Twisted Between The Lines

     Little known fact...or perhaps a well known one. I have no TV. When I wake up in the mornings and I'm not heading off to school to enlighten some young mind, I sit at my table and I drink copious amounts of coffee.

      Now, you may be thinking, "Jesse, everyone does that. It's part of 99.769% of the common population's daily routine. Why is it even a point to make?"

But friend, you misunderstand. I do not simply consume coffee. I inject it directly into my veins. Cup after cup until I have such a ridiculous buzz going on that I cannot help but think grandiose thoughts. I will be the first to admit that many of my ideas are caffeine induced pipe dreams. Today, my brilliant revelation was grabbing my torch, a pair of pliers and twisting copper while it glowed with the heat of a thousand sugar crazed toddlers. The following is a visual documentation of what surmounted from my studio table.

Like always, if you use the following coupon code on my Etsy shop you'll get it a discount of 30%!

Dirty Hippie Arts

Coupon Code:

TWISTED2015

 

Much love!!

The Proof Is In the Pudding

New Years Resolutions....I can't decide if I'm really good at these or simply pretend that I make them and just do what I want. It's a good self-confidence builder! Make a really vague resolution, apply it to every aspect of your life and be happy. Problem solved!

This year, I resolved to do a lot more art and to truly explore my skills in what I went to school for. As a few of you know, lately I've been into making jewelry. Working with fire, glass and lots of different metals. Enough to open up an Etsy store. But even more recently I've moved into the realm of working with semi-precious stones and more expensive materials..because why not? So I'm going to offer a few of these stones only through this blog and only for a week! Ultimately, they are destined for local stores here in Boise...but I'm experimenting...so bear with me!

These three wrapped stones are being offered for seven days only! Like I mentioned, they are being sent to local stores in Boise to be sold there, but I would like to see how much attention writing through a blog can actually get! So as a further experiment, I've made a coupon! Using this coupon will give you 30% off whatever items strike your fancy at my store!

 

Use the coupon code:

COFFEEBAREFOOT2015

So, the proof is in the pudding. More art, more responsibilities and (hopefully) more organization. I also updated all the photos on the store and added measurement indications too. Thanks to Dave for that amazing suggestion :)

As always, I'd love critiques or suggestions for new pieces or how to better do this thing called production art!

Check out my other stuff at Dirty Hippie Arts on Etsy 

 

Selflessly Plugging Myself

The only way I could figure out how to selflessly plug my Etsy shop is to do a post on my blog! But now that I have your attention...why don't you check out the pieces that I have available at my shop?

Dirty Hippie Arts 

See what I did there? No? Hmmm...maybe if I bombard you with pretty pictures that will work!

There's descriptions of each on my store!

Hmmm...who knew that trying to slip into consumerism makes you feel like you're taking advantage of everyone you know? Ah..opinions on my pieces are greatly appreciated. Not to mention custom-orders!

The List: Explorations of Attraction pt. I

A few nights ago, I had a pretty amazing conversion with a few wonderful people. We covered almost every topic that we could think of, but the one that rang out loudest was, "What's your list?" Without any clarification, the three of us knew exactly what was being spoken of.

We all have a list. The traits and qualities that we look for in a person before we consider dating them, or even decide that we like them. This session of our conversation was a good hour long because we started shallow like ,"Oh, I like thinner, athletic people."

     Understandable and everyone has those kinds of preferences, but there is deeper meanings behind them and deeper checks on our lists. Those checks become more and more profound as we age. Our relationships and whom we are attracted too also change over time and that's entirely okay. It's not a static thing. To become stagnant in relationships is to lose the very essence of what makes them a beautiful thing indeed.

I want to take a few posts and build up to my own list. But I'm going to front load all kinds of information about my perspectives and beliefs. I also have a relationship with life that has vastly impacted my relationships with others...so without further ado:


Go the direction that life pulls you...

      What an intriguing thing to occur and it happens almost every day. Most days, I don’t listen. Some days I do. Lately, I have had a pleasant contentment in my mind about where I am in life. It’s not about where I am though, it’s about where I am going.

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It’s a well known fact that I have wanderlust. Those of you who know me on a more personal basis are extremely aware of the fact. The most common question I get is ‘Jesse..where are you now?’ immediately following, ‘Jesse! Get down!!’. The answer is always different and that will never change. I will never stop traveling and I will continue to see the world. Countries will not go anywhere, but unfortunately people, relationships and careers do.

What is more important in life; sprinting towards something that will always be on the next horizon or walking more slowly with friends and family in hand to that same horizon?

True, the first option will allow me to see more, do more and experience the world quicker and faster. But is that truly experiencing? Yes, it creates memories that I can cherish and hold true, but those memories are even stronger if shared with someone. If I take the second choice, I may see less, experience less and go at a slower pace...but life is meant to be taken slowly. Enjoy your moments, let that last taste of coffee linger on your lips, and keep talking to that old friend sitting beside you.


With solitude comes hollowness

Man is not an island onto himself.

     Honestly, I hate this quote. We indeed are islands onto ourselves. There are as many minute differences that shape our lives and who we are as the mountains and stones that form the shores I’ve walked. But, if we are islands, we are the dock keepers too.

 

How many boats have weighed anchor in your harbor? Are you surrounded by the levies and breaks that are family and friends or is your island truly secluded and remote? Will anyone know when it is washed away? I have 1000 and more stories to tell, but will never be able to fully express the moment. I want to be able to walk up to a friend/lover and say, “Remember that time....?” and watch their eyes light up with memories.


Money is circular

The biggest problem with our lives is the reliance on money. It’s an unavoidable fact that it’s something necessary to our lives. But how much money do we really need? I’ve been far below the poverty line for 8 years. I’ve never made more then $9000 dollars in a single year.

To the mainstream of society, by all rights and expectations, looking at my paychecks you would expect me to be a high school drop out flipping burgers at a fast food joint. The harsh truth is that they actually make more then I do...which stings just a little, but at the same time, I’ve seen almost all of America and large sections of Asia. Do I worry about money? Yes. Of course I do. But I don’t allow it to control me. Money will always come and go, opportunities will arise that give you more then you need and events happen that take more then you have. It’s life. But our emphasis on it is misplaced.

     My mommy (yep, I’m 28 and I still call my mommy by ‘Mommy”), once said that she is never happier then when she spends money on other people. And it’s true. She’s a pretty awesome person and I’ve seen her put massive amounts cash into people who don’t appreciate it and don’t care. But she still does it.

I inherited that trait too. if you visit me, I’ll pay for half your plane ticket (if you allow me). If you have no food, I’ll feed you. I’ll carry your 40 lb. backpacking along with my own. You’re tired, exhausted and I have extra energy? Why wouldn’t I help you out, even if it knocks me down a few pegs? Hate begets hate..but isn’t the opposite true as well?


Don’t wait to appreciate and encourage others

 

 

The best way to be happy is to help others become happy. If you’ve been a teacher, a therapist, waiter, barista...really anyone that interacts with humans...nothing feels better then being told you’re appreciated. When’s the last time you stopped and pointedly told a friend why you are so thankful for them? There are people in my life who are little more then acquaintances, but there’s still a reason to be thankful for them. Part of life is about maintaining connections and rekindling past friendships. The exact same is true for building those flames higher or even igniting them in the first place. I recently cheered on and tried to encourage a total stranger from 7000 miles away. That stranger not only thanked me, but allowed me into their life and we’ve now become close friends and talk on a daily basis. She’s helped me through one of the crushing defeats of my life and gave me a hand back up.

It’s intimidating opening up to a stranger and simply talking, sharing and trusting. Not knowing each other, we never met in person and there’s was an ocean and continent between us, yet something so simple as saying, “I appreciate you. Here’s why...” will create lasting bonds regardless of distance.


Embrace and realize your own feelings

Ever get the feeling that something just needs to happen? That crushing impatience where all your thoughts are directed toward one objective, no matter how hard you try otherwise? What about the need for change, despite being happy in your current situation?

That last one may be unique to people who have wandering souls. Its a very interesting sensation. Many times, I’ve thrown caution to the wind and jumped into a new experience, not really knowing how it’s going to end up. Some may say that this is...not intelligent and very reckless. However, I feel differently. Life pulls me in the directions and places that I go and I listen to it. The times that I have not listened are the moments of my life where I have regrets. The moments that I’ve tilted a curious ear have whisked me to new lessons and astounding people.


So there it is....a little front loading on how my brain works in preparation for 'The List'.

Transitions and Tribulation

Life's an interesting creature to attempt to capture. At one moment, you think you have it all figured out. Then, the very next moment, you've found that the cage wasn't locked and life has once again slipped away. This isn't my usual rant about life...this is an update on where it's run too. So many times in my travels I've pictured myself going in a certain direction and, like a leaf in a whirlwind, have seen myself hurled into new territory I never expected. Such was the case with where I am now. A little under 3 months ago, I was living overseas and expected to be there for quite some time. Circumstances brought me back to America and I saw my path laid out before me. Friends, family and acquaintances all eager to hear my stories, but it's not something that is easily shared and much less explained.

How do words fit where only experience can be spoken of? Is there truly a vocabulary in any language that can describe the changing of a life? Despite my best efforts, I can't fully help others live vicariously though my words because those can't be voiced.

Even where I am now, despite my best efforts to describe the peace of mind that I feel, is something that needs to shared and not spoken. I saw a life in Pittsburgh, formed relationships that supported it and gave me community, applied for jobs and was ready to make that transition. Surprisingly right on the cusp of change, like that leaf that get ripped from the tree it grew on, I was tossed across the states and landed in Idaho.

Yeah, I know. Idaho? Nothing here but potatoes. At least that's what I thought, but upon arriving I was not only greeted with shocking topography that I haven't seen anywhere else, but also a community of friends that immediately embraced who and I and celebrated me for it. From spiritual to outdoor pursuits I've found companions and adventures that quickly have become mirrors in which to gaze back at my travels.

 

Don't forget your support system.

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Even though the journeys that we undertake in life are incredibly difficult at times, and often seems like a slip will result in dire consequences, do not forget that there's people there to keep you afloat. It's far too easy to charge though with only the end point in mind. I've pretty rapidly learned to check ego at the door and take a rest. It's not a race nor is it a competition to see who succeeds the fastest. Remember whose around you and what it's keeping you up when you do fall. Celebrate the triumph together.

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Following the well worn path is, while safe and predictable, not how growth and new experience occurs. I've been knocked off the path so many times that I almost feel uncomfortable being in a line.

 

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At first, I would get terrified. When you look out into an abyss of nothing and see nothing staring back, it's daunting to take that first step. But once I did, I found that having the freedom to go, do and be as I am is the most powerful emotion available to humans. Freedom of life is not to be underestimated.

Am I occasionally knocked down by want of stability and security? Of course. Do I occasionally get utterly lost and pretty cold once I've lost the paths that I do walk? Yep. But, damn, I get to see things that don't exist on well-worn roads and that makes it's all worth it. There's no manual and maps haven't been penned down. The only thing to do is pick a point, and walk steadily towards it.

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Reach out to others when you falter, celebrate together and, when you finally succeed in your goal, look to the horizon and start the first step again.

 

Uprooting Yourself To Grow Roots

On Living with Intention and The Sense of Place  

       It’s no secret that the amount of inspirational posts on the internet reach a staggering number. I suppose, of late, my musings fall somewhere in the spectrum of a inspiration blog and a half-hashed attempt at a buzzfeed-like list. I have not forgotten that I promised to write out recipes, but my photo capabilities are currently shelved. But there is something that I am currently experiencing that is an intriguing little tidbit of life that I don’t think is often approached, or rather, the combination of two different ideas. Living with intention and creating a sense of place.

 

Okay, you might be thinking that I just spouted out some random new-age sounding phrases and I’m going to don some beads and crystals to tell you how it is. But really...think about it for a moment. Are you living with intention? When you wake up in the morning, do you have a clear purpose as to why you are where you are? Or even just where you are? Some hard hitting truths have made me ask myself these questions lately and, like always, I want to share my thoughts.

 

Leaning on your own shoulder

Find yourself by being yourself

 

Let’s start off with a double-edged sword. Family and friends are vitally important to our lives. It goes without saying that these very people can give us a reason to live in someplace. But there is a limit to the influence that they have. I love my family and I cherish my friends yet at the end of the day, they can really only give so much support. It’s up to me to provide the rest and there have been many moments that I’ve been horridly unhappy with a situation, but too afraid to enact the change that I need.

Nowadays, I will drop unhappiness on a dime and start walking towards where I want to go. It’s not always easy and I’ve struggled, stumbled and had the hard lessons of leaning on my own strength to get me through. In fact, I still fall flat on my face. However, I’ve discovered that the uprooting of life is necessary to find a bigger place in which to grow, even when that means leaving a comfortable nest behind. Which leads me to my next point...

 

 

 

Leave home to appreciate home 

 

We all have homes. Places where we grew up, we explored and intimately know. For many of us, after 20 odd years we’re itching for change. Yet, like I mentioned above, it takes courage to make that happen. Even moving away for a university can be a terrifying concept for some people. But it is that very act that will cause us to appreciate the people and places that we left behind. You need to see new places and meet new people to truly remember what came before.

In my case, when I think of home I think of friends, family, autumn covered mountains, hot apple cider, campfires and coursing rivers surrounded by forests.Yet when I lived there, in the heart of it, I tended to take all of that for granted and never really saw what I had. Sure, I visited all those places and deeply enjoyed time spent with friends, but I didn’t appreciate the area it’s uniqueness. It took leaving the nest to remember how wonderful it was.

 

 

Stick your head in a bush, change your perspective 

Lying in the grass works quite well too

When I lived in the redwoods of California, I had a lot of arguments/discussions with my beloved friends about how California doesn’t really have seasons. Obviously that’s not a true fact, there are indeed seasons but they are very subtle and hard to notice unless you open your eyes and see them. I often complained that autumn just didn’t exist. But my perspective of autumn was a massive explosion of crimson, gold and brilliant oranges, it’s hard not to take notice of that in the Laurel Highlands. I refused to notice the smells, sights and sounds all around me of the changing season and in retrospect, it highly took away from my experience. I needed to stick my head in a bush and see the branches for the tree.

     Just because it is not thrust at your eyes doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. This can be expressed in love, nature, food and an onslaught of other things. The point of the matter is that it’s very easy to close our eyes to the world and people around us and envelope ourselves what we know. It’s comfortable, safe and quite easy. You’re probably doing it without even realizing it. Stop, open your eyes and see what is happening all around you. You won’t see things the same way again.

 

 

 

Have a cup of coffee and talk 

Fixes Everything

        Just like you can refuse to acknowledge and change your own perspective, it’s pretty easy to refuse to acknowledge the perspective of someone else. Let’s take my example above in California. I made it no hidden fact about how I felt at that time and almost a daily basis my friends pointed to changing trees and said, “Look Zephyr, Autumn!”. Nope. I was just not having it. I steadfastly did not want to see things through their perspective. It was not that I shut off to my surrounds, but rather that I had an image in my head that I didn’t want to let go.

    We all have different points of view. Sometimes they match, sometimes they don’t. But you’ll never understand what a person’s perspective is unless you actually ask them..or they simply tell you. Putting out your thoughts to the world is an intimidating thing and leaves you pretty vulnerable to get burned. But so too does prejudice and stubbornness make you look the fool later. Have intent to realize your differences and work towards understanding. Whether is about the changing of autumn leaves or something more meaningful like relationships or walks of life.

 

Better yet, stick your head in a bush at a place you’ve never been. Hold a cup of coffee in your hands while you contemplate viewpoints. Then stand back up on your own two feet and go appreciate where you are.

The spin cycle of life.

   

Life often spins us around. Yet like any good dancer, it will signal you before the turn. Stay on your toes and keep up the beat, if you don’t it’s very easy to fall out of step and ruin the song. Lately, I’ve been swept into a waltz that has me crossing the dance floor multiple times. Those of you who follow my blog or talk to me regularly, know that I have had something of whirlwind in the past few months.

 

Around this time last year, I was preparing to go to Thailand and being interviewed for schools. I did not expect that almost a year later I would ever end up in Japan, nor that a relationship would crumble into open animosity and even less expecting is the fact that I am returning to America. A lot of things were out of my control and I just had to go with the flow. Obviously, there was some stressing out involved in between my transitions, but after six years of living the life of nomad, in one form or another, I’ve learned a few lessons.

 

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Wanderlust is not always wonderful 

I’ve seen the world, learned languages, experienced cultures and ways of living that are  dusk and dawn to America; it has been beautiful and wonderful. I wouldn’t trade my life for any other. Yet, there are huge swathes of time in which I have been fully alone unable to relate to the lives of others around me. As much as we travel towards a new horizon, we walk away from someone else’s.

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There is fine line between being and living 

I’ve had many conversations about how important it is to live life, not be a life. To live is to make mistakes and learn. To climb to the highest mountain knowing your next step might send you tumbling down. It is to take a risk solely for the rewards, and then take another risk because you don’t care about the rewards anymore. Living is walking between stability and spontaneity. Those who have lived a life know when it’s time to move on, they do not hold onto bad relationships, will quit unsatisfied jobs and will embrace change like an old friend. Living is like being conscious of breathing. Without thinking about it, we sustain breath and stay alive. Yet, if you are aware of the breath, a calm focus occurs and we can not only direct how we breath, but also where and when we breath.

Giant field of mustard greens? Good place.

Smile. 

It’s a pretty simple thing. Smiling. The greatest teachers in life have laugh lines and I challenge you to think of someone that hasn’t inspired you that doesn’t. Let yourself be drawn to people that are quick to smile and even quicker with laughter. These people will laugh on a moments notice, find the humor in all things and support you throughout your journeys. They are not always happy because they have never had horrible things happen to them. They are always happy because the worse has happened to them and they’ve survived. It’s strange to say, but the people that smile the most tend to also have the most scars. They are the ones who are on the frontlines of life and it’s hard to dodge every bullet coming your way. If you find one of these people, pull them into your life. Make them a friend, a lover, a companion and a support. Give them all that they give you and you’ll quickly find that more loyal individuals cannot be found.

It's harder to start walking, then it is to walk.

Remember lessons in love..then forget them. 

Our greatest lessons come from the greatest pain. We gain the most when we feel as if we’ve lost it all. This is nowhere more true then in love. Friends of mine will tell you that I love easily. It’s true. I do. But, there is a reason. I’ve been crushed and disappointed, lied to, manipulated and taken advantage of quite a few times. It’s through these lessons that I know exactly what I want because I know what I don’t want. Take down those walls, give up the key and let someone clean the dust out of your heart. Worse case scenario is things don’t go as planned but the cobwebs are finally out of the corner. Best case scenario? Well...that’s all in what you’re looking for isn’t it?

Learn how to cook.

Put down that pack of ramen and don’t you dare go get fast food instead. Despite our refusal to admit this, cooking really should be the most basic of skills and still is in almost every other country except for first world. I am not saying you need to be a chef, but you should at least be able to go to the grocery store and make a variety of dishes from the local produce or whatever is in season. I’ve always loved cooking, so I admit to being biased, but if you burn everything you touch that is still not an excuse. If you insist on using that for your reason to go to taco bell then start with things that don’t require heat. Plus, cooking is a great stress relief and an even better moment for reflections.

 

I often have discussions with friends about what i’ve learned in my travels and how I think they apply to my life. I’m never quite sure how to answer them because almost everyday I learn something new. Something that builds upon what was already created. It’s a continually deluge of experiences that, hopefully, I will be able to pass on. Perhaps by better words or a clearer mind...but for now...Wander the world and live your life. Time doesn’t hold meaning and neither does age or circumstance. Despite all the woes and sorrows in the woe, the turmoil that rocks the foundations of our beliefs..smile, love, and when all else fails? Cook something to make it all better.

Fresh Yogurt

Fresh yogurt is extra tasty with cinnamon and nutmeg

   So I promised that I would make up for not posting often this month and start a series of traditional Japanese recipes. I will live up to that promise! The first I want to share is not necessarily Japanese, but it makes a fantastic substitute for Japanese mayonnaise (however, if you can get Japanese mayo, then by all means use it). A note on Japanese mayo though, it is a little bit different then the mayonnaise that you are used to. It handles and tastes different, plus it’s slightly healthier. But mayo is still mayo and some people won’t touch it even if it’s on their grocery shelf. So I’m going to teach you how to make homemade yogurt. It’s really simple and takes almost no effort at all. You can also use whatever type of milk that you like. It will change consistencies and fat content of the resulting yogurt, but still be delicious and I’ll teach you how to make it thicker as well once you are finished.

 

The shopping list!

 

1 Quart or 1 Liter of Milk (Whole and raw is the best, but skim and 2% work just as well) 

1/2 Cup of Plain Yogurt 

 

So the first step to this recipe is to get your milk. Personally, I prefer whole milk. It makes a far more rich yogurt. But, like I mentioned, skim milk is just as good and the recipe doesn’t change because of it.

Take the milk and heat it on the stove. Don’t heat it all the way to boiling, but almost. At this point, you simply remove it from the heat and allow to cool to around 110~120°F or 43 ~ 48°C. I don’t have always have a thermometer with me, but if I can stick my finger in the milk and not get scalded, but still be warm then chances are it’s good to go!

Once your milk is cooled, you simply need to whisk in around 1/2 cup of pre-existing yogurt. The cheap stuff works just fine. You just want the bacteria, not yogurt hand churned in an organic garden while a harp was being played. Although you can definitely do that to your own batch. It should have live cultures, but I have yet to run into any yogurt that does not have those. I will note however, that greek style yogurt does not work so well here.

After the yogurt is properly mixed in you’re next goal is to keep the baby yogurt at  around ~100°F or ~37°C. Much simpler then it sounds. I wrap my pot in a towel with the lid on and let it sit overnight. You can alternative keep it in the oven, put it in a thermal box (think picnic tote/cooler) or, if you’re fancy, in that yogurt incubator that’s been sitting in your basement for years.

 

That’s all! Just three steps.

 

Heat the milk (Almost to boiling) 

Allow the milk to cool 

Whisk in existing yogurt 

 

If you count putting the yogurt somewhere warm and then ignoring it for a night as a step, then I guess it’s really four steps.

 

Coolest thing about this? Once you make this recipe for the first time, it’s a self-replicating one. The yogurt you made can be used as the yogurt for future batches.

 

Oh? What’s that? You want your yogurt to be thick? Easy.

 

Instead of immediately putting the yogurt in the refrigerator. Layer a few cheesecloths or muslin, pour in the yogurt, tie the edges and let it hang and drain over the sink. Do it long enough and this will actually create a yogurt that is just like cream cheese and can be used as such! It’s very tasty and I recommend letting it hang to this consistency at least once. The yogurt will continue to get thicker as the hours go by and once it reaches the desired thickness place it in the refrigerator! 

Gyoza, Grains and Yogurt! Pt. 1

Right! I’ve been neglecting my postings lately and fully admit to the fact! Because of that I’m going to post three different recipes, two of which basically have the same recipe and it’s only a matter of finishing touches.  

As aforementioned, the gyoza recipe, and how to make fresh noodles either with or without a machine. I’m also going to start a series of different Japanese foods that I’ve learned how to cook. But first, gyoza!

 

Gyoza is amazingly simple to make and fresh gyoza makes me droll. If you do not know what gyoza is, it’s very similar to ravoli and is commonly known in America as ‘potstickers’ The recipe I’m going to teach you is a versatile one. It can be used for either gyoza dough or pulled into fresh noodles. It’s even more simple then the bread recipes I posted a while ago. You just need four ingridents.

 

2 cups of flour (flour with higher gluten are better) 

1teaspoon of salt 

2 tablespoons of oil or softened butter 

~1/2 cup of hot water

 

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Like before with the bread recipes, mix together the flour and salt. You use hands, a whisk or a fork. I personally use a fork. Then make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the oil or softened butter.Next, take the water and add it in slowly. Remember, your water needs will change based on the flour you are using so 1/2 cup is only an approximation!

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After that’s all sitting neatly, whisk it with your fork (or actual whisk) slowly incorporating the flour a little bit at a time. You’ll make a slurry that slowly turns into dough. Eventually you’ll have to knead by hand and this is the difficult part.

 

Kneading dough for bread is a very simple process as your are simply getting it to an elastic state. But for noodle dough, you have to knead until it rockets past that into a stiff and shiny ball.

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This is going to take at LEAST 10 minutes. So put on some music and get to folding, punching, rolling or whatever it is that you do for kneading your dough. A trick I learned in Thailand is to put the dough in a bag and use your feet and walk on the dough, repeatedly folding it.  In the end though, the dough should not be sticky at all and should feel almost like playdough and look a bit like it too.

Got that? Good! Now wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. However, I’ve found that I have better results if I place it in the fridge overnight. But it is only a personal preference in how the dough feels to me in this next step. A longer resting time will not change the flavor of this dough much, if at all.

Once your dough is rested, this is where our recipes diverge. The gyoza recipe is as simple as rolling out the dough into a flat sheet and cutting out the shapes you want (hint: circles are wonderful)! The noodle recipe will be primarily the same, but depending on the noodles you want the last steps change.

 

Roll out the dough!

 

While your dough is resting, you can make a filling for your gyoza. An excellent gyoza filling (and the traditional one in Japan) is a mixture of pork, scallions, leeks, ginger and various sauces.

 

Here’s the base recipe:

 

Filling: 

1/2 lbs of ground pork/beef/chicken or tofu

1/4 cup of minced scallion 

1 cup of minced leeks (I prefer using cabbage myself) 

1 egg

 

Sauce:

1 teaspoon of minced ginger 

1 teaspoon of sake (dry sherry works too and in a pinch use rice vinegar) 

1 teaspoon of mirin (sugar works too!) 

1 tablespoon of shoyu (soy sauce) 

1 tablespoon of dark sesame oil 

1 teaspoon of pepper 

salt to taste 

 

Simply mix everything together and you have a traditional Japanese filling. A note though, the sauce is quite tasty and can be used in other things too. The sauce alone can easily be refrigerated for a few days for future meals.

It fits so nicely in my containers when I'm meticulous!

 

 

 

Okay. Now comes the tricky part of gyoza. Actually stuffing the things. At this point, your dough should be rolled out and cut into shapes. Like I mentioned, I use circles because I can just fold the gyoza in half. But whatever shape you choose, make sure to slightly wet the edges of the dough before stuffing. It will allow the wrapper to cling to itself. Once you have that, just press the edges together with a fork (same as ravoili).

 

 

This is how your Gyoza should look in the pan. Seams up!

 

 

 

So now we have a horde of gyoza. The trickiest part is correct cooking. Place them in skillet with the seams up!! Cook until the bottoms are lightly browned and then pour in about a 1/4-1/2 cup of water (depends on how many you can fit in your pan) and put a lid on it. This is going to steam the gyoza and change it from dough into a noodle-like glory. Keep the lid on until the water is totally evaporated. Done!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing is better then fresh noodles

And the noodles part. The noodles are going to require a lot of rolling and pulling. It’s not hard at all, just time consuming. I promise though, you will never want store bought pasta again.

 

First step is to divide your dough into whatever you think is manageable. I tend to just cut it in half. If you have a pasta machine, chances are you know how to use it. So I’m going to focus on the hand method.

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Roll out the dough, flipping and alternating sides until you have a long rectangle that is slightly translucent. You can’t see though it, but it is very close to being that thin!

Then, if you have a pasta machine, feed it though the setting of your choice. If you don’t have a machine, you can either slice the noodles while it’s rolled out or fold the dough into thirds and cut from there. Don’t make the noodles to thin though, otherwise it is impossible to pull them without breaking!

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Once your noodles are cut, let them rest for about 10 or 15 minutes. Then grab either end of a noodle and stretch it. You’ll be amazed at how much stretch they have...but don’t over do it. This is only the first pull. Once you’ve pulled all your noodles once, let them rest again and repeat the process. Depending on the thickness of your original noodle, you might be able to get a third pull, but don’t push it.

Once your noodles are properly pulled, drape them over dowel rods or a hanger. Anything with a thin cylindrical shape works wonders. Then it’s just a matter of drying them!

 

A word to the wise though, if your noodles dry to fast then they will twist and curl slightly at the bottom. Not necessarily a bad thing ( I personally think it looks beautiful) but it will make it harder to store them. Prevent this by slowing the drying process either by placing them somewhere cooler, laying them on a flat surface or pressing them in between solid objects.

 

You will get ends and uneven pieces, which is just fine. They aren't pretty, but in a bowl of noodles you won't know they are there and taste the same!

That’s it! Either cook them immediately or store them once totally dry!

Happy cooking!!! Next post? Fresh Yogurt!

 

Embraced by Flowers

It’s finally here! I drooled over pictures of this place before coming to Ashikaga and finally made my way there; long awaited, at least by me, Ashikaga Flower Park. This lovely little section of my current home is filled with some of the world’s most beautiful and rare flowers. This is not an exaggeration. Each inch of soil in this park is filled with flowers. The only areas that are not some type of flowering tree, plant or shrub are sidewalks. Which in turn are encroached upon by wisteria blooms. These photos simply do not do the majesty of nature that abounds any justice at all. In fact, it’s almost an insult by me to attempt to capture just how luscious these flowers are.  

It is no hidden fact that I love nature. If you haven’t guessed yet, I am one of those people that stops and smells the flowers as I pass. Something that has been both noticed and appreciated by the Japanese whose gardens I happen to stroll by. If I have not mentioned this before, every house in Japan has a garden and they are well-loved. The apartment buildings do not, but 9 times out of 10 there is a flower pot garden crammed into what little space there is. Thus, because I live in a small town and everyone knows who I am, there is always flowers on my desk in the morning from other teachers or farmers that happened to give a bundle to the school. It’s lovely. I don’t speak the language, but they still appreciate me and try to take care of me as best they can.

 

But, I digress. Ashikaga Flower Park is not only known for actively growing and maintaining heirloom flowers from Japan’s climate, but it is also home to a few of the world’s oldest wisteria trees. I’m sitting here attempting to figure out the appropriate words to use to paint you a picture..but I just can’t. So instead, here’s a gallery to enjoy! Remember, you can click each photo to get the full resolution! I think I've enabled downloads and they should be big enough for wallpaper if the mood strikes you!

On rekindling friendships and impact-fulness

My deepest apologies for not posting for the last three weeks! I’ve been a little bit side-tracked (read: OVERWHELMED) from attempting to learn the Japanese language. I’m running into an issue with my brain where the other languages that I kinda speak are getting mixed up and only gibberish is coming out. I know that in the linguistics world this phenomenon has been actively researched and there’s an actual name for it. So, my language scholars, what is that called? I’m curious! But, in posting this, I really want to show what Japan looks like right now because it’s beautiful, but I also want to ramble a little about people in our lives. Japan's Ashikaga range

I cannot count the number of times that I’ve been told ‘people enter our lives for a reason’. Yes, this is true and it’s been proven to me over and over again. But ultimately I think the greater lessons come from when people leave our lives. When someone is participating in your everyday life, you often do not fully appreciate them. Yes, you might be grateful and extremely happy during the times with them. But, It is only when they are gone or unreachable that you realize just how much of an impact that they had on your life. Particularly the gaps that their leaving left in your heart and soul; double that when you were especially close.

A little bit like forgotten temples where people once worshipped

 

During the de-thawing process that is my third cup of coffee, I’ve lately been thinking quite a bit about people in my life. Do I make an impact upon them? Have they made an impact upon me? What was it that I made them question...was it who they are? Where they have gone or been? Do people think about me and wonder where I am? I asked a few people this question and I got mixed answers. I didn’t ask them if they missed me, that’d be kinda awkward (but I do think it!).

Many people are not sure if they’ve changed someone’s lives for the better or for the worse and I am no different. I am a teacher. I interact with individuals who are looking for answers every single day of my life and often ask them questions that make them consider who they are. Why? Because I had amazing teachers in my own life that asked me those same questions. It transformed me from being an arrogant, self-adsorbed person into who I am today, or at the very least got me on the right path. Even to this moment, I am always asking myself where I am, what I’m doing, and who I am doing it with. It’s a bit of a dichotomy in that I am actively living in the present, breathing in each moment, but I also have an eye to the past and the future. It’s difficult not to in our current world.

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Ask yourself this. Do you have an impact on the people in your life? If you do, what is that impact? Have you ever been impacted by someone, even if you only knew them for a short amount of time? How did they impact you? 

     I think that you’ll find looking back at people in your life, you’ll remember individuals who, for only a short moment, burned like dying out stars and lit up our world for just that briefest of moments. Recently, I’ve taken to talking those people in my life. Or trying to. Staying in touch is difficult when you are on the other side of the world but I try my hardest. It’s sometimes disheartening attempting to rekindle a friendship through something like Facebook, because it’s not often that someone is on at the same time as you. But, I try nonetheless.

With some people, I picked up the relationship like nothing ever happened. Despite the 3 or 4 year gap in between our conversations. With others, it’s like pulling teeth trying to get a real conversation that doesn’t involve asking ‘How are you?’ and leaving it at that. I am not one for small talk. I can chat about the weather like anyone else, but if you have me for more then five or ten minutes, I’m going to ask a harder question. One that I might not know the answer to. It’s the people that readily have these conversations that I anxiously await talking to. These are the people that, despite years of silence, continue to inspire and influence where I am going and how I am viewing life. They make me remember those tiny memories that I forgot. Sitting outside watching stars, listening to a piano being played late into the night or remembering a moment of shared silence and understanding. Chances are you think about these moments and the people you shared them with often. Nostalgia is a powerful thing, but it doesn’t have to be a sad one.

Nostalgia can be as lovely as the explosion of colors. It's gone now, but I will remember how it made me feel

Go on, talk to that long lost friend or lover. Don’t just ask them how they are. Ask them who they are and what life has taught them since you last spoke. Let them know that you think about them. Even if they don’t respond, at some point they will read that and know that someone appreciates them. It will make their life all the better for it.

 

Share some long lost love and if you can..rekindle those friendships. It's never too late to say 'Hello'.

Budding Bakery Bread Banters…Pt. II

Pita bread is simple and easy, it’s also very quick which makes it ideal for ‘same day’ cooking. Sourdough bread is a bit more time consuming, but it’s just as easy to make. However, I should say that the bread-baking purists/hardcore-ists out there will go out of their way to make sure that EVERYTHING is perfect for a sourdough bread. That’s why this is not going to replicate your favorite bakery’s sourdough goods. Truthfully, they have access to machines and ingredients that the typical person does not. If you had dough conditioners, the means to create perfect cooking environments, and years under your belt...there would be customers outside your door as well. Let’s face it. Good sourdough is freaking awesome. This is an excellent recipe, again borrowed from the wonderful Mark Bittman, and it makes equally excellent bread; however, don’t be discouraged if it’s not on par with the corner shop’s.

 

There is a downside to this recipe. If you don’t properly cover it, it can cause your kitchen or tent (yep, backpacker friendly) to smell a bit like beer. Which, personally, I kinda enjoy that smell. It’s not...pleasant, but it’s not awful. I know that when I’m making sourdough bread; I’ve done it correctly when I smell that smell ($10 says you just started humming Lynyrd Skynyrd).

 

Just like the last recipe that we covered, this is another essential to the basics of bread baking. In fact, the only thing that’s this recipe even remotely difficult is the amount of time that it takes to make and the temperatures for fermentation are a bit more picky. The preparation to baking time is around 3 days. It’s not that terrifying and it opens up an entire realm of different possibilities for your budding bakery (I’m on an alliteration kick lately.). Three days is 3 days of just watching it sit in your kitchen and watch for bubbles. Truly, I promise it is no more involved then the forethought that if you want bread on Sunday, you should start this on Thursday or Friday.

 

Here’s the beautiful thing too, that 3 day start date only happens once. Because it’s for the ‘starter’ dough. Once you have a healthy batch of happy yeast, you can mix, rise and bake in just about the same time as any other bread. WIth that said, let’s get down to making a starter.

 

Le Ingredients: 

1 1/2 cups of flour (If you have fancy flour save it for later) 

1/8 teaspoon of yeast (Dry or Instant)

1 1/2 cups of warm water (remember, almost finger ouchies [~120°F to 130°F or 49°C to 54°C]

 

This cannot be more easy. Get a big bowl and mix the flour and yeast together then add the warm water. Simple. Done? Good, cover that and walk away for the next 2 or 3 days.

Yep, all bread photography starts with piles of white powder

 

See? That’s wasn’t terrifying at all. Your dough is going to start foaming and eventually it will develop that slightly sour beer-ish smell.

The signs of happy yeast

 

A quick note on sourness though. You can leave it for longer but it will develop more and more fermentation and that will carry over into the final bread. If you like super sour sourdough (which I do) feel free to let it sit there and stew a bit longer. Once you are satisfied the next step is to simply feed the starter and keep some for the next batch.

 

 

Here’s what you need: 

 

2 cups of flour

1 1/2 cups of tepid (that means lukewarm, which is as vague as tepid, so just warm.) 

 

Toss those into your starter dough and mix it. Done! Now cover it again and let the dough rise for about 6 hours. Again, if you want to put it in the fridge and get a slower rise time ( which amounts to more complex flavors and textures...) you can.

 

After it’s risen take half and simply set it aside. This is your new starter for the next batch! Keep it in the fridge and start this step! You never need to make starter again. Unless you let those yeast die, but your not cruel and heartless are you?? Try to make another batch of bread within 2 weeks. This is such good bread that it will disappear very quickly; you should not have a problem needing to make more.

 

With the half that is going to become your bread, add the following: 

 

1/2 teaspoons of yeast 

2 teaspoons of salt

1 cup of flour (Rye, Wheat, Bread, All-Purpose, 1000 year Georgian Monk Flour, etc.) 

 

Add that in and start slowly adding water (~1 cup or so) like before. Until you get that shaggy ball of dough, just slightly sticky and let it rise yet again! Remember, if you feel like it’s too wet or too dry, slowly add more flour or water until it gets the consistency you want. If you happen to just dump the entire water in, which I’ve done on numerous occasions, it is not ruined. Just add more flour! Your bread not rise as much, but it will still taste the same.

 

The final step is to shape the dough as you wish. Like before, at the moment I don’t have access to an oven, I make flatbreads and small rolls in my skillet. A hot rock works just as well, and an oven is ideal. But work with what you have! By and by...and by, if you do have an oven, the proper temperature is ~375°F to 400°F or 190°C to 240°C. Watch your bread for golden brown goodness and then remove it! I would give you a time period, but each loaf is different. A skillet takes about 3 minutes for each side, so if you want instant satisfaction (and who doesn’t) use a skillet.

Delicious and Pretty!

Remember longer rise times make more complex flavors!

Next post? Since I live in Japan now, I'll teach you how to make gyoza wrappers or "egg roll" wrappers from scratch! Happy cooking!

3 Beautiful Bachelor/Bachelorette Bread Banterings…Book I

Allow me to paint you a picture…it's 7am in the morning, you are blinking at the sudden glowing fireball in the sky wondering where it came from, the coffee is just starting to perk you up and your brain is slowing de-thawing from last night's debauchery (I'm not here to judge..it's okay.). Suddenly from the window you smell the heavenly scent of fresh baked bread and almost, just almost, you reach for your coat. But wait…no…the bakery down the street charges like $8 something for a tiny, though mouth watering-ly tasty, bun. Oh yeah, and the line stretches around the corner and there's always that guy on his cellphone at 7:30am with a business call. Who has a business call at 7:30am anyway? Plus, that $8 dollars was spent on a disappointing, expensive microbrew made with Unicorn hair and the tears of a Mermaid.

Well, you're just out of luck. Another morning with a stale, overpriced loaf chalked up with Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides and other silly dough conditioners that are just as hard to pronounce. Rejoice my friends. I'm going to teach you how to make, what I believe, to be 3 of the most versatile bread recipes that I know of. Starting with the easiest and least time consuming. As full disclosure, my recipes are loosely based on the titular Mark Bittman, whom if you aren't aware, has two of the best cookbooks period. How To Cook Everything and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian.

Anyway…the first recipe!

Fresh Pita (or a basis from anything else you can think of) 

This one is dead simple and I happen to always have a batch or two in my freezer, if not sitting on the windowsill waiting to be accompanied with my meal. I use this primarily as a pita bread. Instead of forming a loaf after a rise, I just punch it down and roll it out a bit. Why? Because in my travels I've found that access to an oven is…well…normally nonexistent. But access to a fire, stove top or electric skillet? Always.

     Truly, this would make a fantastically moist and rich bread if you baked it in an oven. Better yet, inside a ceramic pot within an oven. That is beautiful bread. But lots of us don't have access to those things. So a skillet or hot rock it is. Yep, these ones are backpacker friendly. So let's get down to business.

Ingredients: 

3 cups of flour (I use all-purpose because it's cheap, but if you have fancy triple-sifted organic stuff…use that!)
2 teaspoons of yeast (dry or instant yeast…either is fine due to the short rise time
2 teaspoons of salt 
1/2 teaspoon of sugar  
3 tablespoons of olive oil (my suggestion? Try using a flavored oil as it will lend it's taste to the bread
~1 1/2 cups of warm water (right before testing finger ouchies..which for you science types is ~120°F-130°F

     Got those? Good, that's just about the hardest part. For your first step, you simply have to mix together the dry ingredients. That's the salt, sugar, yeast and flour.

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     Now add the oil into that and mix it up until the dough seems like there's a lot of tiny balls of oil locked in the dough. Honestly just whip around with a whisk, there's nothing fancy to this step.

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Next slowly, did a mention slowly? SLOWLY add your water. That does not mean pour it slowly all at once. That means add a little bit.

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     Mix the dough, add some more water, mix it again, continue this and then stop when your dough forms a slightly sticky ball. Done. Easy no? If your dough seems too sticky, you can add flour using the same process to get a more manageable ball.

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     After this step, just cover it and walk away for about 2 hours. Obviously, you can allow it to rise longer and it will develop a more complex flavor, however, 2 hours works well for our purposes here. Although my typical method is to get to this step the night before and toss it into the fridge to rise overnight.

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Once you rough has risen you can knead it and form it into whatever shape you want, freeze it for later, or slice it up into smaller chunks and roll out some pita bread.

It fits so nicely in my containers when I'm meticulous!

     To make these in the skillet, simply turn it on to Medium-Medium High with just a little oil (or be a bit more indulgent and use butter) and fry them for about 4-5 minutes on both sides. They will get puffy and nicely golden brown.

Glorious

Just tonight I used this dough to make fresh hamburger buns and it was fantastic. All the juices of the meat and oil got absorbed but this bread is strong enough not to get soggy. That's all there is to it! As a side note, you can also slice these and fill the middle in true 'Pita' style.

Happy bread making!

 

 

On the virtue of Facebook

Disclaimer: 

This post is not for anyone but myself if you don't care to read more about me and my past then I highly suggest you wait until my next posting. I will be teaching you how to make fresh pita bread from scratch but until then…you've been warned.

Secondary Disclaimer: 

Indeed, I am praising Facebook. But only because of what it CAN do…not what it DOES do. Want a reality check? Go look through you Facebook photos from start to finish. Come back to me and tell that you didn't just have new perspective on your life. That is what Facebook should do, reconnect you with life, family and friends. Not tell me to like your silly personality test from Buzzredtwitgawk.com

I have lived an amazing and wonderful life. As you well know I just went through a pretty major breakup and I needed a change. That change was Japan. Was it the right choice? I don't know, but here I am now and I've been asked to tell the Ashikaga Board of Education about my life, what I like and what I have done, etc. That is a seriously hard question to answer and I've been thinking about it pretty heavily lately. Even without the added incentive to divulge my life in front of very well dressed people drinking tea.

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The conclusion that I came up with is that my life is astoundingly good and I have been blessed with so many amazing experiences and even more fantastic people. I can honestly say I have grown into far more then I ever imagined possible. There are times in your life when you are sad and lonely; wondering what happened to all the happiness that you used to have. Honestly, I'm going through that right now and, though I rarely do this, I'm looking at my old Facebook photos from when I first began Facebook. Something like 8 years ago, maybe 9..10 (How old is Facebook?), I'm not really sure. What I am sure of is that there is nothing for me to be sad about and the experiences that I've gained and the lessons I've learned... well some people travel their entire lives and don't learn them. I've been blessed to learned them at the ripe age of 27.

Upon looking back, I started tearing up and crying with a giant huge smile and thousands of warm memories wrapping me in the embrace that only years of life can bring. Years of life in where you are truly given the freedom to be who you are. Not a year has gone by that I haven't challenged myself and grown into more then I am. I didn't even realize it upon looking back on Facebook. I'm striving unconsciously to discover even more facets of what I can do and where I belong in the world. So looking back I found myself reminiscing just a little bit about what I've done in each of these years. More as a reminder that I am somebody in the world and I have made an impact. So here it goes...the virtues of Facebook.

It will remind of just how much life you have lived and how far you've grown: 

Oh man, look at that punk high school kid fresh out of school and in a big college up on Lake Erie. Damn, I thought I was something. Little did i know that I am not an artist, at least definitely not a good one, and there were plenty of other actors/artists/musicians out there that were far far better then me. But you know what? I had something to prove and I worked hard at getting better.

Alas, to no avail. This was really a year of discovery for me; just like it is for most people in their first years of college. I tried acting, arts and sports but nothing really helped me to find out who I was, what was my mark and how was I going to make it. In fact, this year is pretty much summed up by putting on a facade and pretending to be someone else. The relationships that I had and the friends that I made are mirror images of this fact; gone and never heard from again. A distant and fleeting shadow in my blur of college. Callous...but true. Then I found these photos again...

It reminds you of the best moments of life and the people that made it that way:

 

Awesome, now we're getting somewhere. This is the beginning of me figuring out who I am and what I have done. My life just rammed into full stop and a reality check was waiting for me in the form of Outdoor Odyssey. I'm not going to explain what that organization is. It is far to complicated and the tangents that I would go on will make this the longest post in the history of Wordpress. But here, this place...here is where I learned that I could impact lives.

Here is where I found the friends who I firmly believe are unmatched in the world. The family that will follow me and support me, still, to this very day. This place is where I discovered who I was and what I was meant to do. This is where I learned that I wanted to be a teacher and this is where I found my spot in the world.

The days in between those times just aren't even worth mentioning. It was college and shit happened. ODO, that was real, that was life and just thinking about it and all the experiences that I had makes everything bad in the world seem so small and all the good things just jump out. Putting how the next 3 years of life felt for me is rather hard and I don't really think I can do it justice…also it won't mean anything to my readers that aren't from Outdoor Odyssey, plus honestly I don't care if you get it because this post is mine and mine alone. I'm actually quite surprised you're reading this sentence. Kudos!

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It forces nostalgia upon you and challenges you to remember when you thrived:

And then Cheley happened. This took what ODO taught me and put it the test. I was placed in charge of a massively huge program and put into the higher echelons of staff at a camp that barely new me and only saw me on paper before meeting me. I showed up 2 weeks early and wandered around the mountains of Colorado in the winter time, took some awesome photos and generally twiddled my thumbs and ate ramen.

 

 

But then the thaw came and I was ready to unleash a new torrent of life into people all around me and unleash I did. Everything that I was and everything that I new about art, teaching management, lessons, inspiration and how to keep people in the loop was firmly pressed into my initial surge of energy. I met some fantastic people from all over the world and I am pleased to say that I have friends from almost every major country, I'm quite sure every state in America, and that's pretty cool.

Because to me that means that I’ve grown out of my box and that is success in this life. Cheley, you are an amazing place, you change lives.

You changed mine and gave me the courage and confidence to know that I can take control and I can make something better then what it was and leave it primed and ready for the next visionary to come.

It gently (read: VIOLENTLY) nudges you into being productive about life goals: 

After my brief stint in the Colorado Rockies, I ventured over to the beautiful redwood forests of California and lived for a time as a naturalist. Gained the name 'Zephyr' or 'Zeph Zeph' and learned even more about myself. I gained another family that I never suspected I would have.

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Just like the amazing support that I receive from ODO, I now receive equal support from the SMOE natties. My time there not only firmly grounded my beliefs in education, but it also deeply rooted the idea of change and revolution into my mind.

It has always been my dream to open my own school. At first, I was basing it on other existing systems but then after living in a system with no system, except for the one that the teacher creates, and that allows you to engage with all intelligence types and age groups…whew! I found that I wasn’t just dissatisfied with the education in the world today...I HATE it and I want to change it. To bring it closer to the experiences that I’ve had at Cheley, at SMOE, and at ODO.

Power should be returned back to the teacher. Tests should abolished, grades should be kept but they should be…informal evaluations and talks about how you're doing. Administrations should not do anything but keep the school running smoothly and there should be little to no crossover between the two parties. In fact, administration SHOULD be teachers and should also be rotated on a regular basis. Nothing gets stale that way and new ideas are always flowing. Each should simply trust the other to help out when it’s needed and to do the job that is given to them. By this, and only by this, will you allow a teacher to open up to their lessons and truly be educators, not simply instructors. You can't teach from a book.You teach from life.

So now after 2 minor life crisis, a hiatus to the desert, an extended backpacking trip to run from society, a failed attempted at grad school, a journey halfway across the world and a crushing blow to my happy face...I’m ready to trust in education and life again. So bring it Japan. Let’s see what you got.

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And there you have it…just by looking at Facebook photos I was reminded of life and all the great things it's given me. Go on, go look back…see what you've forgotten. Maybe you'll find new perspective too.

Matters of the heart

Relationships are difficult. I’ve had a plethora of them in my lifetime but only a handful have actually meant something. Is that shallow? Possibly, yes. But I argue that people who do not ‘date around’ have little concept of what they really want in relationships. Moreso, they probably have not learned how to handle conflicts in a healthy manner, deal with breakups or communicate effectively. Those skills are not just relevant to relationships, they also spill heavily into the sewage systems of life where we put in life’s crap and eventually are returned clear, fresh water. It’s a complex process and there are so many parties involved and different events happening that often you forget which crap is your problem and which problems are just crap. Your issue is the important one, right? You have the crappiest problem floating down there and you demand to be comforted.

Truth is, we all need to be comforted when it comes to relationships. They are simply hard. Even the fairy tale type relationships, which absolutely exist in this world, have problems. The cold, hard fact is that no two people are a perfect match and that is what makes relationships interesting. So in an effort to deal with my own breakup, I would like to offer my two-cents to the world of relationship advice.

*DISCLAIMER* 

I came to Thailand with my girlfriend of 2 years. Before coming to Thailand we had that fairy tale relationship where everything clicked and the world was bright and joyous. But it was only through this experience that we realized we wanted different things in life. As of today, she got on a boat and is heading back to America after a short hiatus in Bali, Indonesia. I will not be joining her. Instead, I am going to Ashikaga, Japan to continue my travels and education experiences. Does it hurt? Hell yes. Am I okay? Yep. Did I love her? Stupid question. Next one, please. Are I going to give mildly cliche advice? Probably, but it’s from the heart, so stop asking questions and just read it. 

Let people give you advice...even if you do not believe or agree with what they have to say. 

      Yep. Even the words I’m about to utter in this post should fall upon mildly deaf ears. Why am I saying that? Because we all deal with depression differently. You might hear a spectrum of advice such as, “Go get drunk.”,”Just have a rebound relationship.”,”Wanna talk about it?” to, my personal favorite, “Burn it. Burn it all.” The last one is pretty extreme, but I’ve done that and ,at the time, it felt good. Regardless of the advice that is given, there is an underlying comment being made, even the pyromaniacs are saying it, albeit in a very strange way. “I care about you and I want to help you.” Embrace that fact. You might just find that knowing someone is there is enough to get you through the worst of it and back on your feet. Once you accept that, go have your alone time, get those emotions out and then just be in the presence of someone else. You don’t have to talk or even look at them. Just know that you are not alone, because you are not.

By and by, my neighbors are Korean. They don’t speak much english but they are absolutely wonderful people. In my book, anyone who roasts their own coffee and then grinds it in the mornings can do no wrong. They recognize that I’m not particularly happy at the moment and have brought me food (and the aforementioned coffee) and generally have made their presence known...should I wish to join them. To me, that proves that despite language barriers or cultural differences, humans are inherently good and want to help others. So maybe that friend urging you to have an impromptu trashcan fire is really saying, “I know how hard this is for you. I’m right beside you and I’ll even throw in the first matchstick if you’d like.”. That is quite literally the fires of friendship burning for you.

Listen to music

     I’m not going to go into the psycho-analytical here. It should be very obvious that music affects our brains, bodies and souls. Ask any person and I can guarantee they have a list of ‘go to’ songs. Songs that make them happy, cause them to exercise harder, trigger nostalgia and memories or be more productive. The list is endless. Music is a visceral part of how we go about our days, and many of us have soundtracks to life. So...I’m going to give you a list of songs that I listen to when I’m sad. To you, these songs are just that, songs. But to me, they are extremely powerful gateways to my emotions and do all kinds of different things to my heart. I consider the following excellent songs, you may hate them, but if nothing else it might show you artists that you have yet to discover. I’m only going to list one song by each artist, but please know, they are fantastic musicians and deserve to be explored further. Thus without further ado:

Fall for you - Michael Henry and Justin Robinett  (Originally Secondhand Serenade)

Gone, Gone, Gone - Philip Phillips

Windows Are Rolled Down- Amos Lee

Company Of Friends - Danny Schmidt

I Will Wait - Mumford and Sons

The General - The Dispatch

Konstantine - Something Corporate

Sun Will Set - Zoe Keating

Last Goodbye - Wailing Jennys

World Spins Madly On - The Weepies

Okay, that should do it. Bottom line? Listen to music. It’s good for you and silence is awkward anyway...unless it’s with nature. Then silence is golden.

Exercise

     Got frustrations? Music not working and you hate everyone and everything? Go exercise. Endorphins are amazing and getting out all your emotional build up is much easier and healthier through working out then it is to say, scream into a pillow, eat a gallon of ice cream or plummet into despair. Hate running? Don’t like lifting weights and you can’t swim? Try yoga, Zumba, walking, etc. I’ll take a small wager and say that very very few people come back from working out and don’t feel at least a little better. If you need a more...aggressive approach, might I suggest a punching bag? Just be careful with that though, punching or kicking incorrectly can lead to injuries. But if you need to hit something, a punching bag is a better choice then a wall or your ex.

Distract yourself

     Sometimes pain is simply to great to deal with and we need time to dull it. In this case, distract yourself. This can mean an almost innumerable amount of things. For me, this can take the form of being with friends, playing video games, art, playing guitar, household chores, shopping (yes, I like shopping) and cooking. Actually cooking is my go to. I LOVE to cook and anyone who has joined me in the kitchen knows that I take pride in making good food from simple ingredients. You can always tell when I’ve had a rough day because I’ll have made a three course meal and denied any offers for help.

Creating a distraction allows our subconscious to handle a few things without us knowing. It can only do so much though. Distracting yourself is good, however, don’t run from the emotions if they come to the surface. Face them, accept them and work on understanding the why and the what of each. Remember, your body and mind will give you what you can handle but those feelings aren’t going to disappear unless you approach them and see each for what it is and where it is originating from.

So that’s all. Take it or leave it and agree or not. You can probably find a slew of similar articles on both WordPress and liberally slathered across the internet. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this is only my thoughts and the experiences I am having now. Sharing it and also offering advice helped me to deal with the pain and I feel better because of it.

Thank you for listening.

-Jesse

Jesse get down!

So here I am again at a crossroads. There's a lot of paths that are being offered to me and it's difficult to choose which ones I want to walk. I've found that often times in life we are bottle-necked into only seeing 2 or 3 choices that can be made, when in reality there are so many more. Granted, some of those choices are just awful life decisions, but the others? They open up even more doors that reveal entire corridors to get lost in. Life is not a straight road, or even a divergence of many roads. It's a maze with hidden places, elaborate candelabras, and a chute filled with snakes that takes you right back to the beginning...or the wine cellar. Every good maze should have a wine cellar. The true challenge is seeing the bookcase swing open when you pulled on that candlestick.

 Except…every now and then our paths look a bit like this:

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There's just so many ways to go that there is NO definate path to take. You need to forge your own. But having the courage to handle that, which is a daunting task, is perhaps the most difficult thing any person faces. When we make a decision, our roads narrow. But until that decision is made I hope you enjoy vast plains of opportunity.

Kurt Vonnegut said the following, “It's an author's right to change the words of their story. They can either re-write what is written or erase those words and start fresh.”

        So here's the stories I can write and the paths I can take:

    A well-worn super highway in which 70% of my peers are traveling. Go back home to America, live with my parents and struggle to find a teaching job. Upon failing that, I'll accept a minimum wage position despite a triple certification in education and multi-faceted experiences that grant me a very well rounded expertise. This is America's roundabout that so many other teachers are driving in similar cars. We all have advanced degrees, multiple certifications and diverse work experience, that doesn't set us apart anymore. So the great circle continues.

It's not necessarily a bad thing to have hope on this highway. When I travelled it I was often disappointed about jobs that I didn't receive, perceived opportunities that I missed and ultimately no schools recognizing the experience that I held. But, like I mentioned, every other teacher (or other profession) has the exact same problem. There's nothing that truly sets each applicant apart and the sheer amount of resumes that employers get is staggering, thus it's more about who you know before you're resume is even reviewed and those differences are seen. To me? This road is luck of the draw and often the winning hand goes to family friends or acquaintances of the hirer. No, thank you.

     A back-country rural road that holds about 25% of the other teachers in the great roundabout. Go back home to America, refuse to live with my parents and struggle to find a teaching job or any job. Compound this by now adding the normal living expenses associated with having rent or a mortgage and moving to an area that I want to live in. Get right back on the roundabout and join that other 70% going in circles. There's is an alternative path to this one though. Seasonal jobs. I personally consider seasonal positions to be the BEST way to see the country and meet people that have similar world views. The pay is never that great, but it's more about the experience. Unfortunately, good things come to an end and that season is no different. Once it has ended, you are right back in Death Valley up there.  But hey, I'm different. I'm an independent, motivated person who is forging his own path. Do I live my parents? No. What's that? You want to hire me? Fantastic! Oh...ah yes, I can make coffee. Yeah, $7.25/hr sounds great. I can totally do that.

Don't get me wrong, I have meet AMAZING people and have had truly life changing experiences with this road. But every job that I've had on it has only been seasonal. I've lived in quite a few different places in America, bolstered by the experiences I was having and the people I interacted with. I lived this life for about 5 years. Within those years I have broaden my views, studied different forms of education, worked with people from all over the world and generally improved my soul. I like this road, and the people that walk it are just awesome. But in terms of finical stability, it's simply not a viable option unless you are extremely talented and even more lucky that someone notices your skills. Would I walk this again? Hell yes. But it doesn't solve anything in the long run.

     The known of, but challenging, hiking trail that many 'sub-culture' teachers walk. Stay abroad, continue teaching in a foreign country make a wage that is less then the American minimum, but quite generous in regards to that country (disclaimer: I make approximately $3.00/hr in Thailand). Experience a different culture, see the world and beautiful scenery. Damage my chances of getting a job in America because most schools don't enjoy Skype interviews and are very suspicious of an international teacher as well as generally look for consecutive years in a single district. A point of fact that I just do not comprehend. But it's true, so this trails leads to continuing applying for jobs in America in hopes that a school recognizes my experiences and qualifications.

But that's the negative. The positive? The individuals you meet wandering about the forest that this trail goes through are going to become life long friends. Not might. Will. These are the people that not only understand what is important in life and how little money matters, they are not afraid to be real with you and more so…themselves. It doesn't matter what they do, the sparkling factor here is that they know who they are. Read that again. They are people who have struggled, risen, fallen and then got right back up with a smile. They aren't people who are simply going through the motions. These are the ones who dance to their own songs, absorb the world and return that happiness tenfold. They will give you a hug when you least expect it and need it most; because they've been there and know what your far off gaze really is. Cherish them. They are rare in this world and often times are forced onto that super highway riding a single speed bicycle with a basket on the front. Give them a ride and you'll make a friend who will support you no matter what you do.

     A trail that is no trail and is only walked by those willing to go with the wind. I am a teacher. This thing I know. This is the life I have chosen regardless of the path that I take. I made a significant life decision by coming overseas and it's going to shape the rest of my life. Not only because of the aforementioned other ways that I could have taken, but also the experience. Both the heavily positive and the crushingly negative have, in essence, changed me for the better. I have a broader view of the world, I speak another language (poorly) I never thought I'd learn and I now have close friends from every continent of the world and quite a few in-between. In a nutshell, that's awesome. I like this path. I love it. Culture shock and miscommunications abound, but the good outweighs the bad and the personal growth tips the scales. I'm going to continue skipping down it and pretending the ground is lava because my head is in the clouds.

From here I go to there. From the balmy jungles of Thailand to the ancient mountains of Ashikaga, Japan…how can I be so sure of myself? I'm not. I have no idea what I'm doing. But I have support from all those people up there. That's all I need.

Walk your own road.

Primordial Beauty

Rugged beauty. It's a rare trait to give to a location that is so frequently destroyed by the machinations of man. Primordial, pristine, "pieces of it will stay with you", I heard every one of those phrases used to describe the beauty that is Koh Mook. It's been a while since I went to this island and I have been intending to write this blog for a some time, but as always life intervened. So here it is, Koh Mook. DSC_3385Mook is an island that is heavily affected by the tides. Massive stone cliffs line the waters island where it meets the Adaman sea and at certain points during the low tide, it leaves every boat stranded upon the coastal sands. It's a pretty amazing sight and really brings to mind being stranded. Because of this dramatic effect around the island, the coral here is especially spectacular and you can find the ocean life that prefers deeper waters as the tides recede to the point of being able to dive down deep enough. This exposes awesome critters like this jellyfish, which I believe is a box jelly, but I didn't want to get close enough to properly identify it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese guys were everywhere in the water. Actually, I shouldn't say that. Their babies were everywhere, the big ones were luckily few and far between. Although the littlest ones were almost impossible to see. This itty harbinger of pain reminded me that the ocean was not kind to the unwary. Attempting to get back to my kayak  and not stung proved to be an uphill battle.

It was not all for nothing though. The little guys looked like galaxies from underneath, and if I didn't say, "This is a jellyfish." Many people have assumed they are some kind of nebula. But not so! Just a helpful reminder to your nerve endings to let you know when you're somewhere you should not be.

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I learned my lesson pretty quickly after this encounter though. A few stings made me change my plan of snorkeling to a quick recon before diving in. Just look at that tan line. AMAZING! I make all the other severely burned white people jealous. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Another really fantastic aspects of the dynamic coast here is that the cliffs are subjected to some serious erosions. More so then many of the other rock walls in the area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust look at how stunning that is. Seeing that, I agree with primordial and rugged. Koh Mook did indeed leave a lasting impression. These beautifully eroded cliffs have left underwater caves that can be accessed at low tide and one even leads to a hidden beach. Unfortunately, that beach is not so hidden and it's flocked by very very eager tourists every day. The vast majority of them have no idea that all around them are potentially deadly OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAjellyfish. I do not enjoy tour groups, they strike me as a way to see something instead of experience it. So, I spent my time diving in and around Emerald Cave attempting to not get kicked, drowned or stung by the multitude of legs there. There is great delight to be found in breaking the surface of the water right next to someone and seeing their face. Emerald cave was highly worth the potential visit to Davey Jones. Being in an underwater cave in total darkness and seeing the light at the entrance? Awesome.

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Alas, after being given such a beautiful traverse in the cave, I ran headlong into where all the tour groups were going. Which…well..a photo will tell you exactly why I didn't find this as beautiful as it should be. There was easily over 200 hundred people crammed into a very small beach that just ruined the moment. Tourism is a good thing. It shares the world with people that don't know what is there. However…a beach, only accessible though an underwater cave filled with jellyfish, that is only above water during a small window of time which is compounded by the required low tide mark...OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

that should not be a tourist hotspot. Instead, it should be a well guarded secret only revealed to those who respect the  uniqueness of that wonder. This…this is simply unacceptable. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Like I said, tourism is an important part of Thailand's finical situation. But, they do not have an awareness yet of how the exploitation of their environment is dramatically affecting the health of beautiful places like this. Granted, this is an old problem that exists in almost every country. This minor gripe doesn't detract too much from Koh Mook's natural scene and in the end…this is an island that I will very gladly revisit.

Check out the gallery for more images of Koh Mook's awesome scenery and  and a look at some of the dishes offered especially on the island!

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Seizing Life.

      On a rare occasion, while stumbling blindly across the internet in search of time killing, we discover a random website or out of context quote posted by a friend of a friend on Facebook. This seemly random stumbling is, in my opinion, not random at all. Rather, it is a machination of life that was put into our view for a specific purpose. Likely that post, quote, picture, whatever, totally justifies an action or series of events that you've placed into motion and still have doubts about. I stumbled across one such thing that is worth sharing…which I do not do often. This is part of the Holstee Manifesto:

There it is. Simple, clean, and I'm sure there's a countless numbers of images that look exactly the same. But this precise arrangement of words tweaked something deep down in me. A lovely little thing called 'confirmation'.

     Some of you might know, some of you may be learning just now, but I have been offered a job in Dalian, China at the Dalian Medical University, one of China's best medical universities, to teach english to the students there. For the past month or so I have feverishly been applying to jobs in whatever country is giving them. A few responded, mostly agencies looking to snag another certified teacher for their ranks, but no real job offers for a month. Then I applied to Dalian. Within 4 days I was given an interview and a job offer. This is normally highly suspicious in my mind and throws up an enormous amount of red flags. But during the interview I noticed that they were actually looking at my resume…which is rare. How many job interviews have you had that actually read your history? They didn't even ask any interview questions…most are, after all, answered on my resume, a fact that I'm sure many of you share and the asking of any 'previous experience' in the field tends to denote that the interviewer isn't even looking at your background. This interviewer was so well prepared that he acknowledged my partial master's degree and numerous wilderness therapy positions as 'alternative education'. Very cool.

Any way, back to the my initial reason for sharing that picture up there. There's quite a few quotes I can snag but I'm going to take this one...

Some opportunities only come once, seize them.

I'm going to be honest, I'm really torn over this. I accepted, I do so knowing that it will be at least June 2015 till I'm back in America. I don't mind that. I miss friends, family, and my kitty but I know that I am loved, appreciated and those things will not leave me. I have an astounding support group of people all around me cheering on my adventures. But the thing I will miss? Well…a lot of things. Actually to many to mention, but as I'm writing this, I came across another bit of life throwing wonderful at me. Wonderful words by Marc Chernoff that also bear sharing:

  1. Breathe in the future, breathe out the past.  No matter where you are or what you’re going through, always believe that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Never expect, assume, or demand.  Just do your best, control the elements you can control, and then let it be.  Because once you have done what you can, if it is meant to be, it will happen, or it will show you the next step that needs to be taken.
  2. Life CAN be simple again.  Just choose to focus on one thing at a time.  You don’t have to do it all, and you don’t have to do it all right now.  Breathe, be present, and do your best with what’s in front of you.  What you put into life, life will eventually give you back many times over.
  3. Let others take you as you are, or not at all.  Speak your truth even if your voice shakes.  By being yourself, you put something beautiful intothe world that was not there before.  So walk your path confidently and don’t expect anyone else to understand your journey, especially if they have not been exactly where you are going.
  4. You are not who you used to be, and that’s OK.  You’ve been hurt; you’ve gone through numerous ups and downs that have made you who you are today.  Over the years, so many things have happened – things that have changed your perspective, taught you lessons, and forced your spirit to grow.  As time passes, nobody stays the same, but some people will still tell you that you have changed.  Respond to them by saying, “Of course I’ve changed.  That’s what life is all about.  But I’m still the same person, just a little stronger than I ever was before.”
  5. Everything that happens helps you grow, even if it’s hard to see right now.  Circumstances will direct you, correct you, and perfect you over time.  So whatever you do, hold on to hope.  The tiniest thread will twist into an unbreakable cord.  Let hope anchor you in the possibility that this is not the end of your story – that the change in the tides will eventually bring you to peaceful shores.
  6. Do not educate yourself to be rich, educate yourself to be happy.  That way when you get older you’ll know the value of things, not the price.  In the end, you will come to realize that the best days are the days when you don’t need anything extreme or special to happen to make you smile.  You simply appreciate the moments and feel gratitude, seeking nothing else, nothing more.  That is what true happiness is all about.  
  7. Be determined to be positive.  Understand that the greater part of your misery or unhappiness is determined not by your circumstances, but by your attitude.  So smile at those who often try to begrudge or hurt you, show them what’s missing in their life and what they can’t take away from you.
  8. Pay close attention to those you care about.  Sometimes when a loved one says, “I’m okay,” they need you to look them in the eyes, hug them tight, and reply, “I know you’re not.”  And don’t be too upset if some people only seem to remember you when they need you.  Feel privileged that you are like a beacon of light that comes to their minds when there is darkness in their lives.
  9. Sometimes you have to let a person go so they can grow.  Because, over the course of their lives, it is not what you do for them, but what you have taught them to do for themselves that will make them a successful human being.
  10. Sometimes getting the results you crave means stripping yourself of people that don’t serve your best interests.  This allows you to make space for those who support you in being the absolute best version of yourself.  It happens gradually as you grow.  You find out who you are and what you want, and then you realize that people you’ve known forever don’t see things the way you do.  So you keep the wonderful memories, but find yourself moving on.
  11. It’s better to look back on life and say, “I can’t believe I did that,” than to look back and say, “I wish I did that.”  In the end, people will judge you in some way anyway.  So don’t live your life trying to impress others.  Instead live your life impressing yourself.  Love yourself enough to never lower your standards for anyone. 
  12. If youre looking for a happy ending and cant seem to find one, maybe it’s time to start looking for a new beginning.  Brush yourself off and accept that you have to fail from time to time.  That’s how you learn.  The strongest people out there – the ones who laugh the hardest with a genuine smile – are the same people who have fought the toughest battles.  They’re smiling because they’ve decided that they’re not going to let anything hold them down, they’re moving on to a new beginning.

Expect a few more of theses posts as I make some more life changes in the coming months. Eventually I'll get about to posting photos of Koh Mook and the jelly fish, but this posting simply couldn't be held off. Read it, think about it, make a change.

Exhaustion of Execursions

Last post was one from the heart. Many of you have expressed your caring and support and it is very much appreciated. Worry not, as always, I am quite peachy and it takes more then a decision to choose a country to travel to actually get me depressed. It is just a very interesting choice and thought that it had a larger question looming behind all the personal relevance.

In between the sudden life choices, there has been quite a bit of travel involved in the area of Thailand that I reside in. As of this past weekend almost all options in the mainland province of Satun have been throughly explored and documented for propriety. Since I want you to really get a feel for the areas, I'm going to create a small gallery for each location.

The first up is Thale Ban National Park, a massive sprawling jungle that connects Thailand and Malaysia from border to border. There is a small pocket in between the mountains and jungle that serves as a extremely welcoming break from walking about the dense flora quietly having heart spasms because every vine is a King Cobra; a snake which is roughly 18ft, poisonous and has extremely effective jungle camouflage.DSC_3175

Along this walkway are some really beautiful lizards. They are hidden under leaves, clutching posts and generally being delightful to watch. The variance in their colors is spectacular. DSC_3161Often I found myself quietly mesmerized by their antics and took great joy in sneaking up and photographing them.

Not everything in the jungle was delightful though. For instance, the path was not so much a path as it was a minutely less dense section of vines and ferns.DSC_3181 In truth, a lovely sight. One I would have enjoyed more if it was not accompanied by the sounds of thousands of ants marching under my feet. Normally, an ant is an ant. I don't bother them and they don't bother me. But when the ant is question is no longer a tiny creature and more along the line of the thickness of my finger…well, you quickly see me turn from a intrepid outdoorsman into a very freaked out coward. Just look at them! That is NOT something that you want crawling up your pants and into your boots. Look at it! That is not a macro photo, I am standing a very healthy distance away.

DSC_3203All in all, the positives of jungle trekking far outweigh the negatives. Although having experienced it, I much prefer a deciduous forests and mountains over a tropical jungle. I'm a trailblazer. Going off trail in sub-tropical or temperate areas is much less hazardous to my health.

Check out the following gallery for more photos of the critters of Thaleban National Park

Next on the list of fantastical places is the lovely little island of Koh Bulone Leh. After being overloaded by the sheer development and westernization of Koh Lipe, we looked for a more quiet, less popular option for our next island.

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Koh Bulone is a tranquil little spot about 22km off the coast of Thailand and is home to a lovely population of squid-fishing sea gypsies (Chow Laeir). The island itself is simply pristine. Even the areas that have heavy development are really nothing more then a concrete sidewalk. When you compare this to the other islands in this section of Thailand, it's rather refreshing. There is only one store for tourists to get their shopping fix which, after Lipe, I was delighted to see. Besides these isolated walkways the island is either dense jungle or small groups of thatched huts and tiny shore side eateries.

The food is fantastic, the prices at resorts are absurdly low, ~$10 a night, and the locals are friendly. What else  could you ask for in an island?

The true draw here is the lovely quietness of this particular island (something that is not found on the others). Like I mentioned, the development is limited so many of the people, tourist or Thai, enjoy the quiet and are very laid back. We didn't find anything of much excitement here. Thankfully, that's exactly what we were looking for. The photos here speak for themselves: Beautiful coral is one reason to come to Bulone, long sandy beaches aren't so horrible either, but in the end, in final reason is it's serenity. Also, we got to our boat on the local mail truck..so there's that too. Check out Bulone's gallery.

After this island, we really didn't have anything left! So what did we do? Went river rafting of course. Isn't this the obvious choice that everyone would make? I won't say to much about the river, aside from the peaceful flow of the water that was present there, the sweltering heat and the deafening roar of insects (which I took great pleasure in shattering by occasionally jumping out of mangrove trees into the river). The best part about it was that I was on a river..in Thailand.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Oddly enough though, the Thais thought it was unbelievable that a westerner could handle a boat, let alone one going down a river. It really made wonder what westerners have been on this river. A trip like this though could not be complete without waterfalls. I cannot stress enough how many different waterfalls are in Thailand and each one is unique. The waterfall here, Sai Chai, looks like something out of a LOTR or Harry Potter movie. Water flows from a cave on the hillside into perfectly formed, multi-tiered levels that create natural swimming pools. Honestly, I tried very hard to get a photo that can do this justice..but I just couldn't. Check out the gallery from the river and the waterfall. Next post? Koh Mook, jellyfish, underwater caves and sunburn!