Afterglow

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Hunter and I got married on Saturday. As in FIVE DAYS AGO, Saturday. It was magic, and then it was over.

Our nearest and dearest flew from around the country and the world.
Our family threw three full days of parties in our honor.
We danced, hugged, laughed and cried, poured a champagne tower and ate Dunganess Crab by candlelight — all fueled by the sugar rush from ten+ different desserts.
By the end of it all, my dress was dirty but my heart was full. Little Red Corvette blared as we sped away from Hood Canal on Sunday with the windows down and stupid happy smiles spread across our faces.

We’d spent 8 months imagining what that weekend would feel like and suddenly we knew. It was everything. So much so that we wondered how we would reacclimatize to society, high on love and salted caramel chocolate wedding cake. Enter, Oregon. A state that barley even registers to your average East Coaster. To many, it might as well be the end of earth, and that’s exactly why we went there.

Mrs. Smigel’s pink-lipsticked grin greeted us at her B&B as we pulled up to one of the very last houses on the very last road. The bed sheets matched the tea set, a blue and white china pattern you’d expect from your favorite British aunt. The only perceivable sound was the steady crashing of waves.

For 24 hours, I daydreamed exclusively of wedding weekend bliss. It’s funny though, how a weekend so emotionally charged can be just as memorable as one that’s a portrait of zen. The juxtaposition of wedding intensity and Oregon tranquility left us perfectly balanced.

It was like taking a deep breath — ocean mist, salty waves and beach grass. We took naps in the sand with sun on our faces, browsed bookstore shelves and walked miles and miles, hand-in-hand, with the ocean swelling around our ankles.

Beach fires with s’mores until way too late, craft beers on tap, steamy stargazing baths in the outdoor soaking tub, crab, oysters and clams, straight from the sea and into our bellies. We even polished off the last slices of wedding cake while watching the sun melt away and drinking an Oregon Pinot Noir, straight from the bottle.

The Oregon Coast has all the charm you want it to. For us, it was the stuff wedding dreams were made of. Time together. Just us. A sweet celebration of the commitment we’ve made and the bond we now share.

Our wedding memories will never be beat, but to bask together in their warm glow on a misty Northwest beach?

That is the true love story.

 

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Visiting Manzanita, Oregon?
We only had 36 hours, but here’s what we had time to fall in love with…

Everything about Mrs. Smiegel and her Zen Garden B&B. From the Japanese garden to the outdoor soaking tub (kimonos provided!), it was the perfect place to relax. Don’t miss her sea bass crepe for breakfast.

Crab, clams and oysters straight from the sea at Kelly’s Brighton Marina. Bring your own sides and don’t miss all the local beers in the fridge. For the full PNW experience, hire a boat and pull your own pots. Word on the coast is that Jetty, down the road is pretty fun, too.

Tots and sauce and all the fried fish at the Sand Dune Pub. Wash it all down with 17 draught beers.

Good book smell. Armed with hot cappuccinos, we staved off the morning mist pouring over the pages in Cloud & Leaf.

Whiskey flights at Macgreggor’s Whiskey Bar. Ask for Chip and don’t miss his (perfectly not-too-sweet) secret family recipe amaretto.

It’s not the coast without ice cream (and fudge and taffy but sometimes enough is enough). We had our cones scooped from Schweitert’s for breakfast dessert. It’s a thing, just ask my mom.

 

 

(photos all shot on iPhone)

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My Maine Thing

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It started in Boston. Hunter arrived on the red-eye, picked up a Jeep, and scooped me from the train station the moment my bus rolled in from NYC. It was Labor Day and we were road-tripping. We could already smell the saltwater and fried clams as we pulled onto Highway 1. Maine was calling our names.

There was something about Maine. Even from afar, it seemed like a place worthy of making the effort to experience. Browsing blogs and google-map marking lobster shacks sent me instantaneously into a happy dance. I hadn’t even been yet! But Maine delivered. Loaded with the things I love: smiling faces, ocean breezes, fresh food. Void of the things I don’t: traffic, arrogance, cement. And while both lobster and blueberries would rank high on a list of simple pleasures, it wasn’t the food or the scenery or any single attribute that made Maine so special. It was all of it tied together, all of it for real. Rarely did I come across a restaurant with an instagram account. Never did I feel I was being sold to. Could Maine be great simply because it was? Not because it was trying to be? How’s that for a modern day brain-teaser.

Our first stop was Bob’s Clam Shack where I was shocked to find the white haired woman behind the counter was in no rush for me to arrive at my order. “Lillian’s style clams or Bob’s!?,” I lamented… “I don’t know!” “Take your time,” she smiled. There could not have been a stronger indication that we were no longer in New York. I “decided” on one of each, and we loaded up on lobster rolls, clams and ice cream before rolling out to Rockland. The seaside hotel was still and sparkling. Perched slightly higher than the ocean, the sprawling lawn was dotted with those white plastic chairs that scream summer and cold rosé in keg cups. We obliged.

For dinner, we headed to Primo, a true farm-to-table establishment. Most of their produce and meat come from the surrounding farm with the restaurant, a multi-room, sprawling farmhouse, at the center. The upstairs bar was surprisingly hip and happening on a Thursday night for a town of 7,000. I admit to doing some aggressive New Yorker things just to get us seats at the bar (vacation takes time to settle in…) where we slurped oysters and drank martinis made with local gin. (Because it’s always wise to match your gin to your seafood!) After moving downstairs for dinner, we popped some bubbly that played nice with all the local produce. The feast included hand-rolled cavatelli with grilled chicken and mushrooms, garden lettuces, plump lobster raviolis and pan roasted halibut with crab cakes and shrimp tomato burr blanc. Cannolis, courtesy of the kitchen, stuffed with fresh ricotta and crushed pistachios arrived to end the night.

The next morning delivered a cotton candy sky as the sun practically rose inside our cottage, pouring through the windows with the ocean breeze. To no one’s surprise, Hunter had spied a sign for doughnuts on our way home from dinner. The Willow Bake Shoppe turned out to be a Rockland tradition, boasting 50+ years of fresh, fried dough. Sitting on the rocky seashore, we licked the sugar from our fingers, sipping hot coffee and marveling at the serenity and beauty we’d so easily slipped into. Things in Maine were off to a good start.

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En route to Camden, we burned some calories on the Maiden Cliff Trail. The view of Lake Megunticook from the top was a worthy reward, but the smiling faces along the way were the best part of the hike. The colorful cast of characters included everyone from toddlers to golden retrievers to friendly foodies who directed us to Harbor Dogs for lunch. In Camden’s picturesque port, a retired ship captain enchanted us with stories from yesteryear as part of Camden’s annual windjammer festival. Comments like “Camden, the most beautiful place in the world. Why ever go anywhere else?” were genuine and charming. Armed with fish burritos and sitting with our legs swung over the edge of the dock, we plotted ways to convince him to come along as our tour guide for the rest of our trip. Well curated gift shops and browse worthy bookshops like The Owl and the Turtle made a happy stroll through Camden, but the adventures of Acadia awaited.

Cruising into Bar Harbor, the sun was soft and low. Every island, lobster shack and B&B glittered. I call this golden hour, but for Hunter, it’s happy hour. And when in Maine, this means blueberry beer hour. While I’m not usually a fan of flavored beer, the Sea Dog blueberry on draft was fun and not too fruity. Also, anti-oxidants. Score another one for Maine.

Seemingly everyone recommended Thurston’s Lobster Pound. But while the lobsters were tempting, the long lines weren’t. Instead, we opted to explore some lesser trafficked lobster locations. It didn’t take us long to find Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound where they happily pulled our selections from the tank and plunged them into boiling baths. Once red and ready, we tore in, plunging huge chunks of sweet meat into melted butter, covering our hands and bibs with evidence of the massacre, licking our fingers and washing everything down with local beers.Back in town, we wandered the sweet streets of Bar Harbor, poking our heads into restaurants with live bands and buzzy pubs savoring the last days of summer. At Side Street Cafe, we were (well, I was) tempted by a piece of blueberry pie. We (together this time) ate it from stools and a high counter on their large wooden deck, watching night settle over town.

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Sunrises became part of our daily itinerary, so the next morning, we joined 2,000 of our closest friends atop Cadillac Mountain. It was a unique experience to be the first in the U.S. to watch the sun rise, launching us into a full day of outdoor activities. We took full advantage of Acadia’s 47k acres, completing a stunning hike, spending some time sprawled out on Sand Beach, and cruising the full park loop. Despite it now being September, the weather was stunning. The sun danced.

A post-lobster-roll-lunch adventure took us to the south side of Bar Harbor where we discovered the 158 year old Bass Harbor Lighthouse, a terrific bakery (Little Notch!) and (surprise surprise) more blueberry beer. For dinner, lobster continued to rein supreme. We carried a to-go picnic feast (and some wine…) from Rose Eden back up Cadillac Mountain to watch the sun set over the endless bays, islands and harbors. With corn, mussels, two whole lobsters and blueberry pie, it was a feast for kings — fitting with the view of an entire kingdom below.

While watching the sunrise from Cadillac was a must-do experience, we got smarter for day two in the park. The Coffee Cup Diner quickly became our morning favorite both for its 5am open time and the jolly folks who rocked out to rock n’ roll oldies while cooking our breakfast sandwiches. Loaded with egg sammies and blueberry (obviously) muffins, we headed to Acadia’s iconic “Thunder Hole” with a picnic blanket and our thermoses of coffee. While we might not have been the first people in the country to see the sun lift from the horizon, we were completely alone, perched on the edge of the world, drinking up the beauty of the coastline.

Leaving Bar Harbor was tough. The park engulfed me up in the best of ways. The crashing waves, towering trees, the warm, friendly sunshine… there are few things as all-encompassing of heart and soul. I commemorated my love-affair in sweatshirt form… which I decided was a better idea than a tattoo. You’re welcome, mom. M-A-I-N-E is scrawled across my sweatshirt as I type this. A perfect memento of my summer love. We grabbed green juices, Hunter’s least-favorite but a much needed respite from lobster, from Thrive Juice Bar & Kitchen and some fantastic treats from Morning Glory Bakery before begrudgingly loading up the Jeep and heading south.

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En route to Portland, I assumed my position… feet up, shades on, window down. As I don’t have a driver’s license, (yes, a minor oversight on my part being the one who suggested a road trip…) Hunter graciously accepted responsibility for the road. My job was simple: find the cutest places to stop for provisions. A continuous flow of lobster shacks, picturesque harbors, peek-a-boo white sand beaches and signs pointing every which way for ice cream and blueberry pie meant that we had no shortage of places to stretch our legs.

At this point, we’d eaten a lot of lobster. But the quintessential waterside lobster shack still beckoned. The description of Waterman’s fit the bill, so we headed for the James Beard winning, family-owned eatery. Something was in the air at Waterman’s and it wasn’t just the salty breeze. Was everyone always this friendly? Was the line always this long ? Why was everyone hugging?? As we approached the window, we noticed the sign: “It’s been our pleasure serving you these last 30 years. Today marks our last day.” Perplexed with our luck, we joined the crowd and enjoyed our best lobster meal yet. Perfect lobster rolls on soft potato buns, sweet whole lobsters, and more of Maine’s addicting signature purple dessert. Since it’s BYOB, we chilled a bottle of lobster wine (yep, it’s a thing) in a plastic bucket and poured ourselves glasses to wash down the feast. Luckily the beach was only a few feet away for a sunny siesta.

A few hours later, the sweet serenade of a ukulele welcomed us to our Portland Airbnb. #KeepPortlandWeird must apply to both coasts, which we were more than alright with. There was far too much to see (and eat) in a single day, but we put on our game faces. Happy Hour started with punch at The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club. Ceviche snacks, martinis and platters of oysters followed at Eventide. When our table at Central Provisions was finally ready (yes, we waited 3.5 hours….) they treated us to one of those epic, stop you in your tracks, everything is perfect, meals.

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Our late night of eating didn’t stop us from again beating the sun, making our way to Cape Elizabeth to watch the day begin over Portland Head Light. Coffee and doughnut pitstops were in order on our way back into town, letting us sample local coffee culture at Tandem, a gas station converted into hipster-coffee-utopia, and finding it very difficult to pick between the flavors of sweet potato confections at Holy Donut. At least the blueberry was an easy choice.

Fall arrived on cue as Labor Day was cool and misty. We made our way back towards the city via some of Maine’s famous white sand beaches. At a small fish shop, I convinced the owner to package up some deconstructed lobster rolls so we could assemble our lunch while on the road. Lobster roadie-rolls were a welcome treat somewhere between New London and Stamford.

The sun came out as we crossed through Connecticut and we cruised back into the city, on one of those not-too-hot yet brilliantly sunny summer afternoons. The Maine halo even made the FDR on a holiday weekend feel easy breezy.

Maine made everything effortless. The next delicious meal or heart-stopping view was never far away. And if you couldn’t quite find it, there was always someone willing to show you the way. It’s that kind of authenticity that allows a deep and fast bond — when every interaction adds a new page to the same story that you simply can’t stop reading. Unapologetically relaxed, unanticipatedly delicious, every town, person and roadside produce stand was more charming than the last. I’ll be back for you, Maine. And when I do, I know just what to expect. Because no matter what changes, you’ll always do your Maine thing. When everything comes from the heart, it’s hard to be anyone but yourself.

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If you’re hungry in Maine, here’s what we recommend: 

Bob’s Clam Hut for (obviously) clams. Get both.
Primo for a lovely meal in a beautiful place.
The Willow Bake Shoppe to continue the donut tradition
Harbor Dogs for fish “tacos” that look surprisingly like fish burritos…
Rose Eden Lobster if you want the real deal and aren’t interested in crowds or long lines
Side Street Cafe for blueberry pie that’s absolutely #worthit
Little Notch Bakery for provisions on the South side of Bar Harbor
The Coffee Cup Diner to stock up before the sun’s up
Thrive Juice Bar & Kitchen for green juice to balance all the lobster
Morning Glory Bakery if you need to drown your sorrows in carbs on your way out of town
Portland Hunt + Alpine Club for perfect cocktails in the heart of Portland
Eventide for the raw bar and friendly faces
Central Provisions because it’s really worth the wait
The Holy Donut if seeing that picture of perfect donuts made you a little hungry

Tunes to get you off and cruising…

Tulum Unplugged

February 2015 was the 3rd coldest February in the history of New York City.
Coincidentally, it was also the first February I spent living in New York City.

So after a month of sleeping in my winter coat and wrestling with the quasi-dreadlocks caused by constant beanie wearing, I swore to myself: Never again. By fall, flights were booked for a February 2016 escape to the Riviera Maya. Nevermind that I headed to the airport in a light sweater, my frozen memories were still enough to justify a few days in the sun.

Four hours and a few beers later, I caught up with Hunter south of the boarder. In a tiny Fiat with Guanajuato plates, we bumped over topes and along the Eastern Coast of Mexico. With the windows down and a scratchy Meixcan radio station humming a modern ranchera, we sped past the endless mega-hotels that lined the coast. The sea teased us from the occasional break between the tall walls which was just enough to know we were nearing paradise.

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A pitstop for fresh juice… then another for a morning stroll through Playa del Carmen. (Which it turns out, was exactly the right time to eat ice cream for breakfast.) Back in the car, we wound down a mile of dirt road to a dead end beach. There was so much to see that we wondered if we’d ever actually reach Tulum itself. After an hour (…two perhaps? maybe three??) spent in beachside hammocks with lobsters and micheladas, we decided we weren’t really sure if it mattered.

The four months that filled the gap between purchasing flights and flying them had been filled with unabashed praise for the paradise of Tulum. Seemingly every New Yorker had a story of yoga and green juice, whole veggies at Hartwood and mezcal at Gitáno. For that reason, we were pleasantly surprised to find the town nearly deserted when we finally arrived, already sun-kissed and seafood stuffed.

Tulum was everything they said it would be.

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Our “hotel” consisted of solar-powered, oceanfront, coconut-palm-roofed bungalos nestled in the sand and opening to the ocean. The fish was fresh, the people were charming, and the sun and waves swallowed us whole. Hunter took charge of locating the ultimate diving adventures, then ensured that outside of the dive boat, we were never without a tropical beverage. I found the best food, curated a playlist and located most serene stretches of sand. The entire trip, Tulum stayed perfectly quiet. Sensuously calm. It was the ultimate remedy to trial dates and content calendars.
We actually relaxed.

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Remote beaches and rural villages are some of our favorite travel destinations — places that could be truly be called the edge of civilization. Tulum was not one of them. But in a strange, magical way, Tulum has a similar effect. Removed from the chaos, it surrounds you with everything necessary for a hard reset.

Most people know that I’m not usually big on beach vacations. But a few days in Tulum reminded me of the power of disconnection. Just a few hours from JFK, I transformed from “always on” to “be back later.” And those four days spent exploring cenotes and climbing ruins made me forget about my swelling inbox, instead filling me with creative energy that had me excited to get back to work. That’s rare, and important, and wonderful.

You don’t have to travel halfway around the world to rebalance your soul, I realized. When deadlines and busy seasons don’t allow for exotic escapes, something closer to home can be equally powerful. Just make sure you bring the right bungalo boy.

 

L+H’s guaranteed good times guide to Tulum:
Sunrise yoga at Maya Tulum
Taco toppings bar at Antojitos La Chiapaneca 
Catch (and eat) your own lobster at Chamico’s
Scubadive on the moon with Léo
Breakfast mezcal at Be Tulum
Mexico City’s best DJs live at the Coco Tulum beach bar

And if you needs some cruising tunes… 

 

All images shot on an iPhone 6 with Moment Lenses

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Yangon — Befriending Myanmar

A heavy perfume of rotting mango, frying pig intestines and body oder hung in the 98% humidity. It was completely unbearable for Hunter who was still recovering from a bad Burmese curry the day before. We’re still not clear whether it was this stench or the stickiness that hit us first, but it was a combination that could only represent the city of Yangon.

Yangon is a city caught in the middle. The impressive English speaking students, impending election and increasing number of bookshops show an intellectual persuasion ready to carry the people into the 21st century. Unfortunately, the city doesn’t seem ready to support it. It’s hard to believe that the crumbling infrastructure is reality for a city of over 5 million. We were completely unprepared for what we saw in Yangon, and our sightseeing began with an 1 hour+ long taxi from the airport to our hotel. Despite it being mid-day, traffic inched along Yangon’s main thoroughfair. Unbeknownst to us, the rows of apartments that towered over each each block were an accurate representation of the city itself. Gorgeous colonial buildings, remnants from British occupation, crumbled in squalor in every direction. Trash clogged gutters, stairways and alleyways. The street food vendors made even the most questionable vendors of Bangkok look FDA approved.
In need of nourishment after being served shelf stable mystery meat-in-a-blanket on our flight, we braved the mess of motorbikes and downed power lines for the first time. Food poisoning or not, we needed to sample the local cuisine and headed for Shan Noodles. After devouring steaming bowls of spicy, pork-topped noodles and peppery broth, then washing them down with creamy avocado juice, we were ready to explore.

We took reprieve from the muggy streets a few hours later in the bar of the 5-star Strand Hotel. Unfortunately, sipping on Sours while kicked-back in leather chairs did not numb our culture shock in the way that we had hoped. Instead, we reminded ourselves that we travel for knowledge, not for comfort and channeled our discomfort into curiosity. This was traveling, and we were reminded of that with the adventure the next morning’s sunrise would bring.

As day broke over Yangon’s Thiri Mingalar market, I’m not sure how Hunter’s stomach survived the curious odors wafting through the air. Brown slop swallowed our sandaled feet and we stood gaping until a wrinkled woman in a swerving tuktuk forced us to leap out of the way and into the market.

The filth was unlike anything we’d seen and the stench was riper. But the people were some of the happiest and authentic we’d met. Individually, the market offerings were grim. What was impressive, however, was the mass in which these products were gathered. Bruised fruits and rancid meats stretched as far as the eye could see. In a dark corner of a warehouse, we even discovered a mountain of green chilis — 8 yards square piled at least 1.5 yards high — complete with a rooster taking his morning stroll across the top. Young monks padded barefoot through the muck, nuns picked through the produce, and goats grazed on everything left behind. A man sold instant coffee and tea from a folding table — Thiri Mingalar’s own Starbucks.

Later in the day, we sampled more of Yangon’s “coffee culture”, sitting down for a cuppa at the local tea shop. We swung ourselves onto wooden benches and gazed out the open-faced store front. With the temperature (and humidity) at 100 degrees, it was a steamy, yet perfect, people watching location. A mere 90 cents bought a cup of traditional Myanmar tea, a full pot of Jasmine tea and a traditional teahouse treat of 2 shrimp wontons. Hunter and his stomach however, opted for the tourist menu — a chilled sprite and a bottle of water, costing an astronomical $2.50. There’s much to write home about Myanmar food, and the affordability is certainly part of the appeal.

We saved the best of Yangon for last, so just before sunset, we began our half hour walk to Shwedagon, Myanmar’s most revered pagoda. As a 6-lane roundabout whirled in front of us, we realized that our decision to walk to the Pagoda was also our consent to a real-life game of frogger. Fortunately, luck was on our side. We removed our shoes, tied our longyes (with help from friendly locals), and were completely amazed by the size and splendor of the pagoda. The gilded complex couldn’t have been more opposite to the chaos of Yangon. Near soothing in its stillness, incense wafted through the air and our bare feet glided across polished marble. The pagoda gleamed above a sea of other golden spires, plated with 22,000 gold bricks. As day peacefully slipped into dusk, we left the calm behind and turned back to the now dark streets. Through night markets, trash heaps and dark alleys, we trekked to a “rooftop” bar. From the fifth floor, we towered over the city and clinked our beers to the showstopping view.

While most might have called it a night, we had one more activity to check off our Yangon to-do list. Despite it being 10pm on a Monday, the streets of Chinatown were crawling with hungry, young Burmese patrons participating in the nightly tradition of BBQ food after dark. Food carts lined both sides of the street but instead of offering their typical deep fried doughs and noodle bowls, they were stacked with skewers. Pork belly, squid, mushrooms, tofu, chicken, and even whole fish were laid on ice awaiting the hot charcoal embers. We gestured helplessly, and before we knew it, a spread of cold beer and hot barbecue was laid out before us. A feast — eaten from plastic stools in the middle of a mob-scene in a dark, dirty street.

And that’s how it went in Yangon. A constant, often challenging, hunt for the hidden cultural gems. The contrast of a progressive yet crumbling, glamorous yet garbage ridden city proved a rich landscape for cultural exploration. We took away knowledge, new friends and full bellies. But we were happy to leave the smell behind.

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Moments that matter at SXSW

The crumpled note was passed to me like a kid on the playground. Unfolding the mysterious napkin revealed a name, phone number and the words: Concert tonight — call me! It was the perfect childlike way to dip my toes into SXSW. It’s a playground, but one with the expectation of excessive digital interaction. In the absence of tech, this exchange felt refreshing, fun and even a bit rogue. Throughout the weekend, Meerkat, Mophie, and robots provided plenty of fodder for conversation, but it was surprising to realize that whether digital or not, the experiences that mattered most were simply the ones that connected us to each other.

The smell of BBQ hung in the air as we sat with our friends from WIRED the Austin classic, Lamberts. There were 4 virtual reality headsets ready and waiting for us to explore, but most of us gravitated to the opposite side of the room. Of course we tried the demos, but as interesting as they were, they weren’t fulfilling in the same way our conversations were. The briskit and bloody marys get a little credit, but it was apparent that the collection of assembled characters was the preferred reason to linger.

In a conference session later on, Jeremy Welt, SVP of Marketing at Maker Studio, showed us the trailer for the upcoming film, Vlogumentary. YouTube fans are moved to tears as they reflect on the impact that Shay Carol and other video bloggers have had on their lives. Shay broadcasts his life on youtube, living transparently on the internet. When his fans see him out filming, they flock to him — building instant communities wherever he goes. The popularity of vloggers has already eclipsed traditional celebrities. Variety Magazine recently found the top 5 “most influential” celebrities for teenagers to all be Youtubers. “This isn’t the future of entertainment, it’s the present of entertainment,” said Jeremy. Vloggers are transforming an entire industry, creating dialogue and a place for human connection.

Human connection continued to be a theme for the week as we kicked off our panel, Humanizing Digital. Along with celebrity vlogger, Charles Trippy, Google and Man Made Music, we opened a discussion about how to create loved digital experiences. Throughout the panel, the audience enthusiastically waved pink and orange card in the air, casting their votes for which brands were already doing this successfully. It’s easy enough for brands like Spotify and PayPal to host concerts and parties to physically connect with SXSWers, but are they successful in creating human connections from behind the screen? The audience was abundantly clear about the experiences they loved vs. liked, “leaving” Snapchat, YikYak and the apple watch, “liking” Spotify, feeling divided on Uber, and “loving” Instagram. “Uber is truly humanizing digital,” said Randall Stone, “not because we don’t expend time fumbling with our credit cards, but because we can use the time we save to thank the driver, to make a human connection.” Loved experiences surprise us, delight us, grow with us and give us superpowers. But most importantly, they give us the ability to connect and bring us closer to the people we care about, or to the people we don’t yet know we care about.

That cocktail napkin with sharpie scrawl was not digital, yet it stuck with me. In the often ostentatious, taco and tequila fueled world of SX, where everything is live-streamed, uploaded, and reblogged, the napkin was personal. Just for me. It was surprising, delightful and indicative of human connection — the emotions that digital experiences seek to emulate. Amongst the likes, loves, beeps and tweets, it was a good reminder of why SXSW continues to thrive. Everything is digital, but digital isn’t everything. Whether digital, physical or even augmented, experiences that matter start with humans.

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Solstice — Celebrating change, bittersweet and beautiful.

Every six months are marked with a solstice — a turning point marking a seasonal shift and (of course) an opportunity to celebrate. We host candle-lit dinner parties, shake bottles of champagne or even ride through the streets naked to show our excitement. Despite the celebration however, the solstices — both winter and summer — are bittersweet. While we dance in an abundance of daylight in the summer, we suddenly move towards darker days. In the winter, we look forward to the sunshine to come, but hold our celebrations in the shadows of the shortest and darkest day of the year. The solstice marks change, and change comes with a trade-off. We wave farewell to the old before greeting the new.

 

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I spent this year’s summer solstice contemplating this exchange. This year, the solstice not only marked a change for the seasons, but a significant one for my life. I’d climbed into Hunter’s (patiently waiting) car on Friday after walking out of TEAGUE for the very last time. We’d escaped to the Olympic Peninsula, camped along a crystal clear lake, sipped ice-cold beers in a canoe and hiked a few miles through the mud along the coast before we collided with the Pacific Ocean. Watching the sun sink into salt water always reminds me of my  inconsequence while simultaneously stuffing me with excitement for shaping my place in the imminence of tomorrow. On this solstice, I felt this dichotomy more than ever.

 

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I thought back on the past few years, overwhelmed with gratitude. Thankful for my time at TEAGUE — for the people I’d met and the lessons learned. Blessed to have a guy by my side who supported me through the ups and downs while I’d learned to stand on my own two feet. It wasn’t simply a day of reflection though — no solstice is. It was one marked with change. From 10pm sunsets to 4pm ones, and for me, from what’s familiar in Seattle to what is undiscovered in NYC.

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The days might be getting darker now, but that’s not a metaphor for despair. For me, the darker days are just the uncharted ones. The next few years will be an adventure through both darkness and light. Each day, like each solstice will be bittersweet, and all of them will deserve celebration.

LC

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Work, Play, Coffee — Repeat.

Regardless of the rain storms, bus malfunctions or puddle accidents I might encounter on my way to work each day, I am always instantly cheered when I step into the TEAGUE studio and am greeted by some of my favorite people. The intelligence, creativity and appetite for life that vibrates throughout our space is palpable. Every day there, I become a better designer and person.

While often working on many different projects, the Industrial Design team is currently working all together on something special. Team photos were a must. We headed up the Hill to snap some shots of them doing what they do best — enjoying each other. Oh, and drinking coffee. Of course.

Since I often get accused of having too much fun at work, I want to introduce you to a handful of the people that I goof around with every day. We joke and laugh and often drink one too many Moscow Mules, but mostly, we all try to help each other do our best. It’s these faces that get me up each morning. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

LC

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Dubai, A City In Progress

Standing in the airport upon arrival in the desert, I watched a woman in a full, veiled burka walk arm in arm with a robed Arab wearing a trucker hat. Caught off guard, I watched the next group of  women more carefully. After some Aussie’s in cutoffs and tank tops, I saw more burkas, but this time with Fendi handbags slung over their shoulders and Prada loafers peeking out from beneath the robes. As I understood burkas to be a symbol of modesty with the purpose of not drawing attention to oneself, these flashy designer fashion statements didn’t make sense. I realized then that Dubai would not be the ‘Middle Eastern Mecca’ I expected. It was a place far more diverse — and completely unique — in its inhabitants, cultural identity, and societal expectations.

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The city was a fascinating juxtaposition of East and West, which had me determined to understand what was at its core. I spent an afternoon getting myself lost in the markets and back streets, searching for qualities that would help me knit together my understanding of what defined Duabi’s culture. While slurping mango juice to stay cool, I learned how to string figs, stumbled through a shark auction and talked to people from countries I didn’t even know existed. Quickly, I realized that the only unifier of Duabi’s culture was that every person, culture, language and belief structure contributing to it, was different.

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Since over 85% of the approximately 2 million people who call Dubai home are anything but Emirati, it’s the Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, South Africans, Jews, Christians, Muslims (and more) that fill the streets, open shops and cook dishes from their homelands. Their imported traditions are what are felt, smelled and heard, creating a cultural melting pot large enough to live up to Dubai’s reputation of grandeur. The entire week I was there, I never talked to a native.

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The notable absence of a unifying local undercurrent increased my curiosity about what I would find in the newer parts of the city, so I traveled into its heart to compare. Crossing “The Creek” cost only 1 Durham — just 27 cents! A lone bargain in a city where cocktails can cost $60 USD. Diera crumbled with charm on one side of the creek while Dubai gleamed, shiny and new, on the other. It was the ultimate physical representation of the divide sensed throughout the entire city.

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Once arriving on the other side, the contrast was most evidenced by looking up. Rome might not have been built in a day, but Dubai built 400 skyscrapers, the world’s tallest building, most populated aquarium and finest hotel in just 20 short years. With all of the fantastical architecture and landmarks, it’s hard to know where to look, and then, what you’re even looking at. The architecture in some cities tells a story, but these cities are past their formational twenties. While it has shot up some impressive towers, Dubai’s story, and sense of self, are still under construction. It may have celebrity chefs, man-made island communities and an indoor ski hill but it hasn’t yet arrived at how to tie it all together.

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Even though Dubai lacked its own version of Parisian street cafes or Bernini sculptures in graffitied alleyways, it has developed an interesting formula for bringing a super-city from the sand dunes to the sky. Dubai catalyzes its economy by enticing the expats that comprise a large majority of its population with tax-free salaries. They will never (yes, never) be granted citizenship, but they are paid well and given freedoms that many would never dream of at home. While these foreigners keep the gears turning, the native Emirati enjoy incredible benefits. Each are given land, money to build a house, free electricity and water, and money for each child, helping to grow the native population.

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Contrived, artificial and calculated as much of it seemed, the sheer extravagance also forced me to stop and marvel. The way the sail silhouette of the Burj Al Arab framed the sinking sun was undeniably beautiful, even with a giant wall separating the peasants (myself ) from the “7-star hotel” guests. And viewing the dancing fountains, choreographed to “Thriller”(of course), from the top of the Burj Khalifa was nothing short of spectacular.

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So as I sat on the beach with bathwater waves lapping at my legs, I also marveled at how much ground Dubai has covered (figuratively AND literally) in 20 short years.  As the current fastest growing city in the world, one can’t help but wonder what will happen there throughout the next 20. A clash of cultures and an ever-expanding playground, Dubai will no-doubt continue to carve out its place in the world’s list of super-cities. I sincerely look forward to returning a few decades from now and getting to know the more mature and self-assured version of a city I was lucky enough to get to know in its youth.

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