Urbantravelista: 2016 Year in Review

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Twenty years from now, if someone ask me about the year 2016 , I won’t know where to begin. This has certainly been a tumultuous year for many.  There’s been birth, growth, and a lot of loss. No one was exempt.  I mean, we lost Prince. That alone was enough to send many of us over the cliff.  But for me, the first half of the year actually started off on a good note. Exactly this time last year, I was scouting my favorite shopping malls and boutiques in search of THE perfect dress to celebrate NYE in Dallas with one of my besties. I brought in the new year surrounded by good friends, good people, and positive energy. We spent the first day of 2016 enjoying a fabulous champagne brunch at a friend’s home. We fellowshipped, prayed, and spoke our goals for 2016. The following day, I boarded my flight back to Chicago feeling inspired, empowered, and ready to smash every goal and intention I set for myself. And things went well in the beginning. They really did. But by July, 2016 turned on me like a rabid pit bull. But such is life, right? Sometimes, a year will give you everything you hope for and more. And other times, it will leave you wondering how you survived it at all. In spite of 2016’s tragedies and having to put some of my adventuring on pause, I did have a few great moments in travel and adventure.

The birth of my brand

In April, I gave birth to my lifestyle/travel blog, Urbantravelista™. I created it as an outlet to share my personal life and travel experiences. I debuted my blog recounting my first international solo vacation experience. BTW, if you missed it, no worries. You can read it here: Solo Travel: Tips for a first time “Urbantravelista” . This is my second run at blogging and it’s the longest I’ve ever stuck with a writing project. Truthfully, running this project and growing Urbantravelista has kept me sane and grounded in the midst of 2016’s insanity.  I guess I finally found my niche.  I look forward to seeing it’s growth and evolution in the forthcoming year.  My goal is to encourage others to create their own fulfilling experiences by embracing the unknown and stepping outside of their comfort zone. I want to inspire others to live their truth (the good, the bad, and the ugly) and to make lemonade in the midst of life challenges…and be fabulous while doing it.  Life is imperfect.  Therefore, we don’t have to be perfect.  But we do have to LIVE.

 The Iceland Blackout

Also in April, I had the opportunity to join a meet-up experience in Reykjavik. We dubbed this event “The Iceland Blackout” as we collectively represented a group of over 70 black likeminded travelers from all over the world.  You can read about it here: Don’t sleep on Iceland . This adventure was special to me, because I had NEVER travelled this far away from home alone. Iceland was a destination that I never fathomed I’d ever visit or even have the desire to visit. Well, I completely underestimated it’s DOPENESS. I basked in the warm waters of the Blue Lagoon, rode the Reykjavik bus system by myself, danced with Icelanders in a Reykjavik hip hop club, toured the Golden Circle, felt the chilling magnificence of Gullfoss Waterfall, learned about Icelandic culture, walked the path between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates, and danced in the middle of nowhere under the Reykjavik stars while chasing the Northern Lights. I’m looking so forward to my return in March of 2017.  Stay tuned!

 

Golfing

When spring opened up, one of my best friends introduced me to the game of golf. It started with drink and appetizer outings at Top Golf. To my surprise, the more I practiced, the more I wanted to experience going out on a real course. So we did just that and after a few outings, I got to be pretty good at it. I do have a long way to go before I become proficient at it, but my performance and interest motivated me enough to invest in a set of clubs of my own.

 

Being Bobby Brown

He may not be significant to you, but he’s very much important to those of us that grew up during the New Edition era. My mom found out he was in town for a book signing in my neighborhood. Because she was a bigger fan than I was, I braved to two hour wait in line and got an autographed copy of his new book for the both of us. It was a couple of days for before my birthday and he was the first person to give me a hug and wish me Happy Birthday. How cool is that? Thanks Bobby!

 

TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge

 Over the summer, I launched a “TouristInMyTown Summer Challenge” campaign to encourage people to take advantage of the culture and tourism in their own backyard. I promoted this campaign by patronizing the various festivals, events, and tourist attractions in my city and challenging others to do the same in their respective cities. I kicked off the challenge at the Wells Street Art Festival held in historic Old Town. This festival featured over 225 artists from across the continent. Next, I attended the Taste of Randolph, a food and music festival similar to the Taste of Chicago, but on a much smaller scale. As summer progressed, I took the challenge to the south side where I attended house music’s signature summer event, The Chosen Few Old School Picnic.  This event is held in Hayes Park and takes place during the Fourth of July holiday. This was my third time in attendance and it gets bigger and better every year. Next, I headed back to the western suburbs and attended Naperville’s Rib Fest. This event is also held during the Fourth of July holiday and expands over four days. My final festival of the summer took place at Lincoln Park’s Hot Dog Fest. I stepped far outside of my comfort zone by trying a hot dog for the first time in 30 years. Yeah I know, pretty groundbreaking.  And in between my summer “festivaling”, I reacquainted myself with Oak Street beach, a Chicago attraction I haven’t enjoyed since my childhood. Sunbathing on the beach with my city’s beautiful skyline as the back drop was everything.

Saying Goodbye

After experiencing one of the best summers I’ve had in years, travel and adventure came to a screeching halt when I experienced my biggest heartbreak ever, saying goodbye to my beautiful mother. Death is an event that you never see coming. It doesn’t send an invitation for you to prepare or RSVP. It just shows up on your doorstep completely uninvited and gives zero f*cks. My fall and winter itinerary suddenly became replaced by profound grief and sadness. Discovering my “new” normal and picking up the broken pieces of my heart has become my newest adventure. It’s all a very unwelcomed adventure, but still an adventure that most of us will face some day nonetheless. Looking back, I came into 2016 feeling empowered and inspired. Although my year took a tragic turn, I still find joy in the goals I was able to accomplish. I find solace in the positive experiences I was able to create and the possibility of inspiring at least one person to create some positive experiences of their own. I’m not sure what’s in store for 2017, but the only thing that keeps me optimistic is my desire to continue living the way my mother wanted. She lived vicariously through my adventures and I look forward to honoring her memory by creating more awesome experiences in 2017.  Sure, it’s dark now, but joy comes in the morning. Let’s hope the sun shines brightly in 2017 with more travel and adventure.

 

 

 

@urbantravelista

 

My take on grief: I didn’t ask for this, who do I return it to?

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It’s been just shy of a month since my mom’s passing.  And I’m doing…well okay…at least I’d like to think so.  I do what everyone else does.   I go to work  (often late, but I still go).  I sleep and eat.  And, I’ve even been able to make it to the gym a couple of times, catch a movie (BTW, Moonlight was pure awesomeness), and have a couple of dinner outings. I mean, life goes on right? That’s what happens in the movies? How I wish it were that easy.

When I first announced my mom’s transition (yes, on Facebook…because that’s the most comprehensive way to communicate both good and bad news), a friend of mine responded with following words of comfort: “you’ve just given birth to grief”.   I wasn’t sure how to process that statement.  I mean, I’ve experienced “loss” before.  You can’t live 43 years in this life without losing something.  Over the years, I’ve lost distant loved ones.  I’ve lost a couple of pets before.   And like most people in my age group, I’ve even lost a job, marriage, and home before. But none of those losses ever compared to this. Pets have a short life expectancy.  I knew my parakeet and goldfish wouldn’t be with me throughout my golden years.  My distant loved ones?  They were elderly and it was the appropriate time for their departure.  The job, marriage, and home?  Like most people, I can recoup those losses again.  Money comes and goes; it’s the circle of life.  I can always get remarried again. I mean Liz Taylor was married 9 times. But I will never have my mother again. I will never talk to her again.  I will never get to listen to her vent or share celebrity gossip with me again.  I will never get to take that mother/daughter trip with her that I had been planning.  So many nevers…it’s all final. She’s gone.

As my friend referenced on the most horrible day of my life, birth is defined as “the emergence of new individual from the body of its parent”.   I can’t speak for anyone else, but I can certainly attest that grief has changed me.  I’m not the same person I was before November 10th, 2016.  You see, the old me was kind of happy go lucky…in a dark comedic kind of way (if that makes sense).  I always saw the positive in everything.  I always encouraged other people. My bounce back game was strong. And I had a resilience that defied statistics.  But the new me?   My daily positive talk and words of affirmation have been replaced with talk about my loss.  I bring up my mother every chance I get.  I mean, just look at me writing another blog about it right now?

One thing I’ve come to learn about grief is that in addition to transforming you, it also reveals things about other people.  During this birthing process, I’ve learned that people will use your grief as an opportunity to gain something from you.  There will be opportunists.  That ex you haven’t seen in over 10 years will catch wind of your loss and will invite to fly you in because they want to “help” and be your source of “comfort”.  I’ve learned that my faith will be tested.  I now have a love/hate relationship with God. I love Him because I’m supposed to love Him, but hate Him for taking away my Mom.  I find no resolve in cliches like, “God knows best…she’s in a better place…and God will bring you through it.”  Why couldn’t He just save her?  I’ve learned that even the most well-intention people will try to interfere  and take over the home going services you’ve planned for your loved one to appease “their” wishes instead of those of the departed.   I’ve learned that people want you to grieve, but not too much and for not too long.  People will ask you how you’re doing, but sometimes, they really don’t want to know the truth.  They want responses like, “I’m doing okay, I’m hanging in there” because your truth and painful reality is a damper on the parade that’s going on in their own life.  Keep those negative vibes over there to yourself.  Grieve, but remember…no one likes a Negative Nelly or Debbie Downer.  No one wants to be that person.  Things happen in life and you should eventually suck it up and get over it.  I’ve learned that people will knowingly and unknowingly minimize your loss.  You lost a parent?  So what, their car got repossessed last winter.   You lost your active parent at 61? So what, they lost their 99 year old great-grandmother when she passed peacefully in her sleep. Life isn’t fair, so deal with it.  But on the flip side, I’ve also learned that people will show up and show out in ways you could never imagine during this unpredictable birthing process. And sometimes, it will be the people you least expect.  The person you least expect will send you a card, offer you words of encouragement, and accept your grief and how you choose to cope no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient it may present to them, usually because they’ve been where you are. This is a club that no one ever wants to join.  But if you live long enough, you will inevitably gain membership. The tables will turn and you will birth a grief baby of your own.  I’ve learned that people that understand this won’t be so bothered by your process, because they understand they will too experience it someday.

But in spite of the above, the most important thing I’ve learned is this: grief is a very convoluted and unique process.  Just like childbirth, no two experiences are the same. It’s your process and journey. Each day will be different.  Some days, you will be the ocean easily riding the waves.  And other days, you will drown in it.  There is no way to get around grief.  You can’t go over it, underneath it, or around it.  You have to go/GROW through it. There is no easy button or pill to make it go away.  It’s your experience and your timetable.  It’s your TRUTH.  And, the people around you can simply take it or leave it.

As I complete this very painful birthing process, I hope to be able to “positive think” my way back to my former self.  I hope to get back to posting about positive, warm and fuzzy stuff on my social media networks.  I hope to get back to blogging about all tings concerning traveling, because grieving is for the birds and I’d rather be blogging about my hike to Patagonia.  I hope to be able to think of my mom and my first Christmas without her without bursting into tears. I hope to be able to live my truth and deal with my grief authentically without making others feel uncomfortable about it. I hope to get to a point to where grief is something that just kind of lives here, but doesn’t consume me…it just has a few things over here and visits every me once and awhile, like that old boyfriend that will always have your heart.

 

@urbantravelista