Feeling Brave

The first time I tried to tell my story in my own voice with my own byline, I was a journalism student writing a piece about depression for my college magazine.  While I was encouraged to share my story because it could help others, I was discouraged from attaching my name.  My advisor was concerned about how I would be perceived by my peers.

I reluctantly agreed.  I was nervous about speaking out so publicly and having my advisor discourage me from the get-go only confirmed that I would be seen differently.  I didn’t want to be looked at with pity and sadness the way my advisor looked at me after reading my final draft.  Once my story, “Feeling Blue,” was published in “Focus” magazine in the Spring of 1998, I immediately regretted seeing MY story without my name attached.

That magazine with my story inside now hangs above my desk as a reminder that not only does my story matter, but I should not be afraid or ashamed to tell it.

Twenty years later I still remember the shame and fear I felt as I tried to speak up and share my story.  Back then it wasn’t called stigma like it is today, but it affected me the same.  After that I continued to write my stories, but as fiction in third person or through poems.  I still had stories to tell, even if I didn’t feel brave enough to say they were my own stories.

I could say that it was just my advisor’s discomfort or even what I believe were good intentions that kept me disconnected from my story, but it was also me.  I didn’t have to concede to publishing anonymously.

I allowed his fear to become my own because I too was afraid of what my fellow students were going to think about me if they knew that I was struggling with my mental health on a daily basis.  Stigma really is contagious and influences our thoughts, feelings and actions in ways we don’t even think about until the harm is done.

Since then I’ve done the work to recover and know how to cope with my mental health in a way I didn’t know how to back then.  Writing about that recovery is how I started sharing my story in my voice again, which I shared in my first blog post, Disorderly Life: PTSD Recovery

I no longer feel compelled to hide behind an anonymous byline to share my story.  I won’t be anonymous again.  It’s MY story and I’m no longer afraid to tell it, which is why I also started writing stories for my memoir, “Disorderly Life,” which is about what I experienced living with and recovering from PTSD.  The genesis of getting this project started is covered in an earlier blog post, Writing Jersey

When I first discovered This Is My Brave, I was immediately drawn to the inspiring work being done through storytelling to spread awareness about mental health and to fight the stigma associated with mental illness.  Their hashtag #StorytellingSavesLives speaks to my own experience over the years.  Reading other people’s stories, people I didn’t even know, helped me to not feel alone even in the scariest of times and inspired me to keep going and keep searching for a way to heal and recover.

I knew this could be an opportunity for me to share my story.

Back in March, auditions for a show in Philadelphia were being advertised.  I really wanted to sign up, but felt a little conflicted and let’s be real, I was afraid.  For a few reasons.  One of which was the public speaking part, which is not one of my strengths anymore.

Writing my story in solitude or while with my writing group is one thing, but speaking in front of a crowd of people is entirely different. I’ve been interested in in public speaking, yet I wasn’t sure if I was ready. After a colleague encouraged me to audition, I signed up and started writing an essay to read at my audition, which I did two weeks later.

The day one of the co-producers called to welcome me to the cast, I was initially taken aback.  Seemed surreal that this was actually going to happen.  After the shock quickly wore off, I was thrilled.  I was going to use MY voice to tell my story.  Twenty years after the first time I tried to share my story publicly, I can say that I am no longer feeling blue, I’m feeling brave.


Christmas in New York

Going to NYC during Christmas has been on my bucket list as long I can remember. After moving to the East Coast nearly two years ago, it was bumped to the top of list, but I didn’t make it last year. While I wanted to venture to the city on my own I hadn’t been brave enough to do so. That is until a few weekends ago! Much to my surprise, friends from Texas made plans to visit NYC during the holidays. One in particular was my friend who encouraged me to start blogging about my experiences living on the east coast.

I’m not sure what I was more excited about: seeing my friends, seeing Christmas in New York or the fact that I was finally going into the city alone. I did feel a little like Buddy the Elf. While it wasn’t my first trip there, it would be my first trip to travel there alone. And would certainly be a new adventure as is every time I go there!

Once I arrived, I made my way to Times Square. Standing in the midst of such an iconic place all on my own was exhilarating. After taking a moment to soak it all in, I headed towards where my friends were. It was pretty surreal to see my friends from Texas in NYC. Not something I ever expected to do. Our first stop was the Hard Rock Café, which is a must-see. We started sightseeing, but decided to put that on hold to have a late lunch at The Counter Times Square, where we all had burgers and split a spiked red velvet milkshake.

The sightseeing continued with a stop at Toys R Us and then on to the Public Library. I gasped when I saw the lions out front adorned with wreaths and snow and then seeing an enormous Christmas tree as we entered. But what captured my attention the most was the “A Writer’s Christmas” exhibit. I perused every piece in the collection with awe and adoration. Loved the “Christmas Tree” poem by E.E. Cummings and a Christmas card from James Joyce. But my favorite was the prompt copy of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. I could have stared at that book for hours reading his hand-written notations. I really wanted to touch it and hold it in my hands. Connect with a writer from the past through his work.

As we left the library, the sun was setting, which made it the perfect time to start strolling down the streets and look at all of the window displays. Lord & Taylor was bright and magical, but certainly paled in comparison to Saks Fifth Avenue’s “Once upon a Holiday” displays and light show. It all centered on Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Each window featured a different scene and a designer’s interpretation. Each creation was just as fantasy infused as it was beautiful.

In the midst of walking past the windows at Saks is when I had my first glimpse of the tree at Rockefeller Center. It looked tinier than I expected, but breathtaking nevertheless. I was also startled by how large the crowd was. My initial thought was that must be the line to see the tree, which made me doubt that I’d ever get up close to see it, but later discovered that it was people watching the light show on the building.

After looking at every window display, we moved closer to the tree and in doing so was able to watch the castle-themed light show from the side without having to fight the crowds. It was spectacular!

The tree really was ginormous and as beautiful as could be imagined. And just like that I finally saw the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center! From the tree we were able to have a different view of the light show.

One thing I wish I had done this year was see the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, but at least we did pass by it. That gives me something to look forward to for next year.

We walked through Times Square as we headed for our last stop which was Macy’s. I had no idea it was so big! It was totally fitting that we were on 34th Street since I felt like it was truly a Miracle on the 34th St that I was able to see Christmas in NYC.

Visiting Maine: A Dream Come True

Mom’s dream of seeing the most northern state on the East Coast began as a teenager when she saw scenes of Maine’s Coast in a television show. My sister had planned a trip for my parents a few years ago for their anniversary, but they weren’t able to go.

Another near miss happened when I decided to move to New Jersey last summer. We talked of driving up to Maine after we made our way to New Jersey and unloaded my boxes. But since our 24 hour roadtrip from Texas included an excursion to Ohio to visit family, we were too wiped out to drive any further.  So her dream would have to wait until another visit.

That visit happened to be just a month ago when they brought the rest of my belongings from Texas after they finished packing up my house. My sister had made reservations for accommodations in Maine while I was visiting back in June. There was no backing out this time. We were going to make our mom’s dream come true!

I have to admit that I wasn’t too eager to go to Maine at first from a personal standpoint. I’m typically more into urban adventures these days, so I started researching the area to find some points of interests and top attractions. My search started with lighthouses, which I have an affinity for and that’s what I associate with Maine. My interest started growing once I pulled up the scenic images that were picturesque and dream inspiring.

A week before our trip I finalized our tentative itinerary that included a few iconic and historical stops along the way with our final destination being Bar Harbor. Every night of our long weekend would be spent in a different location. We wanted to explore as much as possible in a short time.

Our road trip from New Jersey began midmorning on a Friday. Perhaps not the best time to make our ascent up into New England given that many others were doing the same as indicative by the traffic we encountered along the way. But my work schedule dictated our travel plans.

The upside of being confined to a vehicle in the congestion of traffic is that we had time together. Traffic within itself can be frustrating, but it also forces us to slow down and be in the moment. This past year I’ve missed out on a lot of time with my parents and it was time together that was much needed. Even if some of that time was spent in traffic.

Our first stop was a quick detour after passing over the Tappan Zee Bridge into Sleepy Hollow, NY. I set our destination for the Headless Horseman Monument, which seemed like an interesting place to stop and headed in that direction (no pun intended). While tours were available which seemed interesting we opted to take a few pictures and have an impromptu picnic lunch with a view of Philipsburg Manor House. Just as I was driving out of the parking lot I spotted the monument. It was smaller than I expected.

Our next destination was Salem, MA took much longer to get to than we had planned because of the never-relenting sea of traffic on I-95. We arrived after dark, which seemed perfect for a place with such a haunted past. I had hoped to do a little exploring, but that would have to wait until we were all rested up the next morning.

We were there bright and early, but most of the area didn’t open until 10am. After we had breakfast at the dog-friendly Gulu-Gulu Café, we strolled around the surprisingly charming town and checked out the sights and window shopped. My favorite statue was of the character from “Bewitched.” I loved watching that show as a child.

We stopped at the visitor center to find out where to find the Salem Witch Trials Memorial and met the friendliest volunteer who was quite the storyteller. It was interesting and tragic to hear some of the witch trial stories. To see the actual words spoken before the suspected witches were hanged was especially chilling.

After looking around and seeing more of the points of interests, we made our way to Maine. I was so excited that we were so close to making Mom’s dream come true! Felt like it was Christmas morning, except I wasn’t getting the gift, my mom was.

As customary on roadtrips, we had tried to get photos of the state line signs, but hadn’t until Maine. Even though it was raining, I pulled off onto the shoulder and insisted we get a photo of Mom and Dad. It was an experience of a lifetime and we needed something special to commemorate crossing into Maine.

Although it was rainy and foggy, Bar Harbor was scenic and beautiful. After checking into our hotel, we had dinner and drinks at The Looking Glass Restaurant. It was given great reviews and had a great view. I had the salmon sliders even though they weren’t what was recommended and they were delicious.

The next morning Mom and I woke up at 4:30am to see the sunrise on Cadillac Mountain, but all we saw was fog. Lots and lots of heavy and dense fog. It was like the old Scooby-Doo cartoons when the fog was so thick he’d cut through it with a knife.

It was disappointing since we weren’t spending another night in Bar Harbor, but it was still nice just having the time alone with Mom, even if it was cold and insanely early in the morning. We decided to come back once we picked up the rest of our group and had breakfast.

The view from the top of Cadillac Mountain was breathtaking. I didn’t want to leave, but after a few hours we ventured down into the town of Bar Harbor for lunch, ice cream and to catch a ride on one of the Island Explorer buses, which are free and a great way to see the park.

We specifically chose bus #2 so that we could stop at Sand Beach. The water was translucent and pale blue. And freezing cold, which I discovered when a wave rushed over my tennis shoes while I was taking pictures.

Before leaving Acadia National Park, we visited Bass Harbor Head Light. The quaint lighthouse was perched on a cliff and could also be view from below by descending two flights of wooden stairs.

As we headed to Portland for the night, we stopped at the LL Bean flagship store in Freeport. I would’ve loved to spent more time there picking up cold weather essentials. I picked up a pair of the original duck boots.

The next morning we started to make our way back home, but wanted to see a few lighthouses in Maine first since it was National Lighthouse Day.

Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse was nearby and not too far out of the way. The view was a bit obscured and it was inaccessible, but the rocky beach was fun to explore.

While Mom and Dad were in the gift shop they were given a map to another lighthouse, Portland Head Light.  This one was by far the most picturesque of the three we had seen and our last stop before leaving Maine. It was a perfect way to wrap up our memorable and scenic trip.

Relaxing in the Poconos

When a dear friend invited me to spend the weekend at their cabin in the Pocono Mountains, I didn’t hesitate to accept. While I spent a few days in the Adirondacks last summer, this would be a far different experience. I wasn’t staying in a hotel across the street from a Dunkin Donuts. I was going to be staying in a cabin that wasn’t near some well-known franchise. I was going camping. In the mountains.

Can’t say I’m a big fan of camping. The only time I’ve slept in a tent, roughing it, was when I was 18 and in Mexico on a mission trip with my church. It was an eye-opening experience that was fulfilling and heartwarming, but it was also a long, hot and sweaty two weeks.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t going to let my past hangups deter me from what sounded like a welcome respite from my busy workweek. No traffic. No schedule. No deadlines. A time to slow down, which I just don’t do that often.

After getting off of work Friday night, I loaded up my Pomeranian, Lina into my SUV and we hit the road. She was dressed appropriately in her adorable “Happy Camper” dress.

An hour into our drive, we stopped in Buttzville at the infamous Hot Dog Johnny’s that my friend recommended we stop at on the way. Unfortunately, they only accepted cash, so we took a selfie and left. I’ll have to revisit the place sometime and sip on birch beer served in a frosted mug while I feast on a hot dog.

I was a little disappointed that we didn’t arrive until after dark since I was eager to soak it all in. But I was thrilled to stay up and visit with my friends for a bit before turning in for the night.

Best night of sleep I’ve had in a long time. I fell asleep within minutes. That never happens.

I woke up refreshed and ready for a 9am plyojam workout with my friend. But I did take a few minutes to appreciate the gorgeous view from the deck before heading out. The thin trees were like nature’s version of a filter overlaying the view of the lake.

We walked the trail along the lake to get to the fitness center. It was scenic and peaceful. Unlike our workout. I had no idea what plyojam was. Found out quickly. It was a cross between zumba and weighted exercises that made me think of the bootcamp I used to go to. But it was an abridged version with short reps of a set of exercises that cycled through a song until we moved on to the next set.

Afterwards we sat on the balcony, gazing over the water and drank the green juice that my friend and her husband blend and drink on a daily basis. Needless to say I was ready for a nap after that workout! But that would have to wait.

Lina and I took a long walk along the lake enjoying the scenery. She was just as happy as I was to have a new place to leisurely explore.

Later on we sat on the dock enjoying homemade margaritas while we waited for the rain to move in. It may have been the margaritas and Shiner Bock beer that prompted us to sit underneath the umbrella during the rainstorm, but it was well worth it. Once the storm began to pass, a vibrant rainbow appeared on the other side of the lake, with a second, more faint one framing it. It was breathtaking.

Sunday was even more low-key, with more time spent on the dock with an excursion out on the boat for a few hours. Such a quiet and tranquil place to drop the anchor, hang out, soak up the sun and play cards.

It was the most relaxing weekend I’ve had in quite some time.  I have to say, I totally fell in love with the mountains, which is something I never thought I’d say.  There’s a peace and serenity there I have never felt before.
Pure bliss y’all. ❤️

Celebrating in NYC

When my friend Maria let it slip that she was talking to her daughters about going to New York with me for my birthday, I was touched and beside myself with excitement. Since moving to Jersey I had been wanting to go to the city. After not making it there to celebrate Christmas, I resolved to spend my birthday there even if I had to do it alone.
My initial plans were to ride the train and sightsee, but those plans changed when my friend joined the celebratory adventure, which also included another one of my good friends, Paula. I met both of these women in the writing group that meets at the Hamilton Library and they’ve become near and dear to my heart.

Once again I was unsure of what to wear. I’m still adjusting to dressing for East Coast weather. I’ve learned that layering is the best option.  How many layers do I wear so that my insides don’t shake without feeling like I’m in a personal sauna once the day starts to warm up?

Once I settled on four light layers on top and two layers on bottom, I left the house before sunrise. Once I met up with my friends, which also included Maria’s daughter Diana, we headed to the train station in Hamilton.

While I’ve ridden trains in Europe, I had never travelled on one domestically, so I was excited that we were taking the train. I even started jumping up and down like I do when I get excited about seeing or doing something new. Can’t help myself. Much to my delight, Maria told me that her birthday gift to me was that I could jump up and down as much as I wanted and she wouldn’t get embarrassed.
Best gift ever!

Our first destination after arriving at Penn Station was the TKTS booth in Times Square to purchase discounted tickets for a Broadway show. I had hoped to see my all-time favorite musical “Phantom of the Opera,” but I was the only one that wanted to see it, so I decided to save that for another time. We narrowed it down to the top three that we could all decide on and from that list I chose “Kinky Boots.”

Being in Times Square, we (I) had to take some pictures before we ventured out into the city. After snapping a few photos, we stopped at Starbucks to get a quick caffeine boost.

Maria picked out a coffee cup with NYC skyline on it for my birthday while we waited in line. It was the longest line I’ve ever stood in at a Starbucks, but it was in Times Square.

Once we ordered I realized I no longer had my debit card, so Paula graciously bought both of our green tea lattes.

I searched through my bag and pockets to no avail. I jokingly told Diana that maybe we should have gotten tickets for “The Play That Goes Wrong” instead since it seemed things were already going wrong. After a quick laugh, I cancelled the card and we returned to Starbucks.

I realized it was going to be too noisy to Facetime with my sister and nephews, so we ducked into the M&M store. My nephews were far more impressed with the massive amount of M&M’s that they could choose from than they were of the view of the city that I showed them from the second floor.

With an hour and half before needing to be at the show, Maria, Paula and I jumped into a cab so we could go see the 9/11 Memorial site and the “Fearless Girl” statue. It was the perfect place to Facetime my parents and nieces.

I didn’t see the 9/11 Memorial Site, “Reflecting Absence” the last time I had been in NYC for my 39th birthday with my sister. It was absolutely surreal. Water continuously flowed into what seemed like an abyss. It was evocative of senseless and endless loss and grief. We paid our respects and headed to see “Fearless Girl.”

Along the way we stumbled upon a studio full of sculptures! It was the Carole Feuerman Sculpture Studio. Such a pleasant surprise since we weren’t going to have to go to a museum. Her work was centered around swimmers in various poses. Some of it was in the form of larger than life sculptures, while other pieces were pop artesque images. Needless to say, I loved it!

After our detour to appreciate art, we found the “Fearless Girl” statue and “Charging Bull”. There was quite a crowd there posing and taking photos. We jumped in and did the same.

Our ride back to Times Square via taxi was far more scenic. Even saw the Brooklyn Bridge as we rushed back to see “Kinky Boots.”

I was so excited to be seeing my first Broadway show AND on my birthday! While it wasn’t my first choice, I loved it! We laughed harder than I’ve laughed in a long time and teared up at some poignant moments. It was funny, but touched the heart in an unexpected way. And the boots were absolutely fabulous!

As the day was winding down, we still needed to eat. Of course I was craving Mexican food like I always am. We found one place in Hell’s Kitchen, but it wasn’t open yet. While we waited, we stopped at Mickey Spillane’s to get a margarita and snacked on chips and guacamole.

It was worth the wait to get into Ponche Taqueria. We all ordered something different. I had their chicken enchiladas with tomatillo sauce with the Coronas that Paula and I were sharing.

The last destination I had planned for the day was to go to Serendipity to have cheesecake like my sister and I had done during our trip. Given the time and delays on the subway, we decided we should hop back on the train to Hamilton.

What a day y’all! I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate my birthday than to spend the day in NYC with my friends!



Running Philadelphia: Back on My Feet 5-Miler

The Stroehmann Back on My Feet 5-Miler fell on the same day as the Bearathon in Waco, which is the half marathon I have ran for the past two years. I was a little disappointed to not be running it again this year. The race, known as the “Toughest Half in Texas,” raises money for student scholarships, which is a great cause to run for especially for alumni.
This BoMF 5-Miler raises money for a great cause as well. I had read about BoMF a few years ago when I started running. The basic premise for this non-profit is to utilize running to help transform the lives of people who are homeless. It all starts with running and then they progress to getting jobs, homes and a new life.

I can certainly relate to the transformative power of running and fitness, which, as I’ve written in my first blog post, has been instrumental in my own recovery. I was thrilled to get the opportunity to give back in a small way to the local chapter. My friend Maria’s daughter is the Executive Director, so she is very supportive and encourages others, such as myself, to be as well.

After attending the annual fundraising event Back on My Feet Bash with Maria in October, I signed up for the 5-Miler.

As I usually do on race days, I woke up at 4:30am to have a small amount of caffeine and start my race day ritual. I’m not a morning person. I don’t even like running or practicing yoga in the mornings. I’m pretty sure these races are scheduled so early so participants aren’t thinking. They’re just running. I don’t start really thinking clearly until after the first mile or so, which is about the same time my body has really warmed up.

Despite the early hour, I was filled with excitement and anxiety before the race.  I was excited to be running in a new city, but felt anxious not knowing what to wear. I didn’t want to get too hot while running, yet I didn’t want to be so cold that I had a hard time functioning before I warmed up. I decided at the last minute to go with three layers instead of two once I stepped out of the car and felt how cold it was.

Most of the time when I run a race, I have two goals: 1) finish and 2) don’t be last. I run for the sake of running, which for me includes intervals of walking when it’s longer than a 5K. But after two years of running races, I decided that I wanted to push myself harder, which meant running the entire race and pick up my pace.

I really had to dig deep to get through the last mile. My legs and feet were worn out from running so hard. I kept repeating to myself “finish strong” like my baby sister told me to when I first started running. I was thrilled and relieved to see the finish line!

Running the streets of Philadelphia was interesting and felt like I was getting short tour of the historical city on foot. My favorite part of the route being the start/finish line was within view of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I love that place inside and out!

Once I had a banana and water and rested for a few minutes, I made my way over to run the Rocky Steps that lead up to the museum since I was so close. Thought that would be a perfect place to take a post-race photo!

After running up the steps, which left me a little out of breath and even more fatigued, I gazed out to enjoy the view of the city and take a picture.

Just as I finished taking another picture, my phone rang. It was my Maria.
“Denita, where are you? Your name is being called out right now! You got third place in your age group! Come get your medal!”

“What? Okay. I’ll be there in a minute!”

Getting a medal is not something I even remotely expected. So I ran down the steps and crossed a few roads faster than I ran the race to get to the award ceremony and picked up my medal.

It was awesome getting a medal, espcially since this was my first time to run in Philly! I proudly wore it to The Bishop’s Collar, where we ate and I had my usual post-race mimosas! By this point my runner’s high had worn off and I was ready to crash.

At one point Maria looked at me and said, “I know that this is probably like asking a a mother who just gave birth if she wants to have another child, but do you think you think you’ll run it again next year?”


To learn more about this organization that gives back so much to the community and to donate go to https://philadelphia.backonmyfeet.org/baltimore-donate-now

Exploring Philadelphia: Love at First Sight

My first glimpse of Philadelphia was from an airplane as I flew into the airport this past April. Flying in to spend the weekend in Jersey. I was in awe of the massive sports complexes clustered together, the skyline, the naval shipyard… It was all pretty much a blur since I was seeing it so late at night and while in a moving vehicle. An unfamiliar place with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells.

Unfortunately that weekend didn’t include any excursions to Philly, except for returning to the airport.  Little did I know then, Philadelphia would become a destination I would explore repeatedly and seemingly on a regular basis. While Philly is entrenched in American history, I’m also irresistibly drawn to its artistic side.

My 1st day excursion into Philly was a spur of the moment trip this summer. I had three objectives: see the Liberty Bell, the LOVE sculpture and eat a Philly Cheesesteak. Seeing the Liberty Bell was something I wanted to do for historical purposes and on a lighter, playful note, because Barney and Ted made a trip to lick the Liberty Bell in “How I Met Your Mother”, which is a series I loved watching.
And the LOVE sculpture, aside from being an iconic artistic piece for the City of Brotherly Love, it’s a piece that my baby sister and I have admired for years. During our trip to NYC for my 39th birthday, one of our stops was to see and pose with the LOVE sculpture there.
Of course there does not need to be a compelling reason for eating a Philly Cheesesteak. Tasting local food is all part of the experience.
Needless to say I didn’t accomplish anything that day other than what I considered a tourist hit and run. I had completely forgotten the DNC was being held in Philadelphia. Traffic and parking were more than I wanted to contend with. My exploration would have to wait for another day, which I would plan in advance. I settled for appreciating the city once again from a moving vehicle.
When I returned to Philly, I visited the Philadelphia Museum of Art, since admission was free on Sunday (and every first Sunday of the month). I spent most of afternoon there soaking in all of the art. It was such a thrill to find pieces by my favorite artists like Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh that I’d never seen in person before. It’s such a visceral experience that permeates my soul and floods my being with an inexplicable joy when I see certain pieces of art.

I felt intoxicated from the art when I finally stumbled outdoors. The cherry on the top of my artistic experience at the museum was seeing the AMOR sculpture by Robert Indiana outside in front of the fountain. While it wasn’t his LOVE sculpture, I was still smitten.

Running the Rocky Steps at the entrance was more than a rite of passage and another thing to cross off of my bucket list. It helped reorient me back to reality considering the physical exertion involved in running what seemed like a never-ending supply of concrete steps. Midway through I started thinking that it was not nearly as fun as I thought it was going to be to run the steps. I did not feel empowered or accomplished, that is, until I completed the last step. Then, I did throw my arms up in the air. I had to.

After devouring a Balboa burger I purchased from the food truck at the top of the steps, I made my way to the Rodin Museum. Even before I stepped foot on the grounds, I was anticipating what it would be like to see the replicas of the sculptures that I had read about so many years ago and continued to appreciate over the years. “The Kiss” and the “The Thinker” were foremost on my mind. I’m in awe of how much emotion can be captured and evoked by a single work of art, much less a large body of work. The collection was breathtaking. Everything I expected and more.

Since that first trip this summer, I’ve made several trips back at least once a month. The list of sights to see and experiences continues to grow every time I’m there. I finally made it to Love Park and posed with the LOVE sculpture. Twice. Once this summer and then again during Christmas.

I’ve also tasted my first Philly cheesesteak from one of the most famous vendors, Pat’s King of Steaks.  Although it seemed like a no-brainer that a cheesesteak would come with cheese, that is not the case.  When ordering, you have to specify “wit wiz” or “wiz witout,” which threw me for a loop at first.  Wouldn’t that just make it a steak sandwich without the cheese?  So I waited in the typically long line and ordered my sandwich and fries “wiz wit, along with a birch beer.

According to locals I still need to try the cheesesteak from the rival across the street, Geno’s Steaks, so that I can make a fully informed decision about who makes the best one.  As far I’m concerned, anything “wiz wit” is going to be good!

It was also during Christmas when I had the opportunity to see the Liberty Bell, which I did not try to lick. But I did think about it. I wanted to taste freedom like Barney did. Because it would be. Wait for it. Legendary y’all!