“Surprise Summer”

November 2019 in Michigan: snow, snow and even more snow…

November 2020 in Michigan: 70° sunshine!

As coldness and winter approaches, I encourage all of you to spend more time outdoors (safely of course) 🙂

Friend & Family Breakups

I wanted to put a pause on my regular travel posts and write about something that’s been lingering in the forefront of my mind this year.

I’ve been struggling with long-term extended family estrangement and somewhat short-term immediate family drama, as well as some pretty upsetting friendship breakups. I won’t go into specifics in order to protect those around me, but I’ve been in a dark place for about a year or so now. As one can imagine, this has taken a toll on my mental health.

I recently heard a quote on one of my favorite podcasts that goes a little something like this:

“Depression is the greatest acting teacher. I can smile through anything even though I just want the ground to open up and swallow me whole.” If that doesn’t hit you like a semi truck, I’m not sure what will…

I’m not a therapist or licensed professional by any means, but I wanted to share some strategies I’ve been applying to help with the pain of broken friendships and family relationships. It’s important to note that all of these points coincide with each other and this is the “flow” as I see it. Remember: everyone’s journey is highly personal and individual.

1. Don’t change who you are for those around you.

I have a lot of people in my life – family members in particular – who will never be proud of me, no matter what I do. In the past and present, I have been laughed at or mocked for my dreams and ambitions. Family members have and will continue to make me feel small to build themselves up. About five years ago, I chose to let them go as opposed to clinging onto the gaslighting and the guilt (e.g.: “well, I guess it’s your choice if you don’t want to be here” comments when THEY were the ones hurting ME).

2. Create your own closure.

Oftentimes we find that friendship and family breakups seem abrupt, without true closure. I was best friends with someone for nearly 12 years and I’ve been thinking about our good times lately. But with that, I’ve also been thinking of the bad. The truth is that she was like an older sister to me, whereas I was her “plan b”/“second choice” friend for a very long time. Write a goodbye letter. Get rid of photos. Do something that allows you to create your own closure. Remember, don’t change yourself to fit others’ narratives of you.

3. Try not to hate the person on the other end.

It would be so easy for me to say, “She was a horrible person because of X, Y and Z.” Although there are times I’ve been hurt by family and friends (and honestly still am hurting from recent experiences), I try my damnedest to acknowledge that we all have flaws and shortcomings. I realize this is much easier said than done, but I’m hoping this will make me a better, stronger person in the end.

4. Allow yourself to feel all the feelings.

Conversely, it’s okay to be angry, hurt, frustrated or upset. As long as you aren’t taking it out on the other person, allow yourself to reflect on your feelings in the present moment. Thinking of a past memory you miss? Cry. Thinking of how good things were in the past? Smile. The more you hold back and shove your feelings into a corner of your mind, the longer it’ll take you to move on.

5. Focus on yourself and the great relationships in your life.

I may never have a best friend who reminds me of an older sister ever again, but I do have amazing friends in my life. I feel loved every day, even if it isn’t by a family member. I may never be close with my family, but I have several friends-turned-family relationships that fill my heart. Be around like-minded, supportive people who will always be there for you (and always be there for them, too!).

Every day of 2020 has felt like an overwhelming struggle, but I am much more resilient than I was before. “When life hands you lemons, they say to make lemonade, but you can’t make lemonade without any sugar.”

I hope these tips help you as much as they’ve helped me 🙂

What will you do with your “hyphen”?

While listening to one of my favorite people on one of my favorite podcasts (Mayim Bialik and Freakonomics, respectively), I was moved by every word she relayed to her listeners.

Mayim discovered that our lives are hyphenated (e.g.: Catherine Olivia Spader, 1993-20??). She asked us, “What will you do with your hyphen?” My jaw dropped. It’s never been explained so simply.

Life isn’t a dress rehearsal: this is our one chance to do something amazing. Although 2020 has been the most challenging year of my life – and has been for many others – I’m going to focus on exploring sights unseen, as well as the true passions of “my hyphen.”

A Smile for your Saturday

Politics. Protests. Pizza cravings for the seventh time this week. Oh my!

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a cluster…! My husband took some photos of me and had me pose according to his scenarios. I hope this makes you smile and laugh today 😅

“Look like you just won an Oscar, but are trying to remain humble” pose:

“You accidentally dropped your Oscar in front of millions” pose:

“Did you really think I’d drop this precious Oscar?” pose:

“Who am I kidding? I’m not even an actor!” pose:

Halfway through 2019

2019 has been a year of turbulence and exhaustion as opposed to the year of happiness and fun that I was hoping for. But I’m going to look at my worn-out, busted glass as half-full…

This year has been filled with:

Jazz music

Quality time with the ‘rents

Concerts

Trevor Noah

Quality time with my best friend and my Little Sister

Selfies with the pup

A sick honeymoon

Bark in the Park

Carolyn’s amazing bridal shower

I’m hoping that the rest of 2019 is full of weekend getaways, more quality time with loved ones and music!

And if not…

“Let’s raise our glasses and lower our expectations” – Geoffrey Zakarian – Cate Spader

Myrtle Beach (May 2018)

I realize I am very late to the party here, but better late than never 😉

Over Memorial Day weekend, my then-boyfriend of nearly six years proposed to me!  I knew it was coming, but the weekend was truly special and being in such a beautiful place with such a beautiful, loving man means the world to me.

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A few weeks prior, Juan asked my dad for my hand in marriage.  Although I knew we were taking a trip, I had NO idea where we were going until I boarded the plane!  My dad knew and apparently told Juan that I enjoyed Myrtle Beach in high school (true!), but I’m so impressed they both lasted so long without telling me.  More importantly, I’m (pleasantly) surprised that I didn’t guess our destination correctly!

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Feeling the sand in my toes, seeing sharks and dolphins swim around and enjoying the sunshine with my babe was the perfect way to spend a long weekend 🙂 I am truly blessed to have this man in my life, and I’m even more grateful that as of 11-16-18, Juan is now my HUSBAND!

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Juan has had this stone for me since I was 19, yet this whole journey still doesn’t seem real…

Five Favorite Foreign Cities

As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most).  The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!

I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:

Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)

  • At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States.  I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
  • I was truly immersed in the culture.  I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example.  Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
  • My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French.  Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here.  The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!

Amsterdam, Holland (2014)

  • My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!  There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
  • Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles.  Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
  • There is absolutely no judgement here!!

Kiruna, Sweden (2016)

  •  On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle).  As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden!  It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
  • Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life.  Still is two years later.  I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.

Bergen, Norway (2016)

  • I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester.  My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since.  Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life.  Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
  • Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning!  I think the photos above speak for themselves…

Bangkok, Thailand (2017)

  • Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure!  I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join.  I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
  • On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to!  And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together!  I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
  • And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL!  People, it doesn’t get any better than this!  For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7.  This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂

Where are YOUR favorite places?!

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai 

This weekend, I participated in something extremely spiritual and heartwarming. I visited an elephant sanctuary with my friends from the Mirror Foundation. Mind you, we didn’t ride the elephants, nor do we condone that behavior; however, we fed and bathed them! 
Riding elephants, no matter how “well cared for” they are, is awful. It’s an exploitation of Thai culture, as well as a form of animal cruelty that I won’t even get into. The bottom line is this: always educate yourself on animal treatment, as well as cultural acceptances, when researching zoos and animal sanctuaries!!! 
The experience was incredible. A songtaew picked us up from our hotel in Chiang Mai, where we met three Swedish girls. I recognized the Swedish instantly, and it turns out they lived in Kalmar, where I lived for five months! Small world! 
When we arrived, we immediately changed into matching shirts to wear over our clothes. We had an educational lesson about elephant sanctuaries, which ones are proper, and how to feed/behave around the elephants. 
Feeding them was beyond what I thought it could be. They didn’t even need the bananas to be peeled for them; the only one who did was the seven month-old male named Ronaldo! How cute!!! We held the bananas behind our backs and fed them one by one. I absolutely loved the experience, even if my hands became muddy from their thick tongues! 
Throwing mud at the elephants seemed like an odd task, but we all had so much fun getting messy and the elephants were enjoying themselves! Bathing them off with buckets of water was probably my favorite part, because we could really get up close and personal with the elephants. 
My words and photos don’t do the experience justice. Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary if you’re ever in Chiang Mai! 

Volunteering Abroad: Life in Thailand

I’ve been here since April 17, and I can already tell you that my life has changed for the better.

I’m living in a camp/”commune” like setup.  I have been living in a room with a mosquito net above my bed, have been taking cold bucket showers, and have been eating a low-protein, high-carb diet (opposite from home given that I’m a celiac). 

This experience has been humbling, and to say that is an understatement. 

I am currently teaching English at a local orphanage. The children are so grateful to have us there, teaching them and playing with them of course. I have always wanted to adopt children, and my time here has shown me that I’m meant to do this one day. 

I will be volunteering until May 13, and I am beyond thankful that I have made this decision. I will aim to not take things for granted when I come home on May 21. I want to live like the villagers here: having less and making the most out of life (always having smiles on their faces)!