A camera, surf board, guitar, & paper map in Costa Rica

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Every time I open my journal I see the flower petals I brought back from Costa Rica. My small constant reminder that I still haven’t blogged about my trip. My life has been so busy the past few months with lots of traveling, working and new experiences. Throughout all the madness I have often thought about the incredible week-long trip I took to Costa Rica with my boyfriend and some good friends. We went in mid February and I ended up having the most special Valentine’s Day to date.

Everyone in the group had been out of the country several times. Jake has a pen that has traveled to Hong Kong, Thailand, Ireland, Nicaragua and beyond. His pen has seen more than most people will see in their lifetime and it’s just a regular ball point. The laughter began on the plane ride to Liberia. Between endless banter, Wes opening and exploding mini bottle on me, and Jake’s attempt at spanish, we were all in tears. I was nervous about going through customs for the first time, but it turned out to be a breeze. Inside the airport we converted US dollars to the local colones, picked up some duty-free items, got our rental car, and set out.

A paper hand drawn map was our guide to our destination, which made me very nervous. For the first time in my adult life I couldn’t rely on a cell phone. No texting. No GPS. No Twitter. No Facebook. The roads were dirt, the signs looked hand drawn, livestock roamed free, and it was incredibly beautiful. With eyes wide open at this foreign land I couldn’t contain my excitement.  I must have taken 200 pictures simply from the car window. We arrived in Nosara after nightfall due to one too many wrong turns (and Jake stalling out a time or three) and met our housekeeper, a woman by the name of Dolores, who showed us the way to our house.

The house was modest, but perfect for our group. It had a hammock on the porch, full kitchen, AC, 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, and not one single TV. The first night we relied on my guitar, an Ipod, and of course each other’s shenanigans for entertainment. The yard had beautiful exotic plants and there was no shortage of wild animals. The night we arrived I got one of the guys to stomp a live scorpion on the kitchen floor. In the mornings and evenings you could hear monkeys growling from the tree tops. We also had a several wild dogs that would wander up and stare through the glass door at any given time. I wanted to let them in, but the poor things were riddled with fleas. Several mornings I awoke to a beautiful hand-picked bouquet of flowers thanks to Wes. There was something about returning to the simplicity of life that was incredibly calming. Getting away from the world as I knew it and being away from social media really cleared my head and made me feel more grounded.

One of the great activities we did was take a fishing trip on Valentines Day. We pulled up to the beach at 6 am, right as the sun was coming up, and waited for our boat. We went fishing for nearly 5 hours and caught several fish that we had cleaned and took home with us. Our boat captains were extremely accommodating and they told us which fish were good to eat. They even took us to a good spot near a reef to go snorkeling. It was exciting to see different kinds of fish and a few huge sting rays. I was the only one who got stung by a jelly fish (in the neck, go figure) but luckily it didn’t hurt for very long. I’m still unsure about exactly what kind of fish we caught because they didn’t know the American name, but it made for some delicious and satisfying meals!

Every morning we woke at the crack of dawn, usually around 5am, and would head out to one of the local surf spots. Several tiki huts lined the shore at Playa Guiones that you could hang out under. I got a lot of great video footage of everyone surfing. Wes took me out several times (as long as it wasn’t overhead) and it was a blast! Everyone would surf until they were too tired or too hungry and we would hit up a local spot for food. The cost of food and groceries in Costa Rica was particularly surprising to everyone. I discovered the hard way how important it is to understand the currency exchange rate when traveling to 3rd world countries. Our first trip to a local “grocery store” was some what an ordeal. The employees didn’t speak english and we ended up spending way more than the amount we had in our pockets and had to put items back. It took me a couple of days to get the hang of understanding exactly how much I was paying for an item and whether or not that was a good deal.

When you think of the word “vacation” you think of relaxing, which we definitely did, but for the most part we were constantly on the go. Between surfing, swimming, snorkeling, hiking, fishing, exploring, playing soccer with locals, shopping, Lindsay and I pulling pranks (sorry guys), eating and drinking, I was exhausted at the end of every day in the best possible way. One afternoon we went hiking at a somewhat dicey unmarked trail at Playa Pleuda. I made the unwise decision to bring my beloved digital camera up the cliff. Wes was nervous about me being up there in the first place, so when my camera fell over the edge to its death we decided to hike back down to safe ground. I would have been super bummed if that was my only camera on the trip, but luckily I brought my 35mm and several rolls of film.

As you might suspect, Costa Rica has stunning sunsets and sunrises. One of my favorite spots to watch the sunset from was at Playa Pleuda. I don’t think I could ever get tired of watching the last bit of light disappear over the horizon and Costa Rica is definitely the most memorable. La Luna at Play Pleuda is a great spot to watch the sunset and have a cold drink. Wes bought me a beautiful hand-made original piece of jewelry that I wear all the time from a woman at La Luna. Many of the restaurants have live music nightly under the stars that will make you want to get up and dance.

It seemed like time flew by and in the same token we took advantage of every hour of each day. I could not imagine sharing my first out of the country experience with anyone else. Traveling can push you to the limit and test you in ways you’ve never before been tested. I am lucky enough to have someone who is a great travel partner and I can’t wait until our next trip abroad.

So I encourage you to travel and to get out of your comfort zone. Ditch your laptop, cell phone and GPS. Order from a menu that is in a foreign language. Explore the beauty of the world in its natural existence. Find a way to communicate with someone who doesn’t speak your natural tongue. Appreciate how different we all are and all the different ways people live.

Learn, explore, love and do not take any of it for granted.

Peace & Love,

Lauren

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The story behind “Maps”

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I’m really excited that I finally get to release my first music video for my song MAPS. Last November my friend John Ryan Flaherty shot the video at an abandoned house in North Carolina. The concept was my idea and with the help of my friends I think we pulled off exactly what I wanted. We collected all the wine bottles from a dumpster behind a wine bar. My mom spent hours cleaning them and peeling the labels and it took us half the night to prep them with candles and dripping wax. The candles ended up being the only source of light for the entire video. Aside from the wine bottles the set was completely natural. The hymnals on the stairs, the dirt and dust already existed and was waiting for us to show up. When we got to the house we boarded up the windows so the candle light wouldn’t be visible from the outside. One of my biggest fears was that someone would see us and kick us out before we got a chance to finish filming. (Or that something would catch on fire, but Allie had a fire extinguisher just in case.)

-Allie photo

I remember that November night was really cold. After each take my body would start shaking and I realized my fingers were numb. Allie put her jacket over my shoulders to help the shivering for a few moments between each take.

November was a particularly difficult time in my life. My emotions were running really high and after each take I started to lose it a little more and more. It eventually got to the point that I was breaking down so hard that I couldn’t really sing anymore. I think towards the end everyone was crying or on the verge of crying. We ended up not using a lot of those shots because it was too much. The video still has those elements running through it without the heaviness of completely falling apart. Once it got to that point we decided we had enough footage and wrapped the shoot.

-Allie Photo

I wrote Maps while I was driving at night lost in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I didn’t have a signal and my maps weren’t working. My guitar was sitting in the passenger seat and I pulled over on the side of the road and began writing. On the surface it seems like it’s about lost love and that is partly true. But what most people don’t know is that more than being physically lost, I also felt spiritually and emotionally lost. I was trying to find my way with just bits and pieces of what was left of myself and the love that I had. Nothing seemed to point in the direction I needed to go. Sometimes I still get that feeling, the one where you can’t discern the map of your own life. I’m learning to embrace this journey, even when I feel lost and don’t know which turn to take next.

-Matt Bell

I want to thank everyone who made this happen. Thank you Allie Stoller for being my oldest friend and the rock I can lean on and for taking meaningful pictures Thank you John Ryan for filming and editing maps even though it seemed to take a year. Thank you Matt Bell for your knowledge, assisting and for you beautiful film photos. Thank you Trey Bruce for producing maps and for surprising me with your haunting vocals. Thank you Kaci for letting me wear your dress and helping me with the wine bottles. Thank you mom and dad for your support and love. And finally, thank you Wes for loving me, supporting me, inspiring me and for helping me find my way.

-Matt Bell photo

I hope you enjoy this little piece of art and I hope you learn to embrace your journey even when you’re lost.

XO

LJ

Music & Lyrics: Lauren Jenkins

Produced by: Trey Bruce

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Life on the Road

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Each night the tour bus rolls down the highway, bound for another town or state. At any given time there are 6-10 people sleeping in the bunks that we call “coffins” due to their suffocatingly small size. The first night was the worst as I tried to get used to sleeping on a moving bus. I woke up with cold sweats, nausea and got barely any sleep. But like anything in life, you learn to adjust. Time blurs together and it’s easy to lose track of the hours and the days. Sometimes it feels like it’s been a year, sometimes a week. I guess this is what living on the road is like.

This group has become like a little family, with lots of cutting up, laughs and stories. I am the only female, one girl with a whole pack of older brothers. Some days are more challenging than others. Fighting for the remote or the mirror so I can do my makeup or turn off ESPN mark only a few of the differences between being a female and male. However, the experiences I have been blessed with on this trip are ones I will always treasure. We have seen the movie so many times that we quote it in everyday conversations at least 10 times a day.  Every day is filled with so much laughter your sides burn and your eyes water.

Before I got on the tour bus I asked Darryl if it was already stocked and he told me not to worry that there was plenty of food. I soon discovered that food in a guy’s mind equals M&M’s, chips and beer. Bringing protein bars and febreeze was a great decision on my part. Bottom line is I get super excited any time we have a real meal or get my Starbucks fix.

I’ve been lucky to see parts of this country that I never have before. I have touched the Alamo, walked down Bourbon in the rain, looked over South Beach from 30 stories up. I have had the chance to meet people from all walks of life. There’s nothing like looking into a child’s wonderstruck eyes and encouraging them and telling them that the possibilities are endless. Some of the stories I’ve heard from audience members will always stay with me. I think it’s important for us to step out of our comfort zone and to push ourselves. Go places you’ve never gone. See things you’ve only seen in photographs and movies. Talk to people you’ve never met and really listen to what they have to say. We are all in this world together and we all have the capacity to impact a life. The choice is yours to be a light. Someone said to me on this tour “Be the kind of person you want to meet.”

We have the choice everyday wether or not we will be a light or if we will add to the darkness. Even the smallest words and gestures have an impact.

Until next time,

Love & Light,

LJ

NYC Part 1 Continued

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I woke up this morning and was thinking about all that took place and everything that I learned due to the NYC trip. It really seems like something out of a movie. However, throughout all the madness, we were still able to log a little bit of family time. I wouldn’t call this trip a “vacation” by any means, but it had its shining moments. Like I mentioned before, this was my sister’s first trip to the big city so she had the most to experience. KJ fell in love with NYC from day one!

Plane on the way there & view from above

 

Dad took us to an amazing VIP lunch at the Food Hall by Todd English, located inside the Plaza Hotel. It was so yummy! KJ’s favorite was the dessert platter. There were so many delicious treats that we couldn’t even finish it!

One of the highlights was getting a chance to go to Hillsong church. The band was amazing. The line was so long to get in it went around 2 blocks. By the time I got in the door there was standing room only!

One of the many visits to central park. The anticipated apartment was only a few blocks from central park.

A very cold dad in this zero degrees weather, but still has a smile on his face. He is a VA boy and was a little out of his element.

Exhausted but smiling.

 

   One of KJ’s major highlights was getting the chance to have a photoshoot with a friend of mine & make up artist Chris Lanston. I didn’t go, but she had a blast and did a great job!

 

Part one of NYC is over and done with and there is a lot happening before part two. I will be going on a good portion of the 50+ city movie tour for Deadline. I will be posting details of that soon!

Thank you all again for your support. I am thankful that I overcame this test and even when things seemed hopeless, I knew that they were going to work out for the better.

So whatever you face this year, do not lose heart. Even the most challenging and hopeless of situations can work out for your higher good, if you have faith.

 

LJ

NYC Part 1

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What a roller-coaster 2012 has been so far! As some of you may know, earlier last year I was accepted into the William Esper Acting Studio in NY, NY. Ever since I finished the movie Deadline, I have been planning and dreaming about going to the WES. My anticipated room-mate at the time and I met a guy who rents an apartment in NY for a low fixed amount. His apartment is in prime location in the upper east side and he was going to sublet it to us for a steal. I’m not going to go into all the details of this deal, but basically the day before we were supposed to fly out to NY I got a phone call from the guy that legal issues with the apartment had come up.

My parents were a couple of hours outside of Manhattan with an Expedition loaded with all of my stuff. I called my dad from Charleston to tell him that the locks had been changed and that the guy was flying up to try to sort it out. As you can imagine, I went into panic mode and started breaking down. It’s kind of difficult to make it in NY when you don’t have a place to live. The next 24 hours consisted of getting a flat tire in the middle of an intersection, my phone ringing off the hook, and calling everyone in NY that I know for advise and help. My parents got a hotel and started the fast action plan B.  I also need to add that my dad deserves a medal for being so cool calm and collected. It really was a testament to how one should act when faced with a huge problem.

I ended up changing the flights for a later time on the 3rd. My sister decided earlier in the week that she wanted to fly up with us instead of riding up with my parents. We were able to sit next to each other on the plane and she really liked having the window seat. This would be her first trip to NYC and she was super excited, I however was trying to figure out how the heck this was going to all work out. We arrived in the cold NYC air late that night and got a cab to 2 different hotels. I was hoping and praying that things would get easier and work out, which eventually they did. But things got a little rockier before resolution was found.

I woke up the next morning exhausted and unsure. I faced the intimidating fact that day one of acting school was the following day and I still didn’t know where I was going to be living. I went into action and figured out what route I would need to take from the possible apartment to school and back. I got to know the area of my school and the apartment– where to eat, where to buy groceries, dry cleaning, book stores, what trains to take etc. I love NYC and it is a great place to visit, when you are trying to figure out how to actually LIVE there it gets a bit more complicated.

Luckily, we were blessed with having only one day of zero degrees weather, no rain or snow, and even a few days with sun and minimal wind. Classes were great and I knew from day one that the WES was the perfect match for me. I was already being challenged and falling in love with the school. I had a meeting with my school about my situation and it went better than I could have hoped. They were so understanding and supportive. They advised that I take it one day at a time and they would do anything they could to help. And if worse came to worst, I could come back in the fall.

Over the course of the week, the litigation process of the apartment would be pushed back and back and back. Every day we woke up with “okay today is supposed to be the day” only to get a phone call telling us “actually it’s going to be tomorrow” or “in two days”. We began scrambling and searching for other apartments. I contacted a broker and before classes on my second day of school we went and looked at monthly sublets in order to buy us more time. Unfortunately, on such late notice and the intentions of only renting for one month, everything available was

A. Crappy

B. $2800 and up

Throughout the whole ordeal I prayed probably 10 times a day. I knew that NYC was where I was meant to be and I was excited and honored to be accepted in to the WES, but I didn’t understand why so many doors were suddenly closing. I prayed that we would know whether or not this was the right time and that what was meant to be would be.

So to make a long story longer, after being there over a week, our 3rd face to face meeting with the guy we were renting the apartment from, and pushing the deadline back again and again, he told us that it looked like the litigation process wouldn’t be settled until February. My parents decided that we had tried everything and that this must be a sign that now is not the time. Our hands were tied and its hard, (impossible) to find a place to live in just a few days. It didn’t make sense to stay when we had no guarantees that the apartment would come through in Feb and we didn’t have a plan B.

I am really sad and disappointed that the apartment didn’t work out first go around and that I have to delay my school, but I know there has to be a reason for all of this. I have been tested so much this first part of the year in my faith, drive, patience, strength, perseverance and humility. I feel like after surviving part 1 of NYC I am ready to face the challenges of the upcoming year and part 2 of NYC.

There are certain lessons and experiences in life that you can’t buy. I’ve never known someone that went to NYC and had to face what I faced (though I’m sure thousands have), yet I am still excited to get to go back in the fall. For part 2, I will be hunting for a apartment (knowing that the original apartment is unreliable) and I will be hunting for a room-mate. I am so thankful that my school will work with me and that throughout this whole ordeal that the only thing that was hurt was my bank account. It’s hard to walk into that city and not sneeze a thousand dollars.

Thank you everyone who has supported me through this and everyone that is continuing to supporting me. These next few months are going to go by fast and I am excited for part 2 of NYC and can’t wait to share! So here’s to the New Year and new challenges. With the right attitude and perspective a situation that seems horrible could actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

LJ