An old gal pal of mine from college, Alyssa, is a writer for Southern Travel & Lifestyles. We actually met in the dorms of Kinsolving way back in 2003 and we’ve stayed in touch on social media ever since. She commented on how much she enjoyed my photos of Texas and asked if I would be willing to publish a few and I said absolutely! I handed her a folder of photos from our recent camping trip and here is how they turned out:
When I get the hard copy I’ll share more on my Instagram – @djemils
I am so proud of myself! I love traveling and exploring new places – and I love sharing what I find through photos and writing. There is so much out there waiting for us! I can only hope that this is the beginning of many collaborations with travel groups, publications, blogs, etc in the future.
We were so incredibly lucky that we were able to sneak in our international birthday trip RIGHT before the world shut down from COVID. By mid-late January there was tension around the new virus and travel. We believed that we would be safe in Europe in early February, and amazingly we were. This is the first of a two part post from our incredible travel adventures to Portugal and Spain in February 2020.
We planned this trip through TripMasters, which is what my sister Bryana and I used when we visited Ireland in 2015. It’s a budget planner so you build a trip around the countries you want to visit, add in flights, car rentals if you want, hotels, and you get the biggest bang for your buck. The only catch is that you’re pretty much locked in after you plan, so there isn’t much room to make changes. I would suggest leaving plenty of room between flights if you are on a layover because we almost missed our flight to Lisbon out of NYC due to bad weather! However we made it on time (by the skin of our teeth) and things went smoothly from there.
We decided to get the Lisbon transit pass during our stay which included unlimited public transit, a free roundtrip train ride to Sinta, and discounts for museums. It was well worth it, I highly suggest! We easily and quickly rode from the airport to our destination hotel at the Esquina Urban Lodge in city center. This eco-hotel was absolutely adorable, modern, and in the perfect location! The staff shared great travel tips and told us where to find the city elevators, which I never would have figured out on my own (they are built into cliffs and will easily take you up 8 floors). Everyone said, “Lisbon is so hilly, blah blah blah” – but coming from San Francisco I thought I was good with the hills. “There is no way it’s hillier than SF, we are prepared” I thought. I was so wrong! Lisbon makes SF look flat! We used the city elevators a few times, mostly when we visited the Castelo de S. Jorge.
After checking in, we opted for lunch at a cute sidewalk cafe, visited the Azulejo Museum (wow these tiles were gorgeous), and then found the famous Ginjinha bar and loved the cherry shot. They were so delicious! We probably visited 3 times over our stay and I bought a bottle to take home.
After taking a quick nap for our jet lag, we got dolled up and went out for a Fado show at A Tasca do Chico because we saw that Anthony Bordain visited and he enjoyed it, so we felt like it would be a good spot (is that lame to admit?). It’s always busy there but it’s worth the wait. Order tapas and wine and listen to the powerful melancholy melodies of the Fado singers. It was a totally unique experience!
We got some drinks and explored the nightlife in the Biarra Alto neighborhood afterwards; I have the funniest video of John and I taking fire shots (literally the waiters lit them on fire). It was cozy exploring the bars and sidewalk cafes in the alleys. I am happy we experienced the area, but I’m also glad we stayed about a 15 minute walk away in an area that’s a little less busy at night.
After a wonderful night of rest, we visited the Sao Jorge Castle in the morning, explored the Alfama district with lunch by the water, rode transit to the National Coach Museum, the Jeronimos Monestary, and then rode bikes by the Belem Tower. It was a jam packed day and so much fun! I think we got in 11 miles walking alone. Are you tired just reading about all the crazy things we did in one day? (I’m tired just typing this!)
It was so incredible how efficient the public transit system was. I think out of every place we’ve ever traveled, it’s up there next to NYC and London. You can always get anywhere you want to go without waiting too long, there are multiple routes, and it’s just so cute. The Alfama district is right next to the castle so we grouped those outings together and rode across town to Belem where the rest of our museum sights were set.
It’s so crazy to think that these magical carriages carried royalty over terrain centuries ago and here they are on display in their golden greatness. Can you imagine traveling like this?! They are so ornate; it’s something you don’t get the chance to see often, if ever, so definitely check this out.
The Monestary is absolutely gorgeous and really close to the coach museum. Pay attention to the details! The architecture is like nothing I’ve ever seen before. So amazing! By this time our feet hurt so we rented some bikes to ride by the water. The bridge even looked almost identical to the Golden Gate!
This was my favorite memory with John in Lisbon. It was just such a happy day, we had seen so much cool stuff, and we were so playful riding around in the sun. The only thing that would have made it better was if we were able to ride a sunset sailboat cruise, but alas they were all sold out. If that is something that interests you I’m sure it would be such an amazing experience on a day with great weather. But still this day was top 5 of all time days. ❤
We wound down by visiting the Time Out market for some delicious seafood pasta and wandered around the famous Pink Street for some shopping and drinks. It was a fun-filled day with many memories!
We used our roundtrip train ticket for Sintra, which is something friends of ours suggested and I’m so glad we did it! It’s about a 45 minute train ride each way and you must go early in the morning because it will get crowded. Everything I read said that you wouldn’t be able to do everything you wanted, so just pick 2 castles and make them your priority.
We grabbed some of these lovely Portuguese egg pastries (Pastéis de Nata) for breakfast and made our way via train. Ok these things were delicious and we had them every day!
Once we made it to Sintra, we bought the bus pass for the castle route that included Pena Palace. This is the most famous castle and it’s best to go as early as possible, it’s also pretty far (about another 25 minute drive) on very windy roads. Our bus driver was damn amazing taking our ginormous vehicle up huge hills on twisty roads. Thank god I didn’t get sick!
It was just so dreamy; almost like we were in a fairy tale. You could see awesome views of the Castle of the Moors from the top!
There are dozens of castles in Sintra, you could easily spend several days exploring them all. And you feel like you can do so many in a day, but really you can comfortably visit 2, maybe 3 if you aren’t relying on the train. Because everything is so spread out, you must factor in the time it takes to get from the train station to each castle and then the time spent at the castle grounds. After we had a drink at the bar on the castle roof it was already lunch time so we hopped on the bus towards downtown and picked a fabulous spot that I can’t remember the name of, the experience only lives in my memory. But the dish was delish! And so was the view 🙂
After an amazing meal we visited Quinta da Regaleira which was in walking distance from downtown. It was the perfect plan to start with Pena Palace because it was so far away and busy, once we were downtown we could take our time. I chose this castle because it looks absolutely ethereal, like Great Expectations or some amazing dream.
I loved this castle so much! It was the most picturesque. Talk about a dream come true! If you have an extra day in Lisbon it’s worth visiting Sintra! Also this is weird to say, but I love moss a lot and the greenery of this castle made my heart sing.
We finished up and headed back to Lisbon for our final night in the city. We were pooped! Lots of sight seeing was done in three days, but I always like to jam pack my visits with everything I can do because who knows when you will ever be back again! Our last meal was spent over by the Pink Street we visited earlier because we liked those dive bars the best. I think there was even one named “Bar Texas” – LOL.
Portugal was a blast! Here are some things to keep in mind should you find yourself there:
It is very hilly! Make sure you know where the elevators are and bring comfortable shoes.
Group things you want to see by neighborhoods. Pick the top 3-5 neighborhoods you want to explore and then create a list of things you want to see in each area.
Get the metro pass if you are there for 2-3+ days. It’s worth it!
See as many museums as you can because there are so many interesting and unique things to Portugal that I’ve never come across before.
Fado show is a must.
The food is great! Make sure to really explore the vast culture of the food. It did hurt my stomach a bit (but I have a sensitive tummy) so I would look up the best places and see what’s available (and also bring Pepto should you need it).
There are loads of guys that try to sell you drugs in city center – be aware!
You won’t be able to do everything you want – aim for your top picks.
I wish we did a sailboat cruise! If you want to do that you have to buy tickets in advance. Everything else you can just do whenever you want (which is so nice you can go at your own pace).
We’ve been in quarantine for over a year, and I’ve spent six months of quarantine in California and the second six months in Texas. As a Texan who grew up here for most of my life, with 12 years living in San Francisco, recently moving back – here are my thoughts on both experiences.
We lived on the corner of Alamo Square, so each morning I took my walks in this park and had easy access to crisp fresh air. Well, not at first. Truth be told, the first 3 weeks of quarantine in March 2020 I barely left my house, only to go to the grocery store once a week. I was super paranoid about COVID and not quite sure how it was spreading or what was going on (and I lost my job and was needless to say, depressed). Little by little my confidence in being able to go on daily walks and runs increased and soon I spent the majority of my outside time in this park. I miss this park so much!
As quarantine went on in San Francisco, I spent a fair amount of my time running and walking in Golden Gate Park. I walked to places I had never seen before! I usually clocked upwards of 7-10K steps daily and listened to all sorts of creepy podcasts along the way. The weather of course is always so amazing in California, perfect for long walks and hikes.
Hiking in California was relatively easy, because there are so many trails and land is available for public use outside of state and federal parks. You didn’t have to plan (unless the areas were closed from COVID) and it was easy to pick a trail and go. It was, however, much busier since so many people were stuck inside – but we were always able to hike whenever we wanted.
The thing that made everything even more depressing was that businesses were closing left and right in SF. Everything was boarded up. Few business were essential enough to be open, you couldn’t get a haircut for a very long time, and outdoor eating and drinking was on and off allowed, and monitored very heavily. Really the only thing you could do is sit 6 feet away from friends in the park. And we definitely did that a lot. But it was just incredibly sad. I had been in San Francisco for 12 years of my life. Of course cities change a lot over time when people move in and out and dynamics and economy changes the environment. SF was already different 2 years in vs. 6 years in vs. 12 years in of my experience. But it really was not the same city at all that I moved to.
Artists and locals were struggling to live there because of the cost of living, which is understandable, and many were forced out long before the pandemic. And in the years leading up to COVID, my favorite local hot spots, night clubs, dive bars were already on their way out. Musicians and DJs left for places like Berlin or Brooklyn or LA. SF was becoming more consumed with the tech community. I had worked in ad-tech before but for my last 2-3 years in the city I worked in entertainment marketing for the Curran theater, so I lost my job at the beginning of COVID because large theaters were a no-no, tech companies declared everyone could work from home, and the companies that had headquarters in SF laid off 20% of their workers – which was basically their marketing and advertising teams. So yeah, even more and more depressing. I’ve mentioned this before being one of the main reasons behind our decision to leave. And leaving was, VERY very hard for me. But, I know it would have been even harder for me if I stayed and watched the city that I loved dramatically change before my eyes without me being able to keep up.
I miss the coastline. Trees. The forest. Hiking. The amazing weather. Access to wine country and mountains and Tahoe. And of course our friends and John’s family. Being in nature during COVID is 100% better in California.
But, after a dozen years away from Texas, it’s a whole new adventure!
I still spend my run/walks in either the park closest to my house (5 minute drive) or downtown around Town Lake which is about 15 minutes away. Of course we miss the walk-ability of a city like SF. But having a car and being able to quickly get from point A to B is also incredibly nice. Plus the lakes here have their own unique environments, like the turtles that are around every bend, or the bats that live under the Congress bridge. Lake culture is also really fun!
The weather is obviously not as nice as California, but actually it hasn’t been as hot as I feared it would (though we are approaching summer months and I’m sure I’ll hate it). Weather in Texas can be completely unpredictable. We’ve had crazy thunderstorms, golf ball sized hail, triple digit heat, light snow flurries, AND an insane snowstorm that literally almost broke the grid and uprooted civilization for more than a week!
It keeps things very interesting! We’ve also been able to go on a lot of roadtrips and explore new places and small towns. Mostly with family, but we’ve stayed out on the lake and went on a boat adventure, stayed in a cozy AirBnb in the Hill Country and did some distant wine tasting, and also stayed in a haunted hotel in San Antonio. People in Texas are much more open about traveling and visiting areas than in California. They are a bit more independent from government and like to do what they want. I’m not saying it’s bad or good either way, just different. I would say that of my friends in California, John and I are more comfortable with traveling safely during COVID, always sanitizing along the way, sticking to ourselves, and never eating inside a restaurant. But compared to people in Texas, we are the ones who are more cautious about following the rules. We always wear a mask no matter what and constantly sanitize. To me that makes sense, and I know Californians follow those protocols because it’s what scientists have said to do. Not everyone feels that way here, but at least we are in Austin which is the most liberal part of the state, some parts of it feel MORE liberal to me than parts of the Bay Area. With that said, going on local travel and exploration during COVID is 100% more fun in Texas.
While restaurants in California are closed inside, and only available for takeout or outdoor dining when allowed, everything is open in Texas. That really struck me as weird when we first moved. People still eat inside like nothing is wrong. We are patio people 100%. However the good news is that most businesses have patios! Something not as available in San Francisco due to space restrictions. So yes, we go out to eat about once or twice a week and sit on a lovely patio and support our local restaurants. And we only drink at bars with patios. I enjoy this about our current living situation, and knowing Austin is the most strict of all places in Texas makes me feel safer. So eating and drinking out is 100% better in Austin. You can be safe and there is space to be distant outside, making you feel like there is still some semblance of normality. Also, Texas has HEB grocery stores and that is definitely better here than in CA – I love HEB so much! ( AND our local HEB around the corner has an outdoor bar patio, which is double amazing)
Swimming is something I’m super excited to do again! I rarely ever got in a bathing suit in CA outside of yearly Tahoe visits, and most of that time was for hot tubs. While there aren’t shaded forests, Texas has a lot of interesting geology, greenbelts, swimming holes, and batholiths. I’m excited to explore more in the summer and SWIM – something I feel I haven’t done much of the last twelve years. We will see how I handle the summer months.
Hiking in Texas is very different than in California. You need reservations everywhere you go, and must book them out weeks in advance. This is similar to how camping in California is, the best spots need to be booked out months in advance, so I understand that. But hiking was never an issue. Here, most of the land is privately owned so there isn’t as much available for people to just go hike. And with COVID, reservations are required. It’s kinda crazy to me that we can’t just go outside when we want and explore. But there are definitely places that don’t require reservations. There also aren’t as many hiking trails with elevation changes, so it can feel more like walking. But despite those differences there are some amazingly beautiful hikes we’ve explored. Overall, California is 100% better for hiking.
There are pros and cons to both experiences, and I love California and Texas in different ways. They make up different parts of my personality, and it’s ok that I feel connected to both. I really don’t understand the judgements folks have for both sides. Extreme Californians can’t stand people from red states, and won’t even listen to someone from Texas (this happened to me when I first moved to California during a business meeting) and people who have never left Texas think Californians are coming for their guns. LMAO. But also, it’s incredibly infuriating. I am a 5th generation Texan. My whole entire family is Texan. I mostly grew up here (alongside living outside of Yellow Springs in Ohio for my childhood) and there are some things I really love and admire about Texas. Not everything of course – I am very liberal and lived in San Francisco for 12 years! And obviously there are many things I love and admire about California, especially for me to uproot my life and independently move across country and stay for 1/3 of my life. I can feel connected to part of my heritage in Texas and also feel connected to the west coast life – you don’t have to be one or the other. You can be both. I am both. I am an incredibly independent, free thinking, ambitious hard working woman who believes we are all connected and everyone should have equal rights and access to free health care!
All I am saying here is, never judge someone based on where they live, you don’t know their story.
In July of 2019 we made an epic roadtrip with our roadtrip/camping besties Jenn & Ian (who explored Big Bend with us) to Crater Lake, Oregon. I wanted to see this National Park for many years so we all jumped in on an amazing campsite over July of 2019 to make it happen.
We decided to break up the drive so that we could explore more things along the way, so day #1 was from SF to just outside of Redding, CA. We made plans to visit the Mount Shasta Dam in the morning because, it was DAM TIME to see a dam! 😉 I hadn’t been to this part of CA before so it was really educational and fun to check out. Plus John + Ian bought matching dam t-shirts, so there was that.
After our time at Shasta we moved on to our awesome campsite at the Union Creek campsite just off the Rogue river. There are quite a few options to camp within Crater Lake, most of which didn’t provide reservations in advance, and since we were coming from so far we wanted a guaranteed spot and opted to stay just outside the Crater Lake limits. This campsite was EPIC. It had the biggest, most spread out spacious sites I’ve ever seen. And the Rogue river was literally right behind our setup so we could hear the rolling water which was very peaceful.
The Pacific Northwest is the most beautiful place in America, IMO. I miss it so much but appreciate all of the amazing adventures I was able to embark on before moving back to Texas. I know there will be many more in the future, but to me, there is nothing more beautiful than the misty fog over the oldest, largest trees in the country, surrounded by lakes, rivers, or the ocean, complemented with deep evergreen and mossy hues. It makes my heart sing and feels like home. John also is very much a forest person as well and it’s nice that we both feel that connection.
The funniest thing happened during our camping adventure. We had a mouse roommate who literally hung-out with us and ate pieces of our s’mores on the picnic table! He wasn’t even scared of us. He was our Ratatouille IRL.
The next morning we hiked and explored Crater Lake! One thing that was very surprising was that there wasn’t any place to buy water. Not in the gift shop, not in the cafeteria. It was very bizarre and we were SO HOT. I think I guzzled down 2 bottles plus Gatorade once we were able to get our hands on some, but note to self if you make it to CL bring your own H2O!
We hiked the Watchman Lookout Trail just on the outer rim. It got pretty steep at the end but once you made it to the top it was the best view of the lake. Crater Lake is the second deepest lake in America, right after Tahoe, and I love them both ❤
We said goodbye to Crater Lake and HELLO to the Umpqua Hot Springs, about an hour north. We wanted to hike in the Umpqua Forest and relax in the hot springs to really SOAK in the local culture <lol>. One thing we saw a lot of was naked people though, including sexy social media influencers – which was a bit strange to observe. We felt a bit weird and decided it was time to go, but luckily had enough time in the mystical area. Perhaps it’s a faerie thing?
Oregon is GORGEOUS. Explore Crater Lake. Get in the hot springs. CAMP. You won’t be disappointed! Our journey back to San Francisco ended with an overnight stay at a quaint cabin in the woods style Airbnb in Dunsmuir. This town was so adorable! And our cabin was very close to the famous Mossbrae Falls, we just walked down the train tracks for this SPECTACULAR view.
Mossbrae Falls is truly breathtaking! We probably stayed for an hour enjoying the sights. It’s pretty closed off from the public, you have to know where it is and walk the train tracks to get there – it’s not accessible from the road. I heard something about them creating a public entrance after we visited, but not sure if that happened.
We had the most fun making the best memories with our friends. If you feel compelled to discover Oregon or the PNW I highly encourage you to check something out!
It’s such a cool feeling to cross something off your bucket list. Here I am taking in the views and connecting to the environment. Here’s to the next item I can check off…
I did it y’all, I launched my own t-shirt shop. After many years of saying things like “that would be a funny t-shirt” I have made my vision a reality. Introducing Retro Dollhouse.
Since college I’ve always thought about how funny it would be to make this or that, being drawn to puns and unique humor. While I’ve had many ideas on what would be funny or cool to make or wear, it never occurred to me to make it come true…not until Covid hit. When I lost my job and had more time on my hands to actually think about what I enjoy, I started taking more classes around design and investing in my photoshop skills. Something just clicked in me, I wanted to make this into a reality.
My thoughts were that there are tons of 70s rock band tees, but nothing from when I was in college and really connected with music. So I started there with creating a few shirts inspired by artists I loved (LCD Soundsystem, The Killers). Then I thought about my love for Saturday Night Live and how niche of an audience that is that would love to wear a bizarre one-liner from their favorite skit. I obviously needed a Seinfeld reference and included John Malkovich because I think he’s fucking hilarious. Then I added a few modern day memes and boom – I came up with my Spring 2021 collection!
I have no idea where this will go and how successful it will be – but I just knew I needed to create. My hope is that I can build RH as I grow more comfortable in the retail business, creating more designs and unique products and also eventually breaking into being a full on boutique where I can curate items from other artists. And SOMEDAY making my own fashion line. But for now I’m starting small – so here’s to the dreamers out there. If you are thinking about it – been thinking about it (for a while now or even if it’s just a new idea) – DO IT!!! The world needs our creative energy especially now more than ever. You will feel such a release through the process of making your idea happen it will make you more excited to create and you will burst with additional new ideas.
I love creating!
I hope you feel inspired. And I hope you buy a t-shirt 🙂 (but srsly). New designs will be updated monthly but expect them to live in the same realm as the current catalog. Follow @retrodollhouse on instagram to stay up to date!
Before we officially made the move across country, our good pals Jen and Ian (who also moved from SF to Austin about 6 months before us) asked us if we would join them in Big Bend National Park for a week in November. I never visited before so of course we said YES PLEASE and let them do all the planning. You know how it goes, things book up 6-8 months in advance and especially during COVID everyone wants their fair share of exploring the outdoors, so they jumped on an awesome campsite for part of our travels, and also successfully secured us a two night stay at the newly finished Basecamp Terlingua bubbles 🙂 . Read along to hear how this group of new Texans navigated West Texas!
To break up the trip we decided to spend about 5 hours driving on our first day and stayed in a hotel in Fort Stockton. There wasn’t anything particularly special about this except that we had some of the most bomb dot com Mexican food since we moved. After a fresh night of rest we drove through Marathon down to our campsite at the Rio Grande Village, where we met up with another couple friends. This campsite is the closest one to the actual bend in the Rio Grande river and was definitely a different experience than California camping. Like for example, the wild javalinas (otherwise known as wild hogs), roadrunners and endless amounts of spiders present. One would never hear 2 wild hogs mating in the wild in the redwood forest!
After checking out the visitor center, talking to the rangers and seeing dinosaur fossils on display, we explored the quick trail at the river and were practically in Mexico! There were lots of local folks along the way selling cute art and cold coke-a-colas. I totally got both on our way back as the roadrunner figurine was adorable and as it was hot AF in mid-November, I needed a cold refreshing Mexican coke (which are the best cokes out there IMO).
We also experienced the most breathtaking sunset hike just a short walk from our campsite. It was so nice, John and I did it TWICE.
It was a bit strange to not be able to have a camp fire as we’ve pretty much always done so in California, but we still had a blast and saw the stars like never before! I was actually surprised at how chilly it got because it was very hot earlier. How do people camp here in the spring or summer? I have no idea – but if I were you I would book a fall/winter trip.
The next day we hiked the famous Lost Mine Trail, which is just under 5 miles roundtrip and one of the few moderate options in the park. There are tons of hard and easy hikes, but not a lot of middle of the road options, so this trail has a lot of traffic. We went after breakfast and completed the trail in about 3 hours. I had no idea we were basically hiking to the tip top of the viewing point, so the first 75% of the hike seemed totally normal to me but the top was very steep and a bit nerve wrecking, but once I made it all the way it was so awesome! I am getting better about handling my anxiety around heights and “falling off a mountain top” but each and every hike like this where I push myself outside of my comfort zone only makes me stronger. And like Miley Cyrus sings, “it’s the climb” – both literally and figuratively.
After dinner, we drove off road to see Ernst Tinaja, a geological formation and walk that a Park Ranger told us was a must see for geology lovers. After taking about an hour to actually drive there off road (it was only 6 miles!) John and I ran out to see it RIGHT before the sun went down and man we are so glad we made it happen! We were able to spend about 20 minutes before it was total darkness and another 45 minutes to an hour drive back. If you have a great car for off roading, do it!
It was an incredible day of seeing new things and exploring a whole new side of Texas with our best friends.
After our last night camping we packed up and drove across the park to the famous divide. We had planned to do some light hiking but we got a late start and we didn’t have a lot of food on hand so we opted to save our energy. We still explored tons of rocks and found boundless quartz and rock crystals without having to venture too far out. It was so cool to see upclose and personal.
And after we left the park we drove to Terlingua and made it to our famous bubble!
It was incredible to be able to see the stars and actually capture them with a camera. We used our Canon DSLR via long exposure and had a few great selects.
The town of Terlingua is so cute and small but just the perfect vibe to spend a few night glamping after tent camping in the park. The bubble was interesting, it had a small room outside of the bubble with two doors and a whole system of opening one door and closing the other because if both doors closed, the bubble would deflate. And yep it happened on accident! However, once we figured it out the bubble quickly filled up with air again. It was quite comical but amazing the time we live in.
Our last day was spent exploring Terlingua and Lajitas where we had more delish Mexican food and did some boutique shopping and graveyard exploring before spending the last night in the HOT TUB, drinking wine and watching the stars.
I was a bit sad when we came to the end of our trip out West. I had never experienced West Texas before in my previous life as a Texan. I think it was just so far away from everything at the time, my family didn’t plan trips that way since our relatives were always east of us (being in San Antonio). But I would definitely go back and want to explore more parts of Texas that I’ve never been!
We drove off back towards Austin through Alpine where we got one of the last photos of the Alpine Target. It was demolished a few weeks after our visit because it was found structurally unsafe (eeee!) but at least we got to see it. We decided not to go to Marfa because it was out of the way and our trip was already so long, plus we heard that it’s not much different than Alpine or surrounding areas – it just has this hipster art label and a fake Prada. Maybe one day we will go back and see it, but unless it’s along the way of something else we are doing I don’t think I would go out of my way.
Next on our list is Palo Duro, Sam Houston State Park, Garner State Park and Guadalupe Mountains (and hoping for Carlsbad Caverns if we’re out there). Hoping we can get 1-2 of those off our list by end of year!
I hope you get the chance to explore Big Bend National Park and West Texas at some point in your life, it’s such a unique place and charming vibe. I also threw up some shots into my store so if you’re interested in having a little piece of West Texas in your home ❤
For a long time I’ve waited to pursue creative endeavors until I thought I had things pretty much 100% ironed out. But that will never be the case, and if that’s what I’m waiting on – I won’t ever really pursue anything that is outside of my comfort zone. So in 2021, this is my goal: to throw myself into anything and everything I’ve ever wanted to do and create, despite if I know what I’m doing. Eeeeee – pretty terrifying.
My goal someday is to fully manage the process of how my art is made and distributed. I launched an Etsy store over the summer with digital downloads, but the thing is, people want real art they can hang in their homes. They don’t want to download it, print it out, and do everything themselves (unless you really enjoy that thing, then by all means BUY SOME OF MY DIGITAL DOWNLOADS!). And while I do think there is a place for me in the Etsy community once I have a better idea for how to make and distribute my creations, for now experimenting with a community like Society6 is the perfect launching pad. I can learn more about what I like, don’t like, and what I feel compelled to create. This is really exciting to me!
You upload your files and pick the items you want to promote and BAM! It’s live. You can basically create anything from art and framed prints, to canvas and metal prints, to throw pillows, cutting boards, waterbottles, even MASKS! It’s amazing the amount of products one can produce. I hope you enjoy my creations!
In the near future I’ll be launching another creative side venture of mine, so follow along and stay tuned! And wish me luck.
2021 is starting off with a bang for me! Here’s hoping the momentum, energy, and vibe keep up 🙂
We knew we wanted to ship about 60% of our stuff, specific furniture that we loved that had sentimental value, all of our art (we own TONS of nicely framed unique artwork), clothes (again, MANY boxes were comprised of clothes, shoes, and jackets alone), and random nick-knacks and things we couldn’t part with. We also knew that we didn’t personally want to drive our stuff across multiple states via U-haul. While we wanted to do a cross country drive with our cat Beatrix, the pressure and stress of tugging our stuff was not appealing and we quickly decided on a pod type move. I made a few calls and got quotes, both from PODS and UPack, and we decided to use UPack because they were a bit cheaper and quicker. While on the phone to both companies, representatives at each place told me that this was the last reservation available for 6 weeks out and that the #1 place they were moving people to was…Austin. Interesting! My intuition was correct. Folks were leaving SF by the droves and also heading to Texas.
After we sold off the stuff we could and gave the rest away to Goodwill, we packed our things very tightly, literally putting EVERYTHING in bubble-wrap. You see, UPack is just a storage container-shipping service, so packing is completely left to you (and you can’t claim breakage if you packed poorly). You also have to hire movers separately if you need and because our SF apartment was on the 2nd floor with a winding staircase, we opted to pay movers to help lug our stuff down into the containers. Boy were they especially quick and experienced! The next day, UPack came to pick up our stuff and it was en route to Texas, we would see it in about 7-10 business days. The rest of the week we slept on an air mattress and worked from our folding camping chairs, and stayed a few nights with friends.
The morning of our big departure we walked through Alamo Square for the last time. The air was thick and foggy, and also incredibly smokey from the wildfires – making it hard to breathe. I cried and felt incredibly grateful for my time here and very hopeful for our future. But I also had so much adrenaline to get going – and get to Texas! We threw our last remaining items out, tidied up the apartment, got our rental car, and packed up with Bea and were off!
We chose a one-way car rental from SFO airport to the Austin airport over about 5 days. We already had plans to buy our friend’s car in Texas, so this was the most efficient way for us to move across country. Our car was packed with a few suitcases of clothes, our computers and camera, a handful of items we wanted to personally hang onto (like paperwork and family heirlooms) and of course our baby cat. The plan was to drive down the 5 to Bakersfield and hit Las Vegas, then through Utah to stay in Moab, cross into Colorado and stay in Denver, drive down through Colorado Springs, cross New Mexico and into Texas to stay in Amarillo the final night, with the last day driving through until we reached Austin. We did this route because both of us recently spent time in New Mexico (and I in Arizona) and neither of us have really explored Utah or Colorado – so we wanted to go where we could explore more things, even if it did take a little longer.
I didn’t book us any hotels in advance. And luckily, we drove through states where they weren’t implementing quarantine for COVID (another reason we didn’t stay in New Mexico, they were more strict in the pandemic). We took turns driving our fun Hyundai Sante Fe mid-size SUV which was perfect for us. Keep in mind, I haven’t owned a car in 12 years and I didn’t drive much in California, so I wanted something that I felt comfortable in and this car was amazing. We agreed in the future if we ever saw a good deal on this vehicle we would get it! So smooth and safe. Two thumbs up from us!
The first day of the trip was the WORST. I knew it was going to suck hard, not only because of being emotional saying goodbye, but it was the longest drive of the whole trip, it was hot en route to Bakersfield which also isn’t a super interesting landscape, and we knew Bea was going to have a really hard time. For about 2 months before we left, John practiced taking Beatrix for drives around the city, although in shorter spurts of 30 minutes. It got a lot easier for her after a few times, but that was no where close to being in the car for 8 hours or so. We had a flexible cat carrier and I put a sweater of mine down that she loves to sleep on, and brought toys and treats. We had a travel liter box as well and kept her in a cat harness the whole time she was in the car. Initially we wanted to keep her in the middle seat, but she cried way too much and I put her on my lap. It was a LONG drive. We passed through burn scars from the fires on the 5, only 2 days after it was put out! It was a chaotic time to leave and the energy was crazy. Bea wouldn’t stop crying and once we made it to Bakersfield, we decided to stop to let her walk outside in the park on her leash – she did NOT like this at all and immediately ran back into her cat carrier, and we didn’t hear a peep from her the rest of the drive.
We finally made it to Vegas. I booked us a room at the La Quinta over by Red Rock Canyon because they are pet friendly with no additional charges (other hotels wanted anywhere from $20-$100 extra and half of the hotels didn’t even allow animals). The first night I really questioned our driving plan. I seriously thought about just going through Arizona and NM and getting to Austin ASAP because Bea had such a hard time and I was worried about her. John assured me everything was going to be ok, and once I had a good night of rest I would want to proceed with our plans. Boy was he right! The next morning, we left Bea in the hotel so we could go explore Red Rock Canyon on our own and enjoy what we could while she felt safe. It was so beautiful! It took about 45 minutes for us to do the scenic drive and we were only about 5 minutes from our hotel. We decided to keep this strategy for the rest of the trip: pick a place we want to explore in our destination, find a La Quinta nearby that location, leave Bea in the room and go explore in the morning, checkout by noon, and onward to the next location. This was AMAZING for us and worked well. And Beatrix was in much better spirits on the second day, she loved exploring the hotel room.
I really wanted to see the Hoover Dam while we left Vegas but it was closed due to COVID. I looked up if we could see anything driving by, but others had attempted the same thing on TripAdvisor and confirmed no dice. So I just drove us straight out of Vegas, through the corner of Arizona (for about 30 minutes, hey at least we saw the backside of the Grand Canyon!) and into Utah. I visited Salt Lake City in high school once but never spent time in southern Utah. Man, it was GORGEOUS! Wow. We stopped almost every 30 minutes to take pictures because the geology was so unique and constantly changing. It was the best part of our drive, the most mesmerizing and gorgeous.
We made our way to Moab and checked in to La Quinta, dropped off Bea, and went to a lovely dinner on an Italian patio on the main strip. The food was good but the atmosphere of Moab was amazing. What a cute place!
While Bea was curled up by the window, we spent the next morning at the Arches National Park, just a 10 minute drive from our hotel! If you are ever in Utah, this is a MUST DO! It was INCREDIBLE. Words can’t describe being surrounded by the beautiful GINORMOUS red rocks. You stayed in the car (hey, a great COVID activity!) and drove to each point of interest where you could get out for photos. It was one of our favorite things we have ever done together. It really felt like Land Before Time.
After the park we grabbed some delish quesadillas and did a little shopping on the main street for some cute Moab shirts, souvenirs for family, and an ornament before packing up and making our way to Denver. We also saw that there were fires in western Utah and eastern CO, so they were basically everywhere this point in the summer (hey climate change is real)! We left behind red rocks and arches for trees and mountains, and lots of super windy roads.
An old college roommate of mine lives in Denver and we made plans to meet up for a beer at the local brewery, so we opted to stay at the La Quinta in Lakewood. It was great to see Jessica and her beautiful family! And the beer was as good as they say it is in Denver. 🙂
The next morning we explored downtown and Sloan’s Lake. We got coffee and vegan donuts and walked around Confluence Park and saw the city before making our way to the peaceful lake. This was the only time we were able to see views of downtown and they were really nice. I also felt a bit out of place because I was dressed up a bit in boots and a skirt, while literally everyone around me wore workout clothes by North Face or Patagonia, LMAO.
We packed up Denver and made our way to Colorado Springs for a picnic lunch in the park and some boutique shopping. I always heard the best things about Colorado Springs and it didn’t disappoint – I actually liked the vibe more than Denver, personally. The shops were adorable and I scored a few things like a crystal candle, moon earrings, and a tie dye scrunchie. And just look at our adventure cat enjoying the town square!
I drove the next stretch down southern Colorado, across New Mexico and into Texas. It was extremely flat in the panhandle and I had never seen that part of Texas before! Crossing the state line made it the more real that yes, we are Texans now.
We were on a mission to get to Amarillo (by mornin’…) to check into our final La Quinta and grab a chicken fried steak. And FANTASTIC chicken fried steak we had! Bea even got accustomed to hotel living, she was a real great indoor house cat on our journey.
Our last night was spent on the west side, 10 minutes away from Cadillac Ranch. John brought his own spray paint just so we could tag the cars. I had no idea how many people actually tagged this art installation every day! Less than 2 weeks before we went, Rhianna was there and left a tag that said “Fuck Trump” and put a picture of it on her Instagram. All of the local Trump supporters immediately went and painted all the cars red with pro Trump slogans. By the time we got there, everything was completely covered with various tags – you would have no idea that this even happened. (also SO MANY spray paint cans on the ground which I wasn’t a fan of, we took ours with us)
After breakfast we loaded up and began our journey to Austin. We had to stop in Lubbock though because John’s dad has a romanticized view of Lubbock from previous work history and we needed to send him photos. I went to Lubbock only two times before, once for a UT football game where I got hit in the head with a dried up tortilla (yes, Texas Tech does this and it makes no sense) and the other time was to visit a friend after college. John’s reaction was “that’s Lubbock?” – LOL.
The last day was another hard one for Bea. At this point in the trip she was over the car. And we were about 7 hours away from Austin so it was almost as bad as day 1. But we persevered! I had never driven through that part of Texas before and wasn’t used to the rolling hills. That’s not the Texas that I am familiar with, but it was cool to see! What WASN’T cool to see were the buttload of Trump signs. But as we got closer to Austin those became less frequent. Our last pit stop was in the town of Ballenger where I grabbed us amazing Mexican food to go, and we ate in the town gazebo with Bea. (man I SO WISH I got a picture of this moment!) Our new home was so close!
Five days and 7 states later, we arrived! We dropped off our things at our new house, returned the rental car, and stayed the next few days with our friends Jen and Ian until our stuff arrived from UPack. What an incredible journey! Looking back, I can’t believe how quickly we made everything happen. And Bea loves the new place! She has more rooms to explore, more windows, and more sunlight (which she LOVES to bathe in and never really got to do much in SF as we didn’t have much natural light in our place). She watches the grackles chirp each and everyday from her cat tower and the back kitchen door, peering into our backyard. Being in the car for multiple days in a row is a very distant memory for her.
There will be more posts from my new perspective in Texas in the coming months. I loved our time across country and will cherish those memories forever. But to be back, see family, and have new energy and state of mind is such a great feeling! It was DEF the right move. Texas, Texas…yeehaw!
I moved to San Francisco in 2008, shortly after my 23rd birthday. I only visited once and decided then and there I was moving, and three months later I arrived. I had only intended on living in the Bay for 2 years. I assumed I would have my fun (with a time limit) and then come back to Austin. Boy, was I way wrong!
In California I really came into my own. The longer time went on, the more extroverted I became. The more I found myself confident in my opinions, speaking up when I could. My style was OFF THE HOOK (I take pride in this!!). I made the best friends! Ones I know that I will be in touch with forever. I developed amazing skills and tried new hobbies – hello DJ world, improv performing community, hiking and watercolor times! I fell in LOVE. I found myself. So why decide to leave?
Truth by told, as much as I love San Francisco and cherished my time in the Bay, I had been feeling for a few years that I was ready for a new adventure somewhere else. John and I had been talking about trying something new together for a while and couldn’t ever really decide. When I started working in marketing for the Curran theater, I knew that I would be tied to SF as long as I had this job. I grew my skill-set so much! I planned so many amazing parties, red carpet events, after parties and beyond. I was an avid part of the VIBE of the city. (I want to address my career separately, so am only touching on it here). But when COVID first came around I lost my job pretty immediately, and all of entertainment went cold, I felt the time came to make a big change.
I know I am a super intuitive person. I was the first person in our group of family and friends that realized, very early on, how big of a deal COVID would be. I envisioned losing my job immediately, industries shutting down, flocks of people moving out of cities – things closing for months on end. Despite feeling this way, I persevered. Everyone was let go, letting go of more people, and places were on hiring freezes. Businesses were closing left and right. It felt hopeless. I tried everything I could everyday to get a new job. I brushed up on my skills and got 3 additional marketing certifications. I didn’t feel confident that the job market had my back in SF, with remote work blooming everywhere and everything described above. John’s work was always remote, so we decided it was time. From a career perspective, Austin felt right because I knew companies would be moving work with all of the tax breaks and cheaper cost of living, so all of the opportunities I once had in SF were now relocated as well.
I ended up going back to work for a previous employer, remotely, and an old amazing (and very chill) boss who confirmed I could move anywhere I wanted. This was so exciting because I knew what I was getting into when all of the rest of the world felt scary. I was going to have a reliable source of income with great work-life balance, and could live anywhere I wanted…
You see, John wants to go to grad school….in Edinburgh! He likes the program at the university and has connections through his work. It would be a 1 year plan and we intend to go in a year from now, when vaccines are administered to everyone and travel is opened up. So in the meantime, we decided, it was the time to be closer to my family. Hence, preparations for Texas were en route.
Telling our family and friends was the hardest part, but for the most part everyone was pretty supportive and excited for us. Austin is a really rad town, it was where I went to college 15 years ago and the first city I fell in love with. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I spent the last 12 years building myself up to be this person, a West Coast performer who loves nature and the great outdoors – how could this person exist in Texas? Where it’s HOT and the views don’t always align with my own?
I grieved. A LOT. I cried. EVEN MORE. But after everything is said and done, I knew deep down this was what we were supposed to do. My parents are in their 70s and I’ve been gone a long time. If anything, COVID has taught us that we are not promised tomorrow. So make memories while you can, NOW.
I loved my apartment on Alamo Square so much. I lived there for 10 years, and the park was on my front doorstep! It did me well, and later on, John moved in and it did him well too 🙂 . I am forever grateful for the memories we created with our friends and families who visited us and spent time in our home. The backyard BBQs, charades, dance parties to records in the living room, Tuesday Night Dinner club, and more! While I knew I could stay there as long as I wanted, I was ready to grow and that entailed being uncomfortable.
We packed our belongings, sent them off to Texas, and said our final goodbyes with tears in our eyes. It was very painful leaving, one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I feel so connected to California. We want to move back and settle down when we are ready to do so – but we have more adventures ahead (in Texas and Edinburgh and maybe somewhere else along the way).
We drove across country with Beatrix in tow and stopped at some unique places along the way (I’ll write about that as a separate post). After navigating Las Vegas, Moab Utah, Denver Colorado, Amarillo and New Mexico, we eventually made our way to our new home in Austin. We have been here a few short months and it finally feels like we’ve settled into our new surroundings. And merging old Texas Emily with current California Emily is a lot easier than I thought. I am the best version of me yet! I am so excited for what is in store this coming year – I feel very grounded and have had lots of time to reflect and plan goals.
Throughout everything, John and I are lucky and happy to have each other in this crazy time. We both have steady remote jobs that allow us the flexibility to explore our surroundings. We have our cute cat who snuggles us everyday. We have close friends down the street, who also moved from SF just 6 months prior to us! My family is only a 2 hour drive away. And we frequently zoom and facetime with his family and our friends back home. Who knows where our future will take us, but for now – we are taking it one step at a time.
Happy 2021, may it bring you health, wealth, and happiness!
Edinburgh, Scotland was the second portion of our European birthday trip from February 2019 (we traveled in Iceland prior to arriving in the UK). John and I have our birthdays 4 days apart in early February, and over the years we’ve created a tradition to explore someplace new together. We had a tiny layover in London after departing Reykjavik but it was a smooth travel experience and we made it to our AirBnb in Old Town Edinburgh by 5pm, just in time to have celebratory shots with our neighbors before hitting up a pub for dinner and drinks! (Seriously this never would have happened in Iceland, as mentioned, folks are a bit more to themselves. First thing we heard after opening our door was “Hey are you visiting? Want to come take a shot?” – talk about contrast!)
We stayed a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Edinburgh Castle and had the most beautiful views from our AirBnb. The next morning we made our way over to the castle for a tour and high tea service. It is one of the touristy-historic things I had on my list and worth it! We got our tickets online a few days before, but it wasn’t busy at all when we were there.
After the castle tour, as we walked down the street, we passed a man with an owl named Genevieve and she took a liking to John. We didn’t even ask to hold her, she just flew over to him as we passed by (I’m sure it’s a scheme but I sorta have this idea that birds flock to John because he’s some sort of secret Disney prince, like what happened when we were in British Columbia).
Victoria Street is the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter! It is adorable and full of cute boutiques. We got everyone in the family plaid scarves for a real deal. I scored local watercolor art prints of the castle. And John got a cute old-timey Scottish cap.
Remember how I mentioned that you had to plan everything in Iceland? Well, Scotland was the opposite and in the evening we had time to explore something random in the moment, so we ended up going to see this local Sherlock Holmes improv troupe at the Monkey Barrel! It was fun to see their interpretation, complete with a PIANIST who also made up the melody as the story evolved? Hands down some of the most fun we’ve ever had. This was our favorite day on our whole week’s long trip. A little bit of structure but time to adapt to our surroundings and also spontaneously see something new. AND LAUGH! It was a creative show and only $5!
We also explored the area around Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park. I wanted to climb to the top but totally wore the wrong outfit: pink corduroy pants with fancy booties. When in doubt, choose functionality over fashion in Scotland <lol>
The next morning we wanted good Scottish comfort food and enjoyed Mum’s for shepherds pie. GO THERE! One of our favorite things to do is ask the locals places they enjoy to frequent: bars, restaurants or shopping areas. This is how you find the best gems that are not always obvious to the tourist (or even on Google). She guided us to a fun underground bar called Bramble. It was actually underground, had the most creative cocktails, and a DJ spinning hip hop records. We loved it and still talk about it to this day! We even went twice…hehe.
Afterwards, we made our way to Craigmillar Castle where I had a crazy paranormal experience. I felt some intense negative energy downstairs in the wine cellar that stuck with me for 2 whole weeks. (Intense demonic dreams, severe stalking and harassment from men, just general unease). After researching I found out that King James III kept his brother prisoner in the wine cellar where he died, after being accused of witch craft. And I also found out that there was a secret entrance to a Hellfire Club down there in the 18th century. These clubs were super misogynistic and anti women’s rights – so basically that energy did NOT like me while it had no problem with John. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever experienced. I saged regularly for 2 weeks before I felt myself again.
Oh also, they filmed scenes from Outlander there.
After the castle we walked around the city some more and had a delish pasta dinner before going to the haunted underground vault tour. We read this was one of the most unique things to do and wanted to end our journey with this experience. It was creepy but also amazing to see this bizarre old underground vault, literally UNDERNEATH Edinburgh. Def recommend!!
I love how old the city is. Around every corner there is an awe of Gothic architecture. It literally feels like Hogwarts. It’s actually where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter (we even visited the cafe where she wrote the books). The buildings are so incredibly old and BOLD. It has a VIBE.
Fun things about Edinburgh:
The city is built on top of itself, so there are layers of streets on top of each other – making GPS hard to follow in certain areas.
The people were the nicest folks we have ever met in any country. Very friendly and warm, but not too much into your business, but also willing to get to know you and hear your story. I felt incredibly safe.
It has a vibrant arts scene filled with poets, writers, comedians, artists – it felt amazing to be encompassed in creative energy.
I have a habit of going on ghost tours every time I travel. I can say, hands down, Scotland is the most haunted place I’ve EVER been.
It is our favorite international city we’ve explored, and we would love to live here! Words can’t describe how at home we felt being in Edinburgh. It’s chock full of amazing history, architecture, an expanding arts scene, and visually stunning nature. We didn’t get to make it outside of the city but can’t wait to eventually explore the Highlands and surrounding islands. It’s a breathtaking country that we feel called towards.
We CAN’T WAIT to come back. If there is one place to go in all of Europe, I highly suggest Edinburgh. You won’t be disappointed!