Lesson 1: Seek Adventures, Always

Successfully calm and energized 💚 Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas 2021

As someone who often needs to find their calm in the chaos of life, I’ve learned to get creative. When I need to regain focus, I can’t walk into a mall– where arms heavy with bags will bump into me, or Target– where buggies will box me in, or a crowded park– where kids are climbing and screaming and consider it relaxing. I need something more “outside the box” to sooth my nerves when they get frayed. And, I must do this without denting the bank too much.

Between teens at work, with their fists flying into each other’s jaw lines, their sassy attitudes, and their lawnmower parents, and my own children at home, who are expecting some perfectly prepared Bento Box lunch adorned with heart shaped sandwiches and little sticks of celery, I often find myself seeking some random adventure in order to escape and find myself for a bit.

Unfortunately, no matter how badly I want it, it can’t always be a grand, big adventure. Yes, sometimes, my adventures consist of traveling across the country, tugging the family along for day activities, then exploring on my own in the wee hours of the morning before the sun has pried apart the eyes of my loved ones. Others, the adventure consists of a few hours, stolen on a Sunday morning, while the house is still groggy from Saturday night’s sleep and little feet are barely hitting the hardwood floors with their owners seeking breakfast. While the first is my favorite, I’ve learned to appreciate the importance and beauty of the small adventure.

No matter how big or small, somewhere along the way on these wonderful adventures, I learned, I love snapping photos on my phone of beautiful places, so they can continue to transport me into an amazingly magical place long after I’ve stepped away from the beauty.

I love capturing these moments in time so much, I have taken to hanging these photos, so they adorn my walls. Some are stretched across wood on canvas, others stuck to boards by CVS employees. Most are arranged on a wall to form a collage in my hall. I have a large sea turtle with its heads not yet breaking the surface of the cobalt blue salt waters of the Caribbean. I have pictures of a bridge, thick and heavy with ivy, in Ireland as water rushes below, as the white caps of the rushing water hugs and whooshes around the rocks on its descent down the slight incline.

Sea turtle in the Caribbean of St. John 2021

My greatest photo, however, is a canvas print of the “Ristorante Italiano” hung prominently in my living room. It’s beauty, frozen in time, the rose vine climbing and guarding the front door to the little restaurant. The sign, with the “r” in Ristorante slightly askew-with all letters painted a warm gold, creates a scene straight out of some beloved romantic comedy. The mahogany tables, with their matching wicker chairs pushed in neatly, surround the outside of the building along the sidewalk. Between the table and the red brick hangs and climbs greenery from all directions and angles to give the patron the illusion they’ve stepped across the Atlantic and into a genuine, Italian ristorante. I snapped the photo while perusing the streets of Little Italy, a small suburb of New York City, this past summer on one of my independent adventures. I had woken up hours before everyone else to take the subway to Soho, Little Italy, and Chinatown the last morning we were there. It was worth every moment! I relish in that memory of independence and leisure.

Ristorante Italiano, Little Italy, NYC 2021

But, alas, not all adventures can consist of such magical, far-off places. Therefore, I’ve begun exploring my own city. Surely, with thousands flocking to my city each year for vacation, there is beauty here I’ve overlooked, taken for granted, and become accustomed to without knowing it.

Recently, I realized I had been feeling suffocated by the needs of everyone around me— students with trouble home lives, my own children arguing over who was listening to whose conversation and who touched what, even the dog with the incessant squeaking of the rubber chicken that screams each and every time its touched. When I realized the dog toy was getting to me that badly, I knew the discontent had begun setting in. I was noticing it more and more as it clawed up my spine and settled into my shoulders with a weight that evoked tension and tight muscles. I needed to shake it off. The best way to do so, for me, is to explore!

I took to Instagram. One by one, I typed “#fortworth #fortworthtravel #fortworthphotographer #fortworthphoto #sundancesquare #sundancesquarefortworth in the search bar at the top of the page. Success! I found magical places amidst the concrete jungle closest to home, and suddenly, I had a plan. Okay, honestly, I had no plan. I had as much of a plan as I usually do during these crazy moments of mine. I knew the general vicinity of where I was headed, and that was about it. That’s the extent of my planning when it comes to these adventures. Decide, get to someplace in the general area, then explore!

I woke up at my usual weekday time; my eyes are normally open at that time anyways no matter what day of the week it is. It just meant I wouldn’t waste 2 hours scrolling Facebook. Instead, I got dressed, not to impress but to “feel fancy,” as I like to put it. It’s not about how others perceive me. It’s more about how I feel, and I wanted to feel cute, so I made it happen for no one other than myself! I set out in basic, white-girl fashion, with a mobile order to Starbucks, complete with peppermint syrup in my English Breakfast tea and a chocolate croissant. This is not something I do regularly. I’m too (literally) basic for this to be a regular thing. Once my order was placed, I was I kissed the heads of each of my loved ones and set out for my solo adventure.

After a quick stop to grab my Starbucks, I headed to Sundance Square, right in the middle of downtown Fort Worth, to find my calm. It was a brisk, 58 degrees F. The autumn air wasn’t cold, but it was crisp. It was slightly damp from a rain the night before. The sun was rising but wasn’t yet blazing. It was gorgeous.

I quickly found a place to park, despite the weekend parking being nil, and parallel parked. I set out with just my phone and my Holiday Starbucks cup, complete with the little green pick poking from the top. I crossed the little flat, square, concrete walkway that is synonymous with Sundance Square. If I were a month later, a ginormous Christmas tree would be standing regally right where I walked. Today, however, it was bare, flat, smooth. I walked, with purpose, towards Main Street, as I searched for the clock that stood on the corner in front of the jewelry store. It’s so photogenic, and when one hides behind the nearby flowers, it sets a beautiful shot for any amateur photographer. I grabbed some shots of the clock on the corner, but this was not my ultimate destination on today’s journey. I grabbed my drink from where I had sat it down moments before and made a right, past the little Cajun restaurant on the opposing corner from the clock.

Just past the last window featuring fried gator, I found the little alley way I had seen on Insta. Making an immediate right, I walked through the brick archway. I was encased and surrounded by white—white balloons overhead and white concrete stretching from the ground up. The white concrete hugged the balloons in place before disappearing. Then, there it was. I was transported into a little sanctuary, hidden, and secluded from the hustle and bustle and traffic merely a yard away.

Here, the white, concrete walls and opaque balloons turned to red brick. The balloons overhead opened to a canopy of trees with rays of sunlight peeking through. In front of me was a strip of cobblestone lined with plants, potted, some with big leaves shaggy and lazy, others with vines overflowing and cascading to kiss the ground, many with vines wrapped around sticks which were hired to train the vines to defy gravity, while more still held little bushed which demanded their leaves stand strong and at attention like little soldiers.

To my right, a little sitting area was hidden behind a large tree trunk and concrete pillars. Encircling the trunk of the tree nearest to me was an army of plants in little plastic containers as though they had recently been plucked from their parent plant and transplanted to grow on their own.

I ventured a few steps farther, ready to take pictures of where I stood. I remember thinking how beautiful it would be for a shot. However, as I stepped in a little farther, I was quickly surprised and easily sidetracked by the quaint, autumn set up one of the nearby shop owners created. Fall themed, pumpkins everywhere, hay styled just perfectly into a bench, it was all asking for me to photograph it. I couldn’t help but oblige the call of the scene. It was magnificent. The tree being guarded by little green minions was quickly forgotten.

I propped up my phone on its little ring, which is stuck to its back. I pulled up my camera app on my Apple watch, and I began conducting my own little, silly, fun, adventurous photoshoot. I know, so silly for an almost 40-year-old woman to do such a thing, but it’s fun and simple and easy and creative. It’s relaxing. It’s one of my adventures.

I love the freedom in it. The freedom to look less studious and create wild poses and funny faces with no one there to judge me. No child is nearby insisting I’m embarrassing them. Occasionally, an older person with a small dog on a leash, or a young couple out for an early morning jog would stroll into my private oasis, but their interruption was short-lived. Once I felt I had enough shots on the little autumn refuge, I grabbed my phone and coat and moved to the next spot.

Everywhere I turned was a “next spot.” Amazing shots were in each direction I turned. I could face one direction and be greeted by the beauty of autumn oranges and reds only to do an about-face and be confronted with a vibrant green back drop where the leaves and limbs were climbing walls as they escape their small, terracotta pots. I spent a long while in the tranquility found in the middle of downtown Fort Worth that day. This is a spot I never knew existed, and it was just minutes from my home. This was the calm I needed.

Sundance Square, Fort Worth, Texas–2021

I always knew I had to find a place to find a stillness. The peace, for me, isn’t found in the middle of my busy day in the classroom. It’s not found striving and thriving in the kitchen all day, every day. It’s not found in some great joy some parents get in creating those little Bento Boxes. Yes, I love my career, but it’s taxing and exhausting. Yes, I love to cook and bake, but that’s not my existence. Yes, those boxes get made to ensure my daughter, who has an autoimmune disorder, and my sons are eating healthy foods.

While I used to always look for a far-off adventure to find my respite from the day to day life, and I’d constantly seek the road trip, thinking that was the only way I’d find an escape, I’ve since learned, the serenity I often crave is just as much close to home and as cheap as the gas it takes to drive 15 minutes down the road. This calm cost me $7.04; it could have been free if I’d chosen to forgo the Starbucks treat.

I’m enough of an introvert that I must have time away, but I’m also enough of an extrovert that I still want to be around my people. It’s a balancing act I walk daily. This was a beautiful balance of the two. I was able to get away from all the stress and responsibility for a few hours while still being able to come back home for hugs when I’d had my fill of the quiet to recharge. A busy mall or a crowded Target are not my ideas of calm. I get claustrophobic and anxious. Just the thought of a Walmart sends the claws climbing the muscles that encase my spine. This once, I found my “outside of the box” adventure in the middle of large, brick buildings, in the middle of a concrete jungle.

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