Tuesday, November 18, 2014

30 Before 30 Update!

I've accomplished a lot of things since my last update!! Phew! #lovinlife

#2: Climb a 14er 

Jumping at the Mt. Elbert summit - 14,439 ft.
This was accomplished with some screaming fights at a swarm of mosquitoes, slowly trudging my way past 12,000 feet because my lungs hate the altitude, crying out of appreciation & exhaustion (and possibly a little bit of delusion) after a woman told me I was "doing great!" at about 13,500, and some beautiful photo stops! My companions had all not yet done Mt. Elbert (Brett, Colleen, & Mark) and all of us but Brett can call this our first 14er experience!! We camped out the night before and started at sunrise and we took about 6.5 hours to finish. 

#3 Explore Fort Collins:

I've been lucky enough to do this a few times this year, which is awesome, but the best by far was with Brett and Crystal, visiting some breweries, getting some delicious food, and meeting some crazy people while playing cornhole and listening to some live music :) Great town, great people, great day.

Brewery Stops: New Belgium, Odell Brewing Co., Fort Collins Brewery

#7 Have a crazy LoDo girls' night:

So in hindsight, this was a silly choice for the list. However, I certainly accomplished such things. I do believe I have had my fill after approximately 3 of these nights! Gals nights are glorious. LoDo is not. so. much. Anywho, here's a goodie from Fourth of July at Coors Field prior to the most debaucherous (yes I am using a non-word) of said evenings...

#8 Hike Hanging Lake:

I heard so much about this hike before attempting it - how hard it was, how beautiful it was, etc. etc. I think it is one of those hikes where they have to say its 'very difficult' because it's a tourist destination and they don't want families getting an idea that it's a breeze. Don't get me wrong, I was certainly sweating and out of breath at points, but it took our group about 50 mins to get to the top and was not nearly as challenging as I had built it to be in my mind. It was, however, just as beautiful as described! I wish there were less people around and that people hadn't rudely left their trash along the way, but as you can see, a pretty special place!

#10 Backpack to Conundrum Hot Springs:

This place was unreal and so was the beauty of nature along the way.

This backpacking trip was amazing. I would highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing the beauty of Colorado and wants to backpack and camp. The hike was about 8.5 miles and slightly uphill the whole way. We crossed over 12 rivers - one was especially intense because we took our shoes off and it was June so the runoff from the mountains was still snow-cold! It was the most gorgeous hike I have been on in Colorado, for certain (I would say ever- but the Inca Trail kinda has a leg up!). The camp sites were all at treeline and there is a fire ban around the springs because of the sensitivity of the area, so it was a chilly night! There were lots of other folks up at the Springs, so by the end of the evening there were about 24 of us in the larger hot spring pool. I can't say enough about how great it's been to have these ladies to explore with this summer...they're wonderful women. This article was shared with me by one of them and I encourage the read: 8 Reasons Women Need to Go to the Mountains with Other Women

#11 Get a new job:

I cannot even express how excited I am to have landed this job! I am the Site Social Work Director at STRIVE Ruby Hill Elementary with Colorado I Have A Dream Foundation. I work with kindergarteners, first graders, families, teachers, school admin, a wonderful non-profit organization staff who I have been inspired by so so often in the last 3 months, and numerous community organizations trying to accomplish wonderful things in Denver. I cannot wait to see how this position develops and feel so thankful my path has brought me here!  www.cihadf.org


#12 Start a garden:

This summer the ladies of the Logan Lodge came together to build and weatherproof some raised beds to start growing our own veggies! It wasn't the most successful production, but it was our first go and we were a very busy trio this summer. So we can blame some of the veggie death on that :| You would think with a mother like mine I would be a natural at this! Dang ;) We did get some great cherry tomatoes and some regular tomatoes, some green peppers, LOTS of zucchini, some late season kale, and a couple mini watermelon that didn't taste so great! Haha. Next year folks, next year. 

#13 Do a sprint-tri:

Okay, this was awesome. I was very very nervous as it meant I was going to be exercising for somewhere near 2 hours straight and I am unsure if I have intentionally done that before...besides a hike, of course. I had a feeling the run was going to be the hardest for me because I have always had a mental block when it comes to being a successful runner. I have also always been a natural swimmer and figured I could go as slow as I needed on the bike. Well the swim was rough! I did not expect to feel so out of my element! There were people all around, my goggles fogged immediately, and I started to panic. Once I calmed myself, I made it through the swim, and made the transition onto the bike. The ride was pretty and smooth. The run was a little tough but I had more energy than expected. So glad Colleen and I got to have such a great first sprint triathlon experience in Longmont, CO with the Outdoor Divas Women's Sprint Tri.

Life is Brewtiful...

Since moving to Colorado I have definitely found myself even more picky when it comes to beer and really appreciate the craft beer variety and commitment in Denver. I initially said I would try 10 new beers this year, but found that a little crazy easy...so I switched to 10 new breweries and have still crossed it off before many others...! Welp. I like beer. What else is there to say?! So I think I will share the breweries in order of who I liked, starting with my least favorite - not saying its bad, just less great ;)

Mahogany Ridge

10. Mahogany Ridge- Steamboat Springs, CO: The beer was just mediocre here. Lots of watered down flavors and nothing special to write home about. Still cool to try a new brewery in one of my favorite towns in Colorado and the food was pretty darn good!
9. Barranco Beer Co. - Lima, PERU: Super awesome that some folks are trying to create a beer scene in the capital of Peru. Barranco is an artsy, bohemian neighborhood and seemingly a perfect spot for such a place. Was not very busy when Cara and I visited and they only had 3 choices of beer, but exciting nonetheless!         


8. Epic Brewing - RiNo, Denver, CO: I really wanted to move Epic higher in the list because of how cool the space is and the multitude of beers they offer. Maybe the more trips I make, the more I will appreciate! I tried their Brainless Fruit series in a flight because I wasn't impressed with the sound of my typical choices (their stout was imperial and the porter, smoked). The Brainless on Cherries was yummy but the other 2 were just okay. Wish they didn't charge $2 just to sample beer :-/

7. LowDown - Cap Hill, Denver, CO: LowDown is a great addition to the Cap Hill area of Denver. Not a lot of breweries in the neighborhood and the food is pretty good. The beers were tasty, but I was a bit disappointed the two times I visited that they were out of a number on their daily list. Maybe I just came too late in the day! They had a really great Amber/Pale that is no longer on their beer list (named Treason), hopefully it returns soon!

6. Mountain Toad Brewing - Golden, CO: Came here after a long hike with a friend and it was a very welcoming place with lots of other folks clearly having the same idea we had! We sat down at the bar and service was friendly and I got to try some of guest kombucha along with a few samples of what sounded yummy. Surprisingly, I went for the Wit beer and loved it. Had some nourishment in the form of street tacos from the food truck on the patio and all seemed right with the world ;)

Station 26 Brewing Co.
5. Station 26 Brewing Co. - Park Hill, Denver, CO: This is a fun brewery. They have a great outdoor space, they create some interesting brews, and the actual brick and mortar is an old firehouse. I went for a Bluegrass Brunch and it was busy with lots of young families and friends. Definitely plan to return.

Funky Buddha Brewery

4. Funky Buddha Brewery - Oak Park, FL: Definitely the coolest thing I've done on a layover! Funky Buddha was having their One Year Anniversary party during a 14 hour layover on my way back from Peru and a fellow craft beer lover and I decided to make the trek to Oak Park from the airport and check it out. The list of beers was unbelievable and was scheduled so that new releases were announced and available every couple of hours which made the anticipation half the fun! They have crazy names (i.e. Bluth's Banana Stand, Vanilla Cream Abdul Jabbar Nitro, & Fire in Your Hole) and amazing sounding combinations/flavors (i.e. Nutella Porter, a Fluffer-Nutter Ale, Watermelon Gose, & French Toast Double Brown Ale). I'll likely never make it back, but so glad I got to experience such a cool day there!

3. Former Future Brewing - Platte Park, Denver, CO: I love this space. The bar stools swivel and they are leather with full backs. The bar itself is an old refurbished wing of a jet plane. They have some really delicious beers and the couple times I have been in the bartenders have been super friendly, knowledgeable, and quick on the tap pull! All around great experience AND close to home ;)

2. Our Mutual Friend Malt & Brew - Five Points, Denver, CO: Their Brown Ale is the best. They have also come out with some amazing sours this summer. The space is intimate and full of hipsters and a food truck is always hangin' out outside, but the reason to come here is for their space and their innovative brews. Yum. The company certainly didn't hurt ;)

1. New Belgium Brewing Co. - Fort Collins, CO: This brewery is really neat, lots of open space and a great patio with yard games! We stopped here on our way to a concert for Colleen's birthday and I hope to go back soon to get the full experience. The 'Lips of Faith' series is awesome. I had the La Folie (2014) which was a sour brown and it was fantastic, the Transatlantique Kriek (2013), cherry lambic was also stellar. Obviously, highly recommended and I am looking for more pals to head up to Fort Collins with me next time!


Friday, July 11, 2014

Hola Chicos!

Peru was amazing. Everything I had hoped it would be and more. Cara, Erin, and I made it around to all of the cities relying on Cara's college Spanish, and we did it with flying colors ;) We met up with dear friends, Swapomthi and her husband Neeraj, for the 4 day 3 night Inca Trail trek and the rest of the two weeks we explored the nearby cities and traveled the countryside...

Miraflores -

Cara and Erin and I all met at the Ft. Lauderdale airport to get on the same lovely plane (Spirit - not really lovely at all...) to head to Lima, Peru! We arrived safe and sound with all baggage in tow and shared a mildly sketchy van to the center of town at 11pm with 2 other girls from our flight. I had arranged for an airbnb for the 2 nights in Miraflores, but we didn't have cell phones and it was very late and the streets were very busy, so it was a tadddd stressful finding the apartment, but once we did, we got all set up and went to a cafe around the corner for some much needed nosh and H2O.

 We got up leisurely the next morning, still acclimating to a new place and went off to walk around and explore Miraflores. The streets were busy and there was much to see! We found a small outdoor marketplace selling all sorts of touristy goods just a few streets down from where we were staying and took notes on how much things were selling for in the capital so we could be prepared for bartering in the other towns. Then we stopped at a grocery, got some picnic foods, tried to decipher all the crazy fruits on display, and walked to the beach. I was the only one who cared about sticking my feet in the water (ended up with wet jeans up to my knees...) and then we sat along the ocean promenade and enjoyed our picnic with the salty breeze. We returned to our apartment to get ready for the evening and found a local restaurant that was offering traditional Peruvian fare, so we got a bunch of plates to split between the 3 of us and some pisco sours! Yummmm. The weather in Lima was pretty perfect and folks were very kind.

Arequipa -

I think we all agreed at the end of the trip that Arequipa was our favorite spot. We left Lima by plane and after a 30 min taxi ride through farm land we arrived in the downtown area of Arequipa. I am sure much of our love for this place had to do with the wonderful people at the hotel/hostel we stayed at - La Hosteria - as our new friend Cynthia took very great care of us. We had a great little 3 person room at the top of the courtyard and had fresh breakfast on the terrace every morning with the skyline full of white tipped mountains. The buildings and streets were all very old and charming, lined with cobblestone. This was definitely a wealthier town and the restaurants and shops were delightful. We explored the local food market and I tried some seviche and we sampled some fresh fruit. We had a really yummy dinner (with a few peanut scares!) and some wine at a restaurant where we could watch the cooks through glass windows :) Our most adventurous piece - after being told the 1 day trip to Colca Canyon was not worth alllll the driving - was white water rafting! After Cynthia convinced Cara that it would be okay even if she wasn't a strong swimmer (since Cynthia did it and can't swim at all!) and that the fellas would take great care of us, we signed up and had a heck of a good time! Our raft guide was funny and kept all of us feeling calm, even when the water most certainly wasn't. And the chance to get out into nature after a number of days in a row walking through city streets, was a welcome change, and so beautiful. We ended the day on our way to the bus station to catch our overnight bus to Cuzco (not highly recommended - it was suuuuuper bumpy the whole way, so sleep was next to impossible for all 3 of us)!

Cuzco -

Much of our time in Cuzco was spent at small market shops, little restaurants, and prepping for our big trip! We had to take our final deposit to Peru Treks and make sure Swapomthi and Neeraj made it in time from Lima - lots to do! Everything ended up working out well and we had some amazing food and explored the chocolate museum while trying not to think too much about what we might have forgot to bring or how heavy our backpacks were going to be for the trek in the days ahead!! Cuzco is a town with tons of history and beautiful old buildings. I wish I had more time to relax here, but only had one night on the way back from the trek and we ended up taking a (kinda scary and very nervous) train ride back from Aguas Calientes that took 4 hours longer than anticipated, so we didn't have time for one last meal in Cuzco. Would definitely be a place I would like to return!

INCA TRAIL POST TO FOLLOW!! (it needs its own entry for certain)

Aguas Calientes -

This town was incredibly touristy being that Machu Picchu is at its center, but man was it beautiful. Huge green cover mountains came around us on all sides and the river was flowing fast through the middle. The food was probably the worst, in my opinion, in Aguas Calientes because all the restaurants were trying so hard to pull in every tourist that walked by. Cara and I took a really great walk along the railroad tracks to spend a few hours exploring the Botanical Gardens and ending at a beautiful waterfall. I wanted to buy every piece of jewelry in their main square market, but most of my time was spent trying not to focus on how much my legs hurt and how swollen my calves were after those 4 days of hiking!! It was easier to relax in Aguas Calientes though, knowing the unknown was pretty much behind us :) We left this quaint town back to Cuzco (the train ride mentioned above) and then went almost straight to the airport for our final 2 days in Lima.

Barranco -

I decided for the final night stay in Peru to book a really cute boutique hotel in the artsy district of Barranco. I am so glad we did! 3B Barranco was amazing, so comfortable after a long haul, and the owner was an amazingly sweet woman who gave us a million things to do in our final hours. We had some of the best food we had the whole trip - mainly tacu tacu, right Cara?! - and visited a local brewery in the neighborhood. We walked back down near the beach, had some delicious cafe con leche (maybe a few!), and explored the shops and sweets. We even returned to the market we found the first day to finish off our souvenir shopping and to get one last mango ice smoothie! Only thing we didn't get to do on the trip was take a cooking class, which is something I hope I get to go back and do!!

It was an amazing 2 weeks and a beautiful country with wonderful people. My recommendation would definitely be that if you want to see Machu Picchu, do the hiking beforehand. It was a beautiful place, but the amount of tourist traffic was baffling after 4 days walking through serenity. So I was very glad to have had that experience before seeing the famous Inca ruins - even if it was the hardest physical thing I've done to date!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Conquered the Incline!

At the top - got a little chilly that high!
This past weekend I was able to check another number off the list of 30 with the completion of the Incline hike in Manitou Springs with my dear friends Jackie and Jamie. I've been intimidated and intrigued by this hike for quite some time, but knew I wanted to say I have accomplished the feat! Since I returned from doing the Inca Trail (posts to come soon), I thought, well, no better time than now to jump right back into climbing stairs since that was half the battle for the Incas! I definitely should have made sure I was actually ready by eating a tad better the day prior and maybe not having a slight buzz at the Second City comedy show I went to the night before!! Whoops! Lessons learned ;)

"The Manitou Springs Incline, also known as the Manitou Incline or simply the Incline, is a popular hiking trail rising above Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Colorado Springs. The trail is the remains of a former 3 ft (914 mmnarrow gauge funicular railway whose tracks washed out during a rock slide in 1990. The Incline is famous for its sweeping views and steep grade, as steep as 68% in places, making it a fitness challenge for locals in the Colorado Springs area. The incline gains over 2,000 feet (610 m) of elevation in less than one mile." - Wikipedia

The record for summiting the Incline is 16 mins 42 seconds. This seems absurd to me. I made it in about an hour 35 mins, but was dominated by both Jamie (50 mins) and Jackie (1 hr 10). I did much better on the second half, once my head decided to join the game, but still have hopes to do it again and be much closer to an hour! On the way up we saw a guy who was on his third pass of the day...these folks ain't kiddin' around. The weather was overcast- threatening to rain most of the way, but made for pretty nice hiking weather. The terrain is all wooden stairs with pieces of pipes and what Jackie termed 'tinker toy passes' on the way up. There are no flat sections, just some spots with a slightly lower grade. Once at the top, you take the Barr trail back down which is about 4 miles of switchback and all downhill and foresty beautiful. It's pretty gravely and we were certainly glad it wasn't raining as folks have said the trail turns into a bit of a river in rain! It was a great challenge that I would recommend to anyone and it's advisable to do as we did and crack a local beer at the top ;)

 and just for good measure, what I felt like at the top...

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

#14: 10 Days Veggie - COMPLETE

So I may or may not have almost eaten bacon 3 times in the last ten days...bacon is too good people. These 10 days were not a challenge beyond that. I made sure to plan my meals (maybe over-bought on the veggies at Trader Joe's on the first of the 10 days!!), and just followed in the footsteps of my lovely roommate Jamie! I learned that what I knew about being a vegetarian was very limited. Had no idea there were differences in the type of vegetarian you can be other than if you eat fish you are a Pescetarian! I guess I followed the lacto-ovo vegetarian diet, because (let's be real) giving up bacon is tough enough, goat cheese and fried eggs is a whole new level.

First Meal: Fried egg, goat cheese, and roasted asparagus on ciabatta :)

My two days that were the hardest were both Sundays. First Sunday I went to a new brewery in town, Station 26, to attend their Bluegrass Brunch where they had doughnuts and a BBQ truck and released a new brew - Coffee Vanilla Cinnamon Porter. The one doughnut I was eyeing was Maple Bacon, so that was out, and then I wanted to get a side of baked beans, but that also was cooked with bacon :-/ I survived of course. Ended up spending less money. And maybe saved a calorie or two ;)

Station 26 Brewing Co. - Bluegrass Brunch

The next Sunday I was invited to my Aunt and Uncle's house for a BBQ and, although I had lots of delicious veggie options (which I ate and was very stuffed), I still wanted to have the chicken kebabs and hot sausage...#firstworldproblems.

I think that what I learned is if I were more committed to the cause of being a vegetarian, I could most certainly do it. But since I just don't get weirded out by eating things attached to a bone, I will stick with my occasional steak, chicken, and BBQ but realize I get plenty of protein and satisfaction out of a vegetarian lifestyle - so maybe just plan more veggie meals throughout the week and save the meat for eating out :)

Thanks for following along on my 30 Before 30 ride and I will leave you with this Buzzfeed devoted to all things bacon:  17 Mouthwatering Bacon-Wrapped Snacks :)

Friday, February 28, 2014

Alyssa's 30 Before 30 List :D

I have now been 29 for one whole week! This is my last year in my twenties and I think that should call for some time of reflection and some time to consider what I'd like my thirties to bring. I have very few qualms about turning the big 3-0. In the past 3 decades I have lived in 3 different countries, visited 9 more, received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from a great school (Go Blue!), gone bungee jumping, seen my sister get married and have the cutest child in the entire world - no bias here..., survived amoebas, learned a new language, confronted my own numerous weaknesses (still workin on these!), skied Colorado mountains, met so many amazingly beautiful people, cried, laughed, and loved countless times in the company of countless friends. And all of that being said, there's still a lot more to do and see :)

I've had a few acquaintances do a list of 30 things to accomplish before they turned 30. Not all of them started in their actual 30th year, but that just means mine have to be easily quantifiable and most of them have to be free or relatively inexpensive to make sure I can get them done in time! I have tried to make all of them things I have never done before, but some of them are tweaked so at least its a slightly new experience. I am hoping to have folks join me in most of these endeavors, so if you read over this list and see something you want to do with me, let's plan it!! Here we go:

1. Go to Peru
2. Climb a 14er
3. Explore Fort Collins
4. Get arm definition (gotta be specific here people!)
5. Do the 'incline' - hike in Colorado Springs
6. Skydive (but only if a cool spot presents itself - no need to just waste money, right?!)
7. Have a crazy LoDo girls' night
8. Hike Hanging Lake
9. Spend a fun weekend away with my sister, one with my mom, one with my dad
10. Backpack to Conundrum Hot Springs
11. Get a new job (my current position's grant funding is up in September- so this HAS to happen)
12. Start a garden
13. Do a sprint-tri
14. Go vegetarian for 10 days
15. Have 1 solo dance party/month 
16. Host a BOMB dinner party at the Logan Lodge
17. Explore two new U.S. cities
18. Buy myself a bouquet of flowers every week for one month
19. Read 6 new books & re-read a favorite
20. Learn to drive a stick shift
21. Take a road trip with someone new 
22. Spend one weekend without technology in America
23. Open a champagne bottle with a knife!
24. Go to 6 new museums/cultural spots
25. Get my 'jump' on at jumpstreet
26. Run a 1/2 Marathon
27. Try 10 new foods
28. Try 10 new beers Too easy...Modified to: Visit 10 new breweries! 
29. See 6 shows I've never seen before (live performance)
30. Learn to make a perfect martini & old fashioned 

Want to join me?!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Good To Be Back!

It’s been almost two years since I have found myself ready to jump back into the blogosphere after my unexpected and hasty departure from Mali and the Peace Corps. There was a coup d'état in Mali in March of 2012 that resulted in the evacuation of all US citizens – which included all 180 Peace Corps Volunteers. After the initial coup – which you can read more about on the Wikipedia page -  all volunteers were told to consolidate in our local capitals and wait out the decision from the US government about our future within Mali. Two weeks later we were in Accra, Ghana completing our Peace Corps ‘Transition Conference’; working on resumes, interview skills, and sitting in counseling sessions. Not a small change and not an easy time emotionally for any of us.

It took about 3 months for reality to sink in that that part of my life had finished and a new chapter needed to begin. I spent that time traveling around the US visiting family, friends, and lots of RPCVs who I could talk to about the crazy change that just happened in our lives! I wanted to find a city that felt right. A place I could push myself in new ways and feel at home and hopefully a place I could be close to nature. My list of visits included: New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Washington DC, Atlantic City, Portland, Seattle, and the two that ended up being my favorites – Denver and Baltimore. My friends and family graciously took me around to the non-touristy parts of each town so I could try – in very limited time – to get a feel for what living there would be like. In the end, Denver felt right! I moved out in August 2012 without a job or a place to call my own, but a place to stay for a month or two with family who held out open arms and provided great advice :)

I’ve been here for a year and a half now, and it feels pretty awesome. I have wonderful people around me, made some fantastic new friends, have the greatest roommates, coolest house (its also literally super cold since its ancient), and get to visit the mountains on a near weekly basis. I have found a few places that my volunteer time feels productive and inspiring, and have been working as a Community Engagement Coordinator for a little over a year now. Things are better than I would have expected after just picking up and moving while hoping for the best! There are still so many places to explore, things to do, and people to experience life with here, hence my return to my blog. My 29th birthday is coming this month and that has led to my decision to create a list of 30 things to do in my life before I enter my 4th decade in this crazy world of ours! Time to take life by the horns (once again) and get some things done that I have been wanting to do for a while…