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 🙂

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

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

Linley’s Gotcha Day

Four years ago, I saw Lin’s sweet face on PetFinder and we rescued each other. The poor fella was abused, abandoned and had two days until euthanasia in Texas. He has been through so much, and I’ve been trying to make his life a brighter place ever since September 9, 2017.

Each Gotcha Day (birthday for rescue pups) I’ve tried extra hard to make his day even more special. This year, we kicked off our day with an hour-long hike in the woods. He enjoyed marking his territory, and we even saw some deer!

While I worked, we spent the entire day snuggling on the couch – which is one of our favorite pastimes 💛

After work, Juan and I took him to one of our favorite downtown areas and strolled along the river. Per usual, we had a great walk as a family.

We wrapped up our lovely celebration by running around with puppers at the dog park, treating Lin to some ice cream, and snuggles before bedtime ☺️

I can only hope that Linley is as happy as he’s made us throughout these past four years 🐶

August Gratitude

August was, admittedly, a month full of turbulence, and was my last full month in Michigan. Despite all of this, there’s always light in the darkness. Here are some highlights that made me smile 😌

August 1 – kayaking, hiking and dining in Ann Arbor with Juan and Linley

Hiking at Gallup Park

August 2 – dinner and hot coco with my favorite cousin who visited from New York

Reunited with Katy

August 3 – an evening on the lake with one of my best friends

August 4 – Linley enjoying himself at Home Depot (and loving all the attention!)

August 5 – back to Home Depot!

August 6 – a good night with a great friend

August 7 – profound conversations

August 8 – checking out the Chicago home

Wrigleyville here we come!

August 12 – a night out with an old friend, and some new ones

August 13 – meeting Mindy, Tom and Autumn at the dog park

Lin’s favorite spot

August 14 – heading to Detroit’s infamous Eastern Market with one of my best friends, and being a friend’s plus one to the greatest wedding I’ve ever attended

August 15 – lots of small pups for Lin to play with at the dog park

August 18 – Linley getting Bark to School photos taken at camp, and playing with his friends at the dog park (again!)

August 19 – a dear friend taking my late-night phone call, and making my evening brighter

August 20 – a fun night in downtown Detroit

August 21 – Linley finally cooperating for a bike ride

August 22 – an afternoon at Belle Isle and eating ice cream

August 23 – getting to know my friend’s new boyfriend and having a little too much to drink on a Monday evening

August 25 – dinner and drinks with a bestie

August 26 – a best friend being a great listener

August 27 – celebrating Juan’s “big promotion” at our favorite jazz club

August 28 – reuniting with two of my best friends and spending the day together

Gonna miss Rochester Brunch House!

August 29 – family bonding in Ann Arbor

August 30 – seeing Lin run around with his friends at the dog park

August 31 – dinner and drinks at my favorite speakeasy with one of my closest friends

Speakeasy in my hometown

And, Lin was just grumpy all month long 😂

Throwback Thursday: my month in Thailand

I have one month left before I leave my home state of Michigan. Wow. It’s exciting and emotional all in one. In times like these, I often reflect on parallel experiences that brought me to a similar state of mind, and for me, this is primarily my month volunteering in Thailand.

My time in the northern part of this beautiful country was exactly what I needed at that time in my life; I was in desperate need of an adventure and a positive change to get me through. My move to Chicago will open new, exciting opportunities and will allow me to explore common territory in a different way. I’m very much looking forward to pursuing my career aspirations, desired lifestyle and newness the same way I did in Thailand not too long ago.

World Elephant Day

August 12th was World Elephant Day, which is probably one of my favorite “random” holidays. The preservation and protection of the world’s elephants are extremely important, and it’s great that there’s a day dedicated to this area of animal welfare.

In 2017, it was a privilege and my honor to feed, bathe and (ethically) entertain the elephants provided and cared for by the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary in Chiangmai, Thailand. While traveling, it’s important to research which companies are truly sanctuaries as opposed to businesses that exploit and harm animals.

I hope to live in a world where all animals are treated with the respect and compassion they deserve ❤️

July Gratitude

July was full of spontaneity, love and laughter. Here are some of my favorite moments from last month:

-my teammates are excited to meet me, and have been giving me pointers on where to live in the city

-good phone calls with great friends, and my favorite cousin

-going to an indoor party for the first time since February 2020

-exploring downtown Detroit; admiring the architecture and fireworks while Linley kept running into things with a big smile on his face

-hanging out on the lake with my best friend and her family (+fast boat rides!)

-overcoming family bullying and past trauma

-finally meeting my former coworkers and spending a lovely weekend with them in Asheville

-a lovely evening stroll through a local riverwalk with Juan and Linley

-my supervisors asking how the move is going and expressing their excitement to meet me in September

-spending the entire morning floating and drinking on the Huron River with one of my best friends

-long conversations with old friends

-taking Linley on spontaneous adventures

-becoming closer with coworkers

-Linley’s kiss attacks!

-laughing and catching up with my home girl Donna on a weekly basis (never a dull moment!)

-when a friend can turn a terrible day into a phenomenal one

-productive mornings

-Linley made an appearance on a company Zoom photo collage

-Linley trying to earn treats simply for being cute on a hot day (and sitting by Sommer and his treat bag on the bench!)

-spending time with the three sweetest kiddos who call me “Aunt Cate”

-Jaclyn saying “well, you’re my sister, so…” ☺️

-girls nights with a best friend in Ann Arbor (strong drinks in new places with old friends!)

-tolerating less bullshit

-a lovely day with Juan and Linley, full of walks and relaxation

-knowing that I will always overcome what’s ahead

Sunday Stroll

I’ve realized that the majority of my evenings have been consumed by river walks with Linley, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! There’s a beautiful park near our neighborhood which allows us to mix up our walking routine every now and then. How have you been changing things up throughout this year and last?

Photos taken Sunday, July 25, 2021