Book Review: The Great Alone

Hi all-

On a recent trip to Mexico (blog post coming soon!) I was able to get in some serious reading – 3 books in a week 😊. One of the books I read was called “The Great Alone,” by Kristin Hannah. Hannah wrote another book I really enjoyed called “The Nightingale,” so I figured I would give this a read!

Here is my candid review: I loved this book for an exhilarating, fast paced read. It was such a page turner I could barely put it down and I think I finished it within one full day. That said, this book is not necessarily a philosophical study of morality but instead a dramatic page turner.

“The Great Alone,” is largely set in rural Alaska over the span of several decades and focuses on a young woman, Leonora, and her relationships with her mother and father. Her father is a Vietnam vet and the family struggles to put down roots anywhere until they land in a town of approximately thirty full time residents closer to the North Pole than anywhere else. Life is tough in Alaska, there is no running water or electricity, and the looming threat of the impending winter season is constantly present throughout the book.

The book also focuses on the relationship Leonora (Leni) has with herself. I thought that this was perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Leni constantly struggles internally with the battle between her head and heart, and I think this struggle is something most people can resonate with. She also struggles with feeling like an outsider, or an imposter for most of her life. The exploration of these feelings is sad, beautiful and familiar.

Without giving too much a way, I highly recommend this book. Hannah weaves a network of relationships and characters in such a beautiful and realistic way you can almost picture each person as your flip through the pages. At times it is difficult to read, but it is beautifully written and thought provoking. It made me take an introspective look at my own life and surroundings. It created such a vivid depiction of Alaska, I felt as though I could look out my window and see the glacially carved mountain peaks, hear the bays of the seals in the harbor and feel the snow falling softly around me. This book made me want to visit Alaska immediately (even though I’d only ever be a tourist.)

My only criticism (which is maybe a common theme for me!) is I felt the latter quarter of the book was somewhat rushed and less relatable/ almost clichéd. This book developed amazing characters and I think that could have been extended in the second half, especially in the last few chapters. It shifted quickly and to me the writing felt more rushed towards the end.

That said, I think I liked this just as much as the “The Nightingale,” and I definitely recommend it for a quick, exhilarating read. I would give it 3.5/4 out 5 stars ⭐️ ⭐️⭐️⭐️. Have you read this book? What are your thoughts?

It must be beautiful this time of year…

Hi all! Just popping on to share some pics of our home all dressed up for Christmas. We just put our decorations up and are getting in the holiday spirit. These first few photos are actually from last year, but the scene is virtually unchanged this year!

Here are some pics from Public Square in downtown Cleveland. I took these walking home from work the other day. The decorations are truly beautiful and make the sun setting at 4:30 slightly more bearable 😊.

Finally, Maggie is also ready for the colder months:

Don’t worry, she shook off these antlers approximately 2 seconds after this photo was snapped.

I hope everyone is enjoying these last few weeks of 2019. Soon it will be a new year, and a new decade at that! Enjoy the season everyone!

Fall Things

Hi everyone! It’s been a while since I posted. Fall is upon us, and I wanted to post a few pics from our walk with Maggie today. I’ve probably taken 250+ pics of the foliage over the past few weeks and today was a typical fall day in Northeast Ohio- blustery, overcast, and beautiful foliage around every turn! So I finally grabbed my camera for the first time in a few weeks and Ryan and I walked around the Shaker Lakes area.

I love this kind of weather and fall in general- it’s easily my favorite season.

Maggie ❤️

Ryan and Maggie patiently waiting.

I love this part of the path- lined with old oaks on either side.

This scene was so beautiful, it’s hard to capture in a picture. It was very bright (although overcast) for a lot of the walk, but the colors really popped along this bend in the road. I’m glad I turned around to look behind me!

Hope everyone is doing great and enjoying all the seasonal things!

PS I am hoping to do an Italy post soon. Ryan and I got back from an incredible trip and I have so many photos to share!

Exploring the Van Aken District

Hi guys!

Today I want to chat about a little area that has been majorly revamped over the last couple of years: the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, OH.

Van Aken is the name of the street that ends at the intersection of Warrensville and Chagrin Boulevard (about 4 minutes from our house conveniently!) and has experienced a complete renaissance as of late!

A few years ago, it was a mess of an intersection (literally, it had 6 stoplights) and a collection of aging strip malls. Today, it has been reimagined and redesigned with amazing local shops and restaurants. It has quickly become one of our favorite places to visit and discover. It definitely reminds me of downtown Cleveland, or an area you might see in a more urban setting vs ~the ‘burbs.~

Let’s start with the #eeeeeats. This place has so many good options (mainly casual but a few sit down restaurants), your only problem will be choosing where you want to dine!

To name a few:

  • Brassica– casual Lebanese restaurant. Think Chipotle but with roasted veggies, falafel and tahini instead of fajitas, steak and salsa. So delicious!
  • Restore– juice bar/ all around healthy options (smoothies, bowls, avocado toast, and of course fresh pressed juice). I have been getting smoothies here after my spinning classes and they are fantastic. Highly recommend Smoothie #1- Bluebs, Almond Butter, coconut oil, flaxseed, banana and almond milk.
  • Mitchell’s Ice Cream – no description necessary. My ultimate indulgence/forever craving.
  • Rising Star Coffee– my favorite coffee in Cleveland. Amazing lattes, mochas, espresso drinks, delicious vegan pastries.
  • On the Rise Bakery– the original location is just a mile or two away on Fairmount Boulevard. Amazing bread, pastries, and sandwiches. Their croissants and tarts are heavenly. Good iced coffee to boot!
  • Nature’s Oasis– a small organic grocery store with a full service cafe inside. They make fantastic waffles, and a smorgasbord of other options as well. Their other location is in Lakewood, OH and was one of my favorites!

There’s a bunch we haven’t tried too, and I can’t wait to check them out this summer:

  • Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink (have heard good things)
  • ChutneyB (casual Indian joint from Doug Katz)
  • A new TBD Jonathan Sawyer restaurant with a rooftop wine bar!
  • Banter (poutine… drool) – the other location is in Gordon Square on near west side
  • Scorpacciata (fresh handmade pasta, double drool)

A lot of these places are housed in “Market Hall,” sort of like a giant cafeteria. They offer beer and drinks too. There is communal seating inside and outdoor seating available as well, which is perfect for the summer weather we’ve finally been having!!

There are also a ton of shops in the area. Most are local, and all are fun to stop into!

Personally I am more into eating than shopping, but why not support a few local businesses while you’re grabbing a meal!

  • Cleveland Clothing Co– all things Cleveland + clothing. I love their t-shirts!
  • Room Service– mix of trendy clothing and home goods
  • Shinola – a fancy boutique featuring American made leather goods and watches (started in Detroit)
  • Stem (handmade and yummy smelling soaps)
  • Luster– cute boutique with home goods and fun knick-knacks
  • Bonobos– fun menswear with a flair for patterns and prints (and fitting well)

As I referenced earlier, there is also a spinning studio here. I took my first class a few weeks ago and I have to say, I can see what the hype is all about! The studio is called GrooveRyde and so far each class and instructor has been amazing! It is such a challenging workout, but actually fun at the same time (sounds cheesy buttt its actually true). The studio staff are extremely welcoming and helpful, especially to a nervous newbie like me 😁.

Outdoor seating for Market Hall:

^Nature’s Oasis, one of many casual (and wonderful) dining options.

Love this mural in the little square area.

I am so happy to see this whole space focused on local shops, stores and restaurants doing so well.

The area also hosts pop up shops with other local shops, the North Union Farmers market every week, and has happy hours every Friday as well!

It’s easily accessible via the RTA for Clevelanders who live in other areas. Have you been to the new Van Aken District? It’s definitely worth checking out!

In the summertime…

Just sharing some pics from a nice weekend. We spent time with my mom (birthday celebrations) and her sister (my Aunt Jeannie) who was visiting.

I also grabbed some flowers at Trader Joe’s:

And picked some from our yard ☺️

My mom + Maggie = 🥰🥰🥰

Mini photo shoot by Ryan 😄

We also visited the cultural gardens (sneak peak below) which I blogged about here.

^ Maggie chewing eating a stick per usual.

Her gnashing little teeth 🦷🤣.

Enjoying a Lake Erie sunset 🌅.

Dinner and delicious drinks at the Fairmount!

Such a fun weekend! Thanks to Ryan for capturing some great pics of the three of us and Happy Birthday to my wonderful Mom! It’s been a great summer so far.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens

Today, my mom, aunt (who is visiting from Louisiana) and I went on a guided tour of the Cleveland Cultural Gardens. Ryan and I had some of our engagement photos taken here, and I’ve visited several times throughout the years but never really knew much about the history.

The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are located in East Cleveland and stretch along a picturesque few miles of MLK and East Boulevard. There are currently about 35 gardens and more in the process of being build.

Today we saw the Italian, Hungarian, Hebrew, Syrian, Croatian, German, and Irish cultural gardens. The weather was absolutely gorgeous and we learned so much.

The land on which the gardens sit was dedicated to the City of Cleveland by John D. Rockefeller back in 1896, and the first garden, the Shakespeare Garden, was dedicated in 1916. Ten years later, the Hebrew Garden was dedicated and the city began to set aside other plots of land for other cultural groups.

From the Cultural Gardens Website: “In the 1930s and 1940s, the federal Works Progress Administration – Franklin D. Roosevelt’s jobs and infrastructure program – helped the city build the bridges and stonework that to this day beautify Rockefeller Park. Many of the early gardens representing European immigrants were helped along by the WPA and were an early testament to  multiculturalism in Cleveland and the country.

“The Cultural Gardens are unique to the world. They represent the diversity and multiculturalism that is Cleveland, and bring life to the Gardens’ mission of “peace through mutual understanding.”

I love that dozens of different cultures work together through gardens to create such a beautiful and harmonious environment.

Our tour guide mentioned that oftentimes the most marginalized immigrant groups found peace and understanding through community and the building of these gardens. They are truly a reflection of Cleveland’s immigrant history, past and present.

While we were visiting the Hungarian garden, we met a volunteer named Ernie. He had been at the dedication of the garden back in the 1930’s as a child and still comes to help today (he is 93 years old!).

If you have a chance, I would definitely recommend doing a guided tour of the gardens. We learned so much and all of the different gardens were stunning. As I look through my pictures it’s hard to believe that such a place exists so close to us!

Now for some of my favorite photos:

Italian gardens:

Syrian and Croatian gardens:

^this arch is meant to mimic a structure in Palmyra, Syria which has been largely destroyed in recent years.

^ This is one of my favorite pictures. Walking in between gardens, and looking through the beautiful foliage, it would be impossible to know you were in right in the middle of Cleveland.

Greek Garden:

Hebrew, Hungarian, German, Croatian, Irish, misc:

Weekend Guide to Charleston

Hey y’all and Happy Friday! (I can say y’all since we’re talking about Charleston right?)

Today I’m sharing some amazing places to visit and fun things to do in the beautiful Holy City, in the format of a weekend guide! This guide assumes you have 36 hours, but there’s plenty to do if you have more time 😀.

Day One:

Start your trip off right with brunch at Husk. Ryan and I have gone here multiple times and it is quite simply fantastic cooking. The dishes are unmistakably “southern,” but with a fresh and modern take. We loved the shrimp and grits, fried chicken, cornbread, and pimento cheese starters. The (mayo-free) potato salad is different and to-die-for. Order a delicious drink from their cocktail list to get your weekend off to a kickin’ start! Make sure to book a reservation a couple weeks out.

After you are thoroughly stuffed with some low country cookin’, take a leisurely stroll around historic Charleston. The preservation of architecture and buildings is unparalleled. Check out my previous post here which is totally dedicated to the beauty and architecture of Charleston for some inspiration.

If you want to learn some history along the way, try joining a walking tour! We used this tour group and loved it. Our tour guide went through the entire history of Charleston (well, abbreviated history, we only had 2 hours) pointing out meaningful sites and details we would have never noticed along the way. If you’d rather sit back and relax while learning about Charleston, a carriage tour is for you! Both are wonderful options.

Details from a building on Meeting Street^.

After you’ve strolled down King and Queen Street, relax with a cocktail at the The Vendue. They have a large and spacious rooftop bar with gorgeous views of the city and harbor! Make sure to stroll through the Charleston City Market afterwards. It’s an old market where you can buy anything from sweet grass baskets to local grits/ hand-mixed spice blends, etc.

Dinner time! There are too many good options to name, but I’ll try my best! Try Magnolias or High Cotton for a classy meal with impeccable service (hey you’re on vacation, right?). If you’re looking for seafood, check out 167 Raw. But ~diner~ beware, the wait times at 167 Raw can be very long as they do not take reservations and only have five small tables.

(Ryan and I at Magnolia’s in 2016)

After dinner, it’s time to hit the hay and gear up for another great day!

Day 2:

Venture a little bit outside the city limits to Mount Pleasant and Shem Creek. Mount Pleasant is the neighborhood bordering Charleston and is such an adorable little community.

Grab a bite to eat and an iced latte at Vintage Coffee Café. The avocado toast and egg sandwiches are not to be missed. Then head over to Nature’s Adventures on Shem Creek for a wonderful kayaking tour!

This was one of our favorite things that we did, and again, so educational. Our guide, Matt, knew anything and everything about the wildlife in the surrounding areas. He pointed out blue crabs, oysters, horseshoe crabs, dolphins, different species of plants, and even explained the difference between a swamp and a marsh. (Swamps have trees, and marshes don’t. Who knew!?) We kayaked peacefully through the saltwater marshes that surround Charleston, and then out into the harbor for a fabulous waterfront view of the city. If you love being outside or kayaking, don’t miss this!

Head back to Charleston for some relaxation or shopping before dinner. King Street has all the big box stores, but also amazing local boutiques and wonderful antique stores as well. I mainly window shopped but it was such a fun experience.

It’s suppah time! Head to Home Team BBQ for a meal that does not disappoint.

(C/o Home Team BBQ, my picture inevitably did NOT turn out like this 🤣)

Once you’ve enjoyed all the brisket, why not wash it down with a cocktail at Proof. We happened upon this little bar and I loved the vibe. Ryan loved the Pappy Van Winkle 🤣 so we were both happy.

It’s late and time to head to bed. Unless you’re still up for more fun! Check out a Charleston ghost tour or just walk along the cobblestone streets and take in the smell of fresh magnolia blooms under the soft light of the gas lamps that line the city.

Day 3

Grab a quick bite to eat at Callie’s Hot Little Biscuits. These delectable biscuits will start your day off right. All of the flavors are delicious but I loved the cinnamon, blueberry jam, and bacon cheddar.

Next, head to Charleston waterfront park to check out the pineapple fountain and gorgeous harbor views. If you haven’t walked along East Bay Street, now is the perfect time to do so. East Bay Street is right along the harbor, eventually turning into the Battery. Some of Charleston’s oldest and most beautiful homes line this promenade.

Time to get out of the city again! Head to Magnolia Plantation for stunning gardens and scenery. The grounds are breathtaking and you could easily spend a whole day here. We saw so many gorgeous gardens and beautiful wildlife when we visited. The plantation is a bird sanctuary and very peaceful.

You could also visit Boone Hall plantation to see a more traditional looking house. This plantation was the setting for Allie’s summer home in “The Notebook.”

For your final night in Charleston, dine in one of the city’s most renowned restaurants, the Peninsula Grill. The coconut cake is 15 layers deep and worth every penny.

Looking for something more casual? If you’re up for an adventure, bop over to Folly Beach and grab a table at Chico Feo, a laid back taco joint with live jam sessions and amazing food. This was a random stop for us and ended up being one of our favorite meals our whole trip.

That wraps up 36 hours in Charleston! I’m no expert having only been a handful of times, and there is so much more to explore and see!

Some other options are below:

  • Charleston harbor sunset sail
  • Anyone of the various museums
  • Fort Sumpter and Fort Moultrie
  • Drayton Hall
  • Old Exchange Building
  • Pitt Street Bridge (great for catching a sunset or sunrise)
  • Walk or run the Arthur Ravenel Bridge
  • Free tour of the Unitarian Church
  • Visit Angel Oak tree
  • Stop by the Preservation Society of Charleston
  • Rent bikes and ride to the Morris Island Lighthouse
  • Historic homes guided tour
  • Try SUP (stand up paddle boarding) in the Charleston Harbor
  • Visit Sullivan’s Island Beach or Folly Island for a beach day

Some more pics from our trip:

Sullivan’s Island:

Pitt Street Bridge:

Shem Creek:

Morris Island Lighthouse:

Unitarian Church:

Hope this guide was helpful and enjoyable! Have a great weekend everyone 😄.