Digital decluttering

In the journey to simplify one’s life, minimizing clutter is at the top of the to-do list. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop once you’ve gone through every closet. Cyber clutter is a whole other chore (and is equally as time-consuming and emotional).

Let’s start with the smartphone. Delete apps that you never or rarely use. Delete text message conversations from over a year ago. Remove contacts who you never anticipate contacting again. Adjust notification settings so your phone doesn’t constantly distract you with unnecessary dings.

Then tackle your email inbox. Unsubscribe from promotional emails from stores where you don’t regularly shop. In my case, I unsubscribed from all emails; I simply don’t shop enough to need those coupons or be aware of every sale.

You’ll want to delete those thousands of unread emails, of course. But deleting emails is treating the symptom, while unsubscribing from email lists is correcting the actual problem. Less emails coming in means less digital decluttering to keep up with.

Next, bring out the digital cameras. Transfer all photos off the memory card and save on your computer. Delete, organize, and file by year.

Now on to social media. I read somewhere that 250 is the optimal number of friends that you can actually keep up with without your news feed being totally bogged down with news you don’t care about. If your friend count is in the triple digits, consider unfriending anyone who makes you feel bad about yourself, anyone you don’t actually know, and anyone you don’t care to keep up with. You probably don’t need to see photos of the cat of a coworker from a job you had 5 years ago…

It’s also a good idea to delete social media profiles you never use, and delete any old posts, photos, or statuses that you wouldn’t want your grandma or employer to see.

Lastly, get on your laptop and desktop and delete old files/apps/games that no longer serve you. Back up important documents, photos, and videos on a USB and/or the cloud. Make sure to fetch important items from old laptops and tablets before selling, recycling, or donating them.

Tackling digital clutter is just as sentimental (if not more) than decluttering possessions. Seeing old messages, emails, contacts, and photos can bring back good and bad memories. But when you’ve deleted the bad and saved the good, you create your own happy cyber space going forward.

Staying home

I thought it’d be fun to document how I’ve spent my days during this historic time. Surely we’ll always look back on these few months (hopefully it’s just a few months) and remember the Covid-19 event.

We’re not “all in this together.” For some it’s a time of financial crisis and self-doubt as their work has been deemed “non-essential”; others must risk their health on the front-lines and stay distant from their own families; for others it’s a time of rest, reflection, and healing.

Staying home was a welcome change of pace for me, as I’m usually driving all over creation for work, to visit family, or to try to squeeze some fun in on the weekends and holidays. Aside from working from home, here’s what I’ve been up to during quarantine:

What I’ve been making in the kitchen…

  • Slow-cooker meatloaf with root veggies
  • Corn and crawfish chowder
  • Copycat of Carrabba’s Chicken Bryan with pasta alfredo
  • Copycat of P.F. Changs chicken lettuce wraps
  • Chocolate chip cookies from scratch
  • Pizza from scratch
  • Homemade bagels
  • Fajitas with homemade pico de gallo
  • Homemade dog treats
  • Marinara sauce from scratch (my grandma’s recipe)
  • Oven-roasted cauliflower
  • Crawfish monica
  • Shrimp ettoufee
  • Mexican cornbread
  • Italian salad dressing
  • Lemonade sweet tea

Activities around the house…

  • Walking the dogs
  • Starting a compost bin
  • Picking wildflowers
  • Picking wild blackberries
  • Cooking/baking (see above list)
  • Decluttering
  • Playing video games (Dance Dance Revolution, Mario Kart, and Super Mario 3 on original Nintendo)
  • Making a flower bed, planting bulbs, regrowing kitchen scraps (such as celery & green onion)
  • Picking up sticks in the yard and having a bonfire; burning junk mail
  • Cleaning!
  • Reading my childhood diaries with my husband (great way to get to know your spouse better, by the way!)
  • DIY spa treatments – bubble baths, mani/pedis, & facials with a cup of hot tea and some meditation music

Shows I’ve watched…

  • Parenthood (just finished the series-loved it!)
  • Tres Veces Ana (our current telenovela obsession)
  • Tiger King (had to see what the hype was about…)

Movies I’ve watched…

  • Somewhere in Time
  • He’s Just Not that Into You
  • Parenthood (had to watch the movie after finishing the show)

Simple living during Covid-19

Something that’s been on my mind a lot lately is the beauty of a simple life. Americans have made busy-ness the gold standard of success. The more busy your schedule, the more important you are, right? It took a global pandemic to force everyone to halt and embrace a more simple way of living–whether we like it or not.

The Covid-19 outbreak is the first event in which: businesses across the world are closed; parties, sports, and concerts are cancelled; workers and students are home all day; church services must be streamed online; and citizens are ordered not to leave the house. For weeks on end. Full schedules are suddenly completely empty.

The only activities left to do are things like cooking, working in the yard, taking walks, watching movies, reading, and spending time with immediate family. Aren’t these the things we always want to make time for? Yet we don’t.

The average American probably works all day, sits in traffic, comes home exhausted, orders take-out, and eats in front of the TV like a zombie. Children are toted all over town to different activities because they must be in every extracurricular to be successful in life, right? But a pandemic puts this into perspective. So much of what we stress ourselves over is non-essential.

I hate that people are losing their jobs, their investments–and for some, their health and lives. But I have to admit…I love that families have more time together to rest, have conversations, and get outdoors. I love that satellite imagery is showing visibly cleaner air due to the decrease in vehicle emissions. And I love that employers are actually encouraging workers to take time off if they’re sick.

I never imagined my first year of marriage would look quite like this, but I’m thankful for the extra time Nick and I have at home. We’ve been cooking (photos above), baking, learning to compost (the photo below is our pup helping assemble our compost tumbler), washing the dogs, and learning Spanish by binge-watching telenovelas. Today I was working on the lawn, and the neighbor offered to bring over his equipment; I used his John Deer tractor and did half the yard, while my neighbor cut half the yard and his wife did the weed-eating. How lovely to see neighbors helping neighbors, a concept that seems foreign in this digital age.

Things will eventually go back to normal. And when that time comes, my hope is that we all re-consider the ideology that busy schedules equate to success; that employers place priority on employees’ wellness; that companies realize that people can work from home and be productive. By being more still and embracing a simple life, we can reduce unnecessary stress on ourselves and the planet.

My eco-minimalism journey

The term eco-minimalist perfectly describes what I aspire to be: someone who leaves a small footprint on the planet, leads a simple existence, and isn’t bogged down with material possessions. I always cared about the environment and wanted to do my part to help (even as a young child I was worried about overpopulation and endangered species). But until recently I never considered the impact of my shopping habits.

The truth is, everything we buy requires packaging. Products themselves aren’t built to last. Fast fashion goes out of style. And most makeup and beauty products don’t get fully used up before something new/better comes out. The fact is, all these things are rapidly filling up landfills. Don’t even get me started on electronics.

My husband and I moved all our items from our childhood homes to the new house, and we’ve since been doing a lot of de-cluttering. He’s been able to sell old video game systems and games, while I’ve been donating a lot of clothes to Goodwill and making a lot of bonfires with old notebooks.

Many, many hours have been logged on this ongoing project. I’m almost done with this round of de-cluttering, but I will probably re-purge in several months once I know what we do and don’t need for our household.

Here’s what else I’ve done in 2020 to reach my zero waste and minimalism goals:

  1. Keep a Yeti cup in my car at all times. When I grab lunch or coffee, I ALWAYS bring my cup in the restaurant so the cashier won’t give me a plastic cup. Single-service cups and straws get used for a few minutes and last 400 years in a landfill.
  2. On that note, I keep a set of re-usable silverware in my car (it’s actually a camping set that can fit in my purse). This way, when I go out for ice cream I can refuse the plastic spoons.
  3. Have a “no buy” year. Well, almost. The only items I’ve purchased in the last several weeks (other than a baby shower gift) are fuel and food. My husband even commented when he saw my credit card statement that I hadn’t spent any money in a week. If I want something, first I see if our parents have extras; if not, can it be bought secondhand? Buying new items creates demand, and therefore puts more stress on our planet’s resources. (Also, by refusing new items into your home, you save yourself the time-consuming task of de-cluttering in the future.)
  4. Stop buying throwaway items. Paper towels, napkins, makeup wipes, and Q-tips are just a few things we buy over and over that we really don’t need. We have Norwex microfiber towels in lieu of paper towels (they clean surfaces with just water, no toxic chemicals needed). There are re-usable, zero-waste swaps for almost every item that goes in our trash can.
  5. Keep grocery tote bags in the car always, along with re-usable bags for holding produce and meat. This is becoming a little more mainstream (thank goodness!). Going a step further, I’ve been mindful when grocery shopping and buy items in bulk rather than pre-packaged items. I try to buy paper/cardboard packaged items over plastic packaging. It’s usually more cost efficient, so win-win.

With education, *hopefully* some of these things will become mainstream. But in the meantime, those of us who do care may have to deal with odd looks at the coffee shop when we bring our own cup and refuse a straw–or make our own iced coffee.

My wedding weekend

My wedding weekend started on the Wednesday night, when I arrived home to Central Louisiana with my binders and checklists in tow. My mom had made the pew bows for the church and baked 50 cupcakes for the rehearsal dinner. This, along with pink-and-white balloons, flower girl baskets, and programs printed on pink shimmer paper, crowded the dining room table.Duplan_Wedding-100

Thursday, October 10th. Mom and I quickly got to work making blush and white icing to decorate the cupcakes, then topping each with a single edible pearl. We mapped out the church seating chart and reviewed my inventory list of items that needed to be transported to/from the reception. My brother and his family were due to arrive that evening (and soon after, all the other relatives), so my parents and I went out for a peaceful lunch at the local diner.IMG_5601

After lunch, I had a meeting with the DJ at a nearby coffee shop. I gave him my typed, minute-by-minute timeline of the reception, which listed each song I wanted played and when (I may be a little Type A…).

I stopped at the library quickly to rent one of my favorite wedding movies to watch that night–My Big Fat Greek Wedding. When I returned home, my brother, sister-in-law, and two nieces had arrived (AKA half the bridal party). It was so great to see them, I set aside my to-do lists and played with my girls.

Friday, October 11th. My fiance Nick and my other brother Jacob arrived at my parents’ the night before, so we had a full house. I called a family meeting after breakfast, trying to catch everyone before they scattered (my dad and brothers were eager to go fishing). Still in my PJ’s, I pulled up my wedding power-point presentation (bridezilla, I know) on the TV. Much to my chagrin, my dad and brothers were oblivious to the details of the wedding, interrupting my presentation with countless questions (what are the colors? what time does it start? what’s the theme?).

To make things worse, my 3- and 4-year-old nieces were getting restless. I sped through the presentation, and emphasized that, if they remember nothing else, the guys needed to be at the man cave at 3:30 in their suits. My mom warned them, “Tomorrow is wedding day–no fishing!”

With the meeting adjourned, Nick and I collected the cupcakes, bridal party gifts, and a few other items, then drove to Diamond Grill in downtown Alexandria, where the Tudor Room upstairs was being set up for our rehearsal dinner. We set up my princess castle cupcake tower and carefully placed the cupcakes, gifts, and decorations. We left the USB with our photo slideshow, featuring over 300 pictures of us from birth to present.IMG_5608

Shortly after our outing, it was time to get ready for the rehearsal. I wore a lace white dress I’d had from sophomore year homecoming. My niece/godchild Sophie tried to help me with my makeup, and I tried to keep her at bay while curling my hair. Everyone was getting ready at once–there was no way we’d make it to the church for 5:30! I hitched a ride with Nick and we made it just in time.

It was so awesome having all our loved ones together in one place. But we didn’t have much time for greetings, as Father was ready to begin. He called Nick and I to the alter and gave us a blessing. Then we ran through the processional, order of events, and recessional. Father gave us a final blessing before we left.

At the Diamond Grill, our photo slideshow was underway and my Disney princess instrumental playlist was piping through the speakers. Little children were running around and dancing. It was magical. The food, service, and company was amazing. My cupcakes hardly got touched because they served delicious beignets with dinner.

At home that night, I laid out all my bridal accessories, bridal emergency kit, and getting ready outfit. Tired from a busy, stressful, and happy day, I read Bible stories to Sophie until she fell asleep on my shoulder. We had a big day tomorrow.

Saturday, October 12th. A year of planning was over, and I was determined to relax on my wedding morning. After months of record heat, a cool front came through the night before, making it actually feel like autumn for my fall wedding. I stepped outside for a breath of fresh, cool, air. With not a cloud in the sky, it was the perfect day to get married.

Since our wedding had a Cinderella theme, I put on the DVD of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella–the old one with Leslie Warren and Ginger Rogers. Me and the girls watched it while I enjoyed a cup of coffee (I had to wait till the third pot of coffee to get myself a cup, as there were so many people in the house!).

I went to the master bathroom to take a relaxing bubble bath, locking the door to keep my nieces out! Sophie could be heard banging on the door, but I assured myself she couldn’t disrupt me. Seconds later, I hear fidgeting with the doorknob and lo and behold, Sophie walks in, chiming “Hola Tia!”

She then proceeded to add ALL the bubble bath to the tub. “Need more bubbles?” she asked. A few minutes later she announced that she had to use the potty–and her training potty was right next to the bathtub. That’s it, bath time’s over, I thought, and rushed out!

When I walked out, my cousins/junior bridesmaids were there in their blush and mauve button-down shirts. Right on track with my timeline, we collected my dress and the three of us marched it to my SUV. We said our farewells and headed over to the bridal suite at Juliette House, the plantation home where my reception would be held that night.

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Juliette Plantation, Boyce Louisiana.

En route, we made a quick stop at the voting polls, as it was election day! A neighbor of ours sang Here Comes the Bride as I walked in to vote. I ran into my dad at the voting booth and reminded him “Man Cave at 3:30!” I proudly placed my “I voted” sticker on my white button-down and proceeded to the bridal parlor.

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They made it to the man cave for 3:30.

We met my hair-and-makeup artist upon arrival. The four of us got a sneak peek of the reception space, which Tammy (the venue owner) and her staff had decorated ahead of time. The previous weekend my mom and I met with Tammy and went through her storage room, choosing each centerpiece and accent with great care. It was my dream wedding come true. Everything in neutral tones of rose, mauve, and blush; everything princess.

We quickly got to work on hair and makeup, and the rest of the day was a whirlwind. My other bridesmaids did their own hair and makeup and joined us there for photos. My nieces were well-behaved as the maids styled their hair.

When the coast was clear of the groom, we took pictures outside and ended up running 20 minutes late for the ceremony. Oops! My girls and I loaded into Cinderella’s golden carriage (my dad’s gold Toyota Highlander) and rushed to the church.

I waited outside the church with my mom while inside my godmother coordinated the processional. My mom peeked inside and told me what was going on. An ice cream truck (of all things!) drove by. When it passed I could hear our musician, classical guitarist Giovanni de Chiaro, playing Canon in D. And then it was my turn.

The ceremony was beautiful, and I don’t think there was a dry eye in the church. Nick must have been nervous, because when the priest showed him what to read, he stated “I Corinne, take you…” instead of “I Nick.” Everyone laughed and enjoyed the moment of comic relief amidst the tears.Duplan_Wedding-383

In typical Cinderella fashion, my shoe fell off as the photographer whisked us away to take post-ceremony pictures. Nick placed it on my foot, and we made our way to the plantation.

We did a sparkler entrance into the reception, then proceeded upstairs to the ballroom to eat. Dinner was shrimp and grits, crawfish chowder, and brisket. The DJ played Disney and children’s songs and the dance floor was full of tiny twirling princesses.

It seemed the night had just begun when my photographer sneaked up and told me it was 8 o’clock. So much for my timeline! I motioned the DJ to cue the first dance, Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful, from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. I had choreographed the dance, and Nick and I practiced several times. But my train was so long, he took giant steps to avoid stepping on it. Our guests found it quite comical.Duplan_Wedding-696

We did father/daughter and mother/son dances, then cut the cake to the tune of Ten Minutes Ago, also from Cinderella. Now it was time to party. I planned some special dances to get everyone on their feet. First, an anniversary dance for all the married couples. Then, a Mardi Gras Second Line, complete with beads that my maid of honor tossed to everyone. We had a flower girl hula dance that my nieces had rehearsed. And of course, the bouquet toss and some line dances.

Several of my family members gathered around a cell phone to watch the final moments of the LSU football game. There was cheering indicating they won!

We stayed and danced until the clock struck midnight. Then it was a scramble of collecting items, saying goodbyes and thank-yous, and getting home to finish honeymoon packing.

The day was so busy, I lost track of my stuff–I couldn’t even find my car key! My brothers and Dad were passed out asleep on the sofa. My brother fussed crankily as I poked in his pocket in search of my car key (sure enough, it was there).

Me and Nick packed last-minute items and got to sleep around 2am. At 4am Mom took us to the airport. We were on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia by that afternoon. (Of course that will be a whole other blog post).

They say something always goes wrong at weddings, but as far as I could tell mine was perfect. I later learned that my dog actually had to be rushed to the vet while I was getting hair and makeup done–but she’s okay! I suppose if that’s the only thing that went wrong, we pulled off a pretty good wedding weekend. At the end of the day, what matters is that I married my best friend in an intimate Catholic ceremony with our family and closest friends as witnesses.

2020 Resolutions: Minimize, Zero Waste, FIRE

My dad has a keychain that says “The one with the most toys wins.” How true that has been in our society, where the accumulation of the latest gadgets, cars, and fashion trends was the ultimate status symbol. But minimalism is trending now, and I’m totally on board. The object of minimalism is to de-clutter, keep only necessities and objects that bring joy, and simplify your life by buying less.

There are three movements that I want to begin working towards in 2020, minimalism being one. The other two are zero waste and FIRE. Zero waste refers to changing your lifestyle and purchase decisions so that you produce as little garbage as possible, in an effort to keep plastic and other non-biodegradable materials out of the landfills. FIRE stands for “Financial Independence Retire Early.”

These three ideologies tie together beautifully for those wanting a more simple and sustainable existence. Minimalism, in the most basic terms, is buying less–which results in more money saved. Zero waste means buying less packaged products (i.e. buying a sack of flour to make bread instead of buying plastic-wrapped loaves of bread each week); usually it’s the case that whole ingredients are cheaper than packaged, processed, and pre-made foods (not to mention healthier).

And saving money leads us to FIRE, the idea that you can retire in your 30s or 40s if you simply live frugally, invest wisely, and stay out of debt while working full-time. When you achieve financial independence, you can leave the rat race and pursue other goals and passions (which may still generate income).

I see FIRE as the long-term goal that will result from the money saved and invested by living a minimalist lifestyle. So let’s talk about my experience with minimalism so far.

eb2af771-af55-4fbc-bc8e-1108261fdd9fMy closet.

My name’s Corinne, and I may be a hoarder. When my parents moved in 2013, I did some purging of my closet at their house. Toys and kids/tween clothes were thrown or given away. But many of the items in the closet were put in boxes and sent to the new house. Fast forward to 2020–I’m a newlywed and it’s time to move all my possessions from my parents’ house to where I now live with my husband.

At Mom and Dad’s, I had a closet packed full of stuff, most of which hasn’t been touched in years. We spent almost all last weekend going through my old bedroom closet. College textbooks, notebooks, birthday cards, mail…I had kept it all. We ended up burning or throwing away all of it. These items were sentimental, but they were weighing me down.

Side note: in sorting through all this, we found an old Christmas card from my deceased grandpa which contained a crisp hundred dollar bill. We decided this was our wedding gift from Pop. 🙂

Minimizing doesn’t have to mean throwing all your stuff away or never buying anything. I have some guidelines for myself:

  1. Adopt a one-in, one-out policy. If I want a new pair of jeans, I have to give one of my current pairs to Goodwill.
  2. Sell items that still have value. Once you’ve beat the latest Zelda game, sell it before it loses its value. Let it sit on the shelf for several years, and it becomes obsolete. (Same goes with textbooks).
  3. Refuse. When offered paper handouts, freebies, and unwanted hand-me-downs, simply turn them down. Don’t bring new items into your home that won’t be used.
  4. Carefully consider each purchase. Don’t impulse-buy. Write the item down, and think about it for a week or so. Do you need it? Does it match your style and values? How often would you use it?

In an effort to be zero-waste, when de-cluttering I have multiple boxes: Goodwill, animal shelter, burn, recycle, and (last resort) trash. Mail with sensitive information and other paper items can be burned. Old towels, mats, and blankets can be donated to animal shelters. Items in good condition can be given to Goodwill. Recycling and trash are last resorts. China recently placed a ban on single service plastic items, and they will stop accepting our plastic recyclables as well. Our noble efforts to recycle are in vain, as most of our plastic items will probably end up in landfills anyway.

I’ll go more into my journey to generate less waste in another post. It’s a work in progress, and I won’t be perfect anytime soon, but any effort makes a difference. For now I challenge everyone this: keep a Yeti cup or similar item in your car for your trips to the coffee shop. Bonus: some places give 10% off to people who bring their own cups.

North Carolina Adventures: Asheville

The week before Easter, my fiance and I took a trip to North Carolina to visit family and have some fun. Splitting our time between Asheville and Raleigh, we enjoyed an action-packed week of sight-seeing, delicious meals, hiking, and…mermaid princesses!

We flew from Alexandria to Atlanta, and from there to Asheville, spending our 3-hour layover exploring the Atlanta airport and dining at P.F. Chang’s. Nick and I enjoyed flying together–we talked, read the Sky magazine, and chowed down on Cheez-its, Biscoff cookies, and ginger ale. It was so fun and exciting to fly on an airplane (even though our first flight had lots of turbulence due to a huge storm coming through the southeast).IMG_4307

Nick’s aunt and uncle hosted us for our time in Asheville. Their beautiful home is located in Biltmore Forest, a dreamy neighborhood located on land that was previously part of the Biltmore Estate (the Vanderbilts had to sell this acreage when their fortune began to dwindle). This woodsy, hilly area is only a mile from the Biltmore Estate, and adjacent to the Blue Ridge Parkway. The blooming redbuds, dogwoods, and cherry blossom trees made me feel I was in a fairy-tale.

Our first morning, the four of us wandered to a segment of the Mountains-to-Sea trail accessible from their backyard for a 3-mile trail run/hike before exploring downtown. Nick’s aunt and uncle made excellent tour guides, pointing out the popular spots and telling us all about the history and culture of the city.

We visited the French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where I got an iced mocha and shared a brownie sundae with Nick. One thing I love about Asheville is that the local restaurants have environmentally-friendly practices, like using paper straws and biodegradable to-go cups, locally-sourced ingredients, and having recycle cans. Another thing I like is that you can bring your dog anywhere with you. Maybe we should move there…Nick and I both drive a Subaru–we’d fit right in!

We walked in and out of art galleries, local craft markets, and breweries. At one point we split up, us girls going dress shopping while the guys played pinball. We met up at 5 o’clock for Palm Sunday mass at St. Lawrence Basilica, followed by dinner at Strada Italian. Their ravioli dish is out-of-this-world!

We made our way to a hotel lounge where there was some live music, but soon left downtown to hit Highland Brewing for flights (a beer sample with four 2-oz cups in your choice of brews) and more live music. This is what you do in Asheville, the brewery capital of the U.S.

The next day was spent at the Biltmore mansion. But remember that storm I mentioned earlier? Part of it swept through North Carolina that day, making for a very rainy, cold, wet visit to the Estate. We saw the gardens first, then toured the house and conservatory when the rain hit. The theme of the tour was A Vanderbilt House Party, which immersed visitors in the daily life of the Vanderbilts and their workers–entertaining guests, preparing grand meals, enjoying the swimming pool, bowling alley, gardens, and views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I felt as if I were in an episode of Downton Abbey.

The following day was designated for hiking and exploring the Pisgah National Forest south of Asheville. Riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway, our first stop was the Pisgah Inn, where we enjoyed a scenic overlook. It was a beautiful day, but at this elevation of 5,000 feet, the temperatures were in the 30’s and the wind was blowing. We layered up and drove to our next stop, the Mount Pisgah Trail.

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The chilly Pisgah Inn overlook.

This 3-mile round trip hike took us to the summit of Mount Pisgah, where a large news tower was hailing down icicles every time the wind blew. Our next hike was the Graveyard Fields Loop Trail, where we stopped to eat a picnic lunch on some boulders at the foot of a waterfall.

The next stop was Cradle of Forestry, a National Heritage Site which houses what was the first school of forestry in the country. George Vanderbilt recruited German forester Carl Schenck to come up  with sustainable practices for this forest land (which, at the time, was being logged at unsustainable rates). Schenck then founded the school, where forestry students spent long days in the classroom and the field, and roomed in abandoned houses left behind by settlers.

Our last stop in the forest was Looking Glass Falls, where we saw a double rainbow. Then we headed to the town of Brevard, known for its white squirrel population, for some urban hiking in the quaint downtown district. We saw some white squirrels, as well as a groundhog. Feeling satisfied with the day, we drove back for our final meal in Asheville: dinner and flights at the huge Sierra Nevada Brewery.

There are so many reasons to visit Asheville–the farm-to-table restaurants, breweries, the arts scene, endless hiking options, and the Biltmore. What used to be country is now a rapidly-growing hipster scene due to the influx of young people and new businesses. We had a wonderful three days there and will definitely be back.

Stay tuned for a post on Raleigh and princess mermaids!

Wedding planning

In October, I wrote about the fun time I had at the 2018 Gift of Life Color Run in Beaumont. What I didn’t reveal in the blog was that the weekend ended with a big surprise–a proposal!

That Sunday, my boyfriend Nick took me on a picnic in his backyard. He blindfolded me with a scarf, prepared a picnic basket, and led me out by the lake. When he removed the blindfold, he had my favorite lunch spread out in the gazebo and he was on one knee with a beautiful diamond and pink-sapphire engagement ring.

It was a big surprise, because although we’ve dated for 2 years, we live in different states. He’s a born-and-raised Texan, while I’m a Louisiana girl. It’s complicated taking two lives in two states and melding them into one! But I didn’t think twice before saying yes.

We didn’t immediately jump into wedding planning. The first month I just got used to the idea of being engaged. Your relationship suddenly shifts–this isn’t just a boyfriend, this will be the most important person in your life.

We decided to have the wedding in Louisiana, and live in Texas after the wedding. The first step was meeting with the priest at my church and getting our counseling started. Then began the wedding planning.

Wedding planning, it seems, has three stages: 1.) booking vendors, 2.) selecting attire, 3.) deciding on the details. I’m currently finishing up the first stage (only one more contract to sign!). I always thought it was crazy to spend a whole year and thousands of dollars putting together a wedding–but now that I’m a bride, I totally understand.

It’s much easier to pay professionals than to spend time/energy on DIY projects, especially when you work full time. But wedding professionals are expensive, and need to be booked many months (sometimes a year) in advance. I almost didn’t have a photographer because I waited until *gasp* 10 months out to hire one.

Being a bride means always being busy, having a never-ending to-do list, and having to make lots of decisions. One week your biggest concern is what style photography you want, the next week your biggest problem in life is whether the bridesmaid dress colors coordinate.

I’ve loved the wedding planning process so far. The key is to have fun and always remember that the most important thing is your relationship.

Louisiana Marathon 2019: Rain, wind, and shine

The 2019 Louisiana Marathon was one for the books–because for the first time in the history of this event, races were cancelled. Me, my mom, and my fiancée Nick had registered for the quarter marathon this year, taking a break from our usual Deja Vu 5K + half marathon. Little did we know, the weekend wouldn’t pan out quite as planned.50229536_2235113979872951_7762693748709916672_o

The three of us drove to Baton Rouge from Alexandria Friday afternoon, stopping in Lafayette to meet up with family for dinner and music by Dynamic Duo at El Agave (gotta carb load, right?!).

The next morning, we were walking out the door when the email came through that the race was cancelled. After paying good money to participate, driving all the way to Baton Rouge, and waking up at 6 am on a Saturday, this was a huge disappointment.

The radar did look terrible, a bright red band crossing the state. By 8 am Baton Rouge was not only experiencing rain, but tornado and hail warnings as well. Clearly the race officials made the right call, but we still wanted to participate in race-day fun.

Although we hadn’t trained for it, Nick and I decided to upgrade to the half marathon the next day. We registered online, then went for a warm-up 2-mile run/walk. Mom opted out on running the half, as freezing temperatures were expected in the morning. Smart.

Last year the marathon weekend had record low temperatures in the 20’s. I swore I’d never run in those conditions again; but as the weekend wore on, the temperatures dropped drastically. Bone-chilling, gusty winds moved in. We headed to downtown Baton Rouge for lunch at Poor Boy Lloyd’s before meeting up with my aunt and cousins at the race expo. img_3954

We love the race expo because of all the freebies and running gear available. My mom, aunt, and cousin bought top-brand running shoes for as low as $60. We sampled Honey Stinger energy chews (they are delicious!) and Core Power milk (I’m loving their new coffee flavor).

It was dinner-time before we knew it, so we braved the chilly 20-mph winds to check out the street food festival just outside the Raising Cane’s Rivercenter. Once in the cold, we opted to go to an indoor restaurant–but not until after visiting Cupcake Allie’s food truck for some dessert before dinner.

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It was a little too cold for a street food festival…but we can’t turn down Cupcake Allie.

The next morning, Mom, Nick, and I hit the donut shop at 5 am (because no one else is open that early). We ate our hot donuts while driving to the 26.2-minute mass with Father Allelo, a marathon-running priest, at St. Joseph Cathedral–just two blocks away from the start line.

At 7 am, Nick and I took our place at the back of the race corral. The windchill was 22 degrees, making it feel colder than last year! The crowd of thousands sheltered us from the wind, and after a couple miles the cold air actually felt good.

I crossed the halfway mark with a 10K time of 1:03. Either my lack of preparation for the half distance, or the fact that my new Hoka Clifton 5’s aren’t the best shoe for me, could explain why my legs were in pain after this point. I took a few walking breaks, but tried my best to stay near the 2:20 and 2:30 pacers.

Despite the cold, hundreds of spectators and volunteers lined the route–holding motivational signs, clashing gongs, handing out drinks and runner’s gu. My personal favorite was the Gordon McKernan posters: “Marathon? Get it done!”. Thank you to everyone who came out in the cold to support the runners!

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We were determined to earn a medal this weekend, one way or another!

I crossed the finish line with a time of 2:27–not a PR, but not my worst either. Nick, on the other hand, got a personal best time of 2:16. After our October wedding we’ll be training together–because whatever he’s doing…works!

Mom cheered for us at the finish line, and led us back to the car for an hour of enjoying the heater and shelter from the wind (and video-chatting with my nieces). The sun came out and the temperature rose; it was a glorious day after all.

Sufficiently defrosted, we made our way to the Rendevous Finish Festival in Capitol Park, where we enjoyed jambalaya, Uncle Larry’s gumbo, beer, alligator sauce piquant, and pasta bolognese. We took photobooth pictures, we danced with the 610 Stompers, Nick took a nap on the lawn, and Mom and I boogied with Quiana Lynell (SHE IS AMAZING!).

 

Despite a disappointing start, freezing temperatures, and wind that would make Jack Frost himself want to curl up under a blanket, the Louisiana Marathon 2019 was a success. The weekend ended on a high note, with a glorious sunny day, Cajun cuisine, good music, and excellent sportsmanship–the elements that keep me coming back year after year.

Gift of Life Ribbon Run 2018

Last weekend I drove to southeast Texas to visit my boyfriend and run in the most colorful 5K ever. The Gift of Life Ribbon Run Color Rush 5K is an annual fundraiser to support cancer treatments and screenings for women who can’t afford it.

Along the downtown Beaumont course, tunnels of volunteers toss colored cornstarch at you; by the time they cross the finish, runners are dyed head to toe in pink, purple, blue, and green. (See our before-and-after pictures below).

 

Although most runners wore the bright pink race tee, Nick and I wore white shirts this year so that the color would be more outstanding. A local marching band and dance team were already starting the party when we arrived at 7 am.

After losing Nick in the crowd, I found a spot near the front of the race corral. America’s Got Talent finalist Christina Wells sang the national anthem. She has an incredible voice, and–for those of you who haven’t seen her on the show–she was rejected from opportunities to be a singer because of her weight. However, she overcame this with her recent success on America’s Got Talent and her story has a happy ending.

The run kicked off at 8 am. It was slow getting started, but once I got out of the crowd, I fell into my usual 5K pace, crossing the finish line with a time a little under 28 minutes. Although the race wasn’t timed, I was able to time myself with the Apple watch. It sure is a neat little gadget–but I don’t recommend it for color runs. The powder got into it and made it glitchy for a couple days.IMG_3144

After the race, Nick and I took lots of pictures and cooled down with a walk around downtown. In Wellness Village, many vendors provided health information, including Lamar Department of Kinesiology and the local public health office.

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The cute and colorful Wellness Village.

To achieve full color coverage, the group gathered at 9:30 am for the Color Blast. All runners crowded into one area, armed with bags of color, and counted down from ten–to throw the pigmented powder at each other, in the air, and on themselves. Once the cloud of powder settled, the group was like a living rainbow.

After another round of pictures with our second color coating, Nick and I hit the food truck area and got a couple slices of Rotolo’s pizza. It was cheesy and amazing, especially after running 3.1 miles.

 

We headed to the stage area for the post-race celebration. Emceeing were the local news anchors; they introduced and thanked many people. A pastor gave a message of hope and healing. The marching band revved up the crowd with “Survivor” by Beyonce. And then, for the main event, Christina Wells sang “Natural Woman” and “This is Me.” Cancer survivors in the audience went to the stage and swayed with signs saying “Courage” or “I am Strong.” After her moving performance, we blew bubbles into the air to honor all those who did not survive the battle with cancer. Christina ended the event with a powerful rendition of “I Will Survive.”img_3178.jpg

The #golribbonrun is one of my favorite road races. It’s colorful, beautiful, and inspiring. The proceeds go to a great cause, it promotes health and disease prevention, and the post-race party is super fun. We’ll be back for years to come!