No More Pets!

Those three words were obnoxiously blurted out by me, after tearfully finding a new home for our silly little Senegal parrot who was a part of our tiny family for the past five years. After careful thought and discussion, all involved determined it was best for him to stay in Washington instead of traveling 2,200 miles to a new place, and with a very kind caregiver, where we boarded him while traveling, offering to care for him and provide him a good home, we knew it was the right thing for all.

I have grown to adore animals, but prefer them from a distance. Kind of like kids. I love them, I love being around them, but I also just as easily enjoy handing them back to their parents. I have too much traveling and numerous adventures yet to do, some of it spontaneous. I can’t be worried about the care of a furry little friend while we take off for trips and vacations.

Well, if you’ve ever spoken the “no more pets!” mantra, you know it almost certainly won’t last long. Here I was, minding my own business, getting settled into the new apartment, when one afternoon, I noticed two people looking at something outside my window. That’s strange, I thought. Why are the looking in the bushes? You can guess what comes next. It was a skinny multi-color kitty cat they were looking at. No collar. No owners in sight. She was just living out there. Some people in our building would put food and water out for her, but nobody seemed to know much about her or where she came from.

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I followed suit by putting a towel along with a small animal carrying case on our patio. The cat obviously needs a comfy place to sleep at night, am I right?! At this point in time, I wasn’t working and had all sorts of time to obsess over this adorable stray kitty living in the bushes outside our apartment. I thought about her constantly. I hated leaving the apartment to go do errands, worried I would come home and she’d be gone.

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She obviously immediately pegged me for a sucker, because the moment she came over to the patio and sat on my lap one afternoon, I was done. That night I read her a bedtime story while she politely curled up in her makeshift bed outside on our patio. No less than 18 times a day, I would say to Andrew “what are we going to do about the kitty?” All the pros and cons kept running through my mind. I didn’t want to take on the responsibility, but I knew I couldn’t let her live outside the apartment building forever. Andrew reminded me how unlikely it was that we’d be traveling much over the next year while we get settled into new jobs and rebuild our savings.

Hook, line & sinker.

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^^ practicing her high dive form

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During that time, a friend mentioned how bringing in a pet changes the dynamics of a home for the best. Not only that, but I already felt responsible for her. She needed a home, and I wanted to provide that and take care of her. These things kept playing over and over in my mind, and soon enough we let her come into the apartment and I was buying a litter box, cat food and a collar from Target.

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Bringing her into our home gave me this incredible sense of peace. I had no idea how badly I needed to nurture something. And since my track record with plants is abysmal, why not this sweet kitty that found us? She is so loving, so laid-back. She enjoys sleeping on our laps, and gets playful only at nighttime. Her fur is so soft, she doesn’t shed very much. She must have been a house cat at one point, because she immediately began using the cat box. She was already spayed, which was a relief. We haven’t had to teach her anything. It is like she has always been here.

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It took us weeks to name her, but we finally settled on Buttons. I’m not sure who is happier – us or her. I am so in love with her ((and I’m not the only one around here who feels that way)), and to think years ago I never saw myself having pets, let alone a cat. She is so darn cute when she puts her paw across her eyes while sleeping. I’m officially a crazy cat lady.

Lots of people say you don’t find pets, they find you. I used to give that saying a big fat eye roll. Turns out it’s true, though. She sure did find us. I am so pleased she did.

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Be warned – think long and hard before the next time you blurt out “No more pets!” because you don’t know what could be outside hiding in the bushes waiting to change your mind!

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back in the saddle

Welp, look who neglected their blog for two months! CRAP. Do you ever have that feeling that you are just tired of hearing yourself talk? Maybe you want to curl up in bed and stay there for an entire 24-hour period and not see or talk to anyone because you can’t bear to hear your own voice for a bit? I felt that way about writing. I just didn’t want to hear or read my own words for a little while. And that makes zero sense for someone with their own blog, but here we stand.

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Those feelings, coupled with the fact that I was working on getting settled into a new place and no longer traveling to excitingly new & picturesque places ((except for one of the nearest three Target stores several times a week)). It takes some getting used to again. When I first came up with the name Where Did Mary Go?, in some ways, I chose it because it is adaptable to regular life. I knew my travels were temporary, based on the fact that I do not have an endless supply of savings. I wanted to create a blog that could easily flow with me through the different phases of life I’d face in the coming years. And yet, I noticed myself uninspired to write about the mundane activities of the past two months of getting used to a new place and settling into routine life again.

Can you even believe it is November? Not only that, but Thanksgiving is next week! A sure reminder of getting older is how quickly time really passes. I remember back to August and the first week of September when Andrew and I were planning our move to California and then physically arriving. November was on our radar because that was when his new store would be opening. It seemed so far away back then.

So what have I been up to? I’ve managed to fill my days with various errands, cooking, food shopping, unpacking, organizing, reading a slew of books from my local library, searching job postings and applying to many of them that peaked my interest, lunch dates with a new neighbor friend, working out at the apartment complex fitness center in an effort to lose some of the poundage that I gained while traveling. And most recently, I’ve been cuddling up to a sweet stray cat that we took in ((more on that later)).

As much as I had a burning desire to take a year off and travel, I was also equally desiring to be settled again once it was over. There are certain activities that you take for granted when you have your own place – like going to Trader Joes and being able to buy whatever you want or need because you have your own fridge to come home and put it into. Your own cookware to prepare meals in. It is such a treat to stay in other peoples homes, hotels, or a tent for a while and have meals made for you. It is also a great feeling to be in your own space, and I’ve enjoyed it very much since we set foot into this adorable apartment.

About a month ago, I started training as a holiday cashier at a well-known high end kitchen shop located in the outdoor shopping center across the street. And true to the ways of this mysterious universe we live in, no sooner did I take that job when I started getting calls for various other jobs I’d applied to. One of the calls I received was for a full-time position in purchasing at a district office for three area community colleges. I had to go back into my electronic application and thoroughly re-read it because by then I sort of forgot about what the position involved. I was initially called on a Thursday, had the first interview the following Tuesday, second/final interview Thursday, fingerprints/background check the following Monday, and a conditional job offer Thursday the same week. In two weeks time I went from feeling as though I may wind up with a couple seasonal retail jobs, to beating out 24 other candidates ((!!)) and securing an incredible position in education. I still can’t quite believe it. I don’t know anyone that works there. I simply saw the position posted online, knew I was perfectly qualified for it, applied, nailed the interviews and accepted the offer that followed. What a feeling when other people see how much you have to offer, and want you on their team. I really wanted the job, and they’ve since explained to me my enthusiasm showed during the interview process.

Since I’ve rapidly gone from zero jobs to two, the next couple of months should be mostly a blur of learning both jobs, grumbling at the morning alarm clock, and feeling the stimulation of being back to work. I’m ready and I’m excited.

I started the full-time job just this week, and in my opinion it’s going quite well after just a couple of days. I have so much to learn, and I want to devour every bit of information I can get my hands and ears and eyes on. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work in the public sector which is brand new to me, but doing a job I have experience in, and doing it to the highest level of my ability.

These past two weeks I’ve been reflecting on the fact that Andrew and I took such a huge risk last summer, leaving behind cushy jobs in this economy. But I don’t regret it for one minute. It was precisely what I wanted at that point in time. And luckily we have now truly landed on our feet, in the warm southern California sunshine ((sorry Buffalo and the entire USA putting up with freezing temps right now)). Life is good.

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Settling in at Camp Cucamonga

Today was one of those days where something marvelous happened at every turn. The weather was incredible – a cool 80~something after a heat wave that saw temps above 100F. It was getting late in the evening, and I was thinking “oh I will just write a new blog post this weekend,” but quickly snapped out of it and sat down at the computer & began to type because I want to remember this day vividly.

As you might imagine, things have been quite busy around here. Busy doing something that feels vaguely familiar but strange at the same time…settling into a new home. After I flew into Southern California, Andrew and I quickly hit the pavement in search of a place to live. After day one, we were feeling frustrated. Each of the six places we toured had potential, but there was just something holding us back from filling out a rental application for any of them. That frustration coupled with being in a completely new place, Andrew being back to work ((albeit training)), sent both of us on a roller coaster ride of emotions.

What if we don’t find a place we love? What if I don’t find a job? Can we afford any of these places on one salary for a while? Will we be able to manage life here with just one car? All these questions and more were crushing my soul. We jumped into this decision feet first, and started to wonder if it was right.

Thinking back to that poignant first weekend makes me appreciate how far we’ve come in just a couple of weeks. Andrew and I had some deep conversations about the situation and about our new life here. We ventured back out to look at another apartment, this time in Rancho Cucamonga; immediately fell in love with everything about the apartment and the complex, signed a lease and had the keys by Monday. Since then, virtually everything has fallen into place so poetically. I did some painting in the apartment while Andrew spent three days in Portland for work. If you could have seen me in this apartment on my own for three days/nights, you would have thought a crazy person moved in. All I had here with me was four pieces of luggage, a twin air mattress, a pillow and my long gray wool winter coat for a blanket. And of course the painting supplies, like a ladder, rollers, drop cloth, blue tape. Thank goodness for Spotify – it kept me company that first partial week in an empty apartment.

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^^ this was a common scene the first days in SoCal

Later that week, Andrew and I met up in Seattle to get his car and our belongings out of storage and make the West Coast road trip. Can you believe it is 2,200 miles between Redmond/Seattle area and Rancho Cucamonga?! We basically went from the top left corner of the USA to the bottom left corner. Luckily, we didn’t really have anything to rush down to California right away for, so we decided we would split up the trip over 3 days. Andrew drove the 16′ Penske truck containing our life’s possessions, and I drove his hurse car. It was a gorgeous drive with no real issues. We arrived at the apartment this past Sunday afternoon to 104F temps. Perfect for unloading a moving truck! Good thing we have a garage, because apart from the furniture, we stacked everything into it in about 2 hours time. Ever since, we’ve been unpacking, decorating, and naturally getting acquainted with all of this crap we put in storage for a year. By the way, I’m so happy to see my bicycle again!

Practically every day this week, we took a break from unpacking ((and working in Andrew’s case)) and ventured out to get groceries or visit Target 16 times. It seemed we would always notice something new, and when we would return to this little one-bedroom apartment of ours, we’d have huge smiles on our faces because it is just so dang cute here. Have I mentioned we have a dishwasher?! That alone is pretty thrilling. Andrew thinks this is the coolest apartment in which we’ve ever lived together, and I have to agree. Every new day has brought a bit more happiness and pleasure for our new life here.

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^^ we live mere blocks away from THE MOTHER ROAD

This morning I woke up intending to meet up with someone in LA for a hike, but the thought of getting back in the car for a three-hour round trip was too much. OK and also I may or may not be terrified to drive on the California freeways. Instead I began puttering around on my phone, looking for a deal on towels I want from Target. This led me to discover their Cartwheel app. OH MY GOSH MY FELLOW TARGET ENTHUSIASTS – DO YOU HAVE THIS APP?? WHY HASN’T ANYONE TOLD ME ABOUT THIS APP?! It is a game changer. Check it out for yourself if you shop there regularly. I did find a deal for the towels, and just when I thought it was all downhill from there, the day continued to shine brightly.

We walked to the local library to get ourselves that all-important library card, which we put to immediate use finding three books to check out between the two of us. It is a gorgeous new building filled not only with books and media, but lots of chairs, reading nooks and computers.

There is a Friday farmer’s market at the outdoor shopping center, across the street from our complex and also very close to the library. The juiciest freshly picked Valencia oranges; gorgeous red beets; roasted corn with about a billion different toppings. It was a tiny market compared to what I’m used to, but I fell hard for it nonetheless. We came away with some fruits and veg, vowing to be frequent customers as much as our schedules will allow. Later in the day, we stopped into a nearby grocery shop where an entire section was devoted to British imports. Someone was very excited about those fully stocked shelves, among all the other cool food items carried.

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These things that made my day so enthralling may seem incredibly simple, but when you are in a new place, the most basic pleasures can make a world of difference. It is certainly a new lifestyle to get used to. I still need to find a job. We wish our families were here to see our surroundings. We have so much more ground to explore. But getting settled into our little apartment is bringing us both such joy. We are having positive experiences at every turn and finding all we need and more, in Rancho Cucamonga & the surrounding neighborhoods, and that is incredibly gratifying in these early moments.

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what did mary read? hint: it was borrowed from a library

Everyone has a type of books they gravitate towards, and thus recommending books can be a tricky situation. I know this because I’ve only taken recommendations seriously from a small number of trustworthy individuals and one reputable news & information source ((NPR)). But here’s the thing – these books I am about to mention must be shared. They each rocked my world in a way that forces me to feel like I must tell people about them.

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Yes, summer is winding down and precious reading moments by the pool or beach are less frequent or non-existent. I urge you to tuck these titles away for when you need to be moved by a great read. And guess what? You don’t even have to spend any of your hard earned money on them. You should be saving that money for travels, anyways! Have I taught you anything? I can’t even recall the last book I purchased. ((Oh wait, yes I do, it was a cookbook though, which is totally acceptable))

You see, there are these magical places called libraries scattered all over much of the developed world. Everyone who pays taxes pitches in and any nearby resident can go get a free library card and check out books, dvds, cds, use computers equipped with internet. No strings attached. You get to borrow the media for a certain amount of time, and you return it for the next patron to borrow. Most libraries today have an online catalogue, which means you can log into your account and place holds on books you’d like to read. When it comes your turn to borrow, you get a notification from the library that the item is ready for you. They do the transfer for you if the book is previously in another location! How convenient is that?! Not to mention sometimes, libraries are the grandest, most alluring buildings in a city.

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^^ no wonder Carrie Bradshaw wanted to get married at the New York Public Library. Look at this place!

When I first moved to Seattle, I would frequent the Seattle Public Library’s central branch to get my fix of magazines that I was too frugal to throw my precious money at. I would sit near a window browsing my magazines while listening to music and watching the city pass by. As a kid, I would walk down to my local library and check out Babysitters Club books, devour them and then return for another. In England while with Andrew’s parents and in North Carolina while with my mom, I made use of both the local libraries. I can’t imagine not having them available to me during this year because I wouldn’t have been fortunate enough to read the below selections.

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Wild by Cheryl Strayed
Just imagine a solo female in her 20s embarking on a several month long hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from Southern California to the WA/OR border. At first, I thought ok, I am interested to read about her story and then obviously I will be scared into thinking I could ever sleep in a tent on my own for a night let alone hike a serious trail week after week. I was wrong. I was so amped up at the last page, I felt like I could do anything after reading this book. It is a beautiful story of Cheryl’s personal and physical journey and I am so glad she shared it this well-rounded book.

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The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
I should first mention that if Elizabeth Gilbert rewrote the phone book, I’d be all over it like a crazy person, and immediately raving about it. She is my favorite modern author, and if you read and loved Eat Pray Love or Committed like I did, you’ll feel me on this. I took The Signature of All Things to France with me when I went in January. We were there a week and I had finished all 500 pages by day 5. Any chance I got, I was seated next to the space heater with my nose in the book waiting to see what happens with each turn of the page. The story is about a female botanist in the 19th century who takes you with her on a spiritual and educational ride.

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The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
No matter how you grew up, this book has you thinking you were raised in royalty. Jeanette lays it all out there in this moving memoir – her unbelievable life growing up in poverty, dysfunction, and constant uprooting. This book is a poignant reminder to be grateful in the ordinary and to find peace and lessons in the chaos, both of which I am tasking myself to do more of.

If you are really desperate for a temporary adventure of the moving picture type, check out The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Andrew and I rented it from RedBox recently, and sat there staring at the television after the credits finished, digesting what we had just experienced, and yes tears were rolling down my cheek of course. I had no idea Ben Stiller could deliver such an excruciating performance. The cinematography and the fact that the majority of filming took place in Iceland further had me falling in love with this film. I have no idea why more people aren’t taking about this film and why it for low ratings/reviews. It is absolutely brilliant in every way.

Even if it is only for a month, I urge you to check out your local library and forego purchasing physical books / ebooks / magazines. Give it a try and save that precious money for a day or weekend trip somewhere as a treat. Libraries are cool, you guys, trust me on this!

What are you reading?

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we are moving to…

Time to let you all in on some breaking news. A new beginnings type of adventure is about to commence. Today, I am boarding a plane to an unfamiliar destination. Well, boarding three planes to be exact, so my eardrums should be exploding entirely by the third runway touchdown. It isn’t Boston or Richmond or Portland I am headed for. It isn’t even Seattle. Nope, this new destination may surprise you ((as it did us)). We are moving to…

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……Southern California.

Yes, that is, two people who have only known rainy cold seasons mixed with a few weeks of warm days throughout the year for the past decade-plus ((or our entire lives maybe?)) will now be living, working and adventuring where the average high in the month of January is 68 degrees F ((20 degrees C)). This golden summer suntan I have achieved is about to become permanent. We said we wanted somewhere different and we are in for it.

Adventure called in the form of Andrew’s former boss at Columbia literally picking up the phone and calling him to ask if he would be interested in opening and running a brand new store in the city of Ontario. We did some research on the internets, since we had never been to that area, and thought it seemed like a decent spot at which to live and work. Close proximity to places like San Diego, Joshua Tree NP, Palm Springs, Vegas, Arizona, Death Valley, Disneyland, among countless other places, unquestionably won us over. As well as avocados. And citrus fruits. But mostly avocados.

At the start of this year-long endeavor, I made it known that I missed our families and was ready to move away from Seattle. So it goes without saying it will be tough to be far away from everyone again. But that was the beauty of this past year. We spent so much time with everyone, getting to know each other’s families a bit better & having priceless time with our nine nieces and nephews; reconnecting with extended family. That cherished time we’ve had with everyone does make it easier to say goodbye for now, as backwards as that may sound.

This past year away from normal life has been refreshing, and we are both ready to be settled again. It is time to find a place of our own, get our belongings, see money deposited into our bank accounts instead of strictly being withdrawn.

I have no idea where we will live – that is what I/we are determined to sort out in the coming days. Andrew arrived in SoCal Sunday night and excitedly/reluctantly began work on Monday the 1st. When we spoke his first night there, we both had that “holy shit, batman” realization pause that this is actually happening. We are moving to a new place that neither of us have ever been to. Prior to that, the euphoria of one of us having a job and our plans of settling down finally coming together took over and we didn’t really have time to be terrified or stressed out. I guess that is what right now is for!

We are ready for friends and family to come visit us for a change, and we are confident Southern California is an appealing destination. So get planning your visit! We are anxious to reciprocate on the love and hospitality shown to us during this past year.

After two weeks of Andrew’s work re-training in California and Oregon, he and I will be reuniting in Seattle to efficiently arrange our belongings into a moving truck and hitting the road on an 18+ hour journey to unpack and settle in. Yay for another road trip down the west coast!

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Will we live in Southern California forever? Not likely. But who really knows? If I’ve learned one thing in my ripe 32.5 years of life on Earth, it is that everything is temporary. We made the decision to give California a shot, and we’re going for it. I do know that living in a warm climate certainly makes all these cold weather trips which we gravitate towards seem more appropriate!

The year-long adventure has officially concluded. A new adventure begins, and I plan to keep blogging about it. Goodness knows I will have a lot of material to fuel new posts in the coming weeks!

Golden State, here I come.

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Best of the USA Road Trip

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I began tabulating this road trip post months ago, but never finished it until now. And fittingly, it is being published & shared on the exact one year anniversary of when Andrew and I set off in my little Honda Civic, bidding farewell to all we knew from our life in Seattle and driving all the way to New York State.

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Road tripping across the US with my partner-in-adventure was absolutely incredible. And to think it wasn’t even in our original plan! Seeing the vast areas of America out the windows of a car can be so mesmerizing. From the evergreen-filled northwest to the cliffs along the pacific coast highway, the desserts of the southwest to the swamps of Louisiana and the islands up and down the east coast – this country is meant to be experienced from the road at any chance. If you are anything like me, you will never regret the chance to hit the road.

Now that I’ve had plenty of time to reflect, what’s a big ol’ road trip without documenting the best of the best?! Here are my picks…

Best city to get around (walking/public transportation) For me, it would have been NYC if it wasn’t for that silly crosstown bother. Boston is small enough to walk from nearly any point in the city to another, with the option of an easily navigable subway called the T, and therefore feels like a major metropolitan area you can get around with the most ease.

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Best burger Andrew’s all-time favorite food is plain bacon cheeseburgers with a bottle of ketchup, so we hit up A LOT of burger places across the country.
For my favorites, I have to break it down…
Best veggie burger was from Burger Fi in NYC’s Upper East Side.
Best beef burger was homemade and grilled at my aunt Lynne & uncle Bob’s home in New York. I still think about that perfectly juicy burger, topped with a toasty bun and cooked with love!
And there’s no shock that my top fast food burger nod goes to In-N-Out. If you’ve experienced a meal at this institution, you understand exactly how this place lives up to the hype.

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^^ disclaimer: not the veggie burger

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^^ Yassssssss

Best French macaron Hands down, Bakery Lorraine in San Antonio. The soft but crisp meringue biscuits perfectly sandwiched a smooth, velvety center – even more flavorful if you can wait for the macarons to come to room temp.

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Best dessert/sweet snack I am gluttonously unable to pick just one here.
The big fat donut creations at Gourdoughs in Austin, Texas are mind-blowing and made-to-order. These donuts melt in your mouth, and the flavor offerings on their menu are carefully selected combinations, of which surely everyone can find at least one that suits their sweet tooth.
My other favorite sweet dish was Magnolia Bakery’s banana pudding. Not sickeningly sweet, as some pudding desserts can be. Instead, it was a delicious combination of soft vanilla wafers, creamy pudding and fresh bananas. My NYC girl Angela told me to skip the cupcakes and head for the banana pudding and thank goodness I took her advice!

Best pizza Of course there are categories here because, well let’s be honest, not all pizza is created equal.
Best plain cheese pizza is my forever my hometown West Winfield’s NY Pizza joint on Main Street. Although it is not as incredible as it was when I was younger, it is still doughy, with the right amount of delicious red sauce, loads of fresh mozzarella cheese and baked to golden perfection.
Best topping pizza was Ciro’s Pizza in Pacific Beach, California. Their huge slices are topped with everything from bbq chicken to pineapple, ham and bacon, to five cheese. Thin and crispy, Ciro’s pizza was ideal any time of day or night and had us returning several times during our stay in Pacific Beach.
Best wood fired pizza was surprisingly devoured in New Orleans! Arriving late at night with an Austin hangover, we were so ready to veg in our gorgeous hotel room and catch up on Breaking Bad. We searched online & found a nearby Domenica, and ordered some pizzas to go. They didn’t last long and were so tasty we went back for more before departing Nola.

Best BBQ Have to go with Dino BBQ. I can’t stray from my family’s favorite NY bbq institution. Their original slather sauce and maple whipped sweet potato side dish complemented the coleslaw-topped pulled pork so well.

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Best drink My favorite liquor drink was Raspy Mule at Bare Back Grill in Pacific Beach. Nothing better than a fruity refreshing drink on a warm beachy day. Muddled fresh mint and raspberries with a splash of good vodka make a winning combination in my book.
My favorite wine was Phileo at Barboursville Winery in Virginia. Fresh, fruity and sweet, while not being too syrupy. Phileo can be perfectly paired with cheese and nibbles after a winery tour and tasting!
((And why even bother with a non-alcoholic favorite, am I right?))

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Best shopping There is no better shopping than in NYC. You can find just about anything imaginable in the shops of NYC. I even spotted a pop-up Halloween costume shop for dogs! High end to secondhand bargain shops scatter the five boroughs that make up NYC. Good thing our days were limited in the Big Apple, otherwise my hubs would have spent all our travel budget on a new wardrobe!

Best beach While I fell in love with the Pacific Beach neighborhood as a vacation spot, my ‘best of’ award goes to the beaches surrounding Bald Head Island in North Carolina. Soft sand leads you to the warm ocean water. The beaches were incredibly clean and quiet since it was the off season, but I would imagine that even during high season these beaches are hard to beat.

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Best day trip I almost went with Napa wine country, but then realized everybody needs more than just one single day in Napa. So with that said, Bald Head Island wins again here! Taking a day trip to BHI reminds you of how important the simple things in life are. Keep your electronics behind; rent a bike and cruise around the island; have a picnic lunch; sunbathe on the beaches and have a dip in the ocean water before a return ferry ride back to the mainland. Such a special little parcel of land off the coast of southern North Carolina.

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Best fun activity my warm weather favorite was Barton Springs Pool in Austin. The water so refreshingly cool and enjoyable once you get past the slimy rocks on the bottom. Pack a picnic lunch and watch the day go by.

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Best US state border sign In a country full of boring state border welcome signs, Arizona is my favorite with that giant star and bright sun rays motif. It just makes my feel so happy to be crossing the border into the Grand Canyon state! Side note: I think each of the states should do an artwork contest open to the public, select a winner and then update those old boring existing signs. Right?

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Best Graffiti hands down Richmond VA, and I am sure you’ve seen the photos all over my instagram, twitter, facebook feeds to prove it. The tasteful graffiti in Richmond gives the city such a fresh hip artsy vibe and I cannot imagine it any other way.

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Even after a two and a half month trip across the country, there is so much more to see, and last year’s experience only got me further amped up about future time on the road. My list of must-see places like Salt Lake City, the national parks of Montana, and a return to the Grand Canyon only grows with time. Road trips are the most intimate & best times spent with loved ones. Who’s ready for another road trip?

What destinations in the US are your favorite places to see by car?

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why I changed my diet for a year of travels

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Prior to this past year’s personal sabbatical, I had lived the previous few years on a diet of mostly plant-based foods and avoided meat, eggs and dairy. Eager to see if it gave me more energy and a better overall feeling in my personal health, I jumped right into this way of eating in 2010, enjoyed trying new foods, old foods new ways, and loved scouring the internet for varieties of recipes to try at home.

As September 1, 2013 approached, I made a conscious decision that I would forego this type of diet for my travels. It wasn’t so much that I was ready to give up that lifestyle for my old carnivorous ways as it was me wanting to eat what I wanted in places that I wanted. We would be in a car, tent, hotels, other people’s homes for an entire year, and I wanted things to be simple. I didn’t want to create difficulty for me or anyone else worried about what I would/could eat or not eat.

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In-N-Out burgers in California // barbecue in Texas // cheese in England & France // quiche // bratwurst in Germany // Sunday roast at the pub in England // Belmont pizza in Richmond // french macarons everywhere

I wanted to eat all of these things and not hold back from enjoying the foods I would desire during my travels. Leading up to my departure from Seattle, I wondered how I would feel about eating things that I avoided the previous few years? How would my body handle it? Would it be difficult?

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The answer is certainly in the billion pounds 12 pounds I’ve gained over the past year! Oops. Apart from the day of being in a horribly uncomfortable food coma after a heavy meal at The Salt Lick in Texas, it has felt completely natural to break free of any rules, and I never looked back or felt much guilt about what I’ve eaten. Honestly I’ve always eaten what I wanted, it just happened to be more specific the years I was avoiding animal products.

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^^ this ham and cheese toasty heavenly pocket warmed my heart and soul on a cold December day in Berlin

If you know me, you know food is really my thing in so many ways. It is my addiction, my obsession, my passion. Even though I am pretty much a disaster in the kitchen, I still love cooking for people who appreciate a good meal. I love teaching myself how to chop veggies, prepare new things, find my own shortcuts and substitutions for recipes. I love shopping for food at the grocery stores, and I love seeing amazing photographs of food as art on social media. Everything about beautiful and delicious food appeals to each of my senses.

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^^ I am not prepared to think about the past year occurring without this sticky toffee pudding

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I have eaten some truly delightful meals over the course of the year. Many of them while being a guest in the homes of family and friends. Man, can our friends and families cook some serious meals! And family in the UK – their meals and presentation put anything I know or do to shame and therefore I will from this point forward be forever honing my domestic skills and etiquette. I bow down to them! ((by the way, I am super sophisticated & stuff because I know how to eat with a fork AND knife after so much time spent in the UK and now want to force everyone else I know to use their knife instead of their fork to cut food)).

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My preferences haven’t changed much. I still prefer healthy meals put together from fresh whole food ingredients. I prefer veggie to meat choices a lot of the time because vegetables in any form are my favorite. But at the same time, from this experience of ‘no rules’ I have a new outlook on what the next year and beyond will look like. I no longer want to label myself based on what I am or am not eating. I want to eat what my mind and body desire. I want to be healthy and feel energized and cook with quality ingredients. I want to avoid processed foods as much as possible, and especially avoid anything with high fructose corn syrup in it. I hate that stuff. I could go on for days about how detrimental it is to our health is in this country, but I’d digress.

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The past few years for me have been quite the interesting evolution of diet. I grew up on so many processed foods like Fluffernutter, Kraft mac & cheese, and Banquet fried chicken in a box, then lived on what was cheap & easy to prepare during college and well into my 20s ((insert Ramen noodle jokes here)). Living in the PNW opened a whole new world of how foods should really taste and I do miss that about living there. I plan to continue to nurture my own personal evolution of preferences and educate myself about new foods and their benefits. I am anxious to be back in a kitchen of my own. Like over the past year, I plan to eat what appeals to me ((but hopefully burn it off on a more frequent basis!)) and not just what follows the rules of a certain diet, fad or label. So many unforeseen lessons starting to seep out from this year off, eh?

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^^ don’t worry my dear garlic, my undying love for you has never wavered

Do you stick to a certain way of eating when you are traveling, or do you institute a ‘no rules’ clause?

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one year later!

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Saturday, July 26 marked one year since my last day in the working world. It was also that same time one year ago in which I started this little blog. I couldn’t help but feel somewhat sentimental, and therefore reflective on such milestones.

It seems we always want what we don’t have. When I was working, I wanted so badly to quit and travel. I wanted to leave Seattle for a while, and experience settling in a new city. When I am away from Seattle, I miss it. Some days when I am sitting around watching the day slip away, I wish I was working.

I think no matter how stressful a job can be, there is something about the daily routine of it, the mental stimulation and challenges, the banter and camaraderie between co-workers that we humans thrive on.

As much as I have relished in the fact that I was able to live off savings without any income for a whole year, I am not wired to do this unemployed thing for very long. Besides watching television, cooking/eating, going for walks, refreshing my twitter and instagram feeds, I don’t have any true hobbies. Basically, I need a life, and by life I mean I need to go back to work. But if you’ve ever tried to find a new job, you know it is incredibly difficult and a constant emotional roller-coaster of finding exactly what you want, applying, and then never hearing from the company. Ah well, I will keep plugging along. Anyone out there want to hire me??!!

Whomever said ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ probably took a year off to travel. This past year has flown by me like no other. I have gotten out of this blog what I have put into it, and although there are things I sometimes think I could have done differently, i.e. post more content, I am so pleased with the way I chose to chronicle my year of adventures.

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^^ one of my favorite memories of the USA road trip was attempting ((and failing)) to ride a mechanical bull in Austin

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^^ Richmond rivals London with the best graffiti that we saw

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^^ freezing our bums off in Boston and falling in love with the city anyways

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^^ one of my favorite photos of the entire year, taken by Andrew of course!

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^^ visiting Anfield, at last

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^^ how breathtaking is Rocamadour in France?

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^^ seeing this big kid at home on Christmas was for sure a highlight

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^^ possibly the best thing I ate all year, from L’As du Fallafel in Paris. Drooooooooool x 100.

Some fun data from the past year…

number of posts: 65 ((including one not yet published that I swear I will get around to finishing one of these days))

number of countries who have visited my site: people in 63 different countries have come across my blog, and that stat alone completely blows my mind

most popular post: Change of Plans – rather than where I went, ironically, my post about unexpectedly coming back to the states in February was the most popular.

most popular photo on instagram: with 41 likes, this photo of the Eiffel Tower happens to be one of my favorites, too! I always loved that gorgeous structure printed on various trinkets, but seeing it in person was absolutely one of the top highlights of the past year for me.

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number of weddings attended: 2 ((one of Andrew’s friends was married in January in Lewes, UK and the other was a very special April day in London spent celebrating the formal union of Andrew’s bro Alex and his bride Rosie))

number of US states visited: 20 plus the District of Columbia ((WA, OR, CA, AZ, NM, TX, LA, MS, AL, GA, SC, NC, VA, MD, PA, NY, MA, WV, KY, TN))

number of countries visited: 6 ((USA, Canada, Iceland, England, Germany, France))

number of airports visited: 9, plus 2 for pickups ((BOS, KEF, LHR, SXF, LTN, SEN, CLT, JFK, RDU + ILM & RIC for pickups))

One of these days, I will add up the total miles traveled over the past year. I know the road trip across the states was 7,341 miles, but it would take some figuring to add up all the rest including flights. And how about the amount of beds I’ve slept in? I lost track sometime last year after 21, but it would be fun to tally up that stat as well.

In some ways, I am more eager than ever to add to all these stats. I want to go everywhere; see everything. First, though, we need to replenish our bank accounts. And perhaps the majority of future adventures will be the standard 1 – 2 week allotments. But who knows, an extended trip may be in the cards again sometime in the future now that we’ve done it once.

I cannot thank you readers/friends/family enough for following along with me on this journey ((which doesn’t seem to be ending, btw!)). Mostly I wanted this site to be my way of keeping a journal throughout this year, but your patronage and support has been the icing on the cake. Today I am sending much gratitude your way!

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July Update

Uh, hi. Hello. Were you wondering where Mary went? I guess I could say I lost my keyboard or busted my iPad or fell off the face of the earth. But none of those things actually happened. I was just taking a break while in New York. Sometimes I lack that little bit of inspiration and motivation to update my blog, and I noticed feeling that way especially when I was back in my hometown. Everything there feels so familiar, which is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable, it just isn’t a new experience that I want to run home and hop on my tablet for. And voila, days turn into weeks and then a whole month passes me by.

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I spent exactly one month in New York staying with my sister and also with some of my friends. It was really special to spend time with everyone back home – my dad, my sister and her family, my aunts & uncle, my best girlfriends and their kiddos. Since I arrived there mid-June, I was able to attend the end-of-the-year school activities. I was able to celebrate at a baby shower for a good friend, a 10th birthday pool party for my niece, cheered at softball games, soccer games, enjoyed fresh air on motorcycle rides with my dad, and watched many World Cup games on the television. There was also a lot of sunning myself out by the pool at my sister’s, which has given me quite the enviable suntan. There were several day trips to nearby places like Cooperstown, Old Forge, and too many visits to local ice cream establishments. There is just something about summer in upstate NY that makes me crave soft vanilla or twist ice cream cones, covered in sugary chocolate sprinkles. Why don’t they have soft ice cream like that on the west coast?!

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Andrew has been in Seattle since May 22, which means we are coming up on two months apart. After 10 months of the two of us being together almost every day, being separated isn’t ideal, nor is it the easiest, but he had some job prospects that he wanted to pursue. I have missed having him around, that goes without saying, but I am glad he is out there with his bff, playing soccer and keeping busy with projects, job interviews, the World Cup and Sounders action. He even checked on our old house the other day, curious to see what the latest status was. Perhaps you’re interested to know that it is currently fenced off and being used for SWAT team training. Glad it’s being put to good use before it gets torn down. I think? And have I mentioned how much I love iMessage, FaceTime and Skype? Thank goodness for those things which keep Andrew and I in regular contact with each other.

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^^ chatting with Andrew via FaceTime while kitty is all up in my face

From all the jobs I have applied to so far, I have only been rewarded with one very brief phone interview which was then followed by a standard rejection email. Blah. I wrote a little bit about the ups and downs of life after the travel ends, with my abundance of mixed emotions about the uncertainty of how long we would be apart and without jobs and a home. Just as I was starting to get over that hump, wouldn’t you know Andrew gets an email from a company who wants to fly him to the east coast for a 2nd interview. A reminder, I suppose, to trust things will come together, and to take it one day at a time.

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^^ sunset over Otsego Lake in Cooperstown

As I was planning a return to my mom’s home in North Carolina after time in New York, my cousin invited me to come to Virginia to stay & help her with her 11-month old for a while following a minor surgery. She wouldn’t be able to lift the baby for 2 weeks, and since I am a registered baby hog, I naturally leapt at the chance.

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^^ I wasn’t about to say no to that face

I can’t stop expressing my admiration and sincere gratefulness to have so many family members willing to provide me with a bed, meals, alcohol, conversation, activities, love. I am so lucky.

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^^ trying to take an acceptable selfie with my aunt was a comical highlight

I will be in Virginia for a couple of weeks, and then presumably I will head back to my mom’s where I will continue the job hunt. Things are so uncertain and could change on a dime, so I really am just planning one day at a time. I really adore Virginia, so I am not the least bit sad to be here right now! I hope one of these companies will see Andrew’s incredible worth & potential, and offer him a position so I can follow suit and so we can get settled. Although there is no real news to pass along, we are on the verge of big things – I just know it. Stick around!

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Back in New York State

The beauty of feeling like I need a change of scenery in my life right now is that I can make it happen without too much difficulty. Sure I disliked departing the warm North Carolina sunshine, but I knew it was time to change venues and come spend time with my family and friends in New York.

Last week went by in a flash. My cousin Melissa and her happy-as-a-clam 10-month old came to visit my mom and I for a few days. We had so much fun hogging the baby, watching old home movies, and showing them around Old Salem and Mount Airy. After they departed, it was time to pack my bags not for the west coast, but for a road trip up the other coast.

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^^ I mean, I dare you to try and resist this little lady

Trust me when I tell you my parents know a lot of people. Even though I am from a very small town in upstate NY, it never stops blowing my mind just how many people we know who are spread out across the East Coast and therefore driving up and down the coast from time to time. A couple of weeks ago my mom and I were brainstorming a plan to get me up to New York. My mom’s eyes opened wide when a lightbulb went off in her brain that family friends would be in nearby Virginia visiting their grandkids, and therefore driving back to NY afterwards. We phoned them up, asked a favor, and on Saturday I was in the back seat with their sweet dog Gracie, traveling through VA, WV, MD, PA and finally NY. Bam. That was easy.

Things came together so quickly that I didn’t really reach out to let people know I would be arriving back in NY, apart from my dad and sister. Despite that, I have already had a fantastic bbq lunch with two aunts, an uncle and three cousins who were in town for the weekend. I got to see my niece play soccer ((and score a hat trick!)), and celebrate Father’s Day with my dad. And by celebrate I mean break his chops as much as possible. I also ran into three girls from high school, whom I haven’t seen since I graduated oh so long ago, and told me they loved following my blog which of course made my day.

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^^ cousin time is the best. one of them even joined in via facetime!

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I get to see my best girlfriends this coming weekend, which is sure to be filled with enough laughs and shenanigans to make my stomach sore for days. Other plans with family and friends will certainly be added to the agenda while here. I can’t wait to play soccer in the side yard and swim in the pool with my nieces and nephew. Of course I will continue to apply for jobs and hold out hope that someone will contact me to set up an interview. I shall stay until the wind changes, or maybe until I arrange a ride back to North Carolina.

I am still terribly missing my husband, but I will relish in some me time, knowing we will soon be reunited. The adventure continues…stay tuned!

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^^ father’s day with sister & my dear old dad

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