5 Tips for Road Trip Savings

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I love a good road trip. Far, near, don’t care. Few hours down to the Keys, out into the Everglades, up to the lakes region or further north, across the desert, wherever. Road trips can get pricey, though, if you’re eating every meal in restaurants and sleeping in fancy hotels every night. Being all vegetarian and mostly vegan (I’d happily eat vegan every meal, but if I do eat out, I don’t get too picky about what’s in the bread or throw a tantrum if they forgot to leave off the cheese), sometimes getting a meal in a restaurant is a challenge anyway, so it’s easier to make my own.

So, here’s 5 ways to decrease your budget on road trips:

  1. Bring some or all of your own food and make use of rest stop picnic tables, public parks, ferries, beaches, campgrounds, or just your car for preparing and dining.

2013-07-03_13-36-37_557When we go places, I bring a soft-sided cooler we picked up in a Texas HEB store for $10. It’s got a divider in it so sealed stuff liked drinks can go underneath with the ice and supports the bag of vegan cheese or pack of Tofurkey or Just Mayo or whatever else you have in there. Personally, I can’t seem to go anywhere without salsa. I use it as a condiment, as an ingredient in rice dishes, as a snack. And sitting next to the salsa is usually at least one tub of hummus.

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Depending on the length of your trip, you may also want to bring along a campstove. We take a big propane Coleman stove on most trips because propane is cheap and easy to find. For trips where space is premium, we have a small butane cookstove. With a pack of aluminum cake pans, I can make rice dishes, heat up beans, saute veggies, cook potatoes, and more.

Our first stop on road trips with an air travel component is to unpack the cooler and find a grocery store to stock it.

The key to making road-side eating seem like a fun adventure instead of a poor chore is to use imagination and flair beyond PB&J (unless you really really like PB&J). For example, if you didn’t eat all your potatoes an veggie sausage the night before, you could heat up the leftovers with a can of baked beans while you smash an avocado and some salsa together as a chip dip. Plenty of food for lunch and leftover dip for later in the day when you’re still hours from your destination and you need a snack.

Overall, if your supplies and food are well-organized, you can pull into a nice rest area, heat up something, eat, wash up, and be back on the road faster than it would take to get lunch in a diner.

2. Go camping.

I love camping. I really do. I’m not saying that because I just like having a beautiful place to sleep for half or a third — even a fourth — the cost of a nearby hotel room. I genuinely like being out in nature. I like hearing bugs and birds and the wind blowing through the trees.

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I also like waking up to views I can’t get from a hotel (or can’t afford).

IMG_20131206_232744A good tent is a good tent. (Note: “good tent” may vary based on need. I don’t take my on long hikes or suspend it from cliffs. It’s not designed for that. It’s also not big enough for more than two adults. It has, however, held up for roughly twenty years and it’s been used in Arizona, New Mexico, South Carolina, and all over Florida.) For my purposes, a good tent is lightweight but durable. It’s easy to set up and take down. (Some newer tents have a “key” design and poles that don’t line up to the stake holes and they’re frankly too much of a design mess to be setting up at 10pm in near total darkness after driving all day.) It fits back in its bag easily and the whole thing fits in a suitcase or small tub for shipping (tip 4).

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3. Mix up camping, Air B&B, motels, and nicer hotels. (And look for deals and discounts.)

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Some places don’t have campgrounds or national parks. Some places are too cold, too hot, or too urban for camping to be an option. Sometimes you want to be in town or you’re in a hurry or whatever.

My sister goes to a lot of conferences for work, so she has boatloads of points and rewards for certain hotel chains. She can usually find a good deal on one in any city and if not, she collects the points to use later. My friend has a rewards credit card and collects points to spend on other travel because she loves travel, high-end things, and paying off her cards before the 30th of every month. Maybe you’re a family and participate in one of the programs through the low-end chains (like Motel 6, Super 8, Choice, etc.). And Hotels.com has a rewards program for frequent users.

Me? I’m not good at any of that and I’m not crazy about chains. I want each experience to be different. And I check everywhere (from the nicest 5-start resort to the skeeviest motel) for bed bugs and exceptionally gross stuff before I put down my bags. I like boutique hotels, small B&Bs, hometown inns, and roadside motels and motor courts with neon signs older than I am.

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Here’s the thing about non-chains and regional (as opposed to national) chains: You have to do a little research. Sure, you might find a Best Western that looks like the set of a horror movie and you might find another that looks like a Westin, but for the most part they all look the same and they look the same as every Holiday Inn, Ramada, and converted HoJo on the same exit ramp.

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Researching smaller places:

Read all the reviews you can find, but take them with a grain of salt. If you’re the kind of person who needs a room to look like it was just built yesterday and scrubbed to surgical standards, this isn’t an adventure for you. If a person’s complaining about the thread count of the sheets or that the carpet has a few stains, you have to decide if that’s a deal breaker for you. Me? If I’m staying one night, I don’t care if the sheets aren’t Egyptian cotton as long as they’re clean. Carpet? Is it just old (cause it’s not like I’m eating off it), or is the stain from a triple homicide last month? Is that picture of “bed bugs” in the review actual bed bugs or just ants? (Related, someone freaking out over a couple of ants in a hotel room in Florida isn’t being taken seriously by me. It’s Florida. It has bugs. Everywhere.)

Use Google Earth or Street View to “walk” the area around the place. Keep in mind that a sketchy area shot on a bright sunny day may look safer than it is and a lovely part of town may look sketchier if Google drove through on an overcast day. Look at what’s around the place you’re thinking of staying in. Look at the outside of the building. Does it have natural barriers to keep guests safe (things like vegetation at the edge of the property or set on the lot at an angle that keeps the lot well lit or hard to wander into) or have they built up obvious fences with barbed wire like an impound lot? (Don’t stay at the impound lot. You’re just as safe catching a nap in the parking lot of a truck stop.)

Use social media to see what kinds of pictures people post and what kinds of people post them. If you want a quiet, relaxing night but most of the pictures are from large groups of college kids doing bong hits in their room, you probably want to pick another place. If you’re a bunch of twenty-somethings looking to hang out late by the pool, maybe the place that’s all grandparents and toddlers on Facebook isn’t for you.

Keep your sense of adventure. Did I reroute a whole trip so I had an excuse to stay in a Clown Motel? Yes. Yes, I did. And because of it we found an awesome old cemetery and mining park. (That mining park is so damn cool.) Did I drive through sleet and snow, past multiple good quality chain hotels to stay in the Wigwam Motel the first time? Yes. Absolutely. Because why stay in a box when you can stay in a giant concrete tee pee? Seriously, why?

4. Ship stuff ahead of time if you’re flying.

If you’re planning a week or two on the road and you’re camping and cooking, there are things that are either too heavy to put in your luggage without paying crazy fees, would take up too much space without you having to wear the same outfit the whole trip, or would cause the TSA to jump you.

That leaves you with two options: stock up when you get there (which is necessary for things like propane, butane, lighters, etc.) or ship it out ahead of you. A plastic tub shipped parcel post is generally cheaper than paying for an extra or over-weight suitcase, depending on just how much is in it and how far it’s going. (Check with your airline. When we fly Southwest, that extra bag each holds almost everything we need.)

Just make sure the container you ship in will fit in your rental once you get there.

5. Reduce, reuse, recycle.

It’s not just good environmental stewardship. It’s good for the budget.

Two years ago, we were buying stuff for a trip and had to chose between a mixed-box of plastic utensils for $6 or a four-pack each of metal spoons, forks, and knives for $3. The extra $3 went toward a small bottle of dish soap and a sponge. The mini soap is still in a side-pocket of the cooler along with the sponge and we refill the bottle whenever it gets low. The silverware isn’t pretty, but it’s been used on many camping trips and taken along with a lot of boxed lunches. Even better, if you have older silverware (maybe that half a set from when you first moved out) that isn’t part of your every day set (in case it gets lost along the way), or you have a thrift shop that sells old utensils on the cheap you can find reusable serving spoons or big forks to use instead of grill tongs.

Then again, maybe you already have a bamboo set. I perpetually lose mine; I probably need a set for every purse and backpack I own. Bamboo doesn’t hold flavors, cleans up easily, doesn’t conduct heat well so it’s great for use with the cookstove.

Stainless steel to-go containers, tin or bamboo plates, and other earth-friendly items are great long-term investments. Don’t have that kind of cash? a set of plastic plates from a dollar store that you wash and reuse is still loads better than disposable plastic or styrofoam.

Travel mugs, and refillable water bottles can be taken through security (if empty) at airports and used all along the road. Most truck stops, a lot of gas stations, and even many coffee shops will give you a discount for bringing your own mug. Camelbak, Brita and others sell refillable bottles with filters to make tap water tastier. Stainless steel is a classic. Durable, easy to clean, you can’t go wrong with a good water bottle. Besides, disposable sucks.

Gainesville — bookstores, nature, and vegan food for all

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IMG_20150807_135404 (2)We went up to Gainesville this past weekend for the husband’s graduation. While there, we explored as best we could with the massive storm system moving through the area.

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Gainesville always strikes me as this weird blend of old and rundown, abandoned or derelict buildings and obvious poverty mixed with all the shiny new construction, youthful exuberance and hope of a college town. It’s the kind of place where you find trendy restaurants that are actually affordable and you kind of expect to stumble across a drum circle in every vacant lot. And, of course, you know I like any place with plenty of books and vegan food.

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We had planned to wander around Payne’s Prairie some, but the sky looked like Weather Channel special so after picking up his cap and gown at the university bookstore (he managed to get me out before I snuck into the textbook section) we checked into the hotel (Paramount Plaza, which gave us a lovely view of the lake). The hotel is a bit old and the hallways give off a creepy vibe, but the rooms overlooking the lake are lovely, the price isn’t bad for its location — few minutes from campus, downtown, and Payne’s Prairie — and it has a pool and fitness room as well as conference center, bar, and restaurant. I’m not sure I’d recommend the restaurant. They claim to have one vegan item on the dinner menu, but the staff seemed a little confused by it. (I called down to ask since it didn’t look like the storm would abate for us to get downtown.)

IMG_20150807_161026 (1)We spent the rest of the late afternoon checking out Florida’s only independent feminist bookstore (Wild Iris), and getting ice cream (VEGAN!) at Karma Cream. First off, I can’t express how exciting it is to walk into an ice cream shop in summer and actually be able to get a little cup of ice cream because they offer a vegan option. Secondly, the ice cream was delicious (ginger cookies caramel). Honestly, I don’t know why more ice cream shops don’t offer a vegan option, not just for vegans but for all those people who are lactose intolerant who might like to stop into a shop on a hot summer day without popping pills or worrying about after-effects. And coconut milk ice cream is so rich and creamy no one would know unless they were allergic to coconuts or told.

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We spent a few hours hiding out in the hotel room watching the thunder and lightning and rain over the lake until it broke up enough to head out for dinner.

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For dinner, we went downtown and walked around until we found Boca Fiesta (it’s tucked down a side street or alley behind the Hippodrome). The tempeh tacos were awesome and the salsa was yummy, though hubby said it was a little too hot. The hot sauces were pretty good, too.

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After commencement, we found a place selling falafel out of a strip mall, picked up a few things at Publix, and went over to Payne’s Prairie to climb the watchtower and check out the place.

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From there, since we were already on 441, we decided to keep heading south on that, highway 301, and then highway 27 until it got dark and we hit the Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction. We both love taking the back roads. It’s where all the most interesting stuff is. Stuff like this drive in and the House of Presidents (just missed it being open by about forty minutes).

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We also found a little Italian restaurant in what looked like an old tourist fruit stand/welcome center that had delicious spaghetti with an olive oil based sauce full of garlic, tomato and fresh basil. (Hubby really liked the chicken parm sandwich.) We also played some classic video games — joystick was a little sticky which made play kind of a bummer.)

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I told the husband I we should head up to Gainesville more often. Any excuse to travel some back roads and eat some vegan food.

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He’s a Master! (Finally)

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The husband has finally graduated from the University of Florida so this weekend we drove up to Gainesville for the commencement ceremony. Officially, his degree is a Master of Science in the Geomatics program that’s part of the School of Forestry and Conservation in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at the University of Florida. More layers than an opera cake, that.

He’s a good blend of coder, environmental science geek, cartographer, and statistician. He’s absurdly smart. Yet goofy.

IMG_20150808_171130 (1)That’s his excited to be done, but trying to smile like he’s happy instead of melting in the August heat face.

We have friends who’ve gotten master’s degrees through online schools, for-profit colleges or schools that have cohort programs. From what I can tell, a “cohort” is sort of like a team that you work on a degree with and you all kind of stick together and share assignments. At least, that’s how the one friend described it. Another said it was the best way to do school because it was like working where everyone does everything in teams. When I got my master’s degree, we didn’t have cohorts and most of our “online” content was via email. But, I got a degree in criminology so most of it was theory and writing papers and all that stuff comes pretty easily to me, so it didn’t feel like much of a challenge.

The husband’s program was partly online, but not in the “post a comment to three other student’s answers” way. More that students were scattered around the Gainesville, Davie, and Plant City campuses and the professors were divided between Gainesville and Davie so they taped lectures as they gave them. You could watch live and participate in discussions/ask questions via chat box or microphone, depending on setup, or you could watch them later and submit any questions via email.

Gotta say, the University of Florida is littered with overachievers. As such, some of the professors don’t really explain things; they just kind of assume “you should have had this in your high school physics class,” which is all fine and well if you did indeed study that in high school physics and high school wasn’t two decades in the past.

Which is to say, it wasn’t an easy degree to get. And he did really, really well (straight As on everything but an extra, experimental class the university was just kind of building out of random ideas they had and wasn’t part of the actual program). And I’m super proud of him.

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The commencement speech seemed like it was meant more for me than the husband, though. The speaker — the university’s new president — talked about how it’s okay to not have the future mapped out, to not have a seventeen point plan from high school through college to the exact jobs necessary to get you to the spot you envision by the time you’re forty. He talked about majoring in one thing and changing, about going to seminary school and transferring out to something else, about being a teacher (professor) and never wanting to get into administration, and yet he enjoys his new role. Basically, it was about not getting upset if your path deviates, that the person you become will come from all those experiences and will give you the unique talents and skills that will make you valuable, that will serve you and those around you.

Pretty sure his plan was to alleviate the fears of the overachiever graduates who hadn’t gotten into the exact next program they wanted or who had the car packed full of their apartment or dorm “essentials” but had no idea where to drive except back home to the ‘rents or who were maybe non-traditional students surrounded by the kid with the the wall-sized poster detailed every moment of life until death.

Thing is, the husband (“Lumpy”) and I were never really the high school fuck up or the high school overachiever, but we sat in those classes. He took a lot of classes with the kids who were average or were retaking algebra for the third time. I took a lot of classes with the kids who memorized the anatomy of horses before calculus in the morning, the kids who fought over who was going to be valedictorian, and bet each other over which schools they could and couldn’t get into . Yet both Lumpy and I were the ones who saw homework as optional. At least he was awake for most of high school. I’m not sure which was better sleeping, calculus or AP history.

Yet, he’s now the man with the plan. Not so much the “I do this for three years and then do this for two years and then apply for this and then…” kind of plan so much as he has an identifiable career path that led from an environmental science degree to working for an environmental engineering company where he used his knowledge of GIS to do a few projects and move into a GIS job at a city where he picked up new skills like he was picking strawberries at a U-Pic farm and then parlayed that into a management position. You know, a path.

I’ve worked in communications, advertising, and education. When I put it like that, they sound related. When I say I edited news for pagers, set up SKUs for inserts and proofread them, and taught English and math to delinquents, it sounds a little less cohesive.

However, I have gathered a bucket of skills and one of these days I’m going to find the perfect use for them.

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In the meantime, maybe we’ll start trying this thing people call “weekends” now.

Camp Cooking: OBX Edition

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My sister and I headed out to Ocracoke on the Outer Banks of NC for a couple of nights of camping. For someone who’s planning a trip on a research vessel in the ocean, she really likes restaurants so the first night, we ate at Dagio’s.

The second night, we broke out the random camp ingredients and made beans and rice with veggie dogs in a blanket.

  • precooked bag rice (garlic)
  • vegetarian baked beans
  • vegan hot dogs
  • three slices of veggie cheees
  • two wraps
  • two slices of vegan “bacon” (facon)

We cooked the rice and beans in one pot and tossed in one of the slices of cheese. The veggie facon we cooked on foil and then tore up and tossed in the rice/beans mixture.

The dogs in a blanket: Lay out foil, a wrap, a slice of cheese, and wrap it all around a vegan dog. Grill and then serve with whatever condiments you want.

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Faux Pork — Shredded Seitan Sandwiches

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It’s hard to constantly think up new meals. (I’m sure this isn’t just a vegan problem since I see so many planners with meal planning stickers and such that just say “chicken” or “beef” as though that’s a meal in and of itself.) I mean, vegans have pasta (plenty of protein in that without meat), beans, grains, seitan, tofu, tempeh, various processed faux products, nuts… Lots of base ingredients.

At any rate, I was looking for steak sauce to put on a portobello, but the store was out and instead found this:

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Terrible picture, yes. But, read the ingredients and despite the photo of what appears to be pork on the front (a lot of professional food photography is of things that look like food but aren’t actually edible), the ingredients checked out as animal-free.

Other ingredients:

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  • two boxes of WestSoy seitan
  • Bag of whole wheat buns
  • shredded coleslaw blend (Whole Foods sells this in bulk and even at $5.99 a pound, a dinner’s worth is cheaper than buying two whole cabbages and carrots — most of which will go bad before we finish eating it)
  • Tablespoon or two of grapeseed or coconut oil
  • Organicville non-dairy coleslaw dressing

20150719_184535(1)I shredded the seitan strips in my food processor so they had more of a “shredded pork” look and so there was more surface area to soak up sauce. I browned the shreds slightly in a pan and then lowered the heat and added the sauce packet, a tad (less than a quarter cup) of water and a few sprinkles of white wine vinegar (optional, but the husband and I grew up in eastern NC where BBQ sauce is very vinegary).

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In a bowl, I combined the coleslaw blend with enough dressing to make it tasty but not drippy.

Served it on buns with a side of vegetarian baked beans.

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Planner checklist: Adding new habits

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I’m not so great at adding that one thing and doing it every day until it’s rote and then adding something else. Partly because there are things I want to do regularly, but not every day — like updating this blog. Then there are things I should probably do every day, but sometimes forget or never get around to or otherwise fail on — like practicing katas. Then there are things I want to do each day, but regularly find a way to not do — like practicing lettering or sketching or journaling. You know the things. You know the excuses.

I thought about buying a custom stamp to use in my planner, but then I remembered I had leftover 2″x2.5″ sticker samples from a candle project (the stickers aren’t strong enough to adhere to glass and the colors are all wrong). I mocked up some little grids in Photoshop and stuck them in the “notes” section of my SmartPlanner pages. (The stickers are ugly as sin because the line tool keeps malfunctioning and the font’s stretched too much, but this is a test batch and it’s not for anyone but me.)

After most of a week (the weekend isn’t over), I’ve managed twenty little checkmarks out of a possible 70. Not sure that’s so great, but again…weekend. I do like the idea of the check boxes, though. There’s something satisfying about checking off a task.

And it’s pretty easy to squeeze “plank” in since I can do it while I’m waiting for the microwave to heat up lunch. And 20 slow breathes takes me between a minute and a minute 15 seconds, so I don’t really have to stop and find a timer for that one. The katas seem hardest behind lettering because I never seem to have enough space indoors to practice things like bo (long staff) or sai without taking out furniture, cats, or light fixtures. (And it’s been way too stormy lately to be swinging kama or swords around outside.) Lettering seems to be that I’m not a big “quotes” or “pithy” sayings person, so I never know what to letter. (Does writing upbeat messages on the fridge chalkboard for the husband count?)

Writing and reading seem to be the easiest. That’s probably a good sign. All right, I’m off to plank while the microwave nukes my spaghetti leftovers.

How do you force yourself into new habits?

*checks off “blog”*

Outsider Syndrome

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No, that’s not a real disease as far as I know. But I do often feel like I just don’t fit it. Anywhere.

I mean, I love office supplies and stationery and pens and planners, but… I’m not a high end collector, but I also don’t just buy anything shiny at the Target Dollar Spot, which seems to be the two most vocal extremes. I don’t care for the Pilot Frixion pens either, which might be as blasphemous as saying I don’t care for Mont Blanc.  I can find no other fans of my favorite pens even in the most vocal stationery communities and as for planners? I’m not buying an Erin Condron. Ever. I don’t constantly buy new ones or spend hours washi-taping and stickering my weeks. Which makes me kind of an outlier in those groups, too.

I like comics okay. I’ve read some that were awesome. Read some that were meh. Not crazy about superheros because I just don’t have the desire to keep track of all that. There’s a lot of backstory and a lot of issues and a lot of A LOT. For someone with a passing interest, it’s way too damn much. I also have no desire to get into internet arguments about about whether a reboot is being true to the creator’s vision from 1945. Plus, the superhero outfits are often just too silly to appeal to me. Fighting crime in a string bikini makes no sense, but neither does a neon leotard.

I hardly ever watch movies. I can’t seem to keep up with popular TV shows. I used to watch anime with a friend of mine, but I can’t keep up with that either. And, while it’s not fun to do alone, it’s not fun to feel alone in a crowd of rabid fans either.

I do martial arts, but a whole lot of that community is either tournament focused or Realistic Fight Defense focused in a way that makes it seem like they all walk around hoping to get jumped in an alley by a zombie riding a dinosaur. I practice martial arts. I enjoy it. But I’ve had a lot of years of walking around aware of my surroundings — because if anything ever happens to a woman, she gets blamed by our culture for what she’s wearing and doing and where she was wearing and doing things despite the fact that there’s more than a couple of dudes out there who don’t understand personal space or that touching or attacking women is wrong. A lot of years of watching people and trying to assess their potential for harm. Which isn’t to say I shouldn’t be able to go anywhere I damn well please — because I should — or that I blame anyone for anything if they do — because I don’t — but rather that I’d rather do martial arts in the dojo. I don’t want to have to explain to a cop why I hurt someone anymore than I want to explain how I got hurt.

I write, but I’m not published. Not sure I’m likely to be. Everyone else I know is, in some fashion or other. I got left behind. Figures, I was probably walking the long way around to avoid a creepy dude or otherwise in the wrong place at the wrong time. If there were an award for wrong place, wrong time, I’d be a contender. Not in the catastrophe category, mind you. More in that kind of always being two years too early, too tall three years before they made longer pants, getting a degree a year before it’s obsolete… that always being just slightly “off the beat” rather than standing on the one spot the asteroid hits. Which means, more and more when I attend writer-based events, I feel left out. The loser. The kid who doesn’t understand all their new, adult woes.

Along the same lines, I used to belong to a local book club. Enjoyed going, but then I spent too many nights at the dojo and didn’t want to spent the last free one at book club. Plus, the makeup of the group started changing. Vocal guy who refused to read anything written by women started showing up. Discussions turned from intelligent to downright pedantic with the addition of some newer people. And I felt like I never got a word in. I could be there the whole time and not utter a word. Which felt like I wasn’t there, so I stopped being there.

I like plants and gardening. Not well enough for this to be more than an attempt to keep the yard jungle-y enough to hide the neighbors while being civilized enough to get from house to car without a machete.

I follow a bunch of crafters and entrepreneurs, but I find most of them are focused less on selling goods instead of all selling the same e-book on using social media platforms to gain buyers or followers or creating hashtags or e-courses on using Pinterest or setting up Etsy shops or something. I know a lot of things, but I don’t feel I know any of those things well enough to charge people money to tell them about it. (The husband disagrees, because he compares my knowledge to his mother’s. Not sure that’s good or bad, but his point is that I lack confidence in the things I know because I don’t know everything.) At any rate, they’re all cheery and post nonstop staged photos of flowers and bright accessories on all white backgrounds in all white rooms and I don’t have any of that. Not sure I want any of that. The all white spaces might look good on Instagram, but they seem sterile, clinical in person. I don’t want to feel like I live in fancy rehab center.

I studied art and photography in college, but I’m not an artist or a photographer. I don’t feel comfortable existing in spaces with artists and photographers except silently, an anonymous observer. Artists and photographers are like writers and agents — they tend to look down on people they see as pretenders, unworthy talentless hacks.

I haven’t touched a video game besides sudoku on my phone in years. I used to play with the guys here, but the husband has one of those friends who spends so much time playing that he can’t stand watching anyone who isn’t “doing it right” so he was always yelling “go that way” or taking the controller away to “just get you to the next save point.” That’s no fun. He still does that to his other friends and my husband. I just quit going in there.

Nobody likes a noob. And fans seem to have become more niche, more obsessive, more exclusionary with the increase in internet use. Before, it was enough for everyone in a group to have a passing interest and learn more about a thing together. Now, it feels like one has to become an expert alone in order to enter the arena of fanhood or risk being shunned or cast out. And I’m never enough of any one thing to really belong.

In the meantime, I’m going to be over here with my coffee and my own drummer. (Eh, more coffee for me, I guess.)

Love-Hate Miami

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Miami at twilight.

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

I was trying to explain this last night to friends; I have a love-hate relationship with Miami. It has tons of culture and a thriving arts community, cool architecture — art deco, Mediterranean, modern…certainly some of their newer buildings around Miami-Dade county are more visually appealing than some of the boring boxy glass towers Broward has let get thrown up — funky signage, diversity of people and activities… There’s a lot to see and do and experience and a vibrancy you can feel. It’s also full of the most insane traffic this side of L.A., terrible drivers, illogical parking — when you can find it, — rudeness and entitlement stemming from that sort of obsession with hyper-coolness I can’t begin to understand.

And thus, I spent yesterday between two worlds down there. To start, I headed down to the Miami Pen Show. Yes, there’s a show for pens in case you didn’t know such a thing was possible.

I was cranky when I got down there.  It was hot and I’d taken my husband’s truck, which doesn’t feel like a meandering adventure so much as the kind of a “destination-focused” ride. It’s big, with an expansive front and equally huge interior and it just feels like what you’d drive if you need to Get Somewhere. (This is opposed to my old Wrangler, which is the sort of car you have to mellow to drive. You need to be extra-vigilant and focused driving my Jeep — none of that eating and calling and whatnot — but because you’re absorbed in the task, it doesn’t feel so goal oriented. Irony, maybe.) I was hungry. I had to pee. There was no parking. Grr…Miami.

So, I stopped at Publix, used the restroom, picked up some Krazy Glue I needed to fix a couple of mugs, got a plastic ruler in hopes that 69 cents will mean my old metal ruler reappears. I also ate some lunch in the car because I’m a big fan of bringing my own food places. 


I found parking over at Downtown Dadeland. (Prorated for the time you’re there instead of the $19 flat valet fee the Marriott wanted. Someone mentioned later that day parking at the Marriott was $8, but no one at the valet stand seemed to know about that. Besides, I hate valet and I ended up only paying $5. Someone else told me just to park at the Publix, but they have giant tow zone signs and trying to get a car out of a tow lot in Miami is on no one’s list of fun things to do.)

The pen show I’m making a separate post, but feel free to find out what happened after I got to the Marriott by making with the clicky.

No sooner do I get home and make dinner for the husband and I than our friend texts him and asks if I want to go with her to Art Walk in Wynwood. (They used to work together, so her texting him first isn’t as odd as it sounds.) By the time she and he and her and me all text back and forth and she texts back and forth with her other girlfriends, I end up with about ten minutes to fluff my hair, fix my makeup, grab some shoes and drive fifteen minutes away.

The Wynwood Art Walk has been going on for years now and it’s grown like an unwieldly amoeba all over that area of Miami. There’s no real parking – dudes with signs offering the use of vacant lots they don’t own, fighting over street spaces with people who never learned parallel parking, sketchy lots on dark streets. (I mentioned that parking in Miami is a pain in the ass, right?) The galleries and warehouses and restaurants and clubs operate in some state of quasi-organized chaos and while the area where the food trucks were parked appeared to have been planned by someone, it wasn’t exactly like figure out what was going on without three hipster friends and a half dozen hashtags.

To contrast, the FAT Village Art Walk up in Fort Lauderdale has grown a lot since it spun off from Wynwood years ago, from a single block of warehouse galleries to most of Flagler Village, the park, Mass District, etc. Now, it’s possible Fort Lauderdale’s chaos seemed more organized because I know the right hipsters and hashtags for that one, but they also have a trolley, free parking at a lot on the edge of the area (with trolley pickups from), and more streetlights. Yes, I said streetlights. It just feels easier to figure out what’s happening when you can see it.

Back to Miami where the girls had printed tickets for something called “Secret Garden,” the website of which said it was free before 10pm. After a lot of standing in line, pushing and shoving with the entitled “I don’t wait” crowd, and paying $20 (at 9:45) because “free before 10” apparently means “free if you printed this thing before 10” if you speak the language of we-generated-mild-buzz-so-we-can-do-whatever-the-fuck-we-want. I actually wonder if the organizer of the event didn’t just get his or her friends to go make a line so the thing looked more popular than it should’ve been since everyone knows that Miami is a bit like 80s-era USSR in that they will stand in the longest line at McDonald’s because they think that means its’ the best – yet in Miami they will also skip and line jump and shove their way to the front even if there are three other open registers just because not waiting is a badge of honor.

Inside, we saw some cool clothing designs, a dude painting a wall, some random art (by which I mean it failed the gallery requirements of being properly displayed, well lit, not in the middle of traffic flow so drunk people run into it, and centered around some sort of artist or theme no matter how fleeting or tenuous that theme. Oh, and no air conditioning. If you’re charging people $20 after making them stand in line, get some air conditioning. The fashion was awesome, what I could see of it with the truck high beams pointing at nothing blinding me. I’d like to have been able to see the dresses and jackets better. The three random photos were okay. Interesting. Maybe not my thing. The paintings on the wall in the back I saw better on Instagram because to get to them at the time we passed through seemed to require running an obstacle course. The metal Deadmau5 head was…was exactly that is what it was.

Outside, it was vendors and a DJ and porta potties. The porta potties were relatively nice for portable toilets, so there’s that.

Look, in a gallery – especially the warehouse sort where there isn’t a lot of overhead (like, you know, air conditioning or proper lighting) – I want to see some art. I want to be able to see the art (which means lighting and a plan for traffic flow, sorry hipsters) and I want to be intrigued, inspired, interested, etc., even if it’s not really my favorite style. A spectacle is one thing, but if it’s all spectacle with no substance, and the spectacle itself feels forced, false, then it’s all just so much meh. Which is unfortunate because again, the fashion and the paintings seemed like really cool things and for $20, I feel cheated that I couldn’t really see either of them. And that drunk dudes annoyed the shit out of us while we waited to pee.

On the way back to the car, we paused near the food trucks to finish our drinks only to be accosted by three more drunk idiots, one of which could not stop getting into our faces and touching us and yelling about healing me with his psychotherapy. Dude, if we’re not in an office where your degree is hanging on the wall and I’ve come there voluntarily, don’t go telling me you’re providing therapy. And if someone says, “don’t touch me,” DON’T FUCKING TOUCH HER.

We ended up at an Asian fusion place watching the kitchen staff make udon Bolognese while nibbling on a bunch of small plates. Well, they nibbled on a bunch of small plates and I ate some eggplant because vegetarians don’t eat brisket buns.

Like I told them, I love the stuff Miami has to offer, I just don’t generally want to have to talk to anyone while I’m down there.

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Miami Pen Show

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I may have had a few moments while trying to figure out parking in Dadeland where I’d wished A) I’d taken the train, B) I’d driven my Jeep instead of the husband’s truck, and C) that I’d stayed home. I have a love-hate relationship with Miami and its fun lack of parking and terrible drivers. That said, let’s head in the Marriott. (I also can’t recall a good experience with a Marriott, but then, I like boutique hotels, clown motels, and camping.)

Here’s the thing, I’ve been obsessed with pens and paper and stationery and art and office supplies since I was small. Like, as a kid I went to the office supply aisle in department stores the way other kids ran for the toys. I got a desk-style tape dispenser when I turned 16. This is back before you could get one anywhere and we lived in a fairly small town, so the options were pretty much order it through work or go to the specialty shop one town over.

I also have preferences that make my non-pen-obsessed friends and family think I’m mental. I like certain points and shapes and most of my pens end up coming from Japan by way of a few retailers because I like my needle points and little more needle-y than you can find at Publix.

That said, I am not into super-expensive pens. I don’t have any interest in collecting $300 fountain pens. I don’t covet $2000 limited edition pens. Not even a little. Oh, I like a pretty pen, but more than that, I like a functional pen. The Lamys aren’t “pretty” but they come in pretty colors. They are pricier than a pack of Pilot G2s, but they aren’t that much more than a 12-pack of Pilot G2s. And most people don’t refill those. (Although you can, and with smaller tip refills, too.) I’m pretty much the only person I know who raves about the Platinum Preppy and Platinum Plasir pens. Why? Most people who buy cheap go with the Pilot Varsity (too disposable and too broad nibbed for me) even though for about the same price you can write with the Preppy much longer. And for people who like using the bright Lamy inks for highlighting, Preppy makes highlighters that use the same refill cartridges, which means, you could technically create an underliner by putting a highlighter cartridge in a fountain pen. (Another good thing about spending $3 on a pen is that trying something like that doesn’t feel like a gamble.)

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It’s super light, but as an under-liner instead of a highlighter it would work pretty well. I don’t know. I usually use pencil for that sort of thing.

The Plasir pens are actually what got me back to using fountain pens regularly. Years ago, I had a Levenger True Writer that, while unbelievably pretty, was a pain in the ass to use. The thing was just fussy. You couldn’t leave it uncapped for longer than forty seconds without everything drying up. You couldn’t let it stay in a purse or pen case for a day or two without writing with it unless you wanted to wash it out and start over. It was heavy, much too heavy for everyday scribbling. And it was the kind of pen that’s weighted to be used uncapped — which meant I was forever losing the cap for a pen that hated being uncapped. I had a Waterman that wasn’t much better and had such a wide, wet nib it altered my handwriting to nearly unrecognizable. It was like writing with a river. Or a fire hose.

The Preppy pens and their slightly fancier cousins, the Plasirs don’t mind if  you leave them uncapped on your desk to run to the restroom, get water, forget what you were doing and come back two hours later. They don’t mind hanging out in my pen cup or pen roll for two weeks between uses. Nice fine line. Easy to clean. Converter or cartridge. And because the line is nice and fine, I don’t have to get all twee about papers. Some people are into that. I’m not. I love Paperblanks journals. I have a couple of Moleskines. But I also like taking notes on cheap task pads from Staples. I don’t mind a bit of feathering; I just don’t want there to be so much ink it soaks through three sheets of paper.

Besides, even if I had hundreds of dollars to spend on pens, it wouldn’t make sense. I’m a klutz. I managed to break a Zebra Sarasa Clip pen the second time I used it. I told one vendor and his wife I couldn’t touch their pens no matter how much they encouraged it because a freak earthquake would happen or a meteor would hit or something that would cause me to drop it and break it. They didn’t seem to take me seriously. I told my husband the story when I got home and he just nodded, “Yeah, I can see that happening.” (He’s known me twenty years.)

All that said, the pen show was interesting. Just because I’m not into high-end collectible pens doesn’t mean it wasn’t cool to see all the pretties. Some were gorgeous. Somewhere just too weird. Some I’m sure looked like the Holy Grail to other buyers but to me just looked like an old dinged up pen and not worth $180. There were a lot that were awesome to behold, but seemed way too impractical to a user like me. (I don’t want pens to sit in a vault. I want pens I can write with.) I don’t want the “twee” aspect of pens or to get overly fetishy about papers. It’s cool if people do – as long as they aren’t obnoxious about it (see below) – but that’s not my deal. I’m ask likely to pick a notebook by smell as anything else. (And I am just as in love with the texture of cheap college ruled paper after I’ve covered both sides with needle point gel scribble as I am the creaminess of a brand new Moleskine or the light tooth of Paperblanks.)

And then there were the people. Shawn Newton of Newton Pens was delightful. He also makes some really cool-looking pens that are nowhere near my price range but also aren’t overly…pretentious like some of the multi-hundred dollar pens. Lisa Vanness of Vanness was also super helpful and charming. I ended up buying a small bottle of Iroshizuku from her (along with three small bottles of J Herbin). I hadn’t invested in any Iroshizuku before, despite all the people raving about it because $30 seemed like way too much of a commitment to a color I might not like (despite all the swatches) or might get bored with before it’s done. Lisa Vanness showed me her smaller bottles, which were perfect.

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The guy I ended up buying a Monteverde from (who didn’t give me a card that I can find at the moment) was informative and friendly. Let me look, but answered my questions and was generally affable without being pushy. There were a few vendors who were friendly, warm, and nice even though they didn’t have anything I wanted or could afford. And then there were vendors who seemed to size up my lack (of money, expertise, use) in an instant and behave standoffish, snobby, or constantly asked if I needed help as though if not watched, I might walk off with something.

Which brings me to this point: look, there are thousands of kinds of fandom and geekery. Just this weekend, there’s San Diego Comic Con, ThrillerFest, and countless other, smaller events like the Miami Pen Show. There’s gatherings for all sorts of things and people who obsess over things as varied as succulents, vinyl punk albums, and bowling shoes. If you are an established member of any fandom, if you’re a treasured icon of your brand of nerdery, don’t be a dick to people. If you’re not a pedestal standing member of your tribe but you’re still deeply entrenched in the culture, don’t be a dick. I know you’ve invested all this time and money and you think you’re awesome and you’re worried about people stealing your thunder or taking away what makes you special, but people can’t do that. You give away your power when you act like a tween in a Batman tee shirt is ruining something because she hasn’t read every comic twice and created an alternate timeline map on the wall of her bedroom. You give away your power when you act like someone who likes plastic gel pens isn’t worthy of knowing how to write words on paper. You give away your power when you act like a casual show goer has no right to hear your favorite band because they haven’t trekked across an ocean to see them play in an obscure German club.

And, a lot of high-end buyers are Baby Boomers. They’re aging. Be nice to the people who don’t know what they do, who don’t have the money they have. They might be buying Target Dollar Spot pens now or have a purse full of Pilot Frixons, but they could be your future buyers all the same.

I mean, I know Miami can make a person surly and there’s a lot of shoving and space-invading and parking-nightmare having and sweating (it’s why I regrouped at Publix), but try not to be a dick anyway.

Another shot of the Monteverde Mount Fuji.

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

New pen seems right at home with my old Platinum Plasir. #pengeek #penaddicts

A photo posted by Neliza Drew (@nelizadrew) on

Writing and Writers — How “real” are you?

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“Writers write.”

Yes. That makes sense.

“Writers have to write every day.” “If you aren’t writing every day, you aren’t a real writer.”

That one? I need to call bullshit on that or at least pull it apart a little. Look, I get the concept of “professional” and “hobbyist” and I understand that even well-known, established authors are working their arthritic fingers to the bone to keep up with deadlines and bolster sales numbers, etc. I’ve heard all the things about day jobs and squeezing life dry and passion.

Here’s the thing, tough: Not everyone’s wired the same. One person may write 1000 words a day. Another 500. Someone else 5000. Someone else may eek out 100. The person who pounds out 5000 may have to edit those 5000 twenty times or once. The person who puts down 100 may never have to touch them again. Joe may write 250 words every morning when he wakes up. Jane may wait until weekends and write 2000 during Susie’s karate class and Sam’s swim lesson. Is her 2000 less than his 1750 because it wasn’t done “every day” but all at once? Should we admonish her for not generating more because she only used one day out of the week?

Now, we allow that some people are “plotters” and some people are “pantsers.” Well, except that we’ll let the plotters set aside days or weeks to “plan” and call that planning writing. They’re committing thoughts and words to the story; it’s just not in the draft yet. Yet, if pantsers take a day off in the middle of the week to figure out where the story’s going, they’ve “broken consistency.” They’re off the word-churning wagon and we take their chips away. They feel they need twice as many words the next day to make up for their slacking.

Nanowrimo kind of works on this principle: you can plot before November, but come November 1, you better be putting down any random words you find in your head. And we all admit that’s a bit disingenuous. That those “novels” need plenty of editing before they make sense. And by the same token, the biggest proponents of “write everyday” admit that “you can’t fix a blank page” so just write anything. Sometimes that’s valuable. Sometimes, not so much. Sometimes reading something, taking a walk, pondering the possibilities of the plot is a better use of time — so that the stuff you throw on the blank page tomorrow has a better chance of not being deleted the day after.

Then again, what do I know? I’m nobody.

Well, what I do know is that we don’t use this yardstick for other professions. No one tells a lawyer that if she goes to the beach with her family she’s no longer a “lawyer” if she’s not filing motions from her lounge chair. No one tells a shopkeeper he isn’t a “real shop owner” if he takes the day off to drive his wife to outpatient surgery and leaves his employees in charge. No one suggests my husband isn’t a GIS expert when we’re road tripping and he’s letting me navigate.

Is this blog post “writing”? Some say journaling counts. Some say poetry counts. Some say the only writing that counts is the words added to your WIP.

Eh, don’t ask me. I’m not a real writer.

But maybe we should be taking advice with that proverbial grain of salt and worrying about our own goals and less about the dictates of naysayers.

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