New Digital Prints and the Cure for Wanderlust

Well, I’ve been back from the big trip home for just over a month and I’ve already gotten a case of island fever. It’s amazing how quickly it sets in, isn’t it? Luckily, I was able to get away last weekend to visit a longtime friend out west. Breaking out of our routine for a few days is all I really needed to hit the refresh button, and once again I find myself glad to be home.

Ocean_1_P36Inspired by my recent travels, or perhaps more accurately, by my return to this little island paradise, I added some new digital prints to my etsy shop! The “ocean” print above is completely hand-lettered and then vectored and placed over an image of Bahamian turquoise water. I actually couldn’t decide which I liked best though—so I’m also offering it in a watercolor version (in the small frame below).

The “Beach” print below is actually one of the first digital prints I ever made—it just took me six months to get in it up in the shop! It’s something a little different for me, as it has no illustrations and offers a much cleaner look (and a fabulous shot of a Bermuda beach, if I do say so myself!).

beach_P30As you know, I’ve been painting a lot lately, and in addition to the finished paintings I recently listed, I usually work on a few little nature-inspired bits and bobs each time I sit down to paint. Since I often have to wait for paint to dry between colors, it’s nice to have several in the works at once. I combined a bunch of those flowers and leaves into what might be my new favorite print—with a hand-painted quote that will motivate you to get shit done to boot! You can find all of these and a few more here!

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Year One

Well kids, today is my Bermuda-versary! To clarify, in case you’re not sure what that made-up word means, I moved here as a resident one year ago today.

It’s a strange thing, doing a complete upheaval of your life like this: Sometimes it feels like I’ve been here forever (in a good way), sometimes it feels like I’ve been here FOREVER (in a bad way), and sometimes it feels like I moved just yesterday, especially when I go home.

I spent most of August in the Midwest and it was so good to be home for so long. I thought the visit would have a more relaxed pace than it did (hence the lack of blogging this month—sorry!), but as it turns out, there are still a lot of errands I need to run and people I need to see in Wisconsin. Reflecting on the trip, I just feel grateful to have friends that I miss so dearly when I’m here, and yet when we’re together, despite not having seen each other for 8 months in some cases, it feels just as comfortable and close as ever.

I’m also so grateful for the perspective of moving away to make me realize how wonderful all the places I call home really are. I know wonderful sounds like an exaggeration, but really—simple things like the sun shining on a cornfield in the early morning, the quaintness and safety of little old Milton, the down-in-your-bones goodness of locally grown food just took my breath away at times.

IMG_8314But back to the point—this post is supposed to be about Bermuda, remember? It’s been an interesting year. Quite honestly, if you had asked me six months ago how I liked Bermuda, I would have either lied to you and said “fine,” or if you were really lucky, I would have told you that I hate the monotony of doing the same things with the same people week in and week out, and the weather is shit, and have you ever had a scooter as your only means of transportation when it’s 50 degrees and rainy every damn day? And also, it’s hard to meet new people when you work from home, and relying too much on your significant other for human interaction puts a huge strain on your relationship and I will most likely never get a full time job or be able to realize my dream of opening my own business while we’re here.

To sum up, it was hard at first. Even in an “island paradise” it was hard. One of the things that helped me through that period was finding people who had gone through the same thing; just finding out that I wasn’t alone in my feelings. So, if you’re in the dark part of the big overhaul, I hope this makes you feel less alone, less like something is wrong with you. It’s hard. That’s ok to admit. And if my ranting doesn’t help, maybe these other tips will:

Don’t leave your passion behind. As you may have guessed, shipping a 400-pound antique printing press and all the accouterments is not the most practical thing in the world. For me, it was easier to justify because it brings in income, but mostly I knew I would be sad if I wasn’t able to print. Seek out the things that make you happy. In Bermuda, not too many businesses believe having a website is important. I had to own my nerdy passions and ask around. Another expat who I never thought would be into sewing told me about the basement of a local department store where they have bolts of fabric, notions and an awesome yarn selection. I found the island’s only proper art store by happenstance—I drove by and saw a little mall area I’d never explored, so I went in. It’s an adjustment (from an American point of view) not to have everything you want conveniently available, so you’ll have to explore. It’s worth it.

Put yourself out there. I know, so cliche, right? I’m pretty introverted. I don’t usually love meeting new people. I hate being in circumstances I can’t predict, especially if I don’t know anyone there. Seven years of art directing photo shoots has made me better at small talk, but there are definitely still times that I run out of things to say and questions to ask. Andrew has some great friends who have welcomed me with open arms, but I knew it would be important for me to have my own tribe as well.

I’m not sporty, and there aren’t a lot of other organizations to be found—I looked for book clubs, etc. but found nothing. But, because it’s such a transient community, most people are really friendly. About a month after I moved, I accepted an invitation from another ex-pat I had met only once or twice to be on her mini-golf team for a fundraiser. It was so out of character for me, but the event sounded fun and since it’s Bermuda, everyone would be pretty boozed up—how bad could it be? I’m still so grateful I went out on a limb on that day—that team ended up being the foundation of my own friend group here and it wasn’t hard—when you find your people, small talk becomes less small and a lot less painful (for me anyway!). Another expat who has recently joined our group struck up a conversation in the airport over nail polish. Put yourself out there, people, it’s so worth it!

Don’t keep it all in. One of my biggest regrets while going through my divorce was that I didn’t talk to anyone about how bad things were until after I had already decided to leave. Do I think the relationship would have worked out? Uh, no. But I probably could have gone about things in a much healthier way.

This time around I’m lucky to have a very good friend who had been in a similar situation—new country, no job, husband works—just a few years ago. I could dump all my emotions on her because she understood—no judgement, no telling me how living here was supposed to be awesome all the time. Nothing is awesome all the time. I’m also really lucky that my partner is a good listener, will hold me while I cry, and even when he doesn’t understand it, even when he’s the source of my displeasure, doesn’t tell me I’m wrong for feeling how I do. I know how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

Recently, I woman I had just met dumped all her big-life-change emotions on me, and I was happy to help talk her through it. You need people like that in your life—even if you just met! And if you don’t, you can write to me. No judgement here, my friends.

Stay in touch. One of my dearest friends moved halfway across the country about five years ago. We really lost touch for the first year or two—we’d send emails and snail mail, but one of us would always get busy and we’d lose touch for months at a time. Then we started setting up Skype dates. We treated them just as you would meeting a friend for dinner (sometimes we actually ate dinner too!)—sign on at a certain time, make sure you have at least an hour to devote to the other person, don’t flake out. I’m not sure if I would be as good at keeping in touch with family and friends back home if I didn’t have that experience. Text messages etc., can only do so much—sometimes you just need to see someone’s face!

Cut yourself some slack. It’s not easy adjusting to a new country, a new lifestyle, new food, new places, new people, etc., etc. I don’t think I realized how stressful things like never knowing where I was going, not being great at driving a scooter, and meeting new people every day were until those experiences eased up. Some stresses I was able to simply change or remove from my life—definitely recommended—and some I just had to practice or get used to so they weren’t stressful anymore. Treat yourself gently. Eliminate negative self-talk. Be physically active—it really does dissipate a certain amount of stress.

Are you tired of reading my advice yet? Good, I think I’m just about out of wisdom for one year. Goodbye from beautiful Bermuda!

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Travel Guide: The World is a Small Place

Sometimes you don’t need a plane ticket to learn about a new culture. I came across this video a few weeks back that captures why I think travel is so important: students from the U.S. are given the opportunity to connect via skype with students from Europe, Africa and Asia, and connection is precisely what happens.

After finding common ground in music and crushes, racism and daily obstacles, do you think these kids will grow up espousing an “us versus them” mentality? Of course not, because now they know someone who is not like them, and have discovered that they’re more alike than they thought. Take a few minutes to watch the video—it will totally make your Friday!

Travel Guide: New Orleans

New Orleans is quite possibly my favorite vacation destination. I love the atmosphere (off Bourbon Street, that is), the architecture, the cocktails, the food—oh and one of my best friends has lived there since right after high school. So, inspired by my fifth visit a few weeks ago, here’s your guide!

Where to eat: I quite literally plan my days around meals in New Orleans, so this category comes first this time around! The absolute must for breakfast is of course Cafe du Monde. Go to the iconic location on Jackson Square—there will be a line on Saturday and Sunday, but it’s absolutely worth it for the best beignets and chicory coffee IN THE WORLD. Not exaggerating!

IMG_5054I would be content with beignets every morning, but if you need more variety in your breakfast fare, the Jazz Brunch at The Court of Two Sisters is absolutely incredible. You’d need two or three mornings to try everything, but if you’ve only got one, make sure to pick up as many crawfish and shrimp dishes as possible! Oh, and their biscuits are amazing. Ruby Slipper Cafe is another fantastic brunch spot—they don’t take reservations and there will be a wait, but it’s worth it! And their mimosas are great… and consist primarily of very tasty Champagne!

Lunch… mmm… lunch… There are so many options! Definitely make sure to get a po-boy at some point. This time around, I tried Mothers’ debris and gravy (that’s the meat that falls off the roast while it’s slowly cooking, along with a healthy helping of the flavorful juice) and it was awesome!

IMG_5057Regional specialties abound at the French Market—po-boys, crawfish, gumbo…. This time I tried Meals From the Heart Cafe’s crab cakes. Really crabby, really good, you can even get them gluten free if you’re in to that.

For a sit-down lunch or casual dinner, my number one choice is Gumbo Shop. I’m incredibly disappointed I didn’t get there this trip, I always get the Crawfish Combo Platter (with etouffee of course!) so I can get a little bit of everything! In years past, Cochon has also been a hit. If you end up venturing out of the French Quarter, try The Avenue Pub in the Garden District. They have a ridiculous number of beers on tap and their frites are uh-maz-ing!

The best part about knowing a local (besides knowing her, of course!) is getting out of the touristy areas and having and experience closer to real life in the city. For me, this of course means restaurants, and this trip that meant Capdeville. They specialize in whiskeys, I beleive, but the thing I remember most are the red beans and rice balls. They’re like Italian arancini, but made from the New Orleans staple. So tasty!

Honestly, there are too many amazing dinner places to name them all, but one of my favorite memories is K-Paul’s. Remember Chef Paul Prudhomme from the early days of food TV? He’s the big guy with the beard and beret, the “Magic” seasoning mixes, and a nearly 40-year-old standby restaurant. It’s heavy and southern and indulgent and absolutely delicious. He was even there when we went! This trip, we tried EAT New Orleans which was very good! And they were able to handle our 14-person party with no problem.

You really can’t go wrong. One of the best things about New Orleans is that they don’t let crappy (or good, for that matter!) chains open within the city limits. On top of that, the food scene is so vibrant, every restaurant has had to fight to survive—which means it’s really well done. Some of the best meals I’ve had were at restaurants I never even learned the names of—I couldn’t go back there if I tried… although I’m still dreaming of those corn and lobster beignets…

Where to drink: Again, you almost can’t go wrong (unless you order a blended drink on Bourbon Street. Then you’re just asking for trouble… and gut rot). I really appreciated the skill of NOLA bartenders this trip, as that’s a bit hard to come by in Bermuda. I had some delicious Old Fashioneds of course, but I also made a point to ask for a cocktail menu—something they don’t look down on here—and try something unique.

A don’t-miss spot for me is the Carousel Bar in Hotel Monteleone. First of all, the main bar is topped with an actual carousel roof and it moves. The entire bar, the stools, wells and bartenders all rotate slowly—if you glance at it, you might not notice, but if you’re standing outside the bar stools, you’ll have to take a step every few minutes to catch up. Even more importantly, the space is elegant and beautiful, far enough to the edge of the Quarter that it’s usually not too crazy, and they make amazing craft cocktails. My favorite is the Ginger Royal, a mix of bourbon, Champagne and who knows what else.

This trip we also hit up Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, which despite being on Bourbon Street, is actually pretty cool.

DSCF4240What to do: Walk around! This last trip we were lucky to stay in the Marigny/Bywater area, which is a bit east of the Quarter. We were nestled in a residential neighborhood, so we got to see a lot of the beautiful architecture: Shotgun houses mixed in with Creole cottages and grand mansions, brick sidewalks and ferns hanging from every porch.

DSCF4204Since you’ll be starting your day at Cafe du Monde in Jackson Square anyway, start there. Explore the blocks between Decatur and Bourbon or all the way up to Burgundy—get some pralines, explore the shops, have a beer, maybe pick up some sidewalk art. There are carriages lined up at the square and I’d highly recommend a ride, although perhaps wait until the evening.

One end of Decatur (which it splits into St. Peter’s) in the Quarter ends with chain shops and Harrah’s Casino, but at the other end, you’ll find the French Market, the oldest public market in the country. I’ve touched on the food offerings already, but you’ll also find jewelry and accessories, art and gifts here.

Once you’re French Quarter-ed out (or just tired of walking), hop on a streetcar to the Garden District. You must have exact change ($1.25 at the moment), and it moves slooowwww, but that’s good—you’ll get a chance to look at all the amazing houses in this neighborhood. And really, the streetcar is an adventure by itself.

Yes, there are museums and tours you can take, but I think the best thing about vacationing in New Orleans is just being there, settling in and letting whatever adventures come your way happen. Enjoy!