Our Pacific Northwest Trip in Photos… Seattle

It has been several months since our fantastic trip to the Pacific Northwest last August.  We had an unbelievable time exploring the region of our beautiful country together.  Just as the weather here starts to warm up again, I thought I’d refresh {mostly my own heart} and relive this vacation through some of our favorite photos.

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There is something quite delightful about venturing somewhere with your best friend that neither of you have been. There is something invigorating about following your noses around the area, learning the nuances of a new city, discovering its beauty, getting lost from time to time, having sore feet, navigating its transportation system, dipping your toes in its bodies of water, and, my personal favorite, partaking in its unbelievable local food scene.

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Photo by photo, here are some of our favorite parks, bites-to-eat, and surprises as we hoofed, noshed, and danced {mostly me} our way through Seattle, Washington.

Cheech. From Cheech and Chong. This was literally two weeks before he was on Dancing with the Stars! I didn't know who he was. Ian enlightened me. :)

Tommy Chong. From Cheech and Chong. This was literally two weeks before he was on Dancing with the Stars! I didn’t know who he was. Ian enlightened me. :)

We took the light rail into town, as we stayed in Columbia City, and chose to walk around downtown instead of driving {each other crazy, probably}.

We took the light rail into town, as we stayed in Columbia City, and chose to walk around downtown instead of driving {each other crazy, probably}.

First night sushi.  Fresh seafood pretty darn close to the Pacific coast. Surprisingly, I didn't hate it!

First night sushi. Fresh seafood pretty darn close to the Pacific coast. Surprisingly, I didn’t hate it!

Our cute bungalow AirBNB, a home rental company which I highly recommend when traveling someplace new!  The hosts always had some interesting insight on their city, and generally made us feel welcome.

Our cute bungalow AirBNB, a home rental company which I highly recommend when traveling someplace new! The hosts always had some interesting insight on their city, and generally made us feel welcome.

The house was two blocks from Lake Washington, whose glorious sparkles and reflections happen to be backlighting me here.

The house was two blocks from Lake Washington, whose glorious sparkles and reflections happen to be backlighting me here.

This tree. In the middle of the roundabout.

This tree. In the middle of the roundabout.

The Post Alley has cute shops and a restaurant with the best clam chowder!

The Post Alley has cute shops and a restaurant with the best clam chowder!

And this place. Kind of famous. We could have spent ALL. DAY. here!

And this place. Kind of famous. We could have spent ALL. DAY. here!

We almost did.

We almost did.

Some kind gentleman offered to get us both in a pic!

Some kind gentleman offered to get us both in a pic!

For a Friday, it was PACKED!

For a weekday, it was PACKED!

Actually my favorite part: the flowers!

My favorite part: the flowers!

Actually my favorite part: Le Panier, French boulangerie. Which means chocolate filled croissants and pistachio eclairs!

Actually my favorite part: Le Panier, French boulangerie/patisserie.  Which means chocolate filled croissants and pistachio eclairs!

The. Croissant. of which I speak.

The. Croissant. of which I speak.

Colors that take your breath away.

Colors that take your breath away.

Berries of the Blue, Red, and Black variety.

Berries of the Blue, Red, and Black variety.

And countless Dungeness Crabs!

And countless Dungeness Crabs!

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Follow the rules and no one gets hurt.

Follow the rules and no one gets hurt.

Stopped by the Pike Brewing Company for a quick flight before our late lunch.

Stopped by the Pike Brewing Company for a quick flight before our late lunch.

Then we walked by the Sound. Puget. Seawashed and Salty.

Then we walked by the Sound. Puget. Seawashed and Salty.

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Here we were by the ferris wheel, under a sky of pure, clean, crisp blue.  {Which is extraordinarily rare for this rainy city}.  I felt like I knew a secret: Travel to Seattle during August, and you get the royal, sunny treatment! Shhh!

Here we were by the ferris wheel, under a sky of pure, clean, crisp blue. {Which is extraordinarily rare for this rainy city}. I felt like I knew a secret: Travel to Seattle during August, and you get the royal, sunny treatment! Shhh!

More blue beauty.

More blue beauty.

Did you know Seattle has a thing for coffee? ;)

Did you know Seattle has a thing for coffee? ;)  So do the McCanns.

Caffé Fioré in Old Ballard neighborhood knew how to recaffeinate us after walking all. day.

Caffé Fioré in Old Ballard neighborhood knew how to recaffeinate us after walking all day.

The space needle kind of reminds me of the Jetsons.

The space needle kind of reminds me of the Jetsons. Despite all the pictures of the skyline of Seattle, the space needle is not downtown.  We found this out after walking from downtown to the space needle. It’s actually several miles. :) We needed the aforementioned coffee break along the way.

Then we saw this landmark. Kind of famous too. Though it was too pricey for us to go to the top, it sure made for some super-psychadellic photos.

Though it was too pricey for us to go to the top, it sure made for some super-psychedelic photos.

Also found this gem in Seattle City Center, a fantastic fountain whose stories-high water bursts entertained grownups and kids alike, who danced and cooled off in the August sunshine.

Also found this gem in Seattle City Center, a fantastic fountain whose stories-high water bursts entertained grownups and kids alike, who danced and cooled off in the August sunshine.

Clam Chowder at Rays. Also delicious!

Clam Chowder at Rays. Delicious!

Dungeness crab dip at Ray's.

Dungeness crab dip at Ray’s. Also delicious!

Then we went to the Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard. famous for their fresh oysters.  We are nothing if not adventurous, so we ventured into the land of raw mollusk delicacies, cute forks, and lots of dipping sauce.

Then we went to the Walrus and the Carpenter in Ballard. famous for their fresh oysters. We are nothing if not adventurous, so we ventured into the land of raw mollusk delicacies, cute forks, and lots of dipping sauce.

Time to dig in {aka slurp down the hatch!}.

Time to dig in {aka slurp down the hatch!}.

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My initial reaction that cannot be faked.

My initial reaction that cannot be faked. They were much better with horseradish and red wine vinegar. All in all, I’d give oysters a 3/10 {sorry, fancy food connoisseur}.

So, we headed to the Pine Box and devoured this pizza {10/10} to cleanse our palates, with bacon, lime juice, cilantro, and a cream sauce. And beers. Our bartender was from Wisconsin, added bonus!

So, we headed to the Pine Box and devoured this pizza {10/10} to cleanse our palates, with bacon, lime juice, cilantro, and a cream sauce. And beers. Our bartender was from Wisconsin, added bonus!

And then an additional palate cleanser. Because ice cream makes you happy.

And then an additional palate cleanser. Because ice cream makes you happy.

Ian's view of lake Washington.

Ian’s view of lake Washington.

Aly's view of Lake Washington.

Aly’s view of Lake Washington.

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We ventured across the bridge to West Seattle for a beach picnic on our second day, complete with coffee {surprised?}, fruits and veggies, hummus, and pita chips from Trader Joe's.

We ventured across the bridge to West Seattle for a beach picnic on our second day, complete with coffee {surprised?}, fruits and veggies, hummus, and pita chips from Trader Joe’s.

Soaking up Seattle Sunrays.

Soaking up Seattle Sunrays.

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We headed next to Portland, OR, and Bend, OR, by rental car {coming to you in the next post!}  We came back to Seattle just at the end of our trip {it was, of course, now raining} and ran between the raindrops to these fantastic spots:

Peekaboo Space Needle!

Peekaboo Space Needle!

Lenin, hanging out in Fremont, an artsy neighborhood north of the city center.

Lenin, hanging out in Fremont, an artsy neighborhood north of the city center.

Fremont Coffee Company.

Fremont Coffee Company.

Luke. I am your father. Seriously the coolest latte art I've ever seen; way better than the hearts I barely managed to create when I was barista-ing!

Luke. I am your father. Seriously the coolest latte art I’ve ever seen; way better than the hearts I barely managed to create when I was barista-ing!

The Fremont Troll, who happens to be in Ten Things I Hate About You! Artsy and Awesome.

The Fremont Troll, who happens to be in Ten Things I Hate About You! Artsy and Awesome.

Gas Works Park in Wallingford, where we stayed for our second part of the trip.

Gas Works Park in Wallingford, where we stayed for our second part of the trip.

The View from Wallingford, across Lake Union.

The view of downtown Seattle from Wallingford, across Lake Union.

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The flavors are ingeniously original.

The flavors at Molly Moon’s homemade ice cream shop  are ingeniously original.

We had Huckleberry flavor.

We had Huckleberry chunk flavor.

Saying goodbye to Seattle the only way we knew how: with another latte.

Saying goodbye to Seattle the only way we knew how: with more lattes.

We made a quick drive up to Bellingham, Washington, and were overwhelmed with its northern, green, heavy-clouded, cooling air, Pacific beauty.

On Chuckanut state highway in Chuckanut park!

On Chuckanut state highway in Chuckanut park!

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p.s. We stopped for crèpes at Magdalena's in Bellingham. Amazing.

p.s. We stopped for crèpes at Magdalena’s in Bellingham. Amazing.

It was a bit classic Washington that day. Definitely grey and misty.

It was a bit classic Washington that day. Definitely grey and misty.

This guy is my reason for it all.  Here's to a thousand more adventures, new places, and familiar ones. Thanks for holding my hand on our adventure.

This guy is my reason for it all. Here’s to a thousand more adventures to new exciting places, with my always and forever best friend. Thanks for holding my hand and being home for me, no matter where we are.

Winter Weekend Ideas!

Happy Valentine’s Weekend!  Today I have a little list of winter weekend fun ideas for you. I hope you have spent the last day or so with your loved one(s), being cute and snuggly and happy and in love, doing all your favorite together-things.  Truly, the ones we hold dear to our hearts deserve to be told as much every. single. day. Sometimes we get busy and forget. Sometimes work, or commutes, or finishing up work {once you’re already home}, or really important {?!} reality television shows or cell phones that infinitely scroll down rabbit holes of other people’s lives… get in the way.  We live in this world of constant interconnectivity.  But I think maybe we’re forgetting to really connect.

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Here’s to not forgetting, to prioritizing, and to focusing on the important things in life. Which are not actually things. There is a beautifully long list of people who have shaped me into the adventurous, safe, curious, smart, creative, bold, shy, and complex lady-girl that I am.

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What is better than baking cookies while your loved one naps, and surprising them with the oatmeal-chocolate-peanutbutterfrostingfilled result upon their awakening?  Or, face timing your sister and alternately laughing about the bachelor and talking about real. life. things, while feeling perfectly safe to speak your mind in the embrace of their comfortable, happy spirit {through the magic of technology, of course}. Or, chatting with your brother and sister in law on a Friday night, while they paint their dining room the most intriguing shade of “Innocence,” and laughing until your belly hurts because you’re cut from the same cloth and also, who names a paint color “Innocence”?!

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One of the most freeing things is leaving the cell phone in another room, forgetting about updates and likes and emails and tweets {which are still a bit foreign to me, I have to be honest}.  Making eye contact and soul contact, because, if you really take a minute to look, we humans have been gifted with beautiful eyes, and souls.  Taking time to talk, or listen, or both. Over a cup of coffee or knee to knee on the couch.  But absolutely appreciating the gift their life is to you, in this very moment.

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I’m sure I’ll check back here to see how many hits my post received today and maybe tomorrow. Or check my instagram feed once or twice more today. All of that’s okay and beautiful too. But what matters is connecting.  Whispering I Love You. and shouting I LOVE YOU! and saying, thank you for being you.

So, “I LOVE YOU!” and “THANK YOU FOR BEING YOU”

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Also, thanks for waiting for that list. Here’s a list of things to do on a winter weekend in the cities, curated by yours truly, based upon what we’ve been doing when we can brave the out of doors {at least long enough to get to our car}. The original inspiration for this post {Did I get sidetracked?}.

1. Bake these Joy the Baker Oatmeal Peanut Butter Sandwich cookies. I’ve made them twice in two weeks and added dark chocolate chips both times. Today’s batch I plan on bringing to work for Mardi Gras!

2. Go to the dog park. Even if you don’t have a dog. There are dozens of them in the cities, and our favorites are the one at Minnehaha Falls, and Battle Creek.

3. Go Bowling {our new favorite spot is called PINZ!}, but also try Town Hall Lanes or The RANHAM Lanes at the Nook.

4. Shop for new accessories or a new pair of shoes to spruce up your look in the slushy grey days of winter. My favorite is Primp because they have new, unique styles all of the time, plus it’s a little bit less expensive than fancy boutiques.

5. Work out with a friend – bundle up and go walking! Or, go to a class at the gym. Or, youTube a workout video and Pilates like you mean it. You’ll feel glowy and challenged and endorphiny and positive.  What else is there?  I particularly love the short but challenging and invigorating videos from {The Balanced Life Online}.

6. Try a new coffee shop! Just recently found {this list} that makes me want to layer up and have a cup o joe. Then, maybe leave some cash for the next person in line. SHH! I won’t tell. You’ll MAKE their day, I promise.  Our latest stop was Brix, in Woodbury.

7. Volunteer. We’re thinking about volunteering at the local animal shelter. So many who need our love.

xo! Stay Warm! Tell your loved ones that they make your life divine. I’m off to do the same.

New Digs.

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Hello there. It’s been some time. How have you been?

It is with a little bit of uncertainty that I start writing here today again!  I have mostly been focusing on my photography job/blog/growing-my-business/while-still-teaching/being-healthy, and consequently, unfortunately, neglecting this page. It’s been a big, deep breath of a writing pause. Which is quite apparent if you look at my 2014 posting record on this little corner of the internet of mine. A little skimpy.

Having moved to a suburban lifestyle this fall to save money while my reason-for-living finishes Chiropractic school, we have been exploring the food/events/arts scene of the Twin Cities a little less frequently, and when we do go out, we’ve been hitting our favorite spots, as a special treat.

So, the thing is, I believe in being thankful for yesterday, looking forward to tomorrow, but mostly living today. This incredible gift of a moment in time. I’m not always punctual nor methodical with my writing. But when I do write, I like to let out my thinking-typing like ocean waves come in. Irregularly-regularly relaxing and surprising, equal parts.

I love being here, even though it’s between there and what’s next for us.

One of my eternally favorite quotes is “bloom where you are planted.” How lovely to just be fully present. The gift that each of us is is enough.  Let that be our thought for today. And maybe for tomorrow too. Talk soon, friends!

xo

California Girl

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the things you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor, and catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”  ~Mark Twain

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We recently took a little weekend trip to San Diego for my very dear friend’s wedding. There is nothing like a complete change of scenery to light up your soul. We were only gone for two and a half days, but each moment refreshed our perspectives. And, we brought summer heat back here to the midwest. You’re welcome.

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First of all, the MSP airport is SO. TECHY. There are iPads at all the gates, for travelers like us to use while we wait. Armed with coffees and liters of fiji water (fancy, I know), we embarked on the first airplane trip since our honeymoon two years ago!

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Immediately after we picked up our va-va-voomy supercharged Dodge Charger, we headed up the coast and stopped for lunch at my aunt’s restaurant near the Del Mar race track, Red Tracton’s. She treated us to the most glorious lunch of lobster bisque, shrimp, steak sandwiches, and coffee chocolate ice cream. I mean, I was liking this California business.

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Then, beach time. I think maybe my spirit animal is a conch shell or sea turtle or maybe a starfish washed ashore. The air feels salty, fresh, and slightly sticky, but not like midwestern humidity. It’s softer, like the waves have washed the breeze for hours in the sunshine before it gets to me.

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We forgot beach towels, but remembered swim suits. I waded into the ocean up to my waist. I let the waves crash into my back as I watched the surfers ride their boards into the concavity of 10 footers and coast (I imagine they were hanging ten…) toward the sands of South Carlsbad beach, with the firelight-sunset illuminating their silhouettes.

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That night there was Carne Asada, tortillas, fish tacos, and great company.

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The wedding was at a {surprise} mountain location. All the guests were shuttled to the loveliest ranch atop the mountains outside of Pala. I’m not from a mountain-laden landscape, so I don’t want you to picture the Alps or anything. These were graceful, rolling, and brown. Slightly craggy and rugged, the hill-mountainsides were dotted with orange and lemon groves.

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So much love was shared that day. I feel blessed to have been part and witness to Michelle and Tom’s vows and celebration.

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And, we made new friends. Believe it or not, other midwesterners found their way to California. Amid all the newness and salty coasty air and sea foam and different road names and dry desert, it feels so good to connect to home. We met new friends who know what it means to eatsleepandbreathe Packer season, where Waupaca is, and how every Wisconsin family gathering ends with a pan of your mom’s famous dessert bars, passed around the table.

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Just prior to heading home on Sunday, we had a little extra time and consequently found a cool brewery in the old Mission Brewery building, called Acoustic Ales Brewing Experiment. Naturally, we had to check it out. We tried and loved some award winners!

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Our flight home was just long enough to start two different movies and read a book (The Fault in our Stars. Side bar – If you have yet to read this poignant tale, stop reading this post and pick up a copy. Laugh/cry/love, repeat.). We flew over the Grand Canyon in all its grandeur, the Rockies in their rockstar glory, and the plains, which are, well, plain.

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Even if just for a weekend away, make time to travel with your loved ones. We never regret spending money to travel. We were refreshed and happy after exploring this new-to-us So-Cal situation, and definitely appreciated the time away from the regularity of our daily work/school lives.  There is much beauty, waiting to be seen, in our world!

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“Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

Vulnerability

This past summer, I watched a Ted Talk by Dr. Brené Brown, a leading Social Work professor who has spent ten years researching vulnerability, shame, courage, and authenticity, with a more recent focus on living in a wholehearted way.

I opened her book, Daring Greatly, and flew through the pages. Drank up her words. Felt afraid to put myself out there, and yet yearned to live every moment of every day this way. I’m one who is expressively emotional. I like to think I have it all together, and know when to say the right thing at the right time, but often I find myself wishing I could slurp the words back in.  Too often. Brown has encouraged me to be thoughtful in word and action, and to say and do what makes my heart happy. What is right, albeit perhaps new and scary. To be vulnerable is not to be weak, but strong. “To be a doer of deeds, in the arena,” to quote Teddy Roosevelt. And of course, the lovely Eleanor, who said so bravely, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

This inspirational talk and book both really affected the way that I lead my every day life. At work, at home, with my family, with acquaintances, and with strangers I meet for the first time. It has inspired me to begin an equal parts lovely, exciting, soul-expressing, vulnerable pursuit of my photography as a bud-blossom-business.

In Daring Greatly, Brown refers to an eloquent speech by T. Roosevelt, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”

Erring is natural and expected. But better to have erred and learned and grown and blossomed a little bit than to not have tried at all, to dwell in criticism of others or comparison and envy. I have found that sincere, thoughtful baby steps go a long way.  Dear friends are supportive. Family offers to help in any way, and be cheerleaders, naturally.  Strangers {they’re just people too!} have pointed me in the right direction as I open up my eyes and explore the path of business ownership and photography.

Each day is another gift, and I want to bring a little bit of light to at least one person each day.  Seeing the light in my students’ eyes through my teaching and seeing the light in my clients’  eyes through my lens brings light to my heart.  I am on my way.  One day at a time, I make choices that point me in the direction I hope to be blessed to go.  Being vulnerable takes practice, and courage. So, here is an exercise in vulnerability: some photos from recent photo shoots, as my portfolio grows into an extension of my soul.

Now. Some pretty pictures. This is the real vulnerable part. Eeeeeeshk!

 

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

Alyson Ann Photography

xoxo,

Aly

Huckleberry is One!

Today, our day was all about Huckleberry. We napped, we couch-snuggled, we slept in until almost 8 am!

DSC_1369Dogs have a way of scootching into our lives {And in between us on the couch.}  Believe it or not, Huckleberry isn’t completely in charge of the McCann family household.  However, he does have more expensive shampoo than I do.  My after-school goal is to get home as quickly as possible to let my pooch out of his “casa” and play fetch and catch for awhile after a long walk (which will get longer as soon as spring arrives!). We have lint rollers strategically placed and use them often.  We vacuum like nobody’s business. Huck has a blanket for when he sits upon his throne {aka. the couch} as king of his castle {red flag?}. We have frequent buyer cards at three pet stores. We buy Huckleberry all-natural bully sticks and elk antlers and other rugged, protein-y treats. This past week, he even starred in a professional marketing photo shoot for a new Sunglasses and Watches company {I couldn’t make that up. Total coincidence, total truth.}.

First experience with a candle. A little too close for comfort. We blew it out immediately after this photo...

He got distracted while we were singing to him. Rightfully so, as this was his first experience with a candle. A little too close for comfort.  Needless to say, after the last line of “Happy Birthday,” we blew it out…

Today is Huckleberry’s first birthday. We got him three presents: a tennis ball rope tug, a tennis/rubber ball combo, and an elk antler. Two of the three have been annihilated {hint: Huck is getting lots of fluorescent green fiber in his diet…}.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Peanut Butter. Of course.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Peanut Butter. Of course.

I can’t believe how much he’s grown in the past year! And, how much happiness his little raspy bay-howl and cuddly snuggles and snores bring to me.

The week we brought Huck home last April...

The week we brought Huck home last April… He was so little – gahhh the cuteness!

His excitement at seeing me {ears flapping while bounding, paws launching up for a hug} when I come home from work makes any tension I’m holding from the day melt away. This authentic love he brings to our family makes me want to share that kind of love with others. Without asking for anything in return, to simply be a ray of sunshine, and a happy presence for those that want for love and presence.

Busy getting birthday-sugar buzzed.

Busy getting birthday-sugar-buzzed.

Such determination.

Such focused determination.

I think we could all benefit from thinking, at least for a little bit, the way that our dog does, and treat others, friends and foe alike similarly:

“YAYIT’SYOUIT’SYOUIT’SYOUMYFAVORITEHUMAN! I love you. Let’s be friends forever. And maybe take a nice long walk together. We don’t have to talk. And then maybe watch your current Netflix obsession. And just be happy together.” How lovely to just give of ourselves to others without asking in return, to know what they might need that day or moment, without even asking, and give it freely.

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Getting the peanut butter off of his whiskers.

Getting the peanut butter off of his whiskers.

Happiness comes to us in the simplest of ways.  Though some days bring copious dog-hair, kennel accidents, splashy-baths, endless “business” trips outside {BRRR}, and really stinky moments {ahem}, I know that these things are fleeting. What will last is the sweetness in our hearts made by the little paw prints of unconditional love from our Huckleberry.

Huck totally looks up to Dad.

Huck totally looks up to his Pops.

My little Schmoopy Face Schnicklefritz Schlobber Huntz.

My little Schmoopy Face Schnicklefritz Schlobber Huntz. Love his face…

Happy Birthday, Huckleberry! We love you, Butterbean.

Best Breakfast: The Buttered Tin

We discovered a bakery/cafe that feels like breakfast in bed. Sun shines through the windows and drenches the wooden tables and the butter yellow tufted booth seats with its warmth {even in these below zero days!}.  Plates are loaded with colorful, fresh fruits and veggies and hearty home-baked bread.  Their bacon is THICK, and their coffee is strong. Their bakery case is one I dream about, American, but reminiscent of a classic French patisserie. STOCKED with mini, rustic apple pies, crunchy granola, buttercream-topped cupcakes, chocolate chip whoopee cookies, and “TBT” ho-hos!

Is this real life?

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Before…

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Poised and Ready…

During!!

During!!

Well, twice in the past four days it’s been my real life! Good Morning Buttered Tin!

...And After.

…And After.

On our first visit, we arrived just before noon on Saturday, prime brunching hour. Needless to say, at a popular restaurant such as The Buttered Tin, we waited about 45 minutes to be seated. It’s a small corner cafe in a big city.  Classic Saint Paul: feels like a neighborhood cafe, where everybody knows how you take your coffee.  Many customers whirled in for their morning cup of joe and freshly baked scone while we waited.  Others waited for their table, chitchatting and cheers-ing with mimosas.  We chose to linger over our dark roasts and drool over the bakery case.

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Cupcakes and Ho-Hos!

Our corner table dripped with sunshine. The waitress was delightfully sunny herself, happy to keep the refills coming.  Everyone ordered something different from the tin-and-paper menu, posted over the open kitchen:

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Huevos Rancheros Benedict.

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Biscuits and Gravy {with two organic poached eggs}.

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Buttermilk Pancakes {with salted maple bacon butter} {see above photos – inhaled by yours truly}.

‘Pig’s Eye’ Breakfast {another nickname of Saint Paul-clever!}.

Roasted Veggie Sandwich. {eaten too quickly to be photographed!}

Bread Pudding HotDish Special.

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I only made my family wait a minute or two – enough to snap some “before” photos. The “after” shots were unanimous: clean plates, perfectly full tummies, and happy hearts.

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On the “Next Time We HAVE to Try This…” List are: the Thanksgiving Sandwich, the Short Rib Reuben, Creamy Polenta {with smoked bacon and mushroom ragout + egg}, and the Banana Foster French Toast {with maple pecans and fresh whipped cream}. Also, the Arnold Palmer Iced Tea!

In order to tackle the above list, since today was a “Cold Day,” I met a lovely friend {dearest Emily!} and crossed the Banana Foster French Toast off the list. Sweet, light, fluffy, nutty, and homey. My new favorite.

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Their “Sweets” menu sells breads, cupcakes, cake by the slice, mini pies, and daily specials of bars/brownies/cinnamonrolls. Plus, they do custom sweets catering!

One of the owners, Alicia, was on the Food Network’s Cupcake Wars – and helped owner of Cupcake {well known cupcakerie with locations around the cities} take home titles!  They’ve been open only since June of 2013, but have already made a name for themselves, becoming a staple in STP’s up and coming Lowertown neighborhood.

Both owners left the corporate world to pursue their dream of bringing classic, comforting, home-baked, sunshiny American breakfast and lunch foods with a creative twist to friends and family. LOVE. Their head chef came to them from another twin cities restaurant staple: The Smack Shack! See an interview with owner Alicia Hinze {here} and a video of the Buttered Tin owners walking the walk {here}.

Bravo! Delicious. And, cute name.

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Open 7-3, every day.  Thanks for bringing the sunshine to the city, Buttered Tin!

Mi Scusi!

This new year’s eve, we waited until 4 pm to make a dinner reservation. Normally, this would be a problem for anyone wanting to eat at a regular dinner time. City people like their date-night restaurants. Available tables, much to our procrastinating reservation-making phone calls, were few and far between.

But, we’ve discovered the secret to life. And to getting a table, even on the busiest date night of the year: eat EARLY.

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I’ve wanted to go to Scusi since we have moved here. Then, when we checked out their menu online, what sealed the deal was on their appetizer list: burrata!  We had JUST watched an episode on the Cooking Channel whilst home over the holidays that showed how to make this specialty buttery, creamy, mozzarella-like cheese from the Puglia region of Italy. We could not have been more sold.

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What a perfect opportunity – New Year’s Eve date night!  As long as we were out by 7 pm, we had the restaurant to ourselves (and a few families of four and five)!  We took the deal, and never have I been more pleasantly surprised with not only the burrata, but all that Scusi offered to us on our date night out.  I dressed in a sparkly little black dress and heels, and my husband wore a suit and tie. JT would have been impressed.

For starters, we had the world’s friendliest, not-too-attentive-just-attentive-enough server. Her charm sparkled like the flickering candle on our table.  We ordered some local Summit beers (shhhh, I know we were supposed to have wine – Scusi is famous for their wine list, but… SALUTE!).  Then came the burrata, in all its creamy glory, on a bed of basil pesto, with olive oil almonds, olive tapenade, sweet cherry tomatoes, and crostini to serve as our shovels. Though we tried to savor it as much as possible, the plate was clean in less than five minutes. I kid you not.

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Pasta plates on the dinner menu come in two sizes; and we, being Italian at heart, opted for the larger of both the Carbonara and Veal Bolognese Gnocchi.  My dad taught me to order gnocchi whenever I have the chance. And of course, in doing so, pronounce it with an “I am not really Italian but here is my best guess as to this delicious pasta’s pronunciation” accent. With hand gestures. So I did.

Side note: check out a short history from the New York Times on Italians and their use of hand gestures during conversation here :) :

Both pastas were creamy, hearty, rich, and authentically Italian.  We most definitely had leftovers; the flavors were equally as robustly satisfying on day two.

At our checkerboard-tableclothed-bistro table, we lingered over amaretto lattes with ‘zucchero in zolette’ (lumps of natural, Italian sugar), reliving the garlic, herby, homemade pasta, toasted, roasted, creamy flavors of our ‘cena,’ talking about our plans for 2014, and planning the rest of our New Year’s Eve (finishing Season one of House of Cards, Skype-ing with some near and dear college friends, and champagne and cookies at midnight – yes, we made it to the stroke of twelve – we’re not THAT old!).

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Scusi gave us the homemade, authentic Italian experience we craved.  I recently heard as well that they have a great wine and wood-fired-pizza happy hour at 9pm nightly.  We will most definitely be back to try our hand at pronouncing in our best Italian, any of the other items on the extensive {wine list and} dinner menu.

Also, we sang this the entire car ride home:

Bellisima ristorante!

Places to go, Lattes to Drink… The Bean Factory

Sometimes, this is how I feel about living in a cold state:

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We’ve had an especially ridiculously cold start to winter. There are many things you can do to ameliorate the situation, including but not limited to buying fur lined Sorel boots, always wearing your fur lined hood, a scarf, a hat, mittens, and sometimes a coat under your coat. Seat warmers in cars make a world of difference.  Wrap in blankets, drink warm tea, and pull on socks that are several centimeters thick.

This seems like a lot of work to those that live in warm climates. Some days, I completely agree.

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However, there are things that make winter and those who thrive in {read, endure} its whipping winds and relentless snow dumpings beautiful.  There is something exquisite about the purple/slate/orange hues of a night sky as the snow falls.  Nothing makes our puppy happier than bounding and playing in the fresh snow for hours.

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Rosy cheeks are cute. Sweaters and scarves layered upon more layers are lovely.  And, in my humble opinion, piping hot, cinnamony sweet lattes taste better on below freezing winter days.

Piping Hot.

Piping Hot.

The ding of the coffee shop door bell ringing behind me as the cold wind dissipates around me is replaced by a smell of freshly roasted and brewed coffee beans and a simultaneous sigh of relief that for an hour or so, warmth will replace a seemingly ever-present chill.

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Having worked in a coffee shop on and off since high school, I am predisposed to sniff out the best hidden coffee shop secrets in any town.  Since we’ve moved here, we’ve been on the hunt for the new family favorite. A couple of weeks ago, we came upon a gem in our very own St. Paul.  On Randolph Street, right in a cozy, snow-covered neighborhood, the steamy windows of J & S The Bean Factory beckoned.

With vintage decor charm, eclectic mugs, and in-house-roasted-daily beans, I couldn’t ask for more in a local shop.

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Also, they sell donuts.  With Christmas sprinkles.

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They have Friday night music, friendly staff and regulars, and most importantly, unbelievable lattes. My new favorite has been the Miel {French for ‘honey’}, which has a natural hint of honey, and a subtle cinnamon spice. Not overly sweet, this is the quintessential {and completely addictive – in the best way possible} cozy winter drink.

The brewers travel to countries around the world to choose which beans they want for their customers. They roast beans in a 25 kilo small batch roaster.  As my fingers defrosted in a hug around my mug, I felt right at home as we took our sweet time simultaneously solving the problems of the world and caffeinating our Saturday.

Consider the coffee drinks at The Bean Factory near the top of the ‘What’s Wonderful About Winter’ list.

We just may have to stop the hunt for our St. Paul Coffee Shop. Loved it!

Grateful.

When I was out shopping on small business Saturday, I saw the most lovely, authentic sign in a home decor shop from {this store}.

It read, “Thank you God, for blessing me with so much more than I deserve.”

After spending the past week bopping from family home to family home, sharing amazing meals and authentic conversation, and learning a top secret McCann Christmas cookie recipe, I feel inspired to be reflective and grateful.

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There is so much in my life that is good. However, in our society’s daily information bombardment, it is so easy to dwell in a negative comment or be saddened by a lack of love or get wrapped up in a bottomless pit of materialism or become overwhelmed by a disastrous world catastrophe.  We can begin to feel helpless and insignificant.

This time of year especially, I want to do my small part. I want to be a ray of sunshine for those around me {especially when the skies are grey and clouds are heavy with white fluffy stuff}.  In Mother Teresa’s words, I want to “spread love everywhere I go, so that no one ever comes to me without leaving happier.”

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I like to think that one happy comment can cancel out one bad something in the world. Little acts of love can have a much greater impact than you might think.  Notes and words and kisses and hugs and even thoughts have great power.

My December challenge to myself is to be as authentically love-and-goodness-spreading as I can. To feel inspired, here is first a little list of things that make me feel blessed.

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~ a whip-lash tail wag and stinky puppy breath kisses that greets me every day after work

~ staying healthy so far this winter!

~ a cozy home to call my own {and the luxury of paying for rent, groceries, gas, and Christmas presents}

~ my job and my cheery students who remind me that each day brings a fresh start

~ the zillion and one ways technology makes it easy to stay connected

~ my kind, smart, thoughtful, motivated husband who is working his butt off in grad school to do what he loves and provide for his family

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~ sisterly love that gets better and better as we get older. Also, our knowing what the other is thinking without speaking.

~ parents and grandparents who, in their infinite wisdom, even after we’ve “grownup,” still think about what would make us happy and consequently have those favorite cookies baked or that mechanic on speed dial.

~ love that is so tangible in a family it is heard in the clinking of a holiday toast, smelled in a sweet baby’s pink baby smell, tasted in a home cooked comfort-food meal, and felt in teary goodbyes, warm hellos, and those-new-jeans-look-good-on-you sassy spanks.

~and OH. so. much. more. Volumes more. I’ll save a little for tomorrow. The thing about gratitude, is once you get going with the recognizing phase, you realize that the blessings in life truly abound. Infinitesimal. Like stars.

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Here’s the plan.

I’m going to spend a little time each day feeling grateful, just like I did above, and then also spend a little time each day spreading the love. This might mean listening to someone with patience when I’d rather talk, calling a friend or relative whose voice I haven’t heard in awhile, donating my winter clothes {and summer clothes!} to those in greater need, paying forward a little latte at the coffee shop, secret santa-ing someone at work with a chocolate square, making a recipe for my husband with extra love, being kind to the crazy drivers and too-busy-to-look-where-they’re-going shoppers, and thinking about the needs of those around me before my own.

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Cheers to spreading the love. Maybe it’s even better than presents.