Atlanta, GA., you rock!

Atlanta, GA. Home of some of the best eateries, historical districts, and sports events of the South. Walk, bike, or commute via train and bus, this eco-friendly city has become the mecca of new businesses, non-profit organizations, and musical entertainment. Here are some of my favorite must-see spots if you’re visiting my home town. A little bit of fun, a little bit of history, and a whole lot of sunshine and good food! I’ve loved this city since I was little… I think you will too!

 

 

Downtown Atlanta has no shortage of things to do. Make your first stop a tour of the CNN center – you can even star in your very own newscast!

Must do: Grab exclusive CNN apparel at the CNN Store.

 

And directly across Marietta Street, near Ted Turner Blvd, take a stroll, grab a juicy burger, fries and float at Googie burger, or let the kids run through the ring fountain at Centennial Olympic Park – which was built and opened during the 1996 Olympic games. Now the park boasts several events and visitors throughout the year. Depending on what time of year you’re in town, you could be in for a special performance treat, and often for FREE! Downtown Atlanta’s newest attraction near Centennial Park is Sky View – the 20-story high ferris wheel. It’s a great way to see all of Atlanta, and even catch a glimpse of Stone Mountain far off inn the distance!

Must do: Do some people watching! No, really. This park’s scenery alone is perfect for doing absolutely nothing.

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There’s an ongoing debate among transplants to Atlanta and natives between Waffle House and IHOP. The famous American chain, many of who’s locations are only in the South, will fill you up on delicious breakfast food, served diner style, without pinching the wallet. Go’head and get your hash browns scattered, covered, and smothered – it’s the southern way 😉

Must do: Have the pecan waffle. I mean, it is “waffle” house after all 🙂

 

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Believe it or not, the Georgia Aquarium is a non-profit facility that is home to thousands of marine animals, profits of which go toward aquatic research. The Aquarium holds over 10 million gallons of water. How’s that sound if you’re thirsty!

Must do: Take a gander through one of visitor’s most favorite exhibitions – the Ocean Voyager Tunnel. Feel like you’re under the sea as you watch an assortment of fish, whales, and turtles swim over your very head. The experience is breathtaking!

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Atlanta is also the birthplace of Coca-Cola, and around here we call it soda not pop thank you very much. Cool fact from Coca-Cola’s website “Did you know? The first servings of Coca‑Cola were sold for 5 cents per glass. During the first year, sales averaged a modest nine servings per day in Atlanta.” Think about that the next time you pay $1.69 plus tax for your beverage! Mmmmm. Ice cold fizz.

Must do: The World of Coca-Cola museum. Learn about and sample colas from all around the world!

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Did someone say football? No, not the NFL… College Football! Check out the College Football Hall of Fame to find out how your favorite team scores around the nation! Georgia is home of the UGA Bulldogs, GSU Panthers, and Georgia Tech Buzz. With all the visitors to Atlanta each day, there’s pretty friendly rivalry to discuss… or not so friendly haha Go Panthers! (yes, I’m a GSU alumna)

Must do: Walk over to Stats to catch a game and grab a cold beer. You’ll probably work up an appetite after all that friendly competition!

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The Atlanta Streetcar is the perfect way to hop off and on in downtown Atlanta to take in all the attractions. So, if your feet are getting tired, or the little ones just need a break, let the streetcar take over for you. You can pick up the streetcar at several locations throughout downtown, and for a minimal fare. Sit back in a climate-controlled motorized trolley and hop off and on through the Fairlie-Poplar, King Historic, and Sweet Auburn districts.

Must do: Visit the King Memorial Center. The first stop on the streetcar, and loaded with history from our favorite native civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The National Center for Civil and Human Rights is a must-see attraction in downtown Atlanta. Nestled in the heart of downtown Atlanta, on land donated by the Coca-Cola company, the Center for Civil and Human Rights is an interactive, cultural experience enjoyed by all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. You’ll leave learning much about civil rights, human rights, and the dignity for all.

Must do: Sit at the lunch counter exhibit. Sometimes history is painful, but this exhibit makes the discrimination of some brave African Americans during the Civil Rights era real and literally in-your-face.

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MARTA – It’s smarta! Five Points MARTA station is the center of it all. Although it’s name comes from the convergence of the five main streets of downtown Atlanta – Marietta, Edgewood, Decatur, and the legs of Peachtree Street – the train station has become more popularly known for it’s center convergence of the north, south, east, and west lines of the MARTA train lines. Directly south will take you to the airport, while either direction north can take you to Doraville or shopping in Sandy Springs. Head west for the Atlanta University Center, or far east and take a hike up Stone Mountain. Leave the car, and hop on the train. Grab a day pass for easy off-and-on access.

Must do: Visit Underground Atlanta. Once a thriving underground merchant shop, now rich with history and a food court that’s sure to have something for everyone!

The South’s LGBTQ community calls Atlanta home. From bars to events, there’s no shortage of activities, establishments, and must-see events. When you’re ready to leave the bustle of downtown Atlanta, hop over to East Atlanta village – just a couple exits east of downtown’s Capital. East Atlanta Village is a hip, concentrated, friendly local mini-town, and the location of Mary’s – voted Atlanta’s best gay bar 5 years in a row!

Must do: Everything. EAV has something for everyone. Suki Suki Collective – a mash of food vendors all in one convenient location. Stop in to Grant Central for a slice of delcious pizza, or Tomatilla’s if you’re feeling Tex-Mex, or 5 Thai for sushi and noodles, or Argosy for a cold beer and some people watching on their open patio. Can you tell I love EAV?? Yep. No shame.

 

In summary, as you can tell, I love my city! There’s so much to do, and there’s definitely something for everyone. These are my favorite attractions, but they only scratch the surface. I’d love to hear about your favorites when you’re in my city!

 

(Special note: This post was created as part of a scholarship entry. The pictures in this post are original captures made by me.)

(Update note: I got the scholarship!!)

But what you Not gon’ do is sht on education

This here goes out to everyone who wants to throw shade on people with degrees. For whatever reason. You don’t believe in them (OK.); didn’t finish (not my fault); didn’t get to go (I’m sorry.)

My higher education is a privilege I would not have had access to decades ago.

Yes, I’m going there. Because you can’t use black history in your Black Lives Matter protest posts and exclude the rights and privileges we now own, which you reassign as assimilation for me. Not fair.

I also don’t want to hear about the final value it provides (or doesn’t) because lesbehonest everything you do and say ain’t for the people. And you can tap your holy crystals on that one. Besides, my two Masters cost me less than $5000 combined (See Perks of Working in Higher Education.)   …..p.s. that isn’t a real post yet.

Obtaining a degree takes discipline; sacrificing immediate pleasure for a delayed one. It takes pushing through, even when you’re tired, confused, frustrated, uninspired. It takes discovering a you that you didn’t know existed. If the definition of integrity is doing what you’re supposed to do even when you know you won’t get caught, then obtaining a degree will shed an entire beacon of light on your integrity. Just ask any college or university’s Dean of Students office about the number of academic dishonesty charges they receive every term.

I made a self-conscious decision to better myself and the world around me by learning the ideas and philosophies of many men and women who preceded me, on many topics and interests, in a discipline I was intrigued by. And, no, I’m not saying all the methodologies are right, but I do feel I am better able to make informed decisions knowing all sides of an argument as opposed to solely those I was taught growing up, and in the very limited perspective of the world I was in.

Going to school presented an outlet for me. And something I could do, without anyone being able to take it away from me.

I left my dad’s house when I was 17. There was no college fund, no cushion account to get started on life, no car, no guarantee, no clue. I wasn’t allowed to participate in extracurriculars in high school. High school was one of the most confusing, frustrating, depressing times of my life.

But school I could do. College I could do! I could succeed. College was my first major decision that depended solely on me. And when distractions presented themselves I cracked down in the books, on the papers, with the readings even harder. The semester my mom passed I was taking the heaviest load of my college career, just to distract myself from what we all knew was inevitable.

When my mom was sick, I remember visiting her in Crawford Long one day. I didn’t visit often, even though Georgia State was right down the street. She kept saying, “You never come see me!” and my reply was always, “Mom, I’m working and going to school.” Then she said to me, “Well, good to know it’s more important than your Motha! I know one thing, you better make sure you go farther than I did!” That moment stung. Her words were painful. My mom could be a master manipulator of feelings. But, through her words, I gained strength. I kissed her forehead and promised I would.

I think she’d be proud of me.

I still haven’t gotten good at balancing work-study-family, but we’ll save that for another post.

My education is more to me than papers, than letters, than debt.

I don’t feel entitled; I feel empowered.

I have pride in my accomplishments. No one can take that away.

(I’d like to close by saying: If this submission made you feel some kind of way, perhaps I wrote this for you.)

And there was tonight…

This time last week I was pretty convinced I’d made a big mistake in “deciding” to teach English abroad. I put deciding in quotation marks because I’m clearly not going anywhere just yet, but I’d made my mind up a long time ago as if it was a done deal.

Well, at least I thought I did. Then last week, I re-made it. Or unmade it.  *shrugs* (don’t judge me; I’m not teaching English in college. Just the basics.)

I digress. I was so intimidated. I was anxious. I was confused. I was discouraged. I was tired.

I feel like I’ve just been chasing one goal after another, for yearsssss now. And I mean Years. Every year, I was choosing a new goal to achieve. And then, when it was achieved, I needed a new goal. Yes, admirable. On the other hand, exhausting. I don’t know why I am that way. From what I remember, I’ve always been intrinsically motivated. Call me a goal digger.

So, here I was, in week 5 of my TEFL Certification program and had an assignment to make my first lesson plan. I freaked all the way out. Because what that assignment meant is not just that I was midway into a program to teach non-English speaking students one of the (so it is said) most complicated languages to learn, but that I, ME, I was going to be a Teacher! Sure, traveling the world, experiencing new culture, living in a different country is all part of it, but my duty was to be education.

“I can’t do this. I’m not a teacher. I don’t want to be lonely.”

Those thoughts ran through my head like WTH do you think you’re doing girl. And if that’s not enough, the fact that I’d be quitting my job, leaving my dog, leaving behind all that’s familiar, comfortable, English… I just couldn’t.

I’d reconvinced myself of how I wanted my future to look.

Until tonight. Tonight I was in my second observation of an ESL classroom, and I looked around – at the students, at the teacher, at the board, at the observation notes I’d been taking. I saw the passion that started this dream almost five years ago now. I saw the possibilities. I saw me, in front of the classroom, bubbling with enthusiasm, rich with knowledge, willing and eager to share.

And I know all days won’t be golden days. But, tonight I’m relishing in the fact that I see those days again at all. I see it, therefore I can achieve it. It’s been a motto I’ve lived my life by for many years now. Yearsssss.

The Director and Founder tapped on the window to get my attention. Upon seeing him I realized I needed to get my Practicum log signed. We chatted for a bit, and then he offered me the opportunity to be put on the schedule as a substitute in the new year!

My heart fluttered a bit. Initially out of nervousness, but then immediately out of excitement. Here it is. What I’ve prepared and worked so hard for. And I didn’t even have to search for it, it landed right in my lap. One minute I was posting on Instagram about struggling in the class, which my friend saw and connected me to his colleague, who answered all my emails diligently and offered me to come observe, and now I’m only half-way through the course looking at a possible teaching opportunity.

My cup overfloweth. With gratitude. With confidence. With openness. I’ve softened my thoughts to let my heart talk a little, and give my brain a break from thinking about every single possible negative thought. I’m listening to my heart now, and I must say, I like the way it feels.

I’ve decided to start journaling my journey. So, here’s to part 1!

You Not Gon’ Take my House! (and)… My First 30 Days as a Wag Walker

Hey Hey!

So, by now you can probably tell I’m a Southerner. And I’m proud of it. My flair, my flava, my lingo – all dutty South. But I’m also educated. Don’t come at me sideways LOL I got wit! So, yes. My southernness will also be sprinkled in my words. Can’t help it.

Anyway, Heeyyyyyy y’all. So, on to today’s post. I want to be a little vulnerable. Being vulnerable is hard for me. Not because I think anything I’m doing is top secret, but I do think some level of privacy is essential for sanity. Especially these days when everyone’s whole lives from the moment they open their eyes to the first thing they put in their mouth and what’s going on in their day to when they’re going to bed are documented and publicized – voluntarily! It’s just tew much.

So, here goes.

(I actually took a break in between the last sentence and this one to breathe, because just thinking about it has me emotional again)

Years ago I made a decision I wouldn’t open mail when I got home from work. It’s an easy habit to fall into: You get home, you have mail, you open it.

Years ago I made a decision I wouldn’t open mail when I got home from work. It’s a natural habit to fall into: You get home, you have mail, you open it.

But what if it’s not-so-good news, and you need to talk to someone’s customer service, but they’re home now just like you are? You spend the rest of the evening deliberating over said not-so-good news and thinking about how soon you can call customer service in the morning.

I’m an Aries. I don’t need more reasons to think than I already do.

I’ve spent many a sleepless night stressing over unanswered questions, possible situations I’d conjured in my head, and every scenario I could think of only to get me nowhere but sleepless, worrying over what I can’t control, and grumpy in the morning.

So I decided I will only open mail at work, or at least during business hours. Just in case in case I need to call someone and get some answers. Problem solved — no more sleepless nights. Well, at least not because of mail.

Years ago I made a decision I wouldn’t open mail when I got home from work. It’s an easy habit to fall into: You get home, you have mail, you open it.

But what if it’s not-so-good news, and you need to talk to someone’s customer service, but they’re home now just like you are? You spend the rest of the evening deliberating over said not-so-good news and thinking about how soon you can call customer service in the morning.

I’m an Aries. I don’t need more reasons to think than I already do.

I’ve spent many a sleepless night stressing over unanswered questions, possible situations I’d conjured in my head, and every scenario I could think of only to get me nowhere but sleepless, worrying over what I can’t control, and grumpy in the morning.

So I decided I will only open mail at work, or at least during business hours. Just in case I need to call someone and get some answers right away. Problem solved — no more sleepless nights. Well, at least not because of mail.

But this past weekend was a holiday weekend. So it was a lonnnng weekend. And when I got home from work this past Friday there was a letter from the Tax Commissioner. I told myself, “Definitely don’t open that til Monday!” and I put that thing in the open-at-work pile.

I’m so serious.

My peace… is my responsibility.

I decided not to take off Monday. I could have, but it just seemed like a waste of vacation hours because I knew it would be quiet and we’d go home early anyway.

So, come Monday morning, I made my morning smoothie, as usual, grabbed my purse and grabbed the stack of mail from the open-at-work pile and stuffed it in my bag.

When I got to work, I’d forgotten all about the mail, until I went looking for some lip gloss.

Oh yea! The tax letters. Lemme see what they talmbout. It’s too soon for my annual statement, but whatevs.

I open what feels like an unusually stuffed envelope for my annual tax assessment documents. But I proceed anyway.

What I find is a letter that says (paraphrasing because if I go get it I’ll get emotional, again), “According to records, you do not reside in the home mentioned above so your homestead exemption is denied, which means we haven’t been charging you enough taxes, and you have about a month and a half to pay us for the last 3 years’ worth of unpaid taxes in the amount of …oh, about $2500.”

W.   T.    F.

I read that letter at least 3 times. Then I looked at the included 3 blue documents behind it. One for each of the corresponding years I’ve been renting out my home.

It all felt like a bad dream.

And on July 4th weekend?! Dis-re-damn-spectful.

But it was actually dated May 25, 2017 – the letter was forwarded from my last address. (Sidebar here: People, always, always, always forward your address! A guy who lived at my home previously is still getting mail here, and some look verrrry important)

Ok.

Let me pause for a moment to say this: I’m an honest person. I may not have always been, I’ll admit it. But over the most recent years of my life (say, about the last 3-4 for certain), I’ve come to appreciate the value in honesty. I used to lie. Often. Led a life of lies, easily. But now, maybe it’s maturity or it could be apathy, but I just don’t have time to lie. I don’t have time or the energy to remember my lies.

I won’t say I want to do something I don’t want to. I won’t say I like you if I don’t. I won’t wear something that makes me uncomfortable and say “Aww! I love it!”  And I’m a vegan now so I won’t even eat anything that compromises my values. Cause, for why!

Now, back to this. Yes, I did file for homestead exemption, which, for those who are unaware, is a property tax discount given to homeowners, but it must be your primary residence. Yes, I filed when I was a homeowner,  because I took all the discounts I could get. But I, in all my (almost 10) years of homeownership never even thought to or knew where to begin to remove the exemption when I decided to rent my home out.

My home is my pride and joy. Besides my three degrees, it is the hardest and most rewarding challenge I’ve ever accomplished. I worked my BUTT off to get my home. I researched, I had an outstanding mortgage guy who I still communicate with to this day and took ever piece of advice he gave, I forfeited many temporary pleasures to save, and one of my best friend’s mom found my house after countless views and searches and offers that went no where.

When I bought my home at 23, it meant Everything to me. The only outside assistance I received was a $700 loan from my stepfather toward the final closing costs, whom I paid back within 3 months. All other funds came from saving, budgeting, and one cool ass house party attendees donated toward my closing cost funds. It was a longer road than expected filled with many ups and downs, surprises and detours. When I signed those papers and got my keys, to tell you tears of joy came from me would be an understatement.

Fastforward five years: I’m always in the city. I work in the city, I party in the city, the guy I dated was in the city. The house was a lot of space. It was just me and my baby Champ, but it was a lot of house. A three bedroom, 2.5 bath, fully-fenced backyard, 2-car garage house for a single female and her 5 year old Boxer dog was just a lot. I wanted less maintenance. I wanted more culture and diversity. I wanted city life.

I decided to rent it out. Selling crossed my mind, but we hadn’t quite recovered from the recession, and my home would have been under water. A home just up the street from mine had sold for half of what I’d bought it for just months earlier. I was hot. Selling was not an option. I needed equity. That wasn’t there. And likely wouldn’t be for a very long time.

Fastforward again: I’m a city-dweller! I found a property manager I could trust, tenants I could depend on, and a lovely condo smack in the middle of downtown. It was everything I wanted. I survived my first year as a landlord – which was no walk in the park – and when time came to renew their lease I happily said Yes!

So, here I am in 2017. I’ve had my address updated everywhere important since I moved. Mortgage, student loans, credit cards, post office, HR, you name it. If I was trying to hide my official residence I would have been doing a terrible job at it!

These letters came completely out of nowhere. I had no freakin idea I was still claiming an exemption I wasn’t due! Companies have no problem at all informing you at the worst possible time that you owe them money and expecting you to pay up like you just had said funds lying around, just waiting for the day they’d finally come after you for payout.

My first reaction: disbelief. No! This can’t be. This just can’t be!! There must be some mistake!

My second reaction: cry. I cried the ugliest Miss America tears. The worst, “No you can’t do this to me!” tears. Just hurt tears. All, “the Devil is a LIAR” Nooooooooooo tears.

My third reaction: Do something. You not gon’ take my got damn house!

And that is where I am now.

Here’s another thing about me: I’m not the GoFundMe type. Honestly, I think it’s become a crutch far too many people lean on. Now, in times of immediate or dire situations, sure. It has it’s place. But it should NOT be your first nor only resolution to your own damn problems.

Cut it out, people. It’s not the world’s responsibility to save you!

So, as you probably know, I picked up dog walking just about a month ago now. My last blog post is an introduction on it.

I’m a new Walker on the Wagwalking.com site that has become “the Uber of dogwalking”. Granted, Uber is in some heat right now so they might want to change their catchphrase, but, at any rate, the service is exactly that.

I just hit my 30th day today and my total payout is $894.30.

Not bad for walking some dogs, huh?

Don’t get it twisted though, I bust my ass in this biz my first 30 days! I drove more the past 30 days than I’ve driven all year. And that’s no exhaggeration. I don’t like to drive, people. I have walked large and small dogs, old and puppy dogs, trained and ill-mannered dogs, one and multiple dogs – I was HUSTLING.

To get the walks, I requested everything I could grab, which is tough. Wag doesn’t have a huge presence in Atlanta yet. There are more Walkers than walk requests, which make the requests extremely demanding. I’ve had clients request me directly but because I happen to close my eyes for a nap, walk to the restroom, or don’t have my eyes glued to the app for one moment, I miss the request because another Walker snagged it up. It drove me nuts! Days I’d want more walks but just missed a request by 3.6 seconds. No lie. It doesn’t take long. It was gut-wrenchingly annoying.

So after I composed myself and stopped crying the I-don’t-know-what-you’re-saying-please-stop-crying-so-I-can-understand-you-ugly-bawl tears, I called a friend, who shall remain nameless. I rarely EVER ask for help, so when I do folks know it’s genuine. My goal is to bust my ass as much as I can for the next month and a half, until August 28 when the 3 bills of a total of $2500 are due, to come up with the money. If I’m short, my friend will be my backup, which I will repay as quickly as I can. This saves me from losing my damn mind and thinking out of character, but I will still do all I can in my own power to come up with these funds. (A lesson in maturity: Ask for help, but always be willing to help yourself – first. In my younger years I would struggle alone. The difference now is at least the month and a half won’t be looming over my head. My friend has given me more time, and peace of mind.)

This little surprise hurt my heart because I’ve been saving for my TEFL certification tuition – the certification to teach English abroad – which has been a dream of mine for the past four years. Damn near everything I’ve done has been in preparation for this goal. And every dollar I’ve made from dog-walking has been put into a separate “For TEFL” fund. The tuition is $1400, and I’ve already been able to save over 50% of it… until I got those letters.

The Tax Commissioner informed me my home would be set to delinquent status and then be up for lien that would be reported to the courthouse.

But I can’t lose my damn house. I’ll be damned!

So, the tuition will go on hold until these bills are paid for. It puts me slightly behind my plan, but I’ve been doing this life thing long enough to know everything happens the way it’s suppsoed to.

I’d planned to enroll in the certification course this fall, having had raised the money in its entirety with no temptation to put anything on my credit cards. Back in Novemeber I made a vow to myself to stop using my credit cards altogether and pay down on one by one. And so far, no matter what comes up, I’ve maintained that promise. Even when I went on vacation to Hawaii. If it wasn’t in the travel reserve I’d saved for, it wasn’t available.

Discipline, people. It’s not about desire; it boils down to will. And no promise I make to myself will I ever break. Never again.

So. There it is.

I’m not rolling in dough, although the way my family asks me for money you’d think I was. I don’t have it all figured out – I have my days where I’m like “WHY! Why am I doing so much? What’s it all for?!” And every day isn’t roses and sunshine. I have sucky, sucky days. And, because I’m a loner, I internalize way more than I’d like to admit. I have tons of supportive, loving, compassionate friends that I just think, “Everybody’s going through something; who am I to burden them?” moments.

I am human. I am flawed.

But I am also full of life. And purpose. And kindness. And dreams.

Sometimes I do a great job at being my best self, and sometimes not so much.

I will keep my house, if that means I have to go door to door with leashes and poop bags asking for $10 a walk. And I will fulfill my dream to teach abroad if that means I go later than when I planned.

I don’t really have a  summary for this story. This was my (long) attempt at being transparent, hopefully motivational, and written documentation to myself for the future so I can look back and say, “See, Dani girl. You did it! Again!”

I love challenges. They excite me. I get knocked off my game temporarily, and then I jump back in it and say, “Aight then. So, what we gon do about it though?”

So. Cheers to opportunities, lessons-learned, friends with benefits (hahahaha!), friends who have your back, and going after your muhfuggin dreams!

Love.

(oh, and by the way, if you’re a dog owner or know a dog owner (both in and outside of Atlanta), try out Wag! at wagwalking.com, and use my code DANIELLE2775 for $20 off your first service, plus the referral will help me toward my goal! thanks in advance :-))

Yo, I’m a dog walker! Help me Help You, and your Dog

I sit here on yet another yelling raid with my phone. At my phone is actually more accurate. I have a Galaxy S5. Admittedly, I am not one of those people who need to have the newest of everything. Especially when it comes to gadgets. To the contrary, I’d be that one who will hold on to a device until it’s last dying breath, or blink is probably more fitting… until it’s last dying blink.

But I’m yelling at my phone more frequently because it either doesn’t want to respond to my fingerprint, freezes when I need it the most, or the Wag app crashes. So, this is the perfect segue into my first 28 days with Wag.

I’d been on the hunt for the ideal side gig for me for a while, but I knew I’d have to wait until school was over. So as the days to completion wound down, I reached out to my pet sitter about the possibility of jumping into the pet care business. It made sense to me – I love animals, animals love me, people pay folks to take care of their animals when they can’t, I now have free time. Seemed like a win-win to me!

The vetting process with Wag takes some patience. There are several steps you have to complete before going on to the next level toward acceptance. When I was finally approved I felt proud and nervous – did I really just do this?

The nervousness subsided until my account was active and I started receiving my first requests for walks. A guy friend of mine was over and we were chopping it up about life, eating better, and the old days. Typical Saturday wine talk.

Notification: __ wants a walk ASAP at __ zip code. Request/Decline?

Notification: __ wants a walk at 5:30 at __ zip code. Request/Decline?

Notification: __ wants a walk at 8:30 at __ zip code. Request/Decline?

They were coming in back-to-back.

“I guess it works!” I remember saying to my homeboy, but I was not in a state to drive to or walk anyone’s dog so I just chalked it up to “Ok. So now I know!”

The next day, I received another request. It was a Sunday. And the walk was 0.68 miles away – perfect! I was just relaxing at home anyway. I hopped in the car, but before leaving texted my sister and friend saying, “On my way to my first dog walk!” I was beyond excited!

I pulled up to the address, parked around the corner, got out the car and hit “Tap when arrived” the way I was explained to do to alert the pet owner I’d arrived.

Then I got a text, “This is Wag. Your walk at __ has been cancelled. Let us know if you have any questions.” Canceled? Huh? But, look at me – I’m ready!

Of course I have questions!

Why did they cancel? Was it my profile? Could they tell I’d never done this before? Did I arrive too late? Can you call them and put them on the phone with me? What about me?!

But I made $10. It’s the standard cancellation fee if you’re already on the way and an owner cancels the walk.

That kind of consoled me. But I was still sad and felt rejected. I pouted for a moment. I’m human.

Over the next few days I would receive several notifications, and many would not get accepted. What I’ve come to learn, though, is that it has very little to do with me. There is such a small window from when a pet owner submits a request to when a walker has the chance to accept. So I figure some walkers are either inherently fast, never not looking at their phone, or their phones can handle far more tasks than mine can.

I love my phone. Not like “Oh my god, I love this phone, I will never part with it” but more like “It serves its purpose; I’m good” kind of love. But it probably isn’t the best for this kind of flash-request business.

Herein lies the most frustrating part about Wag. Their Android app needs a Lot of work. There are several bugs, the notifications are inconsistent, better yet, the notifications most times are downright nonexistent. You literally have to be staring at the app all the time, and even still can still miss a request. There have been moments when I’m looking at the app, just making sure it’s still active and I get a text notification for a walk, but nothing in the app until moments later. It’s extremely frustrating. Especially because I want to work. I want to build my clientele up. But, as a contractor of this company, I’m at the mercy of their technology.

Several of my previous clients have specifically requested me, but if I happen to walk away from my phone for a second to check the copier, go to the kitchen for more water, or god forbid go to the bathroom and wash my hands – yes, all actual events – I miss the notification. You literally have 1.5 seconds to decide when you see a request if you’ll accept it.

So, this, then leads me to the next frustration. Driving. I hate driving. Unless it’s a road trip, and even then I tap out at 5.5 hours. No lie. I turn into a two-year old who needs a potty break, a stretch break, and food. Actually, I’ve offered to cancel a vacation altogether and just camp out where we are because I don’t want to sit through 2 more hours of riding, looking out the window at grass and gravel.

When a request pops up that I happen to catch I can see the distance it is from my house, but not the location.

So, in this now 3rd week I’ve been with Wag, I’ve learned a lot about zip codes. It’s gotten to the point now that I can gauge by the zip code if the drive and walk will be worth the stress I’ll have to endure in traffic. But the first week, I didn’t. And I drove all over the place!

Traffic. Rain. Accidents. Rush-hour. Construction. Every obstruction to a straight drive. When Google tells me how long my ride should be, then I activate the location settings and see red lanes I just want to ball up and cry.

That’s the hardest part though. The part that I love, the reason I actually got into this in the first place – the dogs – is a joy. Even my most challenging client was a learning lesson for me. His name was Duke. And I will never, ever agree to walk him again. But, that’s another story. (In short, when owners know their dog only responds to their commands, they should walk their own dog. If your fur baby isn’t leash-trained, spend a little time and money to have them trained! It’s for the safety of not just the walker, but your dog. Dogs who don’t listen if danger is approaching or near can be harmful. Ok. Again. Not here. I’ll discuss that later.)

I’ve had dogs of all sizes and ages. Most times it’s just one dog, but I’ve also walked two at a time. I’m working up to doing multiple dogs, but I think I have what it takes! My goal is to grow my presence, expand my clientele, and restrict my travel to within 3 miles of home. And I feel confident that will happen. It’ll take some work, but doesn’t everything worth anything?

I’m grateful to Wag for this idea, and this opportunity. The primary issue I’m noticing is that there are far more walkers than there are walks. Atlanta’s client base for dog owners needs to grow. We’ve got to get the word out better. Wagwalking.com; enter promo code: DANIELLE2775

It’s not that Atlanta isn’t a dog-loving city, because oh my, is it ever! But Wag’s presence is still very much in the start-up phase, although they’re very established in several cities across the nation. Wagwalking.com; enter promo code: DANIELLE2775 I think as Wag grows its presence here to attract more dog owners, the pressure to eyeball your phone at every moment will decrease. And, thus, the verbal phone abuse all walkers’ devices must experience like mine when you miss a request by the inkling of a second. Wagwalking.com; enter promo code: DANIELLE2775

So, get the word out, y’all. If for nothing else, do it for the phones, whose entire existence is to make our lives easier. Let’s all make lives easier. That’s what I’m here for – one paw at a time! Wagwalking.com; enter promo code: DANIELLE2775

And, even if you’re not in Atlanta but Wag is present in your city, you can use my code. Get to it, and you receive a $20 credit toward your first service! Wagwalking.com; enter promo code: DANIELLE2775 Sharing is caring folks.

So, before I go, I’ll touch on one obvious concern I’ve seen floating around about the Wag service: Strangers in your home. Yes. It’s a thing. Maybe it’s because I’m an honest, responsible person, the thought of stealing something or harming an animal or cutting the walk short in any way never occurs to me. Of course, there are some a-holes in the world; I can’t speak for them. I actually prefer not to, hoping they’ll form a cluster and want to live in Antartica for the rest of their lives together, away from everyone else in the world.

Other concerns:

  • Aren’t you afraid of going into someone’s home? No. I went skydiving for my 30th birthday. Adventure flows through my veins! Plus, I don’t like to give fear too much control. It already takes credit of so many things, I don’t think I’ll contribute beyond what’s necessary.
  • You aren’t scared you’ll get bit? No. Again, the fear thing. And, I think I actually might be a dog whisperer. Case and point: the difficult dog I mentioned earlier, Duke. He was one big, stubborn dog. It took us 13 minutes just to cross the street. I had an eye-to-eye with him and said, “Listen. It’s not your fault. Your parents didn’t train you. We only know what we know. I’m not blaming you. But it’s hot out here homie, let’s get across this street ok? And you can have the rest of the day to do whatever the hell it is you do, deal?” He didn’t cave immediately, but I know he understood me. About an agonizing whole minute later (that’s a long time when you’re just standing on the sidewalk in the humid heat of Atlanta), he motioned he was ready. I said, “Thank you,” and we were off to home. I know why dogs get aggressive. I have a spirit to read animal behavior, and I’ve also completed a pet training and care course to learn more about the intricacies. If a dog bites me, the poor thing is probably hungry.
  • Do owners really trust strangers in their home? Yes. And for all I know there could be a nanny cam somewhere. Not my concern. I’m there to pick up the dog, make them comfortable with me, walk, and take them back. The owner’s fears outside of my brief visit is not my business. But, rest assured, I’m out here to make extra money and grow; my reputation is on the line too!

Like I said, Wag’s name is on the line, they do a pretty extensive vetting process. I had to do a background check, several quizzes, and a personality match to make sure I was a good fit. I recognize everyone isn’t a good person, but I honestly don’t think of the worst. It can make you go effin crazy!

So, there you have it. My experience so far with Wag. I’ll be doing an update after my first month. Wish me luck! And, remember the phones! Share, share, share this new business! Save me from this misery…Screenshot_2017-06-21-17-35-32-1

If you know dog owners with pets at home all day, they’re perfect clients. Or, when you want to skip out to happy hour or brunch but remember Max needs a relief break – Insert Wag! And then, insert my code. I’ll treat you to $20 off the first service: DANIELLE2775

See you around the city!

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You want fries with that guilt?

I think the most annoying part about being a vegan or choosing a plant-based diet is the assumption that you’re judgmental of meat-eaters. We’re not all that way. I’ve seen it, granted. Some vegans really go hard for their beliefs. They want to shame you for your decision to consume flesh, hold this I’m-better-than-you imaginary cloud over you, and maintain a self-righteous aura as if their crap doesn’t stink too. But coming from a household of a suffocating religious lifestyle allowed me to accept the pain that judging another for their choices could bring.

I have no desire to go into a full-blown conversation about my decision to convert my eating habits to a plant-based diet. I have zero desire to debate with anyone on why not eating meat is boring or time-consuming. I couldn’t care less about convincing others to do the same when the discussion is really just an argumentative platform for why any other of my vices is just as bad. Folks will really go to great lengths to defend themselves, won’t they?

It’s beyond annoying.

If someone asks, then I’ll disclose. My reason for doing so has a spiritual basis. After learning about the torture methods that meat is produced under and the harsh conditions our demand for their flesh has created for their lives, I couldn’t in my good conscience be ok with it. But I’m not judging you if you don’t. In the words of Jay-Z, “What you eat don’t make me shit.”

In all fairness, I do care about awareness. I don’t mind sharing – if my opinion is asked – but I don’t offer it voluntarily. At this very moment, my barber is reading The Happy Vegan, by Russell Simmons, which I let him borrow at his request. When the topic of food came up, breakfast specifically, he asked if I liked eggs because a spot he goes to every morning has “the best eggs,” to which I simply replied, “Oh, ok. Nah, I don’t eat eggs.” He followed up with “Oh! You don’t eat meat at all?” and when I answered no he wanted to know more.

I keep my explanations very brief. I haven’t been a vegan for long, number one, and no one wants a lecture on diet when chopping up casual conversation (and besides, the introvert in me gets extremely drained by small talk). I prefer to direct people toward the truth and let them take their own action.

At the end of the day, my decision is really more about awareness.

And when you know better, you should do better. Period.

To me, being a vegan is about compassion. And that’s not to say that meat-eaters are not compassionate. I’ll be hitting a year on my official vegan journey next month, which wasn’t easy. At first, I did it because the guy I was dating wanted to. And it was for the wrong reason so it didn’t stick. When we broke up I ran to a basket of lemon pepper wings and fried fish!

As I learned about the meat-processing industry, how our Earth is changing rapidly because of our over-consumption of and demand for meat, and the treatment of animals I was overwhelmed with sadness and guilt. No, I can’t save the ribeye that’s already packaged, or return the milk to the mother of someone’s now burger, but I could control my own carbon print in this world.

We all start somewhere. And sometimes we have setbacks. What’s important is your why, and remembering that everyone has their own truth.

I’ve come a long way from the woman I was ten years ago, and I’m sure the next ten years I’ll be able to say the same thing. But the only person we are required to hold accountable is ourself.

Judgment is neither your job nor your responsibility. This world would be such a better place if everyone was more gentle with one another. I’m an avid supporter of “Do you!” provided such doing doesn’t harm you or others. And you’re welcome to take that however it best pleases your palate.

Be easy.

Cleanse and Detox time!

The last month has been nonstop appreciation for all I’ve accomplished over the past 4 years. Finishing 2 Master’s degrees is a big deal, so it was fitting that I celebrate. And boy did I celebrate! It was basically one party after another. Then, I went on vacation and lived it up some more. I got out of my eat-right routine, was drinking more than usual, sleeping less, and the only sweat I burned was while dancing!

Then, last week I was going to meet some friends at a festival, but was feeling sluggish all day. After finally convincing myself to get dressed and get out the house (about 3 in the afternoon), it felt like more of a chore than a fun Saturday. I walked around the festival streets for a moment, but couldn’t decide on anything to eat or drink – nothing was appetizing. I eventually settled on a local bar and had a veggie sandwich without the cheese, two glasses of water and a glass of cranberry juice. Any other time I’d have ordered my favorite high-gravity, because this spot has an awesome selection of beers. But, I sat at the bar, not wanting to link with friends because I felt awful, but wasn’t sure why. For days I’d been telling my friends “I just don’t feel right.” Then a commercial came on for tequila. There was a table full of shots, and at that very moment I wanted to url. I asked for the check. Ordered my Lyft, and made a resolve I was going on a cleanse. I needed to flush out everything or I wouldn’t get back to myself.

I’ve done cleanses before, usually more regularly, but in the past two years I hadn’t really needed to because my diet and drinking choices didn’t call for it – I’d been much more health-conscious and in-tune with my body than before when I’d eat and drink recklessly. I remember (after this past month) how horrible that lifestyle makes me feel. My body feels heavy and drained and weak. My mind is distracted with clutter and doubt and confusion. My motivation is gone; my spirit is negative. We really are what we eat and drink. So, if you consume crap but don’t feel like crap, in my eyes you’re like a super-mortal.

Typically, the quarterly cleanses I’d do would be from 3-5 days, depending on what I need. I honestly can’t tell you what you need – you have to listen to your body. I decided this one would be 6 days. Sure, I could go 7; technically I am if you count the no-alcohol. I’m on day 6 now and I feel absolutely amazing.

Ok. So here’s my ritual.

Mind you, I am not a nutritionist. I also cannot claim this process as my own. Years ago, one of my sista-mommas sent me a very detailed message via FB about her process. So this is my adopted version of it.

I decided to do the 2-day Arden’s Garden detox as my base. It’s a mixture of grapefruit juice, orange juice, and lemon. So, I preface this to say if you hate the taste of grapefruit juice you should probably choose a different detox. The retail price is about $34 for the 2 gallons. You drink 1 gallon per day, as much distilled water as possible, and no food.

I decided on this particular cleanse because I know it’s doable, it’s not harsh, it’s budget-friendly, and I know it works. Sure, the label mentions you will lose weight, but I think this is an automatic effect to drinking only juice for two days – you’re going to urine out some of your weight. I wouldn’t recommend doing this to lose weight, though. So be cognizant of your goals.

I needed a serious cleanse though. Just 2 days was not going to cut it. I am prone to low-sugar headaches, however, so in the past when I’ve tried to do longer juice-only detoxes I was miserable. And I just don’t agree that hurting yourself and benefiting yourself should go hand-in-hand. 2 days on juice-only, my body could take. More than that and my brain is likely to send a trigger “This girl is trying to starve us” and send out the headache patrol. And my headaches are relentless. I can’t suffer through those willingly.

How I Prep

I don’t think you should just jump right into the 2-day cleanse if you want the best results. Unless you’re already on a no-alcohol, plant-based, low-sugar/carb diet, you’ll want to ease yourself into it. Trust me! Even if you aren’t prone to headaches you will be if you just go cold-turkey.

Two days before (or 3 if you really need it, like I did!), and 2 days after are what I call the preparation and re-acclamation phases, respectively. They’re basically there as a buffer to prepare your body for what’s coming, then when it’s over re-adjust your body without jumping in head first. Here is my sequence:

  • 2 days prior: Raw fruits/veggies only. No dairy or processed foods. Nuts OK, but should be limited. Reduce salt and sugar – none, if possible. Water, water, water. Tea is ok – plain only. Even natural sweeteners, avoid those too. Avoid caffeine.
  • 1 day prior: Juice day. Juice veggies and fruits. Smoothies with no added sugars or flavorings. No caffeine boosters. Water like crazy. The more liquids the better. Tea is ok, but limit to 2 cups for the entire day; decaf only.
  • Night-before: Smooth Move (it’s a Peppermint flavored tea, so it’s easy to drink). It’s best to drink this right before bedtime.
  • Morning of: Sea salt flush (recipe below)
  • Day of: To get that salt water taste out your mouth, go ahead and have a half-cup of water with lemon then your first 8 ounces of the detox juice.
  • Day 2 detox juice
  • 1 day after: Juice day. A repeat of the day prior, but light food ok in the evening. Raw-only if possible.
  • 2 days after: Time to eat again. But be easy. Your body just flushed; don’t blow its hard work. Cooked food ok. Try to limit the intake of oils – you might feel like crap!

I started Day 1 on Sunday – the easy, breezy, no-fuss day. I was still in a funk and feeling like there was no way I could get anything to stay down anyway, so not eating wasn’t a challenge for me. All I had the whole day was water and peppermint tea. The peppermint tea eased my nausea. I attempted to eat some bread that night but it just felt like I was chewing a cotton ball. I’m telling you, I was messed up y’all!

Day 2, Monday I still felt sluggish but not heavy. I think it helped that I was completely empty. I picked up an Everything juice from a local spot downtown – Buenos Dias Cafe. It includes beets, carrots, mango, banana, apple, ginger… I mean I literally cannot list everything but if it’s a fruit or vegetable it’s probably in there, and it tastes so dern good! No juice or dairy added. I had a cup of detox tea (pictured) and stored the juice to have about noon. I drank 2 cups of the detox tea in the morning, then had the juice about noon, followed by more water and tea in the afternoon. My body finally wanted something to eat so I grabbed an apple, tangerine, watermelon, carrots and fresh almonds from the produce store next door, which hit the spot. That evening I had more detox tea, some guacamole on celery – a first; not my favorite. I don’t recommend. But it was something. Screenshot_2017-05-26-12-32-09-1 (1)

Day 3 was very much like Monday, except I had no food. I also made sure not to exert too much of my energy. I knew I needed to keep my stress level down if I didn’t want to find myself with a headache. It went well. More detox tea and water. I picked up another Everything juice, but it seems my body was already prepping for the cleanse. I didn’t want much. My energy level was great. I started to actually feel like a person again. That evening I picked up my 2 gallons of the detox juice from Arden’s Garden. That night, before bed, I had a cup of Smooth Move and was in bed by 9.

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Day 4, I documented everything that morning. It started with a trip to the bathroom and a sea salt flush. I highly recommend doing the flush, if nothing else. My friend likened doing a detox without doing a flush to mopping without sweeping – you gotta get all that gook out first! Smooth Move is a tasty tea that works overnight. You’ll have a great bowel movement first thing in the morning. Then the sea salt flush helps clean out the colon. If you’ve ever done a colon hydrotherapy session, it’s similar to that process. Some do a flush every morning of their detox; it’s up to you. Because I clean my system by prepping 2-3 days in advance I don’t feel the need to. But if you have a diet heavy in salt, meat (especially red meat), or sugar, you might want to flush more than once.  I’d been getting messages from friends about my detox and felt it would be a perfect place to start. Here’s my FB post from that morning:

4:13 Bowel movement. That Smooth Move was Workin through the night!
4:45 Realize I won’t go back to sleep. Time to flush
5:27 Sea salt flush mixture ready – time to drink. Goal: drink all by 5:33
5:35 back in bed, laying on side. Massaging tummy. Gurgling sounds start
6:04 time to release! Mostly liquid
6:12 gonna close my eyes. Alarm set for 20 minutes
6:20 still no sleep. Tummy gurgling a little. Switch to lying on my tummy – that feels great
6:35 No sleep. Just meditative rest lol
6:41 Release two. Mainly liquid. Easy breezy.
6:50 light yoga flow
7:12 take Champ out. It’s raining so he doesn’t want to walk.
7:22 shower and dress for work. And my tummy feels great
7:45 I’m dressed. Time for a nap. Because I’m not a robot
8:23 I pop up and see the time. Crap! I overslept. Because I’m human. But energy-wise I feel incredible. That nap was just what I needed!
8:25 I popped up too soon. A lil dizzy. Last release. Barely nothing – All clear!
8:42 Walk into work. Ah, Tuesday. Let’s do some thangs, yea?

I think that pretty much sums up that first day. A quick note, though, I think I should mention. This does look like a jam-packed morning, and I guess it was pretty eventful. Prepare your mind to prepare your body. Give yourself some time. Allow yourself a few hours before leaving for work to complete this process, unless you can do it on the weekend. Some folks say they can’t do it in the morning because they can’t get up. I think sacrificing one day of rising early for your body is a good reason to wake up, but that’s me… do what makes it possible for You. But the last thing you want is to be sitting in traffic and have your colon tapping on your insides that it’s time to release again. Just my assumption.

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I packed my bag with the jug, grabbed my glass container and a straw (because I prefer to sip it from a straw) and went on with the day. I would encourage you to drink every hour at the same time. I didn’t do this on the first day, which means I had a lot of juice left over in the evening. Drinking that much before bed is not a good idea if you want to sleep well. I was pottying all through the night until about 2, because I was adamant about finishing the juice. Day 2 went much better. I spread it out, and decided I’d have juice on the :30 of every hour, which, incidentally, really helped the day go by pretty quickly! Before I knew it, it was 3:30 and time to drink again.

The evening of the 2nd day of the juice detox is usually the hardest for me because I’ve made it through the hardest part of the cleanse, but I’m anticipating eating again. I needed to meal prep and the biggest challenge was to not taste the food as I prepped. I decided the next day could be a half-juice/half-raw day. Again, listen to your body. I’d been off “real food” since Sunday, so my body was sending me hints it was OK with intaking solid food again. That’s how I knew the cleanse worked!

The two days following have been great. I had some guacamole with unsalted chips last night, and another cup of peppermint tea. Yesterday I made a delicious acai bowl  with hemp hearts, sliced banana and strawberries, and coconut flakes; then a black bean, avocado and mango salad for lunch. This morning I made a smoothie with protein powder, juice, and bananas. I could jump into something heavier now so last night I whipped up a chickpea and potato curry stew to top over long-grain brown rice that I’ll have for lunch. I’m still drinking hella water, but that’s typical for me.

Before I close I’d like to also mention my activity during the fast/detox/cleanse. This, in addition to a physical transformation, takes on a spiritual purpose for me as well. I generally don’t go out or socialize much during this time. Not only because it’s annoying to carry my juice everywhere and have to urinate like clockwork, but it’s a great time to just be still and be quiet. While my body’s working on repairing, I’m giving it proper rest and peace. If you can afford me-time, I suggest it. If there are others in your household, I’d encourage you to emphasize the importance of this cleanse for you and how for a few days you just need some ultra-me-time. I find meditation, prayer, yoga, and walking are awesome complements to this period. If you’re active, like me, you may need to cancel your gym or workout classes during this time. Conserve your energy. You are consuming only juice, by the way. Yes, it’s full of nutrients but it’s not necessarily a fuel-pumping mixture.

I’ve left the recipe to the sea salt flush below.

Let me know if you have any questions about anything above or left out.

Peace, y’all. Be kind to yourselves, and others.

Love.

Sea Salt Flush

1 liter (32 ounces) of warm water (salt will not dissolve properly if cold, but you don’t want it scalding)

2 teaspoons of sea salt (not iodized salt; pink Himalyan salt works and gray Celtic salt)

2 squeezes of fresh lemon (will help tone down the salt taste)

Place all ingredients in a large glass container with lid, and shake until contents are one. Drink the entire mixture; try to get it all down in 5 minutes. This process produces optimal results when done first thing in the morning, and on an empty stomach. Once you finish the water, lie down on your side for 30 minutes. Massage your sides – this helps to get everything moving, and is definitely more comfortable. Try if you can to allow the full 30 minutes before releasing, to give your body time to absorb the salt. If you go to the bathroom immediately, it’s only passed through your systems and won’t fully do its work. In about 30 minutes you’ll be good and ready to release!

Happy flushing!

Hold on… Be right back!

Hi, Everyone!

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything. The past month has been a whirlwind of final papers, studying, graduation, celebrating, decorating, and traveling. I think I’m finally coming up to rest. Actually, I did a lot of that on my vacation. I think one day I slept most of it all the way through! I know, I know, who wants to sleep on vacation? Me! Especially when the sleep includes a top floor balcony with rushing winds from the ocean, light sounds of a bustling Waikiki street below, and a full tummy of healthy goodness! (the featured photo is my view from the condo – Perfection right? Just wait until I share the moon shot)

When most folks think of vacation they imagine taking full advantage of the entire trip, not missing a beat – running all day and partying all night. Well. I’m here to tell you that kind of vacation is exhausting and far behind me. Vacation also means relaxation. Besides, a trip like that sounds to me like you’ll need a vacation from vacation when you return home.

I did have a great time though – I wasn’t asleep the entire time! I’ll post a full blog, including pictures and places I checked out soon. Perhaps after I pack… I do need to do laundry. Oy. The best part about vacation… is… not unpacking! I did post a few pics on my Instagram, but I was really enjoying myself too much I unplugged for a bit. That’s allowed every now and then right? I’ll have to check my social media rulebook and get back to you.

I just wanted to pop in and make sure you’re still there 😊

Until next time! See you soon!

Mountain Getaway

Who says a vacation has to be expensive, or far? Not me. In fact, I think inexpensive vacations are the best – easier on the wallet and the conscience.

This year for my birthday I decided to do something different. I knew I wanted a cabin experience in the mountains because I was in serious need of some quiet. After about a 15 minute search on Google that led me to a Living Social deal for a 3-night stay at Paradise Hills Resort in Blairsville, GA I was pretty much sold.

My birthday fell on a Monday, and I’d only taken off work Monday and Tuesday, but the deal was valid for stays Sunday through Thursday only. After speaking with Matthew and asking several questions comparing their current Girlfriend Getaway special with the Living Social deal, I decided the Living Social deal was actually perfect. I would check out Tuesday, but because checkout is at 11, having the third “night” meant we could roll out of bed whenever we wanted to and take our time getting back on the road. Matthew, by the way, was an exceptionally pleasant and patient employee. I probably called three times to ask multiple questions before actually booking, and each time was like the first. I’m a sucker for customer service. It can make or break my decision to do many things. After my experience with Matthew on the phone, he was the primary reason I didn’t want to book a stay anywhere else.

But what I’d found after searching their “Events” calendar was I was going to be coming in town for a weekend wine tour – it was Perfect! I hadn’t even heard about the Georgia Wine Highway before, but I had a feeling mountains, cabin seclusion, and wine tastings was going to be the perfect combination.

What I learned, more so from my wine talks with the local winemakers on our tour, was for some time now (no one seemed to know definitively how long this has been going for – some say about 5 years; others mentioned this could be the 7th year) the Winegrowers Association of Georgia have teamed up with winemakers in north Georgia in several cities to create a wine-highway-tour. For $40 per person you get to visit 20 wineries to sample their wine (and of course purchase the ones you fell in love with). Each winery has 4-6 wine options you can taste, which they follow up with by giving you a brief history of the selection and suggested food pairings.highway

I had such a great time!!!

We packed up the dog, grabbed some groceries from the store, and took a short little drive (about an hour and 45 minutes) up to the north Georgia mountains.

I was getting more and more antsy as we neared our resort. The winding roads of Blood Mountain are not for the novice driver. It had started drizzling a bit as we got closer, which began to shift my mood. I’m a sunshine lover. I know rain serves its purpose too, but I didn’t want that while I was driving.

When we turned into Paradis Hills resort, I couldn’t help but feel calmer. The little town Blairsville was quiet, lush with trees, and inviting. Paradise Hills fit in nicely.

When we entered, we were greeted by… guess who! Matthew! I was so happy to meet him in person. Any anxiety I’d felt instantly melted away. Especially when we purchased our wine passports! passports

You can hit the highway in any way you prefer, but to maximize time and also not get too far so we could check-in when the cabin was ready we decided to head north, to Crane Creek Vineyards. crane creek

Champ had been in the car for the majority of the time (he’d gotten out to potty and stretch his legs during our stops to the store and for gas), so what I loved about Crane Creek is the land was huge and they had a beautiful black lab who greeted you on the porch. They said Champ could run around – leash free, which just made my day. We took our bottle of purchased wine to their dock and just let nature do its work. I was so at peace. My soul was happy. “This trip is going to be perfect,” I remember saying. And it was.dockdock2

After hopping over to Young Harris – the college town – we were back off to Blairsville.

Back at Paradise Hills we chatted it up with Amy – our cool, friendly wine professional, while we waited to get our check-in details.

We were assigned to Bear’s Paw, a one-bedroom cabin just up the hill from the main building. Bear’s Paw comes with a covered porch, full kitchenette, fireplace, bathroom with jet tub, separate bathroom with the toilet, and a loft-style setup that leads to the bed. The wine and woodsy decor were artfully constructed. The cabin was spacious and efficient. I walked around beaming. So much so I forgot to take pictures! (I’m new at this blog-your-life thing. I’ll do better. Promise!)

The view from our cabin of the mountains was breathtaking. Amazing how much peace that quiet, simplicity, and air bring you. lookout

I didn’t want to leave. We’d do more wine highway the next day. I whipped up some vegan-friendly food, and had, of course, more wine. The kitchen had everything I needed. I’m glad I decided to bring my favorite, no-fail spices: garlic powder, chilli pepper flakes, Himalayan salt, pepper, smoked chipotle, oregano and olive oil. It also helped that we grabbed my savory cooking staples – onion, bell pepper, and a garlic bundle. So I knew we’d be good, food-wise. We also, fortunately, grabbed some snack foods, that I typically don’t do, but with wine you must be sure to eat and stay hydrated, so some bottled water and pretzels came in handy many times.

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The next day, Monday, was my birthday. I think it’s safe to say I was tipsy the entire time!  We ran into some fellow wine highwayers who were wearing these cool wine glass holders around their necks and thought “How cool!” I mean, who wants to bother with remembering to hold their wine glass?

I thoroughly enjoyed that day! And the best part about it being your birthday is folks are always so generous and happy to please on your special day. I received a couple extra pours from several places – happy times!

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You don’t have to purchase the wine you taste, but after several tastings you’re bound to fall in love with at least one. No really! Bottles ranged in price, depending on the winery. The least expensive bottle I recall trying was somewhere in Cleveland, I believe at Habersham, at about $14 for their muscadine wine – which was insanely sweet! If you don’t like sweet wine, you probably won’t like it. I was open to trying everything! The most expensive wine was definitely at Yonah’s Mountain. Yonah’s property was nothing short of beautiful. The young lady who assisted us there said they often have weddings booked out for months, and I could see why! The land was enormous, but exqusitely desinged. Their most expensive wine I tasted was priced at about $65.

The next day we visited the lake for some fishing, had more wine, and just took in the sights. The rain from the night before – which was probably the most theraputic storm I’ve ever had in my life – made the ground very wet, but the roads were clear since everyone was at work.lake

I can’t express how amazing the trip was. I wish I’d documented more. But I was too busy taking it all in and enjoying. For just under $350 (excluding wine purchases), this past weekend getaway was just what I needed to reset. If you’re local to Atlanta and love wine

If you’re local to Atlanta and love wine, you should check out the wine highway week. It occurs once a year, and features all the wineries and their unique product. pour wine

If you’re local to Atlanta or it’s surrounding area, I encourage you to explore the mountains around you. You’d be surprised how calm and satisfied you feel.

We saved a lot of money by buying groceries and cooking on-sight. I’d recommend doing that so you can really cut down on driving around those winding roads after dark. Since going vegan I’m more a fan of eating home-cooked meals anyway. It was darn near unheard of to not eat meat up there in the mountains!

If you are looking for a cabin experience, I highly recommend Paradise Hills. Their staff are friendly, professional, and resourceful. The property is wholly scenic and sufficient. You can feel the effort of their passion in every detail. Our cabin did not include a hot tub, but there are some that do. They also offer larger cabins for biggere groups. The cabins are pet-friendly – a huge sell for me – and rent pet crates for a flat fee of $10 if you do not have your own.

Overall, the experience was incredible. The Wine Highway Week tour was a pleasant, opportune surprise. I’m sure I would have enjoyed the getaway without it, but, let’s face it, nonstop wine in any situation makes it a winner!

Just some more pics we snapped. Like I said, I’ve got some practicing to do with capturing moments!

Cheers to 32! Thanks for reading!

Ten-Minute Tacos

I’m in grad school. I think I’ve established that with you all already. But what that means, if you haven’t done it before, can seem like “Oh, so you read every now and then,” right?

Skip down to if you’re just here for the tacos

Let me tell you what my day looked like today: Alarm goes off at 6. I always turn it off instead of pressing snooze and let my body decide if it needs more rest or if we can jump into the day. I dozed back off and woke up at 6:15 – time to get up. That means I got all my rest (I’ve been waking up this way about a year now, and it really eases the morning tension I see so many folks walk around with. I do, I should also mention, aim to get to bed before 11; actually, 11 is pushing it way “late” for me, so the 6 a.m. isn’t such an issue. I admire the 4 a.m.ers that talk about how much they can get accomplished that early. Nah. I’m good. 6 works for me haha!) so I stretch in the bed before my feet hit the floor, then after brushing teeth and washing face I set out for a jog. The air was a little crispy this morning, so that served as my morning coffee – because I don’t drink coffee. I did 25 minutes in a walk/job mix. When I get home I take Champ out for his walk, because dogs need exercise too (but I can’t get my heart rate up with him stopping at every bush and hydrant). When we get back, Champ eats and I set out to transform myself into a working adult – shower, lotion, dress, mascara, you know, nothing fancy. Typical. I whip up my morning smoothie. Today was 2 scoops of almond protein powder, 8 ounces of almond milk, a tablespoon of chia seeds, half a banana and a dash of cinnamon. I may have thrown 2 or 3 ice cubes in there since warm smoothies make me want to url. I pack my lunch and head off to work. The drive in this morning wasn’t bad. When I left my place the car clock read 8:11; I parked at 8:28. Then catch up on emails, break for a little Facebook interaction, water, tea, emails, reports, audits, answer questions, voicemail catch-up, water, water, socialize with colleagues, water, emails, lunch, water, audit review, more socializing, more emails, meeting with faculty, answer questions, before I know it, it’s 5:15. I’m home by 5:40ish, walk Champ. It’s Wednesday night, which means I have class, back up at the university I’d just left, at 7:15. I’m so hungry I could eat a baby. Thanks to all the water I had countless bathroom visits, and I’m on E. Insert: ten-minute tacos! I whipped up those bad boys, changed my clothes and dashed out the door a little past 7. Ugh. Always running late for this class! Class is over at 8:30. Then I’m off to Vertical Joe’s to take a 9 p.m. cardio class, “ATL Bounce,” which uses the new trendy kangoo jump boots. Except, I lied. Tonight I didn’t make it to Bounce. I came straight home. And I’m drinking a glass of wine. Whatever Don’t judge me! But usually, yes, that’s what I do. I actually needed to prepare lunch for tomorrow and getting home at 10:30 to do that didn’t feel like a good idea. And since I’m trying to limit how much I eat out, missing Bounce for once wasn’t going to break me.

Ok. The tacos. When I tell you they’re easy, listen. I mean, you just don’t get easier than this.

What helped was I had a container of pre-cooked quinoa in the fridge. Quinoa is an excellent source of fiber and protein. Get you some! I make a big batch of it, with no seasonings so it’s versatile, throw some in an airtight container for the fridge then freeze the rest. That’s really the only part you have to prep with these things.

The rest is cutting up produce. The sauteed kale and spinach was in a pack I got from a foodstand next to my job. But you can use whatever greens you have on hand. If it’s just kale, or only spinach, or even mustard greens, I mean really it can be whatever. But try to incorporate some greens in every meal. Your body will thank you.

After chopping up everything, while the greens were sauteeing I just threw everything into a taco. When I took the greens off heat, that’s when I added the cooked quinoa. There’s no reason to recook it. What I love about quinoa is it adapts to whatever you flavor it with. Since the greens had flavor, I tossed the quinoa around in the greens so the grains could soak up all the juices – Voila!

What I love about these tacos is there is plenty of superfood goodness to keep you fueled and full. The quinoa and avocado make it filling; the sauteed greens get you your fiber, and the fresh tomatoes and mango were a pleasant delight and contrast with the greens. Yum! And fast.

No lie. I turned on the eye on the stove at 6:31; I was eating by 6:42 – that includes adding it to the plate.

Of course, as far as flavor goes, I didn’t have much time so I kept it basic. But that doesn’t mean they were bland! I’m a garlic lover. For me, onions and garlic are the staple to any savory meal. You just can’t go wrong with them. It was a no-brainer for me. Had I more time, I would have added some bell pepper, maybe squash and zucchini mix, or asparagus. Really, any greens you’d like to add you can plop in those tacos! And for seasonings, I like to play with mixes. I have a smoked chipotle rub that probably would’ve set those tacos off! It really depends on what kind of flavor you’re going for, but in tacos you usually can’t go wrong with chilli powder, salt and pepper, and a topping of fresh cilantro.

So, here you go! Enjoy!

Ten-minute Tacos

1 cup cooked quinoa

2 whole wheat tortillas

2 handfuls of spinach/kale mix (or preferred greens)

1 T olive oil

1/4 C yellow onion

2 garlic cloves

1 Roma tomato

1 avocado

1/2 mango

Dash of salt and pepper to taste

In a medium skillet set to medium heat and add your olive oil. Add the onion and garlic cloves until the onions are transparent. Layer the kale/spinach mix on top of the onion garlic mix and stir to combine. Lower heat slightly so your greens don’t scorch. You want them soft but not wilted – the more you cook, the more nutrients you lose!

While the greens are cooking dice your Roma tomato, avocado, and mango into pieces.

When greens are ready (about 2-3 minutes), remove from heat and toss in the quinoa and stir until it combines with the juices from the green mixture.

Heat the wheat tortillas on one side to make the torillas soft and bendy (about 30 seconds on medium heat – any longer and you’re going to have chips!) Then load those babies up! Greens/quinoa on first, then avocado, tomatoes, and mango – Serve!

You will notice I did not add seasonings to this recipe. You may add salt and pepper to taste (I recommend sprinkling a tiny bit to the greens once you remove them from heat), but I was actually content with the natural flavors not to have to do this.

You will also likely enjoy some salsa on the side. I downed these boys right before class so I didn’t have time for another plate, but I looooove salsa. And guacamole! YES! But, these are ten-minute tacos for a reason!

That’s all folks.

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So, here it is 10 o’clock and it’s time to go to bed. Except my internet won’t let me be great because I’ve been trying to send a picture of these tacos from my phone to this laptop for.. oh, about 30 minutes now. Guess who won’t be getting out the bed at 6:15 tomorrow morning!

If you try these out, I’d love to hear how they went for ya. What did you like, what did you do differently, what did you omit/add? Thanks for checking in!