Thursday, October 29, 2015

It's My New Favorite Holiday!

Never heard of this holiday?  Me either, until just a few days ago.  And I LOVE it!  You can read more about why the holiday was founded here.  The holiday is a way to bring awareness to a great cause, ie. encouraging people to adopt shelter cats, millions of whom will be euthanized each year. 
I couldn't imagine my life without my cats, who I adopted from a shelter 11 (yes ELEVEN!) years ago when I moved to Baltimore.  I knew nothing about cats and didn't think I was a 'cat person', but at the persuasion of one of my very best friends, dove in headfirst and adopted not one, but TWO, kittens!  What can I say, I like to go all in.  I treat my boys like the VIPs they are every day, but I will be sure to give them some extra treats and snuggles tonight for being the loving little souls they are.


We like retro electronics around here

Sneaker fanatic just like his mom

We all drink green smoothies in this house

I've also written them this lovely poem:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
I just stepped in your vomit,
But I still love you!
I'm not a historian, but I know many creative, intelligent writers, inventors, and history-makers were cat people, so I think we owe some gratitude to their species.  And also, where would our society be today without the constant influx of funny cat videos and memes?  Internet cat videos are universal and bring people from all over the world together!  Therefore, More Cats = World Peace!
So what are you waiting for?  Go hug your cat.  If you don't have a cat, go hug your friend's cat.  If you have no friends that have a cat, I think it's time someone in your social circle GOT A CAT.  And that's my PSA for today.  Cats want only to sit on your lap, sleep on your head, be fed and loved.  There's really no purer motives than those.  I hope you all get to experience the love of at least one cat in your lifetime.
I'm linking up with MamaKat today for her Writing Workshop.  Today's prompt:
October 29th is National Cat Day.  Write a poem about your cat.

Do you have a cat?
Know anyone who has a cat?
Enjoy funny internet cats on a daily/weekly basis?
If you answered No to Questions 1 and 2 but Yes to number 3, I think it's time you got yourself a cat :)

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Weekend Tour of Baltimore!

Helloooooo!  I hope your weeks are starting out on a high note.  My dad came to visit this weekend and we had two main goals:  Watch PSU beat MD and dine at as many restaurants featured on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives as possible!  HAHA I'm glad to report we met both of those goals.

The main purpose of my dad's visit was for the two of us to go to the PSU vs MD game being played at the Ravens stadium over the weekend.  We try to get to at least one Penn State game a season if we can, usually in State College, so it was fun to watch them play away down here.  It was a close game and they played pretty terribly but PSU won by 1 point.  THANK GOD.  Or I probably would have been dealing with a bit of a grump the rest of the weekend!

My dad is a big fan of the TV show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives and for several years he's been watching and gathering a list of places he wanted to eat down here.  (My parents rarely visit me in Baltimore, thus the list was growing quite long.)  There's only so much a person can eat in one weekend so he had to narrow it down to 3 selections.  The full list of restaurants in the area featured on the show includes 17 eateries - you can find the full list here - so we've still got a lot of ground to cover when/if my parents ever come back to town.  I've eaten at a few of the places myself and a couple years ago took them to the Italian sandwich shop/market Dipasquale's, which my mom loved.  Highly recommend that place if you're looking for authentic Italian!

Ok, onto the tour my dad and I completed this weekend, along with my thumbs up or thumbs down rating :)

1.  Chaps Pit Beef

Photo via Yelp
This was our first stop for lunch before the game on Saturday.  Chaps is located in a very non-picturesque area of East Baltimore, and it shares a parking lot with a strip club.  YES Really.  So people apparently do not go there for the ambiance!  The place is pretty small (kind of shack-like, ha! I'm really setting this up nicely) and has limited seating.  When we were there it seemed most people were getting take-out.  But we were headed straight to the stadium afterward so we ate there.  I really had no idea what 'pit beef' was and was contemplating what to order.  I settled on a corned beef on rye and my dad had the pit beef.  I haven't had a corned beef sandwich in quite some time so I don't have much of a frame of reference but I thought it was pretty darn good.  The meat was sliced very thin and was actually less salty than corned beef usually is. 
My dad really liked his sandwich too, as well as the proximity to the gentlemen's club.  I KID.  There is absolutely nothing fancy about this place AT ALL but if you are in the mood for a giant meat sandwich, then by all means hit it up!
My Rating: Thumbs Up

2.  Jimmy's Famous Seafood

Our second stop was for dinner after the game.  It was pretty late by the time we got out (SO MUCH traffic) and made it to Jimmy's Famous Seafood.  This place is also not in the most picturesque of locations.  It is located in East Baltimore as well, near Dundalk.  I knew what I was going to order before we even arrived - their world famous crab cakes.  Baltimore is full of restaurants that boast the best crab cakes in the city, and I've had some at other places before, so I was eager to see how these stacked up.  I ordered a side salad as well.  My dad got a salad and some kind of chicken topped with cheese dish?!  I don't recall the name of it and since it contains two foods that I thoroughly dislike and/or avoid I didn't sample any!  My order of crab cakes included two 8 oz broiled cakes.  Luckily, the waiter checked and they do not contain any dairy.  They just use a little mayo and egg to hold them together.  Almost the entirety of the cakes are lump crab.  They were pretty excellent!  Definitely in the top 5 crab cakes I've eaten.  They were also huge (hard to tell from the pic).  So I basically ate 16oz of crabmeat at 9pm that evening! 

My Rating: Thumbs Up

3.  Blue Moon Café

Photo via Yelp

This was our 3rd and final stop over the weekend, and the most highly anticipated.  Blue Moon Café consistently has exceptional user reviews and is located in Fells Point, where I used to work.  For years, I had walked and driven past this breakfast spot and always seen a line of people waiting outside, in all weather conditions.  Yet, I had never eaten there.  I wondered what all the hype was about, but since I don't do dairy, I'm not really a breakfast person.  Alas, this was one of the places my dad was really looking forward to.  They don't take reservations, so when we arrived at 11:30am on Sunday morning, we had to put our name on a list that was already at least 25 people long and they estimated and hour and a half wait for us!  The restaurant is located in a traditional Baltimore row home, meaning it's small and skinny.  It only housed about 9 or 10 tables total!  Hence the constant wait. 

Luckily for us the Fells Point Fun Festival was going on over the weekend, so we were able to waste some time walking around browsing the food and vendor stands in the square.  When we finally arrived back around 12:45pm, the staff told us they had actually called our name twice already while we were gone!  It seems they were ahead of schedule. So we had to wait another 20 mins or so and then finally snagged a table (it's tiny but very cute inside!).

The café is famous for their Captain Crunch French Toast, which is what I was hoping to get.  I know French toast is traditionally made with milk or cream, but I was hoping they could make a batch without.  I asked the waitress if they could, but sadly they could not :(  So the French toast was a no-go.  I'm often able to make special orders at restaurants, but since this place was so crowded and had such a wait, I guess it makes sense they don't have time to do that.  So, I ended up ordering an egg and bacon sandwich on rye toast with a side of fruit.  My dad put in an order for his all-time favorite breakfast food:  cream chipped beef.  I have no idea what that even is because it looks like a dairy nightmare!  HA 

When the food arrived we were anticipating GREAT things, especially after waiting for nearly 2 hours!  Sadly, upon my dad's first bite into his breakfast, he became immediately disappointed.  He said it was probably one of the worst cream chipped beef dishes he'd ever had!  Lumpy gravy with scarcely any meat.  My sandwich was ok/fine, but it's hard to mess up a plain egg sandwich!  This is something I can order anywhere and they can't screw up.  It's a shame this place didn't live up to the hype and we waited for hours to get in.  Oh well, you win some, you lose some.  I do still wish I had been able to try the Captain Crunch French Toast though!
My Rating: Thumbs Down

And there you have it.  All in all a pretty masculine weekend of meat, more meat and football.  HAHA I was craving a workout and a salad like NO ONE's business on Monday.  It was really fun to have my dad in town though.  I mean I know Baltimore is not the most stunning of locations, but I wish more people would visit me instead of the other way around.  Who wants to come next?!

Have a great week!

Have you dined at any restaurants featured on the Food Network in your city?  Or a city you were visiting?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Life Lately...

Oh heyyyyyyyyy.  I wonder if you're sick of me talking about California?  I realize I did 5 posts about my trip.  I guess I couldn't help myself.  There was so much to share with you and I wanted to keep re-living each part.  I hope I didn't bore you.

It was hard to get back to reality for a couple weeks after I returned.  And I think it was a bit more than 'post-vacation blues'.  I really missed California.  I missed everything I saw and how I felt out there.  I came back and the seasons had started to change here and it made me sad.  I'm sad to see the summer and sunshine go.  I am a fair-weather gal for sure and unlike a bear, I do not appreciate being forced into hibernation for months on end every year. 

Despite all of that, I am trying to readjust back to my normal life, while still keeping that sunny flame alive.  So since I've talked about CA ad nauseam perhaps you've been wondering what I've been up to lately?  Or maybe not.  My normal life is not nearly as exciting as my road trip life!  Oh well, this is what I've been doing anyway....

1.  I have a new baby at work.  Did I mention that before I left?  I don't think so.  She was born just before I left so she is a WEE little thing! Brand new to the world.  I love newborns.  They are probably my favorite population to work with.  So, now I have two under 2!  All the mommas out there know how crazy THAT can be!  So I've been working a lot and don't have any down time during the day anymore so it's been hard to keep up with blogging.  It still kind of amazes me that I get to work with brand new humans.  I love being there as they see the world for the first time.  It's kind of magical.

2.  Running is still mostly a no-go.  My leg/back of knee didn't bother me AT ALL while I was out in California, and I walked a lot.  Miles upon miles every day, in flip flops no less!  But when I got back home and started working out again it started to bother me!  So I don't know if it's the stress of my day to day life, or some particular workout that aggravated it.  It's quite frustrating since Fall is actually the most ideal running weather.  I've done a couple long walks where I've alternated run/walk mile by mile and it was borderline ok but over the past couple of weeks it has become increasingly irritated :(  So that's where I am with that.  Perhaps one day I'll have a job with health insurance again and I can get to the bottom of it!

3.  As much as I complain about the Fall weather, it is also pretty ideal not only for running, but for hiking.  The leaves have just begun to change here in MD and the woods become so inviting with their new colors.  I went to one of my favorite spots over the weekend (Gunpowder Falls State Park) and felt 'ok' for the first time since I've been back.  There's just something about the outdoors that speaks to the soul, isn't there?  If I could be outdoors 24/7 (in a WARM climate!) I would.  Perhaps I should look into a career as a forest ranger?! 

Behind the beauty of those changing trees lies a hidden warning though.  Winter is coming.  I can't even think about it.  Months of snow and ice sound about appealing as a death sentence right now.

4.  I went to the library last week.  I figured losing myself in alternate realities might help!  Currently reading this book:

It's about showing our true selves to the world, something most of us don't do for myriad reasons.  But the author contends the only way to reach true, deep, meaningful and intimate relationships with each other is to let everyone see exactly who we are.  Not who we want to be, or pretend to be, or who we think we should be.  It's hard to do and I don't think we realize how often we try to cover up parts of ourselves.  It's a good read so far.

Andddddddd that's my life back in Baltimore!  There are still a lot of things going through my mind, spurred by my trip, that I hope to put into action.  I just hope winter does not suck all of the motivation out of me.  It has a way of doing that.

I'm just going to keep reminding myself of this:

"In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer." ~ Albert Camus

Oh God, I hope so.

I hope you've all been well :)

How do you feel about Fall?  Can you enjoy it for its own beauty or do you fear what is coming behind it as I do?!

Parents out there:  Any experience with two kids under 2?!

What are you currently reading?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

11 Things I Learned Traveling Solo

I'm certain you could tell from my last four posts that I had an amazing road trip through California!  In addition, I absolutely LOVED traveling solo! I don't think I would have wanted to do this trip any other way.  I learned many things about myself, about the state of California, and about traveling alone.  I thought I'd share some of the more pertinent ones for all of you out who may have never traveled solo, but are thinking about it.  (My advice: JUST DO IT!)

1.  It's Not Lonely!
I know what you're thinking.  I'm ALONE.  It's going to be so lonely.  Au contraire my friends.  When exploring a new place there is so much to see and do, there is no time for loneliness.  And in all honesty, I feel much more lonely in my day-to-day life than I ever did on the trip!  Connect with 'strangers'.  Talk to people.  Soak it all in.  Loneliness is just a state of mind.  We are all just solo beings on this big beautiful planet anyway!

2.  It's Not Unsafe
I imagine there are countries and parts of the world that you would have to take caution if traveling  as a single female, but I honestly don't feel that is a concern with US travel.  I do everything in my day-to-day life alone, in a city with one of the highest crime rates in the country. I never feel unsafe here nor did I ever while on the road.  Be smart about not carrying or packing a lot of cash or valuables and obviously don't walk through dark alleys in the middle of the night.  If you operate on the road just as you do at home, you should be fine.  Not everyone is out to get you.  In fact, most people love to help others.

3.  Airbnb is Your Friend!
I am so glad I used Airbnb to book rooms in people's homes.  I wanted an authentic experience and did not want to stay in hotels.  Airbnb rooms were a lot cheaper and it also helps with the loneliness factor since you're meeting and staying with other people!  When searching for rooms, you can set various filters on Airbnb to find what you're looking for. I only looked for rooms that were under $85 and had lots of 5 star reviews, and these conditions led me to 2 fantastic places with wonderful hosts.  I also stayed with friends and family a couple nights which kept costs down too!

4.  You Don't Need to Spend a lot of Money
I spent money on only the necessities and kept those costs as much under control as possible.  I saved money by staying in Airbnb rooms instead of hotels.  I didn't go shopping for unnecessary or expensive trinkets (the only souvenirs I bought were refrigerator magnets).  I packed a lot of protein bars so I could eat lunch for free most days.  Some of my Airbnb hosts offered breakfast, which I took full advantage of.  I ate dinners out most days but didn't go hog wild.  And I didn't pay for big ticket attractions.  I paid for entrance to national parks and things that were low cost, but amazing experiences nonetheless.

5.  Take A LOT of Pictures!
Going along with number 4 here, taking pictures is free, and they make the best souvenirs of all. I knew many of the images and things I saw out there would stay with me, but memories do have a way of fading over time, and pictures help keep them alive.  Plus, when you get home you can get prints or do all kinds of artsy things with your photos.  Hello, redecorating with images you took!

6.  Don't Over Plan
I'm not a planner anyway but I booked everything for this trip less than 30 days out: my flight, my rooms, the car.  In terms of activities, there were things I knew I wanted to see for years while thinking about my dream trip to CA.  You want wiggle room.  Especially on a road trip, part of the adventure is seeing what's around the next bend.  Be open. Take suggestions from locals (I did that a lot, especially for places to eat).  Make random stops (I did that in Santa Barbara and MAN am I glad I stopped there).  Have some ideas but don't stress yourself out over it!

7.  Having an iPhone/Smartphone with GPS is a Good Idea
I'm not saying this is essential, but I couldn't have imagined exploring all the places I did using a paper map! I dk how people did that back in the day. I also used the internet on my phone a lot to find places to eat or local attractions.  I really couldn't imagine doing a solo/road trip without my iPhone.

8.  Don't Over Pack!
I didn't really follow this one.  This could be due to the fact that I began packing around 9pm the night before my flight, but nonetheless, I overpacked. I brought a suitcase and a carryon for 2 weeks and just 1 bag would have been better.  It was annoying to lug both of these up and down steps every time I stopped someplace new for the night and I ended up wearing the same things every day, just like I do at home.  So yeah, don't over pack.  If your hoodie unexpectedly gets soaked while bike riding through San Francisco, I'm pretty sure they have stores there that sell hoodies.  This logic goes for anything you might need.  If you legitimately forget something, just purchase it at your destination.

9.  Don't Bring a Selfie Stick.
Just don't.  I can't tell you how many selfie sticks I saw on this trip! I thought only 13 year old girls used them. I was wrong.  "Well, Jill, how do you expect me to take pictures of myself against these amazing backdrops if I don't bring along my trusty selfie stick?"  Ask someone!  I asked people everywhere I went to snap a photo of me and every single person said yes.  I always returned the favor.  It gave me an excuse to talk to people and I met lots of interesting people that way.  Also, selfie sticks are WEIRD. 

10.  It is Empowering!
Doing anything independently is empowering and builds confidence and traveling across the country and through an entire state alone is no exception.  I amazed myself sometimes at the things I was able to figure out without anyone's help and it's given me confidence that I can do even greater things!  If you are a looking for a way to feel like a rockstar, book a solo trip.  Or run a marathon!  Runners have a good sense of being able to accomplish things on their own already, so maybe this is why solo travel struck such a chord with me. 

11.  It Will Make You Want to Start Planning Your Next Solo Trip!
Yep, this was already happening before I even stepped foot back on the east coast.  I was  daydreaming about my next trip hiking national parks out west.  I'm looking at Zion or Arches National Park in Utah or the Grand Canyon and other parks in Arizona.  There's so much of this world I've yet to see!

Have you ever traveled solo?

What were some of your biggest takeaways from your trip?

If not, would you?!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Jilly Does Cali, Part 4: The Sea Ranch

Thanks so much for following along on this trip and for all of your comments.  I'm a little behind on responding, but I'll get there!

Part 4 of my Cali trip recap takes us up to a little community along the coast in northern Sonoma County called Sea Ranch.  Throughout my trip, I had mentioned to many people I encountered that Sea Ranch was my final destination for a wedding and I was surprised that no one in CA had ever heard of it!  Admittedly, it is a very remote, non-commercialized locale, but I think that is the appeal for those who vacation there.

Ok we're on Day 9 of the trip now...

I am headed to SFO to pick up and reunite with two very special east-coasters: my sister and our mutual friend!

The girls both arrived around 1:30pm and since we had heard Sea Ranch was only a 2 hour drive from San Francisco, we thought we had all the time and daylight in the world to explore the city before heading up there.  [This turned out to be a false assumption, but at the time we were clueless and carefree!]

We headed north and ended up parking in a non-descript area of the city which had some interesting restaurants.  We walked for a few blocks to check out the food offerings and decide what we wanted to eat, all the while catching up, reminiscing and generally acting quite giddy.  We ended up with the most random assortment of food items: mediterranean tomato and cucumber salad, hummus/pita, and Mexican fish tacos. But then we had to find a place to eat these treats.  We located a park on our GPS and upon getting there discovered it was a DOG park.  My sister still thought it was a good idea to sit in the grass and eat our food.  For obvious reasons (ie. dog feces), the 2 sane people in the party rejected this idea, and we found some concrete pillars to sit on while we ate. 

After eating we headed back to our car, which was parked in a Safeway parking lot.  We had heard there was a market near Sea Ranch where we could buy groceries, but thought maybe we'd pick up a few things here just in case.  So by the time we left SF, it was around 4:30.  We still thought we had plenty 'o time!

We stopped at the Golden Gate Bridge lookout after crossing it so the girls could get a good view:

It was another clear, fogless day in SF.

And then we headed on our merry way up Route 101.  And hit complete traffic deadlock...for miiiiiiiiiiiiles.  It quickly became apparent we would definitely not be arriving at our destination in 2 hours.  After a couple hours on the road, we decided to make another random stop-off in a town called Cotati for some more groceries.  This turned out to be the wisest decision ever (because by the time we would arrive in Sea Ranch the only market near town would have been long closed), but then we got lost getting back on the highway, so it also cost us an additional hour of driving!

By the time we reached the coastal portion of Highway 1 it was completely dark and we couldn't see anything, a vast difference from when I drove the coastal portion of the same highway through Big Sur.  This portion was also fairly windy and it was late at night so I as the driver had to be pretty careful.  Meanwhile, the jet lagged girls were fading fast on me.

We finally arrived 5 HOURS LATER only to discover we had to drive to the nearest town of Gualala to retrieve the key for our rental cabin, and then backtrack to said cabin.  When we finally got in our house it was 9:30pm, pitch black and freezing outside.  There are no street lights in Sea Ranch.  But when we unlocked the door to our cabin we were in sweet, sweet heaven.  It was so nice and cozy!  We unloaded all of our bags and groceries, ate food and then proceeded to pass out.

Day 10, Sea Ranch:  We slept in and then ate our ration portions for breakfast.  This became a running joke because we only had so many eggs and sausages per person/per day! Hahaha  My sister did the math and made sure each person ate only their share every morning. She was always the math whiz.

We decided to take a little walk/hike around the area to see what we had missed in the dark.  Here are a few shots of the "neighborhood":

And just a random baby deer in our front yard!  We saw them roaming all over the grounds and even had a big buck cross right in front of us on a walk one day.

Cali girls

The coastal views from everywhere in Sea Ranch are amazing.  Luckily it was another blissfully clear day so these shots came out incredibly:


Even our little cabin, which was one of the cheapest ones available, had an oceanfront view!

Later that evening, we were invited to a BBQ at the bride's family's cabin and so we finally got to see our friend and bride-to-be!!  I hadn't personally seen her in 2 years.  She usually flies back East for Christmas every year, but we missed her this past year.  It was great to finally meet her fiancé and 1 year old daughter.  The food at the BBQ was prepared by the family and was incredible.  We had such a good time catching up and meeting everyone else who had flown in for the wedding.  We even made new friends who drove us back to our cabin so we wouldn't have to walk back in the pitch dark, freezing night.  They saved us from running smack into some wandering deer or raccoons.

Day 11, Sea Ranch:  Wedding Day!  Our friend who was staying with us was a key member of the wedding party, and was also singing for the wedding, so she had to be out of the house fairly early this day.  My sister and I, on the other hand, had not a care in the world so we sat around drinking and tried out the hot tub.

And then took a nap.  VACATION MODE in full effect.

Soon it was time to get ready for the wedding.  It was being held at a vineyard up the mountain and wasn't really driveable, so they were running shuttles to and from the cabins.

It was surprisingly much warmer at the vineyard when we arrived for the afternoon wedding, which I thoroughly enjoyed.  The sun was blazing hot and shining down on the outdoor altar, and the pictures I took of the ceremony came out unexpectedly with rays of sunshine filtering down on the bride and groom.  It was really neat.  It was as if their marriage was being condoned by the heavens!

The reception was also outdoors and the setting was gorgeous.



The wedding was a gooooooood time and I was so happy to be there celebrating with my friends and sister.  Something the officiant said during the vows stuck with me.  He said something along the lines of 'thank God Olivia decided to move across the country all those years ago, met her fiancé out here and made this day possible'.  You just never know what's going to happen when you make a leap of faith.  It made me have faith in possibilities unknown and what's to come!
After the reception, we waited awhile for a shuttle and then went to an afterparty for a little, but couldn't hang.  So eventually we called it a night.
Day 12, Sea Ranch:  Our last day!  ie. the day we realized tomorrow we'd have to return to reality.  We spent mid-morning doing some more exploring and hiking around Sea Ranch and found steps down to the beach, where I said goodbye for now to the Pacific Ocean.

Later, we stopped by our friend's cabin again to hang out and chill with her and tell old high school stories.  FUN!!!!!!  It was such a good reunion.  I can't believe we're all in our 30's.  Talking about high school doesn't seem that long ago when we are all together, but it really was.  It's mind blowing how quickly time flies. 
When we got back to our cabin, we sat in the hot tub drinking wine and talking about life, love and the pursuit of happiness for far too long.  Eventually, we got out and napped.  HUGE life accomplishments happening here.  That night we chilled out, packed and thought about how lucky we were to all be together for this event.
Day 13, Sea Ranch:  We got on the road early at 6am.  Ok we were late.  6:30am.  I had no idea how long it would take us to get back since the ride there was a bit chaotic.  Thankfully the return drive to SFO was much easier and since it was morning, we could now see the coastal views on Highway 1.  They were amazing, just like Big Sur.  We made it to SFO in just over 3 hours and then it was time to hug our goodbyes, and board our respective planes back to our homes.  And just like that, my 2 week trip to California was over.
It had been an amazing, epic, incredible trip for me and the ending could not have been sweeter.
I don't know if she knows this, but I will forever be grateful to my friend Olivia for inviting me to her wedding.  If it weren't for her, I never would have planned this incredible solo road trip up the coast of California.  Who knows when/if I ever would have made it out there.  If it weren't for her, CA would still be just a pipe dream and I would not have discovered all the people, places and things I did because of it.  We all miss her, but thank God indeed that she moved across the country and started the domino of events in her own life and in others'.  She is a true friend and a true inspiration.  Love you Olivia!
Have you ever gone to a destination wedding?
Ever heard of Sea Ranch, CA?
What is the longest amount of time one should stay in a hot tub?!