weekend vacation

A Little Lakehouse Lovin’

The first lesson learned on my trip last weekend to a lakehouse in southern Michigan was that it’s always very important to pack your laptop charger if you are a blogger – rookie mistake!

But, I digress – let’s get back to chatting about the trip!

My family and I had an incredible time at our family friend Chas’ lakehouse in Union, Michigan last weekend. We’ve roadtripped there many summers since I was sixteen, and I find it to be the perfect escape from busy city life.

The lakehouse is roughly a two hour drive from my hometown of Chicago, and just north of the Indiana border near Elkhart, IN. To be honest – the area is really rural. And I LOVE IT!

View from the dock of Chas' lakehouse

View of Chas’ lakehouse from the dock

Boathouse at the lakehouse - where all the fun water toys are kept!

Boathouse at the lakehouse – where all the fun water toys are kept!

In my opinion, the back-country, rural feeling you get from being at the lakehouse is part of the charm of that type of weekend vacation. Although it rained on the first day of our trip and therefore prevented us from  going on the boat at first, we were able to do some acrylic landscape paintings and play a family euchre match. And boy oh boy did my family spend time in the kitchen cooking some gourmet meals! The food throughout the weekend was remarkably delicious – and so filling! I always forget how fresh meat tastes in the Midwestern states due to the proximity to farms.

Whether dining indoors or outdoors, there was always a view of the lake!

Whether dining indoors or outdoors, there was always a view of the lake!

Sizzling bacon on the griddle

Sizzling bacon on the griddle

Eggs cooking in the pot for breakfast

Eggs cooking in the pot for breakfast

Delicious gormet steaks that Chas cooked on the grill for dinner

Delicious gourmet steaks that Chas cooked on the grill for dinner

But let’s face it – my FAVORITE part of a weekend stay at Chas’ lakehouse is being on his speed boat. There is something about cruising over the water that feels eternally relaxing. Plus, the water sports you can do on calm Midwestern lakes are unparalleled to those on the open ocean, and Alexa and I enjoyed tubing and swimming on the sunny days.

Me and Alexa tubing behind the boat

Me and Alexa tubing behind the boat

Alexa and I jumping off the boat to for a swim - so much fun!

Alexa and I jumping off the boat to for a swim – so much fun!

Another highlight of the weekend was when my family decided to venture into South Bend rather than cook on Sunday night, and I lucked out to be invited to ride with Chas in his new Mercedes convertible to the restaurant! It was a total blast! He was able to accelerate to wild speeds on the backcountry roads, and my aunt (who was driving the family’s SUV behind us) joked that we left them in the dust – haha!

Me and Chas in the convertible about to speed away

Me and Chas in the convertible about to speed away

It’s hard to describe the overall feeling of leisure and contentment that you encounter at a lakehouse. The feeling seeps into your spirit when you arrive and slowly relaxes your soul throughout your stay. I would venture to guess that even the most jaded New Yorker tasked with keeping a watch over the tranquil morning water as it twinkles in the sunlight would be overtaken by a feeling of peace.

Spying on an early morning fisherman

Spying on an early morning fisherman

Chas smiling and waving hello from the balcony

Chas smiling and waving hello from the balcony

This is the face of total relaxation. I think I may have actually taken a quick nap on that chair right after, even!

This is the face of total relaxation. I think I may have actually taken a quick nap on that chair right after, even!

That said, it helps tremendously if you have cherished family and friends to share each lakehouse moment with. For that, I am truly blessed!

Everyone having a blast on the boat!

Everyone having a blast on the boat!

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Five Things NOT To Take To A Lakehouse Weekend

As many of you already know, I’m from the Midwest. It’s that little region of the United States where recreational lakes are a dime a dozen. That’s why to me and millions of other Midwesterners, lakehouse weekends have become a symbol of summertime.

With that in mind, I’ve developed some sage wisdom over the years about the difference between what people think they should take to lakehouses vs. what they really should take. Fashion companies and pop culture can steer you wrong, so there are a few key items where I want to set the record straight:

What you should NOT take to the lake:

1.  White jeans

I recently bought a pair of white skinny jeans from Boden that are PERFECT for summer. They’re high quality and really trendy right now. Despite that, I will NOT be taking them to the lake this weekend. Why? They will get dirty. A few examples of lakehouse activities not friendly to my new jeans: squeezing ketchup on a freshly grilled burger, sitting around a fire pit with marshmallows in hand, sitting on a dock looking at the lake, sitting on a chair on the deck… really just sitting anywhere in an outdoorsy environment. Whatever the case, they will inevitably get stained on the first day I wear them and then will be out of commission the rest of the weekend. And even if they don’t get dirty, they will somehow get wet and become see-through (I mean, why else am I at the lake?). Therefore, I’m leaving them at home.

I hope she's not sitting in a puddle! (image source: wheretoget.it)

I hope she’s not sitting in a puddle! (image source: wheretoget.it)

2.  Chunky Knit or Cashmere Sweaters

As much as you may want your lakehouse attire to look like you just walked out of a J. Crew photo shoot in Kennebunkport (I really, really do), the lake is not a New England yacht excursion (womp womp). If you feel that bringing a sweatshirt isn’t fashionable enough and you want to replace it with a brightly colored cable-knit cardigan in order to look stylish, just recall how long it takes that cable knit to dry if it gets wet. You’re at a lake doing water sports, so there is a strong chance that will happen. Thus, next time you feel like dressing like an Irish fisherman, remember all those lads have probably switched to American Apparel zip ups these days.

"We won't tip the canoe, we promise!"

“We won’t tip the canoe, we promise!” (image source: westendknitwear.ie)

3.  Sperry Topsiders

“What? But I’m going to be on a boat!” That’s true, but it’s summertime so you probably want to wear flip flops instead. Every time I’ve brought my Sperry’s to the lake I’ve regretted it because I end up wearing my J. Crew Havianas all day – they dry so much faster and show off my pedicure!

"Hey guys! I'm ready to water ski!" (image source: planetshoes.com)

“Hey guys! I’m ready to water ski!” (image source: planetshoes.com)

4.  Sunscreen lower than SPF 20

Okay, I’m really guilty of this. In the past when I’ve brought SPF 8 and 15 to the lake I’ve either a.) burned because the sun is twice as strong on the water OR b.) reapplied every twenty minutes out of fear of burning. I think this year I’ve learned my lesson that higher SPF means fewer applications….but we’ll see.

Don't you just love the smell of Coppertone in the summer?

Don’t you just love the smell of Coppertone in the summer? (image source: nanotechproject.org)

5. Swim Bottoms That Aren’t Conducive To Water Sports

Ladies and gents, just bring shorts that will stay on your body while you’re tubing. Take it from me – worrying that your bikini bottoms are going to fall off makes water sports 10x less enjoyable. Oh – and make sure your shorts are fast drying! Your daisy dukes will look really cute, but it’s really uncomfortable to get in and out of the water in wet jorts.

Beyonce's shorts look a little clingy and heavy, right? (image source:  denimblog.com)

Beyonce’s shorts look a little clingy and heavy, right? (image source: denimblog.com)

I hope this helps with your lakehouse packing strategy. When it comes to weekends at the lake, I find that practicality is usually the best tactic – but let me know if you disagree!

Any other things that you think are better left at home this summer when visiting a lakehouse? Please feel free to share any thoughts or comments!

San Francisco Trip In Review: Days #2 and #5 in Downtown SF

On the second and fifth days of our trip to San Francisco we continued to explore the city itself, inclusive of the residential neighborhoods. During this time the grittiness and artiness of the city began to reveal itself as we left the shiny tourist strongholds.

To be completely honest, being visitors from New York City where neighborhood gentrification has happened in rapid fire over the past twenty years, we were shocked by two things we saw in San Francisco:

  1. the lack of other human beings on the sidewalks walking from point A to point B.
  2. the number of homeless people living on the streets.

Additionally, the Uber car service app is quite common in San Francisco to get around town, and we used it frequently for two specific reasons: avoiding unsuspectingly tall hills and troubled neighborhoods. Uber is relatively affordable, too, especially if you are travelling with more than one person. The Uber Pool carpooling option was an attractive $7 per ride to get both Derek and me around the city. Although using the car service brought up our estimated transit costs for our trip, we typically arrived at our destination much faster than we would have if we had used the bus or the BART train.

Day 2 Overview:

We woke up in the morning in our hotel room and wandered outside to find breakfast – specifically wanting to seek out a local café rather than head to our typical go-to Starbucks. And we were in luck! We stumbled upon Bartlett Hall Café, where we ordered breakfast sandwiches and mochas to bring back to our hotel room’s patio.

Enjoying our breakfast sandwiches and mocha coffees from Bartlett Hall Cafe on our patio at the Hilton Union Square

Enjoying our breakfast sandwiches and mocha coffees from Bartlett Hall Cafe on our patio at the Hilton Union Square

Once we wrapped up breakfast, we took an Uber to the home where the 90’s show Full House took place, while simultaneously meeting up with Derek’s brother and our friend Liz. The “Full House house” had been painted a darker color since the show ended, and I most likely would not have recognized it had I been quickly driving past in a car.

The setting of my favorite childhood TV show - Full House

The setting of my favorite childhood TV show – Full House

Next we walked to Alamo Square, where we took photos in from of the Painted Ladies antique row houses (which were where the Tanner family picnicked in the opening credits of Full House). Although it was a cloudy day, the distant downtown skyscrapers hovering in the background made the photo iconic. Incredible.

Derek and me in Alamo Square in front of the Painted Ladies

Derek and me in Alamo Square in front of the Painted Ladies

After wondering around Alamo Square and taking in the view, we grabbed a late lunch at a local pub called Fly Bar. The individual pizzas we ordered were delicious, but unfortunately took a long time to arrive at our table. By the time the food arrived we were STARVING, so the pub fare helped restore our energy.

Walking to Fly Bar to grab lunch

Walking to Fly Bar to grab lunch

So many wires strung up for the trolley and bus public transit lines!

So many wires strung up for the trolley and bus public transit lines!

From the pub, we walked towards Golden Gate Park to meet Derek’s cousin David outside of the California Academy of Sciences building. The park is long, narrow, and lush, with winding roads that reminded me of Manhattan’s Central Park. Museums dot the landscape, and David took us up to a free observation deck at the de Young art museum that overlooks the entire city via a 360-degree panorama. Being up there brought back fond memories from the Gravity Bar at the top of the Guinness Factory in Dublin.

Statues in Golden Gate Park

Statues in Golden Gate Park

Sculptures outside the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

Sculptures outside the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park

Sprekles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park

Spreckles Temple of Music in Golden Gate Park

Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Hagiwara Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

Views from the observation deck at the de Young art museum (continued)

After our time in Golden Gate Park, David motioned us toward the nearby neighborhood of Sunset where he lives. We grabbed a pint at a neighborhood bar called Blackthorn, which had a pretty back patio seating area, several pool tables, and an open-mindedness towards dogs off their leashes. Overall, it felt like one big living room where I was sipping my cold cider next to locals only.

Derek and his cousin David in a booth at Blackthorn in the Sunset neighborhood

Derek and his cousin David in a booth at Blackthorn in the Sunset neighborhood

After leaving Sunset, we grabbed our bags at our hotel and waved goodbye to the city for a few days while we headed up north to Sonoma County. More to come in a future blog post on our trip through vineyards and valleys as we road-tripped to the Dry Creek and Mendocino – but for now I will skip to our return to the city on day 5.

Day 5 Overview:

After the weekend road trips, we came back into the city of San Francisco on Memorial Day to check off the remaining sights on our sightseeing itinerary. Yet again we stayed at a hotel in Union Square – this time Hotel Fusion – but quickly hit the pavement.

After we met up with our friend Daniel-Linh, we looked at the map and decided that it would make the most sense to walk to the Mission District rather than take a bus due to the close proximity (as well as to avoid the body odor of the homeless man at the bus stop). However, we did not realize that the neighborhoods we were about to traverse would be practically deserted for the holiday weekend. We were fine. We were completely safe, even though we walked passed a fight on the sidewalk on Mission Street. Mostly, it just didn’t feel like home, so it was a healthy dose of departing our comfort zones.

Once we reached the Mission District area, I was so hungry from the walk that we yelped a nearby taqueria in hopes of finding some authentic Mexican food. And we were in luck! We found a place called Taqueria Los Coyotes that was exactly what the doctor ordered. Derek and I are very picky about the authenticity of our Mexican food, and this place filled the bill.

My delicious meal at the taqueria - one chicken taco, one shrimp taco, rice, beans, and guacamole

My delicious meal at the taqueria – one chicken taco, one shrimp taco, rice, beans, and guacamole

Me checking my phone at the taqueria - loved the Mexican tile on the walls!

Me checking my phone at the taqueria – loved the Mexican tile on the walls!

After lunch we walked to Mission Dolores to take some quick snapshots, and then to the nearby Mission Dolores Park. Unfortunately the park was under heavy construction, so we decided to meander through the Mission District as a consolation prize. Luckily, the area is filled with beautiful street art and murals, and we were able to capture photos of several that intrigued us.

Colorful homes in the Mission District

Colorful homes in the Mission District

Me on the Mission Dolores steps

Me on the Mission Dolores steps

Pretty mural on the side of a community building in the Mission District

Pretty mural on the side of a community building in the Mission District

Street art in the Mission District

Street art in the Mission District

Alley filled with street art off of Mission Street

Alley filled with street art off of Mission Street

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

Street art in the Mission District (continued)

After an afternoon of walking, we waved goodbye to Daniel-Linh and made our way back to our hotel to freshen up. For our last evening in San Francisco before our flight the next morning, we wanted to grab a drink with my childhood friend Rachel one last time.

So, we used the Yelp app to locate a top rated bar in the Tenderloin neighborhood near our hotel that had recently opened called Piano Fight. The venue hosted a free comedy show at 9pm, so we ordered a drink and watched several comedy sketches over the course of an hour. Spending time with my old friend laughing and drinking a local California wine was the perfect way to spend my last night in San Francisco.

Me and Rachel enjoying drinks and a late dinner at Piano Fight

Me and Rachel enjoying drinks and a late dinner at Piano Fight

My Important Traveler Takeaway:

Overall, Derek and I enjoyed learning about the residential neighborhoods of San Francisco as we were led around by our friends who live in the city. As a traveler, my experiences are the most meaningful when I see how other cities and countries have dealt with problems that they face, so I can learn about the effects of those choices.

With San Francisco, its foggy, temperate weather can be both a pro and a con for the city. Certain SF neighborhoods rarely see the sun and locals wear jackets and pants into the depths of summertime in order to accommodate the climate. Additionally, while America typically does not support the same gypsy culture that travelers encounter in Europe, many homeless Americans wind up in San Francisco. In order to survive, the homeless have created communities among themselves and support each other. Lastly, the dichotomy between the poor and the rich (and highly educated) in San Francisco is palpable as you walk the streets. The residents of San Francisco have adapted and found their own solutions to these problems, and appear to live in harmony together.

All in all, it’s admirable to see San Franciscans literally come together and boost themselves up out of the fog to help their city remain one of the most beloved and iconic places on the planet.