One To Nothin'

#OTNTravels First Half of 2019

FRIENDS! We're already halfway through 2019, and I'm less than a month from turning 30! Both of these facts are blowing my damn mind. Y'all don't even know how many blog posts I've started and not finished in the past six months (and beyond). There are so many NOT fun things that have happened and topics that I want to cover eventually, but right now I think the easiest (and most fun) thing to do is recap the #OTNTravels I've done so far. So let's just take a little trip down memory lane (since we all know I don't blog in real time anymore). 
After spending Christmas in Florida, I drove up near Tahoe to spend New Year's Eve in a friend's cabin with a whole crew of amazing people. We hiked, told ghost stories, took turns cooking (when no open restaurants were to be found), wore capes, and counted down to 2019 under the stars. It was magical.
My friend was about to move to Austin, TX and since she's already made the CA-to-TX drive several times, I volunteered to drive her car across the country for her because road trips are kind of my thing. Jason (oh hey, that's my boyfriend ICYMI) and I used it as an opportunity to drive through all our dream destinations. We went from Joshua Tree, CA to Arizona to New Mexico to Texas to Louisiana where we met up with my family. This road trip deserves its own post, but unclear whether that will ever happen, so here's a one-second-at-a-time video of the trip from start to finish (not shown, but it started with a flat tire and several dead car batteries)

One of my best (and most extra) friends from work turned 30 and consequently rented a MANSION in Palm Springs for his birthday. It was one of the most amazing, craziest, drag queeniest weekends of my life. I loved every minute of it. 

Jason's birthday was in April and to celebrate we went camping in Yosemite where the rainbows were OUT OF CONTROL (and his last name just so happens to be Rainbow, so you can imagine how much fun I had writing Instagram captions). We ate s'mores, took Ziggy on trails she wasn't supposed to be on, prayed we wouldn't be eaten by wild animals in the middle of the night, and practically swam through rainbows on every hike. 

My roommate, boo, and I all bought Cellar Passes where you get free tastings at select wineries all over Napa for six months. There were about 30 different wineries to choose from, and since Elizabeth is practically a sommelier, she organized an itinerary for us approximately once a month. It was SUCH a win. We probably got about 10x our money's worth with all our fancy AF trips. I highly recommend the wine passport for anyone who's local (or even if you're just visiting and plan on doing more than three tastings).
For Memorial Day I flew to Florida to spend the long weekend in St. Augustine with my sister and her friends. We played in the (WARM!) ocean, did late-night-drunken yoga, found alligators, explored historic downtown St. Augustine, and even hung out in Silver Springs with my parents. It was so much fun, but I honestly cried on the plane ride home because the trip was too short and I miss those crazies ALL THE TIME. 

I finally stayed put in June (and focused on working out every single day), and I just got back from Maryland for my little's bachelorette party (we captured so much epic content that I'd like to dedicate a whole post to it. Hold me to it?) But I'm happy to report that the second half of 2019 is going to include international trips(!!!) and some of my favorite people in the world's weddings. The best is yet to come.

Where have you travelled to so far in 2019? 

Let's talk about books, baby

Dudes, I'm obsessed with Goodreads. I ask questions about books on there, I update my progress, I set goals, I find books to read, I get stoked when I can switch a book from "currently reading" to "finished." It's the most underrated social network IMO. The one thing I don't do is leave detailed reviews. It's never been my thing, but I do like talking about books sooo I'm going to stick to my noncommittal, 5-second review technique on this roundup of books I've consumed since the last time I did this (it's been a while—check out my old book posts here, here, here, here). And if you wanna discuss any of them specifically, let me know in the comments. I still have a LOT of unanswered questions on a few of them.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie -- I hadn't read the story this one was based off of, but it won the women's prize for fiction in 2018, so I gave it a read. It started out kind of confusing and convoluted, but things started to come together and I couldn't put it down until I was done and then I couldn't stop thinking about it. It's about an immigrant family and it's not a happy story. LMK if you read it. Would still very much like to talk through this one with somebody. 

Becoming by Michelle Obama -- God, I miss the Obamas. I was captivated, inspired, nostalgic and mesmerized by her soothing, maternal voice narrating the audiobook. 

The Other Woman by Sandie Jones -- NO. Just no. Do not recommend. Except I do because I want someone else to read it so we can discuss all the GD plot holes in it. WHY IS NO ONE ELSE OUTRAGED ABOUT THIS? The Reese Witherspoon book club really let me down with this one.

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur -- This extremely popular book of poems has been all over Instagram forever, but I finally read it on a plane and welled up many times. It's deep, beautiful, graphic, all the feels.

Sober Curious by Ruby Warrington -- If you've ever wondered how much is too much booze (idk about you, but for me it's a huge part of work events, friend outings, celebrations, and even taking the edge off when I'm reaaal down) this is an interesting take on being sober without BEING sober. 

The Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman -- Meh. I listened on audiobook and kept dazing off. I finished it, but I think I only absorbed like 70% of it. 

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens -- I loved everything about this book, from the descriptions of the swamp to the untamed spirit of the main character to the mystery to the love story. 

One Day in December by Josie Silver -- lol. I read this over Christmas break and even though it's extremely cheesy and cliche and ripped right out of the plot of Love Actually, it was v enjoyable and still gave me feels at the end.

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum -- This was the cutest. I'm a sucker for High School stories. Makes me nostalgic, and this one was quite well done and pretty light hearted (which is necessary sometimes, man). 

Burying the Honeysuckle Girls by Emily Carpenter -- Blah. I think this one had a lot of potential but the author was just too afraid to actually make anything happen. I was super drawn in at first (I love when there's a bit of magic wound into an otherwise regular-degular story) but I was let down over and over again. 

Let's Pretend this Never Happened by Jenny Lawson -- I used to read and look up to The Bloggess so much back in the early days of blogging, so it was really fun to finally get to this one. Jenny reads the audiobook and she's a mess in the best way possible (I really love when people come from quirky families, I can't imagine why).

P.S. I Still Love You by Jenny Han -- I mean we all loved the first one, right? This one's equally cute. If you haven't watched "To All The Boys I Loved Before" on Netflix, get on it. 

Egomaniac by Vi Keeland -- On a very different, filthy note... I signed up for the Audible romance package? I have no idea. Anyway, that's where this one came from and it's not a good story by any means, but if you're just trying to get steamy, do it. 

Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid -- Basically the rom-com version of The Butterfly Effect. Meh. 

Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn -- Was I the last person to read this? There's a show for it now and I couldn't get through the first episode. This book is dark (sometimes unnecessarily so) but such a captivating mystery. My only complaint is how EVERYTHING is revealed in the last few pages. Seems like she was just over it and wanted to be done.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng -- It took me a long time to remember what this book was about. I feel like that's a bad sign. 

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas -- This one broke my heart over and over again. I had to take several breaks while reading it. It's really well written in an easy-to-understand, high school level but so important, especially for people who have never experienced and may not understand police brutality.

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman -- I have questions about this one. I was definitely intrigued and wanted to solve the mystery, but it all just seemed so unprobable. And I didn't really like any of the characters... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

The Wife Between Us by Greer Henkricks -- which is a pen-name because two women wrote this book together and it shows. I have many questions on this one as well, but like they probably do too? 

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate -- This is a novel diving into the corruption in high profile adoption agencies that *actually* happened. It made me so angry, but I also loved the story. Highly recommend.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls -- Also highly recommend this one. I had no idea it was a true story until the end because it's SO INSANE. I was thoroughly entertained (and as usual a bit heartbroken) throughout. You just have to read it. 

How Not to Die by Michael Greger -- Apparently eating animals is killing us? Idk, I was into it enough to try being vegan for a couple weeks and my stomach was SO pissed off. Still interesting to read and learn about all the case studies where many diseases have literally been cured with plants. If nothing else it encouraged me to eat A LOT more veggies.

Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcom Gladwell -- Very interesting and upsetting. This is a true neuroscience/psychology book that gives insight into everything from facial expressions that give you away to tunnel vision that results in shooting an innocent person many times. 

It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover -- I was entertained and heartbroken. This one definitely left that ughhhh why though? feeling.

I think that about sums it up. I'm now reading Middlesex on paperback (which I've been trying to finish for like five years) and Nine Perfect Strangers on audiobook. BTW I started using Scribd and put my Audible subscription on hold. So far so good. I definitely recommend it if you plow through audiobooks and find yourself wishing you had more than one per month (and it's cheaper than Audible somehow, you just don't get to keep the audiobooks once you cancel, but I'm not one to listen to the same book twice so it's not an issue for me). 

What have you been reading? Do you have recommendations? Can we discuss any of the above? TALK BOOKS W ME PLZ.
 I'm reaaaally not OK with The Other Woman...

What a year

My 2018 beginning in March, as shown in 1-2 seconds per day

It occurred to me that aside from the travel journal accrued during my solo trip to Vietnam, there weren't all that many personal posts in 2018 or 2017 for that matter. I took on a few sponsored posts here and there because I wanted something to keep me blogging when it felt like the last thing I wanted to do. I enjoyed them, but a lot of life stuff happened in between them and reflection has always kinda been my thing. So here goes.  

I got promoted.

I mourned a relationship I knew I shouldn't have been in to begin with.

I travelled to Asia for the first time on my scariest, coolest, most self-discovery-est solo trip yet.

I wrote a lot of copy and a little bit of my novel.

I started my online dating journey with an amazing first date and promptly friend-zoned him after the second.

I rang in 2018 with some of my closest friends in NYC.

I became really close with my new-at-the-time roommates.

I stoked an old flame and felt the familiar burn I often confuse with warmth. 

I found some of my closest friends who also happen to be my coworkers.

I drank a lot of fancy wine in Napa.

I read my journal I hadn't touched in four years and saw the same names I still heard myself speaking on a regular basis. 

I decided to write a new story and finally let go.

I went on a bunch of terrible dates and a couple good ones that ended in ways that made me question my judgement (and society). Then a bunch more bad ones. 

I started to doubt every relationship decision I'd ever made.

I learned that someone opened fire at my old high school where my nephews are students (no one was killed, thank god).

I travelled all over the US—New York, Vegas, Utah, Colorado, San Diego, Seattle, but my favorite was when I surprised my parents in Florida for Mothers Day (watch the full video here—skip to 3:40 for the reactions).

I read 30 books.

I reached out to that one amazing first date and we went on a second amazing first date. I've lost track of which date we're on now.

I voted.

I saw a ton of concerts.

I helped launch a brand-new program at work and flew to LA basically every two weeks. 

I found out one of my best friends passed away on one of those LA trips and learned what grieving in an Uber, airport, and airplane feels like. 

I missed meetings, had a panic attack in a bathroom, abused alcohol (a lot), and realized how lucky I am to have the support system I have here.

I watched friends get engaged, married, and pregnant. I cheered them on as they bought homes, got promotions, acceptance letters, and grants. As they survived breakups, mourned losses, and started over. 

I remembered how fun it is to be on my own. I remembered how fun it is to fall in love.

I learned so much, including how much I have left to learn, and I'm excited/kind of terrified to see what 2019 has up its sleeve. 

Happy 2019, friends.

Christmas 2018

This was originally an Instagram caption, but I thought this was a better home for it. 

This Christmas has been equal parts wonderful and heartbreaking. 

I’ve met new family members that I love already, participated in family traditions that I cherish, allowed myself to sit around indulging in sugar, booze, and laziness, and finally got to surround myself with people who knew and loved Mike as much as I did. 

I’ve missed him every day since I found out he passed, but nothing made it feel quite as real as listening to his closest friends reminisce, cry, and sing in his memory. I dreaded the moment when we’d all have to acknowledge that it actually happened and it’s up to us to keep his legacy alive. I hugged his mom and his brothers, I laughed hearing all his crazy stories, and I cried a lot and often. 

The night ended, I nursed my hangover with White Russians, decorated cookies, and managed to feel cheerful for a while. Then on Christmas morning when Santa gifted us all Amazon Echo Dots and I scrolled through the app trying to find fun ways to program it, I saw a message from Mike M. The only message I’ve ever received on my old device from July 2017: 

“MACKENSIEEEE AHHHH! I don't know if this works, but hope you’re having a good day. Bye.” 

When I first got the news a couple months back, I looked through my voicemails hoping I’d find one from him and didn’t. I scrolled way up in our texts hoping to read every message we’d ever sent to each other and they were gone. But here was a voice message, a gift from him on Christmas morning hoping I was having a good day.

I love you, Mike. I hope you had a good Christmas up there, too.

#OTN Travels: Sapa (the last one!)

*This is a continuation of my travel journal from my solo trip to Vietnam. See part 1 here & part 2 here*

Guys, this time last year I was gallivanting around Vietnam all on my own, so I thought I should finally press publish on this post that's been patiently sitting in my drafts for 12 months. Enjoyyyy. 


After a restless night on the train car of waking up just about every hour (our car was RIGHT next to the bathroom), I woke up around 5:30am when a horn let us know it was time. I didn't even end up brushing my teeth because I didn't want to fight to get into the tiny bathroom, so just picture a very tired Kens with stank breath still wearing the jeans she slept in (and wore the entire day before). Normally she'd be a cranky butthead, but this time around she was in pretty good spirits because ADVENTURE.

I had a hotel booked in Sapa that I found way ahead of time--I picked a fancy 4-star number because I figured by this time in the trip I might be a little worn out and in need of some fancy views--but check in wasn't until 2pm. I learned my lesson in Hanoi on day one, so I knew I needed to find something to do until then. My bunkmates told me they were going to the once-a-week market in Bac Ha, so I decided to follow suit. I hopped on a bus, asked for some coffee (because coffee breath is better than sleep breath), and promptly made friends with everyone else (like 10 other people) crammed on the bus. This was the first time I found other American tourists, one couple from Philly and another from West Virginia. Not gonna lie, it was pretty fun for me listening to them shit all over Trump on that bus ride, but I think holding a conversation over those windy, bumpy roads for so long (I think the bus ride was about four hours) really took it out of me. By the time I arrived at the market, I was incredibly overwhelmed.

First thing I did was buy a donut--it was delicious, more croissant-like than sweet--but the more I walked around, the more I wanted to run back to the bus and hide. This is the market that supplies ALL the things to the people who live miles and miles around, I'm talkin' batteries, toilet paper, clothes, meat, spices, anything you could need. There's no Target or Walgreens for when you run out of tampons, man, so everyone was here and it was a lot to take in. Don't get me wrong, it was absolutely beautiful. Families working, shopping, chatting, bargaining... but some things I saw I wasn't used to. Like pigs, buffalo, and even dogs (lots and lots of mangey dogs) all squealing because they're about to be dinner kinds of things. I think the overstimulation and slight (hypocritical, I might add) disturbance over these animals about to be slaughtered combined with hunger and lack of sleep made me want to break down. 

I almost started crying, in fact I might have shed a couple tears, but then I just ate some pho (it wasn't very good because I went to a less crowded area to try to chill out, which didn't help the situation) and walked until I found a little shaded area with a great view of the hustle and bustle with coffee and juice for sale. I got an iced coffee, sat down, and calmed myself down. It was close enough to the action that I didn't feel like I was hiding or missing out, but far enough that the young boy working the coffee stand asked me why I was just sitting there. He was probably like 15 and practicing his English, but he straight up told me to go see the buffalo. I laughed, finished my coffee, and went to go see the damn buffalo. And just like that my entire mood changed. I was excited to pick out souvenirs for my family and loved the jewelry, elephant pants, and art everywhere.
I ended up spending all my money on gifts and making my first international atm withdrawal--big moves, guys. I enjoyed the rest of my time at the market and eventually made my way back to the bus to go to Sapa. I arrived, checked into my hotel, which was so big, so cheap, and had the most amazing view of the rice fields. I was so lucky because the other folks I met on the Ha Long Bay cruise started their journey in Sapa, and the fog was so bad they couldn't see a foot in front of them, but it cleared out by the time I arrived. I immediately took a loooong shower, brushed my teeth forever, and took a nap. Then I woke up, went to dinner at a restaurant called A Moment Romantic where I ordered a special that had about four courses. It came with rice wine, which the super sweet waitress warned me was crazy strong, but I thought I could handle it. I was wrong. She noticed I wasn't drinking the fire water, so she asked if I wanted something else, to which I said, "Can I have a coconut, plz?" MUCH BETTER (and would've cost $18 in SF).  
After dinner I thought about exploring, but the fog had already started rolling in and I was still exhausted, so I went back to my luxurious hotel room and watched Blades of Glory. Literally obsessed with Vietnamese TV programming, y'all. Did you know they censor violence on TV? At first I was weirded out because, like, how dare you?! Then I remembered how we censor out words like "sex" and "weed" in songs here in the states and thought hard about how much better life would be if everyone was occasionally exposed to marijuana and sexy times instead of guns, blood, and purposeless violence in movies, video games, and the top 20. Raise your hand if you'd rather catch your high schooler with a joint than a gun *raises all the hands* /end rant
I knew day 7 was going to be dedicated to trekking, so I woke up super early and met up with the Greek ladies from my cruise. We went on a guided hike to three different villages, slip-sliding through the mud while the young, tiny, and incredibly agile women of the villages kept our clumsy asses from sliding down the muddy hills. I definitely still managed to get my shoes entirely covered, but unlike a few of the tourists hiking with me, I never actually ate it. We learned a little bit about each village and how they make hemp into textiles for clothing and purses--the types of goods I saw for sale at the Bac Ha market. Our tour guide was a funny and charming young man who answered all my questions and even demonstrated how to play the bullhorn, an instrument played in the H'Mong village--the single men used to play it to attract a date (who needs Tinder when you've got one of these?) We stopped by a school where we saw the children practicing an awesome (and elaborate) dance routine. 
Once I got back to the hotel, it was late afternoon, so I showered, napped and decided to venture out farther for dinner this time. Unfortunately since my Nikes were covered in mud, I wore my only other pair of sneakers, which just so happened to be brand new, bright white adidas... I thought it would be fine because every other night outing ending in me back in bed shortly after, but this time was different. I went to the Good Morning Vietnam restaurant that I found on TripAdviser (I got the chicken curry cooked IN A COCONUT--it was incredible). Since the restaurant was packed inside, I sat outside waiting for a table to open up, but since I was by myself I just went ahead and ordered. Meanwhile, there was a group of dudes waiting outside for a table as well.
They struck up a conversation when they saw my epic coconut filled with curry, and I soon found out that one of them was born and raised in Livermore, CA (that's in the Bay Area 'burbs, and I lived there for a year... so bizarre), and they invited me to join their crew. One of them was celebrating his birthday, so dinner turned into a hookah bar, which turned into buying a bottle of whiskey from the bar, which turned into roaming the VERY foggy, multi-color-lighted, abandoned streets of Sapa with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Yeeeea. So needless to say somewhere between dinner and back to my bed, my beautiful, fresh adidas turned into a muddy mess. They still haven't recovered. 

I think I'll just skip over this one. Let's just say I should've listened to my Australian friends from the cruise when they told me to stay the eff away from liquor. I was very, very sick all. freakin. day. I checked out of my hotel at noon and hated my life until I went to sleep in the train back to Hanoi that night (I took my Advil PM this time and I was OUT). The highlight of the day probably should've been the foot massage I got, but considering I was praying to the gods that I wouldn't puke on my lap the whole time... the highlight was probably when ladies at the hotel fixed me fried sweet potatoes to keep me from dying. Yep, that's about it. 
DAY 9 

MY LAST DAY! Ahh sweet Hanoi. One last day to explore. I went back to Gia Truyen first thing in the morning for one last amazing bowl of pho (still the best I ever had), then went to Giang coffee and tried the matcha egg coffee this time--it tasted like magical matcha ice cream that somehow doesn't destroy my insides. So delightful. I spent most of the rest of the day walking around. I walked around the lake listening to an audiobook (Turtles All the Way Down), bought a few more knick-knacks at various stores, and walked all the way to Bun Cha Huong Lien so I could eat the same Bun Cha that Obama and Anthony Bourdain enjoyed together when they visited. It was delicious and hilarious to see all the photos of the two of them plastered all over the walls. Even the wet napkin said "As eaten by US President Obama." *Sigh* The good ol' days...
Eventually I made my way back to the Golden Moon Hotel (where I stored my luggage and stayed every night I was in Hanoi) to get a taxi to the airport. The manager there (the one who got me coffee on my first day) gave me a goodbye present! The sweetest. The last thing I expected after all their help and attentiveness was a gift. It was a decorative plate, and it lives on my dresser with all my jewelry now. I looked out the window the whole cab ride to the airport, taking in the motorbikes, the foggy sky, the beautiful food everywhere, slightly dreading the long journey back to the states, but mostly feeling proud of myself for doing something that, frankly, scared the shit out of me. 

Then it set in. The rush of doing, for the first time, something I know I'll keep doing for the rest of my life.

This was my first solo trip, but I assure you, friends, it will not be my last. 

Thanks for joining me on this long-winded travel log. Hopefully I'll be back soon with more. 
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