UnBelizeable

As 2017 drew to a close, I knew I wanted to take advantage of all my time off work for the holiday season.

My parents and I flew to Florida to spend Christmas with my brother, his wife, and their daughter. We visited Destin, Panama City Beach, and Pensacola, ate way too much, and truly enjoyed our time together as a family again.

It was a beautiful change from the snowy weather back north!

Shortly after, I flew solo to Belize City for one last international trip before the craziness of 2018 began.

Although Belize has a bad reputation and certain parts of Belize City are indeed VERY dangerous, (consistently ranking as one of the highest homicide rates in the world) I am so grateful that I did not let this hold me back from going.  I had a safe trip there and back, and made friends with other tourists and many locals. It was hard to not enjoy all the beauty the country had to offer. I stayed in San Pedro, and took the ferry back to Belize City where I met Carlos, who showed me the best parts of his country.  Here was my first full day- packed with lots of adventure:

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Visiting Altun Ha ruins.

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Ziplining through the jungle!

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Cave tubing 🙂

I would highly recommend those who are thrill seekers to check it out! And though I’ve explored caves before, I was pleasantly surprised by how different my perspective was with cave tubing.

That evening, some friends and I went to Wahoo’s Lounge for the world famous “Chicken Drop.” You guessed it- we bought tickets and watched as a chicken strutted around on the board, hoping that it would take a shit on our number. It was easily one of the most ridiculously interesting things I’ve ever experienced.

The next day I traveled to Caye Caulker, one of Belize’s most famous destinations, to relax and have some island fun. I couldn’t imagine being surrounded by these incredible views and calling this place my home. Would I ever get tired of it?

I spent the late afternoon at the Lazy Lizard enjoying a drink and jumping into the crystal water.

There is so much more I could say about this trip, from turtle talk to late night exploration, to the friendships I formed, but some things can’t be put into words. I’ll leave you with these highlights, until next time.

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72 Hours in the Queen City

It seems that I have a thing for visiting cities and making the most of them even if it’s less than 72 hours, and Charlotte was no different.

I love North Carolina, but this was my first time in the Queen City. I was finally visiting and reuniting with my best friend Stephanie who moved there last year.

Here’s how it went down:

I arrived Friday night, planned to go to a food truck festival with live music, but it was chilly (AKA, about 50ish degrees) so we opted for drinks at Fahrenheit with spectacular city rooftop views and followed those with a mouthwatering-ly fresh dinner at Sea Level instead.

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Delish!

Surrounded by bright city lights, we left the restaurant and walked around town. I was in awe of the skyscrapers. We were in the midst of the most beautiful hotels, museums, theaters, and modern banks. (After all, it is the second largest banking center in the U.S..) Although I didn’t have time to check these out, Charlotte is also home to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and the Mint Museum, among others.

Saturday morning, Steph and I set out to hike Crowders Mountain, a state park in Gaston County (roughly 30-40 minutes outside the city).  The two peaks, Crowders Mountain and The Pinnacle, offered a bit of a challenging hike, but we were rewarded with this view upon reaching the top.

Hawks soared peacefully through the sky, the sunshine warmed our already flushed faces, and the gentle breeze cooled the sweat on our skin. We couldn’t have asked for a more beautiful day. Capturing it was impossible, so we put our phones away and focused on appreciating life in that moment.

Later that evening, we headed to the Spectrum Center for a Hornets game! Although I’ll always be a Knicks fan, I was pumped for my first Hornets game and to check out the Spectrum Center. We got a Cam Newton bobble-head the moment we walked through the door. The Hornets were playing the Washington Wizards and although it was an edge-of-your-seat game, the Hornets took home the win that night with a final score of 98-93!

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Girls Night Out!

The next morning, we walked around the gorgeous neighborhood of Cotswold. One of the things I instantly liked about Charlotte was that the city was spread out among all these smaller neighborhoods, and each neighborhood had its own unique charm. We then headed to brunch at ToastCafe. I can’t remember loving brunch any more than I did in that moment, sipping hot coffee in that wooden booth. I opted for the Raspberry Walnut flapjacks, and knew I made the right decision as soon as I sank my teeth into the warm dish. An interesting concept about the cafe is that “every server is your server,” so we didn’t see the same waiter/waitress twice! Everyone took care of us.

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The one instance where I regret not photographing my food.

All too soon, it was time for me to return to Pittsburgh. Although we crossed off some items on Steph’s restaurant bucket list and climbed a mountain, I realized in those short three days that Charlotte really has so much to offer (no matter who you are or what you’re into) and I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface! That just means another trip is in order…

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(Looking at you, Steph!)

Have you been to Charlotte? What was your favorite place? I’d love to hear!

Until next time,

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Less Than 72 Hours in Chicago

Bold architecture? Delectable food? Astonishing art? Chicago, one of the largest cities in the states, has it all.

I’ve been looking for a chance to explore this city, and when I saw flights* for less than $100 round-trip (on a holiday weekend!) I took it.

I left Thursday, September 1st and returned Sunday, September 4th. During my stay, my friends Shawna & Shelly were kind enough to let me stay at their apartment that they just recently moved into.

Here’s what I experienced in my short time there:

First experience on the ‘L’

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**The transit system- easy to use, only $20 for a 3-day pass (purchased from O’Hare station) and quite convenient.

A run on Lakefront trail

I convinced Shawna to squeeze in a 2.5 mile run early in the morning. Loved this view!

Wrigley Field

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While I didn’t catch a game here, I could feel the atmosphere from outside the stadium. Cubs fans and gear everywhere!

Views from the Skydeck (Willis Tower)

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The lines were absolutely terrible, but the view beneath my feet made it all worth the experience.

Chicago style hot dogs at Portillo’s

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We got the tip that this local chain was the place for Chicago style dogs, and not only that, but they had delicious chocolate cake- plus it was all very affordable and had a very retro vibe! 

A theft

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Obviously, this was an event we didn’t plan. Shortly after we left Portillo’s, Shawna received an e-mail about a fraudulent charge on her card. Somehow, someone had gotten her wallet. The next couple hours were spent cancelling her credit and debit cards and accounting for everything that would need replaced. It was stressful, but it could have been much worse. Besides, what’s the full city experience without a little chaos?

Riverwalk

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Did I mention I love these colors? I could take my lunch break along the river any day.

Deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati’s

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***Honestly think I am going to crave this delicious, heavenly pizza for the rest of my life. 

Revolution Brewing, Co. beer

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Another must after a long day of walking. Shawna had this in her fridge, and I was a big fan. Spiced with coriander & orange peel.

Navy Pier

For a holiday weekend + Lobster fest going on, this place = absolute madness. However, the crowds were no match for the views of this landmark. 

Jazz Festival

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I picked a great weekend to visit- the jazz festival was going on downtown and we caught a captivating performance in Millennium Park. 

Lincoln Park/Lincoln Park Zoo

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Lincoln Park Zoo is an incredible place to visit if you have kids, as it’s FREE! We walked through Lincoln Park to the beach. 

Lake Michigan

The contrast of the sand & water with the city skyscrapers in the background was incredible to me. And as you can see, I was really enjoying the weather!

Molly’s Cupcakes

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Because sometimes you have to treat yourself! This place was adorable, complete with swings for seats. May I present to you: The Ron Bennington, Blueberry Cheesecake, and Peach Cobbler cupcakes. 

Millennium Park

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Tons of sculptures, cool architecture, and mesmerizing art. This is where a lot of concerts & large events are held.

Cloud Gate (The Bean)

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Jumping for joy because I love this city!

Buckingham Fountain

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Caught this right as the sun was reflecting off the buildings. An incredible ending! This is one of the largest fountains in the world.

Knickerbocker Hotel

I tried really hard to convince the manager to give me the hook up, since the hotel and I share a last name, but he wasn’t having it. He did, however, show us the crystal ballroom where there was a wedding going on. Beautiful, historic hotel.

Stan’s Donuts

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Okay, people. I really loved this place. A wide variety of flavors, old fashioned charm, etc. The donuts were scrumptious, but don’t inhale them and chug your coffee like I did. Also, maybe avoid diabetes and get one donut like a normal person?

 

Some tips:

*Fly Frontier or Spirit–  If you are flying into Chicago, look for cheaper flights on these airlines. If you can do it, only bring a backpack. I flew Frontier and they charge for carry on and checked bags, but a backpack that fits certain restrictions is free. If you’re only there for a short time, it’s all you need!

**Get the Ventra 3-day pass at the O’Hare airport. I only paid $20, and was told that anywhere else, they charge you for the $5 card fee. This lets you take both the L and the buses an unlimited number of times in that 72 hour period.

***Don’t be afraid to talk to locals. I would have gotten so lost if I didn’t ask someone for help, and we would’ve missed out on a lot of great spots if we didn’t take our new friends up on their recommendations. (Obviously, use common sense and your gut instinct when it comes to your safety to avoid any dangerous situations.)

 

So there you have it. There is PLENTY more ground to cover whenever I visit again, but this little getaway was all kinds of perfect.

 

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Have you been to Chicago? What did you love/do/see/eat? Let’s hear all about it!

 

 

 

Thx, Mpls.

This time last week I was watching the sun rise over Chicago, headed to Minneapolis to present at the Sigma Tau Delta Convention. You can learn more about my experiences at past conventions here.

Without further ado, here is a wrap-up of our visit to the City of Lakes.

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Flying out from Chicago.

 

After arriving, we checked in to our hotel and headed to the convention to pick up all my conference materials. We explored the city through the skyway, which is a wonderful thing to take advantage of in cold weather, but confusing as hell at first.

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Minneapolis Skyway.

Walking around, we saw the Orpheum Theatre, State Theatre, The Skyway Theatre, Target Center, Target Field, Nicollet Mall, and the Convention Center. We had a drink at Union and people-watched.

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Orpheum Theatre.

We chose a spot for lunch called The Newsroom. The bar is in the shape of a ship, as you can see below, and the entire place is designed with eye-catching newspaper articles. Certainly a unique atmosphere, with pretty good burgers, too!

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The Newsroom.

That evening called for an early night, as we were running on only 3 hours of sleep and I had to get up early for my presentation the next morning.

I was up and dressed at 6:30 a.m. Right before my session started at 8 a.m., I got the chance to see one of my professors from college, Dr. Vaccaro! It was fantastic to have her in the audience. There were four others presenting at that time, all with their own interesting creative works. Afterward, we had a wonderful discussion analyzing themes of language, the idea of home, and the writing process.

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Dr. Vaccaro & I.

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Presenting my poetry collection.

*Note: It’s pretty hard to get a picture of someone reading. You either have your mouth wide open or are looking at your paper. But you get the idea.

 

After my presentation, I kicked off my heels and changed into something more comfortable. We headed to Matt’s Bar for the famous Jucy Lucy- a burger with the cheese melted inside the meat instead of on top. It may not look like much from this picture, but it was one of the best burgers I have ever had. Melted cheese is everything! I love discovering hole-in-the-wall places like this.

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Jucy Lucy!

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Matt’s Bar.

 

Next, we headed to the Mall of America. You’ve got to see some of the touristy stuff! Although we didn’t buy anything but ice cream, the four levels of shops were incredibly impressive. Lots of window shopping and walking. This place even has a theme park inside!

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Mall of America.

Later that night, we got dressed up and headed to the Guthrie Theater after a nice Italian dinner. We saw The Critic/The Real Inspector Hound, which was hilarious and thoroughly entertaining, a murder mystery with a surprise ending.

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Guthrie Theater.

Check out one of the shirts I got at convention. Seeing the merchandise is one of my favorite parts simply because of how witty and creative English majors can be.  Like magnets that say “Metaphors be with you.” I mean, come on. I live for this.

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Best shirt.

After breakfast Saturday morning, we scored big with getting into the Walker Art Center for free. Because it was a gorgeous day, we left Loring Park and the well-known Spoonbridge and Cherry to explore Lake of the Isles Park.

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Spoonbridge & Cherry.

This place was fantastic. Lake of the Isles, Lake Calhoun, Cedar Lake, Lake Harriet, etc. There were runners out everywhere, and moms pushing babies in strollers, and plenty families with their dogs out for a walk. I can only imagine this place in the summer!

Saturday night was the Red & Black Gala Dinner and Awards. I ran into Dr. Vaccaro and was able to meet several students from Westminster College, my alma mater. We all sat together at dinner, which was lovely. I recounted memories from our time there during undergrad, and they told us of what all has changed since four years ago. Reminiscing and swapping stories brought back a lot of feelings of nostalgia.

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WC group.

Then, to my complete shock, my name was called during the award presentations! As soon as I heard “This Side” I froze and said, “Oh my God” and then my brain reminded my legs to move, and I collected my prize (a check for $375) and got my photo taken with the Executive Director of Sigma Tau Delta, William Johnson. My poetry collection “This Side of the Sun” had taken 1st place in the Alumni Epsilon creative works category.

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1st place!

It’s a well-known joke that writers don’t make any money, so I was overwhelmed with shock/happiness when my name was called. I am so glad JJ was there to share this experience with me.

After the gala, we met up with the rest of the WC group for drinks at The Local, where I awkwardly got hit on by a very drunk man on my way to the bathroom and also had one of the best Irish whiskey cocktails in existence.

Might have to take that back…because after we left The Local, we saw a blues rock band play at Dakota, a swanky yet intimate jazz club. The atmosphere was great but the live music and drinks were even better. I don’t even like gin that much, but Sweet Thunder was delicious.

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Cocktails at Dakota Jazz Club.

 

Sunday morning after breakfast at the hotel, we took an Uber over to Minnehaha Falls. Our flight didn’t leave until the evening, so we had time to kill.

I’d been told that no matter what season you visited in, this was a beautiful place, and it didn’t disappoint. Many people were ignoring the “No Trespassing” signs and climbing out onto the ice.

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Minnehaha Falls.

Because I was starving (and I get very hangry) we had my favorite meal of the day at Nicollet Diner. And ohmygosh. I couldn’t even eat my chicken sandwich like a normal human being because it was dripping and spilling its goodness everywhere. Don’t even get me started on the milkshakes. So delectable and the full size is no joke.

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Yummy.

Although we could barely walk after, we wandered around Uptown, and then after checking out of our hotel, got a view of the Stone Arch Bridge, the old flour mill, and Mississippi River.

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Walking across the Stone Arch Bridge.

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Mississippi River.

All in all, I got to reconnect with friends old and new, tour a city I’d only passed through, hear some amazing written work, present my own, consumed such good food, and went home feeling accomplished.

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Flying home.

 

Until next time, Minneapolis.

 

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