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2019: A Year in Review

2019 – damn were you a year. Like everyone else on the planet, there were highs and lows and days that just felt fine. 2019 brought me lessons, laughter and my fair share of tears. 2019 brought me travel and adventure with the people I care about. So before 2019 melts into the other years, I want to reflect on what happened and what I learned.

Travel

If you’ve been reading for a while, you probably understand the role that travel plays in my life. It’s always been important to me, but it’s importance grew during my first two years of teaching. I wasn’t able to find much joy in my day to day life, so I escaped by planning trips. Maybe it’s my vice or my coping mechanism, but honestly, I’m okay with that. 2019 was a travel heavy year for me.

In January, my husband and I wrapped up our road trip through Texas, during which we learned that pick-up trucks take a LOT of gas and that creative pursuits are worth spending time on. This year also brought me to New Orleans with one of my best friends, where I saw my first Banksy piece and binge watched too much Yummy Mummies.

Studio Be in New Orleans
Obligatory beignets in New Orleans

I had two trips out to Denver to see another best friend of mine, one of which had me gambling for the first time (I lost a whole $10). The other trip brought me to New Mexico to see the hot air balloon festival, which absolutely blew my mind.

The hot air balloon festival in New Mexico

For spring break, my husband and I ventured to Italy, where we ate some delicious charcuterie boards, but were overall not that impressed. We did get some dope matching tracksuits and made some pasta from scratch though!

Vintage tracksuits, vintage building (!)
Pasta making classes

During the summer, we traveled to Singapore, Korea, Japan, New Zealand and Australia. Of those places, New Zealand is the spot that truly took my breath away. As my husband says, cities are cities are cities. New Zealand, however, had nature that we don’t get to see very often.

The black sand beaches of New Zealand
Marina Sand Bay, Singapore
Kawaii photo in Japan

I rounded out the year with a trip to Spain with my mom. It was great to be able to spend quality time with her, especially as I grow older and life gets busier. While we did get on each others nerves, it was a trip that I will hold dear to my heart.

Mama y yo in Barcelona

Work

2019 was the year that I finished my first year of teaching outside of Teach for America. It was the first year I didn’t hate what I did. When I decided to teach for a third year, I was nervous. What if it wasn’t where I was teaching that I hated, but just teaching in general? Thankfully, I discovered that I love teaching. I love working with kids and seeing their excitement when things click for them. I finally can say that I love what I do. I am so grateful for that – how many people can claim the same for their jobs?

My first day of my fourth year

I was unsure if teaching was the right path for me, so I completed a fellowship on career choice this spring. While a lot of paths seem interesting to me, the fellowship reinforced my decision to stay in the classroom, at least for now. It was great for me to be able to have dedicated time and space to really think out my career plan. To be honest, I don’t have much of a “plan” at the moment. All I know is that I am happy teaching right now, so happy I will remain!

The fellowship I was so damn grateful for

2019 was also the year that I bit the bullet and got my real estate license. My husband had been encouraging me to get it for quite some time, and I finally sat down and did the damn thing. Working with real estate on the side allowed me to work skills that I don’t generally have to work while teaching – like talking to adults! While I didn’t do much with it this year, I look forward to what kind of endeavors it brings in the future.

Relationships

The older I get, the more important quality relationships mean to me. This year, my husband and I celebrate four years of marriage and five years of being together. I would say that this year brought us so much closer to one another, through the hard times and the good times. Leaving 2019, I feel more confident than ever in my relationship with my husband and excited to see what the future holds for us and our growing family.

My incredible husband

In terms of friendship, I invested in the relationships that mean the most to me and drew myself back from those that did not bring me joy. The older I get, the more I realize that one or two solid friendships is all I need. If I’m not truly thrilled for a person when good things happen to them, then I know that I can’t be a true friend to them. 2019 is a year that brought me a tight circle whom I truly trust and care about.

Self-Improvement

I worked on myself a lot this year. For the first time in a long time (maybe ever), I felt comfortable in my skin. I attribute a lot of that to hot yoga. One of my friends convinced me to give it another shot and I fell in love. The fact that in one hour, I can sweat, meditate and grow stronger absolutely amazes me. The funnest aspect of yoga is watching myself improve. To see my body move into positions that it previously couldn’t made me think about how incredible the human body truly is. While I’ve had to take a break from hot yoga during the pregnancy, I am excited to head back in 2020!

My happy place
My form isn’t perfect, but damn was I proud of my body

In 2019, I also invested in my health in other ways. I (very casually) took up meditation and mantras, and found peace and relief through acupuncture. My body and mind had gone through quite a lot this year, and I am grateful that I found coping mechanisms to help me rise above it. Listening to and making music helped put my soul at ease. Books helped me get lost when I needed to escape the most. Writing played a role in my self improvement as well. While few people may read this blog, every time I post, I feel relief. Writing makes me feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I hope to do more of it in 2020.

Cupping therapy

Overall, 2019 has been wonderful to me. I had new experiences, both good and bad. I felt low so that I could feel really high. I surrounded myself with people I love. I became a better version of myself. 2020 has a lot of changes in store for me (cough motherhood cough) and I’m excited for it all. But for now, I pay respect to what 2019 brought me. Cheers to 2019, and to 2020 vision.

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Travel

48 Hours in New Orleans

I don’t drink. Parties give me mad anxiety. Bedtime for me is around 9:00pm. NOLA sounds like the perfect place for me to visit, right? Scrolling through Google flights one morning, I found flights for $100 roundtrip and I was sold. A few months later and we were off!

Usually, I plan trips out. I have color coded Excel sheets, highlighted copies of Lonely Planet and dozens of websites bookmarked. This trip was an anomaly. The day before the trip, my friend and I still had no clue what we were going to see or do. All we knew was that we’d be eating copious amounts of beignets (which I finally figured out how to pronounce correctly: ben-yay).

We took a flight out late Friday night and arrived in NOLA around 1am. We promptly found our AirBnB and passed the feck out. The next morning, we put together a rough plan of what we were going to do and got to it. We did the same thing the next day. Instead of going through every last detail, I’ll give you the highlights of what we fit into 48 hours in NOLA (other than the 8 episodes of Yummie Mummies we binge watched at night). 48 hours was a perfect amount of time to spend in NOLA. The weather cooperated, we were not stuck in snow or cold and the food was on point. I would say it was a successful trip!

#1. New Orleans Holocaust Memorial

While browsing online, I found a beautiful Holocaust Memorial. It wasn’t out of the way of other sites we were visiting, so we set out to visit it first. After a half an hour of walking through the city, we came to the site, and this is what we found…

Me, with what should be the Holocaust Memorial

Unfortunately, the panels that were part of the memorial were down for renovation. So while this is listed as #1, it was kind of a fluke. If you are interested in seeing the memorial, it said it would be up in the next few months!

#2. St. Louis Cathedral/Jackson Square

After not seeing the Holocaust Memorial, we wandered towards the St. Louis Cathedral, which is in Jackson Square. The energy from Jackson Square could be felt a mile way (okay, more like a few blocks away but tomatoes tomatoes). You hear Jackson Square far before you see it and when you see it, you’re blown away by it. There are people everywhere – dancing, singing, playing music, and selling their art work.

St. Louis Cathedral is known for being the oldest cathedral in North America. It was founded in 1720 and still used today!

#3. BANKSY (cue fangirl)

The film Exit Through the Gift Shop was released while I was in high school, and we watched it during English class. The film put Banksy on my radar, and made me dream of the day I would see one in real life. When I found out that there was a Banksy piece in New Orleans, I fangirled -hard. Banksy came to NOLA in 2008, post-Katrina, and left about 14 pieces scattered around the city. The rain girl is the only piece left! Many had been sold, or unfortunately, destroyed. The piece that remains is covered in plexi-glass, but you could tell that people had attempted to spray over it. Seeing the piece was almost surreal, and absolutely a highlight of the trip for me!

#4. Studio Be

This spot surprised me. It wasn’t on my mind, I had no clue what it was. I was searching on Saturday morning for cool things to do (actual Google search), and stumbled along the website for Studio Be. Studio Be is the studio for the artist Brandan Odums, a popular street artist in NOLA. His gallery is open to the public from 2pm til 8pm, and it is SO worth checking out. It’s near the Banksy piece, and the walk between the two is filled with piece after piece of street art.

The actual studio is in a large warehouse, with four or five massive rooms. Each room is filled with paintings, street art and other pieces that centered around the artist’s learnings over the years.


If I could take my students to see this gallery, I absolutely would. This was a true highlight, and I was so lucky to have stumbled upon it! It was beautiful, but above that, it was powerful.

#5. Cafe du Monde (and an assortment of other beignets)

You can’t go to NOLA and not eat your weight in beignets. Cafe du Monde coffee is something that I had grown up on – a mix of coffee with chicory for flavor. However, Cafe du Monde beignets were not something I had had before.

So… how were they? They were everything good in the world, fried into a little ball then slathered in sugar. The first beignet we had was at the original Cafe du Monde location in Jackson Square. The line to be seated was long, but the walk through line was even longer. We got seated, ordered beignets and a coffee, and watched our life change before us. They were magical. After trying those, we tried several other spots around the city. None could compare to the ones we had at Jackson Square in Cafe du Monde.

Disappointing “biscuit” beignets

#6. Magazine Street

On our second day, we walked over to Magazine Street for brunch at the Broken Egg Cafe (note: not worth it). When we got their, it was a 45 minute wait, but thankfully Magazine Street was ahead. Magazine Street is a street full of cute stores that seemed to be popular for tourists and locals alike. As we waited for breakfast, we wandered through the stores. The area was lively, but not in a drunken Bourbon Street way. If you have some time, this was a cool area to explore! There seemed to be an enormous selection of food around as well!

While we were there, there was a parade being held, in honor of feeling sad about their team not going to the Super Bowl

#7. Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden

While I was in Texas last month, we visited a sculpture garden that ended up being a highlight of the trip for me. NOLA has a similar garden in City Park, an enormous park on the north side of the city. The park is also the home to the Museum of Art and the Botanical Gardens. The sculpture garden had some beautiful pieces, however it was not very spread out. You could see all the art in less than ten minutes. This spot is worth checking out, especially if you are a a fan of modern pieces!

Another reason to get your booty up here: they have a Cafe du Monde food truck! While the quality was not the same as the OG cafe in Jackson Square, it was a welcome sight to have more beignets! The coffee there wasn’t great or fresh, but the NOMA museum cafe made a great latte!

#8. ALL THE STREET ART!

If you can’t tell from this post, or from previous travel posts – I LOVE ART. Street art, in particular, strikes my fancy. New Orleans was a city filled with it. You’d see pieces on alleys, on store sides, heck, even on people’s homes. It made walking through the city fun – as if we were on a treasure hunt.

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#9. Mardi Gras World

Mardi Gras in New Orleans sounds terrible for me. I don’t like crowds or drinking. Parades aren’t fun when you’re 4’11”. However, Mardi Gras World was worth checking out. The tour is set in the factory that creates many of the floats for Mardi Gras parades throughout the city. It gave us a much better understanding of why Mardi Gras is so big in NOLA, and an insight into just how much planning, preparation and money goes into them! It was fascinating to see the various stages of float preparations and the array of floats they had. Tip: Groupon had tickets for about $10 less!

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We ended our trip yesterday, with a 6:00am flight home, which called for a 3:45am wake up call. Silly me talked myself into thinking our AirBnB was haunted and got approximately 2.5 minutes of sleep. Now I’m back in rainy, dreary Chicago, tired and reminiscing hard on those damn beignets. My advice: go to NOLA. You’ll leave feeling inspired, and well fed.

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Travel

Texas Highlights Pt. 3: Austin

YOU GUYS. Get on Google flights. Find yourself a flight to Austin. GO.

Austin was easily the highlight of our Texas trip for myself and my husband. Austin made us think. Austin showed us some pretty sites. Austin was legit.

After two days in San Antonio, we drove on to Austin, which was our final city to visit in Texas. Read on for what tickled our fancy there! (Hint: pretty much everything).

Austin Stop #1: Platinum Ink Tattoo

I’m a big souvenir person. I got back from a weekend trip and brought home 3 mugs. My husband promptly told me to stop doing this. We’ll see! My husband and I had been talking about getting tattoos as souvenirs (primarily because they don’t take up kitchen space), which is exactly what we did in Austin on our first night! We stopped into several tattoo shops before finding Platinum Ink. One dude said he didn’t like doing linework. Second dude, instead of telling us how much the tattoo would be, instead asked what our budget was (redflag alert guys), then proceeded to tell us that the images we liked would make terrible tattoos. We finally came across Platinum Ink Tattoo and they had two openings for that evening. The artist who did our tattoo, James, was great! He was able to take our ideas and make them something beautiful. The healing process was really simple as well.

Prototype of my tattoo (Is prototype correct terminology for tattoos?!) I studied exercise science in college and always thought that anatomically correct hearts were beautiful. SO NOW I HAVE ONE ON MY BACK.

Austin Stop #2: Hamilton Pool

On all of our past trips, we’ve always seemed to find that our most memorable moments weren’t in big cities, but rather when we were able to find a beautiful spot in nature. Hamilton Pool did not disappoint. It was a half hour drive out of Austin that made you think you were in the country side. The drive was stunning! In order to get in during the weekend, you need to make reservations online. I’d never made nature reservations before #exclusivenatureclub

While we were there, we learned that Hamilton Pool was formed when a grotto collapsed thousands of years ago. The pool was beautiful. The water was a green I had not seen before, and there were very few people around that day. Coming from Chicago and our concrete jungle, we basked in the leaves and trees and soil.

Austin Stop #3: Mount Bonnell

One thing Austin does not have is mountains. We thought we were going for a hike when we got to Mount Bonnell. However, all we did was climb a few flight of stairs. AND HERE FOLKS, is the highest point in all of Austin, at a whopping 775 feet. Make sure you bring your oxygen masks. Mount Bonnell was crowded with tourists, who also wanted to feel on top of the world. Stop by if you want the world’s easiest hike guys.

Austin Stop #4: The Contemporary – Austin

I have the attention span of a 2 year old bird when it comes to museums. Which is why I love modern art museums. We had heard that Austin had the reputation of being weird, and wherever there are weirdos, you know there will be dope art. The contemporary art museum in Austin has two campuses. They have an exhibit in downtown Austin, which had work from three artists up. They also have an outdoor sculpture park, which I highly recommend.

Admission was $5, which gets you into both campuses. The Contemporary was great. It got our creative juices flowing, and before we left, I proclaimed that I would be pursuing the arts when we got home. (Update on that: I went to Michaels after work last Friday and bought 6 canvases, paint, some oil pastels, and too many paintbrushes)

Apparently some people didn’t think it was as great as we did

Austin Stop #5: Hope Outdoor Gallery

This is the spot to go to if you want to gain a respiratory condition as well as inspiration. The Hope Outdoor Gallery was magical. There were people everywhere spray painting. There were artists selling their work. There was Jeanette, choking on the fumes.

Going to the Hope Outdoor Gallery made me think about the idea of permanence in art. There were artists out there, working hard on making a piece on the wall, knowing damn well that there was a good chance that piece would be painted over the next day. It made me think about their intention. They must know it’s not permanent right? Why do they do it? Probably because they love what they do. I have mad respect for that.

Me, posing in front of stuff I didn’t make.

So there we have it folks. This post concludes my review of the state of Texas. Conclusion? It’s cool. Austin is dope. San Antonio has some old historic stuff. Houston has Beyonce and a space ship. Go visit guys!

Texas Highlights Pt 1: Houston

This winter break, my husband and I did a road trip though Texas. We hit up Houston, San Antonio and Austin. Austin, was hands down my favorite, and while I really want to write up a recap of Houston, my desire to be chronologically correct has won and I will be reviewing first.

The actual travel from Chicago to Houston were uneventful, which is all you can hope for. Sometimes no news is good news. The first thing we did was go get our rental car. Which ended up being this bad boy….

The RAM 1500 – which stands for 15 MPG according to the husband

This thing terrified me. It was large and in charge and I did not drive it once throughout the trip. The husband however, got a matching cowboy hat and a camo sunglass strap to match this beauty of a vehicle.

We were in Houston for a few days at the beginning and a day at the end of our trip. I’m not going to run ya’ll through every detail because who the hell cares?! I’ll just run you through the things we saw and give my opinion of it. OKIE DOKIE?!

Houston Stop #1: Smither Park.

You. Guys. YOU GUYS. Go to Smither Park. I think that overall, my take away from our trip to Texas was the value of creativity. Smither Park was established in 2016 with work done by over 300 artists from around the country. When you drive up to the park, you’re a little underwhelmed. The park is the size of an oversized city lot, and is in the middle of a neighborhood, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Do not let this sway you to not go in though. You walk in and you’re overwhelmed by stimuli.

I don’t even have the words to describe what Smither Park was other than inspiring. It made me want to create something – anything. Everything was so well thought out, and the attention to detail was out of this world.

Houston Stop #2: Beer Can House

So I can’t say we went in the Beer Can House, but we did see the perimeter, and it was pretty dang cool. The Beer Can House is a man’s pet project, which apparently took quite a few years to complete. He somehow found a way to completely cover his home in an assortment of beer cans and it was pretty cool. They have tours available, but because we went to see it on Christmas, we obviously weren’t able to get on one. It’s definitely a unique place that’s worth a visit if you find yourself with some free time.

 

Houston Stop #3: Space Center Houston

The Space Center Houston was something that we obviously HAD to see. We saw it on our last day of the trip, and arrived with about 2 hours to walk through it. It was cool, but appeared a bit outdated. The place smelled of the 90s, if we’re being honest. It was awesome to see an actual shuttle though! An interesting thing I learned was that the Apollo program was not the first space program. There was the Gemini, which ran from 1961 to 1966, which carried fleets of 2 astronauts into space.

Houston Stop #4: Battleship Texas

I grew up on the island of Oahu so I had been to Pearl Harbor numerous times, and have toured the battleship there. My husband, however has not been on one, so I thought this would be a fun way to learn some history. The battleship site is about a half hour drive from Houston proper, but totally worth it. Admission is $12, which goes to restoring the ship. The ship was a ship that served in both WWI and WWII. It was so fun to wander through the ship and see how they lived. The ship, interestingly enough suffered no wartime casualty, despite how active it had been. The ship had volunteers scattered around the ship who were more than willing to answer any questions one may have had. I would absolutely recommend a stop at the Battleship Texas!

And that’s a wrap on the highlight of Houston. While Houston was not our favorite city, it was definitely informative and interesting. I think that highlight for me was Smither Park, as it really made me think about how things can be used, and then reused. I’ll BRB with an update about San Antonio and Austin.