Little Trailer: a home away from home

Home is where the heart is.

I love camping life, an escape from the bright city and a chance to embrace the wonder of the dark. I always find new ways to enjoy camping. A tiny house lives in my heart. So during my recent adventure to Moab, Utah, I chose to rent and stay in a teardrop trailer, a unique and special mini home life experience in the great outdoors.

There are plenty of camping options near Moab. You can pick a first come-first serve BLM site, like Sand Flats Recreation Area, Big Bend Recreation Area, etc., or you can reserve your own site at a local campground. I chose to camp in a first come-first serve site, so I picked spot D14 at Sand Flats Recreation Area, which offers spectacular vistas of sandstone domes, canyons and mesas against the backdrop of the La Sal Mountains. (I recommend you arrive early to find a good spot in the morning, because it is a popular BLM site, and it fills fast). After I picked my favorite campsite, the trailer host Wendy (from Airbnb) delivered and set up the trailer, to be ready for me after my day of adventures.

When I saw the trailer in person, I felt the mini home in my heart come to life.

I was very excited to experience this mini house life: Cozy bed and bedding, perfect for little me; Well-equipped kitchen fulfills outdoor cooking needs.

The trailer looks like an adorable tiny house: inside it has a cozy queen bed, soft bedding and wood cabinetry, and off the back is a well-equipped kitchen, including all cooking essentials, a gas stove, stainless steel counter, hot/cold water sink, pans, etc. A yeti cooler, camp rugs and camp chairs also are provided. The trailer is equipped with a propane heater, too. It was very convenient and practical for sleeping and cooking. It made camping life charming and authentic.  

Staying in the teardrop trailer was a fun and unique experience:

  • I wore a headlamp to brush my teeth at the back kitchen at night;
  • I used solar power in the trailer to charge my phone and GoPro;
  • I used my flashlight to walk and find the restroom at the campground in the dark;
  • The BLM site does not have shower, but I did not mind missing a shower;
  • I turned on the heater to make the mini home warmer during the cold nights;
  • The trailer was under the breathtaking night skies. I saw endless stars and moon every night: the night sky was fantastic.
  • I curled into bed at night, with no cellular service, but I enjoyed disconnecting from my phone and social media. I never felt bored, just enjoyed my precious alone time, thought about the adventures I was enjoying, collected my thoughts, took time to self-reflect, then slept like a baby.
  • It was very windy outside throughout the night. I could feel the wind blow the rugs and a sun shade outside, but I slept soundly, and the windy conditions did not bother me.
  • When I woke up the next morning, I opened the mini door, and the soft indoor lights from the trailer cast a warm glow against the morning gray. I saw the sky turn from dark to bright, the sunlight reflecting off the mountains, turning them red in the distance. It recharged my endless passion and energy, preparing me for a new adventure.
  • I have always wanted to live in the mountains, and I made it happen!
My car and trailer parked parallel under the tree at night. I love this moment.
Staying outdoor, you could stargaze the night sky, with the stars, moon and mountains with you.
The indoor lights reflect the trailer in early morning.
I dressed and was ready for a new day of adventure!
Sand Flats Recreation Area has great views of the La Sal mountains and red rocks.

The precious time spent in the trailer became a new and different perspective for camping life. One of my friends told me that the trailer reminds him a little of the “forts” children will build, small places to hide and play. For me, this trailer made my dream tiny house real for a short time.

What do you think of this trailer? Maybe it is your next adventure. Let’s do it again in a heartbeat!

What a Blast! Epic Off-Road Adventure

If it excites and scares you at the same time, it probably means you should do it.

I knew Moab, Utah was called “America’s off-road capital,” and it lives up to the name. The region’s unique “slickrock” makes for a driving experience unlike anything else, and with breathtaking scenery. Off-roading is a culture, and trying it was on top of my bucket list as I explored national parks in the area. I chose a tour company called “Epic 4×4 Adventure” and I actually experienced an epic and thrilling ride, so the company name was exactly what I experienced, something “epic”.

To start, I want to give a special thank you to “Epic 4X4 Adventure”. The owner, Jennifer, was very nice and takes great care of her customers. She saw my special circumstance: a young and small woman was going to drive one of her aggressive off-road trails solo, and I had never driven such a vehicle before. She was concerned and wanted me to have the maximum amount of fun, safety, so provide me a special favor: she assigned me a private guide, Gavin, and we completed this epic adventure together.

My tour was called “You-Drive Hell’s Revenge and Fins & Things Trail (Sunset)”. My private instructor Gavin was very experienced, professional and knowledgeable, and made me feel comfortable and confident before this wild adventure started.

The first trail was Fins and Things, reached through Sand Flats Recreation Area. It was a moderate trail. Gavin and I drove single file in separate vehicles, with him in front. Gavin communicated with me via 2-way radios, giving me directions and offering tips to navigate the uneven terrain. I followed him and drove through some sudden steep climbs on and off the slickrock. I had a little trouble shifting the transmission properly a few times at first, so Gavin patiently stopped and came to check on me, then we’d be back to the trail again.

As an off-roading beginner, this trail was a good introduction for me to learn the basics of true off-roading, and how conditions can change quickly with small hills, steep drops, large rocks and a generally challenging driving environment. I immersed my whole enthusiasm in this activity.

After completed the Fins & Things Trail, we headed to the Hell’s Revenge Trail. It is one of the top off-road trails in Moab. It is an adventurous and difficult trail, with this major slickrock area including steep climbs, sharp turns and hair-raising descents along high ridges with little room for error left or right. It is more technical than Fins & Things. Gavin decided to sit beside me in the same vehicle for this one, providing instruction along the way regarding speed, gear and direction.

The first challenge of this trail was to drive and up onto a narrow fin – a long but thin stretch of road with steep drop offs on either side. Although I am not afraid of heights, my heart beat fast at that moment. But I had a good instructor, his directions were spot on, helping me to move smoothly on this scary-looking  trail.

I kept driving straight and entered a low spot, experienced some high mounds and steep descents, up and down, using brake and gas. I drove into the bushes a few times, but Gavin was very patient and instructed how to turn back toward the trail. I drove much better as I went along, like a new driver, learning how to drive a new car on the road. It is a learning process, and I loved it.

One of the most impressive moments occurred when we drove to the summit of the hills, a high vantage point overlooking the Colorado River with beautiful, classic scenery, a panoramic view from the La Sal Mountains through Arches National Park to the cliff rims that overlook Moab Valley. It is a simply spectacular view.

We decided to keep going because I wanted to explore this trail more deeply. It included even tougher terrain and obstacles, so Gavin drove and allowed me to experience it from the passenger seat. It was very steep and bumpy with speed; it was so much fun. At one point, I could not see the actual edge of the road from inside the vehicle as it dropped off so quickly from view. These long steep climbs and white-knuckle descents offered me a roller coaster ride across slick rock fins, scary-looking but exciting.

We drove through the sand road with extreme speed, too, allowing the fresh wind to sweep over us in the open-air vehicle. I could sense the power mingling with the charming views of true desert life. The desert’s soft sunlight painted the evening sky along the way, making this ride even more amazing.

On this trail, Gavin always encouraged and pushed me to drive more, teaching me how to adjust to the tough terrain. I appreciated this very much. It was my happiest day in Moab. Thank you “Epic 4×4 Adventure” for this special arrangement, making this adventure more awesome and memorable. I’ll come back!

I am an adventurer, but also an off-road racer! LOL

Driving off-road is exciting and terrifying at the same time, but you should ride it. Embarking on a new experience, when you are willing to try and learn, you are actually developing skills. It is a journey: learn, adjust, overcome and enjoy. This is a part of an adventurous spirit, too!

An Epic Adventure begins with an Epic Action

“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” – Helen Keller

How willing are you to embrace the unknown? I love to take adventures with someone, but I love to experience them solo, also. Some people might think a solo adventure is boring and lonely. This is not true; it is a lot of fun! Taking an adventure does not mean being reckless, and the reward is much greater than you might expect.

For my most recent adventure I picked Moab, Utah as a destination. Moab is a small town, home to Arches, Canyonlands National Parks and Dead Horse Point State Park, and it is an avid outdoor adventurers’ paradise, offering tons of activities like hiking, rafting, off-roading, climbing, and mountain biking with unique red rock landscapes. It was a whole new and epic adventure for me. I experienced so many new things during this trip, and so much wonder. This is how a true adventurer lives.

Hike in the dark

I wanted to witness the most stunning sunrise/sunset, and to do so I needed to hike in the dark. On October 19, I woke up at 4:00 a.m., then drove in the dark, alone, through Arches National Park. At the beginning, I felt uncomfortable and nervous because it was my first time driving up the curved mountain roads, in the dark,  so I drove carefully, then adjusted to it. My eyes kept searching the road signs in the dark, but I missed the turn to take me where I originally planned to see the sunrise, so I kept driving to the delicate arch viewpoint parking lot. An adventurer must be able to improvise!

I started hiking in this dark adventure. The trail was three miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 480 feet. It was definitely a challenge to hike in early morning, because it was a new and unfamiliar trail, a of it uphill, and across sandstone rock faces where the trail can be hard to find. With the cold weather in the morning, it required especially good physical fitness.

Hiking in the dark is totally different from hiking during the day. It takes time for your eyes to adjust to the dark, and my flashlight helped. I met an elderly couple hiking along the way, and we hiked to the delicate arch together. In the dark, we got lost a few times, as there were no trail markers. We stopped and observed our surroundings, then saw a few lights far away, realizing we should head in that direction, and followed the light hike back to the correct trail. Because it was early, and a lot of the path was uneven, steep and uphill, I had to breath heavily. We hiked approximately 45 minutes to reach the arch.


I was very impressed during this dark journey: when I looked up, stars studded the sky. Then I witnessed the sky change color, turning from black to orange with the dawn. The sunlight shone on the arch at different angles, creating a spectacular sunrise to welcome a beautiful new day and adventure in the park. Hiking in the dark and seeing this amazing sunrise was a wonderful way to connect myself to nature.

Orange and pink colors appeared on the horizon, like a painting in front of you.
It was 7:11 am. when the soft light painted color in the sky. It was worth the wait in the dark.
We witnessed the change of sunlight at Delicate Arch.
Although a challenging journey, a true adventurer reached it, a reason to celebrate.
Delicate Arch shows its beauty through different light and angles.
I took this photo when I got back downhill, and only then fully realized what kind of sandhill terrain I had hiked in the dark.
We hiked a lot uphill, in the dark, to the Delicate Arch.

Hiking in the dark can be more challenging than during the day. It is important that you research and plan ahead, bring layers of clothing, appropriate gear, prepare for wildlife, and stay sensitive to your surroundings. Then get ready for a dark and wild adventure!

The adventure of a lifetime: completed the difficult trail solo

Devils Garden is a difficult trail in Arches National Park. The total distance is 7.2 miles, and the weather is hot, especially at noon. On this trail, you will see different arches, including Pine Tree Arch, Tunnel Arch, the longest landscape Arch, and Double O Arch. It proves that “it is a journey, not a destination”.

One of the world’s longest natural rock arches: Landscape Arch

The trail to Double O Arch starts difficult, because you must use your hands and feet to scramble and climb.

Double O Arch, but the path to get there is difficult.

Most people choose to go back after reaching Double O Arch after about three miles. But I decided to keep going, completing the primitive trail alone. Just like my life, I am someone who always goes forward, not back, and I enjoy every journey, no matter how easy or difficult. The Primitive Trail is the most difficult segment of the Devils Garden trail. It is a loop trail to the starting point. The obstacles include difficult route finding, steep slopes, narrow drop-offs, and rock scrambling.

I used hiking, scrambling, and climbing skills during this trail. This is a tricky route. I got lost, stopped, thought about my previous steps, observed and recognized the footprints, trusted my instincts, listened to sounds, asked other hikers for directions, and tried to find a GPS signal (I used Gaia GPS app). I finally navigated back to the right trail. Because it was noon, very hot, my body covered in sweat. I stopped and took a break, and drunk plenty of water.

Devils Garden Trail is worth taking an adventure of your lifetime.

After hiking approximately four hours, I retuned back to the starting point. I had a sense of accomplishment and was very happy. I never had before completed such a long and difficult trail solo. The reward is one of the most remarkable and awesome adventures in my life.

My adventurous spirit pushed me to accept the challenge, successfully accomplishing this difficult trail!

Witnessed one of the most epic sunrise/sunsets

Mesa Arch, Canyonland is one of the most famous sunrise spots in Moab. On October 20, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. again, then drove 40 minutes, entirely in the dark, without passing a single other car on the way to canyonland. I hiked in the dark again, but compared to the delicate arch, this was an easy trail, just an eight minute hike. I arrived around 6:30 a.m., the sky was still dark, but a few photographers were there waiting.

It is a small arch. I saw the rays of sun from the dawn out to the horizon beneath the arch. The sun illuminated the underside of the arch, giving a breathtaking view under the arch, showing nature’s craftsmanship again. I loved the orange color shine beneath the arch. This epic sunrise brightened my day again.

I love to witness the sunlight change to pink in the dark under the arch.
As the sun rises, I sense the natural power.
I love this moment, all of us waiting for the amazing sunrise at Mesa Arch.
The sunlight illuminates the underside of the arch. I sit overlooking the amazing natural scene.
“The most beautiful gift of nature is that it gives one pleasure to look around and try to comprehend what we see.”—Albert Einstein

If you visit Moab, you should not miss the most stunning sunset at Dead Horse Point State Park. I drove to the end of park, reaching the dead horse point overlook. I saw different vast layers on the red rock canyon. It looks like a different planet from Earth. I looked down the gorgeous ever-changing landscape to the Colorado River.

A dramatic sunset reflects light from the Colorado River.
The rocks all change to orange color.

A brush of color stands stark against the sky, like an artist forgot what paint to use. I stayed there through sundown, ending in all dark. If I could, I would wish to see this incredible sunset every day.

I sat there to see the most stunning sunset, feeling its charm and mystery.
Desert sunsets never cease to fill people with wonder.
Layers of desert canyon look like another planet.

Taking a solo adventure is not easy: it requires courage, confidence, wisdom, plan and action. If you do it, you will experience unexpected things along the way, and you will learn how to trust your instincts, accomplish a lot of tasks and make decisions alone. It pushes you to personal growth. I am glad that I made this epic adventure happen! A true adventurer has ambition, able to accept challenge and adapt to any changes in a new environment, make dreams come to reality. I hope my adventurous spirit and experience will inspire you, especially women, to step out of your comfort zone, and be brave enough to pursue and live your desired life!

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: Aloha Spirit

One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.

This birthday trip to Hawaii was meaningful and remarkable for me, not only because my whale dream came true, but also because I learned what happens when I travel and seek a new adventure. During this trip, many of my original plans were interrupted due to the coronavirus outbreak, but I am proud of myself that I made changes and had amazing experiences. When your plans are interrupted, what do you do? For me, I will always find a way to learn about new places and have new experiences. It proves the outcome can still be wonderful even when your plans change.

People often say “It is the journey, not the destination” to describe The Road to Hana in Hawaii. The journey includes 600+ turns, 50+ one-lane bridges and occasional rock or mudslides. There is breathtaking scenery and amazing stops along the road: its cliffs are cloaked in green, and lush valleys burst with waterfalls; curves hug the coastline and you gaze over an ocean that stretches uninterrupted all the way to the Alaskan coastline. It is all coupled with black, red, and white sand beaches, a multitude of trails and beautiful gardens. So I put this at the top of my top to do in Maui, and I was very excited, anticipating the drive to Hana to see the rainforest beauty and inspiring coastal views.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus outbreak, the parks on the island were closed and the tour was canceled. I was not surprised that this would happen, however, and I immediately changed my plans. I instead chose to take a helicopter to see Hana instead. I was lucky to take the last helicopter tour before it shut down. I indeed experienced an even more epic sightseeing and thrilling adventure from the sky, revealing why Maui is continually rated “The world’s best island”. Now let me help you witness the unique Hana and Haleakala from another angle.  

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My chariot awaits. I flew blue Hawaiian helicopter to discover all of Maui’s hidden secrets.

When I rode in the helicopter, a sea of clouds, green mountains and blue ocean came into view. I could not believe these things were real in front of my eyes. It is too incredible to describe and very close. At that moment, I truly felt that I almost could touch this unbelievable scenery. I could feel that Maui is truly a magical place.

Soar thousands of feet above the immense, moon-like crater of Haleakala — the world’s largest dormant volcano! My original plan was to drive to watch the stunning sunrise over the crater walls at the Haleakala summit at 5:30 AM. Although it did not happen, I still witnessed its impressive views from the sky: the clouds above the crater, along with beautiful reds, yellows and grays of volcanic soil.

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 I’ve never been to the moon but this is what I imagine the surface might look like.

The highest point of Haleakala is 10,023 feet high. Although I did not hike there and see blankets of clouds below my feet, I saw another unique view of Haleakala. At that moment, I felt so appreciative that I could have this incredible life experience.

The helicopter allowed me to gaze down at the beautiful Hana Rainforest Preserve on my way to the famous Seven Pools of Oheo Gulch, where bamboo trees line the forest and dozens of waterfalls cascade into the tiered pools below. I could see the Alpine-like vistas of upcountry to the lush landscape of the Hana Rainforest Preserve and the rugged beauty of East Maui shoreline.

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The only way to discover all of Maui’s amazing hidden secrets is by air!

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I immersed myself in aloha spirit by soaring over dramatic “broccoli” looking landscapes.  

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There is something special about chasing abundant waterfalls from the sky.

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The most beautiful coastline that I’ve ever seen in my life. 

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Climb aboard a helicopter to experience the island’s thrilling hidden secrets.

As you might know, Hawaii is known as the “Rainbow State” because of the many brilliant rainbows that often appear, arching over valleys or beaches. At the beginning of my trip, I expected to see double rainbows across the ocean. In fact, during the whole trip, I did not see it happen. However, the magical thing is that when I rode in the helicopter, through the Hana, the rain drizzled, then transformed to sun, and Wow, I was lucky that I then saw a rainbow in the sky above the Hana Forest Reserve! The rainbow seemed very close to me, as if just a few feet away, so close I thought I could almost touch it.

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Seeing a rainbow from my view in the sky was definitely a whole new experience in my life.

I knew that the rainbow primarily represents transformation in Hawaiian culture. It is believed, too, that those who can connect to the spirit and “upper” world will live abundant lives as humans. This new experience taught me that the world will present you with opportunity and wants everyone, not just the brave people, to achieve success.

As you might know, I enjoy snorkeling to meet varieties of marine creatures in the ocean. Maui is home to a multitude of amazing snorkeling locations to explore, full of interesting reef formations and lava fingers boasting remarkable ocean wildlife. So when I planned this birthday trip, I decided to do snuba on March 20th, which is my birthday. I wanted to see the most striking marine species and beautiful coral reefs at Molokini Crater, and swim with turtles at Turtle town, experiencing world-class ocean wildlife in Maui. I was looking forward to this special experience to celebrate my big day.

Again unfortunately, they canceled my activity due to COVID-19. Although I was disappointed, I made another, even better decision instead. I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to sunbathe and get to know nature and reflect upon myself, to relax and see the natural beauty around me. So I decided to enjoy this precious solo time on the beach. I went to the Ho’okipa Beach, and life yet again let something magical happen to me: I enjoyed the breezes of the ocean, witnessed professional windsurfing there, and all worries melted away. The most surprising thing is that I got to meet my other special guests: turtles. Once again, life used another way to help me to achieve my wishes.

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On my way drove to Ho’okipa Beach, I met these colorful surfing boards on my birthday. Life is like surfing a wave, to keep your balance you have to keep moving.   

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Mahalo to my other special guests. I was fortunate to get to meet you finally. I will swim with you until next time, cross my heart.

Another part of my original plan was to go to The Big Island (Hawaii Island) after Maui. Due to all activities canceled at this tough time, I decided to cancel The Big Island trip in the end. Hey, The Big Island, it is not goodbye, it is see you soon, instead!

Travel changes everything! Many people travel and only look for the familiar. However, life does not always follow your plan. Travel is not always perfect, either. This is a good lesson because learning happens when you travel and seek out what is different. Sometimes, a new experience is even better than your original plan, it just makes the experience that much more amazing. Life begins at the end of your comfort zone, so push yourself out of your comfort zone. I hope you can seek out the difference and enjoy new experience, too, in your future travels!

Mahalo to my special guests: whales for an amazing journey

It is a commitment between the whales and me. It is an unforgettable journey between us.

One night, at the end of January, I dreamed of whales.

In the dream, we were very close. I remembered the dream when I awoke. This magical dream pushed me to decide to see the North Pacific Ocean. During the winter months of December to April, over 10,000 humpback whales migrate from Alaska to the warm, shallow water of Maui (Hawaii) to mate, birth and raise their young calves in safety. This is why I chose Maui as my destination for this trip. I wanted to achieve it when I turned 33 years old, so I decided to go during my birthday week as a special gift for myself.

Unfortunately, we are experiencing the coronavirus outbreak, so people around me thought I should not travel at this time. But in the end, I made the best decision at the moment: I persisted in going and making this dream come true. I knew that if I missed this great opportunity, I would have to wait until next year. Life is made for adventuring! My special guests were strongly calling me! No matter the circumstances, I had to pursue this dream. I indeed went and experienced the most amazing marine wildlife adventure in my lifetime.

Just like the humpback whales took a long journey to Hawaii – over 3,500 miles one way from Alaskan waters – I traveled 4,184 miles to Maui from Chicago. The whales and I shared a connection even before meeting, both taking long journeys to Hawaii. When I exited the airplane, the air was so fresh and smelt wonderful, and I knew I was in the right place. It rained and flooded my first day there, but it did not hurt the island’s beauty. I drove alongside the ocean, during the rain, along twisting roads, rising up and down and through and over mountains to Maui.

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I enjoyed listening to the ocean sounds and breathing the fresh Maui air. The rain and grey do not hurt its peace and beauty. This photo is from Lahaina, Hawaii.

On March 18, around 7:30 a.m., I took a whale sighting tour departing from Lahaina Harbor to see my special friends in the ocean. In the morning, the ocean is calm and glassy. Along with the Maui mountains, and blue sky and white clouds, and the sounds of the ocean sound, I was living in paradise, everything else in the world just melted away from my thoughts.

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An exploration of the humpbacks’ favorite places and breathtaking views of the West Maui mountains in Maui’s panoramic central valley.

Our experienced boat captain turned up the throttle on our vessel and got us into the open water, as our eyes scanned the ocean for signs of movement. The tour’s certified marine naturalist explained the maneuvers and actions humpback whales use to attract mates, such as pectoral slaps, tail slaps and breaching. As luck would have it, we see a flurry of activity nearby.


My eyes were always searching for whales. Although people often call them “gentle giants,” I call them as my “special guests”. I gazed out at the mating display, the males competing for the attention of a single female, jostling for position, ramming and shoving each other and using aggressive behavior and maneuvers in hopes of chasing each other away from their potential mate.

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When whales surface to breath they expel water into the air.

 

A whale swam slowly under our vessel and popped its head up for a closer look at us, something called “mugging”. Although I missed seeing it, I could still feel that they were very close to our boat.

I saw baby whales follow the mama humpback as they moved through the water together. The baby whales were learning how to breach. It was one of the most amazing marine experience I’ve ever seen.

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I was so excited to see my special guests blowing spray above the ocean surface. It was not a dream.

All this took place with a backdrop of mountains, blue sky and ocean, the whales playfully surfacing, tail slapping and blowing spouts in the air. I can steel feel their enthusiasm and energy in and out of the water. I kept my eyes glued to them until the last glimmer of their crescent-shaped tails disappeared into the deep blue sea.

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My eyes kept gazing at the whale’s flipper until it disappeared into the blue ocean.

 

 

As you might know, whales communicate with others through a variety of sounds. People call these “whale songs”. I am so lucky that I could hear how they sing in the ocean, as they used their special sounds to compose a beautiful melody echoing through the water, moving to and through me. I think it is an ocean spirit. I could feel this natural mystery, one of the most magical moments in my lifetime.

 

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Nothing is better than listening to whales singing underwater.

The most spectacular moment happened just before the end of my tour: a whale suddenly breached the water. I saw its whole giant body leap out of the ocean, and although the distance was not very close, people, including myself, began cheering at this sight.  

At that moment, I had a unique feeling, sensing that the whales were using their special ways to tell me: Thank you for coming to see us, no matter how dangerous the situation and how far away, you still came, and you are very brave. Now, we have met each other.

At that moment, I truly felt that my dream came true and this missing part of life was complete. Although I did not take any photos of it, that amazing thing will always be in my memories. I was fortunate because my tour was the last one in Maui before the whale sighting tours were canceled until April due to the coronavirus outbreak, and at that time the whales will be heading back to Alaska. The whales were probably thinking the same thing: at least we got to meet each other.

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One of the best birthday gifts was to witness this amazing thing.

 

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You will feel its power and mystery if you visit there. 

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A whale’s tail is the most beautiful thing in the marine world.

One of the bravest decisions in my lifetime is that I still came to see you, no matter the circumstances. One of the most amazing moments in my life is that I witnessed your magical and awe-inspiring life. Now, my wish and dream came true. I have no regrets!

Mahalo to my special guests for an amazing adventure again. Thanks again for using your special ways to celebrate my 33rd birthday.

All aboard a manatee adventure

If you believe in your dreams, your dreams will come to life.

One night, gentle giants came to my dream and shared a place in my heart;

One day, I came to see them and shared a unique memory with them.

It is my adventure with manatees, often called sea cows.

You might know that Crystal River (Florida) is home to the world’s largest population of endangered manatee, particularly in the cooler months when they tend to congregate in the area’s warmer waters. My adventurous spirit pushed me to travel to meet them there, to dare to dream, and write a new chapter in my adventure book. I am proud to have completed this adventure solo and made this dream come true. 

I knew that the cooler the weather, the better the chance to see these friendly wild mammals. My adventure started early morning, at 6:00 AM. The weather was very chilly, about 45F degrees, and the sky was dark. On the way to my adventure spot, Kings Bay, I saw an amazing and incredible sunrise, with fog on the water, and boats around it. The moment was very peaceful as I witnessed the sky change color from dark to orange and pink, coloring above the fog on the water.

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There is nothing more special than seeing the sun rise in such an amazing place. These are the moments that give you fuel which lasts forever.

Wow! I realized that I was about to have an adventure in this paradise wonderland. I could not believe my eyes, but it was real. That early morning moment made this adventure even more special.

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Adventuring in a paradise wonderland.

Our boat stayed on Kings Bay. We got out of the boat, and submerged ourselves into the water, using snorkels, waiting for the manatees to come along. At the beginning, I did not see anything. I was very careful and patient, worried that my intrusion would interrupt them. After awhile, I felt something moving in the water. I looked closer and closer. Then, Wow! It was a manatee approaching. It is a gentle giant, clumsy but very cute and friendly. Adult manatees can be up to 10 feet long and weigh as much as 2,300 pounds.

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This unique, crusty one was swimming toward me.

They swam around me, and said hello in their unique way. The most exciting moment was when they followed me and cuddled with my feet and body, like a close friend, playing with me in the water. 

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They followed my body as we were swimming, staying at the same level as me, taking this adventure together. 

I did not feel nervous or afraid of them. I knew it was not a dream at all. I kept swimming with them, these gentle giants amazed me, they kissed and rode beside me, as if giving me a big hug. I saw a baby manatee flip over and swim with its mother, swimming around me. When we got closer, I clearly saw their whole cute faces and tails. I had a lot of magic touching with them. They showed me lots of love.

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When you are face to face with this cute wild encounter, you will understand why they are special.

I felt great freedom when immersed in the water and in nature. I truly feel that the beautiful creature is simple and precious in nature. They love humans. I still remember the weather in the morning was chilly, and I spent a few hours in the water, my body feeling cold and shaking.  I inserted myself there with the sun rising, all things frozen in time. I forgot about the cold and other thoughts in my head, and just enjoyed the incredible moment with my adventure buddy.

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We were super close. You shared a place in my heart, we shared an incredible moment together. Priceless.

 

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A reflection of our own nature. A sentient being sharing our space. I found compassion and inspiration through this incredible experience.  

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Come closer, closer… my adventure buddy.

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A magic hug will keep a big smile on my face.

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Its cute noses rises above the fog, making this natural moment more magical.

I felt most alive playing with them. I felt inspired and like anything I wanted to do in life is possible. When I am back to reality, I can still feel this special experience. It warms my heart. These incredible animals make my life complete. This is one of my favorite adventures in my lifetime. The “magic hugs” gave me courage to move forward and fearless to accomplish anything I want in this world.

My adventure buddies —manatees, thanks for the adventure.

Now go have a new one!

Note: In most cases, it is illegal to touch or interfere with a manatee in Florida. However, it is legal to swim and interact with manatees in two towns in Citrus County, including King’s Bay, located about two hours Northwest of Orlando. If you want to experience your own manatee adventure, be certain to do so where it is legal to do so, as this author has done.

 

A hero’s infinity journey

Are you willing to take the journey? Are you open to new possibilities? Are you willing to open your imagination? I believe each of our individual journeys differ from one another. Sometimes, we need to step away the routine, explore possibilities in new ways we might not have explored before. Maybe we can call ourselves a hero, someone who is curious, ambitious, brave, open-minded and creative.  

Welcome to the hero’s journey.

“The Hero’s Journey” is here – wndr museum

You might know the Japanese, multi-disciplinary artist Yayoi Kusama and her incredible creations, like her mind-melting infinity mirrored rooms, Kusama Pumpkin at Naoshima, spotted pumpkins and Godzilla-sized floral creation.

Kusama said “I have been taking steps toward the future every day through making many paintings and sculptures with my deep emotion that is hidden in my life.” Her creations are always full of repetitive symbols that symbolize different organisms. I think this is her way to communicate between two different worlds where she finds herself.

Her remarkable INFINITY MIRROR ROOM – LET’S SURVIVE FOREVER, 2017 is exhibited in Chicago. Here, try to forget yourself and immerse in the environment. The room surrounds the viewer in mirrors and reflective balls, making you aware of multiple versions of you, challenging you to find the balance between imagination and reality – and allowing you to find peace in your heart for this moment, as all things remain still, and the entire environment comprises only you.

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Forget yourself and immerse yourself; you feel you are infinity.  

The other room I like is the Waterlight Graffiti room. Here, I can draw and write what I want, like a canvas. As in life, I put my commitment on it, and witness the light and darkness. When I step into light, a shadow forms either behind or before me. Although the words on it will disappear soon, I witness the movement and the change, the light and the darkness. While you cannot hold back the inevitable you can still be brave and face it.

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What is your commitment in life? Go for it. 

Do you like a transformation? For me, I transformed from small to big in an “Ames Room.” This experience reflects my life journey: growth that is fun and adventurous. Perhaps we are adults on the outside but just children at heart. We have the ability to move through life without fear, facing everyday challenges. Perhaps this is worthy of being called a hero….

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The transformation from small to big, like the child to adult, without fear.

 

We are better through the imagination, become a child again here—Flyboy

I always notice murals in this city, especially the flyboy murals. The local artist Hebru Brantley said, “I create the flyboy character out of a need to have heroes of color, whether black, Asian, or White, European.” Of course, a hero can exist regardless of race, color, gender or nationality.

The Nevermore Park opened recently, a 6,000 square foot immersive art experience that transports you into an exciting alternate reality filled with new sights and sounds. 

In this exhibit, I took the train cross time, with images and items such as old televisions and computers, along with light bulbs suspended above me, with sounds all around me, taking me back to my past and then rushing me toward the future.

 

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Welcome aboard to the childhood train… Where is your next stop?

 

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In my childhood, these televisions, computers and radios were very popular. The items reminded me of years ago when I was much younger.

Across the exhibit, I found familiar sounds, signs and figures that conjure childhood and feelings of childlike wonder. I became a child again. Flyboy connected me with a previous period of my life.

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This was a cool exhibit, giving me the power to feel bravery as I emerge as an adult.

Open the door to meet our hidden heroes.

This oversized yellow door is always one of my favorite places to visit. You will feel so little in front of this giant door. People always play with that beloved “Big Monster.” Although we cannot go back in time, we can image a childhood and all of its possibilities.

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The imagination of childhood always gave me a new direction and adventure.

My fellow heroes, we are grown up, adults now, facing many challenges in life. I hope we still feel brave, creative and curious as our life journey moves us forward in new chapters. I believe your journey is a comprehensive set of experiences that can be creative with inspiration hidden around each corner – and each of us can embrace imagination, be curious and brave and open to an incredible world of possibilities.

 

Experience a Real Prison Break

Do you remember the TV show “Prison Break”?

Do you remember the comedy “The Blue Brothers”?

In both productions, there was one important location – a prison. When I was young, I really liked the TV show “Prison Break.” I hadn’t thought about it for many years. Then, I had a chance to tour this actual prison, and I couldn’t wait to explore this popular screen location.

In the TV show “Prison Break,” the facility was called Fox River State Penitentiary. The real prison name is the Joliet Correctional Center, now simply known as the “Old Joliet Prison“. It was designed by Chicago’s earliest architect, W.W. Boyington, who also designed the Chicago Water Tower. I find that the architecture of these two facilities share common characteristics.

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Can you find the similarity between Chicago Water Tower and Old Joliet Prison?

When I got inside the prison fence, there was an interesting scene: the door and windows were badly broken, with many holes, a far cry from its time as a working prison. I imagine that this site experienced a lot of ups and downs.

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All the doors and windows were broken. The prison looks like a ruin.

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At this ruin, I can get a strong sense of a prisoner’s life.  

I saw a dark light through another old iron gate, a glimpse into a prisoner’s life. They were completed imprisoned inside these dark and cheerless rooms. Also, dark light makes me feel like the prisoners experienced tough times here.

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Through these old iron gate, I can sense the prisoners’ dark sense of gloom to live in such a cheerless place.

The most impressive thing is that once I pass through the dark and cold areas, there is a large grassy area. I can feel that for the prisoners who lived here, the grassland was likely their happiest place. They perhaps could feel at least a small sense of relief from their dreary world, even see the sky. In those precious moments, the prisoners could escape their daily life and maybe feel a sense of freedom.

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Most of the prison is depressing, but pass through a door and wall, and you arrive at this grassy area, perhaps the prisoners’ favorite place.

The prison held a hospital, but it is blocked off with fences with locks on the windows. Inside, a few pieces of medical equipment remain. I can almost see the prisoners experiencing bad breaks and even death here. (Maybe this abandoned hospital could be a haunted house for Halloween.)

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The prison hospital was established in 1895. It held death instead of life for some prisoners.

Another remarkable fact: the tour guide told us that when the prison opened, two prisoners shared a double bed in the tiny room where they lived. Here, I saw a shocking scene: the prisoner’s room was guarded by a heavy iron gate. All the walls and ceiling were dilapidated.

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Can you image that prisoners lived in this tiny place? So sad.

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All the ceilings and walls were broken. Visiting the facility allowed me to understand the reality of this harsh and brutal place. It was shocking. 

Spending time in the prison shows that this was a cruel and painful place. People were imprisoned here for many years. I can feel the despair even now, and how excited a prisoner must have been to get outside for any exercise.

In the TV show “Prison Break,” the brilliant structural engineer Michael Scofield rescued his innocent brother Lincoln and formulated an escape plan, one of many stories told within the prison. When I visited the facility, I can feel that living in prison is a painful and oppressive place. The prisoners must have longed for freedom, saddened by being separated from their families, with many people dying here.   

There are other interesting places to explore in Joliet, other than the prison. I also visited the Joliet Area Historical Museum to learn about the area’s diverse history. An exhibition in the gallery showed information about the prison, with actual visuals from the prison showing its history. (On a happier note: The Blues Brothers sat outside the museum). 

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Don’t forget to take a awesome photo with The Blue Brothers!

Despite the unpleasant feel of the location, this was an exciting place to visit. I walked and toured a real prison where several movies were filmed, and I saw a glimpse of those prisoners’ stories through a broken door and window. I witnessed scenes that seemed to be from another world.

Thank you for experiencing this prison “break” with me! 

 

 

 

Seek out those creative places

Dear Adventurers,

Long time no see! Are you ready for your next adventure? Don’t forget that we are the adventurers who blaze a trail so others can follow.

You might know that love to spend time in nature, with the trees and mountains around me. The company of nature reminds me of our place in the world. But I also love to look at the design and interior of cities and buildings. I enjoy seeing all new places because they give me an opportunity to see the world through new eyes. Sometimes, the great outdoors is much closer than you think. Just step out the door!

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The sounds, the smells, the brisk air and all the things that cannot be bought.

I would like to recommend you visit these cool places when you come to Chicago, fellow adventurers.

Give us those blue skies: The Robey

Are you ready for the summer sunset? Let’s check out the Robey Chicago. You might know it is my secret spot. I love to stay there to see the city skyline on its rooftop, touch the blue skies and witness the transition of four seasons.

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 Couldn’t get enough of this view.

Although it cannot compare to other luxury places in this city, when I stay here I truly forget the long Chicago winter. Here, you can explore the neighborhood and feel closer to this city, seeing another side of it.  Stop by and you will have this feeling: It is home away from home. 

I like beautiful places in walking distance of my home: The Hoxton, Chicago

It has been said: 

“The details are not the details, they make the design.” 

I cannot agree more. 

The Hoxton just came to Chicago a few months ago, but it caught my heart already. You will find an innovative and sophisticated visual experience that showcases the creative reach of Chicago’s art community here.

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Who says you cannot find a jungle in the city? Stay at the Hoxton to get your city break. Don’t forget to see the rooftop.

The dreamiest interior: The Langham Chicago

A cute pink taxi welcomes you outside this hotel, ready to start your experience “Langham style”. Summer is a wedding season; do you think this could be the location of your dream wedding? It is not only a romantic place for a wedding reception, but it also is a gorgeous place to stay and enjoy. The hotel has so many wonderful details throughout, including some magical installations and clever design features. You can enjoy timeless elegance, marvelous city views and the finest flavors here.

 

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The magical installation makes a fairytale come true.

The afternoon tea here is the best tea ever. I can really enjoy a fulfilling afternoon here, drink my cup of tea, hang out with friends and share creative thoughts. Please put an afternoon tea here on your list of things to do in Chicago.

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Sometimes, we need a little luxury in our life.

I am fan of the outdoors, but I also love to explore great building and interior design. So step out the door and tour these stunning spaces surrounding you.

It is time to turn toward adventure. 

 

A Floridian vs Midwesterner state of mind: The Beach

Surf approaching waves with a calm heart and grace.

As Floridians, we love to immerse ourselves into the beach and sunshine: we walk on the soft sand, dip our feet into the water, and see the sky on the same horizon as the beach. It seems that we can almost touch the clouds, feel calm and relaxed, listening to the sound of ocean waves. We are summer friends. It is simple, but the beach is one of the most important parts of our everyday life.

Midwest and Chicago are winter friends forever. But in Chicago, we do have local “beaches” on Lake Michigan, but the water is from the lake, not an ocean. Chicagoans love to dip their toes into the cool waters and silky sand, and enjoy outdoor activities on this “beach” in summer. But I cannot call it a “beach”.

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As a Chicagoan, you call it a a beach. But Floridian don’t really consider this a true beach, although it has sand and water. It’s just not a beach to us because it is missing the ocean and sounds of ocean waves.

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A Floridian dips her feet in the lake and has fun, but still misses her ocean.

Braving the bitter cold and stepping outside in all my layers to stay warm, I think I’ve become a penguin. But I realize something interesting: A Floridian and a Midwesterner have different ideas about a beach.

For me, Florida has the real beaches, which include the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. These are some of the best and famous beaches in the world, from Pensacola to Daytona Beach and from Siesta Key to Miami Beach. Each coastal oasis has its own vibe.

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One of the most impressive things is that they have different types of beach sand. I’ll never forget my first steps onto the soft pure quartz beach at Siesta Key near Tampa Bay. Sand artists come here to make gorgeous and amazing sand sculptures in contests.

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I am very proud to introduce my real home’s beach to you, especially to Midwesterners. It is common to see a fishing pier extending far out into the water, with the soft blue sky and clouds as a backdrop, and sea foam and white caps in the ocean as the waves break over the sand.

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The beach” opened in Chicago recently. It is an immersive art installation, which consists of a large, open room filled with more than a million antimicrobial and recyclable plastic balls, along with deck chairs, lifeguard chairs, umbrellas and signage that mimic the sensation of a day at the beach. Ha ha! I was diving in the BALL.

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Do you have a beach feeling, Floridians? It is all beach-themed art.

Chicago has many cool things, but it doesn’t really have a beach. Ha ha! So the best way to escape the bitter cold winter is to enjoy the REAL beach! Welcome to my home state!

We are in love with hot chocolate

Happy 2019! As the new year stretches out before us like a winding path, I thank you for joining me on the journey. I welcome 2019 with an adventurous and happy heart!

2019 is the year of chasing sweet-tooth satisfaction. The cold never bothers me, and it gives a good excuse to drink sweet hot chocolate. I declare that hot chocolate season is officially here! Let’s drink more COCOA in the winter wonderland. 

Some like it hot, but we like it HOTTER: Bombobar

When I heard this name for the first time, I expected their chocolate would be like a flavor bomb explosion. The first time I went there, I ordered their s’mores hotter chocolate, and I had a surprise: all the creams are on top along with a mini doughnut, really like a bomb. I had never had this treat before. It is definitely a super sweet drink, but sometimes you need sweeter and hotter in a cold winter.  

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Address: 832 W Randolph, Chicago IL, 60607

At the beginning of 2019, I went there again. They have added a new, even hotter chocolate: Party Monster and Salted Caramel. I like the salted caramel better, with its marshmallow, caramel popcorn, cotton candy and chocolate covered pretzels mixed together. It makes the hot chocolate powerful and sweeter. I like this sweet thing so much.

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Please forget the sugar and heavy calories; enjoy this heavenly drink.

If you don’t like super sweet things, I recommend that you try the Apple Cider. It is a little bit sour, but top it off with apple jacks, a bombo and whipped cream, and the flavor is perfect and will warm your heart.

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The mini doughnut makes this drink stand out. 

Experience the whimsical and delicious wonder of chocolate mice, chocolate penguins here: L.A. Burdick Chocolates

Chocolate mice, chocolate penguins, chocolate snowman…. they have captured my heart. All are handmade, so each one is unique and different. The funny thing is that Burdick’s is the same age as me. I would love to take their mice and penguins on adventures with me.

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Address:609 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654

Drinking a cup of hot chocolate is a wonderful life experience. When I sip it, it is so soft, creamy and rich in my mouth. It brightens my gray mood on a snowy day. And it is not  only for winter time: I also love to drink iced hot chocolate in the summer.

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 Delicious steaming hot chocolate is calling me.

No better way to celebrate sweet chocolate than with a homemade marshmallow on top: Mindy’s Hot Chocolates

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Address:1747 N Damen Ave, Chicago, IL 60647

You might know this place. I often come here to eat brunch (Avocado Toast/Smoked Salmon Toast ) and drink a cup of medium chocolate. The medium is milk chocolate with a touch of dark chocolate and a hint of caramel. It is simple but the sweet ratio is moderate. The best part is when the giant homemade marshmallow melts into the chocolate, making it more delightful and delicious.

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The white homemade marshmallow melts my heart. Come here to grab a cup of chocolate.

You can try different styles of hot chocolates here, such as Mexican chocolate, old fashioned chocolate, peppermint hot chocolate… Cheers to the hot chocolates!

I would love to suggest one more place to drink hot chocolates:Mexican hot chocolate at La Bodega.

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Things are heating up with Mexican hot chocolate.

We are in love with the COCOA. The weather outside is s frightful, but those hot chocolates are still delightful. It is time to get out there and discover some of the joys and sweet of winter. Enjoy!

The spirit of the season is out there III

Bonjour Holidays, Bonjour P.O.S.H 

At some point in your life, you want something that feels authentic—something that speaks to you. So I always find the special thing to tell a story. If your recipients are from Europe, or French, or love European style, this is definitely a place for you.

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Address: 613 N State St, Chicago, IL 60654

P.O.S.H  is a local small business in town. In the holiday season, you should not miss its gorgeous window display. This charming dress captures the magic of the holiday spirit.

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The owner sells a lot vintage and authentic items from European flea markets, and has some unique items from their travels. Here, you don’t need to go far to find special gifts, including vintage hotel silver, tabletop, dinnerware, French tea, tea towels, antiques, paintings. You also can find items related to Chicago, such as a vintage Chicago postcard.

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Lots of vintage collections here, a lot to look at, a lot to love.

P.O.S.H is a perfect combination of European and Chicago styles, a small store that delivers a unique and warm message. 

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You can feel the magical things from Europe and Chicago.

You can not only find unique items here, but also many items that stir memories, like the corners of grandma’s kitchen, where I found cute kitchen items. I can smell her famous sugar cookies fresh from the oven.

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Grandma’s kitchen. Do miss her famous cooking?

I see many French items here, like the Eiffel Tower and French books for kids. It reminds me to think of my JAX mom. It is a magical place that connects the special memories between her and me.

Have you heard of this saying: “The fragrance of adventure and poetry endlessly pervades each cup of tea”? In the French tradition, Mariage Frères has elevated tea to an art. If you have tried it, you understand the passion and reverence that tea aficionados have for these exquisite teas. If not, try it. I selected the Mariage Frères -Esprit de Noel Tea as a gift for my JAX Mom. She is French, and over time we grow closer every year, like a real mom and daughter. It is magical to be reunited, and we have a wonderful time enjoying this special tea together, laughing and sharing precious moments.

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No matter where we roam, there is no a place like home. I feel a strong connection with my family members in my home in the U.S.A.

 

More suggestions for special gifts:  

  1. L.A. Burdick Chocolate
  2. Anthropologie
  3. Gather home + lifestyle

I hope you enjoy Stephy’s holiday gift guideline, and I hope you find the perfect gifts for everyone on your list. Wishing you all a dreamy holiday!