The Craft of Writing

Practice. Practice. Practice. Fail. Correct. Correct again. Rewrite. Revise. Practice. Practice. Practice.

“I was learning the craft of poetry, which really was an intensive version of what my mother had taught me all those years ago – the craft of writing as the art of thinking.” Ta-Nehisi Coates

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I’ve always loved writing as a form of communication. I have five journals for five different topics, but they share a common purpose –  they exist for me to get my thoughts onto a page in order to make sense of them. Over the years, I’ve learned to etch my thoughts into semi-eloquent phrases that may yield cohesive thoughts, but more often than not, I write, organize, rewrite, edit, post, notice mistakes (I hate this part), revise, update posts, and the begin again.

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After a discussion with a good friend, I decided to revisit Between the World and Me, authored by Ta-Nehisi Coates. The writing itself is captivating, but more important to me is the fact that the ideas expressed are deeply personal to me because they are reflective of my life experiences. I imagine that one day, I’ll be able to write in a way that effectively articulates my thoughts and emotions, but also reflects back what the world has given me, as well as what others have experienced.

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Writing as a way of thinking is time consuming in many ways, but for me it is time well-spent. Organizing thoughts and emotions related to personal experience relieves stress and aids me in finding clarity. In the developmental or academic context, writing helps me bridge the seemingly invisible gaps between the concepts of human dignity, leadership, human rights, communication, and cultural pluralism to name a few interests. Writing, in personal and developmental circumstances, produces clarity and new understanding.

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So, I challenge you to write your thoughts down. Allow them to flow in an unorganized fashion, draw, revisit, edit, rewrite, and then share them with someone close to you. Ultimately, I think writing as a practice has made me a better thinker, more inquisitive, and more appreciative of writers who can author books, create meaningful poems, or produce art that captivates the hearts and minds of others. Words may not always be enough, but they sure help. Write your heart out!

When the best leader’s work is done, the people will say, ‘we did it ourselves.’

In 2015, I rejoined the Leadership Institute as a Graduate Student charged with the mission to coordinate leadership programs. This meant I would work with undergraduate student coordinators who would help build and implement leadership programs for students all across CMU’s campus.

When I arrived, CMU’s Leadership Institute was facing a tipping point. It was time to change and much of what we did would need to change as well; not in spirt because at its core the LI was staying the same – prompting students to develop into ethical leaders who would go out to impact our campus community, as well as our local, national, and international communities. What was changing was how we did that.

One program in particular was evolving – risk, change, uncertain, and a belief that it could be made better. Jesi Ekonen, David Walter, and Natalie Woods had transformed what used to be the Alpha Leadership Program into what would become the Spark Leadership Series. I arrived as this first iteration had be completed. Two semesters of testing occurred and we found great success. We offered the opportunity to more students than we had previously, we refined our method and messages. By all accounts it was successful, but we weren’t satisfied.

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Within the existing framework, we found that a four-week program was no longer conducive to our calendar. We’d recently added Catalyst – a LeaderShape Program, the Academic Calendar didn’t allow for much flexibility, and eventually we’d run right into another program. We’d risk over-programming students by keeping Spark the same. So we took another calculated risk. We changed Spark from four weeks to one day.

This took some maneuvering and creativity. After yesterday, we found what we were looking for. A program that could offered multiple times in a semester to a variety of audiences presented in a way that was engaging, refined, and efficient. That is in part to some very important people. My undergraduate coordinators: David Walter, Amanda Yats, and Jordyn Salerno.

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In an organic process that played to one another’s strengths, each of them took on a role that allowed them to become the best version of a Spark Coordinator – David possesses an immense amount of creativity, but also the control to produce amazing material. This is one of David’s greatest talents. One area in which I’ve seen him grow tremendously is in his ability to present material with confidence, certainty, and with great passion. His understanding of the mission, purpose, and direction of Spark has come with time and commitment. We’ll be sad to see him move on to his next journey come May. If there were awards for our office and program, David would receive the Spark award for passion, commitment, and creativity.

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Amanda Yats, aside from a printer malfunction (she’ll understand that one), made this event happen behind the scenes. Her ability to coordinate an event is as professional as it gets. She spent months make sure that rooms were reserved, catering was ordered and adjusted, and that all physical materials that participants receive were creative and without error. Without her efforts, the day would simply not be possible. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Amanda would receive the Heart and Soul of award.

Jordyn Salerno is a Grad Assistant’s dream coordinator because she knows how to get people organized and in the same place. There is another important group that is absolutely necessary for Spark and those are the Spark facilitators. Jordyn spent last semester and many day over her own winter break coordinating the selection and training of facilitators. Without question, her work led to one of the most cohesive facilitator teams the LI has ever had. If there were awards to give for our office and program, Jordyn would receive the Leadership Award, because her efforts resulted in the creation of more leaders.

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Together, the Spark Coordinators provided a transformative experience that has undoubtedly helped students begin their journey to discover and manifest their leadership potential. That is truly remarkable.

Maybe I’m getting sentimental with graduation looming and I’ll have to walk out of this position in a few months. But maybe, it’s more than sentimentality – maybe it is the understanding that this program could run without now because of how strong my team is. Either way, I am deeply thankful for their work, and more than that, I hold a great sense of pride in their ability to affect the lives of others who are beginning their leadership journey.

A Year of Generosity, Experiences, and Building.

“Hemingway said we heal stronger at the broken places, but I’ve found that where the heart is concerned, we also heal more tenderly, more open to the miraculous.” Boyd Varty, author of Cathedral of the Wild, spoke about setting intentions for the year in the last chapter of his book, The Om in Motion.

Instead of creating rigid resolutions that I often seem to fail at, I’ve decided to set clear intentions for myself. What do I want to feel more of? What do I want to do more of? How can I express more gratitude? What can I give more, be it time or resources? Am I maintaining strong relationships rooted in mutual respect, dignity, and love?

The world was rocked pretty hard in 2016. A difficult year didn’t come about unintentionally. No matter how you look at it, there were many times of despair, shock, pain, and hardship caused by natural disasters and people. Many of those things hit me at my core, but on the other side of the coin was success, change, exploration, outpours of love and support, resilience, new friendships and relationships, and the maintenance of old friendships. For me, it was a full year that began with traveling abroad and ending with family at home. 2016 was a year of saying yes to myself. It was a year of healing, soul-searching, and personal growth. 2017 will be a year for balance.

My first intention for the year is to be more generous with my time and resources. I’ve been fortunate enough to receive scholarships for grad school, receive free housing and a stipend. This has allowed me flexibility with time and resources. I hope to support causes with time through volunteering and with resources be it monetary or otherwise. I also hope to be generous with my gratitude and to be more vocal in expressing thanks to others. I want give back to the communities that have given me so much.

My second intention is to continue to having valuable experiences that enhance my learning, bring me joy, and feed my soul. There is value in participation and reflection. In 2016, I traveled abroad and domestically quite a bit. It was enlivening and enriching. I hope to read more, discuss important topics, and simply find joy in daily experiences. I want to see beautiful places and meet beautiful people.

My last intention for the year is to maintain meaningful relationships and cultivate new relationships. The concept of Ubuntu, an African philosophy, has become widely known around the world and it means “I am because you are.” In essence, people exist to be part of communities. Without other people, there is little meaning for our lives. It is important to me build trusting, meaningful relationships that are rooted in dignity, mutual respect, and love.

As you can tell these are not resolutions as they are not rigid, explicitly defined, and time-bound. To me, intentions act like the winds that fill sails and propels ships forward; the must be revisited, adjusted, and reflected upon often. 2017 will be a year of building for me and my intentions will guide me. Best wishes to all celebrating a new year or any time of renewal in life.

Amigos de todo el mundo – El abogado de Argentina (Friends Around the World – The Attorney from Argentina)

As you can see in the title both the Spanish and English language are represented. My friend Flor, who is a lawyer in Buenos Aires, and I met in Florence, Italy in 2015. Since then, she’s traveled many amazing places and balances work, life, and traveling. You’ll find that the following blog will be in both Spanish and English as a representation of our friendship. Enjoy!

Como se puede ver en el título tanto el español como el inglés están representados. Mi amiga Flor, que es abogada en Buenos Aires, y me reuní en Florencia, Italia en 2015. Desde entonces, ella ha viajado por muchos lugares increíbles y equilibra el trabajo, la vida y los viajes. Usted encontrará que el siguiente blog será escrito en español e inglés como una representación de nuestra amistad. Disfruta!

Esta es la histora de Flor. This is Flor’s Story!

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¿De donde eres? ¿Qué ciudad y país?

 Me llamo Flor  y soy de Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 ¿Viaja con frecuencia?

 Me gradué de la universidad en diciembre del 2014. Hasta el momento que estuve muy enfocada en mis estudios y no tenía forma de solvente grandes viajes.Una vez ya graduado decidí ir a Europa un mes y medio a modo de “festejo”. Ese viaje resultó el Puntapié inicial para descubrir que viajar es una experiencia única que te conecta con un sin fin de emociones.En la actualidad trato de organización de viajes (cortos-largos) con la mayor frecuencia posible.

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Portobello Road Market – London, England

Que país ha sido favorito? ¿Qué te ha gustado?

 No puedo elegir uno solo. Mis dos favoritos son Inglaterra y Costa Rica.

Londres fue la primera ciudad europea que conocí y quedó fascinada con toda su estructura y perfección. Lo mejor de todo: Los parques.Mi preferido Holland Park y una hora del centro Houmpton Court.

 En Costa Rica existe una energía especial. Más allá de la belleza de sus playas creo que lo mejor es su gente. Utilizar la frase “PURA VIDA” como saludo. Son dos palabras que simbolizan su forma de vivir: alegría, armonía y paz.

Mi playa favorita: Santa Teresa. Sus atardeceres son de película.

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Santa Theresa – Costa Rica

 ¿Tiene algún otro viaje planeado para el próximo año?

 Si, México en abril del 2017.

¿Qué es lo que más te gusta de viajar?

 En una palabra: La libertad.

Si pudieras decirle a la gente algo que inspirar a viajar, ¿qué dirías?

¡La vida es una sola, you live one !!!

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Cliffs of Moher, Irlanda

English Translation:

Where are you from? What city and country?

 My name is Flor and I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 Do you travel frequently?

 I graduated from university in December of 2014. Until then I was very focused on my studies and had no way of planning great trips. Once I graduated I decided to go to Europe for a month and a half as a “celebration”. That trip was the starting point to discover that traveling is a unique experience that connects you with an endless number of emotions. Currently, I try to organize trips (short and long) as often as possible.

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Portobello Road Market – London, England

What country has been your favorite? What did you like?

I cannot choose one. My two favorites are England and Costa Rica.

London was the first European city I visited and I was fascinated with all its structure and perfection. Best of all: The Parks. My favorite was Holland Park and 1 hour from downtown Hampton Court.

In Costa Rica, there is a special energy. Beyond the beauty of its beaches, I think the best is its people. They use the phrase “PURA VIDA” as a greeting. These are two words that symbolize their way of living: joy, harmony and peace. My favorite beach: Santa Teresa. Their sunsets are like the movies.

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Santa Theresa – Costa Rica

Do you have any other trips planned for next year?

Yes, Mexico in April 2017.

What do you like most about traveling?

In a word: Freedom.

If you could tell people something to inspire them to travel, what would you say?

You live once!!!!

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Cliffs of Moher – Ireland

Friends Around the World: The American Artist in Italy

From conversations in hostels to exploring cities together, I’ve met some interesting people who all have amazing stories to tell. I’ll be starting a series that highlights friends that I’ve met around the world and their stories.

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This summer in Certaldo, Italy at the Fattoria Bassetto Guesthouse I had the pleasure of meeting Zoe Rayner, an American artist living in Italy. We became friends after three days of conversation and the sharing of wine, pasta, and personal stories. It didn’t take long to discover her amazing talent for drawing. As I journaled at the kitchen table, Zoe took out a sketchpad, several pens and pencils, and started crafting a masterpiece. Check out her Instagram page to see more work by Zoe, @zoe.illustration. Be sure to follow me for more updates @vincent_thurman1.

Though it may not  reflect in her work pre-say, she does pull inspiration from Arthur Rackham, Katie Scott, James Jean, Brett Helquist, and Jared Muralt. “I’m definitely not saying that my art looks anything like theirs, but I find their styles and the depth of their ideas endlessly inspirational.

Bellow you’ll find a short interview between myself and Zoe.

Vincent: Why drawing?

Zoe: I always loved art, and it became a sort of natural direction for me to take. The process of creating something can be so meditative and personal, so it’s interesting to see how others respond to what you’ve made and how you can use the personal process to convey something universal.

Vincent: Do you have a favorite piece that you’ve drawn?

Zoe: One of my favorites is of an octagonal bee hive, with a few bees around it. I wasn’t really planning it ahead of time, so it just developed as I drew. It was one of the more challenging drawings that I’d done then, so it felt like a personal accomplishment, to push myself a bit further than usual.

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Vincent: Describe a moment that captures the spirt of your work?

Zoe: I guess one moment that stands out is when I realized that art was what I wanted to do for a living: I was avoiding a college paper, so I sat down to draw instead, and when the piece was done I suddenly felt this clarity. I like to be able to return to that feeling whenever I’m doing a new piece.

Vincent: Any last words of inspiration for other artists?

Zoe: Everyone has their own style, their own way of expressing an idea or emotion. Don’t compare yourself to others, but take inspiration from them and strengthen your personal style. It’s much more rewarding to reach that point of feeling unique in your work, and to be aware of the qualities that make it your own.

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 Artist Spotlight: Zoe Rayner – find her on Instagram to explore her work.

Travel Series Part 3 – Nostalgic. Grateful. And Ready to Go Again

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Imagine coming home after four months of exploration, being fully present, and navigating life in places so unfamiliar that all you could do was stumble around for a while until you found your way? Midge Carter found herself buying tickets for trains with no destination in mind. She hiked mountains, walked out to island after the tide rolled out, and sat at King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh at sunrise with 16 amazing friends. (Photos at the end).

Today’s blog is about Midge’s four-month journey around Europe. From hot chocolate in Ibiza to longing for Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter by the end of her trip, Midge shared with me interesting stories about not wanting to leave, but finally coming to a place where she is grateful for her experiences, but so deeply ready to leave again. (She’s not particular about much, but she is about peanut butter. – “Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter or NOTHING”). In France, she found herself wandering around markets before heading out for a solo-hike. “I don’t speak French so I just walked around pointing at things and ended up with a few oranges and a baguette. I hiked up this mountain by myself and I sat on the side of it looking out at the alps… just sitting there like this is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced.”When you’re traveling for months at a time, you experience these peaceful, still moments where it’s just you and the world.

You also find that much of your success is related to the kindness of others. Traveling is deeply revealing – it shows us deepest selves, our strength, our ability to be alone and be happy, and our need to connect wherever we go. “There was one day when two of us met up with two friends for a hike and when we got to the top it was so windy and no one else was around. It was JUST us. It was just the most… it was one of those moments that feels so tangible because it’s so solid when you’re in it and you want to remember it.” These moments aren’t easily forgotten. We hold tightly to the moments where we felt most alive. We remember who was with us, what the air felt like, and how important the people around us were in those moments.

As the trip came to a close the emotions changed. The desire to get off the plane and escape back to a new place grows and grows. “The hardest part was that I didn’t want to be home. Especially because I spent the rest of the summer in the same town I grew up in. It’s like going from doing something interesting every day and all of sudden you’re back in the grind. It’s not like every day there (Europe) was perfect, but it wasn’t every day here.” While listening to Midge share stories of travel and her journey home, I couldn’t help but go back to the moment of landing back in the States after my first trip abroad. That feeling of I could be anywhere in the world right now, why did I come back here sets in. You think of just buying the first ticket out to wherever and going away again. It doesn’t last forever, but it does feel like it will never go away.

After a while, you come to a point where you’ve settled back in. You find that the grind isn’t so bad and you look back on all the memories made with amazing people. “I think I stopped being angry when I felt like I was doing something with my life again… And I’m at a point where I’m nostalgic, and grateful, and ready to go again,” The desire to travel never really goes away after that first trip. It intensifies and staying in familiar places too long starts to feel suffocating, but that’s when you look through old photos, plan your next trip and get on your way.

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All photos were provided by Midge Carter. Midge is studying public relations, a lover of Smucker’s All Natural Peanut Butter, and a fellow Travel enthusiast.

Travel Series Part 2 – A Love Affair with England

The second post in the series is a little different. For the first time, The Big Picture has a Guest Author. Amanda Yats is studying public relations and is a fellow travel enthusiast. This summer she spent a few short weeks exploring England with a few friends. Follow Amanda on Twitter at @amanda_yats and on Instagram at @amandalynn_28. Enjoy!

If you are interested in being a Guest Author for The Big Picture send me a Direct Message (DM) on Instagram: @vince_thurman1 or via email at thurm1vg@gmail.com.

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Going Abroad- A Love Affair with England

Picture in your head the opening scene from Love Actually – set in London Heathrow airport. Family and friends warmly and lovingly greet one another as they reunite. Hugs and smiles are available in abundance, and Hugh Grant’s voice over is telling you that love actually is all around.

When I stepped out of the baggage claim area into the arrivals gates of London Heathrow, I wasn’t looking for a specific person or embrace, but I felt an immense love for a country and culture I was about to experience for the first time.

Even though my visit in England lasted for a short three weeks, I had fallen in love.

My first few days we rather rough; I had a sinus infection, which didn’t mix well with a six-hour flight. Regardless of my sore throat and congested sinuses, I couldn’t help by marvel at the rolling green hills spotted with sheep, endless Lion candy bars and the Walkers Quavers that we encountered as we drove south away from the bustle of London.

One of my first meals across the Pond was a traditional, full English breakfast. I remember thinking that I would never be satisfied with breakfast back in the States after experiencing such a filling meal.

Along with the delicious food, I admired the differences and similarities of the English culture compared to that of the United States. There were so many seemingly small moments that made me fall in love with life and the world over again during the trip.

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Here are just a handful:

  • Standing on the beach in Perranporth watching the sun set and kicking around a soccer ball with my professor and classmates
  • Looking over the breathtaking landscape of the English coast while standing where the alleged castle of King Arthur once belonged
  • Having my heart pound in my chest as I jumped onto my first tube in London’s Underground
  • Visiting the spot where the Mayflower departed in Plymouth and eating my first traditional fish and chips meal
  • Getting kicked off the famous lion statue in Trafalgar Square after trying to take far too many photos of the same double decker bus

These moments where just a few snapshot memories that initially come to mind when reflecting back on my trip abroad. I could (and often have) gone on and on to my friends and family about how my time spent experiencing other countries and cultures has positively influenced me.

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On one of our last nights in England, our professor told us something that I continue to find strikingly true, as well as applicable once someone goes abroad.

He said that once you go abroad, or begin to travel anywhere really, you can never truly come home again. While the place you once called home has stayed mostly the same during your time away, you’ve changed. So therefore the person you were when you left doesn’t come home; the person you are now will come back, but you will never be the same after your experiences.

I think the following quote from the late F. Scott Fitzgerald sums up the idea fairly accurately:

“It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.”

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Travel Series Part 1: Preparing to Go Alone – Harrison Watts

Travel Series Part 1 – Preparing to Go Alone – The First Solo Trip

Last week, I had the opportunity to correspond with Harrison Watts, a student at Central Michigan University, who is preparing for a four-month Study Abroad trip to Italy. He’ll be studying at the Florence University of the Arts, in Firenze (Florence), Italy. Solo Travel can spark many emotions ranging from anxiety to great and endless excitement. As your departure date gets closer, you’ll find that the butterflies in your stomach flap their wings a little harder and the exciting to go steadily increases.

Below you’ll find a few responses to an interview between myself and Harrison as he’s been preparing for his extended stay in Italy.

Vincent: Is this your first time traveling abroad alone? If so what are some of the emotions you’ve been feeling?

Harrison: Yes, I am very anxious to leave and experience this trip, but most of all ecstatic. I have never been abroad, so I have no doubt that this will be the trip of a lifetime.” 

Vincent: Why do you think you’re having those feelings?

Harrison: I have never experienced being far away from home for an extended period of time with weak communication and not knowing anyone. I am not a home-body, and I love traveling new places, so I cannot wait for this.

 Vincent: What tips have people given you?

Harrison: People have told me many place to go; Cinque Terre, Venice, Munich (Germany), Dublin (Ireland), Rome, amongst other places. They have given me insights on restaurants, hostels, airlines, food, and other excursions to do. Another tip I received is what to expect from the local community. They told me it was surprising how many people knew English and that they language barrier was only tough occasionally. This definitely relived a lot of worry.

Vincent: Is there a specific aspect of your trip that you are most excited for? 

Harrison: I am very excited for a few classes that I will be taking, as well as new experiences and friendships. I am taking a wine tasting class and I’m already planning weekend trips!

Vincent: If you had ONE piece of advice to give to someone who isn’t sure about going abroad what would it be?

Harrison: LOOK INTO IT.

Author’s Note: Solo Travel is exciting and enlivening! It is an opportunity for discovery, learning, and growth. If you’re afraid of solo travel, find a friend and take them along for the ride, but I’d say one solo trip changes everything!

To follow Harrison’s Journey, feel free to follow him on Instagram @har_watts.

For more Travel and Big Picture updates follow me on Instagram @vince_thurman1

The Big Picture – Update

Between now and the end of 2016, I’ll be sharing a collection of posts in series format. As I become more selective of blog content, I’ll be looking for stories, guest writers, and people to feature. If you’re interested feel free to DM me via Instagram, @vince_thurman1 or Comment on this post.

Over the next three days, I’ll be highlighting three areas of travel ranging from planning your trip to having to come home after a few months of being away.

This week’s series will highlight three friends interested in travel. First, I’ll be highlighting Harrison Watts, who is preparing to leave on a four-month study abroad trip to Florence, Italy, which also happens to be his first Solo-Trip. Next will be Amanda Yats, this week’s guest writer who will share about her Love Affair with England. Finally, Midge Carter will reflect on spending a summer abroad.

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Brew Review: Brew Coffeehouse and Cafe

Lake Michigan is a sight for sore eyes this fall. Early Novembers in Michigan are usually characterized by cold rain, snow, wind… basically cold everything. However, we’ve had a wonderful November with beautiful fall colors, crisp winds, and so much sunshine. Traverse City (TC) this time of year is absolutely beautiful with deep reds, lush greens, and burning oranges. It’s the perfect weather for warm cider, hot coffee, and fall jackets.

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I’m in TC for the weekend. At the recommendation of a few friends, I decided to head downtown to Brew Coffeehouse and Cafe, better known as Brew. I was not disappointed! For a Saturday afternoon, this place was buzzing with conversation, locals stopping by for coffee, and visitors having their first Brew experience; I was included in the latter. Unlike the coffeeshops and cafes in previous reviews, Brew offers a warm feel that is uniquely paired with a high energy staff. This place is enlivening. As far as I can tell, people come for the drinks, the people, and the atmosphere.

Brew is a cafe for everyone – the hipsters, the plain coffee drinkers, the craft beer experts, and the earth-conscious. This opera house turned coffeehouse is a great place to stop in for good food, local art, and great conversation with friendly baristas. Visit Brew Coffeehouse and Cafe when you visit Traverse City in the awe-inspiring Northern Michigan.

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Follow Brew on Instagram: @brew_tc

Follow me on Instagram: @vince_thurman1