What I Love (and Hate) About Living in Austin


There are times when I absolutely adore living in Austin: when I’m paddleboarding on Town Lake, when I’m drinking a frozen margarita at Maudie’s, when I’m hanging out in hip East Austin under string lights.

That being said, there are certain things I’m less fond of: the sweltering summers, the isolation, the lack of walkability.

I’ve lived in Austin for almost two years. Here’s what I’ve come to love and hate about it:

What I love about Austin

The People

By and large, Texans are incredibly nice people: generous, funny, and sincerely kind. When I had Covid, multiple neighbors brought me tortilla soup and walked my dog. People say hello to you on the street here, even if they don’t know you. Austin is by far the friendliest place I’ve ever lived.

The Food

Another positive – the food. Austin’s food scene is thriving: you can find excellent TexMex, Thai, Vietnamese, and of course, barbecue. Some of my favorite spots are Uchiko (sushi), Odd Duck (new American), and Loro (Asian/barbecue fusion). I’ve also grown to LOVE frozen margaritas, ha.

The Water

As a born-and-raised Michigander, I desperately need to live near water (that was one of the things I found hardest about living in Colorado). Luckily, Austin has plenty of it: Town Lake, Barton Springs, and Lake Travis, to name a few.

The Winters

The winters here are delightful – the temperature hovers around 70 degrees, and the skies are usually crisp and blue. Though we do have the odd snow day, the winter weather is very mild.

Live Music

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Austin’s internationally renowned live music scene. I love how you can walk into a random bar on a Tuesday and hear an incredible performance for the price of a Shiner Bock.

The Dog-friendliness

In Austin, you can bring your dog almost anywhere — I bring my pup almost everywhere I go. My local CVS is even dog-friendly.

What I Hate

The Crowds

Due to its huge popularity in recent years, Austin feels insanely crowded at times. Parking is hard to find, restaurants are packed, and the weekends especially can be hectic.

The High Cost of Living

Austin is very expensive. To buy a plot of land – not even a house – in my neighborhood, costs a million dollars.

Poor Walkability

Sadly, Austin is not a walkable city. Bisected by two highways, Austin is a very car-dependent city; for walkability, it ranks 42nd in the US, between Las Vegas and Pheonix. As someone who loves to walk, this is a huge downside.

The Allergies

Central Texas has been called the “Allergy Capital of the World.” There’s even a daily allergy report on the local news, where official pollen counts for ragweed, grass, and mold are measured. I never had allergies in my life until I moved here — ugh.

The Heat

The summers in Austin are brutal. Temperatures can reach 110 degrees (or higher). After this year’s scorching summer, 90 degrees bizarrely feels somewhat cool to me.

The Isolation

Austin is close to only a few cities: Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Earlier this year I made the mistake of driving to New Orleans, which took 10 hours. Sometimes I feel so envious of the East Coast – imagine driving a few hours and being able to access Boston, Philly, and NYC? Sigh.

All this to say, I’ve been pretty happy here. I’m not sure if it’s my forever home (I’m not sure I have a forever home, period), but I plan to stay at least a few more years. And enjoy many more lake days and frozen margs.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living as an Expat in Strasbourg is Really Like


What living in Strasbourg as an expat is really like

Today, for my Living Abroad series, I’m chatting with Claire, an American freelance writer who lives in beautiful Strasbourg, France (a city I visited when I worked as an au pair!). Here, Claire shares the reasons she loves living in Strasbourg so much, including the romantic architecture and laid-back pace of life. She also shares the best way to make friends as a new expat.

Claire’s background:

Hi! I’m Claire and I grew up in the Chicagoland area. I initially moved from the US to Paris for the 2018-2019 school year to au pair. By the end of that school year, I was ready to move on from Paris. Paris is a gorgeous city but I’ve discovered that I’m more of a midsize city girl. Conveniently enough, my French boyfriend was starting a PhD in Strasbourg and I already knew I liked the city from visiting before, so it was an easy choice to enroll in more French language classes and move here.

On making friends: Facebook expat groups are such a lifesaver! The one I utilized was Girls Gone International Strasbourg. They regularly post events and meet-ups, which can be intimidating depending on how many people go and how social you are to begin with, but I was fortunate enough to meet a really great group of girls fairly early on who have been nothing but friendly and inclusive. It’s a mostly American group, but we all have partners or other friends who are from other English speaking countries or France, which always makes for fun big group get-togethers.  

I’ve also made some friendly acquaintances through bachata dance classes at a local bar called Barco Latino. If you have any inclination to learn how to dance, Latin dances are some of the best ways to break the ice, practice the local language, and meet local, easygoing men and women.

READ NEXT: How to Make Friends When You Move to a New City

On the pace of life: The pace of life in Strasbourg is pretty laid-back. It can get hectic, but I think the romantic architecture and canals really do a lot to contribute to the relaxed and pleasant city atmosphere. That being said, Strasbourg is one of the most bike-friendly cities in Europe, which essentially means that pedestrians are always at risk of being run over. Always make sure to be aware and look both ways before crossing any street or sidewalk-seriously!

What living in Strasbourg as an expat is really like

On the cost of living: You need at least €1500/mo per person to live here comfortably. Now, you can get by on much less than that if you want/need to, but our figure takes into account the basics, such as rent, groceries, Internet, transport, etc, and also leisure activities such as grabbing happy hour drinks fairly regularly, dining out or splurging on groceries to prepare nicer meals, and the occasional shopping excursion.

On the Strasbourg expat community: Strasbourg has a huge community of expats! It’s an incredibly international city due to the fact that the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, and the University of Strasbourg draw people from all over the world for employment and education. American expats in Strasbourg tend to be on either student visas or a visa “vie privée et familiale,” which means they are in a civil union or married to their French partner. 

On living in Strasbourg as an American: Americans are pretty well-received in France in my experience, and this extends to Strasbourg. Although, one very specific exception I’ve experienced firsthand is when a group of people attempts to order food at a restaurant with lots of customized requests (substitute this for that, add this on, etc). While customized requests are par for the course in the US, they’re not really a thing in France and servers get extremely annoyed trying to keep track of all the extra detail. Obviously, if you have a dietary restriction, that’s one circumstance, but beyond that the reception to special requests gets extremely chilly. 

On learning French: Oh god, I’ve cried more times than the rest of my life combined since commencing my French language studies a year and a half ago. Technically French isn’t a hard language to learn, and I already had a healthy helping of Spanish language background going in, but the French insistence on “just right” pronunciation and their general lack of cocern for someone who can’t really participate in a conversation can feel very jarring and isolating. 

To anyone who is wanting to learn or beginning to learn French, the best advice I can give you is also the advice I find the hardest to execute: Just do your best, and try to let the grammar and pronunciation blunders roll off your shoulders. If you’re in conversation with someone and are really struggling, just ask to switch to English. It’s not rude if you’ve clearly been making an attempt. And, more often than not nowadays, French people are fully capable of holding conversations in English–they just avoid it and will rarely offer to switch on their own volition. 

READ NEXT: 10 Tips for Becoming Fluent in a Second (or Third!) Language

On French food: French food is an experience. Different regions in France specialize in different types of food. For example, Strasbourg gastronomy has been heavily influenced by Germany due to its geographic proximity and subsequent geopolitical exchanges throughout history. But overall, French food can be summarized as an experience meant to be savored and enjoyed. There is never any sense of urgency to a meal and, as I’ve learned to control my hungry American “need it NOW” impulses, I’ve learned to appreciate the pride French people take in the loooong preparation of a meal to share together, too. 

What living in Strasbourg as an expat is really like

On must-try local foods: Tarte flambée and choucroute are absolute must-try local dishes in Strasbourg. Tarte flambée is basically an extremely thin flatbread served with fresh cream, onions, chewy bacon pieces, and salt and pepper. If you want a kick of yummy local cheese, ask for Munster as an add-on.

Choucroute features around five different types of meat (sausages, ham, roast pork) served on a bed of cabbage with a hearty side of potatoes. Don’t be put off by the cabbage! The very specific, tangy flavor actually marries really well with all the salty meat and neutral potato going around. Be sure to order a glass of Riesling or recommended white wine by the server.

On personal safety: I live in the city center and personally have never felt unsafe in the city, however, I have been harassed a couple of times by men during the day, so I’m extra-vigilant at night time as a result. 

On the local fashion: Women in Strasbourg dress just a little more practical than women in Paris due to the fact that there are cobblestone streets everywhere and biking is the most popular form of transportation, but nevertheless, the average Strasbourgeois could still be considered runway-ready. 

What living in Strasbourg as an expat is really like

On the biggest challenge of living in Strasbourg: The hardest part was swallowing my pride and moving to a city to be with a boy. In its own right, Strasbourg is a fantastic city, but it’s highly unlikely I would have ended up here if I hadn’t met my partner. Furthermore, I never imagined myself to be the “type” of girl who would move somewhere “just to be with” someone, and I really struggled with the decision as something that went directly against my feminist ideology. I’ve developed a much more nuanced perspective on the decision in the last few months and both my relationship and I are better for it, but I did want to acknowledge this motivating factor because it’s a paradox a lot of American expats live with daily, this living in France because they love a French person and genuinely loving life in France in its own right.

What living in Strasbourg as an expat is really like

Thanks so much, Claire!

P.S. What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like and What Living as an Expat in Berlin Is Really Like.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living as an Expat in Turkey is Really Like


Hey everyone! Today, for my Living Abroad series, I’m chatting with Zee, a Zambian college student who has lived in Adana, Turkey, for more than three years. As an African expat, she has a ton of interesting insights to share, from how underrated Turkish brunch to why Turkey-based expats should consider living in cities.

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

The pros and cons of living in Turkey (as reported by Zee):

Pros: Beautiful landscapes, good public transportation, rich cuisine
Cons: Extremely high taxes, intrusiveness, heavy smoking

Zee’s background:

My name is Zyabo M’hango but most people call me Zee. I’m originally from Zambia. I came to Turkey three years ago to study architecture and to explore another country.

On cultural differences: Zambia and Turkey are very different culturally. For example, Zambia is a very social country, people love to go out and drink. Turkey is more religious, conservative, and traditional. In Turkey, I have to be much more careful about how I dress or present myself in public.

On Turkish food: Turkish cuisine is so rich in variety and every region has its own specialty. One thing to try if you are in Turkey is a Turkish breakfast — they’re amazing! The full breakfast usually comes with boiled and fried eggs, at least three different types of cheese and jellies, olives, cucumbers, tomatoes, bread, and Turkish tea.

On the tea-drinking culture: Turks love tea! Back in Zambia I only had a cup of tea for breakfast and sometimes after dinner during winter. Here in Turkey, some people drink up to ten cups of tea a day — every day.

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

On learning Turkish: Turkish is one of the hardest languages to learn but if you surround yourself with Turks you can learn the language really fast and also learn more about their culture. In general, Turkish people love teaching others about their language and culture, which makes it easier.

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

On the cost of living: Depending on where you live in Turkey, the cost of living varies greatly. Cities in the southwest and west tend to cost more. Where I live, Adana, is considered one of the most affordable cities to live in. The average cost of an apartment in a new building is around 950-1400tl ($150-$230 USD), depending on whether it’s furnished or not.

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

On personal safety: Turkey is safer than what the media depicts. There are some political and social issues but in my day to day life, I feel very safe.

On the best places for expats to live in Turkey: Despite being a little bit more costly I think cities like Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya are really good for expats. The expat communities there are large and being touristic cities they offer in terms of a social life.

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

On living in Turkey as a black woman: There aren’t many black people in Turkey and as a black person here you stand out. Turks are very curious people and so when they see people that look very different from them (be it someone blonde and blue-eyed, Asian or black) they tend to take an interest in this. In my first year, I didn’t even want to go out because I felt very self-conscious from all the staring. People often ask me ignorant questions, like if we have wild animals roaming around our cities in Zambia. Sometimes people don’t even think we have cities! It’s baffling.

On staying in Turkey long-term: I don’t think I want to live here long term because I don’t see myself getting a permanent job, a spouse and kids here. Regardless of where I end up, I will definitely be back to visit Turkey because it’s such a beautiful place.

Thanks, Zee!

What living in Turkey as an expat is really like

P.S. What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like and What Living as an Expat in Berlin Is Really Like.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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Travel and Blogging Recap: December 2019


Hey everyone. In light of the Coronavirus pandemic, it almost feels silly to update you with what’s going on in my life. I’ll try to keep this light. I hope you are staying safe, healthy, and sane in these difficult times.

Sorry I haven’t written a recap since, oh, December. Grad school has been intense — I’m taking 15 credits right now, so it’s been tough to focus on anything but school. The good news? I’m done in June!

This winter, I’ve mostly stayed put in Ann Arbor. That being said, I did take two trips out west — Park City, Utah, to ski, and Calfornia to see friends.

The amazing City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, where I finally picked up Little Women

Where I’ve been:

  • Park City, Utah (7 days)
  • Traverse City, Michigan (3 days)
  • San Francisco, CA (6 days)
  • LA (3 days)
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan (the rest of the time)


Skiing in Park City. Over the holidays, my family and I spent a week skiing in Park City, Utah. It was delightful. I felt very fortunate to be able to ski and to take a much-needed break from grad school.

Writing a historical fiction novel. After many false starts writing books (by which I mean I started and quit writing at least ten), I think I have found my genre — historical fiction! I’m 80 pages into my novel and it’s been so much fun to research and write. One thing that helped immensely was The Artist’s Way, a book that leads you through a 12-step creative recovery course. I recommend it to everyone, unconditionally.

Spending spring break in California. As I’ve mentioned on this blog many, many times, San Francisco is my favorite city. So it was wonderful to spend five days there catching up with friends and scoping out potential neighborhoods (P.S. I’m very into Richmond and the Sunset). Though the city has changed a lot in the past 10 years, it’s still where I see myself after graduation. (And if you know anyone hiring for UX design, I would be so grateful for an intro.)


Coronavirus. This pandemic feels so surreal and is difficult for so many reasons. I’m trying to do the socially responsible thing by staying home and washing my hands frequently. I’m trying to stay positive and not panic. I’m using this opportunity to finish my novel, read a ton, and re-learn piano. That being said, I’m very worried about people in my life who are at risk, as well as the general state of the world right now.

Michigan winter. Honestly, it sucks to live in a place where it hurts to walk outside six months out of the year. It’s just too damn cold here. Thankfully, spring seems to be right around the corner.

Saying goodbye to Cape Town. I never announced this, but last month I got a two-month internship in Cape Town, South Africa in May and June. I was SO excited about it. But yesterday, I got the news that the internship was canceled. It’s a huge bummer but pales in comparison to what other people are going through — so I’m trying to not feel sorry for myself.

Blogging Stuff

Popular posts

Most popular post: Why Ditching My Dream Camera Made Me Love Photography Again – I was surprised this post did so well. It seems many people felt the same way about mirrorless cameras!

Other posts published since November:

Blogging traffic & income (February 2020):

My blog traffic took a huge hit in November due to a Google update. Traffic is now taking an even bigger hit due to the coronavirus. Dips in my income like this make me grateful blogging is only a side-gig — I’m really feeling for all bloggers and people who work in the travel industry right now.

February traffic: 47,375 page views

September blogging income – $812.25

  • Advertising – $693.36
  • Affiliate income (Amazon) – $61.78
  • Affiliate income (not Amazon): $57.11
  • Ebook sales: $0.00

Note that this is my blogging income before deductions or expenses.

Favorite read

The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer – This book won’t be for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. This memoir follows the journey of Guy, a 16-year old French boy who is drafted into the German army in WWII. Though the book has a lot of violence, I really enjoyed Sajer’s introspection on becoming a soldier and what it’s like living in wartime. He is an excellent writer, and writes very poetically about many subjects: “Peace has brought me many pleasures, but nothing as powerful as that passion for survival in wartime, that faith in love, and that sense of absolutes. It often strikes me with horror that peace is really extremely monotonous. During the terrible moments of war one longs for peace with a passion that is painful to bear. But in peacetime one should never, even for an instant, long for war!”

Up next:

Nothing, I guess? I was supposed to go to my friend’s 30th birthday party in Baja, Mexico, in April, but it looks like that won’t be happening. Graduation is also canceled.

How is your winter going? How are you handling/embracing this crazy time? Book recommendations EXTREMELY welcome.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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One Year Later — How Are You Doing?


I’m not quite sure how to start this. it’s been a while — and by a while, I mean a year.

Honestly, I’ve been putting off writing this post. I wanted to write something eloquent and touching, to summarize COVID and BLM and what it’s like to live through these times. But every time I started, I fell short. So I quit.

But I’ve realized I don’t have to write something meaningful and profound. I just have to write.

Life updates

I feel fortunate that this pandemic hasn’t been too hard on me. When lockdown happened, my parents were kind enough to let me move out of my tiny apartment and move into their house. I haven’t lost any friends or family. I spent most of the summer quarantining in Northern Michigan, which is the perfect place to quarantine because there’s basically no one there.

I feel bad admitting that a lot of positive things have happened to me in the past year. I finished graduate school. I got a job as a UX designer at Deloitte. I got a puppy (!) named Alfie. I fell in love with road-tripping, visiting seven national parks. And I found a place to live that I love! I now live in Austin, Texas.

My sweet puppy, Alfie

But, of course, it hasn’t been all roses. There have been weeks when I’ve doomscrolled endlessly, refreshing the New York Times’ home page an embarrassing amount of times. I’ve strengthened some friendships, but others have fallen by the wayside. Job-hunting during a pandemic was grueling — it took me six months to land a job after I graduated. And don’t even get me started on being single during a pandemic.

But all in all, I know how lucky I am. In the grand scheme of things, I can’t complain.

A year away from blogging has taught me that I really do miss it. I miss writing. I miss sharing book recommendations (you guys always have the best ones). I miss having a space that is all mine.

I’m not sure I’ll ever blog as regularly as I used to, but I still want to check in from time to time.

Which leads me to the question: How are you, really? What has this year been like for you? Are you feeling hopeful or worn out, or both?

Sending you love, wherever and however you are.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living in Romania as an Expat is Really Like


What living in Romania as an expat is really like

Hey everyone! My Living Abroad series, after a long hiatus, is back. Today, I’m chatting with Jennifer, an American teacher and blogger living in Romania.

Jennifer, a serial expat, has spent the past 11 years living and working on four continents, but she now calls Bucharest home. With its gorgeous countryside, low cost of living, and hearty food, she makes Romania seem like a pretty dreamy place to live. I hope you enjoy reading about her life there!

Jennifer’s background:

What living in Romania as an expat is really like

My name is Jennifer Stevens and I’m originally from a small town near Tampa, Florida. I’ve been an expat for the last 11 years, living in South Korea, Colombia, China, and now Romania. My husband Luke and I both work at the American International School of Bucharest and live in the center of town with our Shanghai street dog, Charlie. 

On moving to Romania: Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Romania when my husband and I were offered teaching positions here. But we were keen to explore Europe and knew Eastern Europe would be a more affordable way to do this. Plus, when we Googled Romania, pictures of snow-capped mountains and fairytale castles filled the computer screen! 

What living in Romania as an expat is really like

On making friends with other expats in Romania: To be honest, most of my friends are fellow teachers from school. Romania doesn’t have the same expat scene as other places I’ve lived like in Shanghai, but there is a chapter of InterNations here in Bucharest, and you can find some gatherings on To make local friends, I’ve found success by talking to fellow dog owners at the parks, and taking fitness classes at gyms (that is, when they were still open). 

On living in Romania during Covid-19: It’s had its ups and downs. We’ve been lucky to work at a school that has prioritized the health of its teachers and students, but teaching online has been extremely difficult. It’s now been a full year of Zoom instruction and we’re all completely burned out. Currently, Europe is in its third wave, and the new variants have hit Romania pretty hard. This means strict curfews and lockdowns in some areas (where you have to have a declaration form to leave the house). It also means that schools have to remain closed until cases get down to 6/1,000. Right now, I believe numbers are closer to 9/1,000 where my school is located. 

It’s been hard not being able to go home, but Luke and I have a lot of gratitude for our situation. Romania is a beautiful country with plenty of cabin escapes in nearby mountain ranges, and the WIFI is strong. So, while we feel trapped and homesick at times, nature and the ability to quickly connect is a huge comfort. 

What living in Romania as an expat is really like

On Romanian food: Typical Romanian food is heavy and pork-forward. I love the soups here, especially the “sour” variety, which uses fermented barley or wheat bran (borș) to get its flavor. I also love the roasted eggplant dip (salata de vinete), and the summer produce is second-to-none! 

A typical Romanian meal is especially perfect on a cold winter day: pork-stuffed cabbage rolls (sarmale), polenta (mămăligă) topped with a dollop of sour cream, some type of sour soup (ciorbă), possibly a side of grilled sausage (mici), and fried cheese doughnuts (papanasi) served with blueberry jam and sweet sour cream. 

What living in Romania as an expat is really like

On learning Romanian: The Romanian language is beautiful, and apparently the closest living language to Vulgar Latin. Since I can speak Spanish, I thought learning Romanian would be easy, but it’s been pretty challenging. I found that when I took lessons, I was mixing up words I knew from Spanish and French.

Most people in Bucharest can speak English, so I typically greet strangers in Romanian (“Buna ziua”), then ask them if they speak English (“Vorbiți Engleza?”). More often than not, the conversation switches to English—which is great for communicating, but bad for learning the language.

On the cost of living: For the most part, Romania is a very inexpensive place to live—especially if you’re coming from the States. Depending on which city you live in and what neighborhood, expats can expect to pay less than $1,000 USD for a 2-bedroom apartment. At least in Bucharest, landlords typically advertise apartments for much more than they’re worth (for example, our 3-bdrm place in downtown Bucharest was advertised for $1,300 and we got it for $1,000). Keep in mind, you can find places much cheaper (especially in an older Communist building or outside the city), or more expensive (in a new expat complex). 

For everyday items like produce, it really depends on what you’re buying. Locally grown products are very affordable, and depending on the season, you can get great deals on some of the best tasting fruits and vegetables out there. In July, for example, you can go to Obor market (one of the biggest farmers’ markets in the city) and take home a kilo of blackberries for less than $5. Imported products can be expensive, and I wouldn’t recommend ordering from websites outside the EU, as import taxes can be incredibly steep. 

What living in Romania as an expat is really like

On local fashion: In Bucharest [Romania’s capital], the color black reigns supreme. I’ve actually had trouble finding clothes to my taste, and shoes in particular are tough if your feet run on the larger side (US 9 and above for women). The handmade traditional blouses are absolutely gorgeous though—typically white cotton with billowy sleeves, embroidered in a variety of colors and patterns. 

On the medical system: The worst part of living in Romania is the medical system. Romania consistently ranks worst in the EU, according to the Euro Health Consumer Index, which looks at variables like accessibility, treatment outcomes, range of services, care, and pharmaceuticals. I’ve heard of many instances of bribery, and have personally experienced a misdiagnosis and the inability to find my thyroid replacement medicine (the country ran out for many months and I had to find a way to get it from the States).

READ NEXT: How to Make Friends When You Move to a New City

On missing home: I always miss my family most—especially this last year when flying home wasn’t an option. Otherwise, I miss the ease of everyday things, like being able to fully communicate at the doctor’s office, or being able to find the correct products you need to clean your house. I also miss nicely paved streets and familiar road rules. 

On the best part about living in Romania: It’s hard to choose just one thing, so I’ll say my top three: the gorgeous countryside, the proximity to other countries in Europe, and the low cost of living. 

On living in Romania long-term: Next school year will be our last. Five years will have been the perfect amount of time to properly explore the country and to develop a true appreciation for the people and the culture. But because of my recent cancer journey, our next post will have to be somewhere with a more dependable medical system. 

Mulțumesc, Jennifer!

P.S. What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like and What Living as an Expat in Berlin Is Really Like.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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7 Excellent Books to Read This Summer


Was 2020 a slow reading year for anyone else? The pandemic basically turned my brain into mush.

That being said, my love for reading came back with a vengeance this year. I’ve been reading so much this summer and it feels delicious. I’ve run the gamut from memoirs to fiction to historical non-fiction. I’ve liked some more than others but here are some of my absolute favorite reads of the past year.

Here are seven books I highly recommend picking up this summer:

The best books to read in 2021

The Midnight Library follows the story of Nora Seed, a deeply unhappy thirty-something who endlessly ruminates on what might have been. After a near-death experience, she ends up in a library where each book contains a story of an alternate reality. When she picks up a book, she is able to live out one of her parallel lives: from Olympic swimmer to pub owner to glaciologist.

Full of philosophical musings, this book will stick with you long after you’ve read it. I loved this book and read it in less than 24 hours.

If you’ve ever struggled with regret, ghost lives, or wondering “what-if”, I think you’d enjoy this one.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The Paris Wife – Paula McClain

The best books to read in 2021

The Paris Wife follows the story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. Richardson and Hemingway meet in Chicago in 1920, have a whirlwind romance, and quickly move to Paris. They soon find themselves amongst the “Lost Generation.” But as Hemingway’s career picks up steam, their marriage begins to unravel.

What I loved about this book was how real the characters seemed. Although this is a work of fiction, it reads almost like a memoir. The dialogue in particular is excellent.

If you’ve ever dreamt of living in Paris in the 1920s with the likes of Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and F. Scott Fitzgerald, you’ll enjoy this book.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The best books to read in 2021

Michelle Zauner, also known as her alias Japanese Breakfast, is a Korean-American indie rock musician. Crying in H Mart, her memoir, is many things: a memoir about losing one’s mother, a bildungsroman, and a story about making it as a famous musician. At its heart though, it’s a book about food and family.

Growing up as the only Korean-American in Eugene, Oregon, Michelle Zauner often feels out of place. But once she grows up and learns to appreciate her Korean roots, her mother dies, and she loses her connection to her heritage.

The way she finds her way back to her roots is through food.

Heartbreaking, sentimental, and gorgeously written, I highly recommend this if you like food memoirs such as Blood, Bones, & Butter.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The best books to read in 2021

This book is absolutely hilarious. And bizarre.

Lillian and Madison are an unlikely pair of friends. After rooming together at boarding school and then drifting apart, Madison asks the down-and-Lillian to nanny her twins.

The only problem? The children spontaneously burst into flames.

This premise shouldn’t work, but does. I laughed out loud so many times reading this book.

At its core, this book is not just about flammable children; it’s about friendship, abandonment, class divisions, and growing up.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The best books to read in 2021

Writers & Lovers is the story of Casey Peabody, a 31-year-old woman who has staked her entire life on becoming a writer. Despite this, she still hasn’t finished her first novel. She is also broke, single, and grappling with the recent loss of her mother.

Though her life is in shambles, she is still clutching onto something most of her friends have given up on — the drive to live a creative life.

As I’m now 31, I related to so much of this book. As the book jacket says, it follows a woman who is in “the last days of a long youth”: a time of your life that can feel akin to Indian Summer.

If you’re around this age or have ever had a dream to live a more creative life, I highly recommend this book.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The best books to read in 2021

Daisy Jones & the Six follows a fictional band’s rise to fame in the 1970s.

I found this book a little jarring at first, as it reads like a transcript. Once you become accustomed to the dialogue-only writing style, it’s hard to put this book down.

If you’re a fan of 70’s music or this era, I think you’ll enjoy this book. Though the characters are a little cliche (gorgeous but mysterious female lead singer, controlling but insanely talented band leader), they still felt real to me.

If you haven’t read it yet, I also recommend Taylor Jenkin Reid’s previous book, The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

The best books to read in 2021

The Splendid and the Vile is set during the Blitz, a German bombing campaign on London that occurred from June 1940 – June 1941. It centers on Winston Churchill’s first year in office, and his fight against the Luftwaffe and their relentless raids on London.

Though some parts of the book dragged on (especially the romances), overall this book transported me to London in the first years of the war: blackouts, bombings, and people carrying on with their lives regardless of the turmoil and strife.

Buy the book on Bookshop here.

My 2021 summer reading list:

  • The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher (I’m halfway through and it’s soo good!)
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
  • The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
  • Norse Mythology by Nail Gaiman
  • Malibu Rising by Taylor Jenkins Reed

What’s on your reading list for this year?

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living in Abu Dhabi as an Expat is Really Like


What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

Today, the Living Abroad series takes us to the United Arab Emirates where we meet Jay, a Canadian expat who lives in Abu Dhabi with her husband, Joe, and their two children. Here, we talk about the challenges of learning Arabic, popular snack foods (ever hear of luqaimat?), and how living in Abu Dhabi has challenged her initial assumptions about the Middle East.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

Jay’s background: We moved to Abu Dhabi in August of 2016. from Stavanger, Norway.  Prior to that, we had been in Norway and Gabon. These days, I’m a full-time mom. But back in the day, I was a teacher.  I majored in English and taught middle school.  With my youngest now entering school, I’m working on my next steps and hoping to pursue some creative ambitions.

After living in Norway, Abu Dhabi was a relatively easy transition.  The service industry thrives here and the population is 90% expatriates.  Culturally, it has been really interesting experiencing the Middle East and it has challenged and changed many of my preconceived notions.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like
What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On the cost of living: The UAE is more expensive than the US in most regards. This is the place to make money (there’s no income tax) but it’s also the place to spend money.

On learning Arabic: I find Arabic incredibly difficult.  My son learns it in school and remote learning has really put me to the test. Most everyone speaks English here so there is rarely a time where we are not understood but I’ve picked up a few common Arabic phrases – khallas [“enough”], inshallah [“God willing”], as-salamu alaykum [“peace be with you”], and alhamdulillah [“praise be to God”].

On Emirati food: Because the vast majority of residents are expatriates and most of the restaurants are international, Emirati food is not particularly common.  The origins of many Middle Eastern dishes are often up for great debate but biryani (a rice dish), hummus, and kebabs are common and if you’re looking for something interesting, you can track down a camel burger.  Sweet shops and coffee places are abundant and often full of locals at all hours of the day. I like the luqaimat, a deep-fried ball of dough drizzled with date syrup.

On smoking hookah: It’s actually called shisha here! I think we did once when we had a friend visiting but it’s not something we seek out.  There are many shisha bars and cafes though and it’s certainly easy to find.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like
What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On the local fashion: Local women in Abu Dhabi usually wear an abaya, often black but not always, with a shayla, a thin headscarf. Fancy handbags and shoes are the norm. Men wear a long white robe called a kandora often with a white ghotra, a scarf-like fabric, on the head. 

In Abu Dhabi, I generally dress more conservatively than I would at home. I try to keep my shoulders and knees covered when I’m out in the city.  As you spend time here you realize where it’s more accepted to dress down (international hotels, certain housing complexes) and where it’s better to be more conservative (the post office, government buildings, schools). That said, things have changed a lot in the five years I’ve been here. I see women dress in all sorts of manners and it’s more accepted than it was when we first arrived.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On raising kids in Abu Dhabi: It is interesting being a mom in Abu Dhabi because we live amongst so many different cultures. My children’s school has over 60 nationalities represented so we see a wide variety of families and values. The biggest contrast to other places we’ve lived is the amount of help and staff people employ here.  We are one of the few families I know that do not employ a full-time nanny. When I take my kids to the playground in our community, I’m often the only mom amongst the nannies. Also, kids stay out very late here! It’s not uncommon to see small children strolling the mall or in a restaurant at 10 pm.

On safety: Rules are strict in Abu Dhabi; it is such a safe place. We joke that you can leave your wallet on a table and come back the next day and it would still be sitting there. Street harassment is not a concern. I have never been harassed nor really felt unsafe (not including driving) in my five years here.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like
What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On living in Abu Dhabi during Covid-19: It has been interesting and occasionally frustrating. Rules come hard and fast and you don’t dare break them or criticize them.  Abu Dhabi itself has become a bubble even within the UAE. Other emirates, including Dubai, have taken a different approach and we now have a permanent border between Abu Dhabi and the rest of the country where you must show a recent PCR to cross back into the capital. The UAE had the second-fastest vaccine rollout in the world – I was fully vaccinated by the end of February – and has relied heavily on extensive testing. I’ve been tested nearly 15 times just because it’s necessary to enter buildings or return to Abu Dhabi. Certainly, there are times where rules don’t make sense or I wished restrictions would lessen slightly but it has also felt very safe.

On missing home: We’ve been gone for over 11 years now so there is not much, materialistically speaking, that we miss anymore.  But certainly, in light of the pandemic, we miss our family.  We haven’t been home in two years and it’s hard not knowing when we’ll be able to visit.  I also miss fresh air. The heat, humidity, and the sand of the desert just don’t bring the crisp, clean air. 

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On the best part about living in Abu Dhabi: I love the call to prayer. I love that I can get absolutely anything delivered. I love valet parking everywhere and beautiful hotels and restaurants.

On the worst part: It can be hard to reconcile that many of the things I love about living here come at a cost in terms of the service and manual labor. People are not treated equally here. Also, the summer heat – it literally feels like living in an oven.

What living in Abu Dhabi as an expat is really like

On living in Abu Dhabi long-term: We’ve been in Abu Dhabi for five years and feel fairly settled and comfortable.  I’d be okay staying for another year or two but my husband is starting to get itchy feet! Covid has definitely changed the game though so it seems like everything from borders to opportunities are all a lot more difficult.

Thanks, Jay! Your photos are gorgeous.

P.S. The full Living Abroad series and What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like.

(Family photos courtesy of Luma Photography.)

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living in Versailles is Really Like


Hey everyone! Welcome back to Living Abroad, a series that shows you what expat life is like in cities around the world. Our latest interview features pastry chef Molly, who moved from Dallas to Paris to attend pastry school at the Cordon Bleu. She now lives in Versailles, France, with François, her French partner and their adorable dog, Elliot.

Here’s a peek into her dreamy life in France…

Molly’s background:

Hi! My name is Molly Wilkinson. I’m originally from Dallas, Texas and I teach pastry classes in Versailles! I live in an 18th-century apartment with François, my French partner, and Eliott, our dog.

I moved to attend pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu and really fell in love with the city, particularly the culture around food and the amazing ingredients. I ended up going back to Texas once my visa expired, then I returned and worked at several pâtisseries — and even a château — to gain experience.

On her old-world apartment: Our apartment is about five minutes walk from the Versailles Château in the Saint Louis neighborhood. The building was built in the 18th century and is full of charm. Our apartment is full of light, still has the original parquet floors and huge mirrors on the mantles. I use one of the rooms for teaching my pastry classes. I’ve planted red geraniums in the flower boxes and filled the cabinets with pastry tools and antique cake stands. In the middle of the room is a big antique French farm table where I create.

On moving to Versailles: Versailles is full of history and charm. There is so much more to the city than just the Château. It’s quite expansive and doesn’t have the small windy medieval streets like some of the towns nearby. It’s quiet, traditional, and has beautiful architecture. It’s situated just 30 minutes from Paris by train, so we have the peacefulness of living outside the big city but also the proximity to easily go in whenever we need to. There are two main neighborhoods in Versailles, the Saint Louis Quarter and the Notre Dame Quarter. Both have impressive churches and markets! There’s also the horse carriage museum to explore and even a local flour mill.

On becoming a pastry chef: I’ve been baking since I was very young, but it was all American treats – like my favorite chocolate chip cookies and brownies. It wasn’t until I came to Paris at the age of 26 that I started to learn the art of French pâtisserie. Going to school for the culinary arts is difficult; you’re on your feet all day, and there’s a certain amount of pressure to get things right the first time. I loved it though. I learned more with each creation and got more confident.

After I graduated, I did an internship at a tiny pastry shop in the 10th arrondissement in Paris where I was the only person besides the two women pastry chefs running the place. I learned so much and went on from there to work at several bakeries in both the US and France. The culinary arts is a field where you are constantly learning, which makes it quite interesting.

I focus on pâtisserie. Within pâtisserie, you have several different specialties, like candy, chocolate, and even ice cream. Separate from patisserie is bread-making (boulangerie), and yeasted pastries (viennoiserie), like croissants. In the US, the word pastry often refers to anything sweet that is French, like eclairs and tarts, but croissants as well, whereas they are actually two entirely different fields.

On learning French: I consider myself intermediate level in French. Learning the language when you live in any foreign country is so important. It opens doors but also allows you to experience more of the culture and feel more like you belong. In terms of tips, I’d say to get a French boyfriend and try to surround yourself with French-speaking people. I also work with a tutor on a regular basis. When I lived in Paris, I took French through the Mairie (city hall). This is a GREAT tip for people living there. It’s very inexpensive and a good way to get into learning asap.

On making friends: Joining different activity groups helps, but I’ve even made friends in the area through Instagram! Eliott is quite the mascot and conversation starter too.

On dating: Dating in France is very different than in the US. Essentially there isn’t dating – either you’re together or not! Yes, the first 1-2 dates are trials to see what you think, then pretty soon thereafter, you’re in a relationship. Also, there isn’t “the discussion” aka the “are we boyfriend and girlfriend?”. I once tried to do this with François, and it was pretty hilarious. He was like, well we are together, we’re happy, and that’s what matters – no need to ask or label.

On the cost of living: I find living in Versailles similar to living in Dallas. I shop a lot at the market for fruits and vegetables and they’re so much cheaper than even buying them in the supermarkets here.

On living in France as an American: It’s been great! But it’s also all about how you approach things. I love living here and try to spread that positivity into all areas of my life and maybe they can sense it? Also, I am familiar with the customs after living here for more than six years and speak the language.

Even visiting though, Americans are very much so welcome! Just great people with a “Bonjour” when going into a shop or restaurant, or starting any conversation. That is the best advice. Add “Madame or Monsieur” and you’ll get a smile for your efforts.

On French fashion: Fashion will vary in France from town to town, and of course the different generations. Fashion in Versailles is a lot different than in Paris. In Versailles, it’s pretty traditional, longer skirts, slacks, nice blouses or dresses, in neutral tones or florals. There’s also a thing with red pants here? Seriously. In Paris, it’s very fashion-forward, trendy, and pretty much anything goes. That’s what makes people-watching such fun!

On living in France during Covid-19: It’s been very quiet. During the confinements, especially the first one, we really just stayed inside, did big shops for food and watched a lot of movies. Thankfully we have a bit more space than the 9m2 (100sqft) apartment I had in Paris! The pandemic also forced me to quickly pivot my business model from in-person pastry classes to online classes, and it’s been incredible. I now reach more people than I ever did before, and folks that live all over the world!

On missing home: Besides my family and friends, I miss tacos the most!

On the best part about living in Versailles: I love how I call it home now. I walk down the streets and see people I know. I have my favorite haunts and feel comfortable here. Also, there’s something pretty special about having the Versailles gardens as the place where I walk my dog.

On the worst part about living in Versailles: The bureaucracy is quite daunting. I like to say that France makes you work for it!

On wanting to living in Versaille long-term: Oui!

Merci, Molly!

(Photos by Molly Krystal Kenney, Joann Pai, and Claire Emmaline.)

P.S. What Living as an Expat in France is Really Like and How to Make Friends in a New City.

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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What Living in Morocco as an Expat is Really Like


What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

For this fall’s Living Abroad series, our next stop is Morocco. Sinclair, an American elementary school teacher, lives in Tangier, Morocco’s third-largest city. Here, Sinclair describes Moroccan nut, date, and avocado smoothies, her experience dating in Morocco, and Tangier’s unlikely love for Birkenstocks…

What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

Sinclair’s background: I moved to Morocco in September 2019 and quickly fell in love with the country. Everyone I met was incredibly kind and welcoming; I felt at home shortly after arriving. I liked it so much that I did not want to leave, even when COVID-19 hit Morocco in 2020 and I had the opportunity to return to the US. Even though the past year and a half have been incredibly challenging and stressful, so much good came out of it through friendships and making strides in my career. Morocco has so much to offer and I have been on an incredible adventure, and through it, I found a place I can see myself thriving in. I feel like I am following my heart and living my life to the fullest.

What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

On the natural beauty: Morocco has inspired my photography due to its seemingly effortless beauty. There is something very special about the light in Morocco that helps make it so photogenic, along with its vibrant colors and charming streets. Everywhere I turn I am struck by tiny moments of art from a sweeping archway of a doorway, rooftop views of the city and the ocean to the street cats lounging among food vendors. 

On the cost of living: The cost of living in Morocco is very affordable. Rent varies from city to city, but you can find apartments anywhere from $200-$800 a month. In regards to other expenses, it is easy to find a meal that costs anywhere from $2-6. At fancier restaurants, a dinner would cost around $25. This is partly because almost all of the fresh produce is locally sourced and is super cheap as Morocco has a huge farming industry.

On food: Moroccan food is delicious and full of flavor. Fear not if you don’t like spicy food because Moroccans tend not to either, and their traditional foods are rich and full of umami and sweet flavors. Couscous is the obvious favorite of many, but I am fond of the lamb and prune tajine, which is essentially a slow roast and is eaten with fresh bread. Moroccan smoothie and juice bars are my favorite though. You will not find better fresh-squeezed orange juice anywhere else. I love the Moroccan smoothie with nuts, dates, and avocado which is delicious, filling, and perfect for breakfast. 

What living in Morocco as an expat is really like
What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

On fashion: You will find that in big cities like Rabat and Casablanca, women dress more freely and in more American styles. Where I live, in the north, it’s much more conservative; people dress more consistently and more similarly. On the street, I notice women wearing long flowy maxi dresses, blouses, high-waisted pants, chunky sneakers, big sunglasses, and a bold red lip. Some women wear headscarves, but a lot don’t as well. There are a lot of young hipsters that dress more similarly to the French art student vibe with jeans, fun prints, and lots of details. Last but not least Birkenstock! They are the shoe of Tangier and I am here for it. There are certain clothing styles that I do not feel comfortable wearing out in public though, like short shorts or crop tops because I would stand out more than I already do as a white woman.

On being an American in Morocco: A lot of Moroccans love America! When they find out that I am American they are excited and want to talk about it and ask me questions, or share a random connection they have with the US. Many Moroccans are tuned into US affairs from politics to TikTok trends. They are often fascinated that I chose to live abroad and are friendly towards me.  Some people I’ve met still have the American Dream of making a life for themselves in the land of opportunity. Others do not care about that but find the American mindset very open and are fascinated and curious about our lifestyle.

What living in Morocco as an expat is really like
What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

On the local languages: Morocco has two official languages: Arabic and Amazigh. The majority of Moroccans speak Darija, which is the Moroccan dialect of Arabic. I am learning Darija and know enough to use it in interactions at the market, with taxi drivers, or to say hi to my neighbors. But it is difficult because it is so different from English and there are many sounds that we do not use that I simply cannot pronounce. Amazigh is spoken by the indigenous population of Morocco and is characterized as an Afro-Asiatic language; it uses an entirely different alphabet. Many Moroccans also speak French; it is often used as the language of business and government.

On street harassment: I experience street harassment pretty regularly. On a given day in Tangier walking around, I might go 30 minutes with 8 different remarks or none at all. It’s really random. The saving grace is that however angry or annoyed it makes me at times, and often uncomfortable, I rarely feel unsafe. I might get an “hola, muy guapa” or “bonjour”, or a lot of stares and I have been followed, but it has rarely ever been scary. Sometimes it seems they want to shoot their shot, others are just overly friendly or curious, and some are gross, but I do not feel in most cases that the men have bad intentions. I do my best to be vigilant and aware, but I chose to ignore it. I also walk around with my guy friends which greatly reduces the attention I get. It is not fun but it is manageable.   

On dating: Dating in Morocco is interesting to say the least. Dating is far more complicated in Morocco as there are several laws and customs that prevent the mingling of genders. Relationships and dating definitely exist but they are more hidden. Sex before marriage is not allowed, but that never stopped anyone. There is certainly no PDA and forget vacationing with a significant other because unmarried Moroccan couples are unable to stay at hotels and Airbnbs, with the exception of foreigners. Like everywhere else, the younger generations are changing and I see couples around and I know people who date and are in serious relationships but often do not tell their extended family. I notice some people living a Hannah Montana-esque life, one fairly conservative with their family and one more freely with their friends. The lack of freedom forces people to act certain ways so I understand how it can be challenging to maneuver around. 

What living in Morocco as an expat is really like

On meeting someone special: I only dated a little and mostly through friends I knew in my first year in Morocco, until I moved to Tangier and was bored and stuck at home for a little while, so I decided to see what Tinder was like there. I was met with a very positive response but because of Covid had little interest in actually going on dates, until I met my now partner of almost one year! I am grateful I did, he has made my experience in Tangier and in Morocco infinitely better. We have encountered some cultural differences and challenges of course, but nothing we could not handle. It is also frustrating to not be able to live as freely in public as we could elsewhere but that has not stopped our happiness.  

On missing home: More than anything, I miss my friends and family. Even though I chose to live abroad, that does not make living away from your loved ones easy. I am thankful for Zoom and texting that have kept many of my relationships alive and close despite the physical distance. 

On driving: I also miss driving. Although I have rented a car on a few occasions and driven in Morocco I do not drive on a daily basis, and driving in the city is terrifying. I miss nice empty suburban roads and blasting my music with my windows down while driving.

On alcohol: Alcohol is not illegal in Morroco, but it is taboo. That being said, there are liquor stores and some restaurants sell it, though the variety is limited (I miss craft beer and cider!).

But where they lack in beer, Morocco excels in wine. Morocco’s Middle Atlas region has great soil for wine and they produce some very good wine. Morocco makes a unique grey wine that is made with red grapes but in the style of white wine, which produces a light refreshing alternative to rosé, which is a must-try! It’s nice being able to get a good bottle of wine for $9.

On the worst part of living in Morocco: The lack of freedom. I find it frustrating and kind of surprising how many restrictive laws are in place on women especially in Morocco or various traditions that exist that make it difficult to freely express yourself or live openly. I took for granted my rights as an American but I am grateful for them now. I value the ability to take ownership of my life and that I have the freedom to live it how I please. Although, that is not the case for many people in America to this day, and it is certainly far from the truth in Morocco in some ways.

On the best part of living in Morocco: The people. Connecting with new people who have different stories and life experiences is an eye-opening experience. Morocco is such a beautiful country with beautiful people that mean well and have made my experience so rewarding. 

Thank you so much, Sinclair!

This post may have affiliate links, which means I may receive commissions if you choose to purchase through links I provide (at no extra cost to you). Please read my disclosure for more info.


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