Monday, September 25, 2017

Summer 2017: A Season

You know you're busy when you realize suddenly that an entire season has disappeared... Summer hasn't really faded, in terms of weather, so I still haven't fully accepted it's gone. Nashville is still seeing daily highs in the 90s. But some leaves are starting to fall. And signs for pumpkin everything are popping up. And actual pumpkins. So yes, it's technically and culturally autumn (which, by the way, is a word that can also mean "majestic," though online dictionaries wouldn't want you to know. I'm deep in the weeds of cramming for the GRE).

I want to take this moment to look back on my summer. Freelancing is inarguably challenging and stressful, but one of its most wonderful aspects is the flexibility it grants for travel. Since June 1st I:

  • Attended all 4 days of Bonnaroo
  • Spent 3 days in Austin with my family and best friend
  • Spent 3 days exploring Louisville
  • Spent 2 days in Boston and 3 in NYC, all in the same trip
  • Spent a week in Iceland! 
  • Spent a weekend in Durham/Chapel Hill, 2 weekends at Lake Gaston, and 2 days in Tarboro
  • Hiked and camped in 4 TN state parks/recreation areas
Of course, I've also done a ton in Nashville over the summer, too: I'm most notably tied here by my ongoing contract with the wonderful startup company Health:Further, which executed a fantastic conference at the Music City Center the third week of August. In addition to my work with them and my regular work with WPLN, Nashville Post, Nashville Lifestyles, Our State, etc, I also have been hosting monthly dinners for The Dinner Party, plus a sometimes monthly, sometimes every-other-month book club for Slow Food Middle Tennessee. This summer I attended Nashville's Pride Festival, Live on the Green music festival, Edwin Warner Full Moon Pickin' Party, Frist Friday outdoor concerts, Creative Mornings inspirational talks, standup comedy at Zanie's, literary events at Parnassus, UNC Alumni Club events, and various neighborhood art crawls. I managed to get 8 friends together from all over the country for a reunion in NC. I started working with a personal development coach to learn new techniques for positive thinking. I registered for the GRE and have stayed on track with studying. I was nominated to direct a brand-new nonprofit formed to streamline and expand the process of recruiting college students to do community-service summer internships in my hometown of Tarboro. I saw my work published nationally for the first time.

I list all these things not for external affirmation (knowing only family and a handful of random friends read this blog) but because I want to remember where my time went. Summer didn't actually disappear. I ran it down. I sucked out all the marrow. I made myself leave the house when I didn't always feel like it, and I lived my summer as fully as I could. Despite all these "accomplishments" I am listing for myself, it wasn't what I would call a happy summer. This season of life, for many reasons, simply (or complexly?) isn't a happy one. But I am proud of the choices I've made. I'm proud of the efforts I've made to contribute to this community I live in, and to the one I'm from. I'm grateful for what I receive, for how I benefit, from both those communities. Constantly I dwell on a quote I memorized during my Outward Bound trip the summer I was 18:

"What meaning and effect your experience here will have in your life only you will ultimately know. The responsibility, as always, is yours to make of it what you will." -John Hurst

My time in Nashville might have been meaningless, if I didn't decide I vehemently refuse to let it. I adamantly insist that every season of my life is meaningful. I seek meaning, I live fully. Not necessarily every day, certainly not every moment, but absolutely every season.

The only thing I really remember about my mom's funeral is that we sang the Hymn of Promise:
In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
In cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
There’s a song in every silence, seeking word and melody;
There’s a dawn in every darkness, bringing hope to you and me.
From the past will come the future; what it holds, a mystery,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

I'm not so comforted by the resurrection message as I am by the first few lines. Nature is incomprehensible in "the infinite complexity and variety of its myriad components," but the metaphor of a flower bulb, a cocoon, a seed, a season — those speak to me. They resonate in my "I escape to the woods when I don't know what else to do" soul.

One of my favorite essays I've ever written is the introduction I wrote for this blog. "The Braeburn Backstory." 

"The tree: deeply rooted and newly sprouting, always reaching and growing. The seeds: giant potential in tiny form, hidden within. The core: healthy and strong, or secretly rotting with a deceptively flawless exterior," I wrote of the ever-compelling apple metaphors. 

And then I picked a particular apple to represent myself:

"Like its coloring, the Braeburn taste is multi-dimensional: deep, rich, and complex. I want the flavor of my life, like the apple I’ve chosen to represent me, to be multi-dimensional. I want such depth and richness to saturate my day-to-day living ... What’s at the core? That’s a question I ask every day, in some form or another. Seeing beyond surface appearances, seeking deeper for the truth of things, searching for the true essence."

Beyond the satisfaction of re-reading a sentiment still relevant in my day-to-day, I am deeply pleased that, at the core, I am still the same person I was at 19 (particularly because I do sometimes have difficulty relating to the choices that 19-year-old made). My key values have remained constant: intellectual curiosity, moral integrity, personal improvement, compassion for others. Intentional decision-making and habit-building. That's how I try to live every day, every year, every season. 

And now, I bid farewell to Summer 2017. I won't miss it— and I'll never regret it. 

saw one of my best friends from high school get married!

organized friends reunion at LKG! 

cuddled an endangered Icelandic Goat! 

hung with the best couple in Tennessee!

hosted renowned author Caroline Randall Williams at Slow Food Book Club! 

saw a total solar eclipse!

helped plan a podcast launch party for Health:Further!

bought a couch set!

read many self-help books! 
hiked many miles in TN state parks!

QT at Tru w/ my one of my favorites!

Duke Homecoming Ball!

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


The view of the city from the highest point of Iroquios Park. We biked all the way from the river (past the downtown buildings you see here) to this point! About 15 miles total.
In the few weeks between my decision to visit Louisville and my visit to Louisville, I coincidentally met a handful of people who currently or previously lived there. They all enthused about their city, raising my expectations for a place I hadn't previously heard much about.

48 hours there completely sold me on it. A three-hour drive from Nashville, Louisville is a perfect weekend getaway with just enough to offer that you want to go back.

Bonus: Mammoth Cave National Park is exactly halfway there!

Louisville boasts an outsized number of impressive breweries.

Gralehaus was our favorite breakfast location of the trip... which we returned to on Sunday, after sticking our heads into multiple locales that just didn't live up to the ambiance here.

Back patio at Gralehaus 

classic Louisville view (Ohio River)

inspiration from the Muhammad Ali Museum

beer cheese + farmhouse bread at Akasha Brewing Co

excellent vegetarian shepherd's pie at Akasha

Breakfast Round II at Gralehaus

distillery tour at the "Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience"


I am not a whiskey drinker. I could handle only tiny sips of these samples, and shuddered with each one.

wonderful display of Southern (commentary) art at the Speed Contemporary Art Museum (which is free admission on Sundays!)

One of my favorite pieces. I noticed the "no photos" symbol after taking the photo...

Awesome sunset (and giant jenga) at Apocalypse Brewing Co!

Other highlights of the trip included the science museum, the history museum, and biking around Cherokee Park. Truly an ideal weekend in a beautiful and engaging place!

Monday, June 19, 2017

ATX 2017

Austin is so sunny. My soul is sunny when I'm in Austin.

Now that I no longer live there, anyway. Unfortunate irony.

main source of my Austin happiness

highlight of the weekend - two-stepping in "Texas's best honky tonk"!

Happy Fathers Day, padre! 

This was a family and fun-filled weekend. I arrived Thursday afternoon and spent time with my sisters (both of whom are working there this summer) and Alban, whose last day of work (before grad school) was Friday. Dad, June, and Davis arrived Saturday; we gathered for a family lunch then toured Janie's workplace and Mary McCall's apartment. After scattering for naps at our respective lodging places, we re-convened at Broken Spoke for a laughter-filled two hours of dancing. Sunday featured a family brunch at Elizabeth St. Cafe — I was excited my all-American family was up for Vietnamese brunch! Sadly my flight back to Nashville was early Sunday afternoon. I'll be excited to see MM on her road trip back to NC later this week, to see the NC folks on my likely trip to Tarboro in July, and to see Alban at my friends-reunion lake party in August! Can't get enough of my favorite people <3 

Monday, June 12, 2017


I'm fascinated by the culture that has been built up around Bonnaroo. It's not just a festival, an event, a place. It's a sense of community. An identity. An escape. A self-contained culture.

me enjoying Bonnaroo culture

Key elements of the Bonnaroo style:
  • hair in two braids or two buns
  • intense sunburn (why have these people not mastered sunscreen yet?)
  • tattoos, glitter, body paint
  • floral prints & tie-die 
  • fanny packs & bandanas
  • spectrum of neon colors
  • free-hanging breasts
  • high-waisted "cheeky" shorts
  • pierced belly buttons 
my Bonnaroo look

As you might notice from that list, the women of Bonnaroo adhere to a more defined uniform than the men.

Other characteristic elements of Bonnaroo:
  • high five-ing strangers
  • varying levels of drug-induced trances/dances 
  • fried foods & plastic cups of beer
  • heavy clouds of smoke & dust 

As you can probably tell from the anthropological notes, I just got back from my first time at Bonnaroo. I was there from early Thursday morning until late Sunday night as a "vendor," volunteering at the Porch Writers Collective booth in a nonprofit area called Planet Roo. 

my Bonnaroo view
Strangely (to me), a lot of Bonnaroo attendees never went to Planet Roo. I learned during the weekend that many people hang out at their campsite all morning, usually drinking/smoking with their "Roo Croo," until they feel drunk and/or high enough to go to shows (which start early afternoon). This realization made me ponder how happy I am to be confident in my personal values and priorities. Personal health is a high priority for me, so I don't like smoking or heavy drinking. Exploration and awareness are high priorities for me, so it seemed natural for me to familiarize myself with every area of "Center Roo" (the festival's main campus). Clearly not everyone shares these values, and therefore lots of people "did" the festival differently than me. Hike your own hike.

The Head & the Heart - one of my favorite shows all weekend

Sweet Crude - a band from New Orleans that I LOVED

Mandolin Orange <3

classic Roo: a penis inflatable (complete with a sheer condom), emerging from a pink-frosted donut inflatable. Next to a unicorn inflatable. My group used this as a landmark to find each other before Lorde's performance Sunday night.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Reducetarian Summit

I'm addicted to NYC. I keep going back and I can't stop myself. Having such great friends there is a big part of the draw:

Zaki waited in line over an hour for this. I showed up just in time to order! Note my "coconut ash" flavor — paired beautifully with green tea pistachio!

This was supposed to be a mid-afternoon snack. When I saw that a slice cost $5, I just assumed it was overpriced — never dreaming that it would be 5x bigger than a regular slice.

friends since age 17! #DYW
Robertson Class of 2015 reunion!
dosa with Niki <3

 But the real reason I went to NYC this time was for the Reducetarian Summit.
Founder/organizer Brian Kateman: "It's not all or nothing."
The idea behind the summit is reducing global consumption of animal products. All the meals and snacks served at the conference were vegan, but there were actually vegans protesting outside because they thought the "reducetarian" approach was too laid-back, or lenient. I, however, felt energized and inspired by it.

Conference Caro

As someone said onstage, the overall global impact is much higher if a large number of people each reduce their meat consumption slightly, rather than a smaller number of people giving up animal products entirely.

No cow's milk for your coffee here!
I was psyched to hear my friend Richard McCarthy, director of Slow Food USA, speak on a panel about changes on the national/community level.
I'm not an extremist; I'm a thoughtful decision-maker. I weigh my values and choose what honors them the most, to the greatest extent possible. I'm vegetarian, and I support reduced global consumption of animal products. But love cheese, so I eat cheese. It's easier for me to give up meat, seafood, and cow's milk than it is for me to give up cheese — but I try to make sure the cheese I eat is from a small-scale, sustainable, humanely-run farm.

This conference aligned with my approach. I loved hearing the diversity of perspectives and ideas presented: a type of collaboration that wouldn't be possible for someone insisting that everyone adhere to total veganism. For that exact reason, my favorite panel was about lab-engineered meat products — genetically authentic meat that eliminates the need for raising and butchering animals! So cool.

For more conference highlights, you can check out my Twitter feed, where I made prolific use of the #ReducetarianSummit hashtag.

And to cap off a fantastic weekend, I made a pit stop in Boston:

<3 our friendship gets better with time (and with each meal shared) <3

Note the cheese, egg, and meat on our pizza..........
Like I said, it's about thoughtful, informed, and intentional decision-making :)