Well, That Escalated Quickly: A New Year's Day Tradition

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon on New Year's Day 2014

Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, Oregon on New Year's Day 2014

Every year for the past three years, my best friend and I hike a new trail on New Year's Day. We started with the Oregon classics: Spencer's Butte in Eugene and Multnomah Falls in the Columbia River Gorge. The hikes were easy enough, and served as a way to kick off the New Year by getting off the couch and being productive. 

This year, weather and permit permitting, we'll climbing Machu Picchu. Well, that escalated quickly. At this rate, next year we'll be climbing Kilimanjaro so we might have to cool it for 2016. 

Hiking Indian Point in the Columbia River Gorge (December 2014)

Hiking Indian Point in the Columbia River Gorge (December 2014)

However, that's not to say that we're unprepared. This past year I've hiked on average twice per month and, this summer, on average of once a week. There have been so many good hikes-- Saddle Mountain, Angel's Rest, and Eagle Creek, to name a few-- but rumor has it that Machu Picchu will be the hike to top all hikes. How could it not be? It's one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and with the history and that view, it's going to be incredible.

One of my biggest goals of 2014 was to prioritize adventure and ending the year in Peru is icing on the cake. 

Do you have any New Year's traditions or any good hikes planned for 2015? 

Adventure On,



P.S. Up next week? A short but sweet update from the road in Peru. Hasta luego. 

Why You Should Spend A Christmas Abroad in Italy

Image of nearby town, Civitanova Marche, courtesy of Matty L. (2011)

Image of nearby town, Civitanova Marche, courtesy of Matty L. (2011)

No matter the holiday you celebrate, spending the holidays abroad is something that everyone should do at least once. 

Three years ago I lived and studied abroad in Macerata, a medieval hilltop town in Le Marche region of Italy. Unlike well-known regions like Tuscany, Emilia Romagna, and Lazio, Le Marche is remarkably tourist-free. It's a breathtakingly beautiful and quiet region stretching from the Appenine Mountains to Adriatic beach towns. Macerata boasts a few beautiful churches, a university founded in 1280, and a world-class opera amphitheater, but remains a close-knit, sleepy university town perched up on a hill. While I could have spent my time in the big cities, Macerata felt like my Italian home away from home. On a clear day from my apartment just outside of the walls, I could see the Adriatic Sea about a 30-minute drive away. I loved watching the seasons change in Macerata. Summer, Fall, Winter— no matter the season it was always beautiful.

During a weekend trip to Florence, Italy over Thanksgiving weekend, my friends and I flipped on the TV. After three months of being removed from American culture, seeing the madness of Black Friday on CNN came as a shock. The scenes of Black Friday shoppers stampeding the doors of mega-stores were sensationalized, sure, but it was a reminder of how differently the holidays are celebrated in America versus other parts of the world. In the midst of focusing on what we want for Christmas and getting our Black Friday deals, it’s easy to lose sight of what this time of year really means: simply celebrating the holidays with family and friends.  If you ever have the chance to spend the holidays abroad, it may make for some of the best memories of your life. I wouldn't have traded my days in Macerata, Italy for anything. Should you need a little convincing, here are a few of my reasons as to why you should spend a Christmas abroad...

Macerata's Christmas market. (2011)

Macerata's Christmas market. (2011)


One of my favorite parts about spending the holidays in Macerata was that the town was nearly void of the advertisements or the typical holiday commercialism that bombard us every December in America.

The Christmas tree in Piazza della Libertà. (2011)

The Christmas tree in Piazza della Libertà. (2011)

As one may predict, medieval hilltop towns aren't exactly equipped with endless outlets and power sources to deck the halls Clark Griswold-style. Macerata didn't even receive electricity and running water in every home until the 1980s. And so, the elegance of celebrating the holidays in Macerata was in its simplicity. Every day that I walked through Macerata that December, I was reminded of the beauty of celebrating Christmas in Italy— a Christmas tree in the main piazza, star lights sparkled above the main streets, shops decorated their storefront windows with chocolate displays and nativity scenes, and for one weekend, the entirety of the city within the walls turned into one sprawling Christmas market filled with local antique sellers and artisans. It wasn’t Christmas overkill. It was just simple and elegant. 

 keeping the spirit OF THE HOLIDAYS alive

As we grow older the holidays start to lose their meaning in other ways. The magic and excitement we felt as children is replaced by worrying about everything we need to do before the holidays even arrive. The holidays become more of a check off the to-do list, rather than a time of celebration. My first time experiencing the holidays abroad in Italy, I felt like a kid again. Suddenly everything about the season— the festivals, the Christmas market, the beautiful lights— it was all new and exciting. Experiencing another culture’s traditions helped spark the joy of the holidays and to re-prioritize my own traditions in more ways than one. There are so many reasons to celebrate holidays abroad, but this has to be one of the best.


One of the biggest lessons I learned during my time in Italy was learning how to slow down and focusing on my time spent with family and friends. The most convenient convenience store in Macerata is located just outside of one of the central piazzas, Piazza della Libertà. As it happens, the store was closed for every saint or feast day, which, (being that this is Catholic Italy and it was December) denotes nearly every single day of the month. Now, I'm not sure if the family actually observed each holy day or if they simply took it as an excuse to close up shop. (They were hardly ever open so I never got the chance to meet them and find out.) But after I got over my frustration of just trying to buy a pack of stamps, I began to appreciate that this family prioritized their time spent together over everything else. Their commitment to each other and to their community was really refreshing. 


La Passeggiata is a popular time in Italy where families gather together on Sunday evenings (typically) and take a walk through the neighborhood. Although La Passeggiata is a year-round custom, it seemed to be particularly special during Christmastime. Everyone from Macerata bundled up, strolled around the centro storico, chatted with neighbors, and waved hello to their favorite shopkeepers underneath the Christmas lights. Sometimes we would stop for a glass of wine or pop into our favorite cozy, artisan chocolate shop, Magna Cacao, for a cup of the best hot chocolate this world has ever seen. La Passeggiata is one of the cultural parts of living in Italy that I miss the most. It was all about gathering with friends and neighbors, and just spending time together.

 After my last Passeggiata in Italy, everyone in the community gathered for mass and then a festival around a roaring bonfire in the center of the piazza. Multicolored candle lanterns were passed to the crowd, everyone sang Christmas songs, and the children held hands and danced around the fire. My American heart grew three sizes that day. 

The festival with lanterns and Christmas carols in Macerata, Italy. (2011)

The festival with lanterns and Christmas carols in Macerata, Italy. (2011)

In talking with my friends about their favorite Macerata holiday memories, my friend Matty also loved feeling welcomed into the community at the festivals.

“…We went into this tiny village where the whole community was celebrating the Christmas season! There were booths of crafts selling Christmas-y items (especially the Christmas Witch!) and Christmas foods: panettone, roasted chestnuts, and, of course, Italian Christmas carols. Towards the end of the night, the musicians that were playing started cranking out the Italian national anthem. It was just magical to be surrounded by 100% locals with their families in this village, where I could minutely communicate with anyone, but yet still feel so a part of their community. I knew at that point in time that if I wasn't home for Christmas, it would be ok—I was so happy in Italy!”
Matty L.

A FOCUS ON GIVING and gratitude

My friends from studying abroad are still close and keep in touch often. We all have different stories of why we loved the holidays in Italy, but the underline theme from our stories is one of above and beyond generosity from our Italian friends and host families.  One of my favorite stories is from my friend Shannon who became like a daughter to her host family in Italy. Her host family graciously decorated their home and served a special Christmas Eve dinner a week early so that she could celebrate with them. 

“I was incredibly lucky during my study abroad trip to Macerata, Italy to have an Italian family adopt me. I became close with my Italian language partner, Chiara, and she and her sister would pick me up from my apartment in the city every Sunday for a long lunch at her home in the countryside. Their mother was the sweetest little Italian woman who spoke not one word of English. She would cook us an incredible meal every Sunday that lasted four hours and always ended with dessert, then espresso, and then Kinder chocolate because I was always "troppa magra." (Too skinny.) Chiara's mom often asked me if there was any food I wanted to learn to make and I, being a little overly obsessed with Christmas, asked to learn how to make Tortellini en Brodo, a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dish. I didn't realize just how traditional my little family was until Chiara expressed to me that they have never had this dish other than on Christmas Eve… On one of the last Sundays before I left for home, my Italian family surprised me with an early Christmas. Not only did I learn to make Tortellini en Brodo, but Chiara's mom also prepared other Christmas foods for dinner and decorated the house. It brought tears to my eyes to be taken care of so well. What really hit me was after dinner when Chiara, her sister Katerina, and I were getting ready to go shopping and their mom handed each of us twenty Euros. I protested, but she insisted, "Tu sei mia figlia Americana." (You are my American daughter) and as such, I got twenty Euros too. I loved sharing in Italian traditions while studying abroad, and food is a huge part of those traditions.”
- Shannon M.

Whether it was times spent with our host families, close friends, or even strangers, the spirit of giving in Macerata was so apparent that I was continuously blown away by how generous everyone was with their time and unexpected but thoroughly thoughtful gifts.

Our last night together as a group in Macerata, Italy. (2011)

Our last night together as a group in Macerata, Italy. (2011)

On one of our last nights in Italy, my friends and I met in the loft of our favorite coffee shop/ bar. The table next to us, all Italian students of the same age, were celebrating Christmas with their university friends before they all were to go home for the holidays. They asked us if we were American and if we had ever tried panettone, the traditional Italian Christmas fruitcake. They shared their cake with us and we ended up spending over an hour talking with them and telling stories. 

That's the spirit of giving and graciousness that I found while spending the holidays in Italy.

No matter what holidays you choose to celebrate, there is so much that can be learned from spending one abroad. The new traditions, the spirit of giving, the sense of community, and getting back the meaning of Christmas during my time in Macerata has always been one of my favorite memories. To my Italian friends who may be reading this, you made all of our holidays so special and we could never thank you enough. Grazie mille

Have you ever celebrated the holidays abroad? Let me know in the comments. 

Happy holidays and Buon Natale!



P.S. Next week's hint? A New Year's Day tradition that's taking 2015 to the next level. 

A Quick Getaway + Favorite Places in Eugene, Oregon - City Guide pt. 1

Exhibit A: The autumn foliage at Skinner's Butte 

Exhibit A: The autumn foliage at Skinner's Butte 

When the opportunity presented itself last week to take a spontaneous road trip to Eugene, Oregon for a day and a half, I hopped in the car and headed south. Fall is my favorite time of year in Eugene. It's a gorgeous place to watch the leaves change and being a college town, there's always a feeling of excitement when classes start up again for the year no matter how long it's been since you've been out of school. 

 About two hours from Portland, Eugene makes for a quick and easy getaway from the city. I used to live in Eugene not so long ago and wanted to share a few favorite places around town. This list is by no means exhaustive of all of the tasty eats, activities, and sights to see. Consider this part one of your city guide to Eugene, Oregon. 


If it's cold and rainy, drive around Skinner's Butte to catch a glimpse at the beautiful autumn foliage in Eugene. Or feel collegiate as you stroll through the University of Oregon campus which doubles as an arboretum with over 3,000 trees. Be sure to check out the historic Hayward Field, home to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials for Track and Field. After all, Eugene's nickname is "TrackTown USA." Then there's Hendricks Park, the City of Eugene's oldest city park filled with 200 year-old fir trees and a beautiful rhododendron garden. It's the perfect spot for wandering on a clear fall day. 


We all have our favorite local coffee shops and mine in Eugene is Vero Espresso. Serving Stumptown Coffee out of a restored, bright yellow Victorian mansion (you can't miss it) on 14th and Pearl, Vero is a popular spot for Eugene locals. Unfortunately, the service can sometimes err on the side of apathetic, but you'll forget by the time your delicious, weekend-only breakfast sandwich arrives. Be early if you plan on reading or writing in the comfortable, communal seating area as it can fill up quickly with professors and upperclassmen preparing for their classes. 

A warm roasted squash, goat cheese and gruyere brioche at Noisette Pastry Kitchen.

A warm roasted squash, goat cheese and gruyere brioche at Noisette Pastry Kitchen.


If you're in the mood to get away from it all,  Noisette Pastry Kitchen is located on a quiet street in Downtown Eugene. Noisette offers a range of sweet and savory options as well as a macaron of the day at the register. Let it be known that I scarfed down a pain au chocolat before savoring a warm roasted squash, goat cheese, and gruyere brioche, and took two almond macarons filled with chocolate ganache for the road. There are too many good options at Noisette to choose from. It's the best kind of problem to have. Then there's the perennial favorite, Sweet Life Patissere. Should you truly want to treat yourself, Sweet Life is one of the best casual places to grab dessert and catch up with friends. Tucked away in the funky yet family-friendly Whiteaker neighborhood is cozy, and as the name implies, sweet. Their seasonal dessert selection is one of the best in town.


Being that Oregon is the best state in the U.S. for beer, it's no surprise that Eugene is home to a solid selection of local breweries. The Ninkasi tasting room is a top choice with a full lineup of Ninkasi classics alongside a rotating, seasonal tap list and a great outdoor patio.  Other options include the always stellar Falling Sky Brew House & Gastro Pub or Oakshire. If you're pressed for time and can only make one beer oriented stop, I'd make it Bier Stein. With a rotating selection of over 30 beers fresh on tap, it's my favorite beer geek spot in town. You can even view the tap list in real time here. The new digs on 16th and Willamette have been seriously upgraded with a large electronic tap board and an impressive stock with over 1,000 local and international bottles. The food is beer hall-style approved and the staff is the perfect combination of friendly and knowledgable.

Planning a quick getaway to Eugene or have a favorite spot in town? More on the best restaurants, wineries, sights and entertainment are to come. 

The Next Destination for the Paper Airplane is...


That's right, P E R U. The plane tickets are booked, research has begun, and in less than two months I'll be flying off to spend ten days exploring Lima, Cusco, and the Sacred Valley with my best friend. Peru has been at the top of my must-travel-to list for a very long time and I could not be more excited that this will be my first stop in South America. 

Any tips or must-see places to visit? We're climbing Machu Picchu, of course, and I'm already drooling over all of our delicious food stops. 

Stay tuned for more Peru updates and other travels in the meantime. 

Hasta pronto,  


Southbound for the First Ever Yellow Conference 2014


Between my Pacific Coast Highway road trip with my brother this Memorial Day, a quick LA + San Diego getaway this past weekend, and now the Los Angeles area for a third time this summer, I’m heeding the call of the palm trees once again. Next week I’ll be flying south for the Yellow Conference.

The Yellow Conference is two days in El Segundo filled with writers, designers, bloggers, photographers, creative entrepreneurs, TED speakers, and social action movers and shakers, with sessions all geared around channeling creativity and making the world a better place. This is the very first year of the conference and already the lineup is stellar and sold out. Also, I’m told that there will be a beach bonfire to top it all off.

I found out about the Yellow Conference through one of my childhood best friends. We recently reconnected this year through social media and she let me know that an editor of one of our favorite magazines (Darling Magazine) will be speaking at the conference. Not only will it be a weekend filled with major creative inspiration and the chance to meet like-minded creative types, I’ll also be catching up with one of my old friends at The Yellow Conference!

Personally, I can’t wait to meet so many inspiring, creative people and learn from this amazing lineup of speakers. I just joined the Yellow Conference Facebook group for attendees and am already blown away by the talent and passion that everyone is bringing to the table. Are you going to the Yellow Conference too? Let me know in the comments and be sure to link to your blog and/or social too, I’d love to check yours out!

See you soon El Segundo,



For lots of creative inspiration:

Yellow Conference

From the Archives: People of Venice, Italy on March 21, 2009

A few weeks ago my friend Rachel of the blog Love, Rachel and I met up for happy hour and quickly started in on our favorite topic: travel. Rachel is a great photographer (plus overall great person), and just posted about her travels to London for the 2012 Olympics. Go check it out!

"The Students"

"The Students"

I was inspired to go back through old photosets from my travels and rediscovered one of my old series from my first trip to Italy called, “March 21, 2009.” With a nod to the great Magnum photographer Elliott Erwitt, this series of candid black and white portraits explores the daily comings and goings of people in Venice one particular day in March.

"The Tourists"  This pair refused to speak or look at each other over breakfast. I can only imagine what the fight was about.

"The Tourists" 
This pair refused to speak or look at each other over breakfast. I can only imagine what the fight was about.

"The Man on his Walk to Work"  After proceeding to get lost in the back side streets and alleyways running alongside the canals, I came across this man who appeared to walking to work. It was bitterly cold that day and I watched as this man paused on his walk to stand in a sunny patch on the bridge for a while. 

"The Man on his Walk to Work" 
After proceeding to get lost in the back side streets and alleyways running alongside the canals, I came across this man who appeared to walking to work. It was bitterly cold that day and I watched as this man paused on his walk to stand in a sunny patch on the bridge for a while. 

"The Man at the Rialto Market"

"The Man at the Rialto Market"

"The Woman at the Top of St. Mark's Campanile"  Everyone dispersed around the viewing area at the top of the tower, St. Mark's Campanile. This woman came alone and watched  i vaperetti  for a while before quietly making her way back down to  Piazza San Marco . 

"The Woman at the Top of St. Mark's Campanile" 
Everyone dispersed around the viewing area at the top of the tower, St. Mark's Campanile. This woman came alone and watched i vaperetti for a while before quietly making her way back down to Piazza San Marco

Also (not in Venice but from the same trip), here’s one of a cabby who fell asleep in front of the Duomo in Florence. 

"The Man and his Cab"

"The Man and his Cab"

Photo Diary:Blue Skies in Santa Cruz, California


"Why would anyone ever leave Santa Cruz?!" I believe was the exact phrase I exclaimed upon hitting the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. 

"A lot of people don't," my good friend E laughed. 

The Pacific Coast Highway winds South from San Francisco past the cliffs and rolling seaside agricultural plots of strawberries, artichokes, and fields of dairy cows, before cruising along the coast to Santa Cruz. As cliché as it is to call a town sleepy, everyone we encountered on our walk along the shore seemed to have just woken up from a post-surf nap in the sun-- complete with wind-blown hair and sweatshirts emblazoned "Santa Cruz" lest you forget the name of the laid back local surrounded top to bottom by blue sea and skies. The whole short but sweet duration of my time in this city I couldn't help but think, this is the life


It's easy to see why so many people come to Santa Cruz and stay. Not only is it a beyond beautiful stretch of California coastline, the food is great, and the people could not be more friendly. It was the perfect place to call it a day for the first stretch of the Pacific Coast Highway road trip. After the overnight, Southbound drive from Portland and hitting the ground running in San Francisco, we needed the relaxation and all the good vibes that Santa Cruz had to offer. This Pacific Ocean paradise proved to be kind of a restorative chicken noodle soup for the soul-- but, you know, if you switch up that chicken noodle soup for a warm burrito, Rainbows, and a hoodie. All I needed was a hammock and I would have been set in life. Thanks for the good time Santa Cruz, I'll be back.