I grew up in Baltimore, an hour north of the nation’s capital. Spending the day in Washington, D.C. was never a very big deal. In fact, many of our school field trips were spent in the Air and Space Museum, driving by the Jefferson Memorial and walking up the steps to the massive statue of Lincoln sitting on his chair. it wasn’t until later that I realized these were the very same steps where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a dream” speech.
One of my earliest memories of Washington, D.C. was my mother taking me to the Library of Congress. Since then, I frequented the city for various purposes. I have sung several times in the National Gallery of Art, cried in the Holocaust Museum and played Balinese gamelan in the Cherry Blossom Parade. Over the years, I have joined demonstrations and protests of all sorts, including flying down from Connecticut for the Equality March in 2000 and, most recently, flying up from Florida for the first Women’s March in 2016.
Since moving away from the area, my relationship with the capital has changed a bit. It’s no longer “just down the street”and I discovered that there is actually quite a lot about Washington, DC that I have yet to discover. I flew into DCA and decided to spend an afternoon and evening there before driving out to California, Maryland to celebrate my friend’s 50th birthday.
I knew I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday in a big way. I had turned 20 in Baltimore, 30 in Berlin, Germany and 40 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I wanted to leave my 40s behind in a really cool place. Originally planning to travel to Antarctica to mark the occasion, I wanted to experience something completely new for me, an extreme of some sort. The Covid pandemic interfered in making arrangements to travel to the Great White South, so I decided to check out the northern polar region instead. I liked the possibility of seeing the Aurora Borealis, experiencing 24 hour darkness, visiting the Global Seed Vault and learning more about polar bears. A plan began to form.
My 40s began in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I was an ajarn (professor) in the Humanities Department at Chiang Mai University, I had gone from vegetarian to vegan only months before and I had just survived dengue fever after getting bitten by an infected mosquito on a solo weekend trip to Ayutthaya. I was in the middle of an active and adventurous life. Little did I know then all the triumphs I would celebrate, as well as all the challenges I was to overcome in the subsequent ten years. As I say goodbye to my 40s, I reflect on the victories and hurdles of the past decade.
I stepped off the plane in complete darkness and walked across the tarmac to enter the small Longyearbyen Airport. I was excited to be so far north, the furthest north I’d ever traveled. Once inside and only steps from the door I had just passed, I encountered my first real polar bear…stuffed and decorating the baggage claim area. Someone had even placed a Santa hat on the bear’s head. My heart fell. I was saddened and wondered what a vegan like me might be in for in the northernmost settlement with a population of over 1000.
I slammed the trunk to Chrissy’s truck and slipped into the passenger seat. I was nervous and excited. This would be the very first time I would go camping with the Campazons. Although I had been a member of the Facebook Campazons group for a couple of years, something seemed to always get in the way (Covid, travel, depression) of actually making it out to one of the weekend camping trips. But this time, my basic need to connect with women overpowered my depression and anxiety, and before I knew it, we were struck in traffic on a Friday afternoon heading towards Dade City, Florida! As I watched the world go by, I found myself wondering what the weekend would be like. Little did I know then that I was in for an amazing weekend connected to women, to nature and even the cosmos.
I pushed the tab just behind the steering column away from me and I moved my foot from the brake to the accelerator. My friend’s electric car seemed like the perfect way to cross the Norwegian border into Sweden. While I always revel in visiting new countries, Sweden was particularly special to me for two reasons: 1) my father has always raved about this Scandinavian country nestled between Norway and Finland and 2) Sweden was to be the 60th country I’ve visited.
My friend Karin and I decided to enjoy a girls’ weekend in New York City. Both fans of opera, and Karin being a trained ballerina, our three-day adventure centered around Lincoln Center. I was very enthusiastic to see how the itinerary I had planned would unfold, from the classical performances to the restaurants I had chosen at which to dine. Karin expressed her exuberance as well!
Traveling had become more challenging during the Covid pandemic and I found myself with a lot more extra time at home. So, I decided to attempt making vegan cheeses from places I’ve traveled around the world. In every case below, I traveled to the featured locations before becoming vegan. So, I am very excited to revisit some of my favorite memories, but veganized!
Santa Fe, New Mexico attracts people with varied interests and seems to fulfill everyone’s needs and desires. There are amazing places to hike, including the southernmost peak of the Rocky Mountains (Shaggy Peak). Visual art enthusiasts are in heaven in Sante Fe with so many art exhibits, including of course the famous Georgia O’Keeffe. Many folks flock to this small desert town for the large array of music performances from opera to jazz to flamenco and more. Some come to learn about and celebrate the tribal cultures and others come for the unique northern New Mexican cuisine.
All of the above brought me to Sante Fe. A few years ago I drove through this small town on my way to Taos, only stopping at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and having lunch at Annapurna’s World Vegetarian Cafe. I quickly realized that a few hours in Santa Fe simply was not enough time, so I vowed to return. I booked an entire week at an AirBnb in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, about 20 minutes southeast of downtown. This time around I aimed to try activities that might be considered off the beaten path.
From behind my protective headgear, I surveyed the cement room. A small wooden table with a glass top waited for me next to a white nightstand in the middle of the room. I faced a colorfully-splattered cement wall. A blue plastic barrel stood in one corner and a large black piece of furniture with drawers had been placed in the other. A black plastic tub filled with glasses, dishes and porcelain sat on the floor in front of the wall behind me. The wall adjacent the blue barrel was lined with golf clubs, baseball bats and sledgehammers. I picked up a heavy yellow sledgehammer, took a deep breath and waited for my playlist to start.
As I twirled, the breeze of my bright blue billowing skirt cut the humidity in the night air. I closely followed the teacher, trying to mimic her from across the circle, and feel the Carimbó music blasting across the flooded Rio Negro from the big speakers in the corner. Sweat dripped down my face, but the anticipation of the next dance move kept me going. The spectators were smiling (or was it laughing) and it dawned on me that I was learning to dance by and with Indigenous women in the Amazon. This was exactly the kind of authentic activity I was hoping to experience!
I lay back on my colorful blanket with my head on my little backpack full of half-eaten vegan goodies. I looked up at the stars and let Mahler wash over me. The air smelled of fresh grass and images of the sunset still danced in my mind. I had finally made it to Tanglewood!
My hammock swayed a little in the ocean breeze way up on the 11th floor balcony of my spacious Airbnb apartment. I hummed along with “The Girl from Ipanema” which played on my phone and I took another sip of coconut juice from the fresh coconut I had just purchased at Zona Sul Grocery Store. My gaze focused on the beach front as I took it all in. I enjoyed the unique iconic Rio landscape, people walking along the beach and surfers hoping to get that perfect wave. I definitely felt like I was in Brazil.
Teatro Amazonas (Amazon Theater) is first on the list of “things to do in Manaus”. I was completely taken aback that an opera house would be in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, yet the opera lover in me was intrigued. So intrigued in fact, that I booked a hotel (Casa dos Frades) right across the street from unmistakeable pink building.
After a wonderful weekend exploring the Iguazu Falls, my girlfriend Chrissy and I arrived in Manaus at 2am early Monday morning. But, we had to wait til Tuesday to visit the Amazon Theater as they are closed on Mondays. We paid 40 Brazilian Real for two adult tickets that included a tour in your choice of Portuguese (by far the largest group of people), Spanish (a handful of people) or English (only the two of us). Little did I know that I was about to learn about an incredible array of topics, from historical events to the Lego company to rubber bricks, Pavarotti, the first Black governor of Amazonas and so much more.
Our Brazilian driver handed over our passports and rolled down the backseat window. The border agent looked at Chrissy and me and then back at her computer. We smiled and waited patiently, hoping we had filled out the immigration paperwork correctly the night before. Without expression she handed our documents back to the driver. She turned to us, smiled and said, “Welcome to Argentina”. We thanked her, returning her smile and continued on our way.
I think I first became aware of Iguazu Falls when I was living in Thailand. I had seen pictures from fellow lesbian travellers, the Globetrotter Girls, and I quite quickly added this natural wonder to my ever-growing travel bucket list. But, living on the other side of the world at the time meant that visiting the border of Argentina and Brazil was a relatively distant dream.
Moving back to North America brought me that much closer to my recently added destination south of the equator. After five wonderful days in iconic Rio de Janeiro, I was very excited about flying into the small city of Foz do Iguaçu in the Pananá state of Brazil. As the name suggests, it is the closest town to the Brazil side of the famous falls (about 30 minutes Uber ride or about 45 minutes via the 120 bus.)
“Malu-KEEN”, I said to the Maya guard at Uxmal. He repeated the “good morning” greeting in Yucatec with a smile. I had learned that 30% of people living in the Mayab (known today by many as the Yucatán Peninsula) speak one of 32 Maya languages, all derived from Yucatec. With such a high percentage, I was behoved to learn a few local phrases and this effort was quite well-received.
My favorite aspect of traveling around the northern part of the Yucatán was learning about the Maya. From trying new foods, reading about the history and exploring the Mayab, I left Mexico with an entirely new appreciation for, and understanding of, the area.
I have always been drawn to Robert Frost’s most popular poem, Road Not Taken. The idea of living some sort of “alternate”, more adventurous life strongly appealed to me. In my opinion, this poem highlights the value that American culture places on uniqueness, an aspect of our culture that I like very much.
I was encouraged to write poetry in my youth and, like Frost, was often drawn to the woods for inspiration. Deciduous forests have always filled my soul in a way that no other can. Perhaps Frost felt the same way.
I was elated to discover there was a place that, not only displayed Robert Frost’s poetry, but that a trail had also been created connecting his poems to the nature he wrote about. I could think of no better way to experience Frost, nor to begin my week in Vermont.
Having just landed at the Burlington airport only an hour prior, I pulled my rental car into the parking lot off of Route 125 in Ripton, Vermont. My heart raced when I saw the sign “Robert Frost Trail“, confirming I was indeed in the right place (GPS hadn’t worked so well in that area).
I rang the doorbell not knowing what to expect. Little did I know then that I would be experiencing the gastronomical event of my life. I had entered a world of Michelin-Star Chef Alexis Gauthier, where the idea of fast food simply doesn’t exist. The food inside this unassuming townhouse in London’s Soho district was not simply cooked, assembled or prepared; instead, I was sitting down to a meal whose every dish had been carefully crafted like a piece of art. The patrons were few, the decor minimal and the waitstaff was not only familiar with the ingredients of each dish, they also knew the process in which each delicacy, which reached my little table, was created.
I love walking into an opera house for the first time. I can equate it to seeing a new ballpark for baseball fans. Perhaps they see the green of the field and they are filled with excitement. For me, the colors of the seats, the decorations on the balcony and the anticipation of the performance causes my heart to race. I try to take it all in until my little seat feels like home.
I enjoy arriving early to listen to the musicians warm up. I love to hear bits and pieces of the opera I am about to experience. People usher themselves in and take their seats. Some are dressed for a special occasion and others dressed for comfort. One of my favorite moments before the opera begins is the applause that welcomes the conductor. First, you can hear those in the balcony clapping because the conductor is seen from above first. I can’t help but smile when I hear the roar of those below joining the appreciation. I like thinking of myself as a single drop in a sea of pure joy.
My road trip began when I got picked up at the Lichfield Trent Valley train station by a friend of mine. All I knew at that point was that I was staying with my friend and her wife. It turned out that due to an issue with their shower in their new home, we were to take a road trip from town to town enjoying the countryside along the way. I was completely onboard, wondering what sights I might see, what I might learn and what vegan food I might discover in each town.
Having traveled to over 50 countries, it was hard to believe that it took me so long to travel to merry ole’ England. After all, how could I really say that I was a well-seasoned traveler when I hadn’t even been to London?! I figured it was time to remedy this embarrassing reality. As a start to my England venture, I naturally spent a few days in England’s capital city. Having found a great accommodation on AirBnb, I focused my time in and around the Soho area. It turns out this was a very smart thing to do as the majority of the aspects to this cosmopolitan city was located quite near the flat I had rented.
It just so happened that my favorite opera, Puccini’s Tosca, was playing at the Sarasota Opera House. Chrissy bought tickets for a few weeks out to ensure that they wouldn’t be sold out. Sarasota, Florida is anywhere from 1 hour and a half hours to two hours to drive from our home in Clearwater depending on traffic. This trek is a beautiful drive, however as it combines Highway 60 which includes a narrow drive from Clearwater to Tampa, with the Gulf of Mexico on either side. Coming from the north, the Sarasota journey also includes the beautiful Skyway Bridge, which is lit up with colorful lights at night.
I felt like a queen when Chrissy opened the door to her truck for me. We were both dressed up and she looked fabulous. And just in case her sexy butch self wasn’t enough, I caught a whiff of her Polo cologne as she closed the door. “This is going to be a great night”, I thought to myself. A fancy dinner at an upscale vegan restaurant and the opera? What’s not to like!
One of the many bonuses about living in Florida is that strawberry season is in February/March. Plant City is known throughout the Sunshine State as the place to get strawberries. I went to this small town with three goals: to buy fresh strawberries, find a cowboy hat and to try the vegan options they would have at the fair this year.
I grew up in a Quaker family, where I was taught that “guns are bad”. As a result, I never saw a gun growing up. None of my family members owned a gun and if my childhood friends’ parents owned any weapons, they kept them well hidden from us. Then, just out of college, I got a job at Southwest Airlines at the BWI airport. As a result, I was suddenly thrown into a world where I was expected to have a basic understanding of guns. While working at the ticket counter, it was part of my job to inspect all guns to ensure they were not loaded. I had no idea so many people carried guns in their checked luggage. It was at this job that I learned words like “magazine”, “chamber” and “dry shoot”.
I was also raised vegetarian (and have since become vegan), so I was completely unfamiliar with hunting or fishing. Frankly, I was happy to grow up without dead animals around me, in the kitchen or elsewhere.
When I moved to Berlin, Germany in my late 20s, I was surprisingly expected to own a gun, or at least be familiar with them. So, when I returned to the United States for a visit, I decided to ask a friend to take me to a gun range. After listening to my friend’s safety spiel, I learned some basics: 1) always assume a gun is loaded and 2) always point guns down range even when resting. The indoor range was fun. It was here that I learned what “kickback” was.
Since then I tried two more ranges and one included using “big guns”. Those were fun. It is at one of these ranges that I first heard of “conceal carry” and “open carry”. To be honest, I found the differences confusing, especially when you include the requirements for each and the fact that these change in every state. With my limited knowledge, I walked into the Tampa Gun Show with “GUN” stamped in blue on my hand.
Traveling in 2021 involved staying up-to-date on the CDC guidelines, the government policy on arriving back to the USA and monitoring the Covid situation in other states and countries. This included staying informed about where I was allowed to visit, be it domestic or international. Despite these limitations my wanderlust took me on two Florida weekend excursions, Mexico a couple times, Africa, New England and a road trip to Baltimore.
“I want to end the relationship”, she clearly spoke those words I dreaded to hear. It had been three days since I had seen her. I had picked her up from the hotel she stayed in for three days trying to decide if she wanted to leave or continue to work on our relationship. Covid hadn’t helped.
Ever since I could remember, people who knew me always told me how strong I was. Some had even told me that I was the strongest person they had ever met. I survived abuse, struggled with Borderline Personality Disorder, and was kicked out of my parents’ house at 19. But, this… this crushed me in a way that nothing ever had. I felt I was a fragile piece of glass that had been smashed to a million pieces. I was doubled over in pain so bad that I couldn’t even stand up straight. My best friend saw me crumple to the floor of his office at work. How was I going to be able to pick myself up after the most devastating blow of my life?
I celebrated my ninth veganniversary a few months ago. But, until this year I was never in charge of the Christmas meal. “Make whatever you want”, I was told. So, I began looking through various vegan recipes searching for recipes I thought I could manage, as well as recipes that would go well together. After a few days of contemplating, I decided on the meal:
As a seasoned traveler, I am honestly embarrassed to write this post. I have traveled to over 50 countries and have dealt with all kinds of travel woes and a variety of surprises. Having worked as a customer service agent at Southwest Airlines for over 5 years also gave me an inside understanding of air travel, in particular. I’ve always known how to handle delays and cancelations, I know my rights as a passenger and know what requests are reasonable and what are out of the question based on the contract of carriage and the FAA regulations. I thought my years of working at the airport (at the check-in counter, the gates and baggage service) as well as taking hundreds of flights all over the world, put me in the unique position of knowing how to be perfectly prepared for any eventuality in air travel. “People who have issues with air travel simply are inexperienced travelers”, I arrogantly said to myself, usually followed with an even more arrogant, “that would never happen to me.” Well, I was very humbled at Gate 61 of the Cancun airport! After my experience, I have changed my inner dialogue to “it could happen to anyone.”
I stood on the 16th floor balcony after setting my bag down. As if out of a Hollywood romance, two pelicans flew by close enough for me to see the details of their feathers. The various shades of blue sparkled just behind them, I could hear the powerful crashes of the waves and the familiar smell of salt filled the air. “This was going to be a fantastic weekend”, I thought.
Nine years ago I decided to go vegan. I was living in Chiang Mai, Thailand at the time. While I had grown up vegetarian, going vegan had seemed to difficult. However, after taking the time to learn about the horrors of the dairy and egg industries, I simply could no longer eat eggs and cheese in good conscience. And so I took the plunge, which actually wasn’t as big of a deal as I had though it would be. Nine years later, the only thing I regret is not doing it sooner.
I pondered ideas of how to celebrate. I considered cooking dishes with 9 ingredients, thought about making a nine-course meal and then I came up with the perfect idea: tapas! I decided to make 9 tapas dishes. I read though recipe ideas online and even got out several of my vegan cookbooks. In the end, I came up with a menu highlighting variety.