Crazy Beautiful Life

Feeling my way through the darkness
guided by a beating heart
I can’t tell where the journey will end
but I know where to start

Avicii – Wake Me Up

I just returned from a 10-day, life enhancing Ms. Adventure. If you know me, you know I’m a novelist at heart. While this is a blog, it will be written in short, daily chapters because there is so much yummy goodness to share. I know I am not the first human being to travel solo abroad. My most recent and favorite tale is from Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote a best-selling novel that was turned into a block-buster movie about her three months in each country: Italy, India and Bali. However, this was my first time traveling abroad and solo. It was a trip of self-discovery, adventure, reaching another level in fashion and finding myself when I didn’t know I was lost. I would suggest that everyone take a solitary trip, even if it’s in your backyard because you will find what is important to you and how to best care for yourself, so you can be better around others.

Also, know my adventures aren’t for the faint of heart, so I will preface it saying, first, I am directionally challenged. If I wasn’t right-handed, I would turn around in circles. You may laugh, but every time I have to determine direction from my left-to-my-right, I raise my hand to “air write” with my right hand and then, lift my other hand to form a “L” to determine my left. This inability is enhanced when I’m underground and can find no landmark to help me understand which direction is what. Second, my other obstacle is being on someone else’s timetable. I think that’s why I enjoy walking everywhere. I get there when I get there. I don’t have to worry about missing the tube, a boat ride or even a flight…these are just a couple of things to keep in mind when reading. This is not a tale about traveling in the lap of luxury. I am not the most graceful traveler, nor do I pretend to be. I stumble, I fall, I don’t have all the right things to say, but I am perfectly imperfect stitched together with good intentions which makes for a fun story. I am a creative in getting out of sticky situations and what stresses out others, is the way I roll sometimes. Oh yeah, and I use curse words when I’m passionate about something or I’ve had too much wine, which both occur in this novela (It’s more than the typical 1500 to 2000 words found in my norm blog, but if you read it through, I promise you will laugh, most likely shake your head and may find some insight in the human psyche).  Okay, shall we start? Brilliant!

This Ms. Adventure was Set in Motion, January 2019

I started the year, as most do, with a blank slate. I knew I wanted to leave 2018 behind, really more like, burn that bitch. I could not carry the weight of such an ass kicking that 2018 bestowed on me in the many ways it did. However, my biggest takeaway was that life is too short. When opportunity presents itself, grab it by the hair, pull it in and kiss the shit out of it, so I began the year with changing my number. If I want to be in NYC, I need to envisage it, live it, be it…this was my first step.

Next, the opportunity for a chance to spend a sabbatical in Grottle, Italy came across my email. It was sponsored by AirBNB. Three months in Italy, I thought, would be an incredible experience. Although, I hadn’t been with Prosperity Works for quite a year and I didn’t have enough PTO to cover that period of time, I had an innate urge to apply. I wanted to go somewhere far away from NM and be immersed in another culture and life. I talked about wanting to learn Italian cooking, language and focusing on my writing as I would live in this centuries old village. I almost began an “only in my dreams” blog when I wasn’t selected, but I didn’t do enough research to make it believable (maybe it will be a future blog or maybe it will be a real Ms. Adventure). Why was this significant this year? Because I had a tremendous urge to go somewhere I’ve never been before, to be immersed into something that wasn’t familiar or that I could use others as a crutch in visiting, and I really wanted to finally get my passport and have it stamped (this would give me a definite time frame to do it). When I wasn’t selected this was the universe’s way in telling me, this is not for you.

I decided instead that I would go to NYC when the opportunity presented itself (and I could afford it) starting with NYFW in February. Even though I wasn’t showing, I’m so happy I did. It catapulted the beginning of this adventure. I had dinners with a few friends in between shows. First, I enjoyed a lovely evening with my friend Amanda and her husband, Andy, in New Jersey. I love history and they took me to this incredible turn of the 19th century bar and restaurant. It had been a couple of years since we had seen each other. It was a wonderful opportunity to catch-up by the end of our conversation, she commissioned me to create a custom piece for her…that meant I had to visit the city again at least once more for measurements (but knowing me, at least 3). I then continued on to see and be inspired by a few fashion week shows, and while always inspired, I NEEDED to get back into the circuit of showing, so I spoke to a few production companies about NYC and beyond. The night before my departure, I had an extraordinary evening with a childhood friend, Lucas. We had thought provoking and wonderful conversation, sumptuous food and delicate wines, and as he walked me back to my hotel, he gave me the greatest gift (whether he realized it or not), he offered a place to stay when I visited. I don’t think he understood the magnitude of what that would mean for me this year.

In February, I was approached by The Society Fashion Week to show in Los Angeles during LAFW in March with the production fee waived (and to make it feasible, my BFF, Laura, and her husband, Ed, graciously opened up their home for me to stay while in LA). The Society wanted me to see the changes they made first-hand and talk about a longer contract. This is where the seed for London was once again planted. This time I could actually make it work within my budget (as much as I wanted to show in September 2018, the basic production fee of $10,000 with another company was cost prohibitive). I had a glorious time creating the inspired looks based on friends’ photos from earlier in the year. On top of that, I was able to return to NYC (thanks to Emet who gave me an airline voucher) attend an incredible forum, hosted by the Tory Burch Foundation, the night before my showing. While this was happening, the universe was setting something else in motion.

The week before LAFW, I had been contacted by an executive recruiter on LinkedIn. At first, I wasn’t sure it legit. However, as we communicated back and forth, I was being presented my ideal career role. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the work I was doing and especially the people I worked with. I was finally getting into my grove. Yet, this opportunity would get me back into fashion, community relations, media relations and working one-on-one with people again. Through out the interview process, I asked the question, “will I have a path to New York” and every single step of the way, the answer was “yes”.

I returned to NYC in April, with a gifted voucher from one friend and a place to stay from another, I met Amanda, took her measurements and contemplated the move to Macy’s. In fact on a beautiful spring day, I went to Herald Square, sat and looked at the iconic star hanging above. My moment of pause was really contemplating the return to retail, especially brick and mortar in the age of so many department stores closing. While weighing through the pros and cons, Lucas called and I explained to him what I was doing. He reinforced that I needed to go for it. When I returned to Albuquerque, I did. I was now at a place that I could afford to support the leap of showing in London.

During this time, I continued to write about my journey, my fumbles, my touchdowns and all that I encountered on the way. When I set up this blog, it was for me to understand what was happening in my life. However, those of you who have and continue to read it and are actively sharing your comments and thoughts on how it has impacted you, you’ve made me feel like there was something there…that I’m not alone in what I’m going through. I write about these experiences of this crazy, beautiful life with a force that I can’t deny or try to hide. I don’t know the answers and I don’t pretend to, but I do have my own story filled with chapters of discovery in who I am; how I hope I can impact my surroundings and hopefully, sometimes for the better.  

Pushing Through Exhaustion, La Vita é un Dono & the Hook Up Plan – Saturday, September 7

In order to properly prepare for London Fashion Week, I had taken additional PTO during the week to finish off the collection, pack and prep. However, work is really taking off quite lovely and I’ve been pulled in to lead several projects. As I was trying to wrap up loose ends, my time off did not occur as much as I had hoped. I was staying with Lucas again in NYC and he was going to be out of town while I was going to be there, so I thought that would provide the time I needed to complete the looks. I gave in and decided to pack my sewing machine which meant a full-sized bag for the machine, tools, fabric and other electronics, a garment bag for all my completed outfits and a carry-on for my clothes. I opted not to take my laptop this time, so I’d have to rely on my notebook to journal while on my trip. With bags packed near the door, I headed out about 5am to catch my 7am flight to NYC with a connection through Houston. I checked the two bags, went through security and while I was putting my shoes back on, I was approached by friends, Laurie and Dennis. They were headed west. What a wonderful unexpected blessing to see them and good omen before my flight! Laurie explained to Dennis about my trip, they wished me luck, and we both shared safe travel sentiments and embraced. Life truly is a gift and the best ones are in those moments you don’t expect. I headed toward my gate, boarded, said my usual prayers for a safe flight and then the excitement finally hit me and like a kid on Christmas morning, I wanted to squeal with excitement, but I remained composed and just smiled.

I arrived in Houston and received instructions on how to pick up the keys for the apartment. I re-emphasized my absolute gratitude and wished him a wonderful weekend. I arrived in NYC at about 3:00pm. After gathering my bags, grabbing a Lyft and traveling through the traffic to Momofuku Saam Bar in the lower east side, I arrived at my location looking like I was running away from home with all my possessions in hand. It was between the restaurant’s lunch and dinner service, so only staff were inside. A young woman, either a hostess or waitress, was near the door and doing her best to ignore my knocks. She finally came to my attention looking a little perturbed by my intrusion. I asked for the contact that Lucas gave me, and when she came to the door, introduced myself and expressed my gratitude for helping me out. She welcomed me back for dinner service and I responded saying I might take her up on it. With Lucas’ apartment only a few blocks away, I opted to awkwardly make my way with my all luggage in tow. Once I reached his apartment, exhaustion hit me. In the week prior, I was on the go a lot more that I had thought.

Originally, I had planned to go out to a couple of Fashion Week shows, but I knew I’d be no fun, with the next day consumed by sewing, so instead I opted to walk to Trader Joe’s for wine and a few snacks. On my way I stumbled upon a street-wide yard sale. It was so fun to see what possessions the East Villagers were selling, everything from record albums, to vintage jewelry, to crystal dishware, to clothing was on display. The street was bustling, and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. I didn’t buy anything but admired the wares. I came across a bow brooch and again was reminded that life is a gift. I continued on my way. I bought a bottle of Rose, ingredients to make Caprese salad, and a few more snacks. As I walked back, I forgot that he literally lives across the street from Shake Shack and a Caprese salad didn’t sound so satisfying after all. I grabbed a bun-less burger, popped open the bottle of Rose, binge watched the Hook Up Plan (a French romcom that would get me in the right mindset for Paris–it’s totally fab you should check it out and SEASON 2 comes out on October 11—EEK!!) and settled in for the night wrapped up in a Zia blanket, a little NM comfort on this adventure.

Sewn Fingers, Clarity & Purple Rain – Sunday, September 8

I woke early, opted for coffee and realized I needed conditioner, so I headed out to Starbucks and CVS. I was the only one up at 6am besides a few homeless people, a man dancing on the corner of Astor Pl and 8th, the street vendors setting up for the day, and a big fat rat running down the street. Gotta love this city! I got back to the apartment finished my coffee, did yoga and after a shower, set up shop. I spent the day cutting, pining, and sewing the material into my creations. It was good that I was alone, but I was also sad that I was missing out on a beautiful day of exploring….but sometimes you’ve got to werk!! Lucas was actually coming back into town, so I was happy that I had wrapped up and cleaned up my mess just before he walked in. I was at the point where I had all the outfit shells done and either needed zippers or embellishments to complete the looks, plus I had been working 10 hours straight and knew I’d soon start sewing my fingers together. I was sitting on the floor when he arrived and popped up to greet him. We talked about our days, I asked about his Hampton’s weekend and he asked about my trip so far. We talked about plans for the evening. He wasn’t sure if I’d be busy with shows and he was planning to go to watch football. I hadn’t really thought about what I was doing yet, but needed to get to the trim shop before it closed for zippers and embellishments. I quickly changed and told him I would text him as soon as I figured it out. He teased me because knowing how much I loathe the subway, I was figuring out my route to M&J Trim on foot. He said the former would be quicker. I responded saying I’d miss out on the world and this beautiful day taking the subway.

There is so much to find along your path in NYC from a Burberry pop-up. I didn’t have time to stop at Herald Square this time. 🙁 Got to work and enjoyed a few minutes of the NYC summer day.

And I was right, there were so many squirrel moments a long my path, like a Burberry marketing pop-up, fashionistas “popping angles like they’re fabo”. I ran past Macy’s Herald Square, and as much as I wanted to go in, I didn’t have time. I got into the trim shop and I was like a kid in a candy store…so much to see and add to my collection. Who knew zippers, ribbon, trim and bows would add up and cost $60?!? As I was checking out, I realized I hadn’t eaten all day. I also checked the times of a couple of shows for that evening that I had been invited to. One was at 6pm. I had missed it. Then next one was at 8pm. PERFECT! I would make it back to his apartment change go to the show and we could meet for a late dinner. I sent him a text and we agreed to meet back at the apartment at 9:30pm.

I rushed back to change and headed back out to the theater district in a shared Lyft. Sometimes you make some incredible connections in the back of a Lyft. This one was with a couple who were visiting, but after a little bit of an inebriated conversation (on the women’s end), she found out that I was attending fashion week shows and showing in London. In return, I found out that she worked in the industry as a reporter for various fashion outlets. We connected on Instagram and she gave me advice on who I should reach out to. It was great. The Lyft arrived at their location and I wished them adieux. I was dropped off next…Sony Music Hall for Fashion X.

I love seeing the attendees arrive as much as I love seeing the designers’ creations, especially the younger crowds. The fashion forwardness of these events makes me feel like I am totally in my element. I sit back and watch in awe of the creativity, the confidence and the individuality of the attendees. I, myself, chose to wear a Grecian, Goddess-like dress I had been convinced I needed in my life. Mauve, plunging neckline, strategic cutouts, a slit and floor length, it was probably more a beach, poolside or wine festival attire, but paired with a turquoise squash blossom necklace a cropped denim jacket and my big hair. It seemed appropriate for this event and other attendees agreed as I received several compliments on my look.

That’s the other thing about these events, true fashionistas love to give love to looks that are killing it and take pictures of it as well. The venue was a music hall. The alcohol was flowing, and this particular event was all about PRIDE. It was fabulous. I headed back to about 9:20pm. Lucas beat me back he was hanging out in the hall on the phone when I arrived. I sneaked by into his apartment to freshen up. A few minutes later we headed out. We decided to go around the corner to a Japanese diner he’s found of. As we sat down, he asked if there was anything I wouldn’t try. I said I don’t eat babies: veal, lamb, etc… I also mentioned I’m doing Keto, so lower carbs, but as I always do, I left it up to him to order. He ordered Orion Lagers, grilled veggies, fried squid, deep fried quail eggs, and dumplings to start. Keto was out the door and my carb debauchery for this trip began.

We talked about the show and he mentioned he liked my look. I told him I didn’t get beach time with this dress, so I decided to rock it for NYFW. We talked about all the incredible things happening in our lives. I mentioned his feature in the New York Times for opening his latest, Bar Wayo. He mentioned how he loved what I was doing for fashion in NM, with my TV segments, and the Elle UK feature. We talked about work in general and how the summer was going as we received our tasty bites.

We continued to talk about life and he asked me if I was dating. As my immediate and automatic reaction, I’m sure I made a face like I smelt something rotten, and I said, “no.” He asked, “why not?” I replied, “I don’t have time. I’m not interested in dating anyone right now. I’m interested in figuring me out”…yada yada yada”. What I didn’t say is that while I enjoy the conversation, laughter, opportunity to explore and intimacy in a relationship, but I’m not interested in the games or inauthenticity that tends to be found when people are trying too hard. I’m no longer looking for the butterflies. I want the calm and the sense that my whole being is smiling when I’m with the “right” man. I also want someone who looks at me like a fat kid looks at cake (I know that’s politically incorrect, but it is what it is) and can’t help keep his hands off of me and not in that grabby hands kind of way, but the subtle touch just to let me know he’s there. The biggest thing is I want is someone who I’m not afraid to look into the his eyes with real intent to know his being, because I do believe that is the path to knowing the soul of someone. I’m not physically able to do this with surface relationships. I mentioned I do miss having the male perspective that I’ve had with my guy friends, but sadly, my best ones have moved away from NM. In that moment, I missed Roby, Sergio and Damon. He went on to mentioned that he started dating someone just a few weeks ago and she was different from everyone else he had dated before. I could tell he was a little “lighter” than the last time I saw him and that made me smile.

We talked about the last trip in June and the awkwardness that I felt compelled to address when I returned from it. It wasn’t the most opportune time to do it, because it was smack in the middle of his bar opening, but it bothered me immensely and I value our relationship so much that I needed to clear the air or run. We worked it out like friends do and I told him that I appreciated that he valued me enough to take the time to address it. We continued with another round of beers and food. I absolutely love our conversations! We talk about everything and nothing. We talked about the food, his love of diners like this (which made me really look around and soak up my surroundings), my upcoming travels, the inspiration for this collection, and randomness like how wasabi and hot mustard are my crack (it hurts so good). The whole time laughing and enjoying each other’s company.

He mentioned a speakeasy on the other side of this random door in the restaurant. I asked if it was a speakeasy or a dive bar because of the Rolling Rock and other neon lights that were behind the glass. He informed me that it was this beautiful turn of the century, high-end, intimate bar where the Japanese bartenders created craft drinks. I couldn’t see it with the neon flashing at me. When we wrapped up dinner, headed over. It was as he stated–this completely transformed space that boggled my mind. We ordered a cocktail each: I, the gin based Purple Rain, he, the vodka-based Sunflower, and we opted to share. We continued to talk. He talked about proper protocol for making cocktails and how they bartenders never smile. I looked back smiling as I normally do, and the bartender smiled back…broke that theory.

Photo courtesy of Angel’s Share

I am a huge history buff but even more so about the people who have crafted the world we live in today. As we sat at the bar overlooking Stuyvesant Street, he talked about it being the only true west to east street in Manhattan. He talked about the Dutch man who founded this area only to have it taken by the English in later years. He also talked about the best time to have a cocktail in these seats, facing the park below, which was when it’s snowing because you can see a bit of beauty and peacefulness in this often chaotic city. In our discussions, I’ve learned that Lucas derives history and culture in crafting the experiences he creates in his restaurants and bars, and I love that. We are kindred spirits in that way. Each bespoke piece I create has a story and especially for those commissioned pieces where I get weave my creation into someone’s important moment in life.

Across the Pond & the Customer Experience – Monday, September 9

I carried Our Lady and Saint Jude with me as my guides on this trip.

The next morning, I woke around 6am. Well actually and unfortunately, I woke before that at about 3am with chills throughout my body—the cold that you feel in your bones and you can’t seem to shake or warm up from. I don’t know why, it wasn’t like the air conditioner was on. I didn’t want to make too much noise, since Lucas was working the next day, so I wrapped the blanket it tightly around me and curled up into a ball. After all that, my body was not sleeping past 6am. I quietly began to get back to work, earbuds filled with music in my ears and me, sitting pretzel style on the floor, pinning the last few garments with their zippers and embellishments. Lucas got up and ready for his day and before heading out, and wished me luck. I continued working throughout most of the day, missing out on another gorgeous September day in NYC. I repacked my bags, storing the large one with the excess material and sewing machine under his bar table. I headed to JFK a little early because I didn’t know what to expect going through international travel gates. I got to my gate with plenty of time. It was interesting because the normal bustle I find at JFK wasn’t found in the international gates. It was calm and quiet.

Before flying on Virgin Atlantic, I felt flying lacked the customer experience. I remember hearing about how glamorous flying used to be. Today’s travel via flight is more like a cattle call, you line up, you go on board, maybe you get peanuts, you sit in uncomfortable seats and you countdown until you arrive at your destination. This was my first time flying abroad, and the team at Virgin Atlantic made it a memorable experience, a luxurious experience. From the welcoming when I stepped through the door with the crew in the smartly dressed uniforms, to the pillow, blanket and headphones waiting for me in my comfortable economy seat, the gratis cocktail hour, to the choices in food, beverage, and entertainment, to the option to shop duty free from my seat, all this value with an affordable ticket price. As tired as I was from the lack of sleep the night before, my 2nd or 3rd wind kicked in and the realization that I was on my way to London kicked in. I think I finally fell asleep but not more than 2 or three hours. We arrived in London earlier than our scheduled arrival and now I had to figure things out.

Train Station Yoga, What the Eff Did I Do, & Memories of the Past – September 10

As I de-boarded the plan, I had to figure out this whole border control/customs thing. I was sad when I realized that I wouldn’t get a stamp in my passport in London. Instead, they use bio-metric scanning to approve your entrance into the U.K. which is pretty sci-fi and creepy to me, but I guess this is the world we live in now. As I walked out to baggage claim and walked through the arrivals gate and very much had a flash back to the opening scene in “Love Actually” people awaiting the arrivals. It looked like to me with all the signs it was more hired drivers than loved ones, but it still gave me those ooey gooey feels, I smiled. I wanted to stop and quote Hugh Grant’s opening monologue,

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”.

Love Actually

But I didn’t. I carried on. I figured out that I needed to take the Heathrow express train into Paddington Station. As I waited for the express with the other passengers and feeling a little punch drunk due to a lack of sleep, I wanted to ask where platform 9 ¾ was. Again, I stifled my urge because I knew it wasn’t as funny as I thought it was (I still giggled to myself). I booked my flat with a rental company. The area I was staying in was directed by the location of where the fashion show was originally going to be. When looking at hotels in that area, the average cost per night was £450. I found this rental company and the cost for my entire stay was going to be as much as one night. The reviews relating to the room were great. My only apprehension was the shared bathrooms but saving approximately $3,000, I could suck it up.

The only problem with my accommodations was the fact that check-in time was 1pm. I tried calling the day before to see if I could store my luggage until I could check-in, but no one answered so I left a message and didn’t receive a call back. When I got to Paddington station about 8am, I decided to hang. I really couldn’t chat with anyone back in the states as it was the middle of the night, so I went to a coffee shop and people watched. Feeling tight from my contorted sleep the night before, I thought about breaking out and doing yoga, but didn’t want to draw the attention. At one point an alarm went off, asking everyone to exit the train station. That took me by surprise until one of the workers said not to worry about it, it was just a drill they did every Saturday and Tuesday. In my mind, I thought it better be I don’t my journey to end before it started. Around 11:30am, I made my way to the train station, luckily the train I was taking was a direct trip to my location so no train hopping on this venture.

I arrived at Aldgate East Station approximately 30 minutes later. As I descended from the station, with my roller bag and crossbody garment bag in to and up what seemed a thousand stair steps, I had officially arrived in London. The area I was staying in was Shoreditch and it was bustling with people. I put my earbuds in and set Google maps to my flat. I was reminded of two things to prepare for my trip: 1. Mind the Gap—the space in between the trains and the platforms, also the sidewalks and streets and 2. I needed to look to my right vs my left (remember the directionally challenged comment I made before…just think how long it took me to cross each street, and really, it initially did). I started on my way, but my earbud plug into my phone kept falling out because I bought one of those bulky covers that charges your phone and the earbud jack just wouldn’t stay in place, so every few steps I’d I have to push it back in to hear the directions. It was frustrating. I knew I wasn’t far from my flat, but I was lost. I was used to street signs on every corner back in the US. In London, they are on the sides of some buildings, but not all. What I thought were just alleys were in fact streets. Many of the streets reminded me of my conversation from the night before—Stuyvesant Street—in the ways the crisscrossed the others. I know I looked lost and like a tourist, and felt like what the eff did I do, but I soldiered on.  When I finally got on the right path, I was stopped by a young woman asking for directions. Did I look like I knew where I was going? Unfortunately, I couldn’t help, but I’ve been told before when stopped in NYC and other places that I look like I’m a resident of that town and that made me feel a little better.

I arrived at my location. It was bustling street filled with clothing vendors and fabric shops. Could I have been in a better spot? It reminded me of a mixture of Chelsea (but not the posh London neighborhood, the gritty NYC neighborhood) and Santee Alley in LA. I approached a discreet door with the sign “Monopoly accommodations” above it. It was wedged between two store fronts. I rang the buzzer and a young Russian or eastern European woman came to greet me. I told her I had a reservation and she took me to my room. It was on the second floor of this winding building. She showed me the bathroom just a few steps down from my room and the kitchen a few doors on the other end from my room. She opened my flat door and I found the room was perfect for my stay, very minimalist in furniture and décor with a full-sized bed that I could just melt into in that moment, a good sized wardrobe, a flat screen TV on the wall next to a desk and chair and on the other end what looked like a faux fireplace. The window was slightly cracked open and there were black out shades (although, a couple of hooks were missing so one side so it wouldn’t completely close). She handed me my key fob for building entry and the code for the lock on my room. I asked if I should follow her back down to the office to settle payment, she said I could do that whenever, so she left and immediately took off my clothes and climbed into bed.

I woke a couple hours later to the sound of children. I was staying in a real neighborhood and my window faced the back of some residential flats. I decided to get up and go wandering. While sitting in the train station, I reached out to this foodie Instagrammer from London, IG: @KS_ate_here, that Cati had connected me to because of his drool-worthy posts. I told him I was staying in Shoreditch and would appreciate him sharing his favorite eats. He gracefully did. I decided I would try Gloria, an Italian Trattoria just a few blocks from me. Before heading out I took care of my room tab, then headed out. Exploring the neighborhood, I realized it was three in one: 1. an immigrant community filled with African fabric shops and Muslim vendors, 2. when I turned a corner, a bustling, business area with smartly dressed men and women catching the tube at the end of their day, and 3. turning another corner, a posh up and coming neighborhood filled with high end boutiques and eateries in centuries old buildings. It was interesting that this was all found within a four-block radius.

 I arrived at Gloria and based on the feedback I received, I wasn’t sure I’d get a seat without a reservation. I guess I arrived early enough that they were able to squeeze me in. Where I was seated, I had the perfect view of the entire restaurant. I sat across from a couple that looked like they could be in the UK show, “Made in Chelsea” (I miss not being able to watch it in the US)—she in a leopard halter with the perfectly chiseled (and probably enhanced) face and body; he in head-to-toe Givenchy (I wanted to tell him you don’t have to wear the logo tee with the logo belt and it’s okay to wear different designers). Instead I just smiled to myself. I ordered a cocktail and perused the menu. Everything about this place felt familiar. It reminded me of my great-grandmothers home in Mora. From the Holy Cross on the wall, to all the geraniums and plants, to the dishware, the only thing missing or that I couldn’t see if there was Crown Royal in their back bar.

I was definitely going to order burrata, so when looking at the choices, I smiled when I read about the “Nude” burrata. It was referencing Marilyn Monroe and one of my BFFs, Lynella, loves her. She had been asking about my trip throughout the past few days, so I felt like in a way she was here with me. Another moment that made me smile, was when I looked down and saw the wooden-handled knife next to my plate. In March, when I visited NYC, Lucas and I had dinner at this local Greek restaurant we had this vibrant conversation about what creates memories and I looked over and saw the knife and said that it reminded me of dinners at my grandma’s. I returned from that trip to go to dinner at my gram’s and what did I find, that wooden knife. We talked about it at dinner just a few night’s before, so again, I felt like he was in that moment with me. I sent them photos to try to have them guess…Lucas easily guessed Lynella’s reference, but had totally forgotten our conversation. Oh well, I had fun with it. I ordered the burrata and pizza (carb debauchery continued). I hadn’t eaten since 8am when I had an almond croissant and cappuccino. The meal melted on my tongue and I’m sure I looked like I was having a “When Harry Met Sally” moment look on my face. The restaurant was now full of afterwork patrons and groups, so I figured I’d be on my way to open up my table for the next diners. When I received my check, £1 was automatically added to support a non-profit providing mentorship to youth in the community, which if you know me, you know I love this. Everything about this dining experience made me feel like I was supposed to be here.

I returned to my flat and decided to call it a night because I was leaving super early the next morning to Paris. My flight was at 6am which I figured, I’d need to be at the airport by 4am. I was flying out of Luton which by train would be 1 hour 15 or by Uber 45 minutes. Being solo and the number of connections it would require by bus and train, I opted to fork over the £45 to call an Uber. I figured I’d get up by 3am and head out. I finally fell asleep about 11pm a little anxious trying to convince myself to bypass Paris and just stick around where I was comfortable and somewhat spoke the same language. My spirit wasn’t having it. I woke at 2:45am exhilarated to go on this adventure.

A Fox, Locks & a Wrong Turn – Wednesday, September 11

Dressed and ready and selfie taken by 3am, I called for an Uber. Within 10 minutes, I was in the car ready to go. As we turned the corner, I saw something so misplaced I couldn’t help but stare. At first, I thought it was cat and then I thought I was groggy and my mind was playing tricks on me, but it was indeed a fox—a fox in an urban neighborhood! It was awesome and a little out of place, so of course I had to Google the symbolism of it. Here are some fun things I learned:

There is a good reason the old adage: “clever as a fox”. In truth, these creatures are extremely clever, and remarkably resourceful. From hunting strategies to camouflage – the fox gets about the business of living life with sass and class. Many myths (Native American comes to mind) designate the fox as a jester or trickster. In China, fox animal symbolism revolved around the afterlife. Lore has it that a fox sighting was thought to be a signal from the spirits of the deceased. Celts believed the fox to be a guide, and was honored for its wisdom. 

I saw this as a good omen and it relieved a bit of my anxiety. I arrived at the airport about 45 minutes later and I was grateful my driver didn’t fall asleep at the wheel, slamming was seemed as energy drinks while constantly yawning. I got through security super quick. I had no bags beyond my crossbody and there was no checking passports and I had my boarding pass. So I walked toward the gates, through the Candy Land path of duty free shops, still not knowing which gate to go to. The interesting thing about this airport, you’re not notified about your gate until about 20 minutes before you board the plan. Once I was received my gate information, I made my way to what seemed like a holding cell. The doors opened and we walked out onto the tarmac and climbed stairs into the plane. I had a window seat and did my very best to take a nap. This time I succeeded only awaking when the captain made his announcement about our descent into Paris.

Not really having a complete game plan for the day. I had reached out to Sofi and Jamie both had family that lived in or near Paris and had traveled there before. Jamie had the most succinct itinerary for 10 hours in this city but it incorporated much of what Sofi had shared with me. Sofi even tried to connect me with her family, but as life has it, they were actually in the middle of a move to the US. Go figure.

I told Jamie that I was traveling into Charles de Gaulle. She said I should take the train in because I’d be stuck in traffic forever. She also warned me of thieves. Great, if I wasn’t already on edge this added to my hyper-awareness. LOL. When I arrived in Paris, I got my stamp. YAY!!

In the airport, I had help with the trains I needed to take from a friendly attendant. She suggested that I purchase an all-day pass as it would be good for all trains and buses. At €16, it was a done deal. Luckily, I only had to switch trains once. However, when I got to the change station, I did ask for help from a pretzel shop attendant. Trying my best to speak French, I said: “Bon jour mademoiselle. Si’l vous plait..” and pointed to the train I needed to take, she pointed to train across from the platform. I responded, “merci beaucoup” and headed on my way. I arrived at the Auber station approximately a half hour later. The total train ride was an hour long and most of it was above ground so I was able to see life just outside of the city.

As I ascended the train station, I dropped my jaw in awe. I was in front of the Opera in all its grandeur and glory. And basically, across the street was the Haussmann Galeries Lafayette. I immediately walked in and took the escalator to the top as Jamie directed.

“Excuse my French but I’m in France.”

From there I could see all of Paris: the opera, the Eiffel Tower, Notre Damn. I know I had a dopey grin from ear-to-ear. I did it. I made it to Paris. I felt exhilarated and excited to explore.

Chandler smile

Have you heard of Flat Stanley? He’s a character in a children’s book in which he is drawn on a piece of paper and then shipped all over. The cool thing about him is that he’s included in photos with all these people and places around the world. For this trip, I decided I was going to take on that role, but instead be Digital Dara. Not one who normally likes photos, I couldn’t help but take photos of all the lovely things and people I’d be visiting.

As I descended the rooftop, I decided to explore this magnificent department store that held all the world’s designers….and honestly, was amazed. Next, I moved on to the Vendome. But first, I have to give a shout out to the architecture in Paris. I felt like I was in a fairy tale. I know I was in the posh, high street areas, but OMGee, the round arches, the wrought iron, the French blue found throughout that captured all of my being. The smartly dressed men: turtle necks, French mustaches and slim fit slacks and women: perfectly tailored, elaborate patterns and luxurious fabrics, they all caught my attention. Funny, the biggest trend I saw in both Paris and London: basic Levi’s logo tees, DKNY emblazed everything and Converse–the basics are big!

Walking through the streets when I would hear the law enforcement sirens go off, I was catapulted back into a chase scene that I recalled from the Bourne movie franchise and not so much in it but the sounds from it.

Next stop, Place Vendôme. Jamie mentioned this was a must stop because of the beauty of it. She was right! Based on what I read, this emblem of French luxury was built in 1686 by order of the French King Louis XIV. Now known for the most prestigious French haute couture brands and the finest jewelry houses, it is awe inspiring.

As I was walking through the Place Vendome, I was in awe of all that I saw. In that There was a fashion shoot happening on the path I walked as I made my way to the Louvre. The high end shops like Louis Vuitton caught my attention, but it was what I heard through my earbuds that made an even bigger impact that solidified that moment. MC Solar’s La Belle and the Bad Boy was playing and it was perfect to be hearing it in this moment in Paris.

If you are a fan of Sex and the City, then you may recall this song playing when Carrie realizes she has sacrificed her life for someone else’s. It was the start of something that had already been sitting in my head since Sunday night. I continued walking through this grand space soaking it all in and deeply pondering what was weighing on me but also wishing I was wearing a big tulle skirt and heels in lieu of khaki’s and converse. It was already 11:30am and I was debating going to the museum or grabbing a bite to eat. I opted for the former. I needed to feed my curiosity and love for art, more than my stomach.

After debating the length of the line, I finally took my spot at the end and entered the museum at about 12:15pm. I hit all the highlights as I didn’t have much time.

“Get your photo and move on”

Of course, I had to take a photo of Mona Lisa…but honestly, I loved all the murals I saw as I waited in the long ass line that made me feel like I was waiting for a ride at Disneyland. The attendants were instructing the patrons to hurry and take your photo and move on. Done.

Next, I walked through Jardin de Tuileries. It was very romantic and perfectly manicured. Parisians were sunbathing the warm sun and others were enjoying the early afternoon eating baguettes and brie from the food cart. Again, I opted not to stop to eat, but continued along the River Seine. It was not only the sights that kissed my senses but also what I scents I came across.

While NY has the scent of ambition: sweat, grit and cigarettes, I found Paris to me smelled of flowers and most specifically roses. Fall was also in the air. The trees were starting to turn and a cool breeze flowed through my hair. The weather was perfect in the upper 70s. And as I walked along the river, I realized without planning on it that I was at Pont des Art bridge. I didn’t realize it, first seeing a bike ride tour arriving at the same time, but as the stepped off their bikes to walk them across the tour guide pointed out the locks.

I continued walking and taking photos. I smiled seeing families walk by, friends in conversation, lovers embracing and couples purchasing locks from vendors to add their own to the bridge. I stopped to admire the incredible beauty of the river and architectural landscape around it. I realized how romantic Paris truly is and it made me think of the question Lucas posed a few nights before. It could have been fun experiencing this city with someone else, romantically or with a friend, but I believe I needed to experience it and fall in love with it on my own. I was in a relationship for approximately 24 years, and a fear of water prevented me from traveling abroad. Don’t get me wrong, I freely gave into that sacrifice, but I know now I won’t ever sacrifice experiencing life again. I want to be with someone that I can explore with, even with our human fears, because I know “we got each other”.

In that moment, I thought about that scene from SATC where Carrie realizes she gave up a dinner party in her honor to support her SO in his gallery opening only to be left sitting on a bench. That particularly struck me. If I do decide to go down the path of a relationship again, I want a partnership…someone who supports me as much as I support them. I don’t want someone who doesn’t understand what this path of fashion design means to me. It IS more than “a hobby”. It’s taken me places I’ve never been, challenged my creativity in ways that I never thought possible and connected me with people all over the world that understand what this means. I was told I’d never get anything out or anywhere with it. Yet, here I was in Paris three days before I was to show my designs to an international community (and this is only years into this path). And while, I’m not ready for a relationship in this moment in my life, but the right person doesn’t usually come to you when you are looking. So the meantime, I’d rather be solo and happy, than be with someone and be lonely. I walked on smiling.

My next stop was Norte Dame. I know it wasn’t open to the public, but I had to get a glimpse of it if I could and I did. A woman asked if I would take her photo with the building in the background. I did and in return, asked her if she would do the same. She obliged.

I could not visit Paris without going to my beloved fashion icon Coco Channel’s Rue Cambon, so I started back.

Yes, Paris you are my high!

I was so in awe and now wish I would have gone in but since I wasn’t shopping, I didn’t want shoed away for taking photos…so my outdoor selfie would suffice. It was getting close to 4pm. I still hadn’t stopped to eat and looking at Google Maps to Galleries Lafayette it looked like it was going to be a 45 minute walk, which was weird to me because I definitely thought I was close to where I started. I wanted to try and fit in a meal on the rooftop restaurant before I headed back on the train, so I opted for an Uber (I mean I had already covered 5 miles).

My driver picked me up and as we started, I realized that I hadn’t put in the full name of Haussmann Galleries Lafayette so instead I was really going to Galleries Lafayette. This wrong turn was completely worth it as I got a close-up view of the Eiffel Tower. I was dropped off in front of the gallery and started walking back, but then decided I really wanted to take an Uber back. I had a lively and great conversation with this next driver. He asked about my visit and about all the places I had visited. He talked about he economy and what’s happening right now. He easily understood English but couldn’t fully articulate a response so he would use a translator app…which I thought, “duh, I should have been using that throughout the day.” He dropped me outside the department store. I took the escalator up. The scene was much different that earlier in the morning. There was probably a dozen people when I was there earlier, but now the roof top was full and there was line for the restaurant. Knowing time was no longer on my side.

I opted for a restaurant across the street. I ordered a glass of champagne and croque madame, sat and thought about what a lovely day it was. I then headed back on the train to Charles de Gaulle. As I sat on the train, looking at posts back in America, it hit me again the significance of being here and when I returned to my flat that night, I posted the following:

As an American in Paris today, I saw posts and news briefs about 9/11 remembrance. However, life seemed to continue here un-phased. I took a moment to reflect on loss and life and how one of the key learnings for me are how important it is to tell people how much they matter to you, to live life to the fullest everyday, and to love your neighbor. Merci paris d’être si accueillant avec moi.

I arrived at the airport and had to use my train ticket to enter, I tried several times and several times I was rejected. I thought I had paid for a full day. I didn’t know what I was going to do as there were no ticket purchasing stations. Then I noticed, at the corner of my eye there was a turnstile that was open, I walked through like I owned the place and hoped I wouldn’t be taken to a French jail cell. Later, I realized I had been trying to use my receipt and not the ticket…definitely a Ms. Adventure moment. I received another stamp as I went through customs/border control. I picked up some macrons, French wine and chocolate before boarding my flight. I arrived in London about 10pm and back at my flat about 11pm fully sated from a soul-filling day. I am so proud that I didn’t give in to my fears and experienced this day.

Change of the Guard, Jewels & Unexpected Foodie Festivals – Thursday, September 12

1995 called and they said, “Girl, Rock IT!” I had to pimp Macy’s while I was traveling.

I totally slept in. Getting up finally around 11am and jumping into the shower. I thought I’d explore nearby when I realized London Tower was a tube stop away, so fumbling through directions to get there I arrived about noon. Purchased my ticket and stepped through history. I love the ego and dysfunction of the Tudor Dynasty and was so happy to gleam more knowledge about it here. I also had to take photos of the ravens to send to Meri, my friend and partner in crime in the Raven dress. It was an incredible journey back in time. The opulence of the monarchy, the treachery, or perceived treachery and the rich history of London was found within the high walls.

They say if the Ravens ever leave London Tower will fall.

It was fun to see tourist, locals and students alike enjoying the beautiful day. I spent a few hours learning about the prisoners, the jewels, the arsenal, the Beefeaters, and the animals found at this historic spot. After a few hours, I decided to walk the tower bridge. It was so cool and gave me that same feeling I had walking the Brooklyn Bridge total touristy, post card moment. When I returned, I stopped by a bistro that faced the River Thames. I had a glass of Rose and figured my next move. I thought maybe heading back to my neighborhood to try another suggestion from KS’s list, but as I walked around the moat, I realized the Foodie Festival I had read about happening over the weekend was actually doing a preview night. I purchased my ticket and decided to try it out.

I’m soooooo glad I did. I had been wanting Indian all day and you know you’re in the right place when the woman in front of you in line takes a bite of her Samosa and let’s out an Oh My GAWD!!! I was sold and it was deliciously satisfying. I went on and sampled some lovely gin, champagne, cheese, salsa beets and so much more. I think I dropped £50 on food and bottles of gin and whiskey on top of the Elderflower wine and ale I had bought from the London Tower gift shop.  I headed back to my flat and opened that bottle Elderflower wine as I went back and forth with the producers from the show about last minute details.

Tourist Booty

Running, Prayers, and Getting Banned from Instagram – Friday, September 13

Decided to give London an intro to Hopeless + Cause Atelier. A moment at Pause…I don’t know if you can see on my keys, a Diamond Fist from Street Safe NM (just extra protection). This art was two garage doors down from my flat…seriously, could I have a better reminder that she is with me (that and all the 11:11s)

Friday, September 13 was very much a Friday the 13th. I got up super early and decided to go for a run around my neighborhood which was kind of fab. The air was cooler and a little heavy. I stumbled upon this coffee shop called Pause and in that moment, I figured I should. It was going to be a busy day filled with last minute details for the show on Saturday. The biggest detail was finding models. I had tried unsuccessfully back home to recruit with no luck. So I reached out the production company, to see if they had any luck. They responded with a big fat “NO” and suggested that I try social media. I did just that.

The funny thing about London. I had changed my service for international service (didn’t know about changing my SIM card until it the day before I was leaving). My wireless service was spotty and in some places out right awful even in wifi areas like my flat, so I set up a work space in the kitchenette and started connecting with models. I posted on Facebook to see if friends and family knew anyone. Then using the hash tags #londonmodel and #londonmodels started sending direct messages and emails to women who would fit my looks. If I had my line up when I was creating I wouldn’t have had a problem with creating for all sizes, but for this go it was 2-4 and maybe a 6-8 in some of the flowy looks. My note said this:

Hi!
If you’re in London, would you be interested in walking in a runway show tomorrow, Saturday, September 14 at 15:30? Let me know and I’ll send more details.

Londoners are super professional, polite and proper. I received message after message from the women I reached out to. Most of them were already modeling at that time, some were out of town and some asked for more information. None were confirmed yet and then I got this.

What the fuck Instagram? I’m only doing what your platform is intended for. So I moved on to adding that text directly to a photo in their feed. I was so frustrated I went for a walk. I was happily wearing my cute and flowy Free People dress. I figured some fresh air would be good for me, plus I was hunting down a pen because I got tired of writing notes on my mini iPad. At the convenience store, the pens were £7…I opted to bypass that. Then the breeze started picking up. My cute flouncy dress started having its own Marilyn Monroe moment, so I figured that was my reminder to get back to work.

As I was working, I heard the chanting of prayers and bells. It was then that I realized that I was smack dab in the middle of a Muslim neighborhood and that was really cool to me! I continued going back and forth with potential models. Some looking for payment and countered explaining that I was an emerging designer and they would receive photos and video from the show. I also explained that I am working with Elle UK and I am planning to use the after show photo shoot for the next feature.

By 11pm and after a bottle of wine, a bag of wasabi peas (my crack), three macrons and a chunk of cheese, I had 9 beautiful models lined up for the next day. One was actually flying in from New York and would be arriving about 8am and taking the train to the location. Hallelujah! I went to bed and crashed big time.

SQUIRREL MOMENT: Have you ever thought about your “up to bat” song? I had a conversation about this a few years ago and it was Applause by Lady Gaga. I heard it tonight and it still is. OKAY BACK TO READING

Kicking Ass, Model Moms (BLECH) and $60 Uber Rides – Saturday, September 14

I woke at 6am. My body was so off this entire trip, but if I recall correctly, I slept throughout the night. I got up went for a run and tried to go back to my coffee shop to find out it was closed on Saturday, so I ran to a Pret and got a drip coffee and croissant (not as good as the ones at Pause). I got back to the flat, did yoga, drank my coffee, ate my croissant and jumped into the shower before the other kids needed it.

I got dressed in my work out gear as I normally do, if I’m not wearing my overalls and put out the looks pairing them to the right model.

Feeling so blessed from the messages I received from close by and afar. Thank you for the support and good juju!!

My music was set (thanks Isaiah).

My make up and hair was set with the theme of my show. At 11am, I opted to get an Uber and head over to the venue. The hair and make up call time was 12:30pm but I wanted to make sure I was there in plenty of time to greet the models as they arrived. I arrived at AMP Studios approximately 30 minutes later. There was a non-descript gate with a small sign that said, “AMP Studios”. London is very reserved in announcing locations. I walked up to the gate and a man, like the wizard behind the screen, said no one could enter until 12:30pm. Hui, my model from the US, arrived about 10 minutes later after walking a few blocks to get there (the things we do for fashion). As I was standing there I started talking to another designer, accessories and handbags. He talked about the shows he’s done and the shops his work is included in.

At 12:30pm, the gates opened and we made our way in. I grabbed a table and opened up my garment bag to pull out the looks in order to have the models try them on. Model after model started coming in. I’d send them into the ONE bathroom to try on their outfit, then over to either hair or make up. I started steaming the clothing and realized how much stronger the electricity is in the UK than the US even with my compatible charger—a pop and spark and I was done steaming clothes. Thank God the spark didn’t start a fire. We shared the small space with another mens/womens designer and two children’s designers. I hate showing with children’s line designers. It not the designers and for the most part not the kids, it’s the parents. Dads that stick around…I’m sorry you’re creepy. There is no reason you need to be backstage. Mom’s think they need to be there to take photos and give their expert advice. Go take your seat and take photos from the runway as everyone else does. Okay off my soap box.

I tried to post photos and video but the service was HORRIBLE in this location, a total dead zone that zapped my battery, so I took photos held on to them. There were nine designers in this show and Hopeless + Cause Atelier was number 5. The show was supposed to begin at 3:30pm. It was 3pm and I still had 4 of my models needing make up, so every open seat I filled it with one of my models. At 3:30pm, I still one model in the make up chair and she still had to get dressed. I told her and the make up artist to finish what they were doing because I needed to get her in the lineup. My show started with the first 48 seconds of Red Light Cameras Fire…you know the part with clapping and Amanda humming “who who who who whooooo”. That fed into Elevate My Mind by Stereo MCs and Hui hit the runway. The runway was a box shape and it was an outdoor venue. Even though we talked about pace and where to stop along the way, I know nerves and the beat of the music kicks in and the models walk faster than I wish they would, so I constantly reminded them of that. Carolina, my model in the MUA chair came running in and put on her outfit. I fit it to her and made sure it was on right as she joined in the group.

Incredibly grateful to Carolina Perez, Proscovia, Abbi Haynes, Isioma, Aleksandra Baranova, Christina Heimeyer, Hui Ying, Laeticia, & Michaela (not pictured)

As I say every time, all the preparation and work takes months and the show is over in minutes. After we did the final catwalk, we went to the back and I got some behind the scenes photos. After the show ended, we were supposed to go near the River Thames for a photo shoot but that was a 20-minute drive and I wasn’t up for it so I asked for the producer to do the shoot on-site. I loved the urban garden feel of the venue: the red and white brick, wooden pillars, barbed wire, graffiti and greens was my perfect back drop. So they obliged and they took photos of the group. Sadly, I haven’t received them yet. AND WHAT I LOVED EVEN MORE, is that these women connected and are collaborating on projections outside of this event.

I started cleaning up. While talking with one of the models, Alex, she was talking about her interest in fashion and design from an artistic perspective and how it shapes the body. She was telling me about a gallery event at the university in which she was showing her work. I realized the university was a block away from me and if it was open tomorrow, I’d love to stop by and check it out. It was and we talked about a time I would meet her there. Everyone started to leave and I called for my Uber.

Ten minutes later it arrived. The driver was talkative, and we started to head back. It was a shared lift and I was quoted 8 GBP. However, as we were on our way to get the next person the driver complained of having connection issues with his Uber app. We drove around in circles for a bit and then he canceled the other ride. He asked me to try to connect to Google Maps and give him instructions. I thought that was quite odd but understood the connection issues as they were spotty for me. My 20-minute drive turned into 45 minutes and in the end Uber wanted to charge me what would be $60. Yeah, that wasn’t happening, so I challenged the charge.

I was feeling quite satisfied with my bad self but was exhausted from all the burnt adrenaline. I decided to walk down the street to the neighborhood Greek restaurant. It was a beautiful but cool evening, so I opted for spanakopita and Avgolemono soup with a glass of Greek white wine—OPA! It replenished me. I went walking around for a bit before heading back to the room and turning on the telly for some good ole British tv, lol, it was Lord of the Rings!

Mini Me’s, Incredible Music and Public Bathrooms – Sunday, September 15

I totally slept in. I got up and ready about 10am and headed out for coffee at Costa. This morning I just wanted a drip coffee with cream. I took a seat in the corner and began to plan my day, when, as the Ms. Congeniality that I am, hit my coffee cup and coffee was everywhere (if I wasn’t so awkward, I’d have no stories to tell). I went to ask the staff for a mop to clean up after myself, when the young man said he would do it. I felt SO bad. The duo that was working was so kind and understanding that I’m a big klutz, the woman even made me a new cup. At about 10:45am I headed over to the gallery to see Alex’s work.

Art by Aleksandra Baranova IG: @ab_alexbaranova and Hugh Hamshaw Thomas IG: @hughhamshawthomas

I arrived but she was still on her way. I admired all the artists’ work reading their hypotheses and the process. There was one artist present, Hugh. He worked in the digital medium creating tapestry looking art digitally. It was beautiful. He asked about me and I explained that I had just met Alex the day before but was intrigued by her work and loved supporting other artists. I explained why I was in London. He talked about going to Boston in the fall for a commissioned piece.  We exchanged Instagram accounts and I thanked him for his time. Due to time constraints and all I wanted to do in the day, I headed out before Alex made it in.

I jumped on the train to Picadilly Circus. Along the way, a little girl and, what I believe was, her father got on. They sat right across from me. She was adorable with big brown curls, bigger brown eyes and light caramel-y skin. It was kind of like looking back in time at a mirror. When I looked over at her, I noticed her mimicking body language as I sat. I smiled and changed the way I sat, with my legs and arms crossed just to see if she would follow. She did so I laughed and waved at her. She was serious at first and then half waved back. Her dad smiled, laughed and told her to say, “hello”. Kind of stubborn like me she refused. I arrived at my stop, I said goodbye and wished them a good day. She said goodbye and I smiled.

As I surfaced, I was greeted by music from an incredible solo artist. She was doing covers of many of my favorite songs. I stayed for a while and drained my purse of all my coins as a tip. I could have stayed there for this street concert, but I had places to go and areas to explore.

I headed toward Buckingham Palace first, but was stopped by a sandwich board touting fish and chips. That was one of the last remaining “must” eats while I was in town, so I walked down this posh cobble stone streets with high end shops. I was definitely in a high street of London, or Westminster to be exact. I grabbed a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic and the fish and chips. It was deliciously greasy, and I covered it in malt vinegar. It was magical. I was satisfied and head back on my path.

Walking through the lush Green Park, there was no missing Buckingham Palace, it was larger than life, grandiose and elegant. I loved all of it, oh and that the fountain had mermaids (I mean duh!). They were sculpted in it not swimming in it. The sun was high and bright. It was a glorious day in London.

Next, I headed over to Westminster Abbey. And if I had been paying attention to the schedule of shows I would have seen that Victoria Beckham was showing at the Victorian and Albert museum. I mean I totally could have seen David.

Instead, I saw an official car heading that way. DAMN! The Abbey was closed so I went into St. Margaret’s Church. There was no picture taking inside but vast history of the church and its patrons. In ways, because of its history and the notes left by patrons, it reminded me of the church in Chimayo, NM.    

I wanted to see Big Ben and the Eye of London so I headed that direction next. On my way I stumbled upon another street musician, this time playing the bagpipes. OMGeee I love this city! Sadly, I had given away all my change. I continued on and walked past Big Ben…oh yeah, because it was under construction. I tried to get a photo of the clock’s face but with all the scaffolding around it, the photo didn’t do it justice. The London Eye was across the bridge but after finding out tickets were £27, the walk, and the wait, I opted to admire it from afar.

I wanted to see how far Piccadilly Circus was from where I was, so I started to head back when I noticed flowers around a monument. It was a monument dedicated to the Battle of Britain. I got chills as I read the inscription and that the date was September 15, 1940—79 years later I am standing at the spot near where this battle took place. It reminded me of the stories about my grandfather and his parachuting into Europe in WWII as a sergeant in the US Army. I had a moment of reflection and moved on. I got back to Piccadilly Circus and realized why am I taking the tube when I can be taking a ferry ride back to London Tower. I turned around and went back.

I notice everything and no, I did not stage this.

I sat in a nearby park for a minute just to cool down. I watched a guerrilla photo shoot, couples and families all enjoying the summer sun. Then once I felt re-energized, I headed over to purchase my ticket for the ferry. The next one was leaving in 10 minutes so as I stood on the dock, I felt this gut-wrenching pain in my stomach, like it was being tied into knots. I thought I was going to pass out and of course there wasn’t a restroom on the dock, so I left but where would I go, to the new Scotland Yard? I was passing people on my left and my right and thought I was going to die there (my body finally rejected all the carbs). There were no restaurants near by and then I saw it, a sign for a public bathroom. I really wanted to die in that moment. As I walked down the stairs, I could smell the urine stained walls and thought oh great why can’t this feeling subside. I walked into a pretty clean facility, but I realized why people urinated on the outside. You had to pay to go through the turnstile. I had already given all my change to the street performer. I couldn’t wait. I looked around and ran under the turnstile and into a vestibule. Thank God I made it. I emerged a little while later and headed back to the ferry. Once on board the cool air, helped calm me (I know TMI…but sometimes you’ve got to be real and this really sucked).

We started our trek back and the captain pointed out highlights along the way including St. Paul’s Cathedral, Waterloo Bridge (which was built by women during WWII) and a boat with the sail made of children’s art. As we reached London Tower Bridge, I noticed the sun was starting to set approaching it, the bridge was vibrant and as we passed it, a shadow was cast on it. There were two different views within minutes. I deboarded the ship and decided to head back to my neighborhood. There was a pub on the corner that I wanted to check out, Culpepper’s. It had a rooftop bar and I wanted to soak up this summer day as much as possible.

I arrived and put my name on the list for a table on the roof. About 15-20 minutes later, I got a text that my table was ready. I climbed the four flights of stairs (honestly, there aren’t many lifts aka elevators in London). The first floor is this all wood old bar, the second the restaurant, the hotel-like rooms, and then the fourth, the rooftop. I sat at the table and was given the cocktail menu. I sat right next to the lavender and rosemary bushes the air was aromatic and lovely. I ordered the grapefruit sling and asked about a food menu only to find out that they stopped serving dinner at 6pm. I definitely only had one drink or I’d be falling down the stairs without something to eat. I went back to my recommended list of restaurants to find out that they were all closed, so I went online to find something nearby, it was going to be Italian again and I made a reservation for 8:45pm. I walked over the restaurant, which was filled wall to wall with patrons, so that was a good sign. I sat at the bar and ordered a salad, a glass of wine and pasta. After dinner I walked back to my flat and repacked my bags. I couldn’t believe I was leaving. I had such an incredible time. I also came to the realization that as NYC smells of ambition and Paris smells of romance, London smelled of cologne—musky, earthy scents like bergamot—a little regality and history are what came to my senses. I think these scents also helped to shape my travels.

Last night of reflection, gratitude and celebration for an incredible trip.

Getting Lost, 30 Hours with SJP, Godzilla & Karaoke – Monday, September 16

A friend and colleague was going into breast cancer surgery back in California on the 16th so I wanted her to know I was sending light, love and healing energy. FIGHT LIKE A GIRL, M!

I woke the next morning at 7am and again went for a run and my token cappuccino and croissant at Pause. I realized it was the only time it really drizzled while I was there and I thought, “I know I’m sad I’m leaving too.” I took a moment to pause and feel overwhelmed with gratitude for this journey. I did everything I planned to do while I was here (well, with the exception of seeing a Manchester United game…they were playing the same time of my show, but definitely next time). Who knew 6 years ago, when I was laid off from Cardinal Health, that I would be showing in my designs during London Fashion Week. Let me say it again…I showed my designs in London Fashion Week. People tell me all the time that I’m brave (maybe they think I’m stupid) for following this dream. It’s no longer a childhood dream. I believe we all have the power to accomplish what want to do, but many times we’re our own obstacle or we listen to people who don’t understand the meaning of life is to live it to the fullest every day. Creating fashion became my passion, so I set goals around it to make it work for me. With hard work and such incredible support, I’ve made it my reality. If I could travel the world creating designs on the fashion stage and write about it while meeting the most intriguing people, then I have lived a full life. And I’m already working on setting the plans in motion for Paris Fashion Week.

Seeing the time, I headed back to my flat. Took a shower and mapped out my train path to Heathrow. It would cost £45 and take an hour via Uber. It only cost ~£10 and would take the same amount of time via the train system. I opted for the later and headed to Aldgate East. I realized that my garment bag (the one I was checking for the flight) was about 10 lbs heavier than when I brought to London. Climbing up and down stairs, I knew I was going to get a workout. I was traveling during peak traffic time, so I hopped on a train, but when I didn’t see the location I was supposed to be going to I realized I was on the wrong one. UGH! I got of at the next station and my connectivity was gone. Double UGH! I asked an attendant to for help and she directed me to the route I should take. I tried to get on the next train, but it was filled to capacity and me and my bags would not fit. I got on the next one, and road it until I reached the station I needed to get off at. Then I looked for the connecting train, I was directed by another attendant to the platform on the other end of the station, up and down probably four flights of stairs into the belly of the train station I finally reached my platform. I was sweating profusely and the arm strap from my bag was digging into my shoulder. I’m sure I looked a mess, but I didn’t care as long as I got where I needed to be. My cell service, of course, did not work.

After all the running, climbing, and sweating, this still made me laugh and I wanted to scream, “Shut up! Shut up! SHUT UP!”

I boarded the train and felt comforted that I was going in the right direction. My destination was 19 stops away and approximately 45 minutes. However, as we got closer, I realized this train’s final destination was four stops away from the airport. I said an Our Father and Hail, Mary that I didn’t miss my flight. The train stopped at its last stop and I moved to the other track to get the next train heading to Heathrow.

My flight was scheduled for 11:50am. It was 10:40am when I boarded that train. It was 11:03am when I tried to drop my bag. I also paid a hefty fee to check my second bag because I knew I was going to have to run through the airport. I received notice that I required special assistance. I went to the attendant and she informed me that the boarding process closes an hour before the flight, but she was going to do what she could to make sure they were on the flight. She took me over to the cashier to pay for my second checked bag. She gave me instructions on how to get through security swiftly. I began to run. I got to security and explained my situation. The attendant told me I should be fine that the gate I was going to was right near the security exit, so I got in line and what seemed like forever, I got through security. Ran what seemed like the length of a football pitch up to my gate. The agent checked me in and I boarded the plane.

Relieved that I made it. I took a deep breath said another prayer and thank God for everything. I settled into my seat and cocktail hour began. I opted for a glass of wine and watched movies. My adrenaline was through the roof and I couldn’t sleep. In the seven hours, I watched Isn’t it Romantic, Hustlers, Rocketman and Dumbo. Since I never made it to high tea, I was happy that they provided Mile High Tea in a box. It was quite lovely.

When I landed, I had a message from Lucas stating that he knew I’d be landing soon and that I’d have the apartment to myself for a couple of hours. I responded when I landed. He welcomed me back and asked how I was feeling. I was feeling great but I did want to take a shower and freshen up. He asked if I was still up for going to his latest creation, Bar Wayo. I told him I totally was if he was. We agreed to check it out.

I got to the apartment about 3:30pm. The skies were over-cast and it was a little cooler than the week before. I climbed the stairs with my bags, my muscles remembered the weight and I felt like I had gumby arms. When I got inside, I drank a huge glass of water and did some yoga stretches. After, I climbed into the shower and the water felt so good on my skin. I took my time just standing under the water as it cascaded and caressed my aching muscles. I put my music on and started repacking my bags. My flight was at 7am in the morning and I knew I wouldn’t have time later to do it.

He arrived back at the apartment about 7pm, after getting his insight on the dress code for the bar, I changed, and we headed out shortly thereafter. We took the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge. I told him about my Ms. Adventure that morning and how I almost missed my flight. I also told him during this trip, I had my epiphany on why I don’t like underground trains—my lack of direction, cell phone connectivity issues and confusing signs. We got off at our stop and we walked toward Pier 17. He talked about the history of the neighborhood and it being the foundation for the gangs of New York. I was taking it all in. It was great feeling the vibrancy of the city again.

We reached our destination and he talked about the neighbors of the bar: an iPic Movie Cinema, the other restaurants and bars and then we came across a Sarah Jessica Parker shoe store. I had to take a photo for Lynella. I told him to get in it and the character that he is, he did. We arrived at the bar and the crowd was light it was still early and in fact this was the first Monday that they were open. The decision was made to coincide with Monday Night Football. As we walked in, everyone stopped what they were doing to say “hello”. I was with the mayor and this was his town. He introduced me to the group and we took a seat at the bar. Known for his craft cocktail creations, he asked what I wanted. I said a spicy margarita. He glared at me. I said I was only kidding. Had he already forgotten about our conversation about margaritas and how every bar has to have a margarita on the menu?!? I said I couldn’t believe they had them on the menu in London pubs. I told him it was on him to order. So we started a full tasting of the cocktail menu and the ad hoc butcher block, bartender’s choice menu.

We did order food, starting with Curry Donut. This savory treat was a play on the jelly donut. The size of a small plate, this donut is coated in some curry powder and coconut with a soft dough interior and filled with a tomato-based yumminess. It’s cut in fourths, tableside. We each had one piece but then it was discovered that it wasn’t cooked properly so it was taken away not to be seen again or a replacement. What the what? Next, we had the clam chowder. I know my eyes rolled to the back of my head with my first bite. The clam and bacon base made for a heavenly broth. I couldn’t get enough and really tried not to eat all the bite-sized potatoes. The Beef Tartare and Onion Rings came out next. It wasn’t your typical shaved beef. It was a filling tied together with pinon, add the Shiso leaf and wrap with seaweed, you’d create your own wraps or in my case, Lucas would do it for me. The leaf was very earthy and fresh smelling. It reminded me so much of the air from the Mora Valley in NM, refreshing and green. Finally, we shared onion rings. The onion rings were meant for dipping in the ranch and trout row. The burst of flavor was outstanding.

So I may have had a drink…what was I doing?!?

However, our drink game was strong. I tried to pace myself and remember I had been up for a while, but the drinks were enticing, and I wanted to try his creations. I just asked to stay away from the sweet ones.  We tried the Kappa, South Street Sling, Kaiju Crush, Bonji Old Fashion, the Bellini and the other two peach drinks but I can’t remember what they are at the moment.

We had a lively conversation that went back and forth between growing up, what was happening with the restaurant and our idea to have a swanky sweater soiree in NM. And it’s an entire bar conversation. His team was full of personality and it made for a fun and lively evening. During the course of our conversation, a man walked in saying he won $200 in pool and was buying everyone a round of shots…tequila to be exact. Yikes! We drank it and then he said that he was going to pay for everyone’s tab. I looked at Lucas and then looked at him thinking your $200 probably won’t cover our drinks tonight. We Facetimed Lynella, and I’m sure my eyes were glazed over. I don’t recall how it came up, but he had been talking about taking me to Karaoke the past couple of times I visited. I always look at him with a scared face, so tonight I asked him if he ever saw My Best Friend’s Wedding with Julia Roberts. He responded that he loved Julia Roberts. I countered saying I was Cameron Diaz’s character the one that sings totally off key.

Some how or another he convinced me to do it. And the stranger that came in claiming to pay our tab, actually did. However, I didn’t have cash (or enough to leave a tip), so I ordered another round of drinks and left the tip on there. I absolutely adore Lucas. He challenges me in ways that I look at him and want to say, “what the hell”. I believe he does this because he knows I want more, but he also knows my introvert tendencies to not push forward. Friends like that are keepers. He had been pushing me to sing Shallow and at first, my naivete, was like okay. Then I realized, oh hell no. Lady Gaga has the major part of the song and a range…I have neither. I tried to convince him to sing Dancing with a Stranger because of Normani’s lower tone is something I could possibly handle and the song was shorter in length. He said he couldn’t do Sam Smith’s part. I looked a him and asked how times has he sang Karaoke and that I wasn’t buying it. We laughed. We sang. He told me stories about the patrons and the bar owners.

The next time I looked at the clock, it was 4:52am, and my flight was in roughly two hours. I had been up for approximately 30 hours. I was easily convinced to change my flight to that afternoon and then climbed into bed.

Lessons Learned, Feast of San Gennaro and Running Through Airports AGAIN – Tuesday, September 17

I woke about 9:30am in such a lovely way, refreshed after only a few hours of sleep. I got up and after Lucas left to work, jumped into the shower. I decided since I had the time that I would wash my sheets and towel since he was so gracious to offer his home to me. I headed out to my bank to get change, next, to Starbucks for coffee and finally to the laundry mat. Holy crap–how do people afford to wash clothes in NYC? The small load I did cost approximately $5.00.

I love getting lost in this city.

As I put the items in the dryer, I decided to explore the neighborhood. Walking around Bowery, I was loving on all the street art and as I always do, took photos of it. I then stumbled upon the festival for the Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy. I had read about it but all the information I read stated that it didn’t start until Thursday, lucky me.

I perused all the vendors and found this cute NYC skyline necklace for $20, I had to have one. It looked like it was going to be a blast, but based on how busy it already was, it also looked like it was going to be crowded so I was happy to get a sneak peek. I headed back to the laundry mat, pulled my delicates from the dryer (lol just textiles) and headed back to his apartment. It was 1pm and I figured I’d make the bed, change into what I was wearing on the plane, wash the dishes and call a Lyft. That the Lyft arrived about 1:30pm. On my way to the airport, I looked at my boarding pass and realized. My flight wasn’t at 3:30pm as I had convinced myself it was. It was at 3:05pm but had been pushed out to 3:15pm. I was scheduled to arrive at LGA at 2:15pm. “Okay, that’s not bad”, I thought. I was dropped off and did the sky check so I didn’t have to deal with the lines inside. The attendant had issues with his printer, so it took longer than I had hoped. When I got to the security line, the digital sign said average wait time 20 minutes, again I felt good about getting through and on time.

again…

What I realized is that the time on the sign was probably meant for when you got to that point where the sign was. It was the slowest moving line I had ever been through. When I finally got through security, it was 3:09pm so I ran for my gate. Luckily, it wasn’t far and my boarding group had just lined up. The flight had been pushed out again to 3:25pm. I got on the plane and again praised God for this intervention. I arrived in Dallas approximately 3 hours later and had a 2-hour layover. It gave me the opportunity to really think about what an incredible experience this was. Everything about it was pushing me into new territory, new uncomfortable zones, and each time I rose to the challenge and got what I wanted out of it (even in moments when I thought the spoils were going to someone else).

Good-bye for now (tear, tear, sob, sob)

I’m just going to say this, “I LOVED MY EUROPEAN MS. ADVENTURE.” I wish I was independently wealthy. I would travel throughout the world, but not the posh parts. I want to be where the people are. The realness. The genuineness. The humanness and the beauty that is found in exploring new places. It has the same draw to me that New York does. I know it’s not seen through rose color glasses but of the humanity that each person brings or takes away and that’s why it calls to me so. And nah, sis, I don’t wish I was independently wealthy. I don’t think I’d appreciate it the same way if someone paid for it for me vs. me working my fucking ass off to get there and my beloved believing in me and wanting it as much as me, so much that they have gracefully supported me (I in return have grateful and gracefully appreciated it).

What this trip reemphasized for me is that we are mortal. Life is finite. It’s not YOLO—you only live once. It’s YODO—you only die once. You live every day. I don’t take that for granted. I give love with my whole being. I tell people how I feel and if they can’t handle it or don’t know how to respond, I run; they are not my people. I don’t have time for half ass lives. I only want people who can deal with my crazy, emotion-filled, cancer-being (crabby-emotional, not environmental killer version). I smile from ear-to-ear, I laugh with laughter that can be heard across the room. I will sit with you and cry and hug you when I feel that you are in the place that needs that response. I am human. I fuck up. I learn. I grow and I only want people in my life that are authentic and understand and own that. This trip taught me that AND so much more. It taught me the sacredness of enjoying being with yourself and loving yourself. It’s my crazy, beautiful life. You’ve got yours. Own it. Live it. I’ve already got plans in motion for my next adventure and whether it’s solo or with someone, I can’t wait (but I’m telling you there are European beaches involved and they may or may not be topless).

With light and love,

Dara Sophia
(and yes, Lucas people do like hearing other people say their names but only if it’s pronounced correctly)

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