Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 - Wow, What a Year

First off - holy cow have the last four months flown by. But here I am, and here's what I have to say! 2016, WOW, what a year you were. I've been incredibly busy - I think the proof is in the fact that my last (published) post was in August. Eek! So, because of that, this post is going to serve as a brief catch-up and a reflection on the year! Let's take a quick look back at the first part of the year, and then play a bit of catch up.

I really don't have too much to say about the month of January. I had doubled up my course load, in addition to working full-time and blogging consistently, so every moment of my time was occupied. Because of all this, our travels were quite limited - as in, there were none. Additionally, my free time was pretty restricted, so January was not too exciting of a month at all.

one of the beautiful sunrises captured while in Mexico!
The new year definitely started off with a bang! In February, Nick and I spent a week in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, doing so many fabulous activities. Nick's favorite by far was spearfishing with Spearfishing Today - he loved it enough that we are going back to Mexico this coming February, and he will be going out again! In addition to spending terrific time in Mexico, at the end of the month I moved from Des Moines back to Minneapolis. I only had one semester left in my MBA (as long as I took a triple course load!) and wanted to wrap up my MBA and focus on beginning my career at home. The decision to move back home couldn't have come at a better time, either!

rooftop bar in Bangkok!
What a month March was. It started with the transition of moving to Minneapolis. On top of this, I was extremely sick - think several trips to the emergency room - which was totally not pleasant. A week after moving back up, Nick accepted a new job (pretty much his dream job!), and put in his notice with his old job. Because he wasn't required to work out his two weeks notice, we booked a two-week trip to Thailand! After our honeymoon in Thailand, when we realized it was our favorite country in the world, we knew we would be back every chance we got. This was a golden opportunity, at an almost ideal time (tripling my course load for my MBA and being on vacation was a bit of a challenge to manage!), and gave Nick the opportunity to get some pretty amazing custom suits made.

April was pretty much spent playing catch-up. Nick was in NYC for the first two weeks training for his new job, so I was home solo. It was truly great, because it allowed me to finally catch up on schoolwork. With a triple course load, and wanting to maintain my 4.0 GPA, I was swamped! The highlight of April for me was playing in - and winning - my hockey team's end of year tournament. Pretty big deal around here now!

I completed all of my coursework in May, and found out that I had maintained my perfect GPA and would be graduating Summa Cum Laude! That was a very exciting day, and celebrations were definitely had. At the end of May, we swung out to Las Vegas to celebrate a good friend's engagement!

at Jay Cooke State Park in Minnesota

The month of June started out fabulously with a trip to Miami. Now, I always love warm weather, so that was truly the highlight of the trip to Miami. Beyond that, I was not sold - I know some people love Miami, but for me the city just doesn't quite cut it. The week after returning from Miami, I went to Northern Minnesota for a much-needed girls trip with my mom, two aunts, and cousin. It was truly terrific! Unfortunately, June ended out on quite a sour note personally - but let's not dwell on that! The final great thing that happened in June was having our offer accepted on our beautiful home!

enjoying our Staycation at the Sheraton Bloomington
Most of my free time in July was spent packing, cleaning, and organizing for our impending move. The highlight of the month was most certainly our staycation in Minneapolis. It was just what we needed! Additionally, I accepted a job offer in July and would be starting in the middle of August. Because of that, I really used my time in July to soak up every moment of summer and free time that I could.

our beautiful new home!!
August was by far our busiest month of the year. The highlight?! Nick and I closed on our brand new house! We had been house hunting for awhile, and towards the end of June found this beautiful new construction home and fell in love. After putting in our offer, it was accepted and we closed in the middle of August. Thus, August was quite busy with packing, moving, unpacking, and even hosting our housewarming party. Oh, and I also need to mention - Nick and I were also a part of DIY Network's "Buy it Right" - check us out on TV! On top of all that, I started my new job right in the middle of the month, and have since then been a full-time worker bee with that 8-5 life!

September started off with Labor Day weekend, which happened at the perfect time for me. A long weekend away from work was just what I needed to catch up - and even get ahead. The rest of September was spent attending Vikings games, going to my friend's bachelorette party in Wisconsin, and being in another friend's wedding. I am definitely at the stage of life where many of my friends are starting to get married - so exciting! 

The month of October absolutely flew by. We celebrated Oktoberfest and attended a couple of housewarming parties, and then at the end of the month I was the matron of honor in my friend's wedding. Her wedding was at an absolutely stunning vineyard in southeastern Minnesota - definitely not what I would have expected! After her wedding, I made the trek to Duluth to participate in another hockey tournament. Like our spring tournament, we won and were champions yet again!  

the Christmas markets in Frankfurt
The highlight of November was definitely the end of the month, when Nick and I popped overseas to Frankfurt for a few days. Nick played for Frankfurt in 2009-2010, and we were invited back for their 25th year anniversary celebration. It worked perfectly for us to attend over Thanksgiving weekend, so we made great use of the long weekend! One of the highlights was most certainly drinking gl├╝hwein (see my recipe here!) and attending the German Christmas markets. In addition, we rented a car for the day and drove to Luxembourg City, Luxembourg, as well as to Bastogne, Belgium. In Luxembourg we just strolled around the city and checked out the Christmas markets, and in Bastogne we visited the Battle of the Bulge (WWII) museum and learned a bit more about the history of the area. Overall, it was a fantastic trip!

We hosted both a Christmas party and Christmas in our new home!

December was a bit of a laid-back month, which was much appreciated! The month started off strong with Nick and I hosting our first-annual Christmas party, followed by a quick weekend jaunt to Denver, Colorado. I'll be honest - Denver was a little bit underwhelming to us, and reminded me a ton of Minneapolis. While the city was certainly nice, I'm not sure if I will ever feel the need to go back to Denver - especially considering how similar it felt to being right at home in Minneapolis! Christmas came and went, with Nick and I celebrating at home with his parents. It was so nice to have a few extra days off work and relax at home. Not only was it relaxing, but I also had time to type out this post - and all before ringing in the New Year in just a few days!

Wow, what a year it has been! Just one year ago, I was living in Iowa, working full time, and taking classes. Now, I'm an MBA graduate, working full time, and living in my dream home! This past year I was able to travel to so many different (and unexpected!) places - Mexico, Thailand, Germany, Miami, Denver, Las Vegas, and all throughout the Midwest. I can't lie - this year has been both the best, and the worst, year of my life. I can't wait to see what 2017 has in store!!

Monday, August 1, 2016

On Jealousy

The other day, I was scrolling through my Facebook feed and a friend had posted an amazing video featuring Chelsea Handler. (Check the video out here!) I highly recommend checking it out, as it had a truly terrific message. For those of you who aren't going to watch it, a quick synopsis is that Chelsea speaks about jealousy, and how each and every one of us may be affected by it at times and how to deal with it. Ultimately, she states that jealousy is a normal feeling, but it doesn't have to be a bad thing. It is all in how you react to jealousy that can make it a bad thing. Two quotes I took away from the video are "I never blow out someone else's candle to make mine brighter" and that "what you have, no one else has."

This video came at a perfect time for me. Three years ago today, I was boarding a flight and moving to Sweden with my husband for a new adventure. Same thing two years ago. For hockey players who play in Europe and their families, the end of July and early August is the time of setting off on a new adventure, often heading to a new country with a new team. Throughout the season, they will have the opportunity to live in another country, experience a new lifestyle, and travel the world. Am I jealous of some of my friends that are going back? Yes, absolutely. Beyond just these people, there are many other people I could be jealous of for various reasons and things occurring in their lives. Some people have highly successful careers, some are at an exciting point in their life where they are planning their weddings, some are busy traveling the world, some are starting their own families and having children, some are buying houses or going on vacations, the list could go on and on. I feel like each and every single one of my friends and family members are doing exciting things right this very moment, and I could choose to be jealous of all of them and let that control me. Or, I could choose to be happy for them.

However, it is important to remember the message from this video. I'm sure anyone reading this can relate to feelings of jealousy. We can simply choose to focus on the positive things in our lives and recognize that each person's situation is different. Some of the amazing things happening in my life right now include purchasing a new home, starting a new job, and surrounding myself with friends and family who support me.

The quote of "I never blow out someone else's candle to make mine brighter" is perfect. If a friend has something awesome happen to them, I choose to be happy and celebrate with them. Because, again, "what you have no one else has." Each and every one of us has many different successes and things that we bring to the table that nobody else does, and that is what makes each situation unique. So, on this Monday and the first of the month, I encourage you to take this message with you and begin the month on a positive note!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Staycation at the Sheraton: A Review

For those of you who follow me on Instagram or Twitter, you know that I just returned home from an amazing staycation right here in Minneapolis. This staycation came at the perfect time, as I am well into my job search of finding the perfect position and company, and Nick and I will be moving in a few weeks (more on that later!). Nick and I stayed at The Sheraton in Bloomington, which was ideal because it was far enough from home (15 minutes) where it was a true vacation, and close enough that we didn't have to worry about any of the hassles of traveling! Without further ado, here is some more information on our weekend!

Relaxing in our amazing suite!
This amazing stay started before I even walked into the hotel. As Lily was joining us for the weekend, Nick parked the car and was waiting for me to check in. As I approached the front door, one of the valets gave me a huge smile and gave me a warm greeting, setting the tone for a weekend filled with impeccable customer service. And this was before I even walked in the door! Once I made it inside, the staff quickly greeted me, processed my check in, and sent me on my way wishing me a terrific stay. After checking in, I headed out to the car to grab Nick, Lily, and our bags, and it was off to the room we went!

As we made our way into the hotel, I began actually checking things out. I was immediately impressed, as this Sheraton did not look like any other Sheraton I had stayed in. I quickly learned that Sheraton is undergoing a massive rebrand, with every Sheraton location being remodeled by 2020. This specific location recently underwent a $15 million renovation, and is one of the flagship locations of which every other Sheraton will be modeled after. Needless to say, the renovations were stunning!

Couldn't get Lily to sit still for a second - she was so excited!
 As we entered our room, I was immediately impressed and surprised with how open and spacious it was. As a bonus, I discovered we were staying in a suite and had a separate room for lounging and relaxing, our bedroom, and one and a half bathrooms! Once I stepped inside the room, I immediately saw that the staff had taken care of Lily as well. Lily was all set up with bowls for food and water, two treats, a bag holder, and her very own bed! Previously when I have visited hotels with Lily, she has never received this level of service. I was very impressed with this, and it just added another element to the staycation! How nice to not have to worry about packing dog bowls and a dog bed, and to know that Lily will be taken care of!

Lela - so peaceful, and I loved the wine glass decorations!
My favorite part of any vacation is the first moment when you are able to sit down and enjoy a sip of your favorite cocktail. After dropping off Lily and our bags, Nick and I immediately headed to Lela for some happy hour and dinner. Lela is located adjacent to the Sheraton, and features a fantastic menu with steaks, pasta, and more; all created by one of Minneapolis' best chefs, Stewart Woodman. Nick and I started our evening off with a glass of wine apiece and an assortment of the happy hour menu.

Happy hour at Lela!
After enjoying a delicious meal, we decided to retire to our room in true staycation style and soak in the luxurious bathtub. Now, I don't know about you, but I love a good soak - especially when it is in a bathtub that could fit about five people! Because this staycation was all about relaxation, after a soak it was off to an early bedtime.

garden oasis right on the property
In the morning, Nick and I took Lily for a walk along the property. My favorite spot was a little garden oasis. While seated there, I certainly didn't feel like I was just minutes from downtown Minneapolis and the hustle and bustle of city life! Once our walk was completed, Nick and I headed off for a day of shopping at the Galleria (again, just minutes from the Sheraton).

On Saturday evening, we opted to take it easy again and simply relax in our room. Between work and moving, we wanted this weekend to be a true vacation with no stress or worries. As such, relaxing it was! This was our first true staycation, and it came at the absolute perfect time and place. Not only was the Sheraton a beautiful place to stay, but Nick, Lily and myself were pampered by the staff. Every detail at the hotel was thought of, from fresh flowers everywhere to complimentary newspapers and bright natural lighting. In addition, we had close proximity to anything we would want to do, and being able to grab a delicious bite to eat and drink right in the hotel was an added bonus. For anyone looking to take a staycation, I would highly recommend the Sheraton as your go-to!

Neither Lily nor I were ready to leave when it was time on Sunday morning!
drool-worthy treats to enjoy in our room!

**Disclosure: This review was facilitated thanks to Sheraton, Lela, and participating businesses at the Galleria. As always, this had no impact on my review and all opinions remain my own. **

Monday, July 11, 2016

How To Take Great Travel Pictures

Over the last year, I have learned a lot about how to take beautiful pictures while traveling. Of course, I'm certainly far from an expert - however, I have picked up a few tips and tricks to take better travel pictures. A lot of this has come from trial and error, but if you want to take stunning travel pictures these tips are sure to help you!

If you like this post, please pin it!
1. Look for inspiration on social media sites such as Instagram! Personally, I love Instagram, and am always scrolling through both my feed and interesting profiles. Whenever I see a picture that seems unique and I enjoy, first I take a screenshot of that photo for future inspiration. After that, I also tend to go and scroll through that individual person's feed to further look for great photo ideas. Some of my best shots have come from looking at other people's travel pictures and later modifying them to fit myself!

taking better pictures while traveling
This picture was clearly meant to capture the business and popularity of the beach
2. Before visiting a destination, plan! Spend some time looking at exactly where you might want to take photos and the best times to do so. For example, some places may simply have terrible light at a specific time of day. Plan ahead when and where you will be visiting a place in order to give yourself the best lighting - and the best shot - of a location! Beyond the lighting, another thing to consider is other tourists and the image you want to portray. For example, I've seen beautiful pictures of beaches that are heavily populated with tourists and it appears that there is not a single inch of space that hasn't been claimed. These pictures portray the busyness and popularity of a beach. Conversely, there are also pictures of beaches in which there is not a soul on the entire stretch of the beach and gives off a serene feel. Pick what you want your picture to say and go for that!

3. Take lots, and LOTS, of pictures. Along with the previous sentiment, it is better to have one too many pictures than wish you had taken an extra photo. Most cameras and memory cards now seem to have nearly unlimited memory - so just snap away and give yourself tons of options!

My red cardigan contrasts very nicely and adds a nice pop of color to this picture
4. When possible, consider your outfit and how it can improve upon or benefit a photo. Does adding a pop of color add to the photograph or take away? Is the focus of the picture on yourself, or on the landscape? For example, in the above picture I specifically chose to wear my red cardigan with a tribal pattern because it would match well with the feel of the picture I was going for. In the below picture, I purchased the hat with the Norway flag in order to help communicate exactly where I was. Your choice of clothing can certainly contribute to a better (and hopefully not worse!) picture!

The Norwegian flag on my hat was planned!
great travel photos
Find a natural frame, such as the cactus, to lend focus to your pictures
5. Pay attention to your surroundings. This can help you to determine how your surroundings can fit into the picture and help you to take a better photo of your attraction. Is there a natural 'frame' you can use to draw the viewers attention to exactly what you want? Can you tilt your camera up or down in order to capture a more interesting view? In the above picture, I loved the look of the cliff and the ocean. However, that is a view that has been captured thousands - if not millions - of times around the world. By adding a natural frame of the cactus, I was able to make this picture even more special and interesting.

The Rule of Thirds in action
6. Use the rule of thirds. This is one of the most basic photography rules, and it is for a reason. Divide your frame both vertically and horizontally into thirds, and try place your subject along one of those lines. In this picture, you can see that the focus of the subject is myself, with a secondary focus of the pool, beach, and palm trees behind me. If you were to place a grid of thirds across the picture, my body is on the leftmost vertical third line, and then the divider between the pools and the back edge of the pools and chairs are the horizontal third lines.

I over edited this picture, which detracts from its natural beauty
7. Don't over edit your photos. I've been guilty of this in the past, and even have been tempted to delete many of my previous pictures shared on this blog and various social media sites. For example, see the above photo. This is a shot I captured while on a fjord tour in Norway, but by overediting the picture and adjusting the brightness too much, I lose a lot of detail in the clouds.With a basic understanding of quality photography, a person would be turned off simply because the clouds are TOO white and over processed. In my opinion, less is often more!

Using leading lines can help contribute to a better picture
8. Use leading lines to draw the viewer's attention. In the above picture, a viewer will naturally place themselves in the picture. Their attention is drawn to the lines of the boardwalk and where the boardwalk leads. This is an excellent tool to help suck a viewer in!

A calm, serene day on a private beach
A much less calm day
A picture I've taken recently that really demonstrates most of these points is seen above. I first saw a similar picture on Instagram, and showed it to Nick saying "Hey, I really liked this and want to take a similar one when we go to Miami next week!". I carefully selected ahead of time my outfit - this specific suit was perfect to have nice detail in the photo. Obviously, I knew exactly where the beach was but I wanted to find a less populated space so we strolled up and down the beach for a bit. When it was go time, Nick snapped about 20 different shots. Ultimately, as I was looking and deciding the feel I wanted, I went for the calm and serene look (no waves) versus a more turbulent feel with waves crashing at my feet. This simple decision totally changes the feel of the picture! I am in an identical pose, with the same clothing, looking in the same direction - but the one second difference between the waves just crashing down and the ocean receding changes the feel of the picture.

As you can see with all of the above pictures and tips, there are many ways you can set yourself up for success to take great pictures while traveling. Planning ahead, down to your outfit and the location, as well as basic photography rules such as the rule of third can contribute to more stunning pictures. So, are there any essential tips that I missed?!

Friday, June 10, 2016

(Not Quite) Sold on South Beach

For any of you following me on Instagram and Twitter (do it!!), you'll know I spent the last week in South Beach, Miami Florida. And it's been... Well, interesting to say the least. As a friend of mine put it perfectly when I described Miami to her, she said "Being in Miami is like being in a rap video!" Which completely hits the nail on the head with how I feel about Miami. Don't get me wrong, there are some beautiful aspects of Miami...

Enjoying the ocean in South Beach!
Case in point. Located in Southern Florida, Miami is home to many beautiful sand beaches and almost-Carribean style aquamarine blue beaches. On top of that, Miami is working to rebuild the natural dunes that typically line beaches - thus, there is always a gap between your hotel and the beach. This area is specifically dedicated to dune reconstruction, and in my opinion is probably one of the best things Miami has going for it.

Beyond the dune reconstruction, Miami does have the boardwalk. Portions of this (the cemented portions) are bike-friendly, while the physically boarded areas are not bike-friendly. It allows people to get around quite easily by bike or foot. There are conveniently located bikes for rental nearly every 2 or so blocks, and tons of different options for rentals. A bonus of one hotel we stayed at is that as long as hotel bikes were available, we could use those for free!

OK, so I touched on the beaches and biking the boardwalk. Beyond that, I'll be honest, Miami is quite...lackluster. It is overpriced, overcrowded, gratuity is included at almost every restaurant (meaning you receive awful service), and you can't walk more than five steps without the distinct smell of marijuana.

worst restaurant in South Beach
Pizza failure at i Paparazzi
First I want to talk about restaurants. Because real estate is so expensive in South Beach, it isn't a very easy area to navigate, just walk the street and pop into a restaurant you'd like to visit. No, you need a distinct plan and destination in mind or you will never find anything half decent. Trust me, I tried. See that pizza above? That was from the first time Nick and I decided to just stroll and find a place to eat. We went into the heart of South Beach, sat down, and ordered pepperoni pizza (me) and ceviche (him). Well, that is how my pepperoni pizza came out - about 60%ish covered in pepperoni, the other half not touched. Upon inquiring, the manager said "oh yeah, server thought it was only half pepperoni" ....OK, even if it was half pepperoni, you still failed at your job. On top of that, the pizza was only half-cooked and completely uncooked in the middle. Here I thought it wasn't possible to screw up a pizza - yep, I learned my lesson. Doesn't really ease my husband's mind about eating his RAW SEAFOOD from your restaurant, which clearly has a high level of attention to detail. (PS - the name of this restaurant is I Paparazzi if you want to avoid it, I'd recommend that!)

The next failed restaurant experiment was when I strolled solo down the strip, found a cozy little spot with happy hour, and proceeded to order a beer and some food. I drank half my beer, and then notice there are little "flakes" at the bottom of my glass. After confirming they were definitely IN my glass, not on the outside, I asked the bartender if I could get a new glass and explained why. He (kindly) proceeded to grab a supposedly clean glass, pour my beer, and hand it to me. This time, I immediately saw flakes flying around in my beer. Yuck!

enjoying a glass of wine at One Rooftop!
Overall, Miami certainly had some positive aspects. The beach and boardwalk is beautiful. Unfortunately, beyond that, I just did not feel Miami was an easy city to navigate, restaurants had poor service, and the constant feeling of being in a rap video was just not a pleasant feeling. So, with that being said - yes, I will likely be writing about Miami in the future. However, it won't all be sunshine and rainbows, but that is perfectly OK. Sometimes travel isn't about the sunshine and rainbows - it is all about the experience, and not every experience is good!

Another trip in the books with my love!
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