FAUX FUR LEOPARD COATS

When done right... leopard exudes timeless style and I consider it quite glamorous. However, I have always gone back and forth between whether or not leopard has become tacky or remains a perfect example of forever fashion. And I think the fashion industry has also wavered a bit over the years, as many trends do, particularly when people overdo it and we all need a short break. But this one always seems to come back into my closet fairly quickly, almost every other fall season. Like many, my love of leopard started very early on in my fashion history. Fashion history is a thing right? Like the history of my fashion choices since birth? If not, then I'd like credit for coining the term "fashion history." My strongest memories always go back to the beloved Fran Drescher character from The Nanny, a show I grew up on and can honestly attribute a large amount of my fashion confidence or just confidence in general to. Of course Fran wore leopard frivolously and it was representative of her strong personality, something I always admired about her. I too loved to wear the bold print growing up. I had leopard hats, purses, skirts, jackets. My favorite was a matching black skirt and jacket with faux fur leopard edges. It was adorable. But despite the many ways it has shown up in global fashion markets, I personally will always love a fur leopard coat. The style of prints I'm drawn to tend to change here and there, but I will always consider it to be really chic. Because it's so bold, I usually wear it over a cream sweater or white shirt, jeans and simple flats during the day, maybe nude pumps at night. Either way, I have linked a bunch of styles below at the end of this post, and how I wore it right here. Enjoy!

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Photography by Danielle Heinson 

WHAT EXACTLY IS SELF-CARE? SOME THOUGHTS

The term self-care... came up A LOT in my graduate program. It was constantly thrown into every lecture, referenced in every assigned reading, mentioned among other students when they talked about their weekend plans and stress getting papers done. I would hear it talked about so frequently but I don't think I ever gave the term real thought; I sort of assumed self-care meant the freedom to get a manicure, watch housewives marathons and add a little mac and cheese to my to-go box at Whole Foods, without feeling bad about it. Self-care was basically a more personal version of YOLO. My professors put so much emphasis on mastering this practice as burgeoning social workers, however, never discussed the concept in real detail. What exactly did self-care mean and how the hell are we supposed to do it? Of course we learned pretty quickly why self-care was important and the strong impact it was supposed to have on our minds, bodies and souls in doing this hard work. But there was never any solid explanation that I can recall about what that looked like in practice. 

And now, after working in this field for about 5 years, I kinda get that. It’s not a concept that can easily be taught, measured or applied equally to everyones lives. As I reflect back, I think my early understanding of it often felt like a bandaid. A somewhat superficial act of joy in response to adversity, with great intent, but not an authentic way to feel better. Getting my nails done, going to the dentist, saying yes to an extra drink; these things didn’t really do much for me because it was really a check off the list or an in the moment thing that caused more harm the next day. I remember very clearly being in my first job out of graduate school and being extremely unfulfilled, overworked and really burdened by the whole experience, to put it lightly. So my way of dealing was to try and equate the dismay of my day job with what I thought was self-care; spending extra time out with friends, buying expensive shoes, indulging in everything without any real consideration of the consequences because it felt like a worthy opponent to my hardships. 

I quickly realized this was not only not self-care, but that even engaging in real self-care wouldn’t have solved the problem I was in. I had been living a life that at it’s core was failing to meet my basic needs. I had absolutely no stability or balance. Self-care can't fix that. Self-care is a restorative practice, therefore there needs to be something to restore.  It’s what keeps us in an essential harmony with the reality of daily life. I realized that in order to do this I not only needed to engage in real self-care, but also not rely on it. I needed to be able to function reliably at baseline first, then add in self-care to remain balanced. This meant that getting a better apartment, more followers on Instagram or a boyfriend, was not going to cut it. The main source of my unhappiness was coming from my job and so if that didn’t change, nothing else would. So I made the leap of faith and after about six months I was able to find that essential harmony I needed so desperately. It took a while and wasn't an easy process but eventually I was clearer, stronger, safer. It wasn’t until then that I was able to learn what self-care wasn't, starting my journey to discovering what self-care was. 

At its core, self-care is the practice of restoring balance. Meeting your basic needs is a necessary basis for any self-care practice and those needs are not just basic. Having food, shelter and water is one thing, but what self-care provides is a step closer to peacefulness, wholeness and fulfillment. I would say I don't feel 100% this way, 100% of the time, but I will say that the more I practice balance, the easier it is to maintain it. Just like anything, practice makes better. So what is considered an act of self-care? I could create lists of activities that would fall under the umbrella of self-care, but the key for me is to ask a few questions, "How will this time spent meet a need the day has brought? Will doing this bring me balance today or will it exacerbate my pain?" 

Finding a practice that is healing, is not necessarily always enjoyable. And vice versa. I have often confused having fun as always being helpful. Sometimes it is, sometimes not so much. For example, a mini shopping spree might have made me feel great after a stressful day at my internship, but didn't always make the next day less stressful. Adding extra salty food to my plate was an indulgence I might have felt I "deserved" after submitting a big paper, but it didn't reenergize me or release the stress I accumulated in getting the work done on a strict timeline. I remember one semester when I finished my last assignment, I felt this insane urge to go for a run. I hadn't been consistently exercising at the time, but I just felt this intense desire to move my body, particularly my legs and release whatever had been building up for so long. Now this was certainly a one off, typically I would see a movie by myself or crave a margarita after being done with finals, but I think it really spoke to our need day after day to release ourselves from the stressors of daily life. Exhibit A being the sheer concept of "happy hour," which tends to just leave us dehydrated and tired by 7pm. This is not to say that enjoying a nice meal, eating a slice of cake or sipping a few pretty cocktails is wrong, but it just comes down to consciousness. If we can be a bit more conscious, albeit honest with ourselves about what's truly helpful, then we are more capable of choosing something healing over hurtful.

Often times self-care means scheduling time with friends, time for my blog, or just plain time with myself. The time with myself, I have learned, is often the most restorative. And this time with myself can look a lot of different ways. Sometimes that means laying down for ten minutes and watching stories on Instagram, other times consuming media will worsen my mood. Considering how much time I spend online, I often consider good self-care to not involve any devices, but that's just something I have learned from my own experience. Remember this is a practice, not a default response. So what's helpful today might not be tomorrow. Being conscious of the energy we are carrying can weed out a lot of ideas. Like I mentioned before, a practice that is healing, is not necessarily enjoyable. Sometimes a tough day might require more than a just walk outside. Sometimes addressing our issues head on, talking to someone about them, or contemplating making a change is neccessary. It's essentially about being more in tune with ourselves so that we can adequately restore balance as needed. It's a daily practice that sometimes I'm pretty good at, other times not so much.

But the good news is this; we know ourselves best. We might not always be 100% in sync all the time, but we will always have that opportunity to find ourselves again. Again and again and again and again. That's essentially what this practice of self-care is, right? Well again, only you could know. 





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-MGN

Photography via Danielle Heinson

HAVANA CUBA CITY GUIDE

Let me start off... by making it really clear that I only spent a few days in Havana, therefore I am by no means an expert about where to go or what to do! But I will share with you a few of my favorite highlights from the trip that I'd recommend so consider this basically a mini guide to Havana, or simply a recap of what I loved! But before I get into that I will share a few things to keep in mind before you apply for a visa; which leads me to my first thing, you need a visa! After obtaining that, you will need to plan your trip according to the type of visa you obtain, meaning there are certain requirements set by the Cuban government for American travel. Ours included attending a certain amount of educational activities in order to further our understanding of the Cuban culture. Most of these activities are things you would likely want to do anyway when visiting, so it's an easy thing to embrace! Another important thing to keep in mind is the fact that credit cards are very unlikely to work in Cuba, so it's important to bring cash before going so you can exchange it for the Cuban peso. There were mentions that some debit cards might work but I really wouldn't risk it! I would also make sure you know what the hotel you are staying at accepts for payment, so you are prepared. Fortunately, Cuba is extremely affordable as compared to the United States, so your money will go a very long way. Next is the internet. Havana is the major city in Cuba and getting wifi was still extremely difficult during our stay. Out hotel had wifi, however, it was very hard to connect to and I can't honestly remember any other locations outside of our hotel that offered wifi to guests. I happened to love this opportunity to disconnect, as I would expect most American travelers would, however, if you are planning to get work done while there I would suggest you make accommodations so that you can be free of internet for long periods of time. I also tried to get cellular service during my trip but neither my carrier or my fiancé's had available plans to do so. They did however inform me of how much it would cost per minute to make a call or send a text off airplane mode and it wasn't cheap so I would really plan ahead to be somewhat unreachable during your time there. Last but not least, is that despite Havana being in the Caribbean, Americans are not welcome at the beach and therefore this trip didn't involve any lounging or time spent on the ocean as one might expect when traveling here. I could be wrong about this or perhaps there are specific beaches outside the city where Americans are welcome but it was a big surprise to me when our guide pointed this out! Aside from that I felt extremely safe throughout the entire trip and really enjoyed my time getting to experience the Cuban culture. I hope this guide inspires and is helpful, enjoy!




STAY
We stayed at the Iberostar Parque Central which was a great experience. In terms of customer service, cleanliness and amenities it had everything we needed. There was a nice bar and restaurant with live music and good food options, a cashier to exchange money at and the hotel was in a good location where I felt safe and close to everything. The wifi was very weak but this just seems to be a difficult amenity to come by in Cuba, a country that just recently got 3G internet. Aesthetically, I wasn't really blown away by the architecture or decor but it was an easy and comfortable stay. There were a few boutique hotels I explored but really can't speak to beyond my appreciation of the beautiful interiors. Some of them were Hotel Florida, Hotel Raquel, Mercure Sevilla Havane, Hotel Inglaterra and Hotel Ambos Mundos. Again, these were just beautiful places I explored so I would do a little research before booking! We also went to the famous Hotel Nacional de Cuba, which is full of Cuban history and prestige, a great place to expand your understating of the culture and sip a fabulously sweet mojito. 






SEE
Part of the requirement in obtaining a visa to visit Cuba as an American is participation in activities that further your knowledge of the Cuban culture. This was an easy one for me given that I love to learn about any new place I visit, and our guide did not disappoint! He took us to all our meals, showed us the city, and most intriguing for me, answered so many of our questions in a really thoughtful and honest way. I appreciated his insight as not just a guide but as a citizen of Cuba with his own genuine experiences to share. I loved everything we did and would recommend them all! Starting with the walking tour of the city with our guide who put the beautiful architecture and historical landmarks into context. Then riding through the city in a classic convertible, which lasts about an hour and is a great way to see everything in style! We also had a great time exploring the Hotel National de Cuba, which is a historical landmark and a beautiful place to spend an afternoon learning more about Cuba. Last but certainly not least, we went to the Tropicana, which was incredibly entertaining and a great way to spend an evening in Havana! The dancers were excellent and the energy was beyond contagious. It was a beautiful way to spend our last evening. We didn't get to visit a rum museum or factory but that would have been really cool too and something I would have liked to do if we had more time! And if you are into cigars I would recommend grabbing one, fun fact, you can bring about 20 back to the United States. And if you don't smoke but want to embrace the cigar theme like I did with my cigar box purse, check out my post about it here




EAT
My favorite meal in Havana happened to be at the most beautiful restaurant. Surprise, surprise! La Guardita was at the top of my list for photo opportunities after having done my usual pre-travel research. It's in this absolutely beautiful building whose majority of charm stems from how worn down it is. The building used to be a family's mansion, which is just what you'd imagine when you walk up and see the second floor staircase with a gorgeous chandelier and peeling paint on the walls. When I went to shoot pictures it was daytime and I didn't think to explore the second floor because the first floor was so cool, with a stone colored staircase, also rugged but in a more war torn way if that makes any sense. But then when we went back for dinner I realized the real glamour was on the second floor staircase! I felt like Anastasia returning to the place I was a princess before my monarchy was overthrown. My next favorite restaurant was Ivan Chef Justo, where I had the best seafood, these yummy fried potato balls and the best assortment of appetizers. Everything was fantastic and I would highly recommend it! We went a few other places but those were by far my favorites. 




DRINK
Like I mentioned in a recent Instagram post, we had the very best time at this completely non-touristy, small nightclub, with the absolute best new Cuban music and the best Cuban people dancing with absolutely no hesitation, in the most beautiful way! I loved how small it was and it took me a good minute to realize that the television screen was playing the music videos that matched the actual club music, not some really hilarious jean commercial! I loved that I only heard one American song all night and everything the DJ played was legitimately produced in Cuba, by Cubans, as evidenced by the amazing music videos being played simultaneously. Everyone in the room, aside from myself and Arthur, were the most amazing dancers who seemed to have one shared goal; dancing the night away and genuinely having the best time. Wifi and smartphones are quite limited in Havana and I could tell because every young person there was so in the moment, genuinely there for dancing and meeting each other. It was so fun and I really hope all the people that night weren't too put off by my attempt to shake my hips at half their speed! The only problem is I have been searching and searching the internet and can't FIND the name of this establishment! I do, however, remember exactly where it was since we didn't walk very far to get there from our hotel or the other two spots we ventured to for a drink. I want to say the name sounded something like "Astoria" but that could also be way off! It was located right on Paseo de MartĂ­, just north of Neptuno, I believe between the two small cross streets called Virtudes and Animas. So there, use your maps and find it the old fashioned way! This is the closest location off google maps I could find that appeared to be where we showed up for a fun night, so good luck everyone! 

Aside from the amazing nightclub with no certain name, we went to two other great spots I would highly recommend for a drink and some great live music. One was the bar in front of Hotel Inglaterra, where we sipped a bottle of champagne al fresco on a warm night and heard some wonderful salsa music. After that we ventured to Floridita, known primarily for it's history as Earnest Hemingway's favorite place for a cold cocktail and hence the signature Hemingway daiquiri, the perfect compliment to a warm Havana night. Apparently Hemingway spent a lot of quality time in Cuba and before purchasing his home, was a longtime resident at the Hotel Ambos MundosMy last recommendation for more than just a good drink, is the Tropicana show! Definitely a fun vibe and great entertainment for a couple or large group. 


-MGN

THE RESORTWEAR GUIDE

Rest, relaxation, resort... This resort guide is one of my favorite things to put together, because vacation is always the best inspiration for me, whether I am on one or just dreaming of being transported somewhere tropical. Especially when the nights get colder and holiday buzz starts to fizzle, the idea of sunshine and a fruity cocktail has the power to reenergize me. So does sleeping in, reading a good book and basking in the luxury of a day with no responsibilities. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to explore a beautiful new place recently; Havana, Cuba. The city's architecture alone could serve as consistent inspiration for my style, interiors, dinner party settings and a perfectly bright and festive instagram profile, but the real inspiration for me was definitely the energy of the Cuban people. They were vibrant, warm and much less distracted by technology than any other non-American I have ever encountered. As I walked up to a beautiful church in the city center a man just started giving a few interesting facts about it, with absolutely no alternative intentions, just to offer a little education and then continue on his way. I got the sense that people just talk to each other because I suppose that's what humans were originally socialized to do before iPhones. I don't exactly know any other way to describe it but people really just appeared genuinely interested in one another and it was a really cool thing to see. Despite the fact that we were pretty busy exploring the city the majority of the time, I did feel very present sans internet which was a genre of R & R itself. So with that I leave you to it, to delve into some of my trip and the elements that inspired all these beautiful things. Enjoy! 





{ Havana, Cuba }











{ no. 1 | no. 2 | no. 3 | no. 4 | no. 5 | no. 6 }

-MGN