Moving to Las Vegas

Ten years ago, I visited Las Vegas for the second time. The first had been a few months before, when my mom and I drove out to visit my grandpa in the hospital after he had a heart attack while vacationing there.

But this time, it was December, and I was there for a swim meet. Instead of staying at a hotel on the Strip or downtown like many families on our team, my mom and I took our RV and stayed at Red Rock Canyon. It was beautiful there, but I remember wondering why people liked Vegas, and how anyone could ever live there. Nature was something I grew up appreciating; drinking, gambling, hotels and crowds weren’t.

Fast forward: five years ago, I decided to move to Chicago, a city my father wouldn’t stop referring to as “the murder capital of the world.” Even though I would be living in Evanston, a suburb far removed from the violence of Chicago’s South Side, they resisted my decision for a long time.

Enter present: I am moving to Las Vegas. I’m ditching the Golden State for the Silver State and I’m damn excited for it.

Why, you may ask? I’ll be working for four months (and hopefully longer!) at the Las Vegas Review-Journal in the features department. Even though my end goal is to work in investigative journalism, the RJ has a wide audience in a city with a lot going on. This position will be the perfect way to hone my skills working in a well-established newsroom, and hopefully to learn a lot of new ones!

The past few months have been a whirlwind of emotions. Leaving college, I’d always planned to transition straight into a full-time job. I did everything I could to ensure this would happen; I interned to gain the right experience, talked to people in my field to obtain insight and advice and began applying for dozens of jobs months before I would graduate. I thought I had it all planned out, but God had a different plan.

When I graduated without a job in sight, I felt lost. On the last night of our drive home to California, I got into an argument with my dad and stormed out of the room sobbing. My mom found me outside and held me while I cried. At that moment, all the emotions of the past two months I’d been trying to shove away hit me. I had no job, so I felt like a failure. For my whole life, I’ve always felt I needed to be doing something worthwhile to justify my existence. The tears wouldn’t stop flowing as I listened to the voice in my head that whispered, “You’re a waste.” As my mom held me, she told me that simply wasn’t true. God created me and made a plan for my life, and His reasons for not allowing me to have everything I wanted in my timing would be made clear.

Two months later, I can see this. It’s been a summer of learning. Learning how to live in the home I grew up hating. Learning to find peace and even joy in a place of chaos. Patience and trust have never come naturally to me, but I’ve learned to trust in God’s timing through this period in my life. Instead of moping around at home, I went to the beach, tried new workouts, traveled, deepened relationships with friends and worked to find balance. I long ago learned that you can’t always control the situation you find yourself in, but you can control your emotions and reaction toward it. I started off this summer in bitterness toward God and my situation, but I’m ending it in joy, peace and contentment. It’s been better than I could have imagined, and now I’m ready to move on.

I prayed a lot about this position. I asked God to make it clear that this is where he wanted me, and He has. From a safe place to live with a wonderful family, to a great gym to work out in, it’s all fallen into place.

It feels like I’ve been hanging in limbo forever, waiting to start a new chapter of my life. Stay tuned folks; the chapter is about to begin.

xx, Brooke

Red rocks filter
On the Red Rock Canyon Scenic Drive, just outside of Vegas

 

In the Land of AZ

Hi friends,

My last post was about a short trip I took in California. This post is about the trip that immediately followed. I drove to Phoenix to visit my college roommate and best friend, who is living in Tempe with her sister.

Since graduation two months ago, I’d been excited for the visit. We both knew we had to pack as much into the weekend (well, 5 day weekend) as possible. We were once nicknamed the Turn Up Twins, which should say something about our personalities.

Here are some highlights from the trip:

-A spur of the moment Jason Aldean concert, opened by Thomas Rhett (would have paid more to see him as the headliner!)

-Driving through the Tonto National Forest, which seemed like more of a vegetated desert. Parking at the lake and river without a recreation pass and not getting ticketed.

-Bar hopping with the ASU kids. When they said “Let’s go to Whiskey Row,” I thought I must have died and gone to heaven. Little did I know that was the name of a bar, and not a whole string of whiskey-serving bars. Still my favorite, though.

-Going to a rooftop pool party and messing around with beach balls

– Delicious Mexican food and margaritas the size of your face

-Meeting a stranger’s beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback.

-Going on an inner tube float down the Salt River in Mesa. Drinking an actual pail full of margaritas. Seeing wild horses at the edge of the river.

I hope you enjoy the photos!

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xx, Brooke

Solo travels

Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of traveling. I went to San Diego for a weekend, then took a trip up the coast to Santa Barbara for half a day before driving to Ojai for a short stay. And I just returned from a long (5 day) weekend in the Tempe area of Phoenix. But for this post, I thought I’d focus on my trip to SB and Ojai.

For the first time ever, I had the chance to travel alone. I love driving by myself, but traveling and staying overnight in a different city was new to me. It wasn’t very far, but the sense of freedom I felt while driving past the ocean was empowering.

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Private entry just south of Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara

My first stop was Hendry’s Beach in Santa Barbara. I met an alumnus from my school for brunch at the Boathouse there, then set off to explore the city. The Santa Barbara courthouse interior architecture and design was stunning, as was the view from the top.

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Santa Barbara Courthouse

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Next, I walked down State Street, which is the main road through downtown. It was a comfortably cool, overcast day around lunchtime, so people were bustling through the streets. I saw group after group of people eating lunch outside, sipping wine. My kind of place!

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After wandering around, I decided to head to Ojai a bit earlier than planned to beat the traffic. The highway from Santa Barbara wound and twisted through the mountains like a lazy snake, and soon I was in the Ojai Valley.

If you’ve never heard of Ojai, here’s a little back story: My high school swim team attend ed local high school Villanova Prep’s annual swim invitational every year. It became  tradition to eat at the same restaurant then walk around the main street downtown after dinner. My mom and I fell in love with the town, so we’ve visited a few times since. Fun fact: Jason Segal said hi to me at the top of Meditation Mount in Ojai!

I digress. I arrived in Ojai about two hours before my hotel check in so I decided to take advantage of the time with a hike. I went to the Pratt Trailhead just a few minutes from the main street downtown. I hiked past orchards of oranges and tangerines, and next to some beautiful mansions nestled in the hills.

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On the Pratt Trail

After that, I checked into my hotel, The Hummingbird Inn. I relaxed by the pool for a bit before showering and heading to dinner.

When traveling solo, eating alone can be the most daunting part. I used the time to read the news on my phone (and maybe Snapchat pictures of my food and margaritas to friends).

 

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Agave Maria’s: I had the combination plate with a taco, enchilada and a tamale. Oh, the house margaritas were also a happy hour special!

I walked around the downtown area a bit, then drove back to my hotel. I spent the rest of the night watching the Olympics. To most people, this might sound like a waste of vacation time. But for me, watching TV is a luxury I almost never indulge in. I then fell into a blissful coma in my fluffy queen-sized bed.

When I woke up, it was still cool enough to go for a run/walk around town. When I got back, breakfast at the inn still wasn’t open (even on vacation, I’m still an early bird). So I decided to try another hike.

This time, I went to the Shelf Road Trail. It’s a level path, until I reached a fork about a mile in. I chose the left trail and began ascending a narrow, zig-zag path up a hill covered in waving grass. When the wind rustled through the grass, I swore it sounded like a rattlesnake. But the view took my mind away from that fear. Watching the sun part the clouds felt special because I was that much closer to heaven.

When I descended, I returned to the hotel, had some breakfast, and relaxed for a bit before I headed home.

I planned to stop at the Santa Monica Pier or in Venice Beach, but as I drove by Santa Monica, the crowds and lack of parking deterred me. I drove on to Venice, hoping to find a spot to park near the beach. After searching the streets for 20 minutes, I’d nearly given up when I found a spot in a nondescript-looking residential area. As soon as I got out of my car, I realized I was at one of the entrances to the Venice Canals. I’d never seen them before, but I’d heard of them.

It’s obvious that California is in a drought; all of the boats in the canal are beached. But the layout is a sight to behold, the series of waterways are connected by arched bridges, and houses back to the water on both sides.

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Stumbling upon the canals felt like finding a hidden treasure. After I walked to the end of the street, I made my way to the ocean where I happened to find the Venice Beach Pier.

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As I drove home, I thought about what made this trip special to me. Before leaving, I spent a good deal of time planning and researching what I wanted to do. When some of those plans fell through or I changed my mind, I rolled with the punches and the results ended up being better than I’d planned. Traveling alone means you get to put your needs and desires first. While it’s not always possible, sometimes it’s healthy to take a little time to yourself. I found out I CAN relax when things don’t go my way; who knows what you’ll find out?

xx, Brooke

 

 

 

 

Summer Sunsets

Ah, those summertime beach sunsets. I’m more of a sunrise girl myself. Even though I like getting up early, I’m not so much of a morning person that I’d drag myself out of bed at 5 a.m. to get to the beach and watch the sun rise. Not often, anyway.

Crystal cove sunset
Crystal Cove State Beach, Newport Beach

But sunsets? I can’t get enough. No matter how bored I am, driving to the beach to see the sun drifting toward the horizon is enough to snap me out of it. It can be the main event of the day. I don’t need my phone (except to take pictures, obviously). I don’t need a book. I can just walk in silence and peace and observe the world around me. It’s the golden hour!

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Strands Beach, Dana Point

It’s also the hour where people start packing up blankets, coolers, umbrellas and kids to lug them all back to the car. The hour you stumble awkwardly into the path of an aspiring model and her photographer friend trying to get in some good shots. It’s when you see parents trying to take one last video of the day; something that will last even when their kids are off to school in the fall and then out in the world. You can pick out the locals, too. They’re the ones with nothing more than a blanket, a chair and a spouse for company. Everyone enjoys it in his or her own way.

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The Montage, Laguna Beach

The truly great thing about the sunset, though, is that there’s always going to be another one. The sky may look different, congested with fog or streaked with orange and purple, but the sun will always go down. It’s constant, a sign of God’s unchanging presence in a world full of chaos.

SC Pier Sunset
T Street, San Clemente

xx, Brooke

Cow Appreciation Day

Hi all,

As a fan of food, I’ve come to appreciate anything fresh and high-quality. This rules out most fast food, though I have a few favorites like Qdoba and Panera. But, folks, my all time favorite fast food chain is another level of delicious: Chick-Fil-A. I don’t eat there very often, because a) it’s kind of pricey and b) it’s not very healthy. But when I do, man do I savor it.

That’s why I continue a personal tradition I began with a few friends in 2011. Every year in July, Chick-Fil-A hosts their annual Cow Appreciation Day. This year, if dressed like a cow, you received a free entree. In years past, you received a free meal if you were fully in costume, and a free entree with just a cow accessory. I suspect they changed the rules this year to avoid arbitrating the difference between an outfit and an accessory. But don’t get me started on that…

Last year, I was working in Evanston and completely forgot about Cow Appreciation Day. That is, until my mom texted to inform me she’d already hit two locations (did I mention obsession runs in the family?) Ask my coworkers, but I shrieked out loud. Even if I’d had time to plan it out, there were only 2 locations nearby, and both were a good hour away in the city.

This year, the one highlight to moving home was the idea that I could regain this old tradition. In 2014, I hit 9 locations. Since then, another location opened and I was determined to beat my old record. There are 11 locations within a reasonable distance of me, and the plan was to go to all of them.

This morning, armed with a full tank of gas, an empty cooler and a cowbell, I set off. Eighty-six miles later, I’m proud to say I did indeed make it to all 11 locations. Here are a few highlights from my day, along with some photos.

  • An old man asked to take a photo of me to send to his friends. I was in full cow attire; how could I say no?
  • I took a photo of three moms with their kids, who were all mooing. You better believe when I have kids, we’re going all out.
  • An elderly couple at another location said, “You must either be a daycare worker or a pediatric nurse!” I said, “No, I’m unemployed…”
  • I lost my car key leaving one location. I turned my purse inside out looking for it, asked the store manager if anyone had found a key, and even looked in the trash before my friend found it in the trash on the second go-around…. Go figure.
  • I had to explain to people at several different locations why I was dressed as a cow and wearing a cowbell. Better step up the advertising next year, Chick-Fil-A!
  • But employees at every location told me “Great costume!” I think it was the cowbell that did it.
    Cow outfit
    Before the day began. Sorry you can’t see the cowbell

    CAD sign

    Laguna Hills CFA
    Breakfast was this chicken burrito.

    Costa Mesa CFA

  • Foothill Ranch CFAIrvine CFA option 2
    Laguna Niguel CFA
    Lunch was this Cobb salad.

    Marketplace CFA

    Newport CFA
    Fashion Island folk are too cool to be seen in cow couture.
    Newport Cow
    The only location where no one was dressed as a cow and they had a cow mascot. Go figure.

    Santa Ana CFAUCI CFATustin CFA

    Aliso Viejo CFA
    My final stop. Not pictured: the sandwich. I actually had to pay for the milkshake.

Hope you enjoyed my strange adventure and the chronicling thereof.
Until next time,
Brooke