Why The Super Bowl Made Me Cry

...and no, it wasn't entirely because of our phenomenal snack spread [Buzzfeed Tasty's Kimchi Queso and Pull-Apart Garlic Rolls, Reese's Peanut Butter Cookie Dough Dip, and an amazing Four Layer Dip] or Cam Newton's sad face at the end of the game or the thought of being a mere twenty minute drive away from Queen Bey.

It was this:

Though we all love to shake our heads and tsk tsk at how (literally) commercialized events and days like the Super Bowl have become or at how certain football players might be grade A jerks, and though we're all pretty cynical about the nature of sports and media and entertainment, I saw over and over again only people living their dreams. That made me all weepy.

Say what you want about the Half Time show (I loved it!), but you have to admit that Beyonce and Coldplay and Bruno Mars were having a helluva good time. They were having fun and doing what they loved, and I refuse to believe that there wasn't a moment in that performance they didn't look around, see the bright lights and the screaming fans, and feel absolute euphoria.
The football players, too. Their jobs are to play a game they've spent a lifetime practicing and loving. Win or lose, I believe that every player found incredible value in being on that field, surrounded by supporters and family and teammates and coaches. 

Heck, even all the Panthers and Broncos fans in that stadium yesterday. Imagine how many people were able to cross "attend the Super Bowl when my favorite team plays" off of their bucket lists. Given the hefty ticket price, I'd assume the number to be many. Or, think of a newbie on the advertising team at Toyota Prius or Doritos. How insanely cool must their Sunday evening have been?

I'm all giddy with joy when I sense that individuals are having a moment – the kind where you're all "holy FRICK is this real life?!" It's why I still tear up every time a SNL host announces "and live from New York, iiiiit's Saturday night!" Old sap. (This is why I can't watch sports movies. My tear ducts become FOUNTAINS.)
I want you to look a little harder and search for those manifestations of your own dreams, and to acknowledge them. It might be that you are belting out a ballad in front of tens of thousands of devoted fans (Adele, now is the time to fess up if you read my blog), or you've reached a new milestone in your marathon training, or your tiny baby shot you a megawatt gummy grin, or a flight confirmation email might've just popped up in your inbox. Maybe you're picking up the keys to a new apartment, or making a payment for a car you've bought for yourself, or are attending a photography class tonight, or are planning the wedding you've imagined since you were a kid. Or you've accepted a job offer, gained a new like on Instagram, or are down a dress size, or simply are snuggling the kitten you've always wanted.

Look around and find the traces and the roadsigns telling you, hey, you're on your way, my friend. Even though our dreams might be less showy than accepting an Oscar or competing in the Olympics, they are there and they are worth the grind and we're on our way, my friend.

What are your roadsigns? Let me weep tears of joy for you!

PS. Then again, I could be entirely too naive and Peyton Manning tossed his trophy aside for a Budweiser (!!!) and an unbelievable paycheck the second he got home and everything is corrupt and there's no hope left for the world, the end. 

5 Ideas For The Best Galentine's Day Ever

The best Valentine's date I've ever had?

My bestie, Lauren. Two years ago, we were in Edinburgh, Scotland. We ditched a ghost tour right as it was about to reach next-level scary (Caroline does not do scary, no sir) and made a quick escape for dinner. We did the whole shebang: candles, champagne, shared dessert. Kept up with every other couple in the delightful little restaurant!

Since then, I've held a soft spot for a good Galentine's Day celebration, a la Leslie Knope. I mean, I always did say that if I'm still single at age 60, a domestic partnership with any one of my best girlfriends doesn't sound half bad. We could play board games all day long, travel the seven seas, adopt a few cats, maybe a 17 year old too so that we can put 'em through college. Yes, the cats too. I'd do it in a heartbeat.

But in the time being, I'll settle for a festive Galentine's Day. A few ideas if you're in, too: 
Make reservations for a fancy-pants dinner out,

and make up stories for every couple you see. Bonus points if you somehow incorporate a drinking game. Buy tickets to a comedy club or improv show afterwards and laugh until you pee your pants. In other words, emulate a classic date night with your soul sista! The best part? You can wear statement heels or a jumpsuit or dark red lips and expect the sorts of compliments that a guy would never know how to give. 
Or, better yet... make brunch at home!

My crew's partial to popping some cinnamon rolls into the oven as we they scramble some eggs and fry some bacon. Offer bottomless mimosas, and then go on a long walk for coffee and girl talk. 

Might I also suggest heart-shaped egg-in-a-holes? 
Carb-load, build a blanket fort, and watch Jane Austen movies. OR
Carb-load, build a blanket fort, and watch Harry Potter movies. OR
Carb-load, build a blanket fort, and play board / card games. OR 
Carb-load, build a blanket fort, and play wine roulette. OR
Combine all of the above.

Clearly state this rule: whoever falls asleep first will get their face doodled on with eyeliner and lipstick. And have their makeover Instagrammed. 
Go to Target and...

A) Put together a care package for a mutual friend who lives far away.

B) Set a price limit and then let everyone loose – the money goes towards food, drinks, and activities for the evening. Think as outside of the box as possible. Chocolate milk + frozen pizza + a horror movie? Boxed wine + queso + arts and crafts? Anything goes!

C) All of the above. Recently, my friends and I sent a care package... but we had such a hoot picking out treats that we wanted her there with us even more. Solution: we added more pizzazz to the package by throwing in lots of commentary: post-it notes with quips from the shopping trip, explanations of why we picked what we did, Hershey's hugs to represent our own, one bag of popcorn while we kept the rest to show we wished she were with us... and also we got a bit hungry. Include your friend in your own evening!

D) Don't go judging my cart. I can see you.

Pack a picnic solely with goodies from Trader Joe's, bring a book or a journal, and board games too. Head to the beach if you're close to one, or your apartment rooftop, or a grassy park, or heck, even your living room if it's too cold out.

I realize if you're not in California or Florida, this might not sound so appealing for February. That's when I say: well, come crash on my couch. Or straight up just move here, girl!

This is what I say to my sister when she tells me the weather's being miserable. You live in Seattle, what do you expect. Grab your stuff, your car, your cats, and meet me at my picnic in the sunny park.
Plan a getaway.

It's a long weekend, my friends. Perfect excuse for a girls' getaway. Don't go anywhere that'll take more than three hours to get to. Make it a staycation if you must. Then, go wine-tasting or shopping or brunching at your leisure.

As for me? I'm dragging my friend Leah with me to visit my sister in Seattle. Well.... except she's off on a weekend getaway of her own, so it'll be Leah and me, the cats, most likely a lot of candy, and the rain. Stay tuned for the Snapchats, they'll be riveting, I'm sure.

But first, the Super Bowl (of chips and dip of all varieties), and Chinese New Year! Hope you use these as excuses for takeout lomein and and nachos all weekend!

Best of Dubrovnik, Croatia

Cassandra and I got along so swimmingly with Dubrovnik, that we are going back September of THIS year – and we'll be bringing two of our best friends with us! Moral of the story: if you talk incessantly about something, your friends will literally do whatever it takes to shut you up... even if it means taking PTO and dropping lots of dollar bills and flying to the other side of the world.

(Joke's on them, though! Guess who has even more to say now?!)

I find my love for Dubrovnik a little puzzling. It's one of those cities that can seem a bit ... much, upon first impression. Hoards of cruise ship tourists descending upon the streets of Old Town, entertainers decked out in gimmicky get-ups offering silver heart necklaces for sale. Pretty hostesses lining the main street, calling out in English that they have free WiFi, waving menus of overpriced, underwhelming dinner choices. Fifty different 'Game of Thrones' tours, souvenir shops every few steps, and again, the cruise ship crowds. 

But it's the kind of city that comes alive the more you get to know it. When you purposefully get lost in the alleyways of Old Town, when you chat with the locals in broken Croatian, when you discover favorite restaurants whose waiters smile forgivingly at said broken Croatian and waitresses who bring over a platter of crostini "just because." When you stay on the outskirts and see grannies and toddlers alike wading into the salty waters, and when you stop by the supermarket every morning, and when you bemoan the heat and try to buy children's cold medicine at the pharmacy and take the local bus and learn about its roots and feast upon its delicacies... well, at that point, Dubrovnik's become a different story.

A few memories from Dubrovnik that I'll never, ever, EVER dare to forget:
Morning coffees by the beach.

Staying in the Lapad peninsula of Dubrovnik meant full access to several private beaches, a few of which had little cafes nestled betwixt the water and the street. After breakfast and before our 9:30am lecture every morning, Cassandra and I would take a seat at one of the cafes, order a cup of coffee each, and simply sit there, taking in the gentle lapping of the (close to nonexistent) waves, the early rising senior crowd rubbing sunscreen and changing into bathing suits behind plastic screens. This is where we fell in love with bijela kava (white coffees, akin to a latte) and Nescafe. Cardboard! I can see you shake your head. We did too... until we got addicted. Those Serbo-Croatians are obsessed with Nescafe, and now we are too. I start my day every day even now with a cup of instant Nescafe. 

Once, our 9:30am class was (unknown to us) rescheduled for 9am. When our coffees were placed before us, we threw ice cubes into the mugs, straight up chugged the still-burning liquid, and raced to class, with but a minute to spare!
Living right by the beach at Hotel Adriatic.

OK, so there's no way in hell staying so close to scenes such as those above and below could be anything but heavenly, correct? NO. INCORRECT. 

Our group stayed at a two-star hotel, and as our professor's son philosophized: both stars are for the view. It hurts me to say this because I think of our time at this hotel tenderly – our, well... "suffering" – made this trip all the more hilarious and fun. But suffer, we sorta did. There was only one power outlet in every room, the decor was very "50s motel," the air conditioning units in most rooms were kaput and so windows had to be opened. For us, this meant welcoming in a barrage of mosquitos and a lost little salamander who found a home in my suitcase. I couldn't turn off the shower one day so I huddled in a corner in a towel as Cassandra and our friend Alex battled with a rogue shower head on a mission to flood the bathroom. The WiFi was nonexistent unless you found a sweet spot, so I often found myself with one arm atop the air conditioner to stay cool, and the other waving my phone around for a signal. Good times.
But yes, staying here was a favorite memory. For one thing, look at all these stories I get to tell. For another, there were lovelier things to reminisce about as well. Our cleaning lady Maria, who loved to test us on Croatian when she saw us in the morning. The ideal location next to the beautiful beach which allowed us to skip right on over to the rocky shore right after class. That beach! Crystal clear, aquamarine waters. Aqua parks to horse around on – some liked to do belly flops off of the top, while others (me) preferred to hang off the side of a banana boat. Warm, warm water so salty you were practically buoyant, no treading required. One night, we had a Taylor Swift dance party on that shore and we turned on the flashlights on our iPhones to see. Another night, a group of us shared a bottle of wine and many stories as we laid under the evening sky and watched some rowdy Australian boys make quick escapes from the night guard. Our professor liked to tell us that the Adriatic sea heals all: it's all the iodine, she said. I won't argue with that.  

The one downside! Sea urchins!! Locals swear by water shoes and at first we turned our noses up. No more. A majority of us stepped on a sea urchin during our time in Croatia and I myself was a victim. We tried every extraction method out there: tweezers, vinegar, soaking my foot in oil and tying a plastic bag around it. In the end, I think it was the iodine of the Adriatic Sea that forced those spiky suckers out.
Surviving the heat – in particular, on July 20th – and reprieves on the terrace.

So, that non-functional air conditioning detail up there?

EIOJF:;hasdfasdjfaoinva;lkv.

Misery. We were in Dubrovnik during a heat wave. At one point, we had to climb the City Walls and we wanted to die. The rest of our time in Dubrovnik, the temperature teetered close to 40 Celcius (104 F) and upwards of 80% humidity. That is wet, suffocating, overbearing heat that didn't. let. up. not even in the evenings! I had to mop up so much sweat with a towel or the collar of my shirts that by the end of the last week, I had developed a painful rash on my chest that still will flare up if I think back on that stifling heat. There was one day when a group of us decided on this one restaurant for lunch, but it involved a trek up a long flight of stairs. Cassandra was running behind, finishing up something at the hotel and by the time she made it to the bottom of the stairs, the heat was too much to take.

Can't make it, she texted, ducking under whatever shade she could find. I can't make it up these stairs. Not in this heat. And she walked all the way home. THAT is what it took to fall a Division I athlete, my friends!

And a joke to end all jokes: another afternoon, we couldn't take the lack of A/C any longer and set off to the local pizzeria to work on an assignment in peace and coolness. Right as we were about to pay for our meal, the electricity went out. And because their cash register wasn't working, we were stuck. In the heat. With no escape route from what was supposed to be our escape route in the first place. 
The absolute worst time was the night of July 20th. That was the evening after we discovered our little salamander friend and decided to shut the windows before bedtime. Big. mistake. It was actually difficult to breathe. The sheets were wet from my sweat. We considered sleeping on the beach or on the couch in the lobby of the hotel, that's how bad it was. Eventually, Cassandra slept in a sports bra and covered her face with a wet rag. I placed a bottle of cold water under my neck and another one on top of my stomach and yearned for the morning.

Our reprieve was the terrace outside of the hotel. The covered awning protected us from the blistering sun at midday, and the server at the bar looked the other way whenever we brought wine to sip [after reprimanding us the first night] ... soon, she would bring us little chalices of peanuts to share. We'd spend hours on this terrace, talking to our professors at length about San Francisco and Croatia, the war and Stanford classes, our families and reading assignments. We'd all watch the sun set together. I'd journal sometimes, Cassandra would play cards or Head's Up with the professors' kids. Our friends would join us, sometimes bringing snacks and we'd talk and we'd listen and we'd look around and say in disbelief, are we actually here?!
The Summer Games: fireworks and the ballet.

The Summer Games is an annual festival taking place in Old Town – for a month, concerts and performances take place against stunning backdrops: fortresses, ports, and castle walls. We attended the rehearsal of the Opening Ceremony and witnessed peaceful protesting of this year's director, understanding nary a word until a kind woman translated for us. The next night, the official Opening Ceremony, ended in a fireworks display that my friends and I watched from a sandy beach, yards away from the boats they were exploding off of. Tipsy off of Croatian wine and in absolute awe of the lit up sky, I don't think I've ever witnessed a fireworks display so stunning.
Our professors had bought us tickets to a performance of some sort of Italian opera / acapella group and although fascinating, we were distracted by the heat (yes, again) and concentrated mostly on fanning ourselves with whatever scraps of paper we could find.
Hands down one of my favorite nights was after a group dinner... the younger girls made us promise up and down that we'd finally check out the clubbing scene, and at last we relented. But as we walked further and further into the labyrinth of walls and alleys, we came across scaffolding covered in tulle and discovered that we had stumbled upon the dress rehearsal of the ballet – the biggest event of the Games. Hardly able to believe our luck (tickets are impossible to buy), we sat in the bleachers, riveted by the cast of dancers and awestruck by the choreography. Later we realized that the ballet was an adaptation of Dangerous Liaisons / Cruel Intentions. Absolutely breathtaking. (Needless to say, the night of 'clubbing' was canceled once again.)
The attitude.

I'm sure if the sky was falling, the Croatians would be all: ah don't worry, it's not the end of the world!

In fact, more accurately, they'll be claiming: nema problema! No problem! They were the first words I learned in Croatian, even before hello or thank you or please. It's also the phrase I heard over and over again, in response to everything. 

Polako, polako is another one. Slow down, slow down! We carried that word with us as a security blanket for when someone spoke Croatian too fast, but it's important when used in a non-literal sense as well. Slow down, what's the rush. 
Sve je dobro u mome svijetu: all is well in my world. We found this on a water bottle. Isn't it a lovely thing to think about? It was a mantra repeated over and over again this summer. I remind myself of it, too, now that I'm re-immersed in the fast-paced world of my own reality again. 

The more time we spent in Dubrovnik, the more Croatian it seemed we'd become. Before long, my favorite thing to say was, it is what it is. In English (although in Croatian, it is kako je tako je... so much more fun!). I said it so much that Cassandra gave me a bracelet with the phrase for Christmas. It's too hot to function? It is what it is. We have a hundred more pages to read before class tomorrow? It is what it is. We get to spend the rest of the day lounging by the beach? It is what it is. What will happen, will happen. One day after she heard me saying "it is what it is," my friend Justine added: and what a good is, it is. 

Indeed.

Whew! Way to write a novel, Caroline. If you're here, thanks for humoring me as I recounted my favorite memories from Croatia. There's a part 2 comin' right up... well, in a week or two. Let's all rest our eyes for a bit, eh?


Exploring San Francisco :: Super Bowl City and The Mission

One of my resolutions this year was to keep my room somewhat tidy... but that one's going nowhere, so let's chat about my other, funner goal: to see more of San Francisco.

On weekends, my absolute favorite activity is wandering around a neighborhood, stopping into stores that lure me in with delicate jewelry displays or a striking dress in the window, or a cafe I recognize from a fellow SF blogger's Snapchat. The problem is, I always tend to head towards Hayes Valley or the Marina, two neighborhoods that I know and love well. 

After accidentally sleeping through multiple morning alarms on Saturday, Leah and I sheepishly woke up dangerously close to 1 o'clock. In the afternoon. For shame. With our grand plans of an ambitious hike scrapped, we decided to head over to the Embarcadero and check out Super Bowl City, where all of the events and free concerts (Alicia Keys! One Republic!) and promotional activities for Super Bowl 50 will be taking place next week.
Crowds everywhere, good-looking cops and alert snipers at the ready, metal detectors every which way, and lots of social media booths prepped for the Big Day. You can even zipline across a pop-up model of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Overwhelming! 

While it was very cool to see the excitement building, I also took the chaos as a sign to lay low in my apartment next week and sample an array of dips that I'm requesting be available within arm's reach.

Sunday, we were much less sloth-like and rose at a decently acceptable hour.

I managed to convince Leah that a make-up hike was absolutely unnecessary... and that instead, we should take advantage of the sunny weather and go check out The Mission.

The Mission is a neighborhood that I'm not at all familiar with, though I've popped over for occasionally for brief pit stops at the likes of Bi-Rite Creamery, Boba Guys, and Urban Putt.

I can say with confidence – I'm now addicted. 
Could it be because of Tartine Bakery? We joined the line snaking around the corner, tempted by the pleasant scent of butter wafting onto the street from the ovens, and debated over which pastries to share.

We settled on a morning bun, and an almond croissant, and oh! 

The hype does not lie. 
Crispy edges, flaky crust, buttery bun flecked with orange zest.

A dusting of sugar atop a delicate croissant encasing dense layers filled generously with almonds.

Delicious.  
Or could it be the masses of people laying out under the sun in Mission Dolores Park, sprawled out on blankets, mimosas and sandwiches in hand?

Dolores Park is the place to be on lazy Sunday afternoons in San Francisco. In fact, one of my roommates says: there's nothing to do in the daytime in SF except drink beers at Dolores Park.

And although I'll disagree with her thought that there's nothing else to do, I will concede that drinking beers in the park isn't the worst option out there. Judging by college friends I ran into while here, well... it seems to be a popular sentiment. 
Once we hit the colorful streets of the Castro, we doubled back in search for coffee...

(Okay, wouldya just look at this goodness? Irresistible!) 
But instead, we ducked into Dog Eared Books for a quick browse and then quickly lost track of time. The bookstore is tiny, but filled with treasures. Leah headed straight for the books about medicine and science, and I tucked into history corner first before idling over to travel writing.

You know, it's interesting. In Barnes & Noble, I find myself flipping through bestsellers and whatever's shiny and new. But there's something about a charming and well-loved independent bookseller that always has me hankering for stories from the past, and tales from afar.
And of course, no trip to the Mission is complete without a burrito. Most are dead set on their favorites, but I'm still in the judging process. This time, we braved the line and shared a carne asada burrito from El Farolito, and so far... it's my #1, although I do have to say that the cheesy tortilla at Gordo's cannot be topped.

That, my friends, was a day's adventure in the Mission.

If you've been to San Francisco, do you have a favorite neighborhood (or a favorite burrito place)?

And if not, I want to know about your reading preferences! Favorite genre? Favorite bookstore?

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