Cabin Life

I woke up this morning with a chilly breeze seeping into the open part of my sleeping bag.  From inside the bag, I could barely see the morning light. Damn, I thought, I let the fire go out again. Since I moved to the cabin on the hill, I’ve been learning valuable lessons about how thankful we should all be for gas powered furnaces and running water in our houses and the comfortability of not waking up freezing cold with purple fingertips and having to pee outside.

The cabin is decent sized, not huge but a good amount of open space, with a small wood burning stove to heat the entire thing. I moved here after the first week of December on the 11th, thinking in my mind, I’m tough and this will be a new adventure. There is no electricity besides whats run off an extension cord (an OSHA nightmare) and  no bathroom, kitchen, or plumbing in general installed at all yet.  The walls are uninsulated and really not walls at all because they are just studs and plywood uncovered.  Basically I’m living in a construction site. But Kenny has built this cabin with his own two hands, and despite being unfinished is an awesome example of what one person is capable of.  The cabin is constructed of materials that were donated or re-purposed by Kenny’s friends, and I think that it’s neat to see it all come together in one unique place like this.  When it’s a finished cabin come spring, it’ll be the most awesome place around here.

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After short notice in mid-November that I’d have to leave the place where I was staying in Rabbit Hash, Kentucky, I had begun looking for other places to live that were affordable. One day as I was sharing my plight with one of the locals, my friend, Kenny, he offered to rent me the “studio” as it’s called. He assured me that I’d love the cabin, and the view, and so I drove down the road and took a look. As usual, what one may see as an unfinished cabin full of junk, I saw as potential to be something cozy and homey as well as a way to challenge myself to live beyond the bounds of modern society while still maintaining connection with the world. I’ll be inspired by this, I thought, made stronger.

Before I moved in

Before I moved in

Before I moved in

Before I moved in

The Kitchen

The Kitchen

The Bathroom

The Bathroom

20 days later, I’m freezing, can’t feel my toes, fingertips or nose and am feeling unmotivated to dig a ditch in the cold frozen ground to run a line to the cistern. Although living without my own bathroom is the pits (thankfully Kenny lets me use his), digging ditches up hill, isn’t exactly easy, especially when it’s 20 degrees and the ground is frozen solid.

The first few days here I tried sleeping in the bed in the loft. I quickly realized that the mattress up there is a bit, uhh shall we say flexible. My back and hips were hurting so bad from sleeping on it, not to mention I was tired from crawling up and down the ladder in the middle of the night to put fire wood in the wood burning stove every few hours. So once I got a couch here, I started sleeping on it. It’s colder down stairs but I’m much closer to the stove to feed it, and the couch is oddly more supportive than the bed. I can’t wait to get my own mattress here.

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So my routine has been to get the fire going nice and hot before bed, close down the stove (close the dampers and floo to keep the heat in the stove) and crawl in my sleeping bag with it all the way up over my head. Despite the wood burning stove (which is too small for the space) its never really too warm in here, and due to the lack of insulation, there are spots where it is VERY cold and drafty. So I sleep bundled in two 20 degree rated sleeping bags (and usually a few layers of clothes).

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I then set an alarm for two and a half hours from the time (to wake up and feed the stove), then another for two and a half more hours and so on, until the time I think I’ll wake up.  That worked for the first few nights, but I’ve become so tired from that routine that I am literally sleeping through my alarms and the past two mornings I’ve woken up freezing cold with nothing but a few coals left in the stove. Last night it was 19 degrees outside and with no insulation and no fire going, I’m pretty sure it wasn’t more than 25 degrees  when I woke up.WP_20141231_002

Its been tough. Probably the most challenging place I’ve lived.  It’s hard work cutting, splitting, carrying wood.  Its frustrating not having a kitchen to prepare my food in or a bathroom to use. But if I can live here, and I can make life work, then I can live anywhere, and most likely, I’ll be more than grateful the next time I have running water, heat and all the modern amenities of life, and I will be more conscious about wastefulness and conservation.

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I know I’ve done a lot of complaining about life in the cabin, but I wanted to take just a minute to go over some of the things I love about cabin life.

#1 The View

Rabbit Hash is situated right on the river in the Ohio River Valley between Kentucky and Indiana and some of the most spectacular sunsets I’ve seen right here in my own front yard.

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There is a bald eagle’s nest back in the woods behind the cabin so some days I see the Eagles flying over the house, and down to the river to fish. I’ve also seen red fox, deer, turkey, possum, raccoon, coyote and we have a handful of kitties that hang around (some who I’ve buddied up with and now let in the cabin to keep warm). Looking out the windows in the loft of the cabin is like looking out onto my own little piece of heaven.WP_20141214_001

#2 The Town

Rabbit Hash is the first place I’ve ever lived that I felt attached to.  I have been surrounded by such a wonderful community of friends here and even if it’s cold as shit, my heart is warmed by the thought that I feel a sense of belonging here among my hashians. Rabbit Hash has been kind and generous to me and will forever hold a special place in my heart no matter where in the world I go.

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#3 The Rustic-ness

I love the smell of the wood burning stove, and the sound of it crackling, or roaring when I open the floo. I love the natural feel of being surrounded by wood and not the man made materials that fill most houses. It suits me, and my gypsy life. It’s simple and beautiful and despite all my complaints, I’m thankful for it.WP_20141214_003

#4 The Challenge

I enjoy pushing myself outside my comfort zone, and find that usually in life when you are able to do this, that you are rewarded. I have had many nights where I wanted to cry, because I was cold or miserable, but I’ve also had many nights here in the cabin filled with music, laughter, and good friends, some I’d even call family.

All in all the cabin has been an excellent learning experience. Its brought me joy and misery and is a reminder that in life, and in all things, you must find balance between the good and the bad. Here’s to Spring, it can’t come soon enough! lol

I’ll be doing a follow up post about life here at the cabin on the hill soon. So stay tuned for more gypsy adventures!

A Visit to Dark Wood Farm & a New Friend

While in Rabbit Hash, KY, as my previous post mentions (I think…) I met some new friends. Amongst those friends were a group of farmers that came down for a beer on the General Store porch. I overheard them (nosey gypsy) talking about their farms and by their appearance, gathered that they’d been working. As I normally do when I find someone or something interesting, I investigated. I introduced myself with a “sorry to interrupt but did I hear you mention farmers markets? I’ve been really thinking of going to local farmers markets for my produce.” I chatted with my new friends, Annie and Barry, and told them I’d love to come out to their farms sometime, ask some questions, learn some stuff and take some pictures. They both gave me a card and later in the week I emailed them both.  Annie responded and I was glad to hear she was as excited as me about sharing her farm and her story. She also offered me the opportunity for fair trade, which is basically where you volunteer your time at a farm in exchange for an agreed upon amount of produce. So I’m pretty pumped about doing that in the upcoming weeks and throughout the summer. Not only will I get some awesome fresh, locally grown produce, but I have the opportunity to learn from someone who I found out is very passionate at what she does.

Annie

Annie

We arranged for me to visit the farm to snap some photos of the baby plants, before they are ready for harvest and to chat with Annie about how she reached this awesome and exciting place in her life. So on Thursday April 24th, after running some errands, I headed down to Burlington Kentucky to Dark Wood Farm. Annie was out in the field working, as she spends most of her days. From a glance the first thing i noticed is this young woman with a hat and ponytail, who’s jeans and hands are covered in earth. She dons a pair of muck boots and sunkissed cheeks. She looks whole and joyful in her fields and touches each task lovingly.

Radish!

Radish!

I joined her and sat in the grass along side the rows of tiny plants that she was caring for. Annie shared with me what each type of plant was, what she was doing and why. She verbally walked me through each step, and I snapped photos as she tenderly saw to each new little growing life. I asked her how she got into farming, and then sat back and listened gratefully as she told me her story. Annie grew up in the Northern Kentucky area and was first exposed to growing food in her father’s garden as a child. She grew up snapping beans and helping with the other produce. In high school she worked at McGlasson’s farmstand on River Rd outside of Hebron KY, furthering her experience with farming and gaining farming community. Annie went on to study biology at the University of Kentucky and upon graduating she worked for The Nature Conservancy. She furthered her education in New York at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry (what a mouthful lol) studying ecology.

Watering in the Greenhouse

Watering in the Greenhouse

When she graduated from the school who shall not be named (Harry Potter reference) she actually worked for the university at a research facility in the Adirondack Mountains. From New York she then received a job opportunity in Trout Lake Washington with Americorps doing trail work. She fell in love with the Pacific Northwest, as did I when I visited Portland in December. She later got a job with the University of Washington at a citizen science organization called COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) teaching citizens how to find and record dead sea birds. I know, I know, you’re thinking the same thing I was thinking, that’s an awesome job! (Or maybe you aren’t lol) but she went on to explain the reason why these citizens were taught to look for dead seabirds along their beaches. It’s to track the population of different seabirds over a period of time so that if something like an oil spill happens they can measure the impact it has on the seabirds they’ve been tracking. They know what seabirds die when, for what reasons (ie. during their mating season, not all baby birds make it so the birds are identified, measured and recorded). It gives the citizens a sense of purpose as well as a hand in protecting their environment. They are directly involved and come to care more about the planet and the animals they study through this process. Which I think is really awesome! Who knew identifying dead sea birds could be so purposeful?

Hard working hands

Hard working hands

By this time Annie had been a lot of places and worked quite a few interesting jobs. But farming was always in the back of her mind. She had tried to have a garden everywhere she lived and now in her 30s, she began to think more about self sustainability and following her dream of farming. Since her job was part time, she volunteered at a student run farm at the University of Washington and began thinking more seriously about when she would take the leap of faith to do what she really felt would give her purpose. She always enjoyed jobs that involved physical labor, but unsure of whether or not she could actually farm for a living, she tested it out by going to live and work on a farm called Local Roots outside of Seattle. During the cold months when there was no work at the farm, she wintered at the year round Green String Farm in California. After finding in her heart that farming was where she belonged she returned back to her hometown and leased acreage and a house. So was born Dark Wood Farm. As she finished up her story, she looked out over her fields, crouched down, crumbling clods of dirt between her fingers.

Inside the Green house

Inside the Green house

I thought to myself, this is what beauty and love is about. A person is most beautiful and radiant when they can passionately put their heart and soul into what they do each day. She loves what she does, she loves the dirt, the plants, the air, the rain, and that love is clearly expressed in her voice and on her smiling face.

A proud plant mom

A proud plant mom

This is Annie’s first year as a full time farmer, and it feels great to be supporting her by sharing her farm and her story with all of you. She will be participating in several local farmers markets in the NKY area so support local farming and my new friend! You can find Dark Wood Farm on Facebook or visit www.darkwoodfarmstead.com. If you are interested in fair trade opportunities, contact Annie through her website, or contact a local farmer near you.

Business Turns Into Play on a Dreary Day in Lexington KY

A couple months ago, a lady contacted me through an ad I had on Craigslist about a camera I was selling. She told me that she lived in Hazard, KY which is about a six hour drive, but that she’d be in Lexington sometime in the upcoming months for work. With all the crazy responses I get on craigslist I was unsure the lady would ever call me back, but sure enough about a week ago she texted me and asked if I still had my Canon 60d. We agreed to meet on Wednesday, March 12th in the morning at a little camera shop in Lexington called Murphy’s. So Wednesday morning I woke up, hopped in the shower, packed my camera gear up and headed for Lexington. Lexington is about an hour and a half from where I live so I spent my drive listening to tunes and enjoying the scenery (even though it was cold and raining. I stopped for gas and as I was pumping my unleaded into the civic I realized, I’ve never been to Lexington before! Here’s a place I’ve never been to that’s only a little over an hour away! It just reminded me that there are so many ways to adventure, even close by your own hometown. Of course, upon that realization, my business trip to sell my camera was quickly evolving into a personal play time. I reached Murphy’s a few minutes early and went in to meet with Rebecca.

Murphy’s

After chatting with her and some of Murphy’s employees we finalized the sale and I was off to adventure. Of course the blast of bitter cold air in my face on the way out the door deterred me slightly, but who am I kidding, nothing ever stopped me from an adventure besides, we’ll errrr, nope, nothing ever stopped me. So where to? First stop, the side of the road to take a picture of the Lexington sign and google some info on what to do in Lexington. Unfortunately a lot of Lexington’s best attractions are best enjoyed in warmer weather. After a bit of research I decided to head to Ashland, the Henry Clay estate, to have a look. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Henry Clay, “The Great Compromiser”, he was a lawyer, a politician and a skilled orator who represented Kentucky in both the US Senate and the House of Representatives in the 1800’s. He was, according ton Charlie (my awesome docent) a mason and a ladies man. He ran for presidency three times and lost all three times, the last time due to his supporting stance on slavery. To learn more about Henry Clay and the Ashland Estate visit henryclay.org. I arrived at Ashland, via my helpful GPS and was heavily impressed with its oldness. Lol. Even though it was cold out, the grounds were meticulously kept, and as I walked through the varied buildings on the property I imagined a time long ago. The estate itself is a very large brick home which is a duplicate of the home that once stood during Henry Clay’s life. The house was torn down by his son after Henry’s death and rebuilt as a replica of the original house, as well as updated to the Italianate style of architecture with touches of Greek revival.

Ashland

Ashland

It’s massive 8000sqft spread holds over 18 plus rooms with grand high ceilings and beautiful wood frame work. The house is filled with furniture, and personal belongings of Henry and the Clay family. My favorite thing in the estate is a painting that is, if I had to guess, which I’m not any good at, about 6ftx8ft that adorns the walls of Ashland’s Parlor. It depicts the Washington family, George, Martha, and their adopted children (who were actually Martha’s grandchildren) George and Eleanor as well as enslaved servant who is assumed to be William Lee. This painting has been with the estate for over 100 years except for in the 1950s when it was sold at auction and then donated back to the house museum of Ashland, where it now resides. The best thing about this painting is that it was commissioned of an artist named Henry Inman, by James Johnston (who’s that?) and given to Henry Clay as a gift for his wife Lucretia in 1844. It is a hand painted copy of an original painting, Edward Savage’s iconic Washington’s Family, that hangs in the gallery of art in Washington, D.C.. Apparently copying well known paintings was not considered a second rate thing at that time. Photographs inside the estate are not allowed, which of course nearly made my head burst, but I decided I’d become ok with it and it would just force me to pay attention and live in the moment instead of capturing it and reliving the moment later. After my tour of the house, which I enjoyed very much, I chatted with the nice woman who worked in the gift shop, Libby, and purchased a few small things to take back home. I also introduced myself to the ladies I took the tour with, who were from Utah and told them they should look up my blog! So if they do, hey ladies! Hope you had a safe trip back home. I hopped in my car and headed for downtown Lexington to see what interesting places I could find. As I passed into downtown, on my right on Midland Ave is Thoroughbred Park.

Thoroughbred Park

Thoroughbred Park

It just takes up a small 2.3 acre triangular section where two roads split off from the main road. It was founded by the Triangle Foundation which has created several other parks in downtown Lexington. Along the entry way to the park are 7 bronze statues of thoroughbreds and their jockeys racing, cleaving the wind, portrayed expending every last ounce of energy to reach the finish line first. It’s really a breathtaking sight, and the sound of nearby traffic fades in the distance as you’re taken to another place.

Racing to the finish

Racing to the finish

There are 6 other bronze horse statues throughout the landscape of the park, including two foals frolicking in the grass. As you walk through there are 44 plaques along the walkway that loops through the entire park, that honor the men and women who spent their lives breeding, training, racing and owning these magnificent thoroughbreds. Lexington is famous for its devotion and dominance in the equine world and this park does an does an excellent job of displaying this.

After walking around in the cold with misty rain and wind whipping me in the face, I thought to myself, I could really go for a cup of coffee right now (decaf of course, it’s been 10 months since I kicked my caffeine habit). I reached the civic and Lo and behold I parked myself right across the street from A Cup of Commonwealth, which turned out to be one of the coolest little coffee shops I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. I was warmly welcomed by the owners who currently run the shop themselves. Chris Ortiz and Salvador Sanchez, A Cup of Commonwealth’s founders are two coffee-and-fun-loving guys who are centered around improving their community through a system they use called pay it forward. How do you pay it forward? With the pay it forward board of course, and if you’re still lost there’s instructions written in giant colorful letters behind the counter. Basically you purchase a cup of coffee, of any particular kind for a friend who isn’t with you. You leave them a note on the pay it forward board and when they visit the shop the next time they can check the board and receive their paid forward coffee. The best thing is you don’t just have to pay it forward to someone you know, you could write something like, “for a teacher” or “for someone who loves dogs”. You can even make your own stipulations for receiving the coffee like the person has to sing or dance to receive their yummy beverage.

Pay-It-Forward

Pay-It-Forward

I had a White Chocolate Mocha and it was smooth and delicious to the last drop. I utilized the pay it forward system and left a coffee for my friends at Frameshop Lexington. Chris and Sal graciously allowed me to take their picture.

Chris & Salvador

Chris & Salvador

I said my good byes and I was off. Driving through downtown, I looked on the outskirts for eclectic shops, artisans and whatnot. You know, the kind of stuff Gypsies look for. I drove past a really interesting looking spiritual healing store, which after I parked a block away and walked there, I realized was closed. So I went next door to Liz Douglas designs and met Liz and Doug who specialize in faux finishing anything using chalk paint. Their shop is exemplary of their fine craftsmanship, and we’ll worth stopping in if you’re ever in Lexington.

Liz told me if I like eclectic that I simply must visit Third Street Stuff & Coffee. So I did. Third Street was like being in Portland all over again, which is awesome! The outside of the building is wildly painted with bright colors, designs and sayings. The inside is adorned with neon colors, artwork, design and a really cool collection of stuff for sale. Since I’d just had coffee, I decided to purchase some oddities including but not limited to, buttons for my backpack and a mustache tin full of mints.IMG_0084 copy

I had worked up an appetite, so I pulled out the little paper list of awesome restaurants that Sal and Chris from Commonwealth had created for me. I chose Stella’s because Stella is my cats name. When in doubt I use my excellent reasoning skills. Stella’s is at the corner of Jefferson and Ballard streets. I really enjoyed sitting by the large old windows and watching the snow fall outside. I had a side salad with their amazing house vinaigrette. When I say delicious I mean really yummy! This homemade dressing tastes killer on a salad. I enjoyed a nice glass of Pinot Grigio and mowwed down on some truffle Mac and cheese, followed by a piece of Melt-in-your-mouth Mary Porter Pie.IMG_0153 copy

By this point it was nearly 6 pm as I sat, food coma’d in Stella’s dining room. I let my food settle a bit and then headed for my last stop of the day before heading home. My Lexington friend, Corey, said I must visit the Ward Hall Greek Revival Mansion for its creepy appeal. As I pulled up the long winding driveway of Ward Hall, I thought out loud, this place is most likely haunted, but eh, who cares. This large creepy mansion stands on 40 acres of rolling hills. It’s three stories tall and the three floors are connected by an elliptical staircase.IMG_0160 copy

Although there is a rope blocking off the front porch, since obviously no one lives there, I crossed the rope and creeped up to the front porch hoping I wasn’t about to become another episode of Unsolved Mysteries. I peeked through the windows at the furnishings and was thoroughly in awe of the interior architecture as well as pretty creeped out by the emptiness and just overall energy of the house. I walked all the way around the house and suddenly nature was calling and I needed to find a restroom. Rather than drop trough right there, I decided to GPS the closest bathroom. After a stop at subway, I got on the road home. Reflecting on my day as I watched a beautiful sunset over the rolling Kentucky hills,IMG_0191 copy

I came to the conclusion that I needed to seek out the Lexingtons (nearby places I can travel to in a day) surrounding my little part of the world, to encourage you, my readers, to begin your adventures and to show you that it doesn’t require a lot of money and sometimes doesn’t require any money to do so. I challenge you to pick a place, within an hour or so of your home that you’ve not been, and write me about your adventure! I look forward to hearing all your stories!

Something Amazing to Frame Your Favorite (insert something you frame here).

One of my favorite parts of downtown Cincinnati is Main Street Arts and Entertainment District.  Wednesday afternoon I took the opportunity to stop by one of my favorite shops on Main St, to look for a frame for one of my Portland images and to soak in the awesomeness that is… Frameshop. From the empty gray frame that hangs perpendicular to the shop’s front door, to the crazy taxidermy within, this place is every bit unique. From the windows, to the walls (in my best Lil Jon voice) this place will wow you with its creative energy and vintage ambiance.  Jake Gerth and Jake Baker, the owners and founders of Frameshop-Main St (Cincinnati) and Frameshop Lexington, have been friends since first grade. Awww. And their very different personalities bring an interesting dynamic to your shopping experience.  Together, they make Frameshop the best place to buy custom framing for the art, photos, trinkets, taxidermy, and heck anything else you can think of that you’d like to frame.

What makes Frameshop frames so special you ask? Their frames are hand made from a wide variety of reclaimed materials from barn wood to urban building materials. They also offer re-purposed vintage frames as well as modern framing with a nice selection of molding.   Unique to Frameshop is the collection of (based on availability) oddities such as taxidermy pieces, neon signs, vintage decorations, etc.  These guys are doing their part to make world a better place, by re-purposing and recycling beautiful items that otherwise may never be used again, and using resources that are already available (when possible) instead of consistently reaping the planet for new materials. Way to go guys!

Even if you aren’t looking for a frame, Frameshop is an excellent place to check out the art and photography of some of Cincinnati’s local artists, as well as interesting pieces that the Jakes (can I pluralize people?) are working on.

One of their store slogans is, “Frame the things you love.”  So, go on, do it! You can visit Jake and Jake at Framshop, 1317 Main St. Cincinnati. For more information, check out their very cool website, frameshopusa.com or give them a like on facebook, facebook.com/frameshopUSA.

A Wiener Dogs Birthday Party in Portland (Day 1)

Have you ever been to a wiener dog’s birthday party? No, I’m not kidding. No, this isn’t a joke. On December 1st I flew to Portland Oregon to help capture the memories at Kramer’s 1st birthday party to benefit the Oregon Dachshund Rescue Inc..

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Kramer, the spunky little doxie, was born with genetic deformities. Had it not been for ODR, he would have been euthanized at 5 weeks.  I got to meet Kramer, who is quite the famous pooch in social media circles (3500+ followers on fb!) a couple weeks before the trip when I went to his adoptive home for a family photo session.  Kim Granneman, Kramer’s adoptive mom, who organized the party and my trip to Portland, is a Cincinnati native (she was actually my childhood neighbor) who travels for work.  She is passionate about animal rights and advocates for furry creatures who don’t have a voice of their own.  Kim flew out to Portland to bring Kramer for a home visit to meet his new brother and sister, Toby and Sadie.  On the day I arrived at Kims for photos, chaos and barking ensued and I spent the next hour with the cutest, but most wiggly and uncooperative subjects.

Kim, Kramer, Toby & Sadie (I work miracles)

Kramer, what a handsome fella.

Over the next couple weeks, Kim and I ironed out the details of my trip.  Saturday, November 30th I spent my day shooting the Leistler wedding.  I wrapped up around 11pm and headed to Wally World to buy a suitcase (since I needed one and still hadn’t packed yet).  After just a few hours of sleep, at around 5:30am my parents drove me to the airport to send me off.  Going through TSA, the excitement bubbled. It could have been my empty stomach, but I’m pretty sure it was excitement.  Who the hell gets excited going through airport security? This girl!  Boarding the plane, I thought I was gonna explode with anticipation as I shuffled down the isle to my window seat.  Like a 5 year old, I’m fascinated by flying (every time) and appreciate a window seat and the view more than most people.

Airplane face.

Airplane face.

My face remained glued to the window through most of the flight, although I did play a little donkey kong on my Nintendo 3DS XL. After a layover in Minneapolis, which might I add has an awesome airport,my flight, as planned, arrived in Portland in enough time for me to RUN through the airport to the rental car terminal, hop in my baby blue Hyundai and haul my arse to the Spring Hill Suites Marriott to change my clothes.  Once I changed into something that wasn’t sweat pants and a tshirt, and got my gear ready, I made my way to the Columbia Conference Center for the Paw-ty.

I spent 3 hours with 60+ dachshunds and their owners.  I had the pleasure of meeting the people who run the rescue as well as many other people who are passionate for these pooches. Instead of gifts people brought donations of blankets, food and treats for the rescue, as well as monetary donations.  The Paw-ty even made the news in Portland, so all in all I’d say, a great success.

Paw-ty Favors!

Although I was having a lot of fun, the time came for me to bid everyone adieu. I couldn’t wait to get back to the hotel and hop in a hot shower. I wanted to spend all the time I could exploring Portland, and although it was raining a misty rain, that was not going to stop me.

From my hotel it took me about 15 minutes to get into downtown and find a parking spot.  With camera in tow (inside my coat), I meandered through the drizzle of nighttime Portland,

Cell Phone Selfie

snapping pictures of trees adorned with glowing white holiday lights and luminous sodden streets, raindrops hanging from ledges, and droplets pooling in low places in the sidewalk, forming puddles that show the city its reflection.  Something about the way city lights look when its raining… is simply beautiful.  I stopped a woman passing by.  “Top of your head, whats the best place to eat around here, within walking distance?”  Her response was quick and definite, “Brasserie Montmatre.”  She gave me walking directions and I thanked her for the suggestion.  Soon after I found myself drying off in a Parisian-cafe-inspired restaurant foyer.

Brasserie Montmatre

With high ceilings and Baroque style architecture, the rich history of the building is apparent.  The building, I learned, originally the Calument hotel, was built in 1907, but did not become the Brasserie Montmatre until 1978 when it began its life as a dinner house.  After spending at least 30 minutes trying to translate the menu, I decided on the Croque Monsieur. This dish consists of Ham and Gruyere (cheese) on Brioche (a French pastry bread) drizzled with Mornay (french cheese sauce). Basically French grilled cheese and ham. Ha! I also ordered the famous mac & cheese (white cheddar, gruyere and shells sprinkled with panko bread crumbs) and was served a complimentary Amuse Bouche, which is a thick, creamy, rich and flavorful bisque.  I washed it all down with a frothy and hoppy local brewed, winter Jubilale.  Talk about a food coma. The French really know how to indulge.

Croque Monsieur

The food and service were both excellent. It took me about 30 minutes to move from my table after stuffing my face.  As I finally made my way out the the streets again, I ran across Jeff of Rockstar Singing Telegrams singing and playing the guitar for a couple who was celebrating their 2nd anniversary. Let me tell you, if you’re ever in Portland and need a singing telegram for some odd reason, lol, make sure you look this guy up.  I spent a few minutes listening to him jam out in the moist Portland air and then began my walk back to the car.

As I made my way back to the hotel that evening, my mind was swirling with ideas for adventures over the days ahead. I entered the hotel lobby, picked up a personal size bottle of wine, and traversed to my room on the 3rd floor.  As I lay my head down on the pillow to sleep, I thanked the universe for aligning this opportunity, and for Kramer. The next couple days would see some awesome sights, meet some awesome people and take some amazing pictures. Keep an eye out for parts 2 & 3 of my Portland trip and don’t forget to check out the rest of the photos below!

A Short Jaunt to Detroit

Don't forget to check out the full gallery below!

Don’t forget to check out the full gallery below!

There’s an added travel opportunity when you have friends out of town. This Wednesday I packed a bag and filled up the Civic with way too expensive gas, headed for Detroit, MI to visit my friend B. Fair.

I hadn’t been to the “D” since late in 2011, so thought it’d be great to spend a day or two, since its only about a 3.5 hour drive from Cincinnati. What should have been a 3.5 hour trip turned into a 4.5 hour trip due to lane closings in two cities on the way.

I passed into Ecorse at around 8:30pm in the evening and after driving around in circles trying to find 10th street, which is a one way, I finally made it to B’s humble abode. After spending four and a half hours driving, stressed about whether I was speeding or not, since the speedometer in the Civic is broken, I was ready to sit down, relax and get a good nights sleep.

But instead we ended up at Applebees, catching up and conversing about life, the universe, and personal growth, as often happens with my philosophical friend.

We capped off the evening by enjoying some tea, a shared favorite beverage and watching The Long Kiss Goodnight with Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson (for its heavy undertone of conspiracy of course).

The following morning, after a good nights sleep, we hit the road for some breakfast at one of Detroit’s Coney Islands. Detroit is famous for its Coney Islands. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Coney Islands are a unique type of Greek American Restaurant, with a menu centered around the Coney Island Hotdog (Cincinnati, thank the Greeks for your Cheese Coneys!). Coney Islands are known for serving Greek and Greek-American dishes as well as American fare such as burgers, sandwiches, breakfast and dessert.  The two most well known Coney Islands are the Lafayette and the American Coney Island  established by brothers Bill and Gus Keros in 1914.  Located next to one another in downtown detroit, these Coney Islands are still in business today.  I photographed these buildings before I knew their history, and wikipedia and I share a common photo (although mines better).

After an amazing and way too filling breakfast at Leo’s Coney Island, which has a stunning reproduction of Detroit’s Ambassador Bridge that spans the whole restaurant cooking area, we headed off on a hunt for some of Detroits best photo-ops.

On the road from Ecorse to downtown Detroit, I spotted a giant metal statue of a dog.  It sits happily with its perky metal tail in the air, in the middle of the lawn of Baker College in Allen Park.  Ritch Branstrom, the creator of this sculpture created Rusty in the summer of 2011 for the ARTprize competition in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Utilizing bent ‘dogleg’ trees for hind legs and cast-off automotive and farm parts, this dog weighs 3,100 lbs and stands 12′ high with a length of 19′ tip to tail.

First stop in downtown Detroit; The abandoned Michigan Central Station, built in 1912 for the Michigan Central Railroad. In its day, it was the tallest rail station in the world!  When Amtrak service ceased in 1988, this building was left empty and still stands, hollow and mysterious today.  Talks of restoration have floated through Detroit but none have come to fruition.  Unfortunately the building is gated shut, so there’s no way to enter and photograph the inside, but it was still really cool to stand in front of a building with so much history that now holds only memories of the past.

The day was windy, and chilly. By windy I mean gusts so hard they stung my face.  Not an ideal day for photographing Detroit, but I was determined, and no amount of wind was going to stop me.  Along the streets on the backside of the station were cement walls lined with amazing graffiti art.  Turns out, the “D” is full of talented graffiti artists!

Downtown, I photographed the square where I met B and our friendship began nearly 4 years ago.

We visited Bell Isle (beautiful Island in french), a historic island park with an amazing fountain in the center, although it wasn’t on for the winter season. You can read about the insteresting history of Bell Isle here.  We drove by the Bell Isle Conservatory, a greenhouse and botanical gardens that is free to the public. Unfortunately it was already closed for the day.

As B shared with me, stories of his past, growing up, at Bell Isle, we drove past an open, or more, knocked down, gate. The gate guarded the abandon Detroit Zoo, which opened in 1895. We wandered in, in the spirit of adventure (and trespassing). Every building and enclosure chokes with overgrown plants. Dead trees have fallen to crush the boardwalk in places, but the buildings are mostly intact.  The zoo was overhauled in the 1980’s with its current design, which has its visitors (or lack there of now) walking on wooden boardwalks raised above the animal enclosures. 22 years later, the mayor called for its closing to save the city money. Although the city overwhelmingly disagreed, the mayor stuck by his decision and opened the Nature Zoo on the same island, leaving the Detroit Zoo abandoned to overgrowth.

What remains is simply a sight to see.  It’s haunting, mysterious, and somewhat apocalyptic. I was waiting for the walking dead to creep from under the boardwalk.  The zoo was a reminder that without human interference, nature will continue to thrive.  The buildings will eventually be swallowed up by plant life, the wooden structures returned to the earth.

We rounded out the evening with a visit to meet a very awesome and special little guy; B’s Nephew, Roger Jr, or as B refers to him, Little Buddy. What an amazingly smart and vibrant little boy.  And what a boy he is! Full of energy. Uncle B and Buddy have an amazing connection and it was really cool to see them interact and play together.  Such an honor when friends allow you an intimate look into their lives.

After arriving back at the house, I gathered my belongings and prepared for the (pain in the ass) drive back to Cincinnati.  I brewed some tea and we started watching LA Confidential to kill some time before I had to leave. I planned to leave in enough time to get home and get a good nights sleep before work the next morning.  Exhausted from the day, I nodded off, and when I woke up it was nearly 20 minutes past time to leave. I bid B adieu, and headed for home.

Every time I travel, I have the feeling that I wish I could stay gone. Forever adventuring, forever experiencing new and extraordinary places, forever calling the road home.

But for now, Cincinnati it is.