Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Creative Clarity Vol. 2

Nearly every time I've sat down to blog in the past few days, I've been pulled away from my computer by some other item on my "to-do" list. It seems every time I have a free moment to write, something else pops into my head and takes priority! Laundry, pack, buy paintbrushes, tape to paint, actually paint, return items to the library, eat (very important to not forget), put light switch covers back on, pull up tape, continue packing, fold laundry, etc. And then of course working full-time and working out! Needless to say, my blogging inspiration has taken a bit of a hit. So while the past few days have been a bit chaotic, they've also given me plenty to reflect on and smile about. I'm still pushing myself to notice the joy in the little things: the moments that give me creative clarity. (And its honestly been getting so much easier ever since my switch to minimalism and writing volume 1.)

So amidst the packing, the painting (finally pulled up the last bit of tape yesterday!), orchestrating the U-haul, and getting ready to move on Saturday, I've taken a few snapshots of recently enjoyed things. I hope you enjoy them, too!
 Getting to see my friend Angela for the first time in 2 years! Check out our weekend together here.
 Glorious Baba Ghanoush plate at Bière de Mac (also the only vegan option on the menu), one of our favorite breweries in northern MI. John and I went last weekend to celebrate his (belated) birthday.
 Two solid days and the apartment is finished! Purple, yellow, and blue walls are back to white. I loved the colors while I had them but definitely did not expect painting over them to be such a pain.
My new yoga wheel from BodyGood (psst Amazon). I've only fallen a few times trying to balance on it, but it is a total game changer!
 Speaking of yoga, lately I've been meditating for 10 minutes every morning after my yoga session (crunch, I know), and I'm loving Soundscapes on Pandora. (My current favorite channel is "Meditations Spa" and includes tracks like this, crackling fire, and rain)
Buying professional clothes for the first time in a long time - I'm back in the office next week! Definitely will miss the comfort of yoga pants/leggings all day but part of me is ecstatic that I'll get to dress up every day and make use of my clothes again. (This dress is from TJ Maxx.)
 Cauliflower rice, every day! Here I mixed it with TVP, romaine, and peppers (topped with avocado) but I also make a great vegan "fried rice" with tofu, too. Recipe to come! 
 This account on Instagram - love the positivity (and the humor) in each of their posts!
 Relaxing evenings with Pinot Noir and a bit of Yoga Ed. Getting serious about yoga lately has generated this intense interest in body systems, posture, muscles, etc. and how the different asanas (poses) in yoga affect them. I'd highly recommend this book if you're interested!
If you follow me on Instagram, you knew one of these was coming! This smoothie bowl was made with frozen strawberries, frozen bananas, Navitas açai powder and cacao powder, and cashew milk. Topped with Nature's Path Organics coconut chia granola (my fave) and fresh fruit.
More Yoga Ed, but this time reflecting on the mental "muscle" affected by yoga rather than the actual physical body. I found this book on Amazon.
I hope you're all having a great week so far and take a few minutes each day to acknowledge the little things that bring you joy. It can make such a huge difference in your day (and your week) to just take that extra moment to appreciate them. Thank you for checking out my post today and letting me share some creative clarity with you!

Ok...signing off for now. Watch for the next Travel Bug post coming soon!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Farewell, St. Ignace.

I never thought that I would live here.

And not in that, "Oh, it's so beautiful there, it would be a dream to live there," kind of way, but in the, "That's where my family goes on vacation...it's just a place to camp in, not a place to live in" kind of way. If anything I would consider myself a big city person. So you can imagine the surprise of my family and coworkers last April when I announced I was moving to Michigan's Upper Peninsula. To live. I mentioned it in my first post, but I moved here for what seemed like a great job opportunity. A brand new coffee shop right downtown, owned by close friends of my family, and I would be the manager. It would double as a church, so it had to be a great thing, right? (If only I could go back in time!) And the owners didn't know much about coffee, so I would have total control over creating the menu, choosing flavors, picking out ingredients....I even helped build the furniture! They were offering to pay me fairly well for the area, I found an apartment that was just perfect on the first trip up to visit, and my parents were excited they'd have someone to visit on their yearly trip to Mackinac Island. It all seemed too good to be true.
Naturally, it was. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail (see this post if you're interested), but the coffee shop did not work out. I left in November, and returned to my previous company as a remote worker. And that's what I've been up to ever since. Living in a very small town, driving long distances to basic stores like Meijer, TJ Maxx, or even Walmart, feeling like I've been cut off from "normal". It's been 16 months. Nearly a year and a half has passed since I moved here. And while I know that in 10 years, that really won't seem like a long period of time, I assure you: it's been a long freaking period of time. I've learned that just because someone is a "family friend," it does not by any means imply that you can trust them. I've learned not to take brick-and-mortar stores for granted (though thank goodness for online shopping). And I've learned that its dangerous to get too close to people who are as much in a 'transition phase' as you are.

But honestly it hasn't all been bad. I've also met some pretty incredible people ever since I moved up here that have given me new insights and new understandings of what relationships can be. I've learned that true friends stick around, whether your raclette actually cooks the food you're trying to serve or not (whoops), and regardless of your trivia skills. The friends I've made here have also taught me to be patient, how to properly enjoy yourself at a wedding reception, and that everyone is fighting a battle even if they don't outwardly show it. There have been good times and bad, friends who have left and friends who've stayed, and conversations that changed my views and sense of humor (ahem...you know who you are). So much has happened this past year and a half. I know that I've changed, but I do think its been in the best ways possible.

SO. I move one week from tomorrow. And since I will be on my way out of this teeny, tiny town, I feel no hesitation in sharing it with you. St. Ignace, with a population of 2,377 (2,376 as of next Saturday - roughly the size of my high school's student body) is literally the first town over the Mackinac Bridge. Its full of old buildings, Ojibwe museums, ferry docks, a US Coast Guard station, an antique store, and a lot of bars. (And a coffee shop I personally wouldn't recommend...). There's a church there full of incredibly kind people, a few restaurants specializing in white fish, and a handful of pasty shops. It is in no way, shape, or form vegan/vegetarian friendly, and the grocery store is ridiculously over priced. But since I've spent so much time here, I thought I'd share some places of interest. There's nothing remarkably special about these places, but given that I didn't often leave my apartment because I worked from home, any chance to get out and go somewhere was appreciated.
Naturally, the gym comes in high on my list. It was one of the first places I went outside of my apartment, and the first place I started actually meeting other people (dare I say friends?). I could be frustrated, upset, lonely, homesick, whatever...and come to the gym to just sweat it out. Granted, its no Lifetime Fitness or Powerhouse, but it had free weights, a squat rack, a few ellipticals, and a whopping 4 treadmills. (It also had a few hunky guys, which - let's be honest - only made working out more enjoyable.) The gym had everything I needed, and I was quick to get a membership. I recognized coffee shop regulars, got to know a few people in the Coast Guard, made a friend who worked in the hospital's pharmacy, and even met a few corrections officers from the local jail. (One of whom turned out to be pretty darn great.) The gym has definitely been one of my favorite places in town.
Ok. I'm sure this one raises a few eyebrows, but yes - the Driftwood is on my list of notable places. (I'm referring to the bar/restaurant, not the motel.) Frankly it doesn't have the best reputation. Some of the 'seedier' people in town often go to the Driftwood late at night, and a friend of mine even dubbed it, "The Dirty D". But when I first moved here, it was where I went to meet new people (oh, Sam...). I would literally take a book to the bar, order a glass of wine, and let the conversations happen. I met little old couples from Virginia on road trips through the U.P.. I met construction workers on their way to a job. I met some of the town regulars who'd been going for years, and they pointed out who to stay away from. I even got to know the staff at the Driftwood, including a girl my age who was there on a visa exchange program. She and I got to be very close, and when she had to return home a few months later for medical reasons, I packed her a 'safe travels!' bag with travel-size everything. She returned with a Starbucks mug for me from her home country, and I thought she'd be a solid friend.

Not two weeks later, she promptly ended our friendship. Because of...a guy. I hadn't lived in St. Ignace four months and I'd already found drama (ugh). After that I stopped going to the Driftwood as frequently because, well... I had no interest in bumping into her. And because by that point I'd started to make actual friends. Sure, I went back a few times for lunch after church, or for a friend's birthday party, or if a few in my group were meeting up for beers. But that's it. Farewell, Driftwood.
Surprise - another bar! MI Patio was definitely a favorite place of mine to go more last summer than this summer, mostly because of the staff. I got to know a couple who worked there (let's call them Hallie and Adam), and we became friends almost instantly. Hallie had been in the Navy and Adam in the Marines, and the two had fallen in love and gotten married. They were in St. Ignace to save money while they worked on an RV they were planning to take around the country once it was ready. I appreciated their help and insight in my pursuit of the Navy, and they gave me ideas of what to expect and supported me completely. They were just so interesting! Hallie and I 'clicked', and spent many nights watching Game of Thrones on HBO while drinking Summer Shandy and cuddling with their two adorable dogs. We had a 4th of July bonfire in their driveway, and Hallie and I walked down the street to buy an enormous box of fireworks. She even came with me the day I got my tattoo! I loved going to MI Patio because I always knew Hallie or Adam would come over to chat, Hallie's curly blonde hair bopping up and down in her ponytail and Adam scratching his beard. They were amazing. And come September, it was hard to see them go. 

They did come back to visit once, when they parked their RV in the campsite next to my apartment complex (yes, you read that correctly: an RV park next to my apartment complex), and it was neat to see the space they'd been living in for the past several months. They told me about their travels all around the United States, and it was hard to believe it had once only been a dream they'd shared with me at MI Patio. The menu was small and there were usually only 3 or 4 beers on tap, but it was still a favorite.
Speaking of Hallie and Adam, they took me to this magical place called "The Dunes", which is a short drive down US-2 past St. Ignace. Basically its a big, open beach on Lake Michigan where people love to relax, enjoy the sun and sand, and maybe share a few cold ones. I went a few times with my friends from MI Patio, and they'd even bring their two dogs along. Absolutely beautiful, and a great way to spend a summer afternoon.
I couldn't possibly leave out Dollar General! This place was so critical in putting together nearly all of my tutoring lessons. I shied away from their packaged food and makeup, but their craft aisle was amazing. Tag board, construction paper, scissors, glue sticks, crayons, markers, pom-pom balls, paints...this place had it all. I loved going just to browse and see what I could make. My French tutoring students painted flags, made books, created "monstres", and even played games, all with materials I found at Dollar General. Aside from tutoring, I would occasionally buy Barefoot wine there (since Meijer was 45 minutes away and it was twice as expensive at the grocery store...) but that's about it!
So let's talk about the grocery store for a minute. It's called "Family Fare" (even though everyone in town calls it "Glen's", its former name) and its possibly the least 'family-friendly' grocery store I have ever been to. First and foremost, this is the entirety of its organic fruits/vegetables/anything section:
Second, they charge an arm and a leg for groceries. Since campers and tourists have to buy food somewhere, the prices are ridiculously high (because there are no other grocery stores in town). Canteloupe melon: $3.99 each. The smallest box of Cheerios: $3.19. Any kind of organic anything: twice the price of a Meijer or Trader Joe's. A bag of tortilla chips normally $2.99 is $4.99 here. One container of trailmix ($5.49 in most stores) is $8.99. At one point I even saw a carton of strawberries for over $7. And I rarely - if ever - bought wine there. So while some might think it was ridiculous that I drove the 45 minutes to Meijer once a week to load up on normal, normally-priced groceries (filling up the cooler on my backseat), it was completely worth it.
The Wawatam Lighthouse also makes the list because it was one of the first places I visited on a trip up to go apartment hunting in St. Ignace. The lighthouse is situated directly across the street from the coffee shop, so I knew I'd be spending a lot of time looking at it out the front windows. Now that I haven't been working at the coffee shop, it's become more of a "walk destination" when I decide to do some cardio in fresh air. It's roughly 2.1 miles from my apartment, so whether I walk or run it's a decent distance to go. Sometimes I do a bit of both. And then on my way back, I turn around and see this:
Friends, this is the coffee shop. I took this picture last summer before we opened, back when I had a completely different idea of where I'd be now. I never thought I'd be moving back to my parents' 'neck of the woods' or returning to my company, but I am so thankful that I'm able to. My managers, my coworkers, and the company in general have been so supportive and understanding through this entire past year, and I really can't put in words how grateful I am. (I don't know if any of you will read this, but if you do...thank you.)

St. Ignace has been interesting, to say the very least. After labor day last year, the town fell silent after a very busy tourist season. The winter was long and quiet and cold, though not as bad as I was expecting, and I was thankful for good friends to get through it with. One of my favorite restaurants in town - the Village Inn (or 'VI' as the cool kids call it) - even held a trivia night every Tuesday and my group of friends went regularly. Those friends made living in this town so much more enjoyable. We had a "Friendsgiving" (or two) and went black Friday shopping up in Sault Ste Marie. We had a few game nights and a "college draaank night" (don't ask). We went to the casino on a few occasions, more for the drinks than for the machines. We had movie nights and bonfires and sometimes even worked out together. It was so nice to have a group of people that felt more like family than friends: some were married, some were single, one couple had an adorable baby, and we were all just kind of "figuring it out" together. And of course being with someone who happened to be a local made things just a little better, too. (Especially when they have a big surprise party for you involving all of your closest friends when you think you're just going out to dinner with your parents...)
(Ok...technically this picture was in Sault Ste Marie, but the gang's all here)
If I could rewind and do things differently, I would. Absolutely, 100%. I'm not going to lie and say, "I wouldn't change anything, because I learned so much and wouldn't be the person I am today, blehhh." But in the past year and a half in St. Ignace, it's true that I have grown and changed a lot. I know that when I move, I'm going to appreciate the little things more, like being able to 'run to the store' after work or be in an office surrounded by my coworkers. I can do yoga at an actual studio and work out right in my apartment complex. I'll be able to go to the occasional family function without planning an entire weekend around the trip, and of course I'll be able to see my old friends more often. The friends I've made in St. Ignace are closer than friends I made in college or high school, and I have no doubt we'll keep in touch. That's what real friends do.

This coming week is going to be busy. I don't have a ton to pack (thank you, minimalism), but I do have to paint my blue, purple, and yellow walls back to white, organize the U-haul, and take a few more things to the donation center. I also have to do all of those annoying last-minute things like cleaning the shower, cancelling internet/electric, and wiping out my fridge. But I am so excited. I have been ready for this for months and its hard to believe its finally here.

Farewell, St. Ignace.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Travel Bug: My First Time Abroad (France 2009).

Let's rewind to 2008.

I was in my sophomore year of high school. Now, those of you that know me personally might know that high school was not exactly a shining part of my life. I desperately missed my friends from elementary school, who all seemed to have gone to the same private school while I was sent off to the public school near my parents' house. I was constantly frustrated with myself and my family, and overall just fell into poor mental health, which quickly lead to poor physical health. It was a rough patch, to say the very least. I knew that my mom and dad were at their wits' end with me. No, I wasn't messing around with any substance abuse, but I wasn't taking care of myself the way normal high school students do. So my parents tried everything: leaving cards of encouragement on my pillow, trying to arrange 'hang-out' sessions with my dwindling pool of friends, and even just trying to talk me through it. And then one day after our (very stressful) Easter vacation, a teacher asked me to stay after class to chat. It was my French teacher. And she knew something was wrong. 

Madame B was one of my favorite teachers. She was so passionate about French language and culture and it showed each and every day. She was animated in the classroom, kept lessons interesting and engaging, and as cliché as it sounds she just made learning fun. I fell in love with French. I joined the French club, went to 'ciné-club' (movie nights), and even started studying on my own outside of class. So when Madame B asked me to stay after class that day, I was mildly excited. Until of course we actually talked and she voiced her concerns about me. I started crying and got the longest, most comforting hug I have ever received from another human being. Things were going to get better. Things had to get better. I just had to focus on something else. So with Madame B's help, that 'something else' became French.
I buried myself in French. Frustrated with mom and dad? Work on verb conjugations. Annoyed that my brother wouldn't leave me alone during dinner? Practice sentence structures. Have an awful experience out in public? Start working on the subjunctive. I let French become my crutch for everything and it was soon my number one form of stress relief. It started coming so easily for me, Madame B even let me move from French II to French III so I could make it to AP French by my senior year. In addition to my studying, our French class had been writing ink-and-paper letters back and forth with another high school, in France. Our pen pals lived just west of Versailles, and we spent most of year getting to know them through these letters. It was incredible, and every new letter or photo rekindled that spark inside me that thrived on learning about France and its culture. So about a month before the school year ended, when Madame B announced that those who were so inclined could join on a trip to go visit our pen pals, I knew I had to do it. I had to go to France.

My parents weren't so sure.

The thought of sending their struggling daughter to a foreign country where they'd have no control for 10 days did not seem like a great idea. I don't think I've ever begged to the extent I did in order to go. I promised them I would work on my health, my priorities, and of course work out a payment plan with them. I stopped arguing about small, insignificant things (most of the time). I started pointing out how much of a literal life-saver French had become and how the trip could be a huge stepping stone for me. I mentioned that Madame B was a huge supporter in all of this (and I knew they really liked her). And by some miracle from heaven, they finally agreed. I could go to France.

Months of planning ensued. Madame B hosted a few "informational nights" at her house to give all of us students and our parents peace of mind about traveling abroad. She walked us through applying for a passport and my parents surprised me with the paperwork on my birthday. She talked about euros and navigating the metro and important phrases and customs to keep in mind. You see, the six of us who were going weren't going to be staying together: we were all staying separately with our pen pals and their families. There were some plans in place to meet up on occasion (to see the Eiffel Tower, go to a French high school, and see the Palace of Versailles), but other than that we were on our own. Our French language would be put to the ultimate test and I couldn't wait.
(Before the times of smartphones: behold the time stamp)
When the day finally came to leave, I was more nervous than I'd ever been in my life. I lugged my mother's suitcase around the airport (this was before every suitcase had wheels), bid her au revoir at security, and joined my classmates and Madame B in finding our gate. We were going....we were actually going! 

The next ten days flew by in a heartbeat. We met our pen pals at the train station, where we all went our separate ways. The very first night in France I remember having the most spectacular 5-course dinner (homemade by my pen pal's mother) consisting of fruit, seasoned noodles, balsamic salad, some kind of stuffed tomato, and a giant apple torte. There was a rose-flavored drink and tons of delicious baguette. Her parents, her brother, and a coworker of her father's (an older gentleman visiting from the University of Wisconsin) sat at the table for three hours. They drilled me about my studies and life in Michigan (in French) and I did my best to remember past, present, and future tenses of verbs in a comprehensive response. The man from Wisconsin helped with some of the translation, but overall it was an eye-opening experience. Several times during that first evening I thought I'm in France. I'm actually in another country. And nothing back home matters right now

In the following days, I had more new experiences than I could have imagined. I rode a bicycle through the countryside, following my pen pal and her mother to the bakery for fresh bread (which yes, we put in a basket on our backs as we rode, how cinematic!). I had fresh croissants and pain-au-chocolats. I experienced a French high school with students smoking just outside the front doors. And the food they had in the cafeteria shocked all of us when compared to the pizza sticks and chips we had back home. I saw a light show on the side of a cathedral in Chartres and drank wine in public at a restaurant called Le Serpent. I even rowed a boat in front of the Palace of Versailles, listening to Madame B tell us about the life in France while the 'Sun King' was the reigning monarch. There was so much to be learned, so much that I would have never understood just through a description in a book. (For example, in Montmarte you can actually see the Moulin Rouge. Just be careful not to stand in one place for too long or else artists will demand you pay them for the portrait they've already started drawing of you!) I made more friends in those ten days than I'd managed to make since going to high school. It was absolutely incredible. None of my insecurities, issues, or fears had followed me across the ocean. I was immersed in another world.
 (Pre-vegetarian/vegan days)
 ...except for the fact that I did have some severe stomach issues the first few days because of all the bread I was eating (my physical health was doing better, but my system was definitely not used to so many carbs). Once I became accustomed to the French cuisine, things got much easier. On one excursion, we ran through Paris in the rain to make it into the Louvre without getting too soaked. We explored the Musée d'Orsay, the 'love lock' bridge, and even walked along the Champs-Élysées. We climbed up the 669 steps to the second floor of the Eiffel Tower and may or may not have written our names on it. Madame B told us that the Eiffel Tower was originally constructed as a temporary exhibit for the World's Fair. It served to commemorate the centennial of the French Revolution and demonstrate France's industrial power to the world. Nobody expected it to become permanent, let alone such an iconic symbol of the city! We were so surprised, or maybe it was just the spectacular view taking our breath away...
I learned so much about myself during the trip to France. I learned that I certainly was not my circumstances: I was just weighed down by them at home. All of the frustration, the panic, the tears of the entire previous year vanished the moment I got off the airplane. My issues with self confidence and body image evaporated as I dined with my host family and spent time having meaningful conversation with them. I developed a new passion for foreign language and culture and somehow it made me more determined than ever to heal. I wanted to be able to experience more. I wanted to be able to travel, more.

The very last night in France, I drove with my pen pal and her family deep into the heart of Paris. We walked for what felt like ages, her parents reciting the story of how they met after seeing a certain landmark that was significant to their history. Her brother talked about sports, I countered with the little I knew about sports in America, and my pen pal dove deeper into my background as well. By the time we reached the restaurant, they felt like my own family. They knew nothing of the hell I'd been through the past year, yet here they were accepting me, making me feel loved, and showing me the most beautiful, lesser-known parts of Paris. I felt like I was in a movie. Even once we'd arrived at the restaurant - a historic, upscale establishment called Bouillon Chartier - I just felt like I 'fit'. It was a feeling I hadn't experienced in years, if ever. My host family, the French language, the way of life...it was an immensely powerful paradise compared to the life I'd been living.

Coming home was the hardest thing I've ever done. I had managed to escape for ten whole days. No disappointed looks from my parents, no frustrating talks or unkind comments from the students at my high school, nothing. I'd just experienced the most beautiful city, amazing food, welcoming hosts, and complexly unique culture and frankly had no desire to return. The transition was tough. It definitely lent way to a few harsh reality checks. But I continued on with French, now having had an immersive taste of it. I had to continue. I had to learn more. 
As weird as it sounds, my trip to France in 2009 saved my life. If I hadn't been inspired to work for it, to heal mentally and physically so I could go, I don't know where I'd be today. I will never forget Madame B and her kindness to me that day when she asked me to stay after class to 'chat'. She lit a spark inside of me to be well, to live well, and to learn French. Since that trip, I continued to study French for another 6 years, even minoring in it in college. And my studies continue even today. I've returned to France on one other occasion (coming in a future post!), and definitely would love to do so again in the future. I've tutored French for over seven years now, and even did a "French day" at my sister's school when she used to teach first grade. It has become such an important part of my life and it all started with that first trip across the ocean. 

It was the beginning of having the "Travel Bug".

Monday, August 20, 2018

Weekend Recap.

Happy Monday friends! I hope you've all had a great weekend and are taking on your week full-speed ahead. I spent my weekend catching up with an old friend and exploring, so I thought I'd do a bit of a weekend recap to catch you up things. It was a quick 2-day trip downstate, but well worth the drive for everything we did!

Now if you're wondering, "Wait, I thought you said in your last post you were going to be sharing your past travels?" - I am! Those are coming soon. But first, this weekend. I had to drive down to my future neighborhood to tour an apartment, check out the yoga studio I'm planning to join, and do some grocery shopping for a few hard-to-find-in-the-UP items. Earlier last week, I was talking to my old friend Angela (who I've known for 15 years!) and we made the spontaneous decision to make it a 'girls' weekend'. The two of us met in fifth grade, and quickly became friends after realizing our mutual love of animals, organization, Neopets, and crafts. We both played the flute and sat next to each other in band every year. We rode our bikes to each others' houses and had many movie nights. We would even go to Michael's (a craft store) for supplies to make earrings. We kept in touch through high school (when she moved from Michigan to Ohio) and I stopped to visit her on my drive home from Minnesota when I was out there for school. I even got to meet her bearded dragon, Leonard Smaug. She's one of those wonderful friends where conversations never run dry and we can always find something fun to do. So on Friday I drove down from the UP and and she drove up from her town in Ohio. It was amazing to see her again as the last time we spent any amount of time together was at her wedding in 2016. We met at my parents' house, had a wonderful evening of catching up, and enjoyed a glass of vino (or two).

On Saturday we had a full schedule. I woke up incredibly early thanks to my parents' dog needing to go out at 3:45 in the morning, and since I couldn't fall back asleep (Coco kept licking my face from the side of the bed), I decided to do a quick yoga session from Yoga with Adriene. Angela woke up a short while later, and we decided on a spot for brunch. Because my apartment tour wasn't until 11:30am, we had plenty of time and found a cute place called Cafe Muse in downtown Royal Oak. It was right on the way, had a great menu, and was overall the perfect spot. 
Cafe Muse had a cozy European vibe, and the menu gave us both plenty of options. As a vegan, I was excited that they had a "Tofu Scramble" with vegan chorizo (a first for me). Angela - who follows a Keto diet - found a steak-and-eggs breakfast. And coffees for both. Our waitress was beyond wonderful and was happy to answer our questions and keep our coffee cups full. We enjoyed our brunch, talked about everything, and made our plan for the rest of the weekend. Afterwards, we popped in and out of a few shops downtown, taking pictures and admiring the fact that some even set out bowls of water and treats for dogs. We checked out a paper/knick-knack store, got a very clumpy matcha latte at a hipster-y 'tea shoppe', and enjoyed seeing the different designs painted on every parking meter. It was a beautiful day out, and for a Saturday the downtown area really wasn't that crowded. 
Shortly after 11:00, we headed out for the apartment. It was only a 15-minute drive from Royal Oak, and I loved that its situated right in a fairly busy area (no more middle-of-the-woods!). The landlord was out back at the pool (!!!) preparing for a barbecue for the residents and was happy to show us around. The apartment complex is a high-rise, and the one bedroom they have available is on the fifth floor. Since the tenant isn't moving out until next weekend, the landlord showed me two-bedroom with the same balcony view, kitchen, and bathroom. I didn't love the outdated cupboards and my next-door neighbor will be a smoker, but what can you do? The apartment complex offers free internet, has a 24-hour fitness center, is in a great location close to work, and fits my budget. I can rent a car port only during the months I need it, and the building even has a 'courtesy patrol' in the evenings. And I can paint! I've learned in the past that there will always be things you don't love about any apartment. But it seems that the pro's outweigh the con's on this one, so I put down my holding fee. Given that no major damage is done when the current tenant does move out, I should be all set to move in September 1st!

With high spirits from having decided on an apartment, we drove from the complex to my office just to get a feel for "the commute". It took less than ten minutes. Granted, I know with morning traffic it'll take a bit longer than that, but there are a few 'back ways' and anything under the hour-and-a-half drive I used to do is wonderful. After, we left and headed to Trader Joe's (also very close to my apartment) to stock up on our favorites. Angela doesn't have Trader Joe's in Ohio, so she was just as excited as I was about everything they have. With bags full of the essentials, we headed back towards my parents' house and stopped at a few more stores (Target, TJ Maxx, Kroger). In elementary school, we used to go to the same Target together all the time, so it was fun being there together again these many years later.
We spent the rest of the evening at home, making dinner with fresh veggies from my parents' garden and taking Coco on a walk. (Which ended up being a half walk/half spring since we didn't want to use her choke collar and she doesn't understand the concept of 'evening stroll'). I think I was more exhausted than she was! Then Angela and I settled in for more talks and some good ol' HGTV. It is such a luxury to have cable whenever I stay at my parents' house.

Sunday morning, Coco managed to sleep in until 4:30 (lol). I let her out, got her breakfast, got myself breakfast, and did some Pinterest-ing before Angela woke up. We got ready for the day and met my sister, her husband, and my niece at their church. After an hour of worship (and having my dress decorated with stickers), we headed home for brunch. Then it was time for yoga. I was excited to check out Karma Yoga, a studio near my future apartment, and had been invited by one of the instructors to come to her Sunday class. As soon as Angela and I walked inside, a wonderful aroma of essential oils greeted us along with calm music and a friendly face behind the desk. The woman there helped us sign in and was happy to talk with me about their specials and programs. At 11:30am sharp, we were on our mats, ready for a good flow. The instructor walked us through ab work, some hip-openers, a few upper-body positions, and finally into Savanasa. It was the first yoga class I'd ever been to where a gong was incorporated, so as we lay in corpse pose it was really neat to have such a powerful sound vibrating throughout the room. The instructor also chanted something in Sanskrit (which I'd never heard done), then brought us up into a meditation pose.  After a few moments there, class was finished. Namaste.

Lunch was our final stop of the day and we went to one of our all-time favorite places, Panera Bread. The closest Panera to where I currently live is roughly 45 minutes south (plus you have to pay bridge fair both ways) so it was a treat to have my favorite salad and hazelnut coffee. I think we both felt like we'd gone back in time, back at our old 'lunch spot', talking like it hadn't been two years since the last time we saw each other. We decided that we'll visit each other much more often once I move since she'll only be an hour and a half away. (No more two-year gaps!) We drove back to my parents' house, packed our things, played with Coco a bit, and straightened up the house. Then it was time to say our good-byes and head home. 

It was so great to see Angela this weekend and have a close friend help me out with some  pretty big decisions. I seriously cannot wait to share everything here on the blog! I know the next two weeks are going to fly by, packing and preparing to move. My future landlord is going to email me the lease since I won't be making another trip down until I'm actually in a U-haul. I'm going to call this week to get organized with my yoga studio. I have a few items of furniture to build (or maybe I'll leave them in boxes until I arrive?) And then I have a few last-minute items to take to the donation center. It's going to be busy. But I am so excited for all of it. 

...only 12 days to go!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

The Travel Bug.

I'll admit: I'm mildly disappointed.

It's only August, but 2018 has not exactly been the year I was hoping for. I remember on New Year's Eve, thinking ahead to everything I wanted to happen this year: personal life, professional life, and quite frankly Navy life. I thought I'd be leaving in June or July for OCS, and there was an excitement of not knowing what lay beyond that. And here, 8 months later, none of that has come to fruition. I'm so incredibly thankful for all of the opportunities that have come in place of those things, of course, but life just has a funny way of dealing cards sometimes. 

But I think beyond my expectations for this year, my biggest disappointment is that I haven't found the time to travel. In 2014, I spent a summer abroad in Ireland and have gone abroad every year since. 2015, I graduated from college and went to visit friends of mine from that summer abroad. 2016, I went to Greece and Germany to meet my relatives and explore my family's history. 2017, I went to Berlin for the first time and stayed with friends I'd met in Greece the year before. And here we are in 2018, and I haven't left the United States. My skin is itching! People seem shocked when they realize that each of those trips were done alone. Sure, I stayed with other interns in Ireland and technically I was visiting friends and family on other occasions (though I did Couchsurf and AirBNB throughout Greece...a very neat experience you can read about in my book! One day!), but the hike from the US to Europe was done by me, myself, and I. And I don't think I'd have it any other way.
 (Chania, Greece)
(Athens, Greece)
There are some other big things coming in the next few months that I will be excited to share, but as of right now it doesn't seem like travel is in the cards for 2018. I was thinking of visiting my old college roommate in Guatemala in a few months, but funny enough money doesn't grow on trees (how about that?). And with moving and my car situation and a few other things coming, it doesn't look like that trip will work out. I'll keep my fingers crossed. SO. What's a girl who loves to travel to do when she can't travel and is about to break her streak? 

She's going to share it.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be sharing my past travels with you to "live vicariously" through my past self. I did blog throughout my time in Ireland, and had tried to re-start the blog on another occasion, including past adventures, but unfortunately those memories were lost when I deleted those blogs. Fortunately, I kept all of my journals. And then there's that book sitting here waiting to be published. So...I'm going to share with you. Before I get into each year's adventure, I wanted to just write a blog about travel and why I love it. It isn't often that I get to just sit down and ramble about something I am so deeply passionate about, so if you're already thinking "oh boy, here we go", you better settle in. I'm going to kick all of this off with a quote from the late Anthony Bourdain (may your soul rest in peace):

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you - it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you… Hopefully, you leave something good behind.” 
- Anthony Bourdain

The first time I ever crossed the ocean - when I traveled to France in high school - my eyes were opened to so many things. I never experienced “culture shock” in the general sense or struggled with any kind of severe language barrier (I'm fluent in French), but there were definitely things I found remarkable that I couldn’t imagine existing in America. And it went well beyond the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, and the Seine. The other American students and I spent a day with our pen pals in their school, where we learned that everyone was required to take both English and another foreign language. In America we only need two years of one foreign language. Groups of students would gather outside to smoke, which was forbidden at my high school. And perhaps most surprising of all was the food in their cafeteria: all “bio” (organic) and not a Bosco stick in sight. Later, we took the métro, and had our first experience with busy public transportation, something most of us had never experienced in America. (Public transportation doesn’t exist in Michigan. After all, a huge part of its economy depends on the automotive industry.) 
(Paris, France)
(Paris-Montmartre, France)
All of these things, along with the nightly home-cooked, traditional meals and three-hour-long dinner conversations I had with my pen pal and her family amounted to a 10-day experience I would never forget. It was the first time I realized the importance of traveling: the first time I felt truly changed by it. I wanted to learn more about my country’s own history after visiting so many beautiful, historic places in northern France. I wanted to go out and try new things, visit new restaurants, and even adopt some of the habits I’d noticed during my trip. I wrote more, I read more, and I started having an occasional ‘afternoon coffee’ and a small treat, just as I had in France. I remember returning home from that trip wanting to go back as soon as possible: the ‘travel bug’ had bitten.

That sensation of change that I felt after just 10 days in France was nothing compared to how I felt after my summer in Dublin. I learned more that summer - about myself, about interacting with people of other cultures - than I did in any communications class I had in college. My internship was in a small office (nestled in the back of an antique shop) and my coworkers were from countries all over Europe. There were occasional language barriers of course, but the stories and customs we shared over lunch were eye-opening. The internship required me to spend a huge amount of time putting myself in uncomfortable situations. I wasn’t used to the way my boss conducted business, I’d never had a desk job requiring near constant email communication, and even going out with other interns - a group of people I wasn’t completely familiar with - took some getting used to. On one occasion, I even had my first professional conversation on the phone in a foreign language (French). It was my proudest moment of the summer. I experienced my first happy hour with coworkers, and even learned how difficult it could be to do business with so many countries.
 ("Glendalough" - Valley of the Two Lakes, Ireland)
(River Liffey, Dublin)
When I returned to the United States and worked my way through another school year, it wasn't long before I started planning my next trip. Some of the other interns and I had kept in touch since the summer in Dublin, so when I graduated college I decided to go back to visit them. I learned that I could have an incredible work ethic when I was properly motivated, and picked up so many extra shifts at my part-time job that management switched me to ‘full time’ (while still taking a full load of classes). Finally, a few days after graduation, I went back to Germany to visit one of the Dublin interns and her family. I was there for just six days, and from the time I arrived to the time I left, we’d transformed from simply being former coworkers to being as close as sisters. We still Skype, and I consider her to be one of my best friends. After I celebrated New Years’ with her (on the top of a mountain in the Alps), I headed to Austria to visit another intern friend and her family. We also grew quite close, and she managed to get me outside of my comfort zone - way outside of my comfort zone - taking me to different events around Salzburg. In November. We spent half of the time I was there absolutely freezing (or maybe that was just me), but it was still an unforgettable experience. 
 (Bavaria, Germany)
(Innsbruck, Austria - New Year's Eve 2015)
(Somewhere in the Alps, Austria)
(Bbischofshofen, Austria)
I had thought the trip to France was a ‘once in a lifetime’ adventure. Everyone had told me so. And then the internship in Dublin, another ‘once in a lifetime’ experience. And then I started planning my post-grad trip back to Europe and had a phenomenal two weeks in Germany and Austria. I didn’t want any of these to be ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences: I wanted to make friends there and truly invest in becoming a part of the culture. It wasn’t just me wanting to go ‘see cool places’ and ‘do new things’: I wanted to be fully immersed and become a "woman of the world". I had every intention of returning each time I came back to the United States. So it was pure passion and determination that then took me back to Germany and Greece in 2016, and last year again to Germany for 10 days in Berlin. 

It goes without saying that travel is one of the most challenging things someone can do. Beyond the planning, the coordinating, and of course coming up with the money to actually be able to travel, it can be quite difficult to adjust. For me, some of the most difficult things I had to adjust to were those outside of my control. They were things like seeing the massive amount of homeless individuals on the streets of Dublin and Athens, and hearing how rude some English-speakers were to shop owners or to the wait staff in restaurants. I was even embarrassed at times. But by far the most difficult adjustment I had to make in my past experiences as a traveler was accepting just that: the fact that I was just traveling. I wasn’t permanently staying and therefore couldn’t very well plant roots of any kind. I realized how difficult it was to leave friends in foreign countries. To this day, I still keep in touch with and consider my friends in Germany and Greece to be some of the best I’ve ever had. Fortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to visit them in subsequent trips and each time, leaving becomes more and more difficult.

As Anthony Bourdain said, “It (travel) leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body.” I couldn’t agree more. I’ve only been to six countries outside of the United States (Ireland, Germany, France, Austria, Greece, Canada), and can say with confidence that my mindset has completely changed since the moment I boarded my first flight. The cultural differences and history of each country are unlike anything I’ve ever come across in the United States. Even in a textbook, it’s hard to fully understand the impact of history and understand the culture just by reading about it. Spending time in those foreign countries - being the foreigner - is a completely different experience. It’s like being a child. Everything is new, everything is confusing (at first), and sometimes nothing is understandable. The first time I ordered coffee at a cafe in France, I managed to order straight espresso instead of coffee. The first time I ever crossed the street in Dublin (I even waited for the crosswalk sign), I almost got hit by a car. And then that first time I went to the bathroom in a restaurant in Greece and realized they put their used toilet paper in a wastebasket next to the toilet rather than flushing it down the pipes, I was just disgusted. But to them, that’s standard protocol. And seeing the actual remains of the Berlin wall last November, feeling the looming memories from so many years ago...history is alive and well everywhere if you just stop and acknowledge it.
(Athens, Greece)
Despite the frustration when plans didn't go so smoothly, despite the exhausting layovers and all of the painful blisters from walking through foreign cities, my times abroad are experiences I will never forget. Everything that has happened abroad has made me a stronger person - a more adventurous person - than I could have ever become otherwise. As for what I left behind, I may never know. Yet if it’s anything like what I took away from my experience, then I know that it was good. 

Travel can be uncomfortable and heartbreaking, and at times is definitely not so pretty. In each new voyage to the unknown, there are inevitable highs and lows. There are always lessons to be learned. But travel can also be one of the most wonderful, life-changing things in the world: anywhere in the world.

Next year, for sure.

Madrid, Part 2

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