Travel

A Golden Birthday in Nashville (Part 1)

About three years ago my cousin Tanner told me and my family that he wanted to celebrate his twenty first birthday in Nashville, Tennessee.  

Funnily enough, we were in Paris at the time, waiting for the clock to strike ten so that the Eiffel Tower—which we took to calling “Eif”—would light up. Our group of nine cheers-ed to the idea, both wishing it was closer, and praying that the trip we were already on would find a way to last a little longer.

Like everyone else, we didn’t know what was to come. And we had no idea that we’d spend much of the “countdown to Nashville” locked inside. But, when things started opening back up, and flights to Nashville went on sale, we booked, we prayed and then we waited.

On Saturday, March 19th, that waiting ended.

Saturday March 19th, 2022

As we made our way down 2nd Avenue, sitting in bumper to bumper Saturday night traffic in downtown Nashville, music played from seemingly every direction. A tractor drove by towing a trailer full of people dancing and drinking, pedestrians walked down the street in dresses, boots and cow print pants. Meanwhile, our Uber driver yelled, “I DON’T SEE MY DESTINATION!” at his navigation system, so we politely asked to get out, suggesting that we were close enough and could walk the rest of the way.

“This is us,” my dad said, pointing to a building.

As far as lodging went, I had no real expectations going in. I’m a bargain hunter by trade, and had done my part by finding us a great deal on flights, so I assumed my dad had found a hotel that he simply liked the look of.  But when the doors opened to the fourth (and top) floor of our building, and a key code let us into the Penthouse apartment that my dad had found a good deal on, we all walked in, absolutely speechless.

It was a fun space, with both eclectic and nostalgic design schemes. There was a piano, a pool table, an arcade machine, a lava lamp, coasters that looked both like floppy discs and records, a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth edited to give her piercings and neck tattoos, and lots of books ranging from Nashville themed cookbooks to Marvel based dictionaries.

There were 4 bedrooms (each of which had at least one cloth robe emblazoned with the building’s name hanging in the closet), four bathrooms, a living room with a couch and four comfortable chairs, a kitchen, and a wet bar. And did I mention we were only a block from Broadway Street?

My family has never been wealthy, or flashy, or really ever been one that regularly “splurges”, but like most people (perhaps more than some and less than others) we had been put through the ringer in the last two years, and so walking up and down the length of the suite, marveling that it was “all for us!!”, felt like a true testament to all that we’d made it though, and all that we’d come to celebrate.

After we unpacked, we walked over to Gray & Dudley, as we wanted to eat, drink, and meet up with the guest of honor.  Tanner was turning 21 on the 21st of March, making it his golden birthday, and it almost felt surreal to actually be in Nashville, primed to celebrate it. Our trip to Europe felt like 10 years ago, but now that we were here, in Nashville, taking this trip that had once only been an idea, made it feel like just yesterday we were sitting in that Parisian café, dreaming it up. 

With our group of seven, we made the group total 17. Tanner’s family, friends and cousins had also made the trip, and we all gathered around a corner of the bar, hugging, smiling and chatting.

Even though most of us knew each other already, it still felt like a bit of an ice breaker. We were all still in our plane attire, with our eyes a little heavy from the 5ish hours of travel and the anticipation of the trip to come. We would be each other’s community for the trip. The people you would look for if you got separated in a bar or a restaurant, the faces and voices you would recognize up ahead on the street or coming around the corner behind you. Tanner had brought us all together and now we’d all be a part of each other’s memories, writing stories on this weekend of our shared histories, and taking pictures that would eventually make us say, “remember when?”

We’d made it to Nashville and now it was time to enjoy it.

Sunday March 20th, 2022

At about 12:00pm on Sunday, we all made our way over to Centennial Park to see the Parthenon, which is a 90-year-old replica of the Greek structure originally built in 447 BC. (That’s 2500 years ago, y’all)

It is an imposing, beautiful structure that I can hardly believe just exists in the middle Nashville, Tennessee.

Immediately upon getting out of the car, I was taking pictures from every angle, knowing that none of them would ever really do it justice. It’s the kind of structure that makes you feel small, and when I asked my sister (who graciously obliged) to take off running down one of the cement pathways, I was reminded just how small we are.

Cute, but small.

From there, we made our way to the Belmont Mansion.

Located on the Belmont University campus, the Belmont Mansion is listed as the largest house built in Tennessee prior to the Civil War. Moving from room to room (and trying desperately to abide by the “no touching” rules) we learned about Adelicia Acklen and her crazy life, which included three husbands, ten children (six of which died young), and of course, this expansive property which, at the time of completion, included lavish gardens, and a zoo.

Next, we headed to the historic Ryman auditorium. After checking in for our tour, we were led into a side room to watch what I assumed would be a standard informative film about the building. Instead, it was a fun, creative performance that not only taught us about the history of the Ryman, but made me both excited and invested in its (hopefully) bright and prosperous future.

At approximately 4:00pm, we were more or less starving. It had been a slow onset of travel hanger that I think, if left unchecked for much longer, could have escalated into violence. Thankfully, we found the Assembly Food Hall that had (among other things) chicken, pizza, edible no bake cookie dough, and alcohol just in time.

While we ate, we made a game plan for the night ahead. Tanner’s birthday was the next day and we wanted to be out celebrating on Broadway by midnight. So, we decided that everyone would meet at our place, where we would pregame and play a few rounds of beer pong and pool before heading out on the town.

We walked out of our building at about 11:55pm, so right as we reached Broadway, we stopped in the middle of the sidewalk to sing happy birthday loud and proud.

We then headed to Jason Aldean’s bar, with Tanner leading the way. He walked up to the bouncer, who checked his ID once, then twice, then said, “hey, happy birthday man” before letting him through, officially starting his career as a legal bar hopper.

Once inside, we were a little bummed to find that the second floor (the country music floor) was closed for the night, so we climbed the stairs all the way to the top floor, which was blasting hip hop music and was more reminiscent of a downtown LA club than I think any of us were hoping. We walked out onto the rooftop and cheers-ed our drinks, knowing that the night was young and there were plenty more bars to choose from.

Similar to Vegas, Broadway comes alive at night. The dark sky gives the neon a chance to really glow, asking you to “come in!” “try this place!” “check this out!” We did a slow spin on our heels, taking in all of our options, each of us willing to go wherever the birthday boy had in mind. He pointed at a bar across the street, but then decided to peek in Tin Roof first, as there was a live band playing and the lead singer had an incredible voice.

We walked in, ordered some drinks and then started dancing. Our big group made the once scant bar look like it was hosting a small wedding reception. We were high energy and already comfortable with one another. We took turns walking up to make requests until eventually the lead singer asked what had brought us all in.

“TANNER!” we all shouted back at her.

She squinted her eyes, looking for Tanner in the crowd, and then nodded, “you look like a Tanner. You look like every boy that broke my heart in high school.”

Seeing as most of us are related to Tanner, we all shook our heads defensively. “NO! Tanner is great! This is a NICE Tanner!!”

We continued to dance, our group bantering back and forth with the band. Then my aunt, Tanner’s mom, bought the band a round of shots, which prompted them to sing, “Stacy’s Mom” by Fountains of Wayne, except they changed the lyrics to say, “Tanner’s mom, has got it going on!” which we all sang at the absolute top of our lungs.

At 2:30am, the band signed off and the bar started to close. We walked outside to find Broadway much quieter than we’d last seen it. We had danced for almost two hours, and I was limping like a baby giraffe in my heeled booties that had seemed like such a good/cute idea when we left the house.

A couple people stopped to get late night gyros, both to soak up some alcohol and to account for the hunger that we’d worked up dancing the night away. Then we all collapsed into bed. Ears ringing, (at least my) feet throbbing, and curiosity building for what adventures awaited us the next day—or rather, the same day, in a matter of hours.

Our Epic October Trip (Part 3: North Carolina)

On Thursday we were prepping for our third and final state hop—until our flight home of course—but we (intentionally) did not have an early flight. So, we took the morning slow, said goodbye to the DreamMore Resort sorrowfully, and then visited this Dolly Parton statue in Sevierville before sitting down at the local Cracker Barrel for breakfast.

Afterward, with a little bit of time left before our flight, we drove around the University of Tennessee. It was Homecoming weekend, so there were a few tours going on with families and prospective students, and I tried to do that thing where you pretend to look knowingly out the window, as if you go to that school and you want people to be envious of your vast wisdom of the campus. But we were trying to find the football stadium and drove by the same tour four times, so I think they might have been on to me.

Our final destination of the trip was North Carolina, where we were visiting our cousins, Spenser and Ashlynn, who moved there from California a few years back. We were headed into Halloween weekend and, not being much of a Halloween person myself, I was delighted for the spectacularly mellow version I would be experiencing. Not to mention the fact that we were teaching my cousins’ one and half year old son, Easton, how to trick or treat.

After a late night arrival on Thursday, we woke up on Friday morning relaxed and happy to be there. The fall colors were in full bloom—or as my cousin Spenser put it, “the trees had their best clothes on”—and the view out our window was dreamy.

We drove down to Franklin Street for lunch, where I tried my first ever acai bowl, which seemed wild since I’m from Los Angeles. And while I loved it, I ate it somberly, knowing that if I bought the same one in California, it would probably cost me about $45. So I tried not to get too attached for fear of getting hurt in the long run.

That night, as part of our group went to the UNC soccer game, my mom and I stayed back with Ashlynn and Easton. As Easton and I hung out in the playroom, reading books and building towers solely so we could knock them over, Ashlynn and my mom got to work on dinner, making one of my favorites, chicken pot pie. Then, as if he knew what time it was, Easton stood up and pointed at the door, as if to say, “if we head down now, mom will probably feed me dinner.”

And he was right.

Ashlynn got him all set up in his highchair and I took a seat next to him to cut up his dinner while Ashlynn kept cooking. Then, in arguably the cutest thing that has ever happened to me, Easton began to hold my hand as he ate. As in, he gave up an essential eating utensil—or rather, five—in order to hold my hand. And he continued to hold my hand all through dinner.

As it was happening, I felt like it was one of those moments that you’ll remember forever; one of those things that I’ll probably end up telling Easton 50,000 times as he grows up, always making sure to mime the way his little hand held on tightly to my middle and index fingers, making me feel like the most special person in the world. Sorry in advanced, little man.

The next day, we went curling.

Now, you may remember (or not) that wayyy back in this post, where I listed 30 things I wanted to do before I turned 30—some of which I’ve abandoned, others I’ve done, and still others I’ve added to my lifelong bucket list because time limits prove to be difficult—I put “go curling” as #26.

I’m 31 now, but like I said, we try not to be boxed in by time limits anymore, so I like to think that I manifested this at just the right time.

Spoiler alert: curling is way harder than it looks, but it is just as fun. I learned so many components that you wouldn’t know just by watching it on TV—which we do, every winter Olympics, and I will not accept slander for this.

Our coach for the day told us we were better than average for beginners. We won’t discuss whether he said that before or after we bought him a beer, we will merely take the compliment and assume he means we are approaching Olympic caliber. In telling my grandpa about our curling experience, he made sure to point out that he had been training us to do this our whole lives, as he had taught us how to sweep at a very young age. So make sure you do your chores kids, you never know where they’ll lead you.

Sunday was Halloween, which I completely forgot as we spent the morning at the lake, fishing. It was the most relaxed I’d been on Halloween in a while, as I didn’t have a single party to worry about attending, or the nagging decision on what costume to wear—should it be the one I’ve worn for the last four years, or should I branch out, be fun, and hate it?—and I was just happy to be looking at the water, watching everyone reel in fish, and wondering if the swimmers that we saw swim at least a mile’s distance across the lake were okay and/or Olympians.

That night, I will admit, my Halloween spirit did flicker on, but only because Easton was wearing a doctor costume and I thought I might explode over the cuteness. Plus, I was awarded the prestigious honor to carry our bright purple candy bag, which I would hold open for him to throw each piece of candy into, and then we would all cheer for him, which he loved.

Once we got home, we went into full middle school candy swap mode, and dumped our spoils out on the table before methodically picking our pieces one by one. My adult teeth were wondering what on earth was going on as I stuffed Laffy Taffy’s into my mouth for the first time since high school, but my tastebuds were like, “FINALLY, we’ve missed you! This b*tch eats too many vegetables now.”

On Monday morning, as my dad and my sister’s boyfriend (who had met us in North Carolina for the last leg of our trip) flew home, my mom, sister and I hopped in the car with Spenser to check off one of my 2020 goals.

In doing some research for our trip, I found that one of the World’s Largest Roadside Attractions (which I commonly refer to as WLRA’s) was not only in North Carolina, but within an hour from my cousins’ house.

If you’re ever in High Point, NC, also known as the “furniture capital of the world”—which we quickly understood when we saw approximately 100 furniture stores, including one called “Furniture Land” that had north and south wings—check out the world’s largest chest of drawers. It is wonderful and strange and worth every minute of the drive. Plus, I hear they paint the socks different colors every once in a while—which might only be exciting and interesting to me and I accept that.

On Tuesday, November 2nd, almost two full weeks since we left home, we boarded our final flight (second to last if you want to get technical and count the connection), bidding our adventure farewell.

I waited until we landed in Burbank and got our luggage to say, “that was perfect!” because we truly had about as few missteps as you can have on a vacation, with no missed flight, lost luggage, wrong turn, or disagreement. We’d taken a clean break from everything back home and it felt nearly impossible to go back.

I’ll admit though, there were parts of me that were ready to return to my routine. Sometimes I find certain parts of vacation stressful because I don’t know what to expect, which in turn leads to anxiety regarding the expectations of how I think people want me to react to whatever is coming next. There was also a part of me that was relieved to spend time alone, because when you are on vacation, it is all about socialization and going with the flow of the crowd, as you don’t want to hold anyone back from doing anything they might not have the opportunity to do again.

But as I sat on the plane home, letting the vacation marinate in my mind, I felt incredibly grateful for each and every day of the trip, and nostalgic for it, even though we hadn’t yet left its orbit.

I missed waking up, excited that we weren’t going home the next day (or the next day, or the next.) I missed just existing in each day, knowing I had no responsibilities, no chores, and none of my normal worries. I even missed the unfamiliarity of driving through each new place, never knowing what was going to be on the other side of a particular hill, or around a certain street corner. I liked being able to peek into neighboring car windows, knowing it was going to be someone I’d never seen before, or to look over at families and couples at restaurants, wondering if they were visiting too, or if they’d been born here, grew up here, and were now building their own lives here. I liked noticing what was around me, because at home it is so easy to become numb and overexposed to my normal streets and crowds.

It was hard going back to work, and stressful to jump back into a routine that I’d abandoned for what felt like forever. But now, each day I wake up, each day I go through the comforts and stresses of normal, I know I’m one day closer my next adventure, and I can’t wait to see where that takes me.

Our Epic October Trip (Part 1: Texas)

Sometime around mid-May, I mapped out a trip on my computer. Things were starting to open back up again, restrictions were being lifted due to the increasing availability of the vaccine, and I wanted to get the HECK out of town.

At first, it started as a crazy idea. A whirlwind. Practically a tour—if we were a small indie band just starting out. But when I laid out the plan for my mom and sister, they were in, without hesitation.

So, we booked it. Five flights (which would turn into eight by the end due to connections and layovers), four states, and almost two full weeks’ worth of vacation. We booked it for October, which, at the time, felt like it was forever away.

But then, on Tuesday October 20th, as I clocked out of work and drove home, I realized that we’d finally made it. Our flight to Texas was at 9:30 the next morning.

I also realized I should probably finish packing.

Packing, to me, is like chess. I try to make everything fit perfectly, in the most neat and organized fashion, and I aim to wear every single thing that I pack. I pack as if you could “win” packing. As if someone will be waiting for me when I return home and hand me an award. But then, while I’m actually on the vacation, I tend to inexplicably hate most everything I pack, and so I impulsively buy an emotional support sweatshirt, which makes my suitcase bulky and unorganized, thus I have to unpack it immediately upon arriving home or I will spontaneously combust.

Other than that, I’m a pretty chill traveler.

I know the lay of the land. I’m the one who has the flight number on hand and will check our bags and print our boarding passes. I’m the one who has a miscellaneous assortment of snacks and drugs (i.e., Benadryl, Dramamine and Advil) in my purse. I am a mom traveler—alert, prepared and with no time to take any shit, and I thrive in that environment.

The purpose of this trip was mostly to visit family. Since we hadn’t seen hardly anyone throughout the whole of 2020, this was practically a revenge vacation. It was our chance to see everyone and everything that we missed—plus a few fun bonuses along the way.

Our first stop was Dallas Fort Worth, where we were set to visit our surrogate grandparents, Jim and June—who I wrote about in this post.

If I’m being honest, it was the stop I was most nervous about.

In years past, my mom, sister and I had taken multiple trips a year to Arkansas to visit my great aunt Evelyn and Jim and June, as well as my cousin Brittney and her family. Arkansas was (and is) our happy place. It was where we found we could truly relax. It was a home away from home—the “home” sometimes being interchangeable in a way that we were at times unsure where we belonged more. A few years ago however, aunt Evelyn passed away. She hadn’t been doing well for a little while, and we’d been visiting as often as we could, staying with Jim and June whenever we were in town. The last time we were there, it had been for Aunt Evelyn’s funeral and June worried that we wouldn’t come back.

“You’ll come back and visit me, won’t you?” she asked us.

Us four girls always had the best time together. Sometimes I felt like we were a little bit too much for Jim, but he was always a good sport, going about his routine while we sat around talking and giggling for hours.

“Of course, we will,” we said. But no matter how many times we said it, I couldn’t help but notice that she didn’t believe us. She had no idea how much we loved her. How fondly we spoke about her back home. How quickly we wanted to come back every time we left.

Since we’d last seen them, Jim and June had moved to Texas to live with their daughter Shannon, since it was no longer safe for them to live on their own. And while we were excited to finally see them, we couldn’t help but wonder what toll the move and the past two years had had on them. Selfishly, we wanted them to be exactly the same, to be everything we remembered so this visit wouldn’t be hard or sad. But no matter what we were walking into, we wanted June to know that we’d kept our promise, for her to know that we’d made it back to her as quick as we could, and to tell her that we loved her.

On Thursday morning, after spending the night at our hotel, we drove over to Shannon’s house to spend the day with them. Upon walking in, it was clear that June had lost a lot of weight and was struggling with her vision, and if Jim recognized us, it was only in short, silent waves. But that didn’t stop us from finding those moments of laughter, of reminiscing, and talking about everything we could think of, just the way we used to in their little house in Arkansas.

“I couldn’t sleep last night, I was so excited to see y’all,” June said as we sat on the couch beside her. My heart swelled.

It had been my Grammie, my mom’s mom, that first met June all the way back in first grade, and they’d always kept in touch, even when Grammie moved to California with her family. As a result, for a long time, for me, June was just a character I occasionally heard about in stories. But then, when we started visiting Aunt Evelyn more frequently, June became a real live person. And after Aunt Evelyn moved into a care facility and we started staying with Jim and June, June became our person.  She became like a third grandma to me and my sister, and a connection to my Grammie for my mom.

So as we sat in Shannon’s living room, talking to June, I couldn’t help but think about that moment in first grade, when June and Grammie walked to school together, not knowing how far this friendship would take them. Thinking about it, I felt like Grammie was in the room with us, along with Aunt Evelyn, each of them sitting in an empty seat on the couch. I ached at the thought that one day June would be sitting with them rather than us; when they will all just be characters in stories I tell my kids one day. But as we got ready to leave and June hugged us each twice, I knew that she’d always be real to us—always be close by, and always be a piece of home that I’d hold on to, no matter where I ended up.

“I love you,” she said as we headed out the door.

“We love you too,” we said.

“You’ll come back and see me, won’t you?”

“Always.”

Zion & the 15 Freeway

Great news! If you’re reading this, it means I made it home.

Why is this great news? Well, because as I write this, it seems doubtful.

At this very moment in time, I’m sitting on the 15 freeway, with my sister behind the wheel, heading home from a wonderful weekend spent in Southern Utah.

As routes home go, there aren’t many options to Southern California from that direction, which means we have no choice but to drive through the Sunday Las Vegas traffic—on a two lane highway that has now come to a complete stop.

To give you the whole picture, I drove the first three hours, driving approximately 200 miles, and it has since been two hours of my sister driving, and we’ve gone about 20 miles. We still have 4 hours to go. So things are pretty bleak.

On the bright side, I’ve had time to reflect on our trip. Sitting still and looking out at the desert will do that to you. And right off the bat, I have this feeling of disbelief, of doubt that I had just come from here:

That this morning my alarm went off at 6:00 am so we could take an early a shuttle into Zion National Park to climb Angel’s Landing.

That a handful of hours ago I had my hiking boots on, taking deep breaths and choosing careful steps as I held on to a chain that lined that trail near the top, as it narrowed and got more dangerous, and then I summited and got to look out at this:

And now I’m here. On the freeway. Crawling.

But then I look at the cars around me—and oh, there are so many of them—and I can’t help but feel the same way I did looking at all the people walking up the trails beside me. Whether they were going up or coming down, having just finished, just started, or reconsidering going all the way to the top, they were all carrying their own story, and their own motivations for doing this hike, on this Sunday, at this point in their lives.

Sitting in traffic, it’s easy to forget that everyone around you is trying to get somewhere—maybe home—just like you. And they’re all carrying a story or a handful or worries or a reason that they have to be sitting in this traffic, at this time, on this day.

Now, I’m not trying to make traffic sound like this deep, magical place. I’ll be the first to say that on most days, everyone preventing me from driving my desired speed is in my way and ruining my life. But having spent the weekend exploring a National park—that was full of people from all over the world, hiking, biking, camping and taking pictures of everything, knowing they’d never quite be able to do it justice, but wanting to try their best so that they could remember this, or at least prove that they were here, that this trip, this place, was real, and the world was a little bigger and a little better than it had been before they came here—I’m having one of those moments when you look at the world a little differently. When you remember that we’re all out here trying our best, trying to live our lives right and to enjoy them while we’re lucky enough to live them.

I may be stuck on the freeway but so are a lot of other people. And we’re all hoping it will clear up soon. Because it’s Sunday, and I know I like being home on Sunday nights. I like to settle in and prepare for a new week that might offer a whole new adventure. So I’ll be patient. I’ll look at my pictures from this weekend, be grateful that I got to experience it, and, after a little while, I’ll be home. And I hope everyone else will too. And maybe one day we’ll see each other on the trails, or in some other part of the world that we can’t believe is real, that we can’t believe we are lucky enough to see, and that we would sit in traffic over and over again to be able to experience.

The Solvang Postcard

In the fall of my senior year of college—which as I type this I realize was nine years ago, YIKES—I studied abroad in Australia. While there, one of my absolute favorite things was to write and receive letters from friends and family back home.

I love mail in general, but being a whole continent away and receiving things from the people I loved back home not only made the first few weeks easier to adjust, but made the remaining five months all the more fun. I was practically a regular at the post office, and there was an entire drawer of my desk filled with envelopes, stamps, and handwritten letters that I still have to this day.

One that stood out was a postcard from my grandpa. “You’re not the only world traveler!” the note on the back started, “Grandma and I went to Denmark. Played golf & ate at Anderson’s Split Pea Soup Restaurant. Quite a trip – took 1hr & 15min each way. Saw lots of Danish shops & houses. Took 3 days so we were exhausted when we got home. Love you bunches – Gma & Gpa”

Maybe it was the startling opening of my grandparents being in “Denmark”, maybe it was the note explaining it had taken them one hour and 15 minutes to get there—from California—or maybe it was just because I hadn’t head of Solvang before, but I never forgot this postcard. It made me smile thinking about my grandma and grandpa on vacation, golfing and exploring this strange and—judging by the pictures on the front of the postcard—very cute town.

A few years later, after my grandma passed away, this postcard became even more sentimental. I felt like it was a tangible memory from their marriage and of the life they lived together—a little piece that they wanted to share with me, that I could have forever. And so just as I kept the postcard, I kept a constant curiosity about Solvang—wondering what it would feel like to stand where they stood all those years ago. And this past weekend, I finally got the chance.

To celebrate my dad’s 60th birthday, our family of five spent the weekend in Solvang. We walked around and saw all the Danish shops and houses, we ate split pea soup at Anderson’s, and though we didn’t play golf, we did go wine tasting and feed some ostriches. (Yes, you read that right.)

We did Solvang our way, just as my grandma and grandpa had done it their way. And even though our trips were almost a decade apart, I still felt like they were right there with me. I still looked for the two of them walking down the street up ahead of me, and imagined them sharing split pea soup in the booth next to us.

Being where they had been made the postcard come to life, and caused it to hit me in a different way. It made me sad knowing that when my grandpa wrote that note to me, none of us had any idea we’d be losing grandma less than a year later. It made me wonder and worry about what might be coming in this decade to follow my own trip to Solvang. But then, it also made me think again about their trip. About the forethought they had to grab a postcard for me, one of their 11 grandkids and 3 great-grandchildren (at the time), and about how much that said about them and the love they had for each and everyone of us. It made me happy to think that they went on this trip and so many others, building their lives together and sharing it with us.

On our last day in Solvang, I grabbed a small, souvenir windmill that is now sitting on my desk. Maybe one day someone will ask me about it and I will pull out the postcard to explain where it all started. Maybe that will inspire another generation to take that trip, and as they walk down the streets and eat split pea soup they’ll look for me just as I looked for my grandma and grandpa, and just like that we’ll all be together again.

A Whole Lot of Oooooh-tah! (Day 3&4)

 August 22, 2020

There are some vacations that sit you in front of your suitcase each morning, agonizing over what to wear, wondering how fashionable you should go, how formal, how casual, how comfortable, how functional, whether you should bring a jacket, or an umbrella, or an extra pair of shoes. But my favorite part about a vacation that centers around nature, hiking, fishing, and just being outside, is that your outfit just has to go, and by that I mean it just has to move with you wherever you might go and support you in whatever you might do—including keeping you out of jail for indecent exposure. So when I woke up Saturday morning knowing I was headed into another day of adventuring, I slipped into another pair of leggings and a t-shirt, along with some tennis shoes, and I was ready to go.

Just after 9:30 a.m., we walked in the door of a gas station in Kamas, to try their infamously delicious donuts.  I picked out a sprinkle donut, and Natalee chose some sort of twist that was as big as her arm—because obviously.

Then we carried on to Mill Hollow to fish, where I took exactly three pictures, the last three pictures I would take the entire trip. (This still bums me out, but it also makes sense when you hear the rest.)

We fished for a couple hours, only managing to catch a couple, but the time went quick as we took in the lake and watched families enjoy their afternoons swimming, stand up paddle boarding, and kayaking.

Around 12:00 p.m. we made the drive back home, where we planned to eat some lunch, rally, and make the most of our afternoon before we had to get back and get ready for our dinner reservation.

Thus, over some countertop sandwiches, we made this plan:

We would rent e-bikes from a park down the street, take the bike path downtown, and then walk around the shops for a little while.

I’d love to have pictures that accompany this plan and its unfolding, but I never took my phone out of my purse, because a) I was “being in the moment” and “looking at the scenery,” and (more accurately) b) I am a level 0 bike rider who was not prepared for the kick of an e-bike, thus I “rode” the bike path in the way a baby giraffe might walk.  I wobbled, I panicked, I spoke to the bike as if it were a person who might understand commands like “slow down”, and at one point, when a bump approached, my foot slipped off the pedal and it jammed into the back of my leg, which birthed a bruise I am still sporting two weeks later.

So it’s safe to say I won’t be signing up for the Tour de France any time soon.

But you gotta love a bike that does the work for you when you’re going uphill in high elevation. And in the end, we made it to town and were able to walk around and check out some awesome shops and boutiques, including Create Park City, which is a collection of work from local artists that I would highly recommend checking out if you’re ever in the area!

We then headed back to take some quick showers and head to Silver Star for dinner, where I ate my first ever elk burger, and drank two glasses of red wine, which eased the sting of the trip almost coming to a close, and made me forget about the bruise on my leg, which by morning would look like a dragon egg.

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August 23, 2020

On our final morning in Utah, I woke up to the familiar sun shining on my now familiar pillow under my now familiar blanket. It was all as it should be and had been for the last four days—though there was something else in the air too.

FEAR.

Sorry, I should have eased us into that.  I should have said, the sweet aroma of French toast being cooked downstairs for breakfast, or the ache of missing this trip and these people before we’d even left. But while those both hung in the air as well, sweetly and neatly, there was also fear.

Our plan for the day was to float the Weber River and I. Was. Terrified.

You see, similar to my skill level of riding bikes, my confidence level in water is low. Can I swim? Yes. Can I tread water if my life depends on it? Yes. Can I sit in a slow moving tube and confidently navigate small rapids without immediately assuming I’m on the verge of drowning? No.

And I have no good reason why.

I have no previous trauma involving water, especially not with a tube involved, but I have always been someone who just does better on land. If I go to the beach, I read on a towel in the sand. If I go to a pool, I wade in the shallow end. I like being on solid ground. So sitting in a tube with my legs up, unable to touch the ground, immediately sends off warning signs for me. Thus, what looks like a minor rapid to most, looks like a slide into the pits of doom to me.

I laughed out loud writing that. Both because it’s ridiculous and because it’s true.

There were about 10 of us in our group, and after we arrived at the entry point to the Weber River, we each put our tube in the water and tried to acclimate our legs to the temperature of the river. Then, on the count of three, we hopped into our tubes and started our float. And because water is a mischievous monster who can sense fear, my tube somehow caught a current that immediately sent me about a football field length ahead of everyone else.

So there I was. Alone. Floating. Shivering. Wondering if I had everything in order back home in case I drowned. I made friends with a man who was leisurely floating the river with his girlfriend, both of whom thought I was some bold, independent woman, when I was in fact a terrified baby who was gripping onto her tube as if it was my only source of oxygen.

Luckily, eventually, the group caught up to me, and when they did I gripped so hard onto the arm of a boy I’d just met earlier that day, that it had to look (and feel, I imagine) like I was trying to absorb some of his calm demeanor through my forearm a la the science of Space Jam.

In the two hours or so we floated the river, I never ended up falling out of my tube, which I consider a success, both for me and for anyone who might have had to witness me panicking as if I were being dragged underneath the rapids by Poseidon himself rather than just being bumped out of an inner tube in hip deep water. And while I can’t say I particularly loved the experience, as it just isn’t my thing, I was proud of myself for doing it. I’m also thankful for the random woman who applauded me at the finish, and for the hug I received from our friend Kelly. Both solidified the pride I felt and the assumption I had that my fear was as easy to read as my pale, white legs were easy to spot.

On the drive home, we stopped for burgers and fries, and then it was a quick shower and drive to the airport so that we could make our flight home. Sitting in the terminal, with damp hair, a bag of gummy worms I was eating underneath my mask, and a sweatshirt I’d just impulse bought in the gift shop sitting in my lap, I let the trip wash over me. While it had gone fast, I felt like we’d made the most of each day, which in turn made the trip feel long—in a good way. It had felt like a true breakaway from everything and it was hard to reconcile going back.

But now, even after being home for over two weeks, I can still look at the picture of our fishing spot and remember the peace and the space and I can reconnect to that moment of just relaxing and thinking about the good things the future might hold. And while I’m already ready for our next adventure, I don’t think I’ll forget this one anytime soon—both emotionally and physically, as I still have that bruise on my leg, and a bruise on both butt cheeks that a few sneaky rocks in the river gave me as souvenirs. #survivor.


Read Day 1 & 2 here.

A Whole Lot of Oooooh-tah! (Day 1&2)

Note: Throughout the entirety of this mini vacation all rules were followed, restrictions were taken seriously, and masks were worn when required, so please don’t come at me. I just want to tell you about a pretty place I went and how I ended up with bruises on both of my butt cheeks.

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August 20, 2020

After being picked up at the Salt Lake City airport late Wednesday night, I woke up on Thursday morning to a Park City sun shining on the pillow of a comfy bed, tucked under a warm blanket as a cool breeze came in through my open window. If you’re from Southern California (like me) or somewhere else where words like “breeze”, “blanket”, or “open window” are completely foreign and borderline triggering during this onslaught of August & September heat, you’ll know how much happiness these things brought to even the earliest moments of my day.

Having planned this trip to Utah over two months earlier, unsure of the potential travel restrictions or outside access we might have, my sister and I felt blessed to simply be somewhere other than our living room. Honestly, we would have embraced just sitting in a different living room if the laws prevented us from doing anything else. But, thankfully and mercifully, we were allowed to go exploring outside. Before we did that however, I did one of the inside things I’d wanted to do for oh. so. long.

I got a haircut.

Sitting in the chair at the salon, I asked the stylist to chop off the four or five inches that had grown down my shoulders since March. And as she went to work, talking on and off about the anxiety she was feeling about her daughter returning to school that morning, I couldn’t tell who was more excited about the haircut.

“Oh my gosh, this is happening, this is so exciting!” she said as my brown hair began to fall on the floor around me. I think it was therapeutic for both of us. I felt like I was chopping off the mop that quarantine built, and she was chopping at her anxiety snip by snip.

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Next on the agenda, we piled into the car and headed to Willow Heights Trail, which would not only serve as a welcome to Utah but a welcome to *elevation*. Having spent a good amount of time in elevation while training for Whitney, I was less nervous than I might have been otherwise, but that didn’t mean 8,000 feet didn’t make itself known.

Hello, it said, take your time.

And so we did.

After walking a mile or so to the lake at the top, we sat down on a few rocks to enjoy the lunches we packed. Within a few seconds however, a female duck and her eight ducklings came swimming and then charging up the bank towards us, squeaking and quacking and opening their beaks, waiting for us to toss them some scraps.

Were they cute? Yes.

Was it weird and strange and utterly delightful to be approached so closely by ducks? Yes.

But did it get old pretty fast, especially when they started pecking at our shoes and following us around in a way that suggested that at any minute they might go into attack mode and kill us? YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT.

This is when they gave up on us and returned to the water to commence hiding in plain sight until their next victim arrived.

After our hike, we stopped in on a waterfall, and the headed to Normal Club ice cream to have our lives casually changed forever.

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To finish off the day, we headed to a spot on the Weber River to fish. And while we gave it our best effort, our perseverance, our sweat, and, in my case, a little bit of blood thanks to my biggest catch of the day being my own finger, all but one of us came up empty. But it’s hard to be mad when this is your view.

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August 21, 2020

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

It’s me, elevation!

First thing Friday morning we headed to the Uintas (pronounced you-in-tuhs) to hike Bald Mountain, which had a starting elevation of 10,500 feet. I felt a little nervous heading into the hike, wondering if perhaps my sea-level life was going to catch up to me eventually, but aside from a few friendly reminders from my lungs not to laugh too hard, talk too loud, or burst into occasional song as I like to do, the hike went relatively well. The trail was rocky, and at times felt like walking up a long flight of uneven stairs, but small steps—and for the faint of heart or fearing of heights, a close eye on the ground rather than the long way down—were the key. I got to the top feeling very accomplished, and a little mischievous. Which is perhaps why, alongside this photo of the view:

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I also took this picture, while saying, out loud, “my dad is going to hate this”:

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From Bald Mountain we drove to Trial Lake and set up camp on the muddy banks to spend the afternoon fishing. Feeling a little let down by the previous day’s success, I threw a line in without big expectations, and instead stared off into the distance and let myself think.

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Throughout the day we had been talking a lot about the future. What we want to do, and where we might want to live (other than California). And with everything going on in the world and in my own life, I felt like I hadn’t had time to consider questions like these in a long time. But with the quiet of the lake and the tangible space offered up by the trees and water and sky—not to mention the complete lack of cell service—I felt like I finally had the time. Not about what I had to do today or what I should do tomorrow, but what I was doing and how I was feeling in that very moment. It was almost overwhelming—having the freedom to just exist—and it stirred up a lot inside me that I hadn’t even known was there. It also brought back some of my luck. In the three or so hours we were there, I caught seven fish, including this guy, who is the prettiest fish I ever did catch.

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On the way home, we stopped at “The Notch” for dinner, where we ate burgers and sandwiches, had some wine and beer and Kentucky mules, and talked about the day, about some favorite memories, and about how small this great big world is sometimes. Then we drove back and went to bed early, all of us spent in the way only a good, full day can make you.


Read Day 3 & 4 here.

There is More

Since I have been lucky enough to continue going into the office for work, I am among the (far fewer) commuters in the morning and afternoon. And lately on my way home, I have been taking the freeway a few exits past my own, and then driving up and down the side streets around my neighborhood, just listening to music and decompressing. I like looking at the different houses—especially the front doors, I love a pop of color on a front door—and seeing which roads wind into each other, which ones dead end, and which go up into the hills.

I also like driving around and finding the little spots that hold memories for me, some good, some bad, some from over a decade ago, and some from only a few months before everything shut down.

I can drive down the street where the food trucks park on Friday nights, where my cousin once jogged down the very windy, cold street to get a churro for us to split before the cart closed.

I can drive past the pancake restaurant my friends and I use to eat at once a week in high school, before we spent the night driving around blasting music—sometimes with added choreography.

I can drive past the front lawn where I saw the boy I liked take prom pictures with another girl.

I can drive past the park where I ate cake with my best friend the week before she moved away.

I can drive past the house with the orange tree out front, where my grandparents use to live and my papa used to let me sit on his lap while he pulled into the driveway.

On some streets I can hear myself laughing so hard with my friends that I can’t breathe; on other streets I can feel the heaviness of a hard day and hear the sad songs carrying me home; and on some streets I think of a specific person, specific food, specific weather pattern or specific song for reasons I can’t remember anymore.

More than anything, the driving around reminds me that the world is still out there. It reminds me that I’m alive—that I’ve lived a life. And it gives me hope that I still have lots of life left to live.

There are more memories to make out there, more spots to claim pieces of my mind and my memory. There is more than what I see from inside my house, more than what I feel inside my own head, and more than what we hear on the news or social media. There is more out there and we will find it.

My Favorite Moments of 2019 (List-cember #9)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it approximately 600,000 times: this year was busy!

But within the confines of our crazy calendar, there were so many good moments. And I don’t just mean big, fancy moments. Some of my favorite parts of this year were the small but meaningful bursts of joy. The cozy, perfect moments that I’ll undoubtedly be thinking about when that ball drops tomorrow at midnight.

For me, these were those moments:

1) Meeting Lyra

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I have long been afraid of holding babies. They are just so fragile and so perfect and so little, and the thought of holding something so important in my hands (especially when it is not even my something) has always terrified me. But in January of this year, one of my lifelong friends had a baby, and she encouraged me to overcome that fear when met her little one for the first time in the hospital. That moment inspired me to write this blog post and I will remember it forever.

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2) A Ball at Spring Training

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My family went to Spring Training in March for the first time this year (which you can read about here.) and easily one of my favorite parts of the trip and of the year was when my friend Mel, after trying for innings on end, got a baseball from one of the players. Not only was it a joyous celebration of perseverance, but the resulting footage includes a look of fuming jealousy from her neighboring fan, which makes for an all around perfect video.

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3) Finishing the Marathon

There are many moments of the marathon that I would deem “defining,” but perhaps my favorite was crossing that finish line and seeing my 6 foot 2 brother standing among the crowd. I was so proud and relieved to be finished, and seeing a familiar face to welcome me to the otherside of that journey was truly great.

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4) Mom Scores a Goal

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Some of the best memories I have of my family are the slow, ordinary days where we are just spending time together, which is why this moment from May stands out. My mom, sister and I had gone to visit my cousin Brittney and her family in Arkansas, and we spent one afternoon sitting outside, drawing in sidewalk chalk, and playing soccer. At one point we set up a challenge between my mom and my little cousin Landon. While Landon won in the end, the crowd (of me, Natalee, Brittney, and baby Nora) went wild for this goal scored by my mom.

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5) A Circular Celebration

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In June my family got the opportunity to go to Europe, and among the many jaw dropping, awe inspiring moments of that trip, was this one. My cousin Taryn (which, if you didn’t read the blog I wrote about our trip, is the whole reason we went) finished writing a long tedious essay that would complete her study abroad program, and we did what any family would do when they’re in England and about to head to dinner but need to take a moment or two to celebrate this accomplishment: we formed a circle around her and and jumped up and down, chanting, “We are proud of you, say we are proud of you! Hey! Hey! Hey!”

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6) That Eiffel Tower Sparkle

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Upon arriving in Paris and seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time, my most prominent and low key embarrassing thought was, “oh my gosh, the Eiffel Tower is actually real.” It’s not that I thought we’d been lied to all this time, but the realization that I was really, truly seeing it in person was so unbelievable that I was having trouble accepting it all as reality. This shock and awe only multiplied as we sat on the grass in front of the tower and watched as the sun set, the tower glowed gold, and then started to sparkle.

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7) Axe throwing in Vegas

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For my brother’s 21st birthday, a group of us went to Vegas with a list of things we were looking to accomplish in order to properly celebrate his milestone. Among the items on that list was throwing axes. After almost an hour of learning and practicing, we decided  to document our newfound skills, and showcase our ability to hit the target. What makes this moment one of my favorites, is that the video recording is almost four minutes long, (three of which we fail miserably) but when we finally do all hit the target at once, we all threw our arms up and yelled, “first try!”

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8) You’ve Got Ice Cream

About two years ago, on a visit to Arkansas with my mom and sister, I discovered the magic of Blue Bell ice cream. Upon arriving home however, I was very disappointed to discover that it is not sold in California. But for my 29th birthday, I was floored to find a box from Blue Bell waiting for me. My parents had all of my favorite flavors (including the holy grail, Salted Caramel Cookie) shipped to me and it. was. EPIC.

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9) Pop the champagne

Last year my cousin Cory married my now cousin Amanda, and this year they were able to purchase their first house! I was so happy and honored to be there when they popped champagne in their living room, that at the time had little more than a table and some folding chairs, but is now a beautiful, cozy home.

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10) The Dodgers Take Game 3

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For a Dodger fan, the 2019 playoffs were rough to say the least. But before we had our hearts broken, we had our hopes up, and on the night of Game 3, me, my sister, my cousin Taryn, and my best friend Allison were walking into a concert at the Honda Center as the Dodgers entered the 7th inning. As we made our way to our seats, I was streaming the game through the TBS app on my phone, which I’d downloaded while waiting in line, and we asked multiple employees if they could turn on the game, all of whom turned us down. So as we went to the 8th inning and then the 9th, the four of us stood out in the hallway, crowded around my phone to watch us close out a victory.

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11) The Frozen North Lake

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In November, my family made one of our annual trips to Bishop to squeeze in a weekend of fishing before the season closed. On the Saturday of the weekend we were there, we parked our car and hiked in to one of our favorite fishing spots, only to find the lake frozen solid. While this obviously prevented us from fishing, it did little to deter our fun. We spent a solid half hour throwing loose pieces of ice onto the lake and watching them shatter and glide across its surface.

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12) Sending “The Hulk”

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On the same trip to Bishop, my brother, who is an avid rock climber, had his sights on a boulder at Happy Boulders known as “The Hulk.” After spending a few hours attempting the climb on Friday, he was determined to return, so on Sunday afternoon, me, him and my sister headed back to Happy Boulders on our way home, where we watched him try time and time again until he finally reached the top!

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13) Eli’s Last Game

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To cap off the year, at the beginning of this month my family took a whirlwind trip to New York to see our favorite football team (the New York Giants) play for the very first time at their home stadium. We went the week they played the Dolphins, which wound up being one of only 4 games we won this season, and on top of that, it was our longtime quarterback, Eli Manning’s, probable last game with the team. We couldn’t have picked a better game!

Note: Please leave all Giants hate at the door, thank you.

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14) Coming June 2020

At our annual family Cookie Baking day, my cousins Spenser and Ashlynn gave my grandpa (and all of us, really) a very special gift: the news that we have a new member coming in June 2020! On Christmas Day we found out that the little one is a boy, and while we already know his name, I’ve taken to calling him Meatball for now.

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15) Meeting Luca

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Since I started this list with a baby, it seems only logical for me to end this list with a baby! And in true bookend fashion, I got to meet one of my best friends’ new baby, Luca, just this past week, and even though he is handsome and perfect and practically impossible not to want to hold, it was still a big deal for me to do so without fear. And as I looked down at him and his big curious eyes, I couldn’t help but feel every good moment of the year capsize in this one moment. It was a busy year, but it was a good one. I got to do so many great things and love and be loved on by so many great people. I’m very thankful for the life I live and I feel so honored for the opportunity to live it.

Here’s to 2020, I hope it’s full of wonderful moments, big, small and everything in between. Happy New Year!

Goodbye Paris, Hello World (Our European Adventure: Day 10&11)

June 22nd, 2019:

It would take a long time for me to ever get used to sleeping in, yawning and looking out the window of my hotel room to see Paris, but with the warm welcome it had given us over the last two days, I looked out at the already sunny city, tipped my imaginary, bed head filled hat, and said good morning.

There were no concrete plans on the agenda today, just nine people ready to see the city and their iPhones ready to help them do it. So we set off from our hotel and walked down the streets of our new temporary neighborhood to O Coffee.

Since the group of us was so large and the restaurant was so small, we were met outside by the kind, Australian owner, who offered to take our order and prepare it for takeaway. We got five avocado toasts, four banana breads, a few coffees, a couple orange juices, and an apple juice, and then the owner threw in some madeleines for us to try. Everything was absolutely delicious and I could not recommend this place more.

As we ate, we came up with a plan:

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Starting at the Arc de Triomphe, we would walk down the Ave de Champs Elysees to do some shopping and sightseeing, and then follow the Seine River all the way up to Notre Dame. It was a three mile walk that we figured would be more like five when we added in browsing steps, but we were ready and the day was beautiful and so we finished our last bites of breakfast—and I spilled most of my apple juice—and then we were off.

The Arc de Triomphe is probably one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Built to honor the lives lost in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, it is imposingly stunning. It is also the center of one of the scariest intersections I’ve ever seen in my life.

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The Champs Elysees reminded me of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Huge designer stores lined the street and they tempted you to come in and spend money you definitely didn’t have. At one point we walked into a Sephora that made me say, “I can’t believe we haven’t reached the back yet.” On top of that, the street was freckled with beautiful greenery, including this little patch that I actually volunteered to have my picture taken in.

The Grand Palais, while we didn’t go inside, was gorgeous and made me want to go to Rome, and the Petit Palais made us all laugh because the phrase “small palace” is one that both contradicts itself and doesn’t exist in our day-to-day vocabulary. If I ever make my way back to Paris, I will go inside these beautiful museums, but for this day, we fell in love just looking at them.

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The Pont des Artes, the “bridge of arts”, is most famously known for the love locks people used to clip to its chain link. In 2015, all of the locks were removed because they were too heavy for the bridge and were causing parts of it to crumble. This however, has not stopped people from clipping locks to other bridges. On our walk, we came across a bridge named the Passerelle Léopold-Sédar-Senghor, which has started to collect locks of its own.

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The Louvre was something my museum loving heart was over the moon to see in person. After seeing pictures of it and hearing references to it for my entire time as an undergraduate art student, actually finding myself in front of it’s famous pyramidal structure was pretty surreal. We didn’t go inside, but only because we decided to save that for the next morning when we could buy tickets in advanced and skip the lines. But since the courtyard was so pretty and the nearby restaurant, Le Café Marly, came so highly recommended, we decided to have lunch there.

I ordered what had become a favorite of mine in French cafes, a croque-madame, which is a fried ham and cheese sandwich with a fried egg on top. I didn’t take a picture of any that I ate, but to give you an idea of this true gift to humankind, please look at this photo from this recipe on foodnetwork.com:

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IMG_7494Sainte Chapelle was one of the only places that we took the time to stand in line and go inside to see, and I’m so glad that we did. I had heard that it was a beautiful church, but nothing really prepared me for how beautiful. We walked around on the first floor thinking it was amazing, but when we climbed the stairs to the second floor the line of us gasped in a row like dominoes. I was speechless.

Notre Dame, while tragically having been damaged in a fire not long before we arrived, was still gorgeous. Even as someone who doesn’t know nearly enough about its history and the grandeur that it has held in the city for so many years, my heart ached looking at the large pieces that were missing and the construction that was going on trying to repair it.

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As a final stop to cap off our day, we walked to Berthillon ice cream. It came recommended from a friend of my aunt’s, but it was clear when we got there that this was no well-kept secret. Multiple shops holding the same name were open mere meters from each other, and all of them had lines out the door. I got one scoop of dark chocolate and one scoop of salted caramel (because #saltedcaramelforever), and while they were delicious, I was bummed by the shop’s “no free samples” policy and I still think about the fig ice cream I left behind. #I’llneverfig-etyou

Now, I understand this next part might bring shame/judgment/open mouth gapes but I’m here to say that we did it, we don’t regret it, and we would 100% do it again.

That night, after getting back to our hotel and showering, napping and freshening up, we went…back to McDonalds for dinner. I know, I know, we’re in Paris, what are we doing at McDonalds two nights in a row? And to that I say: LIVING.

I will tell you right now, Parisian McDonalds is better than American McDonalds and there is absolutely no way you can change my mind. After having an iconic egg mcmuffin the night before, my sister and I both ordered the goat cheese chicken wrap and then I ordered a Kit Kat McFlurry. I mean, how dare you, Paris. How absolutely dare you.

We then walked back to Eif and took a seat on the lawn to watch him sparkle. Because what else can you do when you’ve had a wonderful day besides end it with a dose of pure magic?

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June 23rd, 2019:

For our very last day in Paris, we woke up a little early and immediately made our way back into the city.

Since we hadn’t truly experienced a Parisian sidewalk café, we took a seat at Café de la Comedie and took in the beautiful morning. My sister and I ordered the breakfast special which was the equivalent of the petit dejeuner we had in Epernay and I was in absolute bliss.

From breakfast we walked over to the Louvre, where I’d purchased nine tickets online the night before. NOW, listen carefully here because apparently this is a mistake that people make all the time.

In buying nine tickets, I apparently flagged us as being a “group”—as a note, this label is given to any amount of people greater than six—and as a group we were apparently required to be assigned a guide and were supposed to meet said guide in the “group reception area”. So when we got in line and our tickets didn’t work, we were sent to this area where a man behind a desk told me there were no guides and it would be impossible to get one and I should not have bought “group tickets” if I did not want a guide. Oh, and also my tickets were non-refundable and that he couldn’t do anything to help.

First of all, no.

Second of all, if this happens all the time, don’t you think that’s an issue you should deal with, Louvre?

Third of all, we’re in Paris, I paid good money for these tickets and I WILL be going inside.

Needless to say, after walking up and down the stairs a few times and talking to four or five different people, we were eventually let inside. And was it worth it? YES.

I was floored by both the art and the museum itself. Once I was in and amongst the work, my frustration with the (clearly poorly designed) website and the (not nearly as helpful or sympathetic as they could have been) staff, melted away. I also got to say hi to Mo, though she seemed a little busy with some other fans at the time.

From the Louvre we headed to lunch at an Australian café called Café Oz and it was…well, a conundrum you might say. The menu was a hodgepodge of options including burgers, risotto, and chicken parmesan—all of which we ordered by the way—and they had a picture of the All Blacks (the New Zealand national rugby team) on the wall, which is practically a sin in an Australian themed bar. Like I said, a conundrum.

For our very last night in Paris and the very last day of our trip, we decided to go out in style. We had 8:00 p.m. reservations on a Seine River Cruise and we’d paid €5 extra for front row seats—which was totally worth it! For an hour and a half we glided along the river, seeing the sights from a whole new angle, and seeing the people of Paris enjoying their evening as much as we were.

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We saw friends chatting and laughing and comforting one another. We saw couples sharing snacks and smiling and staring off into the setting sun. We saw people walking and running and biking and salsa dancing. We’d all had a different day, and yet we were all here, in Paris, watching the same sunset, so that we could wake up again tomorrow and start over.

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As sad as we were for our trip to be over, we were happy to be going home. It was going to feel good to be back in our own world, in our own homes, in our own beds and get back on our own schedules. But as we watched the Eiffel Tower light up for the final time that night, I took note of all of the people around me. Maybe some of them would be leaving tomorrow too. Maybe others had only just got here. Maybe others just moved here and others still had lived here their whole lives.

No matter our stories, no matter our backgrounds or our likes or dislikes, we were together in that moment and we were sharing the awe of the Eiffel Tower. And even if none us would ever see each other again, there was still something special about that moment. It was our own little piece of history that we’d always share. Just like our trip will be something that the nine of us will always share. In the grand scheme of things, these 11 days will be a blip, but to us they will mean the world. And at the end of the day, it’s about remembering those moments because those moments are the world.