Featured

Chapter 2: Tyler

Roasterie coffee, props and camera supplies in tow, Tyler and I walked out together to take pictures amongst the tucked away flowering trees, overgrown grass and cracked concrete. A lot had changed in a year. 

That sunny and breezy spring Saturday morning, we were shooting in West Bottoms, an iconically historical area of Kansas City—one of many—that has been in its own version of a rebirth for many years (note the whole “rebirth” thing; it’ll resurface later). West Bottoms is a weird animal, like an urban wild, wild west, divided and sectioned off by a criss-crossing network of used and unused railroad tracks and four-story, turn-of-the-century brick buildings coming alive with art, business, and forward movement. Buildings packed full with antiques stacked upon multiple, creaking floors of more antiques. Haunted houses blaring tunes like In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel on mounted outside speakers. Blip Coffee—where bikers come to sip artisan brews. Business startups, art studios and refurbished apartments. Thriving, repurposed possibility nestled right up to decaying and vacant ghosts of the past. 

A few days before, I had driven around West Bottoms on assignment in search of all the hidden explosions of spring amongst the industrial wilderness. After an hour of searching, I found just the spot and sent Tyler the GPS pin.  

We would be shooting with two different looks that morning. The first was a tailored cream, pleated blouse with a button up back, and a long, gold, fitted satin skirt and blue suede heels. The second look a short, fitted blush sequins bombshell dress and no shoes. The pleated button-up is from a three-piece, 80s wool skirt-suit out of my Ma’s closet. The skirt, shoes and sequins dress were all vintage store finds from an afternoon of thrift store shopping in Chicago with my youngest brother, Elliot. All nods to my love of vintage and restored fashion. A significant facet of my style. 

Admittedly, I was a little nervous. I hadn’t had a photoshoot since December. I needed space and time to recuperate and regroup after a particularly upsetting shoot. It is no secret models are often treated like objects, as something to be discarded once the project is over. It may surprise you to know modeling is hard work (yes, it sure is), requires significant sacrifice, and unfortunately is a minefield for predators of all varieties. That must change. I recognize I am only two years into this modeling life, but I hope to be a growing voice and advocate for change the deeper I go into the fashion industry. 

Breaking the modeling hiatus that morning, certain questions loomed: Did I still have it? Was I going to be a disappointment?

Tyler and I plodded into the mushy thick of garbage and decaying foliage to snuggle up as close as we could to the light purple bursts of a flowering redbud. I began moving my arms and body, getting my hair caught in the branches, adjusting the gold skirt sliding down my waist, and internally searching for a feeling, a movement, a zone, sorta feeling like I had forgotten how to model. 

Tyler and I had crossed paths through social media twelve months prior when the world was an even weirder place (because what else was any of us doing at that time?) and chatted about shooting together.

COVID had served as a convenient (and mandatory) excuse to run away from shooting with Tyler. I am a woman who has started modeling in her 30s, and that fact alone taunted, mocked, and rolled its eyes at me on the daily.

Meanwhile, Tyler had battles of his own, retreating in his own way, as he was working to put his life back together for himself and his kids while recovering from alcoholism.

We both are writers, have ADD (his diagnosed, mine a plausible hunch), are coming into our creative superpowers “later” in life, and at that time, our common coping mechanisms of running in the opposite direction as well as paralyzing, dumbfounding shutdown in the face of accepting our own self-worth were flexing… hard.

Both of us were in our own versions of a hot mess. He, vehemently deflecting any mention or possibility he is a photographer (and a really good one at that), and me, questioning why I would ever think I could be an impressive model. 

Truth is, Tyler is a photographer without even trying. He embodies it. And one of the most significant facets of his work—if not, the most significant facet—is his ability to tell a story through the images he takes. If you miss this point, you miss the whole heart-full and art-full foundation of why and how he so skillfully does what he does. 

Because of his own story with rock-bottom and emergence, his already vulnerable and beautiful style took on an even more poignant purpose. He prefers the whole story—not the polished one—welcoming blurred lines, movement, and real emotion, and in process, restoring dignity, unveiling strength in vulnerability, somehow capturing hope and truth and possibility. His work takes you somewhere, because he lets the shoot take him somewhere. And it is always somewhere revelatory and stunning. 

A picture with another layer, like a page ripped out of a story being told.

And the story being told that morning is about two individuals who have started softening into who they are. 

Two people who have been confronting the presence and influence certain defining words have had over our individual lives (his = “worthless”, and mine = “unwanted”), and overcoming them. Each of us receiving who we really are, and taking brave steps into the open to show the world what we are discovering about ourselves. 

For me, this shoot was special.

By the time I changed into my second look, the wind was having its way with my long curly hair, and it was becoming useless to fight it. In fact, it was perfect. It added to the growing freedom I felt. I was most excited about not wearing shoes with my pretty sparkly dress on all that dirt and concrete. I have always been a wild-hearted girl, and any opportunity I have to shed my shoes, I do. This look was a bit like little-girl-Ariell meets the woman I am becoming. The woman I have been fighting for behind closed doors for the past, well, forever, but more directly, deeply and intentionally over the past couple years. The woman emerging from the dust. 

And Tyler was there to brilliantly capture it. 

In the days and weeks following as I received sneak peek pictures and then the final edits in my Google Drive, a couple things became apparent. 

First, I had grown accustomed to the initial excitement of a photoshoot or runway show to be overshadowed by a later, more brutal wave of disappointment, shame and self-sabotage. I have been incredibly blessed to be so quickly and so solidly introduced into the fashion scene within Kansas City (which is growing in rapid and exciting ways), and to be coached and mentored by some of the best. But certain lessons can only be learned in hindsight, and there has been a decent amount of that for me. (Perhaps, it could also be because I am particularly hard on my myself?) This time around, I was shocked to discover that the familiar feelings of personal failure, shame and self-sabotage were completely… absent. And guess what? They still are! All I feel is joy and pride and gratitude and hope. 

And then, secondly, “Holy shit, is that… me?” 

Follow Tyler on IG: @coffeeblac.kcreative. Photocredit for all images in this blog to Tyler Carlson of @coffeeblac.kcreative. His work is amazing. And you should follow him.

For more modeling, updates and projects, follow me here and on IG: @ariellasuzabella

Chapter 1: Amanda

“What if you accepted your new life?” she asks gently, as if she were laying something precious on the table in front of me. Eyes kind and nonjudgmental like always, head tipped slightly to the side in genuine inquisitiveness, waiting without expectation.

Every month for over a year and a half I have met with Amanda. In addition to being a local business owner, she is going to school to become a Spiritual Direction facilitator, and she will be graduating in a month. The approach is different from therapy; subtle but significant. There will not necessarily be game plans penned (though the possibility is there), nor is there any expectation to discuss deep childhood trauma (though you can if you want). We start by sitting quietly. I breathe in deeply and see what comes up naturally in response to the question, “What would you like to discuss today?” 

Amanda has “been through it” with me, and consistently. She is the only one who has regularly witnessed my process from the onset of all of the transition I have gone through. Sept 2019 was the crescendo of all 2019 was. By that point I had started a small business, a blog, took over Epic Table for my friends and was singlehandedly hosting dinners a couple times a month (at least), started modeling, was talking with a new producer friend out of Atlanta about doing a TV show, and had decided I was going to be kicking my day job to the curb at the beginning of 2020 and that I would be telling my boss as soon as I got through the final work deadlines of the year and the rest of the modeling gigs I had scheduled. Phew. Believe it or not, I had also taken on an ambassadorship as well, because apparently I didn’t have enough going on already. Suffice it to say, I rolled into October running on fumes… and nothing more. 

Then 2020 happened.

And then selling or giving away almost everything I own to become a digital nomad happened at the end of that summer.

All the exhilarating highs. All the disorienting lows. She has been there. Every month, like clockwork. 

Typically, after taking a couple minutes to acclimate ourselves into our sessions through our breath and silence, I start talking, and Amanda listens. At various moments she does her thing, asking us to take a step back and pause, inspecting, observing the discussion before us. What does this need? Does it need to be looked at from this angle over here? Or maybe from this one? Does it feel right to take a moment to check in with my body? What other area needs support? Maybe my heart, or an aspect of myself that is being beaten down by all of this and needs to be talked to directly, or an old internal narrative that needs to be rewritten? She is the equivalent of my Rebel camera. Do we need to zoom in or zoom out here? Does this need to be brought into focus, or do we need to adjust our zoom to see another layer of what we are looking at in the same frame, or perhaps does this require us to move to a 30 thousand foot overhead viewpoint? It’s powerful.

Being an empath, a verbal processor, visionary, an extrovert and an Ennegram 8, I don’t know where I would be at this point without these monthly connects. We made it work even when we had to transition to zoom because of COVID, and then eventually because I was no longer in Kansas City. 

“What if you accepted your new life?”

I rolled the question around in my head, then my heart, pushing past the knee-jerk reaction to chuck it out the window (weird reaction, I know, since I know without a doubt I made the right decisions, but alas, the heart and mind do weird things when old ugly beliefs are involved), and instead spent a moment observing and tasting the emotions that came up: unworthiness, perceived accusation that then triggered overwhelm, fear of what others thought (way too much fear of that), feeling unwanted by and an imposter to my own life, talents and purposes. These are strong emotions reinforced by years and layers of belief. Most of the time they feel like an unscalable wall, a looming fortress, unable to be conquered or broken through. In other words, impossible, so you may as well give up, honey.

But one thing I am, without a doubt, is determined.

Even if I don’t have the slightest clue what I am doing, or how I will be getting there, or if it looks like the dumbest thing ever, or I don’t have the verbiage to articulate the next steps (ah, also the struggle of a visionary), if I know that I know somewhere in my gut I am supposed to be there, obstacles be damned, I will keep showing up. 

Again and again. 

I have been digital nomading for 8 months now. Some days I feel unstoppable, totally cool with all the loose ends in my life out there just flapping in the wind. Other days… well, other days, I’m a mess. 

So, this question Amanda hypothetically laid out on the table before me was a nail hit on the head, you might say. These simple seven words wrapping it up nicely. I have worried so much about all the uncertainty before me, or what others think or what will or won’t happen, or have felt suffocated in shame and failure by the grandeur of my own dreams, shrinking and cowering in apologies at believing in their audacity, thus instantly plucking me off of earth and violently launching me head first into another swirl and unrelenting artillery rounds of self-deprecating self-talk.

This has been one of the important personal growth conversations I have encountered so far on this journey on the open road: Accept it. 

And “accept” here means to breathe in deeply, to embrace warmly, to receive with excitement, to marinate joyfully in the resulting hope, to trust the process, to let it be what it is. It does not mean to beat into submission or to further shame myself for allowing this yo-yo of ups and downs (both of which are struggles for me).

Accept the freedom. 

Accept the uncertainty. 

Accept the doors flung open wide before me. 

Accept all the transition. 

Accept the resulting mess.

Accept all the uninhabited space. 

Accept the new. 

Accept the excitement waiting for me to accept it. 

Accept myself.

Accept it like a reassuring hug of safety, acceptance and love. 

An hour passes and Amanda gently brings us back to our breath. Sitting in the still aftermath, breathing in deeply our session, and like so many other times she and I have met, I marvel in quiet gratitude. Grateful for these consistent connects, and for Amanda. I am aware I would not be in nearly as healthy an internal place if she had never approached me. Support on the journey into our true selves is often a village effort. And this is one of those instances where I smile knowingly to myself, hindsight coming into humorous focus—this whole thing has been a divine set up from the beginning. I couldn’t have ever known I would’ve needed this. All prior to quitting my job, prior to becoming a digital nomad, and hello, prior to the resulting animal we call 2020. 

But thank god, here we are. 

We open our eyes. I’m already looking forward to seeing you again in four weeks, Amanda.

How things are going as a new Digital Nomad

Hello there from your resident, non-resident digital nomad newbie. It’s been awhile. 

A lot has happened since we last chatted. I had sold or given away 75% of my stuff, stored 20%, and took the final 5% and left my dependable life (which you know) living in the cutest, wood-floored, many-windowed, 1920s studio apartment in Kansas City’s trendy Midtown Sept 1st to launch out into a wide open expanse of dream chasing and… the unknown.

Yee-haw! 

(If you are already caught up on where I went the past 6 months and want to skip right to the meaty, good stuff, scroll to the first bold highlighted part below… )

I traversed the wide open road of Kansas into the distant Rocky Mountains of Colorado. I hiked the Garden of the Gods and the Manitou Springs Incline (in one hour and 15 minutes, thank you very much). I spent late summer evenings, glass of wine in-hand, on my longtime friend’s back porch, and then afternoon’s with her youngest son watching YouTube videos of gamers gaming while we ate bags of Ritz crisps (Ps. If you’ve never tried them, don’t… you’ll never stop). 

The morning before I left Colorado Springs and my friends, someone randomly gave me a Rebel camera. No strings attached. Just because they wanted to. After showering gratitude on the giver, I climbed into my car in speechless awe and set off for my next Colorado destination.

I headed a little north into the ashy, smoky city of Denver to stay with family, the mountains completely grayed out by the smoldering wildfires. Within the first 24 hours of arriving, all of the area parks had closed, bracing themselves in the temperamental path of the wildfires hungrily building in the just beyond. My first two days I wore short shorts in a sweaty 95+ degrees (I love hot weather), followed sharply and shockingly by a 60 degree drop in temperature, a sudden need for my winter coat and two days of big fluffy snow, a welcome exhale of relief to the residents, and a temporary quenching of the widening yawn of the approaching blaze. I ate homemade soup, spent long hours in conversation (sometimes heated) with my aunt and uncle, played bean bags (aka corn hole), and saw one of my two brothers. I spent a morning in Fort Collins with an old camp buddy, then did get to go to Red Rocks after the snow had cleansed the sky a little. It was a short trip to Red Rocks, and not as exciting as I’d hoped, but at least I got to do something nature-y while I was there. 

I made a surprisingly fun (and healthy! Hello, this is Colorado!) stop at a local surplus food store in Frederick, CO, then loaded back up the CRV, marking an end to my two-week debut into digital nomad life, and set out northeasterly toward Chicago. 

I am originally from the Chicagoland area (most specifically the central suburbs and then the not-so-Chicagoland-area of Rockford). I have the (watered down) Chicago accent, Cubbie allegiance, and extensive Greek and Swiss / German families to prove it. 

However, I came back this way for runway modeling. The final tryouts for the fall show of Chicago Fashion Week was in mid September, and my plan was to only stay long enough to walk for the show the first week of October. 

Ah, how plans change. 

This feels like a great time to take an important detour in our chat

One thing you must know about me is I can handle high risk, especially if I have to choose between my life and time and something as replaceable as a job and place to live. 

At the beginning of 2020, as you may recall, I had left—more like desperately leapt out of—my day job in tax and accounting (no, I was not a CPA—I was instead that essential personality who juggled a million detailed and important jobs like a total badass, rolling into deadline after deadline all while navigating a complete company acquisition, and doing so with a genuine smile and a “How can I help you again today?” to our clients and team, and still being incorrectly called (with spiteful subtlety) an assistant). 

There is a lot I could say about starting my non-corporate life in a year like 2020, but I think the most important thing I can share is what the power of making decisions in defense of your life can do for you. 

I rode many waves in 2020, sometimes numerous times: fear, hopelessness, excitement, sheer blinding panic, confusion of the dumbfounding and tearful variety, mental and emotional paralysis, fist-thrust-in-the-air hope, well, you were there in 2020 too… you get the idea.

Leaping into digital nomad life and leaving my beloved Kansas City was just the cherry on top to an already #yolo year of big life decisions. 

But I didn’t exactly know what to expect. I just knew (that I knew that I knew) I was making the right decision, details be damned. I was compelled by the same thought that launched me off the crazy train of corporate life: 

Time is not a renewable resource. 

I have shared this quote by Hugh Laurie a couple times before, and it won’t be the last:

“It’s a terrible thing, I think, in life to wait until you’re ready. I have this feeling now that actually no one is ever ready to do anything. There is almost no such thing as ready. There is only now. And you may as well do it now. Generally speaking, now is as good a time as any.”

We live in a society that trembles woefully in fear of risk, a society who is quick to offer up a litany of corrective and policing disclaimers to big leaps of faith whilst fully believing it loves and unwaveringly supports people who take said risks. “What a cool thing to just go for it like that! Wow. But of course, you must have been planning this for years, and have $10,000 in savings, and have a clear laid plan of everywhere you will be staying for the next ten years, and have established back ups for your back ups, you know, just in case, and all your debt is paid off, and your mom is okay with this, and you realize you’re never finding a man now, right? But holy cow, so cool that you are going for it! I could never do that. You’re so brave.” 

Fear often masquerades cleverly as wisdom in this society. 

(Really ponder on this thought and see just how much it shows up in so many—often sneaky—ways in varying aspects of modern western life.)

Travel was restricted, so housesitting opportunities, my preferred mode of lodging for the time being (I mean, come on… taking care of puppies & kitties, watering plants, and cooking in real kitchens? Duh!), dried up completely. Like, completely. My debt was looming and crushing. That familiar spiral of helplessness was beginning to gleefully swallow me up. Will I ever get out of this cycle? Will I ever be free? Did I just sign myself up for homelessness and spectacular failure? Was I wrong in believing a life of happiness, abundance and freedom is available to me?

There is an important underlying lesson to all of this:

You are the single most important investment you could ever make. 

This is where everything starts. This is where your life starts. This is also where the shitshow of all your fear, shame and personal accusations, amongst many other lovely, long-held beliefs and accompanying emotions, raises a colossal counterattack to maintain the status quo. It’s rough, y’all. 

Your call to action may not be to do exactly what I did, but I encourage you to consider that the life you’re dreaming of really does lie in wait for you. Stop… and think… about what lies behind that door. All the good people, incredible opportunities, resources to get you there, happiness, character development, love, and wide open spaces beyond what you could ever hope or imagine. 

But—yes, there is a but—for most of us, this internal door to the brilliant manifestation of our futures is fiercely guarded by a monster cocktail of fear and pain. Teeth barred. Fists clenched and white-knuckled. Eyes wild and ready for a knock-down-drag-out fight. 

There is hope though. Heaps, mountains, galaxies full of hope. Brimming and ready to overflow in a persistent tidal wave. Remember that song Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey sing in The Prince of Egypt?

“There can be miracles when you believe. Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill. Who knows what miracles you can achieve? When you believe, somehow you will. You will when you believe.”

I get teary every time I think of this song. 

You CAN get through. You WILL get through if you do not give up. And by the way, you DO have what it takes.

Many people have asked how I have been doing. To that I say, I am in the thick of the fight with the monster at the door of my destiny, and though there are many moments when all looks lost and I am almost cowering in the fetal position, I will succeed. In brilliant colors for all the world to see.  

And so will you.

***********************************

A few things I have found is helpful when beginning to raise your fists against the monster at the door:

  1. Meditate daily. (Insight Timer is a great app.) Taking daily deep breaths and slowly chewing on a truth that feels right for you that day / week / season is so helpful, and is, frankly, ground zero. Don’t overthink it, and give yourself grace to relax into the thought of something wonderful walking happily into your life. Some ideas for what to ponder on: 
  • “I am always in the right place at the right time.” 
  • “I am overflowing with life and hope.” 
  • “With god, all things are possible for those who believe.”
  1. Name your struggles. Lay it all on the table. Put a time on the calendar to spend a couple uninterrupted hours going inward and writing what comes up. Get real with yourself about the things you struggle with: 
  • Is there a word that could describe your deepest pain? Mine is “unwanted.” 
  • What are your “I never” statements? (I will never find another job that pays as good as this one. I never seem to be in the right place at the right time. I never meet men who are reliable and who aren’t insanely selfish. I will never have enough money to pay my bills and invest in an organization I love, etc)
  • What are your “I am” statements (negatively speaking)? (I am not wanted. I am a failure. I am unlovable. I am terrible with money, etc)
  1. Make a list of affirmations, and say them daily and whenever you feel yourself spiraling. This is huge. Why? Because you are literally rewriting neural pathways in your brain. Take those “I never” and negative “I am” statements and flip them. Add in other general statements that feel right too. Do it proudly and with excitement! Such as:
  • “I am overflowing with gratitude, joy, faith, love and hope.” 
  • “I make smart decisions and have solid instincts with money.” 
  • “The right people and opportunities come into my life at the right time.”
  • “I always exceed all expectations.”
  • “I become a better person the more money I make.”
  • “I am no longer striving; I am THRIVING!”
  1. Get to dreaming… vividly. After you’re done pouring all of your fears, pain, and other struggles on paper and rewriting them, then switch into dreaming and rewriting the narrative about how your future will play out. Trust yourself and get as dreamy as you want to. NOTE: Be sure to recognize the difference between dreams and fantasy—remember you cannot make someone love or crave you who has already expressed disinterest, who is already in a relationship, etc. Stick to the concept of your life work, how you spend your time, what thriving looks like to you, removing narratives of lack and replacing them with abundance, and so forth
  • If money wasn’t a problem, what does an ideal day-in-the-life look like for you? (What are you wearing? What quality of people are you surrounded by? What is your morning routine?)
  • Write a detailed description of your life’s work. What legacy do you want to leave behind? What kind of character do you have? How is the world a better place because you are thriving in the greatest expression of who you are?
  1. You gotta FEEL it. This is important—nope, I take that back, this is CRUCIAL. Why? Because you can say affirmations all damn day, but if you do not actually feel them, not much is going to change. This is related to the mindbody connection. The thoughts you think have to physically translate from a thought into an emotion. Think about that. This right here is where—at least in my experience—the work behind affirmations and visualizing a better future for yourself really comes into play. It has to become substance, tangible, real in the form of an emotion first before it is actually substance, tangible, real in the physical. As they say “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

As always, you’re worth the investment, and you can trust that there really is more. Happy thriving!

#arielltravels: Let the Adventure Begin

Earlier this year, I wrote a blog post on the death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gigi. Their sudden tragic passing, along with the passing of everyone else on that helicopter, was a sober confirmation of one phrase that marked me the summer of 2019 and thus resulted in me leaping out of my day job into self-employment at the beginning of January this year:

Time is not a renewable resource.

It is usually pretty easy to list off all the reasons something won’t work or why we may not be ready. But the truth is, death has a way of sifting our reasons and exposing them for what they can sometimes be: excuses. Death has the ability to recalibrate the measuring stick we use to determine what matters.

So happy at least half of my stuff is sold or given away at this point!

By the end of June, an idea that had occasionally resurfaced over the past decade resurfaced again. To make a long story short, it was an idea to travel the States (and eventually abroad again) visiting a different city every couple weeks to every couple months. Essentially, the idea of always having “one bag packed,” experiencing and exploring culture, people and places on a regular and joy-filled basis.

As usual with a super cool dream, the practicals remained a mystery.

Would I be traveling for work?

Where would I live?

How would I afford a life like this if it wasn’t for work?

Could I afford a life like this if it wasn’t for work?

It remained a mystery until the end of this past June, that is.

I had to determine whether I would be renewing my lease for another year, but each time I considered staying in Kansas City, it just felt… wrong. Simultaneously, this travel idea or dream or whatever you want to call it gently began to emerge out of the persistent recesses of my subconscious. I pondered again how I could make something like this work.

Picking up all my remaining Epic Table supplies from my good friend’s place. I gave almost all of it away to a very deserving mover & shaker KC chick.

Then a friend, randomly and without any knowledge of this travel dream I had, made an off-the-cuff comment about websites dedicated to swapping housesitting services in exchange for a free place to stay.

You may have heard the phrase, “everything can change in a moment.” In that moment, all the uncertain practicals that had held this dream hostage in stagnancy started to unravel. The wheels began turning rapidly, and after doing some research and considering other economical back-up options other than just housesitting (I mean, remember COVID? Being able to constantly roll gracefully with the punches and have back-up options like WWOOFing and collaborative partnerships were a must for me), I decided there was enough there to make my move, literally and figuratively.

Despite the swirling uncertainty of 2020, there is no time like the present to just go for it.

After selling or giving away 75% of my stuff, storing the sentimental or super important 20% in a small storage unit, and packing the remaining 5% in my CR-V, I hit the open road September 1st to make my second big leap of faith for the year and begin my nomadic life for an undetermined amount of time, starting in Colorado. (Blog post and travel tips on Colorado to come shortly!)

Goodbye, Kansas City and Old Reality. Hello, Open Road and all kinds of Newness.

In the end for me, it came down to getting real with two sides of the same fear-coin: either submitting to the fear of the unknown by staying in Kansas City another year, or taking another bold leap and facing that same fear. In either scenario, fear is involved, the difference being how I choose to engage it and be influenced by it.

Now, your journey will not be the same as mine, and vice versa. The thought of selling most of your belongings and living on the road may freak you out, or it may exhilarate you. You may prefer to have a hefty amount of finances and savings in place before hitting the open road, or you may be just fine with up and leaving whenever to go wherever with whatever. Leaving without having a definitely mapped plan of every place you will be living or visiting may make you uneasy, or maybe launching out into the unknown will instead feel like freedom and expansively endless possibilities. Point being, we are all very different for a reason, and it is important to remember those differences and honor the road each of us are on without projecting insecurities or personal standards onto each other.

The cool thing about this adventure is there are no rules, so I am thrilled to have the freedom to decide how I want this to look and be.

With all of this, I say, welcome aboard! I am happy to have you here. My sincerest hope and goal is to inspire and motivate others to live their best and fullest life, whatever that looks like. May that be the case for you.

Also, before you leave today, please like this post and follow my blog (bottom of page). This will ensure you are notified right away when a new blog post is published.

Please follow me on Instagram @ariellasuzabella and Twitter @ariellsuzanne as well. I look forward to adventuring with you!

What you can expect:

Adventure! I love culture, people and new places, and I will be sharing those favorite places, experiences and tips with all of you. At times, I may go off the grid for a bit, or may decide to not visually document an experience and to instead just fully enjoy the moment. Either way, it’s all part of the adventure, and you can expect me to write about it.

Travel tips! At the end of every blog post, I will share travel tips and best practices to help you practically dream and plan your adventure (or to find ways to apply to your everyday life).

Runway modeling! If you do a little digging into this blog you will quickly find that at its inception, this blog documented my budding journey into runway modeling. That pursuit will continue even while on the road, but this time in many other cities!

What to not expect:

A box. We aren’t about “putting life in a box” around here. I have resisted the urge and outward pressure to clearly define how long this adventure will play out, where I will be going and for how long. I mean, shouldn’t we have all learned by now that life laughs in the face of our best laid plans? Basically, I am trying my best to know what I can control (certain ways I take care of my finances and resources, for ex) versus what I cannot (what the heck the world will look like in 3 months and how that will affect where I live, work and connect).

So, if you come now and in the future, expecting a box with a certain set of standards, then I guarantee you this blog journey won’t be for you.

Travel Tips:

  1. Do it for YOU. There will always be critics, and some of the most difficult critiques are from those who love you or who you thought would understand or always have your back. At the end of the day, you alone are the one who has to make the final decision on how your life rolls out. Remember that.
  2. Shed any physical baggage. This can be applied in various ways and won’t practically play out the same way for everyone. For me, that looked like selling or giving away most of my stuff. I personally couldn’t justify putting all the work and effort into packing and moving items into storage that I wouldn’t touch for another year or two or more. It made more sense to me to let others benefit from the things that served me so well.
  3. Say goodbye. Don’t allow the past to tag along into your new present. This can look like many different things to many people, so do what’s best for you. For me, anytime I drove around Kansas City the last 10 days, I spent time reminiscing and being intentionally grateful for how each area became a part of my life. This also looked like going through my phone and deleting old contact numbers. Setting new and long-overdue standards for how I allow men to interact with me on social media was another way I said goodbye to my past, as well as taking a little time to reassess and reinforce what my core values on social justice, environmental issues and spiritual matters has been an important conversation with myself as I move forward out of the old into the new.
  4. Receive love and support. Guess what, people love you. It’s true, and these precious people will want to express that love to you in different ways. To me, as long as that love doesn’t masquerade as control, manipulation, shame or makes you feel unsafe, honey, let the love roll in. Let people set up and manage an event to help you sell your stuff, give you money, be another present body to assist with anything you need those final days, buy lunch for you as you sell and pack, tell you how cool and brave you are, and scrub your bathroom sink.
  5. Don’t sweat the sudden changes in plans, because they will happen. Roll with it, baby. Don’t lose sight of the big picture. Adventure is calling, and there is nothing like it, but that will require a commitment to being solution-oriented and letting things roll off your back. For example, the day I was set to leave I ran into a snag with the pickup of my bed and having the unforeseen complication of the hallway carpet in my building being replaced on my move out day. At one point, I literally sat for an hour in my apartment waiting for the opportunity to leave. But I didn’t sweat it. Though I didn’t get on the road until 8 hours after I planned, what matters is that I did.

#mambamentality

The most important thing is you must put everybody on notice that you’re here and you are for real.” – Kobe Bryant

In the numbing aftershock of the sudden deaths of Kobe Bryant, his thirteen-year-old daughter Gigi, and the rest of the passengers on that helicopter, it still doesn’t feel real to me. It’s internally inconceivable for me to grapple with the reality none of them are coming back.

It speaks loudly to the preciousness of my own life. I have held my life more delicately yet more fiercely these past few weeks.

Last year, I went to the funeral of a friend. He was the same age as me. Just like that, he was gone. No warning. I got the news sitting at my desk while working overtime amidst a crushingly busy tax season, and I silently cried, borderline sobbed. My earbuds were in and turned up loud, and though I muffled each sob and wiped each tear that flowed, I couldn’t care less if anyone heard or saw me. That moment was sacred.

It also felt all so ironic. He is never coming back. Meanwhile, the life I still have breath in my lungs to live I am spending (at the time) in a field and position I have no future in. Not much else matters when death shows up. Suddenly, any excuses, even some of the logical or “wise” ones, to not live our best lives struggle to stand when cast on the backdrop of something like this.

I just remember standing in the back of the crowded memorial service a few days later, shaking my head. Death, how I hate you, you thieving jerk. In both of these cases, I will not be convinced it was their time to go. In my opinion, it simply wasn’t. They should still be here. Not because I blame anyone or anything for their deaths, because I absolutely don’t and I see no point in doing so, but I hurt for such an untimely end. So final. Breaths never to be breathed again. I am grateful beyond words for their lives, stories and impact, and out of that place, I am humbled and honored to look at my own life and ask the question: Am I being for real?

I believe I owe it not only to myself, but to them, to be revived by this cold water thrown in my face and take it as the wake up call it can be…

If I let it.

We can always kind of be average and do what’s normal. I’m not in this to do what’s normal.” – Kobe Bryant

Recently, I took a leap. A great big, running leap out of a corporate 8 – 5 existence into an open expanse of self-employment and unknown. Hear me when I say, I did not do this because I had my “t’s” crossed and “i’s” dotted. I did it because I was consumed by one thought last summer: Time is not a renewable resource.

I was watching my life race past me as I was consumed with deadline after deadline. The moment my head would briefly come up for air, I was almost immediately thrust back under water. I was feeling and seeing the affects of tremendous compounded stress on my physical body. I was frustrated and tired of jumping through hoops for male and other leaders, which never really got me anywhere. I felt like I was giving in to the weight of a slow daily death, and my internal panic was increasing as I felt like I was watching my life slip through my fingers.

I was not thriving, but instead I was caught in an endless loop of striving, so I decided to stop the madness. I knew it was time, and for me, this was the best decision I could make.

I gave my notice and left two and a half months later.

Pain doesn’t tell you when you ought to stop. Pain is the little voice in your head that tries to hold you back because it knows if you continue you will change.” – Kobe Bryant

I have no doubts whatsoever that leaving my day job was the best decision I could make. But y’all, there are moments. Moments where I genuinely don’t see how any of this will work or come together. I get scared or worried or self-doubt lurks at the front door of my heart and mind. I have been selective about how much and with whom I share what this transition has meant for me on a daily basis. Even in those shaky times, I am still fueled by the grit to just keep going. To refuse to give up. To push through the pain, and trust the process.

I know on the other side of this discomfort and fear is my promised land, because I can see it.

If you’re afraid to fail, then you’re probably going to fail.” – Kobe Bryant

How I think, speak and believe about my life matters. I am acutely aware that the “old way” of doing life or thinking, just won’t work if I really want to leave the mark I want to. We are talking legacy here. I have big dreams and goals. I want to make six figures… at least! I want my impact to be wide-reaching and positive. I get fired up thinking about all of it. There is so much more to come.

As much as I wish I wasn’t sitting here writing a blog post about what happened to each irreplaceable life aboard that helicopter or to my inspiring friend, I am privileged by the way all of this provokes my own life. As awful as it may sound and as awful as it feels to write this, their deaths have been a (tragic) gift, and I don’t ever want to take any of it lightly.

I thank them sincerely for the ways I have been deeply impacted by their lives… and their deaths.

It’s the one thing you can control. You are responsible for how people remember you—or don’t. So don’t take it lightly.” – Kobe Bryant

********

Additional thought: This is my personal story, and the way you take what happened and apply it to your own life is up to you, and that is a beautiful thing. Not everyone needs to quit their day job. But I will say this, we each only get one shot at this. My only hope is to be another voice to inspire each of us to go out there, and do the dang thing… whatever that looks like. You can do it, and it is beyond worth it. Here’s to our individually and collectively brighter and fuller futures.

Featured picture: This was listed as a free image. If anyone knows and can conclusively prove to me this needs to be credited to a specific photographer, then please PM me.

**********

https://www.beautycounter.com/ariellbraem

More Cloudy Days in Chicago

You should see how many blog drafts I have.

“Maybe what you need is to leave Kansas City. Like, physically get into your car and drive away. Reset.”

Monday, January 6th, 2020 I walked out of my corporate reality, and took a running leap into the great unknown. I knew I didn’t have all the details worked out for self-employment, but I was consumed with one major thought: Time is not a renewable resource. I was doing this for the future Ariell ten years down the road.

Getting through the rest of 2019 to 2020 took everything I had, which wasn’t much. I was running on fumes, and my victory run to the finish line looked and felt more like a forced jog.

So, here I was post-Monday January 6th soaking up the residual shockwaves of an intense building year, and my body took this as it’s long-awaited opportunity to plummet into rest and recovery. Though I have been able to regularly get into the gym (thank God!), plummet, my body did. I was exhausted. Like, exhausted. After this started to subside in its intensity, internal paralysis started to move in to take its place. I was stuck not only physically anymore, but also mentally and emotionally.

A couple weeks after the brakes on my corporate life were applied and I was thickly tangled in the internal mess of the ups and downs of my leap of faith, I was having another long phone call with my mother (affectionately known as Ma). She made the suggestion to pack up from KC and make the trek up north to the Chicagoland area to get away and reset. Here I would also be surrounded by immediate and extended family, and the kind of old friends who will always and truly know me. Made sense; she was right. Why didn’t I think of that first?

This past Tuesday I packed up my CR-V (Lafawnda the Honda, according to my sister) and made the eight hour trek to the land of Bears hats, deep dish pizza, and where the passing lane is an expectation rather than a suggestion (I’m looking at you, Missouri). One of the great things about this new life of mine is I am not restricted by time. I don’t have the looming pressure and anxiety of having to be back in Kansas City by a certain time.

So far, I have seen my Ma, sister, youngest brother, and one of my best friends from high school. I had healthy and ah-mazing vegan food with my sister in a restaurant called Dancing Dog, then followed that up with a double-shot drink and mozzarella sticks in the bar she manages. I took the L for the first time, and one of the guys on the subway called me out as a newbie (I didn’t realize it was that obvious). My youngest brother called to have free day passes set aside for me at the gym he used to work at, so I gladly got my butt kicked in a barre class. My brother bought me $1 earrings in Boys Town. My friend Jesy and I talked and laughed at Goddess and the Grocer outside Wicker Park, remembering instantly why we were such good friends in junior high and high school.

At the moment, I am sitting in a coffeeshop (imagine that) in Downers Grove, Illinois’ Main Street, watching Saturday shoppers with their dogs and coffees in hand and the regular passing of the Metra trains. I have been writing, rewriting, writing, tearing up, deleting, then writing again. It is a cloudy day, which according to the chatty and Euro-stylish retail associate outside Wicker Park, is a record. Apparently, Chicago has never seen this many consecutive days of cloudy weather. Today marks day twelve.

I have known all about cloudy days lately.

As I write, light gray slowly turns darker gray as winter dusk approaches.

I don’t know how to express all I have been feeling since leaving the corporate life. I had enough. Will you allow me to be real? As most women in the workforce can personally attest, this wouldn’t have been the first work situation where I had been held back, talked over, treated like my opinion had little to no value, hushed, put in my place, ignored, and worse… repeatedly. This is tame for what I could write, and as a woman, I don’t want to give in to the pressure anymore to be quiet about mentalities like this towards the input and value of women in the workplace. The thing is it is rarely the majority of the workplace, just a few who are this way at key moments (and not even necessarily all the time!). I believe we all have a greater responsibility to do better. Let’s do better, and value women.

I left with the belief if I make the space, all the good things I had built and invested in would have the necessary room to expand and flourish.

I always want to be encouraging, but all I have to offer is this current raw struggle. This blurry cloudy place. Vague, yet very real. It has been a fight to keep fighting. I have often wondered how the heck all of this will work out, and I keep wanting to tie off all of these things I want to say in a pretty little bow. Hence, all the blog drafts. But that’s just not happening in the way I like (yes, I overthink things), so this is as good as this is going to get today.

Right now though, I am settling into the arms of people who love me, who will always be my safety net, and into the belief there will always be an end to cloudy days.

****************************************************************

https://www.beautycounter.com/ariellbraem

Please VOTE: New Comp Cards Pics

Hey there, I need your help.

I recently had pictures taken to assemble a comp card, which is basically something that is presented at auditions and agencies as my professional calling card. There are generally four categories of images that are on a card like this: 1) headshot, 2) torso and above shot, 3) side profile, and 4) full body.

These images should be natural and minimalistic, which is why I am wearing basic makeup and typical audition attire in these pictures: black tank, jeans and black pumps. It is also okay if these pictures show a little natural personality, especially in the Midwest.

Jenn Robbins is one of the first few people I met and befriended in the fashion industry in Kansas City. I always appreciate connectors and entrepreneurial women who champion other women – Jenn is this all day long. Among the many things she does (a few being, getting her degree, modeling, running a couple businesses, and graphic designing), she is a fantastic photographer. She makes the process comfortable and safe, and she is truly committed to make you look and feel your best in the pictures she takes.

Oh, and she also is a fire performer. Yep, you heard me.

I am including her contact info at the bottom of this page. You will be glad to have met her. Please tell her I sent you.

Also, these pictures would not be possible without Heather (IG: @heatherbcurvy). To me, she falls in the same category as Jenn – someone I am so grateful to have gotten to know. She is kind, supportive, and a wealth of information and experience. She was at this shoot, moving this wild hair of mine out of my face and coaching me as Jenn took pictures: “Now, open your mouth a bit, turn a little more, pop your hip to the right, keep your arm there, you’re doing great…”

Honestly, I cannot say enough about these two women.

On to these pictures…Would you mind giving me your feedback on which pictures I should use for my comp card? I have my favorites, but I want to see what you think. Leave your votes in the comments here, or in the comments on my IG or FB page. I put letters with each picture to make voting easy.

Happy voting! And… THANK YOU SO MUCH!

1) HEADSHOT

2) TORSO AND ABOVE

3) SIDE PROFILE

4) FULL BODY

********************************************

Jenn Robbins

Website: jenniferrobbins.net/

Direct contact: jenniferrobbinsg6@gmail.com or find her on Messenger

Follow her: @jenn.a.robbins

Becoming A Model: Year One

A year ago, I would have never thought I would be walking away from my first volunteer season of Kansas City Fashion Week with the realization that I could walk the runway… and then have the capacity and determination to do so.

I also didn’t think I would be walking in that show exactly a year later.

White translucent boots, fishnet tights, blue wig ‘n all.

Let’s back up: It is a little known fact that what I originally was pursuing in college was fashion design. I just didn’t know how to get there, and if I really wanted it. Was it really the design part of the industry I wanted? Though I made super crazy hodge-podge, ultra-colorful clothes in high school with scraps of fabric from my ma’s sewing bin, I didn’t have the patience for creating a well-made garment. (hence, pants made with one tight rear cheek while the other pathetically sags, and a crotch area that was all wrong were the result.) But I knew the fashion industry was one of the industries that made sense to me somehow (and for the sake of clarity, working in a Banana Republic store isn’t what I am talking about when I talk about working in the fashion industry).

Frankly, anything with a stage feels like home, but that’s another story for another time.

In my experience, anything in the artistic industries doesn’t necessarily have a clear set path, and those that are say, CPAs or attorneys or doctors or hotel managers, haven’t typically understood that. Though, I am sure they all mean well, and they just want me happy and thriving. I have gotten a lot of, “Well, what are you doing to make that happen?” which becomes exhausting. For me, it’s been mostly trial and error, making connections, using my gut, and “waiting for the right time” while working on my skills in the meantime (and mostly failing at it) with the limited extra time I have. These typically aren’t industries that provide consistent living means, so the main dream became the side dream out of necessity. And then the next question I have gotten is, “But if you love it, well then, why aren’t you doing it?”

Because, rent.

And because I hadn’t quite figured out what I love exactly is or how to get there. All I know is where it is and that other people are somehow doing what I want to do, whatever that is.

It’s been a tough spot to live in; let alone, explain. Usually it’s come out as me sputtering something about, “I only know that I am made for it, but it hasn’t worked out for some reason yet.”

For me that has usually been followed by blank skeptical stares, and sometimes this comment:

“You’re a millennial who doesn’t know how to stick around to build a career.”

I HAD a job opportunity in a similar industry (music) 10 years ago, but the timing and opportunity wasn’t right, as much as I violently opposed that realization. I had to begrudgingly let it go, but not before, while in the middle of a dream being realized, my entire self ignited with purpose and with a resounding “Hell yeah, THIS IS WHAT I WAS MADE FOR.”

It was one of the hardest decisions of my life.

Time and numerous similar interactions with people had taught me to be quiet about my dreams. To disregard them. To downplay them. To second-guess them. To change the subject. To bury them. To cry myself to sleep over them. To silently die inside over them as the fire in me ironically continued to grow.

Any one feeling me over here??

This is not to point fingers; it’s simply the truth of my story. I know I am not alone in this struggle.

One of the best ways I can describe it is akin to putting a puzzle together.

Except most of the pieces are missing.

And the top of the puzzle box is blank.

And the pieces don’t seem to make sense and aren’t fitting together though some look like they should (my puzzle people feel me?).

Meanwhile, there are those that are effortlessly finding their puzzle pieces and have the tops of their puzzle boxes. Some are even almost done. These puzzle wizards are now either staring at you, leisurely sipping their victory tea and wondering out loud why you aren’t done, while others are telling you where to put the pieces.

But that’s not where that piece goes, and the pieces they are trying to force together don’t actually fit. But somehow you are being told that this isn’t being completed because you must be lazy, unrealistic, flighty or a failure.

When you know in your heart of hearts that’s not true. None of that bullshit is.

I am not lazy. I am not flighty. I am not a failure.

Neither are you.

I have not missed it.

Neither have you.

But fast forward to now…

The picture I always felt was there on the top of the puzzle box is being revealed, and it’s far more tremendous than I could have ever dreamt.

Can you see and feel it?!

Here I was with a realization as I watched those models walk last year: I can do this, and I would’ve never considered it before without seeing it, or honestly, without first going through two years of therapy.

This is just one piece to the puzzle for me.

After that light-bulb moment, I began soliciting advice and coaching from different models in the fashion industry last December, and I was taken aback by the willingness of the Kansas City fashion community to welcome me in and share with me. In between measuring models for last year’s Spring show tryouts, I practiced my walk with seasoned models. Took pointers. Learned the rules. (There are rules to runway modeling! Who knew?)

Then I went for it. I auditioned with my heart thundering out of my chest and with terror that had to have been evident on my face.

But I made the roster! This means that the KCFW committee saw my walk and headshot and allowed me to be a part of the pool of models that they would allow the designers to choose from.

I didn’t get picked up by a designer.

I started trying out for other shows. Terrified. But not as much as before. Slowly improving and always making the roster.

At my second tryout for another show I nearly fell over in my walk and gave a (truly) gruesome headshot, and somehow a designer (LV Swim) saw that hideous tryout and said, “I’ll take her.”

For that I am so grateful.

In preparation, I met up with a local model coach who has been in this industry for 18 years and is killing it: Walking multiple times for a long list of designers at Paris Fashion Week and fashion week’s all over the States; doing extensive print modeling; and sitting on various fashion boards, among other impressive accomplishments. (See below for the contact info for Noelle Manica, one of sweetest and most helpful human beings ever.)

I walked that first show this past April for LV Swim. Within five months, I have walked in four other shows, had a photoshoot for a local designer’s new line, and am currently waiting to hear if I got picked up by a designer in another show. I also started as an ambassador for an iconic KC gym. Watch for more on that soon!

Last Saturday, two other models volunteered their time to show me some more modeling pointers, coaching me through what to do in front of the camera, and how to perfect my walk. I couldn’t be more grateful. (Contact info for Heather and Jenn are below. Heather has been at this for a long time, and Jenn also doubles as a stellar photographer.)

@heatherbcurvy, me and @jenn.a.robbins last week.
So grateful to these ladies for their coaching and feedback!

This ain’t easy.

And my goodness, it is so scary. Sometimes fear and doubt have gotten the best of me.

But I am doing it.

The best part? I have people in my life who are supporting me and cheering me on.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, y’all. Buckle up.

*********************************************

Support your local women! Check out some of the talent and support I have the pleasure of knowing and have mentioned in this post:

LV Swim: Don’t go to Target; buy all things beachy-, sleepy- and comfy-wear from this local designer! Find her on Facebook at LV Swim and follow her on IG @lv_swim

Noelle Manica / The Model Board: For more info, for model coaching and to contact her, go to http://www.themodelboard.com, and follow her @the.model.board on IG

Heather: Follow her @heatherbcurvy at IG

Jenn Robbins: Check out her website http://www.jenniferrobbins.net/, contact her directly at jenniferrobbinsg6@gmail.com for further information, and follow her @jenn.a.robbins on IG

Be Seen: Part 3

Hey so, this was a really fun shoot.

Excuse me, two shoots. (More on that in a few.)

You might recall the first two Be Seen posts being more intense in nature. If you haven’t read those yet, I would encourage you to do so either now or well, later.

This was not like those previous two. Wanna see the pictures? Buckle up, because there are a lot of them.

I did not start modeling because I am already a pro; I started to become a pro.

My goal for this photo session with Larry was to work on poses. Contrary to popular belief, modeling is not easy. You have a lot to think about: Now, remember to stand up straight and to cross your legs as you walk, but not too much; wait, what is my hand doing here?; I should close my mouth a millimeter; Ok, there you go… tilt your chin slightly down; make sure to lengthen your leg; roll your shoulders back, but not too far back; give them a fierce look, or more like sexy fierce, but really like whimsy, PG-sexy fierce; and now relaaaaaxxxxx.

Still don’t believe me?

Start modeling as a 30-something among a bunch of 18 year olds or among models who have been nailing poses for the past decade and then tell me if you doubt yourself.

But your girl here is one strong-willed fighter (my mama can stand up and attest). I ain’t no quitter, and I am determined to get much better.

Because time is not a renewable resource.

Larry and I agreed to meet at the Filling Station on Gillham at 6:30 am. I am a sucker for good graffiti and old brick or industrial buildings. There are some good ones in this area.

6:45 am – still no Larry.

I text him, but there’s no answer. I am sure he just slept in accidentally, and that he would be getting my message soon. I decided to make the most of it, and to take pictures of myself on my phone, practicing what it looks like for me to be in front of the camera.

I sheepishly set up my phone out of sight of the windows of the Filling Station staff and of course, making sure to act totally natural when dog owners come out to walk their pups.

I pushed play on video and started to move.

I played around with poses, angles, and discovering what made sense for my face and body type. I used my oversized sweater as a prop (one of my finds from my latest time in Amsterdam), stretching it and seeing what I could do with it.

I had a lot of fun, though I felt kinda silly and like an imposter. But I know that I have to plow through this fear and these feelings of inadequacy if I am going to have any hope of getting past them.

NOTE: Blending in with the industrial and slightly grassy surroundings was totally unintentional.

Ultimately, finding out who I am behind the camera is a process and a personal conversation with myself.

Around 7:30 am Larry calls very upset with himself.

We all make mistakes. Be gracious and kind when others make them.

He drove out to meet me, and we rolled into the second photo shoot of the morning, coffees in hand.

Clearly, you can tell he has the better camera and the years of photographing experience. He moves, he moves me, and we move as the light changes.

Wanna give a little shout out to the garment strings on both my dress and sweater that unbeknownst to me made shameless appearances throughout this whole morning.

I was too nervous to get serious and work on poses now that someone was watching me. But this is okay too, because this is all in his style – completely candid.

He asked me to show him my runway walk. Interestingly enough, for the designers I have been scheduled to walk for since I began, I have only one show out of 5 where I wear heels. All the others, I am either barefoot or in boots. As a runway model, it’s been interesting to figure out my walk without traditionally wearing heels, figuring out creative ways to look good in pictures and on the runway.

In the long run, I think it’ll make me a better runway model.

[There are a few slideshows in this blog post, and I think that though it may be fun to look at each picture (and totally feel free to, because for some it makes sense to), it is also pretty fun to click through each quickly. It’s sorta like you can see me walking or talking.]

And a little more walking. This time with a little from behind.

Of course, intermingled with plenty of chatting. Because we are chatty people.

Seriously. I love graffiti. So, this backdrop just makes my heart happy. Creativity is everywhere, and it always seeks to have a voice. For me, I love the raw, boldness of graffiti; it’s unapologetic ability to make itself be heard. Some may think graffiti is violating or disgraceful, even if the work is commissioned; I choose to instead see a talented life behind the creation of it.

To me, there is no point in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Life is a beautiful mess, and that’s just how it is. I am grateful to the artist who created this colorful bull behind me. I mean, look how much more fun these pictures are because of it.

We took an impromptu break and kept chatting. Or least, I kept chatting, and he just kept snapping.

If there are any smiling pictures in all of this, it is because I have purposely stopped talking long enough for a picture to be snapped.

Otherwise, I am usually laughing.

Or really engaged in something.

Can you spot the jogger?

Let’s all stop and have a passing-through puppy break. Aww….

And we wrap it up here. In front of this grandiose house on the corner.

Me and a moment with the bird. #edgarallenpoe

Have any favorite pictures? Not sure how you would be able to tell me which one(s) you liked the most, but you can sure try!

Lastly, remember that you are not doing yourself or the world any favors showing up as anything less than who you are and who you are created to be.

It’s A Movement Back to the Table

I believe the movement back to the greatest privilege of life starts around the table.

Years ago, I was living in Africa. I was four weeks out from coming back Stateside, and I was dreading leaving. Why? The “poor” of third world countries have a gift we don’t have – a life without first world demands. My experience with third world peoples is limited and just my own; I don’t claim to know third world realities as a whole. I realize there are things that we are blessed beyond words for, but when I lived among them, I believe they have us beat on valuing one of the greatest gifts of life: relationships.

I remember a beautiful Australian woman I was in Africa with asked if I was excited to go back home. I just cried. No, I wasn’t. You don’t realize the tremendous stress we live under in this country until you are stripped off it for a period of time. Limited internet, no bills, and a whole lot of just “being” together. Loving, learning, laughing and living. We would eat together for hours despite our conversations limited by language, and they were some of the best experiences.

My passion for the table started in an old farm house on Beaver Valley Road.

One of my favorite memories of my ma is of her cooking and her love of experiencing good food. This is a woman who will talk passionately of the soil in her garden, who will indulge wholeheartedly in fresh picked, dark red tomatoes with good bread and Bulgarian feta, who will laugh so hard she’ll slide off the couch, and who would encourage me to invite my friends over all summer to just hangout around the pool and would make us homemade pizza. When she would cook, she’d fill the house with Dinah Shore, Patsy Cline or The Tenors, sometimes pour herself a glass of White Zinfandel, and put her favorite pan on low heat. She would find what was in the refrigerator and create. This is where cooking became way more than food; it became an experience.

The ladies – my ma, me and my sister, Georgia.
As usual, I am the only one following directions and smiling like a normal person.

She would call me into the kitchen, ask me to taste the sauce she was making to see what I thought was missing. I would give her my opinion, and she would take it. She’d then call me back 10 minutes later to see what I thought now. We would do that a few times until we felt it was right. This is where I learned it was okay to experiment and make mistakes in the creative process.

Ten years ago, I was accidentally introduced to the profound potential of the table.

In my twenties, I was celebrating my birthday with about 15 people, some of whom I knew and a few of whom I did not, at Buffalo Wild Wings in Northern Illinois. When we went around the table to share how each person knew me, they shared how they had just met me the hour before. I loved it! This is where I learned the possibility of the wonderful sneakiness of the table to bring people together who may not any other way.

I had other dinner parties and helped manage big events over the next decade: Christmas Extaveganza’s of 2009 and 2010, Thankful Friends Dinner of 2009, and my own birthday party once I moved to KC, to name a few.

But I wanted to do more, and I hadn’t found anyone who truly “got me” in this way when I relocated to Kansas City eight years ago.

Then, a year and a half ago, I met Ricky and Whitney around their Epic Table.

Long story short, they decided to clear out their apartment living room in Hyde Park, and with board by board hoisted through their third story bedroom window, they built an 18-foot table, inviting anyone in the community to come. I immediately became a groupie. I came to almost every dinner. Brings tears to my eyes now, because for the first time, I found people who extravagantly did something audacious with the table on a consistent basis. They got it. They got me.

The #glitterbomb couple #rickywhitney and me at their last Epic Table in their apartment.

And at that time in my life the table became a life raft of hope and peace thrown to me. It was deeply healing for so many reasons, and I am forever grateful for their audacious decision to do something “crazy” and out-of-the-box.

A new season of Epic Table has begun.

In July, Ricky and Whitney hopped a plane and crossed an ocean to Bangladesh to volunteer for one of the world’s largest refugee camps in the world for the next year. They sold their apartment, and I took up the torch in Strawberry Hill to keep the movement going.

When I say you are welcome, I mean it.

I believe the table is a powerful thing: the way it nourishes us, builds community, fosters belonging, heals broken hearts, provokes meaningful interactions, and forces us to engage with those we wouldn’t in any other setting. It levels the playing field, and levels out our over-stressed nervous system. It is a place to be safe and seen. It encourages us be vulnerable, to believe the best in people, and to live a full and abundant life. We laugh often, eat always, grow beautifully, cry sometimes and just connect.

You don’t have to come to Epic Table, because I realize that’s a difficult thing for some people. If more comfortable for you, be encouraged to start a tradition of your own to meet with people around a table on a consistent basis. You will be so grateful you did. I also want you to know you are undeniably welcome around Epic Table.

Let me say that again: YOU ARE WELCOME.

The reason I shout Epic Table from the rafters so much is because I am tired of not living a full and abundant life, and I have a sneaky suspicion you feel the same way. Ricky and Whitney made space for something truly transformative to happen, and it is my joy and honor to carry on that legacy.

There is no catch, no bait and switch, no fine print. Epic Table was started with the understanding that if the proverbial and physical space is created, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s the only goal.

Come as you are. Come as you. Come.