Monday, August 20, 2012

a goodbye

Over the last year my posts on Grace's Birdcage have become few and far between. In June I accidentally (or was it?) let my domain expire. Instead of renewing it, I decided it was time to end this chapter (what I didn't realize was that the domain host would immediately sell the domain as an advertisement for special men's medication.... my apologies if you happened upon it).

End this chapter. Tonight I had a great happy hour with Tobe and realized it felt good to verbalize why it's the end and that it's time to say goodbye. Which is dramatic. It's a silly blog in a world of 3459080987634 websites in a very clustered, chaotic world with infinitely more important things going on and who really cares. Honestly.
But I started this blog five years ago and it has been so many things to me. So it is dramatic. But it feels good.

Blogs are a funny thing. My favorite are the most personal, where someone is really telling their own story and it's content is unique in a sea of samesies. The struggle I have is that to share something personal means putting it out there. For everyone. And sometimes that weirds me out, especially with people I know 'in real life' (if that makes sense). When people read this content you provide, day after day, they think they know you. They know what you've allowed them to see, which in all reality is a very, very narrow window in. At some point you begin to write content with those people in mind, editing and adding for someone else. The balance between a site of pretty pictures that looks like every other site of pretty pictures and my own authentic story is hard to find.

I look back on the ridiculous amount of time I spent here. It's easy to get lost. To post about projects - and never do them. Post about recipes - and never make them. Post about friends - and sit on the internet instead of picking up the phone to call them. That's not to say I regret the time I got lost. The blogging community let me discover an indescribable amount. Fashion became accessible, understandable through What I Wore and Kendi Everyday. I watched the hilarious experience of becoming a mother at MODG. I was (and am) completely inspired by Myra at Twigs & Honey and can still be cheered by cat photos at Kitty Stampede. I was consistently, happily overwhelmed by the spaces on Desire to Inspire and the projects of Young House Love. Don't get me wrong - I still check in with all of these and they are some of my favorite corners of the internet. I just keep it in check.

I named this blog after my oh-so-chubby and sweet cat, Grace. It has been an empty book to fill with inspiration images (quickly replaced by pinterest). It was a creative outlet during a time in my life that I really needed it. It was a bridge to meet people that I otherwise never would have - Jessie, Emily, Meghan among so many others. More than anything it has been a daily journal, something I'm grateful that I'll have to look back on. Like this and this, this and this and this and basically everything here. I dont' remember writing most of these but I am immediately transported back to those moments.

There is a lot I have missed about blogging in the last year, the daily journal more than anything. Which is why I don't think I'm done. I just think this is done. I need to find that balance, determine what I want the next chapter to be, and then start. When (and if) I do, I'll let you know.

Thanks for humoring my rambling goodbye and for reading over the last five years.
I'm grateful for every day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Random shots from the (incredibly warm) weekend...

This light is in our entry. I've never loved it - always just a little dingy and Victorian-in-a-frilly-way to me. Alas, I went to change a few of the bulbs and realized that of the 12 bulbs (12!) there were all different colors, wattages and types. There was also an incredible layer of grime covering all of the glass petals. This wasn't dust. This was so. much. bleh. I took the entire thing apart and cleaned every part and piece, replaced all of the bulbs with matching wattages, colors etc... And voila, a light that while still is a little frilly, looks pretty damn snazzy. Poor thing just needed a little TLC.
After successfully keeping five (five!) succulents alive for almost a year, I decided it was time to expand the garden to our kitchen and potted these three pretty ladies. Cross your fingers, kids.
Mmm artichoke.
Got a little 'when in Rome' on Saturday and grabbed a Guinness. I'll stick to the Boulevard Wheat or cider in the future. Don't mess with perfection.
We went to the Kansas City St.Pats parade and happened to notice a new Japanese restaurant in Westport - Sama Zama. After our trip last fall we have been craving some of our Japanese favorites and were pretty excited to see some of those items on the menu! So excited that we ditched our Irish spirit for an hour and popped in for an amazing lunch. They had okonomiyaki (before and after shots above.) It was fabulous. .

How was your weekend?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

visiting japan : packing

Intro about our visit to Japan

We traveled to Japan in the middle of November and the majority of research said it'd be in the 50's for most of the trip - which was exactly right. We lucked out and only had one rainy day the whole time! The first few days were definitely cooler - I was glad I had brought a hat and mittens. We also had a few days that were gorgeous and sunny where we didn't even bring a coat.

We were newbies to backpacking but knew we didn't want to haul suitcases around. I borrowed a backpack similar to this from a friend, it was about a 40 in terms of backpack sizes. It was definitely a small bag but I was able to pack lightly and we made sure to stay somewhere with access to laundry halfway through our trip (couldn't have done it without that!)

Before we left I tried all over the place to find actual packing lists for what to bring. I found the phrase 'just bring lots of layers' about 164567 times. I'm a girl. I want specifics. So I present to you, my packing list:

First, I know. My illustration skills are astounding. It's remarkable how life-like these garments appear. You probably didn't even realize they were illustrations - but no! that's not a photo! unreal.

skinny black pants. Jeans are bulky, take a long time to dry (wasn't sure of the dryer status in these laundry places) and aren't necessarily comfortable for travel. I brought the Globetrotters from Athleta. They were heavenly for the 15 hour flight without looking stretched out and/or wrinkly at the end.

boot cut black pants. I brought the low rise Dipper Pant from Athleta. I hate the photo on their website - they look very wide leg or something but they are definitely more of a fitted bootcut pant. They were perfect for our one rainy day because they dry so quickly and I loved how I could squish them into my backpack and they never looked wrinkled.

basic black cotton skirt and tights.(skirt was from H&M a few years ago) These were not a necessity. But in general I had packed for walking-all-day-comfort and wanted to be able to put on something a little nicer at night for dinner. I think I also wore the skirt one day for sightseeing when I was pants-out.

long sleeved tshirts. I probably didnt need to bring four. Excessive and could have saved a little room in the bag. Mine are all the basic tall t's from the Gap (like this).

henleys. Again, two was more than I needed when I already had four long sleeved ts. Mine were from the Gap (I swear this post wasn't sponsored). I bought them specifically for the trip and it turns out they stretch out like crrrrazy and ended up being terrible for travel (they aren't available anymore on the website, probably because they suck).

random vintage button down. This is one of my favorite shirts, similar to the skirt it was probably not a necessity - but was fun to throw in the mix every few days to change things up. My only mistake was that this vintage shirt has shoulder pads which do not travel well smooshed in a backpack.

For warmth
sweater. This is a really basic cotton sweater I got from Target a while ago. It's a little too big which is nice for layering on top of other shirts.

jacket. Mine is a mid-weight North Face jacket (similar) a little waterproof is a good thing.

You might have read in the Harajuku post, but I brought two pairs of shoes - first a tall pair of boots (similar) that I love love. Second, a pair of mary-jane like shoes (similar) that I bought a few years ago for another walking-heavy vacation. They're not attractive but they're comfortable for looong days walking on concrete.

I brought a knitted hat, a cirlce scarf (I can't believe you couldn't tell what that was in the illustration!) and a pair of mittens. I brought one purse that I used 24/7 - a favorite cross body bag big enough to fit my camera.

And that friends, is my rambling packing list.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

visiting japan : kyoto 1

Intro about our trip to Japan
From Tokyo we took the Shinkansen train to Kyoto. On the way we passed Mt. Fuji and I managed to snap a quick photo out one of the train windows.

We decided to stay in a hostel while in Kyoto to save some pennies - we stayed at the Backpackers Hostel K's House and had a good experience. Rooms were clean and it was in a pretty central locations. I think if we went back we'd stay somewhere else to change it up - but we had a fine experience.

Anyway, dropped our bags at the hostel and hopped on a bus to our first destination, one of the most iconic Japanese places to visit, Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion). We could not have picked a better time in fall (mid/late November) to visit as the trees around Kyoto were amazing shades of red and orange. If you visit Kyoto you can't miss the Golden Pavilion, the grounds around it are amazingly beautiful and while it was crowded with tourists (the fall leaves bring some of the highest crowds after the cherry blossoms in the Spring) it was still an amazing sight to see.

The next morning we took a train to the Fushimi Inari Shrine (also known as the 'torii gates'). Torii gates can be seen all over Japan at Shinto shrines but this specific location has thousands of the gates lining a path up a mountain and into the forest. I can't describe how beautiful and peaceful it was walking up the path. Each of the gates is carved with symbols that can only be seen when you turn around and look back down the path.

This was one of our highlights on the entire trip to Japan, it was absolutely gorgeous.

To speed this along, we spent that afternoon walking around Kyoto seeing a fraction of the stunning shrines and temples there.

Kyoto has a famous selection of candy - I loved watching them be made, watching the locals shop for them in the crowded stores and admiring the packaging.

We took a quiet walk through the Gion district.

We didn't spot any geisha I'm afraid. But we did see...faux geisha. For a price in some local shops you can have the complete geisha treatment with makeup, wigs and the traditional garments. You can then go walk the streets of Gion and fool the tourists. This tourist was not fooled I'm afraid. The girls were tripping in the traditional sandals and carrying cameras - not to mention walking around openly in large crowds. Faux geisha!
In my life I have never seen power lines like those in Kyoto. Is that a weird thing to notice (and take multiple photos of?) Seriously, they're crazy!

Next up, day two in (and around) Kyoto...

Friday, February 10, 2012

visiting japan : getting around

I'll continue with the recap of Kyoto next week but wanted to take a break and talk about general travel stuff.

Getting to Japan
We started the journey flying from Kansas City to Chicago. In Chicago we boarded our 15-hour flight on ANA (a Japanese airline). We had just booked through expedia and picked the best deals and weren't sure what to expect on this airline. As we lined up to board in Chicago we were definitely some of the only non-Japanese people getting onto the flight. That flight ended up being one of the best I have ever been on. The flight attendants were amazingly sweet. Part way through the flight they asked if this was our first trip to Japan. We said it was and then watched as all of the attendants gathered in one of the common areas and talked for a while - one of them occassionally looking up at us and smiling. A little while later they came over with postcards they had filled with all of their favorite places to go in Japan and things we couldn't miss.

The food was wonderful. Airline food. Wonderful. Our seats each had a tv that not only had movies and TV shows (both Japanese and American) but video games to learn Japanese! I don't know how anyone was hungry after the meals but if you were there was a snack bar set up in the common space.

On the way home our flight was a jarring, crowded mess on United. The staff was unfortunately some of the least friendly I've ever seen, the food was typical airline food etc. Completely unpleasant compared to our ride to Japan.

If you can fly ANA, I absolutely recommend it.

Getting around Tokyo
As I mentioned in my first Tokyo post, we took the Narita Express from the airport into Tokyo. While we were in Tokyo we walked alot - but the city is huge and we used the train to get from one major area to another.

Tokyo subway map

At first glance, theTokyo subway was by far the most confusing I've ever seen. At the same time it is also the cleanest, most promt and organized I've ever seen. Once you get a hang of the map it's fairly easy to get around - just be patient and leave yourself a lot of time to get where you're going. Especially if you go through stations like Shinjuku (where we would go in the station and by the time we got on our train we had walked -underground- to an entirely different station)

Getting around Japan
After reading quite a bit about the national trains and taking into account all of the trips we'd be making in between cities, it definitely made sense for us to purchase a JR (Japanese Rail) Pass. These are only available to people that live outside Japan and you MUST purchase them ahead of time, outside the country. Once inside Japan you exchange a voucher for your pass (we did this at the airport) and then activate your pass on the day you want to start using it. We were in the country nine days and had bought a seven day pass that we didn't want to start using until the third day if that makes sense. At one point we tried to figure out how much we saved using this pass and it was definitely at least half of what individual tickets would have cost - if not less.

The JR Pass website is extremely easy to use and made it clear how to use the pass, it's limitations etc. Hand in hand with that website is Hyperdia, a timetable/trip planning website that allows you to put in your current location and destination and it will give you the trains, times etc. This is a great video on how to use Hyperdia with your JR Rail Pass. I downloaded the Hyperdia app on my iphone and it was really useful as we made our way around.

We used the Shinkansen (bullet train) between a few of our major locations and smaller trains between others. We had an excellent experience with the trains and would absolutely do the same thing if we go back to Japan.

I will say that packing lightly (we backpacked) was nice on the trains. Some, like the Shinkansen, were spread out with assigned seats and plenty of room for bags. Others ended up being fairly crowded and I was grateful we didn't have large wheel suitcases to drag along.

my travel tool (iphone) and my husband's (obsessively precise maps)

iphone in Japan
Speaking of apps, I did bring my iphone with us. We didnt plan on using the phone for calls or texts but absolutely thought it'd be valuable to have along for google maps etc. We purchased an international data plan from our carrier (AT&T) that had a limited amount of data - we went with 125 mb. They showed us how to monitor the usage to be sure we didn't go over (it'd be a very pricey mistake!) When we arrived in Japan I turned my phone on and it took a few minutes but finally found the network and was all set. For the first few days we were careful to use it as little as possible but once we realized we weren't using that much data, we used it as a map (holla gps, I love you) and to email some photos back to our families every few days. We also used it to look up the occassional Japanese word we wanted to learn. And maybe I checked facebook a couple of times. Maybe.

Granted we stuck to pretty major areas and cities, but we always had a great signal and no problem using the gps.

Other apps we used -
JPhrases Free I used this language app before we left to lean some key words and phrases. There are alot of similar apps out there but I liked the way this was set up. We only used this a few times in Tokyo if we were unsure about the subway map. We could put in our current station and where we wanted to end up and it tells you the most direct way. It doesn't have timetables, which would be helpful.

Currency Ok, this one is frustrating. We downloaded this ahead of time - a quick calculator to change yen to dollars. When we arrived in Japan we attempted to use it and it never worked (despite saying it did not need any internet connection etc - which we had if it did need it!) Basically a waste, if you can find a better one I'd recommend whatever that is:)

Before we left my husband went a little nutty on google maps. Worried that the iphone wouldn't work, he printed out maps for all of the major sites we were going to. He highlighted the paths we should walk and used the satellite street view to create landmarks for himself. Most of the maps would have English spellings for the major streets but not the smaller ones (and some places had very few street signs) so the landmarks helped. It was almost bizarre walking around with him because despite never setting foot in the country he'd say things like 'we're going to need to turn right up at that orange sign and then there will be a wood building around the corner'. Personally, I would have hated doing what he did because it's like a preview of everything you're going to see! But I won't lie, it was handy to have those navigation tools around. 

The Japanese people were so, so friendly and absolutely helpful. In more than one train station we had people approach us and ask if there was anything they could help us find (apparently the blonde and the 6'-1" guy stood out?) When we were a little turned around we never hesitated to gently ask a passing local if they could help. Even when the language barrier was a problem, they were always very polite.

It's intimidating to try and get around a whole new country but I definitely say don't worry, do your research and you'll have a great experience.