Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go

I’ve been back from Asia for a month now, living at my parent’s house in Michigan.

I am by far the happiest I’ve ever been at home. Readjusting last time after a long spell abroad was more difficult- I felt listless, bored and irritated with the return of bad habits like snacking and scrolling through Facebook on my phone.

But this year is different. I’m even enjoying winter this year despite the polar vortex‘s best efforts.

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This stems from something I learned while studying yoga in Bali- in order to survive a grueling, ninety-minute yoga session, it’s best to be present.

Don’t focus on the clock; suffer through discomfort to achieve your personal best. Don’t compare yourself to others; strive to be present, just you, on your mat.

This mindful little mantra of “staying present” not only applies well to yoga, but also to life in general.

I remember reading about Elizabeth Gilbert’s idea of happiness when I was 16 in her memoir Eat Pray Love. She wrote of “diligent joy”, or the idea that happiness is something you fight for every day.

“Happiness is the consequence of personal effort,” she wrote.

Seven years later, I’ve finally realized this is true. And in addition to striving for “diligent joy”, I also strive to practice gratitude, another lesson I learned on my yoga retreat in Bali.

Not in the mood for class?

Be grateful to be practicing yoga in Bali with some of the world’s best instructors.

Be grateful for the crickets that chirp, the soft rain that falls down on the thatched roof, for the lush greenery.

Be so, so grateful that you have been given this opportunity to be here.

And along with a great tan, I’ve tried to take that lesson of practicing gratitude home with me. Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR

Be grateful for the snow. Be grateful to be sitting fireside with a glass of pinot noir and an addictive TV show.

Be grateful for a winter walk with a friend, watching my little dog trip over snow-banks.

Be grateful for Starbucks dates with my sweet little sister.

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Cranbrook Winter 2014 LR1

And in accordance with my new year’s resolutions I’m making an effort to see my friends more. As my fellow Instagram addicts may know I spent last weekend in Chicago in a flurry of dinner parties, craft beer at the bar and catching up with friends. It was wonderful.

I’ll write about this soon, but I’ve realized my priorities have changed; I now know I need a community, a group of friends, people who I know and love and care about.

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Chicago Beer

Along with many other lessons, Asia taught me long-term nomadic life is not for me.

I guess what it all boils down to is this; I’m really happy and I’d like to stay that way.

Back from Asia… And Home for the Holidays!

Back from Asia… And Home for the Holidays!

Hey! I’m not sure if you saw on Facebook and Twitter but I am home! (Once I suffered a 30+ hour flight in which Delta shoved me in the corner with a crying infant and a seat that didn’t recline. Love.)

Being home is so nice. I don’t think I’ve ever been this happy to be home. Ever. (more…)

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Reunited with my little sis and soaking in Christmas cheer at the Fox Theatre in Detroit! 

After two months of solo travel all I want is quality time with my family and friends. For the past few days I’ve been pestering my siblings with questions like, “So, who wants to go to see The Hunger Games?” or “Anyone need a ride to Best Buy?”

I think a part of me was lonely in Asia; while I was constantly surrounded by other travelers, I missed being around people I actually know, have known and will know. If that makes any sense.

Two tiny complaints- I have the worst jet lag of my life and have I mentioned how COLD Michigan is? The winter chill here is truly bitter. Which is why I have barely left the house, content to lounge around by the fire and watch the snow fall, curled up with my laptop.

The only time I leave the house is to do hot yoga- thankfully my yoga habit has continued on from my retreat in Bali! I’m kind of obsessed now.

Speaking of Bali, I have a post about all that Asia meant to me in the works. Now that I’ve left I feel it’s easier to reflect on the trip, though all of the cliched words do come to mind: life-changing, incredible and unforgettable.

In other news I got a new, much shorter haircut. I kind of dig it, what do you think?

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And professionally I’m doing quite well. My site is up to more than 9,000 unique monthly views and more than 26,000 monthly page views! How did that happen?

Which may have to do with the fact that last week I was featured on Adventurous Kate as one of the nine standout blogs of 2013- which truly meant the world to me.

And in another stroke of great news I won the Angie Away holiday giveaway! (And I never win anything, I swear!) My new Tieks are already in the mail and I can’t wait to see the rest of the goodies.

And I won another giveaway too! Candace Rardon, one of my favorite bloggers, sent me one of her incredible watercolor postcards because I won her December giveaway… isn’t it gorgeous?

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So, what’s up next?

Well, I’m not really sure. I definitely want to be home for at least a month. And then I have several options… but any suggestions on travel destinations in 2014 would be very welcome!

And over the holidays I’ll be taking a break from posting- happy holidays everyone!

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

I’ll Be Home for Christmas

Ten minutes before I left for France in October, my mom insisted I buy a ticket home for Christmas- and I am ever so happy that I heeded her demand suggestion.

And as if I didn’t need any more incentive to come home to my wonderful family, Michigan really out-did itself this year with the snow. (more…)

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Whenever anyone in France asked me what I was looking forward to most about going home for the holidays, I replied unabashedly, “I’m excited to see my puppy.”

Please, dear readers, meet my beloved Zoe. Isn’t she darling?

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Full disclosure – it took me about 10 shots to get this one of her posing nicely in front of the garland. And you’re lucky I didn’t make a GIF of her playing tug-of-war with her favorite monkey toy.

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Coming home to Michigan means so many things: soy chai latte trips with my baby sister, going out for Lebanese with my brother and failing at painting in my mom’s art studio (she’s an amazing artist but I inherited none of her talent!)

But coming home for Christmas is extra special; try as you might, you just really can’t replicate this atmosphere in a hostel.

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So for Christmas Eve dinner, we invited over my grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousin, Katie.

Katie brought along her good friend, Rebecca. Being from China, it was Rebecca’s first American Christmas so we tried to make it extra special for her.

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(Rebecca was an absolute doll, but I had a slight face-palm moment when I innocently asked her, “So, how many siblings do you have?” D’oh.)

Seeing everyone together laughing, telling stories and drinking pinot just warmed my heart. I really do adore my family.

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Meet Lou, my wonderful, fellow Francophile step-grandfather who recently turned 85, and my future 13 year-old future DIY and beauty blogger little sis, who we all call Bee. She steals my clothes.

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Anyone who knows me (or reads the comments on my blog) knows how close I am with my grandmother, June, who is an Alabama-born professional jazz pianist and all-around rock star. She is currently writing a book as well as juggling play-writing, acting and her music career- she’s such an inspiration!

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You may remember my dad from posts such as this one, but let me just give him a little shout-out too. My dad, who we affectionately call, “Mr. Fun”, is kind of the coolest dad of all time. And he, like the rest of my family, has also been more than supportive about my adventures and encourages me to keep learning and exploring. P1070026

And then things got a whole lot sweeter – my Aunt Suzanne shipped us a delicious coconut layer cake all the way from Georgia! I love having southern relatives.

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On Christmas Day we had some snow to enjoy!

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Zoe joined in on the fun as well. She strangely is kind of obsessed with snow, despite her 8-pound size and tendency to be shorter than the snow drifts.

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If I’m most thankful for one thing in 2012 it’s being able to spend the holidays with my family. May you and your families all enjoy health, happiness and adventure in 2013.

Love,

Ash

Trying (and Failing) at Michigan Duck Hunting

Trying (and Failing) at Michigan Duck Hunting

Last weekend, as we Michiganians say, my family and I went “up north.” Meaning we went to our cottage on Lake Huron to go duck hunting.

And as a person who has spent a lot of time in France, I jumped at the opportunity to shoot and hopefully eat some duckies.

Along for the ride was my good friend, Elliot, who has hunted with my dad in the past. Unfortunately they didn’t trust me with a gun, but I did get to try out these bad boys…

Duck Hunting

Have I ever looked better? I think these waders were outfitted for Andre the Giant.

All morning my sister and I took turns playing with the duck whistle, which when you blow into it sounds exactly like a duck. After repeatedly blowing it, and remarking, “Wow, this duck whistle sounds just like a dying duck,” Elliot quietly remarked, “Ash, it’s called a duck call.”

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Whoa. Duck call. Sorry.

The hardest part of the journey was detaching the duck boat from the minivan. (Did I really just write that?) While my offers to help were swiftly rejected (ASHLEY! JUST STAY ON THE DOCK!) Elliot finally freed boat and we were reading to get hunting.

Michigan Duck Hunting

Michigan Duck Hunting

My dad was the capitan of this voyage. My dad is a big duck-hunter, and during my childhood he would bring me trinkets like wooden jaguar heads and pretty silver necklaces back from his hunting trips down to South America.

His hunting partners have always regaled me with stories of his Annie Oakley-esque shot which I was excited to see in action. I kind of like to think of him as a suburban Indiana Jones.

Michigan Duck Hunting

This is my little sister, Bee. She truly looks cute in anything.

Michigan Duck Hunting

Michigan Duck Hunting

I loved being surrounded by Lake Huron water, which is always so clear and cold and lovely – well, lovely until you repeatedly fall into it. And for the clumsiest person in the world, walking in the Andre the Giant boots was extra challenging. I literally completely fell forward in the water four times. Poor Elliot had to walk me like a granny back to the boat. Which I also fell into, naturally.

Michigan Duck Hunting

But alas, the water was too shallow and we turned around soon after setting up the blind. These were the only ducks we got.

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Which was really okay, considering the blood and gore and neck-twisting of innocent ducks may have been a little too much for me anyway. I just enjoyed being outside during such a sunny fall day, with the flaming Michigan foliage all around.

This part of Michigan is very close to my heart, and I’ll be up north again soon.

Have you ever gone duck hunting in Michigan?

Saturday Snapshot 4

Saturday Snapshot 4

Hey everyone, happy Saturday! First a few blogging points:

Sorry I have messed with the design of this website so much this week, dear readers! I have been trying to think of a tagline and design that represent me as a writer/blogger, and I think “one travel-obsessed girl living around the world” pretty much sums it up.

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Also I have been changing my photo of the week between Friday and Saturday, but I think I’m just going to stick with my original idea, Saturday – it just has more pizzaz!

Anyway, back to the photo of the week. These photos of the week are technically from last week but please forgive me – I leave for France on Monday so I haven’t been as shutter-happy recently.

I went duck hunting (post soon!) with my dad, sister and good friend Elliot last weekend. The fall foliage and blue lake were just beautiful. And while I didn’t shoot any ducks on this trip, I did shoot some photos.

So please, help me decide – which “shot” do you like best?

 

Photo One

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My dad, the captain of our expedition. Warning to future boyfriends – this man could shoot off a chipmunk’s stripes in the dark. (Feel free to steal that expression.)

 

Photo Two

Duck Hunting

I loved being in nature for the day. There’s nothing like Michigan in the fall.

 

Photo Three

Duck Hunting

 A shot of my little sister, Bee, looking fly in camo.

 

 Photo Four

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A very handsome dog fiercely protecting his shore.

 

Saturday Snapshot 3

Saturday Snapshot 3

So I have some big (and good) news! One – I received my au pair visa in record time and ended up buying my ticket to France yesterday. I will be leaving in 10 days and I am beyond excited.

Secondly, and please excuse the exclamation points – my dad surprised me with an early Christmas present, a Canon EOS Rebel T2i and telephoto lens! I’m such a lucky girl these days! The camera has almost twice the pixels of my old camera and is SO much faster. Not to mention the telephoto lens is so much fun to play with.

So back to the photos – these are the first shots I took with my new camera. The fall is so stunningly colorful around here so I just had to take some pictures.

I liked several that I took so please tell me, which is your favorite?

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I was taking a walk at Cranbrook and noticed all the beautiful leaves covering the forest floor. It’s funny how cameras can make you take in the details.

 

Photo 2

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I then looked up and loved how the dark boughs of the tree contrasted with the golden leaves. Ah, fall.

 

Photo 3

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Finally, these are two art students I spotted walking about a half-mile away. This new lens can do some serious creeping, right? It kind of makes me feel like a superspy. Or maybe a stalker, but superspy sounds way cooler.

 

So, which photo is your favorite? I would love to hear your comments below!

Detroit Eastern Market: The Belly of Detroit

Detroit Eastern Market: The Belly of Detroit

I spent last Saturday strolling the famed Eastern Market in Detroit, and truth be told, it was my first time there. And it was awesome.

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Eastern Market Street Art

Street art outside of the market. I’m thinking it’s a vegetable cow?

Detroit Eastern Market vendor

Full disclosure: What appears to be a candid purchase of baby eggplants is actually a highly staged photo-shoot of my friend’s mom buying produce. I’m cool like that. 

While I would never call myself a Detroiter (Eminem ruthlessly bashed my high school in 8 Mile, oh the shame), I do feel a lot of pride for the city and for how far it’s come.

The market was just how I like markets: bustling, proletariat and filled to the rafters with gorgeous produce at low prices. There wasn’t a hint of pretension anywhere, just small businesses and farmers selling their wares.

Now please take a look at these beautiful vegetables rife in autumnal splendor…

Beets and carrots

Concord grapes

Peppers

The service wasn’t bad either. See the helpful overall-clad gentleman below who let me take his picture.

Great Lakes Coffee

By the end of it I walked away with Great Lakes coffee, wax beans, a gigantic stalk of brussels sprouts and a greater understanding of what Detroit’s up to these days. I’ll be back to the Detroit Eastern Market soon.

Have you ever visited Detroit Eastern Market? What did you think?

Saturday Snapshot 1

Saturday Snapshot 1

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Please meet the first post of my Saturday Snapshot series! I wanted to post a photo each week of the coolest or most inspiring thing I had seen all week. As I am currently living in Michigan my life is not that interesting, but bear with me - I just got news from France that the ministry of labor approved my au pair papers! I should be in Paris in less than three weeks.

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Here is an embarrassing confession; I grew up in the Detroit area and I have never been to the beloved farmers market, known as the Eastern Market. Today was my first trip and I loved it! The Michigan fall produce was beautiful, from the wax beans to the baby eggplants, and the vendors were fun to chat with.  Eastern Market Detroit Street Art

This is a photo of the street art vegetable cow I found at the market. I loved picking her apart - the cucumber mouth, bok choy legs and cherry tomato eyes. There will be a post about the market soon!

Cranbrook by Fisheye

Cranbrook by Fisheye

As long as I’m stuck in the Mitten, I thought I should write about my favorite thing here- Cranbrook. And is there anything prettier than Cranbrook photography?

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From age six until age 17, I attended Cranbrook Schools (and as I’ve been asked a lot recently, yes, Mitt Romney is also an alum). Cranbrook has a beautiful 365-acre campus where I have years worth of memories. During free periods in high school I used to go outside to tan with friends or do my homework on the bough of a tree. It’s really a magical place.

My dad recently gave me my grandfather’s old fisheye lens- so I decided to play around with it on Cranbrook campus- this is the result. Hopefully you think my school is as beautiful as I do.

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