An Island of Strength: Puerto Rico Prospers

There will always be beauty in tragedy, this I’ve come to know.

Surely you’ve heard about it in the news over the past year. Due to the absolute devastation Hurricane Maria brought the island of Puerto Rico, the battered island is still healing but moving forward. El Yunque, its beloved rainforest, still looks beautiful but will take nearly decades to truly recover. With the changes, new species of flora and fauna will appear.

In the short time I was here, it was difficult to imagine what it looked like before- all around me it was still so lush, green, and thriving. Colorful streets and smiling people. The pride that beats down like the hot sun. This is what I will take with me from this place- the bounce back. The miracle of life and the sense of love and hope it brings. The strength of a whole community overcoming the odds together. The ability to not only survive, but to prosper.

Here is an insight to my time there:

Walking around the colorful Condado, glimpsing the sunrise at Ocean Beach and catching the sunset at Atlantic Beach.

My new favorite dish- Mofongo!

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Heart of Old San Juan

El Yunque National Forest

What a sweet way to bring in 28 years.

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                                              Keep living. Keep overcoming. Keep thriving.

                                                                                                                     Love always,

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The Emerald Isle

Where do I begin? How do I explain what has transpired in these two beautiful, intense weeks? Ireland has been a dream destination for what seemed like years, and my MFA program gave me the opportunity to not only travel there, but also to work with brilliant Irish writers and mentors.

I flew into bustling Dublin with my friend Jaclyn and we promptly rented a car to drive to Cork. Here’s where our whirlwind weekend began- Blarney to Cork, Galway to the Cliffs of Moher, Belfast to Giant’s Causeway, and at last to Dublin, where we studied at Trinity College for two weeks and took a day to trip to Howth. There were way too many pints between classes, friends made, and laughs shared to count, but here are a few snapshots that help frame those wonderful memories:

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Blarney Castle

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Cork

Cliffs of Moher

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Galway

Belfast

Giant’s Causeway

Dublin

Trinity College

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Already counting down until the next residency! But for now, the work of practicum begins.

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¡Viva México!

Remember a couple months back, when I was in Belize with some of the best people? You may recognize two of them in the photo below:

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When they asked if I wanted to come to Mexico with them, of course my answer was YES! Who wouldn’t want to ditch the winter weather for some fun in the sun? We stayed in Playa del Carmen.

I thought by the end of the trip, maybe I’d be sick of Mexican food. But to this day, I’m not over how delicious it was. My mouth is still watering!

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Not only was the food delicious, the company amazing, and the beaches beautiful, but our Airbnb was the bomb. Check out the view below of our rooftop pool:

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And some sights wandering around the city center:

Having a group of ten girls together might seem insane, but I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life. Our bond was stronger than the tequila.

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Excuse my tired face- but here I am at the local market, fueling up with tamales before our long day!

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A view of the seven wonders of the world. Oh, and behind us is Chichén Itzá 😉

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After we left, we took a frigid dip in the Choj-Ha cenote outside Valladolid:

(Coolest thing ever. We called it being rebirthed by Mother Earth.) Never seen anything like it in my life.

 

On my last day in Mexico, I took the ferry to Cozumel! Salted margaritas, sunshine, sea water, sunrises, and side boob for the win.

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As you can see, this trip was paradise. I’ll leave you with these favorite words of wisdom from our Airbnb:

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Until next time,

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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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Jamaican Me Want to Go Again

My family and I went to Jamaica over Labor Day weekend for a short, tropical getaway. Though the country’s economy has been a struggle, and many visitors choose to stay at the all-inclusive resorts for the duration of their vacation, Jamaica is its own paradise away from those high-end hotels– complete with natural gems, lush rain forests & mountains, delicious cuisine, vibrant colors, and the ever-steady sounds of reggae music.

 

We stayed in Runaway Bay, just north of the birthplace of Bob Marley. Once we arrived Friday, we got settled into our stay with a relaxing trip to the beach. That evening, we tried ackee and saltfish and listened to locals play reggae music.

The next day, we set out for Ocho Rios and the Blue Hole (also known as Island Gully Falls, etc.) There are many around the island, as Jamaica is sprinkled with these natural pools of water. “Ochi” is a port town that has blossomed with tourists, due to the surrounding attractions. It was a long and winding road to the Blue Hole, but once we got there we instantly knew it was worth it. The water was the most beautiful crystal clear blue color! We jumped off cliffs, climbed into caves, and even did a rope swing into the pool!

 

On Sunday, we ventured out to Dunn’s River Falls. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was speechless when I looked up from the Caribbean sea to find this magnificent waterfall stretching up to the sky. We climbed the waterfall, something I have never done before, all the way up to the top! There were lagoons throughout the climb that we dropped into, natural rock water slides, and terraced rocks that provided steps. A group of us made a human chain holding hands, guiding each other through the swift, rushing water and over the slippery stones.

Monday was purely for relaxation, as we had a short time before our flight left. With cold drinks in hand, we reminisced about sunsets, jerk chicken, and the color of the water while listening to reggae beat in the background.

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It was amazing to share this experience with my parents, and to see the more adventurous side of them! Even though they are over 60, they hiked the falls and did the rope swing into the Blue Hole! How’s that for retirement?! We loved the Patois language, the mouthwatering food, and the spirited people of Jamaica. I have no doubt that we’ll be back! #yehman

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One Happy Island, One Happy Girl

Bon bini! I took a mini vacation over the fourth of July holiday, because why not? Destination: Aruba. Scroll on to see “one happy island” for yourself!

Day One- I arrived in Aruba in the late evening of June 30th, so I saved my explorations for the next morning. I woke early, grabbed breakfast, and walked along Palm Beach and Eagle Beach, breathing in the fresh air.

With a cool breeze, white sand, and blue waters, it was hard to believe I was in such a beautiful place!

Later that afternoon, I climbed Hooiberg Lookout for a view of the entire island:

(Definitely want to bring lots of water with you for this one! Speaking of which, Aruba has the cleanest/most pure drinking water.)

Since I was only staying on the island for a short period of time, I was determined to see and do as much as possible. After the hike and exploring downtown, however, I was beat! I headed back to my hotel to relax with my newly arrived book, and watched boats come in to shore.

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Boat coming in at sunset.

Day Two- To see most of the island as possible, I booked a jeep tour. This covered most of the eastern side of the island, from the northernmost point all the way to Baby Beach. We also explored:

  • Bushiribana Gold Mills Ruins
  • Ayo Rock Formation
  • Hidden caves
  • Arikok National Park

My all-time favorite spots were the natural bridges and pools that we stopped at.

Natural bridge, above, and natural pools, below.

More sights: Alto Vista Chapel, a donkey befriending us, and the California Lighthouse.

After a long day, I needed to refuel. I love being close to the ocean, so I chose to have a delicious seafood dinner on the pier.

Day Three- Beach day! Soaked up the sun, chased lizards (which are everywhere!), and drank fresh fruit smoothies. And no, I can’t take credit for that sand sculpture.

On my last night, I was dazzled yet again at sunset:

The island of Aruba is small, but I was only just beginning to uncover the heart of it. I talked to as many locals as I could, learning about the language (Papiamento, but most Arubans can speak four or five languages), their lifestyle, and how tourism makes up the majority of their economy. The country may be a popular destination for couples and families, but I still enjoyed myself and was grateful to be able to relax and take in the beautiful sights.

Even before I got on my flight home, I knew I wanted to come visit again.

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The only good thing about leaving is this incredible view!

Catch ya on the flip side,

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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!