NYC

Morning views in Bryant Park

Walking through Chelsea Market

The first day in a new city after a 6-hour red-eye flight always makes for some delusional sightseeing. After landing just before 7am, falling asleep in an Uber ride to Manhattan, and dropping our luggage at the hotel in the center of Midtown, Matt and I got some much-needed coffee and sat in a green park nestled between landmarks such as Grand Central Station, Times Square, and the New York Library. We watched well-dressed young professionals walk briskly towards offices while old men, free of deadlines, played chess on stone tables. I tried to contrast the energy of the place with tech-centric, Neverland-esque San Francisco. You definitely wouldn’t catch anyone wearing sweatpants and a company-branded hoodie to work here.

Once all of the members of Matt’s family trickled in by way of Newark, Penn Station, JFK and La Guardia, we headed south to have lunch at Chelsea Market. The converted old dessert factory was now a long open brick building home to a collection of shops and vendors, featuring original ghost murals and industrial piping. German beers in hand, we browsed tables of vintage jewelry, organic herbal soaps, and artists’ renditions of the NYC skyline.

Out the back door of the Chelsea Market and up a set of stairs was The High Line, an old elevated railway line transformed into a 1.5-mile public promenade, complete with views of the Hudson to the West. In some ways The High Line, which winds through and along and between the buildings and docks of Manhattan, could not be more intertwined with the city. But at the same time it has the feeling of a protected oasis, insulated from the noise and chaos of the busy streets. About two stories off the ground and buffered from brick facades on either side with carefully designed greenery, it’s a perfect way to see New York from the vantage point of the pedestrian while also feeling elevated from the daily grind.

At the northern terminus of The High Line, we returned to the level of the locals (which smelled faintly of urine) and meandered our way across Manhattan towards the Flatiron Building, where we stopped at Eataly for a beer and a quick break for our tired feet. Matt and I felt like we could walk some more, so we turned south to make the two-mile trek to the Financial District. We took Broadway through SoHo, past NYU design buildings and art galleries, and wondered out loud what it would be like to live in New York. We loved the energy, the bursting creativity and the diversity of industries. We loved the pedestrian lifestyle and the youthful spirit. (This was all before we had to take the hot, crowded, pushy subway from Grand Central Station at 8:30am on Monday morning, which quickly extinguished our enthusiasm for New York living).

We let the Freedom Tower be our guiding beacon once we reached the Wall Street area, and soon we arrived at the Ground Zero Memorial. We approached the footprint of the north tower and when the fountain came into view I felt the sight take my breath away. Water was flowing over all four sides into a lower infinity pool, where it cascaded again into a smaller, deeper square in the center. The innermost pit was so deep that the base was invisible, giving the illusion that the water would continue to fall forever into the depths of the earth. Names of the people killed on 9/11 were engraved into the stone on the outside where viewers watched the waterfalls. The shape of the pool paid tribute to the space left over from the actual building, and the design held the appropriate gravitas of the space. It felt like a perfect memorial to the people lost that day.

Breakfast the next morning was, of course, New York bagels. Our whole group headed up 3rd Avenue to Essa-Bagel in Midtown, waited in line 40 minutes, and got our orders from grumpy men behind the deli counter. My everything bagel had significantly more cream cheese between the two halves than I had ever seen before. Thank you, New York City, for this unforgettable contribution to American culinary staples.

Matt and I split off to take the subway to the Brooklyn Bridge, where we walked out to the center on the raised wooden pedestrian median and saw a whole new view of Manhattan. On our north-bound walk from there we passed by the very intimidating courthouse, and alongside the border to Chinatown on our left and Little Italy on our right.

I wanted to explore the East Village, where most of the food and drink recommendations from my friends were centered, so we picked up Matt’s brother Tyler and bee-lined to Morgenstern’s, a hipster ice cream shop featured in Master of None, where we tried the very trendy black coconut ash ice cream (verdict: good but not very flavorful… it's also slightly unnerving to eat black ice cream). We brought our cones and walked through the tree-lined streets, past barber shops, brunch meccas, and import boutiques, and down alleyways of colorful murals. I was pretty smitten with the East Village.

Brooklyn Brewery's Tasting Room

Brooklyn Brewery's Tasting Room

The wedding activities began that night with a welcome dinner in Brooklyn, so we made our way through the tunnel early to stop at Brooklyn Brewery, one of Matt’s dad’s favorites. The tasting room is located in one section of a massive warehouse, which is also hope to a bowling center / concert venue called Brooklyn Bowl. We squeezed nine people onto a long wooden picnic table along the tall wall of windows, a group whose members had assembled that weekend from Florida, Texas, California and Philadelphia.

The dinner was held at a rooftop Japanese restaurant with an indoor-outdoor setup and beautiful views of Brooklyn and the Statue of Liberty. Dinner began with a sushi buffet, and the bride’s brother’s folk band played as the sun went down. Everything was gorgeous.

View from Kimoto Rooftop at sunset

View from Kimoto Rooftop at sunset

We spent the next morning with our good friend Sean, eating a delicious brunch at a place called The Smith and wandering through Central Park. We had to dodge the annual Jewish Parade that ran up the east side of the park, but besides that it was a calm and warm day to meander. 

The wedding was held at Brooklyn Winery, a gorgeous industrial space with huge skylights, dangling Edison bulbs, and a green wall of plants. This was my first Jewish wedding, and each ritual and tradition was so beautiful, from the smashing of the glass to the dancing while holding the bride and groom aloft in chairs. 

Before flying out on Monday afternoon, we had a goodbye family brunch at the William Vale Hotel in Brooklyn (with views of the Manhattan skyline across the East River), then explored the Williamsburg neighborhood on foot. I could see why the area is so trendy for twenty-somethings; we passed by brunch restaurants, vintage clothes stores, and hipster coffeeshops. We even found a typographic mural outside a café done by one of my favorite lettering artists. Matt and I had a final beer with his brother Tyler at a German biergarten (which we had to ourselves on a Monday at noon), and ended our NYC weekend with — fittingly — a lox bagel. 

Seaside Adventures in Monterey

The best place in all of California to see marine mammals is Monterey Bay. Several hundred humpback whales spend more than half the year feeding just off the coast, harbor seals sun themselves on rocky islands, and an enormous colony of sea lions has taken over the seawall in the harbor. The best way to see the abundance of wildlife is from the water, so on a sunny but windy Saturday when my dad and stepmom were visiting, we rented kayaks and followed our guide out into the turbulent (and slightly intimidating) surf. 

Our 90-minute tour took us on a loop under the pier, through the harbor, and along a seawall covered with starfish and anemones. We saw two sea otters poke their heads up for a moment, making their way through the ship canal. Then, when we got to the calmer, more protected area of the waterfront, we came across 10 or 12 chubby-looking harbor seals who appeared to be in the middle of their afternoon nap. They were perched on their sides on the dry rocks, holding their tails out of the water and flaunting all their blubbery glory. 

When we approached the seawall, we were overwhelmed by the sound of a hundred barking sea lions. They lay sprawled across the rocky surface, pig-piled on top of one another and loudly complaining about it. Some of the smaller ones were wrestling for position, and the loser of each battle would be pushed into the sea until he could swim up to another rock and try all over again. They behaved almost like loud, clumsy labradors. 

After we each accomplished the tricky beach landing in our kayaks and changed out of our wetsuits, we drove the iconic, incredibly scenic 17-Mile Drive through the Pebble Beach golf resorts. The road passes through the lush forest atop the small peninsula before dropping down to the sea, where it winds past beautiful coves and wind-swept sand dunes. We stopped for lunch at The Bench, a restaurant overlooking the 18th hole, and admired the view of Carmel-by-the-Sea to the south. 

A stop along 17-Mile Drive

A stop along 17-Mile Drive

Carmel-by-the-Sea

Carmel-by-the-Sea

On our way to dinner we took a pit stop at Carmel beach, which in the pre-sunset glow was full of locals taking an evening stroll or walking their dogs. The beach has perfect powdery white sand and is lined with green hills; it's picturesque no matter the season. Dinner was at an Italian spot called Portabella, where the highlights were mushroom risotto, a local cheese plate, and a seafood linguine in a lobster cream sauce.

That night we stayed at the Carriage House Inn, a charming bed and breakfast in downtown Carmel with enormous plush beds, in-room fireplaces, and jacuzzi bathtubs. In the morning we were brought breakfast in bed on a tray with a fresh flower and the local newspaper. It wasn't easy to motivate ourselves to emerge from the rooms for our second day of adventures. 

From breakfast, we drove a few miles south to Point Lobos Natural Reserve to do some hiking. The park itself isn't very large, but there are a dozen or so trails that span the entire coastline of the peninsula, plus a few more in the forested highlands above. The views were beautiful and the wildlife viewing was unbeatable. Within our first minute on the trail we spotted two sea otters, and from there it just got better and better. 

With a pair of binoculars (highly recommended) we could see rafts of sea otters floating on their backs and bashing rocks against sea urchins on their stomachs to get to the soft flesh. When they weren't eating — which is pretty much all the time, because otters eat 25% of their body weight each day — they were playing around with one another, doing flips and turns at the surface of the water and jumping on top of their friends. They were so playful and funny we thought they must be putting on a show for us. 

We also spotted small groups of harbor seals swimming circles in the crystal-clear turquoise waters of tiny inlets, looking quite similar to families of overweight mermaids. Sometimes when one of the mothers lifted her head above the surface of the water we could hear her calling out to her babies.

When we hit the road to head north to the Bay Area, we decided to stop one more place that our kayaking guide had recommended: Elkhorn Slough at Moss Landing, which is a calm inlet located about halfway to Santa Cruz on the Monterey Bay coast. We were lucky to discover that this spot provided the best sea otter viewing yet. About 30 of them, mostly older males with white heads like gray-haired grandpas, were lazily floating on their backs about five or ten feet offshore. Most looked to be sleeping, and had both paws resting on top of their closed eyes, which was possibly the most hilarious animal behavior I've ever seen. One guy kept flipping around and around from his back to his front, but kept both arms raised to keep them out of the water, which was equally entertaining because it looked like he was dancing. 

Now I know I have a slightly abnormal obsession with sea mammals (they're so darn cute I can't help it!), but I would recommend a Monterey Bay weekend to anyone who enjoys outdoor activities and beautiful scenery. Between kayaking, hiking, animal-watching, and beach lounging, there's more than enough to keep you occupied for a long weekend. 

Creative South

This year I travelled to Columbus, Georgia to attend Creative South, a small design conference focused on creative thinking, collaboration, and exploration. It draws an especially large number of hand lettering artists, which was its main attraction for me. I got to meet some of my Instagram heroes, as I call them, and was so surprised at how kind and genuine everyone was. From the very beginning event — a bridge party with music, live drawing challenges, and a fireworks show — I felt surrounded by a passionate and closely connected community. Here are my top three learnings and experiences from CS17.


Friends to Family

The Creative South motto is “Come as friends, leave as family.” Yes, it sounds very cheesy, and I was definitely rolling my eyes at the slogan when going through registration. But the funny thing is, the sense of community ended up being the best part of attending CS. I went to Georgia alone and roomed with three girls I didn’t know, but after two days I felt like we’d been friends for years. I met artists I’d admired online like celebrities, but when I reached out to shake their hands they’d pull me in for a hug. Everyone was down-to-earth and welcoming, and even the most famous designers were humble and gracious. 48 hours after arriving, I felt the support of a whole community of friends that felt like family.


Failure Isn't Fatal

A common thematic thread connecting many of the talks was failure. Many speakers have endured catastrophic, devastating failures, and had emerged unscathed on the other side of them. Dominique Falla reassured us that a career path is never a straight line, and Adé Hogue said that his self doubt drives him and keeps him humble. Alicja Colon told us to reframe success, and Mark Brickey talked about how he constantly has to give himself permission to try, permission to fail, and permission to succeed. After all, as Erik Reagan said, if you’re not failing, you’re not trying.


Letters Cast a Secret Spell

Many speakers had experience with type, from a hand lettering artist to a cultural type curator to the founder of an Australian typography conference. Although their styles and expertise spanned a wide spectrum, they all conveyed a passion for the power of letters. Charles S. Anderson showed examples from his collection of historic type, and Dominique Falla displayed the submissions for the three volumes of the Typism book she publishes. Laura Medina finds it wasteful to duplicate the meaning of the words with the style of the type, and instead likes to inject additional meaning by designing the letters. Nikki Villagomez, founder of Culture + Typography, showed photo compilations from cities across the globe of physical and environmental type that contributes to a city’s unique identity. As she put it, “Helvetica sanitizes. Lettering conveys emotion.”

Saturday Speakers:

Erik Reagan
Co-Founder, Focus Lab
@erikreagan

Antoinette Carroll
Founder, Creative Reaction Lab
@antoinettecarroll

Bob Ewing
Lettering Artist
@bobewing_

Laura Medina
Designer, Matchstic
@lauralmedina

Marc Hemeon
Founder & CEO, Design Inc.
@hemeon

Joel Buekelman
Head of Design, Design Inc.
@bklmn

Ced Funches
Director of Design, Vox Media
@cedfunches

Mark Brickey
Adventures in Design Podcast
@aidpodcast

Friday Speakers:

Adé Hogue
Art Director & Letterer
@adehogue

Alicja Colon
Content Creator, Focus Lab
@alicjacolon

Jason Blumer
Creative Business Coach
Blumer CPAs

Nikki Villagomez
Culture + Typography
@nikki_vz

Mackey Saturday
Brand Designer, CGH
@saturday

Dominique Falla
Tactile Typographer
@dominique_falla

Charles S. Anderson
Creative Director, CSA Design
CSA website

More swag (not to mention better designed swag) than any other conference

Tampa Thanksgiving

This year I was invited to have Thanksgiving with my boyfriend's family in Tampa Bay, Florida. On second thought, I may have actually been bribed to have Thanksgiving in Tampa. That's because my beloved Seattle Seahawks were scheduled to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that weekend. And Matt's older brother Chris not only found us free club seats to the game, but also managed to acquire field passes to see the players warm up before the game (!). 

After maybe the most hellish redeye flight I've ever endured, I arrived in Tampa and Matt took me immediately to St. Petersburg for Cuban coffee... which was an excellent idea, because apparently this Cuban coffee had 5 shots of espresso in it. Five. 

This is the face of satisfaction that Matt makes when he gets me to drink coffee 

We ate Cuban sandwiches sitting at a table under some trees on the sidewalk in front of Bodega, and as someone who never thought she liked Cuban sandwiches I was proven very, very wrong. The temperature could not have been more comfortable, the coffee had me perfectly buzzed, and the afternoon drifted by us. 

Across the street from Bodega on Central is Green Bench Brewing Company. As dutiful beer snobs, we checked it out and ordered some flights (heavily skewed to IPAs on my side). Green Bench has a large open grassy side area where they project movie screenings on the wall during the summer. I concluded that my favorite Green Bench beer was the aptly named Sunshine City IPA. 

After beers (which effectively cancelled out the Cuban caffeine buzz) we wandered down Central Avenue to see downtown St. Petersburg. Matt told me how much the neighborhood had changed, how it had become hipster and trendy in the last two or three years. We walked by outdoor concert venues, colorful typographic murals, and art museums. 

That evening we drove with Matt's parents out to Clearwater Beach (fun / scary fact: this is home to the biggest Scientology community in the country!) to have dinner on the beach at the famous Frenchy's Café. We sat on the outdoor patio right on the sand and ate grilled grouper sandwiches as the sun went down. It was the kind of sunset that lingered in the sky, moving through the entire spectrum of reds and pinks before finally dipping below the horizon. 

Lola the French Bulldog at Thanksgiving 

We had a quiet and intimate Thanksgiving dinner at Matt's parents house, watching football and telling stories. The food was delicious, and the company was friendly and very enjoyable. Matt's older brother Chris came with his wife Ellen and her parents, plus the cutest French Bulldog in the world: Lola (aka Stinker). 

The beach at Longboat Key

The next morning we went on a turkey-antidote run around the neighborhood before gearing up for our adventure of the day: Longboat Key. Matt's family used to make the 90-minute drive south over the Skyway Bridge for family vacations on the beach, and I could see why. It's a perfectly sleepy holiday town that combines tourist attractions with stunning natural scenery. The center of town is a picturesque shopping circle full of art galleries and upscale boutiques, behind which is a long, uninterrupted stretch of white sand beach. Even in late fall it was warm enough to sit on the beach in a sundress, digging my bare feet into the sand and listening to the waves drift in and out. Matt told me the story of Chris proposing to Ellen on this beach, and I had to commend him on his choice of location. 

When we returned to St. Petersburg, we met up with Chris and Ellen to play shuffleboard and go bar crawling through the downtown area. We posted up at a loud and crowded cocktail bar called Cask & Ale, and Matt's high school acquaintances started trickling in. 

We planned our Saturday around the college football schedule (which we tend to do during football season). After lunch at a regal-looking historic Cuban restaurant called The Colombia, we wandered through Ybor City – where, for some reason unknown to me, there are groups of wild roosters roaming the streets – to find a good Irish bar to watch Notre Dame play USC. We took over the central table and the biggest TV at James Joyce Irish Pub and our group slowly grew from 6 to 14 as the game wore on. For the next shift of games (Florida State vs. Florida) we wandered down to 7th Street and posted up at a place called The Bad Monkey (yes really). The nightlife along 7th heated up as the night wore on, and Matt told me about how Ybor City used to be known for Cuban cigar factories back in the day. Now it's full of broken down manufacturing buildings, quickly becoming trendy for the twenty-something crowd in Tampa. 

Sunday was the big day: possibly the most enticing reason for coming to Tampa over Thanksgiving weekend. It was the Seahawks vs. Buccaneers NFL game. Chris and Ellen had season tickets, but managed to get us all box seats from a friend who works as the team accountant. As if box seats on the 50 yard line weren't fabulous enough, he also scored us field passes for before the game. That's right, I got to walk along the sidelines as the teams warmed up, standing just 5 yards away from RICHARD SHERMAN. Please see adjacent photo of me freaking out and being a huge dorky fangirl. 

I seem to have forgotten the results of the game (something to do with selective-Seahawks-win memory.... it's common among Seattleites), but with a gorgeous sunset and a warm night, it was impossible not to have a good time. I highly recommend attending a game at Raymond James Stadium, if not for the weather then for the supercool giant pirate ship in the endzone. 

Playing Hooky in Paris

Sometimes all it takes to turn a work trip into a fun trip is a free weekend and some coworkers who are up for an adventure. 

In November I spent 10 days in London and Paris with 10 people from my team at work, setting up our new product for internationalization. Our time in Paris overlapped a weekend, so I took advantage of both (very rainy) days to explore as much of the city as I could. 

I began Saturday morning by standing out on the balcony of my hotel room to survey the neighborhood. Hotel Republique, located just north of the Bastille neighborhood, features tiny but impeccably designed and modern rooms, and my sixth floor room came with a matching narrow balcony looking out over the other narrow balconies across the alley. It was cold – very cold. Like in the mid-thirties. So I wrapped a blanket-sized scarf around my neck and ventured out to explore on foot. My adventure partners were Suyash, an engineer on my team, and his friend who was studying abroad in Barcelona. We started off in a teeny café on the banks of the channel near our hotel, watching pedestrians walk by and drinking lattes with beautiful designs drawn in the foam.

We wandered through the crooked streets of the old Jewish quarter, which were lined with trendy clothes stores and pastry shops. I found it particularly difficult to tear myself away from a window where a chef was squeezing frosting out of a pastry bag onto some amazing fluffy looking pillows. My favorite thing about wandering the streets, though, was the hand-painted typography on the storefronts. Cafés, patisseries, bistros, all had one-of-a-kind lettering painted on their windows. 

After walking across the city through the sporadic showers we came across a street market all along the Champs Elysees, beginning under the giant wheel, where we met up with another group of our coworkers. The market was lit by strings of Christmas lights and filled with holiday shoppers. We stopped for some much needed hot mulled wine in a Bavarian-themed hall along the avenue. The men behind the counter were melting enormous wheels of Raclette cheese onto dishes of hot wedged potatoes, which we were much too cold and hungry to refuse. 

Upon reaching the end of the Champs Elysees, we stood before the majestic Arc de Triomphe, lit from below and sparkling in the rain. When we finally figured out how to get to the center of the roundabout (with six lanes of vehicular traffic furiously circling) by way of a Metro tunnel, we climbed the stairs and emerged right underneath the monument. The day happened to be the one-year anniversary of the devastating 2015 terror attacks, so there was a memorial fire burning next to a large display of flowers. 

We met up with all 10 of our team members at a fancy restaurant for dinner that night, where we took over a private cellar room in an ancient castle-like building on the Ile de la Cité (the island in the river right in the heart of the city). Dinner was superb - six courses including an incredible creme brulee finalé. 

I began the next day with mass at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, which was about as awe-inspiring as it sounds. Even with the constant foot traffic of tourists circling the main area of the nave, it was still a very calm and spiritual experience. The next stop was to show a few of my friends the Cathedral of Sainte Chapelle, one of my favorite cathedrals from my Gothic architecture class in college. You start by walking into a very dark, cellar-like space void of windows, and follow a tight spiral staircase up from the back corner. All of a sudden you emerge into a blinding room, completely surrounded by 40-foot-tall stained glass windows. It's seriously enough to make your mouth drop open in awe. The windows depict scenes from the old and new testaments, progressing as you circle from the back to the front, and ending with the enormous rose window in the rear. Even on a cloudy day, the multi-colored light streaming in through the stained glass windows made the space feel warm and magical. 

I split up from my friends at this point for our museum time. They wanted to see the Louvre, which I had seen a few years before, and I wanted to go to the Musee d'Orsay... and I was not disappointed. I saw famous works by Monet, Manet, and Cezanne, and they were even more stunning in person. The building itself was almost as lovely as the works housed inside. After I finished, I took myself out to lunch in a little bistro down the street where I ordered a French cheese plate and a cup of true French onion soup. It was my favorite meal in all of France. 

The next stop was the one we'd all been most looking forward to: the Eiffel Tower. I had visited the site when I'd been there in 2012, but I was a very poor college student and couldn't afford a ticket to the top. This time, however, my friends and I decided it was an absolute must. 

We took the first elevator to a mid-level stop, vectoring in an unnatural direction that aimed up and to the right. The view from this first stop was already stunning, so we couldn't imagine just how incredible the next stop would be. We hopped on an even longer elevator ride, and watched the ground drop farther away from us through the lattice work of the metal structure. When we got out at the top, the wind was howling and so icy that we could only stay outside for 5 minutes at a time. Which we did over and over and over again because of that unforgettable view.... yeah, it was THAT good. Advice for younger me: should have splurged on the ticket. 

For dinner my manager, fellow designers and I went out to a traditional French wine bar and ordered a charcuterie plate of meats and cheeses. What else could you want for your last dinner in Paris? To top it off with an even more perfect meal, however, I got up at sunrise the next morning before we left for the airport and picked up a bag of pastries from the little French bakery on the corner across from our hotel. I topped off the trip with two perfect, buttery croissants. 

Designer Vaca

In late 2016 I attended an incredible event that annually brings together members of the female design community to connect, unplug, and share inspiration in beautiful Palm Springs. I came away from Designer Vaca with amazing new friends, a community of support, and countless ideas on how to make my design work even better. 

We began with an opening celebration in the "Commune" private event area of the Ace Hotel (where we all stayed), complete with a retro van photo booth and lots of fascinating conversations. I met a group of 3 girls from Seattle, two of whom work on the design team at Zillow, and one photographer transitioning into design at the gourmet chocolate company Theo. They were all friendly, funny, brilliant, and so much fun to be around. We took goofy pictures in the photo booth, binged on chips and guacamole, and talked about our past and current jobs. 

The next morning we sat down with mimosas to a talk by a motivational speaker named Carlos Whittaker. He spoke about living life intentionally, and remembering to make moments in daily life. In terms of social media presence, he emphasized that people are attracted to authenticity, so the more genuine you present yourself on the web, the better off you'll be.

After Carlos finished speaking, we got into small groups to discuss his ideas in a more intimate setting. The range of experience in my small group was wide, from freelance web designers to in-house designers and founders of large companies. Input was varied, but I wrote down some of the most memorable comments from my group members to reflect on later. 

The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool with watermelon margaritas, meeting new women and learning about new sides of the design industry. My big fan-girl moment was floating up to two girls in the pool that I knew from social media: the women behind the lettering brand San Diego Letters. They are sort of heroes of mine, lettering artists who specialize in fun and funky phrases and large-scale murals. They also host a podcast called Drunk on Lettering in which they video chat with a different lettering artist each week, while simultaneously drinking beers from either end of the call. They are currently doing an artist residency at a brewery... so yeah, you can see why they're my heroes. Both were super friendly and gave great advice on starting a lettering business to myself and my conference roommate Ashley (another aspiring lettering artist).

At night we sat down to a big taco dinner on long tables under strings of lights, right beside our private Designer Vaca pool. Ashley and I sat next to the team from May Designs (a notebook and stationary company), including founder Mica May, a badass boss lady who literally built the company out of her garage. She was surrounded by her team – a group of stylish women in their 20's and 30's who sounded like they were completely in love with their jobs. I was struck by everyone's passion for their careers. 

After we finished dinner, our keynote speaker took the stage. Jasmine Star is a former wedding photographer in the process of transitioning her career towards marketing strategy for creative entrepreneurs. Having gone through the process of starting a career in a creative field and utilizing scrappy methodology to gain clients and followers, she knew where many of us were and how to help us get where we want to be. She told stories from her early days in photography, and detailed how she got more business (at the start of her career), better clients (once she got her business off the ground), and more time for the things she valued (once she had a thriving photography client base). Not only was she an enthusiastic speaker, but she shared concrete and specific steps towards getting the creative business of her dreams. 

Our final day of Designer Vaca began with parfaits, mimosas, and a talk from a pair of women whose voices were very familiar to me. I'd been listening to the podcast "Being Boss" for about a year, hosted by Emily Thompson and Kathleen Shannon. In their weekly episodes they discuss the difficulties of starting and running your own business, narrated with their unique style of candid and witty banter. They recounted some of their most important learnings over the years, and touched on the most popular topics from their podcast episodes. I especially loved their advice on money: "Talk about it!" Some women (ahem, me) tend to think of finances as a taboo topic, instead of being open and clear about it with themselves and others. I made a resolution then and there to track my finances more thoroughly each month. 

Armed with a notebook of new knowledge and professional advice, I spent the rest of the day by the pool with Ashley and our new friend Katherine who designs websites for musicians in Nashville. Katherine gave us tons of tips on how to increase our followers on Instagram, and even started a social media group of fellow female small business owners so that we could support one another's posts. 

The speakers were enlightening, for sure, but my absolute favorite parts of Designer Vaca were the spontaneous connections made in the free time between the structured activities. I met some kick-ass women who make amazing things, and I was awed and inspired by their creations and their attitudes. I feel like I found my creative tribe during this retreat to the desert. 

Girls' Weekend in Austin

In September the opening weekend of college football occurred over a long holiday weekend, so my college roommates from across the country converged on Austin for a reunion weekend and the Notre Dame vs. Texas game. 

Papalote = best tacos

Because none of us had really explored the city before, we had made three priorities of Austin activities. Priority #1 was (obviously) barbecue. Priority #2 was Texas-style tacos, and priority #3 was craft beer. On our first full day in the city, after staying up waaay too late catching up at our airbnb, we went on a wild brewery / taco tour around lots of different neighborhoods in Austin. My taco-enthusiast friend Meggan had planned out our route and volunteered to be our soccer-mom-style chauffeur, and we embarked on our voyage. Our taco stops included Papalote, Torchy's Tacos, and Taco Joint. Our consensus was that our first stop Papalote had the best flavors... and it didn't hurt that we had Amy's ice cream immediately after. 

Beer flights at Independence Brewing

Beer flights at Independence Brewing

In terms of breweries, we liked the beer the best at Hops & Grain, where we ordered fries and bought custom pint glasses. We loved the vibe and the live music at Independence Brewing, situated in a huge warehouse with giant garage-style doors that opened to outdoor seating. 

The next day we embraced the killer heat by heading about 30 miles north of the city to inner tube down the San Marcos River. Now, I'd been river floating before in California and this experience was nothing like that. There were so many hundreds of people floating the river with us that at some points the entire span of the water was covered in humans. The six of us arranged ourselves in a pinwheel formation around a central cooler tube, where we attempted (unsuccessfully) to keep our beers cold. After two close calls with amphibious serpents — which was rather alarming to Meggan — we approached the end of the three-hour float. At the very end we passed a group of about 50 people playing music on waterproof speakers. As we got even with them we recognized the song they were playing: the Notre Dame victory march. We looked around and realized they were all alumni from our class at ND, in town for the game. 

After a day in the sun, it was time for the epic barbecue we'd been waiting for. We ate at Terry Black's Barbecue, the type of place where you grab a tray and are served meat by the pound, complete with coleslaw and mac n' cheese and cornbread sides. The meat was melt-in-your-mouth delicious. Definitely the best barbecue I've ever had. But afterwards we really paid for it. A day in the sun followed by an extremely heavy meal made for some very sleepy girls. We passed out early, into meat-fueled comas. 

The day of the game was SUPER hot and humid, and we spent the afternoon bar hopping down Rainey Street, the new hipster neighborhood with the best bars and restaurants. Our favorite turned out to be Container Bar: a building completely constructed out of shipping containers stacked on top of one another. At one point Alison was so overheated that she poured a cup of water onto her own head... This was oppressive humidity! 

The game was one of the most exciting college football matchup I'd ever seen. Notre Dame tragically lost in the last 3 seconds of the game... a fate that we knew all too well from past ND seasons. Kim and I sat in the literal last row of the stadium, which put us around the height of the tallest office buildings in the city. So at least we got a gorgeous Texas sunset out of the deal. 

After the game, disappointed Notre Dame fans flocked to 6th Street, a road downtown famous for its wild nightlife (for context, it reminded me a lot of Bourbon Street in New Orleans). We found a bar containing a large number of our friends, which was an arcade on the ground floor and an open rooftop with a dance floor on the top floor. When we heard last call at 2AM, we all flocked across the street to the Austin location of VooDoo Donuts, a Portland-based shop with crazily shaped donuts and wacky toppings. My favorite was the captain crunch topped chocolate glaze, but Kim was by far the most donut-enthused of the group (see photo). 

On our final day in Austin, before heading to the airport, we went sightseeing around the city... as much as we could handle in the oppressive humidity. One of the famous attractions is a big empty lot full of graffiti, from amateur to professional. Each layer gets covered up as locals come to paint something on top. We checked the tourist checkbox and fled to an air-conditioned taco joint, to end the trip exactly how we started it! 

Beachside Camping at Kirk Creek

Now I will admit, this post is severely delayed... this trip actually took place in mid-July. But in my defense, I started my new job at Uber immediately upon returning, so I've been a bit swamped in ramping up at work. Now I'm finally not feeling overwhelmed (that's a lie, but at least I'm keeping my head above water) and can post about the other summer / fall trips I've been on.

I'd like to start by saying Kirk Creek Campground, perched on a cliff above the breaking waves and lounging seals of Big Sur, is possibly the most difficult campground to book in all of California. When Matt and I drove by it during our summer 2015 trip, we decided we were going to do whatever it took to stay there next year. I calculated precisely 6 months prior to the weekend we'd want it, logged on at 11:59pm, and booked it the second it became available. When our date finally came, we went down with Matt's friend Harry and his girlfriend Sage, and my old coworker Naomi and her fiancé Ben. 

The weather could not have been more perfect. It was sunny all weekend, and even warm enough to jump into the sea a few times. Before the sun completely rose on Saturday morning, Matt and I hiked down a narrow path to the ocean, scaring bunnies back into the bushes as we interrupted their breakfast nibbling. Once down on the sand, we spotted a seal cruising around the cove. I love the feeing of washing my face in the cold salt water first thing in the morning. 

A picture-perfect game of Spikeball in the sand

We spent Saturday lounging at the beach. We packed a cooler of beer and a few sandwiches, planted ourselves in the sand, and enjoyed the sunshine that had been eluding us northward in San Francisco. For hours we played Matt's favorite game Spikeball (a sort of mini, horizontal volleyball game on a round net hovering off the ground), and cooling off by running into the surf in between rounds. Harry turned into a lobster from lack of sunscreen (which actually happens pretty frequently with him), and the sky stayed perfectly blue all day long.

Back at the campsite, we watched the sun go down while we ate fancy cheese, chips + dip, and drank quickly-warming IPAs out of our teeny plastic camping cups. I love adapting life's simple pleasures to the outdoors: without running water or a multitude of serving platters, the snacks seemed to taste even better. 

For dinner we barbecued a variety of fresh summer veggies and shrimp over our fire pit, followed by s'mores as the flames dwindled to embers. We fell into our tents exhausted, tan from the July sun and with sand stuck between our toes. 

I would HIGHLY recommend Kirk Creek as the best campsite in Big Sur. The access to the beach is unbeatable, and the views are stunning any time of day. Just before sunset on Saturday night I think my jaw actually dropped as I stared at the golden illuminated hills and bluffs of the California coastline. With campsite views like that, no wonder everyone wants to wake up here.

High-elevation Hiking in Colorado

For the annual Malley family backcountry expedition, we gathered a group of 6 people from 2 generations and 4 states to take on the Eaglesmere Wilderness Area in the Colorado Rockies, about 25 miles north of Silverthorne. 

We hit the trailhead around 11:00AM on Friday to some very suspicious-looking dark skies. About an hour into our hike the rain started leaking from the sky, in an unobtrusive but annoying steady drizzle. We started in dense Aspen groves, and as gusts of wind came down the hillside the thousands of coin-like Aspen leaves shook and flashed, their white trunks ghostly bright under the grey cloudy sky. We were immediately breathless, lungs unaccustomed to the 10,000ft elevation and heavy packs.

Eventually we made it to our first night's campsite at Eaglesmere Lakes. We arrived before many other holiday camping groups so we were able to secure the best site around: a broad, flat, and somewhat protected area in the isthmus separating the two lakes. My Dad and his brother Dennis got to work setting up a multi-tarp structure to protect our cooking/eating area from any additional rain, while the rest of us set up our tents. Although we weren't allowed to have a campfire while at Eaglesmere Lakes, we ended up with a pretty comfortable site, including an dry and effective kitchen spot! 

Camp cooks making noodles for dinner!

A very impressive (and magical) group panorama shot

The next day was planned as a rest day at the same spot, so we leisurely woke up and emerged from our tents to a tentative-looking mostly blue sky. The Colorado wilderness was cooler than we expected, so we donned our layers and drank hot chocolate and tea while we filtered water from the lake. Everyone spent the remainder of the morning in and out of their tents, reading and hiding from the bursts of rain. Declan taught us all a new card game called "13," the rules of which nobody could seem to remember. Dennis was convinced that Declan would change them for each round to rig the game and secure a win. I tried a new backpacking recipe for lunch — Orzo al Pesto with parmesan and toasted pine nuts — which was a huge hit with the group. In the afternoon we decided to venture beyond our corner of the woods and take a day hike on the Gore Trail. We passed bright green marshy meadows and expected a bear to lumber into view at any moment, but the only wildlife we encountered were chipmunks. We returned to Eaglesmere and around dusk we circumnavigated the smaller of the two lakes to see the area from a different perspective. On the opposite side we watched as an Osprey plucked a trout out of the water and circled the lake three times before flying off down the creek. Our resident bird nerd (Patrick Malley) could not have been more thrilled at the encounter. 

As the sun started to sink below the hill to the west, the skies retained a beautiful deep blue hue punctuated by white cotton-ball clouds. The lakes were perfectly still — almost a mirror surface reflecting the bright colors above — and the treeline opposite us appeared double in the shape of a lie-detector line. We took countless photos, trying to immortalize the purity and stillness of the scene before us. 

The Malley ladies drying out some wet boots on the shore of Eaglesmere

We awoke to blazing blue skies and finally some warmth. After packing up all our gear, we started our 4-mile trek to the next campsite at Surprise Lake. We passed lots of families out for a holiday camping trip, including (to Declan's delight) multiple dogs carrying adorable miniature saddle bags. The only dodgy section of the trail was a set of two subsequent river crossings, one of which consisted of hurrying across a very unstable progression of half-submerged logs. We arrived (with mostly dry feet) just after noon, and encountered a pair of park rangers who gave us directions to a secluded site 0.25 miles away from the shore where we could legally have a campfire that night. 

Surprise Lake!

I made hot, salty Polenta Tirolese for lunch (another new recipe to test out), Dennis and Briana went on a longer than expected journey to filter water for our Nalgenes, and then the weary group retreated to separate tents for an afternoon nap. That elevation really takes it out of you! We passed the rest of the day gathering firewood and playing rounds of "13" until the sun started sinking low in the sky. Declan did an excellent job of starting and maintaining a roaring campfire, which was so comfortably warm and mesmerizing that we sat around it for hours. We heard stories of the older Malley brothers' first jobs growing up, the pranks they would play on one another, and other funny childhood tales. What a joy it was to spend time sitting around a glowing fire telling stories with family. 

Our campsite — complete with roaring fire — on the last night of the trip

Our final leg of the loop trail was the easiest by far. Of the 4 miles back to the trailhead, only about 10% was uphill. The weather was glorious, and we passed through fairytale clearings full of vibrant wildflowers in shades of periwinkle, coral, and goldenrod. Orange and black butterflies floated past us, landing two or three times on Sam's hand for a visit. The Aspen trees were just as enchanting as they'd been on the hike in, and without the staggering elevation gain we were able to enjoy them more thoroughly. 

We crossed a final river and arrived back at the car, looking forward to our traditional post-hike burger and beer. It was the 4th of July, so we were greeted with boat shows, concerts, and parades upon our return to civilization. That night in Boulder we walked up to the University's Folsom football field for the fireworks show. We all agreed it was the most spectacular we'd ever seen.

The entire group emerging victorious from the Rocky Mountains 

A New Orleans Wedding

When my boyfriend Matt invited me to his brother's wedding in New Orleans, I was thrilled at the opportunity to join in the celebration as well as travel to a city I've always wanted to visit. The music, food, and architecture of NOLA are world famous, so we headed off to spend six days in the "Big Easy."

Landing, I could see the winding Mississippi River (for the first time in my life) and the many barges slowly inching along. The cab driver passed by the Superdome, and I thought of the thousands of displaced Katrina survivors living inside a football stadium. For the most part, the city looked as if it had completely recovered in the 10 years since the storm, but from talking to the locals I discovered that there was a lot that still had yet to heal. 

We stayed in the Hotel Monteleone, a beautiful old building in the heart of the French Quarter that used to be the stomping grounds of literary legends such as Ernest Hemingway. The lobby bar, called the Carousel, has a slowly rotating circular counter covered in mirrors and animal paintings. In the center of the spinning bar stand the bartenders, who have to literally jump over the counter to get out at the end of the shift. For dinner the first night, Matt's parents took us out to a New Orleans legend: Brennan's. We had oysters, grilled octopus, crab ravioli, and blackened redfish. Everything was absolutely perfect. Even though we were stuffed, we felt compelled to order the Bananas Foster for dessert, as it was invented by the very restaurant in which we were dining. A chef wheeled a metal cart over to our table, where he heated an obscene amount of brown sugar over a flame and stirred in slices of banana. When everything was combined and hot, he added in liquor and set the whole dish on fire. He served the concoction over vanilla ice cream, and I promptly decided that it may be the sweetest, most delicious dessert ever invented. 

A night craft market on Frenchmen Street

Later we joined the wedding party and their friends to venture over to the Frenchmen district, which is famous for its music clubs and less touristy atmosphere. Even though it was after midnight, a craft market was open and bustling in an alley lit by strings of tiny light bulbs. Moving in and out of different bars to get a taste for the music along the street, we also developed a taste for the local beer: Abita Amber. Some of the bands were slow and jazzy, some featured blaring trumpet, and one even described themselves as "rasta-funk." The music was as varied as the people dancing to it. 

Cafe au Lait and beignets at Cafe du Monde

In the morning we strolled to Café du Monde, a famous 24-hour cafe featuring cafe au lait and beignets: french donuts that consist of fried dough loaded with powdered sugar. By the end of the plate I was on a sugar high and I had white powder dusting my chin. Matt and I took a walk with his parents through the French Market, a long open-air craft market with uniquely New Orleans souvenirs and clothing. Among the strange objects that the vendors were selling, we found at least three tables full of alligator heads, alligator paws, and alligator kebabs.

The rehearsal dinner that night took place at Muriel's on Jackson square. Our party reserved the second floor banquet hall as well as an eerie, eccentrically-decorated area called the Seance Room. It was lit with red lamps, filled with mismatched overstuffed sofas, and feathered masks covered the walls. A creepy voodoo music played in the background. The tables were decorated beautifully, and the best men (Matt and his brother TJ) stood up to say a really touching toast. The entire dinner was full of laughter and happy chatter. 

Drinks in the courtyard at Pat O'Brien's

After dinner we walked around the corner to Pat O'Brien's, the home of the original Hurricane cocktail. We mingled around the fountain in the courtyard, and listened to dueling pianos do covers of Taylor Swift and Billy Joel. After Pat O'Brien's we stood on the balcony of a bar called the Cat's Meow, where we could people-watch the crowds on Bourbon Street. 

On Saturday we watched college football in the Carousel lobby bar, and some other girls and I spent a few hours up at the rooftop pool reading and relaxing while the wedding party took photos. After a heart-stoppingly close Notre Dame win, the wedding ceremony began at Rosy's Jazz Hall in western New Orleans. The entire ceremony was gorgeous and the reception was tons of fun. They had a cajun food buffet, a beautiful bride and groom, an amazing band and lots of dancing.

Around 10:30 buses took us from the Jazz Hall back to the French Quarter, where we processed through the streets behind a brass band in a traditional "Second Line". We shook white handkerchiefs in the air and wore Mardi Gras colored feather boas. This tradition comes from New Orleans funerals, where the band led the mourners in a parade down the streets to celebrate the life of the deceased. The people cleared the streets and cheered for us as we marched by. It was a unique and unforgettable experience. 

During the Second Line parade through the French Quarter

On Sunday we had a lazy breakfast in the Hotel Monteleone restaurant with the new bride and groom. We spent the morning looking at street art in Jackson Square with Matt's brother TJ and his girlfriend, then walked along the Mississippi in the sun. We had dinner with Matt's parents on a balcony overlooking the French Market, and tasted some traditional New Orleans dishes: alligator bites, maque choux, fried catfish, and jambalaya. Later Matt and I stumbled upon a park off Bourbon Street where a band called Steamboat Willie was playing jazz and some older couples were dancing around a fountain. We ordered a few Abita Ambers and enjoyed the music, which I thought was absolutely outstanding. It was a fitting last night for our stay in the Big Easy, which was filled with good food, great music, and happy celebration.