100 Ideas Without Fear

I recently stumbled upon this incredibly inspiring youtube video of a TedX talk by a lady named Michelle Poler who decided to challenge herself and live 100 days without fear. And it got me thinking about my own fears that I've been avoiding, putting off and generally denying their existence.

Physical fear has not ever been particularly challenging for me. I wanted to ride all the big kid roller coasters before I was tall enough. I've bungee jumped, sky dived, zip lined, hiked to the tops of mountains snorkeled in the open ocean, competed in triathlons, etc. I've traveled around the world by myself for the better part of the past two years; terrifying before I started but not so much now. 

I mostly suffer from psychologically-rooted cultural fears: pain, embarrassment & control. I've conquered a few fears under this category: cutting my hair, donating blood, teaching yoga. (Interesting how much my fears overlap with Michelle's and I'm sure many other people.) 

I guess I'm more afraid of rejection than I thought because I'm petrified at the thought of cold calling or driving around and recruiting new clients. However, it's incredibly essential if I am going to maintain my business. 

My mom told me stories of the best and only salesman she ever worked with and my dad had to generate leads, network and establish/maintain working relationships with clients all the time in banking. So I soaked up their sage advice and committed to some cognitive reframing. 

I'm not soliciting a bunch of random businesses - I'm carefully selecting those that align with my values and offering to help. An active imagination is critical to creativity but I think it works to my disadvantage when it spirals out of control into the worst possible scenarios. Here are a few examples of what I fantasized to be the worst case scenario and then what actually happened. 

Before teaching my first yoga workshop, I imagined someone falling and injuring herself and me having to call an ambulance and her being loaded into the back of it on a stretcher with a neck brace. Reality: Everyone got a little sweatier than usual. The first time I flew my drone I imagined it spinning out of control, crashing and exploding on the side of the mountain. Reality: I safely flew and landed my drone without so much as a scratch. 

So is it more likely that I'll be escorted from an establishment by security or police and banned from ever returning to within 100 feet of the premises? Or is the worst case that someone will say "No thank you."

I have countless notebooks, spreadsheets and iPhone notes full of ideas that I have been too scared to pursue. From this day forward, I am no longer letting my fear strangle my creativity.

So the point of this post is that I'm writing a list of 100 ideas that I am actually going to put out into the universe. I'm only expecting about 1 out of every 5 of them to come to fruition based on the good old 80/20 rule but that's what it takes on the journey of success. (Oh, and that's another insight I had yesterday: that success is a journey, not a destination.)

Silly pre-historic lizard brain; always confusing actual threats with imagined ones. Bad, bad lizard brain! You're officially in time out and have lost most of your influence over my decision making. 

Another fear I'm conquering is to publish a blog post without obsessively editing and re-editing and overthinking the content of it. Mission accomplished. 

The Hardest Thing To Brand Is Yourself

I would consider myself pretty good at branding and design considering I've been practicing it for my whole educational and professional career. I have so much fun designing logos and developing the look of new brands. 

Until, of course, I quit my full-time job to freelance instead and had to develop my own brand. Only then does it become a massive struggle. 

It's like this insane little voice in your head saying "YOU are a designer, your brand has to be the best thing ever in the history of things! It has to appeal to the masses, yet stand out and be different, it has to perfectly capture your personality and all of your expertise & experience, it has to be versatile and simple yet different from every other creative person and it has to convince clients to pay you money to do work for them." No pressure, right?

My logo and branding looks incredible simple now, but it's taken at least two years to get there. Unless you're a creative yourself, you may not realize that for every finished product you see, there are bazillions of unfinished, rough drafts, sketches, scribbles, hidden layers, alternate versions and countless abandoned thoughts and ideas. 

I feel like I finally had the breakthrough for my current logo when I stopped trying so hard. I was literally doodling in the dirt with a stick in Nepal or India or somewhere when I made this M shape the looked like a rune. And I've committed it ever since then. 

Anyways, I thought it would be fun to look back at the evolution of my Mirambling brand. It's both humbling and hilarious. 

Moral of the story: Keep doing, learning and growing, y'all. 

I'm happy with where I am now, but it was and still is a journey of personal development. 

Which of these is your favorite? How would you brand yourself? 

Much Love,

New Tee & Bag Designs for Hub City Co-op (200 Words)

Just wanted to share my latest design project for Hub City Co-op.

I designed these t-shirts and tote bags based on the original mural I painted inside the store. They came out so great and hopefully they are gonna fly off the shelves. 

I put a lot of thought and research into sourcing these.

The tees are super soft polyblend material that people will actually love to wear. They are manufactured in Nicaragua by Next Level, a socially and environmentally responsible and WRAP certified (Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production) which means no sweat shops, no child labor and environmentally responsibility. 

The 100% organic cotton tote bags by econscious donate a portion of sales to non-profit Partners like 1% for the Planet, the Rodale Institute the Organic Trade Association and Green America. 

They were printed and delivered by a local business, Carolina Headwear

Not only are they fun & functional merchandise, but they also serve as grassroots marketing, as long as customers wear and use them in public. My focus here has been ideas and promotions that are win-win-win and benefit all parties involved, especially the local community. 

So thankful that these peeps let me keep experimenting with and expressing my creativity! 

Review of Foreign Volunteering and Meditation at Thabarwa Center in Thanlyin near Yangon, Myanmar (325 Words)

Thabarwa Center (actually a whole village) was founded by Venerable Sayadaw Ashin Ottamasara hosts foreign volunteers who want to do good deeds and/or meditate. I did plenty of both. 

Try to arrive Sunday/Wednesday morning; informational meetings held at noon these days. 

It's April, so I was perpetually sweaty, dirty and a little stinky until that glorious cold shower in the evening before bed. But so is everyone else. Between 5-20 other volunteers each day I was there. 

One of my typical days at Thabarwa. 

4:30 Wake up

5:00-6:30 Yoga (in my room by myself but most others participate in morning meditation)

6:30 - 7:00 Breakfast (rice + stuff)

7:00 - 8:00 Alms Rounds with monks or sweeping/cleaning/work

8:00 - 11:00 Continue chores or socialize with other volunteers 

11:00 Lunch (rice + different stuff)

12:00 - 16:00 Read in Library (the only place with air con) or meditation or do special projects

16:00 - 17:00 Walking with patients in wheelchairs

17:00 - 18:00 Walking meditation around stupas

18:00 Dinner (Vit-C drink mix for me since I'm observing 8 precepts but rice + stuff for everyone else) 

19:00 Basic Buddhism class

20:00 Glorious cold shower followed by a load of sink laundry 

21:30 Lights out, eye mask on, earplugs in

Just relax and go with the flow. You can do as much or as little volunteering and/or meditation as you want. Longer term volunteers can teach English to monks and nuns. I even did a couple graphic design projects for the center. 

Shared accommodation and meals are basic but free. However, I recommend making at least a small donation before you depart like $5 (5,000 kyat) per day. 

Free, filtered water throughout the center. 

Cats and dogs everywhere. 

Keep shoulders, knees & everything in between covered. 

Things to bring: mosquito repellent, dietary/digestive supplement, hand fan, reusable water bottle, hat, handkerchief, nuts & dried fruit (sealed to keep out ants). 

Much Love,

Painting Tibetan Thangka in Kathmandu, Nepal

If you've been to Nepal, you will see some beautiful, incredibly detailed paintings for sale everywhere from the urban capital in Kathmandu to the rural villages. Thangka (also sometimes spelled tangka, thanks or tanka) is a traditional Tibetan Buddhist art form. Paintings of Buddhist deities, scenes or mandalas are painting on cotton or silk and used to be displayed only in monasteries and during religious festivals. They can be also be used as teaching tools or for meditation, but nowadays are mostly sold as souvenirs to tourists. (And they are worth every rupee, by the way.) 

But wait, why are they all over Nepal if they are Tibetan? Ever since China annexed Tibet in the 1950s, many refugees, including the Dalai Lama, fled the country and many ended up in neighboring Nepal. 

Many of the galleries that sell these paintings had signs advertising schools so I assumed that they would accept foreign students, if for nothing else than the money. Many of these studios were understandably clustered around Boudhanath, the famous Buddhist stupa on the outskirts of Kathmandu which is one of the largest in Nepal. It's normally a very impressive structure but it was under renovation, partially due to the earthquake last year so I mostly saw scaffolding during my visit. I inquired about painting at one of these schools and was advised that it would take 7 days and cost 5,000 rupees (about $50 USD). This was a bit out of my budgets for both time and money and was too far to travel from my home stay in Swayambhunath (aka the Monkey Temple). 

 Swayumbunath Stupa (aka the Monkey Temple) near Kathmandu, Nepal

Swayumbunath Stupa (aka the Monkey Temple) near Kathmandu, Nepal

When I got back to my home stay, I explored the immediate area hoping to find another Thangka school since Swayambhunath is also home to a Buddhist stupa. I found no schools but I did discover Swayambhu Environmetal Park, which was free to enter and enjoy and boasted three huge Buddha sculptures representing (left to right) Avalokiteshvara, Amitaba Buddha and Padmasambhava (aka Guru Rinpoche) all over 19 m (60 ft) tall. 

 Swayumbh Park (or Buddha Park) near Kathmandu, Nepal

Swayumbh Park (or Buddha Park) near Kathmandu, Nepal

The next day I searched the internet and found a supposed school located just inside the city and well within walking distance at around 3 km/1.8 miles (one way). After walking the dogs, I headed into town in search of said school. When I arrived, I found it boarded up so I kept walking and ended up at a school in Durbar Square. I was thrilled to find a secret entrance where I wouldn't be hassled by the tourist police to pay the 10,000 ($9.50 USD) rupee World Heritage entrance fee, which I had already paid upon my first visit during Holi, but no longer had my ticket to prove it. 

The owner of the shop, Dev, gladly agreed to let me paint my own and we bargained a price of 3,000 rupees ($28 USD) for the process and supplies. After I looked at a few paintings for inspiration, he agreed to prep a canvas and sketch out a simple mandala shape based on what I liked. I agreed to come back the next day at 10:30 AM.

 Day One

Day One

When I arrived the following morning, my canvas was waiting and the pencil-sketched skeleton on it was about 20" x 20". (I actually still haven't measured the full canvas.) I could tell he used a compass for the circles but freehanded all the straight pieces so I had to spend a little time erasing and realigning parts of the sketch with a ruler. 

I had an assortment of acrylic paints but kept a limited palette of blue, orange, green, red and black. I sat next door on a cushion on the floor of a shop that sold masks and singing bowls. Everyone was very friendly, not to mention curious about what I was doing so I frequently had an audience of locals watching me paint, all offering words of praise and encouragement. I painted for five hours that day, stopping only for a quick lunch break from a nearby vendor who make me a fried egg sandwich which others called a 'Nepali Burger.' I finished the first layer of colors (phase 1) and most of the '[out]lining' (phase 2). 

 Day Two

Day Two

On the second day, I arrived around the same time and painted for six hours. I got through the majority of the gold detailing. This color was literally powdered 18 karat gold mixed with a bit of water. I wanted a gradient of blue rings around the main image so Dev MacGuyvered a compass together out of string and pushpins and penciled in some perfectly circular guidelines. 

One day three, I walked to town with two other girls from my home stay. I showed them my painting-in-progress and Dev bought us all tea. We all chatted for a bit while I started working and once their cups were empty, they headed off to find the Horse Festival. Gotta love Nepal! Another day, another festival!

 Day Three / The Finished Product

Day Three / The Finished Product

It took me about three more hours to design & paint the outermost gold border and paint the blue rings and the background. I was so thrilled to paint those final few brushstrokes around the edge of the canvas. Even though I knew I had just spent days doing it, the painting still didn't feel real. All the locals that I got to know over the past few days complimented me on my work and one even volunteered to take pictures of me holding the finished product. 

The painting process itself was somewhat meditative - especially the intricate detail work with the tiniest of brushes. It's complete focus and concentration, trying to translate the design from my mind to the paper. Maybe one day I'll be able to return to Nepal or Tibet and study at a proper school with a Lama. In the meantime, I'm going to keep seizing every opportunity I have to be creative. 

The Harvest Collection

Every other day a group of volunteers is rounded up to go harvest banana trees that we feed to the elephants. So how do you make harvesting banana trees fun? Turn it into a photoshoot! The fashion catalog is fake but the blood, sweat and tears is real! 

Body & Mind : My Last Week in Sri Lanka

So I'm still at the same beach house in Ambalangoda but this last week is all about relaxation and introspection. Two other girls are participating in this week's activities as well; one from Austria and one from Germany. The only things officially on the agenda are a daily morning massage, a short yoga class in the afternoon and then maybe meditation on Friday with a monk at a local temple. I supplemented the mind part on my own by devouring several books during my abundant free time. (I also still helped out with the turtles, too.) 

 Full/Blue Moon

Full/Blue Moon

BODY // MASSAGE

My morning ayervedic massages were performed by a small, smiley Sri Lankan lady name Udena. First there is the topless head, scalp and shoulder massage. (Beth, you would slip into a blissful coma and possibly die of complete, tactile nirvana.) I sit in a chair and she pours some herbal, ayervedic oil on my head then works it into my hair and scalp with a sequence of scratches and strokes. Then she braids my oily and slightly thicker hair. For some reason, I find head/scalp massage the most relaxing - it affects the entire rest of my body. After that, I lay down on the padded table for the foot massage. It's very thorough and relaxing with a bit of reflexology-ish pressure point stimulation. (Dad, you would fall asleep and instantly have dreams of walking weightlessly on cotton candy clouds.)

The first time, I thought she was only going to do my head and feet, but she transitioned on to rub down all the parts in between. Arms, hands, thighs, legs and then stomach and chest. It was a bit awkward for me because I've never had a boob-and-tummy massage before but its not bad. Then I flip over and she does the back of my arms & legs, my glutes and finally my back. My muscles are temporarily the consistency of banana pudding and it takes all of my willpower to convince my coarse motor skills to start functioning again. 

At this point I'm covered head to toe in ayervedic massage oil. I looked at the bottle but it's all in Singhale so I can't read a word of it. I asked Udena what was in it and she said simply "herbs." So my last resort was to try to identify it by smell, which is my third failed attempt at deciphering what the oil is made from or what's in it. I can say it smells rich, savory, herb-y and earthy, almost like a mossy forest floor after the rain mixed with wood, mushrooms and maybe some nuts. It honestly smells and feels like I'm being tenderized and marinated in preparation for a large Thanksgiving-style feast. It's not a bad smell but I don't love it either. 

If I could, I would fold her up and put her in my pocket so I can continue to experience her magical massage powers throughout my travels and share them with others. But, I just don't think the rest of the world is ready for the massage equivalent of self-actualization. 

MIND // BOOK CLUB

Walden | Henry David Thoreau, 1854

I finally finished Walden after starting it months ago. This is because 1) I read it very sporadically, and only during my travels, 2) its 373 pages of tiny type and 3) I frequently had to make note of and look up definitions to tons of antiquated and/or SAT-level vocabulary words. 

Basically, it's his adventure in self-reliance and self-reflection while living at a house he built on Walden Pond. There's a ton of satire, great poetic descriptions and narration, philosophy, advice, observations and even some rather prophetic predictions. I'll read it again or possible several more times and more quickly now that I have several words defined in the margins. 

Paper Towns | John Green, 2008

 A roommate of mine left this book so I picked it up and decided to give it a try. I finished it in under 48 hours, not because I found it particularly enthralling but because it's an easy read and I have a lot of free time. 

I was expecting it to be your typical vapid YA novel describing the same old tired high school stereotypes but I was surprised to find I could actually relate to it. Girl is fed up with conventional life (in Florida of all places) and decides to leave everything behind in search of something more substantial. 

A good part of the plot is built around poetry by Walt Whitman: Song of Myself and Leaves of Grass. I coincidentally just finished reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Both men were writers and part of the Transcendentalist movement in America during the nineteenth century. So, a lot of the underlying philosophy overlaps between those two books, despite them being written over 150 years apart. 

I also like the message of trying to see people for who they really are, not what you expect them to be. The irony is, in high school when I would have been the ideal target for this book, I was definitely more of a Q but now several years later, I've definitely transitioned to being more of a Margo. 

TRAVEL TIP #3: BOARDING PASSES MAKE GREAT BOOKMARKS!

The Fault in our Stars | John Green, 2012

There was a small, makeshift library of left-behind books in the corner of the common area. Since I had just finished Paper Towns, a friend suggested I read another book by John Greene called The Fault in our Stars. It's about a couple of star-crossed teenagers with various forms and stages of cancer. Kind of a modern, more maladies version of Romeo and Juiet, sans suicide.

It's a great insight into what it feels like to have a terminal illness and makes you appreciate your own health for sure. I wasn't a fan of the ending, but I think it's referencing the inceptional, fictional book-within-a-book An Imperial Affliction which just ends leaving several questions unanswered. I plan on watching the movie at some point next week in Malaysia when I have more reliable internet. 

I Wonder Why | Thubten Chodron, 1999

Curious to learn more about Buddhism and meditation in anticipation of visiting the temple later that week, I read I Wonder Why, a free publication that I picked up earlier at a temple in Singapore. It concisely and simply answers the questions asked most often about these aforementioned topics. It was written by a Californian turned Buddhist nun who started meditation and visited Nepal in 1975 and was fully ordained in 1986 in Taiwan. Very interesting and makes it easier to comprehend some of the more complex topics, especially since she has the Western perspective and wasn't just born into the culture. 

BODY // YOGA

After the peak heat and humidity of the day had waned slightly, our Yoga teacher Sasantha would arrive around 5 PM via motorbike. He wore white Kundalini-style yoga clothes was trained in and teaches Hatha style.

Along with Om chanting, he would open and close our practice with Ayubowen (Wishing you a long life; Singhale) instead of Namaste. I tried to go in with an open mind, but I felt like this class was way too basic, maybe on par for toddlers or geriatric clients. There were a handful of poses that I recognized but there was also a lot of filler like glorified stretching of feet, hands and fingers and laying down in savasana for several minutes in the middle of the practice, which I have never done before, and really felt like it interrupted the whole flow. But he did mix in a noticeable amount of meditation, which I liked. 

The worst part was the insects. I put on citronella oil but the mosquitos and flies still buzzed around us. I can't think of a worse hell than trying to meditate amongst mosquitos. I'm still grateful for his time and effort and was a nice, relaxing, not-too-sweaty way to end the day. 

I still continued to do my own Vinyasa practice almost every morning alone in the common area of the beach house. Last week, a few German girls took notice and asked if I could teach them. I ended up teaching two short classes (with simple moves that I was confident I could describe and direct) on two different mornings with up to four girls attending each class. 

MIND // TRIP TO THE TEMPLE

On Friday afternoon, I and the two other girls participating in B&MW piled into a tuk tuk to make the journey to the nearby Shailathalaramaya Temple in Karandeniya, built on a hillside about two centuries ago. It's claim to fame is a 35 meter long reclining Buddha statue, the longest of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The temple was particularly packed with people due to it being a holiday related to the full moon called Uposatha Observance Day or Poya Day. (This would explain why both the Post Office and our favorite Ice Cream place were closed on Friday.) So, we were lucky to get an hour, or any time at all really, with a monk there named Somissara. He was an amiable, 24-year old monk that just radiated happiness. The only space left for our meditation was in their narrow little alms room, where lay persons brought all kinds of food offerings for the monks. 

He had great English and gave us his life story in a nutshell, including coming to live at the temple at age 7, how he started meditation and his more recent travels across Europe to teach meditation. He recommended starting with Metta (or Loving Kindness) meditation. The goal of this practice is to cultivate a strong wish for the happiness of all other people and animals. We were instructed to close our eyes for 10 minutes and repeat the mantra I wish for all to be well and happy. I edited this a bit to I wish for _______ to be healthy and happy and made it into a med-lib™ (meditation + mad-lib, get it?!), in which I would fill in the following blank with things like: my parents, my sister, my friends, all beings, etc. (Is it coincidence that when I grabbed my phone to take pictures of the temple directly after the meditation, I noticed a rather happy WhatsApp message from my mom?) 

The time went by pretty quickly and even though my eyes were closed, the darkness faintly seemed like I was moving backwards through a tunnel, passing under sporadic overhead lights. However, I couldn't hold the traditional cross-legged position for the entire time. One of my legs started to go numb so I shifted a few times. I raised this concern to Somissara afterwards, and he said it's normal and totally acceptable to shift your physical position when meditating.

Then he gave us a brief tour of the statue, the temple and the grounds. I really enjoyed and appreciated the time he spent with us and approached to shake his hand, but just as quickly recoiled because I suddenly remembered that we're not supposed to touch or take pictures of the monks out of respect for their holiness. 

 Reminds me of my grandma's quilted creations

Reminds me of my grandma's quilted creations

The Moonstone Mine and My Shiny Souvenir

Unrelated to Body & Mind week, my last excursion was to a Moonstone Mine in Meetiyayoda. It was a typical tour-then-try-to-sell-something experience, but while white moonstones are found all over the world, blue moonstones are so rare that they (supposedly) are only found in this single village in Sri Lanka.

Traditionally, the moonstone is known as the Traveler's Stone and is supposed to be especially protective when one travels by night or upon the water when the moon is shining. The blue, or cat's eye, variety is believed to promote clarity, focus, awareness and balances energy. 

Upon hearing this, I decided I needed one immediately so even though I'm not typically a "ring person," I purchased a sterling silver ring set with a small blue moonstone for 10,000 rupee ($75 USD). I'm sure I probably overpaid a bit but it came with a certificate of authenticity and I'm directly supporting the Sri Lankan economy. 

 Sifting for stones

Sifting for stones

 My blue moonstone

My blue moonstone

The Cat Savior & Spectacular Sunsets

My last and completely unanticipated experience that I need to mention happened Friday night when a group of us were walking towards town for ice cream after dinner at the beach house. We are regularly escorted by Milo and some other street dogs, as we were on this trip, but they suddenly and uncharacteristically broke into a full sprint. I saw why as a small cat scrambled up a tree limb. The cat fell and in what seemed like a nanosecond, it was then in Milo's mouth, being shaken violently. 

What happened next was kind of a blur. I didn't really think - I just reacted and kicked the dog, not hard enough to really hurt it, just enough to startle her. She dropped the cat and I reflexively tried to grab the cat and move it away from the dog but instead felt claws puncturing my flesh. I flinched and spun around to see the cat safely behind me. I stood between Milo and the cat, yelling at Milo to go away, until the cat disappeared to safety. Thankfully the other dogs were gone and Milo eventually retreated as well. (I'm choosing to believe that the cat is totally fine now and eternally grateful for me saving it's life.) 

Only then did I stop to evaluate the damage done to my finger. I had a long, jagged scratch almost the entire length of the inside of my right ring finger - the one with my new moonstone ring on it - that was trickling blood and I was super thankful for another girl in my group that had a first aid kit with her and handed me an alcohol wipe and a band aid. I used them immediately then cleaned the wound more thoroughly and applied Neosporin when I got back to the house. 

Last but not least, I need to share pictures of some spectacular sunsets we got to admire this week! 

Mirambling Muses: Singapore

Well that week pretty much flew by. It was so nice to catch up with my sister and just let my guard down and relax for a bit. We didn't have anything really specific planned beforehand, so I just kind of made things up as I went along. 

The typical Singapore tourist comes here for perpetual shopping trips, fancy hotels and/or cosmetic surgery. Therefore, I didn't notice a ton of backpackers and probably wouldn't have stopped here had my amazing sister not been here with a free place to stay. However, there is a ton of budget-friendly culture, fun and excitement to be had if you know where to look.

Here are my highlights:

Red Dot Design Center

If you're a design geek like me, you have to visit the Red Dot Design Museum. It's a bright red building on the outskirts of Chinatown and it's full of all kinds of innovative and modern design including industrial, product, packaging and concept. There are lots of interactive iPad displays and you can touch and play with everything! There's some neat stuff in the shop as well. I picked up a couple letterpress postcards and seriously considered a recycled vinyl laptop sleeve. Learn more about Red Dot and their international Design Awards here

Chinatown

Of the designated traditional ethnic areas, Chinatown was the most fun. The streets are lined with lanterns small shops selling everything from silk robes to custom cut paper portraits and any & all kinds of Singapore and traditional Chinese souvenirs. And there is also no shortage of meal options. You'll find fresh produce (including the spiky, stinky-foot-smelling fruit, Durian) street food vendors and more traditional restaurants. I'm quite sure I need to start employing a food chaperone that is more familiar with these exotic foods, because I've made some regrettable decisions. The most memorable being a delicious-looking mountain of rainbow snow cone bliss, which turned out to be more like miscellaneous, dessert nachos. The base was beans, mystery jelly and pieces of mangosteen supporting an odd-tasting assortment of flavored ice and then topped with creamed corn. Taste, texture, everything, was just weird. 

The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple is a must-see with its colorful, ornate decor and literally hundreds of statues and I was quite surprised to see people square dancing (to modern, English pop music, no less) near the Chinatown Complex. 

Gardens by the Bay 

These giant greenhouse gardens are located in the shadow of the huge and hideous (IMO) Marina Bay Sands Hotel. There are actually two Gardens by the Bay, the Flower Dome and the Cloud Forest. Jamie and I opted to only do one as we were short on time and didn't want to pay double the cost. The cloud forest was a nice respite from the city summer heat and we walked past the waterfalls, up the ramps, around the top and back down to the educational area. The flora was immaculately maintained and they even used misters to simulate foggy clouds. At the end, there is a dark room full of colorful, projected info graphics that educate you about the environment and it's biggest threats and you end by watching a short doomsday video about climate change where they describe a dying earth over the next hundred years. Then they rewind and give you hope again saying all that can be avoided if we take action today. They're preaching to the choir with regards to me and my sister but I hope it had an impact on everyone else passing through. This time, I didn't mind exiting through the gift shop because they had a bunch of awesome & eco-friendly stuff. I found some beautiful post cards designed by Peranakan Inspirations as well as this awesome little travel backpack that folds up into a small pouch. 

And I can't forget the super trees! They are these hybrid plant/solar structures that stand about 16 stories tall and collect solar energy so they can light up at night so they're self-sustaining. And the look pretty cool too. 

Street Art

I found the biggest concentration of street art in the Malay/Muslim district on Haji Lane. While admiring the incredible colors & designs, I turned the corner and found a group of  girls with American accents doing inversions in front of one of the murals. Turns out, one of them is kind of a big deal and teaches all over Asia but is based in Sinapore. Marysia invited me to one of her classes at Pure Yoga and I enthusiastically accepted her offer. I actually ended up doing two classes in a row the following morning; first a moderate Hatha class followed by a class called Upside Down, which is the hardest class I’ve ever attempted. The main focus was handstands and arm balances. I got a ton of tips from both Marysia and a pretty petite yet bad ass yogi next to me named Sen. The poses seemed almost effortless for her and she had short black hair with blonde streaks and an asian/egyptian pair of eyes tattooed at the base of her neck that stared at me everytime we posed facing the left wall. I was so satisfied with and grateful for the classes and really feel like I made significant progress in my practice. 

 

Public transportation is plentiful and my sister and I took trains, busses, Uber and cabs. My biggest gripe is that stamps and letter boxes are nearly impossible to find here. 

Mirambling Muses: Cairns, Australia

I had so much fun in Cairns that I wanted to share my favorite cheap, free, local, sustainable, inspirational and/or must-not-miss things to do there. It's incredibly tourist and backpacker friendly, boasting tons of hostels, rentals & hotels and there is free community wifi in several spots throughout the city. The main part of town is relatively compact and easy to walk to all of the locations listed below. Oh and one last tip: the locals drop the i and the r pronounce it like cans

7. Snoogie's Vegan/Vegetarian Restaurant 

This gem is a bit hard to find, tucked away in the Main Street Arcade (82 Lake Street) a bit north of Gilligan's. I found out about it myself after chatting up a local shop owner after lusting after her lunch. It's pretty much the most affordable and delicious healthy food and juice bar you'll find in Cairns. I really wish I'd discovered it sooner because this was my favorite food place. And I'm not alone; it's ranked #1 out of 381 restaurants in Cairns based on its 42 glowing reviews on Trip Advisor

6. Cairns Regional Gallery

An eclectic Art Gallery with a variety of exhibitions where you can escape the sun or the rain and see lots of work from Aussie artists. Admission is only $5 per adult and they're open 7 days a week. Or just visit the shop which offers a unique collection of design, crafts and jewelry by local and national artisans. You'll find much better souvenirs and gifts than the generic, tacky tourist shops you'll find everywhere else. 

 Image Source: Trip Advisor

Image Source: Trip Advisor

5. The Night Market

Located 71-75 on the Esplanade, the quirky Night Market is not to be missed! There is a self-serve food court serving up a variety of Asian favorites, hair and nail services, lots of souvenir shops and the famous $15 massages. You can find everything from locally crafted clothing & jewelry to custom airbrushed hats to postcards to kangaroo scrotum keychains. Shops are open 5-11 PM, Food Court from 10 AM - 11 PM and Massages from 12 noon - 11 PM. 

 Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

Note: I do not endorse the sale nor purchase of these. I just needed pictorial proof of their absurd existence. 

4. The Esplanade

A super fun and free place to hang out, situated along 2.5 km of the Cairns coast. The lagoon is a free, public swimming pool, there's a boardwalk for exercise and/or people watching, plenty of open grassy areas and playgrounds and free community wifi. I often saw street performers and lots of people relaxing with a book or enjoying a picnic. If there are any events or festivals going on, they'll most likely be here. There are some free Active LIving classes you can take advantage of as well. I participated in yoga on Fridays at 6:30 AM. 

 The Lagoon

The Lagoon

3. Graff Alley

The largest concentration of Street Art I could find in Cairns. Located off of Grafton Street almost across from Gilligan's (the biggest and most infamous hostel in the city). Amongst all the murals, there's also a rather popular coffee shop called Caffeind and the Alleyway Paint & Skate shop. 

2. Rusty's Markets

Great place to buy local groceries or grab a bit to eat. I found all kinds of foreign fruits I can't get back home and I found the stall owners are really friendly. There's also a fresh juice bar and reflexology & thai massage as well as jewelry and clothing for sale. However, it's only open on the weekends; Friday & Saturday 5 AM - 6 PM and Sunday 5 AM - 3 PM. (Also located just past Gilligan's on Grafton Street.) 

1. The Great Barrier Reef

The harbor is packed with boats that will take you to see and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. I can recommend Passions of Paradise ($159/adult + $10 reef tax) since that's the eco-certified boat that took me out to discover their natural treasures. But there are other sustainable options like the Reef Daytripper ($124/adult + $15 reef tax) and Ocean Free Green Island & Reef Pinnacle Tour ($190/adult includes reef tax). There's a full list of options on the Cairns Visitor Centre website


A Walk in the Woods

I've really been enjoying reading Walden lately, so here's my attempt at letting nature inspire my thoughts and writing, Thoreau-style. (Intentionally posting no pictures since there are none in my novel and I'm practicing being descriptive. But you can see some in my previous post about a weekend in Cape Tribulation.) 

At first I was striding along annoyed that humans are so helpless that we can't even walk through the woods unaided by a wooden Boardwalk. And then there's the irony of walking on a bunch of dead trees to admire the living ones. But then I slowed down and realized that without the crunching of leaves underfoot, I could walk as silently as a ninja. Of course everything hides when heaps of tourists are traipsing through, but once I became silent and still, the forest came alive around me. I saw birds both in the trees and on the ground. I admired small spiders in their elaborate webs and listened to an omnipresent symphony of insects. 

I heard leaves crunching and witnessed a pair of scrub fowls scratching at the leaf litter. I tried to get a closer look, but they must have sensed my presence and disappeared deeper into the undergrowth. I really liked the thick vines that contorted themselves into corkscrews and were intertwined amongst the mostly straight tree trunks. Tall trees, short trees, thick trunks, skinny trunks, young ferns frolicking around the legs of their parents. It's like I'm a tiny spectator and the trees are the legs of Giants, standing tall and socializing at some eternal and etherial social event, to which I am an uninvited guest. 

For the most part, I was alone. But whenever I did encounter other people, they would scurry past me as if trying to get the walk over with like it was their morning commute to the office and they were whizzing by in the carpool lane. "I have to get there before the coffee is all gone so I don't have to make the next pot." Hardly pausing to stop and admire the deep green magic around them that they have likely traveled hundreds or even thousands of miles to see. This is nature's job- to create and manage everything on earth. What's yours? To create a spreadsheet? Manage a budget? Sorry but you should feel a little insignificant from time to time. Nature never takes a holiday or even a day off.  

Gravity is the force against which everything in the forest must fight, but will succumb to sooner or later. This is evident from the felled trees and myriad fallen leaves and limbs that lie in so many layers along the forest floor. They'll eventually decompose into dirt and then help others defy gravity once again. Does a rotting tree trunk represent life or death? You might be inclined to say death since the life of the wood has come to an end. But in reality the decomposing log sustains more life than ever: moss, fungi, bacteria and a whole host of insects and maybe even small mammals and amphibians may use it for shelter. It's all a simple yet perfect cycle. 

I noticed small, red lily-trumpet shaped flowers strewn along one part of the path but could not find their origin. It was green as far as the eye could see in any direction. They must exist high up in the canopy as vibrant treats for birds and butterflies, beyond my humble visual range. 

The ancient forests faded onto an empty beach. The sand is fine and soft and the ocean was a gradient of green to turquoise to slate blue on the horizon with small yet constant white-capped waves rolling in to shore. The landscape was deserted as far as the eye could see in either direction due to the presence of saltwater crocodiles, which tourists should be well aware of due to the abundance of red and yellow warning signs. A small, mossy-looking mountain rose to the north while the forest continued to border the beach to the south. The sky was muffled with gray clouds which were fluffy mounds towards the horizon, but dissipated and blended into a smooth, gray blanket towards and over the trees. 

It felt strange and foreign to be walking along this beach in boots whereas at home I would be barefoot, feeling the sand beneath and between my toes. Walking towards the water, then turning around, you could see a sliver of mountains rising above the tree line into the gray, misty clouds. It's probably quite breathtaking on days when the sun and sky are friendlier. 

It took me 2 hours to meander down a 1.2 kilometer Boardwalk through a 100 million year old rainforest. I wondered how long it took people to build this long and winding bridge. However long it took, I'm certain it is a microscopic amount of time when compared to how long it has taken nature to build the forest around it. People are forever building barriers between themselves and nature. We build buildings and roads and buses and boats to aid in our own survival, often to the detriment of so many other species that rely on just water, sunlight and whatever makes up their meager diets. It's really pretty incredible when you stop to think about how helpless humanity has become and how that helplessness has compounded with each new technological marvel of the modern day. 


Ultimate Beach Party with Sea-Doo

I'm so stoked! In previous posts, I talked about how Devin Super Tramp is a super inspirational person for me and then about what it was like to participate in one of his videos and now here's the final product:  

And here's the Behind the Scenes video:

The 3:45 official video looks like nonstop action, but we were actually there all day for about 12 hours getting the right light and the right shots. I didn't actually get to ride a Sea-Doo myself but I did get to go tubing, play volleyball, play cornhole and now I'm considering being a career extra. 

I'm actually featured more in the BTS and I'm only a little bummed that the slow-motion dive on the volleyball court (for which I did several falls and received several bruises) didn't make the final cut. But the video is sponsored by Sea-Doo, not the AVP so I get it! I was just glad to be a part of it at all and get to meet Mr. Super Tramp himself and make some new friends and memories. 

 Team Super Tramp

Team Super Tramp

Beach Party: Supertramp Style

Today is going into the top five best days of my life. That's because if you read my previous post, The Pursuit Of Passion, you'll know that I cited Devin Graham as one of my inspirations so being able to meet him, let alone be featured in one of his videos today, was literally living out one of my dreams. I've been an avid fan, following his videos since I discovered this one in 2011, and never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.  

 That's A Wrap! 

That's A Wrap! 

I found about this gig via Facebook and Instagram when they advertised a need for extras in their next video sponsored by Sea Doo which was scheduled to be shot in Deerfield Beach, FL. It was unpaid of course but they did promise to provide lunch (which I correctly predicted to be pizza). I and eleven other strangers between 18 and 30 met and had to become fast friends as we were supposed to be portraying a beach party full of besties. 

Around lunchtime, we all gathered around the picnic bench and a particularly precocious extra started asking Devin a ton of questions, sparking kind of a impromptu interview. Devin accurately described himself as an open book and gave us more insight into his own inspirational journey, which included a mission trip to Jamaica, quitting college in Utah less than a year from graduating and moving to Hawaii alone for a year to start making videos he was personally passionate about (as opposed to becoming a puppet for whoever hired him). His nickname Supertramp pays homage to Christopher McCandless (aka Alexander Supertramp) whose Alaskan Adventures inspired the book/movie Into the Wild. And he's just a really, really nice dude. Seriously, I don't think I saw him without a smile the entire day. 

As the most experienced and skilled volleyball player present, they took some super slow motion shots of me diving for and spiking the ball, which I hope make the final cut. I also got to take a spin around the lake on a tube tugged by a Sea Doo with a particularly fit couple, a gopro and a selfie stick, which was all good until we finally all tumbled off the tube at once in a tangled pile of flailing limbs.

Back on the beach, we played cornhole, frisbee and football, and waited around. A lot. But at least we had bright yellow tents to shade us from the sun (and occasional summer showers) and they kept us pretty hydrated. It ended up being almost a 12 hour day for us extras, and I'm sure it was even longer for the crew and the sponsors. I wanted to stay a bit longer and help clean up, but I wanted a sandwich even more so my hunger won out over my altruism. 

 Blast from the Past

Blast from the Past

I also had a serendipitous reunion with an old friend from my Delta Zeta days. I didn't recognize Ashley right away with her crutches, bright pink leg cast and sunglasses but she eventually made the connection and we caught up on the past several years since matriculating from the University of Tampa. I told her about my upcoming trip and she told me about how she got into racing jet skis. Which is pretty awesome, except when you get flung off of it going 70 MPH and fracture your leg, of course. 

So I got to take home a selfie with Supertramp himself, a few bruises and some amazing memories. Can't wait for Team Supertramp to edit and release the final video on YouTube, which should happen mid-late June. :D

A Helping Hand(stand)

So since I've clearly mastered the headstand (and by mastered I mean finally accomplished it by myself for the first time) it's time to take my yoga practice to the next level. 

 Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source:  Cody App

Supposedly this will be me in a month. Image Source: Cody App

I've been following these famous SoFlo yogis @beachyogagirl (Kerri Verna) and @kinoyoga (Kino MacGregor) on Instagram for a few years now, never giving serious thought to me actually being able to do the incredibly impressive & athletic poses they post on a daily basis. Mostly the handstands and arm balances. And here's why. 

I've struggled with core and arm strength my whole life. Not once have I ever been able to finish a rope climb to the top - or honestly even made it halfway - nor do proper push-ups. I have flimsy noodle arms and I'm pretty sure I was just born without that whole set of lower abs. Even at my peak when I was volleyballing, basketballing, running and hurdling year round, I only ever had a four pack. My stomach was like four aluminum cans stacked in two columns on top of a little soft pillow. That analogy doesn't sound very stable and neither was/is my core. 

So these ladies teamed up with Cody App to offer a 31-day series of videos called Journey to Handstand and I finally broke down and bought it last night. Cody App is kind of like Netflix for workouts. After downloading the iPhone app and exploring it a bit, I want to download Kerri's Active Meditation series and Kino's Strong Meditations series as well because I could definitely need help with these skills as well. I think it's just the curse of being creative that your mind never wants to relax and is thinking of a million ideas a minute. 

So today marks Day 1 of my journey and I'll follow-up with a post on June 5th. I will never be perfect, but practice makes proficient! 

The Pursuit of Passion

Even though it seems like this happened over night, I've actually been inching closer towards a dream goal, even before I knew what it was. It was like this dream was in a glass box but the sides were all condensated, like your bathroom mirror after a shower, and I couldn't see exactly what was inside and slowly I was able to rub away parts of the foggy glass. Then the conditions became right and enough of the fogginess faded for me to realize this dream was a long term trip on the other side of the world. Several people who are already living their dreams have contributed to me taking this journey, whether they realize it or not. So, thanks y'all! 

Jamie: My own little sister has quite the collection of stamps in her passport. Our first international trip was to the UK when we were just getting into high school. Then her later academic pursuits led her to a semester in Copenhagen, Denmark with side trips to other parts of Europe including Paris, Vienna, Bratislava, Berlin, London and Spain. While pursuing her Master's degree she had a particularly serendipitous trip to Toronto, Canada where she met a ginger Swiss guy named Stefan, and well, the rest is history. Now she lives in Switzerland as Mrs. Gloor (when she's not utilizing research grants at universities in Australia and Singapore, of course) so you never know what can happen when you travel! 

Laura Lee: I met LL through a mutual friend in Miami years ago. But before that, she spent 6 months backpacking Africa and ended up meeting a former Mau Mau general about whom she felt compelled to write an autobiographical novel. This book has been a passion of hers since I've known her and I'm so excited it's being published now! Congratulations, Friend! 

Sarah: I really admire Sarah's commitment and tenacity. She is so serious about maintaining a healthy, plant-strong diet that she can sit there unaffected while the rest of us in the office would order oily take-out food or binge on office birthday cake. Her amazing blog is the reason I started cooking so much more and so much healthier. Also, nothing can stop Sarah from traveling, not scooter accidents, not food poisoning or even fire coral. She's also been an incredible dancer since she was a teenager. I don't think I've ever been able to stick with anything that long besides activities crucial to general survival like you know, breathing, eating, sleeping. 

Sean: We indirectly worked together a few years ago at an advertising agency in Miami. I left for a Regional Art Director position at Whole Foods Market and he left to travel the world and document it through amazing pictures. He's even been published in the New York Times and some nationally circulated magazines. I've casually stalked his travels on Facebook and always thought "I wish I could do that." And years later, I believe that I can; well the travel part at least, I'm not as good at photography. 

Jessy: We started Miami Ad School together and couldn't have been more different. I was a somewhat naive, Southern, blonde sorority girl and she had just moved from the mean streets of NYC and had a bunch of tattoos and illustrated pornographic coloring books. I was a little intimidated but it turns out over the next two years we found out we had a lot in common like our work ethic and intrinsic motivation and general optimism. Now I'm one of her biggest fans and she's living the dream as an independent artist in Miami who has been commissioned for murals, had her own gallery during Art Basel and had three gallery shows throughout Europe last year in London, Vienna and Zurich. But I think my favorite piece she's done so far is her studio/house in Miami which I've been privileged enough to visit:

Jochen: I met a lot of kids (I use this term loosely to describe anyone between 18 and 30) during my last trip to the South Pacific, mostly from Europe, who were traveling for several weeks, months and perhaps even years at a time. I thought "Wow, if they can do it, I can do it."  I met Jochen in Auckland, New Zealand and heard amazing stories about his current trip with his backpack and a surfboard pursuing the world's best waves. I find it very inspirational to just go wherever your passion takes you with barely any advanced planning. 

Devin Graham: Also known as devinsupertramp on youtube. I don't actually know him but I've been following his videos for years since he was first getting started. I've said before I want to live life like a Devin Graham video, because they are so adventurous and so much fun and so well executed. He posted a video recently about how much work it actually takes to make those videos happen, but as long as you're passionate about it, you don't mind putting in long hours. Now he doesn't exactly have to rough it every time because he gets sponsors that fly him around the world and pay him to do what he loves. 

 

Lindsey Stirling: Related to the previous post because she and Devin are friends and he filmed a lot of her early videos. Despite being incredibly talented and original, the judges on America's Got Talent told her she basically wouldn't ever be successful. But she proved them all wrong after amassing an eclectic collection of videos, original music and millions of followers on youtube. They actually invited her back recently as a guest performer on the show and she blew them all away and got a standing ovation. I actually got to see her last year in West Palm Beach during her last tour and it was incredible. Here's one on my favorites called Elements:


Also, here's my recent reading list that I've also found particularly inspirational:

The 4-Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
Vagabonding by Rolf Potts
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
and now, after planning my trip I'm working through:
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert