new-orleans-people-watching

People Watching: The Art Of It & Next-Level Writing

When I first tapped into my writing capabilities, I was eleven. I had a grand imagination to pull from and enough time to create endless, timeless, fictional stories. People watching wasn't anywhere on my agenda.

The older I got, the less I felt that inspiration. With age comes responsibility - as we all know. My brain became muddled by the many things of adulthood, such as starting a career, handling relationships, and paying bills. My focus shifted from creating stories to making a living.

So, when I now have time to sit down and write, I have the hardest time. I'll stare at a blank piece of paper for hours on end and have nothing to account for except lost time.

In school, we had classes that focused on writing about little moments. They didn't have to be full stories. Instead, they were a piece of time - whether it was fictional or not - that would pull a reader into that small moment. This is known as flash- or micro-fiction. Both, I specialize in. They are the genres of writing I sincerely look forward to.

But even these leave me with nothing. So, I knocked on my head and tried everything I could to inspire myself. I tried new things, watched some movies, read other stories, tried various locations, switched between pen and paper and laptop - everything. And something stuck: People watching.

What Makes People Watching an Art?

people-boarding-trolley-new-orleans-people watching
Watching people get on and off the New Orleans trolley, while also snapping some photos for my Instagram, helped me capture this moment for a later piece of writing.

Just like anything else creative, people watching involves expanding your mind and analyzing the details. It's a technique of sorts - knowing how to watch without creeping someone out, dissecting the very being of a person based on their clothing and body movements, and absorbing every little detail for later use.

Many think people watching is exactly that, sitting around and watching people. While the actual act of people watching is that, it is also an art that requires prior knowledge, psychology being one of the most helpful.  A woman's left pinky constantly digs and scratches at her thigh; does that mean she has an itch? Perhaps it's a "tell" or an unconscious move of hers when she's agitated. How can that kind of little detail be incorporated into your own character? What is making her tick? Is it because she's waiting for her coffee? Maybe she's with a friend who won't stop talking; maybe it's work gossip or drama the woman rather not participate in, or maybe the friend speaks about sleeping around and the woman has recently found her husband has been unfaithful.

Suddenly, just by understanding the psychology behind a nervous tick, such as the scratching of her thigh, you've discovered a little piece of a human being. It's not just a woman standing in the same coffee shop as you; it's a woman with a life, a story.

I'm Not A Psychology Major; How Can I Get Better?

If you haven't taken a class in psychology - you don't need to. There are various ways to be better at people watching without spending money on classes. I've compiled a list of a few things that have helped me. Keep in mind, I'm no expert. These are just things that truly did help me without spending any money.

#1. Google It

I apologize if this is a bit on-the-nose and common sense, but it is the first place you should start. The internet is vast a filled with different articles that explain why people do the things they do. I mean, you're reading this article, so you're already a third of the way there! Here are some articles I find particularly useful:

The Art of People Watching by Cody Delistraty

In this compelling article, Cody explains the history of the "People Watcher" and the art behind it. I love this article for its history, and I highly recommend it if you're wanting some more background information.

10 People Watching Methods | How to People Watch by Josh Rueff

This article is particularly helpful if you're looking for a more detailed list of "how-to" guidelines for people watching. Josh also goes into some of the various methods that can be used to not feel like you're a complete stalker.

People Watching: Social, Perceptual, and Neurophysiological Studies of Body Perception by Kerri Johnson and Maggie Shiffrar

I actually just came across this book recently, and I haven't been able to read all of it yet, but if you're looking for something that's more substantial and scientific, this is a perfect example. If you're wanting to dive deeper into psychology, this is a very interesting read.

#2. Read or Watch About Murderers

I know this may not be everyone's cup-o-tea, and I know it sounds a little bizarre - but the studies that have been done on murderers and why they did what they did are, in my opinion, monumentally helpful. Even though I wasn't going people watching to find a murderer, watching TV shows like Criminal Minds and watching how they analyze the murderer into a human being, learning his or her ticks and tells, helped me get a more clear idea of the types of things to look further into.

This is definitely a more fun way to get some learning done. Just turn on Netflix and watch Criminal Minds. There are tons of documentaries on Netflix, too, however, besides Criminal Minds, if you'd rather watch something more factual. If you don't have Netflix, try YouTube. I will provide some video options, in case you don't have access to Netflix or Cable. You will need internet, however. So, try finding a Starbucks or rest stop with free WiFi, if you don't have an internet connection.

Criminal Minds on Netflix

Not only is this one of my favorite shows (because Reed), but this show deals with the BAU or Behavioral Analysis Unit. In every episode, the BAU investigates different murders, finding the murderer by analyzing behavior. This show helped me develop my people watching skills because they heavily look at the details of a human being and certain background pieces that make that person up.

YouTube Search: "The Science Behind Human Behavior"

Because there were so many psychology videos on YouTube, I decided to provide the keyword search link for you to browse all those videos. Some touch on the science of trust and mistrust, some touch on body language, and some videos are textbook. It's all up to your personal preference.

TED Talk: "What Happens In Your Brain When You Pay Attention?" by Mehdi Ordikhani-Seyedlar

A big part of people watching is being able to pay attention. In this TED Talk, Mehdi discusses the science behind being attentive, and how to train yourself to be more focused. I find this video interesting and useful for both people watching and just daily activities. Being more attentive can lead to more valuable education and relationships, so I highly recommend checking this video out.

#3. Watch Those Close to You, First

I personally believe you can't be great at people watching if you don't even know your family's or friends' ticks and tells, first. There were a lot of things I didn't even realize about my parents that I did once I actually started examining them. I kept notes about them on my phone, too. Those who are close to you will be the most influential people in your writing. It makes sense they would be your "test subjects" of sorts, starting out. Ask them questions, too. Learn about how they grew up. Did anything traumatic happen in their lives? Ask your friends what makes them self-conscious. Why do they wear what they wear? Because you know these people, you have a good reason to start these conversations, whereas with strangers it would be crossing a line and unwarranted.

When you master this, then it's time to move on to strangers. Keep in mind, you can no longer ask questions. Now, you are the one with all the answers. From their body movements and your research, you should be able to have a clearer idea of what may be going on in their head.

OK, But How Does Any of This Relate to My Writing?

 

artist-painting-new-orleans-people watching
Watching this artist paint and comparing the style of his paintings to his demeanor and clothing helped me decipher who he was as a performer and who he might be when he went home and was alone - something I pulled inspiration from for a later story.

If you're a writer, then - like me - you're always searching for inspiration. People watching is a phenomenal way to take your writing to the next level. Why? People Watching is the way of analyzing people in their natural or unnatural environments. By studying others, you can create more realistic characters. The more human your characters are, the easier it will be to give them a backstory and make decisions for their futures.

Why should characters be the main focus of your stories? Isn't plot more important? K.M. Weiland of Mythic Scribes wrote:

"...character is the heart of story. What good is a killer plot without the actors who bring it to life? Stakes only matter insofar as there are people to gain or suffer by them. Readers relate to stories through the characters."

Having great character - characters that readers can latch onto - will allow your story to be more intricate and real, even if it takes place in a far-off land. Analyzing real people will help you create "real" characters.

How Can I Remember Character Traits For Later?

My favorite way to remember people is to photograph them. I love catching people in unguarded moments. Of course, if you take photos of others and plan on sharing them publicly, be sure to ask their permission. If you're not comfortable with photographing others, the most simple way to remember character traits for later use is to store them in a notebook.

On my iPhone, in the Notes App, I keep a separate folder specified for "Characters". In it, I have a particular note where I type/jot down anything I think might be interesting for a later story character.

This works the same for Plot and Setting. Taking photos and storing them in a note of a place you'd like to include in a story is a great idea. I like using the Notes App on my iPhone because it will also sync to my iCloud and I can see everything on my laptop when I write. If you don't have an iPhone, there are multiple applications out there that will do the same thing, or go old-school and use a journal. I do both because sometimes writing things down on paper allows my brain to process what I saw a bit more, creating better imagery in my descriptions.

'Til Next Time...

That's all I've got on this topic, for now. Thank-you so much for reading, and I hope this inspired you to become a better people watcher. I hope you get some great stories out of it too! In case you don't know, this is the first article in a series of mine called "A Writer's Dialogue". This will be a continuing series throughout the year, so be sure to look out for the next article.

If you have a topic you'd like me to touch on, always feel free to leave me a comment or shoot me an email. I, of course, write this content for you, so I want to make sure what I'm putting out is useful. Definitely let me know in the comments if you liked this article or have anything to add!

 

Always,

 

 

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My First Tattoo and Helping Third-World Countries

Hello! And welcome to my very first The Weekly Jinapher post! As you can tell, I’m a little excited…Why? Because these are posts where I have ZERO agenda except to blab about my week. It’s going to get straight-up diary, and that’s okay because it’s only happening once a week!

If you’re curious as to what I get up to during my week, what I have to say about what’s going on in the world, or literally anything about me – this is for you. I don’t have a plan. I did intend to take photos throughout the week to post with this, but it turns out nothing sparked my curiosity enough to photograph. However, I did get a tattoo this past Sunday during my sister’s bachelorette weekend in New Orleans, LA (don’t worry – there’s a post coming).

My First Tattoo (Kind Of)

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The beginnings of my half sleeve

The tattoo, itself, is of a poppy (orange) and lilies (blue). They are actually only the flourish for the tattoo I desire, but because I have a small income, I couldn’t exactly drop a thousand big ones on the whole thing. So, I’m doing it in intervals, which is a tad frustrating. When people ask me, “Oh, what does it mean?” I have to wave them off. Otherwise, it’s a rather long explanation of what it will be when it’s done.

Other than that, I’m super happy with it. I got it done at Hell or Highwater Tattoos by artist Joe Greco – who straight-up looks like a reincarnation of Billy Joe. His specialty is wrap tattoos, and I loved that he was super chill about the whole process. It allowed me to be more relaxed, considering it was my first tattoo.

The peeling process just started yesterday (ick but also fascinating). I feel like a snake. A very cool, badass snake.

Getting A Move On

Come August, my lease at my apartment in Downtown Mobile, AL will be up, and I’ve officially decided not to renew. When I graduated college in March of 2017, I told myself I would travel more. Then, I got so excited about owning my first place all by myself, that got thrown out the window…sort of. I did travel more in 2017 then I did ever before, but still not to the extent that I want to. Plus, my parents helped me buy my Chevy Sonic Hatchback when I graduated for a reason.

It’s my newfound initiative to turn my bright yellow wheels into a functional camper, at least temporarily. I would love to have the HC1, a trailer I’ve been looking at for over a year, but it’s about twenty grand out of my reach. I figure, with a little bit of creativity and my dad’s help, I can probably make my car comfortable to live in.

The real question: will my cat and rabbit fit, too?

I hope so. They’ll probably both have to get accustomed to leashes, so they can get exercise, but I definitely don’t want to leave them with family if I decide to drive cross country for an extended amount of time.

I promise to update more on this process, even do some car-to-camper specific posts, in the future.

Upcoming Events

I haven’t publicly announced this, but I am super pumped to be attending the Hangout Music Festival this year. If you don’t know, I’m a bit of an Indie / Rock music junkee, and the Hangout’s setlist this year – I might faint. There are so many bands I’ve been dying to see that are coming, and the best part is this festival is local to me.

hangout-fest-2018-lineupAlso, my birthday is around the corner. I’ll be turning 21 on March 12th, and I’m pretty psyched. I’m hoping and praying I’ll be able to go to Paris either around that time or soon after. It’s been a dream of mine since I was five to NOT drink champagne until:

A. I was in Paris

B. It was the most expensive on the menu.

C. I sipped it on a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower

I’ve been high maintenance since forever, and my goals seem to be pretty far out of reach most of the time. However, it just makes it that more satisfying when I achieve them. So, dream big, kids. Dream big.

Before Hangout or my birthday is my eldest sister’s wedding, which I will be doing complete coverage for on my blog. I am the Maid of Honor, which is pretty cool, and it is Harry Potter themed. Can’t really get better than that. I figured I’d cover it, even though weddings aren’t my niche, because I know I’ve got a lot of Harry Potter fans in my audience. The wedding is on February 3rd, so expect that post shortly after!

Helping Third-World Countries

Lately, I have deeply felt the need to help others. Though I plan on getting more involved in my community until I can make my ultimate volunteer trip happen, I’d like to share with you how I plan on helping third-world countries in 2019, AND how you can help me do so.

Basically, I plan on submitting an application to be part of a program through PMGY (Plan My Gap Year), where I will be helping teach and empower women and children, as well as helping developing countries obtain sustainability. The trip I’m hoping to go on is the company’s “Ultimate Round The World Encounter”, which lasts 36 weeks and allows me to travel to multiple countries.

Not only will this be a great opportunity to blog and photograph, but this will be my first time volunteering and working with others in need outside of the USA. I’ve felt a tug on my heart to find more purpose in life through helping others, and this trip – I just know it – would be the perfect opportunity to do so, as well as advance my language and teaching skills.


Helping third-world countries is such a great way to live a more purposeful and fulfilled life. It would mean so much to me to have your support on this, as my readers and followers, by donating to my fundraiser. I will be accepting donation until January 26th of next year, and any and all details you need can be found on my campaign page.

Click Here to Donate

Every single dollar you or someone else donates to this trip will be used toward helping others. As far as personal expenses go, such as groceries and extracurricular activities, I’m paying out of pocket. Everything else is listed on that page and is required by PMGY. Under no circumstances are you required to or must donate, but if you’d like to, it is certainly appreciated.

When you do donate, or even if you don’t, please be sure to share my campaign page with your friends and family. It will only take about 600 people donating around $25 to meet my goal!

‘Til Next Time…

That’s it for this week, guys! I hope it wasn’t too boring. I’ll be sure to take more pictures next week and jot down some highlights on my phone, so I can give you a better, more detailed post. Let me know in the comments if you have any questions regarding my tattoo, Hangout Fest, my birthday, the Harry Potter Wedding, or – of course – my fundraiser for PMGY! Thanks for reading.

Always,

 

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Why and How I Re-Hauled My Diet

Welcome to my January Renewal Series, where I talk about changes I’ve implemented in my lifestyle to better my health and well-being. There will be a new post each week for the month of January.

Toward the beginning of December 2017, I went to see an allergist. For a couple years, I have struggled with my weight, and for about four years, depression and anxiety. I’ve taken multiple RX drugs, changed the way I work out, took sleeping pills to sleep better, and even cut out toxic relationships – but nothing had worked. I was miserable and constantly sick.

I’ve always known I have allergies. Being sick is pretty much the norm. However, I never had allergy tests done, and so I thought it would be a great way to get things in order for 2018. My biggest resolution is to have more self-confidence, and I know that to do so, I want to lose weight. I figured having an allergy test done could help me figure out what, in my diet, may be causing me to gain weight.

Sure enough, it turns out I have a terrible reaction to wheat, dairy, and egg – three things I consumed almost every day. When my doctor told me this, I had no idea what to do. Was I supposed to starve myself, now?

My doctor explained he wanted me to implement the changes slowly for the rest of December. Then, come January, he wanted me to cut out wheat, dairy and egg, completely.

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a great track record for diets, but he made it pretty clear this was no diet; this was a lifestyle change I had to make to keep from getting sick. I could choose to be miserable, or I could maybe be happier. Suffice to say, I chose to be happier, if I could be. One can only take Misery’s company for so long.

Groceries

The first thing I did was throw out any food I had that I couldn’t eat. It was wasteful, and I felt like a terrible person, but it had to be done. When it was finished, my fridge and pantry were basically empty. So, I needed to go grocery shopping, but for what?

I did three things.

  1. I began a grocery list. I wrote down some smoothie ingredients, such as strawberries, bananas, and raspberries (my favorites) and spinach (for some veggie intake). I also wrote down coconut milk, knowing I consumed milk everyday and would need a substitute. Then, my brainstorming cam to a halt. Besides salad, I wasn’t sure what else I could make.
  2. I downloaded the Yummly App, which can also be accessed on a computer. The best thing about Yummly (and this is NOT sponsored, btw) is that you can insert your allergies, and it will filter out recipes for you. So, I inserted dairy-free, wheat-free, egg-free into my filters, and I found some recipes I thought I’d enjoy. I didn’t want to spend too much money, considering I’m on a freelance budget, and went for recipes that integrated with each other. For example, if a recipe included chicken, I tried to find two other recipes that had chicken. If a recipe included onion, I tried to find two other recipes that had onion. And so on..
  3. After Yummly, I took to Pinterest and searched my specifications. Pinterest can be hard to sort through, especially when you’re looking for something as specific as I was, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t great finds. I realized I could purchase a flour alternative and egg alternative and still make things like muffins or pancakes.

Once I did my research, I headed to Fresh Market. Alternatives to Fresh Market would be Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and I’ve heard Publix has a great selection, too. My main tip for going grocery shopping with specific dietary requirements is to not go into it rushed. Go grocery shopping when you have time to go down every aisle. Because I took my time, I discovered pastas, cookies, snacks and more that weren’t on my list but were nice to know about for the future.

Great and Awful

 

When you’re stuck with restrictive dietary requirements such as my own, there are going to be hit or miss recipes and products. For example, I attempted to make Banana Chips. It did not work. I ended up with gooey, rotten slices of banana and had to throw them out.

Now, I should also say, I am no cook, by any means. My expertise begins and ends with cooking noodles. Most of the recipes I chose from Yummly and Pinterest pushed my culinary skills to the limit, which may have resulted in terrible quality food. Nevertheless, I persisted. When you’re making a huge lifestyle change, you cannot expect it to be all great.

That’s why, I started a list. I have a dry erase board in my kitchen, and I separate my recipes into either “Great” or “Awful”. This ensures I don’t waste time or money on those ingredients or recipes in the future. It’s a good idea to keep a copy of this list in your phone, too. Then, you’ll always have it on you.

Results Aren’t Quick

 

If there’s anything I’m absolutely sure about myself, it’s that I’m extremely impatient. This lifestyle change has not been easy, and that’s mainly because I’m two weeks into it, and I haven’t seen a whole lot of results. What I’ve had to remind myself is this: I’ve been eating harmful crap for years. My body isn’t going to magically adjust overnight or even over a few weeks. It may be a couple months before I really start to see a change in myself.

As I mentioned at the beginning on this article, though I needed to eliminate dairy, wheat and egg due to allergies, it was also because I’ve struggled with weight loss, depression and anxiety. Food plays a huge part in body chemistry. So, my doctor thought eliminating these things I’m allergic to might help in those departments. However, it’s just as likely that my weight gain, depression and anxiety are a result of something else entirely.

For me, this truly is a lifestyle change and, as cliche as it is, a journey. Though eliminating harmful allergens may not get rid of all my problems, it’s a great start toward, hopefully, a happier, healthier lifestyle.

Goals

 

Like with everything in life, it’s great to set some expectations for yourself. That’s why I created my own list of goals to work toward, and I thought I’d share it, in case you have a similar problem and would like some inspiration.

  1. Do not cheat. No matter how hard it may be, do not cheat on your diet. If you do it once, you’ll likely do it again. Instead, find alternatives to what you want. For example, I found wheat-free, dairy-free, egg-free cookies. Whenever I need something sweet, I pop those in the oven or just eat the cookie dough.
  2. Drink more water. Switching from a filling diet to a diet that consists mostly of leaves can leave you feeling pretty damn hungry, all the time. To curb that craving, I’ve opted for drinking a lot more water, AKA the normal amount I should’ve been drinking already (78 oz / day). If you’re unsure what your water intake should be, weigh yourself and divide that number in half. Drinking more water, as I’m sure you already know, aids in a lot more than curbing cravings, too, such as weight loss and better skin.
  3. Workout twice a week or more. This workout can be for however long you want. I try to do at least 30 minutes each time, consisting of a light ten minute run, squats, crunches, push-ups, etc… You can do whatever you want to do. For me, I make it more about what I’m feeling up to than forcing myself to do something. That way, the workout feels more fulfilling. If I’m feeling like I need to work on my legs way more than my stomach, then I’ll do that. Don’t get too caught up in what you’re going to do, and instead just focus on getting up and doing it.
  4. Eat out less. For me, this is hard, because I’m not home a lot. However, when I do eat out, I’ve made it more of a point to let my waiter or waitress know I have diet restrictions, and I’ve also become more and more comfortable about asking questions. I hated it at first, because I hated making them feel like I was too much work, but at the end of the day, I didn’t go home feeling like crap because I ate something I wasn’t supposed to.
  5. Walk more. If you’re like me and work a desk job or are constantly sitting, try and find creative ways to incorporate walking into your routine. For example, I purposefully park further away from my workplace, making myself walk longer. Also, I take the stairs more. Just by making this little adjustment, I’m more active, increasing my metabolism and mood.
  6. Tell people your goals. This is a simple goal to have. Telling others about your goals will keep you accountable. I’ve told almost all my family I’m dairy, wheat and egg free, and because of that, they are learning along with me what I can and can eat. this keeps me from cheating on my diet, and it keeps them from dangling things within my reach.

So far, these are the goals I’ve actively implemented and have felt make a difference in obtaining my new lifestyle. I’m hoping to report back to you guys in the near future with good news about my health. At the very least, I hope to lose weight. Any new steps I take, I’ll be sure to keep you informed, in case you’re wanting to change your lifestyle in a similar way. Even if you don’t have the allergies I have, these goals can still benefit your lifestyle and help you work toward a happier, healthier you.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below, and don’t forget to come back next week for another post in my Renewal Series.

Always,


A Breath of Charleston - Visiting After Seven Years Away

The first week of 2018 has already gone by. As I get older, life moves quicker. Every moment seems to slip by. That, or my memory is getting worse, which is why I’ve taken up photography more than usual.

In December, I traveled to Charleston, South Carolina – where I lived briefly about seven years ago. I’d wanted to go back since the day I left, but it wasn’t until I graduated college and had a car with a running engine I was able to drive the 9 hours.

The Ravenel Jr. Bridge during a cloudy sunrise.

I stayed in a small motel near the Ravenel Jr. Bridge – room 213. I didn’t take any pictures of it, but I almost wish I had at the end. I swear, I’m the messiest person alive, a human tornado – and I regret not leaving a tip for the maid; I should have. It was a small room that smelt like weed and had thin walls. I could hear below and all around, but I slept – and that’s really all I needed it for.

A Charleston Alleyway
Beneath Washington Square's Christmas Tree
The Circular Church

My first day, I went downtown. The thing I love about Charleston is everything has details. Whether it was a shop front or a back alley, there was an opportunity to take a picture or make a note. There’s so much history behind everything there, and it was swarming with people, too.

I got to know the street names fairly quick. There was King St., of course, but I parked in a garage on Queen St. I walked Market St., cobble stone, graveyards, stores, Washington Square, and restaurants – and I only stopped when my feet couldn’t take it anymore. It was getting dark by then.

A tree growing between buildings
Tunnel at the Circle Church
Charleston Streets
Charleston Streets
Charleston City Market
Washington Square
A Charleston Home

The next day, an old friend took me to the Isle of Palms and Shem Creek. I’d seen the beach before, and I currently live near the Gulf (and before that in Orlando, FL). The beach, for me, is nothing new, but I like that every beach has a serenity to it. You can close your eyes and disappear for a moment.

The Isle of Palms
A seagull posing for me
My friend looking out at the water.

Shem Creek, I’d never been. We were at the boating dock, I believe, and we were there to catch it at sunset, which as far as I’m concerned is the only time to see Shem Creek. There were other photographers there. It’s definitely more of a touristy spot, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, and I took my favorite pictures there. They turned out just as dream-worthy as the actual moment had been.

Shem Creek Boating Dock

My trip wasn’t long – only a weekend plus a day – but it was a great trip. I love Charleston. I always have, and I can imagine myself going back. I just hope this time it doesn’t take seven years. What I took away from this trip, however, is to breathe. Like I said in the beginning, life moves quicker now. I can’t seem to keep up with it. The same goes for my travels. Anytime I go somewhere new, it’s impossible to enjoy it. I’m caught up in it all, tangled in it, so much so I can’t decipher how I feel about the place or the people or the time I had there.

Shem Creek

A resolution and goal I’ve made for myself this year and forever is to enjoy things while they last and try not to worry so much about seeing everything, because it’s impossible. Enjoy what you have in the moment and be grateful if the opportunity presents itself to explore it again. I lived in Charleston for two years, and I went back and saw things everyday I’d never noticed before or tried to see – and they’d been right there, mere miles away.

I wish to admire more things, to take them in completely rather than partially and moving on. Life is too short to be in such a rush.

Always,


Beautiful Maine

07 - 28 - 17

 

My boyfriend and I road tripped through New England. We took my Chevy Sonic north, hitting Philly, Providence, Boston, Hartford, and we didn't stop till we hit Portland, Maine. Out of all the places we went on this trip, my favorite was Portland. It was the most enjoyable experience - camping out the back of my car, mac and cheese for breakfast, lobster rolls for lunch,  holy donuts, and amazing thrift shops on every corner. Portland had a little bit of everything, which I loved, yet it wasn't overwhelming in any way. I found solace in the fresh air, the constant lull of seagulls' cries, and perfect, low seventies weather. I took several photos, enthralled with the environment of the city.

I wish to go back to Portland one day - perhaps even live there. I always thought I loved Maine, and it would be the perfect place for a tiny house near the water on the out skirts of the city. A girl can dream, can't she? For now, I move into my new apartment in Mobile, AL Friday (08 - 18 - 17).

 

Have you ever been to Maine or are from that area? If so, be sure to leave me a comment on your experience with Portland and the surrounding areas. I'd love to hear your stories.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman


An Afternoon in St. Louis

S

ince I was four or five, I had not stepped foot inside the state I was born. Virtually, I knew nothing of the place my parents met in, fell in love. A lot of my dad’s side of the family lives in Illinois – and if it weren’t for their family reunion, I wouldn’t have seen the arch, the city, or the deserted streets of St. Louis, MO.

I visited the city on a whim. It hadn’t been in any original plans, but having already said goodbye to family and with some extra time on our hands, my sister and I saw no reason to not check out the place we left behind long ago.

The city, itself, doesn’t have the best reputation – especially lately. With the race wars and the tragedy, we felt the need to watch our backs more in St.Louis than any city we’d visited on our one week road trip.

...the next time I saw my parents, I felt more connected to them - a part of their past captured in my recent memory.

At the time of our visit, a lot of the city was tied up in a Cardinals game – the stadium full – and it was the fourth of July, so naturally the streets weren’t busy. Part of me wishes they had been. It would have helped my sister and spot areas we should avoid, but being two of maybe twenty tourists walking downtown that day, we had little to no clue as to which areas we should avoid.

We started with the Gateway Arch. It was the most populated area we visited in the city, and personally, it was my second favorite piece of architecture we saw. The arch, if you don’t know, stands at 630 ft tall. It’s a magnificent structure, and if you visit on a cloudy day, the arch camouflages itself into the gray and white sky. It was like witnessing a steel rainbow, looking up at it on the steps. Due to construction, we couldn’t go inside, but it was just as stunning from the outside.

Beyond the arch and on the water sat a ferry boat my sister and I recognized as the boat my parents were married on. I wish I had gotten a better photograph, because the one I took ended up blurry. However, just seeing the boat meant a lot to me. I love my parents, and at the time of their wedding, I wasn’t a thought yet. It was like I was getting a chance to look back in time, and the next time I saw my parents, I felt more connected to them – a part of their past captured in my recent memory.

A man played music near the dock. It was blues-y tune, something I’ve heard on the streets of New Orleans, but it was also romantic. My sister and I passed by, admiring both the arch and the ferry, before deciding to head into the heart of the city to find the old post office, public library, and other beautifully crafted and french inspired architectural masterpieces.

We grabbed bottles of water from Starbucks and excitedly crossed the road away from the tourist crowd at the arch. We had no idea what to expect. We knew the city had undergone recent strife ( as recent as the front page of the newspaper), and we knew we needed to be careful, but we were jittery. This was a place we could’ve grown up near. This was a city we could’ve called home.

As we ventured further into the city, we noticed the lack of pedestrians. For me, there’s nothing stranger than traveling the streets of a bigger city and not bumping shoulders with at least two individuals. With the exception of a few cars on the street – possibly passerbys on the way to the suburbs or Forest Park – St. Louis was a ghost city. We could faintly hear the intercom of the Cardinals arena, and there were cops creeping down the streets, but otherwise, the city was silent.

Part of the silence, we found, originated from the fact everything was closed due to the fourth. Several of our free, touristy destinations were closed to the public – including the old post office and the library. We were able to get pictures of the outsides, but we couldn’t look inside. The library, which is deeper into the city, was our last straw. We enjoyed viewing the architecture, but we could only keep our paranoia at bay for so long.

This was a city we could’ve called home.

With a car coming to a slow stop where we sat on the steps of the public library, we decided to head back to the car. It’s sad that such a beautiful city can make you feel so unsafe, but we weren’t about to risk our lives or be harassed, especially being two young women.

Though Downtown St. Louis had its perks, it wasn’t a place we ended up feeling comfortable in. This was disheartening for us, since we felt a sentimental connection to the city. However, we still had another stop.

Driving toward Forest Park, we parallel parked near a marvel – Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. Fortunate for us, this cathedral was the one place on our list with open doors. First, we walked along the street it sat on. Several of the homes were built like miniature castles, and we realized toward the front of the street a majority of them were nunneries.

When we made it to the steps of the cathedral, we were just as mesmerized, if not more, as we had been standing beneath the Gateway Arch. Standing at 226 feet of pure architectural mastery, the cathedral was a piece of Europe sitting on the outskirts of a US city. We snapped several photos of the exterior before venturing within the colossal doors and inside.

First entering, we were welcomed by an older man who provided us with tour pamphlets. Though we had the option of joining the tour, we decided to split up and roam the cathedral. To walk beyond the foyer and into the massive area of pews and hallways caused me to stop. I didn’t take photos for a time or walk any further. Instead, I stared. I took it all in, and as I sat among the pews, I truly felt as if I was in the presence of something greater.

The silence of the building – the delicate brush strokes of the mural ceiling – left all my fear and paranoia of the city behind. I felt, within the hour we strolled around inside, at peace. It was surreal, and I have no clue if it was because I’ve never witnessed something so beautiful and magnificent. All I knew was this was a place I was glad I didn’t skip due to everything else in the city being closed.

When we walked back out the doors and the sunlight hit us, the quiet serenity of the cathedral left us. The real world came back, and my heart yearned to turn around, go back inside, and never leave. Yet, I knew this would be the first of many cathedrals I would visit, and it made me happy to know such beauty still existed in the world and in the US.

At the end of the day, we slept in a hotel in Eureka before leaving the next morning by 10 AM. We were heading away from Missouri and back to Alabama. Our trip was almost over, but I was already planning my next one.

St. Louis was a bag of mixed emotions for me. I was surprised by the beauty, paranoid by the empty streets, sad I was afraid to be a white woman, happy to see where my parents fell in love, and amazed by the magnificence of the cathedral and the arch. It’s a city I plan to return to in the future – not on a holiday or during a Cardinals game – to parallel my experiences. Part of me believes the city would’ve been more enjoyable, that we would’ve stopped at more places, and we been part of a crowd rather than alone. In the end, it was an experience, an adventure, and I was happy to go and to be able to come home and right about it.

This week, I’ll be hoping onto the road again – this time to Virginia, Canada, and the East Coast. St. Louis was the first stop of several of my journey to travel 1 million miles.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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A First Timer's Visit to Nashville

I admit, rolling into Nashville, I didn’t expect what I found.

In my head, I always pictured the most country of towns. I pictured it small, zero art but plenty of bars.

To my surprise, it was much more than that. The drive into the city was beautiful – mountains and hills – and we (my sister and I) hit up the Parthenon first. Again, I expected not much. I expected a little monument, a little park. I never would’ve guessed how expansive it actually was.

Walking up the dirt trail through summer heat, we stood before the Parthenon. Massive, there’s no other word to describe it. It was a picturesque representation of the Gods, with it’s humungous columns and chiseled art. We didn’t go inside due to lack of time, but we walked around the outside of it, climbing the impressive steps and looking out on the rest of the park.

The Parthenon wasn’t on any lists of mine. We only stopped by for the sake of stopping by, and had it not been right there, I probably wouldn’t have stopped. What a mistake that would have been. For someone with so much curiosity, I can be small minded. I like to tell others and myself I’m this open-minded, open-hearted person, but the truth is, my mind has its limits. I have an extreme dislike for country music and country things, and I always associated it with Nashville. Had I not put aside my dislike for a genre of music, I never would have witnessed the beauty that is the Parthenon.

If I learned anything on this road trip from Fairhope, AL to St. Louis, MO it was this: don’t bar yourself behind your opinions. Give the places you’ve never been and never seen a chance. You’d think as an author I would’ve learned by now to never judge a book by its cover. The same goes for destinations. You can’t judge it by the things you read about or others say. Every city – even the worst ones – has a good side.

After the Parthenon, we headed over to Three Brothers Coffee – an independent and locally owned coffee shop with (according to Pinterest) one of the most photographed alleyways in Nashville. The shop, itself, is quaint, with modern lighting and seating. As promised, the black and white, wall-to-wall mural sat in the alleyway (more of an alcove) outside the front door. We snapped some pictures there after grabbing a coffee and a snack. Though I wouldn’t say the coffee was jaw-droppingly delicious, it was a cool, trendy spot to check out.

Realizing there wasn’t a whole lot to do on the Parthenon side of Nashville, we took the interstate in toward downtown and stopped at Five Daughters Bakery. Known for their 100 layer donut, we had to know just how sickening it really was. The bakery is within a cute, blue house with pink doors and signage. When you walk in, you’re greeted by fantastic customer service. However, if it’s busy, don’t count on seating.

With only a window bar, there weren’t many seats. We went directly to the back of the store where the donuts were prepared. There were so many interesting and diverse flavors, so I bought 3 (Don’t judge, I only ate one and took nibbles out of the others)! First of all, the donuts are delicious…if you want to go into a sugar coma! WARNING: Do not eat these donuts with the plan to do anything except watch Netflix!

It was cool to be in possession of the hundred layer donut, but for me, it was too much, and trying to walk it off in the afternoon heat did not help. Thankfully, there were air-conditioned shops along the same road to stop in and let our food settle. My favorite is Serendipity. They carry a lot of locally made products, especially if they’re made of natural ingredients. Plus, they’re far more affordable then most of the shops in the area.

Once our food settled, we decided to drive around downtown. We would’ve walked, but we didn’t want to have to pay for parking, and most of the shops had already closed. So, we took a gander and then finished the day with an indoor mall. Downtown, itself, was gorgeous. There were some older, beautifully built cathedrals I absolutely adored, and I do want to be able to travel back to Nashville in the near future, maybe stay a few days. Obviously, my sister and I did the bare minimum of what this city has to offer, but we had a lot of fun just sight-seeing and checking out the local restaurants and shops you can’t find anywhere else.

Nashville, in every aspect, kind of blew me away. I was stunned to find a city so lush with vibrancy and culture. The area is up-and-coming, and though I did spot a couple people in cowboy boots, it wasn’t nearly as “country-driven” as I thought it would be.

So, if you’ve never considered visiting Nashville, because maybe you despise country like I do, then I think you should give it a shot. It has it’s perks, and some of the one’s I’ve talked about here are just the tip of the iceberg.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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Small County Exploration // pt. 2

Mobile

Welcome back to the second week of my small county explorations. If you didn’t read last week’s post, you can do so here. After spending the majority of my time in Mobile last week, I thought it would be a good idea to switch it up and take on Fairhope. However, before I jump into some of my favorite places in Fairhope I discovered this week, I want to introduce you to Ely’s and FOY.

Ely’s is a multi-room fabric store with all the fabric you could possible dream of (except, of course, if you live in NYC and not AL). My sister is on the hunt for some lace add-ons for her wedding dress, and she’s heard through the grapevine of Mobile fashion designers that she should visit Ely’s. Together, we went to scope out the location, seeing as it was in an area neither of us were familiar with. First of all, we totally missed their sign and ended up taking a back road to the back of the building. Being only one of two vehicles parked there in a rather sketchy area (again, we didn’t realize we were in the back), we prayed a little prayer of not being murdered and ventured inside. We were absolutely in awe of everything Ely’s had to offer, though some pieces we found were overpriced. However, being that their store is the only one we know of within an hour’s drive with such a variety of fabrics, we justified their higher prices to match the demand of the area. So, if you live in the area, love to sew, and need a huge variety in fabrics – you should put this store on your radar – and if you don’t, well, I had plenty of fun touching silks and playing in the wall of boas.

FOY is a restaurant/juice shop that recently opened in the Downtown Mobile area. Seeing as it was a short distance from Serdas, which I talked about in last week’s post, and I had set up work there for the day, I decided to try FOY for a healthy juice option. Though I haven’t tried any of their food yet, I’ve tried two of their available juices: Vanilla Dream (or was it Cloud?) and Green Goddess. Now, I’ll be super honest with you guys, neither was all that great. However, the Vanilla Dream was definitely more tasty, in my opinion, over the Green Goddess. I do think the juices have been too-hyped, though Mobile doesn’t really have anything like it in the area, and they are overpriced too. It was about $7 for one juice, and to me, that’s too much, especially since the bottle is only about 6 ounces. So, is it worth it? If you live in the are, you’ve wondered about the juicing trend, yes. I think it’s beneficial to try and get a taste of it. If you’ve got a juicer at home or you’re just passing through, I don’t think you should waste your time or money.

Fairhope

Oh, boy. I visited some great little spots in Fairhope this week, and I am so excited to help get them on the radar. First and foremost, let’s start with food.

Tamara’s is where my sister and I ultimately decided to get Sunday Brunch. We originally thought we’d try out the town favorite A Broken Egg Cafe. However, due to the horrid wait and obnoxious environment, we decided to head over to – frankly – a more chic and better option. We walked in to an elegant atmosphere with charming, live guitar playing, and we were seated by a professional hostess. Ordering the Eggs Benedict Filet Mignon with gouda grits, bacon, and fresh fruit, I was delightfully surprised at the price (only $16). It ended up being a rather extravagant meal with bottomless mimosas (only $1.50), and the food was delicious. I honestly felt like I was eating the breakfast of a princess.

Latte Da is actually part of Page & Palette, which I review further down, and is a charming coffee shop on a street corner off of Section. I’ve tried two of their coffees, the Milkyway Latte and the Mocha Ice Rage, and though neither were “whoa, amazing”, they were both pretty good. My personal favorite of the two, so far, is the Mocha Ice Rage, which is equivalent to a chocolate milk frappe with a hint of expresso. In fact, the expresso was so subtle, I drank the whole thing in about five minutes and ended up with a terrible stomach ache. However, I can’t blame Latte Da for my rabid chocolate consumption – only the drinks deliciousness.

Fairhope Chocolatier is the most adorable little chocolates shop located within the French Quarter of Downtown Fairhope. They’re fairly new, I believe, and they carry delicious macaroons (a bag of 5 for $6)! Each time I’ve gone in there (only twice, gosh), I recieved delightful customer service, and I don’t think I can ever go downtown again without visiting. I highly recommend them for those ins search of a delicious macaroon provider (or great chocolate candies).

After getting my foodie on, I did what I do best – shop – and to be more specific, thrift shop. Before we get into specifics, I do want to point out that my personal style is anything but southern, which is what most of the thrift shops around here cater toward. So, please take that into consideration when I’m giving my personal reviews of the shops. My criteria for a great thrift shop is high-end brands, variety in style choices, and the ability to find things I wouldn’t be able to see on the person I pass daily on the street. I like unique, chic finds, and that’s what I base my reviews on thrift shops on.

Emmy’s ended up being the only thrift shop I bought anything at – a black mini skirt. Though I found the skirt, it was the only thing catering toward my age. Most everything else in the shop caters toward an older crowd and children. However, I loved how nice the customer service was, and I’ve been told they’re known for having hidden jewels here and there, such as the skirt I found.

Back on the Rack was the second thrift shop I visited, and I must say I was beyond disappointed. It hypes it’s resale of designer bags, shoes and clothes, but what it doesn’t tell you is how overpriced everything is, and how there wasn’t a single unique item in that store. Maybe it was just the time I visited (and trust me, I don’t like validating my opinion, so I’ll likely go back for a second look), but I had been looking forward to chic, urban styles, and instead, I was greeted by frilly, southern looks and, frankly, not-so-great-looking designer bags and shoes. Honestly, my opinion probably wouldn’t be so foul if it weren’t for the outrageous prices and lack of taste. I do NOT recommend shopping here, unless you’re into overpriced southern fashion.

Hertha’s Second Edition Boutique had multiple items I liked, but I never picked up anything to try on. Though it had more taste than Back on the Rack, Hertha’s was also overpriced. I picked up a Marc Jacobs camisole about six years old for $35 and promptly put it back. However, I give Hertha’s credit for providing some trendy styles, and I’ll definitely explore it again sometime.

Yvonne’s Resale Boutique was, by far, the best thrift shop I walked into in Downtown Fairhope. Though I, again, didn’t buy anything, I had an arm load of goodies to try on. I just ended up not finding anything I was completely sold over. Yvonne’s has been around for awhile, and it’s obvious the owner has taste. I spotted some parisian styles, midi dresses, lace, lovely shoes…I will be going back, especially when I drop these few pesky pounds I’m trying to lose!

Next up, I stopped at Dr. Music and Page & Palette, because one’s a record store, and the other is a bookstore. ‘nough said.

Dr. Music was a record store I stopped at, and let me tell you, I am so glad it exists. I typically buy all my records from Backflash Antiques (read more here), but most of her collection is older, classic rock. Don’t get me wrong. I love classic rock vinyl, but I also really love my alt rock, indy rock, and Dr. Music provided me with that selection of newer music. Plus, the prices were pretty decent, especially those in their “New in Used” crates they keep up front and below the new vinyl. If you’re a record junkie like me, I suggest you check it out for some more variety in your tunes.

Page & Palette was a little independent bookstore I visited, admittedly, to see if they’d have any interest in selling my book (still need to get on that), and to genuinely check out their selection. The shop owner has great taste in titles has a wide selection of brilliant books held up front with notecard with a short summary of each. It’s helpful for those who want to try something in a new genre or by a new author, but aren’t sure if they want to spend the money on it. I didn’t get to spend a whole lot of time in Page & Palette, but I plan on going back shortly to perhaps pick up a new read.

To Conclude...

I really enjoyed this week. I probably spent way too much money on things I didn’t need, but it was adventure trying out these places I never really got to try growing up. Hopefully, if you stop by the Fairhope or Mobile areas, you’ll use my reviews to guide you on your journey toward a successful visit. Just like any post, keep in mind I share my own opinion of what I like. If you disagree, or you’d like to contribute to my reviews, please feel free to do so through discussion in the comments below.

Thanks so much for reading, guys, and I look forward to bringing you a new post next week (or sooner)!

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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Small County Exploration // pt. 1

This past week marks the first week back in my hometown after two years of living in Orlando, FL. It’s weird to be back in Baldwin County, an area encompassing Spanish Fort, Fairhope, Daphne, and Mobile, Alabama – places I frequented for ten years of my youth.

After living in Orlando and watching construction constantly changing the landscape, it was strange to come back to the area and see it virtually the same. If anything, instead of adding new shops, my local mall has lost staple shops, such as Charlotte Russe, Express, and Shades – shops I frequented when I was younger. Retail shops such as those have a hard time thriving in small towns like Spanish Fort, AL, purely because the mindset of the community is particular. They like certain vibes – mostly southern – and if I store has something different, they don’t tend to do well.

Now that I’m back, and despite the fact nothing has really changed, I’ve made it my goal over the next couple months to rediscover this place I grew up in. When I was younger, I had a narrow mindset, only wanting to be part of the things that would make me unique, and though I’m grateful to have had that mindset, I now realize there were several places I never went because they had a “southern” vibe. I’m a northern girl at heart, having been born in Missouri and growing up in a family based on northern rather than southern traditions.

However, I want to make more of an effort to discover my home of Baldwin/Mobile County for all that it is. I’m wiping away every country, negative connotations to things from back in high school, and discovering the places that make this place unique, such as thrift shops, ice cream shops, and boutiques. I also plan on taking drives out to some of the parks and capturing the essence of Alabama: “The Beautiful”.

This past week, I started out by revisiting some of my favorite places from before college: Serda’s, a coffee shop located on a street corner in Downtown Mobile, and Backflash Antiques, a vintage antique shop also located in Downtown Mobile.

After visiting some of the places I grew up with, I wanted to go to some places I’d never been. My eldest sister is on a hunt for the perfect wedding dress, her wedding scheduled for February, and as Mother of the Bride and Maid of Honor, my mom and I went with her to two bridal shops. The first, Anthony’s Bridal Shop, has a nice selection, but not of what we were looking for, despite their amazing customer care.

The next little bridal shop was Roses and Lace. It’s hidden in this back alley way in Foley, AL, not far from Waterfront Rescue Mission’s (a thrift shop I was sure to check out). We had better luck at Roses and Lace, despite their rather small selection, finding a dress that wasn’t perfect but closer to what my sister wanted. Though we walked away without a dress from both shops, it was a pleasure to work with them and get a clearer idea of what my sister was looking for.

After bridal shopping and a quick pass through the thrifty finds of Waterfront Rescue Mission’s, which felt very much like a Goodwill or Salvation Army, my sister, mom, and I all craved something sweet. We headed back in the direction of Mobile when we spotted an ice cream shop that didn’t appear on our maps.

Polly’s Sweet Treats opened about three weeks ago, and they served delicious Hershey’s flavored ice cream. They also make fresh cones every morning, have yummy chocolate cake, and supports veterans (the man serving us had an amputated leg, but that didn’t stop him from giving us some of the best service I’ve recieved at an ice cream parlor). If it’s not on the map now, it will be in the future. I enjoyed the quaint atmosphere, and the ice cream was both gluten-free and absolutely delightful.

For only being back in Alabama for a little less than a week, I would count it to be a productive few days. In the next week, I’ll hopefully be visiting Birmingham, Huntsville, and wherever the road takes me! To stay up-to-date, I recommend you follow me on Instagram and checkout my Instagram Stories. This is my primary form of communication to my audience on a daily/hourly basis.

Be sure to come back next Monday to see more of my weekly explorations.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman

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A Rainy Day In Miami

Around midnight on June 6th, my friends and I set off on a mini road trip to Miami. It was the only place in Florida with an OK forecast, and so that’s where we went. Turned out, however, the Weather App failed us.

 

We sat on the beach for maybe twenty minutes at around 6 am, and it sprinkled. We looked to our right, and the buildings – clear a moment before – were shrouded in a sheet of pouring down rain.

 

We headed for cover at the nearby Starbucks as wind whipped through the palms. Fortunately, Miami Beach wasn’t too bad to look at in a storm. Known for its clear, beautiful weather, we discovered a rarer form of Miami. My battery was low, but I was able to capture some of the storm and my friends within it.

Though I’m pretty positive I’ve contracted a small flu from Miami’s rainy weather, it was a great trip to spontaneously take with my friends. I’m sad to be leaving Florida at the end of this week. There’s still so much here I’ve yet to see and explore, but it’s time to set off for a new place. Maybe, another time. Can’t say I’ll miss the humid, however.

Always,

Jinapher J. Hoffman