Monday Musings: To Live Is The Rarest Thing

I love a good memoir. There’s something so reassuring about reading people’s personal stories of realizing their lives are not what they want, making a huge change, struggling and coming out on the other side. It’s almost therapeutic. If they can completely change the course of their life when things get bad, why couldn’t I?

Shortly after reading Eat Pray Love, I went to Naples and raced over to the pizzeria where Julia Roberts ate that whole pizza by herself. I figured it was part of the experience, part of the journey to the fulfilling life I so desperately wanted (plus, I rarely turn down an excuse to eat pizza).

These memoirs of self-awareness and living a fulfilling life reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

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I truly believe life is too short to just go through the motions but more often than not, change is terrifying and so reading about people who go through the difficult times and come out the other side with better, happier lives is inspiring.

You know what people never talk about though? The middle part. The hard part. The part that’s always whipped past in stories of change.

Few people discuss the fear, uncertainty, anxiety of putting yourself out there in the world, the self-doubt and the absolute terrifying feeling that maybe the path you’re on won’t lead you to a happier life.

It’s so easy to get caught up in people’s successes, we don’t realize that all that middle part that no one talks about is experienced by almost everyone. You make that leap to change your life but adrenaline only keeps you going for so long. We expect a 2 minute montage of the bad times and then we’re there, taking the first exciting steps towards the rest of our happy lives.

In reality, change takes time. It could take a few months,  a year or maybe even a few years. Some people claim the first step is the hardest, admitting that your life is not making you happy and taking that step towards change. I, however, think there are two equally hard times: the first step and the middle, the waiting, trying new things when it’s so easy to give up, get depressed, become overwhelmed and fight everyday for your inner resilience. As difficult as it is taking the plunge to aim for a better life, it can be even harder to remain positive during the hard times and keep yourself from accepting that as your fate.

So this is my rallying call for those of you brave enough to reinvent your lives in a way that makes you happy. Remove your mentality from what the media tells you great life adventures should be like and persevere. Yes, it may be hard. Yes, it may take a while. Yes, you may feel like you want to give up but I believe that if you’re strong enough to take that first step, you’ll be able to keep taking steps through the good and bad, only to come out stronger and with that life you want, full of Julia Roberts’Napoli pizza.

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First photo from here.

Rollin’ On The River, New Orleans

We woke up early on our last full day in New Orleans and dragged ourselves over to Cafe Beignet with the hopes of a big, delicious breakfast and even bigger cups of strong coffee.

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I made no secret of my love of Cafe du Monde so I have to tell you I loved Cafe Beiegnet just as much. Shaped like a tube stop with exposed brick walls, checked floor and palm painted ceiling, it’s something straight out of an avid Instagrammers dream.
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And the food! The omelets are french style, cooked to perfection. There’s no shortage of hot sauce and the chicory coffee is the perfect thing to make you forget you’re up early on vacation.

Did I mention I had grits for the first time? I was so scared after the scene in Secret Life of Bees but they’re pretty dull. Probably like oatmeal, you have to spice it up to enjoy it. What do you think? Do you like grits? Any good recipes?

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We left the restaurant and entered the thickest fog I’ve ever experienced.

You know that scene in Scooby Doo whenever they’re in thick fog and Scooby takes a knife and literally cuts it away? That’s the best way I can describe it.

The closer we got to the river, the denser it grew.

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The night before we purchased tickets (and dealt with the absolute worst customer service) to go on the Steamboat Creole Queen for a history tour.

As we boarded, we couldn’t see anything past the railing and had such reservations. What’s the point of a Riverboat tour if you can’t see anything?

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We had a very eccentric historian tour guide to entertain us as we stared out at a never ending wall of grey, sitting on wet benches with a cold wind making an absolute reck of our hair.

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Eventually the wind and rain got the best of us and we headed down into the lush cabin to warm up until we got to our stopping point.

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When we stepped off the plank onto solid land, the sun was putting up a vicious fight to come out.

We were immediately greeted with the sight of the most gorgeous pink mansion only to be told that that house has absolutely nothing to do with the Battle of New Orleans.

We were led to an empty field with a backdrop of a factory and listened to a very monotoned Park Ranger tell us about the battle. Well, that’s what we were suppose to do . . .

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We snuck away and did a bit of exploring on our own (reenacting movie scenes like the true adults we are) and by the time we boarded the boat again, the sun was out in full force.

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Completely famished (as always) after the tour, we headed over to the French Market for snacks and a spot of people watching.

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Enclosed on top and open air on the sides, I think there never is a time the Market isn’t crowded.

The front half is full of local produce, spices and food stalls where you can find everything from organic smoothies to freshly shucked oysters.

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The back half is the tourist trap. Every souvenir you could ever want is there in plenty as is every tourist in the city. The kind of place where you have to walk sideways through the walls of people jammed into narrow lanes just to get through.

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We spent the rest of the day strolling around the French Quarter and eating ice cream on the River Walk.

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We ended our night at an incredible restaurant (Muriel’s) but I have no photos for you. I was so swept up in being in this incredible city with one of my favorite people, the few pictures I took, I took hastily and they didn’t turn out which I’m fine with. It’s nice to live in the moment.

The next morning we rushed off to the airport to head home to opposite sides of the country, already planning our next trip.

If you’ve never been to New Orleans, you must. If you’re afraid it won’t live up to your expectations, it will. It’s the most incredibly vibrant city I’ve ever been and I highly recommend you add it to your bucket list of must see places in your life.

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And All That Jazz, New Orleans

Full of giddiness that only a perfectly cooked pizza and fizzing bellinis can bring, we headed back to Jackson Square where I was . . .

“In the lounge. Waiting to welcome them (everyone who walked by) graciously to our home!”

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Anyone get that reference? Yes? 10 points to Griffindor.

Tucked back along the side of Jackson Square is the 1850 House – an easy place to miss if you don’t know it’s there.

A state museum of a recreated Antebellum era, middle-class house, with no detail left unaccounted for. So much so, it looks like a family living there, up and left in the middle of  life one day.

First though, you tackle the steep winding staircases (thankfully, Philadelphia prepared me for this).

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Yes, I did play host for anyone who would listen to me.

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Until I saw the children’s dolls. Something straight out of your nightmares that only Amy Schumer could love. My hosting ambitions promptly died after that (along with part of my soul).

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The back porch was equally as terrifying. You walk around completely unsteady as it’s sloped downward for rainwater runoff. Just a tad (massively) unnerving.

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The house is well worth a visit (despite the dolls and porch).

We emerged back into the humid New Orleans air and strolled around Jackson Square looking at local artists’ work, watching street performers, listening to music and people watching – you’ll see everything from bachelorettes to families to people in pirate costumes stroll by you in the course of just a few minutes. I’ve never been anywhere with such a hodgepodge crowd as in New Orleans.

Before we go further, can we talk about the humidity. I’m pretty lucky that my hair is straight and has never been reactant to the weather. That is, until New Orleans.

The humidity there was so intense I would wake up with it flat and straight and within 20 minutes of going outside, it would poof out and flip to the point that any 60s woman would be insanely jealous.

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When the humidity and crowds became a little too much we headed over to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

“The Carousel Bar, that’s an interesting name. I wonder where it came from”  – you

Well, lucky for you I have the answer. The bar is a carousel. A literal carousel that slowly revolves as you enjoy a signature drink and watch the streams of people walking past on their way to Bourbon Street.

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To get a seat at the bar, you pretty much have to auction off your unborn child. If you’re not willing to do that, there are plenty of squashy arm chairs and couches pulled up next to large windows.

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We ordered a round of Pimm’s and settled in, watching the world go by and the carousel turn.

Have you ever had Pimm’s? It’s the most bizarre drink I’ve ever had and we spent all afternoon trying to think of how to describe it so, if you have a good description please leave a comment and let me know!

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As the evening drew closer, we headed back to the hotel for a quick change and then out to dinner.

We made reservations at Galatoire’s, a fancy restaurant that’s been around since the start of the 20th century.

The kind of place that keeps sports jackets at the front in case men come to dine without one.

A word of advice, the website says business casual and, if to you, business casual means dressing up a nice pair of jeans – don’t. The looks and scorn we received from some of the older patrons was venomous.

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But there’s nothing a little wine can’t fix.

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Also, can we talk about how I look like someone straight out of a vampire book? Maybe I spent too much time at the cemetery. I don’t know.

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If you go, get the Panna Cotta. Don’t ask questions. Just do it.

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Full to bursting, we headed back out to Bourbon Street (with our fellow jean wearers) and headed over to the one place I was adamant about visiting on our trip: a jazz club.

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Irving Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse, located in the Royal Sonesta is a place  I cannot recommend enough. Dim lighting, strong drinks and jazz that speaks to your soul. What more could you want out of an evening.

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We saw Quiana Lynell sing and I can’t find the words to describe how spectacular she is. I could have listened to her all night – she has this amazing ability to just completely fill you up with whatever song she is singing.

I have her CD in my car currently playing on repeat. Be sure to check her out on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/user/122893372

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The perfect end to an incredible day.

An evening spent listening to jazz in New Orleans. It doesn't get much better than this

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I was nervous about New Orleans – I dreamed of visiting since I was young and was afraid it would not live up to the enormous expectations I had. Let me tell you, it did. It absolutely did.

City of the Dead, New Orleans

I gave you a little tease of my New Orleans trip last week, promptly got distracted and forgot the rest of my posts.

Believe it or not, I didn’t just go to New Orleans to enjoy beignets one morning then leave. Although if you’re thinking of doing that, you won’t be disappointed.

So, after eating our weight in sugary, fried pastries, we hit the street on to our next adventure. . .

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To the city of the dead.

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If you go to New Orleans, you have to do a cemetery tour. I don’t care if you like history, if you’re easily scared, if you think it sounds boring or any other excuse you can think of. You have to do one.

We visited the St. Louis cemetery, the older of the two where you can get tours, and to be fair, my photos don’t even do it justice. It’s utterly spectacular and like nothing I’ve ever seen.

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New Orleans is built on a swamp. The waterbed is about 3 feet below the ground and is extremely active, meaning underground burials in New Orleans, not such a great idea unless you want it to perpetually look like zombies are popping out of the ground to attack you.

Ironically, the concept of above ground burials arose out of fashion (it was all the rage in Europe) not necessity. Whoever said that fashion doesn’t lead to great things was obviously lying.

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A few years back, vandalism became excessive in the centuries. Tombs were desecrated (people actually broke holes in them and would pull bones out), grafitied and statues were beheaded make the cemeteries something straight out of your worst nightmare.

Each tomb belongs to a particular family, so when it gets destroyed, it is the financial responsibility of the family to restore it.

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The cemeteries were closed to the public in response to the vandalism but eventually allowed in tour groups who pay annual fees.

We booked our tour through French Quarter Phantoms.

Our guide, Robin, was fabulous. Full to the brim with facts and dripping in sarcasm. The kind of person you could listen to for hours and then want to grab a drink at a local bar with. If you can request a tour with her, do it. Absolutely do it.

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Robin also dropped the fact that the Weeping Angels were inspired by the statues in New Orleans cemeteries.

It goes without saying I adamantly refused to blink the entire tour.

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I have so many amazing stories from the tour but I won’t spoil them for you. Just be sure to ask about the Italian tomb and who the first person to be placed in it was (hint, it rhymes with shmarcitect).

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Leaving the land of the dead behind, we reentered the streets of living, as always, in search of something to eat.

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We ended up at Domenica inside the Roosevelt hotel and passed away the early afternoon with pizza and bellinis.

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Cheers 🥂

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Can you think of a better way to spend an afternoon than with champagne and cemeteries? I certainly can’t.

Beignets For Days, New Orleans

Having your friends live all across the country can be extremely hard and frustrating at times. The silver lining though, you never have to look far for an excuse to travel!

One of my best friends lives in Texas which means getting together takes a little bit of planning. This past fall I told her, rather than coming to one of our respective states, we should pack our bags and travel some place we’ve never been before. Or some place with island drinks. I’m really not that picky.

We bounced ideas back and forth, Bahamas, Jamaica, Florida? Until I finally said, what about New Orleans (a place that meets both of those requirements above, might I add). A few days later, our tickets were booked and I began quoting Princess and the Frog every time we talked (something that continued through our trip).

This past weekend, I rushed from work to the airport, hopped on a plane, took a an Uber ride from the airport in the middle of the night, collapsed in bed, only to wake up the next morning to  . . .

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Despite our late night flights, we set alarms early our first morning. We were on a mission. You’ll see why in a minute.

We stepped out on our terrace with big Cheshire Cat grins, tossed on the closest clothes we had and rushed down to the streets below.

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New Orleans is known for their lively night culture but I think the mornings are just as good!

The fog slowly clears away, artists start setting up, the streets are all but deserted and it feels like the whole city is yours.

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If you do want some signs of civilization, I’ll tell you where to go (it’s where we were headed).

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Cafe du Monde. The place to go in New Orleans.

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Known for having the best beignets and Cafe au Lait in New Orleans. The line will always be long and will always be worth it.

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Believe it or not, the line moves quickly. Before you know it, you’re ushered inside and a waitress will want your order before you can settle down. The menu is small, beignets, a choice of coffees and juices.

You’ll order and she’ll disappear like a phantom in the night.

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In a blink of an eye, she’ll be bearing down on you with a plate full of warm, fried, sugary pastries that make you drool just looking at them and big mugs of strong, chicory coffee.

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Maybe not the best date spot, if you’re easily embarrassed. It’s just a little messy.

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You know when you travel and everyone tells you there are certain places you absolutely must visit. When you do you realize that they’re sadly overrated and you’ve completely wasted your time? That is not Cafe du Monde. It is well worth the hype (and that’s not just the sugar rush talking)!

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Extremely happy with day so far, we left Cafe du Monde in the happiest of sugar-induced moods and strolled to our next adventure singing and dancing to Down in New Orleans.

Okay, that last part may have just been me but tell me you didn’t have that song stuck in your head the whole time you saw these photos. If you say you didn’t, I’ll know you’re lying.

Last Mountain Views, California

I still have one more day of California photos to post but, to tell you the truth, if I were a cartoon character, I’d be Doug from Up. To say I’m easily distracted is an understatement.

I finished How to be a Woman and just had to tell you about it, California photos completely forgotten! I know what you’re thinking, how could I possibly forget the mountains, I’ve only been going on and on about them on Instagram for weeks now!

Those mountains. They speak to me.

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That’s what a good book does to me though. I lose thought of everything else and I just have to talk about it with someone!

So, back to California . . .

On my last day, I woke up to a steady pitter-patter of rain against the window. Pajamas still on, I rolled out of bed and into a big squishy armchair by the crackling fire.

We had a lazy morning, not needing to talk but thoroughly enjoying each others company as we opened the windows to the rain, snuggled up by the fire.

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After coffee, we had a long, drawn out breakfast of smoothies, eggs, homemade bread and pancakes.

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All under the watchful supervision of Luna, who took to stealing freshly laundered clothes and dragging them onto the wet grass, at this point.

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When we finished breakfast, the rain had stopped and the sky was a dazzling blue, just waiting to be admired.

We went for a long walk up a trail by the house so I soak up every last minute of the warm weather and mountains before my late night flight.
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You know those moments of complete contentment? There’s nothing like it and for me, I felt that, standing high above the city, surrounded by mountains and standing next to one of the best people in my life.

When I had my fill, we headed back for a shower and a late lunch before I hopped on a plane home.

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When I moved from Chicago, I promised myself I would see more of the world. Something that’s still important to me but now, I want to revise that promise.

Spending the time seeing the world is not as important as who you spend the time with.

What really makes your time traveling spectacular is the people you spend that time with.

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What do you think? Do you have a favorite travel buddy? Do you care more about the designation or who you share it with?

Tequila(!) on The Lake, California

After a morning of adventuring, one thing was needed as the afternoon started turning to evening: tequila! Did you hum along and then yell it? If not, just leave this page now.

I mentioned a few posts ago how I’m now a believer that the sky in California is different than anywhere else in the world. The blues in the morning and the vibrant colors when the sun sets are beautiful beyond words. My favorite time though, late afternoon.

After Balboa Island, I hadn’t had enough of the warm California air, the beautiful mountains and especially that sky. I was told there was a perfect place to go and enjoy all of it.

A little Mexican restaurant, Hacienda, right on the Mission Viejo lake with incredible food and an even better view.

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The patio is the perfect place to settle in and watch the afternoon sink away into evening.

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Margarita in hand, obviously.

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It goes without saying that a margarita isn’t complete without a side of fresh, homemade guacamole to nibble on with it.

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The face of a very, very happy girl.

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Fresh guac, margaritas and mountains. What more could you want out of life?