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.

Get your guacamole, hot chocolate and bear beanies at the Pinecrest Farmers Market

For months, my mom kept bragging about the tasty treats she would collect every Sunday morning at the Pinecrest Farmers Market in my hometown of Miami, FL. Finally, over winter break, I was able to join her on one of these early morning excursions to the market at the newly renovated Pinecrest Gardens.

This place has everything you’d expect at a farmers market in a surprisingly small collection of vendors. I headed directly to Anita’s Guacamole stand, which I highly recommend. The fresh avocado tasted like it had just been plucked from the tree. Conveniently, the stand sat next to a Colombian pastry vendor who served me a fabulous empanada – two of my favorite treats within 5 feet of each other? Heaven.

The best find came when we stumbled upon this eccentric woman’s tent filled with felt and knit trinkets. She had rows of creature-inspired beanies, baby elf shoes, felt flowers, coin purses – you name it.

My sister and I fell smitten with the beanies. We tried on bunnies, frogs and pink pigs before Sarah settled on a lion hat and I opted for a golden bear beanie. My selection was a perfect fit for my lifestyle; the heavily padded ‘nose’ that sits directly on my forehead acts as the perfect little helmet for when I’m climbing.

If you are in the South Miami area on a Sunday afternoon, wake up a little early and check out this fabulous market held on the former grounds of Parrot Jungle, which is now known as Pinecrest Gardens. It isn’t huge, but it has everything you need – and a few treats you might not have expected. They had gourmet hot cocoa, eco-friendly soap bars, a wide selection of exotic plants, adorable cupcakes and more. Absolutely worth waking up before noon for.

Yes, that is a BACON-COVERED TURKEY.

Folks, there are two things that I truly love in life: feasting and bacon. I headed to the Boue family Thanksgiving dinner celebration anticipating a rowdy afternoon of Cuban ruckus, but what I ended up with was the most phenomenal turkey dinner I have ever tasted. Aside from the fact that Tia Mirti managed to burn my abuela’s precious black beans, our dinner was perfect. I almost had a heart attack when the glorious turkey was summoned from the oven – this enormous hunk of bird was smothered in crispy slices of thick bacon.

Yes, my friends - that is indeed a bacon encrusted turkey. Needless to say, I was overjoyed.

It may not be the most photogenic turkey, but let me tell you – that sucker was amazing. The bacon on the top was cooked to perfection, and the turkey seemed to absorb the juicy goodness of the pork. While I will continue to rave about this turkey for days to come, the true star of our thanksgiving feast was the avocado salad made with fresh picks from our backyard tree. There are few things more satisfying than eating fruit you’ve grown and plucked from your own tree.

My family's freshly made avocado salad, topped with chopped onions, olive oil and salt.

Aside from stuffing myself with good eats, I had a great day of family and friends. The afternoon began with a gathering of my Cuban relatives, which is always guaranteed to turn into a shenanigan. Between my cousin asking inappropriate questions and our youngest cousins making a giant mess with chocolate cupcakes, it was definitely a Thanksgiving to remember. After letting my belly settle down, I stopped by my second family’s house to surprise the Harringtons. I have never been greeted with such warmth and adoration in my life, Kurt and Dena are truly second parents to me.

I ended the evening at my friend Xue’s swanky new digs in downtown Miami on Biscayne Boulevard. As we passed a bottle of red wine around our cozy circle of comrades, Xue’s girlfriend and I demanded that everyone give thanks. My companions gave thanks for their health, their income, our friendship, families and feasting. I declared my gratitude for the following: the beautiful group of people that were surrounding me, my supportive family, avocados, the cityscape of Miami, nature and my love, Niko. What are you thankful for?

Ode to Rusty

With Niko heavy-bodied and snuggled next to me last night, I was left alone with my thoughts as I waited for the clicking of his ceiling fan to lull me to sleep. As I lay under the chilly artificial wind, the most random memory surfaced: I remembered the first time that we brought Rusty home from the shelter, and watched him cower under our kitchen counter.

While finding a puppy was a group effort among the Boué women, I was the one to stake a claim on the adorable greyhound-pointer mutt wagging his tongue out from the spokes of his puppy prison. His name was ‘Snickerdoodle’, and he had some sort of skin rash that prevented us from bringing him home for almost an entire month. We visited him frequently, and crowds would always gather around this gorgeous spotted pup.

“Sorry, he’s already been adopted,” I’d always smirk.

We finally brought him home on a blistering summer day. Snickerdoodle was stowed away in the stale plastic carrier that had once housed our long-lost cat Rufus. The crate was placed beneath the nook of our kitchen counter, and the door gently opened to invite the shy puppy out to explore his new home. It took hours. He would nudge his floppy ears out, poke out a single paw, tremble, then retreat back to the shadows of his tiny enclosure. We waited patiently and whispered friendly coaxes urging comfort and trust.

Eventually, he must have come out. We settled on the name ‘Rusty’ to match his copper-colored spots that dotted the bottoms of his legs and shimmied up his back. Then he started growing, and I can’t even tell you how he went from a scrawny little mutt to a broad greyhound descendant with a streamlined body and plate-sized paws. I miss that gentle beast like he’s my own brother – because he really is. He beams with excitement whenever I come home, and cries at the sight of me packing luggage in my room. He’s the greatest dog that’s ever lived.

Miami Photos

I apologize for my lack of updates lately – it has been a whirlwind the last few days with the Tallahassee Rock Gym’s 15th Anniversary and preparing for our trip. My To-Do list is longer than ever before, and we’ll be hitting the road tomorrow at noon, so I need to get crackin’, but I wanted to give you guys something to tide you over until I start posting updates from my travels across America.

Here are some fun shots I took at home in Miami, with my Dad’s beautiful Nikon SLR.

Many more shots after the jump!

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