2014 Year in Review

Wednesday, December 31, 2014


2014 will be over in approximately six five hours for us here in Southern California. I grew impatient throughout the day at work while sneaking peeks at celebration preparations of my European and East Coast friends. Luckily, working for a wine distributor means gifts of celebratory sparkling wine!

This has been a fun year and our lives have been repeatedly blessed. Hard work paid off for Dan in the form of a promotion. We moved into a perfect new apartment in a great part of town. Chelsea and her little kitty Audrey still live with us and they are fantastic roommates. (Auds is also a great little cuddle buddy!)

Our circumstances this year have allowed us to enjoy life like never before, mostly in the form of more frequent traveling. (If only my job would allow a bit more freedom in this department!) I went on my first business trip to Salt Lake City in February, and we also did a lot of exploring on our own.

I still can't believe we live this close to LA, and it does have its perks. This year we've visited Universal Studios, the Warner Brothers lot, the LACMA, the Melose Flea, the Farmers Market, and Santa Monica on many occasions. Dan and I attended a concert at the Palladium, and Chelsea and I attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil TOTEM. So while LA was never part of any plan for me, I'm happy we've ended up so close to the City of Angels.

We also ventured outside of SoCal a little bit...
  • We returned home to Virginia twice this year; once in June for one of my best friend's weddings, and again just last week to be with family for Christmas.
  • Dan and I visited San Francisco for the first time at the end of August and tried to cross everything off of our SanFran to-do lists over a long weekend.
  • Dan's grandfather and his wife invited us to spend Thanksgiving with them in Alaska, and it was breathtaking (both because of its beauty and how very cold it was!)

This year wasn't all fun adventures and happiness, though. I have been sick repeatedly, from a slipped disc in my back over the summer to a middle ear infection that has caused unending vertigo and other problems over the past six weeks. But I just keep on keeping on, determined not to let it get me totally down. Here's hoping 2015 will be "the year of healthy," and not like "the year of sick," as I've been calling it. Maybe I can even get it a bit more rock climbing than I've managed lately.

I'm excited for 2015. I want to be healthier, to travel more, and to drink up every bit of California that I can over the next few months. 2015 will be another big year full of big changes for us, and even though I don't know exactly what all of those changes will entail, I'm excited nonetheless.

We're celebrating tonight by going out for a nice dinner and drinking a bit of that Prosecco I brought home from work while we watch the (pre-recorded, 3 hours later) Times Square Ball drop!

Happy New Year & Cheers! Bring it on, 2015!

Header photo by Samantha Polanco Photography, Oceanside, CA

An Alaskan Thanksgiving

Monday, December 1, 2014


I have this terrible habit lately of not telling people what is going on in my life. Nothing reminded me of that more than when a couple of friends messaged me on Facebook asking, "What are you doing in Alaska!?" after I posted a couple of pictures online on last week. Suprise! We were invited by Daniel's grandfather and his wife who live in Fairbanks to join them for the Thanksgiving holiday. We said yes! and started packing our sweaters!

We left early last Wednesday morning and arrived a little after 4:30pm. It was -12˚F (-24˚C) and already completely dark when we arrived! Stuart and Cynthia live a little ways out of Fairbanks in a town called North Pole, a place that takes its name quite seriously... and I loved that! We were in a picturesque winter wonderland, surrounded by snow and trees just like you'd imagine a wintery Alaska would be. It was the first snow I'd seen in nearly two years and a welcome change of environment from the mostly unchanging seasons of Southern California. We spent a really wonderful four days in North Pole seeing the area, eating a ton of Cynthia's really great food, and learning more about Dan's genealogy.

This time of year is very dark for Alaska and other places that far north. Civil twilight began around 9am and sunrise was around 10am. The sunset was around 3pm and twilight lasted until around 4:20pm. The days seemed very short like this and made 6pm feel like it should be midnight. We made sure to get out and see everything we could while the sun was up! We visited the "North Pole," the Santa Clause House, Chena Hot Springs, the Aurora Ice Museum, and the Alaskan Pipeline. We saw reindeer at Santa's, dog sled teams racing alongside the road, and ice sculptors in action. We went out for Chinese at Pagoda twice because it was that good. It was a really great four days that slowed down for us and felt much longer.

And it was oh-so-cold! The coldest temp while we were there was -24˚F (-31˚C)!

The "North Pole" in the town of North Pole, Alaska, just outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
The "North Pole" in the town of North Pole, Alaska, just outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
We're standing in a sled carved from ice. It's kind of hard to see if you're not looking for it.

The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When




The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
  This was taken at noon... this is about as far as the sun rises!


The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When
 3pm, just after sunset

The beautiful little town of North Pole, Alaska, just a little ways outside of Fairbanks | Em Then Now When


Mission San Juan Capistrano

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

While my mom was visiting she mentioned that she would love to go and visit the infamous Mission San Juan Capistrano, known around the world for the annual return of the swallows. Dan used to sing the little verse to the Glen Miller song every time we'd pass the exit on the 5 freeway, but I had no idea what he was talking about. I'm guessing I'm not the only person who hasn't heard of this mission or their famous birds, but everyone I've met here seems to think I'm crazy when I tell them I hadn't heard of it!

Well, it was absolutely gorgeous. There is so much history here and can teach you so much about California's past, especially before it became part of the United States. This is definitely a place I will take people who visit us from now on. The "history" page on the mission's website can you give a lot more information than I need to recreate here, so go visit their site to learn more: www.missionsjc.com

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When
Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When

Mission San Juan Capistrano in southern Orange County, California | Em Then Now When

Goodbye, October

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Time flies when you're having fun. And as always, October flies by full of wonderful moments. Maybe I'm a little bit biased because my birthday is in the middle of the month, but it could also have something to do with the weather [sort of] changing, lots of my favorite bands touring through the area this time of year, and various other little things we find ourselves doing this time of year. I figured I'd do a quick recap because I was just too busy to sit down and write it all out while everything was going on, and maybe little recaps are the best way for me to write all of this down.

Two of my favorite bands came through the area on tour in October and I bought tickets the moment they went on sale. Anberlin, one of my all time favorite bands, was on their final tour after 12 years and 7 albums. This year's show was my fifth time seeing them live and was so bittersweet. They're one of those bands that has been such a part of my life and the background music to so many moments... I'll be listening to them for the rest of my life! Here's hoping for a reunion tour in a decade or so!


The Maine also came to town on my actual birthday, which was quite fitting! Dan and I took off after work and ended up spending three hours in Pomona waiting for them to take the stage, but we just laughed it off! Like the last time we saw them here (with Anberlin, last October,) they were full of energy and a put on a great performance.


My mom decided she couldn't wait until Christmas to see me, so she spontaneously bought a plane ticket and was here the day after my birthday! Dan and I took her out to Pioneertown and Joshua Tree for the day that weekend. I just love JT... I'm so thankful that we live so close to such a beautiful part of the country. I could visit every weekend!



I spent the rest of the week with my mom shopping, cooking, and being lazy on the couch with her and Netflix. It was really great to spend that kind of time with her; we haven't done that in so long! I feel like every time I've seen her since we've moved here we're always running around playing tourist or preparing for the holidays, so this was really nice.

We also ventured down to Mission San Juan Capistrano one morning, and I can't believe I hadn't gone to see it earlier! It was just beautiful, and I had no idea that it was what it was... ruins of the old church, well preserved parts of the mission, and gorgeous gardens. This is now a place I have to take anyone else who visits us here. I'll upload some photos soon.


I have to say... no matter how frustrated and burnt out I often feel with my job, I absolutely could not still be working there without my incredible coworkers. I was showered with love, gifts, balloons, and sweets for my birthday and was so touched by all of it I could have cried. Thank God for these wonderful people.

A few other things from October...


- I have taken up rock climbing... I can't get over the fact that a rope and belay device have almost eradicated my fear of heights, but I love it! I hope I can build strength, stamina, and skill enough to take my new found hobby out into Joshua Tree and climb some of the huge boulders and rocks there.

- I was Daria for Halloween. My coworker Mireya was Jane. It was awesome.

- The three of us spent our second Halloween here at Downtown Disney, complete with a view of the nightly fireworks from outside the front gate. I guess this is our Halloween tradition here! I love being this close to Disneyland. Also... so many Princess Elsas. Sheesh.

- We woke up to it pouring down rain this morning. It's the first time I've seen rain here since probably March. We all sat watching and listening the whole 20 minutes, and it was great. I could never complain about rain on the East Coast ever again.

- I'm obsessed with Sia, Banks, and Broods right now. So much good music, and those three are on repeat all day errry day.

- Reading The Skimm while I drink my coffee is my new morning routine. Subscribe! You won't regret it. And no, this isn't a sponsored plug. I'm not that special! Ha!

Bring it on November!

Oh hello, October!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014


Fall is my favorite! And since October is usually when you can really tell fall is truly here, October is my favorite! The cool mornings... cardigans, boots, and scarves... warm vanilla tea... the beautiful colors... not to mention, my birthday! There are few things to complain about in October. All is good.

But give it up, California (SoCal specifically.) You do not have seasons, don't even play. Yes, I'm sure places north of LA might be changing and colorful, but the palm trees here believe it is still July. I will admit though, it has been cooler in the mornings, which has absolutely been a saving grace in a time when I've truly needed some kind of change. I have been in a different place with myself these past few months and October may be just what I needed to get me out of this slump.

While I can't have the true beauty of autumn here in Orange County, my mother was more than helpful in sending several photos she took around the farm. Exhibit 1, above. I've also found myself day dreaming about my gorgeous drives through the Blue Ridge Mountains on my hour-long commute to school back in the day... probably the most beautiful commute one could take if you had to. (Just imagine what this looks like in October. That photo + this photo combined. Pure bliss.)

I hate feeling like I don't really have anything worth writing about other than, "Oh yay, it's sort of fall!" Honestly, we've been living a pretty quiet life lately. (Really though, aren't we always?) But I don't want to feel like I don't have anything worth sharing about my life unless I've recently traveled or reached some major milestone... life isn't always like that. I think many people can relate that large chunks of our lives are spent living quietly; we're mostly working, running errands, and doing household chores while peppering in weekend trips and local exploration. But that's not all that life is here. My favorite moments lately are just of Dan and I curling up in our papasan chairs on the balcony and talking for hours. I also went climbing with him for the first time a couple of weekends back. And I have three concerts to go to this month! Life is quiet... but life is good.

Maybe slowing down is what fall is really all about. My Instagram and FB feeds, once full of beaches and exciting summer events, are now full of books, chunky sweaters, and pumpkin spice lattes. Maybe I just want to live in a perpetual state of fall, because I could curl up in a down comforter with a good book and be good to go forever!

48 Hours in San Francisco, Part 2

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When





Our second day in San Francisco was far less peaceful and far more exhausting than our first evening there. I loathe the idea of doing anything too touristy (here's looking at you, double decker bus tours), but I also often feel very torn when visiting someplace new. You couldn't go to New York City for the first time without seeing Times Square, right? You couldn't live in the LA Metro area and not want a glimpse of the Hollywood sign every once in a while. Just like those scenarios, you can't visit San Francisco for the first time and not want to see the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf. It's a love/hate thing, but these are the things we set out to see last Saturday.

We took an electric streetcar down the hill to Pier 39 where we immediately questioned our decision to visit a tourist destination on a holiday weekend. We walked around the outside of the pier instead of through the shops and restaurants, avoiding 90% of the people and frustration. We could see the Bay Bridge from one side and Alcatraz Island from the end. I would almost be willing to go on a tour of the prison, but Dan was completely against the idea. I can see where that could be pretty creepy, though. The other side of the pier offered us our first glance at the Golden Gate Bridge. We continued back towards dry land, passing the sea lions and various street performers before wandering through Fisherman's Wharf. The entire street was swarming with people, but it's not like we didn't know that going in.

View of Alcatraz in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When

Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When


We hurried over to Ghirardelli Square for chocolate samples and to hunt down vintage-style postcards before heading into Blazing Saddles Bike Rentals. I read on another blog that renting bikes from Blazing Saddles and biking over towards the bridge was the highlight of the writer's visit to San Francisco, so I figured we should try it as well. We biked a couple of miles towards the bridge along the waterfront before turning around and heading back. Most visitors actually bike over the bridge and down into Sausalito where they catch a ferry back into the city, but my stamina is low and I've been pretty weak since I injured my back in June. Even though, it was nice to ride over towards the bridge and I would love to go all the way if we visit again when I'm in better shape!

Views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
Biking to the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
Views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
Views of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When


After returning our bikes we just started walking away from the crowds and aimlessly into the city. We were finally able to hail a cab, which was probably one of the best things we could have done at that moment. Our cab driver drove us up and down, up and down, over hills and through neighborhoods we wouldn't have seen by taking the streetcars. We topped Nob Hill and descended back down towards Union Square, and I was so thrilled by our mini taxi-tour back to our hotel. I was also thrilled that I didn't have to walk anymore because my legs were rubber at this point.

Colorful townhomes lining the streets of San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When


By this time we realized that it was nearly 3:30 and we hadn't had any lunch! We started wandering the streets surrounding our hotel, ending up at a random bar, Jasper's Corner Tap, for cider and appetizers. (The Jasper fries were awesome!) After resting our legs for a couple of hours I decided I wouldn't be happy leaving the city unless I'd taken in the view from Alamo Square Park, a neighborhood park with a view of the city along with the famous Painted Ladies. We taxied there and snapped a few pictures before walking several blocks back towards our hotel.

The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
The Painted Ladies in San Francisco, California | Em Then Now When
Me looking like a mess after walking and biking all day.

I would have loved to have finished our night with another grand dinner and amazing night out on the town, but we were both just too damn tired. I have no shame in admitting that we had settled in and were watching one of the Hobbit movies on HBO by 10pm. Wimps! But it was a long day and we were just as happy doing nothing together as we would have been buying $15 martinis just for the view. (Next time, Top of the Mark!)

We had a really nice breakfast the next morning before an uneventful trip back home. For those who fly often, you know that this is a good thing. The fact that our flight wasn't delayed was probably a first for me when flying with United. Our trip was quick, but a really great first impression. I hope we can go back sometime soon, maybe in this next year. It's so close, after all. And maybe next time I'll make it across that big red bridge. =)