I have a question for you: how do you feel about changing your last name? For me, it’s always seemed like something I would do and I never thought much of it. My mom changed her name, my grandmothers too. In fact nearly every married woman I know has taken her husband’s name. However, changing my name at 29 years old, with an already-established adult identity, has been an odd experience.
At first, it was exciting. Then, reality started to set in. Legally, the name change process is very tedious. You have to go to the social security office, then the DMV. You have to update your passport, voter registration, and don’t forget your bank accounts. Your employers have to know so they can update your tax forms and payroll, oh and your insurance provider. And if you want, your social media accounts. It’s also odd that everyone at my new job only knows me by my married name.
For the blog, I’ve kept Zirkle. Legally, I made Zirkle my middle name, replacing Elizabeth. This officially makes me Rachel Zirkle Miller.
Before we got married, Taylor asked me if I even wanted to change my name. He also suggested that perhaps we could both change our names, hyphenating them or inventing a sort-of hybrid last name. I know a few couples who have done this and think it’s such a cool idea, but I wanted to keep things simple. Although, Ziller would have been a cool last name.
Now, I have officially been a Miller for one year and I really do like it. Taylor and I have created a little family and Miller is simply our family name. And I’m glad I kept Zirkle too as I feel much more attached to it than I ever did to Elizabeth. And I’ll always use it as my nom de plume. It’s who I am.
So what about you? How do you feel about changing your last name? Did you change your last name? Did you keep your last name? Or did you hyphenate or create a new last name?
Taylor and I did not want to spend a lot of money on our wedding so we set out to find creative ways to save money, most of which involved having our family and friends help us out. Our ceremony and reception (which I’ll be talking about next week) cost about $7,000.
My Dress and Accessories
Originally, I was going to have a very dear friend make my wedding dress for me. She took my measurements and I sent her a Pinterest board of ideas. I envisioned something silky, sleek, and simple. However, when we began looking into fabric costs and with her living about 2,000 miles away from me, it seemed like buying one might be the more budget-friendly option. My sister and friend accompanied me to BHLDN in the Upper East Side where I was assigned an attendant who guided me through the entire process. I told her my budget was $500 and she brought me about ten different dresses. I was surprised there were so many options. When I tried on the dress, I knew it was the one. It just sort of spoke to me. Cheesy? Yes. But hey, when you know, you know. I was very surprised because it looked nothing like the dress I originally imagined wearing. It cost $350.00 and was shipped in my size right to my apartment.
For my accessories, I wanted everything to be rose gold to match my engagement ring. I found everything at Macy’s: Badgley Mischka jeweled sash for $58.00, Givenchy rose gold earrings for $48.00, Blue by Betsey Johnson pointed rose gold flats on sale for $60.00.
My sister (and maid of honor) arranged the flowers. I wanted blush-colored roses, baby’s breath, and greenery. She was able to get everything from Whole Foods for $80.00 and made two boutonnieres and two bouquets. We used rose petals to decorate the gazebo floor. At the dinner, we repurposed the bouquets by putting them on the dining table.
I ordered all of my wedding stationary from VistaPrint: invites, wedding programs, dinner menus, and place cards and paid $200 for everything. They always have a new promotion going on, and I used a promo code to get nearly 50% off my order. The design I used was very simple and elegant and really set the tone.
Makeup & Hair
My best friend did my makeup, mainly using things I already owned. I bought a new foundation for $42.00 that I now use daily. My friend did a very natural look, which I absolutely loved.
I got an Uptini by DryBar that morning for $92.00. Hindsight 20/20, I would’ve taken a different route with my hairstyle. I was not super excited about how it turned out (I hated it) so my sister-in-law added some baby’s breath and softened the front.
I got ready at my old apartment. I moved there in 2014 with my younger sister and our best friend and it’s where I met my husband. It holds a lot of important memories so it was very special that I spent the morning there.
His Suit & Accessories
Taylor got his suit, tie, belt, shirt, and shoes from Macy’s. They also tailored it for him and everything cost about $300.
The Venue in Central Park
Cop Cot, among other beautiful locations in several New York City parks, can host some 50 people or more. It was a perfect fit for our 17 guests. All you need to do is apply for aNYC Park Permit and pay $25.00 to secure your spot (you read that right). Our permit allowed us to use the venue for an hour and a half. It was the perfect amount of time to set up, have the ceremony, and take family photos. What we liked about Cop Cot, other than how lovely it is, we didn’t have to pay any extra to rent chairs. The structure itself has built in benches which provided enough seating for everyone.
I was nervous that we would be rained out, but the weather couldn’t have been more perfect. By the time my father and I walked down the aisle, it was a cool 75 degrees and I could hear birds chirping happily in the trees.
We hired Nick Pauly to play violin. He was a friend of a friend and did a wonderful job. We gave him a list of our favorite songs and he played them as our family waited for the ceremony to begin. Then, I walked down the aisle to an old jazz tune by Johnny Hartman and John Coltrane called “Dedicated to You.” We paid him $300 and he was worth every penny.
My sister and Taylor’s sister both shared a reading. My sister read a poem she wrote and his sister read the old favorite Corinthians 13:4-8. Taylor and I read our own vows.
The Wedding Rings
We bought our rings (on sale!) at Macy’s. Mine is a simple rose gold band and Taylor’s is a tungsten ring in yellow gold. Together they cost $300.
Photography & Videography
My lifelong friend, Elaine, is a photojournalist and took all of our wedding photos. She captured everything from the rehearsal dinner to the wedding dinner. Early in the planning process, Elaine offered to photograph the affair for free as our wedding gift. I was honored and extremely grateful that she did. Our photos are absolutely priceless.
Our friends, Kate Ryan and Thomas Rowell, (a boyfriend/girlfriend team and owners of Tiny Rainbows) shot and edited our wedding video. I’m in love with it and I am not embarrassed to say that I watch it… a lot. (You can find the video at the bottom of this post.)
We’re in our second week of Wedding Month here at Lady Liberty and this week is a big one! Although Taylor and I had a very intimate wedding, we still wanted all the traditions of a wedding weekend: rehearsal dinner, ceremony, and reception. We even had a mini, two-night honeymoon at Hotel Indigo.
We held our rehearsal dinner at Ulivo in the Flatiron District. I am friends with the owner and we reserved the Chef’s Table that sits cozily nestled in the back of the restaurant. It’s a great space, where all nineteen of us could sit comfortably and quiet enough to hear one another.
On the night of our dinner, as I am hugging and greeting everyone, I begin to feel the onset of wedding jitters. Wow, I’m thinking, this is all happening. Just breathe. Then suddenly, a panic rushes over me: I left my honeymoon bag in the cab!
The plan was to pass my honeymoon bag off to my brother-in-law so he could drop it off at the hotel the next morning. Inside the bag were all my favorite dresses, a brand new set of satin pajamas, makeup, new shoes, and a wad of $200 in cash. Don’t ask me why I put $200 in cash in my honeymoon bag, I don’t know. It wasn’t one of my brighter moments.
As soon as I realized it was gone, I burst into tears and ran out front so no one could see that I was crying. I feared that this was an omen for the weekend and was only the first of many things to go wrong. Taylor quickly caught up to me on the sidewalk and wrapped his arms around me.
“$200! I just lost $200,” I told him, sobbing.
“Rachel,” he looked me right in the eyes, “Everything is going to be okay. I think all you need is right inside: our parents are here, our siblings, our closest friends.” He smiled.
Okay, damn. Did I pick a great guy or what?
My sister came outside to check on us and had already begun Operation: Find Bag. But the bag was long gone. I paid cash, didn’t get a receipt and didn’t pay attention to the cab number. So we all went back inside and I went to the bathroom to put a cold rag on my face. Once the redness went down, I came back out to join everyone.
The rest of the evening was absolutely wonderful. Everyone ordered fun cocktails and loved their meal. (I had an Aperol Spritz and the octopus!) Ulivo makes their pasta in-house and has the most delicious braised lentil sauce. You dip it in bread and oh man, I’m salivating just writing about it.
My best friend gave a speech followed by Taylor’s sister. They both had us laughing and crying. You could sense that everyone was excited and ready for the next day. The forecast called for beautiful weather and 0% precipitation.
Taylor and I kissed one last time as an engaged couple and said our goodbyes, eager for tomorrow.
In my humble opinion, the best movie quote of all time is from When Harry Met Sally. At the climax of the film, Harry (Billy Crystal) races to a New Year’s Eve party to find Sally (Meg Ryan) to finally profess his love to her. Out of breath and underdressed he exclaims, “When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”
When Taylor and I got engaged in July of 2017, we were really excited to get into wedding mode. We wanted to be married and start spending the rest of our lives together. Both of us envisioned a modest ceremony and reception here in New York. We imagined our entire families flying in, enjoying a long weekend in the city, and celebrating our nuptials with us at a lovely locale against a backdrop of the city where we fell in love. In our mind, it would be the most beautiful wedding in history; however, bringing it to life would be no easy feat.
We put together a guest list of about 150 people and began looking into venues and caterers. After a few preliminary searches, it became pretty clear that a big wedding in the city was more than simply over budget, it was double and triple what we wanted to spend. Then I stumbled upon an article from this little news site called CNN. You may have heard of them. They claimed that the average New York City wedding costs over $77,000. I was not surprised.
Needless to say, we decided to shift gears. Then, the perfect idea came to me: let’s have the wedding at my childhood church in Colorado. It would be a dream come true. We would have a free ceremony venue and we could have a reception on the lawn. We’d be in a beautiful mountain valley and everyone would get to see where I grew up. And the photos! They’d be breathtaking.
But just a few weeks into planning, we soon realized that we’d essentially be “building” a reception venue. We would have to rent a tent, tables, chairs, a dance floor, PA system, linens, flowers, decor, and industrial sized fans to keep us all cool as it would be mid-July. And that didn’t even include the catering! Yep, a wedding back home would be over budget as well. Not to mention, my hometown is a 4 hour drive from any affordable airport, so getting guests there was only going to add to the already-overwhelming stress.
So, we began to toy around with the idea of a small wedding. I thought City Hall would be fun and maybe we could have a nice dinner afterwards. I know a lot of friends who’ve done it this way and it’s been lovely. But we knew we wanted something just a bit more formal. Something that was simple and inexpensive, yet still very much a traditional wedding.
Then, after many discussions, debates, and drafting several pros and cons lists, we decided to have a small, intimate ceremony in New York City. We set a date for June 16th, 2018. Our immediate family would be present (19 people total) and then we would have celebratory parties after the fact in each of our hometowns. Once we finally settled on this plan, I felt at peace. Taylor and I are pretty low-key, and the decision to have an intimate ceremony felt very “us.”
I’ll be diving into all the little details next week, but for now, here is our “small wedding” pros and cons list. And I’ll add this if you’re currently wedding planning: just remember that it’s your day. Whatever you and your partner decide to do, will be beautiful, special, and unique because it is yours. Deciding to have a small wedding was the best decision for us and by far has been the best day of our lives to date.
Cons of a Small Wedding
We couldn’t invite everyone we wanted to. We really wanted everyone we love and cherish to be a part of our special day. Luckily, our families wanted to throw us parties to celebrate our marriage. We called it the “Wedding World Tour” and went to Dallas to celebrate with my extended family and Fort Lauderdale to celebrate with Taylor’s. We didn’t quite circumnavigate the globe, but you get it. Both parties were perfect. At each one, we played our five minute wedding video which gave a great representation of how the day felt and looked. Having parties also gave us great excuses to keep celebrating such a wonderful time in our lives.
Pros of a Small Wedding
Save on money. This was our first reason for having a small wedding, but it became so much more than that.
Less planning and stress. Okay, I did do a lot of planning for our small wedding… a lot. But it was far less than if we’d had a big wedding and I personally enjoyed our planning process.
More control. When we started planning our bigger wedding, we had to contact all sorts of people. A caterer, a florist, a baker, a DJ, a photographer, a videographer, a tailor, and a rental company, just to name a few. And where all these folks were super helpful and kind, we feared that we would lose control and sight of our dream. I know other people can manage that sort of thing just fine, but for us, it felt too intense and not worth it.
More intimate. I loved how intimate the day felt. Everyone at the wedding was involved in the rehearsal, ceremony, and reception in some way. It was a real team effort and felt so special. At our wedding dinner, everyone sat around one large table together as a family. I was able to connect and talk with everyone. We had time to enjoy our meal. Nothing felt rushed. We were able to soak everything in.
We are so thankful to our parents and siblings and friends. Our wedding was beautiful because everyone supported us and helped us see it through.
As part of Wedding Month here at Lady liberty, I thought I’d start with our proposal story…
From the moment we met, Taylor and I bonded over our love of New York City. Growing up, states away, we both had one common goal: to live in the big apple. And since we began dating in 2014, we often go exploring on what we call “New York days.” We try to make time for them every couple months and go see a new show, a new museum exhibit, or take a long walk through a part of town we’ve never been to before.
In July of 2017, two and a half years after our first date, we planned yet another “New York day.” We wanted to walk through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, see an exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum, and then go to a new restaurant in Park Slope. Months earlier, we had picked out an engagement ring together, so I knew a proposal was imminent. Was today the day!? The entire ride to Brooklyn, Taylor was as cool as a cucumber so the thought left me as quickly as it came.
Once at the gardens, we began to casually stroll from site to site, stopping to smell flowers and read placards. Then, we reached a fork in the road: shall we go to the Cherry Esplanade or the Japanese Garden? I began to walk towards the Japanese Garden when Taylor jerked me down the other path towards the Esplanade. Hmm…
The Cherry Esplanade is a large, gorgeous green field of two allées lined with aromatic Cherry Blossom trees. We began to walk down one path when Taylor noticed a tag hanging off a tree. The tag was a dedication as the tree had been planted in someone’s name. We noticed that each tree had one. At about the sixth tree, Taylor asked “What does that one say?” I walked up to it and read it aloud: “This is it.” Slightly confused, I turned around to find Taylor on one knee, a huge smile across his face. Oh, this is it!
From his pocket, he pulled out the ring box and a handwritten note. He began to read a speech but I was in such a haze of excitement, I could barely focus on what he was saying. As I came to, I heard him say, “And I love you… and your family.” He pointed to the other side of the field and I saw all of our siblings poking their heads from behind the trees. I promptly burst into tears.
Then, he popped the question! I excitedly said yes and everyone came running over to hug us.
Afterwards, we had a picnic in the park and then later went out for drinks at the Boat Basin Cafe. It is one of my favorite “New York days” to date, only to be topped by our wedding. More on that soon.
I once read a post on Joanna Goddard’s blog, Cup of Jo, about her husband, “I love [my husband], but I also just really, really like him.” Same, girl, same. I would’ve said yes no matter how he had asked me, but I’m really glad it all went down the way it did.
A few months after the proposal, we spent an afternoon under the Brooklyn Bridge to have our engagement photos taken.
Now, I’ll let the photos do the rest of the talking…
FaceTiming the parents
Picnic in the park!
At Boat Basin Cafe
The ring! rose gold band with a round cut diamond
A New York love story
Music has always been a huge part of Angela Miller’s life. Whether enjoying a Frank Sinatra tune with her grandmother or listening to entire musicals on family road trips, Angela always loved to sing along. Growing up, she took voice lessons, performed in school musicals, and was involved in Summer musical-writing programs. Then, in high school, Angela began to notice the immense, therapeutic effects of music. Whenever her grandmother heard a familiar song, she would light up. A wave of memories would crash over her, she would become invigorated, and stories of her younger days growing up in Queens, came pouring out.
In college, Angela continued to pursue music and studied for her Bachelor of Arts in Musical Theater at American University in DC. After graduation in 2012, she was cast in several DC productions and had a budding musical theater career. In 2015, to supplement her income, Angela began to work part-time at a nursing home and brought music and movement to the senior citizens. She played the ukulele and sang to them and they would often sing along. She noticed that they too would light up when they heard old, familiar tunes. Angela felt overwhelmingly fulfilled and loved the work she was doing. Her husband, Sam, noticed also. “You’re coming home at the end of the day, so excited to share all of these stories about the people you’re working with, and you seem so much more joyful than when you come home from rehearsal,” he told her. Angela agreed.
She decided to sideline her acting career to pursue a new path. She applied to Fordham University in 2016 and last year, she graduated with her Masters in Mental Health Counseling. I spoke with Angela about her life since moving to New York, her relationship to music now, and ways in which she continues to incorporate creativity and music into therapy.
What brought you to New York City?
Graduate school is my half of it. My husband is also an actor and he got signed with an agent and manager here. So it sort of all happened around the same time. If we had stayed in DC, I would’ve pursued acting a little longer but I knew I didn’t want to do it here. It’s too cutthroat and I wasn’t really interested in that if it was going to be that extreme. In DC, there was an element of fun that I was afraid wasn’t going to exist if I continued to do it in New York.
How did therapy go from an interest to your career?
I was realizing that to be a professional actor, there is this level of acceptance you have to have and that 75% of your job is being an unemployed actor. It’s not to say you’re not an actor, it’s just that 75% of the time you’re not being employed as one. So those realities were hitting me extra hard. I had no money and whatever audition I had, however scarce it was, felt like everything. I was really resenting the lack of control I was having over my career, and I was also observing how my part-time jobs were really fulfilling to me. When I was really feeling done with acting, really exciting things were happening for Sam and then that brought us here. And in grad school, I felt like my professors were open to letting me incorporate my creative past into my research and into my assignments. Grad school was exciting for that reason. Not only was I able to learn this very, very new thing but everyone was really encouraging me to bring theater and creativity into the room.
How did you incorporate creativity and arts into your graduate studies?
While I don’t want to be a creative arts therapist necessarily, I would like to be a therapist for creative minds. For myself, my partner, my family, and my friends, I noticed this really unique thing that creative artists have to deal with: lack of job security, financial concerns, and ultimately self-worth. Being an actor is a career where body image is of high importance and where someone else validates you. So, I wondered how can creative artists be more supported? And a lot of my projects were on that subject. I designed a curriculum for how to incorporate mental health counseling into college undergraduate programs for actors and I did some career counseling for actors. Also, my group therapy practices were creative based, whether it was through storytelling or improv.
Tell me about DestigNY…
Last May, I received my Masters Degree and it also happened to be Mental Health Awareness month. I wanted to celebrate by putting on a concert with my friends. The concert raised money for The Treatment Advocacy Center. They raise awareness for mentally ill people living in prison rather than being in treatment. So, I gathered my friends and asked them to sing or perform something that they felt told a story about their mental health journey. And that didn’t necessarily mean a sad song about sadness, it could just be an important song to them. In musical theater, we learned that song exists in plays because the scene has gotten to such an emotional height that words cannot do what music can. I felt like that was such a good thesis for the night of DestigNY. When words cannot convey how you’re feeling, can music? And it did. It was a lovely little night. We were at a the Chipped Cup in Hamilton Heights. It was very intimate, with about 25 people there. I was particularly moved with how vulnerable everybody was.
What did you perform at DestigNY?
I performed a song called “So Far Away” by Carole King. I sang it about being in a relationship with an actor and what it has been like to be apart due to the nature of his work. That song so simply captures long distance. And I also sang a song from Waitress called “A Soft Place to Land,” which i really took a liberty with as far as how it related to my life and my story, which was the purpose of the night. I sang it about how I feel like my parents have been a soft place for me to land throughout my life and they also helped destigmatize mental health for me at an early age. I recall the first time I had a panic attack as a young person and not really knowing what was going on and my mom naming it, saying “this is something that can happen when you’re really, really sad.” She really helped me understand what sadness and anxiety are. I feel privileged and lucky that I have parents that don’t shame mental health concerns or make you feel crazy for feeling inexplicably sad, but instead want to help you process it.
What are your goals as a new therapist?
The goal is to complete my clinical hours. At the moment, I am a mental health counselor working under a limited permit, which means that I provide therapy to people and am supervised regularly while I complete my 3,000 clinical hours towards licensure. Right now, I’m working with women who struggle with eating disorders. I work directly with patients, running groups and doing intake. The primary part of my job is to meet with people and help them determine which level of care would be best for them. I’ve taken a small case load which has allowed me to start doing couples therapy and family therapy, which I’ve really enjoyed. I’m grateful to feel very “in it” professionally and still feel like I’m learning a lot every day. Eventually, I would like to be in private practice and provide therapy for artists. And hopefully, in the next couple of years I can revisit that, but right now the goal is to get all of my hours. I feel very fulfilled and I love working individually with clients.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
We’ll probably still be in the city and if not New York, maybe Atlanta. If Sam wants to continue to be a performer, than I think that might be a good place to be.
What is your favorite neighborhood in New York City?
I really like Hamilton Heights. I love that I see the same people a lot on the street and in my building and everyone says hello to each other. There are great bars and coffee shops. I love the Chipped Cup and Hamilton’s Bakery. Also, I recently went to Park Slope and fell in love with it.
What is something that you’ve gotten to do that only living in New York City could offer?
Going to see any broadway show. Also, this might not only be New York, but being able to have my friends and family come over for dinner as often as they do. It’s easy, they can just hop on the train. There’s no drinking and driving. People can socialize but don’t have to worry about getting behind a wheel.
And also, people’s connections. Everyone knows someone who does something interesting. For example, last minute I got an email from a colleague saying that Pete Souza was having an opening at her dad’s gallery. There was gonna be wine and food and we’d be among the first to see his new book. And I thought “why not?” It was so cool to meet him and see his exhibit and talk with him very casually.
What advice would you give to someone who is moving to New York City for the first time?
Take the time to figure out what you need as far as your own self-care. I think for me, I realized that the cliche “self-care” things like watching TV, lounging or sleeping in were not really as effective for me in the way that they might be in other places. Here, I feel like I need to be productive and that feels really good. Things like cleaning my apartment, meal prep, grocery shopping or budgeting. There’s so much chaos in New York, that if you can take the time to organize your chaos in it, it really feels better.
When I was in the 4th grade, my homeroom teacher told my mother I had a serious problem with procrastination. In fact, she went so far as to claim I would always struggle with putting things off. “Once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.” Her words. However, I’m fairly certain, like most nine-year-olds, finishing math homework in a timely manner wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.
But instead of informing me of a habit that perhaps I needed to work on, this teacher placed a judgement on my identity. “Rachel, the procrastinator,” became the epithet that even twenty years later, still haunts me.
Recently, at my weekly therapy appointment, I spent the first half of my session bemoaning the fact that I never get anything done. I could’ve gotten more done last week if I hadn’t put so much off. But alas “I am just a procrastinator and it’s always been a problem for me.”
“What did you procrastinate on last week?” my therapist asks. I have my scrolling list ready to go: I wanted to go to the gym but didn’t; I brought my book with me everyday to read during my commute but never opened it; I had intended to reach out to one lady to set up an interview and never got around to it; oh and I wanted to begin doing meal prep (because I spend way too much money ordering delivery) but simply didn’t.
“Here’s another question: what did you do last week?” I searched my mind for an answer, trying to recall. Then the memories trickled in slowly: Well, it was the second week of my new job. I worked forty hours and then worked another nine hours bartending on Saturday. I prepped for my parents to come into town by making dinner reservations and cleaning my apartment. I surprised my husband on his birthday with a family dinner, which included coordinating schedules, ordering a specialty cake, and sorting details with the restaurant, all while keeping the surprise under wraps. Oh, and I wrote a new post.
“Sounds like a full week.”
Yeah… I suppose it was.
I had been viewing all the things I did get done as sorry excuses for the things I didn’t.
Then my week came into view more clearly. When I could’ve been reading my book, I was on the phone with the baker or the restaurant. When I was supposed to be meal-prepping, I was deep-cleaning my bathroom and kitchen. I didn’t go to the gym, but I worked a forty-hour work week and a bar shift until 3 AM, where I was on my feet the entire time. I had wanted to email some new interviewees, but I worked on a new post instead.
Maybe I hadn’t procrastinated, but simply prioritized. How revolutionary. I had been criticizing myself for the things I hadn’t crossed off my to-do list. And I had been viewing all the things I did get done as sorry excuses for the things I didn’t.
So after a lot of thought, I have decided to break up with being a “procrastinator.” I am not going to spill the news via text message, nor will there be any ghosting involved. It will be head-on, face-to-face “I don’t want to be with you anymore.”
And here’s the deal, I know I will put things off again. Heck, I even put off writing this post for a while. I know I’ll never be able to fully part ways with procrastination because the truth of the matter is, it will always be a part of my life. Everyone procrastinates from time to time. But instead of it being my permanent plus one, it will now be like an old ex with mutual friends: just someone I run into awkwardly every now and then.
So goodbye “procrastinator.” I’m done with your judgment and lack of confidence. I am officially ready to part ways so I can be free to meet someone new, like “go-getter” (he’s pretty cute). I’m ready to be with someone who appreciates what I do and gives me a break when I don’t. It’s time for me to walk boldly into the future, with my shoulders back, ready to get things done.
Oh, and in case you were wondering… it’s not me, it’s you.
I was twenty-two the first time I traveled outside of the United States. A friend of mine invited me to Italy so I decided to make a three week European adventure out of it. I first went to Paris, then Düsseldorf, then met my friend in Rome, and before flying back to New York, I stopped in Barcelona. In the months leading up to the trip, I had a countdown going on Facebook that I now find on my memory page from time to time: “152 more days…” “77 more days…”
The day of my flight, I arrived at JFK four hours early. I was terrified that I would miss my plane, but all that waiting got me thinking: “Am I ready for this?” “What am I doing?” “Why am I going by myself?” It was too late to turn back now but I boarded the plane completely overwhelmed.
I sat next to a businessman from Germany. He had been in New York for a conference and was rushing home early to be with his wife who was in labor with their first child. And I thought I was going to have a nervous flight. I think to take his mind off of everything, he began to ask me all about my plans. He suggested some places to check out in Paris and in Rome and told me “You’re going to have such a great time.” It was all I needed, a little pep talk from a friendly stranger. During the remaining seven hours of the flight, I became increasingly eager. I couldn’t wait for the plane to land so I could begin my adventure.
During my trip, I learned a lot about how to travel solo and have some tips for those of you looking to do the same. Here are my top 6…
1) Exchanging money before my trip was the way to go
I know people don’t really carry around much cash these days, but it’s always important to have some on hand. Especially if you’re going to a rural area that doesn’t have a lot of fancy technology. Whenever I travel overseas, I always go to my bank and exchange before my trip. It’s a pretty great exchange rate, that way you don’t have to do it at the airport when you arrive. Also, double check how much the fees will be to withdraw money from a foreign ATM. When I was in Peru in 2017, I was charged $5 every time I took out money! Also, let your bank know of your travel dates so they don’t lock your account.
2) A travel belt was a great purchase
They may seem so corny, but for me it was a game changer! I didn’t feel comfortable leaving my travel docs and passport in my hostel, even if they provided an in-room locker. I always like to carry them on my person in my travel belt. It’s great because it’s super lightweight and isn’t visible under your clothes. I got one very similar to this and it was great.
3) I’m glad I skipped hotels and AirBnBs to stay in a hostel
AirBnB is great if you’re traveling with others, or if you really value your alone time; however, hostels are great for making friends. People from all over the world pass through hostels. It’s a great way to connect with others and potentially meet people to explore with. I stayed in hostels my entire trip and it made a huge difference!
4) Travel books/blogs became my best friends
I bought a book called the “Walking Guide of Paris” and it made my trip 1000% better. I explored so many places I wouldn’t have ever known about or stumbled upon. If you don’t have a set itinerary and are looking for something spontaneous today, chances are there is a blog post suggesting the perfect thing! I’m a sucker for anything by Grace Atwood and her travel guides are top notch. Also, Emily Rose is great too if you’re traveling to South East Asia.
5) Keeping a diary was the best idea I’ve ever had
This is so important. I am so terrible about journaling my daily life; however, when I travel I make it a priority. It’s so fun to go back through my entries and be reminded of my trip. Hand writing in your diary is fun and is another way to slow down and really reminisce on the day. Also, if you want to start a travel blog (private or public) it’s a great way to keep your friends and family up to date on all that you’re doing. It’s easy to start a free blog on blogger.com or wordpress.com.
6) I enjoyed my social media break
These days we can connect to WiFi nearly anywhere. I suggest resisting the temptation and perhaps people watching instead. Or strike up a conversation with someone sitting next to you at the cafe. Or take a stroll. You never know what you might find or whom you may meet.
Have you done any solo travel? What are your tips?
Mother’s Day is around the corner, and nothing reminds me of my mom like making one of her recipes. Growing up, she had a rotating menu that consisted of spaghetti and meat sauce, chili, chicken and veggies, sausage and cabbage, meatloaf, smothered steak, and every now and then, she’d surprise us with homemade cheesecake for dessert. Here are some other recipes that remind us of our moms…
1) Asian Style Meatballs
My mom used to make these Asian-style meatballs. Whenever there was a party where she had to make an appetizer or we had to bring a dish somewhere, she would always make them. They were really good and I remember I just loved them and I would always get excited when she made them. And I haven’t made them before but now I really want to try. I should probably ask her for the proper recipe.
She would chop all the onions and spices and then she would have me mix it with the egg. I can still feel the cold, squishy meat between my fingers. When you’re a kid you love it cause it feels gross, like you’re playing in the mud. Then we’d roll them up and she would make sure they were all the exact same size. She’d then put them in a crock pot and the aroma as they were cooking was amazing and I can smell it even now. She would make this vinegar sauce with soy sauce and rice wine vinegar and then you’d dip them in that. I think she actually cooked the meatballs in this sauce. She is really experimental and likes to make all kinds of different cuisines, but this was the one dish she made consistently. Love you, Mom!
My mom made this all of the time growing up. It was one of those dishes where she would make extra on purpose, because she knew we’d be going back for third and fourth helpings. I often would help her prepare it, by standing over a simmering, aromatic pan of browning ground beef. Once the beef was cooked, she would stir in her secret ingredient (taco seasoning) and then add kidney beans, black beans, tomato paste, and tomato sauce. It is a simple recipe without any onions, chopped tomato, or peppers. It’s simply beef and beans and it doesn’t need anything else! As an adult, I make this dish religiously during the winter months. My friends have grown to love it and always go back for more. It’s a dish that warms the heart and the soul and will always remind me of home. Hi Mom! Love you!
When I first moved to New York City, I would go to the grocery store, buy a box of pasta and a can of tuna. It became such a prized ritual for me that most of my friends, and even those who vaguely knew me, knew I loved tuna and noodle. I didn’t realize it until years later that tuna & noodle had been my comfort food. And trust me, I needed a lot of comforting that first, challenging year in New York City—still do. But it was my mother who perfected the recipe. I’ve never made it for myself and had it taste anywhere near as delicious as her’s always tastes. And while it became my comfort food as an adult because it reminded me of home, of mom, and her unconditional love, as a child my mom (a very smart woman) would use tuna and noodle to outwit me!
One particular time, when I was in the first grade, I told my mom I had a tummy ache and therefore would need to skip school. I reassured her, however, that I wished I could attend school. More than anything, I wanted to be there, sitting in a hard chair, staring at a clock I couldn’t read. I did not at all want to stay at home and watch a very, very, very unattractive Zack Morris freeze framing his stunning—er—terrible smile! At first, I thought she had bought my sickly tale.
Then, I heard her pull out the large stock pot she would often cook pasta in and say, “we’re going to have tuna and noodle for dinner tonight.” I burst out of my bedroom, leaving a trail of Barbie parts in my wake, “Really?!” I tried to sound cool. “Really.” she replied as I wheeled around her excitedly, “but, unfortunately, you’ll have to eat something different since you’re sick… Oh well.” She sighed and then watched me from the corner of her eye. I hung my head in defeat. If I wanted tuna and noodle I would HAVE to go to school. I went back to my room and tried to ignore the delicious smells wafting from the kitchen. I would be strong for Zack!
“Laura,” my mom called me to the kitchen, “would you like to stir the tuna into the noodles?” Times were simple then, so at that age I honestly loved nothing more than to stir tuna into noodles. The gooey sound of goodness. I was salivating as I looked down at the glistening, spiraling noodles. My mom leaned over and smiled. “Up to you,” she said handing me the large wooden spoon. I grabbed the spoon and started to stir. “Feeling better?” she asked. I feigned a quick cough. “Yes, I am feeling a lot better.” Cured! By the power of tuna and noodle and a wise, loving woman who knew how to read the room and communicate with her kids without saying anything at all. Love you, Mom!
Nothing similar exists on the internet because this dish is so unique. (It’s also just macaroni, canned tuna, and grated cheddar cheese).
– Laura, 28
What recipe reminds you of your mom? Share yours in the comments!
Okay everyone. I’m back… or at least I hope I am. I haven’t had time to post lately because life has been so crazy/hectic! Since January, I have been on the job hunt. I’ve applied, interviewed, rejected offers (okay, just one), waited for offers that never came, and gone back to the drawing board, over and over and over. But alas, as luck would have it (and a little persistence) I landed one, and I start Monday. I have learned (and continue to learn) a thing or two about how to look for a job. I’ll be talking more about that in Friday’s post. For now, I just wanted to share 6 things I’ve been enjoying lately. I think we can all agree, that it’s the little things that make us smile, appreciate life, and keep us going. What are yours right now?
My beloved neckerchiefs! Where have these been all my life?? A male co-worker of mine wears a neckerchief every. Single. Day. It’s such a distinguished look and I love the way it vamps up his ensemble. I’m not a fashion expert, I just like the way it looks. Last month, I purchased two and try to find a way to work one into every outfit. I love my little neckerchiefs and feel so chic when I wear them. I found this one at Urban Outfitters and this one on Amazon.
2) This Delicious Recipe
A couple of weeks ago, I decided I was going to make orecchiette pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage. It’s a dish I learned about while working at an Italian joint in Hell’s Kitchen. I decided to test my memory and not look at a recipe (as I like to do), and it came out really well! I’ll be sharing my recipe soon, but for now, here is Ina Garten’s take on this dish.
3) Watering my Plants
Nothing gives me more joy than nourishing my little plant babies. I have killed a lot of plants over the years and I try to be so careful and caring. Taking a moment to water my plants, also gives me a second to slow down, take a breath and be in the moment.
4) Waiting for a Package to Arrive
Who doesn’t love ordering things online? Whether I’m ordering a set of sheets or a summer dress, each package arrival feels like freaking Christmas! This week I’m waiting on an order from Megababe. I ordered their aluminum-free deodorant and I cannot wait for it to get here. I learned all about this brand thanks to my fave IG comedian Heather McMahan. She’s so funny. Go follow her.
5) Jury Duty
Okay, yeah, we all know jury duty is a real pain in the neck when you’ve got things to do and people to see. However, I think we can all agree on its importance for our justice system and what an honor it is to be involved. I attended jury duty on Tuesday, and while I was not selected (and admittedly relieved) I felt very proud to be a part of the process.
6) This Dress from Lulus
So, this dress is not *technically* available right now, BUT Lulus is collecting emails on a waitlist. When it becomes available, you’ll be notified right away. I wore this dress to my SIL’s rehearsal dinner two weeks ago and received a lot of compliments. It was super comfortable and I cannot wait to find a reason to wear it again. Also, be sure to check out Lulus in general, they have the best dresses.