Friday, November 27, 2020

Home Sweet Home

Hello from Nashville!

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving and got to enjoy some time with family and friends. I had my first ever Tennessean Thanksgiving with a friend from Nashville and her family, complete with homemade chicken 'n dumplins, cornbread "dressing", crawfish pie, and Coca-cola "salad". It was absolutely fantastic. Her family even has a chicken coup in their backyard, so I came home not only with a very full stomach, but also with a dozen eggs right from the source. Pretty cool.
The past three and a half weeks have been nothing short of amazing. I knew, moving here, that life was going to change a lot. After all, it is a brand new city, brand new state, different people, different politics, and way different culture. But what I didn't expect was how freeing it would actually feel to be away from so much negativity and stress, and around people much more in line with my way of thinking. It's refreshing. I've met so many new, neat people here and I couldn't be happier. When people ask me "How's Nashville?" my response has become - confidently - this is the best move I've ever made.

But let's rewind for a minute, back to moving weekend. Halloween was a bit chaotic, loading the U-haul in the morning with some friends from the gym (shoutout to you amazing people!), then heading to my parents' house for trick-or-treating with my nieces and nephews. I drove home that night to a very empty apartment, slept on the floor with a jacket for a pillow and a different jacket for a cover (truly the worst sleep I've ever had), and was up at 5:30am the next morning to drive the truck down to Tennessee. It took just over eight hours and I white-knuckled it the entire drive down. It was terrifying driving such a massive contraption when I normally drive a compact car! 
I met the landlord outside and got my keys, then a friend met me to help unload everything. It only took us about two hours to empty the truck (thank God for the furniture dolly), and before long everything I own was strewn about my apartment. We grabbed dinner at a little local restaurant next to my building, and I headed home to do as much organizing as I could. The next morning, I returned the truck at the U-haul place and Uber-ed back to the apartment. My friend picked me up for coffee around 9:00 (Frothy Monkey is becoming a fast favorite), then dropped me off at the airport. I flew back to Michigan, Uber-ed to my apartment, ran a few errands (like dropping internet supplies off to UPS), cleaned my apartment, and took a few last-minute things out to my car, then met my former landlord to hand in my keys, do an apartment walkthrough, and officially check out. Needless to say, it was quite the exhausting morning.

That night, I went over to my parents' house and spent the evening watching Hallmark movies with my mom. Neither of us felt like going anywhere, so we hunkered down with some tea and ordered Panera for dinner. It was the perfect "last-night-in-Michigan". And early the next morning, she even made coffee before I left to drive back down to Nashville. Another eight hours in the car, another several trips up and down the elevator to unload the last load of stuff, and I was home. Finally. November 3, 2020 - the day I officially moved to Nashville, Tennessee.
It didn't take long to unload, sort, and get situated in my new apartment. It's hard to believe it's only been three and a half weeks, but already I'm starting to feel like a local. I've started running occasionally (mostly downtown to the John Siegenthaler pedestrian bridge for sunrise or sunset) have gone to see extremely talented musician friends play around town, met several other friends who have introduced me to the neat, less touristy places around town, and even bought a mandolin (I played piano and flute for years, and love the sound of folk/bluegrass music). I've met people just visiting Nashville on vacation (from California, Michigan, Georgia - just all over) and love when they ask me what I'd recommend to see in town. I will say, the line between being social and being smart with my money (and my liver) is a fine one, and I walk it hard, but I'm figuring out the delicate balance between the two.
 It's so much fun, finally living in a big city after visiting so many and always saying, "One day!"
I love my snazzy new little black mandolin
So here we are. At the moment, I'm hanging out in my new apartment, sat on the floor writing and watching Lord of the Rings while texting a few friends here, making plans for the weekend. It feels almost dreamlike to be here, but I'm so thankful that I am. Work is going well (I have my little home office set up in front of my window), I've already travelled a bit (down to visit friends in Alabama, then Panama City Beach last weekend), and have plans to drive home to Michigan for Christmas. I'll be posting an apartment tour in the next week or so, and hopefully get on a more consistent blogging schedule after that. I can already tell there's going to be a lot to share from Nashville, and I will do my best to keep up!

Life is good. Life is so good. And it is so good to be home!

Thursday, October 1, 2020


Surprise, I'm moving! (...again.)

It seems like news I was just sharing last fall, moving out of my apartment in Southfield to live with a roommate in Ann Arbor. Or the news I just shared this past spring when I moved out of Ann Arbor over to Canton. However you want to look at it, I am well aware that U-haul has made far too much money off of me in the past year. But this time, the change is going to be a bit more permanent and take me outside of state lines; one month from today I'll officially be saying good-bye to my home state of Michigan and hello to my new home of Tennessee.
If you've known me for any length of time, you'll know that I have travelled quite a bit. Domestically, internationally; I've been to cities as small as Chania, a little island village in the Aegean, to those as big and chaotic as New York City. So when I went to Nashville (for the first time) earlier this summer, the magnetism I felt was something I was not prepared for, nor had I ever experienced before. I've been to plenty of cities I've fallen in love with (Berlin, Austin, Seattle, Thessaloniki), but something about Nashville was different: the atmosphere, the energy, the people, the culture, the music. I walked through the 12 South district, the Gulch, Centennial Park, and all over Broadway. I met musicians on Music Row and heard incredible live music. I watched sunset from the pedestrian bridge, made some new friends, and had absolutely amazing food. There was an undeniable spark; a very bright, very strong spark. So much so, that after my first trip there at the end of July I immediately started planning a trip back. I took off again for the Music City a couple of weeks ago, over Labor Day weekend. But this time, I wasn't just there crossing it off my bucket list. This time - in addition to checking out the newly reopened Country Music Hall of Fame and visiting some of the friends I'd made just weeks before - I was checking out apartments and daily life. I would work my usual hours from my Airbnb, then spend the evening exploring the city. It wasn't just wake up, work, gym, maybe stop for groceries, repeat (as I've literally been doing for the past 5+ months). There is so much to do and see in this city, even outside of the busy downtown areas. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air.
As I mentioned, I've moved around a lot in the past few years. Ever since I graduated from college, I haven't felt like I'm in the right "place"; from Walled Lake to the Upper Peninsula to Southfield to Ann Arbor to Canton. Thankfully, I did find a company and a job that I love. It's just everything else that often feels like friction: the cities, the relationships, the culture, the weather. (I truly can't stand cold weather and from Northwest Minnesota to the Upper Peninsula to Michigan in general, somehow I keep ending up in very cold places!) Sometimes you just know you're not in the right place. And then you find that spark like I did with Nashville and you know; that's it

If anything positive has come of 2020 - specifically, of this whole pandemic situation and all of its side effects - it would be that my company allowed me to make the decision to work remotely, permanently. We've been working remotely since the onset of everything mid-March, and after I found the perfect apartment in Nashville and fully committed to the decision to move, I asked if I could make the change permanent. To my surprise (and utmost delight), they said yes. After a few conversations with my managers and HR, I put in my notice at my current apartment, signed my new lease, and booked [yet another] U-haul. One month to go!

It's going to be bittersweet officially moving out of Michigan. Apart from a few internships and four years of college in Minnesota, I've spent my entire life in Michigan. But I've never felt any intense connection to my state, other than family. After high school, my friends and I scattered all over (Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, Minnesota, Germany...). Friends I've made here post-grad are strong enough that I know we'll make it through a long-distance friendship. (And if we don't, how strong are those friendships, really?) And then my family. We've been through a very, very eventful few years, which honestly has brought some of us closer together while pushing some of us further apart. I love my family, and of course will miss the ease of seeing them here and there on the weekends, but I'll come back to visit or for holidays just like I did in college (and this time its only a 7.5-hour drive, not an 18-hour drive). I'm excited and nervous and thankful and intimidated all at once, but I feel it is absolutely the right move to make at this point in my life.
Needless to say it's going to be a very busy month: selling a few pieces of furniture, packing, cancelling things like internet and utilities and gym memberships, transferring insurance policies, changing addresses. And then the actual "moving weekend" (which happens to be Halloween weekend): loading on Saturday morning, driving the U-haul down the next day and unloading, flying back to Michigan the following day, voting here, then driving back down in my car...ufff. But I'm so excited to figure things out and get situated in Nashville. I fully intend on picking up the blog once I'm down there, which I'm really looking forward to given how uneven its been in the past few years. It's going to be a new chapter in my life and I can't wait to share it with you.

I can't wait to call Nashville home!

The Flavor of Wine

I published my first book on December 3, 2019. It was always a dream of mine to publish a book, and having an experience so near and dear to my heart inspired me to finally write my story and share it with the world. I would love for you to check it out!

You can find my book online at most major retailers, select bookstores in southeast Michigan, and right here on Amazon.

In the Fall of 2016, what began at a small funeral in Michigan inspired an unforgettable journey of self-discovery across the Atlantic.

Samantha Hohnstadt received the news on an ordinary Tuesday: her grandfather, the family patriarch, was in a fight for his life. Suddenly things like sending emails and talking to clients on the phone no longer seemed important. In the following weeks, her grandfather lost his battle, but not before inspiring one of his youngest granddaughters to rediscover the family lineage in Germany and Greece that originally brought their family to America generations ago.

Travel with Samantha as she treks across Europe, sometimes joyfully and sometimes stressfully, through coffee shops and vineyards and airports, searching for her roots. With a colorful cast of characters entering her life throughout the trip, Samantha quickly learns that the world is an extremely large and complex place -- but if you look hard enough, you'll find the best that humanity has to offer.

Saturday, August 29, 2020


If you would’ve asked me at the start of the year what I thought 2020 would look like, I can guarantee my answer would have been much, much different than the reality. In March, my mom and I took a girl’s trip to Chicago, and I remember talking with her excitedly about all of our plans for the coming months. I was looking forward to going to Supply Side East in New Jersey at the end of April, visiting friends in Colorado sometime later in the summer, and had a stretch dream of going to Italy with a friend from Germany over Labor Day. My mom shared how excited she and my dad were to take our family to a cabin up north mid-July (an annual trip that involves my three siblings and I, seven nieces and nephews, tons of board games, and just a touch of chaos), take their usual trip up to Mackinac Island, and celebrate their anniversary in Frankenmuth. Little did we know, as we drank our coffee in front of Millennium Park, that those plans would all come to a crashing halt in just a short few weeks.

Not long after we returned, it happened. It started with watching the news report about a cruise ship that had to quarantine because there was some virus contracted by those on board. Then a few days later, having a “huddle” with my coworkers to discuss the possibility of working from home. The following day, watching someone from our IT department come to my cube, pack up my monitor, and neatly wrap up all of my computer cords. I remember hoping things would go back to normal after a few days.

That was over five months ago now.

Without diving too far into the weeds, it goes without saying that our world truly changed over the past 120 days or so. Restaurants shut down. Businesses were forced to close. Schools transitioned to virtual learning. Movie theaters and gyms were closed. Then came riots and protests and the greatest political divide many of us have ever seen. Not to mention, parts of my own life changed beyond just having to wear a mask. In April, my grandmother passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I was thankful we were able to have a (very) small graveside ceremony for her, but with how few people were allowed to attend it hardly felt like a proper burial. Later that same month, I had to move out of Ann Arbor and into a new apartment that is (fortunately) closer to family. Trips were cancelled (though I did manage a quick visit to some friends in Nashville, TN and Newton, IA). Church went remote (I actually spent Easter Sunday watching the sunrise service with my family from my parents’ living room). It felt like life was just doling out one thing after another and I couldn’t do much about anything (a sentiment I’m sure we all share). Is it just me, or is it all too easy to focus on the negatives when it seems like there have been so many?

(view from the Pedestrian Bridge in Nashville)

BUT (yes, there’s a but!) the truth is, there have been a fair number of positives that have come out of this entire situation as well. (It takes a little extra effort to focus on them, but they’re there!) To start, I actually enjoy working from home: fewer distractions, a more comfortable work environment, not having to pay for gas…it’s been wonderful. It takes a little extra self-discipline to not wander into the kitchen every thirty minutes for a snack, but setting up a home office has overall been a great experience. And despite being remote, my leaders at NSF International have done a fantastic job of keeping things “human”; we have daily check-in meetings on Teams and they started sending out a Daily Digest email to share important updates and fun tidbits from the day. While I do miss the camaraderie in the office, I’m thankful that we have been able to continue working and adjusting our services as needed, as I know this has not been the case for many.

Additionally, restaurants shutting down (and now having strict rules around masks and social distancing) has done wonders for my bank account. Living on my own again has given me back a sense of independence (with the added bonus that I’m 30 minutes closer to family). My grandmother passing away was anything but positive, however she’d been in a losing battle with her illness and I know she’s now at peace in heaven. And then I have an adorable new niece and nephew who were both born within the past few weeks, meaning baptisms and family gatherings to celebrate. Throughout this entire situation, I’ve been reminded of how strong my family is and how we support each other through times like these (and of course, how much I love being an aunt!).

It’s likely going to be awhile before things get back to normal, whatever that means. There’s a lot of uncertainty and adjustment in the world right now and whether we want to admit it or not, each and every one of us has been affected. Professionally, personally; our lives have changed in some pretty major ways. There’s no telling what the next few months will look like, so for now it’s a matter of perseverance, positivity, and making the most of a less-than-ideal situation. It might be weeks, it might be months. But stay strong, stay focused, and know that we’ll get through this!

Thursday, January 2, 2020

Madrid, Part 2

Happy New Year! I hope your 2020 is off to a great start. I'm finally sitting down to write, and realizing how difficult it is to condense such a full experience into just three posts (well, Madrid will be three, Barcelona will be two.) There's so much I can say about Spain!

If I thought my first day in Madrid had been an adventure, it was nothing compared to what I experienced over the days that followed. The part of me that lights up when thrown into a totally foreign place had sparked, and I felt that familiar buzz of excitement from Berlin, from Athens, Dublin, Paris, Salzburg...that elated feeling of being so out of your element that it doesn't even seem real. Yet there I was, waking up in the AirBnb ready for a few more days in Madrid. As I fully woke up, I heard a woman and her kids were shouting in the street below my window. The other AirBnb-ers were stirring. Somewhere a car horn honked and more shouts from the streets. The sun was fighting to shine through my window. It took a few minutes before everything sank in as real; the city already seemed too good and too full of life to be true.
I started with coffee at a little brunch place near the Museo de la Reina Sofia, doing my best to remember the way from my outing with Javi and Miguel the night before. It fueled a morning exploring the Museo, even climbing up to the Terraza overlooking the city. I tried to remember everything that Javi had told me the night before - the inner-workings of the building and how the museum's roof came within inches of the roof that hovered just above it, designed so intricately as to allow air to come in but keep rainwater out. Inside, there were several floors of exhibits, and I wandered through one about the life and mission of Delphine Seyring. She apparently had a very heavy feminist influence in French films in the 80s. It was so interesting! 
Afterwards, I decided to find food and head towards Plaza del Sol, so I headed back past the AirBnb and off in the other direction. I found a colorful little place called "El Libre" with bright walls and mismatched furniture, and spent some time writing while I enjoyed avocado toast, roasted tomatoes, and incredible homemade bread. I even had a brief conversation with a group of students learning English, who were as thrilled to meet a native speaker as I was to meet them. 

It's something I've really grown to love and appreciate about big cities. Whether in Austin, New York, or Chicago here in the States or somewhere like Madrid or Athens, people always seem open to getting to know newcomers in coffee shops. In my experience, it's something you just don't find in small towns and certainly not in the suburbs. People tend to keep to themselves, or is it just me? 
From El Libre, I admittedly got lost for a bit and ended up at the southernmost part of the city, but was set straight by a young couple and their two kids. I explored Mercado San Fernando, where I met another Miguel who wanted to have a long conversation with "an American" about Chicago, then wandered through the bustling Plaza Mayor. Stores, people in costumes, sculptures, shoppers, people speaking every language, and wafting smells came from every direction - it was incredible.

I found Mercado San Miguel on the other side of Plaza Mayor, similar to the Mercado San Fernando but much bigger with many more food and drink stalls. It had been on my "must-see" list for Madrid, and it was obvious to see why. The glass counters showed every kind of tapas imaginable - fried seafood, mini margarita pizza rolls, tiny toasts, little plates of olives and sardines, you get the idea - and the smells coming from the stalls got better and better as I made my way inside. It was so overwhelming; I made a note to come back and decided to continue on to Puerta del Sol instead.
Puerta del Sol was a much larger, more chaotic version of Plaza Mayor. There were more crowds, more street performers, more costume figures, and statues of the Mariblanca and of King Carlos III, as well as the more famous "Oso y el MadroƱo" (a bear with a strawberry tree). Children were running to and fro, and apparently it's custom to rub the heel of the bear, because the paint had rubbed off completely, revealing the goldish-bronze color of the statue. 
I popped in and out of shops, and Madrid just grew busier and busier with each new place I went. I walked along Gran Via, something of a mix between The Magnificent Mile of Chicago and New York's Fifth Avenue. Stores like Zara, Tous, and Primark were swarmed with people and there were street performers building towers (human towers!) in the middle of the streets. I was starting to feel tired from all the walking I'd done, and decided to head back towards Atocha to find something for dinner. I passed so many places along the way that I'd noted on my "must-see" list: Edificio Metropolis, the Circulo de Belles Artes, the Plaza de Cibeles, and even past the Museo Naval. I wound up at a place called La Rollerie on Atocha, a nice but casual place with white, wooden chairs and bottles of olive oil decorating the tables. I ordered una rioja (a type of red wine) and a tropical prawn (shrimp) salad. I asked the waiter for recommendations as I planned out what to do in subsequent days, and we talked for awhile of the best spots in Madrid.

I stopped in and out of a few other places on my way home, including a tavern-style restaurant and wine bar called Mas al Sur. It was right down the street from my AirBnb, so I thought it would be a great spot to end the day. I had another rioja and to my surprise, the man sitting next to me at the bar was another American. His name was Max, and he lived a few hours outside of Madrid teaching English. He was originally from Philadelphia, working in a small village in Spain, and decided to visit the city for the weekend. We talked for some time, discussing our plans for the weekend, and when I mentioned the next day's plan to go to El Sobrino de Botin (supposedly the world's oldest restaurant and a popular spot for Hemingway back in the day), he decided to join. We decided on a time to meet the next day, then said our good-byes and headed out.
After Mas al Sur, I made it home and fell asleep instantly. It wasn't until 4:30 in the morning that I realized how awful I was feeling, and woke up with a terrible cough and sore throat. I could hardly swallow and had a massive headache, so it took some time before I fell asleep again. Maybe it was just exhaustion, maybe it was allergies to all of the smoke from people in the streets. Whatever it was, I certainly hoped it would be gone in the morning. I still had over a week to go in Spain. Including my first trip ever to Barcelona!

Cozy Nashville Apartment Tour

When I graduated from college in Minnesota, I moved from a single dorm room to my childhood bedroom in my parents' house in Michigan. Tw...