Travel Untangled: Starved Rock State Park

Illinois is an interesting state. Most people who don’t live here know of Chicago, maybe Springfield then the rest fades into oblivion. Well, I suppose some who do live here also think that way. 

Over the weekend I got to visit a natural treasure of the state that I would recommend to residents and visitors alike: Starved Rock State Park.

Council Overhang

Starved Rock is a little less than a 2 hour drive from Chicago…located in Oglesby, Illinois. On almost 3000 acres of land include miles of hiking trails, canyons and waterfalls…something for all ages. 

The local towns to Starved Rock are the size that city-people like me call “charming.” On a shuttle tour, we learned the grain silos in town are considered the skyscrapers. Imagine my surprise. 

Random grain silos from Google lol
Sears Tower photo taken by me Monday during Chicago River Architectural Boat Tour

I had the best, most relaxing experience during my visit to Starved Rock. 

We hiked through a few canyons, saw some beautiful waterfalls flowing into hidden dips and valleys from the Illinois River and learned of the history of Starved Rock, named for a rather tragic 1760’s incident in Native American history. 

Illinois Waterway Visitor Center

This family trip was also my nephew Malik’s first big adventure. In fact, our group ranged in age from 2 months to 60+ and we all enjoyed every minute. 

The park is free to enter and has free parking. They offer guided hikes, guided trolley tours or people can go explore on their own. They said on a busy holiday, they can get 400,000 visitors. They have a hotel and cabins on site for booking. They also have campgrounds for anyone interested in roughing it for a night or two under the stars. There are restaurants, live music at The Lodge and during our stay, we saw two weddings get hosted. 

I’m telling you, this place has so much to offer. 

Here are some more photos from our trip. Visit Starved Rock! You won’t be disappointed. 

Me & Dad with one of our guides
Me in Ottawa Canyon
Mom & Dad enjoying the view of the canal

Above is a victory photo.  My mom has been through several health things in the last few years including hip replacement surgery in February on Valentine’s Day. She was unsure if she could handle the hiking and so were we but she did it! This particular canyon and hike through Ottawa was a lot of climbing up and down steep steps, taking extra care in slippery and muddy areas, stepping on jagged rocks to cross water in our paths and she friggin (I wanted to use a stronger word here but I know mom will read this lol) rocked it ALL!!! I’m so proud, as we all were. This was a major accomplishment on the journey and such an awesome photo to take!

Loved ones
Sister & Nephew
Me posing with my waterfall friend

Until next time! 

Summer is Here!

Here in Chicago, summertime weather seems to has arrived and I am over the moon.
Though summer officially lands June 21, just last week, I was able to pack my winter coat away…finally. I wish I were joking about that. Even last month we were still having temps range from 40s to 80s which just makes me crazy in the head. 

I already declared that I want to be outside as much as humanly possible. 

Chicago has so many festivals, concerts, shows, rooftops, events and many of them are free or cheap, at least the ones I keep an eye out for. 

Downtown isn’t the only part with things to offer.  Tourists and locals can get to know city areas even better by stopping by the hundreds of neighborhood festivals. 

This weekend I enjoyed the Chicago Blues Fest, one of the world’s largest, free festivals celebrating blues music performed by outstanding musicians and artists. 

I want to soak up the sun (bathed in my sunscreen of course) and be at the lakefront all the time. The next few weeks include camping trips and roadtrips and fun in the sun. 

If you live in a part of the country like me where you get 4 seasons and it’s not divine all the time, enjoy summer while we got it! The next few months will be the perfect mood booster to prepare for whatever winter brings us later this year.  

Have a great week and get some outdoor time in. Fresh air is everything and good for the body, mind and soul. 

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier 

Many moons ago when I was in high school, I was selected to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery while on a trip to Washington DC. We paid tribute to fallen servicemen and women. 

It was such an honor and so humbling. 
I dug up some old photos to share. I am very grateful for whoever snapped the pics. I was young and that experience will live with me forever. Much like the soldiers who have fought and lost their lives throughout history. Whether claimed or unknown, many young when they went to war, thousands never to return home the same. Many more never to return home at all. 

On that particular morning at Arlington National Cemetery, there was a chill in the air. It was raining and foggy. 

If you’ve never been to Arlington, what a sight to see. Thousands of small headstones in neat rows, filling the land in every direction. Mothers and fathers, daughters and sons in their final resting places. 

On a trip to DC, you can pay respects at several memorial sites. The impact on you will be tremendous I know. I am always overcome with emotion.

For Arlington, three other graduating seniors from my class were selected by our peers to represent our school and participate in the great honor of laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. 

Me walking towards the tomb

The soldier guiding us was so kind and when it was time to begin the ceremony, he turned around and got so serious. It made sense though. Laying the wreath is a very somber ceremony. We were very meticulous and in sync with every step. We watched the changing of the guard and participated in the entire ceremony. It was incredible and so powerful to be part of. 

Me on the back right

Memorial Day, we think of ones we’ve lost, known and unknown and naturally give thanks to veterans and active duty soldiers we still have. Each group just as important as the other…for they all deserve our respect when they protect and serve as intended. Many sacrifice their lives in the process and we remember them because life is precious and we only have one to live. We thank you.

May our active duty military and veterans have the peace and strength to go through another day and night then again and again. May you have what you need to keep fighting the fight, whatever fight that may be. 

Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. 

If you know of any resources to help Veterans (national or local to you), please share by leaving a comment with the information.  

Moms

The older I get, the more I appreciate my mom and what I have learned from her. She has had her set of triumphs and challenges in this life. In my eyes her triumphs are plentiful and outweigh anything else. She has taught me the love of learning and how to show compassion. I admire mom’s strength. It encourages me to live in my own strength. 
I am grateful for my mom and many other women in my life who have given motherly advice, been positive examples of wives, mothers, sisters and daughters I am proud to know and be like. 

You didn’t have to love me like you did but you did and I thank you. 

Happy Mother’s Day! 

Where There’s Smoke, There’s Fyre

Surely by now you may have heard of a weekend fiasco (aka purebred sh*t show) called Fyre Festival, an expensive and decadently overpromised “luxury” festival in the Bahamas set to kick off last Friday. 

A dream deferred when as people arrived the festival’s promises went up in flames (in some cases, literally and yes the pun is intended). 

The festival’s organizers, McFarland and Ja Rule (which like, why?) have been under a lot of heat as they should be for taking thousands of dollars from people (just because some may have been rich doesn’t mean they deserve to be bamboozled) and totally not delivering the service nor the experience people not only expected but that Fyre Fest explicitly promised. Fyre Fest compared their inaugural event to Coachella in California which I haven’t been to yet but I guarantee people would not return if they experienced even a fraction of the hot mess Fyre Fest displayed. 

I won’t go into ALL the details of the unraveling that occurred because that’s what the internet for and you should certainly read about it. It’s terribly entertaining. 

In short, people bought high-priced tickets to stay in villas on a Bahamian island for what was supposed to be a two-weekend music festival. As people arrived, chaos ensued with lack of preparation and execution on the part of festival organizers and crew. People were pissed to find emergency response tents instead of villas, bare bones meals, lack of lights, security amd much more. It was basically camping which is fine if you knew going in that’s what it was. This was more of a bait and switch situation. 

Hearing the reports and seeing the pictures met a range of responses from hilarity to horror. Ja Rule became a Joanne the Scammer meme QUICK. It was all just a big mess. I started following the story because I was fascinated by the company responses or in many cases, lack thereof. 

Until they were dragged through every valley on social media, they seemed to play it cool or make excuses for why things weren’t ready. 

The following was the apology (or again lack thereof) attempting to explain away how their poor planning was not their fault. 

April 29, 2017

Yesterday was a very challenging day for all of us. But we would like to fully explain what happened.

Billy McFarland and Ja Rule started a partnership over a mutual interest in technology, the ocean, and rap music. This unique combination of interests led them to the idea that, through their combined passions, they could create a new type of music festival and experience on a remote island.

They simply weren’t ready for what happened next, or how big this thing would get. They started by making a website and launching a viral campaign. Ja helped book talent, and they had hundreds of local Bahamians join in the effort. Suddenly, they found themselves transforming a small island and trying to build a festival. Thousands of people wanted to come. They were excited, but then the roadblocks started popping up.

As amazing as the islands are, the infrastructure for a festival of this magnitude needed to be built from the ground up. So, we decided to literally attempt to build a city. We set up water and waste management, brought an ambulance from New York, and chartered 737 planes to shuttle our guests via 12 flights a day from Miami. We thought we were ready, but then everyone arrived.

The team was overwhelmed. The airport was jam packed. The buses couldn’t handle the load. And the wind from rough weather took down half of the tents on the morning our guests were scheduled to arrive. This is an unacceptable guest experience and the Fyre team takes full responsibility for the issues that occurred.

Everyone was very concerned for our guests. They needed a place to sleep and everyone did their absolute best to rebuild. We took everyone to the beach and built as many tents and beds as fast as possible, but as more guests arrived, we were simply in over our heads. Ultimately, we didn’t think security could keep up, so we had to postpone the festival. The response to the postponement was immediate and intense. We had no other options, so we began the process of getting guests quickly and safely back to Miami, which continued through the weekend. Our top priority as a company is to ensure the comfort and safe return home of all of our guests.

Then something amazing happened: venues, bands, and people started contacting us and said they’d do anything to make this festival a reality and how they wanted to help. The support from the musical community has been overwhelming and we couldn’t be more humbled or inspired by this experience. People were rooting for us after the worst day we’ve ever had as a company. After speaking with our potential partners, we have decided to add more seasoned event experts to the 2018 Fyre Festival, which will take place at a United States beach venue.

All festival goers this year will be refunded in full. We will be working on refunds over the next few days and will be in touch directly with guests with more details. Also, all guests from this year will have free VIP passes to next year’s festival.

We’re grateful for the Bahamian Government and The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism for their assistance during this challenging time—their efforts have been exemplary. We want to thank the people of the Bahamas for their support and for graciously allowing us the privilege of visiting their islands. We apologize for any inconvenience the past 24-hours has caused and we look forward to making a considerable donation to the Bahamas Red Cross Society as part of our initiatives. We need to make this right. And once we make this right, then we will put on the dream festival we sought to have since the inception of Fyre.

Thank you for all your continued patience and understanding. We apologize for what all of our guests and staff went through over the last 24 hours and will work tirelessly to make this right. Please check our official social media channels (@fyrefestival) for further important updates.

You can (and should) do your research to fact-check. Still trying to save face, the company did not make an appropriate apology to address their role in the chaos at the same degree the mess occurred. The blame kept getting passed and there are still many stages of this story just DO NOT add up. They just don’t.  As a patron, that part would infuriate me because at the basic level this company is not acknowledging what they failed and misrepresented so everyone can move forward. 

For example, they apparently did not realize they were unprepared until people began arriving by plane to the island. 

They plan to try this again next year (which like, why?) and prove they can produce the vision they had. They are offering the option for refunds or people can opt for additional free VIP passes to next year and forgo their refund. The first lawsuit has been filed of which I am sure others will follow. 

The lessons for me in this story are simple: greed destroys, preparation is everything and taking genuine responsibility for your actions is what can actually save your butt when the smoke clears. As an aspiring entrepreneur, watching this company crash and burn in jaw-dropping fashion is a valuable example on how to not go down the same path even on smaller scales. 

Even If Your Voice Shakes

The best advice I ever received was ‘speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.’ I’m not even sure where I first heard it but it resonates deeply with me. 

I have always loved to read and write, something my mother influenced in me. I enjoy those things but sharing raw, personal information, having uncomfortable or difficult conversations doesn’t always come as easily whether in print or in-person. 

Over recent (…and ongoing!) years of maturity and self-boldness even if I feel fear, I push myself to have conversations that may be tough but need to happen. Whether it is addressing a crack in a friend or familial relationship, being vulnerable with sharing how much someone means to me, getting real with people about physical or mental health concerns, kicking myself in the pants often to progress or needing to get on the same page with people who are different so we can achieve goals at work or beyond. 

My mom told me if you have compassion and you show that in your delivery whenever you talk with people, they will receive it in the spirit you meant rather than be offended, upset or simply ignore you. Part of what we are accountable to with people is what we say but the other part is how we say it. 

Gear shift…

This week on the 26th marks my two year blog anniversary. My time flies. This is an exciting time because I am looking forward to exploring new mediums in addition to tradition blog-style writing like video blogging (vlogging for you hip folks). 

I will still keep writing every week because my content will be a little different. I am currently working on content for a YouTube channel with some fun topics about beauty, travel, food, fun, art and lots more. 

It took me a long time to try it. I kept talking about all these ideas and did nothing with them. Eventually, I had to feel the fear and do it anyway. That’s actually a blog topic for another day. Getting over the anxiety of trying something new. The fear of failure or the comparison drug that keeps one looking at someone else’s yard instead of focusing on our own. Hoping for the freedom someone else has without doing the work to gain it on your own. Be bold and go for what you want and need in this life. 

I am passionate about connecting across the globe – both near and far – with people I can both share with and learn from. I know as my digital network expands in the future it will always be a clear value to speak the truth even if my voice shakes. 

Reflections: From Chicago to Central America…My Journey Abroad

In 2009 during college, I lived in Central America for four months…Nicaragua to be exact, a beautiful country nestled between Honduras and Costa Rica. 

When I first landed was immediately overwhelmed by the decision I made. I didn’t know the language, missed my family and had no clue what to expect from the adventure to come. 

Connecting to people back home wasn’t nearly as easy as you’d expect, often relying on unreliable internet connections for Skype video chats or international phone calls. My boyfriend being the amazing person he is, helped to make hundreds of miles in distance feel like down the street whenever we did speak. 

My first moment of relief came a few days in after I met my host family. 

We pulled up to their home and called ‘Buenas’ inside the front gate. Maria and Alex appeared at the door and I immediately felt a wave of peace and calm over me. It was incredible and they took care of me like my own parents would over the following months that I lived there.

We struggled communicating at first with the language barrier but eventually I learned more Spanish and they got comfortable using the English words they knew. We made it work. 

Most mornings in my Nica home, I didn’t need an alarm for the neighborhood roosters were a standing substitute. We also had street vendors daily walking past our house at the sight of dawn selling fruits and vegetables. I can still hear the lady yelling AGUACATE over and over, hoping for customers to buy up her box of avocados. 

I was fortunate enough to have not just a loving host family but a friend from college lived there. Her family had settled not far from my barrio as missionaries. Having that family there was another sign that I was exactly where I should be and God would look out for me wherever I landed the world.  

I miss those days often now when I reflect back. It was a fun, challenging experience and a time of tremendous growth for me. 
Over that short time which felt like forever on days when I missed home, I really grew up. You learn so much about yourself when you travel, especially alone. 

We trekked between Nicaragua and Costa Rica – beautiful lands with beautiful people. I am grateful for the friends I knew and met along the way. 

Many Nica friends became like family and my own family and friends back home were incredibly supportive during my months away. Some days I simply missed home even when I no longer cared about the cushy comforts of living in the States. It was great to have good people near and far. In fact, my host Maria still rings me every now and then and we struggle through our broken shared languages haha. I got really good at Spanish in Nicaragua when it was everywhere I went. I needed it to survive really. I haven’t been as diligent since returning home though my goal one day is fluency.

I have been thinking about Nicaragua a lot lately as I feel my passport’s need to travel becoming restless again. I want to be moving around the world with my partner. I want us to visit new places and see new faces and soak in life in beautifully unexpected new ways. 

Me on top of a volcano

I overcame a lot of fear and doubt when I lived abroad. I did things I maybe thought I could never do. When I read over the very raw emotions I shared on a basic blog at the time, it is so clear I journeyed a long way physically, mentally and spiritually during those days away from the comforts of home. I am the better for it and it is a good reminder that no mountain is too big to climb.