i pledge allegiance.

i said the pledge of allegiance today for the first time in a long time. i actually cannot remember the last time i recited the pledge. as the maui county council chair asked everyone to stand and recite it, my heartbeat quickened in fear that i might have forgotten the words, and i’d have to brand myself a shitty american for the rest of my life. but as i put my right hand across my chest, the many years of daily repetition paid off and muscle memory moved my mouth to form all the correct sounds.

i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

i cannot remember the last time i voiced these words. i cannot remember any time where i have actually thought about the words i was voicing.

but today, i heard my voice.

i sat in the maui county council chambers surrounded by women and men there to honor maui resident teresa shook (the women responsible for igniting the women’s march), and i heard my words loud and clear.

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just as it would often hit me unexpectedly while dissecting one of the many great poems in my intro to poetry course in college, the words transformed from merely words into actual meaning. especially there in that moment, standing with my palm pressed over my heart in a room full of local government officials and everyday people truly wanting the kind of nation our forefathers pledged.

we are all united. we cannot be divided. we will fight for liberty and justice for all. i pledge my allegiance to this. i have pledged my allegiance to this subconsciously since kindergarten.

but today, i actually took the pledge. and i will take it here again:

i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

img_1102and then i sat back down in my chair and listened to maui county’s councilmen, local residents, and even a german tourist, give their testimonies celebrating teresa shook, celebrating the fact that one facebook post from a retired attorney from a tiny island in the middle of the pacific, could spark a movement. i watched as women and men wiped tears from their eyes, inspired by the powerful stance our nation took when its appointed leader challenged our unity. we are indivisible.

i am the product of a hardworking father with a creative and charismatic personality and a hyper-driven mother who is an extraordinary example of independence and intelligence. the values they consciously (or unconsciouly) instilled in me encouraged understanding, acceptance, growth, and love. through their actions, i saw that fear could be conquered, that perseverance leads to results, and that perfection is a daily practice.

and today, as i made my pledge of allegiance to our flag and the nation it represents, i celebrated those lessons…

our nation can conquer fear.
our perseverance leads to results.
our perfection is a daily practice.

birthday light.

dear world,

winter solstice. thirtieth birthday. christmas. new moon. new year.

there are drawbacks to being born so close to christmas, but one of the big benefits is celebrating during such a transformational time of year. the dark begins to turn to light. the spirit of giving is in full swing. the lunar cycle resets. and the resolutions for the new year emerge.

it’s 5:30am, and the sound of rain drizzling down upon our tin patio roof lures me from the warmth of my bed into the cold, damp, mosquito-infested air. wrapped in a blanket, i sit here watching the sky turn to flames. a small little spark, and the darkness evaporates.

suddenly it is the day i was born.

the rest of the country is already awake. my phone is dancing to its own beat of vibrations and lighting up the morning. an endless outpouring of love all before breakfast. i sit in the aftermath of sunrise and count my blessings.

each and every family member, friend, acquaintance, and even stranger. thank you.

thank you for taking a moment of your day and giving it to me. i will relish every ounce of it. for this is a time of change.

in the coming weeks, we will vow to eat healthier or travel some place new or stop swearing so much. our list of resolutions will empower us to march into the new year with courage and hope.

i am courageous. i am hopeful. but i am weary of the darkness. i have always been weary of the darkness. i am a northern child born just as the earth begins her journey towards spring. i am a child meant to light up the dark.

so what do i want for my birthday?

i want you to be a light.

paz y besos,
sara

she creates.

what happens when an artist loses her artistry? when the pen falls from her hand, when the rhythm fades from her step, when the shutter stops beneath her finger. she is left surrounded by those that are still creating and yet she creates no more. every ounce of inspiration sits in waiting amidst the musings of someone else.

her words are not her words. her moves are not her moves. her images are not her images. there is a desire to find them again, yet something encases the urge. trapping each idea below the surface. with no awen there to pull them through the glass, she stares at the reflection until they disappear untouched.

she fights the cravings by occupying time with distractions, but like any addiction, the need returns. as she watches others craft and indulge, she cannot help but envy the outcomes. chaos captured into something beyond rational comprehension. how can she transcend the disconnect? when does she become them?

day by day, the energy subdivides and focus falls into multitasking passions. we want it all, so we try to take it all. but, her container cannot hold it all. she overflows spilling out necessary pieces of her intuition. you cannot put toothpaste back into the tube, but she will try. she will continuously try. every lost edge reformed to fit back into her current puzzle.

she falls in and out of love with the notion of creativity, trying to comprehend how this seemingly insignificant portion of her being occupies so many hours of her thought. mental exhaustion battling the misunderstood efforts to define her influence.

she deafens herself with their songs, their words, their rhythms, their rhymes, until she can no longer hear her yearnings. misguiding each intention to disillusion. the tired moth dissolves to dust in the flame.

then something shifts.

a hidden glint of what could be appears from the ashes, and she can’t help but hold onto it for dear life. a simple reminder that creation is eternal. that an empty space can always be filled with something more. that action stimulates art.

and then, she creates.

three decades of home.

february march april may june july august september october november

we moved to honolulu ten months ago.

in ten months, i have not written a single word about hawaii on this blog. i have not spent a moment of time reflecting on this next chapter. why?

you know why…

who sits and stares at their laptop writing when it is 85ºF and sunny outside? when the surf is overhead and breaking perfectly? when the tide is low enough to climb the oceanside rock arch? when there are fish to be caught and beach bonfires to be had?

yeah, no one.

so here i am. ten months later. finally finding the time.

where did i find the time?

i am alone on an airplane. surprise surprise!

i wonder if all travelers write their blogs on airplanes. if they sit and reminisce about their last adventure while on their way to planning the next.

or maybe they are more disciplined and make the time each night to update their followers like i did when i was traveling around india for a month. it is better that way. the details are fresh. you are not summarizing several weeks or months into 1000 words. you are just decompressing. unloading the day to the page just as you would to your spouse over dinner.

so instead of trying to sum up ten months in one blog post, i’ll digress…

i turn 30 near the winter solstice. the longest night of the year.

every day i fluctuate between wanting to sleep through it on the beach by myself and wanting to plan an epic string of activities including everyone i’ve ever met.

some days i want to be in chicago with my family and lifelong fiends. i want to see a new release picked by my brother with my family at cantera. i want my sister to take me out to sing karaoke with a live band. i want to play dance video games against my cousin. i want aisha to magically appear. i want brian to serenade me. i want to eat fresh baked cookies at the grays with kritsin and jackie. i want to sip wine with katy and nadine. i want cooper and pat and the whole gang to give me a run for my money on some empty dive bar dance floor. and i want kayla and kristina and katina to make sure i don’t fall asleep before the clock strikes midnight on december 22.

but some days i want to be in michigan. i want to pretend i was back in college and stroll down main street all bundled up. i want to end up at the blind pig with becca to shake myself straight out of my 20s. i want jonathan to sit with my in the arb for hours. i want to bask on the santoro’s pier. i want lainie and kelly and lea to cook me an amazing feast followed by another feast from sue. i want to start the next morning with a cheese danish from wealthy bakery. i want to go sledding and skinny-dipping in lake michigan. yes, skinny-dipping in december. marlee will be there dancing in the snowy sand.

other days i want to be in portland. i want to wake up to a private yoga class with nathan. i want to spend all day at loyly sweating in the sauna and getting a facial from heather. i want paloma to lend me something cool to wear and get our dance on at mississippi studios. i want anna to order for me at andina and make me remember why i love ceviche. i want lisa to be my rope gun at smith. i want zac and lauren and ethan to unite with me for some witty banter and endless laughter. i want to find ian and give him a hug. i want to hang out in the noto office just for fun. and i want miles to share his coffee with me and introduce me to my next favorite album. autumn, you’re invited too.

most days though, i want to use all the frequent flyer miles i can muster to fly everyone straight to me. i want to turn yokohama into my own private beach. i want the people that have made the first thirty years of my life so amazing to spend december 22 surrounding me with their absurdities. i want to hug them and love them and never let them go. and i want to go home with  ryan and fall asleep in his arms. night after night after night.

hawaii is home for thirty. but my thirty is made up of three decades of homes. three decades of relationships that have challenged me and molded me into the woman i am now and the woman i will be in the future. cities and faces that stay with me wherever i go.

thank you saint charles and ann arbor and grand rapids and portland. thank you for being my home.

hawaii, it’s your turn to shape the next decade (or at least the beginning of it), and you’ve got a lot to live up to…

#goodluck

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taiwandering.

without googling it, can you picture where taiwan is on a map?

besides the fact that your favorite shirt was unfortunately made there, do you know anything else about taiwan?

before our detour to visit ryan’s sister-in-law’s twin sister (carly) in taiwan back in january 2016, my answer to both of those questions would have been no. taiwan was a country somewhere in asia that i would probably never visit and didn’t really have a desire to learn anything about.

and then we flew in from japan (thanks for the free upgrade to first class delta.) and quickly realized that taiwandering is actually a pretty enjoyable pastime.

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from the temples to the mountains to the beaches to the hot springs, there is plenty packed into this often forgotten asian island.

taiwan has an interesting history, a sort of back and forth struggle between china and japan, and the influence of these cultures is apparent. after coming from china and japan, taiwan felt like a happy medium. the chaos and the calm.

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our tour guide, carly, has been teaching in taiwan for the past three years and knew all the perfect places to take us adventuring tourists.

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a ride on the “fastest moving passenger elevator” to the top of the taipei 101 tower to take in the full scope of taipei. to take “the journey that’ll change your life.”

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building upon building squeezed together and butted up against the layered mountains. this has become a tradition of ours. pay the ridiculous fee to go to the tallest tower and stand in awe of the view from above. get our bearings. discover new things. feel small.

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taiwan has a lot of things to make you feel small. the mountains, the markets, the bottomless hot pots… we got lost in it all. literally…

a bus ride from the city up into the hills to find the hidden bayan wild springs. carefully watching the little blue dot on my google maps app as we tried to follow carly’s instructions to the hot springs.

we preemptively hopped off of the bus (at my direction) and found ourselves at the bus stop before the one we actually wanted. it was raining. it was cold. ryan was not happy with me. but we walked down the highway with our rain jacket hood strings pulled tight and eventually found the dirt trail that led to our magical forested escape.

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once you slip into that sweet sulfur stream, every care in the world disappears. the cool raindrops become a blessing, and the foggy skies meld with the steamy waters. i could have stayed there forever, covered in mud (said to be good for your skin) and loving every minute of it.

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the head-sized breaded chicken at shilin market stole my heart (or clogged it) as well. rows upon rows of vendors showcasing their hilarious t-shirts and kitschy trinkets. fresh fruit waiting to make your fingers sticky and hundreds of people moving together through the maze.

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and ending up at the all you can eat hot pot restaurant. (if everyone wasn’t going there, they should have been.)

imagine a buffet of meats and seafood and vegetables just waiting to be thrown into the boiling pot of broth at your table. endlessly. i’m glad carly warned me to wear a my fat pants otherwise i definitely would have left with my top button undone. yum.

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speaking of yum, my memories of taiwan all seem to come back to food. besides the hot pot and oversized friend chicken, there were michelin star soup dumplings and thai burritos and of course, the insane scallion pancakes that were right below carly’s apartment.

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there were pork buns and taro buns and questionable meat buns that ryan still ate. and to wash it all down, there was bubble tea. lots and lots of bubble tea.

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so in the end, i left my custard heart in taiwan and gained a hot pot belly. perfect for my new life of living in bikinis and sarongs on oahu…

thanks for taking us taiwandering carly.

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japan in january.

it is always on airplanes that i find the space to write. write for me. not for a client’s blog, not for a paid article, but for my mind, my soul, my sanity. something about this metal tube soaring through the sky – and probably my limited access to internet – focuses the words in my head.

i haven’t been on a long flight for awhile. perhaps the last one was from japan to hawaii. (that’s a lie, we flew back to australia for a wedding in march, but i’m going to stick with the lie because it works as a perfect segue.)

that flight signified a new chapter, but the old chapter was never written. this blog holds no words about that time i crossed off “visit japan” from my 35 before 35 list. until now… 🙂

the old chapter

part one: niseko

they (whoever they is) say that niseko has some of the best powder you will ever ride. and they were right. i’m guessing “they” is made up of all the snowboarders and skiers who have showed up to the stunning mountains of hokkaido not knowing what to expect and left with their minds blown. i am now one of this they.

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niseko slopes are not quite as steep as some of the BAMFs would like, but the continuous fresh powder and ungroomed glades make up for its gradual declines. and for me, it was perfect.

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cutting in and out of the trees until it got too narrow for comfort, then easily popping back out on the powdery edge of the groomed runs. not to mention, catching an edge becomes immensely more fun when you face plant into a mound of snowy goodness instead of ice. that is until you have to try and stand back up…

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for just over a week, we let ourselves sink into ski bum status. wake up, put on thermals, look outside, high five (because you can’t see past the huge white flakes), eat breakfast, gear up, grab board, walk to slope, ride ride ride, drink drink drink, go to bed. repeat.

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life is pretty simple in a ski town. life is pretty perfect in a ski town.

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when our lift passes ran out, we headed south to see what else japan had to offer. stoke was high, and i had no idea it was about to get even higher.

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part two: tokyo

i have traveled a lot of places, but japan was only marginally on my radar until recently. my older brother had lived there for quite some time and RAVED about it. at the time, i was like, yeah cool whatever. japan seemed faraway. on the wrong side of the globe. i was a north and south america type of girl. maybe a dash of europe. then i visited india. then i started dating an australian. all the sudden japan didn’t seem that faraway at all. and it sort of looked pretty cool.

sumimasen nikon. i am sorry i ever doubted your awesomeness.

we arrived late at night in tokyo. the airport was quiet and everything seemed to be shutting down. thanks to an old college friend who is currently living in tokyo, we were well-equipped with step-by-step instructions.

  1. find baggage counter and have snowboard bag shipped to apartment. check.
  2. take the ____ train and get off at the ______ stop. check.
  3. get on the _____ line and get off at the ______ stop. check.
  4. walk 15 minutes to apartment.
  5. key is in mailbox.
  6. make yourself at home.

wow. even half asleep, we were able to navigate the brilliant tokyo train system. talk about well-constructed public transportation. there is no need to rent a car in tokyo. the rail will take you basically everywhere you want to go. for cheap.

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as we walked to my friend’s apartment, the city was asleep. it was also short. after my visit to hong kong, i had the impression that tokyo might be similar. i was oh-so-wrong. the buildings are low and sprawl outward forever. there are areas of densely packed skyscrapers, but for the most part this city sits low, which makes it feel way less daunting that other big cities.

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it is also clean. and quiet. and for those of you who know anything about japanese culture, you are nodding your heads. in japan, you do not eat or drink while you walk down the street. you do not talk loudly on the train. you do not blow your nose in public. you are polite. you are very polite. you are probably too polite.

with limited time, we made sure to tackle the important things:

  • yoyogi koen in harajuku on a sunday – if you like people watching, this park is magical. from students practicing their latest hiphop moves to gray-haired street performers setting up their pantomime shows to japanese popstars-in-training belting out their cheesy vocals, yoyogi has got it all. as ryan put it, “these people are parking the shit out of this place.” the dog park adds at least 30 minutes of entertainment as well.
  • maid cafe in akihabara – you’ve gotta do it. yes, you’ll probably pay too much for your magic-infused drink and regret it later, but you still have to experience the weirdness of this popular dining experience.

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  • shibuya at night – switch your iphone to the time-lapse setting and squeeze your way into the lineup of cameras hovering around the second story starbucks window. the famous shibuya intersection is truly something to observe. thousands of humans dancing their way through each other amidst the bright city colors before the traffic light turns green.

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  • sensoji temple and sky tree in asakusa – sure it’s touristy, but once you get past all the kitschy shops, the temple is stunning. and seeing the city from the sky is definitely an interesting perspective. tokyo goes on forever.

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  • tsukiji market – if you want good sushi, go to the market in the morning, the earlier the better, most of the restaurants close by the afternoon. also, if you’re looking for a sweet japanese knife, this is a good place to find one.
  • golden gai – we didn’t actually go here, but we did find our way to another strip of tiny bars. these little establishments are so unique. with seats for only about 5-6 people, the bars offer a cozy way to end your day.
  • kobe beef – we found it, we ate it, we loved it. (and all the other delicious food!)

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  • see snow – you probably won’t be able to do this as it is a pretty rare occurence, but we did. what a magnificent sight to see this pristine city covered in a blanket of soft white snow.

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  • karaoke – even ryan did it. everyone has to do it. rent a room and let your favorites rip.
  • sumo tournament – saving the best for last. if you are in japan and happen to time it when one of the sumo tournaments are on, go. i had no clue how into this sport i would be. there is so much history, so many intricate regulations, so much beauty and performance. after attending the ninth day of the tourny, i wanted to buy tickets for the rest of it. luckily, we happened to catch the winning match on tv at the airport. what a huge win! japan on top again… take that mongolia. yoisho!

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i’m sure i’m forgetting some things above, but our time in tokyo left me wanting my brother to move back to japan so that i could have an excuse to return. i guess i don’t actually need an excuse…

part three: kyoto

my brother spent a lot of time in kyoto and had given me these instructions: in kyoto go to kinkakuji, ginkakuji, heian shrine, downtown, and the gardens.

we boarded that bullet train and headed south.

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after a few days, our feet were sore and cold (the snow followed us to kyoto as well), but we walked around to every temple and shrine and garden that we could find.

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kyoto’s old japanese charm is palpable. you can meander the streets for hours just taking in all the cute storefronts and ornate temples and shrines. every corner has a hidden space to uncover. if you’re into history, this is your city.

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in order to tap into the japanese culture a bit more, and fully embrace our absolute obsession with japanese food, we took a cooking class in kyoto. we crafted a bento box complete with tempura shrimp, sushi rolls, teriyaki chicken, spinach salad, and miso soup. i was pretty impressed with the results. and yes, i still have the recipes if you happen to want to sample my newfound skills. yum.

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with only a few days in kyoto, we spent all day every day getting lost and finding our way. finding our way to unknown temples off the tourist track and taking the time to let ourselves get lost in their majesty.

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japan was magical. a perfect introduction to our new home… hawaii.

p.s. as i finished this blog, i realized i lied some more. after japan, we went to taiwan before we officially moved to hawaii. stay tuned…

paris in the rearview.

life happens. before the hands can transcribe thought to script, the moment is gone. you keep on living. the details fade, and you can’t remember why you wrote that note about the ________.

but maybe it’s not the details that are important tomorrow.

today, six months later, i look at my notes: 

paris day three:

work, buy a french wardrobe due to climbing clothes selection

head to the louvre – seeing masterpieces i studied in college, things i wrote papers about, huge endless rooms of the world’s best art, surrounded by soldiers, never felt unsafe but rather safer amongst it all

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mona lisa thoughts, masterpiece thoughts, all the thoughts

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ice cream at the famous place on the island, patron saints of paris watching over

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meditation with aunt and friends followed by dinner, another night falling asleep as my auntie drove me home.

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by the bastille

paris day four:

breakfast – family does a mooc about versailles but it’s in french, so i do work

opera bastille – l’elisir d’amore by gaetano donizetti – lead female was amazing, a fun comic light hearted performance, fun to get dressed up, black and white – the colors of france

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paris day five:

church

Versailles food market for some lunch fixings, baguettes, cheese, crepes, french yelling

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family bonding – funny how us schneider women are all the same, the “outlaws” instead of inlaws

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sunday – slow and simple

roasted chestnuts (french word for that = marrons chauds), i thought it was just a song

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paris day six:

city tour…

train in by myself

notre dame – eavesdrop on a tour guide

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shakespeare and co.

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le procope

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wander around latin quarter – get lost, curving streets meandering and turing into dead ends, endless cafes and creperies

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tuileries garden stroll

champ elysees christmas market

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petit palace / gran palace

arc de triomphe

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crepe – egypt man

centre pompidou – pollack, matisse, different vibe, outdoor escalators reminded me of hong kong, best view from the top, tired legs, tired soul

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eiffel tower always in the distance, standing tall watching over its city

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day seven:

wake up in the french countryside to a crazy sunrise

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versailles – palace and gardens, meandering with audio tour, wondering what it would be like to have a bedroom like those…

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thai food for lunch with annie and jim

movie night – hunger games mockingly part 2

day eight:

rest?

day nine: 

museo d’Orsay – prostitutes exhibit, one elite parisian prostitute with last name schneider, maybe a past life… women in photography exhibit, giant inner working of clock, my monets

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tour with ethan’s mom – local view, born and raised, best pastries, stories from long ago

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thanksgiving dinner with family complete with my favorite, a delicious homemade pumpkin pie

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day ten:

fly home via iceland and maryland to st. louis to meet family for thanksgiving weekend

today, six months later, i remember:

i remember the graffiti. after coming from hong kong, the artistic expression flying by me through the train window was comforting. back in a space known for its creativity. the culture and language that gave us avant garde. without stalking the historical cafes where artist after artist stewed over music and poetry, i felt it in the air. in the architecture. in the opera. in the fashion. in the people. there is a certain hype that surrounds paris, and i will remember being entirely swept up in it.

i remember the aloneness. i haven’t walked around alone in a big city in quite some time. aimlessly wandering the streets with no specific destination in mind. seeing where a left might take me instead of a right. missing a subway station on purpose so i can backtrack by foot through the chaos. walking around paris reminded me of when i lived in buenos aires. they say it is the paris of south america, and if i had to go by the way both cities made me feel, i’d have to agree. the magic is palpable. to passerbys, my joy probably was too.

i remember the meals. my aunt and cousins sat down together for dinner almost every night. the bell would ring and supper would be served. the busyness of the day would come to a pause as we all gathered around the table to fuel our bodies with food and minds with conversation. perhaps they don’t do this all the time. maybe it was because i was in town. but, either way, it was a cherished gift. a chance to get to know the relatives who have lived so far away all this time. a chance to learn and debate and laugh and eat fresh baguettes and drink french wine.

i’ll always remember what i remember. the specifics aren’t really that important anymore.

alone in paris: settling in

paris.

you hear so much about the city of love. and for me, it lived up to every word. a lifetime of expectation entirely exceeded. ten days to soak in the french and their palace of a city…

when i arrived at the airport, instead of being welcomed with a hug from my auntie, i was greeted with a text message telling me to pop on the train. that the terrorists (i arrived days after terrorist attacks.) were being seized in a neighborhood near the airport and that traffic was a nightmare. so, i figured out how to get a ticket to the country and stared out the window for an hour or so, doe-eyed.

straightaway my cousin-in-law swept me up from the train station and started his tour guiding role. a stroll around the castle of la madeleine, a beautiful medieval fortress overlooking chevreuse.

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a quick stop for lunch at an all frozen food store, then home to their cozy house in saint remy.

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after the chaos of china, it was so nice to settle into family life. meal times and routine were a welcome change.

despite jet lag, i rallied and joined my aunt for a night out in paris. a delicious vegan meal with some longtime expats followed by a truly french musical performance in the small one room basement of a small one room bar.

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it was the sort of thing you’d imagine reading about or seeing in an old film. in my overly tired, dazed and confused state, it all felt so surreal. i wish i could have stayed awake and soaked in more, but alas, after the first performer (a friend of my aunt’s friend) i could not manage to keep my eyes open. but i had heard and seen enough already to know that i could easily fall in love with this city.

and on day two, i fell a little more.

despite a little rain, we strolled down near a canal and fantasized about owning one of the homes hugging the water’s edge.

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there is so much history in paris and its surrounding towns. my imagination was in overdrive flashing back to what it must have been like back when people hung out their windows to wash their clothes in the canal. or seeing the opening scene of beauty and the beast come to life before my very eyes. bonjour. bonjour. bonjour, bonjour, bonjour…

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we escaped the rain into a cute restaurant that apparently gets overrun by motorcyclists on the weekend, but today it was just us. i indulged in the traditional duck confit for lunch and profiteroles for dessert.

i had not yet gone into the city, but my family time in the country was just what i needed. every meal was filled with abundant conversation and rolling laughter. since my aunt, cousins, and second cousins have lived in france my whole life, i don’t get to see them nearly enough. and yet, it was evident upon arrival that we were indeed related. once a schneider woman, always a schneider woman (regardless of last name).

with jet lag dissipating and a good night’s sleep ahead, it was time to finally head into paris and see what the fuss was all about…

12 signs you were born and raised in the Chicago suburbs

In honor of heading home for the holidays… 12 signs you were born and raised in the Chicago suburbs:

1. You have a photo of yourself being knighted at Medieval Times.

Or crowned princess on your birthday, in my case. Nothing like slipping back in time and investigating ancient torture methods before cheering on the black and white checkered knight as he conquered the evil green knight in an epic jousting match. Let’s not forget the whole eating with your hands element, either.

2. The last Metra train determined when you had to close out your tab. 

And missing that last train meant a very expensive cab ride home from the city. You also knew that open containers were totally cool aboard the train, and necessary since Chicago cocktails were triple the price of your local Main Street bar. Let the train pre-game begin!

3. All your major life events were celebrated at Colonial. 

Or whatever your local diner happened to be. Dance recitals, school musicals, graduations, etc. all ended with a Kitchen Sink at Colonial. Not only did you get to celebrate your accomplishments with a 6-scoop ice cream sundae served in a miniature kitchen sink, you also got to walk away with a bumper sticker to prove you’re a fat ass.

4. You have at least one photo of yourself crying at Six Flags Great America. 

All right, maybe not every Chicago suburbanite hates walking around amusement parks in drenched denim as much as I do, but they definitely have made the trek to Gurnee at some point in their lives. One ride on the Viper’s 25-year-old wooden track (forward or backward) and you’ll be doubting your sanity for years to come.

See the rest of this article on Matador Network!

 

hong kong and beyond.

from tsim sha tsui to central, from lamma island to shek o, from macau to kowloon, i soaked in as much of hong kong as i could before departing china for my impromptu reroute.

tsim sha tsui is made up of rows and rows of “mansions” filled with tailors, money exchanges, massage parlors, and other random shops. most cheap lodging is found in guest houses that really are just apartments morphed into hotels. small and sketchy. cleanliness is optional but slow elevators are required.

the streets are bustling in this tourist district. you can slip into sync with the masses and march down one of the main drags to the jade market. although kitschy and overpriced, it is an excellent space to browse and take in old chinese men eating noodles over their suitcases of jade and antique wares. the surrounding area offers other food and knickknack markets to further fuel a truly intriguing people watching stroll.

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first and foremost, tsim sha tsui visits need to include crowding down on the water’s edge to take selfies in front of hong kong’s central skyline situated across the bay.

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then, come back around 8pm to take in a spectacular of lights. electricity dancing over the metal giants and shooting across the foggy night sky.

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a few museums make their home upon this promenade as well as the ferries. by the end of a week, we had mastered the ferries. by the end of a week, we were over tsim sha tsui.

across the water, central hong kong stands tall packed with bank buildings and business suits. double decker street cars move 9-5ers from point a to point b and back.

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an endless vertical incline of escalators takes pedestrians up through the mid-levels, full of trendy bars, health food stores, organic restaurants, and spas.

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at the top, signs direct you back down through a sad excuse for a zoo.

but the real treat in central is victoria peak, or the peak as it’s called. don’t buy a roundtrip ticket for the tram that takes you to the top. take the tram up and the bus down. after spending hours looking down upon hong kong’s jungle of skyscrapers in amazement, you won’t want to wait in the massive line to take the tram back down. the view from the top is epic.

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go right before sunset and watch the city shift from blue skies to fireflies. it’s like your own time-lapse…in real time.

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head to happy valley at some point and bet on the ponies. every wednesday night it’s themed. we went on james bond night. figuring out how to bet in chinese took me at least an hour, but in the end i won $18 and got to watch a couple ridiculously ripped men flagpole off each other. all in all, a win. plus ryan made friends with a swiss banker, plastic surgeon, and yacht salesman. rubbing elbows with the upper class at the races (and getting ready for the boob job i might need one day).

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after a few days of city life, we were ready to escape. a quick ferry ride to the outlying island of lamma island offered a pleasant change of scenery. within minimal, if any, roads, this little island is green and lush. one end of the island has a small town housing hippie boutiques and quaint apartment complexes.

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“the family trail” takes you for a 4k walk to the other side of the island, a strip of seafood restaurants on stilts above the water.

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tanks and tanks sit on the sidewalks filled with sea critters of which i have never heard.

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after a leisurely walk (and a few days in hong kong), a delicious seafood meal overlooking the sunset was a much needed recovery.

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you always see more interesting things when you know a local, and when our friend patrick arrived, we discovered shek o. his friend lived there and was living the good life. steps from the beach. steps from town. this cute little area sits away from central and feels like an entirely different world. the beach atmosphere. we drank through an entire cocktail list at their local beach shack pub and then headed to the next, on the backside of the town.

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it was nice to be away from the tourist scene. a night with home cooked food, too much spirit (in all senses of the word), and wonderful company. i spent the evening attempting to drunkenly learn turkish, and boy did i feel it the next day. but, not as bad as ryan. as we piled into a taxi in the morning, poor ryan sat shaking armed and ready with a plastic bag to puke in. windy roads did him in, but not a drop made it into the taxi. what a champion.

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however, our itinerary for the day involved taking an hour ferry ride over to macau, the vegas of china. we returned to our hostel room for a brief regrouping, only to find that someone else was in our room, and all of our luggage was missing. the receptionist informed us that they had switched our room. that our stuff was “downstairs.” all i could do was laugh.

turns out our stuff was not downstairs but just moved to the room across the hall. we regrouped and rallied. by lunchtime, we were riding the luxury boat (free upgrade) to macau with hopes to win big. we studied the possible casinos and decided to start at the venetian.

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after pat lost a quick few bucks on the roulette wheel, we filled our bellies with dim sum and headed back to plant ourselves at the cheaper roulette wheel.

turns out ryan hasn’t gambled much and had quite a bit of beginner’s luck. as he quietly hoarded his chips in the corner, looking surprisingly well after his morning of looking like death, patrick and i rode the waves of wins and losses. zero never did hit, but twenty-two did!

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it was our last full day in hong kong. as we headed home, i was tired. i was ready to head to paris. since china would not let me in, i would go to the city of love. alone. i would not let terrorist attacks stop me. fear should never dictate.

the next morning, ryan boarded a train and started an epic journey into rural china, ready to rock climb. pat and i wandered around kowloon after checking my bags in at the station. (yes, apparently you can check your bags before the airport so you don’t have to take them on the train. how great!) we found our way up to sky100, a 360 degree viewing lounge 400m above hong kong. another place to stare out over this monster of a city.

hong kong you are a beast.

that is all.