Cousinly Quality Time in NYC

The last time I saw my cousin in New York was summer 2017—far too long ago. But all that changed last weekend as we finally spent time together in The Big Apple.

My flight got in late Friday evening, so we grabbed a nice dinner and a quick night cap. We went back to Katy’s place—which was super cute and exactly what you would expect from a New York City apartment—and got ready for bed. Being with her again meant the world to me!

We attempted to take a stroll that Saturday morning, but the weather told us otherwise. Katy found a cute little cafe where we mixed up our coffee orders (totally my fault!) and then made our way through Columbia’s campus—en route to brunch in Times Square.

At Friedman’s, Katy, her sister, dad and I had the best potato-filled brunch of my life. The gluten free chocolate chip pancakes and sweet potato fries were to die for, but the conversation and that feeling of picking up right where we left off were even better.

No matter how stuffed we felt, Katy and I were determined to make our way to her friend’s birthday celebration, which was full of crafting and watching Broad City. I’m incredibly lucky to have met Katy’s high school, college and now grad school friends—because we have always lived in different states and I’m a few years older than she is. Katy and her friends are always welcoming, which was really nice and led to a fun, lazy day of candle making and painting. I definitely made everyone laugh when my paint exploded all over the table, but at least I can say that I predicted the future 😉

Still full from brunch (no joke!), Katy and I grabbed dinner at an awesome vegan place called JaJaJa—where our bartender Mario called us twins and handed us each a free shot. One of many reasons why I love my cousin as much as I do is that we can go from the most profound conversation to laughing and joking around. Our meal was full of that, which is something I’d missed very much and very deeply. We ended our night out with another drink at a different bar, playing a game of “What’s Their Backstory?” and me guessing one of our bartender’s names on the first try.

As much as I love the city, my favorite moments with Katy are always the simplest ones. I cherished our night of listening to Leo P on the sax, hearing her tell me more about her partner Ben and drinking tea until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore. And it’s truly all of those “in-between” moments (taking the subway, walking to a destination, etc.) that make me love and miss Katy as much as I always do ❤️

On Sunday, our last day together, we started at a gluten free bagel and sandwich shop, and a stroll through Central Park. It was cold—especially with my iced coffee—but it was so worth it! Seeing people out and about because of the weather and our semi-decent coronavirus situation was something that didn’t go unnoticed, and something we certainly didn’t take for granted. We braved the cold until we couldn’t anymore, so we relaxed at Katy’s apartment, enjoyed more tea and life/family-related conversation, then ventured off to find more delicious vegan tacos!

Our time together always flies by and feels too short. I wish Katy and I lived closer together because she’s truly a sister to me. I don’t know who or where I would be without her in my life.

Takin’ It Slow in “The Big Easy”

I’ve never been the type of person who has a singular, large group of friends (think How I Met Your Mother, Friends, or any sitcom for that matter). For the longest time I thought that was a bad thing, but I have always been blessed and grateful that I have close friendships from travel and work-related adventures (see a previous post with this same sentiment). I’m an “introverted, extrovert” who values my quality time with one or two people more than big groups of people, even as an ENFJ. And one of those friends I have gotten to know over the years is Jes.

Jes and I worked together during the pandemic (fall 2020 through spring 2021 to be exact), but never met in person until July, 2021. I decided to part ways with the company, move to Chicago and start something new; as much as this was the right thing to do at the time, knowing that I wouldn’t be in Asheville with Jes, Carolina and the other amazing women I met at The Pritchett Company was difficult to grasp. I HAD to visit Asheville and meet Jes in person, something that felt long overdue.

Jes (left), Carolina (right) and I (middle) in Asheville, North Carolina (July, 2021)

Jes and I planned a somewhat spontaneous trip to New Orleans (NOLA) a few weeks ago, and we had such a fun, easygoing weekend here in The Big Easy. Between the snowy weather and mechanical issues at O’hare in Chicago on Friday morning and the delays heading home last night, here were some of my favorite aspects of our time together.

Ghost and Cemetery Tours

As lovers of all-things haunted, Jes and I signed up for a walking ghost tour and a cemetery bus tour to end each night in NOLA. On Friday, we strolled through the French Quarter and we learned about all the haunted, ghost-infested sights from NOLA’s beginning to Marie Laveau‘s voodoo presence to Nicholas Cage’s drunken shenanigans—resulting in him getting kicked out of the city for good. Some of the most disturbing stories involved children dying of yellow fever and throwing themselves out of buildings, and how horribly slaves were treated. If you like spooky minus the graphic detail, I recommend a bus tour instead of a walking tour.

Pro tip: Go earlier in the night if you want more history than “fun.” A lot of tipsy folks will be on the later tours, and it can take away from the seriousness of NOLA’s haunted history!

Pro tip II: Get your palms or cards read! Jes and I did this and had a great time, learning something new along the way. Just make sure you go to a reputable place.

Art

Whether we were in the city centre, Congo Square or our tattoo studio on Magazine Street, Jes and I greatly appreciated the art as we strolled each afternoon. There is such a unique vibrant art scene in New Orleans that I appreciated very much. If you ever have some time to kill between activities, especially on a nice, sunny day, please take your time and get to know the local artists. Jes actually closed on a house Friday morning, which was the perfect excuse to buy new pieces!

Not only did we get artwork for ourselves, we also had some artwork done on ourselves…

Pro tip: Avoid tourist traps at all costs! You won’t get the authenticity and personality in your gifts from a “Made in China” shop. Artists will charge more for their time and brand, but it’s SO worth it.

Jazz Music

As a Detroit native and longtime lover of jazz, this was a must for my time in NOLA. We found a lowkey, casual absinthe bar (a plus!) and had to check it out. Jes and I each enjoyed a cocktail and swayed to the music before heading out on one of our tours. Boy did this make me miss Detroit!

Pro tip: Even if you don’t like jazz or want to carve time out for it per se, you can always pop into a dive bar, grab a drink and some bar food, and enjoy yourself for a song or two.

People Watching

^two truest words ever spoken about this city. My definition of a “wild night out” is three drinks and in bed by midnight. Some of the tourists here go HARD, and it shows even while waltzing down Bourbon Street. Even though we felt out of place, it’s worth a stroll and some snaps.

Pro tip: Please don’t be an idiot. Wear your mask.

There is truly something for everyone in The Big Easy. The food, energy and charm are truly one of a kind, and even if you’re a Midwesterner like myself, I highly recommend this southern city! I can’t wait for my next girls weekend with Jes 😀

Photos and videos taken Friday, January 28 – Sunday, January 30

A letter from Norway// Hello 2022!

As 2021 comes to a close, I can’t help but reflect on, arguably, the most difficult year thus far, while also taking inventory on all the good things that have happened during the pandemic. One of those things has been maintaining contact with my family friend in Norway, Kjell.

Sitting with Kjell (Spring, 2016)

Kjell was a foreign exchange student who lived with my mom and her family in high school. He was part of my childhood and early adulthood from afar through handwritten letters, photos and memories exchanged between him and my mom, but I finally had the opportunity to stay with Kjell in 2016. Those two weeks with his family in Askoy, Norway (near Bergen) has as much impact on me now as it did then.

Here are some of the highlights from my time with Kjell:

Despite the fact that we’ve switched our channel of correspondence from handwritten notes to email, Kjell and I have kept up with regular check-ins and photo sharing! He recently wrote me, shared some family updates and of course, beautiful photos of Norway.

Our fishing spot in 2016 🥲

I wish all of you a happy new year, and wish you continued travel and adventures with friends in 2022 🙂

Chicago Architectural Tour

Last month, Juan and I joined some tourists (mainly fellow Michiganders) on an architectural boat tour of our ‘new home.’ We already knew the true meaning of why Chicago was named “the windy city” but wanted to learn more about the beautiful buildings surrounding us—as well as other quips!

For starters, there are a few prevalent styles of architecture found in the city, including but not limited to: art deco, Chicago school, post-modern and gothic revival. As much as I love art deco, the other styles complement my fav 1950s vintage incredibly well. It’s also important to note some of the most famous architects in the city: Boyington (Chicago Water Tower), Frank Lloyd Wright (various redesigns downtown) and the infamous architects from Studio Gang (St. Regis). If you’re in the Chicago area as a resident or visitor, I highly recommend going on this tour.

I especially love and admire Jeanne Gang, the designer of Chicago’s Aqua Tower. Born in 1964, she was first widely recognized for this building, the second tallest woman-designed building in the world. Aqua was recently surpassed in 2021 by the nearby St. Regis Chicago, also of her design. Gang is one of Chicago’s most prominent architects of her generation—as her projects have been widely awarded. How cool!

Photos taken Saturday, November 13, 2021

Craving Cascais

Cascais, one of Portugal’s most beautiful beach towns, was a must-visit on our week-long adventure. Although Lisbon was my favorite of the three cities, Dani and I were craving the sun, sand and sea that Portugal had to offer.

After an exhausting morning of travel mishaps, we were ready to do absolutely nothing on the beach. We walked down beautiful winding roads toward the shore, where there were tons of authentic restaurants and tourist traps ready to be explored. Past that was a smaller, somewhat crowded beach, but we found a secluded spot to lay our towels and our heads for a little while.

I can’t tell you how refreshing it was to hear the sounds of the water crashing on the cliffs around us, people speaking different languages again and feeling the sun on my cheeks (cheeks on my face that is — it wasn’t “that” kind of beach!) 😂

Dani wanted time to herself, but I wanted to eventually get in the water. It was cold, refreshing and was exactly what I needed. Ever since I was a little kid, I loved the cold water because it gave me an instant rush and felt like comforting bath water after a little while. I’m not sure if it gives me a “nostalgic” feeling per se, but being in the water is my happy place. Dani woke up and took some candid photos — which is normally a cringeworthy idea for me — but I felt good about myself and figured I should embrace the feelings I had that day.

Although I was soaking wet, we had a lovely dinner at a nearby Indian restaurant. It was nice to sit and talk about absolutely nothing as we enjoyed some spicy food. Soon afterward we wandered around and explored some cute shops, including a gelato place we were aiming to check out on our way back. The sunset was too good to miss, and we even met some Swedish women with the most adorable dog — instantly bringing me back to my study abroad days. All in all this was the most relaxing, peaceful evening of the trip, which was much needed for both of us. We shared some laughs, grabbed some gelato and moseyed our way back to the apartment.

Little did I know my entire trip home was about to change. I had a COVID test-related scare based on my airline and it honestly put me in a spiral. I had to call Juan and everything… foreshadowing to what was probably my worst travel experience to date. But in the spirit of positivity, everything worked out the way it was supposed to, and I was able to calm myself down to enjoy my last evening with Dani.

I was deeply saddened that Dani wouldn’t be spending the last night back in Lisbon with me, but I did enjoy the time we had together. It was a great vacation full of culture, exploration, getting lost together and meeting the coolest strangers-turned-friends along the way ☺️

Photos taken Monday, September 20, 2021

Spellbinding Sintra (Part II)

I haven’t been writing for a while, mostly because I haven’t felt like myself for some time now — but I’m back at it!

Dani and I got ready to Britney Spears before we ventured off to the National Palace of Pena, arguably the most famous palace in all of Portugal. Little did we know that our efforts to beautify ourselves would be ruined by the uphill treks, gusting wind and eventual tuk tuk ride up to the park entrance. I enjoyed the tuk tuk very much, because this was how I frequently got around in Thailand, and I instantly felt a rush of nostalgia.

The park itself was beautiful, and was full of over 80 species of trees, plants and shrubbery. Seeing Asian, African and North American trees in one shot deems this the prettiest arboretum…

The winding path up to the palace was just as breathtaking as the structure itself. This was Dani’s first castle experience, and although this may seem like a dumb analogy, I would assume this is how parents feel when they see things through their child’s eyes again. I had a similar enthusiasm as I did when I saw castles in Germany and France for the first time, which I appreciated and needed immensely.

As my beloved travel guru Rick Steves always says, the architecture means nothing without the history and greater context of the era. To keep it short and sweet: the Palace de Pena embodies the quintessential art of Portugal’s 19th-century Romanticist period (in other words, this would be perfect for a romantic afternoon or evening)! Even the gardens and and park surrounding the palace are historic in their own right. Everything about this magnificent place screams imagination and whimsy. The palace was inhabited by a variety of royalty, by death, remarriage and other circumstances, which inevitably led to the additional romantic aesthetics of the national park today. For more history and specifics, feel free to visit their official website.

After a quick pickpocketing scare, we grabbed a cab and received a great, local dinner recommendation from our driver. We enjoyed port wine, warm meals and some of the best chocolate mousse we’ve ever tasted. One thing that I love about dining in Europe is the slower pace, and I’m grateful that some of my favorite spots in the US have adopted this way of operating as well.

Once we finished up our meal, we walked around the corner back to our Airbnb, played dominos and went to bed early because we had another big day ahead…

Photos taken Sunday, September 19, 2021

Spellbinding Sintra (Part I)

Lisbon was a wonderful city, but it was time to move on and explore more of Portugal. Sintra, which is a relatively quick train or bus ride away, was our next destination on our girls trip. Dani and I (mostly me!) were a little hungover from the night before, but it was so worth it. We slowly got around, packed up a little bit, sent a good morning photo to our new friends Max and Julian, then ventured in the city center to find some breakfast. Our original plan was to grab a “traditional American breakfast” consisting of more than pastries, but they were packed – which is to be expected. Plan B was still great because we had some great beverages and a big, filling breakfast. The best part? We saw the most adorable dogs walking by! How much better could it get?

After breakfast, we checked out of our favorite Airbnb and headed to the train station. Something about the train station in Lisbon reminded me of my first out-of-country travel experience: Hamburg, Germany in 2012. It was a very deja vu moment, but it sent me into nostalgia and comfort. Dani and I sat on the ground and talked about some of our favorite TV shows as we waited for the first train to Sintra. Maybe it’s all the train rides between Michigan and Chicago, Illinois when I was a kid, but I’ve always loved the train and it’s my favorite way to travel. We boarded the train early, got settled in, and arrived in Sintra about an hour afterward. Downtown Sintra was so cute and we were gushing at how adorable the city was. Dani lost her train ticket, which we needed to exit the station, so we both had to book it through one, timed gate with her luggage and mine. She went ahead of me and we booked it, but the gate automatically closed on my backpack! Thank goodness it didn’t crush me because that would’ve hurt!

Once we arrived to our next Airbnb, we were truly in awe. It looked like a mini castle! The architecture was stunning, the flowers and greenery around the yard were adorable and we instantly felt like we were in a quaint, English countryside home. The inside was also decorated with nice bedding and unique designs accompanied by a map where we could pin our home locations and a guest book to sign. Dani and I had been sharing a bed during our nights in Lisbon, and it was weird to have two separate bedrooms this time! But it was also nice because we had a lot of room for each of us to freshen up, jam out to some Britney Spears (#freebritney) and put on some dresses to visit the castle.

Stay tuned for castle photos, history and anecdotes!

Photos taken on Sunday, September 19, 2021

Enjoyed Lisbon a little longer

The blessing for someone like me is that travel plans can always change – oftentimes for the better. When traveling, especially internationally, adaptability and spontaneity are crucial when you want to have a good time. Luckily, Sarah (our Airbnb host) picked us up and allowed us to store our luggage in her laundromat, and shared that we needed to scrap our day two plans, and stay in Lisbon another night. Dani and I quickly agreed that was the right move to make, so I quickly cancelled our Airbnb in Obidos and booked another night in central Lisboa. All I have to say is that Sarah is an incredibly kind, adventurous soul and more people need to be like her!

Once we dropped our luggage, we grabbed a quick bite and wandered to the flea market – the largest one I’ve ever seen (even compared to the one on Le Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence, France). The vendors were smiling, organizing their stations and even creating art on-demand. Dani and I fell in love with these gorgeous dresses: hers was long, navy and a unique brown/rust color, and mine was a burgundy/purple masterpiece. We obviously had to buy them! Rather than the typical “tourist traps,” try finding places like this because you’ll come home with the most authentic gifts – for you and your loved ones.

After meandering the cobblestone streets of central Lisbon, we ventured to the sea for some air and a great view. We walked along the ocean on a walking and bike path to a cute glass pop-up restaurant for some chips and guac before we had to meet our next Airbnb host. Little did we know that our next Airbnb would be the best, most amazing one I’ve probably ever stayed in – especially considering how last-minute it was. Kids, sometimes it pays to travel without a plan!

All I can say is… wow. THIS place was truly perfect. The view. The space. The furniture. The central location. The surrounding architecture. The sounds of the people and the city. It was *perfection.* We were like little kids on Christmas morning! Dani and I relaxed, took photos on the balcony, and even walked around all the rooms to admire our amazing, rare find (and dare I say channeled our inner photographers and models!).

Little did we know our time in Lisbon would only get better…

Despite the fact that we wanted to keep soaking in the sun and wonderful views from Carlos’s apartment, we dressed up and got ready for an evening stroll and one of the best dinners of my life (no exaggeration!). We dined at a local hotspot (shout-out to Sarah for the great recommendation) where we could see a beautiful sunset on the ocean. I chowed down on some sweet potato, beets and zucchini with arugula salad (and fries!) and enjoyed a dry, red, full-bodied Portuguese wine. Dani ordered some dessert, which led us into one of the best nights of our trip.

Two men sitting next to us eyed our dessert and asked what we ordered. Max and Julian, a couple from Germany, immediately fit into our conversation as though the universe wanted us to meet. We told them to slide their table and chairs over, which led to sharing sangria and several hours of laughs and profound conversation. We talked about love, friendship, traveling, and laughed about so many little things in between. Max and Julian truly wanted to get to know us, and vice versa. It was probably my favorite interaction with strangers while traveling that I’ve had in a long time, and maybe ever. It reminded me why I love travel as much as I do (especially solo travel). You never know who you’re going to meet and how much of an impact they’ll have on you 🙂

The four of us didn’t want our night to end, so we headed downstairs for more drinks at the bar. I think Max and I both had about five or six drinks that night, and not did I pay for it the next day! But nevertheless it was worth it. Julian is half Portuguese, making our drink orders significantly less complicated. I wish I lived closer to max and Julian, and hope to see them again sometime. It was around 2:30am when we finally decided to head home. Dani and I strolled back to our Airbnb sad that we had to say goodbye, but blessed to have spent such an incredible evening with even better friends. We talked for another hour or so, sat on the patio to soak in the sounds of Lisbon at night, and went straight to bed.

I absolutely loved Lisbon!

My vacation in Portugal came at a weird time: we were about to move out of state, my role suddenly became busier at work and certain relationships remained in a strange place. Despite the chaos that was September and some mishaps while traveling, I was very excited to go on an international adventure again. My last trip outside the US was in 2019 when Juan and I explored Ecuador and Chile together, and I appreciated every moment of my time in Europe.

After a full day of train rides and an overnight flight from Chicago to Toronto and finally Lisbon, my friend Dani and I arrived first thing in the morning. Our incredibly gracious Airbnb host, Sarah, picked us up from the airport and gave us a brief tour of the city. She even offered to stop for some amazing views and took a few photos of us. Although we were both exhausted and I seriously wanted to put some makeup on, this was such a kind gesture and these are some of my favorite photos from the trip.

Prior to our check in at Sarah’s Airbnb, Dani and I stored our luggage at her laundromat and shared a lovely afternoon in the city center. We admired the cobblestone streets, winding roads, quintessential Portuguese architecture and laid back demeanor of the locals. Dani and I sat in the park on the grass – and soaked up some sun and good conversation. As simple as this moment sounds, it was probably one of my favorite memories from our girls trip. We shared some laughs and enjoyed beautiful landscapes and playful dogs around us… until a dog who was chained to a chair took off, was running in circles with the chair behind him, and headed toward us! Dani was unfortunately in the chair’s direction, and was hit in the side! I can’t even begin to explain how or why this happened, but this would only happen to her. Despite this “incident” for the lack of a better word, we laughed and it became one of many inside jokes from our vacation.

Late afternoon was filled with some logistics: heading to the Airbnb, receiving the luggage from Sarah’s husband, unpacking and freshening up before dinner. Taking that first shower made me feel like a new person, and I was ready to take on the evening. We ventured back into the city center at a slightly slower pace than we anticipated; one of our bus drivers didn’t stop for us when we were at the stop! Travel mishaps like this are supposed to happen, and that’s when you laugh it off and enjoy the slower pace that is Europe – something I’ve been craving for a very long time.

Our first dinner in Lisboa was spent outside at smaller, cute tables with some cocktails and Latin food. I had a wonderful pisco sour and some vegan tacos. Although messy, they were SO worth it. Dinners are served later and slower in Europe, but I actually prefer meals that way, so I soaked it in and felt right at home. Dani and I strolled around and saw some fun street performers and other diners smiling, living in the moment. We took a bus and walked back to our Airbnb, had some difficulty with our door and asked some neighbors for help and were excited for the rest of our time together.

Photos taken Friday, September 17, 2021

A spectacular September in Michigan

As my last couple of weeks in the mitten come to a close, I move into my new season of life with a full heart. I was able to spend time with my best friends and although no time spent is ever enough, I’m heading to my new home with happiness and peace in my decisions. I could think that my time in Michigan was filled with “lasts,” but I’m truly elated for all of the upcoming “firsts” to be experienced with my small family unit 😌

September 1 – spending the evening with an old neighbor/friend, and our dogs

September 2 – celebrating a friend’s birthday with sushi and cocktails in Ann Arbor

September 3 – a long overdue phone call with one of my best friends from Asheville

September 4 – all-day quality time with one of my best friends and our dogs, filled with much needed conversations and exploring

September 5 – breakfast with a dear friend who instantly makes me feel at home, and floating in Ann Arbor with two friends and Linley

September 6 – a morning walk along the river

September 7 – floating down some rapids with one of my best friends, right before the storm

September 8 – spending nearly all day on the couch with Juan, watching Never Have I Ever while I worked

September 9 – Linley’s “Gotcha Day!” festivities

September 10 – we received an offer on our house and took Linley on a nice afternoon walk

September 11 – Linley’s third Doggie Splash and dinner with good friends

September 12 – our last hike at the arboretum

September 13 – morning snuggles with Juan and Linley before work and a much-needed phone call with a dear friend

September 14 – a night on the town, all on my friend Donna

September 15 – another great night with a friend in Detroit, and watching Lin run and play with his friends