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Listening: ‘Traveller’ by Chris Stapleton.

This album was the last one in my pile I gathered at the library last month. I was searching for new tunes to keep me distracted enough from crying every time I got into my Jeep to go somewhere.

If you’ve listened to Chris Stapleton’s debut album, “Traveller”, you probably know how and why it ended up on the bottom of my pile. I was driven to check it out from the library after seeing a news feature about Stapleton on “Sunday Today” (my favorite news program).

The feature aired the morning of the Grammy’s, as Stapleton was nominated. It also covered the entirety of his career, a major highlight being his performance of “Tennessee Whiskey” with Justin Timberlake at the 2015 Country Music Awards.

I will admit it was a moment that caught my ear and put Stapleton on my radar – his sound was bluesey, and that’s something I love.

But Stapleton has shared his story about his very popular debut; a piece of work he created after his father died in 2013. He took a road trip across the country with his wife, stretching across the West in an old Jeep.

Today marks one month since my dad passed away, and listening to this album over these last few weeks has been half-difficult and half-cathartic. Above all, I admire Stapleton for putting such raw emotions into a beautiful piece of art that will be enjoyed by many for years to come.

That’s the thing about being a creator – some of the best stuff comes from the darkest of places, and can be so helpful and rewarding to others.

The title track is one of my favorites, and honestly makes me think of every road trip I’ve ever taken – it’s upbeat, nostalgic, and it just gives me this image of driving with the windows down, overlooking a vast desert. I love it.

My heartbeat’s rhythm is a lonesome sound
Just like the rubber turning on the ground
Always lost and nowhere bound
I’m just a traveler on this earth

There’s a lot of talk of whiskey on this album; from “Tennessee Whiskey”, “Whiskey and You” and “Parachute”, it seems dark, but is probably honest.

My other favorite track has to be “Sometimes I Cry” – it basically sums up my life lately, and it was so bare and raw I can’t help but love it.

The entire Stapleton sound reminded me so much of Marc Broussard, an artist I’ve admired for many years. I don’t know who came first, but they have fantastic similarities.

I’m looking forward to checking out more of Stapleton’s music – I know there’s a few more albums to listen to for me to catch up. Blues music can bring out those deep cuts – it’s not pop music. Sometimes it’s difficult to hear, but there are times for that, too.

This month has been so hard, this week probably being one of the worst. When all of life’s distractions fall to the side, I’m sort of left with a feeling of what to do next. For now, I’m going through the motions, going easy on myself, and I’m starting to get a few things in an order I can appreciate.

On Thursday, I was half-listening to a webinar, when I heard a few things that caught my attention: “Your best work comes from a place of elegant excellence.”

Hmm… perhaps there’s some truth to that.

I’ve had so many memories and thoughts swirling around in my head, I’m due for a journaling session. I’ve got a few ideas brewing and I know I’m on the brink of something big – something that may help heal, too.

There are days that I can walk around like I’m alright
And I pretend to wear a smile on my face
And I could keep the pain from comin’ out of my eyes
But sometimes, sometimes,
Sometimes I cry
                               -Chris Stapleton

Road Trip: Baton Rouge edition.

Louisiana oak trees.

I took a road trip to Baton Rouge this weekend. Yes, it’s a route I’ve traveled many times before – however, I haven’t done it in a whole year. Truthfully, because I kept having to make that trip before (because of CASA volunteer obligations), I’m sure I turned myself off of it.

But when a friend announced he was making a big move (13+ hours away), I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to hop in the car and go for a drive.

I needed a place to stay for one night, so I slapped in on Facebook, and within one minute I had an offer from a sorority sister whom I haven’t seen in several years. I took her up on her offer, and spent Friday night doing a little baking, packing road trip snacks (fruit, cheese, trail mix, of course), and packing my clothes.

I’d also given my car a little love with an extensive oil and three-filter change, plus a tire repair, and even a tire replacement. I was ready!

I hit the road at 8am on Saturday, which would put me in Baton Rouge around 3pm provided there wasn’t much traffic or bad weather. I’ve made this trip so many times to know it rarely takes the 6.5 hours Google Maps says.

But, I was in no hurry. I didn’t have to be anywhere specific until 9pm, so whatever. I used the car time to catch up on my favorite Radio Andy shows: Reality Checked, Jim Parsons is Too Stupid for Politics, and Dan Rather’s America.

I also listened to some Dispatch I got from the library (I’m seeing them in concert next week), and made it about halfway through an audio book.

The drive from Austin to Baton Rouge is mostly farm land – especially during the Texas half of the trip. Lots of cows, steers, and neatly rolled hay. I am a sucker for these types of views.

I made it to Baton Rouge a little before 3:30, and was so happy to see my hostess, Sarah, along with her son – both of whom had just survived his birthday party. We spent the afternoon visiting, and were treated to pork chops from Iverstine Farms, along with some fancy rose Sarah discovered on Instagram. It was a perfect Saturday evening.

Already buzzed, I headed to the goodbye gathering at a nearby bar, where I took advantage of the cheap, local beer. I do miss Abita!

It was fantastic to visit with my friend and see some familiar faces, I didn’t realize just how much I needed that feeling of comfort – that feeling of home.

The fact is, I wasn’t born and raised in Louisiana. I’m from Indiana, where I’m traveling at the end of this week. And while I have spent years calling Indiana home, I don’t know if that word is the right one.

Yes, I spent 18 years there. But I spent 12 in Louisiana. And you know… I grew up, big time, in Louisiana. I survived a culture shock, had my first serious heartbreak (on top of many others), endured multiple hurricanes, got my first apartment, my first job out of college… it’s easy to say that a lot of things about me where shaped in Louisiana.

So many of my friends there are like family, and when 95% of my family doesn’t talk to me – friends are all I’ve got.

I don’t regret leaving Baton Rouge – it needed to happen, for the sake of my career, my creativity, and still for my sanity. And I know the chances of living in Louisiana again are slim-to-none. But it’s always going to hold a really special place in my heart.

I left Baton Rouge at 10am on Sunday – and was met with some pretty heavy traffic and construction on the drive back. Pair that with a decent headache from my Saturday festivities (when in Baton Rouge…), and it made for a less than stellar trip, but I made it safe, and I even got a Diet Cherry Coke – so we’re putting that down as a WIN in my book.

It was a quick and fun weekend – a much-needed, heart-fulfilling trip. I’ve got another one coming up this week, and well, I’ve been sort of harboring the story around that for awhile. I’ll spill it here later (this week), but I’ve still got to find the words to explain it.

So, cheers to tired Mondays – as long as the soul is full.

Pic of the Week.

It’s quite possible I’m still coming off a high from such an incredible weekend.

I took my first paid-vacation day at the new job on Friday to travel to Kansas City, Missouri. A little random? Kind of.

My reasoning was, I got invited to a wedding there. The groom has been a longtime blog reader, turned friend, but we’d never met in-person. What better way to meet someone than on the day of his wedding?

And so, I packed my Jeep and drove. I invited my friend Sheena to be my plus-one, so she did the same, only she was coming from Indiana, and I from Texas.

I’ve been traveling and driving a lot lately, but I waited too late to get a flight, so I hit the road. And honestly? I’m really glad I did. It was one of the most beautiful drives I’ve ever taken.

Most of the route was on I-35, stretching over miles of fields, wind farms, and cows. I even saw an old pickup racing down a dusty trail. It was completely glorious and I felt like I was in a Nicholas Sparks’ book for a few hours.

And at the end of the long, long road, was one of my best friends. We enjoyed wine and food and caught up on our first night in town.

Saturday, we had to taste what Kansas City was famous for: the BBQ. It was sweet and sticky, and insanely delicious. If you ever find yourself in KC, stop by the Smoke Box, order the beans, and eat all of the hunks of meat in them. They’ve been simmering in that damn pot since before you were born and it is melty, meaty goodness.

And then, it was nearly time for the wedding! I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t anxious all day for it.

You see, the blog reader, my friend, the groom, Matt, is also a blogger. That’s how we connected. While I’ve been sitting over here getting off on cynicism, Matt created a blog following on being a “Nice Guy.” He was on a mission to prove that being a nice guy really puts you in the winner’s circle.

After a few years of reading each other’s blogs and exchanging writings, we traded numbers, and in what was probably one of the lowest parts of my life: I reached out for his advice.

I was about two months into my relationship with D. He was drinking every night and we were fighting. “Is this normal?” I texted Matt.

Of course, it wasn’t. And he told me to move on. But, I figured Matt just didn’t know me. Turns out, I should’ve taken his advice, as what followed was enough drama that created my first book: How I Fell.

About that same time, Matt setup to meet a girl he’d been talking to via an online dating site. They met in-person at a dog park, where Matt debuted the love of his life, O’Malley, his rescue dog.

Matt told me the girl, Becca, brought a ball for “Mals,” and that was a major point-score. They saw each other again and again, and they even started dating.

And I? I was dating a jerk and rolled my eyes at Matt and Becca’s smooth sailing. Something had to be less than perfect, right? No.

Matt told me many months later that he was planning to propose to Becca during their vacation trip to Los Angeles.

I was so, so happy and I kept texting Matt, “Has it happened yet?!”

It did. She said yes. And there we we were, about to see the whole thing through.

Matt and Becca got married at an old, yet still-functional, movie theatre in Kansas City. Their names were on the marquee, there was popcorn, arcade games, and traditional theatre seating. There was even a little preview: the Mupetts. Because… Of course.

While the attire was semi formal and the bride and groom were completely decked, the bouquets were made from paper (some of the flowers were made of comics) and they were wearing chucks (I completely called this).

It was so personalized and unique; I absolutely loved it!

I know every wedding is full of love, but I’ll be honest, sometimes there’s so many flowers, and crystals, and people that it’s hard to see it. This was the first time I’ve been to a wedding and could honestly see just how much every single person wanted the bride and groom to be together.

There were lots of happy tears, well-wishes, and congratulations. Everyone was so thankful that these two, who were clearly made for each other, had finally found each other. It was very sweet.

Aside from getting to meet Matt and Becca, there were also a few other blog fans there and it was flattering and humbling and just so fun all at once!

I started my blog (and many others) because I’m always writing and thinking and analyzing. Never did I ever think that one, or two, or from what WordPress tells me, hundreds of people across this globe would read my words, or care about my life.

But there I was, in Kansas City, toasting to two of my very own. To Matt and Becca, I cannot imagine that in my years of blogging (read:over sharing), I’ve given you what you gave me in a single weekend.

You gave me hope that no matter how you meet someone, and even if you’ve got some weird obsessions (ahem, Halloween), there’s still a possibility that a match is out there. More importantly, you proved what I’ve always wondered: that fate is real.

And to that, I say congratulations and thank you!

To the rest of you, take a lesson from Matt and Becca: invite me to your wedding. I will bring gifts but I’ll drink you dry.

Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat @OrangeJulius7

Pic of the Week.

Totally NOT renewing my lease!

Totally NOT renewing my lease!

As I was leaving for work Friday afternoon, a letter fell out of my door. I knew exactly what it was before I opened it: a letter from my leasing office that would define the new terms of my apartment lease, if I decided to renew.

Having lived in my apartment for nearly four years now, it was something I expected. Usually though, the letter came in June or early July, and listed some sort of monetary incentive for renewing the lease early. Each year, I took the incentive and renewed for 12 months without question, because I do love living here and I never had any intentions of moving.

But, as you probably know by now, my situation changed drastically when I lost my job in November of last year. All of the sudden, I was locked into a life that was built around a certain kind of salary, and well, the salary part was taken away.

For these last 9 months, I’ve worked (endlessly, it seems) simply to pay for this life I built, but without being able to enjoy a drop of it. I don’t want to complain, because I know I’ve been very fortunate to even get work that pays enough to cover my bills.

But, for the first time in my life, there’s been months when I’ve had no clue how the rent will be paid. Will my next check cover my car payment? Will I be able to make due without using my credit card? I’ve never really had to go to the grocery with a calculator, or question whether or not I could purchase even a food item I craved.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t starting to resent my apartment at times. It’s beautiful, but it comes at a cost… which usually amounts to 60-hour work weeks. Because of this, of course, I’d been anticipating that lease renewal to arrive at my door. And I knew I just couldn’t afford to lock myself into this life for another year.

But when the letter arrived, I was surprised to see two things: 1. no monetary incentive to renew, and 2. if I was planning to leave at the end of my lease, I was required to provide a 60-day notice, which was in 24 hours of the time I received the letter.

Yikes! Talk about pressure!

But I just went for it, and the next day, I turned in my intent to vacate. When I said it out loud, to my leasing agent, “I won’t be renewing my lease,” it sounded really strange coming out of my mouth, even though I’ve been thinking about it for months.

But now that it’s settled in, I feel really good. I have NO — absolutely none — idea about where I’ll be moving to next, but at least I know I’m moving by the end of September, and that’s one of many questions to be answered.

I have a lot of pieces of furniture and random items that I’ll be getting rid of in the coming weeks, and I will be accepting bottles of wine instead of money (no, seriously), so please stay tuned if you’re in need of any furniture. Please note, most of these items aren’t fantastic unless you’re good at fixing things up. Off the top of my head, I know I’ll be getting rid of my dining set, several lamps, a small TV, lots of clothes, and plates.

Tomorrow, I’m taking a road trip that could possibly answer even more of my questions. Follow me on SnapChat @OrangeJulius7 to find out the details and follow me on my very long drive!


Survival Guide: Road trip!

Wahoo! The open road!

Wahoo! The open road!

In just a few weeks, I’m heading on a road trip! It’s been years since I’ve hit the open road for a trip that lasted longer than 4 hours, but I can easily say that I’m looking forward to it.

About a year ago, I took a 19-hour train ride (read about it here), which was fantastic (though I did sleep for quite awhile), but I know my road trip will give me some mental clarity — time for me and some music. After all, the first half of my trip involves just me.

So, how do you accomplish a road trip of a lifetime? Don’t worry, I’ve got some tips for you!

  1. Plan (a little). You don’t want to hit the road with no plan at all — trust me, running out of gas mid-Mississippi isn’t the type of adventure you’re after. Have an idea of where you’re going and places to stop, whether it’s an interesting food stop or for a place to sleep. Don’t over-plan to the point of it being rigid and stressful, a road trip is supposed to be freeing!
  2. Pack the snacks. Nothing beats truck stop snacks, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to pack a cooler of drinks (I like to pack energy drinks and La Croix) and snacks (nuts, chocolate, fruit, cheese. Oh hell, pack a meat plate, too). Packing snacks and drinks means stopping less, and the ability to eat as you please instead of getting stuck in a drive-thru.
  3. Get entertainment. Because the first 15 hours of my trip, it’ll just be me (which I’ve done before), I’ll definitely be packing some great music (Sam Smith, John Mayer, Marc Broussard, among others) and possibly an audio book. I also have Sirius radio in my car (I could live off 90s on 9).
  4. To sleep or not to sleep? If you’re with a group, you can sleep in shifts (unless you’re all awake at once) and keep the car on the road. If not, you might have to break the trip up and plan to stop to sleep — don’t drive when you’re tired.
  5. The return. Heading home is typically less-exciting, so make the trip back something to look forward to. Maybe you plan a different route back, or stop at different places, catch a sunrise, listen to new music. Make the entire trip an adventure that’ll be worth your while!

When I was in college, I took a few road trips from Louisiana to Indiana all on my own. The first time I did it, I was so excited. Well, until I realized that driving up the entire state of Mississippi is quite a task. But, I listened to music, saw a sunset, and it was mentally refreshing. I’m looking forward to taking a very similar trip in two weeks. If you’ve got music or audio book recommendations, I’d love to hear them. And as always, follow me on social media @OrangeJulius7 to catch all the roadie pics!

Just remember on the way home, 
That you were never meant to feel alone.
It takes a little while, but you’d be fine:
Another good time coming down the line.

—John Mayer, On The Way Home