On spuds in the dirt, lemons from life, and rediscovering everything you thought you knew.

Well, a lot has changed since my last update on June 17, 2011, and I feel like I owe my readers an explanation before I dive back into the world of travel, photography, and adventure. I’d offer a choice between the long story or the short story, but the long version could fill a book. Here’s the spark notes version:

The last we met, I was living in Tallahassee, freshly graduated and itching to travel with my wonderful beau, Niko. The plan was to stick around Florida until he also graduated and could join me on worldly adventures. I had two jobs (amongst a million side projects), too many options, and about 2,000 photos that needed editing. We’ll use this as the before shot:

Cue the oohs and aws – aren’t we adorable? Ready for the after shot? Both were taken during the same day on my road trip in Death Valley National Park, but I think they provide a pretty damn accurate visual contrast to assist in describing the huge changes in my life. Here’s the after:

So here I am. Suddenly standing very alone in a very big sea of nothing. After almost two years of teamwork, and the most amazing trip of my life, Niko ended our relationship with no warning and a very vague explanation. With no clue and no plan, I packed up as much junk from my Tallahassee condo as I could stuff in my little Scion, and this lady promptly sped 7 hours back home to Miami.

I left and lost everything that was real to me. I scribbled ‘I love you TRG, always’ on my locker at the rock gym, grabbed my climbing shoes and filled up a mason jar with that dirty gym rubber so I could keep it close forever. I said a few goodbyes (and still owe most of you a proper one, I’m sorry!), and now it’s time for a new plan.

So here I am. The boxes and bags that cluttered my room in Miami were overwhelming, so I ditched my hometown to spend 4th of July weekend in Key West with my two closest lady friends. With a little help from tequila, fresh salty air, and Marisa’s no-nonsense attitude, I put on my big girl panties and am ready for a new plan.

So here it is: I put in my two weeks notice at my Tallahassee job, decided to purge myself of everything I left up in my condo (anyone need some furniture?), and I started dreaming of my next big adventure. I left my comfortable recluse shell, and have begun exploring everything and everyone in Miami. I’m mapping out an autumn trip to North Carolina, New York, and the rest of the eastern coast up to Maine.

I’m still trying to find peace without Niko, but eventually I’ll have to come to terms with the fact that we’re all just spuds in the dirt. I’m learning how to roll with the punches, and am enjoying suddenly not having a plan. I’m just going, and it’s been working out so far. I even had the pleasure of being approached by a fan during an open mic event – Lori, you really have no idea how much it meant to me for you to introduce yourself that night, you may have saved the fate of this blog.

Enough rambling. Ha, that was the short version too. Told ya the long one could fill a book. Folks, I am back. No more pity parties, no more sulking in bed – life is calling. I only have my job with LivingSocial now, and my unedited photo count is pushing past 5,000 images. I’m back on my grind, and vow to pleasure your eyes with plenty of photos and daily updates.

And while we’re at it: ADD ME ON TWITTER! @themorningfresh – I’m twitter-tarded, but why not? Keep calm, and carry on my friends.

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Oh, hey – I’M GRADUATING IN FOUR HOURS! Photos and live video galore.

Wow, how did that happen? Fast-forward through four years of Florida State University, and suddenly I have a cap and gown sitting in my room, waiting for my 7:30 graduation ceremony. I spent the morning as usual, munched on bacon and avocado sammies for lunch, and now just four hours away from graduating, I’m totally losing my mind.

My parents are opening up a bottle of prosecco, and while I celebrate, I’ll share a few of my favorite graduation photos that I have taken over the past week. For all my fans (haha) that couldn’t make it to the ceremony, you can watch the Florida State University Commencement Ceremony online! Anyways, enjoy.

Thank you for all the kind words, letters, comments and love. The biggest thank you as I graduate belongs to my parents, the most amazing people on this planet. Without them, I would be no where. I am so blessed. Next time you see me, I’ll have a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing, baby!

Congratulations to all my fellow graduates, and to the class of 2011. After four years of all-nighters at All Saints, chugging watery beer at The Strip, and having to be on time to class even after the FSU Alert commands you to stay inside – WE DID IT!

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Top 6 Reasons I’m Moving to Chattanooga

I didn’t come up with this plan on my own – in fact, I probably never would have realized how perfect Chattanooga is without outside influence. However, as soon as someone asserted that Chattanooga would be an ideal city for me to live in, everything clicked. How had I not seen it before? Everything about the Tennessee city is screaming my name. The local food scene, the amazing aquarium, the buzzing downtown area, the proximity to sweet climbing – it all makes sense. So here you have it, the Top 6 Reasons Why I’m Moving to Chattanooga:

1. Downtown Chattanooga

If you have never visited Chattanooga, you are truly missing out on one of America’s best ‘little’ big cities. The downtown district offers the best of both small local community and big city conveniences. Locally-owned boutiques sit beside apparel chains, yet the city achieves a seemingly perfect balance between the two different worlds. Strolling through downtown is easy and charming. One of my favorite shops is the mismatched book store on Broad Street, which is overloaded with a cluttered haven of books, knitted goodies and all sorts of trinkets. Local art adorns countless street corners, and some buildings have been entirely dedicated to artistic causes. The community here is humble, friendly and not the least pretentious.

2. The Food

By now, you should have a fully realized understanding of my passion for eating. I may be startlingly thin, but don’t let my skinny appearance fool you – I am a lean, mean eating machine. Chattanooga boasts some of the best grub in the southeast. First, there’s the Chattanooga Cupcakes shop that serves outrageous bakery creations. Then we have local grubberies like Lupi’s Pizza, comparable to Tallahassee’s hometown favorite Momo’s. If you’re looking for something more upscale, the Terminal Brewery serves the most fantastic – and beer-friendly – food in town. I ate there for my 22nd birthday dinner with Niko, and we still talk about our delicious meal of juicy burgers, sweet potato fries, freshly-brewed beer and tantalizing hummus. I can only imagine the culinary spread that awaits throughout the rest of Chattanooga.

3. Climbing Accessibility

One of the biggest drawbacks of living in Florida is the distance between my house and a decent crag. It’s at least a 5 hour drive to the nearest climbing area, which is a big bummer for days when I wake up craving some real rock. Living in Chattanooga would put me within day-trip distance to excellent spots like Little Rock City and Rocktown. Imagine, waking up on a Saturday morning to perfect weather, and being able to load up the car with gear and simply head out to climb in the boulder fields for a day. After a long day of crushing rock, it’ll be a short drive to the comfort of home. Chattanooga claims to have a pretty sweet indoor gym as well.

4. Chattanooga’s Beautiful Outdoors

I will defend Tallahassee’s modest attempt at autumn until I become blue in the face, but there is no denying that Chattanooga offers a vastly greater fall experience. The trees blaze with fiery shades of orange, red and yellow. Aside from the stunning fall foliage, the Tennessee area is home to a host of different natural wonders. You’ve got the Tennessee River, rolling mountainsides, roads winding through steep forests – it’s all right in Chattanooga’s backyard.

5. The Farmer’s Market

The tomatoes I bought at the Chattanooga Farmer’s Market during my birthday weekend were undoubtedly the best tomatoes I have ever tasted. The little cherry variety came in lush golds, deep purplish greens and bold reds. The market is bursting with fresh, local produce. Everything from string beans and sweet potatoes to warm loaves of bread and bison jerky can be purchased for an extremely reasonable price. I would love to have a reliable venue to stock up on quality food. I could seriously eat those tomatoes forever.

6. The Tennessee Aquarium

Words cannot describe my love for the Tennessee Aquarium. Personally, I think the word ‘aquarium’ is inappropriate for the facility; it’s more like an underwater and above-ground wonderland. Not only do they have enormous tanks filled with marine life, this establishment houses a beautiful butterfly garden and a sweeping collection of amphibians and reptiles. I could get lost in there for hours. I recently spoke of a little fantasy where I became the night staff of the aquarium, and hung out in the jellyfish exhibit with all the lights off except the changing colored glow from the jelly tanks.

My list of reasons could continue for quite some time. There’s the ridiculously affordable mountainside housing, the friendly community of green-minded people that inhabit the city, the beauty of the Tennessee River, etc. I may be nestled in Tallahassee for another year or so, writing for an online travel guide company, but the promise of Chattanooga will keep me forging onwards.

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Image of the Day

This image doesn’t exactly have the most correct grammar or wording, but the general message struck me as being simply beautiful. Some fragments seem almost serenely dark, but I still found it to convey an uplifting perspective about the passage of time. I especially loved the reference to the seasons. Anyways, enjoy. More images like this – and even cheesier – at my WeHeartIt account.

Lots of good stuff comin’ up in the next few days!

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Life Lessons at The Red Caboose

Since the days of my disdain for older people, I have grown to have a deep appreciation for the insight and experiences that my parents, professors and older peers can provide. Yesterday, I was privileged to meet up with my human rights professor, Ray Ruggerio, for a long afternoon spent sharing stories while sipping on iced tea outside of StarSea’s famous red caboose in Railroad Square. There are only a small handful of teachers that have had as strong an impression as Ray has on my academic and personal outlooks. His tales of worldly travels, advice on academic pursuits and general outlook on life are truly inspiring.

I was blessed to be Ray’s student for three years, studying the realm of human rights. With his guidance, I produced my proudest work: a twenty page research piece entitled “Genocide of Homosexuals in the Holocaust.” I worked on that paper for more than two years, and with Ray’s help it evolved into a true example of my academic success.

Anyways, I wanted to share some of the greatest bits of wisdom that I gained during my three hour lunch with Ray. Some of these are directly from his words, and others are thoughts that I developed while basking in the Tallahassee breeze with my adored professor. (And one occasion that occurred on my way home.) These are words to live by, ideas to base your lifestyle around.

  • Measure your life in threes. This was the easily best bit of wisdom that Ray shared with me. Think about it, your life is hardly measurable on a yearly-basis, but counting by threes really makes sense. For instance, I am entering my next life cycle in a month when I turn 22. This clicked for me, because I am undoubtedly at a point in my life where I see major shifts in priorities, passions and opinions. Celebrate birthdays, but measure by threes.
  • Always give more than you receive. In fact, don’t think about receiving at all. If it happens, great – if it doesn’t, continue to give. The moment a relationship becomes about getting rather than giving, the entire dynamic has changed.
  • Write a letter or note by hand. Perhaps only once a week, but get back into the habit of handwritten communication. Send your parents a simple note of love, write a ‘Thank You’ to someone who helped you, contact a long lost friend across the country. Our cyber-driven generation has lost appreciate for the art of snail mail.
  • Escape your materialism. This is something that I have been working on for a while. I began college consumed by notions of money and status, and I think that everyone will come to realize that paper currency does nothing for your soul. Surrounding yourself with materialistic foolishness blinds you from the natural glory that surrounds you. Maybe it’s just me, but hiking to the top of a mountain and watching the birds swoop down the cliff-side is vastly more satisfying than working forty hours to be able to afford a new piece of expensive material. The people that truly matter in your life won’t care about what you’re wearing, what you’re driving or what kind of house you live in. The quality of your spirit is what will make the difference.
  • Wave to little kids. On my way home from lunch, I was driving through a rough side of Frenchtown. I saw a group of little children approaching the sidewalk I was about to pass, and watched as their mothers yelled at them to slow down. As I cautiously drove past, the children began to wave at me with expectant smiles. I waved in return, and their beaming grins were an indication of how much my simple gesture meant to their innocent souls. Take time to appreciate little ones, and their untainted love for the world around them. Kids have the best spirits, and we could all learn a thing or two from their simple outlook on life.
  • Unplug to tune in. I plan on discussing this at great length in an upcoming post, but the basic concept is as follows: take out your ear puds, unplug your iPod, and tune into your surroundings. I used to trek across campus blasting my music and ignoring everything around me. One day, I left my headphones at home and was unwillingly forced to walk to class without my iPod. During my short journey, I realized how much I was missing out on when I tuned out. Birds are chirping, sorority girls are telling laughable anecdotes, and people are paying attention to what’s going on around them. Try it, I promise you’ll be impressed by the difference it makes when you unplug and tune in to the greatness surrounding you.

That’s all I’ve got for now, but you can bet that I’ll be back with loads of positive life lessons and positive ways of approaching the world. I wish I could share everything that I took away from the time I spent with Ray, but there are some amounts of wisdom that cannot be translated into words, but can only realized through experience. I bid you adieu, my loyal readers. Until next time, keep spreading the good vibes.

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