Category Archives: travel

around the world and back again.

Somehow I blinked and all of my anticipated travel came and went. With the exception of two trips to NYC in the next couple of months, I’m officially done traveling for the year.

I wish I had made an effort to write about my trips in a timely manner. I’m only sitting down now to write something down because all of my trips over the last seven months have been so important to me. I’ve passed through countries I didn’t know I would ever see. I’m grateful for the experiences I’ve had so far and look forward to planning future trips, both locally and internationally.

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I loved Rome so much more than I thought I would. It’s big and beautiful and busy. The best gelato I will ever have is in Rome; it’s so good I went a total of three times in the span of a few days. We saw the sights you’re told to see, the structures that have stood the test of time. But I think my favorite moments in this city were just wandering around, lounging on steps in Trastevere or exploring Pigneto, where our Airbnb was. And it goes without saying that the food is amazing. Even on our first night, when we arrived late and went to a small cafe around the corner to get dinner, it was so, so good.

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Our time in Florence was unfortunately marred by a stomach bug that left us both incapacitated for a chunk of our trip. We managed to get over it after a day and a half, thankfully. If anything, it’s reason enough to return to Florence someday to make up for lost time. I’m glad we chose to go to the Amalfi coast last, as it was a really relaxing way to end our honeymoon. My favorite memory of our last couple of days was walking up a steep hill in search of dinner and stumbling upon a restaurant with a beautiful view of Positano down below.

I thought two weeks was the perfect amount of time for this trip, even though it still went by insanely fast. Italy is everything I thought it would be and I’m glad we picked it as our honeymoon destination.

Then in late May/early June, I was in Seoul for a work trip:

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While I was on-site working the majority of the time I was there, it didn’t stop me and my co-workers from heading out every night to explore. Koreans are really nice and helpful; I had people come to my rescue on at least two separate occasions due to the language barrier. I only knew how to say hello and thank you; while that was helpful, it didn’t exactly bridge the gap. I arrived to Seoul a couple of days early and stayed a couple of days after my work assignment, which helped immensely with getting used to the time difference (14 hours!) and relaxing before the long journey home. I ate amazing food and bought a hilarious amount of Korean beauty products. Korea has never been high on the list of places I want to travel to in Asia, but I really enjoyed my time there. Seoul is so huge that there was no way to see everything, so I know I could easily go back and see new things.

Now it’s summer here in Chicago and my 30th birthday is a mere 20ish days away. Not that I’m counting or anything. I’m really glad I was able to fit in so much international travel before the big 3-0; it was an important milestone I wanted to hit before I leave my 20s. And I’m already planning potential trips in my mind for the next couple of years.

saying yes to adventure: thailand

Last summer, I was on the cusp of turning 29. Getting that much closer to turning 30 didn’t bother me (at the time), but I had a realization that did: I have never traveled overseas.

Sure, I’ve traveled internationally. But only to Mexico and Central America, both of which are regions that speak a language I know and are in the same time zone as Chicago, give or take an hour.

I had never been on a plane for more than 4 hours. I had never experienced jet lag. I had never stepped foot in an airport where the majority of the signs were in a language I didn’t understand.

In college, while my friends went to study abroad, I stayed behind on campus. Given that I had already chosen to attend an out of state, private university, it was a luxury I couldn’t afford. After I graduated, I toyed with the idea of taking a trip for myself to Europe, or anywhere really. But I was ultimately more concerned with finding a full-time job and paying my bills to do anything so spontaneous.

Which brings us back to last summer. I have a full-time job, am paying my bills, on the verge of 29, and a few months away from getting married. Life seems on track, but the lack of overseas travel bothered me. By happenstance, my good friend Adrian mentioned casually that his friend was getting married in Phuket and due to a lack of vacation time, his girlfriend wouldn’t be able to go. I jokingly volunteered myself as his travel buddy, and then seriously volunteered myself.

There were a million reasons I could have used to talk myself out of this trip. But like I said before, it’s really easy to talk yourself out of doing some spontaneous, for the sake of being practical or responsible. I had no real reason to say no and ultimately, I knew it was something I really wanted to do.

Since all the traveling I did during this trip didn’t kill me, I can only assume it made me stronger. I met Adrian in NYC, since it was strangely cheaper to fly to Thailand via China from there than from Chicago, even with the flight to NYC and back on top. One small problem: I was flying into Newark, since our connection with Air China was supposed to be flying out of that airport. Until they decided it was going to fly out of JFK instead. So I spent the morning traveling from New Jersey to Queens, which isn’t exactly fun. Even less fun? Missing our connection to Thailand because our first flight left late, resulting in spending a couple of hours in the Beijing airport and arriving in Phuket about 10 hours later than we intended.

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Most people would assume this trip is already turning into a disaster. And considering that Adrian and I had never traveled together before, much less internationally, we could have easily turned on each other. Instead, in our delirium, we laughed it off, drank Chinese beer while we waited, eventually made it Thailand, stumbled into our hotel and checked in before promptly passing out for a few hours. We only spend two days in Phuket before moving on, but relaxing by the pool and the wedding itself were a solid way to start this vacation.

I don’t know what possessed us to fly out so early the next day after the wedding, but we did and headed to Bangkok for a couple of days. Bangkok was even more of a blur, filled with lots of walking, temples, good food, and markets. During our first day, we went to the Jim Thompson House, Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), and the Grand Palace. We thought we could squeeze in more but exhaustion eventually got to us. We ended the day with dinner at Soul Food and grabbed beers at Mikkeller Bangkok.

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The 2nd day was a little more laid back, which a trip outside the city to two markets: the Maeklong Railway Market and the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. To make things easier, we ended up hiring a tour guide who essentially organized everything for us. He was really familiar with both markets and knew the locals, as well as the language of course. Tourists tend to flock to both of these markets, but for Maeklong, I only saw tourists outside on the railway section and not inside the larger market found in a neighboring building. Our guide helped us buy a few things, including fresh Thai chili peppers and dried fruit. Everything is so delicious and cheap, it’s kinda insane. I would have loved to have done a different floating market since Damnoen Saduak is very popular and crowded, but it was the only one open during the week. I did get to try mango and sticky rice, as well as coconut ice cream, which is my new favorite dessert.

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We relaxed at our hotel before flying back to Phuket, where our trip be ending. I would go back to Bangkok in a heartbeat; there’s so much to see and do.

Back in Phuket, we stayed on a different beach and spent our first day back seeing elephants. Elephants are native to northern Thailand and I would have much preferred to see them in a sanctuary but I went with a local place that was well reviewed and recommended. The elephants were well taken care of, which is all that mattered to me. After that, it was an afternoon of hotel pool lounging. Note: all hotel pools should have a swim-up bar. It’s amazing.

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On our last day, we went snorkeling, which lasted all morning and well into the afternoon. It was my first time ever so it was a bit overwhelming for me; it didn’t help that the waters at our first location were choppy and difficult to navigate. By the 2nd stop, I felt comfortable and was really able to enjoy it. And of course, the amount of tropical fish I saw was awesome. We also stopped at a couple of different beaches, where I saw the bluest water I have seen in my life.

After some confusion about our flights, we made to the airport just by the skin of our teeth and actually got back to New York in time. I stayed in Brooklyn for a night with one of my best friends before finally heading back to Chicago.

The thing about going halfway across the world for only a week is that it passes by insanely fast. Even the 13 hour flights didn’t seem that long (although I did sleep quite a bit). I’m so glad I went. I’m glad I got to spend time with a friend I otherwise hardly see.

Alex and I are heading to Italy for our delayed honeymoon in late March, and I’m already beginning to plan that trip. From here on out, I’m looking forward to saying yes to more adventures.

another life update.

So much can happen in just a few months. The last time I visited this space, I was a day away from my 29th birthday. Since then:

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I got married, for one. After a year’s worth of planning and stress eating, our wedding finally came and went. They’re not kidding when they say the day of goes by so quickly; it was over before I knew it. And while I had so much fun and was so grateful to be surrounded by family and friends, I’m kinda glad it’s over. Wedding planning was (in my humble opinion) not fun. Now it’s back to business as usual, since married life is essentially the same as non-married life.

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We just got our proofs over the weekend and I absolutely love how they turned out. Our photographers are amazing and I completely recommend them for any in the Chicagoland area — or out of state, they love to travel!

And speaking of travel:

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[image via]

This past summer, a good friend of mine jokingly said he needed a date for a wedding in Phuket because his girlfriend couldn’t make it. I jokingly said I would totally go with him. That eventually turned in a serious conversation about how I would actually go with him because well… why not? I’ve never left North America and suddenly an opportunity to travel to Thailand of all places had presented itself. So a few weeks ago, we bought our tickets and are officially headed out the first week of December.

I am equal amounts excited and nervous for this trip. I’m glad that despite the cost I agreed to go because one of my major goals before turning 30 is to travel a lot more. And also, I had no real reason to say no. It’s so easy to talk yourself out of doing some spontaneous, for the sake of being practical or responsible. I had some money set aside and I realized I really couldn’t pass up the opportunity. While it’s a shame I can’t share this adventure with Alex, I’m glad I’ll be with a good friend, even though we’ve never traveled together before.

I’m hoping to utilize this space a bit more. I sound like a broken record, but I’ve been itching to write for myself more. I have this tendency to draft things and let them sit, unfinished and forgotten. It’s a side effect of being a perfectionist and also being hesitant to put certain thoughts or feelings out there for everyone to read. But I’m hoping to break past that. With the end of 2015 coming up quickly and my 30th birthday looming next year, there’s plenty I want to accomplish and write out. So I’ll consider this a baby step in the right direction.

mexico, lindo y quierdo

I knew since before I left for Mexico that I would want to sit down and write about my experience. It was only a matter of when and it’s sadly taken me a few months to finally sit down and collect my thoughts. But now that I finally have the time, I find myself struggling to really put it into words.

I knew that going to unfamiliar parts of my home country would be a great experience, but I didn’t really realize what a profound impact it would have on me. Much like my trip to Central America, I worked unbelievably hard. The days were long and hot and I almost always slept like the dead because of how tired I was. But when we weren’t working, we did manage to have some fun. We ate and drank and explored. I’ve always known that much like the States, Mexico is vastly different depending on what part of the country you’re in. I had just never seen it for myself.

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Cuernavaca, while rather busy and crowded, had hidden oases in the form of beautiful gardens and pools. Puebla took me by surprise. As part of the project site we were visiting in Cuernavaca, we made the three hour journey with the local group to Puebla. Upon entering the city limits, I was taken aback by how modern the buildings were. Puebla is one of Mexico’s most historical cities that has been able to embrace both new and old. We worked and stayed in the colonial district, where old, colorful buildings make up the majority of the area surrounding the zocalo. We only had a day and a half in Puebla before driving to Mexico City for our flight to Monterrey. I already know that I have to go back someday.

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I also went back to Monterrey for the first time in about 7 years and it’s still very much the city I’ve always loved. It’s a city of industry but surrounded by a gorgeous mountain range. We traveled 6 hours outside of city to a remote region and stayed in cabins at a national park. After easily one of the longest work days of the trip, we were treated to BBQ and drinks by a waterfall. Definitely made the day worthwhile.

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The trip ended in coastal Mexico. We landed in Puerto Vallarta and traveled north to a small, sleepy beach town called Chacala. I’m grateful that the last leg of the trip was the most calm, serene place of the bunch. It’s probably also the region that I miss the most, but eating on the beach for several days, with fresh fish and fruit constantly at your disposal, it’s to be expected.

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I walked away from this trip with a renewed love for Mexico and a sudden need to travel more. Maybe it’s because I’m coming to end of my 20s and I’m realizing that I haven’t gone any further than Central America. We live in a vast, beautiful world and I have yet to even a see a fraction of it. That’s something I need to desperately change.

So, I’m hoping to make traveling a priority over the next year. I’m hoping that if an opportunity presents itself, I’ll seize it rather than talk myself out of it. Whether it be for work, or with Alex, or with friends, I’d like a few more stamps in my passport.

Here’s to making that happen before I hit the big 3-0.

our trip to austin, tx

Our vacation quickly came and went, and I immediately hit the ground running once I got back to work. It’s only now that I’ve managed to carve out some time to sit down and blog about our trip. Hurray for four day weekends!

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I will admit, being back in Austin was a little weird. It was both exactly the way I remembered and incredibly different, all at once. It’s grown significantly since I moved away, but I was glad to see some of my favorite places were still around and doing well. I feel like the best way to break down this trip is talk about the highlights from each day:

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Our first day in town involved getting lunch at Torchy’s (man, did I miss those fried avocado tacos) and talking around South Congress before checking in at our Airbnb in East Austin. We then made our way out to the Alamo Drafthouse at Slaughter Lane for dinner and beers while watching the new X-Men movie. Alex says that he would move to Austin for the Drafthouse alone and I kinda don’t blame him; it’s easily the best way to watch a movie.

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On our 2nd day, we had lunch at Frank and watched a World Cup game. It was a little before noon, but that definitely didn’t stop us from getting drinks with our meal. My cocktail was called La Sandia, which is watermelon puree and mezcal with a chili salt rim. It’s easily the best think I drank during this vacation and I’ll probably spend the majority of the summer trying to replicate it. Alex also had his first Frito pie ever and was a big fan; I told my sister later on that day that he had never had one before and she was surprised/horrified. Not everyone grows up eating chili and cheese in a bag of Fritos, but she still seem baffled.

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One of the things I always loved about Austin was the awesome street art. We stopped by the HOPE Outdoor Art Gallery at my suggestion (I had read about it randomly before our trip) and it was pretty amazing. It’s an abandoned condo development turned art gallery, with layers upon layers of graffiti and art pieces spread throughout the cement walls.

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Of course, no trip to Austin would be complete without stopping by my favorite cupcake shop of all time: Sugar Mama’s. The red velvet cupcake is awesome as I remember it.

austin6austin10Our third day in town was a day of beer. We drove out to Jester King Brewery, a good 40 minutes outside of Austin proper. If you haven’t heard about this brewery, this Good Beer Hunting article is really great. We sampled all of the beers that they had on tap (which are on rotation every week) and got to enjoy the gorgeous weather with their outdoor seating. Afterwards, we headed to the Draughthouse, a great beer bar near my old apartment on 45th St. My favorite beer there was the Guadalupe Brewing Texas Honey Ale; not too sweet or light with a decent ABV.

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East Austin has expanded so much over the last few years; we spent our Sunday walking around and exploring the neighborhood. I wish I could start every day with breakfast tacos from Tamale House East, because that’s how amazing they were. We also ended the day at my old favorite bar on the east side, Rio Rita.

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But in-between the beginning and the end of that Sunday, we headed to the Rainey Street to check out Bangers for beer and sausages (veggie sausage for me, of course) before heading over to the Mohawk to catch the last half of the US vs Portugal game before seeing the Mountain Goats. The only other time I’ve seen them live was in Austin, so maybe I’ll only ever see them perform in Texas.

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Last but not least, on our last morning in Austin, Alex and I went to Gourdough’s Public House for breakfast in the form of giant doughnuts. I had the Freebird, a doughnut topped with cream cheese, fresh fruit, and graham cracker crumbs. So, so good.

So yes, we had lots of food and beer on this trip. I got to see my college buddy Steve and hang out with my family for an evening. It was nice to be in Austin again, but somehow, it also reminded me why I left. Say what you will about Chicago, but I have a lot of love for this city. I’ll always be a Texan at heart, but I’m going to be a Chicagoan for the long haul.

Even though it feels like we just got back from this trip, today is day one of my four day weekend. This is me not complaining though. Over the next few days, we’ll enjoy the beautiful weather, grill with Alex’s folks, and say goodbye to a dear friend of mine. But that’s for another blog post.

 

#tbt – central america

I can’t believe that this time a year ago, I was in Central America. Granted, it was a work trip but I got to travel outside of North America for the first time in my life to Guatemala and Honduras for two weeks. I saw great work being done, met wonderful people, and saw how beautiful each country is. I got to see and stay in the cities of Antigua and Tegucigalpa, as well as the rural mountainsides and quiet communities of both countries.

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It’s really only recently that I’ve come to realize how grateful I am to be bilingual. Being fluent in Spanish has been such a normal part of my life that I’ve never given it much thought. If anything, I’ve always seen it as a way to communicate with family members who don’t speak English; I never really thought about how it could play a role in my career and create new opportunities. The whole reason I was sent on this trip was because I’m the only writer in my department that speaks Spanish and it made more sense to send a colleague along than hire an on-site translator.

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I’m glad I not only got to have this experience, but that I also get to tell the stories of the people I met. I’ve written extensive coverage on the projects we saw in Guatemala and am currently writing a feature story about Honduras that will be accompanied by my co-worker’s video footage. Even if I never get to go on a trip like this again, I’ll always be grateful for this one.

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If anything, this trip has made want to travel more, both to other countries where I know the language and to ones I don’t. But all that in due time. For now, I have a nice three-day weekend to look forward to. :)

and back again.

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So, I was home in Chicago for approximately two weeks before I had to get back on a plane and head to San Diego for work. To go from a winter wonderland to warm, sunny California was a bit jarring, to say the least. This was a work trip and I was indoors for the majority of each day but it was so, so nice to step outside for a few minutes and grab an iced coffee, all the way knowing it’s the middle of January.

I got home on Saturday and landed smack dab in the middle of what looked like a mild snowstorm. While I was really looking forward to being home, seeing Alex, and sleeping in my own bed, I have to say that I definitely didn’t miss the frigid temps and icy paths that have been plaguing Chicago for weeks now.

Since I have no immediate plans to travel again anytime soon, it’s time to try and get back into the swing of things. These random bursts of snow make it difficult to get to the gym regularly, but I’ve been pretty good about working out at home when I can’t brave the snow-covered streets. I also want to start working on my year-long goals, including what I’m currently calling Operation: Treat Yoself. But that’s for another post later this week. :)

How’s 2014 been going so far for you?

central america.

So, I ended up being MIA for all of May. Not really on purpose, but between moving and being out of the country for two weeks, there just wasn’t really any time to sit down and do some writing.

I thought I would start back up by writing about my time in Guatemala and Honduras. Latin America as a whole holds a special place in my heart, even though I’ve only ever been to my home country. The chance to visit Central America was one I couldn’t pass up. This field assignment also showed me how important and great it is to be bilingual.

Mind you, this trip was the furthest thing from a vacation. I was outside all day, working, taking notes, talking to people, as well as translating for my co-workers. I got to rest for exactly one day. I was exhausted by the end of it, but it really was a great experience that I’m grateful I got to have.

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I was in Guatemala for 5 days visiting projects that promote clean water and sanitation. For the majority of the time there, I was in Antigua and the surrounding areas. And I have to say, I had the biggest eye-opening experience here. To see people who don’t have basic things — things that I know we in the US definitely take for granted — instead of just hearing about it is pretty difficult. But you’re given hope when you see people working so hard to change this. Guatemala as a whole is a beautiful country with wonderful, friendly people. Antigua was gorgeous and is definitely where I would head if I have the chance to go back someday.

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My co-workers and I then traveled to Honduras, where we stayed for a full week. The project we saw their were microcredit loans for indigenous women, so that they could build and run their own businesses. They work in groups to support and encourage each other, which I think was one of the best aspects of the project. Honduras is another beautiful place with great people; instead of staying in a city, we were out in the rural mountainside of La Esperanza. By the 2nd half of the trip, we were all sort of starting to lose energy a lot more quickly, but pulled through before heading home last Sunday.

And now here I am, in the comfort of my living room, cuddling with one of the cats. May flew by and summer is just around the corner. I can’t wait for warm days in Chicago, filled with friends, food, drinks, and festivals.

taking the windy city to texas.

Ok, the title of this post is probably a little misleading. I am technically taking the Windy City to Texas. But by Windy City, I mean the Windy City Dress I just got from ModCloth to wear to my sister’s birthday bash in a couple of weeks:

Behold the pretty! I’ve actually been eyeing this dress for a while but it was out of stock FOREVER. Also, I had no real need for a new dress until now. I saw that it was back in stock and just had to get it for next month’s festivities. So excited to get it and try it on! Now I just need shoes…

Also, the other way I’ll be “taking” the Windy City to Texas is that Alex (my born and raised in Chicago boyfriend) will be joining me. Yes, I will be introducing him to my parents. And the rest of my exceptionally large family. I met the majority of his extended family over Thanksgiving and it went really well. I explained to him that our families are similar in a lot of ways (us both being Mexican helps) but that mine is just… bigger and therefore, louder. Let me put it this way: my mom is one of 10 kids. Yes, TEN children. And all of her brothers and sisters got married and had kids. And some of those kids have had kids. So, that’s a lot of people. Just on my mom’s side of the family too.

This is also the first time since high school that I’ve ever brought a boy home, so naturally, it’s kind of a big deal. I’m nervous and excited, all at once. I have no doubts that my family will like Alex, because he’s pretty awesome and an all-around great guy. The only thing I’ll have to help him with is the language barrier. While we’re both Mexican, we were raised pretty differently. I’ve spoken Spanish fluently my whole life while Alex only has basic understanding of it. My family in Texas speaks English, but I’ll also have family from Mexico coming in that doesn’t. So overall, it should be an interesting (but hopefully fun) experience for everyone involved.

This trip is happening in two weeks! Here’s hoping I don’t end up packing the night before, like I usually do.

home to texas.

I finally have a second to breathe and blog about my time back home in Texas. I was only there for a few days, but definitely got my fill of family and food. At least enough to hold me over until Christmas anyway. I’ll just talk about the main points of my trip:

* Nighttime snuggles with my sister’s puppy Bruno, who sleeps indoors now :)
*  Catching up with my now very pregnant bestie, who made dinner and the delish fruity lemonade you see pictured above
* Seeing/getting to know my little (step) brother, who I haven’t seen since he was a little kid (he’s 16 now!). He plays french horn in the marching band and has a sweet little motorcycle he insisted I ride with him on, so he’s a cool kid in my book.
* Also cool: My hilarious 14 year old sister. She is currently obsessed with OMGFacts and Harry Potter (and also plays the Harry Potter theme song on her guitar). I’m related to such awesome little teenagers, haha.
* Eating my fill of delicious homemade food (which I’m already craving again)

And of course, there was my cousin’s wedding, AKA the reason why I went home for the weekend.  Here’s me and my sister being super fancy and dressed up for the occasion:

The reception (and subsequent after-party) was filled with food, laughter, booze and music. My family, while sometimes frustrating to deal with, was great and I loved seeing everyone all at once. It was a really lovely ceremony and I’m honestly so, so happy for him and his new wife, Alysia:

After the travel day from hell known as this past Sunday, in which I was trapped in Houston for far too long, I finally made it home to Chicago, which I was already starting to miss after a few days. Especially my apartment, my bed, my stuff and of course, my boyfriend. Lots coming up soon before I take off yet again at the end of the month on a family vacation, so here’s hoping I can really make some time to sit and write about it all.