this morning, after a tough morning workout class, i treated myself to a latte at the coffee shop across from my apartment. it was a cloudy, quiet morning, and as i handed over my reusable mug to the owner, i surveyed the small shop.

“it’s quiet in here today,” i said.

“yeah,” he replied. “not a lot of tourists saying to themselves, ‘god, i really to check out the corner of east broadway and grand street!'”

as he prepped my drink, i snapped a photo of the empty space–the wooden tables and chairs, the painted tin ceilings; the floral wallpaper and the antique mirror.

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and i had a flashback to the first time i’d set foot in ost. it was the second time i went to see my future home (though i didn’t know it was my future home quite yet). the first time had been one night after work; the second was in daylight–a time when i could see that all the flaws i’d seen by darkness were not flaws, but potential. eric, my broker, toured me around the small space, pointing out where i could knock down walls and open things up, where i could rip out closets and create them anew.

afterwards, we walked over to ost and grabbed a drink, and i remember surveying the neighborhood–what would maybe become my neighborhood–in the sunshine and thinking, this would be my neighborhood. and this would be my neighborhood coffee shop. i knew ost, because for as long as i’d lived in the east village/gramercy area, they’d had an outpost on 12th street and avenue A. i’d had 2 very bad and one particularly spectacular first date there. i’d sipped red wine at a tiny marble topped table on their little piece of sidewalk, and eaten their muffins for breakfast.

i knew very little about the lower lower east side. the two bridges neighborhood, as some call it. i’d never walked down east broadway; in fact, i’m not even sure i knew that east broadway existed. but seeing ost–a spot i knew and loved–felt familiar. it felt like coming home.

after eric and i parted ways, i called my parents, and said i thought i wanted to put in an offer.

“it has a grocery store and a dry cleaner,” i said. “and it has an ost cafe.”

“a what?”

“a coffee shop i know,” i replied. “there’s one on 12th and A in the east village.”

“ah,” they said knowingly. “that’s good.”

~

recently, i did an AMA on my instagram account (@_thegrandapt for those unaware), and one person asked me, “how did you become so confident?” this question shook me to my core, because i simply don’t think of myself that way, at least, not most of the time. but answering the question–and really thinking about it before i did–made me realize that in some ways, i AM quite confident, and it’s my apartment renovation that made me that way.

there’s something about moving to a new neighborhood where you know not a soul, about dealing with contractors and architects and coop boards and city officials, about building a home from scratch that you know to be yours and yours alone that instills in you a sense of “i can do this.”

there was something about the moment that i walked into ost with eric, and ordered an iced chai at the coffee shop that would soon be “the one” that made me believe i was enough on my own, worthy of a big and great renovation adventure.

~

it’s been nearly two years since i moved into my apartment, and it’s almost 2 years to the day that i started demolition and construction on my little piece of the big apple. in some ways, it feels like a literal lifetime ago. like the sarah who came before this one was another person entirely (perhaps she was!). i recently had dinner at my favorite sushi spot in my old neighborhood, a place i used to frequent on a weekly basis, and i said to my friend maddie, i feel like i lived here a million years ago.

but it wasn’t a million years ago. of course it wasn’t. it was less than two. but in so many ways, my apartment and the neighborhood in which it sits feel so much more like home than anywhere else ever has. it’s funny how that happens, isn’t it? searching for an apartment in new york city (especially with a relatively small budget) means you have to be open to making a variety of different areas your home. in the scheme of things, my search wasn’t exactly extensive, but i looked at many a place in brooklyn before putting in an offer on the place i now live. and while i saw many a nice apartment, i never set foot in a single one that felt like home.

but somehow, this one did. even with its atrocious “before” state, i feel like i just kind of knew it was the one.

the same could be said of setting foot in ost. i didn’t know the neighborhood (my original goal was to find a place in alphabet city, but the inventory was limited, tiny, and dark). i didn’t know the F train, or how i’d get to work, or how i’d get anywhere, really. but somehow, when i set foot on the corner of east broadway and grand–that place no tourist ever deigns to go!–it felt like home.

and that, my friends, is a miraculous thing.

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the first time i went to london, it was 2006. i was 20 years old, a junior in college, there for four months thanks to a study abroad program in english literature at kings college. i’d never lived in a city before, and everything excited (and terrified) me.

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a blurry big ben, snapped on my digital camera in fall 2006

kings was in central london, right in the heart of it, but i’d stupidly (or perhaps rightly) picked a dorm 20 minutes by tube from the hustle and bustle. situated atop a grassy knoll of sorts, the hampstead dorm had looked quaint and entirely british. i was sold from the moment i saw photos.

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the hampstead campus at kings college london

2006 was nearly pre-social media. instagram had yet to exist, and facebook had barely activated the photos feature, so i captured my stories in pages upon pages of emails (many of which my parents kindly printed out and saved for posterity). i had no internet in my dorm room, so when i wanted to check or send email, i walked next door to the student center, a brightly lit, harry potter-esque building with chesterfield couches and large wooden tables. i’d find a spot at a table or, if all the tables were taken, on the floor against the wall, and cue up my skidmore.edu email client.

from there, i’d sit for hours, tapping away on my keyboard, capturing my life abroad in a blue and white message box. i wrote about how crowded the tube was, how the trains were simply too small for the number of people who had to ride on them, and how, thanks to a lack of air conditioning, i’d ended up with my head up against someone’s stinky armpit more than once. i wrote about my classes in literature, how i’d walked by the home of dickens on a seemingly average street, how i’d discovered a new drink called a snakebite (1/2 cider + 1/2 beer + a shot of blackberry liqueur).

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my hampstead dorm room, fall 2006

i wrote about my dorm room, which was large and sun-drenched and came stocked not just with a large armoire, but with a small sink, at which i could wash my face and brush my teeth in the privacy of my own space (showers were shared). i wrote about the view from my window, how i could see the red shingled rooftops of the rich and the possibly famous at morning, noon and night.

 

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enough stuff to give marie kondo a heart attack

my time in london was, in so many ways, my first true adult experience. sure, college had meant leaving home, but it was london that truly took me away from what i knew. at skidmore, i lived in a small, liberal arts bubble, surrounded by people much like myself, in a town much like the one i grew up in. london was the opposite of saratoga springs: it was loud. it was dirty. it was beautiful. it was filled with people speaking english in accents so thick i could barely understand them–and also with people speaking languages i’d never even heard before.

it sizzled with energy, it vibrated with life. the streets of london were old, older than anything i’d encountered anywhere i’d ever been in the states. the students who shared my classes barely paid attention in class, but somehow managed to ace their exams come reading week. every afternoon, they’d head to the university bar (yes, the bar run by the college. this blew my mind.) for a couple of beers before heading back home for the evening. the british were polite and austere, but come evening, they tumbled out of lively pubs, smelling slightly of fish and chips, their cheeks pinked by alcohol.

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golden hour in london, fall 2006

in london, my friends and i strolled along the thames with an open bottle of grocery store white wine. “drunk birds,” an old man shouted at us as we passed, “the birds are drunk!” (birds means women, over there). we ate cheap indian food along brick lane, consumed bowl upon bowl of edamame at wagamama. on saturdays, we took the tube to notting hill and perused the rows of antiques along portobello road. once, i purchased 2 faux fur coats for 10 pounds (a steal!). i still have them; they sit in my coat closet, untouched. i can’t bear to get rid of them.

 

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my friend martha and i , out at a bar, smooching random brits

on weekends, we’d drink too much and steal away in the night to the gardening club in covent garden, or walkabout, an australian club where i once let a british soldier stick his hand down my pants in the women’s bathroom until the security guard rapped on the door and ordered us out. i often took absurdly expensive black cabs back home to hampstead at 2am, or rode the double decker bus up finchley road all on my own.

london sarah was something college sarah hadn’t yet figured out how to be: free. free to skip class every so often, because everyone else was doing it, and go exploring. free to stay out too late and drink too much and still get up the next day and do it again. free to be alone–truly alone–in a way she’d never been before. free to board a plane at 3am to a destination unknown. free to hop into the car of two unknown men along with two friends in the bermuda triangle of vienna and hope she made it back to her hostel safely. free to walk las ramblas in barcelona at 11pm. free to sing karaoke in dublin along with a crazy old man. free to get her first ever fully body massage in prague following a particularly grueling day of exploration.

 

in oh so many ways, my time in london is what led me to new york. london taught me how to live abroad, sure, but more than that, it taught me how to live, period–both alone and with the humans around me. it taught me that it was okay to be scared, and even more okay to do it anyway. it taught me that i didn’t need to go to the supermarket with friends; i could go alone. it taught me that i didn’t always need to speak the language, i could go anyway. it taught me that seeing the world–the world outside my own, the one that is so very big where i am small–was a magical, beautiful, heart-wrenching thing, and that i was lucky to be able to do so.

that’s not to say i didn’t get homesick. that i didn’t miss the comforts of america, and my own bed, and my family and my friends. that’s not to say i didn’t wish things were easier, that i didn’t sometimes cry alone in my dorm room, wishing i’d never gone so far from home.

but god, was it worth it.

and so was going back, 12 years later. in so many ways, i am vastly different from the sarah who saw london for the first time. for one thing, i’m a grown woman, not a college kid trying to figure herself out. i’ve lived in new york for ten years, and have traveled extensively since leaving college a decade ago. but i’m still me, and good lord, did the same old me feel ALL THE THINGS walking the streets i walked all those years ago, this time with a smartphone that did oh so much more than send texts tapped out on a tiny keyboard.

TGA_London Arrival

in a cab from heathrow to hampstead | tuesday morning

i arrived in london on tuesday morning, may 22nd, and had approximately 3 days there before i took off for italy. i did my very best to make the most of it, spending time with family (my mom’s cousin lives in hampstead, and kindly offered to let me stay there during my visit), strolling as many streets as i possibly could, eating all of the good indian food (this was my fave), splurging on tea at sketch, going to platform 9 3/4 (obviously, had to), catching up with my old coworker, and more.

so, let’s have a look, shall we? there are a lot of photos here, so be warned. think of it as my visual diary.

 

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walking to the tube at finchley road, a walk i did every morning during my time abroad back in 2006

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black and white magic

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a tiny doorway on my walk to the tube

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beautiful hampstead

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this garden in hampstead took my breath away

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the guest room at my mom’s cousins’ home | where i spent my time in london

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a doorway adorned with flowers

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magical brick buildings of london

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matching my surrounding during golden hour | hampstead london

TGA_Yellow House Notting Hill London

an afternoon in notting hill

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adorned in ivy | notting hill

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bright red doors | notting hill

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a night at artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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cambridge street kitchen | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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textile dreams | cambridge street kitchen | pimlico london

TGA_Pretty Red Restaurant Mayfair London

bright red in the sunshine | marylebone lane london

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sunset in pimlico

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paid $10 for this photo op and i’m not even the least bit ashamed

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the pink room | high tea at sketch | london

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decked out in florals |sketch london

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high tea tower of sweets (and some savory) | sketch london

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trippy bathroom selfies | sketch london

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crazy pod toilets | sketch london

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welcome to paradise | sketch london

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afternoon coffee | west hampstead london

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3 americans, 1 brit, 1 italian |dinner ahead of our weekend in italy| shoreditch london

at the tail end of my trip, following a long weekend in italy and nearly a week in nice, i boarded a plane back to london, and spent one last afternoon/evening in the city before flying back home to new york. the following photos are the ones i snapped during my last evening abroad, back at artist residence (but in a different room!) and exploring the pimlico neighborhood once more.

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tan, tired, and happy | exploring the streets of pimlico london

TGA_Pimlico London Floral Installation

decked in flowers | the streets of pimlico

TGA_Peggy Porschen Raspberry Cake

seeing what all the fuss is about | peggy porschen cakes

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i think i could live here | pimlico london

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dusk falls on pimlico

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why yes, i’m certain i could live here

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mews | pimlico london

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side by side | pimlico london

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lime green | pimlico london

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number 21 | pimlico london

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travel | kings cross st pancras london

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dickens | pimlico london

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what dreams are made of | artist residence hotel | pimlico london

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i ended my last night in europe here

 

 

 

i’m oh so thankful to have the means to travel–to go back to cities i loved in my twenties and see them through the lens of my thirties. london, you were a dream, and as always, i just can’t quit you.

 

 

TGA_Board Meeting Agenda

last night, i attended my first ever shareholders meeting. for those who don’t know, i live in a coop here in NYC, which means that technically, i own shares of my building, rather than truly owning a piece of property (like i would if i had purchased a condo). coop buildings come with coop boards, and every so often, those boards hold meetings where the shareholders (aka, everyone who lives in the building) can come and discuss proposed updates for the coming year.

having never been to one of these shindigs before, i figured it would be a relatively simple affair: people would sit in the community room, the board would give us some updates, and boom! we’d be done, and head back up to our respective apartments to cook late dinners (me) or tuck our kids into bed (other people).

BOY WAS I WRONG. you guys, the meeting was insanity. it wasn’t even a meeting, really, but rather, a multi-hour time block set aside for people to air their many grievances about the building. as it turns out, despite us living in a not really that fancy building, let’s be real, people feel strongly about us having certain things. like a fancy laundry room–one that doesn’t vent dryer air out into the courtyard. like fountains that only shoot to certain heights, lest they be interpreted as lewd (more to come on this. PUN INTENDED).

i walked into the meeting a little bit late, having just gotten home from work (and honestly, having forgotten the meeting was even happening). i sat in the back, careful not to crowd any families or couples or people who seemed to know other people. for the first ten minutes, i scrolled through my emails on my phone, pretending to be busy so that i didn’t have to acknowledge that i was there all by myself. having been in the grand apartment for a year and a half, i’ve mostly gotten past the whole “i’m here alone” thing, but every so often, the feelings of inadequacy and loneliness creep in, and let me tell you: there is NOTHING more lonely than sitting on a plastic folding chair in a busy common room where you’re talking to exactly NO ONE. being surrounded by groups–either neighbors who’d been in the building forever and knew all their floormates, or young families who huddled together, showcasing the latest ‘cute kid’ photos on their phone–was sobering. when i’m up in my apartment by myself, i could care less that i’m there alone. but being alone in a crowded room…WOOF.

but that, friends, is a story for a different day. you’ve heard me wax poetic about my loneliness before, and that’s not why we’re here today. today, we’re here to reenact the ridiculousness that was my first board meeting.

so, let’s set the scene, shall we?

picture about nine rows of plastic folding chairs. they’re white, but dingy, old. people are scattered amongst the rows, some on cell phones, others engaged in conversation. towards the front of the room sit about 5 older men (all men, always all men–the women who interviewed me when i applied to live in the building were nowhere to be found) at a series of folding tables. in front of the tables is a small podium.

7:15 comes and goes. 7:30 arrives. the board president, an elderly man with tufts of white hair and large glasses, makes his way to the podium and clears his throat. he informs us that we haven’t met quorum, but that we can go through the agenda items, and schedule the voting portion of the meeting for another time.

agenda items include very important things like new laundry machines, fountain enhancements, and self-inspections for leaky faucets (yes, that was an actual agenda item; see my photo above).

abe, the president (ha!), calls the meeting to order. he introduces the folks at the long tables, apologizes for/explains an incorrect abatement warning letter we all received from the city, and then launches into the good stuff: let’s talk about the fountain.

editor’s note: we have a fountain in our courtyard. when it’s nice out, the fountain runs, pumping water up and out into a small pool. it’s a lovely feature, one that drew me to the building when i first came to look at the grand apartment. apparently, it’s also one of great contention.

see, earlier this year, the fountain got a little refresh. the previously sad spurt of water was now high and mighty, and one night, i walked by to see it was lit. IN A RAINBOW OF COLORS. i texted our super immediately: what was this ugly, tacky ass shiz?! but beyond that, i didn’t think much of it. 

back to scene. abe tells us he knows that some of the shareholders have had “issues” with the fountain restoration, and assures us that they’re still working out the kinks. at this point, all hell breaks loose.

a woman stands up in the third row, and tells abe she’s got a little something to say on that front. as it turns out, she has more than a few issues with the fountain restoration. she finds the “ejaculatory nature” of the water levels to be lewd, she finds the bright rainbow lights offensive (especially in a building that should have landmark status!). at the words “ejaculatory nature” the crowd gasps. there’s silence, but just for a second.

undeterred, she soldiers on. she’s a designer, she tells us. she’s lived in this building for 15 years (15 years, people!) and she cannot imagine what the board was thinking. a kind soul passes her a microphone, all the better with which to broadcast her rant.

two rows in front of me, an older man straight out of the shtetl mutters to himself in a thick eastern european accent, but makes no attempt to reach for the microphone. the peanut gallery begins to converse. people agree–the rainbow lights are entirely too tacky for our lovely pre-war building.

abe tries to calm the crowd, and tells us that the rainbow lights are only temporary. even the empire state building is doing it! he says above the din. the empire state building is an art deco building! it’s fun! it’s modern! people like to take pictures of the fountain at night.

at this, the woman with the microphone explodes. THIS ISN’T ABOUT TAKING PHOTOS! THIS IS OUR HOME! i hear her hatred of the instagram generation simmering below the surface, and duck my head instinctively, lest she single me out.

HEAR HEAR! the crowd chants. shtetl man nods to himself in front of me. eez tacky, yes, i picture him saying.

next up on the agenda is the laundry room. we’re getting new machines (this is a good thing!). people fail to see past this; instead, they choose to focus on the fact that our ventilation system is busted–the smell of dryer sheets permeates the courtyard air. a man in the row next to me stands up, and requests the microphone. he tells us he lives above the laundry room, and while new machines are great, he’d rather spend our money where it counts: on venting the dryer air elsewhere. like, out onto grand street.

abe pushes back on this. this type of job would require a mechanical engineer, this type of job would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

he motions to issac, our building manager, a man who i’ve previously only spoken to on the phone and whom i’m overjoyed to learn is an adorable, diminutive, soft spoken soul in a kippah. he’s like every average jewish guy i went to summer camp with, but smaller! i want to put him in my pocket and carry him around to fight my battles in his lovely, soothing voice.

issac, abe asks. how many people do we have living in this building?

issac estimates the number to be around 240, not counting spouses.

almost 400then. abe says, loudly. he futzes with his sweater, and stares pointedly at the laundry complainer. and how many complaints have we had about the smell of dryer sheets in the courtyard?

issac stares at his shoes. about 4, maybe 5.

FOUR! abe roars. FOUR OR FIVE COMPLAINTS. IN A BUILDING THIS LARGE. 

shtetl man gets up from his seat. he’s had enough of this.

laundry man shakes his head. he’s frustrated. if the board would only consult a professional, he says. he’s an architect, and he’s seen these things done, even in old buildings like ours.

a voice emerges from the front row. a woman who’s also lived here for many, many years has a solution. she’d like to tell us about it. may she have the microphone?

the microphone is passed to the front.

the issue with the ventilation, she tells us, is the scent. dryer sheets are toxic, and people should knowmaybe, she thinks, the board could tell people to stop using dryer sheets. then we wouldn’t have this problem. 

my ears perk up. i love dryer sheets! i love how they make my clothes smell! i am clearly the enemy here. i wonder if i’ll ever come across this woman in the laundry room, and if she’ll scold me when i take out my bounce sheets and put them into the dryer.

abe shakes his head. we cannot possibly control who uses dryer sheets, he says. and if we were to speak ill of them, we could be sued by the companies.

the peanut gallery goes wild. who on earth would sue our dinky little lower east side coop?!

abe persists. we will not ban dryer sheets. when the new dryers are installed, he tells us, he’ll look into fixing the ventilation issue.

we’re now more than an hour into the meeting and only halfway through the agenda. my stomach is growling. it’s 8:45 and i haven’t yet eaten, and i look around me, wildly, for an escape route.

after a few more minutes of uninspired fighting about the laundry room–will prices be raised? will strangers still be able to walk in and use the machines?!–abe puts a moratorium on the conversation. issac, kind soul that he is, offers to schedule an appointment with laundry man to talk to him about his issues living above the dryers, and strategize about ways to fix it. laundry man is unsatisfied, but seems to understand he’s lost the battle for now.

sensing a lull in the meeting, i duck out into the aisle, busy myself with grabbing my packages (they store them at security whilst we’re at work), and head out the side door.

but not before i whisper to my favorite security guard, with the most exaggerated eye roll in the world, THIS. SHIT. WAS. INSANE.

he grins, and shrugs his shoulders. it’s just another day in the life, i suppose.

 

TGA_Homemade Granola Recipe

granola is one of those foods that seems like it might be complicated to make. all those nuts, all those seeds, nailing the flavor combo, getting the crunchiness just right. but guess what? the rumors ain’t true! it’s the opposite, really: granola is surprisingly simple to make. i’ve been making it for years now, ever since i realized just how much sugar was in the granola i was buying at the grocery store (seriously, check the nutritional details on the back of those packages and you may never go back).

i did a bunch of research here on the world wide web, and realized that while the recipes varied, the overall structure was the same: find your oils, find your sweeteners, find your key ingredients (for me it’s oats + seeds + almonds), et voila! homemade granola.

here’s how to do it.

what you’ll need:

3 cups rolled oats (not quick oats!)

1 cup raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds

1/2 cup sunflower seeds

1/2 cup sliced almonds

2 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)

2 tbsp chia seeds (optional; could also use flax)

1/2 cup coconut oil (could sub olive or a seed oil)

1/4 cup maple sugar (could also use brown sugar, or honey)

2 egg whites (save the yolks for ice cream making!)

2 tbsp shredded coconut (for topping)

2 tbsp turbinado sugar (for topping)

what you’ll do:

preheat your oven to 325.

mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl. that means all your oats/nuts/seeds/etc.

in a small saucepan, melt your coconut oil + sweetener. i like maple syrup because i love the taste, and it means i can use less (rather than a ton of brown sugar), but you could easily sub honey or agave (though i recently read that agave isn’t good for you!).

pour your sweetened oil mixture over the dry ingredients, and toss to coat. you want to make sure every last seed and oat is covered. sounds ridiculous, but your granola won’t cook evenly if it’s not.

whisk 2 egg whites. egg whites are a secret granola savior–they help you get those big clusters we all know and love from store bought granola.

pour your egg whites into the mixture, and toss to coat.

take out two cookie sheets. if you have silpats, use them. if you don’t, line your cookie sheet with parchment paper. in a pinch, just a regular old cookie sheet will do, but you should try and line it if you can.

spread your granola mixture evenly between the two sheets. press it down a bit so that it’s approximately 1/4″ thick. if you put it onto the cookie sheet too thickly, it won’t crisp.

bake at 325 for about 30-40 minutes–the timing will depend on your oven–you want to take it out when it’s just starting to turn a lovely caramel color.

let cool completely (like, for a few hours).

break it up into pieces, and store in an airtight container for up to a month. if you freeze it, it’ll likely last longer, but honestly, you’ll likely eat it too quickly to need to freeze it. i eat mine all spring/summer long, atop siggi’s vanilla yogurt with fresh berries. BLISS, i tell you.

got questions? leave ’em in the comments, or shoot me a DM on instagram!

 

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the swan inn in the cotswolds, england. source: the neotrad

hi, friends! i’m back at it with some exciting news! in my first true gig as an interior designer (and honestly, i hesitate to even use that term), a friend’s sister has asked me to help her design a summer house up on the coast of maine.

i’ll pause for the excited gasps of “oooh!” “a summer house!” “i love maine!” “so beautiful!” yes, i feel all those feelings too, and yes, i reacted the same way when she came over for dinner and said she’d like my help.

see, i’ve been designing a country house in my mind for years now. like, to the point that whenever i go antiquing, i look at things (and sometimes, buy them) and say, “this would look GREAT in my country house.” this tends to annoy the people around me, especially my mother, who is fond of reminding me that i do not have a country house. she’s not wrong. but what’s to stop a girl from dreaming?! perhaps someday, i will, and when that time comes, I SHALL BE READY.

in the meantime, though, i’m thrilled to be helping my client (omg, can i even call her that?!) design the one of HER dreams.

soon,i’ll be sharing some “before” pictures of the space, but suffice it to say it has REALLY good bones. we’re talking beamed ceilings, amazing exposed birchwood walls, fireplaces and exposed brick…i died and went to country house heaven when she sent them over.

as of now, all she’s done is picked paint colors (which she did entirely on her own–i just helped with sheen and gave the thumbs up), which means we’ve got lots of fun ahead of us! this home will serve as a second home for their family (they live on the west coast, but both are east coasters originally!), and may also become a vacation rental in the future.

ANYWHO, enough about the background. let’s get to the good stuff: inspiration! my goal for this home is for it to be light and airy, but still cozy with a hint of traditional new england charm. this isn’t nantucket, so the goal is less blue and white preppy, and more homey, lived-in neutrals. the kind of space where you step through the front door and immediately, your shoulders relax and your head feels less heavy and all is right in the world.

you know the kind i’m talking about, right?

something kind of like this.

or this.

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a home that’s a mix of soft white linens and old wood pieces that either have been (or look like they could have been!) in the family for decades.

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source: jersey ice cream co. (again. i love them!)

a place where flea market finds are just as at home as newly purchased pieces. where built-ins meet sink-into-me leather sofas, where eclectic textiles meet beautiful wallpaper. a place where comfort and fun reign, where the beauty is in the details.

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ahhh, built-ins!

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we’ll bring in some cool textiles to up the ante

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isn’t this kitchen to die for?

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i love this antique wardrobe

i’m thrilled that my client is taking a chance on me, and while she’s in no rush to decorate the space, i hope to have lots to share with you soon (if not soon, definitely this summer!). wish me luck!

TGA_Living Room Exposed Brick Wall New York

i’ve gotten a few requests over the past few months about decorating on a budget—or how to decorate a space that may not be yours forever (like a rental, which most of us will live in at some point in our lives). so suffice it to say this post is long overdue. i lived in three rental apartments before buying the grand apartment, and up until i did this big renovation, i rarely splurged on decor. take, for instance, the photo below, of my bedroom in my old apartment in peter cooper village, NYC (which i lived in for 8 years–insane!). the curtains were $20 at target, the lamp $75 at homegoods, the bed a free ikea craigslist find, and the “art” a print i literally printed out from the internet, then stuck in a free frame i found on the street.

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the bedroom of my old rental apartment

thanks to the internet and the advent of social media, we’re up to our eyeballs in pretty imagery—but most of us can’t afford to recreate the looks we see online. and if we are, well, we’re lucky, because having a beautiful home is a luxury, not a necessity.

that said, i do believe that design can make people happy. it can turn a house into a home. AND i believe that you can create a beautiful space without spending a ton of money (yes, really). below are a few tips for making your space shine—without forking over half your paycheck each month.

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paint done right, in my friend tiina’s entryway [source: design*sponge]

#1 PAINT:  it’s the cheapest, easiest way to change a space. exhibit a: the entryway above, which belongs to my genius friend tiina. imagine if these walls were regular ol’ white. they’d be rather MEH. but with the deep, vibrant black walls above, the entire space P-O-P-S.  i’ve painted the walls of every apartment i’ve ever lived in—my hallway in stuy town was a deep purple (random, i know, but it looked nice with my french gilt mirror!). painting is an easy weekend activity that you can do yourself (though it’s more fun with a few friends!), and it’s definitely the cheapest way to switch up a space. tip: many hardware stores (even the biggies like home depot!) have a “used paint” section–aka paint that people mixed incorrectly, or colors people decided weren’t right. you can get great colors at a deep discount!

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my living room, last summer. people always say this light fixture makes the space, and i tend to agree. 

#2 UPGRADE YOUR LIGHTING: if you’re living in a rental (and even if you’re not!), chances are, you’re #blessed with a boob light or two. you know the kind I’m talking about. the one that looks like a boob, complete with a nipple. sorry, TMI, but also, free the nipple, amirite? anyway—boob lights are a curse for many of us, but this doesn’t have to be the case! electricians are not all that expensive, which means it’s not all that difficult to switch out your ugly boob lights for something a wee bit easier on the eyes. yes, light fixtures are an investment—but you can take them with you when you move!

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my bedroom sconces from urban outfitters

if you don’t have the budget for an electrician, or your landlord won’t allow you to futz with the fixtures, spend your money on ambient lighting (floor lamps and table lamps), and leave your overheads off. i actually don’t have overhead lighting in my bedroom (i went for a ceiling fan instead–and am SO GLAD i did, even if it’s a design no-no), so i make do with bedside table lighting (my sconces were under $34 a piece from urban outfitters, and a cinch to install).

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the layered rugs in this room make the space [source: chris loves julia]

#3 INVEST IN AREA RUGS: stores like homegoods, tjmaxx, and urban outfitters offer trendy rugs for decent prices–also known as a quick fix to flooring you can’t stand. cover ugly kitchen linoleum with a fun runner (inspirational example above, from honestly wtf’s erica chan coffman). spruce up wall to wall carpeting with an area rug. many NYC apartments have an 80% rule (80% of your floors must be covered to keep noise down for your neighbors)—if yours does, use it as an excuse to make your floors fun! there are also great steals to be found on good ol’ craigslist. i have gotten incredible finds just by typing a few key things into their search box. Z

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my bedroom features a print from jenny’s print shop

#4: ADD ART:  a small budget shouldn’t hold you back from adding art to your walls – especially when there are so many great digital prints available! i love Jenny’s Print Shop for affordable art prints–all prints are $15, and with their digital downloads, you can print them in literally any size you’d like!

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an old oil painting i found in my parents’ basement lives in my kitchen

you can also peruse local antique stores  and flea markets for cool vintage art—some of my favorite pieces have been snagged for under $10, discovered under a stack of not so great paintings. the bonus of flea markets? even if you don’t love the print, you might find a great frame (one you can use to frame a print you find elsewhere). it’s also worth saying that literally ANYTHING you find can be art. i’ve framed old menus or flyers from my travels (i got great vintage hotel stickers at a flea market in lisbon last september!).

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the mirror in my entryway, which makes the space

#5: WHEN IN DOUBT, HANG A MIRROR: mirrors instantly make a space feel bigger, and help to bounce light around the room. i have 3 (yes, three) in my entryway. CAN’T STOP WON’T STOP. sure, mirrors are necessarily in spaces like the bedroom and bathroom, but consider putting them elsewhere too. a large floor mirror can help a living room feel twice as large. adding a big mirror in the entryway (like mine above) offers a spot to check your reflection before you head out the door and makes a tiny hallway feel bigger. never doubt the power of reflection, friends.

BONUS (aka, #6): hit the streets! my second year in new york city, i was walking around the upper east side and came across a giant worn leather arm chair just sitting on the street. i inspected it for bed bugs (because new york), then sat my butt down in it to test it out. it was huge, and VERY heavy. so i walked away. then, a few minutes later, i walked back, and pulled up craigslist on my phone, and typed “last minute movers” into the search box. within 45 minutes, an out of work actor with biiiig arm muscles showed up in a red pickup truck to deliver me and my new chair down to 20th street. for $75, he brought the chair safely into my apartment, where it sat for the next 7 years.

the moral of the story? you’ve got to, as my mother likes to say, keep your eyes peeled. people move, and they need to get rid of their stuff. sometimes they put it on craigslist. sometimes they have yard sales/apartment sales. sometimes they put it out on the street. many of my favorite pieces have been snagged in this way. the giant gilded mirror in my entrway? it was $25 at an apartment sale in peter cooper village (where i used to live) YEARS ago. a goddamn STEAL!

sure, you run the risk of bedbugs, or things that are imperfect–but i like my pieces to have a little history, and when you buy or find a piece that’s lived a life before it reaches you, you get history in droves. plus, what’s the fun of ordering a bunch of big box stuff online? the thrill is in the hunt.

 

TGA_Hudson Welcome

as some of you may have seen on the ‘gram, i spent last weekend upstate in hudson, new york with a few girlfriends. i’ve been wanting to go to hudson for years, ever since i started following @thisoldhudson on instagram. there are a bunch of cute hotels and airbnbs in the hudson area, but the minute my friends agreed to head up there for president’s day, i knew where i wanted to stay: rivertown lodge, a boutique hotel housed in an old theater with a raved-about restaurant.

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i believe my instagram caption here was: “i love it here and i may never come home.”

rivertown sits at the top of warren street, the main drag of hudson, and is a quick 5 minute cab ride from the train station. you can easily drive to hudson from NYC (it’s about 2 hours north of the city), but we opted to take the train (cheaper and honestly, easier). i’m glad we did, because the ride takes you straight along the river, which was eerily beautiful on a cold winter weekend. i’d imagine the views are straight up insane come october (helloooo foliage season).

TGA_Brick Home Hudsonhudson the town shares a name with the river, and was originally settled by the dutch. in its heyday, it was a whaling community (there are still signs for whale parking around town!). our uber driver told us that beyond the whaling industry, hudson used to be home to many a factory: strike matches, cement plants, etc. to name a few. when the industry left, the town fell into disrepair, and had a stint as an upstate new york red light district. in the 1980s, the gay community stumbled on the enclave and moved up north, investing in the storefronts along warren and the amazing old homes (a mix of federal, victorian and queen anne architecture) along its side streets. cut to present day, and the town is clearly a tourist spot (many of the locals—mostly our cab drivers—told us that those who grew up in the area have long been priced out of it), full of incredible antique shops, cute boutiques, and restaurants galore.

TGA_Hudson Warren Streetbeyond the shopping and eating (which, to be honest, we did not find as incredible as we’d hoped—more on that later), hudson’s main street (warren) is the stuff of movie sets. there are many great getaway towns within spitting distance of NYC (i also love tannersville, home to scribner’s lodge, a place i’m DYING to visit), but hudson stands out as a must-see.

so: what did we do? i’ll tell you a bit about our overall itinerary, and then do a separate post about where we ate (and what we thought about those spots!) and where we shopped.

saturday morning

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my favorite house, directly across from our hotel.

knowing that we had monday off, we decided to go up to hudson saturday morning, rather than rushing to catch a train friday night after work. i am oh so grateful we decided to do this—it made the entire trip so much less stressful! friday night i worked late, then packed and went to bed early. saturday, i squeezed in a bar method class before heading to meet my friend krystie at penn station. we caught the 11:20 train, and were at rivertown by 1:30. both of us took the opportunity to work a bit more on the train (krystie works a day job AND has a digital media start up called slant’d — girl is KILLING IT!), and so the trip flew by.

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check-in at rivertown isn’t until 3pm, but they kindly let us drop our bags and hang in the lobby before we set off for lunch. our other two ladies took a later train (1ish), so they weren’t due to meet us until around 4. the rivertown lobby is as cozy as they come: wood stoves on either end, amazing danish modern furniture, and an open kitchen with a big farmhouse table and free coffee/tea for guests all day long.

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the open kitchen at rivertown–free coffee and tea for guests all day long!

saturday afternoon

the workaholic new yorkers we are, krystie and i grabbed drinks and did another 30 minutes or so of work, then set up to walk down warren in search of a late lunch.

the hotel recommend talbott and arding, a gourmet grocery/deli with amazing pre-made salads and foods. we popped in, but noticed they had nowhere to sit, and ended up across the street at swoon kitchen/bar, pictured below. swoon was way bigger than it looked from the outside, and we had a nice lunch there before setting back out to walk warren street.

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a late lunch at swoon kitchen bar

we ducked in and out of a few shops, and bookmarked a few in our brains to visit the next day. before we knew it, it was time to meet the rest of our foursome. back at the hotel, we checked into our room (a double double—two double beds, a TV, a hanging rack, and cute little bathroom), popped a bottle of lambrusco, and vegged.

TGA_Rivertown Double Roomas cozy as the lobby/kitchen area of rivertown is, we were surprised to find that our room was a bit…spartan. the coziness of downstairs didn’t translate to upstairs. i’m all for crisp white sheets and white walls, but the space felt unfinished, like they’d hung one piece of art and called it a day. a wall across from the beds jutted out, practically BEGGING for a large gold mirror. the wall space below the hanging rack was dying for a console/dresser (there was really nowhere to put your clothes; the rack only had about 10 hangers). the sole piece of art felt like an odd, rather depressing choice for the room—as my friend cristina put it, it looked a bit like the girl in the photo had just committed suicide. WOOF. were i to redecorate the space, i would have added a mirror, a small dresser, and some more modern art (like this).

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rivertown lobby at night–so cozy!

that said, the space was perfect for our needs. the beds were comfortable, the products in the shower (made in town by 2note!) were lovely, and we were so enamored with the lobby space that nothing else mattered. we put on some music (there was a great old school style speaker in the room!), grabbed some glasses downstairs for our wine, and put on face masks ahead of our 8:30pm dinner reservation downstairs.

side note: can i just say, i have reached the point in life where drinking lambrusco whilst listening to music with a face mask on is #goals and i cannot even remember what it was like to go bar hopping and slam fireball shots whilst dancing to pitbull. actually, scratch that. i still LOVE ME SOME PITBULL. there is no jam like “timber.” but the rest of it, i can do without.

anywho, back to regularly scheduled programming.

saturday evening

ACS_0141earlier in the week, i’d made a few restaurant reservations for us, knowing that hudson restaurants were highly reviewed and were likely to be busy on a holiday weekend. our first one was at our hotel’s in house restaurant, rivertown tavern, and let me tell you, it did not disappoint! it was my favorite meal of the trip. we all ordered a drink with our dinner, and were back up in our room by 11pm, cozy in our pjs, watching strange local TV. we were asleep by midnight. #thisis32.

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the ladies enjoying hot tea outside the tavern (it started to snow as we finished dinner!)

sunday morning

TGA_Yellow Door House Hudsoni woke up bright and early sunday morning (did i mention #thisis32), and saw that my friend chloe was also awake. chloe is a long distance runner (she ran the NYC marathon this past fall!) and i knew she’d be itching to pound the pavement outside in the country. we got dressed quietly while the other two snoozed, and i joined her for a quick run down to the other side of town. the main stretch of warren street is almost exactly a mile (rivertown is the top, the water/train station is the bottom), so we ran down together, then i ran back up a side street and chloe went along her merry way for a “short” 6 mile run (i did 3 and felt QUITE ACCOMPLISHED). i stopped here and there to snap photos on my phone of all the pretty houses i saw. the sun was shining, the air was a crisp 32 degrees, and i felt like dancing along the streets in the early morning light.

TGA_Yellow House HudsonTGA_Whitewashed Brick Hudson HouseTGA_White Federal House Hudsoni tell you, there is something incredible about getting out of the city. i often tell people that the only way i’ve survived 10 years in new york is because i leave it quite often. whether it’s home to my parents in massachusetts, weekend getaways like this one, or weeks away in far off places, i love new york so much because i know when to leave it behind. i grew up in a small college town where you can see all the stars at night and kids ride their bicycles around the streets after school, and it always gives me a sense of serenity to explore small towns like the one i call home. my morning run in hudson was no exception to this rule—it wasn’t so much about the exercise (though that helped me rationalize all the incredible food i’d eaten the night before) as it was getting out in the air and breathing deeply and feeling like the world was bigger than my tiny grand apartment.

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a candid moment: chlo in her running clothes scowling at her phone + krystie looking cute

by the time i returned back to the hotel, the ladies were up and showered, and after a quick shower of my own, i joined them in the lobby for a cup of coffee with my book (i plowed through kristin hannah’s new novel, “the great alone” while in hudson—loved it!). we were booked for an 11am brunch in the tavern, and i went HAM on a grain bowl with farro, smoked sweet potato, green and tumeric.

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the other side of the lobby at rivertown – that stove!

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can you even handle this nook in the early morning light?

sunday afternoon

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fell in love with everything at this store (called MINNA)

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see what i mean?!

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this gray house! with a turquoise door!

though we had big plans of visiting a local distillery, we spent the afternoon leisurely strolling down warren street, oohing and ahhing at the antiques we couldn’t afford, and exclaiming “omg, look at this!” at the vintage clothes we could. i snagged an amazing green fur (i think it’s rabbit, eek, i am usually a faux fur gal) clutch from the 1960s for a mere $20!

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a v cool shop called mutiny

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hawkins new york – a design lovers dream (but pricey!)

around 2pm, we stopped for a late lunch at back bar, a malaysian restaurant and bar housed in an old gas station (our uber driver told us his dad owned the station back in the day!). back bar provided us with some of the best food we ate on the trip—spicy sesame cucumbers, incredible ramen, pork and shrimp dumplings seasoned to perfection…and the vibe of the space made me feel ten times cooler than i am.

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more cute houses as we strolled along our merry way

TGA_Warren Street at Sunsetbefore we knew it, the sun was setting, and we raced down to the bottom of warren street to catch the sunset over the water. this moment did not disappoint (see photographic evidence below), and only added to the sense of lightness i’d been feeling all day.

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looking back at warren street at sunset

sunday evening

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my seat mate at fish & game

sunday night we had a reservation at fish & game, a restaurant in town that had been highly recommended on allll the blogs and which was the recipient of a james beard award in 2016. the design of the space was to die for (rustic mountain lodge CHIC), all mood lighting and fireplaces and cushy seats. we didn’t love the food, sadly (more on that later), but the space itself is worth a visit (maybe just for a drink at the bar?).

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the moody entry of fish & game – doesn’t this wallpaper remind you of “the sinner”?!

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the cozy bar area at fish & game

we were back “home” early again, and asleep by 11:30—but not before doing another set of face masks, in which i looked like hannibal lector and my friends looked like cute face mask models. i crack up every time i see this image—WHO AM I?!

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me on left. legitimately terrifying. why can’t i open my eyes! why is it falling off?! i just can’t.

monday morning

knowing i’d likely be up early again on monday, i’d scouted two yoga studios in town. sure enough, i popped out of bed at 7:30, and convinced chloe to head to a 9:30 yoga class with me before our 11:30 brunch reservation (cristina had an early train, and krystie chose to sleep in and hang downstairs). i’m a newly converted yogi, and have mostly taken y7 classes in NYC (where sweat meets hip hop music in a dark room—it’s like yoga for the soulcycle crowd, aka me). hudson’s yoga scene is way more “traditional” yoga; we started the class by chanting om shantiiiii for a good five minutes.

i made it through that upfront section without laughing, and tried my best to just be in the moment whilst contorting my body into crazy positions i haven’t AT ALL mastered. the class was an hour and 15 minutes long, and i felt every minute of it. i missed the dark room at y7 and the music pumping—i guess i need more sensory distraction to get out of my own head?

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spotted on our walk to brunch

TGA_Little Brick Home Hudsonnevertheless, i left the class feeling long and limber, achy and awake, and was happy i’d gotten my ass out of bed to do something (also, it felt good to stretch after the previous day’s run). from there, chloe and i popped back into the hotel (they’d kindly given us extended checkout to shower post yoga), cleaned ourselves up and packed our bags, then met krystie in the lobby. we stashed our stuff once again, and set off for breakfast at home/made hudson (prob our worst meal of the trip, sadly, but SO CUTE INSIDE).

 

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the bar area at home/made hudson. our worst meal of the trip, but beautiful! 

monday afternoon

after breakfast, chloe headed to the train, and krystie and i walked the stretch of warren street once more, stopping for caffeine at moto before grabbing our bags at rivertown and heading back to the train.

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moto coffee – a motorcycle AND coffee shop in one! 

by 2:30, we were back on the amtrak, chugging along the hudson river, ice chunks and lighthouses flying by at warp speed. i was home in my apartment by 5:30, tired and with a big load of laundry to do, but feeling full and happy and ready to tackle the work week.

i said it above, but it bears repeating: there is magic in a weekend spent away from home. i always feel so much more grateful for my space when i leave it and return to it anew. i think people assume that you have to go REALLY FAR AWAY to get away, that travel means a plane ticket and an expensive hotel. a couple of years ago, i made a new year’s resolution (something i never do!) to travel more. i put no pressure on myself to make that travel “big” or “far” or “exciting” – i just wanted to see more than i’d seen. that has resulted in some truly incredible trips (like 2 weeks in greece two years ago, cartagena after that, mexico last february, and portugal this past september). but it’s also resulted in some wonderful weekends away: trips to maine to see friends and family. trips to SF and LA to see dear friends whenever i see a cheap ticket. trips to the jersey shore over the summer, or to vermont for new years, or home to see my parents whenever i need to GTFO of new york. trips like this one.

i’m writing this post on an airplane en route to fort lauderdale. my aunt and uncle live in boca, and my parents are down there for a couple of weeks. they invited me to come for the long weekend, and when i saw a cheap ticket, i said what the hell and booked it. in mid march, i’ll go home to massachusetts for “sugaring season” (maple syrup, for all my non-northeastern friends!). in early april, i’ll head to nashville to stay with a friend of mine from book club.

i tell you all this to remind you that travel does not have to be prohibitively expensive. got friends elsewhere? GO VISIT THEM! i guarantee they’d love to show you their home. see a cheap ticket? SNAG IT. you’ll figure out the rest as you go. want to get away from it all? hop on the commuter rail—new yorkers, you’d be amazed just how different it is at the end of the metro north line.

i believe, deeply, that travel (while an incredible luxury) enriches us all. it helps us see beyond our own circumstances. it washes us clean of the stresses of everyday life. it introduces us to new scents, new sights, new sounds and flavors. it pushes us out of our comfort zone, it challenges us to be independent and take risks. and perhaps best of all, it sinks deep into our souls, reminding us that we are living, breathing human beings enable to change how we feel from one day to the next.

if you have been waiting for a sign to take a trip somewhere, stop waiting. just go.

PS: i’ve got more coming from hudson. stay tuned for a writeup of where we ate, plus another one of where we shopped.

and if you made it this far, please drop me a line and let me know. i’d love to do more of this type of content, and would like to know if you’d love it too.

happy trails!