander and Trace and get drag-ified myself. I learned that clip on earrings are the reason beauty = pain and that stick on nails are NOT for me. But I looked great.

d. Experiences

I saw my first Broadway shows in the past year – I don’t know what took me so long! I saw Hello Dolly, Book of Mormon, Hamilton. Les Mis, Falsettos – I WANT TO SING EVERYTHING.

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I went to the Shedd Aquarium on Thanksgiving – it was BEAUTIFUL and uncrowded and my ticket was free – cue v v thankful.

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I saw Conan O’Brien’s show in Chicago and met Aaron Bleyart, who’s blog(s) I have followed for over TEN YEARS.

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Passed my Krav Level 3 student test and Muay Thai Level 2!

Survived the Polar Vortex in Chicago when it was over -20 degrees below zero. This is the *inside* of my windows.

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My parents came to Chicago for Father’s Day! The umbrella is my Mom hiding from the camera as all 3 of us eat Chicago Dogs outside the Field Museum. Also, I went to the Field Museum.

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I went to Arizona 3 times – February, May & August – for work and to visit family. What a cool, weird mix of colors. I saw the Grand Canyon and cried a little behind my sunglasses as my family pretended to not notice.

I saw a Seattle-based artist, SYML, who’s work I love not once but TWICE. Also saw Dean Lewis at the same concert and fell in love w his new album.

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Saw a bajillion improv shows, learned which lipsticks look good on my skin tone and saw so many people I love.

What. A. Year.

 

More updates, more often, from this face:

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Baby’s First Amtrak…at 29.

So technically, it’s not my first first Amtrak. I took the Cascades from Bellingham to Portland once to visit my bestest friend Loni several years ago, but that was like 5 hours. Psssh. Weak.

THIS was the Texas Eagle, a 13+ hour ride from Chicago’s Union Station to Little Rock, Ark.’s also-named Union Station. I’d never been to Union Station in Chicago and hadn’t been to visit Little Rock in almost 2 years, so it was time to un-bucket list this ish.

Y’all might want to grab a tea and have a bathroom break ahead of this novel titled “CHI>LRK: A Modern Amtrak Tale.”

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Pre-Game: I was going to take the Brown line to Quincy/Wells and walk 7 minutes,  but it’s so much easier to take a Lyft. Especially once it started raining and ESPECIALLY once I hefted a bag that had 2 six-packs of local beer I was ferrying to friends. The Lyft driver and I got into a slight argument about where my address was (I was standing on it, he disagreed, I won) but I got to Union Station nice and early to quiet my Ravenclaw need for order and early arrivals. What’s that? Y’all recommend 60 minutes early? I GOT THERE NINETY MINUTES EARLY, boom! *drops wand*

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Union Station: I was a little anxious because this place. is. huge. It has all the bodies of an airport, less the efficient signage. It was definitely confusing but gorgeous in its old-school design and look. It’s very ‘old Chicago architecture’ vibe mixed with WHERE THE HELL DO I GO?! lizard brain panic. I had purchased a coach ticket online and they said on it ‘if you’re boarding coach in Chicago, get a boarding pass/group’ and there was no help or signage on how to find it.

I had already printed my paper ticket and had a digital version in my iPhone’s Wallet app but was stuck on where to find said physical pass. There was a gargantuan line for checking baggage, but as I was not checking baggage, I was keeping my smuggled beer VERY close to my person, so I ran around trying to find where the baggage pass was while carting the aforementioned beer plus 4 hefty bags of Chicago-style popcorn plus my carry on suitcase and my overstuffed backpack. I’m an overpacker, people. I got told to come back to the main hall at 1:15 to line up for boarding—boarding passes didn’t exist, they’d just line you up. Walking around with my Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites (I have ZERO willpower around that place), I’m noticing the clientele in the station. There’s a lot of people that appear to be of Amish descent/clothing. It makes me curious about how the tenets of their faith and modern technology/trains work together, but if they’re here, God must be ok with it.

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Boarding: ITS 1:15 TIME TO SPRINT 40 feet to the “C” line and hope no one calls me on my duffel (beer & popcorn), carry on suitcase (clothes) and overstuffed backpack (books, tech, sweats, ID/Ticket) plus blanket. You then kindergarten follow an Amtrak employee as a long, snake-y line through the station until you reach the gates, which look like the gates in a small, regional airport. They line you up and you walk down to the tracks and as you walk on the platform in-between two huge, tall hulking trains, Amtrak employees ask where you’re going. “Little Rock is 2 doors up on the right,” was my reply and I get there and meet our car attendant/porter/awesome guide and she directs us in and up a tiny, windy staircase that reminds me of a Washington State ferry staircase.

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On-board: The train is 2 levels—apparently called a Superliner—and I got my ideal spot, back right corner. I get to lean back super far without disturbing anyone and I already made friends with the lady in the back left corner. She’s going to Little Rock too and I asked her to take a picture of me because I literally couldn’t contain my excited face. I was the second person in the car and I hefted my beer/popcorn duffel and suitcase up in the overhead rack, placing the aforementioned overstuffed backpack and blanket under the seat in front of me. I looked for a seatbelt THERE ARE NONE, I don’t know what I expected and then I looked down and I saw so much leg room that I could have cried. CRIED, dammit. I reclined my seat, bothering no one and just sighed, content. And the train hadn’t even started moving yet.

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Our goddesss of awesome train-ness, Avia (“Its’ French for ‘bird’”) gave us some info about the ride, saying how it’s her first Texas Eagle run but not her first w/ Amtak; she’s been with the company for 11 years. AND THEN THE TRAIN is moving. I am wiggle wiggle joyous excited. It feels like that wondrous itch of going to Japan or Thailand and the pride of I’M DOING THE THING and I have missed it. I think sometimes we forget or grow so comfortable with our routine that you forget to be a tourist in your own country. I realize anyone who takes Amtrak every day for work probably just threw up in their mouth, but I’m loving it. Also, I’m not-so-secretly hoping that Joe Biden is on the train. I know he lives in Delaware but I heard he takes Amtrak and I kind of feel like he’s the type to incognito just be on any/every Amtrak train.

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I’m Chris Traeger-ing this train ride and I don’t even care that the poor Amtrak intern probably reading my tweets is exhausted THIS IS SO FUN. Y’all. Why do we travel any other way? I’ve been on the train 30 minutes and I already love it. Just south of Chicago and it’s so, so green. It looks like the woods behind my Grandma Loveau’s house; big green leafy bushes that probably have blackberries hanging plump and ripe and scrubby weeds that I’m gonna pick even though my mom tells me not to.

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I’m pretty convinced that I won’t have great T-mobile cell service everywhere and I’m ok with that. I welcome it, actually. I’ve been reading a book about meditation, (10% Happier by Dan Harris) and I’m looking forward to turning my brain off a bit. I brought my journal and another book and I just want to let my brain slow down.

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Visits observation car; damn. Damn damn. Swivel chairs and full-length windows. Much green. Such Instagram shots.

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Starting to feel like a good nap…return to seat. Dining attendant comes by and I get a reservation for 7:15 like adults do!

…wakes up. Illinois is super green, y’all. And rural. Agriculture is all over.

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…sleeps again.

…wakes up. Trees on the track before Springfield, held for 30 minutes. Cool, I forgot that’s the state capital!

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More Illinois; more green. Continue reading “10% Happier,” trying to slowly let it permeate my brain and not rush through and it’s so helpful on learning to meditate. I know, you cringed. I did too. But breaking it down, it’s about not just my gut reaction to things, it’s helping me slow down and respond rationally. It’s like slow-mo Matrix moments where I have time to make choices rather than EMOTION VOMIT at someone/thing.

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Anyways, it’s a great book. I’ve been on and off reading it for a week and I’m really getting into the meat of it. I’m writing notes and actually absorbing it when—

“7:15 Dining Car, come on down.” OH Y’ALL IT IS STEAK TIME.

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One of my co-workers, Jeff, told me that if I’m gonna Amtrak it, I need to try the steak at least once. It’s $25 but I’m so, so down. And I got a glass of wine BECAUSE I ADULT. I arrive in the dining car on time just as we’re pulling into St. Louis and this iconic view.

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I am seated across from a middle-aged couple and next to a young young 20-something who is super quiet. Like, I’m trying to pull teeth saying ‘hi,’ making casual jokes and asking questions and she is shutting. it. down. She orders a side salad and iced tea, when I offer her the basket of salad dressings, she says “just ranch. I’ve never tried anything else.”

FOR REAL I AM NOT LYING. Folks, I am all for like what you like and eat what tastes good but when salad dressing is FREE (which it rarely is) and you can try new stuff, TRY THE BALSAMIC OR ITALIAN because they are not scary. She would have shit herself if they’d had some chili lime vinagrette. Oh well. She’s going to Houston I pry out of her between her Snapchats. Goodness. I turn to the older couple across from us. He’s asking her about what’s gonna work for him since his teeth are out. They’re going to somewhere near Shreveport, Louisiana, which is surprising considering this train doesn’t go there.

I slowly piece together between our-lady-of-side-salad and the toothless man and the wife who is talking loudly on the large Samsung phone that all 3 of my tablemates were on some weird delayed? Amtrak and got rerouted to Chicago. Side Salad says she got off her train to get toothpaste? and got lost, missing getting back on. Ser Teethless says their train was 4 hours delayed and they missed their connection in Chicago so they had to stay there 24 hours and wait. Damn. This is like joining a book halfway and I’m so in.

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Teethless and I start to get a little traction talking when I joke saying “I’m the only one of us intentionally in Chicago” and he shares that he drove a cab there for 40 years but got out because…something. It was a little difficult to understand him sans teeth, but he was intriguing. I started trying to put into practice some of the things in the book; ‘be present in this moment, don’t think ahead or behind,’ and I leaned forward, asking him about his dogs (2 chihuahuas) and his proclivity for befriending wild animals (a lynx, wolves, myriads of squirrels, stray cats, A POSSUM). Then our food came and I discovered Bernaise sauce.

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FAM. I gotta say, I would have moaned if Side Salad wouldn’t have inevitably snap chatted it. What is this stuff and how have I gone 30 years without it? Chock full of delicious witchcraft, I tried to savor every bite while listening to Teethless tell me about how ‘some people just got the touch’ for befriending animals, and well, he’s got it.

He then said to Side Salad “you want one of these shrimp?” I looked at him, then her, confused. She demurs. He insists. She TAKES IT. I’m ping ponging between them wondering if I need to tell Teethless that this girl/young woman is fine and happy with her ranch leaves and doesn’t seem to be a meat eater. Then Lady Teethless puts a slap of her steak on Side Salad’s plate and I’m like “are they trying to talk her out of being vegan by temptation?” SS is grateful and doesn’t seem to be giving me any bat signal of distress that these people are forcing various meats on her, AND SHE IS EATING THE MEATS. I’m using my customer service face but I’m so confused that this is some new Midwest tradition I’m not knowledgeable about AND also offended that these people aren’t offering me food. But damn, I am an adult who ordered a $7 glass of wine so I guess I’m either a) financially solvent and seem ok in the Iron department or b) not the type of woman they’re looking to meet on a train and take home in a body bag.

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We finish our meal and the family Teethless leaves for him to smoke as we are stopped in St. Louis. I look at Side Salad and say “do y’all know each other?” AND THE STORY COMES OUT.

Apparently they all ended up seated next to each other on the same aforementioned delayed? train to Chicago and made friends? I don’t know how, considering the communication barriers (Snapchat/age/lack of teeth) but that’s why they know each other. I’m assuming maybe Side Salad didn’t realized budget-wise that this was happening and the Teethless Couple was doing a good Samaritan thing feeding her meats and fattening her up for ritual sacrifice so she could stay alive and donate a black market organ see her brother in Houston without going broke.

See, this story had a great ending. As an addendum, I’d like to add that although I was miffed to not be carded for my tiny plastic bottle of chilled Chardonnay, the waiter did ask me to writing down my phone number as I signed for my credit card receipt, so I STILL GOT IT.

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Returning to my seat with a slight case of the meat sweats, I realize that we still haven’t left St. Louis. We’re running a bit behind and they’ve shut off the engines while we’re waiting. So…not meat sweats, just lack of moving air. They announce that everyone should try to avoid using the facilities as the train is off and they only flush when the power is on, prompting my bladder to be like NOW NOW RIGHT NOW EMPTY MEEEE as I’m flush on $7 Chardonnay and already nestled back in my big, comfy, ridiculously great seat.

FINALLY we leave St. Louis and I’m lucky enough that no one boards and sits next to me. These seats are no joke, spacious enough that I wouldn’t be irritated by it, but it’s nice not to worry about stepping over someone on my way to the bathroom/stretching my legs OH MY GOD when did we become the last car?!

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Apparently they’ve chopped off the back 2 cars of the train sometime while I was on a romantic date with a steak. Huh. That’s cool. I wish it was still lighter out because these photos from the back of the train would be AMAZING. And now I’m all peed out and curled up, typing away. Happily full of steak and adventures and more relaxed than I’ve ever been while traveling. Seriously, why do we travel any way but this??

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We stop for over an hour in the dark at the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri with no explanation and I’m worrying about my friend who had agreed to stay awake and pick me up at 3am is now 3:40, 4, 4:08…I tell him to go to sleep and re-download the Uber app since Little Rock doesn’t have Left yet. I arrive at the station and after an interesting Uber ride that included the words “Jeffrey Dahmer could have passed a background check” to be an Uber driver, arrive grungy and sleepy to my destination.

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Initial thoughts:

  • Ridiculously comfortable: THE LEG ROOM! Reclining seats, fold out desk/eating station, fold out footrest, etc. made it easy to sleep and perform multiple tasks
  • The food: good god, I will remember that béarnaise sauce on my death bed. And the coffee isn’t bad either!
  • So nice to get up and walk around: wide aisles, observation car, easy to get to and multiple bathrooms.
  • Price: a round trip flight from Chicago to Little Rock was over $400 and for multiple dates. So…I thought to try the train and I’m so glad I did. $80 each way for $160 round trip plus steak dinner plus cup of coffee on return trip is total $200. SO LEGIT
  • Timing: It’s…long. Just about the same as driving directly, but much less responsibility. Much easier to get up and walk around than the Megabus, which was cheaper but required transfer in Memphis. I was delayed about 70 minutes on the way down and about 2 hours on the way back. So…if time is a concern or you have a connection or someone is picking you up, possibly not the best choice unless they/you are flexible.

Overall, I’m happy I took Amtrak for my wallet and for the experience. It is great to sleep a good chunk of the ride and wake up/get to your destination actually relaxed and not worry about the weight/number/paying of your bags and the security check and the 2 hours early, etc. (within reason; Amtrak does have baggage rules and they’re on the website) but for me, such a smooth experience. I love that their slogan is “Change how you see the world” because it was truly revelatory seeing some of America’s green gorgeous land and the sun set over the horizon. If you haven’t Amtrak’d before, you should; if not just for the béarnaise sauce *cue Homer Simpson donut sounds* then for the truly enjoyable experience.

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“‘Pokemon’ Is Short For ‘Pocket Monster'” and other things in Japan

Not my best title, I know, but I’m writing this over a month later after returning from Japan, so…a lot of brain cells and one egg have died since then, so I’m not on top of my game. Yep.

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It always felt that my time in Asia wouldn’t be complete without visiting Japan. For $50 you could fly from Busan to Osaka and stuff yourself full of sushi, roll in piles of Doraemon swag and perfect the art of karaoke, so that was the easiest decision ever. I finished up 2 years of work at K. Hogwarts and left for 10 days in the land of the rising sun.

Continuing with my Philippines tradition, I went makeup-less and packed just a backpack to carry on my flight, only to run into one of my bosses at the airport, so it was a great start to the trip. After landing on the island airport of Osaka (no, really, it’s an island)

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I realized that I couldn’t remember the address of the hostel I was staying at, and in immigration there was no wifi…so I lied and wrote “friend’s apartment in Osaka” and cried a little in the line after copying the phone number of the guy in front of me. Sorry Marty (and Japanese immigration official) and random stranger. I just was dumb and forgot about the paperwork part, I didn’t pre-plan to fraud everyone I JUST WANTED THE DORAEMON SWAG.

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After renting a data ‘egg’ and slowly, awkwardly reading train signs, I made it to Osaka Station. I…was not prepared. It was like Seoul Station on crack. There are at least 7 lines running out of there, and sub-stations and new letters and new solar systems and *cue hyperventilation and hypoglycemia* someone finally came out to help me because I was sweaty and awkward for too long. I finally made it to my hostel in Osaka, and it was perfectly cute and quaint–Air Osaka Hostel via AirBNB in Kitagaya was warm and friendly. They also included a map that pointed out some awesome hot springs (that I visited twice), a delicious, cheap restaurant (again, twice) and a sushi place (once, because money).

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LOOK AT THAT DESTRUCTION. I am the destroyer of Japanese foods. I also visited the Pokemon Center in Osaka and…well…

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Squeeeeeee. I never got into Pokemon as a kid, but who doesn’t like Pikachu? I bought myself a soft little squishy Pika and a coin purse because anything less than a 1000 yen note (around $8USD) is a coin. SO MANY COINS. Also of note, the only ONLY song that plays in the Pokemon Center? The Pokemon theme song in Japanese. On loop. I fear for their employees because they must walk in to work hoping for–

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After more Osaka explorations, including a 3-story Sanrio (Hello Kitty) store, Osaka Castle and a peaceful, rainy Shinto shrine:

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I then lovingly tucked my Pika into the backpack and took off for Fukuoka!

In August 2014, I got to lead a program of 60 Japanese students from Aso College, in Fukuoka and 60 Korean students from my parent school, Yeungjin College in Daegu. We mixed together the students for a 5-day, 4-night English intensive camp, and it was one of my favorite teaching experiences ever. So I was unbelievably excited to see several of my Japanese students again–they even let me stay with them, they COOKED, we talked–it was so much fun. Plus, OWL CAFE.

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You pay 1500 yen (about $12-13) to hold these handsomes. The first 15 minutes you read some safety tips, including “please don’t forget owl is rapacious bird” and “when you see hate signs while you touch owls, please stop touching owls right away.” I don’t know what a hate sign is, but look at this bro, who was bestowed the name “Nuts.” HOW COULD HE EVER HATE SIGN?!

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The next day, after a delicious homecooked meal from Tati, my students took a taxi WITH ME to the airport. They refused to let me pay and they even bought me some Pika swag from the Fukuoka Pokemon Center! I’m so happy to have met them and been their teacher and their friend too. I was a little sad to go on to Tokyo, but off I went, backpack bulging with Pikas and gifts from the Super Daiso that I had gotten lost in. Thanks so much to Tanya, PJ, Tati, Ryota and everyone else I got to see!!

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In case you are planning to go to Japan, you need to know that Narita Airport is in the middle of Egypt nowhere, so plan accordingly. I made it into my hostel in Tokyo’s Shibuya district around 10 at night, a little lonely and ready to eat my own hand. I walked up the four flights of stairs, ran down to find food and smack into a guy staring at his smartphone exactly the same way I had been 5 minutes before. I asked, “Are you looking for the Geekhouse?” He looked up, and stammered “ah 애, yes” and when I looked closer, I saw the telltale signs of Korean 20something guy–Carhartt and white socks with white tennis shoes–I replied “진짜?!” and laughed, watching his jaw drop. It had only been 6 days, but I’d already missed speaking in Korean and feeling halfway knowledgeable in a foreign country. He threw his bag upstairs and we got ramen and a beer together on the corner, talking about our lives in Korea and our travels in Japan. When we figured out that we wanted to see the same areas the next day, we ended up walking around all of Shibuya and Harajuku together–Won Geol and I, the photographer and the makeup-free white girl. (You can see him peeking his head into my otherwise flawless pano of the Meiji Jingu below)

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Over my last 2 days, I discovered a shop that sold $20,000 original, single, hand-painted animation cells from classic Studio Ghibli films like “Kiki’s Delivery Service” and “Totoro,” stood in Shibuya Crossing, the busiest pedestrian intersection in the world, and walked an hour back to the hostel, letting myself crack a little and grieve about leaving Korea soon.

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I left Japan after not-so-gently shoving my Pika and all his friends into my backpack, and hoping that Peach didn’t have weird restrictions on carry ons since my bag weighed as much as the Sherpa I would need to carry it, and headed home to gimbap and soju, ready to live up my last 2 weeks in Korea. Pictured below is me and my Pika:

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A lot of people have asked about the differences between Japan and Korea, especially my Korean friends, so here’s a brief list of things I noticed that may or may not be unique in my experience:

1. It’s quieter. There’s less noise, less ambient music, less screaming, less “Oppppppppaaaa” and less honking. Every city I was in was just calm. Even the busy areas–even in Shibuya crossing, it was remarkable. No one is talking unless they have to. Everyone is respecting everyone else’s space. Even Won Geol said, “it’s more quiet than Korea,” so I feel this one is true.

2. The food–obviously these are different places and no one does a food like a home country but DAMN. The ramen, the udon, the SUSHI, my god, the sushi, where is this drool on my chest suddenly coming from…? But wow. Japanese food is glorious, full-bodies tastes. From restaurants to home-cooked meals and even convenience store sushi, I never had a bad meal. tumblr_logdznWf4X1qzbb14o1_1280

3. Hot Springs/Onsen: Korea has jimjjilbangs (짐찔방) but while similar to Japan, there are some definite differences, chief among them, not staring. This matters when you’re a very naked, very white, very alone, chubby white girl. If they did stare then they were truly CIA-level because I felt perfectly calm and alone. Also, fun fact–the onsen I went to switched sides every other day. I went on one day and the door was the left one, and the next day, it was the right one! Amazing. However, had I never been to jimjjilbangs in Korea, I would have been quite lost in Japan.

4. They drive on the left side! I guess somewhere back in the deep recesses of my lizard brain, I knew this, but after about 5 minutes of confusion, I realized that something was wrong with the street and it was not opposite day. This did a number on me because not only do you have to be conscious while crossing the street, you also have to be aware what side of the street the bus comes on, an error I made while standing on the right in Fukuoka, watching the bus I was meant to be on drive away. Across the street.

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Anyways, that’s all for this wrap-up–you can see more pictures on my Facebook of foods and owls and temples–I’ll try to sum up the last month here in America this week and we will be *GASP* up. to. date.

ありがとう, Japan–thanks for the best food, and even better people. Especially you, immigration guy. I’m sorry I was shady I DID IT FOR THE POCKET MONSTERS!

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How Not To Start A Vacation: Philippines Style

You know how people are like, “don’t plan out your vacation! Just let it take you where it will and you’ll discover blah blah blah its the journey, not the destination?”

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Such crap. I mean, like, half crap. At least when it came to my Philippines trip.

*sidebar: this coffee shop I’m at right now has an amazing, killer iced Vanilla latte. Think Sonic cup ice and creamy, glorious vanilla tears of a mermaid–it’s great. However, I was like, YES, I would like a chocolate muffin with it and this muffin tastes (and has the texture of) ground up Cheerios boxes. Not Cheerios. The cardboard box that holds and smells faintly of Cheerios. Like, I wouldn’t feed this to chickens my worst enemies anyone. But I bought it so I am damn well gonna eat it. Stupid pride. Anyways…*

Philippines. I finished up my aforeblogged Jeju trip on Monday, May 18 (happy birthday, older bro! You’re 30! I should shut up now!) by flying back to Daegu in the morning, then showering and discovering I’d been attacked by what looked like angry gnomes…I had countless bug bites, scratches, scrapes, tiny sunburn on the tops of my feet (knew I’d missed somewhere…) and the cheesy maiming of my thunder thighs. Everything hurt in that shower. Did I really want to leave the country again for 6 days? I mean, sure, the $168 round trip flight from Seoul to Clark was too Dutch to pass up and I am an adult female woman person who has pride, power and is a badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody so HELL YES we are going to go and…have fun…and whatever. Also, it was my last week of vacation at K.Hogwarts, so I *had* to use it.

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Everyone who knew I was going to the Philippines was all “OH MY GOD EL NIDO EL NIDO PALAWAN (that’s it, right? I have a sneaking suspicious it might be Padawan but that could also be a Star Wars thing) YOU’LL LURVE THE BEACHES” and I’m all, “please look at my skin tone and tell me about how perfect I am for beaches and snorkeling, please.” No. I was going to the MOUNTAINS and having HIKING TIMES and FINDING MYSELF like that lady from Oprah…stuff.

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So I get to Seoul, get on the flight, and immediately, start to have a weird feeling about the trip. Not enough to break aviation law, but I did have a “which sickness gets me off of here without thousands in fines” thought and I will confess to thinking about throwing nuts at a steward but I did not because I am not a chaebol lady pre-apology. I shrugged it off and said to myself “IT WILL BE AN ADVENTURE,” confirm texted my AirBNB host about the car picking me up, and then departed from Korea.

I landed to…nothing. Wait, that’s not entirely correct. I landed, went through customs, whole shebang, got the stamp, got my bag searched, walked out the doors to…nothing. No sign for the car I had previously arranged. No person saying any version of my name, mangled or otherwise. Just looking at about 200 Filipino people looking at me as they were sitting, and waiting, for other people that were NOT me in the 84 degree heat at 11:22pm at night.

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I could not figure out what brand of cross-cultural muckup I had walked into here. I frantically tried to connect to the semi-shady free wifi spots at this tiny, useless airport (that $168 ticket price tag is starting to make sense, isn’t it?) to check my AirBNB app for something, anything from my host to discover why my already exhausted, possibly hungover, bug-bitten, sunburned, cheesy maimed ass was alone in a new country and up shit creek. To add insult to these various injuries, I was an IDIOT and forgot my foreign credit cards. I know. I blame it on the Jeju magic; I’d still been in Korea in Jeju, so I was able to use my Daegu bank cards and Korean ATMS (my Korean cards wouldn’t work here. I checked). I was now in a foreign country with just under $404 in Philippines pesos FOR THE ENTIRE 6 days.

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I used 400 ($9) of my precious pesos to buy a SIM card to contact the AirBNB host, since she’d given me her number to call her in the event of…anything. Nothing like hearing the message “this call cannot be completed as the receiver is either out of service or this number has been disconnected” to make your heart sink. I hadn’t eaten in almost 9 hours, and it was just past midnight and hot and dark and I was, to be frank, scared. Yeah, I was. I was alone, and knew no one in this country. I don’t want to lie to you guys. I wasn’t totally in panic mode, but I’ve seen “Taken” and I couldn’t go back into the main airport without a ticket (which I wouldn’t have for 6 more days) and I was rapidly approaching some unattractive tears. I had no credit card to get any more money, I had no sleep options (this airport is 15 minutes from anywhere), and I was feeling really dumb about the whole trip.

I frantically tried to book different places on AirBNB, since I could use my credit card number online to pay, but since it was past midnight, I couldn’t book for the night I was currently living (18th/19th), but rather the next night (19th/20th). I still hadn’t cried by this point, but this wasn’t a moment of pride for me. In desperation, I posted an SOS on Facebook, which prompted a text from my best friend saying “you know your mom is going to freak out, right?” Yeah, I did. But it felt like a legitimate post to throw up there since I was literally sitting against a wall in a strange airport in a strange land without any plan other than “don’t get kidnapped or robbed or sold into slavery.”

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At this point, a guy wearing an official-ish badge walked up to me and asked in a not-unkind way, “what are you doing?” By now, I’d been pacing around with a constipated look on my face for about 2 hours. It was just shy of 1am and as I blurted out my story, he said he knew of a close hotel. I informed him that I didn’t have much money, which probably was mostly sold by the fact that I only had a small backpack on and smelled like anxiety. He said his job was “taxi chief” and that he knew of a good, cheap place that was safe, including “guard have gun,” which, after living in Korea for so long…is kind of unsettling…but whatever. I’d already created a frightening backstory for a lot of the guys walking around the airport, so the word SAFE SAFE SAFE was circling my head like little Disney birds. He bundled me into a cab (500 pesos) and told me the hotel would probably be about 1200 pesos.

It is possible that in the dark of the cab, to the dulcet tones of 1980s Whitney, that I maybe shed a few tears of thanks and frustration but I hid it real real well under all the makeup I was not wearing. But you can’t prove that.

10 minutes later, upon arriving at a hotel that looked not unlike the motel/gas station from the movie “Cars,” I paid 1400 pesos (you win some, you lose some) and collapsed in twin bosoms of air conditioning and fast, fast wifi and actually, did, cry for about 30 solid seconds. I opened my messages to read replies and tips from friends from all over the world, plus family who was praying for me and a message from a college friend who hooked me up with names and numbers of her dad’s missions contacts in the Philippines. It was almost 2am in Angeles, and I was exhausted in every sense of the word. Despite the fact I was 88% sure there was a lipstick cam in the ceiling (it just had that vibe), I stripped down to my underwear and tried not to think about the sheets as I passed out.

I woke up 7 hours later to some emails from AirBNB customer service (awesome, awesome people) and messages from more people (yet, never ever heard from my original AirBNB host by email, messenger or phone). AirBNB hooked me up with some credits and helped me book a place that night. I spent the rest of the morning lazing about in the air conditioning and watching some form of an “Underworld” movie before deciding to check out and walk to my new place. But since this is getting long, I’ll save the rest of the story for tomorrow–including tips on how not to pee yourself on a 5.5 hour bus ride!

TL;DR First night in the Philippines:

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