Challah-Day Party

8 Dec

Victoria, Bel (Helen), and I decided to throw a themed party after Helen and I had attended Eva’s incredibly well-done Harry Potter House Cup party this summer. Even now, months after the party, Helen and I always talk about how Eva nailed it with a smashingly good and wickedly British night we won’t soon forget. Inspired and excited, we wanted to throw a party with a theme we could really get behind. There were loads of contenders in the running that were silly and fun but we wanted a theme we felt personally connected to. Eventually we had the perfect idea: Let’s throw a Hanukkah party. Let’s throw a Chanukah party. As long as we don’t have to agree on how to spell it.

In the dreamflat, we believe strongly in being and celebrating who you are. And who we are is a proud Jew and a lesbian couple who are proud of their proud Jew!

Once we knew we had the right idea, we were ready to lean all the way in. We picked December 8th as the date, Night 7 (aka the only Saturday) of Hanukkah 2018. Thanks, theme, for lending yourself so beautifully to picking a date. The brainstorming started a month in advance while Bel was in Ireland for her cousin’s wedding. Victoria and I had a 5-hour long meeting (our first solo hangout <3) to finalize the guest list and break down every possible pun and game idea we could come up with. Bel and I had learned at our housewarming/birthday party of 2017 exactly how many people cannot fit in our wee dream home. We opted to keep an intimate guest list of people we knew would come ready to mingle, play silly games, learn, and lean in HARD to a theme. People who were generally down to clown.

We walked away from our first meeting with tons of ideas, excited about how ready the team was to commit to the theme. #TEAMTHEME With the general idea of the party in mind and the guest list ready to go, we sent out our invitations:

 

 

 

We were all a-bustle with the excitement of the invitations having gone out! Bel was back from Ireland exactly one week before the party and like the passenger on a very exciting road trip, we had LOTS of jobs to do. Our first order of business is always food. #teamthemeishungry How can we even think about any other details until we know what we’re going to be eating? We decided this party would have a Bagel Bar (a bar full of bagels). We brainstormed lots of fun toppings: Schmear, onions, tomatoes, locks, capers, even sweet toppings for our party goers who like to live on the edge. Victoria was happy to take this on as her job. #blessup

Our drink of choice? Manischewitz wine, of course! (In addition to lots of other wine options and two coolers full of beer. All of the beer was Michelob Ultra except 8 bonus beers — 4 in each cooler — one for each night of Hanukkah.)

 

Bagel Bar: A Bar full of bagels

 

Guilt-free but not Gelt-free

 

Next up was agreeing on the games and the order. We came at the games with all our training from Arcade Comedy Theater: These games needed a host and the host needed to be prepared. Games were combined to create a better flow of the evening and we decided to each host one main game and one mini game. We loved how fair that felt. We did run-throughs of the games, the order of the night, and our hosting because we are fun and normal and this is how parties are thrown, right? RIGHT??

We put up the Christmas tree but in the corner because, COOL IT, Christmas, this is Hanukkah’s party!

 

 

While the party prep was happening, Hanukkah began! We kicked off the first night in the dream flat with this beautiful, handmade menorah I picked up at a Kibbutz when I was in Israel with my parents. Because this menorah is handmade, the candle holders are not exactly uniform in diameter and it’s hard to find candles that fit. During our festival of lights in 2017, we used candles that were too small and it was truly a fire hazard. Even after measuring the diameter before ordering specialty candles, they were were slightly too big. We found ourselves taxed #waxed with a job, shaving the ends of each candle to fit or using our other menorah and getting new candles. After much deliberation, we finally submitted to using the other menorah. After all, we were about to have a house full of loved ones drinking Manischewitz and an open flame (times 8) in the living room. Better safe than on fire.

 

 

Shaving down two candles for the first night of Hanukkah seemed much more doable and was well worth it to use this GORGEOUS menorah.

The night before the party, all(iday) systems were GO! In addition to last minute jobs BEING assigned, we had to do a dress rehearsal of all of our games, PROPS INCLUDED. Just normal people doing normal things. We spent the night making dough for our Challah braiding competition. Victoria, our hero, came to the house with ACTIVE YEAST! You know, normal party host stuff. #madprops

 

 

Victoria made most of the loaves in our kitchen without many baking supplies. Each loaf called for a cup of water but we only had a ¼ and a ⅓ cup measuring tool. Always thinking, Helen put 3 ⅓ cups into a red solo cup and drew a line at the top of the water. “This would really work better if we hadn’t used the last clear cup to sample the Manischewitz.” Even without the proper baking supplies, Victoria was such a trouper and whipped up some delicious dough #getaflaw By the end of the night she looked at us, panic-stricken. “It’s possible that one of these loaves is missing two eggs.” Dough well!

 

Why did the chicken cross the road? To find those two missing eggs.

 

 

None of us had made Challah before so there was a lot of laughter. We especially found great joy in that Trader Joe’s brand for flour called Baker Josef’s and these two honey bears putting their heads together. Consolidation is key!

 

UnBEARably funny

 

After lots of planning and brainstorming, we put on a party that we were (and still are) incredibly proud of. It went like this:

Upon arrival at our party, guests were greeted at our doorbell with this sign made by our own resident artist, Victoria, to assure them they had come to the right place:

 

Making Lionel proud

 

Once you had buzzed in, Bel or I would let you in, take your coat, and ask you to spin a dreidel to determine which team you were on, for this was a party with 4 teams: Gimmel, Nun, Shin, and Hey.

 

Spoilers for the winner of our celebrated-shin! #shinners

 

“I would LOVE to go to a party where I could earn and lose points.” – Victoria, our enthusiastic score keeper

 

Art in action

 

Once we had announced to the party which team the new arrival was on, we all shouted “MAZEL TOV!” and sent them over to join their teammates for their FIRST MANDATORY FUN ACTIVITY: Coming up with as many puns for their team name as possible. The Nun team had the advantage of Kristy and Jethro Nolen, comedy pros who churned out about 100 puns #nuns in 3 minutes. Each team had to put a Star of David by their favorite puns. You got a point for each pun you read aloud and 6 low-key bonus points if you actually put a Star of David by your favorite puns (one bonus point for each point on the Star of David).

We turned off all of the lights in the apartment (including the Christmas tree — COOL IT, CHRISTMAS!) for the lighting of the menorah. It was reverent and respectful. Everyone was silent while I, along with Jill, said the prayer in Hebrew.

 

So much safer than a handmade menorah #whoisdavid

 

In the time between choosing our theme for the party and Hanukkah, there was a tragic, anti-semitic shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in our own beloved Pittsburgh. The nation mourned along with the Jewish community. Once the menorah was lit, we asked our party guests to join us in a moment of silence for the victims and their families. We were thankful to our guests for taking a moment from what was about to be a silly, playful, fun party to join us in silence.

 

Paying our respects

 

The party reconvened with a hug from Helen to me before she took over party hosting duties as our Torah Guide. Part of the fun of planning this party was how much we learned. We did loads of research in preparing and inventing the games. One of the most interesting things we learned was about the Torah. Helen took the reigns on the Torah and explained some of our favorite Torah facts to our party goers.

Torah 101:

  1. A Sefer Torah, or Torah scroll, has to be written by a sofer (scribe).
  2. A sofer must know over 4,000 (!!) Jewish laws.
  3. On average, it takes 1 year to 18 months to make a Torah.
  4. They need to be written on a special parchment made from the skin of a Kosher animal.
  5. They have to be written with a special Kosher quill.
  6. Every time before the word G-d can be written, the sofer has to take a take a special kind of bath.
  7. If any mistakes are made, you have to start entirely over.
  8. If a Torah is dropped, everyone present must fast for 40 days.

As a representation of how precious the Torah is, we hard boiled 4 eggs, one for each team, and drew their team’s symbol on them. Each team was presented with their Torahgatchi to protect for the rest of the evening. At the end of the night, if your Torahgatchi had been cracked, your team lost 40 points. We had some rules of our own about the Torahgatchi:

  1. It could not be hidden in a purse or reindeer wine pocket (looking at your sweaters, Laura and Wee Emily)
  2. It could be smashed by members of other teams.
  3. We didn’t tell the party guests they were hard boiled to give them the fear of a smashed, raw egg.
  4. One member of your team had to be holding the egg at all times.
  5. Throughout the night, there would be random “Torahgatchi checks” where Helen, Victoria, or I could yell “Torahgatchi check!!” and each team would have to show us their Torahgatchi.

Get you a party that has side games.

From there, Victoria took over as party guide by hosting the Challah braiding game. We decided that because we did not have aprons to offer to our guests and flour can be messy, this game was optional for 20 bonus points if any member of your team volunteered. Not surprisingly, each team had a brave volunteer! #gryffindors We had Betsy from Shin, Victor from Nun, Vince from Gimmel, Jill from Hay! Victoria awarded them each bonus 5 bonus points #sowild for various reasons (Victor for teaching Vince how to braid, Betsy for finishing first, Jill for making the most beautiful Challah, Vince for cleaning up the kitchen, etc.). Helen and I as the homeowners DEMANDED more points for Vince for cleaning up the kitchen and all of the flour on the counters. Thanks again, Vince!! 🙂

While the Challah was baking, we moved straight to trivia! Helen was our trivia MC and our 8 (you get it) questions were as follows:

  1. What is the next major Jewish holiday and in what month will it occur?
  2. Name the 10 Commandments (Bonus points for order and accuracy).
  3. The Maccabees go to Applebees. Moses parts the seas.  At which Jewish holiday would you have a feast (called a seder)?
  4. Use “mecsugana” in a sentence.
  5. List the 5 countries with the highest Jewish populations.
  6. How many letters are in each edition of The Torah?
  7. In the original Adam Sandler Hanukkah song, he sings “_____ is half Jewish, ____ is half too, put them together what a fine looking Jew. (Bonus points for naming as many Jewish people mentioned in this song as possible.)
  8. Spell Manischewitz.

Party perk of the Challah-braiding game: WE THEN GOT TO EAT FRESH CHALLAH!

 

Jill’s award-winning Challah!

 

Throughout the night, everyone was loving Victoria’s method of giving out bonus points arbitrarily. People started asking for ways to earn them. “If we do a shot of Manischewitz, will you give Hay some bonus points?” Absolutely.

After trivia, we moved on to a game called “Text Your (Jewish) Mother!” where each team had to pick a Yiddish word out of a yamaka. The paper had the Yiddish word and its definition. You had (you guessed it) 8 minutes to craft a text to your mom smoothly incorporating the Yiddish word. The team whose mother responded first got a point but you also got a point if your mother responded without questioning the Yiddish word and bonus points if she used a Yiddish word back.

And just like that, it was time for our final game of the night: Each team would put on a play of what they thought the story of Hanukkah was. We had a word bank of (say it with me!) 8 words you got points for using (Maccabee, oil, miracle, etc) to assure some accuracy but the goal was entertainment. We had 8 props available for use (including coconut oil) and points were given for each prop used. We had 4 hilarious and wonderful renditions of the story of Hanukkah including a Groundhog’s Day version and a hot take on a relationship where one partner got the wrong oil from the store and they fought about it. Someone even sang MMMBop for some bonus points for our Hanson loving lesbians. #panderingpoints #handering

Planning and hosting this party was the cherry on top of a wonderful 2018. Let’s do it again next year.

L’Chaim,

‘Mi

Oh, hi, oh!

17 Nov

Some trips are better than others.  And, unrelated, some trips are farther away than others.  Sometimes you go to Malaysia, or France, or Jordan. Sometimes you visit a good friend in Ohio.  This post is about the latter. My fabulous trip to places near Cleveland, Ohio with my good friend, Andy.

First a little background.  Andy and I met in the Peace Corps; we became really, close but, like all good friendship, we lost touch over the years.  Luckily, we reconnected about a year ago — read a little bit about it here and here.  This blog post is all about HER and US and FRIENDSHIP!!!!

 

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Reunited #AndItFeelsSoGood

 

These days, Andy is managing a farm called Spice Acres.  Going to see her this trip felt a bit like when I would go to see her in Jamaica — hanging out with Andy on a site visit 🙂  

I arrived just as it was getting dark but of course I wanted to get the full farm tour!  And, I almost got to ride in a tractor….but, unfortunately, it wouldn’t start (Andy texted another farmer to make arrangements to have it fixed the following day).  Walking around was just fine though!  We stopped to say hi (taste) to some microgreens, broccoli, and arugula — it was a teeny bit awkward because they were still in their beds (ha!), There had been a frost recently so the produce was super sweet, just like Andy.  We saw everything we could and I heard lots of descriptions (’cause, actually, hearing was the primary sense we were using now that it was dark.)

Next, we went to the section of the farm that was really hoppin’ (aka, we got to smell the hops) while Andy taught me about Indian pale ale and how they added extra hops to it when they transported it by boat so that it wouldn’t get skunked.  “Hoppy, hoppy, Like they say in India!” And we laughed ’cause we were ‘hoppy hoppy’ ourselves.

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Here’s a picture of Andy sharing some extra CSA produce with me; leeks, onions, rutabaga, potatoes, and carrots.

 

After my trip, Andy send me her favorite rosemary rutabaga recipe to make (see the results below).  Even got the leeks (which Helen and I found out are really hard to clean) made it onto my plate.

 

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Farm fresh and so so good.

 

Also, while you’re salivating over that picture (no worries, I am too), keep in mind that the eggs on that (cute) plate also came from Spice Acres Farm.  They raise healthy, happy chickens!  During my stay, Andy had to go and collect their eggs and I got to take part in feeding the chickens delicious (read: stale) cornmeal bread.  Since it was already dark outside, we had to turn on the lights. Andy told me that this would wake up the roosting chickens and they were going to be very confused.  But really, who could be upset at waking up in the middle of the night when a baked good is involved?

 

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Birds of a feather, roosting together.

 

While Andy collected the chicken eggs, I scattered the cornmeal for the hens.  You can see the results below, along with Andy and her headlamp diligently working.

 

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Cluck, cluck, FOOD!

 

Fun fact about chickens:  If a wolf comes into the coop and kills one of them, the others will continue to sit there nonchalantly, without trying to run away.  Guess chickens really need to be EGGED ON with cornmeal in order to make a move #farmpun but also #truth

Another farm fact: Buying the egg carton with your eggs costs about $0.30 – $0.50 per carton.  So, next time, if you’re at the store and you can fit all of the eggs into your shirt, you’ll save a few cents.  But you might also get arrested because, you know. stealing.

After we were finished on the farm, we drove to the house where Andy was house sitting and met a mopey, sweet dog and a fluffy black cat, and got ready to go out for the night.  Andy had lots of fun options/activities such as pinball or shuffle board, but my preference was just a quiet space with her where we could soak up every moment together with talking, laughing, sharing and, of course, eating.

Patrick had just written the Kazakh blogs (check them outcheck them out, check them out — Note: the repetition isn’t for emphasis, there really are three.).  Andy and I sat on the couch where she patiently let me read all of the posts aloud while she sat and listened.  It was really fun and we built up quite an appetite.

We headed to a restaurant called Spice, owned be the same person who owns Spice Acres Farm (reminder: where Andy farm manages).  The restaurant specializes in quality farm-to-table dining and everyone who works there, of course, knows Andy.  She’s the best!!  I was honored to see that part of her world.

To eat, we ordered one of everything (!) from the vegetarian menu and a bottle of bubbly to celebrate (Thank you to Lou, a Spice Acres farm volunteer, for treating us to the champagne.)  Pop pop pop pop!

 

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I recognize that broccoli and arugula… 🙂

 

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Farm to *our* table, specifically.

 

I was really impressed with the variety of tastes and overall amazing quality of the food we ate.  The dish on the left (see above) was interactive (beyond, you know, just eating it) — every 1 out of 10 peppers is really spicy, so it was kind of like a roulette to see if one of us would get the spicy one.  Neither of us did.

The food at Spice was absolutely fantastic, sans one dish.  Andy let the restaurant manager know how we felt about it when she came over to check on us, socialize, and to ask me, “What do you do for a living?”  Without missing a beat, Andy told the restaurant manager that I was a food critic. Of course I played along.  Yes and(y). I channeled my inner Victoria Bradley (thank you very much) and said I worked for Table Magazine.

For the rest of the night, unbeknownst to me, Andy played up my new title.  One dish we ordered had been made with frangipani, a flower that I knew and loved from Fiji.  Andy encouraged me to recount stories from my 2014 trip visiting the island.  And when her boyfriend, Steven, arrived (Hi, Steven!) she entertained him with anecdotes from the Kazakh blogs that we had read aloud earlier, specifically that time I drank fermented camel’s milk.  Da tree a wi took our time, relaxed in the moment, made new memories, and even got dessert.  When the bill came, we saw that our entire meal had been comped.  *Gasp*  Thank you Spice and Andy!!  I guess that’s a perk of being such a great farm manager (or, in my case, going out to dinner with one).  On the whole, speaking as a food critic from Pittsburgh, it was a wonderful night.  And, speaking as regular me, ‘I totally agree with food critic me’.

Stuffed and happy, Andy and I went home to play with a mopey dog and a fluffy cat before heading off to bed.

The next day, we planned to go for a hike in Cuyahoga National Park.  On the way we passed through a small town with no running water but the town still had houses and several restaurants.  Andy told me that at those restaurants they served food on disposable plates and that they weren’t very tasty.   #Noted

In the park, we stopped her truck and looked at the map.  Which trail to choose?!  We picked a hike that was new to both of us, a 2.5 mile cross country loop.  It was mostly flat, except for when it wasn’t, and we concluded that it would be way too steep to do any actual cross-country skiing on this trail.  Good thing we were on foot!

 

 

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The spot where Andy pointed out a beautiful owl. Who? Who?

 

About five minutes into our hike, we started hearing music…an acapella rendition of Silent Night.  It was gorgeous! Where was that coming from?! Heaven?! Seattle, is that you?! Turns out no. It was a group of people standing under a cement tunnel.  Apparently, cement tunnels make perfect acoustic sounds.  Andy and I stood quietly and enjoyed these wholesome Saturday morning melodies.

Where did that cement tunnel come from, we asked later.  We found a plaque telling us that a bobsled track had run directly over this tunnel sometime in the 1950’s. (Or was it the 1980’s?)  Either way, the tunnel had been built so that that people could walk underneath the bobsled’s path without putting themselves in danger.  It was unclear to us where, exactly the bobsled path had originally led, but at this point it looked like it ran directly into the lake.  No wonder they had to shut ‘er down.

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A path diverges in the woods. #metaphor #InstagramThat

 

It was a great morning, walking and talking.   Andy gave me some tips about buying boots and insoles — she’s an expert, working outside all the time.  Toward the end of our happy hike though, I was convinced I smelled poop.  Andy, on the other hand, was completely convinced that she smelled wet dog.
“This is just what Ohio smells like.” Andy explained, “I don’t know what you want me to tell you.”
“Haha, no! I smell poop!” I laughed, wiping my feet in the grass.  It didn’t work.  The smell followed me.  More wiping, more grass, more walking.  Repeat.
Andy looked at me laughing.  “That’s just mud.”
“It’s poop!”  I countered.
We were bent over, cracking up, but the smell was still there.  We kept walking and it followed.  Eventually, we passed a small creek and I bathed my shoe in the water.  Finally, relief!  I knew I had smelled poo.  Now I could finally smell what Andy was smelling…
“It does also smell like wet dog….” I said, “Why?” I asked.
Andy was glad that I was rid of the mystery poop that she could never smell and explained to me that, basically, we were just in a compost pile of forest.  And compost piles of forest smell like wet dog.  Woof.

 

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Standing below a pond.

 

After the hike, no surprise here, we were hungry.  Andy had another farm-to-table restaurant in mind (one with actual plates, not the disposable kind) called 24-carrot.  Ha! What a cute name!  Alas, they were closed, but Andy had a backup plan… Heinen’s, a delicious high-end grocery store where saw another one of Andy’s farm volunteers.   This one was pushing a grocery cart full of milk.  “Makin’ cheese?”, Andy playful asked.  “Yup!” said the volunteer.  What a life.

Anyway, Andy and I thoroughly scouted all of the prepared food and, after careful deliberations, chose sweet potatoes, Brussel sprouts (regular and pickled), tofu meatloaf with cranberry sauce, and seitan chicken bites (which was best thing).  It was a pre-Thanksgiving feast!  We commandeered the grocery store microwave as we heated up our food, talked about how much fun we were having, ate the food as it was ready, ranked our favorite items, and contemplated what to do next.  Did I have to go home?  Not just yet…  

I was so inspired by farm life, I was like… well, what’s a cow’s favorite place to hang out?

So we went to the … yes, I’m going to say it.  We went to the moooovies. Andy booked us the most luxurious, loungey seats I’ve ever sat in (thank you, Andy!) and we settled down to watch the previews (fun) and then the main event…. Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald!!  THIS WAS SO WONDERFUL!!!  I loved the whole experience!  We happily watched the movie, munched on our smuggled-in popcorn and chocolate (thank you to Heinen’s for supplying it and thank you to our large winter jackets for hiding it on the way inside).  On the drive back home, we read reviews for the mooooooovie and hated on anyone who didn’t like it.

Sadly, it was time for me to head off.  Andy and I hugged goodbye ❤  I reflected on the farm tour, the amazing food, the bonus movie, and the great company.  Andy’s wonderful, it had been an awesome trip!

Like I said, sometimes you don’t need to go to the edge of the world to find fantastic beasts OR fantastic friends.  Sometimes you just need to go to Ohio.

Until next time! One love,
‘mi

Seattle: Road Trip!

13 Nov

Patrick and I both woke up feeling great; it was a(nother) gorgeous day!  We were heading on a road trip!!!!  The plan was to head west.  And I know what you’re thinking…’Road trip?! Seattle is heaven but oookay.’  Because when you’re staying in heaven, it’s like…’why would I need to go anywhere else?  I don’t need a vacation from this!  It’s perfect!’  BUT there’s a HEAVEN for people who already live in heaven and it’s called Olympic National Forest.  Patrick and I wanted to explore the serenity!  

After a brief debate on if we should bring the kayaks (next time), we walked to the car (yippie, it wasn’t broken into!) and headed out of Seattle into the wilderness.

 

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Keeping a vigilant lookout for Wolf Beach sightings.

 

We road tripped for a bit, stopped in a queue for the ferry we intended to board, got coffee, and ultimately drove our vehicle onto the large, fun boat.  The car was coming with us!  We parked at the bottom and Patrick and I went upstairs to enjoy the views. 

 

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“I’M ON A BOAT!”, said the car from below.

 

The worst part about this ferry ride was how short it was; 30 minutes and we both WISHED it were longer!  There was so much to see!  The ferry had a gorgeous, detailed map to check out, lots of surface area to explore, puzzles (that we didn’t get to) and EPIC SCENES ON EVERY SIDE!!  Patrick and I walked everywhere we could but, before we knew it, the fog horn sounded and we had to head back downstairs to get into our car. 

GREAT NEWS THOUGH!  BEING IN THE CAR WAS ALSO FUN!!!!!!

We continued on our way to Olympic National Forest, admiring the trees, driving over a bridge with a naughty name and coining the phrase LLF (life long friends).  Patrick and I were making so much progress that, uncharacteristically, we forgot to eat.  We acknowledged that we were hungry and, at the next town, looked for a(n open) Mexican restaurant (not a closed Thai one) to have lunch.  We found a place that also was serving free chips and salsa — a double edged sword.  On one hand, FREE CHIPS AND SALSA! We were so hungry!  On the other hand… never-ending free chips and salsa.  Not realizing the extent of exactly how hungry we were, Patrick and I innocently sat down in front of a bowl of (free) chips and salsa (and foolishly added guacamole to our order).  If I’m being honest, we went through at least three baskets of tortilla chips.  “We mowed them down”, laughed Patrick.  And if you know me, then you know how much water this means that I must have drunk.  “Our poor waiter”, lamented Patrick, “you were always flagging him down.”  “Señor? Uno más, por favor”, I said with a sheepish smile, pointing at either the chips, the water, or both.  “Gracias!”

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The sizzling main course as the side course to the (free) chips and salsa.

 

By the time our meals came we weren’t hungry at all.  And as we got back into the car — bellies bursting and bladders full (didn’t I just empty mine?) — we laughed at how we had let our hunger get away from us.  Welp, at least we weren’t going to need to stop (again) for food today.

With gorgeous scenery all around us, Patrick and I made a couple of phone calls to our other friends.  Russ was first, and while we caught up with him we also learned about his tick (yelling “Oh nooooooo!” and cracking us up).  Later, we chatted to the incomparable Katie Barbaro.  Patrick reflected, “I’m glad we drove so far because we had both the time and the space to have a conversation with those two.”

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Heaven to the heaventh degree.

 

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A screen grab from our traveling Katie.

 

Driving through the lush greenery was wonderful but also, so was stopping to breathe it all in.  Patrick and I pulled over in search of a hike.

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The car wanted to park here and we wanted to hike here.  Perfect.

 

We zipped up our jackets, put on our hats, and gratefully got ready for a nature stroll through the woods.

 

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“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.” – Henry David Thoreau

 

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Covering this tree like a moss.

 

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“If you foolishly ignore beauty, then you will soon find yourself without it.” — Frank Lloyd Wright

 

Back in the car, we made several more stops, taking care not to “…foolishly ignore beauty…”…

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…but pushed on to La Push.  We wanted to make it there before sunset.

 

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That feeling of being exactly in the right place at the right time.

 

Thanks to Patrick, we made it!

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“I think it annoys God if you walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice.” — Alice Walker

 

Patrick and I stood in silence, taking in the moving beauty of this hour.  The scene was mesmerizing.  I wish I had a video of that water with the tide, lapping, retreating back and forth, hypnotizing us.  What you can’t tell from the photos is that there was no sand on this beach.  The shore was made up of perfectly sized black rocks.  The landscape was fascinating.  “I see purple in the water”, I said, and we didn’t ignore it.

The two of us waited until all of the light had faded from the sky before we slowly made our move back to the car.  Patrick, the saint, had already booked us a cabin near a different part of the water where we were going to sleep that night.

It was dark when we pulled up and neither of us knew what to expect but we took it as a good sign when, during check-in, the woman at the front desk asked if we’d ever stayed there before.  “Nope”, we responded.  “Wow, well, you guys have got a really great cabin”, she remarked.  As we drove through the woods to cabin (lucky) number 24, Patrick ruminated, “I wonder if it will have a fireplace?” AND THEN IT DID!  Our cabin had an easy to use, gas fireplace…with a timer.  It was absolutely luxurious.  We kept that fire turned on for so long that by the end of the night the cabin was so hot that we had to sleep with the windows open.  I know, I know, #GetARealProblem

 

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MTV: Welcome to Our Crib (for the night).

 

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I’m even jealous and I got to stay here.

 

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Yes, of course we took a bath here in the morning.

 

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Finding cabin 24 was like finding a needle in a haystack! Just kidding… but it was the last one available and we did find haystacks off of the porch.

 

Settling into the cottage, we could hear gentle sounds of the nearby ocean.  We were staying right next to the water and we reminisced about another time (this past summer) when we also stayed right next to the water (in a yurt near Lake Issyc- Kul) and how there too, we’d admired the perfect sunset (hellooooo, Kyrgyzstan).

Patrick and I spent that evening — in our cabin by a fire — elaborating on how much we value each other and postulating about what sharing with best friends looks like vs sharing with partners.  For dessert, which we ate first, we savored a delicious gourmet organic peach-kiwi gummy.  Our travel conversations from earlier that day led us to read, out-loud, some of 2018’s favorite blog posts: My Herd and Soul: The Furry Blog, Transnistria: Hipster Nation, and Adventures in Tbilisi, Georgia.  Thank you to Patrick for writing the latter two with so much detail.  They are a gift.  We laughed until we cried (because what else is new?) 🙂 

For dinner, Patrick had brought chili and other various, healthy goodies from Seattle.  The cabin had a kitchen (of course it did) to warm up our food.  We lounged on the couch, ate hot food with metal forks, and LOVED OUR LIVES!  I’m so thankful for that cosy cottage.

“Do you wanna hear Helen’s standup?”, I asked, while chillin’ with chili.  Patrick’s eyes grew wide “YES!”.  We listened to a recording of Helen’s biggest show to date — that time she opened for Cameron Espositooooo!  I was SO PROUD and SO IMPRESSED ALL! OVER! AGAIN!!!!! Her show gets better every single time, but also, that’s impossible because IT CAN’T GET ANY BETTER!!!!  It’s just SO good.

After that, we listened to Katie B’s inspiring podcast called Showing up Messy, (check it out!).  Katie starts with an update on where she is in the world (Iceland) and regales us with stories from her travels.  My favorite quote (and there are so many to choose from) is when Katie’s Icelandic host suggests that Katie go outside to which Katie responds, “This is my outside.”  Ha! So true!  The episode that Patrick and I listened to is the one where I was a guest (my first podcast ever!).  Hearing Helen and Katie in their element(s), both sounding so professional, talented and funny WAS SUCH A JOY!!!  Patrick and I felt uber grateful to be way out in western Washington and have, in the same room with us, the voices of Helen and Katie. #blessed

The next day, Monday, was the most memorable Veteran’s Day I’ve ever had.  Patrick had the day off of school (wahoo! holiday!) and we could (finally) see what our perfect cabin looked like in the light.  “I’m definitely going to come back here.” said Patrick.  Heaven’s heaven?  Yes! Great idea.

Later that morning, Patrick went for a walk, we took a bath, packed up the cabin, and waited until the last minute to check out (you could see why).
“Are we going to drive back the way we came?”  I asked as we loaded into the car.
“No, we’re making a loop.”  Patrick patiently responded.
I smiled. ” I knew that, I was just making small talk.”
And we both looked at each other, cracking up. ❤

 

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Why would we use the same route to get home when we could just.make.a.loop?

 

On our way out of town we wanted breakfast (#lessonlearned #chipsandsalsa).  We stopped at this particular restaurant that was, unfortunately, closed, which was how Patrick and I ended up seeking out some very local, very smoked king salmon.  

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Do we want the smoked salmon or the smoked salmon?

 

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We went with the smoked salmon.

 

Honestly, the huge salmon was a little disappointing.  We ate as much as we could and hid the rest in our vehicle but since it was the beginning of our day every time we got back into the car the salmon made its presence known: “Do you smell that?”  “Yes, yes I do.”  Eventually (but not soon enough), we found a hungry, homeless man to graciously gift the rest of our smoked fish. 

Since the salmon hadn’t *quite* hit the spot, we stopped again for breakfast.
Take two:
The heat wasn’t working at the second restaurant — it was colder inside than outside — and we shivered our way through an omelet and delicious local huckleberry waffles.  On the way out, I couldn’t help but be enticed by homemade ice cream sandwiches.  The two of us are only human, after all, and it’s never too cold for ice cream.

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“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.” — William Shakespeare

 

We filled up our gas tank with petrol, made a bit of progress on the road, and then stopped for a walk in the rainforest.  IT WAS SO GOOD and so beautiful that, once we got to the end, even Patrick was excited about backtracking…we walked the entire rainforest loop (again) in the reverse direction.

 

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“And into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul.” — John Muir

 

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Opposite ends of the spec-tree-um.

 

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“This forest eats itself and lives forever.” — Barbara Kingsolver

 

As per all of our strolls in the Olympic National Forest, we could not get enough of the moss — looking at it, touching it, admiring the tanquility.

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Living moss is my favorite color.

 

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Big beauty.  (and you know I’m not talking about ‘mi.)

 

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Heads up: Natural, wild skyscrapers.

 

After our rainforest stroll, we started driving.  We stopped at a thrift store to stretch our legs before making it back to the big city where we had hoped to eat at Patrick’s favorite Seattle-Jamaican restaurant.  Alas, it was closed, so we picked a different Seattle-Jamaican restaurant, one that was new to both of us.  Irie!

Arriving, we looked at the menu.  Obviously we were going to order jerk chicken.  To drink, our waitress recommended the “hot buttered rum”.  We had never heard of it while we were in Jamaica but…Sure!  The server came back a few minutes later to inform us “they are heating up the butter for your drinks.”  Patrick and I looked at each other quizzically, “Oh?”, we murmured “So…is it actual butter?”  Turns out, yes, actual butter.  These drinks tasted like warm, liquefied butter that had been flavored with rum.  Gross.  Patrick jokingly asked,  “Do you have any popcorn to go with this butter?”  I laughed because behind every joke…

When the jerk chicken was served, we were unimpressed; It was overpriced and didn’t look anything like what we “nyamed” in Jamaica.  But, even though the food was disappointing, the company was not.  Mi deh yah wid mi bredren, evryting criss.

 

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This plate isn’t a “yardie”.  #inauthentic #RUDEBOY

 

We finished our meal as quickly as possible because John Marti (Patrick’s dad — Hi John!) was in town and we both wanted to see him.  Street parking in Seattle was (still) testing our faith and so we ended up using a parking garage where Patrick gently reminded me to “bring your backpack in.” #neverforget (I think I’m using that hashtag correctly.)

Mr Marti, Patrick and I chatted and caught up.  It was lovely and an ultra pleasant way to end a really amazing weekend.  I just can’t believe we don’t have a picture of da tree a wi!  Let’s get one next time, please.

The next day, I had a plane to catch at what felt like an ungodly hour and Patrick had to work.  Bright (it wasn’t) and early (it was) Patrick walked me to my Uber, handed me one of his Orca cards (thank you!), and gave me clear instructions on how to get to the airport once I arrived at the train station.  He’s SO thoughtful, SO thorough, and SO SO generous!! #THEME

This trip was, at the risk of sounding like a broken record (wait, is that a music reference?), absolutely heavenly.  It literally became Happy Hour when Patrick and I showed up.  Everyday I was inspired to write and the weather was GORGEOUS; we strolled, we ate incredible food, we laughed until we cried, and our stuff was safe the entire time (faith restored).  Patrick and I left each other with THE MOST TRAVEL BALLS WE HAVE EVER HAD UP IN THE AIR! !!!  !! ! !!!

As my plane was taking off Helen asked me, over text, “What was the best part of your trip?” and I responded, “Ha! Was the best part when Patrick and I were laying in bed on that last night talking about all of the best parts?!”

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The golden hour of happy hours.

 

Documenting the fun and sharing the LOVE,
‘mi and my LLF

 

Seattle: Heaven

10 Nov

Dear Readers, (aka my friends — Hi guys!  And also my future self — Hi Sammi!)

I’m here to spread the good news!   The good word!  The gospel!  You don’t need to die to go to heaven!! !  !!!!!!  !!!  !

Yes, this November I found out that heaven is actually in the U.S.A.  More specifically, the Pacific Northwest, a city called Seattle.

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That ray of light was shining directly down on me because I was in heaven.

 

Patrick, the angel, had been living in Seattle for about 3 months and it was high time I visited.  Luckily for us, 2018 was the year that Alaska Airlines started a non-stop flight from Pittsburgh to Seattle….Are you kidding me?!   A direct flight straight to Heaven’s Gates?!  Sinfully perfect!

I got so much done during my 5 hour flight with no internet (isn’t it amazing what we can accomplish sans distractions?).  It had been a long time since I’d flown across the length of the U.S., and I was excited that even with the 5 consecutive hours in the sky, I was still going to land in the same country.  No need to buy another SIM card!  My Cricket SIM (which I already owned and used) would work just as poorly in Washington State as it did in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I landed at the confusing Seattle airport, Patrick picked me up, AND WE WERE SO EXCITED TO SEE EACH OTHER!!!!!!!  We hugged, chatted, and laughed as he drove, chose a place for dinner, and pulled in to park for the night.  “Bring your backpack with us, my car was just broken into,” he told me.  And even though, as you already know, Seattle is heaven, we’ll call the fact that his car had been broken into a test of faith.  

So, with our belongings safely with us, we walked through Freemont (super cool), past Troll Street (below), and I got to see some of Patrick’s modern world…as well as a bit of his past.  For dinner, he took me to Chiso, a Japanese restaurant where Patrick (courtesy of Allison), had tasted sushi for his first time ever.  In part, Patrick chose Chiso for us because we had planned to eat healthy this trip (#always) but as they say… ‘God laughs at our plans’.  (And we all know I love laughter.)

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They see me trollin’….

 

Luckily for our protagonists, it’s pretty hard to overeat when sushi is involved, but we tried.  Not long after we arrived, Happy Hour began — which meant that everything we wanted was 50% off….And so we ordered it all “again, please”.  It was just as delicious the second time as it was the first!  Another round of tuna, hot sake, and ALL THAT EXCITEMENT!!

With our bellies full and DID I MENTION HAPPY?! 🙂 We walked down the block to see a show at ComedySportz Seattle, where Patrick had been taking improv classes.  [Side note: Katie and Molly (#bestfriends #triggered) met through ComedySportz, LA!)]  

With tickets in hand, Patrick and I walked up to the bar and ordered the smoothest beer I’ve ever had; Tropic Haze by Silver City.  I’m talkin’ an effortless, dark, silky, incredibly handsome black matte-finished can.  Oh, you thought I was talking about the taste?  The taste was fine but it was the can that was sensational.

With our suave beers, we settled into our seats to watch a show called B-Rated Moviewhich had various self-appointed improv critics discussing two different cult classic “movies” (that had never been seen before or since) called “My Beating Heart” and “Saturn is Not Enough”. 

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 I’d rather see B-Rated than be berated.

 

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Is it time for a ‘who wore it best’…?

 

Sidenote (and shameless self-promotion): During the show, I saw a girl (above) wearing this shirt with the iconic Banksy character that I had dressed as for Halloween.  

After the show, we met the owner of this theatre, a really nice guy named Alex (below).  He was charming!  And it wasn’t long after Patrick and I started chatting to Alex that we found out… HE KNOWS MOLLY.   OUR MOLLY!!!!! 🙂 I WAS THRILLED.

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A selfie for Molly.

 

On the stroll back home (with all my stuff, because #safety), Patrick and I called Molly to tell her about our adventures at ComedySportz and left her a voicemail as long as the walk.  When we got back to Patrick’s we made (spicy) jerk popcorn in a late-night Jamaican throwback before it was bedtime.  And while, like I said, it technically was bed time (as in, I was in bed),  I did not fall asleep quickly.  I WAS SO EXCITED!!!!!!  PATRICK WAS NEXT TO ME!!!!   BEST FRIENDSHIP!!!  HEAVEN!!!!!!!

After a restless night (talk about sleepless in Seattle…amIright?), I couldn’t wait to start our morning.  We woke up (first thing’s first) and started our day by reading and posting a fantastic Kazakh/Kyrgyz blog called BINGO that Patrick had written and then PATRICK READ TO ME (OUT LOUD) ALL OF THE OTHER KAZAKHSTAN BLOGS THAT HE HAD WRITTEN!!!! Let me break this down for you in case you don’t fully understand what was happening: MY BEST FRIEND WROTE THREE AMAZING BLOG POSTS ABOUT OUR BEST FRIEND ADVENTURES IN KAZAKHSTAN, AND THEN HE READ THEM ALOUD TO ME WHILE I GOT TO RELIVE THE WHOLE THING OVER AGAIN. Needless to say, I was all sorts of #TRIGGERED.

 

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I’m SO HAPPY! “Could we please hug right now?!”

 

Patrick and I finally got out of bed and went outside to a literally perfect day.

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In my experience, it doesn’t rain in Seattle.

 

We toured around the Pearly Gates.  I mean, Patrick’s neighborhood.  Honestly, it reminded me of the television show The Good Place (except *spoiler alert* we really were in ‘the good place’).  Do you want to go to a gym?  “I live right above a great gym!”  Interested in a good brewery?  “That’s right here.”, said Patrick as we continued our stroll.  What’s that delicious, sweet smell?  “There’s a chocolate factory right over there.  I can smell it when I leave my house.”  Patrick laughed and said, “Yeah, everyone who visits me here loves it.”.  Oh?  The mortals that have visited you love heaven?!  Knock me over with an angel wing.

“Do you want to try the most delicious chai I’ve ever had?”, asked Patrick in a question that did not need answering.  Do I ever!  “It’s a 2 minute walk from my apartment.” Patrick was right about both.  It was a 2 minute walk AND it was delicious chai!  In fact, it was so heavenly that, similarly to the Chiso sushi, we ordered it twice.  But not in a row.  With the way caffeine affects me that would have been irresponsible, and even I know that you can’t chai your way into heaven.

 

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Patrick held my distinguished chai while I took a picture of heaven’s stairs.

 

We continued strolling, seeing healthy, fit, attractive people out jogging, and talking about Patrick’s incredible job and upcoming opportunity to seamlessly partner with the University.  (The most difficult part of our jaunt was a complicated crosswalk, which we can agree, doesn’t sound difficult.)

We walked uphill, taking the time to chat to Colleen, and heading to see Allison (Patrick’s sister — Hi Allison!), Adam, and (to meet) Lucie (YAY!).  We spent the morning in Allison and Adam’s beautiful home tea-partying and getting my earrings admired (Lucie has good taste).  As soon as Lucie saw me she enthusiastically pointed, learned my name, and boldly announced: I want to play with Sammi!!  My heart exploded, and I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world.  Lucie was so cute, wearing a yellow “izhak” t-shirt (that means hedgehog in Ukrainian).  Every time I see an “izhak”, I’m reminded of our LOVELY friend Iryna, so in lieu of a picture of Lucie (no pictures allowed!), here’s one of Iryna 🙂

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Heaven must have sent you.

 

It was so great to see Allison and Patrick interact (siblings <3) and before I knew it, it was nap time (for Lucie, not for us), so Patrick and I put on our shoes and walked over to Bounty Kitchen where we filled ourselves up with some delicious, healthy food; a rejuvenating salad aptly named The Not-Fried Chicken.  We laughed (duh), drank water (I was eating, after all), had immensely heartfelt conversations, and then continued our journey throughout heaven, I mean Seattle.

We caught up about friends we know in common (hello, Cambridge Five!), and I was tempted to stop in the “open” Honey Bucket to use the loo but Patrick and I suspected it was more sticky than advertised so we kept walking…towards our second cup of chai for the day that I had alluded to earlier.  I WAS SO HAPPY!!!!!  THE DAY WAS STUNNING!!!  A PERFECT CUP OF CHAI!!  BEST FRIENDS FOREVER!!!!!!!!!! 

Patrick and I relished our hot drinks as we sauntered to Gaslight Park where we overheard worldly, well-traveled people all around us as we started to make some travel plans of our own.  The sky’s the limit, literally (cus, you know, airplanes).  Here’s a tentative schedule:

  • Portland (and another Seattle visit) in *January??
  • Africa in July?!  How about New Zealand?
  • Scottsdale for a weekend? (Never mind.)  You were right, let’s try…Sedona?
  • A festival in Oklahoma? #50
  • A Galapagos b-day trip?! (Find out which way ‘she’ is going, we’ll take an alt route.)

 

*I amended the month.

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“This is why we need to see each other more”, emphasized Patrick seriously — “We plan more trips when we’re together.”  Preach!

 

We found ourselves at (well, Patrick mapped the walk, so for me it did seem like we just stumbled upon) Patrick’s favourite oyster bar.  Guess what time it was when we got there?  If you guessed “Happy Hour,” you’re only 30 minutes off.  Good things (and in this case, good things that are half-price) come to those who wait, so wait we did, in the delectable sunshine, loving our lives.  No rush, Happy Hour, WE WERE ALREADY IN OUR HAPPY HOUR(s)!

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Waiting in this gorgeous sun, which is exactly what we wanted to do anyway.

 

When it came time to order we knew what we wanted (at half-price, please):  prosecco and oysters.  The glasses came first, filled with surreal, mesmerizing bubbles.  Mixed with the sunlight and lake water, the effervesence did not disappoint.  The bubbles were celebrating, JUST LIKE WE WERE!!!  

Then the oysters came.  And, even though this wasn’t my first time eating oysters, I didn’t have very much experience.  “How do you decide which type to eat first?” I wondered.  Patrick answered, “Well, we’ll go off of this question:  Which vanity plate would you date?”  Haha, good question!  The answer?  Hmm, I guess, vainly, whichever oyster comes with a pearl.    …Jk.  I prefer my oyster-vanity-plate-date to come with a passport.

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Time to play the dating game.

 

While we slurped up the oysters we also talked at length about their names, specifically Wolf Beach.  “Do you think we will ever, EVER see a Wolf Beach in the wild?!”  

After a couple of happy hours (ahaha, get it?), we headed back to Patrick’s for a quick snooze and to get ready for the night’s festivities.

 

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Giddy on the bus to downtown.  The Orca cards are back in his pocket (THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SHARING WITH ME!)

 

Our first stop of the night (near the gum-wall) was an improv show at a theatre we hadn’t yet been to called Unexpected Comedy.  And you’ll never guess what…  IT WAS HAPPY HOUR!  The show was about jokes but I’m not joking!  The name of the show we saw was Happy Hour; it was meant to be.  We bought popcorn (impossible to resist) and watched a spicy (thank goodness it wasn’t the popcorn this time) all-female performance.  I’m convinced, ALL OF THE HOURS IN SEATTLE ARE HAPPY!

 

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Girls just wanna have…laughs.

 

This show was especially fun because:
A. It was a new venue
B. The women, obviously
C. There were new games that we had never seen before like Britty Britty British, where the group had to get progressively more British each time the bell sounded or another one called Question. Period, where someone from the audience could ask any of the performers a question while the scene froze and they stayed in character.  We surmised this one is the most fun with performers in the audience.  

The Question. Period scene we saw involved the ladies at a skating rink.  There was also a first date scavenger hunt turned musical, and we heard an opening monologue about a time the host was rudely interrupted.  It was a *British accent* SMASHING time.

After the show was over we went upstairs to Matt’s in the Market, a phenomenal restaurant near Seattle’s Public Market.  Saturday night, prime time, living in The Good Place.

 

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Famous view.

 

The first drinks of the night, which Patrick ordered, were two (large) tequila shots.  They were BOLD, they were FUN, they were INSPIRED (by the last improv scene we had just seen).  We had lots to cheers — Like friendship and how SEATTLE IS THE BEST! [(or is it just that Patrick showed me the best (time ever!)?!]

We switched to mixed drinks.  I patted my head and rubbed my belly and the bartender brought over of exactly what I wanted. (Decoded: This was the name of the drink I was ordering and also the visual that the mixologist suggested I try.)

The next bits are going to be about food, you’re welcome.  We started off with the highly recommended brussel sprouts.

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Working on my food photography.

 

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Even an amateur photographer can convey how much we didn’t like them.  #Sarcasm

 

Our main course at Matt’s in the Market: Patrick and I both shared the seared scallops and the sturgeon.  The food was incredible but, of course it was…We were in heaven ❤

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From actual water into mouth-watering.

 

For dessert, we had fluffy peanut butter with a side of women on a girls’ trip chatting us up (aka, our cue to leave).

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A fairytale ending.

 

After dinner, we had two more stops before the night ended.  At the first, I got a veto from Patrick about a job, and at the second, a night cap from a closing hotel bar.  We were both exhausted, it was time to head back to Patrick’s in order to prepare for tomorrow’s…  

 

(suspense),
‘mi

Falling out of Summer

31 Oct

A picture of one of my favorites cities in the world:

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MY city ❤

 

Summer season was winding down, and like any season (in both nature and life), it had its ups like:

  • The best friend sleepover at the dream flat with MY best friend and Emily’s best friend! We got to snuggle in the dream flat and wake up the next morning with mimosas in hand.
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#dreamflat pic minus the #dreamflatmate

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The Best Friend Sleepover Squad –  Champagne for breakfast!

 

  • Micromanaging the chocolate chip cookies when Helen and I were baking. We watched these little suckers minute by minute to make sure the cookies would rise like a phoenix from the ashes — but in the end they pretty much just stayed ashes. “Damn us.” Said Helen as we took the first bite.  We’d left them in for a mere minute too long.

 

  • Having a jam sesh with Emily, Bel, and Kevin in the dream flat!  Finally, all of the musical instruments that “we” own in the living room at the same time!  Helen was elated!!

 

  • Going on a date at a Hungarian restaurant and going to banjo night afterwards. “Thanks for coming out!!”, The head guy yells.   “We’re music lovers”, yells someone else. “We’re fans of leisure”, my date responds.

 

  • My NEW TAX GUY, JP.  He’s changed my life for the better.  Thanks to Matt for linking me with him! I celebrated my clean money with a dirty martini.

 

But the fleeting weeks also had its downs, like that one time I:

  • Came back from Burning Man with my skin SO DRY that I constantly had to put lotion all over my body to try to replace the moisture. I basically became a slug.  Bel, remember when I was so slippery that I dropped a coffee mug all over my dresser?!

 

  • Had a very bad day (but got cheered up by taking a walk through the park, in the rain, to a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar).

 

  • This also very, VERY bad day:

 

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Don’t need to explain this one…

 

  • The Friday night that I was feeling down and Helen was out of town.  After I met a police woman who was somewhat of a sorority sister to me, I drove to a well-lit Get Go parking lot and ate panang curry in the car, windows up and doors locked.

 

  • Unrelated, I went on a bad date with a guy who’s “not a feminist.” Check please.  The bright side was that Helen and Victoria were there to console me when I got home.

 

But even though there would be bad days, they didn’t last.  I started seeing Julia again (she’s so helpful) and here are some more of my FRIENDS…

  • Sam Tallent.   I hadn’t seen him in YEARS, and he’d come from Colorado to perform at a new comedy club that opened in Pittsburgh. It was so great to see him! I saw his standup show for the first (and second) time. (So good!) Afterwards we found time to catch up and reminisce.

 

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Thankful for how many funny people I know.

 

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Talkin’ bout Greg. You know, Greg. From college.

  • Victoria, who has made Helen (and I) suuuuuper fancy-adjacent nowadays. She’s so talented and has hung up her gorgeous art on the dreamflat walls, which she said are perfectly untextured, and which, if you don’t know, is one of the fanciest of compliments. #PinkyUp. She also gave me and Bel matching pumpkin necklaces on Halloween ❤

 

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#GetAFlaw

  • Our beautiful Katie who started her globe-trotting journey in Iceland and sent us a text with the houses she picked out for Patrick, me, and Helen. Who NEEDS House Hunters International when you’ve got a friend like Katie?

 

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The row of best friend houses; moving in ASAP.

  • A hangout sesh where I had some balloon flowers made for me which..I hated.. They popped and scared me. But, other times, I had fun made-up bedtime stories told to me and another time still, I got a chocolate flight (yum).

 

  • Emily C. and I had our first official friend hangout!

 

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New, happy friends!

 

  • Nina, with her short-notice visit to Pittsburgh.

 

  • My pregnant Colleen who visited us in Findley Lake!  I finally got to meet Ben (he’s lovely). We now know SHE’S HAVING A GIRL!!!!!! (squeals of joy).

 

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Supporting our Colleen and her little bun in the oven.

 

  • This beauty (below) who let me join her kickball team called Pitch, Please! I played one game but I loved it.

 

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Make them say “Pitch, Please!”

 

  • After my first and only kickball game I got to meet this dog who LOOKS LIKE A NOVA SCOTIA DUCK TOLLING RETRIEVER!!!! (That would be the THIRD that I’ve met, for those of us keeping track) The owner wasn’t actually sure what his breed was but I ACTED ACCORDINGLY AND TREATED THIS ANGLE WITH THE REVERENCE AND HONOR HE DESERVED!  

 

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Love at first bark.  He didn’t bark though, so….

 

Some family time:

 

  • Aunt Betsy and Uncle Marvin visit at Findley Lake.

 

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Nature + Family = Great Photo Opp

 

  • We went to visit the SUPER INTERESTING National Comedy Center in Jamestown, NY.  I’d recommend it. Afterwards we had a delicious family dinner with only a little bit of plastic in my (comped) meal.

 

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National Comedy Center!! 

 

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Sportin’ my new, souvenir t-shirt, thanks mom!

 

  • My parents came to visit me in Pittsburgh and we got to spend some family time at Aladdins ❤ ❤ ❤

 

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The OG best friends.

 

And of course…summer parties 🙂 I went to the:

  • New most memorable Labor Day celebration I’ve ever been to.  It was a Nolan’s party, which are SO MUCH FUN!   And then afterwards, Bel and I went stargazing (and laughing) with Sarah, Mindy, Emily, and Kevin.

 

  • The graveyard for a surprisingly playful day.

 

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Don’t trip on any of those headstones, you two.

 

  • SOUP PARTY, thrown by Emily T. There was SO much good soup, and we also got to dress in costumes for Halloween. SOUP-er fun!

 

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The soup party. Not pictured: The soup.

 

  • Ian’s Super Soft Birthday Party, complete with a cupcake making station!

 

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Cupcake party! Not pictured: Any of the attendees.

 

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Trick or Treat!

 

And I know I don’t need to say it, the pictures will do most of the talking, here’s the goods.  I mean, the food.

  • A delicious vegan meal from Apteka. My first.

 

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You never forget your first Apteka.

 

  • A dream flat meal that I took extra care to plate.  One of those omelets is dairy free and the other one actually looks like an omelet.  

 

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Victoria has taught me well.

 

  • Roasted veggies that Katie Barbaro taught us how to make! We were resistant at first but now….THIS IS HOW WE DO!

 

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Not pictured: Katie. Or the vegetables.

 

AND LAST BUT NOT LEAST….

  • Helen had her BIGGEST GIG TO DATE! On October 3rd, she opened for CAMERON ESPOSITO in a sold out show WITH A LINE AROUND THE BLOCK!!!  I COULDN’T BE PROUDER!!!!

 

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From V: BIG flowers for a BIG show!

 

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Glimpsessssss.  (That’s Katie B.’s shirt on me ON HELEN’S BIG DAY!)

 

  • Earlier that week we had gone to to the venue (The Rex Theatre) to suss out things and to see Addi sing.
  • Anna C. Riley made some SUPER cool, notebook sized stickers to try to help woo Helen some of those sweet, sweet Cameron fans!

 

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I want to bumper sticker my car!  HOW CUTE ARE THESE?!!!

 

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Cameron and Helen in an Espi-tweeto.

 

  • Cameron loved Helen so much (how could she not?!), that she invited her to perform at another show IN ANOTHER TOWN as her opener the following night!!!!!!! And that is how OUR HELEN went about on a mini tour with THE Cameron Esposito!!!

 

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Is she famous now?

 

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Outside of the venue, pre show, with names you don’t often see together on a billboard.

 

I’m “falling” onto cloud nine from (late) summertime,
‘mi

Keeping up with the Colombians

27 Oct

Happy belated blogging everyone!

Colombia has become an increasingly popular travel destination (it’s gorgeous), and my LLF,  Patrick, had highly recommended it.  While there, I made a bilingual pun that, while isn’t good, I will immortalize in writing: Colobienbienbien.
This post is long. And plans to impart some travel knowledge to help you plan a trip to Colombia.  If you don’t want the knowledge then just skim through the subsequent text and pictures and it’ll practically be like you traveled there yourself (only in a way more cost effective way).

I visited Colombia in October. AKA the rainy season.  This is the very first country that I have ever been to where not having all of my vaccinations restricted where I could go. The very.first.one.  That blew my mind because here is a link to a list of all of the countries that I’ve been to  (spoiler: at the time of this writing there were over 50). And would you believe that not a single one required proof of vaccinations??!  So I was a bit surprised when, because I didn’t have my yellow fever vaccine, I wasn’t allowed to travel to certain regions in Colombia.  This ended up being (probably) for the best, since, as I mentioned, it was rainy season and, full disclosure, I also wasn’t taking malaria medication….

 

Tip numero uno…

  1. Get your yellow fever vaccination.

I got mine less than one week after returning home from said Colombia trip at the Allegheny Health Department (sick shout out! Not, like, literally sick though) and learned that the yellow fever vaccination is good for a lifetime.  I repeat, A LIFETIME.

I turned to my nurse and said “Whhhaaaat!  That’s so cool!  What other vaccinations do you guys do over here?!”  She said “Hep A, Hep B, Tdap, Typhoid”  I said “I’LL TAKE THEM ALL, PLEASE!  But not now.”  So, look out for updates on that in future blog posts.  For now, I received the yellow fever vaccination which, I’ll repeat, is good for a lifetime.

 

Without that vaccination, in Colombia, I wasn’t allowed to visit:

  • Crystal Canyon
  • Minca
  • Southern region of the Amazon

Those places are saved in my maps.me for the next Colombian excursion.  I was, however, able to go to other places in this gorgeous Spanish speaking country.  Here they are in the order that I visited:

  • Bogota
  • Pereira
  • Filandia
  • Salento
  • Cartagena
  • Medellin

A very full itinerary with three different in-country flights. 

One great thing about Colombia is that flying around, by US standards, is very reasonable and affordable. Most of my flights (domestically) were about $40 USD and purchased the night before departure.  
There were cheaper flights listed but to buy them online you needed 1. to buy them in advance (duh) or 2. to be using a local credit card or bank.  This last point was frustrating because 1. I wanted to spend less money and 2. I (still) kept trying to buy plane tickets from these websites and going through the entire process multiple times to buy a plane ticket from a website and then being told no takes awhile.
And yet, as always, my experience in these moments made me grateful that the money I make is in US currency and that our economy is so strong.   In Colombia, the monthly wages are equivalent to $246 USD.  It really matters what country and circumstances you’re born into and it can be (seemingly) impossible to get out of.
So, because of my circumstances (and limited time) I chose to buy $40 plane ticket (for a one hour flight) and not a $10 bus ride (for ten hours on a bus).  The flights themselves were mostly not full (it being rainy season and locals not being able to afford them), and I went back and forth to different airports multiple times.
Tip numero dos….

2.   Exchange your money at the airport.

We found it really complicated to exchange our money in Colombia, and credit cards are virtually not accepted.  That being said, I highly recommend exchanging your USD to Colombian pesos at the airport.  I found that to be the best deal.

Now, you’re probably like “Who is this we you’ve started throwing in?”  Let me introduce Dom, a French speaking Canadian.  The two of us met on CouchSurfing in Pittsburgh during PRIDE (see this post where his photo first appears).  We had gotten along well in June, kept in touch, and decided to travel together in October.  I picked the country.  Dom has quite an interesting travel style: He’s not a planner, he literally buys his international plane tickets the night before a trip (and yes, that does make the price more expensive).  He like to go with the flow and if it weren’t for me we wouldn’t have known where we were staying the first night we landed!  I’d never traveled with someone quite like this before, and I was super excited for the new experience.

 

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Repping Montreal and Pittsburgh — but switched.

It’s really fun to travel to a country where your own currency can go so far.  When we arrived in Bogota, which, mind you, is a HUGE city, a 35 minute Uber ride cost us $7.35 USD.  We dropped off our stuff that afternoon (at a great airbnb) and went out to try some street food…
Tip numero tres….

 

  1. Eat on the streets.

Again, the USD is incredibly strong in Colombia, so our money went a long way, especially when it came to street food.  There was a bunch of stuff– meats on sticks, liver, drinks called “aromatic”, fruits (ginips– YUM), and grilled food.  I’ll be honest — everything we ate on that first night was just okay.   So this is tip number three due to cost efficiency.  We weren’t really wowed. We ate rice-milk type things, homemade popsicles, and everything and anything we wanted.  For dessert, Dom wanted to keep to his travel tradition (which he does in every country) and go to McDonald’s. We ended up getting Mcflurries, which, in Colombia, was really just ice cream with m&m’s sprinkled on top — still good, but not a McFlurry. Who knows, maybe their “machine was broken,” an excuse that transcends borders. Funny thing is, our food from McDonald’s ended up being one of the most expensive meals we ate the entire time in Colombia at a whopping $8-13.

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Busy-city Bogota.

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Grilled corn on the cob.

 

It was Sunday, so by 8pm, everything was closing up. And quickly.  We noticed a lot of people–men, women, and children– sleeping on the streets, wrapping themselves and the stuff they were selling in blankets. As it got later (8:30pm), an alarming military and police presence was growing in the streets.  This scared me so I insisted we head back to our Airbnb. Dom wanted to stick around to see what it was all about, but I refused. I told him that he could go back out after he dropped me off, but by the time we got back to the Airbnb, his curiosity had subsided. During various encounters we had with locals later on in the trip, I asked what could’ve been going on that night. None of the students (they are so good at english) or locals we talked to knew, but the general consensus was that it was smart that we got away from them. We’ll call this tip number 3.5: Use caution and go with your gut.
The next day, we woke up early and went to “climb” up to the best view in Bogota (it was less of a hike and more of just stairs).  This staircase was hard. It was 2,350 meters up– great exercise, no doubt, but we rode the funicular down. After our “hike”, we had breakfast — eggs (yum), freshly squeezed orange juice, and something wrapped in a banana leaf that felt like I was opening up a present — and headed out on our graffiti tour.

 

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Birds-eye-view Bogota.

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It’s was very sunny.

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Our art-tour-guide.

I do think that the graffiti tour would’ve been a lot more special if either Dom or I had appreciated art but since there were more pressing matters at hand (i.e., we could barely understand anyone), we dipped out early to go to Claro and get a SIM card.  If you’ve never bought a SIM card in another country sometimes it is an absolute pleasure (I’m looking at you, Asia) and sometimes it is medium hard (Colombia) and sometimes it is darn near impossible (Isreal).  Luckily, Colombia wasn’t as bad as Israel, but it was a process.  Claro is a huge store with long lines and computers; they don’t take credit cards, and their cash-only payment system is very confusing and located on the opposite side of the store. But because we knew this might take some time, and because we were so determined to succeed, we had allotted half a day to do this and got our SIM cards pretty painlessly.  Then just like that, we had translators on our phones! Muy bien!!
Not many people (in my experience) in Colombia speak English (except, like I said, a few of the students). Not even basic things.  So I’m pretty sure my Spanish improved.  I mean it must have, right?! And I was really inspired while I was there to, if I ever come back, settle in one city for a month or 2 and take language classes. NOTE TO SELF: Medallion would be a great place to learn.

After getting the SIM cards, we went back to our airbnb and booked a ticket Dom-style (i.e., the day of) to Pereira. To be honest, it was pretty exciting to purchase a plane ticket the exact day I was going to use it– and I was lucky to be trying out this travel style in a country where the domestic flights weren’t very expensive (even the last-minute tickets). Dom consolidated his bags and gave our host some maple syrup he brought from Canada as a gift (Canadians are SO nice), and we were off.

 

  1. Get to Bogota Airport early

Bogota is a big and busy city, and there can be LOTS of traffic heading to the airport. I recommend leaving plenty of time to get there. If you get there too early, they have these INCREDIBLE ice cream cones hand-dipped in amazing chocolate, so I would just hang out and eat one (or three) of those.

At this point in my trip, it was clear that Colombians were SO nice and helpful.  When we landed, the taxi driver (a notoriously corrupt line of work) who drove us to our Airbnb in the middle of the night in Pereira was super nice, and our host met us out on the street to make sure we had made it ok. I was relieved to be out of Bogota and in a smaller city, which definitely was more in-line with the vibe I was looking for.

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The plane we booked last minute!

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Us in blue dot form.

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Morning, sunshine!

We woke up to a beautiful view in the morning and headed out to explore. Walking down the street, we were greeted by so many DELICIOUS smells — the freshest fruits with lots of variety and sweet, sweet coffee sold cheaply everywhere on the street in tiny quantities.  Like barely bigger than a shot glass.  Of course, I personally didn’t have many sips of that coffee but I did have lots of sniffs.
5. EAT THE FRUIT
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The soundtrack to our daytime stroll.

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SO. MUCH. FRUIT. Note my favorite — the mangostein

 

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What’s this??

Also note: Keeping my favorite, precious fruit on my lap.
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It’s called chirimoya and is sort of like a dragon fruit.

After exploring for a bit we took a taxi to the bus terminal and bought a ticket to Filandia  for lunch.  Money wise, the best value for lunch is called “the executive lunch’ and they always come with soup, a starch, a bit of “salad”, and a protein.
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Rolling hills in Filandia.

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So many COLORS.

6.  To save money, order the executive lunch.  
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Here’s an example of what one looks like…

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Dom ordering another meal probably called the Hungry Hombre

More food talk.
At some point, Dom was craving some Western-style food and I was craving some vegetables so we headed to a “Western” restaurant.  I got this crepe, which wasn’t that good but at least I got a leaf of lettuce (pre romaine trying to kill you).

 

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*some veggies.

After Filandia, we continued on to Salento, which ended up being my favorite town of the trip (where we got the veggies pictured above). It was rainy (probably because it was rainy season), and we stopped to get a view from the top of the town. Meanwhile, I ordered this delicious hot drink (that cost thats than $1USD) to keep me warm (ok, fine, I got it for the nutella).

 

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Nutella on the top.  Nutella on the BOTTOM.

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View from the highest point in town.

 

 

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Rainy streets didn’t keep us from exploring!

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We stayed in a private room at a hostel that was advertised on Airbnb and got great instructions from the owner as to how to go on a long (6 hour; 12km) hike the next day.  We were really excited to get an early start but woke up to the sound of rain literally POUNDING down on the zinc roof. We decided to get a few more hours of sleep until it sounded like the rain had lightened up.  When this happened, we headed to a Willy (jeep), which would drive us into the rain clouds to the beginning of the challenging 12km hike.

 

7. Ride on the back of a jeep.

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Free willy!! Just kidding, they weren’t free.

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Riding (safely) on the back of the jeep.

Once we were dropped off, our host had instructed us to look for a “puerto azul” (blue door) which was really a fence and after a 15 minute false start in the wrong direction Dom and I were on our way!
8. Take this hike past Salento and don’t walk past the blue fence!
We paid the small park entrance fee and crossed 9 wooden bridges (one person at a time because a few did seem…er…precarious).
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Dangerous bridge over running water pt.1

 

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Dangerous bridge over running water pt.2

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You get the jist…

We hiked for several hours before finally reaching Acaime, a hummingbird refuge.  We paid another small entrance fee there 7.5 the fee is worth the entrance and received a cup of hot coco (sans nutella) and saw a kuatis!
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Cutie kuati.

 

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Adorbs.

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Hummingbirds enjoying some sugar water while we were enjoying our sugar (chocolate) water.

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Preciousness.

Feeling refreshed from the cocoa and the adorable wildlife, we backtracked for a while (which was always the plan) and then climbed up more to get some great exercise before heading down for a final descent into the Valley de Cocora, the main event. And main event, it was. These trees are something straight out of The Lorax; they’re called wax palms and are the national tree of Colombia. They looked so surreal and gorgeous in this otherwise treeless landscape.

 

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When the Snapchat filter matches your real location.

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Luscious green landscapes.

 

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Bonafide tree-hugger.

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Quick survey: painting or real?

 

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Lorax Sammi, working up a sweat.

 

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Not all who wander are lost…thanks to direction sign posts.

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The kind of smile only nature can provide.

 

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From The Lorax to Alice in Wonderland.

The whole hike took us about 5.5 hours, and as you can imagine, when we finally got back to a Willy and into Salento, we. were. famished. So, seeing as though Salento is known for their trout, I rewarded myself with a trout dinner that only cost $7.25.

 

8. Eat Trout in Salento. 

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Next time you find yourself on a strenuous hike, don’t TROUT yourself– you can DO IT.

 

The next day, we headed back to Pereira. We were meant to go to the airport there, called Armenia, which is the actual name of the airport in Colombia! (Fairly confusing and potentially disastrous when searching SkyScanner for flights).

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Gorgeous town square.

When we got to Armenia — the one in Colombia — we got on a bus and then on another bus, past Pereira to some hot springs we had heard about where we then hopped on another Willy, and the scenery became STUNNING. We got to the natural hot springs (there were two options, but we sprung [hehe, get it?] to go to the farther one in San Vincente, which was incredible

 

9. Go to the hot springs in San Vincente.  

 

Along with the hot springs, there were waterfalls, and a literal hot river.  

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Oh the places you’ll go in Colombia.

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Forget the song; go chase waterfalls.

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Natures TLC.

The hot spring trip lasted about four hours. And it WASN’T ENOUGH TIME. But we had to keep up with our Colombian itinerary, and alas, we had another plane to catch. This time, we were off to Cartagena!

 


 

When we got to Cartagena, we did more exploring, making our way to the Old City, the Walled City, San Francisco, and beyond.

 

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10. Go to places this colorful.

 

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Flower market.

 

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I spy with my little eye something yellow.

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Dom didn’t raise that Canadian flag– it was already there.

 

The center of Cartagena was beautiful, and it was a nice change from where we had been.  It was less rainy, way more humid and much, much warmer, which made exploring the streets more muggy. We soaked in all of the bright colors of the buildings as best as we could. And, as we were walking, we found a tiny local bar, which I loved, because it was somewhere the locals actually went (and also liked). They had wifi and cold drinks — I ordered a CosteNita, which is a super tiny beer. So maybe I ordered another.

 

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Hangin’ with the locals.

 

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Fruit man instead of the ice cream man.

 

 

We walked all the way to the beach part of town and admired fisherman bringing in their hauls for the day.  Watching people buy fish directly from the fisherman not only made my stomach rumble but also inspired me to eat fish again in this part of the country.

 

 

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The daily catch.

 

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Definitely FISHING for compliments on this food photography.

 

While we hung around the beach area during lunch, we made friends with a group of students who were selling popsicles. We asked them why, and they told us that they were trying to raise enough money to travel around Colombia by bus. We OBVIOUSLY donated to the cause, excited to see young, adventurous travelers trying to find a way. Dom and I hung out with them for a while and took pictures at sunset.  

 

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Young Colombian travelers and friends ❤

 

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Photo credit DOM

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Cartagena at sunset.

 

 

Maybe it was the fact that it was getting hotter outside, or the spontaneous nature of Doms personality….. but as we passed a barbershop Dom decided it was a good time get his beard trimmed. I couldn’t have agreed more. In fact, that’s tip numero 11….

 

11.  Get your beard trimmed in Colombia.

It was a great experience– they did a really fabulous job, and I got to chill with a beer during the process.

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Definitely recommend this as an activity in Colombia… you know, if you have a beard

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12. Also recommended: chilling with a beer while your travel partner gets his beard cut.

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Cartagena loves color.

Dom and I stayed in Cartagena for the night. If we had gotten to stay longer in Colombia, we probably would have gone to an island or –if either of us had gotten our yellow fever vaccines beforehand, Minca (Oh Minca, so sad to have missed you). Since we didn’t though, Dom and I chose Medellin as our last and final Colombian city. We headed there the next day.

 

————-

During our stay in Medellin, Dom and I stayed with a local host family who was incredibly kind and didn’t speak any English. Which was actually great for my Spanish, and sidenote, as I said before, it would’ve been a GREAT place to do so.

Tip number 13

13.  If you have the time or are able stay for a month or two, take a Spanish class!

Anyway, we settled in at our hosts’ house, and for lunch, we found a modern, but traditional dish right across the street from our homestay.

 

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Delicioso.

After eating, we walked around the city, stumbled upon some live music in a park, danced, walked across a bridge, and found ourselves in (yet another) park with stunning city views.

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Anyone up for a game of checkers on this thing?

 

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🎶Dancin’ in the street! 🎶

 

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Beautiful rolling hills.

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Views on views.

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Crossing cultural bridges… or just regular bridges.  Pittsburgh, is that you?

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Birds as colourful as the houses.

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Neat-ure.

We ended up in the fancy (read: touristic) part of Medallian. It’s one of those places where it’s touristy for good reason because it was CHARMING!  

Dom and I picked a restaurant that had local vibes so as not to be too touristy, but still hang in the area, drink some ClubColombia El Dorada, and appreciate the good vibes.

 

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Local restaurant in a touristic area.

 

It was around Halloween and I decided to buy a shirt, dressing myself up as a Colombian futbal player.  

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Halloween costume.

 

Other people were dressed up too, and my favorite costumes were the life-sized uno cards (callback to Baltimore and my glimpses).

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Not pictured: My glimpses or anyone I know.

 

We enjoyed Medellin, seeing this city transform from day to night.  Dom had to leave first thing in the morning, but I had one more full day on my own, which I decided to use to practice more of my Spanish with my lovely hosts.

After Dom’s departure, I decided to take my new friend, Jose Luis, out to lunch. I told him to pick anywhere— his favorite place! He asked, “Anywhere?” And I was like, “Yup, your favorite restaurant.” So we started walking, and something must have gotten lost in translation because I was expecting a local place with some really great, traditional, fresh cuisine, but we ended up here:

 

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Eat fresh, I guess.

I stifled a laugh, but I had said anywhere. We ate Subway, and it was good, he was right. We even got a sandwich to go..  
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Jose Luis was pretty happy.

After lunch, Jose’s mother joined us. We walked around the city, went to some botanical gardens, and happened upon a small festival (not to be confused with a carnival) along the way.  Muy divertido!

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A family affair.

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My gracious hosts!

I enjoyed the day with them and had a really great time practicing my Spanish.  After we got back to *our apartment, I put my Halloween costume to good use and went to a futbol game– Medellin vs. Bucaramanga. I met up with a group of gringos outside the game waiting for it to start. There was no drinking inside the stadium (smart), but we had hours before the game to hang out, paint our faces, and talk before the game started. It was such a beautiful night!

When it was game time, we took our seats in the stadium — I was sitting right next to a sign that said “Always home field advantage!”  There was SO much energy in the stadium throughout the entire game, the spectators would randomly clap at different rhythms (and as someone with no rhythm, I really got into it).

 

 

 

Whistles were boooooos.  My one faux pas? Everyone in the entire stadium was wearing red, and my Halloween costume was yellow. Whoops.  The good news was that the opponents weren’t wearing yellow either…

 

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Ole, Ole Ole Ole!!

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Gringos y gringa.

 

We had such a great time!!  I was enjoying hanging out with these gringos, and we all seemed to get along well, except for a girl in the group who couldn’t be bothered (her name was Molly). As the game went on, there was an escalation of celebration — we were jumping, screaming, clapping — SO MUCH EXERCISE, we probably got as much cardio in as the futbol players. I LOVE IT.  Straight up burning calories. The whole stadium was shaking.  The game went into overtime, and luckily, Medellin ended up winning. It was DEFINITELY an experience of a lifetime to be at that game and by far the best sports game I’ve ever, ever experienced.

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Los gringos!!

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In a sea of red, be a yellow.

What a FANTASTIC last night in Medellin. I reflected on my time in Colombia as I headed back “home” in a (super cheap) Uber– Medellin at night was so lit up, it looked like a twinkling night sky. Gorgeous. The next day, I went to the airport with dreams of coming back, with a yellow fever vaccination.

 

At the airport, I took inventory of my funds.
Note: I’d spent about $33USD a day.  This included Airbnbs and domestic flights.  

 

 

Tip numero 14

14. JUST GO ALREADY!!!

Colombia is waiting.

Besos,
‘mi

Fun in Atlanta: A Blog about Dallas

15 Oct
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Goin’ on an adventure!!

 

It was a glorious, rainy early morning. Kevin and I parked in 9F (we reviewed this so many times that I still remember) and I practically (okay, I did) spun my way inside of the airport.  THIS WAS SO EXCITING!!!  We relaxed in the lounge until the last possible second — “Go big or go home”, they say… and we weren’t going home because we had practically just gotten to the airport. — As we ran to the gate we heard our names over the loud speaker.  Perfect timing.  WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO TEXAS!!!!!!! ….with a not-so-quick layover in Atlanta.

The first flight went well.  But as we headed to our gate for the second flight we couldn’t help but notice the board said “New Orleans”.  Huh?  Is this plane going to New Orleans?!  Everyone in the boarding area was just as confused as we were, but then the announcer came over the loudspeaker and cleared everything up… Flight 4099 has been canceled.  CANCELED, Y’ALL. Not delayed, but full-on canceled at the exact moment we were supposed to be boarding.  

Kevin and I looked at each other and I started laughing so hard I teared up.  WHAT.  After waiting in line, getting out of line, and waiting in line again, we finally talked to a representative who gave us a couple of options.  The best one was (not to take a plane back to Ohio but rather) to stay in Atlanta for eight hours and then catch the 6pm flight to Dallas.  The flight itself was going to take longer than usual due to weather and needing to be rerouted.  We were just hoping it wasn’t going to get canceled altogether…again. We snacked on the veggies I’d brought from home as we took the metro into the heart of Georgia. We interacted with a lovely metro-station attendant who helped us buy our tickets. So far this trip was so fun (!) and had us on a plane, surfing on the airplane train, and now on an actual train.

And thus, our weekend in Dallas began in Atlanta.  What are you supposed to do in Hotlanta (but actually Coldlanta at the early hour we got there) in the morning after a canceled flight? We choose the traditional route… an Israeli breakfast.

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Shakshuka– traditional Atlanta cuisine?

 

After our shakshuka that left me #shook because it was amazing, we left to do some more exploring and stumbled into Piedmont Park and Atlanta’s gay pride festival.  Now normally, in Pittsburgh, we don’t stumble upon Pride; we joyfully anticipate Pride; we prepare for Pride.  And not knowing about Pride in Atlanta, as Kevin simply put it, we showed up “looking like squares.”  No sequins, no bright colors, no tutus, no rainbows all over our bodies….it was a shame.  We did our best to make ourselves as visually PRIDEFUL as possible (although, to be clear, we wear Pride in our hearts ALL THE TIME) and picked up some sweet, sweet swag.

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Stickers and beads — quick! Blend in!

 

We continued to walk around Piedmont Park in our make-shift Pride gear, but, as the day wore on it became clear that not being covered in sparkles and colorful garb wasn’t our only fashion faux pas. Turns out that Coldlanta really does turn into Hotlanta in the afternoon. IT WAS SO HOT, and Kevin really regretted not bringing a pair of shorts — but hey, in his defense, we most definitely thought we’d be in Dallas at that very moment where the temperature was much lower.  

We stumbled upon these hot clear balls full of, what turned out to be, good exercise and great fun. We signed up, got a running start, rolled around, built up more of a sweat, and emerged laughing and giggly.   I mean….Do I use this as an accessory for the furries next year? 

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Human hamster balls.

 

After ditching our balls, we left the park and settled on a new pair of wheels…one we’d seen all around town. Scooters!

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We’ll just leave these here for the professionals.

 

….We totally underestimated this thing. Honestly, Lime scooters are a great idea, but neither of us possessed the talent to do the “full” (er…1/12) Atlanta city tour that we had dreamed.  We weren’t skilled enough to turn our heads when we were in the wrong lane. Cost wise, it was efficient but for us but that’s where the efficiency ended.  Wanna know how far we shakily got? See below.

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The Lime scooter challenge: Last longer than 11 minutes. 

 

So instead of scootering, we decided to walk around the city. We saw some sights (including a web MD office) and took the long way (not the pretty way) to the puppet museum. You know, for variety’s sake. 

Once our 8 hours in Atlanta were over, we headed back to the airport, gave our extra metro passes away, caught our flight, and had some snacks: we split a sample-size Laura bar, a nectarine, and a tiny bag of pretzels. Not a Texas sized meal, but then again, we weren’t in Texas yet.  We still felt hungry and had enough time to RUN into the Atlanta lounge where we picked up some much needed fuel.  

Kevin kept reminding me that our vacaion hadn’t started yet. “Vacation doesn’t start until we get to Dallas.” Great news!

And we finally did it, we made it to Texas 🙂 All smooth sailing from there, right? Oops.  I booked the rental car from the wrong airport.   Sigh.  What a novice mistake and meant even more time between us and downtown Fort Worth.  We sleepily brainstormed, problem solved, and eventually figured it out.  We headed out on the town and saw some of Fort Worth… at least the part that we likened to Pittsburgh’s Southside.  Here it is:

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So different at night and during the day.

 

We couldn’t bring ourselves to party in Fort Worth.  We’d given Atlanta our all and…well, we had seen Fort Worth at night.  That was all we could muster until the next morning when it felt like we’d hit a RESET button.  A new day that I got to start with a Texas steak.

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Chom chomp chomp.

 

After we were finished breakfast, we decided to hang around a bit and see what this place had to offer.

We found a great cattle drive — which is most definitely not a cattle parade, mind you. After watching the cattle parade down the street during the cattle drive, we headed towards Billy Bob’s (a bar) that you had to pay to enter.  Once paying, finding no one inside (including a bartender who would serve us), we decided to just head out and go to Dallas.  Or, more specifically, the Texas State Fair (in Dallas). But not before we rode a mechanical bull, walked all around town, played ski-ball at the White Elephant, and got a life-saving coffee at one of the places I had marked on the map.

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Not a cattle parade

 

Ok…so, The Texas State Fair is, by far, the best state fair that I’ve ever been to.  To be honest, I haven’t been to many but, THIS ONE WAS SO GOOD!  If I ever make a Superlatives blog, this State Fair will be featured.  It started off extra promising when we found FREE street parking.  Doesn’t sound like a big deal, but we were stoked!

The way this fair worked was that we bought a certain amount of tickets, and then we paid for everything in the fair with the tickets. Each ticket cost $.50 and there were SO MANY GOOD DEALS. Everything was reasonably priced — for example, water was two tickets ($1) and beer cost six tickets ($3).

 

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Giant Cowboy (that moved!)

 

So I promise that  the fair wasn’t only cool because it was economical (although, again, IT WAS!). It also had soooo many games, a sky tram, talks about milking and farming AND AN ODDITIES TENT (so cool) where we saw a LIVE TWO-HEADED SNAKE. I repeat. A LIVE  two-headed snake!! (I added the repetition there for 1. Each head and 2. Dramatic effect).

We also saw a two-headed stuffed piglet and conjoined turtles with many legs, but the snake was by far one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen.  I’d never seen anything like it before. A LIVE TWO HEADED RATTLE SNAKE!  Both heads had tongues that flickered out to ‘smell’ the air.  It was alive for sure! We kept going back to look at it; there were no pictures allowed inside the tent. 

 

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4 coupons is $2.  And this is the only photo of the two headed snake I could get.

 

They also had regular, one-headed animals, which were fun to check out. Including piglets and snakes.  Not kept in the same tent.  We went to the snake area (of the one-headed variety), and Kevin let me gush about my old pet snake, Namastay (RIP).  It was so thoughtful and nice of him to inquire about her so sincerely. 

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Remembering Namaste.

 

Other one headed animals included dogs and cats and birds doing amazing tricks like making doors open and flags fly and a separate petting area where we got to pet and feed this zebra…

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Kevin, aware of the top AND bottom teeth.

 

The atmosphere was just so lively and fun. It was a completely different vibe from Fort Worth, and we were both so glad to be there.  Not only did we indulge in the animal oddities, but we also indulged in food and beer. We were really surprised that in the land of food-with-lots-of-butter and oversized portions that we found HEALTHY food sans butter (but still in oversized portions) like this mango:

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Mango as tall as that guy in the background.

 

The mango above was SO juicy and SO good. It might be the best mango that I’ve ever had and I’ve lived in the Caribbean #credentials  The best mango I’ve ever had was on a stick, at a fair, in Texas.  This fairs fare was more than fair…it was remarkable!

Don’t worry, it wasn’t all vegan and all natural, they also had healthy (?) fried food, like the fried avocado (still dairy free). The beer choices were also super unique like this corndog beer (pictured below) and the cotton candy beer (not pictured and also not very good):

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Side of mustard.

 

After all of the mishaps we’d had earlier on in the trip, everything went according to plan. Even the weather behaved for us!! It was supposed to rain all weekend, and during our day at the fair the weather was great! It did start raining at night — actually pouring — but not before we were able to ride the huge Ferris Wheel.  We ran back to the car soaking wet (which somehow made running more bearable and fun).  It was a super successful day. 

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Not mad about it!

Happily, our artistic Airbnb was close by and we went to dry off.

The next day, the weather took a turn for the worse and added cold-wind to the rainy mix.  So, we decided to do a self-guided driving tour around the city.  We drove around downtown, saw sculpture gardens and parks (just from a distance, no need to get out in that really cold rain…brrr!), cool buildings, graffiti, Dealey Plaza where JFK was assassinated, and a suspension bridge that we circled and ultimatly crossed.  

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Chasing bridges.

 

For lunch, we had been planning to check out this raw restaurant that I’d been eager to go to. It was near the airport, perfect location for our final meal; but when we pulled up, all the lights were off, and it looked very, very closed. I was short of devastated, but Kevin, the hero, decided to go outside in the freezing rain and check the doors to see if he could get inside.  AND IT WAS OPEN!!!! So glad he checked (thanks, Kevin!). It turns out the lights were off because the power had gone out — but luckily we had picked a raw restaurant and they don’t need to cook anything so it didn’t really matter.  YAY!!!

I WAS ECSTATIC!!!!!!! And may have over ordered although I loved it all and don’t regret a single dish.

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Raw sushi… but like, not the regular raw kind.

 

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Delicious food you don’t even need to cook.  These two dishes were the best; raw enchiladas and avocado “toast”.  

 

So after eating this healthy, invigorating meal, and taking some to go, we headed back to the airport. We had what we thought would be a cushy two hours once we landed before Kevin had to be at Arcade for the Improv 101 Class Show that he taught but, in fashion with the earlier parts of this trip, our flight kept getting delayed.  We looked at the weather.  It was warmer and drier in Pittsburgh than it was in Dallas and we held out hope that we were going to make it to the theatre on time.  And we did!  With 15 minutes to spare, Kevin showed up at Arcade before his class successfully took the stage to preform.

So, not only did I get to begin my Dallas vacation in Atlanta, but I got to end it cracking up to comedy in Pittsburgh.

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Ya’ll come back now, ya hear?

 

A Texas-sized smile,
‘mi