I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat and explored the ruins. | 38 things I've done in my life.

38 things I’ve done in my life.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m a list maker. I have my weekly to-do list full of tasks for my blogs and my personal life. I have my life list of all the things I want to do in my life. I have my 40 by 40 list of things I want to do before 40. I have my list of New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s just say I love making lists.

But, often, these lists I make are lists of things I want to do or plan to do or need to do. Rarely do I ever list out the things I have already done.

I think most people are probably guilty of doing the same. We don’t make have done lists. We don’t make have accomplished lists. We make lists of things for the future but rarely for things from the past.

So, in honor of my thirty-eighth birthday next weekend I decided to take a look back over my life and list out thirty-eight things I’ve done in my life. Things I’ve accomplished, things I’ve experienced, things I’ve lived through, and things I am proud to say that I have done in my life.

38 Things I’ve Done in My Life

I won a dance scholarship to jazz camp. | 38 things I've done in my life.

My in my former life as a dancer.

  1. I won a dance contest.

I grew up dancing. It was pretty much my pre-teen life. I was always in the studio, tights on, hair back in a ponytail or bun.

As a company member at my studio, we would go to these dance conventions sometimes. It would be these things where you’d spend the entire weekend holed up in a hotel in the suburbs taking classes in different disciplines and learning choreography. At some point during the weekend everyone would gather in one of the halls and learn the same three dances: ballet, jazz, and tap. We’d then perform in unison to compete for scholarships to come back to the next convention or, the biggest prize, a scholarship to come back for the longer jazz camp over the summer.

When I was in, maybe, seventh or eighth grade I competed at one of these conventions. The ballet and jazz routines were easy to pick up. But tap? I’d only ever taken a sporadic tap class or two in my life. Still, I put on a pair of tap shoes, threw on the biggest smile of my life, and faked my way through it. I ended up winning the big scholarship that year, so, while I have many fond memories of my dancing years, that was one of my biggest dance accomplishments.


I was an eighth grade track star. | 38 things I've done in my life.

I was an eighth grade track star.

  1. I was an undefeated high jumper.

Not to brag, but in eighth grade the gym teacher made me join the track team. I was a fast little sprinter so I competed in the 60-meter dash and anchored the relay (I was so fast, in fact, that there was only one other girl who ever beat me). But where I really excelled was jumping. I held the high jump record at my grade school and was undefeated in the event for the entire season. Alas, I hung up my running shoes when I hit high school, preferring the arts to sports, but for one season, I was a track star.


I won a Speech Team competition | 38 things I've done in my life.

Our high school speech team was small but mighty.

  1. I made it to speech team sectionals.

Our high school speech team was small but mighty. My specialty was Humorous Interpretation (HI) where you basically stand in one spot and perform as all the characters in a comedy scene. One year I did Words, Words, Words by David Ives and performed as three monkeys testing the infinite monkey theorem (that given an infinite amount of time, a infinite amount of monkeys would eventually write Hamlet). While I didn’t make it to State, I did make it pretty far. And considering we were competing against schools with massive teams, I’ll take it.


I starred in my high school play. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Starring as Cornelia Otis Skinner in my senior year play.

  1. I starred in my high school play.

My senior year of high school I landed the lead in our fall play playing Cornelia Otis Skinner in Our Hearts Were Young and Gay. I won’t fault you if you’ve never heard of it, our drama teacher had a flair for choosing not-so-popular titles. But I was onstage the entire show, had a stupid amount of lines to memorize, once had the curtain come up on my while I was only half dressed (luckily it was in a rehearsal), and I even got to kiss my crush on stage.


I graduated from high school. | 38 things I've done in my life.

I just remember my dad showing me this photo and saying, “we caught you looking back.”

  1. I graduated high school.

This year will be twenty years since I graduated high school. Twenty. Years. Two degrees later, I don’t often thinking of graduating high school as one of my biggest life accomplishments. But, considering, at the time, the national graduation average was 66.8%, it was a thing. Plus, graduating high school provided that stepping stone to be able to go on to get those two degrees, internships, and jobs.


I got my nose pierced. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Still wear a hoop, but something slightly smaller.

  1. I got my nose pierced.

I was a month shy of 21 when I got my nose pierced and, 17 years later, I still wear a hoop (albeit a smaller, daintier hoop). It may seem like a small thing but it was one of the first steps I took towards defining who I am, asserting some independence, and differentiating myself from my sisters. I can’t imagine my face without that piercing.


I was president of KCSA, a club in college. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Reigning queen of KCSA.

  1. I was elected president of KCSA.

KCSA is the Krannert Center Student Association. We managed all of the ushering and tours and produced festivals and events at the performing arts center at UofI. My sophomore and junior year I served as a marketing director and my senior year I was elected president and presided over the entire organization. I made some of my best friends both directly and indirectly through KCSA and my volunteer position helped me get a marketing job at Lyric Opera (my first boss there has previously worked at Krannert).


  1. I got a writing teacher to devote two classes to me.

My last year of college I took a couple of writing classes. One of our assignments was to turn in a 15 page short story. I turned in a 72 page story. The teacher laughed as he turned to what happened to be a rather scandalous paragraph and read it out loud. The next time I saw him he apologized, told me my story was important, compared me to Salinger (that I laugh at now because rereading that “novel” today, it was horrendous), and then devoted two entire class periods to reading and critiquing my work (most of the class got half a period at most).

I may not actually be a Salinger, but that class, that teacher, did give me confidence to know that I do have important things to say, helped inspire me to continue my education in writing, and is probably why I’m writing this blog right now.


I designed my first HTML website in a college class. | 38 things I've done in my life.

I designed the first version of this website in a college class.

  1. I learned HTML.

I spent about four years of college having no idea what I wanted to do with my life. But, my senior year, with plenty of extra room for electives, I started figuring it all out. That year, I took a couple of classes that changed my life. One was that writing class. Another was a class in web design. The web design class was in the writing department and, it being 2003, focused mostly on tables and frames (two syntaxes rarely used today). But I was really good at the class. Really good. HTML and CSS and those tables and frames came naturally to me. And that class sparked my passion and life-long learning in all things digital, andgave me the knowledge I needed to help me get a job as a web editor.


I graduated from college | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me and my dad at my college graduation.

  1. I graduated college.

I graduated college in 2003 with a liberal arts degree in Speech Communication. In those four years I made many amazing friends, I acted in two plays, I inline skated countless midnights, I found new passions in writing and web design, I ushered a bazillion shows, I interned at Steppenwolf and Chicago Opera Theater, I dyed my hair (and dorm room sinks) a bazillion colors, I got my heart broken, I fell in love, I puked on a table at a bar, I ate a lot of Pokey Sticks, I lived on my own for the first time, I worked as a security guard, I learned how to swing dance, and, I guess, took some Speech Com classes along the way.


Self portrait in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France

At the top of the Eiffel Tower the first time I traveled abroad.

  1. I got a passport and backpacked Europe with friends.

I didn’t get my first passport until I was 25. I had never actually really thought much about traveling before then but then, in 2005, two things made me consider it. One, I took a travel writing class in grad school and, while everyone else was writing about trekking through Mongolia or taking a train ride through Paris, I was writing about taking a bus to Milwaukee or a gondola ride in Vegas. And, two, my ex boyfriend told me I didn’t have a life.

My friend Joe was planning a three-week trip backpacking trip around Europe the next summer and was asking around if anyone wanted to join. With both of those moments fresh in my head, I jumped, applied for a passport, and bought my plane ticket. Over three weeks in the summer of 2006 I visited Munich, Interlaken, Venice, Florence, Rome, Vienna, Prague, and Paris. I saw a real life castle, road a real gondola in Italy, ate all the gelato, walked inside the Coliseum, made a wish at the Trevi Fountain, rode a paternoster, made out with a random Canadian in the grass outside of a museum (and in the hostel shower…), and went to the top of the Eiffel Tower.

It was the best three weeks I’d ever spent.

It was on that trip that I first heart of people taking long-term ’round the world trips and I thought to myself, “I could never do that.”


Always Written, Someday Read - Val by Kurt Halsey

Always Written, Someday Read – my portrait by Kurt Halsey.

  1. I was drawn by my favorite artist.

In the early to mid two thousands I was obsessed with Kurt Halsey, an artist who mostly drew cute cartoonish girls with no noses often accompanied by little emo phrases like “we are more than most will ever find” and “there are far worse things to regret”. I went to his shows when he came to Chicago and bought approximately all of his art prints (I still have quite a few of them around my apartment.)

He had a big following on LiveJournal (yes, LiveJournal) and I was active in the online community. One year, that online fan club held a contest to redesign the page. The prize: Kurt Halsey himself would draw the winner. Of course I entered. I assumed I had no chance of winning but with a prize like that I had to take a shot.

All of the submissions were voted on by members of the LiveJournal community and, well, I won.

Even though the artist has all but disappeared from the planet now, I still have that drawing hanging in my living room and it’s one of my most prized possessions.


  1. I got my master’s degree.

I’m not going to lie: most of the reason I went to grad school was because I couldn’t find a job out of college and needed to do something with my life. So I applied for the writing program at DePaul because they didn’t require a GRE or letters of recommendation. But I learned a lot in my four years of grad school (it took forever because I was only going part time). I took classes in editing and technical writing and magazine writing and fiction. I took classes in creative non-fiction where I learned that it was OK to write about myself and I didn’t have to hide behind thinly veiled caricatures of me. I took a class in travel writing and got myself a passport. It gave me something to put on my resume so I could eventually find a job, and another job.


Keukenhof flower garden in Lisse - see tulips in Amsterdam.

Me at Keukenhof flower garden amongst the tulips in Amsterdam.

  1. I traveled to Amsterdam by myself.

You know how I said that I could never take a ’round the world trip? A few years after my first trip to Europe I started to think, “well, maybe that’s something I could do…” To test out the waters and see how I’d do traveling abroad by myself, I booked a week-long trip to Amsterdam. It seemed like a “safe” place to travel alone because I knew there would be a lot of other young travelers. And I did meet some great people (most of whom I’ve met up with again in various places around the world) and I saw a lot tulips and I visited Anne Frank’s house and…I smoked pot for the first time…and I learned that, yes, I was capable of traveling on my own.


Takeru Kobayashi and Joey Chestnut face off at the 2008 Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest at Coney Island in New York.

Photo of the first time I photographed Joey Chestnut at the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in 2008.

Joey Chestnut wins the 2018 Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.Joey Chestnut wins the 2018 Nathan's Famous hot dog eating contest on the Fourth of July at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.

Photo from the latest time I photographed Joey Chestnut at the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in 2018. I measure how much my photography has improved using competitive eating photos. And the fact that I now photograph the contest from the comfort of the press box.

  1. I learned photography.

While I was in Amsterdam I met up with some other photographers and we went around shooting at the red light district and the main square. I loved taking photos and had a shiny new Rebel DSLR, but didn’t actually know how to take photos on any setting but auto. When I moved to an apartment that was a few blocks from a photography center, I signed up and started taking photography classes. I haven’t shot photos in auto since and over the years my photography has improved immensely. I’ve even shot a few weddings.


Welcome to Hyder, Alaska

Standing under the welcome sign in Hyder, Alaska.

  1. I drove to Hyder, Alaska.

I’ve taken a lot of road trips over the years, but none will ever top our road trip to Hyder, Alaska. Hyder is the only town in Alaska accessible through British Columbia and it’s about a 20 hour drive from Seattle to get there. And what is there to do in Hyder, Alaska? Not much. So, basically, we drove 20 hours to Hyder, spend a couple of hours in town (looking for bears and getting “Hyderized”), then turned around and drove 20 hours back, all just to say we did it.


Riding the jackalope at Wall Drug Store in South Dakota. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Riding the jackalope at Wall Drug in South Dakota..

  1. I’ve visited over 200 roadside attractions.

I’ve seen everything from the world’s largest catsup bottle to a dinosaur park to a field full of giant corn. I love big things and weird things and anything offbeat and I will travel anywhere to see them. Over the course of my life I’ve taken many road trips and have visited over 200 roadside attractions across the US and Canada.


My nephews and I at a hot dog eating contest qualifier. | 38 things I've done in my life.

My nephews and I at a hot dog eating contest qualifier.

  1. I became an aunt.

I’ve never really wanted kids of my own, but I love having everyone else’s kids in my life. Ten years ago I became an aunt and now my sister has two boys, and I have two nephews, who I love, even if I don’t get to see them very often (the perils of not having a car).


My bedroom after my house burned down. | 38 things I've done in my life.

My bedroom after my house burned down.

  1. I survived a lot of crap.

My house burned down my senior year of high school and I lost pretty much everything I ever owned. My dad died when I was 29 and I pretty much lost myself. I’ve had my heart broken on so many occasions and often by the same person. I have anxiety and depression that sometimes cripples me. And I’m still here. And I’m still fighting.


Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia


  1. I quit my job and traveled the world for three years.

In 2011 I quit my job and bought a one-way ticket to Berlin. My intention was to travel for maybe 6 months, maybe 9 months, maybe a year, but definitely no longer than a year. In all honesty, I didn’t think I was even going to make it past three months. Every day I was anxious. Every day I was scared. Every day I wondered, “what the hell did I get myself into?” And every day I cried.

About a month into my trip, though, things started to click. And, after four months in Europe, I left for Asia where I spent 11 months traveling around Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos, India, Bali, and The Philippines. I then traveled back home only to turn around to spend seven more months on the road in Central and South America, and another two in Ireland and England and Scotland. I then came home again for a bit, and then flew back for another four months in South America.

In all, I traveled around 30 countries and saw and did and experienced more than most people will in their entire lifetime. Those three years of my life were the best years of my life.


I survived La Tomatina!

I survived La Tomatina!

  1. I got in a tomato fight at La Tomatina.

Buñol, Spain’s La Tomatina is the world’s biggest food fight and was one of my biggest bucket list items. The giant tomato fight was a crazy event that involved trucks filled with tomatoes winding through the streets as we let loose throwing them at each other and playing in the puddles of red goop…and maybe also involved me making out with some random guy in the middle of it all…


  1. I rode in a hot air balloon over Cappadocia.

Turkey was one of my favorite countries to travel in and one of the best experiences I had there was taking a hot air balloon ride over the rock formations and fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. While one of my life list items was to take a hot air balloon ride, I never imagined I’d get the chance to take one over such a stunning landscape.


I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat and explored the ruins. | 38 things I've done in my life.

I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat and explored the ruins.

  1. I watched the sunrise at Angkor Wat.

Most travelers backpacking through Asia kind of get sick of visiting temples after a while. There are a lot of temples in Asia, OK? But, no matter how many you’ve visited, or how sick of them you think you are, you have to make room to see the temple complex of Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat spans over 162.6 hectares in Cambodia and is one of the largest religious monuments in the world. I spent three days exploring all of the famed temples but of the most memorable experiences was waking up ridiculously early to watch the sunrise over the main temple, illuminating the entire scene in glowing pinks and purples and blues.


Holi Color Festival. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Looking like a rainbow threw up on me at Holi Color Festival in Mathura, India.

  1. I got colorful at Holi Color Festival.

Holi is a Hindu spring festival also known as the “festival of colours” or the “festival of love.” Once a year, across India, people gather in the streets to smear each other with colorful pigments and throw rainbows of dust in the air and at each other. Everyone, cows and goats included, end up drenched in a multitude of hues.

I had a love/hate relationship with the festival, just as I had a love/hate relationship with India in itself. When it was good it was good. The colors, the camaraderie, the joy. But men, many men, also used the lax day as an excuse to grab my butt or boobs and try to get their hands anywhere on my that they could.

Still, it was an experience and a day I will never forget.


I visited the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me at the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

  1. I stood in front of the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal is the most recognized landmark in India. The white marble mausoleum was commissioned by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1632 to house the tomb of his “favorite wife,” Mumtaz Mahal. It’s a must see attraction in India and a site that graces the cover of many a postcard. And it was just as amazing to stand in front of it in person (even if we had to wake up dead early to get a first glance and even if, maybe, I enjoyed the nearby sex temples in Khajuraho a little bit more…)


Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Learning to surf in Kuta, Bali. | 38 things I’ve done in my life.

  1. I surfed in Bali.

OK so maybe it’s more like I fell off a surf board a million times in Bali. But I tried surfing in Bali. Growing up, I always wanted to be a surfer (I think it had to do with my affinity for California-girl Dawn in the Baby-Sitter’s Club) but, believe it or not, there isn’t much opportunity to surf in Lake Michigan. Still, I remember adding it to a childhood bucket list along with owning my own life-sized Barbie Dream House and road tripping the US in a caravan.

I was terrible at surfing and the only one in my lesson who had trouble getting up on the board. But, I remember being out there in Bali, in the water, and thinking to myself, “at least I’m trying.”

Someday I hope to get out there on a board again, try again, probably crash and burn again. But, if I don’t, at least I tried once in my life.


Learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Learning Spanish in Antigua, Guatemala.

  1. I learned Spanish in Guatemala.

When I decided to backpack through Central America, I also decided that I should probably pick up some Spanish. So I started my journey in Antigua, Guatemala, spending a month at a school where I learned the language one-on-one daily.

At the end of the month my Spanish was…terrible. But, at least, it was better than nothing. I learned enough to have basic conversations, to contest a bus ticket that was sold to me for the wrong date, and to order food. I learned enough, at least, to get by.

My canned response whenever I was asked if I spoke Spanish was, “cuando estoy borracho,” when I am drunk, because drinking gave me more confidence to try. By now I’ve lost much of the little I learned but I have more than what I started with. And I can probably still order food. And that’s something.


I made an alfombra for Semana Santa in Guatemala. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Creating an alfombra for Semana Santa.

  1. I made an alfombra for Semana Santa in Guatemala.

The month I spent in Antigua corresponded with Semana Santa, holy week, Easter, but really holy month, lent. Religious processions dominated the streets with men in hoods swinging canisters of incense and balancing grand platforms and sculptures of Jesus on their shoulders. They’d happen at all hours of the day and night, sometimes waking us up in the early hours.

As Easter day approached the processions became more elaborate and more frequent. And with them came the alfombras, embellished carpets, made out of colored sawdust, fruits, vegetables, and a wide range of other materials. Families spent hours creating masterpieces in the street only to watch them destroyed by the next procession.

On the morning before Palm Sunday my Spanish school classmates and I congregated to dye the sawdust we would use to create the designs for our own carpet. Our own Alfombra. The next day we gathered again and worked hard to create the intricately-designed artwork on the street and then watched it trampled away with the night’s procession.


Learning to dance salsa in Cali, Colombia.

Learning to dance salsa in Cali, Colombia.

  1. I learned to salsa dance in Colombia.

I grew up dancing and it’s always been a big part of my life. When I arrived in Cali, Colombia, the salsa capital of the world, I knew I had to take a salsa class. The first thing I did when I arrived at my hostel was sign up the free group lesson. That free lesson turned into daily free lessons at my hostel, daily private lessons with an instructor, extra classes at a nearby school, and nightly excursions to clubs around the city.

I meant to only spend a few days in Cali before heading out into the coffee region, but ended up spending the next two and a half weeks, the entirety of the rest of my time in Colombia, there, in Cali, just dancing.


On set as an extra in a Bollywood movie. | 38 things I've done in my life.

On set as an extra in a Bollywood movie.

  1. I was an extra in a Bollywood movie, a Colombian Dance movie, and a reality show.

I’ve been an extra three times. Once as a party guest in a Bollywood movie filmed in Mumbai (unfortunately, no, I didn’t get to dance). Once as a hotel guest in a Colombian salsa movie filmed in Cali (unfortunately, no, I didn’t get to dance). And once as a competitive eating “super fan” in a reality show about competitive eating.

Alas, my scenes were cut in all three. But those are still going on my resume if I ever take up acting again.


I competed at the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Competing at the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.

  1. I competed at the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.

I’ve always loved competitive eating. I watched it on TV for years before I saw my first contest live and once I experienced a competition in person, I had to keep going back for more. But compete? Me? No.

I knew I was much more apt for being behind the camera than behind the table, but the itch to try was always there. So, one year, I decided I was going to compete at the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest.

So I flew to Memphis to compete in a qualifier and ended up winning…by default…by being the only female to show up… But I secured my place at the big table at Coney Island all the same.

That day was one of the best, craziest, weirdest, most wonderful days I’ve ever spent. I only ate about three hot dogs and came in dead last, but how many people in the world can say they came in last place at the Nathan’s Famous July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest?


I trekked Colca Canyon - the second deepest canyon in the world. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me after a three-day trek of Colca Canyon.

  1. I trekked the world’s second deepest canyon.

I had no business trekking Peru’s Colca Canyon. It’s the second deepest canyon in the world. I was out of shape. I was not a trekker. I don’t even remember why I signed up for the excursion other than the fact that I was probably looking for things to do in the area and underestimated the strength it would take to do it.

When the Colca Canyon trek started, I immediately fell behind the rest of the group. I went through my water way too quickly. I was tired and shaking. And that was just the journey down. I kept telling myself that there was no way I would ever make it up on my own. I kept telling myself that I needed to rent a mule to get back up to the top. But, at the last minute, I decided that I was going to do it. I was going to do it on my own.

The journey up was hard, challenging. I had to leave well before most of the rest of the group and they still passed me. There were points where I felt like what I was doing was impossible. There were points when I felt like I would never make it. But then, I did. I pushed through. I kept going. And I made it to the top of that canyon.


I visited Machu Picchu. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me at Machu Picchu.

  1. I visited Machu Picchu.

I hiked for about an hour to get to Machu Picchu, merely taking the steps up the hill in Aguas Caliente to the get there. There’s part of me that wishes I did hike the Inka Trail to get there instead of taking the train. But my body wasn’t having it after trekking Colca Canyon and, even if I had wanted to, all the tours were sold out.

But I visited Machu Picchu and stood overlooking the ruins and, hike or no hike, it was a glorious site to see.


Exploring the Bolivian Amazon. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Exploring the Bolivian Amazon.

  1. I’ve explored the Bolivian Amazon.

The Amazon was one of the most complex yet peaceful places I have ever visited (except for that whole getting bit by a piranha part…). We took walks through the jungle canopy searching for wild pigs and hummingbird nests. We took boat rides through the pampas searching for capybara, capuchin monkeys, crocodiles and pink dolphins. There I found calmness and quiet and well, nature, like I’ve never found anywhere else in the world.

It was like stepping into Neverland.


I had many relationships around the world. | 38 things I've done in my life.

This was a nice spot..

  1. I’ve had a lot of amazing…relationships.

I spent two years with a guy who was my best friend, two weeks with someone I really connected with, two days with someone who was just really, really, really gorgeous. I’ve had hot nights on the beach and messy nights in dorm rooms. I’ve had romantic dates and some crazy times. Let’s just say I’ve had a lot of really great relationships in my life.

Really great.


I got a fairy wing tattoo. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me, at 20, showing off my first tattoo, fairy wings on my back.

Getting a Superman wrist tattoo in Chiang Mai, Thailand. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Me, at 30, getting the Superman insignia tattooed on my wrist in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Swallow tattoo - in traditional sailor tattoos the swallow represented how far he'd traveled and that he'd always find his way home.

Me, at 35, with two new bird tattoos.

Life List #187: Get a fig tattoo. (Inspired by Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.) | Tine DeFiore — Black Oak Tattoo

Me, at 36, with a fig tattoo inspired by Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar.

  1. I got five tattoos.

I got my first tattoo, the simple fairy wings on my back, when I was twenty. It was actually kind of illegal because you had to be 21 to get one in Chicago, but the shop didn’t really seem to care. I went to a tattoo studio with a friend who was getting a big tribal piece on her lower back done. I had been on the fence about getting one myself but, since I was there already, I asked the random tattoo artist next to her if he could do mine. I basically handed him a napkin with the idea of what I wanted and he recreated it and then quoted me something probably ridiculously high. I said OK. It took 15 minutes and I almost passed out numerous times.

I got my second tattoo ten years later in Thailand. There was a tattoo shop attached to the hostel that I spent a good deal of time at in Chiang Mai so the artists spent a lot of time hanging out on the property and playing pool. I wanted a tattoo from one of them before I went back home but wasn’t exactly sure what to get. I ended up getting a Superman logo tattooed on my wrist. It was something I had thought about getting for a while, a tribute to my dad whose hero was Superman.

Five years later, I got my next tattoo. Or, two tattoos. I’d been reading about the meanings behind traditional sailor tattoos and legends say that a sailor with a swallow tattoo had travelled over 5,000 nautical miles and one with two had travelled 10,000. Intrigued, I decided to get birds (though not “traditional” birds) as an homage to that and to signify my life of travel. I had learned a lot from my first impromptu wings and this time spent a lot of time researching and consulting before picking an artist (and gave her more than five minutes to draw up a design).

Less than a year later I got my fifth tattoo, a fig tattoo on my forearm, though I actually had the appointment for that one before I even made the appointment for the birds. The fig has taken on a huge meaning in my life, daring me to choose anything over nothing, and I had been waiting for the right time and artist to make it happen for years.


Skee ball champions. | 38 things I've done in my life.

Skee ball champions.

  1. I won a skee ball championship.

I’m on a skee ball ball team that competes for five weeks a year. It’s a recreational league, a singles league, but, my team is comprised entirely of people I work with (or, used to work with). Our first year in the league, we were terrible. TERRIBLE. We went into the championships in dead last place, expecting to lose our first round and walk away.

But then we started winning. And winning. And winning.

OK, so it didn’t hurt that we came in trashed after our company’s holiday party with a fully stacked team. Extra players, more players than the other teams, meant only our top scores were counted and the lower ones were thrown out. Strength in numbers (and whiskey) worked in our favor. And we ended up winning the whole thing.


I adopted cats. | 38 things I've done in my life.

The loves of my life.

  1. I adopted cats.

I didn’t mean to adopt cats. I was actually pretty against it. The idea of “committing” to anything, especially anything that would prevent me from being able to travel again, scared me. But then these two crazy reject cats came into my life. I like to think that they sabotaged themselves from getting adopted so that they could stay with me. I mean, Ford would bite any potential adopter and Rooney would just hide. Who would want to take them home?

But, for me, they were loving and playful and perfect. OK, maybe not perfect. Ford still bites me too (but he also spends half his life cuddling on my chest and suckling my hoodie) and Rooney still hides from everything (but also just wants to play fetch 24/7). And I love them probably more than I’ve ever loved another human and I think they love me more than any other human too. And it’s nice to have that kind of love in your life.



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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Ali
    January 14, 2019at3:23 am

    I love this, Val! I think it’s always good to look back and remember all the amazing things you’ve accomplished in life. It’s too easy to forget and only focus on the things still left to do, which makes you feel like you haven’t done anything, when in fact, you’ve done TONS. I wrote a similar, but shorter, post a few years ago, I might need to revisit that.

    Also, how do I not remember the piranha story?!

  • Elizabeth
    January 28, 2019at11:04 am

    I have some comments and questions!

    Hyder: did you rent a car to go there? I’ve wanted to do that before but I’m not driving my car to Washington, and I’ve had a hard time finding rental companies that will let you take the car across the border. Maybe I need to look at Canadian rentals?

    I loved seeing the Gross/RB/U of I pictures! I was a freshman when you were a senior at RB and U of I, and you impressed me as a really cool chica. That impression has continued since rediscovering you via your blog.

    Angkor Wat! I did that! I agree it was super cool. My friend and I did the sunrise thing too and toured EVERYTHING and got back to our hotel by 930AM when it started getting super hot. We hung out at the pool the rest of the day, and we were the only people staying at the hotel at the time so that was really cool. Thanks for reminding me of that day. 🙂

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