Down By The Bay

Most people talk about San Francisco with a little glint of affection in their eyes. It’s a place that’s changed tremendously since Silicon Valley started to grow. It’s a town full of life and the barely living—somewhere between 7 and 10 thousand homeless people call San Francisco’s sidewalks and shelters home and there are thousands of tech startups in the city. Mark Zuckerberg lives a few miles away from Dolores Park, where you can reliably find and buy weed edibles. It’s also ground zero for the US’s HIV epidemic, at its height 30-40 years ago, and for today’s national debate on gentrification.

As for my experience in San Francisco? I had a blast. I walked, then I walked, and then I walked. I ate stuff. And then I walked some more.

Hey pretty girl. I mean tree. And house.
Hey pretty girl. I mean tree. And house.

I spent a lot of time with new friends, old friends, strangers-turned-friends and those famous sea lions. Nothing relaxed me more than listening to that smelly pile of mammals fight amongst each other for sunbathing space on the pier; I went to watch them twice. My diet while in the city consisted of tacos, ceviche, a Peruvian meat and rice dish, donuts, fancy American food, and a challah chocolate chip muffin. I got a little fat. It was worth it.

The downtown areas are very alive, and less in a hurry than your typical Manhattan street. There’s also the smell of the ocean, a ton of bikes and old-school trolleys, plenty of sunshine and a fair amount of artsy types walking around. When the sun is out, Dolores Park comes alive with every type of person you could imagine, and then some. The weekend brunch scene is intense; make reservations, or die (of hunger). While grabbing coffee in the Tenderloin, I watched a mentally ill woman rip the gas cap off someone’s truck in the middle of the day. While grabbing a drink near the Marina, I counted people in athleisure wear and a full face of makeup or done up hair. Eventually I lost count. I’m now very familiar with the entire line of Lululemon.

BFFLs
BFFLs

I also took some time to see downtown Oakland, the flowery, fantastical suburban areas farther out of Oakland (it’s like a secret garden on every street), the college area of Berkeley, and Pacifica Beach, a surfing haven and beautiful stretch of shore south of the city. I walked to the top of the twin peaks, two hills/overlooks south of Golden Gate Park, and saw the top of the Golden Gate Bridge peaking out of the ever-present fog. I took a boat across the water to Larkspur, where I ate one of the best pulled pork sandwiches of my life. I’ve eaten a lot of pulled pork sandwiches in my life. I plan to eat many more. All in all, I did my best to cover some ground. I think I did well, considering all things.

But I definitely see reason to come back. And not just to see those sea lions one more time, although that would certainly be on my next agenda. There are still museums to go to, more neighborhoods to explore, food galore to eat, and all the California sunshine to soak up. Earthquakes? Whatever. The highest rent in the nation? Possibly worth it.

Well, maybe not. But the idea of another visit or three receives a a big, fat, enthusiastic yes from me.

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Photoessay: (Delicious) Things I Ate in Pittsburgh

I’m sure you’ve already picked up that I’m a little bit of a foodie. Sometimes I truly do live to eat, like the time I devoured soup dumplings in New York’s Chinatown, or the time I spent hours on the bus just to eat a burrito in Seoul or maybe that other time I digested mass amounts of cake while in Germany. If you’ve ever even glanced at my Instagram account, you’re fully aware that good food is one of my favorite things. Ever. (And I may or may not have even made an Instagram account solely out of a desire to post pictures of food. May or may not.)

Sometimes I get a little restless living in Pittsburgh. But there’s one thing that hasn’t disappointed me yet about being here: the incredible variety and quality of food, everywhere. And much to my delight, that includes lots of ethnic food.

Can you spell “nom?” I believe it goes like this: P-I-T-T-S-B-U-R-G-H.

I’ve been in town for five months now and eaten a lot of great food, but for the sake of brevity, I’ll stick to food found outside of my house. Even though I’ve become quite the capable cook, lately. Fasten your bibs, folks.

Let’s start with the obvious:

So #Pittsburgh.

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I’d be the worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t flaunt our cultural pride and joy, the deli sammich with fries and ‘slaw in da sammich. (That’s “in the sandwich,” for those not fluent in Pittsburghese.)

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I’d also be the other worst kind of Pittsburgh-er if I didn’t include Pamela’s AMAZING crepe-like pancakes with bananas and walnuts inside.

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Also burgers. Pittsburgh has some great burger joints that really go all out. Pictured above is an Angus beef patty with brie cheese from BRGR. I’ve also had an incredible burger at Legume/Butterjoint, in Oakland. Fatheads, formerly THE Pittsburgh burger restaurant, officially has serious competition all over town.

Yes, I am blessed by burgers.

Now that I’ve got my bases covered there, we can move on to the ethnic food.

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The color balance on this picture is THE WORST but the taste of this sushi was literally THE BEST. Thank you, Little Tokyo, for making my sushi dreams come true.

A new French pastry shop opened up in my suburban town. And much to my surprise, an actual French lady runs the place. And not surprising at all, all of the above was incredible. Apparently also healthy, because “butter isn’t bad for you,” according to this French woman. Right.

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Are these Pittsburgh or ethnic food? Both, really. Pierogi Fest was a little like taking a trip to heaven, and then eating little pieces of it. Over. And over. These two types of pierogis: hot sausage and pesto ricotta. Let me know when you’ve finished drooling and we can move on.

Maybe Mulled Wine is more of a thing you drink, but I’m going to throw it into the “nom” category anyways. A German friend of mine went all out recently, and made the real deal, Bacardi-and-sugar-fire and all. Authentic German Glühwein? It looks like I don’t even have to leave town. (And then this was accompanied by authentic, catered German sausage. Boom.)

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Indian food is my biggest weakness. Nobody try to bribe me into doing terrible things, because spicy dishes from Mintt would probably do the trick.

Yes, you can find authentic, incredible and high-quality Sicilian cannoli in suburban Pittsburgh. It’s weird. (Actually in two places!)

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Something, something, Venezuela and the Conflict Kitchen. Also incredible.

I might have occasional (…or frequent) longings to see new countries and spend more time abroad, but I certainly can’t complain about my stomach not getting an international experience it craves. Pittsburgh, you’re doing something right.

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For a more in-depth look at Pittsburgh’s food scene, my blogger friend Julie’s stomach gets around. Check her out.

What makes your mouth water? Does your hometown kill it when it comes to food, like Pittsburgh does?

You can also find me on the ABOFA Facebook page, Instagram and Twitter. There’s also an email list, if you’d like to subscribe.

A Whole30 Experience

I’m one of those people that dives more or less headfirst into things I don’t actually know how to do. So when my friend asked me if I would do a “diet” with her called the Whole30, I said yes with very little hesitation or actual background research on what I’d just committed to. I use the word “diet” very loosely, since I was (technically) allowed to eat unlimited amounts of bacon and avocados. I call it a “food thing”.

So what exactly was this food thing?

  • No added sugar (of any kind).
  • No dairy.
  • No grains (even gluten-free ones).
  • No legumes (or peanuts, because they act like legumes).
  • No alcohol.

Woof. People looked at me like I was crazy. “So you just eat vegetables?” Um, also meat, fruit, fish, some oils and nuts. But yes, lots of vegetables. I’ve been a vegetable-lover for years, though, so I was on-board with upping my intake of green (and red and yellow and orange) things. The goal of Whole30 is to eat only those good foods for 30 days, detox your body of all the inflammation and bad-news-bears (insulin spikes, unhealthy gut bacteria) those foods cause, and then slowly reintroduce them later to see how each one feels in your system.

It was kind of brutal, at first. I learned of something very, very unfortunate.

Yes, you can be hungover from not eating sugar and grains. It was horrible. It was several days of horrible. It was constant headaches and an upset stomach and… some other things I won’t describe for you. (You’re welcome.) And then came the angry days… I was mad at everyone and everything. Thankfully I was also happy, because I’d started a new, awesome job which balanced it out a little. But also really pissed off by everything for a solid 36 hours straight, and then some. Somewhere in there, I also became lethargic.

My runs got shorter, slower and more painful. I felt like a big old blob of nothing. If my neighbor had been offering me a delicious muffin, I wouldn’t have had the energy to walk across the street and get it. Just living life was a pretty tall order, for a few days. I had vivid dreams, or maybe they were nightmares, that I’d accidentally broken the rules and slurped down an entire Diet Pepsi before realizing it wasn’t Whole30-approved. Every time I walked past a cupcake, experienced a short bit of that rage coming back. I kept on walking.

But there was so much awesome yet to come.

Like so, so, so many sweet potatoes.

My energy levels began to level out and I didn’t have that mid-day slump that’s always been a killer. I slept like a rock, consistently. I became significantly less bloated and lost some love handles I didn’t realize I had. I was able to run again and tackle those longer miles, and my knees didn’t bother me as much. I obsessively read every food label and for the first time ever, realized just how much added sugar is tucked into the simplest of foods. (Like breakfast sausage. Rage!) I saved a ton of money because eating in restaurants was a special kind of hell.

But none of that really compared to the biggest benefit of all:

I learned how to cook so many things.

Spiced sweet potato "latkes" and bacon. I am in heaven.

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Together with my friend, we got together at least weekly in her fancy-schmancy kitchen (it’s beautiful) and planned meals for the week. We crock-potted. We sauteed. We baked. We chopped. We spiralized. We took recipes from the internet, altered them, and over and over again ended up with an incredible dish (or 6, we cooked in bulk). I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time in a kitchen nor tried out so many new recipes in such a short amount of time. And I’ve definitely never had so much success doing it. By the end of the month, we could prepare and cook two separate family-style dishes in a matter of a few hours, plus a small dinner.

I learned how to cut butternut squash, sear different types of beef, that salt and baking soda react with each other, what thyme tastes like, that guacamole is delicious (refresher), how to poach an egg and how to cook the perfect sweet potato. I ate kale. I discovered cashew butter. I revoked my analysis of celery as a sub-par vegetable, because it’s actually the perfect vehicle for eating cashew butter, which redeems it entirely. I know just how much of a very tiny, very spicy red pepper will turn my face into fire and you might as well call me Queen Zucchini, because I can cook the shit out of that vegetable and you will like it.

You will.

Spoiler alert: it takes very little.
Spoiler alert: it takes very little.

It was a hard 30 days for me and an even tougher time for my friend, who dealt not just with a death in the family but a friend’s wedding. (Are you impressed? Because I’m impressed. I’d have stuffed my face with approximately 25 brownies if I were her.) But both of us pulled through the thirty days, successful, triumphant and seriously ready for some freaking pizza. (Which we both ate shortly thereafter and had horrible stomachaches from, but it was kind of worth it.)

The website says that a Whole30 will change your life. Did it?

Yeah, it kind of did.

I’ll never cook the same. I didn’t miss cheese, which shocked even myself, so I probably won’t eat cheese anymore. I’ve had my eyes opened to some incredible foods I didn’t even know existed, like cashew butter. (Mostly cashew butter.) And I’ll never pick up a package of food again without scoping out the ingredients and seeing if there’s any secretly-added sugar. That stuff is in literally everything, it’s absurd, and there’s no one you could ask who wouldn’t agree that excess sugar wreaks some havoc on your body.

I ain’t about that.

But will it change the way I eat when I travel? Doubtful. I’ll be in Germany over Christmas (travel plans!) and there’s no way I’ll be turning down delicious, German food because it’s not that good for me. Puh-lease. I ain’t about that, either.

So yeah, in the meantime, I’ll be perfecting my sauteed zucchini. And looking forward to that currywurst waiting for me across the ocean.

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Have you ever done a “food thing”? Did it change your life? How great are sweet potatoes? And how great is currywurst?

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Instagrams of a Recovering Expat

No one comes back to their hometown from extended amounts of time overseas and feels immediately at home, or even like they fit in. I’m in my third month of living in the USA and sometimes I still feel like a weird outsider intruding on someone else’s world. But I’ve had to cope somehow, or else abandon my sanity, which doesn’t sound like a great idea. So I’m coping. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to be where I am and working the job I have and in this position. But drastic transitions can be rough, dude!)

How? By surrounding myself with all those things I missed while I was abroad and just love to do, in general.

Like drip coffee and sitting in coffee shops for hours.

Like at-home cooking (in a full kitchen!) and farmer’s market finds.

Like arts and crafts and knitting scarves while listening to Beyonce.

Like dogs. So many dogs. All the dogs.

Dog versus lizard over here, ya'll. #dog #pug #puppy #toy #usa #pittsburgh #domestic #cute #ugly #play #datface

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#westvirginia #dog #portrait #cabin #oglebay #usa #familyreunion #puppy #lookforthelight #indoor #pets

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The ugliest dog in the world. // #englishbulldog #bulldog #dog #winston #ugly #animals #pets #usa #pennsylvania #pittsburgh

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Like running everyday.

Like hanging with friends I’ve missed dearly (before they relocate to Guatemala like a jerk).

oh hi @hadleymeetsworld. #NewJersey #selfies #sneakattack

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Like bringing home real, physical books from the library.

Good things. // #recoveringexpat #bookworm #books #amreading #lookforthelight #happy #good

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Like roadtrips to awesome cities.

#newyorkcity #lookingup #skyline #sky #summer #urban #nyc #travel #usa #newyork #roadtrip #moma #architecture #lookup #bluesky

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And lastly, like enjoying the city I’m in. Because Pittsburgh is kind of awesome.

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Photoessay: New York, New York

Sorry for the radio silence on my end. I don’t have any good explanations for it, except to say that my heart’s not in it for some reason. And instead of writing something mediocre up, I’ve opted not to write. And it’s been some weeks now and that hasn’t changed.

So if my words aren’t going to work, then I’m going to let my photographs do the talking, instead. These were taken during a long weekend in “the city”, a place I’ve loved and love and maybe will always love. Maybe it’s the bagels. Who can say?

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“Sally, What Are You Doing With Your Life?”

So the phrasing isn’t usually so direct, but the gist is about the same. When you return home and you’ve finished your undergraduate education, everyone wants to know about the big picture. You’re 24, what are you going to do now? Did you finish dealing with that pesky travel bug you’ve been plagued with for years? (Haha, funny joke!) Wow, you’re going to be here for at least a year? Is it time to settle down, now?

No.

No.

No.

But maybe for a little bit.

If you’ve been following my Instagram recently, you’ve probably noticed that my life consists of a lot of domestic things at the moment. There are dogs, scarves I’m in the middle of knitting, running shoes, neighborhood street lights… not so many foreign things. Unless you count that sushi I ate two weeks ago, which I definitely do. It’s almost the same as going to Japan, right?

Anyways, that’s what I’ll be telling myself for the next few months. Not that I’m unhappy to be back in Pittsburgh, because that’s not the case. Pittsburgh is awesome, especially in the summer. But I think it’s always a hard adjustment to start a routine when you’ve been living a country-to-country, city-to-city kind of life for any serious amount of time. And even harder if you spent a year and a half prior to that living in Asia and eating strange foods on the regular. It’s just tough to go back to your neighborhood grocery store or bar or mall and feel very excited about it; I’m experiencing that first-hand and certainly not for the first time.

What’s different about this time is that I have to learn how to work through it.

I’m going to be back in Pittsburgh for at least a year.

Why, you ask? Well, let’s start with the most obvious reason: I’m broke. Thanks for all the cash, South Korea, and you’re welcome, Europe, for spending all of it within your borders. Even if I was planning to move to another city in the USA, I’d still need to take some time and work in Pittsburgh until I could afford to do so. But that’s not the plan at the moment, because I’m waiting to hear back from an application to the Peace Corps that I sent in last month. There’s no guarantee that I’ll get in, but in the chance that I did, it would still be about a year (or more) until my departure date and it makes the most sense to stick it out where my friends and some of my family are, and where the flexible timing of it all wouldn’t strand me.

But, if I needed more reason to stay, it arrived last week when I accepted a writing and social media job in Pittsburgh. This job would have been tough to pass up no matter what my plans were; it’s what I love to do and do well, but with room to grow. So while some of my readers may be sad to hear that my next job isn’t overseas (I just couldn’t work with kids in a classroom again, I’m sorry!), the rest of my friends from Pittsburgh are pumped to see me stick around for more than just a few weeks here and there. And I’m pretty happy about the new gig, myself. A job I enjoy is a first, solid step in the right direction for a recovering expat like me.

Which leads me to my personal goal for this year or more (who knows?) in Pittsburgh: I want to make Pittsburgh work for me. I don’t want to feel like I’m just passing the time here. I want to put things into my life that I enjoy and which are fulfilling. Part of that process will be dissecting what exactly about expat life and travel abroad made me smile. Was it the new foods? The broken English and prevalence of foreign languages all around me? The chance to meet people with different cultural upbringings? Or just the sheer variety of cheese in Germany? Because if that’s the case, I’m pretty sure the USA has a few stores that won’t disappoint in the cheese arena, and all I need to do to feel better is visit them.

So my plan is to find activities and organizations in Pittsburgh that scratch my international itch. And see if I can’t recreate some of the things I love about life abroad, but do so while staying in one place for a bit.

This is going to be one heck of a challenge, folks. Wish me luck.

 

 [Begin shameless self promotion.]

Did I mention I’m poor?

And I’m selling blank notecards with my photography on them! If you’re interested in grabbing yourself a set of 4, head over to this page and order yourself a few. Contact me with any problems or questions or haikus you’ve written for me, anything!

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Are you also in a transitional move home? What have you done to scratch those itchy feet without jet-setting across the world again?

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Displaced, But at Home

It’s always an interesting feeling to come home when you’ve been gone for several months, and one I’m not all too unfamiliar with. I’ve come home from five months in Austria, five months in Argentina and eighteen months in South Korea and while each homecoming was not quite the same, they all had one factor in common: I had a place that was my own, no matter how much time had passed.

But this time, coming back from five months of travel in Europe, even I was caught off-guard by how un-homey it felt.

Times are hard.

It all started a few months ago when my parents moved to Germany. As part of that arrangement, they didn’t sell our home in Pittsburgh, but they cleaned out several rooms for rental. My (now former) room, being the fantastic, spacious and bright room that it is, was obviously prime real estate to someone wanting to move in. My belongings were packed up into several boxes and put into another room for storage. The house’s Internet was shut off and the kitchen cabinets were cleaned out. On one hand, I’m extremely impressed with my parents; that must have been a ton of work, because those cabinets were packed to the brim. On the other, I wish I could still rifle through there for some oatmeal every once in a while. None of these developments were unexpected, in fact I knew exactly what I would encounter walking through my old childhood home. But it’s still weird. Thank goodness my bookshelf is still largely intact and as it was, though moved, because I don’t know if I could handle missing books on top of missing oatmeal.

So each morning, now, I instead wake up in my Aunt’s spare bedroom in the house next door. The first few days, I used to wake up and look over to see a giant collage of my cousin’s face all over the wall. And the room isn’t completely empty, in fact there’s quite a few things held in storage in what’s now “my” room. But once I reorganized some drawers, claiming one as my own and unpacking my suitcase from the floor, and also moved my cousin’s (beautiful, lovely, marvelous!) face and senior pictures over to her bedroom, the space felt a little better. It feels slightly more like my own. (That’s probably also because I put some books on top of the drawers; I’m instantaneously at ease.)

How to make any room instantly become Sally's room: lots of books.
How to make any room instantly become Sally’s room: lots of books.

There’s one factor, though, that has me totally disoriented, but has been a complete non-issue for the past five months of travel: I don’t have a car. Or a motorcycle or a scooter. I have a bicycle and my feet. In Europe, I had no issues with this as the public transportation was fantastic. I would have been thrilled to have a bicycle in Spain or in Austria; I loved biking in Germany during my last week there. Walking aimlessly through new towns was one of my top five activities. But now that I’ve moved back home, into my neighborhood which is quite descriptively called “Mission Hills”, I’m finding that I’m not so enchanted with the idea of riding my bicycle around town. Even just walking the serious hills in my area has been an adjustment both for me and my poor calf muscles.

It was particularly hard during my first week back; I had a dentist appointment, bachelorette party and a wedding to go to, which were all completely inaccessible via public transportation in the area. Between asking for rides from my cousin, two friends, and my grandmother, I’ve never felt like such a useless, ride-begging invalid. Even visiting my friends in the city is complicated; the nearby streetcar only takes me into the downtown area, where my friends often have to pick me up to get to their neighborhood. As much as I’d like to see car-less life in the city suburbs as a cool challenge I should take on, it’s just not so. I’m becoming more disenchanted with Pittsburgh’s public transit system daily.

One of a million of Pittsburgh's beautiful overlooks... because it's full of giant hills. Womp womp.
One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills. Womp womp.

But it’s definitely not all bad.

I didn’t write that article, 13 Reasons Why Pittsburgh is the Best, on a whim; I truly do love this city and am glad to be back. And among the dizzying spin of trying to become settled, there are bright and shining moments during which I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

I love being back in my favorite coffee shop culture. Sitting with a coffee and a book, or laptop or just a notebook and pen are all perfectly accepted and encouraged behaviors, and if you sit for hours, no one will look twice. Refills on black coffee are half-priced. And heavy ceramic “For Here” cups feel at home in my hand. It’s great to be back in a place where I can really sit back and relax again, outside of my home.

Of course coffee sometimes comes with great reunions. Since I’ve been back, quite a few old friends have come out of the woodwork to meet me, and it’s been nothing but a pleasure. While I definitely don’t have a good answer for them when they ask, “What are you doing now?” (A post on that is coming soon!), it’s still great to catch up. I love seeing familiar faces again and spending time with some of the wonderful people I’ve been privileged enough to call my friends. Being away so long has really made those relationships that much more meaningful and I’m really excited to be seeing them not just once or twice, but regularly in the next months to come.

There’s also a cultural quirk of the United States that I’ve really learned to appreciate since the last time I lived here. People here live out loud. Maybe it’s the sheer time away or maybe I’ve grown older in the last few months and years, but where I once scorned other Stateys abroad when they were loud and obnoxious, I recently started looking at them with smiles. Those are my loud, obnoxious and overwhelmingly alive people. That’s my culture that will crack jokes in line, even though you’ve never met any of them. People from the USA are generally friendly to all kinds of strangers and aren’t afraid to laugh loudly anywhere they go. And for some reason, even when it’s obnoxious, I kind of love it.

So while I’m still settling in for the long haul, here, things are progressing. It may be the strangest transition I’ve ever had to go through, which is unexpected, considering that I’m at “home”. But I’m learning that even home can be another world, and maybe it’s one I’ve just begun to really discover.

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What’s the hardest or strangest transition you’ve ever gone through? Have your parents ever abandoned you for Germany and sold all their cars? Have any advice for me, if you’ve gone through a similar thing?

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Searching For My People

Friendship is a fickle beast. One day you’re laughing hysterically, trying to catch your breath and the next thing you know, your friend asks you “how’s work?” and the only thing you can think to say is “good.” Other times you grow up together, attending mutual engagements but keeping your distance, and then a weird circumstance comes out of nowhere, pushing you two together (sometimes with a little alcohol) and it’s like new, vibrant people emerge from your previously static selves. And then sometimes, you meet someone, and it’s like putting on a warm, fuzzy pair of socks. It just fits. (And then your toes are warm, too!)

Over the years, I’ve often found that “my people” are almost always a bunch of dudes. I’ve always been the “cool girl”, the one who rolls with the guys and doesn’t make anyone wait for her to finish straightening her hair before we go out. It helps that my hair is naturally straight of course, but my gang of guys doesn’t usually last. Guys fall in love with me, I fall in love with a guy, we move to different places and it’s not so easy to just hang out (God forbid people put forth effort to meet up!) or any other myriad of circumstances often pull apart my group of friends within a year or so. I keep in touch with the occasional guy friend, but it’s not uncommon that the one-on-one contact throws off the friendship and it doesn’t feel the same. I can count the number of good guy friends I have to this day on one hand, but I can’t say the same for the number of male friend groups I’ve been a part of and fallen away from, eventually. I found the people I was most comfortable with just as quickly as I lost them, time and again.

My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.
My original (and forever) crew of dudes: my brothers.

In college, I really wanted to break that cycle. So I did what any sane, down to earth “cool girl” would do.

I joined a sorority.

Yep, one of those Greek organizations that stars in all of the USA college movies, the ones that get hammered in three story houses with balconies. I wore the letters. I did the chants. I even did the Halloween frat parties, although I dressed up as a “tree” on at least two occasions by wearing a green shirt, so clearly I wasn’t that into it. And, maybe to your surprise, I even had blonde hair. I was looking for my people.

You probably didn't see that coming.
You probably didn’t see that coming.
Alternative Caption: Pics or it didn’t happen!

And as is inevitable in a group of 60+ girls, I did find a few. We had a warm fuzzy socks kind of connection, we laughed, we lived together and spent a lot of evenings on the front porch with glasses of wine, talking about what we wanted from life one day. They were there for me when my heart broke and when I, more often, broke hearts and felt terribly guilty for it. They were there when I accepted my job in South Korea, I was there when they made plans to move across the country or into a different apartment for their final year of school. And on graduation day, I would have sworn we were inseparable. But the thing about fuzzy slipper socks is that they slip off just as easily as they slip on, and when they come off, your feet feel really really cold.

Two years later, the periphery best friends, the people I wish I could have spent more time with (but didn’t, because I was with my main ladies at the time) are the people that ended up sticking around. I thought I’d found my people in the sorority and I was right, but I just wasn’t right about who those people were. But just because I’d found friendships I could depend on and hold onto, doesn’t mean I actually had someone to hang out with on a Friday night. I was in South Korea. And in South Korea, I was looking for more of my people.

But they never came.

This is what causes me to hesitate when someone asks if I loved living in South Korea. This is why when you ask, “How was it?” I say “It was great!” or “It was an awesome experience,” instead of gushing on about how much I loved living there and can’t wait to go back. Because what I had hoped for, people I clicked with, never came. Old teachers left, new people arrived and yet I felt, to put it simply, friendless. I had friends and people to hang out with, don’t get me wrong, but it didn’t feel quite as natural or deep as friendships I’d had before. I met some Korean girls that I got along with, but it was nothing like my friendships in the States and definitely nothing like my gangs of guys. After a while I began to forget what that instantaneous feeling was. I knew my friendships weren’t up to par with a “war council,” but for the life of me I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, anyways. It had been too long. When I left Korea, I knew that as wonderful as my memories with friends were, I’d come out empty in my search for my people.

I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn't work out.
I offered him a place as my bestie, but it just didn’t work out.

A month at home, and spending time with those who used to be in the periphery but had now come center stage, confirmed that feeling. I then made it a priority to find some damn friends. So I put in the effort to meet other travel bloggers, starting with two lovely ladies in Pittsburgh. We were only able to meet once, but I’m fond of them, and more than anything else, it confirmed that I need to get out there and start meeting more of the people I converse with on Twitter. Nobody knock Internet friends, because they’re some of the best people I know.

A month in Spain. Couchsurfing, traveling and generally just meeting a shit-ton of people has been better for me than I would have ever imagined. It all started with Linda, whom I met on a tourist bus in Barcelona. We shared headphone jacks (her side was broken) and I was intrigued by her story, since you don’t see a ton of over-40 travelers who are interested in doing the same kind of things I am. We both do photography, we both wanted potatoes without the sauce, and she’s the kind of dreamer who’ll ask me to film her advertisement video pitch at a random ATM machine in the middle of a mall. As the trip went on, I met more and more people with whom I got along easily. I got to meet Olivia from Halfway Somewhere while in Madrid and we talked a ton about travel (surprise!), a subject many of my friends aren’t able to broach. Old friendships sprung back to life as strongly as they ever were, new people made me erupt with laughter within minutes of meeting them. Not all of my new friendships are people I’ll make the effort to stay in touch with forever, but some of them are. Somewhere along the way, while in Spain, I’d met more of my people. And now I can remember exactly what it feels like.

Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.
Getting along with people right away + food = a beautiful thing.

I’ve now spent a week in Dublin, Ireland and made my way West to the Aran Islands, where I’ll be working in a hostel for two weeks. When I first arrived yesterday, I was led up to a room where I met my roommates, two Spanish girls from Barcelona. Immediately we hit it off and the more that my true self comes out (read: WEIRD), the better we get along. Later, I met a guy from South Korea and we lamented over how much we missed Korean food, mostly bulgogi and pat bingsu. A coworker from France has offered up her time to teach me French pronunciation while I’m here. There were even several guests from Germany staying as guests that first night and we got to talk both in English and in German about tons of topics under the sun. We imbibed and danced and laughed, all of us together, and today I was able to share mate with two Argentines and other friends, an activity I adored while in Argentina. I’ve been here for 24 hours and I haven’t just found some of my people, I might have found an entire youth hostel of them.

While no one can say what friendships will last or not, I’m resting easily knowing that the people I’ve met here so far are fantastic and I’ve never fit in better. But when my two weeks inevitably comes to an end on these gorgeous islands (well, gorgeous when it’s not raining, but that’s Ireland for you!) I’ll be walking away with not just incredible friendships and hopefully some badass French pronunciation skills, but maybe someone I can say belongs on my war council. And at least for now, I’ve found my people.

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Photoessay: Picture Perfect Pittsburgh

One of my goals while at home this past month was to really soak up Pittsburgh and everything it has to offer. Couple that with my budding passion for photography, and it was only a matter of time until I picked up my camera and tried to capture what I see as an iconic city. First as a steel and industrial city, and more recently as a revived and historical city, yet ripe with everything hipster and grassroot-y. Over the past week, the weather has finally cleared up enough to snap some shots and I have to say, I love some of the photographs I’ve taken of Pittsburgh. I feel as though I’ve done a pretty decent job of capturing what it is that I adore about this town.

If you haven’t already, take a minute to meet Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: home of obsessive sports fans, a lot of movie sets and almost Hilary Duff but in the end, not.

One of a million of Pittsburgh’s beautiful overlooks… because it’s full of giant hills.

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See the river up there? It was completely frozen over, from shore to shore. Talk about cold weather!

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Next up, the photos with a flare of drama. AKA, me playing around with my camera settings and not being consistent. Whoopsies.

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Not pictured: incredible ethnic restaurants galore, the man hollering at my sweet leather Converse while I walk down the street, honking river geese, river geese poop (watch your step on those river trails!), awesome biking culture and the sweet Pittsburghese accent that many Yinzers (Pittsburgh natives) wear with pride.

Oh and the negative a million degree weather isn’t pictured well, either. But that’s made better by all the hipster coffee shops and their in-house-roasted beans that I transform into delicious, aromatic medicine that warms me up once I head back inside.

No, it’s not so bad, after all. Despite the weather, it’s good to be home.squiggle3

Like what you see? You can find more pictures of frozen Pittsburgh on Laura of Eclectic Travel Girl’s blog, some very similar, probably because we were walking together while we took them…

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