Vancouver

After flying to Toronto for our close friend’s wedding (gorgeous!!) we stopped in Vancouver for a few days on the way home to celebrate my birthday.

We took the train from the airport to the Four Seasons, our blissful home base for 3 days where we treated ourselves to an upgraded full suite room. I’ve heard getting a full suite is a good idea when you have kids, so after they fall asleep you can close the door and enjoy a glass of wine together (or whatever you fancy). Obviously this wasn’t the case for us this trip but, let’s just say we were practicing for when this babe gets here!

We dropped our bags and dashed to happy hour in the lobby, splitting the calamari and a flatbread. I also ordered a cucumber mocktail that was so good I didn’t mind the missing alcohol.

Next we actually hit up the gym…! Usually if we use the gym while away it is in the morning, but when you’re pregnant – and happy hour is over with one good mocktail – it’s not a bad way to spend an hour. Shoutout to the Four Seasons for providing complimentary workout clothes for both of us.

The plan was to originally go Mike & Ashley style and do a food crawl that night, but the time difference caught up with us and we opted for dessert and HGTV back at the hotel before turning in for a early bedtime.


I was still on east coast time on Wednesday and woke up at 6:30am ready to start the day. Bundled up, we walked to Nemesis, Vancouver’s #1 voted coffee shop. I ordered a black tea that had a mild, nutty toasted flavor. It was so good – and usually I don’t have that much to say about a tea’s flavor profile – plus the perfect companion to the chilly walk down to the harbor.

We hopped on an aquabus for a quick jaunt across the harbor to the Granville Public Market. Oh how glorious this place is! We arrived right when it opened at 9am, making our experience a lot more enjoyable as there weren’t huge crowds. There are so many good food stands that we decided to scope the place out before making any purchases. In the end we did a morning/breakfast food crawl sampling a fresh berries; splitting an egg, spinach, and cheese bagel; and then indulging in lattes and donuts from Lee’s.

We explored the island and walked off our hearty breakfast after, being sure to also buy a little onesie for the baby. So fun and cute! Then is was off to the main adventure of the day: the Capilano suspension bridge.

Looking pretty nervous on our first crossing!

This basically is like it sounds, one big suspension bridge over a river that gets you from one side to the other. The set up on either side is pretty cute and made me feel like we were in a little winter wonderland. It wasn’t very crowded when we were there either, and the holiday lights were already up so it felt extra magical.

Once you cross over the main bridge, there are a set of smaller bridges going between various trees. There’s also the cliff walk, which is just a narrow pathway close to a granite slab. If you have a fear of heights, this probably isn’t the place for you!

While there, we had a very romantic lunch in the cozy cafe. We were the only ones in the place so it felt intimate, particularly with the fireplace and twinkle lights.

There is a convenient free shuttle back to the city (and great to rest after so much walking). As an afternoon pick-me-up, we went back to the same dessert place from the night before, called Thierry, for coconut drinking chocolates; basically very rich, thick hot chocolate that became our obsession in Vancouver.

After a lot of walking, foot massages sounded like a great way to end the day. We found a place called Queen’s Feet and for $40 we each got a 50 minute reflexology foot massage. Not bad if you’re okay with a no frills spa experience, which, at that point, we were.

In true Canadian fashion, we wanted poutine for dinner. Opting for a slightly healthier – and likely trendier – version, we went to Meet, a vegetarian place in Yaletown. I ordered a side of guac with it and a sparkling water + splash of grapefruit juice beverage. I’m (obviously) loving places with good non-boozy options.

After our gravy, fries, and cheese curds, we walked back to the hotel for more HGTV and macaroons in bed! (So.much.HGTV. …but also so fancy with those macaroons.)


We kicked off my birthday with croissants and hot chocolates at Thierry (again). I wrapped up my first trimester blog post and hit publish. Then is was time for a quick photoshoot to try to get a cute picture of the bump for our instagram baby announcement (I know, I know, soooo millennial).

Lunch was at Burgoo and it was the coziest soup and sammie spot. We each got grilled cheeses and tomato soup. Major comfort food on a chilly day.

Walking was our main way of getting around, and one of my favorite things about the city. We averaged 15,000 steps every day we were there. After lunch we walked down to the harbor for tea and cake overlooking the water. Pretty romantic!

On a whim, we rented bikes after and toured Stanley Park. Unexpectedly the bikes were electric which was great! It’s fun just to crank up the speed on a hill and fly up it.

Totem poles in the park

Mike made dinner reservations at Hawksworth and I went full American ordering a steak and fries for dinner (both were delicious). For dessert we got candy cap ice cream and learned after that is was actually mushroom ice cream (better than it sounds).

We ended the night back at the hotel with, you guessed it, more HGTV. 🙂


We walked to breakfast the next morning and then got one last fix of liquid chocolate at Thierry.

In summary: walking, cozy meals, and gallons of chocolate pretty much summed up the trip. Cheerrrrs!

NYC

Manhattan; city of dreams, hangovers, and an endless list of things to do, places to eat, and boroughs to explore. Armed with 3 of my closest girlfriends, I made it my mission to cram as much of it as I could into 3 days during my bachelorette party.

I arrived Thursday afternoon after an uneventful flight and was immediately assaulted by the cold as I exited JFK. Shit, I thought as I jammed my hands in to the depths of my pockets, how am I going to do this weekend? My breathe was visible and my body shaking until I finally got into my Lyft.

$50 and 50 minutes later I was at The Ace. I stayed at The Ace last November when I went to Chicago and decided it’s funky little vibe was perfect for a girls weekend in the city.

I knew my friend Melissa was already there but I wasn’t fully expecting to walk into a room decorated with all things bachelorette. There was champagne, a flower grown that had a veil attached to it, streamers with tiny unmentionables dangling from the walls, and more.

Melissa and I caught up while we got ready for dinner and waited for my other friend Morgan to arrive. As a side note, getting ready with your friends is probably my favorite part of being a girl. So.much.bonding happens!

We ate dinner at abcV, which I am going to say is equal parts amazing and perplexing. I guess it is a carpet store, but there are also two restaurants there? It’s like Anthropology and Urban Outfitters had a love child, then decided to add trendy AF restaurants to the equation. Essentially every girl’s dream.

When we sat down we were instantly greeted with glasses of bubbly (cute!) (because my friends are the best and called the restaurant ahead with word of my LastFlingBeforeTheRing). Of course abcV was tapas style (#trendyAF). We ordered veggies and hummus, avo lettuce cups, fried artichokes, and the tofu. After our plates were cleared and our stomachs (almost) full (are tapas ever really enough food tho?) we were delighted with a complimentary matcha creme brûlée dessert. Yum like, woah.

Next up? Cocktails! We wondered over to Dear Irving but there was a wait. The hostesses recommended we pop into the bar directly downstairs until she had a table ready for us. So there the three of us went, to sit in a dark, cozy, deliciously-New-York-feeling bar drinking Manhattans. As you do.

On Friday morning we woke up with one collective thought: bagels. We hit up Black Seed Bagels, which has a nom poppyseed bagel. After carbing up, we went to Chillhouse for coffee and manis. What a gem of a place! It looks pretty unassuming from the outside but it is cute inside. Coffee was necessary at that point and in between strokes of nail polish, we sipped our java and marveled at how great Chillhouse was.

I can see this place getting packed on the weekends, which would decidedly make it a little less chill, but we were lucky to go on a Friday morning and were basically the only ones there.

With fresh nails, we calculated that we had just enough time to walk down Broadway to Wall Street before Lauren arrived at the hotel that afternoon. We dodged 1.5 miles of busy New York sidewalks to see the Charging Bull and The Fearless Girl statue. The latter felt particularly special as it was International Women’s Day.

After some pictures with both statues, the cold and being outside for around 2 hours was wearing on us. We went back to the hotel to get ready and wait for Lauren to arrive for our 5:30pm drink reservations at The Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Plaza, which has gorgeous views of the city and Central Park. We sat at a table facing the park and shared a bottle of wine and a few appetizers. It was the perfect way to kick off the weekend with everyone finally there!

After, we walked to dinner at Fig & Olive, which might have been my favorite eatery of the weekend. We started with the burrata, goat cheese, and prosciutto crostinis, and then spilt the sea bass, lobster ravioli, and risotto. Once dinner was a wrap, we went back to the hotel for a outfit change 😉 and the hunt for another perfect NYC bar. After a few tries, we finally nailed it with Oscar Wilde. This place was everything I wanted on a Friday in New York; it was trendy with good drinks and music. Plus we scored a table in the middle of it all.

We ended the night with french fries, vodka sodas, and some classic mirror pix back at our hotel.

Saturday started with coffee at the cutest cafe Melissa knew about called Felix Roasting Co. This place is coffee lovers oasis. Plus, they have their own house made nut milk on tap! We were running behind to make a 11:45am walking tour at The High Line so hopped in a cab to get there on time. (Shout out to Lauren for hailing it like a champ.) For the next 2 hours we walked suspended above Manhattan’s meat Packing district, learning the ins and outs of the old railroad turned city park.

Luckily the weather wasn’t too bad, even somewhat nice if we were lucky enough to steal a few minutes in a spot of sun. The walking tour was a highlight of the weekend for me. Our guide had a lot of great information and insider stories that he shared with us. The High Line is also just beautiful. There is something special about being somewhere tranquil in the middle of city madness.

We went to The Park for lunch, which was another gem of a find. Unfortunately though, I got a salad that left me feeling nauseaus. Not fun! I was bummed because we were in Greenwich, my favorite part of the city, and I just couldn’t rally… So many cute streets and bars left unvisited! Lauren, Morgan, and Melissa were saints and took me back to the hotel for a 2 hour nap in the middle of our last day there. I felt pretty bad that we had to go back but the rest could have been good for us all, and the fuel we needed to party that night.

I woke up feeling better and ready to hit the city again. We had dinner reservations at 8:30pm, which is absurdly late for this west coast chica, but right par for the course in New York. I love visiting Manhattan but could never live there partly because of the constant hussle and late night social scene that pluses through the streets and avenues. On a typical night, when New Yorkers are just starting their evening, I am ready to start calling it a night. Ha.

Of course being that I was on vacation with 3 of my girls, I was all in for a late night out. After dinner at Acme (which was delicious and definitely recommended), we walked to Whiskey Town, a dark little bar in Greenwich Village.

So this is what I’ve learned about going out when you’re a little bit older and in a relationship: the places that are actually fun to dance at are fewer and farer in-between. Look, I know I’m not even 30 yet but I still don’t want to spend my night with a whole bunch of kids who just become of legal age to drink. I was one of those annoying early 20 years olds once, I don’t need to relive it by proxy.

Prior to the trip, when we were trying to figure out where to go on Saturday night, my one request to my friend Lauren was that is was like this bar/club, Razzoo’s, we went to for her bachelorette party in New Orleans last summer. We wanted good music and no sloppy drinkers. Whiskey Town basically fit this bill! …Which meant, we stayed there all night.

Some, more adventurous souls, may have wondered to another bar in search of other scenes or people to meet, but not me. I was content holding down our spot – right by the DJ with barstools (for our coats) and a ledge (for our drinks) in close proximity all night. We took turns buying rounds and running to the bathroom (“breaking the seal” is as real as it was when I was 21;). We danced and shouted (both lyrics to songs and in an effort to communicate).

I wore my flower crown veil and fielded inquires about the wedding. As well as the general “are you getting married?!” question you get a million times when you go out in public wearing a veil to a bar.

And when it was all said and done, it was time for …pizza. Late night, after the bar, huge New York slices of za.

Melissa was the first to leave on Sunday, on an early flight back home to Toronto. I gave her a messy, sleepy hug and got back into bed until 11am when the rest of us had collectively set our alarms. Initially we had brunch reservations for 10am but when we got back to our hotel at 5am, it was without a question that we canceled them to sleep in instead.

When we were finally up, showered, and packed, we had just enough time to walk a few blocks to Scarpetta, a divine little spot located in the NoMad hotel. The twinkle lights and live jazz music make Scarpetta feel like a fairy tale. …A fairy tale with good coffee and avo toast. (Which, in my opinion, is better than being saved a prince!)

Despite the cold weather that weekend, New York was a blast. A huge shout out to my ladiiies for such an incredible trip. Next up? The wedding!

CHICAGO

The week after Portland I flew to Chicago for work. Oh, what a town! The food scene there is like nothing I’ve experienced before. Every.single.thing. I ate was delicious. I probably came home a few lbs heavier but there are no regrets (just mourning for the yummy pasta and pizza and burgers and burrata (so much burrata)).

I touched down Tuesday evening and immediately meet my manager/friend for dinner at the hotel we were both staying at, The Ace Chicago. Inside, we found an equally chic and cozy restaurant called City Mouse, where we split an order of grilled carrots, burrata, fried artichoke, and octopus. 😋

We had a productive working session as a team on Wednesday, complete with another yummy lunch. That evening I got to try RPM Italian, Bill and Giuliana Rancic’s restaurant. This might not be cool to say, but I love celebs. I’m not into reading trashy magazines about them but I do like following my faves on instagram and going to their restaurants when I can!

In theme with Chicago itself, everything I had at RPM was delicious. We started with the Giuliana salad (will have to recreate), and an order of the burrata and fried artichokes. For our main meals, we tried the lobster ravioli and the chicken parmesan. The standout for me was how good and fresh the pasta was that came with the chicken parm. In all honesty though, the whole meal was carb-y, cheesy bliss.

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Ok, so aside from all the nom food… it was COLD in Chicago. I know, I know, when I went it wasn’t even as bad as it is going to get BUT this California girl was freezing nonetheless. That night I actually went to bed thinking, well at least it isn’t snowing… 

And, of course, guess what I woke up to on Thursday morning… snow.

We spent the day working from City Mouse; with a pretty view, hot tea, and cozy soup and a grain bowl for lunch. Not too shabby!

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I worked a half day on Friday and then MIKE ARRIVED! Our first stop was the bean (or Cloud Gate). I don’t know why I’ve always wanted to see this landmark but there is just something appealing to me about that steel shaped giant bean! It was so cool to see it in person. Next time I’m in CHI, I’m making another stop here but in the early morning when it isn’t so crowded.

Also, it was freezing…! So we left after about 5 minutes. Hmm.. maybe a summer trip is in store?

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Next up was a drink at Cindy’s in the Chicago Alethic Association Hotel. Cindy’s is a convenient ~5 minute walk from the bean. We didn’t have a reservation (I learned resos are key in CHI) but luckily were able to slip into two seats in the back.

This is another place that seems like it would be cool in the summer, with their rooftop patio and gorgeous views. Although there was a fire pit outside, we opted to stay indoors. The cocktails at Cindy’s were good but the company was better. It was good to see Mike after a few nights away!

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Like I mentioned, Chicago is a reservation city! (Which I actually prefer because, based on my experience, they do sit you within five minutes when you have one – unlike California where reservations don’t really mean anything.) It was still early but I knew we had to figure out dinner. Mike did some Googling and found this place called The Deerborn, which was recommended to us (by the big G) because it was “similar to OCK” (our favorite restaurant at home). Let me just say, Google can have ALL OF MY DATA just for this recommendation alone.

I don’t know enough adjectives to rave about this place with due justice.

In classic Ashley and Mike form, we ordered a few things to spilt. Starting with the French onion soup (which we now want to make at home) and the mezze platter, that included dolmades, hummus, tzatziki, babaganoush, and the best flatbread to soak up all the dips in. It was basically my dream … on a platter.

To be sure we were nice and full, next we ordered the mac and cheese and maple fried chicken. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Also, we’ll be saying screw it to the turkey next year for Thanksgiving. We’re making maple fried chicken (and mac n cheese, and an epic mezze platter, and onion soup).

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On Saturday we walked to a cafe nearby to caffeinate for the day. My go-to, to-go order is an almond milk cafe au lait and, as to be expected in the magical city of all good food and drinks, wasn’t disappointed once. I’m also a huge almond milk snob and ask to see which one they use before placing my order soooo double points to Chi-town.

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Next we decided to bear the rain and hit up the Christmas market. What a mistake! We didn’t even do a full loop before we left and sought shelter in the mall nearby. Ok it was time for pizza. DEEP DISH PIZZA.

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The roasted nuts weren’t even worth the rain.. 

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Everyone I asked recommended I go to Lou Malnati’s for the best deep dish in town. We got there around 11:30am and I’m glad we did! It takes about 40 minutes for them to make your pizza (which is expected for deep dish) but when we left, the waiting area was packed.

We ordered a pie with spinach and mushrooms, despite the menu mentioning it isn’t truly deep dish unless there is sausage on it. Which I can say, I wholeheartedly disagree. Our pizza was deep-dish-delicious sans sausage. It was ooey and gooey and buttery crusty. Oh, and the tomatoes on it. Perfection in every bite.

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Ok, we’ve made it to the part of the blog post program that I am going to stop talking about how frickin’ good all of the food was and tell you my favorite part of the trip (if you can believe it wasn’t the noshes).

Two words: Paper Machete

Actually, four words for more context: Green Mill Paper Machete

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The Paper Machete at Green Mill was recommended to me by a colleague. When I was bummed that Second City tickets were sold out, she told me to go here and to be early!

The show starts at 3pm. We got there at 2:07pm and snagged the last open table by the stage. One beer for Mike. One martini for me; gin please.

The band rehearsed. I complained about how loud it was (I have v sensitive ears) and started to wonder if this was really the best use of out last afternoon in the city…

The showed started and before the first act was over, I knew. I knew it was going to be real good and real raw. I was ready for the ride.

The Paper Machete was a 2 (ish) hour live magazine where performers acted out various current events. The first was a monologue my the First Lady, Melania; so good and so funny and such a relief to know most of the audience was Democratic.

There was also a pianist, a trio of female singers, a few other skits sprinkled in between, and the headlining band (which I still think was a little too loud but it was fine). Mike and I were belly laughing almost the whole time. I also fanned out at the end and asked to take a picture with the girl band (one of the members had already gone home though, boo!).

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Buzzed (from both the martini but also creatively from being around such talent) we left hungry and ready for dinner. Remember when I said Chicago is a reservation city? Well, we didn’t have any for dinner that night. Whomp, whomp.

We tried a few places near the hotel but most had a 2 hour wait. A little defeated we walked up the stairs in the SoHo house to the Chicken & Farm Shop. They sat us immediately and I was nothing short of suspect… Why wasn’t there a wait?

I still can’t answer that question because um, this place was reason enough to go back to Chicago. We ordered the collard greens, chicken nuggets, mac n’ cheese, and the best burger I’ve ever had that was infused with bone marrow that should be how all burgers are ever made…!

On our last morning in Chicago, we got ultra touristy and went to the Skydeck. Basically we stood in line for 1.5 hours and paid $50 for 60 seconds in a glass box 110 stories up.

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I was a little nervous I would be scared to step out onto the glass floor, but felt so rushed I didn’t have to think about it. We shared the box with another party and we were both trying to cram as many pictures in one minutes as possible. It’s actually pretty chaotic. I wouldn’t do the Skydeck again but it was worth trying something new!

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After that, it was a wrap. We hurried back to the hotel to pack, hit up Ballast Point for one last pint, and we were on our way to the airport.

Chicago, you stole my heart (my stomach and my skinny jeans). I can’t wait to see you again.

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Portland, OR

The best birthdays I’ve had have been the no-fuss kinds; filled with good food, friends, and family. Throw in a weekend away and it’s golden.

I turned 29 last Wednesday and, after celebrating with Mike, a bottle of wine, and stuffed pasta shells, we were on our way to Portland early Thursday morning. Friends from Santa Cruz flew in later that night and friends from Washington drove in on Friday morning.

Since we all wanted to stay together, we opted to stay in an airbnb in Vancouver, WA vs. staying directly in Portland. Our airbnb was pretty baller but with 6 people and all the money we spent on XL Lyfts, I’m not sure I would pick suburbia over downtown again.

 

After some avo toast at home base, Mike and I headed into the city to enjoy our day together. Our first stop was a gem that my manger recommended called Knot Springs. You. Guys. This place. An oasis in the outskirts.

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“Ya. Basic.” (quote of the weekend)

We treated ourselves to a 2 hour “soak,” forgoing any spa treatments or workout classes that are also offered there. We were greeted with plush, trendy patterned towels and a cup of hot custom blended tea. Then we showered (required before getting in) and were given a tour of the tubs. The whole idea is to alternate between warm, hot, and cold water to revitalize your system. (There are a whole bunch of other benefits they list but I forget them!) We spent the next few hours dipping in different temperatures of water, trying our hand at some light yoga in the sauna, and enjoying the industrial views (I know that sounds like a contradiction). Not a bad way to spend a Thursday afternoon!

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We stopped for beers and fried pickle spears at Wayfinder after. Mike is picky about his fried pickles and prefers spears to chips. So, whenever we see spears on the menu, you can bet we’re going to get them. Wayfinder had good beer and looked like a cool spot to go to in the summer but it had nothing compared to our next stop, Product Row Cafe.

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cheers!

Mike and I love a good food crawl, and initially, that was our plan for the night – small noshes at multiple restaurants – until we sat on the enclosed patio at Produce Row Cafe…

The twinkle lights were dreamy. The wooden tables and wall paneling gave the place a rustic feel. The DJ playing mellow tunes set the right vibe.

…Plus, the cocktails and the company … intoxicating. 😉

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We left full of nom food and good spirits.

The next morning we walked to a nearby coffee shop called Brewed Awakenings. I love when I find local spots that use good ingredients like this place did. I ordered a coconut milk cafe au lait and sipped it on our walk back. It was creamy dreamy and had the added bonus of keeping my hands warm while we got our steps in on the walk back. It was a chilly weekend up north!

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Caffeinated and dressed in layers, it was time to head into the city for some sours. I love a good sour beer, and they paired perfectly with the baked brie we ordered as a snack.

We stopped at one more place (with legendary artwork in the bathroom, pictured below) for another round before walking to an event called My People’s Market that celebrated a diverse marketplace of multicultural vendors.

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those cat pix tho

At the market we sampled wine, tasted ginger cotton candy, and browsed different booths with things from T shirts with political messages to essential oil rocks.

Next we filled up on bread, fresh olive oil, pasta, soup, salad, and all good Italian things at Nostrana.

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My girls ❤

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On Saturday morning we explored the Japanese Gardens, which was as gorgeous as expected (and also had the biggest leafs I’ve ever seen). Aside from the chilly weather, it was fun to wonder around the gardens together, with plenty of pictures sprinkled throughout the adventure. 🙂

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Next up it was time to warm up. …with sake and sushi (staying in theme of the day, obviously). We made our way to Bamboo Sushi and I had some of the best rolls I’ve ever had. The honey miso roll… drooling just thinking about it. Plus, what’s better than miso soup on a cold day?

We ended our day with adult slushies and karaoke at one bar (as you do) and then at dinner at Bye and Bye, a vegan restaurant that I was pretty stoked to go to. I ordered the BBQ platter that came with BBQ tofu, black-eyed peas, and collard greens. The food was good (!) but I think the atmosphere would have been better for lunch as it was pretty dark in there.

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Love Mike here lol

One more XL Lyft ride and we were back at the airbnb ready to hit the sheets (hi, weekends with late 20/mid 30 year olds!).

We’ll all be reunited again at mine and Mike’s WEDDING! ……in 6 months… what? time is flying. …should we have adult slushies at the wedding? 🙂

SPAIN

Earlier this month, I flew out to Malaga, Spain (birthplace to Pablo Picasso) for a work trip. As to be expected, the tapas and wine were plentiful. The town squares were beautiful; complete with marble floors, palm trees, and fountains. There were castles and cathedrals to explore; new trendy stores housed in old historic buildings; sea breezes and siestas.

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We arrived on Sunday, after flying from San Francisco to Paris to Malaga. Our hotel was only a block from a canal that runs through the city, which made for easy navigating. After unpacking and showering, we met a few colleagues at El Mesón de Cervantes.

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The restaurant was a short 10 minute walk from the hotel and rated well on trip advisor. We started with wine and olives. Something I loved about Malaga was that instead of a bread basket, you get a olive bowl to start your meal when dining out. We also ordered grilled octopus, Iberico ham, mushroom risotto, and salmon.

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The company was good, the food delicious, and the wine flowing. Not a bad first night there!

…That was until I got back to my hotel.

We got back around 11pm, which was around 2pm in California. I Facetime’d my mom for a little bit before falling asleep. Sadly, I only stayed asleep for about 4 hours before waking up pretty distraught. I am prone to homesickness and being solo on this trip hit me hard.

Fortunately, I was able to chat with my mom and Mike again, since it was still early at home. Unfortunately, not being able to sleep on my first night was some cruel foreshadowing to how the rest of my week would be.

I finally fell asleep around 6:30am and, with a start time of 9:30am on Monday, felt pretty worn-down during those first meetings! Particularly because I didn’t sleep on the flights to Spain either.

Thankfully I was able to take a quick nap before dinner that night. Siestas were the real deal in Spain. Like the locals, we ate most dinners late and stayed out after for drinks a few nights. Naps in the middle of the day equaled survival.

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The restaurant we had dinner at on Monday

On Tuesday our meetings were in a new location, which meant figuring out how to get there early in the morning with little sleep (I seriously could not fall asleep there at a decent hour). We were lucky to have the canal to help navigate the city but unfortunately, there was construction near the co-working space we had booked. A lot of Google Maps action on this trip! Eventually we made it to the location and settled in for a day of meetings.

I tried to squeeze every minute I could out of the schedule to catch some shuteye. This often meant skipping breakfast before meetings in lieu of sleeping in. In between meetings, I had a chance to step outside and grab a coffee from a cafe recommended to me by the co-working space organizer. She raved about the churros and chocolate at this place and although I really wanted to try them, I was feeling rundown. Instead I opted for a banana from a small fruit stand nearby (also stocking up on oranges for vitamin C) because I knew that was what my body really needed.

I was able to head back to the hotel midday and, on the way, grabbed a nourishing hummus bowl for lunch. Eating healthy while running on little-to-no sleep was a top priority for me.

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I caught a few Zzz’s before heading out again to explore a castle in the town. As one of my colleagues described it, the castle offered layers and layers of history; a history lasagna, if you will. I was excited to check this bad boy out but sadly, after a steep walk up to the enormous brick building, we discovered the entry fee had to be paid in Euros, and not credit card.

Wah-wah-wah…

Back down the hill it was. (We did get a few pictures at the top though so, still a semi-successful trip.) And time for (more) tapas! My friend Keely and I chatted over beers, olives, ham and melon, Spanish cheese, and spicy potatoes. The food was so good but arguably a lot before heading to a team dinner. 🙂

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The outside walls of the castle

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Views of the port

On Wednesday (half way through the trip) I succumbed to my lack of sleep and skipped the morning session of meetings. Because of my role, I was lucky to have the flexibility to do this; and gratefully so, because it was the little nudge I needed to make it through the next few days. Ah, what your body and brain can do after 6 hours of sleep…!

I met up with everyone for lunch at a foodcourt in a nearby mall and let me tell you, this food court was not your standard strip-mall nosh-mill. This place was fancy. Who doesn’t love a foodcourt with some swagger?

After lunch, a few of us grabbed espressos. We were handed legit stay-here-and-sip mini shots.

“…Um, excuse me? Can we please get these to go please?”

“No. No take away. Sit, sip, and enjoy.”

Wait, wha? Such a cultural difference. This cafe actually did not have to-go cups. You were meant to stay there and enjoy your coffee, not rush off to your next meeting. Similar to when I was in New Orleans, where things just move slower, I was like, this is annoying. I was also too timid to ask for almond milk anywhere in fear of my California stripes showing… Instead I drank everything black, which I don’t normally do. All this to say, it took some grit to pound my espresso and make it back in time for the next meeting.

Having the luxury of enjoying a coffee without taking it to-go is nice in theory but, in execution, I’m more of a let’s get this java on the road kind of girl.

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That evening we went to dinner at Recyclo Bike Cafe, where – like the name suggests – there are a bunch of bikes decorating the walls. I picked this place for 2 reasons; 1. it was a 5 minute walk from our hotel and 2. I wanted to take pictures for Mike, who loves bikes.

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I had been eating a lot more meat than I normally do so wanted to stick to something veg for dinner. I opted for the black beans, avocado, and feta tacos. They didn’t come on a standard corn tortillas, but more of a corn bun (pic below), which turned out to be very filling.

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After dinner we walked to the port to see the ocean. I was all for getting steps and hopefully tiring myself out. We saw some cool sights; both historic and modern. Our evening ended with a stroll on the beach and then back to the hotel (for another sleepless night… boo!).

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Thursday was our last day before leaving on a very early flight on Friday. Not sleeping finally caught up with me and I woke up with a cough and a running nose. Plus, I woke up late which is always freakin’ stressful, let alone when you’re not feeling well.

I got ready in a flash – brushed my teeth and hair, threw something on that resembled an outfit, filled in my eyebrows – and hustled to the meeting location; walked along side the canal, detoured for construction, finally there.

Cough, cough. Tissue for a running nose. Trying not to be disruptive…

Eventually it was time for lunch. I wondered around the allies nearby and came across a cute vegan cafe. I ordered a burger and asked if they had french fries or, “chips?” (mentally wondering, is it only “chips” in the U.K. or here too?). After a fews rounds, and with the help of a nice Italian tourist who translated a bit for me, the cafe owner explained she made herself a batch of sweet potato fries that I could have a few of. She turned one in her finger and told me “just olive oil, salt, and garlic.”

A small part of me thought, this would not fly in America with our restaurant/food laws… That voice was quieted quickly. When in Rome Spain! I was walking back to the office shortly after with the best vegan burger and homemade sweet potato fries (chips?) I’ve had in a long time.

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I tried to solider through afternoon meetings but ended up leaving early. I slept for a solid 4 hours back at the hotel and woke up feeling much better. Just in time for our last dinner in Spain.

We walked down to the port again. Olives and beer to start. Fish dish after fish dish followed, tapas style. I was feeling better but not 100% and ended up eating a lot of bread instead of trying to stomach the clams.

I went back to the hotel to pack after. And, instead of trying at another failed attempt of sleeping, decided to just stay up until 5am when it was time to leave for the airport.

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We flew home via New York. It was a relatively easy flight, and I was pretty excited for a full night of sleep when I got home. Despite being tired and a little homesick, Spain was a trip of a lifetime for me. Maybe one day I’ll be back!

Shirley Canyon Hike

In May Mike and I tried to hike the Shirley Canyon trail in Squaw Valley. We weren’t able to finish the hike because of snow at the top and a looming storm. The weekend was still fun but we made a plan to come back and conquer the trail before we are set to hike Half Dome in August.

This past weekend was the chosen one. On Saturday we left our house at 7am and drove up to Tahoe. We arrived just after 10:30am, grabbed a quick snack for fuel, and headed to the trail. It was hotter and a lot more crowded this time around. We even contemplated turning around because there were so many people at the start of the hike. Luckily, the crowds dispersed eventually… The trial has a lot of sections that you have to climb over boulders or granite slabs and I found it stressful to have people around or behind me.

In the end I’m glad we didn’t turn around but holy, this hike was hard. When we made it to the point where we turned around last time, I thought we were about 3/4 there. Sadly I was dead wrong. We were maybe halfway at that point. I swear, the Shirley Cannon trial can be alternatively named the Trail that Seemingly Never Ends. At this point, basically every person we crossed paths with had the same sentiment as us. We were all like, will we ever make it to the top?

We eventually got to Shirley Lake, a glimmer of hope and motivation! At this point, we were covered in dirt, we had reapplied sunscreen numerous times, and – while we were well hydrated – we were cutting it close to running out of water. No big deal, I thought. We are so close anyway. We’re basically there. 

Wrong again. So, so wrong.

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About 30 minutes – a many inclines – later, we were finally at the top. Lucky for us, making it to the top of this hike means you have access to a pool, hot tub, beer, lunch, and a free tram ride back to the bottom.

Overall, our hike took longer than we thought it would. We only had about 2 hours to spend up in paradise. We ate quickly and jumped right in the pool. Ahhhh. It felt incredible to be done with the hike and just chillin’ out. We dipped in the hot tub after and then decided to catch the first tram down before the line got outrageous.

I’m not opposed to hiking Shirley Cannon again. It is a really beautiful trail, despite it being a long way to the top.  I think half of the struggle was not knowing how much time we had left though. Next time we do it, I will know what to expect; which I think will make it more manageable.

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The pool at the top!

We checked into our room at the resort around 4pm. I didn’t want to take a nap but of course, fell victim to sleepiness. I dozed off for about 45 minutes and woke up with a headache. Bummer!

We had reservations at a new Italian place on the resort grounds and I was determined not to let my headache ruin our dinner. Likely against the advice of a doctor, I ordered a glass of wine and took an ibuprofen.

Luckily my headache quickly went away. I almost never take medication so I think my body responded to it strongly and almost immediately. I was thankful to be able to enjoy the evening with Mike. Especially because our food was so good! I will never pay for anything but house-made pasta in a restaurant again! Ha.

We started with complimentary bread and olives (such a nice touch!) while we sipped our wine, enjoying the gorgeous mountain views. For an appetizer, we spilt an order of the calamari and each got a pasta dish for dinner.

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After dinner we had a nightcap in the hotel lobby while listening to some live music. Romantic!

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Having had a long day, we went back to our room around 10pm. Mike crashed but I wasn’t ready for bed (maybe because of my nap?). Instead I indulged in a bubble bath, the rest of my wine from dinner (is that weird that I nursed the glass that long?), and a book. Not too shabby.

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Obeying our Squaw tradition, we started Sunday with coffee/tea and a hot tub sesh. After showering and packing up, we met my grandparents nearby for an early lunch. We left the Tahoe area around 1:30pm and didn’t get home until 7:30pm! There was a huge accident that added about a hour to our ETA.

We also stopped in Pleasant Hill to try Urban Plates for dinner. I follow Ashley Pitt over at A Lady Goes West and she raves about this place. I will say there is a lot to rave about. I ordered a plate of organic chicken, Brussel sprouts, and mac n’ cheese (with a side of bread included), plus a glass of a red blend for $21. It was a good way to end the weekend.

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Family vacay | San Diego to Sebastopol

We’re coming off of 2 weeks of family vacation and I wanted to document some highlights.

My grandparents celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary on Saturday, June 30th. Mike and I flew down to San Diego to meet them, my mom, little bro, and stepdad. San Diego was the first place my grandparents lived together as a married couple so it had sentimental value. Mike and I also celebrated our one year anniversary there years ago. I will say San Diego was more crowded than I remember.

This time around, we all stayed in the same Airbnb in downtown. Unfortunately the parking at our Airbnb was terrible. We had the 2 cars my family drove there in and risked a ticket every night by parking in the church lot next door. Our Airbnb was also very cozy for 6 people, plus a baby, but we managed.

After we settled in, we drove to Old Town. My grandma used to work at Wells Fargo so I planned a surprise tour of the Wells Fargo museum for her. Our guide was very informative and fun. After, we had lunch at Bora Bora. My mom and I spilt the cheese enchiladas and they didn’t disappoint!

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Exploring Old Town

That night, we went to dinner at Donovan’s Steak House to celebrate my grandparent’s milestone anniversary. Parking in downtown was a nightmare, as to be expected, but everything else was perfect. We basically all ordered steak and I didn’t hear a single complaint. The waitstaff was friendly and attentive, even holding Gio for a bit!

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After dinner Mike and I went to the National Comedy Theater. We had been there years ago and knew we wanted to go back the second this trip was planned. It is the funniest improv show. Like, bent-over-belly-laughing funny.

When traveling, some of my favorite things to check out are local improv/comedy clubs, yoga studios, and walking tours. Which, speaking of… on Sunday we made a spur of the moment decision to do a walking tour of Coronado. Mike and I celebrated our 5 year anniversary on the island ~2 years ago and fell in love (you can read about our stay here and here). The walking tour was $20/each for 90 minutes. We saw a bunch of historical houses and ended at The Del. I thought it was well worth it for everything we learned. Plus, we were the only ones on the tour, which is always a nice surprise.

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Gio’s first walking tour; catching a ride from SISTER

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Canadian cutie outside The Del

We had lunch after at Tavern. I’m surprised this place wasn’t more crowded because it was really good. It’s a big win when your entire group is happy with the menu and their food. The decor here was really cute too. And I’m a sucker for ambiance. My family was ready to head back after but Mike and I stayed to enjoy a drink on the patio together. Then we took the fairy back to San Diego, which I definitely recommend as it is pretty cheap and just fun.

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That night my friend from high school came to visit because her son is a huge Andy Z (my stepdad) fan. It was so cute to see him starstruck by Andy. We all just chilled out with some wine and heavy apps. As with most family vacations, we turned in pretty early; tired from a full day of activity.

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Patio chillin

On Monday we went to the San Diego Zoo and I was like, #OutOfOffice y’all. What’s better than being on vacation on a Monday? I knew the SD zoo was huge so we had to get an early start. First up? Flamingos!

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We had an okay lunch of hummus wraps and pasta salad that, surprisingly, didn’t break the bank. Food at any of these places (theme parks, zoos, etc.) is typically so unhealthy and expensive. I was glad our lunch was decently priced but I really should learn to pack a picnic instead.

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The whole fam.

The real highlight of the zoo was when Mike and I were strolling along and a zookeeper came out saying “please move to the left side of the walkway so we can walk our cheetah.”

Wait, what!?

Sure enough, seconds later, there is a cheetah walking a few feet from us (obviously on a leash). The trainer stopped at a bench right in front of us to feed the cheetah. It was one of the coolest things I’ve seen and completely unplanned.

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…not the best picture but the Cheetah is behind her dog buddy, who were introduced when the cheetah came to the zoo and are now BFFs (the dog helps the cheetah stay calm and relaxed).

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Hi there!

Sadly, we were all had to go home on Tuesday. Before heading to the airport, Mike and I went to a cute cafe we discovered, Lofty Coffee. Best house made chai lattes. I typically don’t order chai unless I know it isn’t made from a powder, so I was happy to see a solid option on the menu.

It is a quick flight home from San Diego. Being that we were on vacation, we headed straight to our pool. That night we went to our neighbors for apps, dinner, and gallons of wine. 😉 It was so nice to catch up over good food and a few drinks. Plus, the girls and I decided to start a book club. (tipsy Prime usage FTW) so we’ll be getting together again soon.

Mike’s parents arrived for a visit on Wednesday, 4th of July. For the past 4 years, we’ve spent the 4th with our friends Gary and April (in Calabasas last year and Mexico the year before!) so I was happy that they could make it too. We grilled chicken at our house for tacos and played a few games. It was a fun, low key 4th of July.

Having taken the week off, we decided to take Mike’s parents to the Barlow for an overnight stay Thursday to Friday. They’ve been to California a number of times and have done almost everything touristy in the area. This was a new adventure so it was extra fun. The Barlow is a sweet little area filled with organic food, wine, breweries, cafes, and our favorite distillery.

We started with a wine flight and cheese plate at MacPhail tasting lounge. It was nice to be outside enjoying the warm weather and catching up between pours. It is a particularly exciting time because we’re in the middle of wedding plan, which I always find fun to talk about.

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Next we went over to Pax and spilt a bottle of wine, plus an order of warm olives. Again, such a nice time.

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After we went to a brewery for burgers and a few rounds of games. Sadly, I lost both… Specifically Jenga, when I pulled the block that made the tower tumble. Boo!

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Faaaaiiiilll

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We ended the night with a dip in the hot tub and a discussion of wedding songs. 🙂

Friday started with coffee at Taylor Lane, where they serve organic coffee and creamy almond milk. Win. We took Mike’s parents to Spirit Works Distillery after to show them the barrel room and spilt a tasting flight.

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Wanting to beat rush hour in SF, we left shortly after. On the way home we met my dad for a light bite at The Fish Market in San Mateo. The Fish Market has a few locations throughout California but the best one is in San Mateo, without question. It was a nice day so we sat outside on the patio. I was happy my dad got to spend some time with Mike’s parents since they live far away and our families don’t get to see each other often.

The week was fun and family filled. We packed in a lot of activities in a short amount of time. But, to be honest, the rest of Mike’s parents stay was just as jam-packed as the first few days. They were here for 10 days total and we did something almost every night.

On Saturday, we had our lovely engagement party hosted by my mom and fam. It was great to see our closet friends and family come together and get to know each other before our big day next May.

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On Sunday we enjoyed a cheese, cracker, and beer night to get through some of the leftovers.

On Monday I went back to work but we still went to a Giants game that night. Which they won. Go Giants!

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Tuesday was dinner at home. Mike cooked. The best.

Wednesday we were back at The Fish Market for an official meal there. My dad joining again. 🙂

Thursday we visited the hotel that our room block is at for our wedding. Notably also enjoying a glass of wine on their cute patio and brainstorming after-party ideas.

Friday was their last night here (sad), which called for a fancy dinner at Dry Creek Grill. This was our first time there and we loved it! I can see it becoming a go-to place to dine for us.

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Cheers!

Overall it was such a fun 2 weeks with family. I can’t believe how fast time is going. Our wedding is just over 10 months away and I have a feeling it’s going to go by in a flash…!

Beignets & booze 

New Orleans, Louisiana. You guys.

What a fun city to spend a weekend in; particularly a bachelorette party!

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A few girls from California flew out to meet a few girls from the east coast in New Orleans. We were all there to celebrate one special lady, Lauren, and her “last fling before the ring.”

I flew out with Lauren, her sister, and our other friend – who is also named Ashley – early Friday morning. After a minor detour to Mississippi for gas, due to a thunder storm above the New Orleans airport when we were landing (major oversimplification but whatever!), we arrived in the late afternoon. We had about a hour to hustle and get ready before dinner with the whole group.

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Although we didn’t stay directly in the French Quarters, we were a quick walk from there at the J.W. Marriott. We were at Red Fish Grill in less than 10 and bottles of wine were already waiting there for us from the sweet bachelor himself (thanks, Ian!). In retrospect, I wish I ordered something distinctly Southern, like the redfish or jambalaya, but I opted for the sugar cane glazed chicken instead. Which was good (!) but doesn’t seem too authentic…

New Orleans is like Las Vegas and you can walk around with alcohol. Which was lucky for us because we had leftover wine. We were given some to-go cups and hit the mean streets of NOLA with our wine in tow.

First stop was the Carousel Bar which was, sadly, underwhelming to say the least. Looking at pictures online, it must have been broken (or something?) because I remember it being a dark bar with barely moving seats.

To compensate, we took a whole bunch of bathroom pics. As you do.

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We hit up a few bars after for some shots and light dancing but the evening came to an abrupt halt when someone STOLE a member of our party’s wallet! UGH.

We filed a police report and headed back to the hotel. (Full transparency, we also stopped at a McDonalds on the way back and I may or may not have ate a large fry with BBQ sauce… guess I won’t be going for 2 years of NO FAST FOOD after all. Hah)

The next morning we had brunch at the iconic Brennan’s. If you’re a fan of banana’s foster – and I didn’t know I was until I tried it at Brennan’s – this is the place for you; BECAUSE it was invented there. And, well, it’s delicious.

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Brennan’s was good and it was cool to eat there but the service was sloooow. Despite the 3 hours we spent there (!) I would recommend trying it out. If only because it is such a part of New Orlean’s history. I later watched a documentary about Ella Brennan on Netflix that I also recommend!

Also, side note, the coffee in New Orleans… next level. I loved the chicory in it and snagged a few bags to enjoy with my Grandpa in San Diego at the end of the month and my in-laws when they are in town for the 4th. 🙂

(Mike isn’t a coffee drinker! …is chicory tea a thing?)

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After brunch, my close friend Leslie and I went on a cemetery and garden district walking tour. We went through the company Two Chicks and our guide was great! Plus, it’s a company owned by 2 chicks women, so happy to support.

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Look close to see all of the beads in the tree!

We started in the cemetery where we learned that it is a common misconception that the graves are built above ground because New Orleans is under sea level. Basically the sea level issue is a minor reason for above ground tombs and it has more to do with space than anything else.

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When a family member died, they were placed in the tomb and given a year and a day to decompose. After they hit the year and a day milestone and when the next family member died, the tomb would be opened and the remains of the already decomposed would be placed in a mesh bag and stored in the back of the tomb. This process repeated itself and allowed for a lot more family members to be buried in the same space, as oppose to a whole tomb for every person. Instead they all shared; fully decomposing together.

And for that person wondering – what if a family member died before the year and a day cutoff for the tomb to be re-opened? – families could rent a wall vault in the interterm.

Another interesting thing we learned was that many bodies actually ended up being stolen by medical students so they could examine them. Creepy.

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The tomb that inspired Interview with a Vampire

Next up was a stroll through the gorgeous streets on the garden district. Celeb house sighting included!

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Nicolas Cage’s old house before #IRSissues

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The Manning household

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John Goodman’s full-time residence

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Sandra Bullock’s house!

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The house that Benjamin Button was filmed in

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Another Brennan family restaurant, Commander’s Palace. Go watch that documentary!

After 2 hours of walking in humid weather, it was time for a drink and some apps! Les lives in Nashville and I don’t see her as often as I would like to 😦 so it was nice to catch up a little bit.

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Crawfish and artichoke dip y’all

We hurried back to the hotel after to get ready for dinner at , which was another 3 hours btw (Southern dining!) hahah. I can’t complain though; the laughs were effortless, the food was delicious, and the drinks were flowing.  Also, a huge thank you to the bride-to-be’s parents who generously picked up the tab!

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Me and the star of the show!

After dinner I think we were all walking the line between, crash back at the hotel or RAGE. I’m happy to report we decided to saunter over to Razoos to get down.

…That morning I woke up and was like, no shots. When we walked into Razoos, Leslie and I immediately took 2 shots and bought one for the bachelorette. Because that’s how bach parties go.

Suffice to say, the night was dance (and vodka) filled. It was also Pride Week so everyone was in festive, happy spirits.

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The most sober picture of the night

After another run in with fast food (NOT SORRY, I WOULD HAVE BEEN SO HUNG OVER WITHOUT IT), we were back at the hotel.

On Sunday morning the general consensus was beignets and “byyyyyyeee. New Orleans was a great time but it was time to go home.

We gathered our beads, dumped out the last of the bubbles, popped the unmentionable balloon decorations, and filled up on caffeine and airport burritos to fuel us back to California. Until next time, nola! ✌️

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Beignets, booze, and besties (with no makeup) 🙂 Love ya, Lauren! 

A Washington Wedding

This girl loves a good wedding and this weekend Mike and I attended one that will go down in the books.

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We flew to rainy Washington to celebrate our good friends Morgan and Joe getting hitched. Arriving early (ish) Friday evening and piling on layers to adjust to the low temps, we checked into The Hyatt in Bellevue with just a few minutes to get ready before the welcome party. A French braid and leaving the hotel with wet nails it was!

We met up with other friends who had also flown in from the Bay Area for a quick drink in the hotel lobby and then headed to Wild Ginger to see the soon to be Mr. & Mrs.

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Unbeknownst to us, the restaurant had recently moved locations. We walked right past the new location on our way to the old location, which sucks when it’s cold out and you’re in heels! But we made it there eventually, joking that we all deserved another drink from our added steps.

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With the Bride & Groom!

With the wine flowing and plenty of “hellos” to go around, the night was a great start to a wedding weekend! You might say it was a little too much fun, leaving both me and Mike severely hung over for most of the next morning. Ek. (In retrospect, we realized we just didn’t eat enough the night before, distracted by the good time we were having.)

After finally rolling out of bed around 1pm on Saturday, we walked to Earls for lunch; again bundled up for the cold stroll. It was sprinkling outside and, truth be told, I was happy for a quintessential Washington afternoon. I, of course, ordered the avo toast (any time it’s on the menu, #mine) and Mike got a NOM rice bowl (that I ended up eating half of). After lunch we walked in the rain to get tea at a cute cafe nearby and rid the rest of our hangovers! It was an uneventful afternoon but fun nonetheless.

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Then it was time to get wedding ready! Glam’d up and ready to celebrate Morgan and Joe, the group of us all staying at The Hyatt piled into a Lyft and headed to the venue. By this point, the weather had graduated from a light sprinkle to full blown rain. Washington decided to really show off for all of us out of staters. 😉

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The first person I saw when we entered the venue was the bride! Morgan was gorgeous and chic, standing there in a floor length black dress with a glass of sparkling in her hand. It was great to see her before the wedding and was a refreshing twist on tradition.

After everyone had time to mingle for a bit, Joe parted the crowd to make an aisle for Morgan to walk down. Again, another refreshing, no fuss take on standard wedding practice. Minutes later, Morgan was walking down the aisle – lined with love – in a white, lacy dress that swooped down in the back. She walked to the Imperial March which 1. is 100% Morgan and Joe and 2. (proud of myself for this one) I knew was Star Wars related without anyone telling me.

Morgan and Joe’s vows were personal, not too long, and cavity-causing sweet. The perfect combination! They had their husky by their feet while saying “I do,” and their respective best friends officiating. It was such a special moment to witness. I think everyone there felt honored to be experiencing it with them.

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Next up? Dinner! The menu included a salad and bread to start, vegetarian meatloaf (a paradox), roasted potatoes, an array of vegetables, and pumpkin ravioli. So delicious, and no meat! Love that.

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There was a macaron bar was for dessert and then it was time to dance, snap selfies, and toast to many years of love, laughs, and happiness for Morgan and Joe! My favorite PNW couple.

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Mike and Ben, at it again!

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VEGAS!

Mike turned 33 on Monday and we celebrated the weekend with a group of friends in Las Vegas. I’ve been to Vegas once before about 4 years ago so was due for a trip back; a trip that started luxuriously because we splurged and flew first class. Holy leg room!

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Glorious leg room!!!

We arrived in Vegas around 10:30am and took a Lyft to the Mandalay Bay. Our friends Ben and Sandra had arrived a few days before so we met in their room to drop off our stuff until we could check in. Our other friends Lauren and Ian had also flew in that morning and were already there waiting for us. The gang was together again.

After a few AM tequila shots (#vegas) we headed to the pool. I couldn’t believe how crowded it was! Luckily we had access to a private(ish) pool that didn’t have as many people. We dumped our stuff on a lounge chair, piled on sunscreen, and got in for a dip. Lunch wasn’t that great. We ordered chicken tenders, fries, chips, and guacamole. I tried to get at least one green, healthy food in there with the guac but was still disappointed overall.

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Catching waves 🤙

After some time spent in the wave pool (endless entertainment!), it was time to check in. One of my favorite parts of vacations are hotel rooms. I love them! Mandalay Bay has pretty nice rooms so I was happy to get there and unpack. Then it was a quick shower and NAP TIME! A little sleep was much needed …especially with how late we ended up staying out that night.

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We went off the strip for dinner to a place called Marrakech that Ben has been to a few times. They serve a fixed 6 course fusion of Moroccan, Mediterranean, and Middle Eastern cuisines. The night started with washing our hands in warm rose water and ended with Moroccan mint tea and a decadent banana, chocolate, and walnut dessert; shrimp in garlic butter, plenty of bread, hummus, and belly dancing highlighting in-between. Highly recommended if you’re ever in Vegas!

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NOM

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Mike and the belly dancer!

Stuffed and ready for more drinks, Mike and I spilt from the group and went to Fremont street, in downtown Las Vegas. Our first stop was Commonwealth for a round of cocktails. The bar had a pre-Prohibition feel with its dark ambiance and hidden nooks to sit in.

Something about Vegas made me uneasy at this point in the trip. Call it taking the “sin” in “sin city” too seriously but suddenly I wasn’t having the best time being there. Everything felt cheap and sad to me. I was having a bit of anxiety by the time we stopped at the next bar. We ordered beers and I tried to snap out of it but I was in a funk. I felt bad for being a drag during Mike’s birthday weekend but, luckily, Mike is the sweetest guy I know and took time to chat with me. I felt better after and was excited to meet back up with everyone to continue the night. Mike always makes me feel better.

We stayed at The LINQ for the next few hours; drinking, gambling (or, in my case, watching gambling), taking pictures, and laughing. So.many.good.laughs, especially between myself, Lauren, and Sandra (and a certain purple zebra #insidejoke). And the best part was everyone had won money by the end of the night!

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We left the casino around 3:30am (what!?) and I was like, I NEED FOOD NOW. Sadly, In n’ Out was closed (I was craving their grilled cheese on the secret menu) so we got food at the only place open in our hotel. Mike and I ordered potato skins to go, devoured them in our room, and went to right to bed (after I showered because, even drunk, I need to shower before bed!).

Everyone in our group slept in on Sunday and lazily met for coffee around 11:30am. Mike and I spilt banana bread that was more filling than I thought it would be. We all spilt up again after to do our own things before a fancy dinner that night. Mike and I ended up walking the strip down to The Venetian (a hot, long walk!) for a small lunch and round of $5 margaritas.

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The “Brooklyn Bridge” on our walk down the strip

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After that it was back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The day flies when you sleep through the first half of it! Lauren made reservations at Bardor Brasserie for Mike’s birthday dinner. They had great cocktails (perfect for the birthday boy!), fresh baked bread to start, and really good food. Mike and I started with an endives, walnut, and blue cheese salad and each ordered a fish dish (rhyme) for our mains.

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Next up was BRITNEY, BITCH! Lauren and I walked to Planet Hollywood to see Britney Spears at The AXIS &omg I loved every second of it. (We all know Brit lip syncs but I don’t care!) Of course Lauren and I knew every word to all of her old songs – I have to admit I didn’t know a few newer ones – and danced on booties off. Our feet were killing us by the end of the show but it was worth it.

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The guys and Sandra meet us after for a few last drinks and rounds of gambling. Unfortunately, everyone lost money this time around. And the tram closed before we thought so we walked back through 3 hotels. We were all in bed much earlier than the night before but still managed to stay out until 2am.

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Late night mirror selfies

Everyone left on Monday – Mike’s actual birthday* – expect for the two of us. We woke up around 9am and headed straight for the wave pool to kick of the day. After a few loops around the lazy river, we were back at the hotel getting ready and packing up. Post check-out, we walked to Mandarin Oriental for afternoon tea. Mike loves tea so I thought it would be a perfect birthday present for him. The tea lounge was relaxing but I thought our table was placed a little awkwardly right behind another table, which completely blocked the view of the strip.

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I ordered the Mandarin Orange Blend, a black tea, and it was really good! I’m typically more of a coffee drinker but this tea was bold enough to satisfy me. The food included freshly baked scones, tea sandwiches, and a pretty plate of desserts. Sadly, we didn’t eat a single dessert because we were too full (and, honestly anything sweet didn’t sound appetizing after so much drinking). We took them all to go but they melted quickly in the Vegas heat so we ended up throwing them away. 😦

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After tea, we walked to the Bellagio to check out the conservatory and botanical gardens, a display that seasonally changes. Next we walked through New York-New York for a slice of greasy pizza for me and a hotdog for Mike (hangover food!). Then it was  time to grab our stuff from our hotel and Lyft to the airport.

We recently both got TSA pre-check so security was a breeze. We also had first class status on the way home again. Extra legroom and free drinks, holler!

See ya next time, Vegas!

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Throwback picture of us at the Bellagio conservatory 4 years ago!

*Same as Beyonce’s, y’all