Family Style > Fast Fashion

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My mom on the left, me on the right.

I have always liked clothes. They give us all an opportunity to express ourselves, make a statement, and have fun. However, I wouldn’t say that I am particularly into the fashion you see on runways or in magazines. While “fashion” usually is about trends, I believe that “style” is about personal taste. I would say that my style is pretty classic and modest, nothing too funky or trendy. But, there is always a hint of retro going on.

While I don’t subscribe to trends often, there are a few that I can definitely get on board with, and hope stay around, such as: sustainable fashion (investing in well-made clothes, instead of cheaply made clothes that you need to replace often) and repeating outfits (even the Duchess of Cambridge is doing it).

Some trends become classic and timeless, making an appearance in generation after generation. Think “little” black dress, etc. Like families, fashion grows through each generation. Some trends stay, some fall by the wayside. Some make an appearance again. It is a cycle. The constant reinvention of style, through family culture and history, is what has really made an impact on fashion today.


As my mom was preparing to giveaway some of her clothes that she had been saving, I realized, being the sentimental person that I am, that they actually were kind of “in.” Many of the iconic pieces from this Fall Fashion Season, like menswear for women, 80s style, and autumnal coloring, were just sitting in my basement having not been worn for years.

So, I rummaged through the bags of clothes and found some absolute gems with meaningful stories behind them. Once I had pulled out my favorites, I asked my mom about each piece, and got to know her, my nana, and my great-grandmother better. It was a special way to feel connected. And it has been even better to wear each piece, knowing I am wearing a piece of my family’s’ history.

Instead of going out to buy another piece of clothing “made in China,” I can wear a vest made by my Nana, specially made for my mom when she was younger. Or, I can wear my great-grandmother’s swing coat, in “millennial pink.” Or, I can adorn my right ring finger with the beautiful and elegant engagement ring my grandfather, who I never got the chance to meet, gave to my grandmother, who I am named after.

All this came together, to create a blog post on how to wear some of your mom’s or older family member’s clothes from the past. I’ve included some instructions on the best ways to wear the pieces, why the pieces may be relevant today, and the stories behind the particular pieces I am wearing.

Fashion comes and goes, but like family, style is as personal as your DNA.

In a world where we can feel so disconnect from others, take the chance to physically connect with your family history by wearing pieces made and worn by your family. In your family’s closet you may find your new statement piece, iconic jacket, or holiday get-together outfit, that couldn’t be more “you” if you tried.

 


Vintage Clothing:

Shoulder Pads -> Symbolic of Changing Gender Norms:

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Pair the shoulder pad top with tight fitting pants or a skirt, to emphasize the difference in size between the shoulders and your hips. Make it futuristic with some pleather and some kick-ass heals (that you borrow from your sister!).

With all that is going on culturally/politically for women, #ImWithHer Presidential Campaign, the #MeToo Movement, and more women taking on leadership roles in corporations, women are having a broader impact on society. And, we need the broader shoulders to match! I predict that these “woman spreading” tops will make a big comeback, or at least I hope they will!

Family Story: My mom bought this top in 1987 to wear to work with the black pleated skirt, seen below. At that time, everything had shoulder pads.

 


Oversized blazers -> Menswear for Women:

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You could wear a jacket like this as a piece of outer-wear or as a fashionable jacket. Pair it with tight pants to show the difference in size between your shoulders and your legs. Add a little pocket square for fun! You might need to ask a man in your life if you can borrow one.

Menswear for women is very “in” at the moment. And so are the scotch plaids and houndstooth patterns. While this double breasted blazer is not as big as Lady Gaga’s most recent super-oversized suit, I hope it makes you just as powerful.

Family Story: It’s my mom’s blazer that is actually part of a suit. She bought it in 1987, when she had just finished her Master’s Degree in International Economics, and was working at BLS. It’s a working-girl look!

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This outfit feels the most everyday “me.” I’m in my infamous Banana Republic, black, 5 pocket, sloan fit, pants, and also my gold flats that I have re-bought over 8 times and a plain, black turtleneck sweater. The blazer jacket gives it a more studious look, and adds some color.

Camel, what a wonderful Fall and Winter color. While this blazer was not as oversized as the one before, it was just a bit too big. In these cases, you could either get the suit tailored, or you could just wear it large. That’s up to your personal taste!

Family Story: My mom went to visit my uncle in Paris in the Summer of 1983. She got the fabric at a “la-di-dah” fabric store on the Champs-Elysées. With this camel hair fabric she made herself a blazer. No shoulder pads were included!

 


Wool Vest -> Menswear for Women:

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Look at the colors making up the vest and play up one of the colors, by wearing a shirt or sweater of the same color underneath. Try doing the same thing with the pants color that you choose. If the vest is not a tight fit, keep the buttons open and wear it loosely.

Oversized pieces of clothing are not usually my style. However, oversized is very “in” for women. I think it has a lot to do with emphasizing the differences between the female and male bodies. So, when you are wearing oversized clothing that makes your shoulders or chest area appear larger, juxtapose the look with something feminine like a hairstyle, make-up look, or jewelry.

Yearbook photos from when my mom taught art. Note the vest and the matching skirt in the left photo.

Family Story: My Nana made this vest for my mom when she was teaching art at a high school in New Hampshire in the early 1980s. There was a skirt that goes with it, that my mom actually made, but has unfortunately been lost. But, you can see it pictured above.

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If you find a vest that matches pants you already have, wear a bright and almost opposing color sweater or shirt underneath for a bolder look.

Similar to what I have said before, when wearing something that has a masculine flair, add in the contrast of a feminine piece. With this look, it is a more masculine look up top, so going with some heels on the bottom adds some feminine playfulness.

Family Story: My Nana made this vest for my mom at the same time that she was making the vest above. I particularly like the fun buttons, which my mom picked out. They are pewter, with a Celtic design to them. Good to know my mom has had the same taste for a long time.

 


Long Pleated Skirt -> Midi Skirt:

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Wear a sweater or shirt that is a similar range of colors (red vs. pink) but still bolder. Wear some fun, dangly earrings to emphasize the “long length” of all the pieces.

Midi skirts have a retro vibe to them. And, they always look best with some high heels. While women don’t have to be as modest about showing their legs as they had to be in the past, there is something so sweet and girlie about wearing a skirt this long. It would be a cute piece to wear for a day-date.

Family Story: This skirt has never been worn. In fact, I actually found it with the tag still attached.  It turns out that my mom had bought it right before she found out she was pregnant with me. Sorry, mom!

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With black bottoms, you can wear almost any color for a top. Do you want to go for a warmer look to pair with gold, or a cooler look to pair with silver? Again, jewelry completes this look.

Family Style: My mom liked this and wore it with the first top on this post. This informed her decision to get the pink skirt, pictured just above.

 


Tribal Print Dress -> Boho Chic:

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With a very busy patterned dress like this, it is best to play it simple. Go for shoes that match (or are close to) some of the main colors. Pair with “dainty” jewelry, since the dress is so intricate.

Boho is so “in.” And, I honestly want nothing to do with it; it just isn’t my style or my taste. However, I did like the autumnal coloring and pattern of this dress. It would be a great dress to wear to a family gathering or event.

Family Story: This was my mom’s and she bought in late 80s. She liked the tribal print to it as well, though it definitely stands out from most of her other clothes, which gives me the hint that maybe my mom and I have similar personal styles.

 


High Neck Blouses -> Office Sophisticate:

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With a top that covers the collarbone and arms, you can afford to show a little leg. Adding a black pleather skirt to the look modernizes the top, which has puffy sleeves and a crocheted lace look.

While lacey-looks have been fashionable for a while, I usually find they resemble some sort of lingerie. This crocheted lace has more of an “everyday-look” to me, rather than the going-out look of most lace outfits. In fact, I even liked the flowers, which had a bit of a hippy vibe.

Family Story: This is the top that is in the featured picture. My mom got this especially for her senior year college yearbook photo.

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Since the sleeves of this blouse were so loose, I paired it with some flared out black pants too. Some cute studded earrings would look great with a high-necked blouse.

Wearing a blouse or shirt that is loose and covers your neck almost completely to work looks very sophisticated. While women don’t have to be as modest nowadays, a fashionable top that shows a lot of personality can be just as fun as any other top you have in your closet.

Family Story: This top goes with the black oversized blazer pictured near the beginning of this post. My mom used to wear this to work, when everyone got a little more dressed up for work than they currently do.


Swing Coat -> Joan Holloway In a Woman’s World:

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Like most “oversized” pieces here, I like to pair this coat with tight pants and some funky/modern looking boots, to contrast the 1940s modest look of this coat.

This is a Spring coat so it is not the warmest coat as it doesn’t button down to the bottom, but it is so cute. The color is fun, and is what some nowadays consider “millennial pink.” I love the style of this coat and hope we see more of this cut in the future.

Family Story: This coat is actually my great grandmother’s coat. My mom remembers when she was little sitting in her lap while her grandmother wore this very coat. We think she bought this in 1941 when she was going to my great uncle’s ordination. Later on, my mom wore it when it was in style in the mid-80s and overheard people on a bus commenting on it. (Pink was in at that time as well.)

 


Vintage Accessories:

Hats:

Crocheted Beret – > Wintery Cute!

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I would just feel silly trying to inform you on how to wear this cute little hat. Wear it anyway you’d like!

Last winter, I remember seeing everyone in pom-pom hats. Hopefully that continues to be a trend because I love the style and look. It’s just positively cute!

Family Story: My great uncle took a group of people on a tour to Ireland. While he was there, he visited some cousins in Limerick and brought back crocheted hats that a cousin made for my mom and her sister.

Black Beret -> “I’m Cultured”

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Make sure to wear the beret a little off to the side of your head.

The beret is a pretty timeless look. I’ve seen people for years wearing these hats all over the world. While they may not be as warm as a beanie, they still do a pretty good job during the winter of keeping your head warm.

Family Story: My mom actually used to call these hats “Tams.” So weird! But I discovered that a Tam o’Shanter is a flat hat, like this one, that men wear in Scotland, so the name reflects my Celtic roots. My mom used to wear Tams when she was a schoolgirl.

 


Jewelry:

Rings in particular usually have a sentimental meaning. In fact, just this weekend I learned that one of my best friends wears her mom’s push present as an everyday ring. She happens to love rings and the meaning behind the gift is special to her. It was a fun coincidence, as I was working on this post, to hear about how family gifts get passed down.

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Left ring: my Nana’s adjustable ring. Right ring: my Grandmother’s engagement ring.

For me, I have two rings that mean something special to me. The onyx with diamond chip ring, pictured on the left, is my Nana’s ring. My mom thinks my Grandpa gave it to her as a birthday present. It has a vintage vibe to it and luckily has the ability to be tightened or loosened depending on the wearer’s finger size.

The ring pictured on the right is actually my Grandmother’s engagement ring. My Grandfather, whom I never got the chance to meet, gave it to my Grandmother when they got engaged in the 1930s. After my Grandmother passed away at 100 years old, and as the granddaughter named after her, I got the chance to wear it, and decided to wear it every day. I was pleasantly surprised to find the ring actually fit my finger perfectly. I wear it on the right ring finger as a little reminder of her.

For men, I know some who have inherited rings as well as watches that are very meaningful to them.

Make sure to keep these items safe! While they may have market value, the sentimental value is worth so much more.

 


You never know what you may find when rummaging through your family’s attic or basement. You may even be surprised to find, as I did, that my style was not just personal  to me, but rather a shared “family style.”

Remember, if pieces don’t fit, you can get them tailored. Some pieces might also need to be dry cleaned and stitched because of all the wear and tear over time. Make sure to check with the person who is currently holding onto the piece, to ensure it is okay to wear it.

Finally, I want to emphasize the importance of asking about the stories behind the pieces. Our parents most likely didn’t shop at as many clothing stores as we do now, and often made their own clothes sometimes. Knowing my Nana sewed a piece I am now wearing gives me a sense of connection to my past. It makes a piece more personal in a world full of impersonal and meaningless material clutter.

Trends come and go, but family is forever.

Be sure to comment below with some items that you wear from your family members!

6 of My Favorite Holiday Dessert Recipes With a Dollop of Whipped Cream

The Winter Holiday season is upon us. It’s that time of year where we gather with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and FOOD!  For many of these events, we may be asked to bring a dish, maybe a dessert to share.  If you are looking to spice-up one of your favorite holiday desserts, then look no further than this list.

I’ve curated a list of my absolute favorite recipes to make for the Holidays. Each one of these are sure to be unique and delicious. As a warning,  I will say they will all take longer to make than that box of brownies from the grocery store.  I have included difficulty levels along with my tips for a flawless dessert, so you know exactly what you are getting into.

Personally, one of my favorite aspects about baking and cooking is challenging myself and adding a new recipe to my repertoire. Whatever I like best, I can then make it again and again. I hope you find a new favorite or two among these recipes.

Finally, I promise that there is no fruit cake included on this list. Because, yuck!

P.S. Find my mom’s Homemade Whipped Cream Recipe at the bottom of this page.


1.) Cranberry-Lime Pie with a Gingersnap Crust:

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For those who love the tartness of key-lime pie, this is the perfect one for you to try. The cranberries add their own unique tartness to the mixture, along with festive coloring. The gingersnap/pecan crust is a playful twist to the usual graham cracker crust. It’s not just the custard filling that makes this dish unique. After a large meal, this tart treat is perfect.

Please find the recipe, courtesy of Bon Appetit’s website, here.

Difficulty level: Hard, with the need for certain kitchen technology and confidence in custard making, or just knowing how to carefully follow a recipe.

Alicia’s Tips: A dollop of whipped cream added on top really cuts the tartness of the pie and gives it a more rounded flavor. So make sure to bring homemade whipped cream! Also, double the cranberry/shaved lime topping for a really stunning, festive display.

 

2.) Dark Chocolate Mousse:

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Who doesn’t love chocolate mousse? It is surprisingly simple to make. So simple, it maybe be dangerous to know. The first time I made this, I was making it for a guy I was dating at the time, and told him, through text, that I was making “chocolate mouse” instead of “chocolate mousse.” Don’t make that same mistake!

Please find the recipe, courtesy of Food Network & Bobby Flay, here.

Difficulty Level: Easy, but need electric hand mixer. The mousse needs 1 hour to sit in refrigerator after whipping.

Alicia’s Tips: When plating the mousse, use colorful berries, homemade whipped cream and coco powder to give a beautiful presentation. 

 

3.) Tiramisu:

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This is my favorite dessert, all year, any day, any time! Before discovering a recipe for tiramisu, I thought I would never find anything as good as what I had at restaurants. However, I am excited to say that this recipe is better than anything I have ever had before. And, I even got to try tiramisu in the city where it was invented: Venice, Italy.

Difficulty Level: Medium, getting the custard just right can be nerve racking. Trust yourself!

Please find the recipe, courtesy of All Recipes, here.

Alicia’s Tips: There are many different ways to present these decadent layers. I like using a baking pan, rather than a trifle bowl. But, the trifle bowl does show the look of the layers. Serve it with coffee. Make sure to have decaf, if this is an after-dinner dessert.

 

4.) Chocolate Pecan Pie with Bourbon:

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A little twist on a Thanksgiving favorite. Though the twist (adding chocolate) is not very daring – everyone likes chocolate! I first made this for a Friendsgiving I was hosting. It was a little different and quite a hit!

Please find the recipe, courtesy of Food & Wine, here.

Difficulty Level: Easy, as long as you use store bought crust…

Alicia’s Tips: If you are in a hurry or don’t want to deal with the hassle of making your own crust (like me), buy pre-made crust. Bourbon is not needed to make this pie delicious, but if you happen to have some on hand, go for it. If you don’t use bourbon, add 1 teaspoon of real vanilla extract.

Serving the pie warm really accentuates the gooeyness of the pecan pie filling and chocolate pieces. With a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top, this is perfect!

 

5.) Pumpkin Tart with Anise-Seed Crust:

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Just because everyone else in the U.S. seems to like pumpkin, I included a pumpkin dish that even I enjoy. Pumpkin is not my favorite flavor at all. I think it is the over-use of cloves that gets to me. However, I found this tart to have a well-rounded flavor that was not overly “spiced.”

Please find the recipe, courtesy of Epicurious & Gourmet, here.

Difficulty Level: Medium – need tart pan.

Alicia’s Tips: With a dollop of homemade whipped cream on top, this is perfect. Are you starting to see a theme in my love for whipped cream?!

 

6.) Crepes:

Crepes are an easy dessert to make and customizable. Essentially they are just a thin pancake. And, there are so many ways to add flavors. Nutella is a classic one, but lemon juice with powdered sugar is my favorite. Get creative with the fillings and with various ways of folding them for an interesting presentation. Maybe you want to roll them up, maybe fold them into a triangle. Anything goes!

Please find the recipe, courtesy of Epicurious and Julia Child, here.

Difficulty Level: Easy, though you need at least one hour for batter to sit in refrigerator.

Alicia’s Tips: Make extras for breakfast. If you have guests staying over, these are an easy way to feed them. Just store the extras on a plate wrapped with plastic-wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, dampen a paper towels to put on top of the layers of crepes as you microwave them for 20-30 seconds.

Also, dark chocolate mousse goes great with a crepe or two! Just add 1/2 cup of mousse onto a cooled-down crepe, roll-up, add a dollop of homemade whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Heaven!

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Maureen’s Homemade Whipped Cream:

 

It’s so easy, and so much better than the canned stuff.

Makes at least 3 cups of whipped cream.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups of heavy cream.
  • 1/3 cup of confectioners sugar (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon of real vanilla extract (or to taste)

Tools Needed:

  • Electric beaters.
  • 1 medium/large bowl

Instructions:

  • Pour 2 cups of heavy cream into medium/large bowl.
  • Turn on electric beaters to a medium/high speed and mix until the mixture is starting to thicken.
  • Add the vanilla extract and confectioners sugar.
  • Continue mixing on medium/high speed.
  • Taste whipped cream to see if you would like to add more sugar.
  • Mix until desired level of thickness (creamy vs. buttery).
  • Best part: remove the beaters and lick off the whipped cream. 

I hope you found something that intrigued you!
If you do decide to make one of these desserts, please comment with a picture. I would love to see what you all make!

 

Life Advice From my Old Man

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I want to encourage you to take time during the Holiday Season, with all the family gatherings, to get to know your older family members, whether it’s your parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles. Those who have more life experience are great coaches and friends to cultivate early in life.

I sat down with my dad to conduct a more formal conversation to gather wisdom to then share with you all. Hope his words inspire you to be yourself and enjoy the different periods in life.

P.S. Check out my dad’s classic recipe for a great dry martini at the bottom of this page.


Brief Intro:

My dad is older than most of my friends’ dads. Specifically, he was in his mid-fifties when I was born. Meaning he is now 82 years old!

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My dad and me with our cool sunglasses!

As a child, I remember people thinking he was my grandpa and being confused on why they thought that. I just thought he had blonde hair, turns out it was white. Slowly, as I became more socially aware, I realized that my dad was much older than many other dads.

Having an older dad is a special gift for many reasons, including having a life coach who has a lot of experience and wisdom to pull from. In fact, the part of the relationship with my dad that I cherish most are his wise words. He provides perspective, when I feel stuck or in analysis paralysis. He reminds me that life is both long and short at the same time, that balance is important, and being thoughtful is a virtue to cultivate.


Interview:

What is the best advice someone has ever given you? How has it shaped your life?

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On vacation in the Boston Public Garden. Probably caught him mid-sentence giving some advice.

A president of a union I belonged to once said to me “If you always do what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always got.” It is a quote from Henry Ford. I try to ask myself “Am I satisfied with the result and what I did to get there?” If you find your results are not what you are looking for, especially during our changing times, it is time to evaluate, get more info, and a new perspective.

Another piece of advice I’ve gotten is, essentially, there is always an exception to every rule. Nothing is infallible, including this advice. It’s a truism, but an important one. Nothing is absolute, or cast in concrete, no matter who you are.

What are some of the ways that growing up now is different from when you were growing up in the 50s?

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A photo from high school.

In the early 50’s, I was in high school. It was a tense time politically, because we were experiencing the beginnings of the Cold War. We had atomic bomb threats that led to drills to hide under our desks. In fact, this reminds me of the active shooter drills that children are experiencing today. We are always afraid of something.

At the time, Eisenhower was President and it was a kind of conservative era. But compared to now, it was a more “relaxed” time. After getting home from school, we went out and played. There were not a lot of extracurricular activities. It wasn’t as hectic as the world is now for teenagers. There was less media, not a bombardment of info.

But the good old days are not as good as we remember. A lot of issues around segregation, women’s equality, LGBT rights have gotten better overtime, but not entirely. Things don’t happen fast. There are always tense issues in a democracy. I believe “nirvana” and “peace” are unreal, although it appeals to people. That’s just not the human condition.

Any tips for guys navigating masculinity in the #MeToo Era?

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My dad donated to “Time’s Up” to help bring accountability in the workplace.

It’s a good question and I think about it a lot. First off, behave yourself. I don’t think I need to describe what “behave yourself” means to most men. But, for those who don’t know, ask someone older than you. I see groups of men acting in very hurtful ways, wanting to humiliate people, hazing others, it’s disgusting. And, they seem to be trying to out-do each other in a competitive way.

Second, don’t try to emulate those who do not respect others. Doing the right thing does not emasculate you.

To me, masculinity is about doing the right thing, protecting others and taking the right kind of chances. There are a lot of heroic aspects to be a man. I hope more men can become those exemplary people. There a lot more questions about masculinity nowadays, and it’s not as defined as it used to be. But, things have gotten out of hand and men need to hold each other accountable.

Why did you decide to get married later in life?

I was never one to go along with common folk wisdom; “What you’re supposed to do.” When I was growing up, my parents were an exception in not asking me why I wasn’t married. Because my parent’s never asked, I never had the pressure.

I also didn’t put pressure on myself. Instead what I did was go to work, got paid for what I did, but I didn’t take a tremendous amount of satisfaction in it. It wasn’t my sole source of happiness. Then outside of the job, I took time to pursue hobbies and travel. I was still looking around, trying to figure out what is life all about!

It’s not that I didn’t date. I had an active social life, met some very nice women. But, no one was who I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I thought when I meet the woman I want to get married to, I’ll get married.

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My parents on their wedding day!

I met your mother, who I thought was an interesting, lovely person to spend my life with. The timing was right because I wanted to be responsible for others and I had met the right person.

When I was younger, I didn’t feel confident in taking on the responsibility of marriage. My parents took their marriage very seriously, which set a good example for me. Marriage takes work and families need a lot of support. You have to ask yourself if you are willing to give that.

What would you say is the key to a happy marriage?

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Cuties!

Poets, philosophers, and many others have puzzled over it for hundreds of years. I doubt I have the answer…

It’s a lot of different things. You need to care for another person by putting their interests ahead of yours at many times. You cannot be selfish, but you also have to make clear you have needs too, and find a balance. Talking things out, sometimes being uncomfortable in conversations that are still necessary, getting to know big likes and dislikes. You need to understand the person that you are close with, because it is your responsibility to get along. And, getting into the responsibility of getting married takes a lot of effort for some people.

I found it was easier to take on the responsibility and give time, since I had done what I wanted for so long. I was more mature, which was important for me.

What have been some of the benefits of having children at an older age? 

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My Dad with my younger sister on vacation in Maine.

As a benefit, I knew more about life in a very general sense. I was aware of what could go on. So having kids didn’t come as a shock or unimagined stress. I just thought, “this is the nature of the child, they’re growing up.” I didn’t have a great deal of need for collecting a library of child care books. I think so many of the theories are not as useful as common sense. Kids for millions of years have grown up in tons of situations, and they will survive. They are hearty characters!

Another aspect is that when you’re older, you think not only about how the child is learning from you, but also about how you are learning from the child.

What is something that you are concerned about with Generation Z and Millennials?

I have a couple of concerns. I see the millennials and generation z spending too much time on electronic devices. It seems like almost all waking hours. I just think that “contemplation” doesn’t go on very much anymore if you are wired to these gadgets.

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“Contemplating” in the 60s.

By “contemplation” I mean removing yourself from outer situations, either physically or mentally, with something in mind to think about. It is a chance to reframe and allow your mind to be in a different place. Think about your decisions in a careful way. In fact, while contemplation usually happens in isolation, I believe that it may get you closer to other humans than say social media, news sites, etc. Looking inside of yourself is a great way to really understand humanity and how interconnected we all are.

I do want to mention that being connected to technology all the time has a lot of pluses. It is a conundrum, and we need to find a balance.

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JFK has been a inspirational figure for my dad.

Allied to the concern with technology is also a concern about the quality of education. I remember driving your sister and her friends home one day, and one of Julia’s friends wanted to stay home from school the next day to play a video game on the day it was released. He thought it was “no big deal.” When I went to school, it was serious. I never played hooky. I wonder if education is viewed by both the students and others as less important nowadays.

Colleges have been turned into trade schools, meaning that students are taught hard skills to get jobs. Philosophy, drama or other liberal arts might fall by the wayside, because you need to get hard skills for jobs in the future. But, it comes with a price…people aren’t as well versed in history. They don’t feel compelled to look at situations from a different perspective; the human connection through education has been lost.

What do you think about popular culture nowadays?

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The man in back with long hair and a headband, that’s my dad!

I think the “herd mentality” of popular culture concerns me. It contributes to large part of society’s issues. It means that you don’t think a lot about what you want to do, just what other think you should do. And, that can be dangerous.

Personally, I am not “other directed.” If I am eating something, it is because I like it. People may ask me “Why are you doing that?” But I am “inner directed” thus I am not worried about what other people may think.

On the other hand, if people set a good example, the herd mentality of popular culture can be good. There are exemplars of the decent way to treat people. President Obama is someone who comes to mind.

What are some things that you love to do?

Listening to music. I have a lot of CDs that my family has given me. Mostly classical music. I enjoy sitting down, with a drink and listening to the music while looking at the line notes to better understand the meaning of the music.

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A birthday present from a few years ago.

I also very much enjoy reading, especially the Washington Post and New York Times. I also read articles online. Whenever I have a question, I go on the internet and explore. I’ll print off articles to read when I’m waiting around. You never know where your curiosity will lead you.

What has gotten you through difficult times in your life?

I have read about people’s great challenges, or deep depressions, or thoughts of hopelessness. I never had any of these. I’ve never had moments of euphoria either. It’s been a level road.

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My dad’s family during Christmas time 1976.

Taking care of my mother in old age has been one of the most difficult times in my life. However, I thought that if I used common sense and compassion, that would do it. I relied on my ability to deal with a challenging situation. I felt confident I could make it through.

In general, I would say: Take a breath, think about it for a little (contemplation), and then start acting. Be confident that you will do the best you can, no matter the obstacles.

Any career advice for those in their 20s or 30s?

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Working in the Dominican Republic.

Trying to figure out a career path is difficult. Some people are fortunate to know what they wanted to do from an early age.

Personally, I wanted to go into the foreign service. But, I didn’t end up in it. In the end, I’m glad I didn’t because I didn’t miss what was going on in the U.S. However, I kept up the foreign affairs focus, but didn’t work in the foreign service.

I think young people should look at their career in a balanced way. Look for a job that gives you enough money to do the things you want to do. There is that infamous quote: “no one on their death bed said I wish I would have spent more time in the office.” There is more to life than work. Find a balance.

Also, find meaning too. Don’t take jobs that will put you into an ethical compromise.

Are there any traditions that you have seen fall by the wayside that you miss?

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For his 80th birthday, he taught us how to smoke a cuban cigar, that a neighbor had brought back for him.

I miss courtesy. Nowadays, you take what you can get, instead of considering others. I’m not talking about the phony kind of courtesy, but genuine consideration for others.

It about the ability to appreciate another person and recognize their existence. Without courtesy, it makes life more miserable than it has to be.


When I asked him how the interview made him feel, he said: It made me think about a lot of things. Which is the full-time occupation of octogenarians. I try not to bore people with my “old days” stories. In thinking about these questions, it brought a lot of clarity to me about experiences. It was fun and interesting to share.

I would say that during your lifetime, it is important to lean on those who are older, wiser and with more experience than you to help you understand the larger picture of life. Especially, during your 20s and 30s which seem to be such a time of transition.

No matter where you are in your building of your life, I hope that these shared thoughts can help put life into more perspective for you and inspire you to have a conversation like this with an older family member of your own.

Le Guide du Montreal & Quebec City.

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Oh, Canada! It was about (read: ah-boot) time that I visited our northern neighbors. And they certainly lived up to all the positive stereotypes of being friendly & helpful.

Canada has given the world some media greats like Drake, Justin Bieber, Shania Twain, Celine Dion, Ryan Reynolds and more. Justin Trudeau, their current Prime Minister is a political icon and their Canadian imports have helped DC win a National Championship recently. Needless to say, Canada has a positive reputation to most Americans.

On a slightly related note:  I highly recommend that anywhere you travel, that you listen to that Country’s top 50 list on Spotify and also check-out to see if there are playlists with just native artists featured. For this trip, it helped me “rediscover” Celine Dion and Shania Twain.

The 5-days that we spent in Canada were in the Province of Quebec, which is the only French-speaking province. So why prioritize this province over the others?  If you identify with the following for any reason, I would say go for it:

  • You like churches, architecture, or are Catholic. (lots of churches to see, yay!)
  • You are a North American history-buff. Quebec is the beginning of Canada!
  • You want to visit a city near the U.S. with European flair.
  • You want to try your hand at French with the fail-safe of most everyone speaking English.
  • You like the idea of poutine (fries, gravy and cheese curds).
  • You’re looking for a summer-vacay spot that is culturally significant, without an expensive price tag. (The U.S. dollar is a bit stronger than the Canadian dollar.)
  • You’re favorite season is winter and you don’t mind being cold beyond feeling.

While the best time to visit is in the Summer and early Fall, when the temperatures are warm, but not overwhelmingly hot, winter time is also great. Consider visiting during the Christmas season to experience the warmth of the holidays or in early February for the one of the world’s largest winter festivals. Just be prepared for some extremely cold weather!

The following are recommendations for spending a few days in these two cities.

Upfront preview: take lots of walking tours.

Montreal City

Flying to Montreal:

Use Porter Airlines to fly to Toronto, and then connect to Montreal. It’s quite cheap to fly on Porter, though they have propeller planes, so the ride is a bit noisier than a jet.

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Layover in Toronto at Billy Bishop Airport, before heading to Montreal.

Where to stay in Montreal:

I suggest booking a hotel in downtown Montreal. This will give you the ability to walk around more, rather than using auto-transportation. To the east of Downtown will be Old Montreal, to the north will be Mount Royal, and to the west will be a few museums. Downtown is central to tourist locations.

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We walked most places, since our Hotel was central to many tourist destinations.

Getting around Montreal:

The airport is about 25 minutes away from the downtown area. There are plenty of taxis to take, and Uber is available, however Lyft is not (at the moment). If you are just staying in the city, I would recommend not renting a car. There are lots of public transportation options, including buses and metro services. They also have a local all-electric car company called Teo Taxi, that even features Teslas. Though I was informed that the Tesla part of the fleet is really only about 5%. So the likelihood is much higher that you would actually get picked up in a Nissan Leaf. Take your chances there!

Touring:

Our first day began in the later part of Monday afternoon, so we decided to hit some of the big tourist spots first, before heading to dinner.

First, we made a walk down our street to the Cathedral of Marie-Reine-du-Monde. It was quite spectacular, and actually a scaled down version of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.

From there, we headed to a spot near the bottom of Mount Royal, called St. Joseph’s Oratory.   This minor basilica is a pilgrammige location for those looking to honor St. Jospeh, Jesus’s Step-Father. It is the largest church in North America and is quite stunning for it’s size and modern interior.

If you can, try to time your visit around 1:30 pm or 3 pm so that you can get a 90-minute tour of the Oratory. You can find out more about tours by clicking here.

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After our visit, we headed off for our restaurant reservations at one of the best rated restaurants in Montreal: Damas! Damas is the French way of pronouncing and spelling what we call in English, Damascus, the capital of Syria. I was excited to try the Syrian cuisine.  When we arrived, we were led to our table towards the back of the restaurant.   Each room was decorated a bit differently, but all beautiful & themed.  Our waiter described it as being similar to how royal palaces were decorated in Syria. It was a lovely environment.

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Syrian food, is similar to other middle eastern food in that it is mostly shared dishes, focuses on appetizers like dips and salads, and has complex tastes.  We ordered muhammara, baba ghanoush (both the Syrian style – a revelation- and the more well-known dip version), grilled octopus, fattouche, pita bread, and a steak aged for 60 days…needless to say, we were in absolute heaven. Out of all the places we ate on our trip, this was by far my favorite restaurant and a place you will not want to miss.

We left very full and happy back to our hotel to rest up for a long day of walking tours the next day.

Tuesday, we woke up, had croissants and coffee at our hotel, and headed towards the St. Lawrence river, where Old Montreal City was founded. Our first two walking tours were with Guidatour, which provides tours of both West & East Old Montreal over the course of a day.

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Some highlights of our tour included:

  • Notre-Dame Basilica, which, on the outside, is almost a replica of the Notre-Dame in Paris.  However, inside it was inspired by Sainte-Chapelle, another church also located in Paris. Fun Fact: Celine Dion was married in this Basilica.  At night time, there is a light and music show featuring the organ in the back of the Basilica that has over 1,000 pipes. Click here to access tickets.

  • Learning about the two co-founders of Montreal, Paul de Chomedey de Maisonneuve and Jeanne Mance, who originally named the city “Ville-Marie.”
  • Understanding the evolution of Montreal as a city, its role in Canada’s politics/economy, and its recent new developments.

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Montreal City Hall.

  • The start of the Canadian banking industry.
  • How the culture has appreciated both its French & English heritage.

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A representation of Montreal’s French heritage. There is an opposing statue of a man with an English bulldog to symbolize their English heritage, as well.

  • Montreal’s underground tunnel system (not the metro!).
  • The relations between the First Nations of North America, Missionaries, and New France.

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Signatures from the Great Peace of Montreal, a treaty between New France and 39 First Nations of North America. Note, there are only two signatures that are “traditional western”, the rest are drawings of animals. Pretty cool!

After our tour, we headed to the Montreal’s archeological and history museum, Pointe-a-Calliere. What is special about this particular museum is that it is housed on actual historic locations, and allows visitors to see up-close and personal, the foundations of the first settlement of Montreal, and the changes that occurred over time. Most of the museum is underground…

From there, we headed off to get drinks at a speakeasy, called the Coldroom, before dinner. To get in, you have to know exactly where the door is located.  Using the navigation on your phone, you can track down the door, ring the bell and be seated in a cozy, wood-paneled room with interesting people. I had one of the best cocktails I’ve ever had here…and unfortunately cannot remember the name or ingredients. Ah!

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Finally, we headed off to dinner, at Le Robin Square, where we got a Cornish Game Hen.

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After dinner, we took the chance to see projected stories of Montreal’s history. The recent installment of these projectors, projecting videos on to historic sites, was pretty cool and interactive. All you need to do is download the app: Montreal en Histoires. Then, using the app, locate the different projection sites and watch as your an interactive video is displayed, telling you more about the founding and history of Montreal.

Finally, on our last day in Montreal, we headed out to the Mile End area of Montreal City for a food tour. This is the more artsy/creative area of Montreal. It has a vibrant food scene, which we devoured. One of the main delicacies is the Montreal bagel, which you can find at St. Viateur’s Bagel Shop. Their bagels are sweeter and more doughy, than the ones you will find in NYC. Click here to access the Local Montreal Food Tour website.

 

Things we missed in Montreal, due to time, that I would still recommend:

  • Parc de Mont-Royal. The park was designed by Fredrick Law Olmstead, considered the father of American Landscaping, whose most famous park is Central Park in New York City.
  • St. Patrick’s Basilica, the oldest English-speaking church in Montreal.
  • Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.
  • Musee Redpath at McGill University, a natural history museum.

Montreal Places to eat:

  • Breakfast or lunch at Olive et Gourmand in Old Montreal.
  • Damas for dinner. It is a beautiful & delicious restaurant that serves Syrian food. It was hands-down the best dinner we had all trip!
  • Le Diperie for dessert.
  • St. Viature for authentic Montreal bagels.
  • The Coldroom for drinks.
  • Vin Papillion for wine & relaxing.
  • Go to Atwater or Jean-Talon markets for snacks.
  • Drogheria Fine for gnocchi with tomato sauce voted #1 in Montreal.
  • La Panthère Verte for Montreal’s best falafel (and vegan eatery).
  • Wine at Les Deux Gamins.

Quebec City

Transportation from Montreal to Quebec City:

To get in between Montreal and Quebec City, I recommend taking the Orleans Express bus. It is a 3 hour drive and is inexpensive, compared to flying or taking the train. The locations of pick-up and drop-off, in both Montreal & Quebec City, are near the older areas of the cities, where you would most likely be staying.

Where to stay in Quebec City:

In Old Quebec is best, since it will allow you to walk to most of the tourism areas.

Getting around Quebec City:

Mostly walking. It is quite steep in some areas, meaning there are a lot of steps to climb or a hill to slowly crawl down. Be prepared to walk a lot, since many areas, especially near the water, are not accessible by cars. Uber is available when needed, along with bus and metro transportation.

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Example of the streets near the water.

Touring:

In Quebec, we took 3 tours with Tour Voir Quebec, because they were so highly rated on TripAdvisor. Our first tour was of Old Quebec, where we learned about the discovery of Quebec, the subsequent British take over and finally the founding of the nation-state of Canada.

Compared to Montreal, Quebec has more historical churches and structures that survived over time. Also, Quebec is technically older, as it is the place Jacque Cartier first discovered on the French exploration to find a passage to India.

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The oldest restaurant in Quebec.

Of the many things to see on the tour there is:

  • The stunning Chateau Frontenac, which you can actually stay in.

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  • Fields of Abraham.
  • The oldest grocery store in North America.

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  • A church turned into a library, now call Monique-Corriveau Library.

  • Quebec City’s own Notre Dame Basilica.

After we finished our morning walking tour around the city, we grabbed a quick and light lunch, before heading on our food tour of Quebec City. There are so many interesting delicacies to try. I find that anytime I am traveling, my favorite part is eating, since you get a really feel for the culture through their food.

We tried their version of mulled wine, lots of Maple products at Le Delices and of course, Poutine. For those who don’t know what poutine is, it is French fries, covered in gravy and topped with cheese curds. I knew I wasn’t going to like it, but still tried it anyway. I think its something you have to grow-up with to appreciate. A+ for creativity, Canada!

After finishing our food tour, we checked out a few places of interest and rested before dinner. At around 9 pm, when we were finally hungry again, we ventured out. We ate at Chez Jules, a traditional French restaurant. I ordered escargot and steak tartar.

The next morning, we woke up, got ready and headed off to our final tour of Quebec City, which the tour group called “A Fabulous Country Tour.” The highlights included Montmorency Falls (which are 99 feet higher than Niagara Falls), a lunch visit on the Island of Orléans and finally a visit to the stunning Basilica of St Anne de Beaupre.

At Montmorency Falls, there are cable cars to take you to the top. Once there, you can go across a bridge to stand directly over the rushing water. It was pretty thrilling!

At the Basilica of St. Anne de Beaupré, we were stunned by the sheer size and gold decor of this basilica in a rural area. I would say it is in my top 5 most beautiful churches I’ve ever visited.

If I was to do these activities again, I would have given more time for all 3 of these stops, but we did enjoy the chance to see the places, even if we missed out on certain sections.

Quebec City Places to Eat:

  • Le Buche, for an authentic brunch/breakfast.
  • Le Continental, for a pricey dinner.
  • Le Lapin Saute, for a rabbit themed menu.
  • Le Delices, for maple everything!
  • Chez Jules, for a traditional French menu.
  • Drinks at L’Atelier.

 

I hope this post has inspired you to visit Montreal & Quebec City. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment.

Also, for my viewers who have already been to these two cities, am I missing anything?

Hygge Ideas for A Cozy Winter Season.

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Now that the Holidays are over, there is a little less light in our daily lives. There are less gatherings with friends and family. Less focus on warmth and love. And not as much to look forward to in the coming months besides less sun, colder temperatures and more gray skies.

It can be difficult to feel the same kind of warmth and coziness that the holidays bring, once they’re over.  But, there are simple ways you can create it for yourself. This is where hygge comes in…

Hygge definition: (pronounced: hue-guh) “a quality of cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” There is no direct translation into English, but some close terms might be “cozy” and “warm”. It is a feeling that is created from simple acts and being present in the moment. And, it is the secret to why the Danish people are so happy, despite most of their months being dreary and cold.

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There are a few elements that are classic to the Danish version of hygge:

  • Hot drink (think: tea, hot chocolate, coffee, etc.)
  • Scenic nature (picture: snowy mountains)
  • Books (no technology!)
  • Candles (an absolute must!)
  • Snug blanket (or two?)
  • Comfy clothes (think: oversized sweater, leggings and fuzzy socks)
  • Hearty comfort food (maybe carbs or a stew?)

In your head you may be picturing a cabin in the woods adorned with furs, featuring shelves of books and a roaring fire place, while it snows outside. However, true hygge isn’t about being picture perfect, its more about the feeling of simplicity in coziness. Unless you have a cabin to work with, maybe you need some other options of how to make hygge doable for you.

For one of my closest friends, it is long walks with her fiancé, where they both turn off their cell phones and focus on each other. They can discuss what’s on their minds and reconnect without the busyness of the world interrupting them.

For my mom, it is a quite Sunday afternoon at the kitchen table, reading the Washington Post.

For me, I practice hygge before I go to bed at night. I created this ritual in college, to clear my mind before sleeping that helps me find a little more peace, and leaves room for me to reflect. It’s simple: I light a candle and drink a hot cup of green tea. Just sitting in bed, with a warm cup of tea in hand and only the light of a candle is personally very cozy.

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Nightly routine: Light a candle and sit quietly with a warm cup of green tea.

I think the best part about hygge is that it is supposed to be simple. It doesn’t have to be elaborate, if anything simple is better. Here are some ideas for practicing hygge daily:

  • Sitting for 20 minutes in the morning with a hot cup of coffee or tea just being still. Maybe it even involves looking outside a window at nature (or just staring at a potted plant if you live in the city).
  • Sitting with a friend and talking about anything.
  • Sharing food with a friend.
  • Reading a book by a fireplace (or space heater?!)
  • Cuddling with your pet(s).
  • Wearing fuzzy socks or your softest bathrobe around the house.

Whatever it is that brings you warmth & coziness during this cold, winter season, you should make time for it.

Wine Down Wednesday in Napa Valley 

This post actually starts with Tuesday evening…which is a bit deceiving from the title.

We landed in San Francisco at around 5 pm, picked up our rental car and made our way out to Napa Valley. Once we had made a quick check-in to the hotel, we went to a restaurant nearby for a 9 pm reservation. I ALWAYS use yelp to help me pick places to eat, especially while traveling, and it never lets me down.

This was no exception. Since we were really the last party seated for the night, we got a great table. We sat outside with a direct view of the fountain which was all lit up. It was beautiful! We got some delicious food and just relaxed into our surroundings.

I had a posh cosmo, which was just a cosmo with sparkling wine. For food I had beef carpaccio and manetlli pasta with pesto. Yum!


I’m really excited to be here with my mom, who is very supportive and loving. This mother-daughter trip is a chance for each us to have fun, but most importantly for us to have fun together. The relationship between my mom and me has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. Which I suspect is the norm. For one, I lean on her for advice and see her role with more gratitude. Second, I see myself taking on more of her habits and personality, which makes me feel closer to her. It’s a cool connection!

Once we got back to the hotel, we went straight to bed, given that there is a 3 hour difference between the west coast and east coast. Tomorrow, we would wake up and start our winery tour of Napa!


………

We woke up, for breakfast at the hotel and started plotting. We honestly didn’t plan anything for this trip, besides hotels, flights and the cars. It has made me a little nervous because I’m used to at least doing a little research beforehand. But, I had the internet, so everything was going to be fine.

I like using TripAdvisor for planning out activities. So, I went on and found a list of the best activities to do in Napa. We went back to our hotel room and I made reservations for the places that needed them. Then, we were on our way!

Our first stop was Sterling Vineyards, which had quite the tasting experience, since there was a cable car involved. Basically, the tasting venue is on top of a mountain, which you take a cable car up to the platform. This made for some stunning views!

Once we got to the top, we were directed through different rooms, with great views and info about the place. It was a great first stop for the scenic aspect.


We honestly just chatted with everyone there, so we what was supposed to be an hour, took 2 and half hours. So we were unable to get lunch in between our next tasting.

Our next tasting was at Hess Vineyard, which has a stunning private, contemporary art collection. That was our main reason for going there, since both myself and my mom like art.


We did a tasting of the wines and then headed up to the private art collection. The one that we both loved the most was a typewriter with flames coming out of it. It was created by an artist who uncle was killed for writing an inflammatory story. We thought that the typewriter was quite apt for the current political climate as well. News on fire!

I had made a reservation for a local restaurant called “Redd.” It once had 1 Michelin star, but lost it. Oh well! We knew it would be great, without the absorbent prices that come with the Michelin rating. I’m pretty sure that Napa Valley has the most Michelin rated restaurants per capita in the US. The food here was good!

We got dressed up, aka I wore heels, and headed over. No one in Napa dresses up! It’s all very casual, so my mom and I were usually the most dressed up wherever we went. Oh well!


Even at this restaurant everyone was casual. I used yelp to help pick out a dish, and again, yelp didn’t let me down! I got seared scallops which were delicious. After drinking wine all day, there was just no way I was going to get wine with dinner. I needed a little break!


Since we had such an early reservation, we decided to go to downtowns napa to see what was around.


Besides me talking constantly about wanting to go to San Francisco, my mom had gotten an email from her alma mater, Johns Hopkins, about an alumni tour of Napa valley. It was way out of our price range, but it spurred us create our own trip.

We headed back to our hotel and crashed, given that we were 3 hours behind and had been drinking wine all day. Tomorrow was going to be filled with even more wine.

Wine Down Wednesday in Napa Valley.

This post actually starts with Tuesday evening…which is a bit deceiving from the title.

We landed in San Francisco at around 5 pm, picked up our rental car and made our way out to Napa Valley. Once we had made a quick check-in to the hotel, we went to a restaurant nearby for a 9 pm reservation. I ALWAYS use yelp to help me pick places to eat, especially while traveling, and it never lets me down.

This was no exception. Since we were really the last party seated for the night, we got a great table. We sat outside with a direct view of the fountain which was all lit up. It was beautiful! We got some delicious food and just relaxed into our surroundings.

I had a posh cosmo, which was just a cosmo with sparkling wine. For food I had beef carpaccio and manetlli pasta with pesto. Yum!


I’m really excited to be here with my mom, who is very supportive and loving. This mother-daughter trip is a chance for each us to have fun, but most importantly for us to have fun together. The relationship between my mom and me has only gotten stronger as I’ve gotten older. Which I suspect is the norm. For one, I lean on her for advice and see her role with more gratitude. Second, I see myself taking on more of her habits and personality, which makes me feel closer to her. It’s a cool connection!

Once we got back to the hotel, we went straight to bed, given that there is a 3 hour difference between the west coast and east coast. Tomorrow, we would wake up and start our winery tour of Napa!


………

We woke up, for breakfast at the hotel and started plotting. We honestly didn’t plan anything for this trip, besides hotels, flights and the cars. It has made me a little nervous because I’m used to at least doing a little research beforehand. But, I had the internet, so everything was going to be fine.

I like using TripAdvisor for planning out activities. So, I went on and found a list of the best activities to do in Napa. We went back to our hotel room and I made reservations for the places that needed them. Then, we were on our way!

Our first stop was Sterling Vineyards, which had quite the tasting experience, since there was a cable car involved. Basically, the tasting venue is on top of a mountain, which you take a cable car up to the platform. This made for some stunning views!

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Once we got to the top, we were directed through different rooms, with great views and info about the place. It was a great first stop for the scenic aspect.


We honestly just chatted with everyone there, so what was supposed to be an hour, took 2 and half hours. So we were unable to get lunch in between our next tasting. Looking back, I would not recommend doing a wine tour on an empty stomach…

Our next tasting was at Hess Vineyard, which has a stunning private, contemporary art collection. That was our main reason for going there, since both myself and my mom like art.


We did a tasting of the wines and then headed up to the private art collection. The one that we both loved the most was a typewriter with flames coming out of it. It was created by an artist who uncle was killed for writing an inflammatory story. We thought that the typewriter was quite apt for the current political climate as well. News on fire!

I had made a reservation for a local restaurant called “Redd.” It once had 1 Michelin star, but lost it. Oh well! We knew it would be great, without the absorbent prices that come with the Michelin rating. I’m pretty sure that Napa Valley has the most Michelin rated restaurants per capita in the US. The food here was good!

We got dressed up, aka I wore heels, and headed over. No one in Napa dresses up! It’s all very casual, so my mom and I were usually the most dressed up wherever we went. Oh well!


Even at this restaurant everyone was casual. I used yelp to help pick out a dish, and again, yelp didn’t let me down! I got seared scallops which were delicious. After drinking wine all day, there was just no way I was going to get wine with dinner. I needed a little break!


Since we had such an early reservation, we decided to go to downtown napa to see what was around.


Besides me talking constantly about wanting to go to San Francisco, my mom had gotten an email from her alma mater, Johns Hopkins, about an alumni tour of Napa valley. It was way out of our price range, but it spurred us create our own trip.

We headed back to our hotel and crashed, given that we were 3 hours behind and had been drinking wine all day. Tomorrow was going to be filled with even more wine. This was my kind of vacay!

Part 2: Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.

I woke up the next morning after a night of horrible sleep, feeling achey all over. All I could think was “Great, of all the days to be sick…” It’s never fun to wake up feeling bad, but I of course was especially on edge being sick since I was traveling. The main concern  was that I was technically by myself on this trip. Though I had made friends, it wasn’t the same as having family and friends to care for me. I needed to figure this out on my own. But most importantly, I was on a sailboat, about a 1/2 a days sail from mainland, so if I needed medical help, it wouldn’t be easily accessible. Traveling while sick is just the worst, most uncomfortable thing to feel. However, I needed to make the best of this, because I didn’t want to miss out on the day’s activities.

My fever was even higher this morning than it was last night. So I took a dose of Tylenol at prescription strength. Luckily, this did the trick and I almost immediately felt better. But, I knew I needed to take it easy throughout the day and monitor how my body was feeling.

As we sailed along, we sat on the deck and ate our breakfast after getting dressed in our bathing suits. Our first stop would be the Whitsunday Island (not to be confused with the 74 Whitsunday Islands), which had the beautiful Whitehaven Beach. Once we were close to the island, we hopped on a small motor boat that took us to shore. The instructions from the sailing crew were to enjoy the beach until about lunch time, which gave us about 3 hours. At that time, we would all meet by the beach sign to see some sights around the island. We were given stinger suits to be able to go in the water. It was jelly fish season, so we needed to be able to protect our skin, in case we swam into a few of them.

Finally, we were on the beach with lots of time to hangout & rest. It was immediately apparent why this beach was considered the best in Australia. The white silica sand was pretty and easy to walk on. Because it was so early in the morning, we mostly had the beach to ourselves. I immediately applied a thick layer of sunscreen to my skin. Given how much time we would spend in direct sunlight today, I opted for the 100 SPF. Pale people problems…

We laid out our blankets and relaxed. I put in my headphones and just tried not to think about how bad I had felt earlier this morning. Some rest on this beautiful beach might do some good!

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View from my towel.

After relaxing for a while, we decided to head into the water. We got on our stinger suits and ran in. The water was a great warm temperature. We played a few games, did backflips off of each other and made a pyramid in the water, as you can see below.

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After we got out, some the group played soccer for a little before meeting the sailing staff at the park sign for our next part of the day. It was only noon, and we had a few more activities ahead.

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Sweet shot captured by one of the group-mates.

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Meeting spot.

We made a grueling climb through the warm canopies of the island to get to a lookout spot with a beautiful overview of the beach. The sand swirls change from day to day, depending on the tides, storms and winds. Seeing the beach from above really emphasized the beautiful colors: the pure white sand, the light blue ocean, and the lush green forest. It was stunning!

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We hiked down to the other side of the island to meet the small motor boat which would take us back to the sailboat where we had lunch waiting. As we ate lunch, the captain & crew sailed us through the islands to a location where we would be able to go snorkeling. The Whitsunday Islands are part of the Great Barrier Reef, which spans about 2,300 km of shore of Australia.

Once we got to out location, we put our stinger suits back on and got into the water. I took my GoPro with me to get some footage. I was happy to see that the coral in this area had many more colors than the bleached coral we saw in Cairns. Due to pollution, a warming water temperature and a depleting ozone layer, coral in the Great Barrier Reef is being bleached and dying. There are lot of projects working towards saving the reef, but not much can be done to regrow the damage that has already been completed.

We got to spend a couple hours off the coast of one of the islands snorkeling and exploring the area. We even saw a sea turtle swimming around. It felt pretty magical to be there, in the pleasantly warm water, just exploring the sights below the surface of the ocean.

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Feeling like a mermaid in these waters.

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Once we left the snorkeling area, we sailed around the island to get a little tour. We saw Hamilton Island (famous for being rented out by Taylor Swift), we learned more about the islands and just relaxed with our feet hanging out over the sides of the boat. And, we got little snack as well…

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Irresistible nachos.

While cruising along, I noticed that my freckles had increased by about 300% over the last 8 hours or so. We had been in almost constant sun exposure, so it made sense. Lots of new little friends! I was also pretty sure I was becoming tanner… As a consistently pale person, that was like a little dream come true. Haha!

 

We hadn’t spent too much time learning how to actually sail the sailboat at this point. However, we finally got a turn to help out the crew. We all got to pitch-in and pulled some ropes helping to make some adjustments. However, most of us cheered on 3 of the guys in our group as they hoisted the mast (?). It was incredibly heavy with only one rope to grab & pull down.

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Tonight would be our last night onboard, before heading back to shore to meet up with the rest of the group that had stayed on the beachside for the last couple of days.

I slept well that night, hoping that the fever that had been lowered with Tylenol would be officially gone, so I wouldn’t have anymore days of feeling sick. On a trip with close to 50 people, living in tight spaces, this was everyones’ greatest fear. However, I think I have successfully killed this oncoming illness, but only time would tell.

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Our sailboat, the broomstick!

 

Part 1: Sailing in the Whitsunday Islands.

We got up early ready for a long bus ride from Cairns to the Whitsundays. It was going to be about 7 hours of driving. Which, for the group starting in the Outback was less than our Christmas Day drive which took about 8-9 hours. After a crazy first 2 days in Cairns on our second leg of this trip, we were more than ready to just sit.

On long bus rides, many people like to sleep. I like relaxing by listening to music or taking notes for the blog. Unfortunately, our bus doesn’t have wifi, so I can’t do much on social media. The ride is broken up into segments, usually no more than 2 hours. Sometime, there is a 3 hour stretch, where they put on a movie.

I like the long drives for multiple reason. One being that it is “me” time. On a trip for 50 or so people, you are always doing things with other people and really don’t get a chance to be alone often. But, when we’re driving I can just plug in my headphones and disappear for a little. As an introvert, my time to think and reflect is key to me being happy. Also, the drives are beautiful. The scenery is different than the US, so I like watching out the window taking in the view.

Our tour manager is a bit of a jokester, specifically the “delayed” joke, if I could best describe it. So, for instance, on the long 3-hour drive portion, he said he was going to put on a documentary about the Great Barrier Reef. We all looked at the screen, waiting for that documentary to come on. But, it looked more like it was Finding Nemo…some of us continued to wait for the documentary to finally come on, only to realize: nope, no documentary here. Haha!

I wasn’t feeling to well on this day. After 2 adrenaline filled days and not much sleep, I I tried to catch up on sleep. I felt a little off, but hoped it would pass.

We arrived in the Whitsundays. I was super excited because I was getting the chance to sail through the Whitsundays for 2 nights. The Whitsundays are a collection of 74 islands off the coast of Queensland, Australia. The name comes from the discovery by Captain Cook, who based on his own “timeline” believed he discovered the islands on Whit Sunday, the 8th Sunday after Easter for Christians. Of all the islands, the two most popular are Hamilton Island and Whitsunday Island. Hamilton Island is largest inhabited island and is the only one that is privately owned. It is most known for in the U.S. as the island that Taylor Swift rented out after here 1989 tour. The Whitsunday Island is home to Whitehaven Beach, which we would be visiting the next day. It is considered the #1 beach in Australia and one of the top 10 beaches in the world. I’m not a big beach person, considering how pale I am. But, I was looking forward to it. I mean how often do you get to go to a place like that?!

Besides the sites, I was also looking forward to learning how to sail. I’ve been sailing before, but not as part of the crew. Here, we were getting the chance to actually help run the ship, which sounded really interesting to me. When I met the crew members of the ship, I quickly realized that I would never be able to get into sailing…they were super tan.

We got dropped off at the dock and we’re greeted by one of the crew memebers. We each had packed a day bag, which had everything we needed for a two night stay on a sail boat. Or so I thought!

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I had gotten motion sickness pills earlier in the day during our lunch stop. I took 2 and felt confident I would make it through sailing with ease.

There were two different groups of us going on 2 boats. The sailing boats we were going to be living on had a cool story behind them. Basically, they were racing sail boats that did not meet current codes anymore, so they were adapted. The new owners hollowed out the middle and made them into touring boats. Our boat, the Broomstick, was apparently very fast and had set some records in her racing days.

Almost immedately after we got onto the boat, we left the dock and headed out to our destination for the night. We put our stuff on bunks and took in the small living quarters. There were makeshift bunk beds with a thin mattress and pillow for each of us. It was already pretty hot down there, so we guessed it wouldn’t be a cool night of sleep.

After getting situated, we got a run down of the sailing rules and our itinerary. We were heading out to a spot to sit overnight, then in the morning we would head to Whitehaven beach, then in the afternoon we would go snorkeling and spend one more night on board before meeting everyone back on land the following morning.

Heading out there, we sat along the sides of the boat, feet dangling off the sides, just enjoying the feeling. They got our dinner ready, which was roasted chicken and salad. Surprising delicious for being made in a sailing boat kitchen. We ate and talked to each other. Particularly, I was trying to get to know the 4 new Americans better.

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By now, I knew I definitely was not feeling well. I thought earlier that I may have just been tired, but now I knew something was up. My chest was aching and I felt exhausted in a sick way. I had a first aid kit with me that contained a thermometer, which read that my temperature was 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Not a good sign. One of the guys in the group let me have a few Tylenol, so I could bring my fever back down.

I went to bed, while everyone played drinking games on deck. They played games like “thunder” where you put on the AC/DC song, “Thunderstruck” and get in a circle. Someone starts chugging their beer until the lyrics say “thunder,” then it goes to the next person, and so on and so forth. One person is completely screwed by a guitar riff…

I hoped a good night sleep would cure the sick feeling and make sure that I did not have 2 rough nights and days on the sailboat. I knew I wouldn’t be able to turn back to shore, so I needed to make this work.

During the nighttime, I woke up after everyone had gone to bed. I was really hot and just couldn’t sleep in that condition. So I took my sheets and pillow up with me to the deck and found a spot to lie down. It of course was cooler outside, than under the deck. The breeze was nice as well. Only problem was that I was sleeping on the hard floor of the deck. I struggled to get comfortable, but finally fell asleep.

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Bucket List: Scuba in Great Barrier Reef

Today was the day I had been waiting for all trip! It was New Years Eve and I was about to accomplish one of my bucket list items for my life: scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

I’m a big believer in the power of setting goals. I like to set goals for each new year. Usually, there are around 2-3 of them and at least one get accomplished. This year, I did have a few, but the main one was going abroad. And, here I was, on the eve of a new year, in the midst of it all. It felt good!

Not only was I accomplishing a 2016 goal, but I was about to accomplish a larger life goal. It was happenstance that this activity would fall on the same day as the end of 2016, but it was a very happy one for me.

I gladly woke up early and headed down to breakfast with the girls. I made sure my GoPro was fully charged and ready for action. I wanted to remember the sights for the rest of my life!

We got on the boat and headed to the dock. We then headed to our boat, which would be taking us on a 90 minute ride out to the Great Barrier Reef. It was strongly encouraged that we take some sea sickness pills, so I took two and was very glad I did about 30 minutes later.

The ride out there was rough and many people were sick to their stomach. I didn’t want to risk anything getting in the way of my scuba.

I have never scuba dived before, but it has always been something that I was interested in because the beautiful sights in books and movies. It seemed like something exploratory as well, like you were this awesome adventurer looking at sights that possibly no one had seen before. A bit romantic, but possibly just a truly wonderful and fun thing to do.

I had signed up for literally just about everything you could do out there. This was THE thing I was most excited about.

My scuba time wasn’t until later in the day, so I hopped onto a “sea bob” tour. I didn’t want to just sit around my activities, so I jumped at the chance to finally get in the water and see the reefs.

A “sea bob” is basically a motor that helped you move faster through the water than if you were to swim. It goes in front of you and pulls you along while you hold on. It’s especially nice because it can take you farther out than you can do swimming.

Two of the girls and I got our snorkeling gear on and headed out to meet the guy who would show us the ropes.

Once we got out a bit, we started to look down at the Reef. It was incredible to see the coral and fish living in the water. I turned on my GoPro to catch some footage to share with my family. The sun was bright, so the water was clear and the colors were really shining. We got to do some deeper diving with the sea bobs, which was great to do leading up to the scuba.


We were all wearing stinger suits, which protect against jelly fish and other stinging sea creatures. Even though I wore my suit, my chin bumped up against a jelly fish which stung me. As it was put to me earlier, it felt a bit like a spicy oil got on my face. It stung a little, but not too bad.

Once we got back to the boat docking area, it was already my time to go up in the helicopter.

We got on a boat that took us to a helicopter landing pad in the middle of the ocean…cool. We got in and they started going up. I took a few videos and pictures of the Reef from above. It was stunning to see how large the Reef was and how far it extended. I loved how clear the water was, so much so that we could see larger sea creatures from above.


We landed on the pad, and I caught the next boat back to the boat-dock, just in time for lunch. After lunch, it was my time to scuba dive!

I headed over to the area, stinger suit on, ready to do this!

It seems I was a little too early for my group, so I had to wait, a bit impatiently, for my time. I sat with my flippers on and mask ready, tank attached. Finally, my intro dive group was going!

The tank was incredibly heavy while out of water and the fins were hard to walk in. But, I made it down the stairs into the water chamber where we would learn basic dive instructions.

Our instructor went over the basics like how to signal you were okay (👌🏻), how to get water out of your mask, how to get rid of pressure in your body and how to remove the breather and then put it back in. We mimicked the movements to show we were capable of finally scuba diving.

He gently led us down in pressure and closer to the ocean floor, checking to see we adjusted okay. I followed the instructions and didn’t feel much pressure. He then had us link arms and make our way into the open water area.

The sights were breathtaking! Quite literally, not only because it was beautiful but also breathing solely out of your mouth is such a weird feeling. Honestly though, I took to it really well and loved the feeling of surviving under water. It had been something I worried I wouldn’t like, given that I had hyped the experience in my head. But, it was even better than I could have imagined.

We were under water exploring as a group for about 40 minutes.

When we returned to the surface, I quickly grabbed my GoPro to be able to take it down for my second dive which was almost right after the first dive. They don’t let you take your cameras with you on your first intro dive.

In between getting my tank filled and getting ready for the next dive, I chatted with some of the scuba instructors. We talked about the most amazing sights they had seen scuba diving and how they got into their roles. They all had similar experiences, mostly did it once and got hooked. A lot of them loved seeing sea turtles and dolphins when diving. They encouraged me to get my PADI certification, which I had already been thinking about.

We went down for our second dive and the instructor gave me a little more leeway to explore on my own a little more. This time, with my GoPro, I captured some awesome sights.


One of my fave videos is of Wally, a friendly fish who likes to interact with scuba divers. He is pretty large, probably a grouper fish, with blue and yellow scales. He came up and swam towards me, then got a little pet from the instructor. It was just very cool to get so close to wildlife out here, in this amazing piece of nature.

When I got back up from the second dive, it was just about time for the boat to leave the platform we had been docked at all morning and afternoon. I was surprised as where the time had gone, but felt good that I had used my time wisely.

I got back on the boat to head back to land. We headed to the top deck to relax for a little after an adventurous afternoon. We even got some chocolate ice cream…best day ever, right?!

We docked and got off the boat to head back to the hotel to get ready for our New Year’s Eve night. I had to get ready faster than everyone else, since I had a meeting about our next couple days, where we would be sailing.

I got in my “play suit” and headed down to the meeting about preparing for sailing. After the meeting was over, I met up with the girls and we got on the coach to go to the local bar Contiki had gotten us into.

The woolshed is a local bar with a dance floor on the top floor. It had a fun vibe, with good music and cool lights. We got dinner and drinks there, while it was still relatively calm. Then, at around 10 pm, it got a lot wilder. We danced and had fun, bonding with all the new group members.

At around 11:30 pm, we headed out to the coastal area to see the fireworks, which were great. It was an awesome last day for 2016, and I knew tomorrow would be just as awesome.
I headed back to the room, eager to sleep after a long day.