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Writing Retreat #2: Montreal

by Jackie D on February 22, 2016

IMG_8111So, what exactly do you wear when it’s -15 degrees F outside? You wear this: three pairs of tights (one regular, then one pair of wool, then one pair of fleece-lined); a cat print dress; a pink sweater; a leather jacket; an insulated thermal jacket lining thing from UNIQLO; a scarf that covers most of your face; a hat; a coat; gloves; prayers.

Shockingly, I wasn’t too freezing. There were a couple of times when I couldn’t feel my fingers, but other than that, I was surprised to find that despite the fact that I spent a good 2-3 hours outside during the day, I wasn’t ever cold to the point of being absolutely miserable or scared for my life.

Of course, the purpose of this trip was to stay mostly indoors, anyway. It was my second so-called “writing retreat,” a little break from real life to get away from my daily responsibilities to work on a book I’ve started to write and hope to have finished by the end of the year.

12767583_10104211510056913_1049914312_nIMG_8136The train ride from New York to Montreal is 10 hours each way, and for me, that’s the perfect amount of time to be sequestered in a train car trying to get something done. A few people had a “Girl are you crazy?” reaction when I told them about this — probably because 10 hours is a long time, and because my commute to and from work during the week is quite the train trek in itself, so why on earth would I want to spend my limited free time riding the train even more?

Because I love the train. I am never so inspired or so relaxed as when I am sitting beside a train or car window. That forward-moving motion is one of the most comforting things in the world for me. And when I need to really crack down and make progress on something — a blog post, a personal project, a grocery list — it helps if I lock myself in a room or cafe or somewhere I’m forced to just forget everything else and focus on this one thing for a second, because I have a really short attention span (case in point: between the time I started typing that sentence and the time I ended it, I got up to refill my coffee, then checked the mail, then texted a few friends, then checked my Discover Weekly Spotify playlist, then one of the song titles reminded me of Canada and I was like “Oh right, I was writing a blog post about Canada a second ago.”)

IMG_8103IMG_812512769646_10104211509982063_352048375_nSo, this trip was mostly about the 20 hours I spent on the train, and not the 24 hours I spent in Montreal in between. Even so, I managed to fit a lot into those 24 hours and -15 degrees: I stopped by the absolutely gorgeous Palais de Congres just as the light was hitting the windows perfectly (it stopped about five minutes after I got there); I met up with my friend Marie-Eve (another friend from blogging/the Internet!) and she treated me to coffee and a cookie because she’s the best; I popped into the famous church where Celine Dion was married; I paid a visit to the absolutely fantastic and quirky Museum of Fine Arts (which is free for people ages 12-30!); I ate a delicious plate of poutine that my stomach only slightly regrets (and I waited in line outside for this poutine for 10 minutes, in -15 weather, so I think that means I am officially an honorary Canadian now, right?)

It was a fantastic weekend and I added 10,000 words to my writing project. I already have somewhere in mind for my next weekend writing retreat….hint: it will involve a train ride again, only this time I’ll be heading out from Paris instead of New York, and yes I am mentioning this right now solely for the purposes of bragging, don’t even try to act like you aren’t surprised and/or jealous.

(PS: if Montreal is part of your travel plans anytime soon, my friend Marie-Eve wrote a book about it! She even has a chapter dedicated to the most Instagrammable spots in Montreal, which should def be a required chapter in any guidebook ever)

Other writing retreats & Canada visits:
Writing Retreat at the Madonna Inn
Snapshots from a Business Trip to Canada

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Three Weeks in Los Angeles

by Jackie D on January 21, 2016

madonna innSo last week I came back from almost THREE weeks at home in Los Angeles. I was on vacation from December 22 through January 3 — a glorious 13 days of reading, writing, road trips, holidays, all of the food ever produced, donuts, old friends, good bars, tea with my grandma! –and then I worked from home from January 4 – 8. I think it’s the longest vacation I’ve taken from a job since…ever.

12546323_10104142429624653_723892049_o12562552_10104142429759383_387632681_o12557649_10104142429699503_274825285_oAs you can see from the photos, it was an insane two weeks full of a lot of different but equally fun things. There was Christmas, of course; high tea with my sister and Grandma at the Peninsula Hotel in Beverly Hills (this was our Christmas present to our grandma); a day trip to Salvation Mountain and then a day trip to Madonna Inn (each of these trips was three hours of driving each way); a morning at the newly revamped Peterson Auto Museum with my dad and sister, followed by an afternoon at Lacma to see Rain Room with an old friend; a trip out to Burbank to see my college friends for a night of bowling and then going to sleep early because we are old; a night of beer drinking and reminiscing about poor college choices with my two best guy friends from college; and the most marvelous event of all: the wedding of one of my best friends from childhood!

12562609_10104142429879143_1664288591_o12620826_10104142429814273_947747754_oI think I probably tried to fit in too much and ended up exhausting myself, because literally within 10 hours of landing back in New York, I came down with a really bad stomach flu and was out of work for two days. Jackie travels!

Now that I’m back, I’ve been meeting up with New York friends, catching up on a lot of work, reading The Bell Jar for the first time (obsessed), returning some very overdue library books, hanging up a shelf that is longer than I am tall, and planning my next getaways for 2016 (Mexico City, I’m coming for you).

Also, apparently a snow storm is supposed to hit tomorrow or something? I’m preparing by making all of the soup.

More adventures at home:
Zip Lining in Catalina (Or, “Just Step Aggressively Into Nothing”)

Snapshots of Other People’s Houses in Los Angeles

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Snapshots from Salvation Mountain

by Jackie D on January 13, 2016

salvation mountainSalvation Mountain was originally created by someone who worshipped God, but now it’s mostly visited by people who worship color. Social media – and especially Instagram – has been the sole reason that certain places have become popular in recent years, and Salvation Mountain has become popular because it’s basically an Instagram dream. I’m not sure how anyone even found out about it before Instagram existed because it’s out in the middle of nowhere in the southern California desert.

salvation mountainsalvation mountainA friend and I took a day trip from LA to visit one day – and if you want to take a day trip, you really need to commit, because it’s 3.5 hours driving each way. Despite the drive, it’s a doable day trip because once you get there, it doesn’t take long to see the whole thing. It’s a giant man-made hill painted in pretty much every color you’ve ever seen. There are painted “waterfalls” (blue and white stripes), a “yellow brick road,” (this is the only portion of the painted area that you’re supposed to walk on, do NOT walk on the waterfall or you will get yelled at), and then there are also painted crosses and bible verses scattered throughout.

Off to the side of the hill is a small cave-like structure that is collaged with photos of Salvation Mountain’s creator and notes that visitors have left for him (he died in 2014 but people are still leaving notes), and then off to the side of that there is a painted forest type of thing made of painted branches.

salvation mountainsalvation mountainsalvation mountainIt didn’t seem like anyone there was visiting for religious reasons. Everyone was there to take photos of this colorful place to probably post on Instagram later – which is why we were there, too.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person anymore – attending Catholic school and memorizing medieval paintings for art history classes has ensured that I’ve seen enough churches in both photos and real life to last a lifetime. So even though I tend to avoid things related to religion when I travel, I can appreciate when faith is expressed in a unique way that I haven’t seen before, and I definitely haven’t seen anything like Salvation Mountain before. So basically, my overall impression of it – don’t necessarily agree with the message, but I respect the approach. And I definitely respect the Instagrammability.

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