To Ride or Die in Milwaukee.

When I was little, all I wanted to do was be a skater kid with the big boys. Of course, I only had a little sister so access to a board was pretty limited and I was blowing most of my allowances on Pokémon cards. Nevertheless I continued to wear primarily skater skirts throughout middle school and longed for a lifestyle that would never be mine... minus the bloody knees, I still got plenty of those. Flash-forward to present day, you're down a couple of beers after work and your friend asks you if you wanna go skateboarding in his garage? Uh duh. And obviously you bring your camera.

Riverwest Follies

Got a new update to the website thanks to the 2017 Riverwest Follies. I was asked by one of the co-producers, and dear friend, Shelly Schauer, if I could lend my photographic talents to this year's event and I was only too happy to oblige.

I had never attended the Follies previously so I didn't really know what to expect, but I was pleasantly surprised to see neighbors of all ages filing in to enjoy the performances at the Polish Falcon that night. The acts were just as diverse as the crowd, from songwriters to comics to belly dancers. It was a great turnout with a record number of acts, and a write-up in the neighborhood paper, the Riverwest Currents, so I think it's safe to say the 2017 Follies pretty much nailed it. And I've got the pictures to prove it.

I've updated the LIFE section off my homepage with an appropriately titled "Riverwest Follies" section that you should check out the second you're done reading this but for now, here's a little teaser of what you may find...

Thursday Night Throwdown

We may not be as well know as Seattle, but Milwaukee definitely knows a thing or two when it comes to coffee, or at least has enough coffee snobs living in it to support all our local roasters and cafes. I've been working in the coffee industry for almost six years now, and personally, I feel like I have just scratched the surface of this crazy micro-culture. However, there is one time-honored tradition that I have had the pleasure of taking part in, and that is the art of the barista "throwdown."

For anyone who is unaware, a throwdown is a friendly competition where two baristas battle it out for the most impressive latte art. The two designs are poured and presented to the judges who vote for the best cup, typically defined by visual aesthetics, degree of difficulty, color infusion, and definition. The competition is whittled down to the final two (March Madness style), leaving the winner who gets the pot, i.e. the $5 entry fee charged for each competing barista.

Needless to say, the night was a roaring success with laughter abound and PBR cans littering the counters and the La Marzocco, in true Milwaukee style. Suck on that Seattle.

Poem on the Underground Wall

I hear it every time I go back. "Why are you going to Oklahoma City?" I get it. One, I live in Milwaukee so everyone naturally assumes my family lives in at least the same state as me (False) and second,  Oklahoma seems the least-likely place for a creative, culturally sensitive person to go for a visit (True, but also false). So at least once a year, I find myself back in the city recently named "the manliest city in America," to visit some of the most kind, loving, and welcoming individuals I know: the Belanger family. (And I know, I know; Most people can, and will, say this about their loved ones, but seriously, these Oklahoma cajuns are the best.)

But I digress. Just wanted to set the scene for why a girl from Milwaukee would find herself in OKC and actually be excited about it. One big reason being the amazing street art. Again, shocking I know, but ever since the Thunder started kicking-ass in basketball back in 2009, a new life was blown into the city, full of carefully curated dining experiences, gallery boutiques, and colorful artists ready to make their mark. One of the best places to find the aforementioned would be the 16th Street Plaza District. This area has exploded with galleries, studios, and restaurants in the past few years and one of the best additions by far has been the Plaza Walls Project.

The Plaza Walls Project was launched in 2015 by Dylan Bradway (swoon) and Kristopher Kanaly, who still co-curate the walls with approval by the Oklahoma City Arts Commission and Urban Design Commission. Like the staircases at Hogwarts, these alley walls are constantly changing and every visit brings to light a new visual style to envy. On this trip, my sister Margo fell in love with the work by Vietnamese-American artist Denise Duong, particularly her little parachute girl (and how she sneakily hid her bull terrier's likeness into a few of her scenes). One of my personal favorites was a triptych-styled wall featuring three native animals struggling in their oil-soaked skins to be free, surrounded by weaving water and colorful lines. Yatika Fields, the artist responsible, is a Native American artist of the Cherokee and Osage Tribe and speaks beautifully with his paints regarding important social issues plaguing our country, such as the Dakota Access Pipeline.

So how'd I do? Change any minds about the lack of culture in the dreaded Bible Belt? I know it's no Portland, Oregon but I still have mad love, and respect, for OKC. It takes a lot for a city to come back from the worst terrorist attack pre-9/11 but I think that they are doing a pretty stand-up job. And extra pat-on-the-back for the Plaza Walls Project, am I right? There are so many talented artists, from so many diverse backgrounds, it's hard to imagine how they all ended up here, but I think Oklahoma is definitely the better for it. Just straight up crushin' it (no big deal).

Louisiana Love

There's nothing like a trip back to your roots to make you feel whole again. And that's exactly what I needed going into this past fall. I had just gotten the news that I had fallen short yet again, and did not land the job I thought was basically in-the-bag. Melancholy ensued, self-doubt reigned, and the couch became my second home. After a week I even rearranged all the furniture in my house, taking comfort in the household objects I did exert control over. My one ray of light at the end of the dark tunnel that was my mind, was a trip to New Orleans my friends from high school had organized. About a year and a half ago my friend Linnea got married and we all headed down to Nashville for the bachelorette party. Needless to say, we all probably had too much fun on that trip because now we're addicted to doing one every year. Insert, NOLA 2016.

Surprisingly, none of the girls had ever been to New Orleans, let alone Louisiana, so although I was born in Lafayette, I felt a certain sense of pride showing off my cajun upbringing. All we could talk about on the cab ride from the airport was the food we were going to consume: seafood gumbo, fried okra, catfish po'boys, oysters on the half shell... ironically we did not consume any of said delicacies that first night and just got drunk instead, too happy to be in one another's company after being separated by so many miles. The laughs were plentiful, the vodka-tonics overflowed, and the hangover the next day was merciless.

Seriously though. One of the worst hangovers ever. Our first full day in the Big Easy and I could barely walk (this was due not only to my constant need to stop and hurl but also because I awoke to a bruised and swollen left foot and had to slowly limp everywhere, the pain was so bad; I'm told I tripped through the front door last night and went flying into the couch. Typical). Anyways, the gang picked out an adorable garden breakfast spot to refuel and I made mental maps of where all the toilets were located. It was an entertaining brunch to be sure, and I'm pretty sure everyone in the restaurant thought I had irritable bowl syndrome.

We spent the next few hours wandering around the streets of the Quarter, popping into a few shops here and there, until finally I felt like I had overcome the last hurdle of my hangover. So obviously alcohol was the next stop, just in time for happy hour. I know, I know, I'm a glutton for punishment. But hey, when in NOLA...

The rest of the day and night was a blur of gumbo, jazz, and dranks-on-dranks-on-dranks. Leave it to Linnea, Emilie, and Laura to find the only country western bar in the French Quarter where we dropped at least two full drinks on the floor, and met the best shot-girl in the business. Eventually we found our way back home and slept like babies, eager for the next day of adventures.

And adventures we had, or at least culinary adventures. Breakfast was amazing, dinner was beyond words (seriously, never say no Jacques-Imo's), and finally we got the chance to get outside the Quarter and hang with some locals (I even met a Rottweiler named Big Freeda).

All good things must come to an end however and Sunday night we all re-packed our bags, hugged out our goodbyes, and headed to our separate destinations. One of my favorite things about my friends, besides our uncanny ability to have a good time wherever we go, is that no matter how many miles we put between us, how many months we pass with out seeing each other's faces, we can pick-up exactly where we left off so seamlessly it's like we never left. So here's to good friends, good times, and good ol' Louisiana. "Laissez les bons temps rouler."