[Resolution] #31 Visit an Abandoned Place

Abandoned House

There’s just something about these places, abandoned places. Forgotten, left alone for years yet still standing, frozen in time and simultaneously being eroded by it. It’s tragic and beautiful, frightening yet alluring. So, when I found out about an abandoned victorian mansion in a small town nearby, I couldn’t resist; I had to see it for myself.

Three friends and I piled into a car in the dead of night and traveled an hour and a half into the middle of a small Texas town (omitting the name for the hope of protecting the house from vandals or the like), and there, right on one of the main roads stood this amazing old home.  (A special shout-out to my beautiful friend Jasmine who found it and orchestrated the whole trip.) It’s something straight out of a horror movie, I tell you, which, in the case of us four lovers of horror movies and all things dark and macabre, is something more along the lines of a giant work of art.

I don’t know about them, but as we came up on this property my mind exploded with thoughts of beautifully aged rooms filled with history, a tribute to a lifetime that had long passed still standing and ready to be explored by those willing to step inside and find it. Something like this…?

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But, unfortunately the world does not have the same reverence for abandoned history as some. Some people, say, people who simply need shelter, or a dumping ground, will stumble upon places like these and use them for what they are…an empty space to occupy.

gate

Originally I didn’t expect to see anything but the outside of this house, maybe get a peek inside a window if I was lucky. But, our luck ended up being that nothing really stood between us and the inside of this house. We were expecting some sort of protection. A locked gate? Boards over the entry-way? There wasn’t even a “No Trespassing” sign to be found.

This meant that it was extraordinarily easy for us to get inside for a look around (which is good, because I chicken out really easily with things like this), but it also meant it was extraordinarily easy for squaters to occupy the place for the many years it was abandoned.

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Luckily, although the house has been used as a dumping ground and many of the belongings of the previous owners had been scattered about, it seemed that much was still left there to explore.

It was not a glamorous task. We had to trudge through thousands of empty soda bottles, cases worth of crushed beer cans, various food containers and even stumbled upon an open suitcase that had been used as a ‘toilet’ for quite some time. But, when you looked past all of the trash and possibly hazardous material, what stood before us was a snapshot of someone else’s life, left behind long after they were gone. I’d love to know who these people were and what happened to them, honestly, but I didn’t think to find anything to help me trace them.

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Bedrooms with draperies and clothes still hanging on racks.

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Books still on shelves,

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and tons of beautiful old architecture, still intact, like the skylight in the upstairs living area.

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After the adrenaline finally wore off, we had a wonderful time looking through the things that were still there. Books that had been published all the way back in 1910. Newspapers, still readable, from 1975 (the front page story was about a woman being promoted to Cashier. Woo!). Old records. Racks and racks of now vintage clothing. Hat boxes and trunks. We even found old suitcases filled with hand written letters and a collection of old valentines (chocolate boxes with the wrappers still inside).

It was truly fascinating. I found myself feeling, in a way, privileged, to be able to look into someone’s life like this after they were gone. I was reluctant to remove anything from the home, but part of me kind of wants to go back and ask permission to clean it out. There is so much history inside, so many things that were probably once cherished. Don’t they deserve to be cherished again, put on display somewhere rather than be surrounded by garbage and human filth?

Question of the Day: Would you rescue history from an old abandoned home, or should it be left where it is despite its former owners being gone?

It was an eye opening experience, and a perfect first big adventure for the year. 🙂 We even got this inspiring shot of this defiant little plant managing to grow in the dark sub-floor of this forgotten place.

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I think this plant will be my role model for the year. I’m really impressed with its gusto.

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Photography by the aforementioned beautiful friend Jasmine. 

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Resolutions in Instagram: #20 & #59 New State, Old Friends

I love surprises. But, I’m generally pretty terrible at executing them because I’m generally pretty terrible at keeping secrets. I finally pulled one off, though, with the help of a brilliant surprise-executing friend. My good friends Jake and Jenn moved away from good ‘ol Austin about 9 months ago and–like all long distance relationships–we miss each other terribly.

I wish I could claim the idea was entirely mine, but Jake threw out the idea that as a birthday gift for Jenn’s milestone 30th birthday, I could fly in to visit and bring a little piece of Austin to her in good ‘ol Indiana. So, somehow…some way..and thanks to some brilliant misdirection on Jake’s part, I managed to completely surprise her!

Resolution #26 / #59 : Visit a Friend in Another State & Visit a New US State

(Evidently she thought family was coming over. Surprise!)

I will be the first to admit that I didn’t know the first thing about Indiana. I didn’t know what was there, other than the Indy 500, and I was only vaguely familiar with where it is geographically (don’t judge me). Turns out that there’s a whole lot of farm land, but also a lot of really fun places to explore…

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…even when it’s 25 degrees outside. That’s like a tourist attraction in itself. If you were able to swipe that picture of an iPhone screen you’d be able to see that at the very same moment it was a pleasant 73 degrees in Austin, TX. Cold weather does two things for me, makes me really happy first of all, because you rarely experience real cold in Austin, but also makes me really appreciate the Texas heat, which is really hard to appreciate most of the time.

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We explored some little shops downtown where I got my obligatory coffee mug for my collection. I get one from every place I go, and they generally have no obvious connection to the place I was–except for that I remember getting it there. This is my newest addition, the Tea-Rex. It came from a quirky little store called Silver in the City, which also has an online store if you’d like to peruse their quirky goods. It’s on MassAve which is apparently the slightly condensed Indianapolis equivalent of Austin’s SoCo. It was also home to a toy store that I really wish I would have known about as a child because I’d have insisted that my mom fly me to Indiana to visit it…and purchase one of everything. Plus, a whole bunch of little boutiques that I only wish I’d had more time to explore.

544464_10151554694211635_2536704_nIt was also pleasant to discover that the good people of Indianapolis have your self-esteem in mind. Not only are the people extremely friendly, but even the buildings are proud to announce to the world that you are–indeed–a beautiful person. Thanks Indy.

image (3)Next, we made a day trip to Nashville in the famous (is it famous? I’m not sure.) Brown County, a small tourist town about an hour or so away from Indianapolis. This photo has almost nothing to do with Nashville, Indiana except for that that’s where it’s taken, but you’ll see here that one of the many reasons that one should pay a visit to the little town is that it is home to a very responsible generation of children, who apparently lock up their tricycles.

In all seriousness, though, we went specifically to sample the fried biscuits and apple butter at the Nashville House Restaurant connected to the Brown County Inn. This is one of those culinary delights that I can confidently say is WORTH the drive, which is actually a really nice one through plenty of hills and tall tress, a huge difference from the flatlands of nearby Indianapolis. You don’t even have to order real food. An order of those biscuits and apple butter will keep you going all morning.

It wasn’t just about the biscuits, though. I’m not sure what exactly I can compare this town too, other than Gruene, TX if anyone knows where that is. It’s like stepping back in time where all of the shops are mom-and-pop shops, all of the products are made locally (okay, ALMOST), for some reason everyone sells fudge no matter what kind of shop it is and you get to try everything before you buy it.

The only dead giveaway was that I don’t know if they used the term “Big Ass Cookie” back in the day.

photo (8)But, hey, “big ass” sells. Got to get up with the times, eh?  I might suggest that they create a set of signs for their “Damn Good” coffee too.

Next, I got to meet the Tea Rex’s cousin at the world’s largest children’s museum.

image (4)Guy really should start watching where he’s going.  …First of all, having a dinosaur step on your foot is less than pleasant, but I’m okay. That building, however, yeah, that’s going to cost a pretty penny.

This museum should be on the list of things every child needs to see before they get too old to appreciate it, like Disney World and Sesame Street Live. I’m not a kid anymore, but the child in my heart leaped at the sight of 5 stories of pure, educational discovery. …Does that make me a nerd?

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The must see thing here is the giant carousel on the 4th level which was our first stop. I’d forgotten how magical those things are. I almost even made the mistake of telling Jake and Jenn that I would simply watch, but I boarded anyway and there’s just something special about that classical organ music and glossy plastic animals that makes your heart happy.

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I also got to look like a badass building a free standing arch with the unbelievable powers of physics, visit the real Batman suite and Riddler costumes from the Batman movies, drool over real life, giant Hot Wheels and poke around in Egypt for a minute or two. Again, I’m going to have to go back with more time because the entire thing is IMMENSE and couldn’t possibly be explored in one trip.

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So, I got me some space food for the road and we headed back to the house. I’m not sure I could be an astronaut after eating this, but for all the science that goes into putting cold dairy desserts below -40 degrees farenheit and drying it to make it shelf stable, this stuff was really good. But, the real food adventure was not anti-frozen ice cream.  It was this… the last new experience in Indianapolis was a doozy…and frankly had nothing to do with Indianapolis, but I have a long standing record of ridiculous and potentially disgusting food challenges with Jake. And so….

9208c3b69f1c11e2bc0822000a1f9737_7Canned…Haggis.  Do you guys even know what is in this stuff? Lungs…heart…EYES.  It was perfect. So, we spent the evening eating warm haggis on mini ritz crackers and enjoying each other’s company, before I finally had to say my goodbyes and head home. Do I recommend haggis?  You know…it’s not that bad, but better enjoyed with an adventurous friend.

I love visiting new places, but this whole trip just taught me that new adventures are fun, but new adventures with old friends are priceless. Thanks again, Jake and Jenn! I’ll be back soon.

Portlandia! [Part Two]

I won’t give you a play-by-play, I know that can get pretty tiresome, like showing you the two-hour slideshow from my family vacation. The horror.  But, what I will do is give you days 2-5 of my stay in Portland in terms of lessons learned…so that maybe on your first trip to Portland you’ll–well, I don’t know how helpful these insights will be, but here are 7 things I wish I would have known before my plan landed.

1. Go to the local places, not the chains.

This may be universal advice, but especially in Portland. The tiny holes in the wall are the ones with the good eats.  Don’t even bother going to the Denny’s when you can go to the Stepping Stone Cafe and get a Mancake (yes, the one made famous on Man vs. Food).

Or, you can head to Southeast Portland to a place I would have never gone on my own accord, but am now glad I did. The Original Hotcake House serves up pancakes that elicit this response; we’ve named it “When Harry Met Syrup.”

It’s not all about the pancakes though. J Cafe served us up some paninis that flat-out trumped the ones we got at Starbucks the next day.  And speaking of Starbucks, don’t even bother. Portland Roasting Coffee and Stumptown Roasters make Starbucks taste more like gas station brew.  Portland’s got your taste buds covered.

2. The first time you discover that ‘Couch Street’ is pronounced ‘Cooch Street’ you will immediately feel as though you’ve reverted to your college self.

It’s not a joke. And no one else thinks its funny.

3. Go to the gardens.  The Japanese Garden is worth the $9.50.

I almost didn’t go in when I found that I’d have to spend my lunch money to look at flowers, but oh it is so much more and there is no better way to spend a morning.

Sold yet? These aren’t tourism board photos, I took these with my iPhone! No frills or fancy cameras, it really looks THIS magical.

4. In Austin, a highway divides East and West. In Portland, it’s a river.

Check the damn map before you set off anywhere.  The fact that the GPS says it’s less than a mile away means nothing if you have to trek up to the bridge before you can even consider finding what you’re looking for.  And it’s not a small bridge. This also means that if you’re going to NW 24th street and you ignore the ‘NW’ part when you get off the bus….You’re in trouble. This little oversight got me lost for over an hour. :/

5. Use mass transit, but bring a smart phone.

In the same vein as the previous tip: I know I sound like a total punk for saying so, but I don’t know what people did before smart phones.  Missing one bus or getting one connection wrong could mean the difference between being early and being an hour late. The Trimet system is great though, and I highly recommend it as long as you are able to use their handy online trip planner.  Once you have things kind of memorized, I’m sure it becomes much easier, but as a visitor…keep that smart phone handy.

P.S. I totally knocked out Resolution #82!  Thanks Trimet!

6. Befriend the locals.

Now, I did have a big gathering full of locals to befriend at the Web Visions conference, but I imagine there’s plenty of social events where it’s easy enough to do for anyone else.  For me, this was our rag-tag group of geeks:

That’s me in the back there.  Yelling for some reason. Also, before I forget, there are a few lovely friends who weren’t there that night and of course the one behind the camera, and I can’t possibly forget them, so I’m sending my love to Ken and Burke.

Exploring a new city is so much fun, but it’s far more fun when spent in good company, especially when the good company knows all the good places to go. We ended up hopping around some bars and breweries, eating good food and driving around the city, all the things I would have been doing anyway, but everything gets amped up a notch when you’re spending it with other people.  And of course things like this happen [nerd alert]:

HTML graffiti. Kind of.  It’s chalk on a chalkboard painted wall. We’re not THAT rebellious. One of the little things that just made the night that much more interesting.

The bottom line is, don’t be afraid.  I’m usually a pretty quiet person in social situations. I just so happened to get lucky that Burke is one of those people that brings others together, and that’s exactly what he did and we all ran with it from there. By the time we parted ways I felt like I’d known these people forever. And, even though they weren’t ALL locals, it helps that Portland is just a really friendly town.

…word to the wise though.  Avoid conversation on the bus.  All of those ended up being kind of a bust.  Including a guy who talked to me for half an hour about how much he enjoyed ribs.

And thus, ends my semi-sage Portland advice. I’ll leave you with just one more piece, and the one that means that I have all of these fantastic memories on film:

7. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist!

It’s a trip, a vacation, an adventure. Throw your ego to the wind!  Except when you’re taking vanity shots like these…they’re a little egotistic, but that’s okay.  Happy travels!

Question of the Day: Have any of my readers ever been to Portland?  What were the highlights for you?

Portlandia! [Part One]

Portland.  City of Roses.  Land of “Put a Bird on It.”

Those closest to me have been following this evolving ‘whim’ that I’ve had to move away from Austin, my home. I mean moving out of city, out of state, moving–specifically–to Portland, Oregon.  No particular reason other than a change of scenery. Portland’s beautiful, it’s green, and has been described accurately by both Austinites and Portlandians as “Austin on Steroids.”  It’s got the same vegan-local-hipster-artist culture, an even more health-happy population, and…and it actually has seasons!

Well, lucky me, there just so happened to be a web design conference in Portland this month.  Luckier me, my company agreed to send me there on their dime to learn more about the future of web design, but also to explore my potential future home for the first time.  And, did I mention the fulfillment of Resolution #2: Visit a new US State?  Check!

The conference started yesterday, but I padded it with a few days and flew in Monday morning so that I could explore the city a little before being confined to the Oregon Convention center for three days.

There’s nothing quite like taking off from dry and crispy Austin, TX and descending from the clouds over snow-capped mountains and miles and miles of green forest in Oregon. But, I won’t spend too much time on the obvious.  The greatest part about my first day in Portland was…

Resolution #87: Wander a Big City with No Agenda

I won’t lie and say that I’m the kind of person that would have a panic attack if I didn’t have an agenda, but I usually do just because I don’t want to miss anything, especially in a place I don’t know.  But, I think that this is also the easiest way to miss things too.  If you just go from one site to another, to another, you miss all of the amazing stuff in between. I made a point to ask for recommendations in the PDX, but refused to plan out a damn thing.

So, after 3 hours of getting hopelessly lost in the Portland mass transit system I finally managed to get to my hotel, but thanks to being lost I got a great look at the surrounding neighborhood while I rode the bus in circles. It turned out I was right along a great street of boutiques and restaurants, so I decided to take a walk and see what I could find.

Just a block away I found an adorable boulangerie, St. Honore Boulangerie.  People were outside eating something WAY more appetizing than the pretzles I’d been snacking on for the last six hours of air travel.  I picked up a yummy vegan panini (no, I’m not vegan, vegan food just happens to be really delicious) with hummus and roasted veggies, and the people watching was free.

Refueled, I headed off down the street.  I found a “Chocolate Cafe” (meaning they sell ONLY chocolate and coffee.  Can I get an amen?) where I picked up some truffles, then just down the street I popped into another candy shop which ended up being the first place in the US where I’d found Katjes. Priorities, right? I tinkered around in some boutiques that were way too expensive for me, but window shopping is just as great.  I did, however, walk away with a pair of $20 flats.  They were on sale.

I decided to head back after a couple of hours to take a nap before venturing back out into the city.  But…a wrong turn would land me face-to-face with this guy…

This, lovely readers, is the greeter for The Peculiarium.  I don’t even know what to say this place is, or what it means to Portlandians.  It’s a hot dog / ice cream shop / museum of sorts?  Oh, just let me show you.

Entrance

Vampire hunting kit.

It’s a bone?

The preserved scene of a spontaneous human combustion.

It was….something.  They also had a broad selection of insect snacks, like Nacho cheese crickets and scorpions in lollipops; also a winner of a board game selection included gems like “The Crazy Cat Lady Game” and “Mr. Bacon’s Big Adventure.” So, thoroughly confused and a little disturbed, I finally made it in the right direction and back to my hotel.

I figured after a little rest I’d head out into town to fulfill yet another resolution.

Resolution #103: Do something that I heard about on the Travel Channel

Thanks to mister Anthony Bourdain, I’ve had dreams of Voodoo Donuts without even setting foot in the place.  And, who can blame me, right?  When the donut case looks like this:

Cap’n crunch? Bubble gum?! OREOS AND PEANUT BUTTER?!  But I had to go with the classic…

The voodoo doll.  (Also vegan.  Is there anything that’s NOT vegan in Portland?)  Complete with a pretzel stake through the heart and raspberry jelly blood filling.  And I’m not going to lie, I had a little bit too much fun ripping the head off and squeezing the filling out.  …Too much?

It turned out that Voodoo Donuts was actually just blocks away from another friend’s recommendations: Powell’s City of Books.  So I ducked in there to see what the hub-bub was about, and didn’t emerge until almost 2 hours later.  That place has everything.  I mean everything.  Local books, rare books, even a really awesome collection of hand-printed zines.  In other words, book worm heaven.

Next, a thrift shop across the street.  I’m determined to leave with a “Portland” outfit.  Something consisting of neat patterns, high socks, and probably combat boots. I don’t know what the fixation is, I guess I’m just envious of the hipster ability to put together clothing items that don’t match, and make them look fabulous. …I didn’t actually walk away with anything, but I DID find these shoes, which were worth the trip:

Better than combat boots, I’d say.

I was determined to find a food cart for dinner since I’ve heard they’re so good here, but the time change and aching feet got the best of me and I caved as soon as I saw a Whole Foods. So I finished off the evening with a salad and the company of…this stranger…who had a ‘666’ tattooed on his face and the word “Fuck” across his knuckles.  Mm….Portland.  I love ya already.

It’s really amazing the things you find when you aren’t looking.  The doors you walk into, either on purpose or because you were looking at your phone and you’re lost, but none were a mistake, and none were a waste of time.  Life doesn’t always need a plan,  In fact, sometimes eliminating the plan will reveal things you would have never known existed.  For me, today, it just ended in some bizarre oddities and cool shoes, but in the bigger picture…it can really change your world.  Explore!

[Resolution] #29 Enter and Win a Sweepstakes

So, someone with knowledge and wisdom help me out here.  I’m getting all sorts of mixed responses on the legitimacy of this resolution, because…. well, here’s the story.

You know these?

The car sitting in the middle of the shopping mall luring in to try your luck by dropping your name into a box and hoping you get to take it home?

Well, sometime around December I think, in the midst of all of my last minute holiday shopping, I decided “why the heck not” and threw my entry into that little box.  I don’t even remember what car it was anymore, a Mercedes I think.

Well, just a couple of weeks ago I get a letter in the mail addressed to me–in my own handwriting.  I ripped it open, curious to find out when I had possibly addressed a letter to myself.  I honestly thought it was one of those “to my future self” letters that we wrote back in the 5th grade.  Not so secretly, that would have been just as exciting to me as what I actually got.  But, I digress.

It was actually the entry that I had filled out 3 months ago in the middle of that shopping mall.  Attached was a typewritten letter, no letter head, that said something to effect of “Congratulations!  You won!”  …then something about being guaranteed a prize of either $500 cash, an island getaway vacation, a $1500 shopping spree–or that car that I really wanted in the first place.

Then, I had to call to redeem it.  This is where it starts to sound like a very familiar Family Guy episode.

“You’re already guaranteed to win one of the 4 prizes, but if you stay for a 90 minute presentation you can also win…”

Oooh, I know what this is.  The mother of all scams that mothers warn their children about as soon as they’re able to even say the words “timeshare.”

But you know what, a vacation sounded pretty good.  And so did a chance at a new car.  So off I went, to spend 90 minutes in San Antonio in order to walk away with at the very least, a free vacation.  Luckily I had friends to warn me of what lay ahead, because here’s the bulleted list version of how it went.

  • Receive phone call saying that a representative will be waiting for me at the resort.  Makes me feel like I’m the only one showing up.
  • Actually arrive, I am NOT the only one.  Probably 50 other people with the same appt slot. Representative is NOT waiting.  Arrive at 2:25 for 2:30 appointment, representative arrives at 3:10.
  • Woman seems nice enough, thanks me for waiting.  Sits me down and starts the stereotypical “I’m not gonna hard sell ya, but can you at least tell me that you can say ‘yes’ to a good deal” speech.
  • I say yes.  Commence to learn all about Silver Leaf Resorts and all of the great things they can offer me, how much money they can save me, and how much better my life will be if I become an owner today.
  • Interrupted 4 times by other salesmen loudly announcing the people that just bought from them. They call it a ‘tradition.’
  • Go on a tour of the facilities, nice enough, but not stunning.  I can see how it would be good for lots of kids.  Or old people.
  • Come back, the big finale is that you can use your ownership to stay at hundreds of resorts around the world for a ridiculously low price.  Pretty cool, until you find out that total it will cost you $15,000, with almost $4,000 down.
  • I am not buying a new car’s worth of vacations today.
  • Call in financials guy, “We can work with you.” “You can afford this.”
  • I say no.
  • Representative suddenly not so nice.  Talks about the huge mistake I’m making.  Walks away and leaves me alone to wait for someone else.
  • Final boss man comes in, says he’s from corporate.  “We’re not gonna beat you over the head with it, but what if…” and makes me another deal.
  • I say no.
  • Alright, head to the other building for your prizes.

15 more minutes of waiting in a DMV-esque room with screaming children (who no doubt had to wait through the same BS I did for way more than 90 minutes), and here’s what I walked away with:

1) A cruise to Cozumel

2) A lovely island getaway to either Hawaii, Costa Rica, Puerto Rico or Aruba (airfare not included)

I can’t prove it but I’m pretty confident that everyone who’s gullible enough to put their name in those boxes “wins.” It may not technically be winning a sweepstakes in that case, I guess.  But…in my own defense, I THOUGHT I was entering a legitimate sweepstakes, the letter in the mail DID say that I “won,” and I did walk away with a cruise and a free island vacation. …So…I’d call that a win. Check!

But, seriously, if anyone knows for sure, let me know?

Would I recommend that other people do it?  Sure, if you’re good at saying no, I’d say the two and half hours were worth a free cruise later.  Then again, I haven’t gone on it yet, nor gone through the process of booking it, so I’ll let you know.