Saturday, December 14, 2019

Madrid, Part 1

And so another adventure began.

When I started my new career back in March, I knew that I'd be working with our international clients. From the start, there was a part of me that hoped the position would involve some sort of travel - anywhere, frankly - and I was so excited when I found out it would be a possibility within the first year. But I never thought that I'd actually be planning a trip just a few months later - to Spain, of all places. As a major aspect of my job is working closely with manufacturing facilities, part of the first year expectation is that new employees will do a "Shadow Audit" - a trip to accompany an auditor on a three-day audit of one of their clients.

After many meetings with my manager and several hours spent working out how I could stay on budget, it was decided that I would go to Barcelona for my shadow audit in November. The following months flew by, full of planning and excitement and high hopes that everything would work out. I decided to take PTO on the days surrounding the audit so that I could take full advantage of the trip to Spain (my first), visiting Madrid in addition to Barcelona. I'd wanted to visit Madrid since 2014, when I worked in the office in Dublin with other interns from all over the globe (one of which was a gal from Madrid). We'd gotten to be friends, and after having visited other interns in both Ohlstadt, Germany and Salzburg, Austria, Madrid was on my list. Things were going quite well until just two weeks before the audit, when I started seeing the news stories; Barcelona was facing political riots and everything from Molotov cocktails to rubber bullets were being exchanged between law enforcement and rioters. What had started as a peaceful protest by the Catalonian separatists had evolved into a political disaster. Surely the Shadow Audit is going to be cancelled with all that going on. It was nearing mid-October and my flight to Madrid was on the 30th. I would spend five days there, then take a train to Barcelona for the audit. I waited for the cancellation email from our auditing team, but it never came. 

With some luck, the riots subsided just days before the trip. Before I knew it, I was loading my bag into Uber Driver Sonny's car and on my way to the airport. The excitement of walking into an airport - something I'd already done three times over the summer - seriously never gets old! Security moved quickly, and at 4:35pm I was boarding the plane. I was on my way to Spain!

The flight was nearly eight hours long, and after a short layover in Amsterdam (note to self: come back and visit), the plane landed in Madrid. It was 10:00am by the time I'd navigated to ground transportation, soon climbing into another Uber on the way to my Airbnb. I asked the driver to drop me off at a little bookshop-cafe called La Fugitiva, which was right around the corner from where I'd be staying, then watched in awe as the buildings grew taller and streets grew narrower the closer we got. Madrid had a very Diagon Alley-like feel to it, with shop titles in gold lettering above faded awnings, bakeries left and right, and bookstores with titles stacked floor-to-ceiling against the dark windows. We pulled up to La Fugitiva, and I thanked the driver as I climbed out of the car. Inside the bookstore, I briefly looked around at the titles before buying a coffee and heading off to my Airbnb. The host met me at the heavy, iron front door and gave me a tour, a map, and a set of keys. As I looked around, I was so thankful I'd decided to stay there instead of a hotel. It was clean, but full of neat accents and knick-knacks. Car horns and street chatter could be heard from the street below, and plenty of natural light filled the space. I fell in love with the place instantly:
I didn't exactly have a plan for the first few hours in Madrid. As with most trips I've taken, I'd already picked out several places I wanted to visit (museums, cafes, restaurants, historical sights, cultural "hot spots", etc.) and would take a 'Hop On Hop Off" bus at some point to see if anything else sparked my interest. The only plan I had in mind for the first day was to meet with Javi, a friend of my German friend, Cleo's. When I first started planning the trip, Cleo thought she might be able to meet me in Madrid and told me she had a friend living there. They'd met during her year studying abroad in China, and she hadn't yet had the opportunity to visit him in Spain. Unfortunately, her university schedule didn't permit her to come, so I met with Javi instead. Why not?

After a few hours of roaming Madrid, Javi and I planned to meet in Plaza de la Independencia (thank goodness for free wifi and WhatsApp). We met shortly after 7:00pm and he greeted me with a hug. It was an odd feeling to be meeting someone for the very first time when you'd been told so much about them. From everything Cleo had said, and how well I know her, it almost felt like I knew him already too, by extension. Javi and I walked through the streets of Madrid, talking about Cleo and how we knew her, what we both did for work, his recommendations for me to see in Madrid (and the places to avoid), and some of the architectural marvels of the city. (I should've known architecture was a major focus of his - that's what Cleo had studied in China, too.) He pointed out an architectural museum made from an old car factory with a vertical garden in front and an entire support structure balancing on 3 points instead of 4 (which is significant in most buildings...apparently). I learned so much!
We met up with his friend Miguel at the Museo de la Reina Sofia, and Javi pointed out more architectural aspects of buildings as we went. The three of us decided to go for tapas, and found a place serving something called "Alhambra" beer. It was a special Spanish beer from southern Spain, and the guys insisted I try it. There was a special tapas menu that only cost €1,00 with the purchase of a beer, so we bought three and chose our tapas: a sort of fried eggplant covered in sweet honey sauce, some kind of fried fish bites, and huevos rotos con papas fritas - fried potatoes with eggs on top. The beer was crisp and refreshing, and the food was phenomenal. For my first tapas, it was above and beyond my expectations!
The more we ate and drank, the more animated our stories became. Javi told stories of his travels to Boston and Korea. I shared stories of Greece and Germany. We laughed, we joked, and while I thought we were being loud, it was nothing to the noise around us. We decided to head out once the place because too crowded, and walked through the rain until we found the metro. Miguel had somewhere to be, so we said good-bye and made our way to the platform. From wherever we were to Argüelles Station, I could feel my eyes growing heavier and heavier with each stop. It had been such a busy day, but Javi insisted there were still more friends to meet. When we got to their station, two tall, thin boys with dark, curly hair and skeleton makeup greeted us. I had to do a double-take: they were wearing white contacts, which looked incredibly creepy and popped out given the amount of black eye makeup they were wearing. The two were getting ready for a Halloween party ("...or a Todos los Santos party, or a Dia de los Muertos party," they told me - it didn't seem to matter which) and tried to convince Javi and me to accompany them. We stayed at their apartment for a short while, watching as they added makeup and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes, but were just too tired to go with them to the party. When they left, we headed with them to go back to the metro. But first, of course we had to take a photo first to send to Cleo in Germany:
(Note to self: look at this photo if I ever decided to get bangs again...)
The two Skeleton boys got off a few stations ahead of Javi, and when it was his turn to leave we hugged good-bye. The entire evening had been such a blur (and not just because of the Alhambra). I was so exhausted by the time I reached my station, I'd forgotten the directions Javi had given me to find the Airbnb. In fact, I had to stop into a Carrefour (a small grocery store) for wifi, and looked up directions on my phone. Just as I pulled up the map, my brother video called me from Michigan. He and his wife, their son, my sister and her family, and my parents were all together for Halloween, so I walked around the store talking to them as I picked up a few random groceries. Even though they were five hours behind and 3,943 miles away, I thought it was pretty neat that I could still wish them a Happy Halloween. Technology, how did we ever survive without you?

After we hung up, I took a screenshot of the map and easily found my way back to the Airbnb. As I walked, I saw several people with their faces painted like skeletons; some even dressed in black clothing with painted or sewn-on bones. They shouted to each other in Spanish, and I picked up a few "Vale!" and "Cerveza!"s from their slurs. It had been such a fun evening and the atmosphere in the streets as I walked home was just the cherry on top. I found the heavy, iron door in no time and made my way inside. Day one in Madrid: an absolute success. And I couldn't wait to see what the next several days would have in store!

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

2019: A Year of Change

There are no words to properly describe how strange it is to sit down and write a blog post after what has been this past year. The last time I sat down to publish a post was on January 20; 304 days ago. I was living in a different city, with a different job, a different car, different friends, a different hair color even, and was completely unaware of the whirlwind coming that would be my 2019. I suppose you never see it coming until you find your entire world has changed.
Between the time I sat down to write my last post, thinking that I would be filling blogs with cute anecdotes about my new bunny Toulouse, and sitting here now, in an apartment exactly 42.3 miles in a different direction, there have been more twists and turns than I could have ever imagined.

In February, I got a job offer for an incredible position at a new company. I'd had several interviews since December, including checks for foreign language competency (French and Spanish), and the position just seemed too good to be true. I'd be working with international clients in the public health field, and there would be potential to use these foreign languages in my day-to-day. I cried when I got the phone call. Like, actual tears and a frantically excited phone call to my mother from the bathroom of my old job. My start date was March 4, and I couldn't be happier.

In March, in addition to starting this new position, I met some of the best friends I've had in years. I knew it within my first few weeks of work. I had instant chemistry with another new hire, and she and I are now incredibly close (and did I mention we're roommates?). It's truly an office of close relationships and support, and while it's only been 9 months since I started I feel like I've known them all for years. I also had to say good-bye to my little Chevy Cobalt on March, my reliable steed for the past 10 years. If I could have had the exact same car but new, I would have. Instead, I bought my mother's car - a bright purple Spark that I liken to a gumdrop. Not my first choice, but it gets great gas mileage, is a stick shift, and you''re definitely easy to find in a parking lot.
Oktoberfest with the roomie
My Gumdrop
April brought Easter, and I took a long weekend to meet a friend from college in Chicago. I drove the little Gumdrop 4 hours to what was truly an eye-opening trip - frankly a bit rough trying to maintain a friendship when we'd clearly grown so different - but I still love the city and explored to my heart's content. It was the first time I'd been to Chicago since December, and it felt like a completely different city. I suppose that's the beauty of big cities though: you can always go back and have a completely new experience.

The next few months just melted together. My family from Germany came to visit, the first time they'd ever been to Michigan, and my mom had a wonderful, truly America Memorial Day cookout for them. I turned 26 (eeeeesh), met more friends both in and out of work, and started looking for an apartment closer to my wonderful new place of employment. The other new hire and I both found ourselves looking for roommates and decided to live together, and had a move-in date at the end of August. It was beginning to turn into a very exciting summer, what with all these new friends, reconnecting with a friend from high school, and planning a trip over the 4th of July to meet my best friend from Germany in New York City. And then, near the end of June, everything changed.
Urbanrest Brewing with my Germans
Our fam
I'll never forget my mom's phone call one night, telling me my 13-month-old nephew was in the hospital. He was lethargic, or dehydrated, or something - they weren't really sure - and my sister-in-law took him to the hospital immediately. Within two days he was on life support, and then he was gone. It was such a shock to our entire family. Hadn't he just been playing? Hadn't I just seen him giggling at his first birthday party? Apparently there had been a serious blood infection, multiple cardiac arrests, and a lack of oxygen to the brain and lungs causing irreversible damage. He was put on life support, but it wasn't enough. On June 13, 2019, Owen was gone. His organs were donated, there was a beautiful funeral, and my brother and sister-in-law somehow managed to carry on. Their strength continues to impress me. 

And they found out around that time that they're expecting...twins!

I disappeared into travelling over the following months - one week in New York City with my best friend Kristina (the one from Germany), the following weekend with a friend from high school in Washington D.C., a trip up to the U.P. with my roommate and best friend here in Michigan for adventuring and tattoos (a blue rose petal for Owen, of course), and planning a trip over Labor Day with another friend from work to Austin, Texas. Life just blurred. Not to mention at the same time, one of my coworkers and closest friends at work had published multiple books and was starting to help me work towards publishing my own. And then I got a new bunny and had to take Toulouse back to the Humane Society. I didn't even feel like I was in the driver's seat: life was just happening and I was experiencing it as it came. 
Central Park with Kristina
Petoskey with Roomie
New ink at Solomon's 
Austin, Texas with the lovely Jen
In October, my oldest brother and his wife welcomed their second child (and first son) into the world - Harold Maximilian (Max) - and my sister and her husband moved forward with the decision to adopt. I was planning a trip to Barcelona with work, and it turned into a 10-day plan including Madrid and friends from my internship in Dublin 5 years ago . You guys, I really don't know when or how all of this happened. Between everything from this past summer and the exciting news of twins, new nephew, potential new niece/nephew, and publishing my first book, I couldn't tell you up from down. At some point there was a Halloween party at work. And just like that, I was boarding an airplane. Another incredible experience abroad, and yes, blogs will follow.
Madrid with my loves
So what now?

Well...I returned from Spain last Monday and have so much to share. Next Thursday (yes, Thanksgiving), I take off for Iowa to visit friends from when I lived in St. Ignace. The twins will arrive at some point, likely in December. And my book releases December 3rd! From my last post, just 304 days ago, to today, my life has completely changed in every way possible. I couldn't be happier. I couldn't feel more blessed. And I couldn't be more excited to share it all with you!

Thanks for stopping by! And welcome back.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

Adopting the Bun.

I have always been an animal person. Ever since I was three months old, my family has had an animal of some sort. We got Heidi (a Golden Retriever/Cocker Spaniel mix) a few months after I was born. I had a guinea pig for nearly four years when I was in elementary school. Of course I had fish at one point. I even spent the majority of elementary and high school hoping to become a vet! (It wasn't until I shadowed an aunt of mine who is a vet that I learned that wasn't for me: one 'exploratory surgery' and a de-clawing of a kitten completely turned me off to the idea.) Even once Heidi passed away, my parents rescued Coco (an Australian Cattle Dog mix) and I fell in love with her. What can I say, I just love animals!

A few years ago, I thought I was ready for a dog of my own. I had graduated from college, had a well-paying job, and my landlord was flexible on the pet policy. I went to the Michigan Humane Society adopted Ginger, a spunky American Terrier-Australian Cattle Dog mix who seemed to be a great fit. But after a month...not so much. She had a ton of energy, and crate training when I was gone for 11 hours a day wasn't working. I would wake up at 5am, take her for a run, leave for work at 7:15am (put Ginger in her crate), and get home shortly after 6pm. Then I'd spend the entire evening with Ginger, taking her for at least two more walks and cuddling with her. But it wasn't enough. She was highly energetic and needed to live with a family with a yard and kids. I lived on the 3rd floor of an apartment building. I cried the day I gave her up and have had a serious aversion to pets of my own ever since.

That was just over two years ago. Since then, I've moved, changed jobs, and come to live an entirely different lifestyle in which my commute is under 20 minutes and I can come home at lunch if I really need. So in the past few months, coming home day after day to an empty apartment and spending the majority of my free time alone, I've been reconsidering. I knew I couldn't get a dog (my current apartment complex doesn't allow it) and I'm allergic to cats, so I had to think of some other type of pet. It had to be one I could leave alone for 8 or 9 hours a day, but would have enough time for in the mornings and evenings. I didn't want another guinea pig (they were so stinky!) and hamsters were too small. So...after much research, I decided on a rabbit.

I've been keeping an eye on the Michigan Humane Society's website for rabbits, and was planning to adopt one mid-February. But this past Thursday I checked the website and there they were: three 6-month-old Holland Lop/Netherland Dwarf mix rabbits, unbonded (I'll explain) and ready to be adopted. I called the Humane Society, scheduled a visit, and was on my way by lunchtime!

Joey, Georgina, and Jackie were the three 6-month-old rabbits that had been recently brought in from a hoarding situation. They were calico, black and white (long-haired), and fawn-colored, respectively. I watched them hop around, and even got to hold Joey for a bit while talking to the caretakers about their history and feeding habits. They had been spayed and had their nails clipped the day before and were ready for adoption. Because there were three, none were bonded (meaning two were very close and had to stay together), so I had my pick. After watching them, I picked the most timid - Joey - and decided to put a 24-hour hold on her. If she was being shy around someone new (but spunky, apparently, according to the workers), then we were two peas in a pod. The Humane Society workers gave me a book on rabbit care, set the hold, and I was on my way.

Everything worked out perfectly. A coworker of mine had an old dog cage she no longer needed (cage, check). At Meijer that night, I got talking to a woman in the pet section about her rabbits, and how they loved their salt wheel, bananas, hay, a certain kind of pellet, and all-natural popcorn (food, check). She pointed me to the bedding she bought for their litter box (because rabbits can be litter-trained!) and gave me a few pointers as to which herbs and veggies to buy. Then I went to Pet Supplies Plus and bought a few toys, pellets, and a water bottle (supplies, check). Before I knew it, it was noon on Friday and I was heading back to the Humane Society to adopt my bun.

When I got there, there were dogs everywhere being treated, adopted, or surrendered. One had just had a surgery on his/her side and had to wear a giant cone on its head. Another ran around in circles while its owner filled out paperwork. There were two adorable French pugs staring at me while I filled out my paperwork and paid for my rabbit (it was a $60 adoption fee). Then the caretaker brought out a large cardboard box with Joey inside. As I finished filling it out, I saw her nose poke through the holes of the box. It was possibly the cutest thing I've ever seen. I was given a dose of medicine for Joey, a syringe to be injected directly into her mouth the following morning (she'd just been spayed) and finished the paperwork. We were off!

I rambled the entire way home. I wasn't sure if I was just excited or nervous or if I just wanted her to get used to my voice, but I felt like no harm could be done from just talking to her as I drove. When I finally unloaded the box from my car, I felt her hopping around as I made my way into my apartment. I let her hop around a bit before putting her into her cage (she peed on my when I picked her up...awesome) and reluctantly headed back to work (after changing pants). It felt like the quickest lunch hour I've ever taken! I couldn't wait to get home that night and spend some time with her. She was my bun.
The rest of the weekend has been spent sitting on the floor in my apartment, watching her run circles around her makeshift pen and learning her feeding habits. I've only had her a few days and I've already learned so much! She doesn't like pellets, is sort of litter trained (we have some work to do, but its not a lost cause), and she doesn't like her water bottle. I looked into some online chat rooms that suggested smushing banana or orange onto the end of the water bottle to teach her how to use it, but after many failed attempts (she literally just licked the fruit off and didn't bite the spout), I've resorted to a water dish. I know there's going to be a lot to learn!

I did decide to rename her from 'Joey', a name that I don't think fits her. Instead, her name is Toulouse, after my favorite French artist. He was a bit of a scoundrel (fitting for my bun!) but his art was amazing. He mainly did the clubs and dance halls of Montmartre, even the Moulin Rouge. There was a poster in my French classroom in high school that even read, "You Can't Can Can If Your Shoe's Toulouse!" And I mean - taking a huge stretch here - bunny hops are kind of like the Can Can, right?
Anyway, watching this one hop around and having her there when I get home has been so wonderful. She's certainly got a little personality! I'm off to research litter training tricks, but I hope your week is off to a great start. I'll be posting about her on my IG story so feel free to check it out! @She_goes_simply

Sunday, January 13, 2019

10 Things.

It's not very often that I have time to just wake up and write on a Sunday morning. Usually I'm doing one of a million other things on a weekend, whether its church or a yoga class or errands or something. I have my teacher training this afternoon, but for the sake of just relaxing and catching up after a very full day yesterday, I'm in for the morning. Its kind of nice to just sit here and get some thoughts out!

We're already nearly two weeks into the new year and frankly it still feels like December. Maybe its because we haven't yet had a decent snowfall. Maybe its because I haven't hit that winter 'slump' yet that I've had in past years (not complaining). Regardless, I hope your January is going well! And if you made new year's resolutions, I hope those are going well, too! So while I've got a movie going, fuzzy blanket on, with a cup of green tea next me, let me share some of the latest goings-on...
1. This Article: I would recommend that every Millennial and non-Millennial read this article. Being one myself, I've heard countless times that we're "lazy" and "entitled". I've heard we're too into convenience and not enough about quality. I've heard a lot of - for lack of a better term - crap about Millennials and this article did a great job of summing up why that's even a thought. The author writes, "This is why the fundamental criticism of millennials — that we’re lazy and entitled — is so frustrating: We hustle so hard that we’ve figured out how to avoid wasting time eating meals and are called entitled for asking for fair compensation and benefits like working remotely (so we can live in affordable cities), adequate health care, or 401(k)s (so we can theoretically stop working at some point before the day we die). We’re called whiny for talking frankly about just how much we do work, or how exhausted we are by it. But because overworking for less money isn’t always visible — because job hunting now means trawling LinkedIn, because “overtime” now means replying to emails in bed — the extent of our labor is often ignored, or degraded." I've talked with friends of mine who agree - we have no problem with hard work. We're not lazy, we're relentless

2. Le Bruit de Fond...aka Background Noise: I'm a big fan of Youtube. Now before you cringe or think I just sit mindlessly watching video after video, I really just like to have something on in the background that isn't Netflix (though I do love my Gilmore Girls). Starting when I had a single dorm in college, I've loved putting on The Financial Diet, Ted Talks or lifestyle Vloggers' videos because I can't stand silence. It's great to have on when I write or clean or get the idea. Anyway, I recently started choosing French videos over English ones, just to keep up my language skills sharp and maintain fluency. Some of my favorites to follow are Anne DubndiduCécile W, and Josée-Anne SC. Ça va très bien, et je vous le recommande!

3. Bringing in a Roommate: Of sorts. Maybe. Specifically a small, fluffy one with longer-than-average ears. TBD.

4. I've Joined the Kohl's Cult: I've never been a huge fan of Kohl's. Or at least, I thought I wasn't. When I was in high school, I didn't like their clothes. Their shoes were too expensive. The purses would soak in the blue from my jeans. The jewelry was too expensive. Things were only "on sale" after the prices were jacked up. And then I discovered TJ Maxx and Marshall's and didn't step foot in a Kohl's for nearly five years. Yet during this time, my mom and sister lovvvvveed Kohl's. I was told on several occasions to give it another chance, especially when looking for professional clothing or unique home goods. Well...I folded. After going to four different stores this weekend trying to find new clothes for work (I couldn't believe even NY&C and Express let me down!), I stopped in to my local Kohl's. You guys, I hit the Jackpot. (Which is huge for a minimalist to say). And then they were talking about discounts and coupons and the Kohl's Charge and I folded even more. I'm hooked. They got me. 

5. Tea Over Coffee: One of the first things I do every morning is turn on my hot water boiler, put some grinds in my French Press, and make coffee. I then proceed to drink not just one cup, but the entire French Press. That's right: 32oz. of coffee before I even leave my apartment in the morning. Yikes. And what's worse, by the time my 2pm slump hits, I talk myself out of it because I've already had too much coffee! So after doing some reading on Ayurveda and how different drinks/foods work with different people, I'm swapping out my morning Joe for warm water or tea. We'll see how it goes. I'm actually planning a post on Ayurveda in the next couple of weeks (we're just starting to "dive in" in my Yoga Teacher Training) to explain things more in-depth.
(Coffee date at Atomic Coffee in Royal Oak)
6. Turmeric: I used to be obsessed with chili powder. And then it was garlic. I swear my taste in spices comes in phases. Most recently, it's turmeric. But unlike past 'spice kicks' where I've tasted something I like then proceeded to put it in everything, I actually researched turmeric first. It offers so many benefits, you guys: anti-inflammatory, antioxidants, balanced sugar levels, prevention against Alzheimer's and possibly cancer. It's another tidbit I learned from Ayurveda. (Read more about turmeric here.) It took me a few dishes to find the best amount to add and a word of warning: it stains clothing. But after some trial and error, I've come to really like it. Recipes to come!

7. Nino Salvaggio: My new favorite grocery store. Seriously. I could elaborate on this but I think I'll just send you here.

8. Trip Planning: Obviously not everything can be determined just yet (breaks, work/time off, family things, etc.) but should the opportunity arise, I have a few places in mind I'd like to visit this year. Close friends of mine from St. Ignace moved down to Iowa last July, and I fully intend on visiting them as soon as possible. I'd also love to head east and do some exploring along the coast. I was really hoping to go to OCS last year (I was planning to join the Navy), which is in Rhode Island, so when that fell through I realized I wouldn't get to experience the East Coast. I'm still dying to go! And finally, Italy is still at the top of my list for my next international adventure. Even just writing this paragraph, I know there's a lot up in the air, but those are my tentative plans for this year. Not having gone anywhere (except Chicago) last year drove me absolutely nuts and my suitcase is calling.
(Athens, Greece)
9. My Little Chevy: I love my car. Truly. I've had it for the past 10 years and its been with me through everything: learning to drive a stick (its a manual), moving off to college in Minnesota (and subsequently several 1000+ mile trips back and forth between home and school), moving into my first apartment (and my second, and third), multiple adventures in the UP, driving down to Missouri to visit family, several family camping trips during the summer, and a multitude of other things in between. I love it. It gets great gas mileage, is fun to drive, and fits in the tightest parking spaces. But. Its time is coming to an end. The speakers cut in and out, the check engine light comes on 'when it feels like it', it sounds like it has breathing problems when I drive it, the key fabs haven't worked for years, the physical keys won't turn in the doors, half the windows are tinted (we had to replace the doors on one side and didn't realize it until they were securely in place), and just this week it turned 150000K (miles). Now I realize most of this is fix-able but beneath all of this, its become something of a money pit. So...a new car is in the very near future. I'm very fortunate to have a family member at GM, so I'm getting a great deal on my new (drum roll please!) Chevy Spark! Last year at this time I had my heart set on a white Cruze, but the deal on the admittedly sugarplum-colored Spark is one I can't pass up. If you see a purple gumdrop coming down the road, be sure to wave.

10. Joining the Library: I've been putting it off since I moved, but I finally joined my local library a couple of weeks ago and it's incredible! Because let's be honest: books are great, and they have a huge foreign language section.

I hope you've enjoyed this rambly/chatty sort of post. I'm off to get on with my Sunday (Yoga Teacher Training, a family party, mayyyybe getting to the gym), but I hope you all have a great Sunday. Feel free to leave me a comment down below or connect with me on Instagram. I'd love to hear from you!

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Nino Salvaggio: A Market for All

Over the last several months, I've spent quite a bit of time exploring. Every since I moved down to metro Detroit from Michigan's UP, I've thoroughly enjoyed checking out local spots: cafes, restaurants, pubs, produce markets, get the idea. It seems there's always something new and exciting to find in town, or at the very least a short drive away. What's more, most places offer plenty of vegan/vegetarian options. It's been quite a change from life in the UP! So you can imagine my excitement when a brand new market came to town: Nino Salvaggio. A new location opened last week in Bloomfield Hills, MI - just minutes from my apartment. And despite the fact that we have a Meijer, Plum Market, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, and Aldi right within a 10-mile radius, everyone was excited for its Grand Opening. So last Saturday, after my yoga teacher training, I grabbed my burlap shopping bags and headed off to check it out.
As you know, last July I made the decision to go fully vegan. It wasn't a terribly difficult decision to make, given that I've been vegetarian for several years. But I've found that this time around, I've been much more adventurous: not only with things I'm willing to try (seitan bacon, coconut milk ice cream, acai bowls, etc.) but also with how strict I've been. I actually had a great conversation with my sister over the holidays and we concluded that diet labels are ridiculous. "Keto, Paleo, Vegan, Pescatarian, Vegetarian," etc. have been blown out of proportion, and if you claim to be one or the other and dare to mess up, well....then you can't possibly be keto/paleo/vegan/etc. We've set ourselves up for failure here. And while yes, there are certain dietary restrictions that need to be followed for health reasons (dairy free for the lactose intolerant, gluten-free for the gluten intolerant, etc.), here's the truth: we're all human. We're going to slip. We're going to need exceptions to make it work for us. And when we've labeled ourselves as one thing or another, having something that doesn't fall under our "diet" feels like cheating. It feels like we've failed.

Well I'll be honest: I'm not 100% vegan. The holidays were difficult, and I had some breakfast bakes (which included eggs and likely cream) and a few homemade chocolate truffles. Of course I still care about humane practices in animal agriculture and the hormones they add to what animals are fed, etc. etc., but I also care about my family and not making every get-together awkward and uncomfortable. So...I "cheated". But you know what? I've found a pretty great balance. (After all, that's what life is all about, isn't it?) Rather than stick a hard label on it, I'd just say "plant-based", because while I'll never eat meat again (don't get me started), I will eat eggs or Greek yogurt on occasion. But I'd prefer not to have dairy like milk, cheese, etc., so I can't really call myself a vegetarian either. So....let's just stop with the labels, friends! Whatever you call yourself - whatever I call myself - its safe to say that you're going to love this new market. Nino Salvaggio caters to every diet; it's a market of the world, for the world.
I've only been to two other Nino Salvaggio's in my life and admittedly its been a few years, but I was truly impressed. Walking in for the very first time, I was overwhelmed. There was a flower shop, a cafe, and a catering service all just inside the door. Then there was the actual market itself: loads of fresh produce at a fraction of the cost of other major grocery stores. Zucchini: $0.99/lb. Avocado: 2/$1.00. I was blown away. And then I saw the olive bar (the photo above is maybe 1/4 of the total spread) and my heart melted. And then, dear friends, I turned around and saw the cave:
There were literally wines from every country - from every region of every country - both room temperature and chilled. I was absolutely delighted, and walked around browsing for a bit before someone shattered a bottle nearby and the clean-up crew flocked to soak up the mess. I thought I might head out to buy my produce and leave, but there was so much more to see. Down each of the aisles were your standard products - soup, pasta sauce, snacks, etc. - mingled in with products I've only ever seen at Whole Foods or online at Thrive Market. Nino Salvaggio actually carries TVP! And then I saw the tea and coffee aisle...
Oh the excitement! Naturally I had to buy a box of TeeKanne. When I visited Kristina and Theresa after my college graduation, I fell in love with TeeKanne and their very unique tea blends, particularly the Mixed Berry blend and the Apfeltee. I couldn't have been more delighted to see it on the shelves at Nino's and immediately put a box in my cart. I will be back for more!

Facing the aisles of groceries was a massive baked goods section, including (but not limited to) cupcakes, cakes, pastries, donuts, bagels, artisan loaves of bread, baguettes, pita, breadsticks, and to my surprise, free samples. I mulled around munching on a slice of baguette before choosing a giant loaf of sourdough to take home with me (it reminded me entirely of Marks & Spencer in Dublin). They had bread for everyone: regular, vegan, gluten-free, egg-free...did I mention this place felt like heaven?

Oh, and for those who need something other than wine to accompany their bread...there was cheese:

 (Feta...the very hardest thing about being mostly vegan!)
Now. This particular Nino Salvaggio is in the same plaza as my Trader Joe's. I'll be honest: I was worried when I learned they were opening that it would be bad for business for TJ's. They're both great stores with great prices. They both cater to diets of all kinds. But I will say: they complement each other nicely. Nino Salvaggio wins when it comes to prices for "by-the-lb" produce and overall variety. But I still had to run in to Trader Joe's for a few "by-the-item" pieces of produce and unique items like Jackfruit and beet hummus. It's a win-win-win. 

For dairy-lovers, they have a wide variety cheeses (obviously), milks (both regular and non-dairy), cream cheese and sour cream, eggs, and yogurt. For those who prefer to eat Kosher, they have an entire aisle. For those who love frozen goods from hamburgers or fruit for smoothies, they have you covered. And for meat eaters, Nino Salvaggio is a great place to go. They had everything from London broil to stuffed sole, a sushi station, and a great "by-the-lb" deli. And while I don't eat fish or support mass fishing in the oceans, I'll give them a nod for their impressive fish display. Because who isn't entertained by a shark with a lobster in its mouth?
I made it out of Nino's with two avocados, a box of tea, a bag of TVP, a loaf of sourdough, and some dehydrated apples (because they're amazing, am I right?). I spent far less than I was expecting to, given Nino Salvaggio is known for being a high-end market. Overall it was a great experience: excellent quality, excellent prices, and yummy samples. And if you're like me and enjoy spending an afternoon lulling about in a supermarket, I would highly recommend paying them a visit. 

Between Meijer, Plum Market, Kroger, Target, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Aldi, and now Ninos Salvaggio, I'll likely never have to venture far for groceries. I'll also likely never have adequate room in my wallet again given the amount of membership cards I've amassed. (I would narrow them down, but I know the deals: produce is cheapest at Nino's, Kombucha is cheapest at TJ's, Target and Meijer have coupon apps, etc.) What can I say, I like my grocery stores! So no matter what your diet - no matter what your food or moral preferences  or food intolerances are - Nino Salvaggio can undoubtedly cater to your needs. 

If you decide to check it out, let me know! I'd love to hear what you think of their new Bloomfield Hills location and any products you'd recommend. Simply leave a comment down below!

***This post is not sponsored in any way and does not contain any affiliate links. Any opinions expressed are entirely mine and mine alone. Just sharing because I truly enjoyed my first experience at a great new market!***

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