Authenticity vs. The Perfect Feed

Here is the post where I admit that I feel like I am failing most of the time when it comes to blogging.

I don’t often sit on Instagram and wish I had someone else’s life. I really do love my life. I like the people in my life. I love my family. But, I often lust over people’s work ethic. Their determination to stay out and get the right shot. To hire a photographer. To think about the lines of a photo before they take it. To set up an area of their house/apartment that houses all their blogger to-dos. To set up a posting calendar. Downloading apps to make it just that more perfect. Having a REAL camera. Having a real camera with all the doo-dads to make it all work together in perfect harmony.

I envy that A LOT.

See, I can give you about 900 excuses as to why I can’t execute all of the above. I have a full-time job. I have a healthy social life. I travel a lot for work. I am on the board of a charity for brain research. I keep busy y’all.

And right now my latest excuse is that my boyfriend asked me to go see the final Avengers movie with him next week and I have to catch up on like 10 years of Marvel movies in two weeks. I mean, priorities people.

Plus I have this little side business aka Instagram/blogging.

But the real reason I don’t put in a ton of effort with my blog a lot of the time is that I just don’t know if I want to. WHOA. I said it. Let’s clarify this a little. I have a blog because I feel like I have things to say. I just want them to be significant things.

When I decide I want to write something it’s usually introspective. Writing this post, for instance, is SO much easier than me putting together a fashion post and finding look-alike outfits for you to purchase. But sometimes the things I want to write about don’t really vibe with my Instagram presence – light, fun, airy! Marrying up the two is hard for me. So many people have told me to find a niche. “You’re too many things! Food? Fashion? Pick one!”.

I’ve had many ideas of what this blog could be. Is it a travel blog? Is it a Chicago blog where I tell you about fun things to do? Is it a fashion blog? Do I share cocktail recipes?

My answer every time I come back to decide if I want a niche is no…no, I don’t. Because this Instagram and subsequent blog became what it is because I just share about my life. My niche is me. I’m the only one who has my opinions, my thoughts, my body. I want to share the things I like, the things I think, the things I wear.

Seems simple enough.

But then it comes back to the content. I need more of it. And better content.

I have an internal debate with myself about once a month. Do I hire a photographer and start doing more planned photo shoots or do I keep coercing friends, family, and my boyfriend to grab shots of me whenever we have a free minute like I do now?

The conundrum for me is the issue of planned photoshoots not feeling authentic to me or my brand. Trust me, I love the art that comes out of a session like that. I have lots of friends who work really hard with their photographers to plan the most amazing looks and locations and shots. And when I hear them plotting their next shoot or what shot will look good with what wall, I get envious.

I’ve done the photographer/photoshoot thing before. I’ve paid money for photographers to take shots of me and I rarely walk away with what I want. Because guess what? I’m not a model. I don’t look cute when I stare off into space with a Tyra Banks smize. And as much as I want professional photos, I also don’t want to spend half of my Saturday out there taking photos. It just doesn’t seem like the best use of my time. I feel like a better use of my time is being introspective and writing posts that make me feel something and, in turn, make you feel something.

I follow this blogger in Nashville and she recently put up a story on Instagram that basically said she’s pulled back from doing big shoots since time and money weren’t really allowing it right now. Not only that she was getting the photos back and feeling worse about herself so she started snapping more photos on her iPhone and got back to living her life. And she LOST followers.

My friends and I have that have under 10K followers on the gram talk about this a lot. To get to the next step we seemingly need to start to be more polished, more professional. But part of me doesn’t want to, because for me this blog and my Instagram are just me. The niche I’m trying to carve is ME. And I don’t do high fashion. I just like color and sharing what I do and what I eat and where I travel and sometimes I talk about grieving and sometimes I talk about how you guys think I’m a hypocrite (see my two Trump posts).

I don’t have the answer obviously, but for right now I just plan to keep sharing ME…in all my iPhone shot photos with my everyday fashion outfits and talking about my work trips.

Because that’s my niche.

What I Learned from Spending St. Patrick’s Day 2019 at Trump Tower

This past weekend was St. Patrick’s Day and if you follow me on my stories on Instagram you know that I spent my Saturday morning at a St. Patrick’s Day party at Trump Tower here in Chicago. River dyeing parties on St. Patrick’s Day are events that a lot of hotels with ballrooms or rooftops that look out of over the river have to generate revenue. Usually, they sell tickets and you have access to an open bar and buffet and views of the river being dyed green and this one also had Irish step dancers and bagpipers attending.

I had never been to one before. In fact, I had never seen the river dyed green (I’ve seen it literally the color green, but never seen the boats dye it green!). I was so excited at the invite, and the opportunity, to hang out with some of my blogger friends I hadn’t seen in a while and I accepted the invitation to attend the Trump Tower river dyeing party.

I put up my stories. Tagged Trump Tower. And immediately got a lot of responses. Some were very negative, some were disappointed, some were confused, some were ashamed of me.

As soon as I started getting the very negative responses, I got defensive of myself.

“It’s just a location. That doesn’t mean I believe in his policies.”

“He doesn’t even own it anymore, does he?”

“Well, I know myself and I know what I believe in so who cares what other people think.”

In reality, I didn’t even think about the fact that people would think I was a hypocrite because I identify as a Democrat. All I was thinking was the river is being dyed green and I want to go see it. My mind was hyper-focused on the experience and just having a good time. A few days earlier my plans had just been to go to some bars near my house and now I got to have this fun experience for free – how fun! That was what I was truly thinking. The fact that it was associated with President Trump didn’t even cross my mind.

As I was getting defensive and annoyed that anyone could take my actions as anything other than wanting to enjoy a festive day, my friend Mindy reached out via DM and simply asked me why I went. Her non-threatening way of asking me my intentions led to a really nice open dialogue that helped let down my defenses and realize why people would be upset to see that I had set foot in Trump Tower.

For one, he still makes money off of Trump Tower Chicago so spending money to attend that event does, in fact, put money in his pocket. Second, having young, pretty bloggers/grammers go to his event and talk about his brand and name in a positive light only helps him and makes him look good, which obviously was not my intention but I know that’s what it looked like from the outside by my attending the event.

If you follow Mindy on Instagram, you know she is someone who thinks about social injustice frequently. She always has the ability to see the perspective that others might not be able to and that’s why I love being her friend and I’m glad she has the patience to talk through things with me instead of judge immediately. What I learned from yesterday and attending this event was that we need to be more like her. Instead of seeing things you don’t approve of and immediately throwing jabs and insults and anger at the problem, think of a way you can have a conversation about it instead. When people were hurling insults, it just made my defenses go up. When I was allowed to explain my side, I opened up and I was able to discuss it openly. I learned from their side or perspective instead of curling up into a ball and not taking anything away from the day other than hurt feelings.

I wrote a post once about how my Dad supports Donald Trump and voted for him the last election which you can read here. In it, I talk about having soft conversations so people can hear your side of the argument. Sure, in theory, that’s great, right? But had I really practiced what I preached? Had I really learned from all those screaming matches with my father? No, not really. Sure, we’d had some good conversations but did I really get how he has felt through this political turmoil? Did I walk in his shoes?

I think having this experience let me understand how he, or any of my Republican friends, feel a lot of the time when dealing with anything related to politics – attacked. Instead of being able to have a dialogue with him, I hurl insults. His defenses go up. Mine go up. And we get nowhere fast. Being on the receiving end of the insults made me feel differently about how I will go about talking to these topics in the future. If nothing else, I think that’s a pretty lucky lesson to have learned on St. Patrick’s Day.

Other things I’ve learned: I’m human. I’m not perfect. Sometimes I’m going to react and not think before I do something. I’m going to go to places without thinking about the repercussions. I’m going to do things people don’t like and support brands people aren’t a fan of. Even posting about this is going to probably ruffle feathers. But the important thing is to learn from that decision and the repercussions and I walked away with a lot of lessons and I can live with that.

 

*I did not get paid by Trump Tower to attend the event but I did receive my ticket for free.

A Sassy Cabo Guide

A Sassy Cabo Guide

At the end of January, my girlfriends and I went to Cabo San Lucas for a little girls trip. The goal was to drink all the tequila, sit by a gorgeous pool, and just relax. We were only there for 4 days and we really spent a lot of time at our hotel, but below are some of my recommendations. I 1000% want to go back soon because I really loved it there. It has a really unique topography that almost reminded me of Ibiza. It has fun nightlife. It has gorgeous resorts. It’s not far from Chicago. I totally get the hype around Cabo now. So below are the places I recommend that we went to.

Hotel

 

We stayed at The Montage Los Cabos and it was probably the nicest hotel I have ever experienced. First off, the location is just perfect. It’s not in downtown Cabo, but not far enough that you can’t take a cab or Uber downtown. It’s also right on the Santa Maria beach which is conveniently on a bay. A lot of Cabo is on rougher ocean water so it’s harder to kayak or paddleboard or even swim, but this water was calm and easy to do activities in.

The rooms are GORGEOUS. Our outdoor shower was my favorite feature and the amazing turndown service every night. And don’t get me started on the staff. I could talk your ear off about how great the service was. The resort is pretty small so everyone knows you by name…or in our case by what we drank. Mimosas in the morning, tequila in the afternoon, and wine at dinner.

Bars

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  • Happy Endings: Hands down my favorite bar we went to when we went out on the town in downtown Cabo. It had more locals than tourists, beer pong, and the DJ was cranking out the old and new hits.
  • The Office: One day, we were supposed to take a booze cruise and it fell through so we changed plans and ended up getting lunch at this beach bar. They walk around with shooters, people can come to braid your hair, and the food was pretty decent. They also make their own tequila. It’s a super fun party atmosphere and you are literally sitting in the sand. My only complaint is that this place is really out of the way and it definitely seems like a day party so you are missing a day in the sun (all their tables are under umbrellas), so come here closer to sunset if you want more time at the pool.
  • La Vaquita: We happened upon this place on our way to a club and loved the outdoor dance party vibe they had going on.
  • Mandala: A legit nightclub. We were only here for a little while before asking where the closest taco place was (the best idea we ever had), but this place was fun although it for sure had a more American vibe. You sort of felt like you were in Vegas, not Cabo.
  • The Rooftop at the Cape: We started our night out here with live music and lovely views of the ocean. The food was just OK and the drinks are pretty expensive since it is a hotel, so I recommend coming for sunset and a drink and then moving on. But the live band was my favorite part for SURE. The lead singer of the band we saw sounded exactly like Charlie Puth.

P.S. Everyone kept telling me we HAD to go to Cabo Wabo Cantina because even though it’s cheesy, it’s fun. Not sure if we just had a weird night but everyone was over 55 and the band was not that great. We had one drink and peaced out of there. I would avoid even though it’s a must on a lot of to-do lists out there.

Restaurants 

 

  • Flora Farms:  We didn’t leave our hotel for many meals since the hotel was so fabulous, but we did make one trek off-site to go to Flora Farms which is a restaurant/bar/event space/shopping area/ice cream store. It literally has everything including a spa and they also teach different classes on the farm too like cooking or painting classes. We came for lunch and got a bunch of pizzas and an amazing charcuterie board. We stayed until they literally kicked us out because they have so many fun little areas to explore like a turtle pond and a beautiful garden. It’s out of the way, but worth it.
  • Mezcal: This was the nicer restaurant at our hotel. We loved our meal here and I think it’s worth going to if you want to get out of the downtown area. All the seat are near fire pits and look out on the water and the food was spectacular – especially the fish tacos!

15 Years

It’s been 24 days since the 15th anniversary of my mother’s death and I’ve had the draft of this sitting on my desktop since then trying to figure out what to say to convey how I dealt with my grief. I knew I wanted to acknowledge her anniversary somehow and, in my mind, the best way to do that was to write a post about how lately I’ve really felt like I’ve been working through my grief. In the simplest terms, what I originally anticipated this to be was a love letter to myself. Kind of like, HEY Guys, look at me, I dealt with my grief and now I want a pat on the back!

But that to me seems laughable now. It’s funny right that you can have such a clear vision of how you are feeling at any given moment and think you will continue to feel the next day and the day after that, but then just a few days later I’m like, “wait, did you actually deal with your grief? No, you don’t deserve a pat on the back.”

In all honesty, I don’t think I fully dove into my grief ever. I’ve been chipping away at it over the last 15 years as I found the strength. And that’s the thing about grief, right? It’s different for everyone. Mine was a slow burn and honestly something I probably won’t ever get over, but something I will learn to burden me and less and less so eventually it doesn’t affect my relationships and how I live my life.

In the past, I let my grief dictate a lot of how I lived my life. Some aspects made me, in my opinion, better. It made me want to grab every opportunity I could. A friend wanted me to visit her in New Zealand? Yep, doing that because I might not be able to do it ever again. Should I bungee jump? Yes. Should I skydive? For sure. I am really proud that I have literally lived my life to the fullest, but that does have its drawbacks…like zero savings in my 30s and packing on pounds because I should definitely treat myself to that milkshake because who knows if I will ever be able to experience a milkshake again. It’s a slippery slope.

My grief also was detrimental. It made me guarded. I felt like I needed to be strong. For whom? I’m not really sure. Maybe for other people around me so they didn’t have to be made uncomfortable around my grief? But that strength meant numbing the pain and that meant closing myself off to relationships that were scary. Scary relationships were ones that could be ripped away from me – particularly romantic ones. A lot of my “relationships” right after my mom passed were with people who were unavailable – they had girlfriends, they were long distance – in other words they were fleeting. They couldn’t hurt me because they weren’t going to be around long and I knew that.
I was watching Poldark lately, which if you don’t watch and you’re into BBC period dramas then you ABSOLUTELY MUST, and the main character said a really interesting quote to another character whose child had just passed away.

“To be strong is weakness. Tears must fall.”

The quote really hit me in the gut because it made me realize that I had been trying to be so strong that I was actually not feeling the pain. To feel the pain is actually the stronger action.

Since then I’ve tried to change in small ways to let that weakness and grief through. One is to be able to talk about my mom. Even 15 years later, talking about her makes me really emotional. Surface level things are easy to chat about. She liked candy apples. Her birthday was in September. She had a David Yurman bracelet exactly like that! It’s harder to go deeper. I’ve recently started dating someone and I find it especially hard to talk about my mom with him. I think I’ve realized it’s because I’ve really never met anyone since she passed away that I would have wanted her to meet and it’s really hard for me to come to terms with the fact that she never will meet him. Sitting with that grief and actually letting myself grieve the fact that she’s not here for that is something I probably would have grazed over in the past, but I’m trying to truly let myself sit with that sadness now.

Another small change is just having a year of NO. I know most people have a year of yes, but I’ve actually had probably too many years of yes. I am constantly overdoing it and I need to scale back. One way, in particular, is with friendships. After my mom passed I had a hard time of letting any friendships sort of fade and fizzle out. I didn’t want to lose anyone else so I kept people around that maybe I shouldn’t have. My goal this year is to maybe be a little less social, let those friendships fizzle that should have naturally fizzled a long time ago. Inner circles don’t need to be 50 people deep and that is something small I am working to fix over this year.

Also on the docket, spend more time with the people who do really matter and who have been there for me through it all. They are the people it would really hurt to lose and I need to remember that.

My journey with grief is far from over and may actually never be over, but I am proud of how far I have come. If you had known me in college, you would know things are a lot healthier over in this noggin these days. I’ve let the grief soak in below the surface more and I will continue to in 2019.

I guess I will take that pat on the back after all.

A Sassy Quebec City Guide

Every year during the holidays, my office closes down for a week since most of our clients also take the week off and this year my family decided to take advantage of that and my sister’s time off (she’s a teacher!) to go to Quebec City. I had done a lot of research to cities that really went all out for Christmas and this was one of them so we were excited to see all the decorations in action! So note that all my recommendations below are based on cold weather and holiday season. If it was warmer, we would have done a lot more!

Sights to See 

  • Old Quebec City: This is a no brainer, but I would recommend seeing the old town from the bottom up. We started right where the ferry lets off and walked around the lower level and by the main church and then took the funicular up to the top and walked around up there. Seeing the city and the St. Lawrence river from the funicular is really gorgeous so I would recommend, but you have to pay in cash just an FYI. We also wanted to take the funicular because it was FREEZING and I didn’t want to walk around longer than 20 minutes at a time, so take that into account if going during the winter.
  • Fairmont Le Chateau Frontenac: Originally built as a hotel for Canadian Pacific Railway workers to have a place to stay when traveling through town, this gorgeous chateau is now a Fairmont hotel that has tons of history so walk around the grounds, stay for dinner or a drink, and if it’s the winter go on a toboggan ride outside. Everything about this place is history and elegance and I loved it. However, I have heard the hotel rooms themselves are really tiny. I didn’t see them since we stayed in another hotel outside the city, but take that into account if you are going with a larger family.
  • Tour with Quebec Cicerone: Since it was Christmas while we were visiting, I wanted to see as much Christmas content as possible which is why I picked the Christmas Magic tour for us to participate in. Our guide was great – very knowledgable, had great fun facts and took us to both classic and off the beaten path locations. It was just so cold that it was hard to enjoy the end of it. So if you do a tour, just know there isn’t any time inside AT ALL on these things and if you can’t handle 2 hours out in -5 degree weather, then this is not for you.

Off the Beaten Path

  • Ferry Ride: Since we got our hotel stay for free (thanks Hilton points!), we stayed in a town outside of the old town called Levis. It’s a cute little town and I’m glad we got to stay there since you can actually see Quebec City from the other side of the river and we got to take the ferry into the old town. The ferry was one of my favorite things about our time there. I’m not really sure why, it’s a random thing to enjoy but the views on the ferry were top notch and the river froze over a lot since it was so cold so the ferry had to slice right through it. It made me feel like I was on the Titanic but without the death and letting Jack go part. It’s about $3 a person and would be really fun to go in the summer and hang out in Levis for an hour and then take the ferry back. Levis doesn’t have a lot going on in the winter FYI.
  • Montmorency Falls: For our final day in Quebec, we decided to rent a car and go see the falls. These are actually much higher than Niagra but somewhat less impressive because they are smaller in width. It was cool nonetheless and I could see why they would be awesome during the summer. In the winter, they never really freeze so they are still roaring and you have to walk along a path to get there that is also really pretty and has great views of Ile d’Orleans. The falls are actually not far from downtown and you could take an Uber if you wanted, but we wanted to go explore the island nearby so we rented a car instead.
  • Ile d’Orleans: This little island right by the falls was adorable. Not a lot was open since it’s the winter, but we did get to go to lunch on the island and got some great poutine and then stopped by Cassis Monna & Filles for a little wine tasting and hit up a cute chocolate shop as well. I want to come back to Quebec when it’s warm solely to hang out on this island that is supposed to be a foodie paradise!
  • J.A. Moisan: Found in 1871, this is the oldest grocery store in North America. It’s super cute inside and I say off the beaten path because while it is near the old city it’s a bit of a walk in freezing temperatures. I don’t know if you’re sensing a theme here but it was FREEZING.
  • Saint Roch Neighborhood: I had heard that the most up-and-coming neighborhood was in lower Quebec City and about a 10 min taxi/Uber from old city, so we went out to explore one morning. There isn’t a lot to see sight-seeing wise, but it has tons of cute restaurants, cafes, and shops. We used this guide to walk around and everything is really on one road – rue Saint Joseph Est. Some notable spots: Deja Vu, Champagne Chocolatier (they had the BEST hot chocolate ever), and Swell & Ginger.

Food & Drink  

  • Cochon Dingue: I’m not usually one to recommend chain restaurants, but we actually ended up going here twice because it was right by our hotel. Their brunch was amazing and I highly recommend.
  • Nina: This hipster pizza spot was sensational. It’s in the Saint Roch area so a bit out of the way, but super worth it. We had the pizza with mozzarella, peas, and lemon and it was out of this world.
  • 1608 Bar: This is the wine and cheese bar in the Fairmont. It is cozy with multiple fireplaces, has an amazing view of the St Lawrence River, and has great cocktails and a super wine list. We came here twice to warm up and stayed for hours.
  • Chocolats Favoris: Another chain, but their chocolate dipped cones were so delicious we went back twice. They have all sorts of flavors to dip your cone in including mint, salted caramel and sea salt. They also had poutine made of cookies with ice cream – so cute! Going back twice was a theme of ours this trip mainly out of free of losing limbs to the cold but also because these places were that good that we felt the need to go twice!

 

Why I Loved My All-Girls Education

Why I Loved My All-Girls Education

Fun fact: I used to be really shy. So shy, in fact, that I used to make my sister ask strangers where the bathroom was or for directions or give my order if we were at a restaurant.

This fact usually shocks a lot of people because I’m a pretty big extrovert now and there are a lot of reasons that probably happened, but the biggest reason was my all-girls education in high school.

I was lucky enough that my parents basically forced me to go to an all-girls school. I say forced because they always knew I would attend Woodlands Academy, which was a part of the same network of schools that my mom had attended as a teenager but gave me the illusion that I had a choice. I looked at another Catholic high school and another all-girls school and ultimately wanted to go to the coed one because at the time my 8th-grade boyfriend was also attending that school. FYI, that same boy came out in college so thirteen-year-old Alex was blessed that she didn’t follow him to high school!

Basically, my mom had loved her all-girls education and wanted to bestow that treasure on me. “These girls will be your friends for life” was a phrase I heard a lot – and not just from my parents, but from teachers and past students alike.

And dammit if they weren’t right. Not only was Woodlands female only, but it was a small school. My graduating class only had 52 students. We all knew each other. Not only did I know every girl in my class, I knew every student in the school. I knew every teacher, administrator, and probably a lot of parents. All that to say, you can’t hide. Hiding was a specialty of mine in grade school. I didn’t want to be laughed at by the mean girls or the cute boys so I didn’t raise my hand even when I probably should have.

But take away the boys and you don’t have that concern anymore, and sure there are still mean girls but you care way less about what they think because again there are no boys so it’s not like I’m really competing with them for attention. They’re just girls. And I’m just a girl and we have the same issues.

You also have way more opportunities to try things you might not have out of fear, being laughed at, or people thinking you’re a nerd. I played sports, but also helped edit the literary magazine which was a skill I took into college by editing the student newspaper and I was made fun of for a lot because it wasn’t drinking beer or partying, but I didn’t care because I had the confidence to not care what other people thought and the skills to make fun of myself alongside my friends because it really doesn’t matter what anyone thinks but me…and it’s great for my resume. I mean, I didn’t have any trouble finding a job post college!

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I recently read an article that talked about a new study conducted by The Higher Education Research Institute (HERI) at the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) to see if there were real benefits to single-sex education, and specifically for women. They compared self-confidence, academic achievement, political engagement and aspirations of girls’ school graduates vs coeducated peers to see if one or the other were better prepared for college and beyond. The results said girls who had completed single-sex education had stronger academic skills and were more engaged in school.

The ones that stuck out to me though were that girls from single-sex schools demonstrated higher self-confidence and exhibited increased political engagement which I find true of me and all my fellow graduates from Woodlands Academy.

I came into high school as a shy, introverted kid and left a confident(ish) young woman who was way more prepared for college and WAY more into women’s rights. It should be no surprise women and women’s rights are talked about a lot at an all-girls school.

I just think you leave an all-girls school after graduation thinking you can accomplish anything because there are no men telling you it’s impossible or they give the opportunities to the boys first. There are no boys, so there isn’t that competition or like I said before the caring about what a boy might think of you if you participate in something they consider “lame”.

And my mom was right, those girls I met in high school are still some of my best friends today and that’s just an added benefit to what already stands out to me as an amazing education.