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.


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.


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!


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.


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!

Le Tour de Bayou 2018

Earlier this month, I participated in my first ever cycling event: The 7th annual Le Tour de Bayou in Alexandria, Louisiana. This event benefits the Kent House Plantation, the oldest standing historic site in central Louisiana, which receives much of its operational budget through this and other fundraisers. The race featured distances for every level of biker–including 101, 69, 40, 25, 10, and 2 mile rides.42663223_1881907135258742_5476494691547480064_n

All distances showcase the lovely Bayou Rapides and the farmland that lies just outside the city limits. The 101-milers rode all the way to the community of Gardner, where I live with my family about 30 minutes outside Alex in the woods of the Kisatchie National Forest. (I cheered as I passed a few bikers on my drive home around noon).

I’d seen banners, flyers, and colorful bicycles around town in the weeks leading up to Le Tour de Bayou. The last few years that my family has lived here, we’ve seen the bikers on race day speeding down our street. But I never thought to sign up until this year–a week before the race, to be exact.

The truth is, I don’t have an expensive road racing bike, and I barely understand the mechanics of my own Trek hybrid. I was worried I’d embarrass myself if I participated.

So I went to the Kent House to register in person, and was assured that it wasn’t a race; it’s just for fun. Feeling encouraged, I signed up for the 10-miler. I washed my bike, filled my tires, and did a couple challenging training rides during the week in the hills around my house.

Saturday morning I woke up ridiculously early so I could see the sunrise Blessing of the Bikes and watch the 101- and 69-milers take off. The group was pretty small, and I had some major bike shame after seeing their fancy specialized bikes (remind me to ask Santa Clause for one). An hour later, at 8:30, a Kent House employee counted down the takeoff for our 10-mile group.

I couldn’t help but get competitive as we cycled down Bayou Rapides road. To my surprise, within minutes I had passed the pack and had only three bikers ahead of me. Pedaling as hard as possible, I slowly gained on them until I was in 2nd place. Unfortunately, the route wasn’t marked and none of us had studied the route well–so when we hit a crossroads, three of us stopped to look at the map.

Losing my momentum, it was like starting over mid-race. I cycled as fast as my heart would let me, re-gaining my 2nd place status–but with the two others close on my tail. Sure enough, right at the finish line they passed me. This guy and gal sure motivated me to try my best and leave nothing on the road. The three of us crossed the finish within a couple seconds of each other, with a time of 38:50.

Bike racing is not easy. You know the flustered post-race feeling–heart pounding, legs like jelly, and swearing you’ll never do that again (until 20 minutes later when you wonder: When’s my next race?)? I was definitely feeling it.

With the sun high in the sky and not a cloud in sight, the grounds looked beautiful for the post-race party. Kent House staff and volunteers provided chocolate milk, snacks, jambalaya dinners, and beer. There were free tours of the plantation house, massages, a DJ, and local vendors.

I learned some interesting history in a 30-minute tour of the house before enjoying lunch and a “recovery” beer. A friend of my dad’s introduced me to some folks in the biking community, including the owner of a specialty bike gym. The future is bright for my biking hobby.42491610_235362433810255_7373238011368046592_n

Le Tour de Bayou is a fun race with a flat, fast course and distances for all levels. It gives bikers the chance to see central Louisiana’s beauty and support the community. I had tough competition to push me to do my best, but it wasn’t so competitive that I felt discouraged. This may have been my first bike race, but it won’t be my last!

My Alaskan Adventure, Part 3: The Last Frontier


Dawes Glacier

Upon crossing the state border, I fell in love with Alaska, mystified by the fact that most of the state is nothing but wilderness. We stopped in three small towns along the southeast Alaskan coast: Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan. Outside of these quaint towns, you won’t see cell phone towers, telephone lines, or any other indication of civilization. In fact, two of the three towns don’t even have roads leading in or out; all travel to the mainland must be by ship or plane.

Our first day spent in Alaska wasn’t at one of these ports-of-call, but in the Endicott Arm Fjord. That morning, Captain Mickey steered the ship to some fjords, or narrow inlets, leading to glaciers. The Tracey Arm Fjord had too much ice flow that day for it to be safe for travel, so the captain made the decision to go down the equally-scenic Endicott Arm.

The weather in Alaska is typically cold, rainy, and overcast (the forests there are actually rainforests). However, it was unusually sunny and clear on Glacier Day, making for some gorgeous photo opportunities. As we sailed further down the arm, we began to see ice chunks which had calved off of the Dawes Glacier. I noticed one that was brilliant blue, indicating it had recently calved off and had not been exposed to air very long.

As we turned into the final stretch of the arm, we could finally see Dawes Glacier—and many more icebergs. Seals floated by on flat hunks of ice, which they use to birth their young. The ship finally came to a halt right in front of the glacier, and stayed parked there for an hour as we all marveled at this tremendous natural phenomenon. We were lucky enough to witness some of the ice calving off, watching the big splash through our binoculars.

Sadly, the glaciers are receding at an incredible rate. This trip was truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance for me to see the Dawes and other glaciers, because in ten years they could be inaccessible, or at the very least, much less impressive. So if you have a desire to go to Alaska, don’t put it off.


Equipped with robes and hot chocolate, we’re ready for some glacier-viewing!

I mentioned in my last post that the first day on the ship was my birthday. Upon entering our suite, I had found a birthday card with two warm, fuzzy Disney Cruise Line robes, a bottle of champagne, and a box of chocolates courtesy of our travel agent. These robes came in handy on Glacier Day; the temperature near a glacier is ten degrees colder than the already-cool Alaskan temperatures (in the 40s, if I had to guess). Cruise staff walked around the balconies with trays of hot chocolate to offer guests all afternoon.

The next morning we awoke in Skagway, Alaska. I could have spent a whole week in this town; it has hiking trails, a train that takes passengers deep into the mountains, and an interesting history from the gold rush era. With around 900 inhabitants (mostly seasonal), the town’s population tripled when our cruise ship docked.


Welcome to Skagway!

Nick and I spent the morning on a six-mile round-trip trail with an 850-foot elevation gain called Icy Lake and Upper Ried Falls Trail. We crossed some neat footbridges, wandered through Spruce and Hemlock forests, and saw some glacial silt. The trail ends at a huge waterfall plunging down the mountainside. We had to practically shout to hear each other over the rushing falls.

After lunch, Nick, his dad, and I met up with our excursion group for some rock climbing and rappelling! Our guides drove us to a mountain, where we hiked up to a vertical rock wall; he gave us some rock-climbing shoes, secured us in harnesses, and let us try a couple climbs. It was terrifying.


Adrenaline rush!

I’d never done this before—and may never do it again—but I’m glad I did it. This experience is a good microcosm for life. This wall looms before you, seemingly impossible to climb. But you must take it one hand and one foot at a time–stopping if you need to, and never looking down. Next thing you know, you’re at the top thinking “That wasn’t so bad.”


Nick preparing to rappel down the cliff. My hero!

Rappelling is about overcoming fear. We hiked to the top of the cliff, and (only those brave enough) climbed over the ledge and lowered themselves to a 90 degree angle, proceeding to control their own descent down the 100-foot vertical rock. If anything went wrong, ambulances would be involved. Although some people got all strapped in only to chicken out upon looking over the edge, I went through with it. You have to overcome fear at some point, so why not here and now?

P1050067The next day’s excursion was in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. The whole family did a whale-watching and science adventure. Our tour guide first took us on a nature walk to see the Mendenhall glacier. We then boarded a small boat to find some humpback whales. Along the way, we saw sea lions, bald eagles, a starfish, and seals.

To spot a humpback whale, you must look for the spray from its blowhole. Once you see the spray, you’ll spot the whale’s back surfacing. After surfacing several times, the whale will take one last breath and dive down to the bottom to feed—when they do this, you’ll see the tail fin pop up out the water. It was a dream come true to see these whales up-close, in-person. This was a major highlight of the trip.

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Our last port-of-call was Ketchikan, where Nick’s dad, Nick, and I did a canoe excursion in the Tongass Rainforest. The weather was overcast and cold in this, what is considered the rainiest city in the United States. The lake was dark due to tannins from the surrounding trees. Our group shouted at the top of our lungs to hear the echo bouncing off the mountains.


Canoeing in the Tongass National Forest.

We canoed to a canopy area, where a local chef had cooked clam chowder and hot chocolate over a campfire. We also enjoyed some bread and local raspberry jam. After loading up on snacks, we did a nature walk in which the guide pointed out edible and non-edible plant species.

Alaska is beautiful, isolated, and unique. I saw lots of bald eagles, seals, and sea lions, and a few whales; other cruisers saw bears and mountain goats as well. I faced fear by descending a vertical rock wall, lived my dream of seeing a whale in the wild, and saw magnificent glaciers, waterfalls, and snow-capped mountains. I hope to return someday!

My Alaskan Adventure, Part 2: The Ship

P1040909The Disney Wonder is an amazing vessel, complete with four formal dining areas, two pools, four hot tubs, a waterslide, a theater, a movie theater, several lounges, and much more. At any given time, there are character meet-and-greets, Disney trivia, games, tours, and talks going on all over the ship. And always a dance party, where you can find Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse jamming out with a bunch of little kids (and that one adult…which, admittedly, was usually me).

Every morning the TV looped the “Good Morning Disney Wonder” show, which featured the cruise director and assistant cruise director discussing the day’s activities. It was a great way to plan your day and ensure you didn’t miss the best activities. We also used the Disney Cruise app, which sent us alerts when our shows, excursions, etc. were about to begin. I didn’t have much down time in the entire 8 days spent on that ship; there were so many fun things to do, I was constantly running from one activity, show, or meal to the next—boyfriend in tow.

The food. The four formal dining areas each had a unique theme: Tiana’s Place, Triton’s, Animator’s Palate, and Palo.


Baked Alaska in Alaska. Note the Frog-themed silverware in Tiana’s Place.

Tiana’s Place, as you may have guessed, had a New Orleans feel. The menu had such things as shrimp and grits, boudin balls, jambalaya, and beignets. Of course I was skeptical of eating my home cuisine thousands of miles outside the state of Louisiana, but I was delightfully surprised. The best part of eating at Tiana’s, though, were the shows put on by Princess Tiana herself and the band the Cajun Crooners. The band played all throughout dinner, but when Tiana came out to join them with her trumpet-playing alligator friend Louis, the party really started. One night at Tiana’s was “Mardi Gras Night”, and the entire wait staff came out in a second line with Tiana and Louis. Then all the guests got up and made a second line.

Triton’s was less lively, but had a lovely mural of the little mermaid across the wall and an under-the-sea theme. This was where we enjoyed breakfast and lunch every day—always complete with soups, salads, appetizers, entrees, desserts, and drinks—and always all-you-can-eat. This is also where the ladies of our group took Nick’s nieces to the princess tea party, which I enjoyed as much as (if not more than) all the toddlers.

36222965_2369083696442939_5961845924643733504_oAnimator’s Palate was a black-and-white restaurant with Disney animations sketched all over the walls, paintbrush columns, and palate-shaped lights. The place became more colorful during the dinnertime shows, when clips from classic Disney movies played on the screens, the lights changed colors, and Fantasia Mickey made an appearance. It was so neat one night—we each had to create and draw our own character upon sitting down to dinner; somehow they scanned our creations and brought them to life on the screens during the show, dancing around in scenes from Snow White and Pinocchio.

Palo is the gourmet Italian, upscale, adults-only restaurant on the top deck of the ship. It’s all glass and all window seating, so the view enough is worth paying extra to dine here. Nick and I decided last minute to make a reservation for Sunday brunch. Of course, they were fully booked, but we got a call Sunday morning that they had a spot for us. We got all dressed up and met his parents there at our table for four. The brunch buffet was amazing, with tables full of beautifully-presented desserts, meats, cheeses, fruits, pastries, and (a special treat) Alaskan king crab legs. Back at our table, the waiter brought out at least one plate of everything from the menu. The amount of food we had was ridiculous, and it was all delicious.

The shows. There were three Broadway-style performances throughout the week: The Golden Mickeys, Frozen: A Musical Spectacular, and Enchanted Dreams. Frozen had ventriloquism, award-winning costume design, and some amazing special effects. The other shows featured musical numbers from the classic Disney movies like Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and Lion King. I really can’t pick a favorite, they were all so good. The Golden Mickeys showed on formal night, so they rolled out the red carpet and had paparazzi snapping pictures as you walked from dinner into the theater. A lady in an elegant formal gown interviewed little kids Joan Rivers style before the show started. The whole thing was really fun and adorable.

The entertainment. There were some great comedy acts on the ship: the magic of Shawn Farquhar, two-time world magic champion; Michael Holly, a juggling comedian; John Charles, AKA the human jukebox, who can play any song you request on the guitar; and Ronn Lucas, one of the world’s top ventriloquists, who’s previously performed for U.S. presidents and the Queen of England. There was also a naturalist, retired from the Alaska Fish and Game Department, who gave several talks about Alaskan wildlife, glaciers, and bears; Nick and I especially enjoyed his talks.

This is really special—the musical producers of Frozen, Mr. and Mrs. Lopez, were on the ship *ahhh!!* and did a presentation in the theater on our last day at sea. This couple has won Grammys and Oscars, yet they seemed so down-to-earth when sharing their story. They played songs that were cut from the movie, which no one has heard before (except people from previous Disney cruises). They explained the creative process of making the movie, and how the story line changed along the way. To end the show, they asked these Asian twin baby girls to come up on stage and sing Let It Go. Adorned in Anna and Elsa dresses, they sang every single word of that song, joined by the audience. Cue the snow machine and confetti cannons when they hit the last refrain. It was the best!

The views. Although there was always something fun and exciting to do on the ship, I could’ve been just as happy sitting on the balcony the entire time. The ship cruised through passages along the southeast Alaska coast, so we never lost sight of the rocky, snow-capped mountains. Often, we’d see a huge waterfall running up and down a mountain’s side. I saw black fins emerge from the water that could’ve been orca whales or dolphins. Bald eagles were abundant near our ports-of-call. On glacier day, we saw impressive chunks of ice topped with families of seals.

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The scenery alone would have made for an amazing trip, and I always stopped to take it in during those few minutes of down time. More about actual Alaska in my next post!

My Alaskan Adventure, Part 1: Vancouver

On June 16th, I woke up at 4am to catch a flight out of my small hometown airport to Houston. It would be the beginning of my greatest adventure yet. Not only did I fly to a foreign country and sail to Alaska—I experienced the magic of a week on a Disney cruise ship.

My boyfriend’s family invited me on this trip over a year ago, and his mom made all the arrangements for our group of ten. Nick flew to Vancouver, British Columbia on a Friday. Since I had work, I flew in that Saturday (my first time ever flying alone). Just being at an airport was exciting. I love flying, and this was my first flight since studying abroad in Paris—seven years ago! Glued to my window, I watched the sun rise as I flew from Alexandria, Louisiana, to the big city of Houston.

From Houston I flew to Vancouver. The flight was probably four or five hours, but I didn’t notice because I was enamored by the experience of flying. In an effort to pack light, I left behind books, laptop, and any form of entertainment; instead, I looked out the window, drank coffee with my non-English speaking neighbors, and daydreamed. Losing two hours with the time zone change, we landed in Vancouver at 1pm—with plenty of daylight left to explore the city.

Canadian customs was intense, and before I could leave the airport I had to get some Canadian cash for the Skytrain. It took me a minute, but I figured out how to buy a train ticket and find my way downtown. After a few minutes of showcasing those distant snow-capped mountains, the Skytrain plunged underground, eventually delivering me to the Waterfront station. A kind stranger pointed me to my hotel—the Pan Pacific, a high-class place directly connected to the cruise ship terminal—and I was free in downtown Vancouver.

I called Nick from the hotel lobby; he was very proud that I found my way to a foreign country without getting lost. We met up with his parents in the concierge lounge, which overlooked the cruise ship dock, Stanley Park, and the downtown skyline. I immediately discovered the espresso machine. Nick and I left to explore for a bit before meeting back up with his parents, brother, and sister-in-law for a food tour of China Town.

Our food tour guide took us to four restaurants (and then ran to get take-out from a Chinese restaurant, because we were expecting Chinese food and he couldn’t let us down). The first stop was a vegan pizza place. The second was gluten-free fried chicken. The third was an assortment—french fries, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower. The fourth…I don’t remember but I know it was good.

See, we were also served a different beverage at each place. The first, rose wine. The second, cider. The third, gin and tonic. By the fourth stop my head was spinning. Keep in mind I’d been up since 4am and my only meal was an egg sandwich from a Starbucks back in Houston. I’m also not a drinker. What a way to kick off vacation!

By 10 pm the sun was still shining bright, and we enjoyed our Chinese take-out from the hotel room. In the Pacific northwest, on the week of the summer solstice, there are 19 hours of daylight. Before going to sleep, you have to draw the curtains tight; otherwise, you’ll be up at 3am to close them.


Holy Rosary Cathedral, Downtown Vancouver

The next morning we went to mass at the gorgeous Holy Rosary Cathedral downtown. We spent the morning walking to Stanley Park, a 1,000-acre peninsula with forests, gardens, wildlife, painter’s circle for artists to sell their work, totem poles, an aquarium, and more. We took a horse-drawn carriage ride tour of the park. Nick and I discovered how tasty salmonberries are. A bald eagle flew over our carriage. We learned about the history of Vancouver.

We walked back to town for some gelato before heading right back to Stanley Park to meet Nick’s adorable nieces at the aquarium. Vancouver has an impressive aquarium, complete with dolphins, sea lions, and otters. Nick and I joined the hundreds of other joggers and pedestrians and ran downtown to met everyone for dinner at a pub.

The next day was my birthday, and about the time I woke up, the Disney Wonder was pulling up to the dock. What a great way to start the day! The Pan Pacific breakfast buffet did not disappoint—and it had a great view of the Mickey ship. We took pictures in our matching shirts, which featured everyone’s favorite Disney character (mine was Elsa). After going through the cruise terminal security and waiting around for an hour, it was finally time to board the ship.

P1040793We entered the Disney Wonder in the atrium/lobby area, and were immediately escorted into Triton’s restaurant for lunch. You can feel the magic the moment you walk on the ship—Disney music constantly piping through the walls, characters walking around, amazing service and friendly faces wherever you turn. Everything on the ship was clean and beautiful. Our food was delicious and the wait staff was incredible.

36248266_2369057716445537_2201209557114421248_oAfter lunch and a mandatory safety assembly, the cruise kicked off with a sail-away deck dance party. Mickey, Goofy, Donald, and Minnie led the count-down to when the ship set sail. Confetti was blown. There was a sing-along, there was line dancing. We did the Macarena, the cupid shuffle, and the chicken dance. I ran from one side of the ship to the other taking pictures of the mountains going by. Little did I know, these paled in comparison to the ones we’d see in a couple days.

But more about that in part two!

Live like no one else

I’ve been on a Dave Ramsey kick lately. With all the driving I do between commuting to work and visiting my long-distance boyfriend, I’ve had plenty of time to listen to his many rants and speeches on YouTube.

For those of you who aren’t familiar, his philosophy is basically this: eliminate and avoid all debt. Cut up your credit cards, buy your car with cash, don’t take out student loans. Don’t live beyond your means. Build an emergency fund. Save and invest so that you can be generous in the future.

I’ve adopted his mantra “Live like no one else now, so that you can live like no one else later.” In other words, BE WEIRD.

Other people wear trendy clothes. They go out to eat–a lot–and order drinks, appetizers, and sides. They get Starbucks on the daily. They have cable and Netflix and all the other subscriptions. However, they are probably broke, as the majority of Americans are.

Most people couldn’t handle an unexpected expense over $400 without having to borrow. If that’s the norm, then I want to be weird. But it means sacrificing the appetizers and trendy clothes. I wanted to share some of the ways I’ve been saving money below:

  1. Cancel Netflix and get a library card. Sure, it’s just $10/month, but Netflix has been adding some pretty low-quality shows and movies lately. Once I finished Gilmore Girls, Stranger Things, and The Office…it was hard to find anything good to get into. I’d start a series or movie, and within the first 30 minutes I was turned off by the blatant vulgarity in this media. Is Hallmark channel the only place it’s safe to watch something without pre-marital sex, curse words, violence, and social justice propaganda? Methinks so. Anyway, the library has a great selection of DVDs and I can check them out for free. I’m reading more too. It’s amazing to think there’s an endless source of free entertainment just down the street–remind me again why we spend so much on cable, Netflix, and movies??
  2. Cut and color your own hair. I know, I know, this sounds crazy. But trust me, cutting your own hair is the most liberating feeling. You control everything. Don’t you hate it when your stylist cuts off too much length or doesn’t layer it the way you requested? When you do it yourself, you have full creative reign! I called a salon last week to get a quote on a color and cut. I was floored when the total came to $90 (over $100 after tipping). After politely declining to make an appointment, I ran to Ulta to get my own supplies. The color I got was marked way down and ended up costing a few bucks.
  3. Paint your own nails. This goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Yes, it’s a pain to do all this yourself–but you can make it fun. When you have a day to yourself, put on meditation music, light some candles, and have an all-out spa day–right at home. Use honey and lemon to make a facial, paint your nails, cut/color your hair, exfoliate with a homemade sugar scrub. You can create a salon experience for less than ten bucks (and look just as good afterwards).
  4. Shop at Goodwill. There’s no shame in shopping here. In fact, if you bring clothes to donate, they’ll give you a discount on any purchases you make. Win-win: you clean out your closet, help people in need, and get to update your wardrobe for super cheap! I once found a designer shirt for $4 at Goodwill. After a few wears, I brought it back for the donation bin and got some cute new name-brand shirts for just a couple dollars a piece. This keeps my wardrobe fresh and interesting, yet I’m not spending a ton on trendy outfits that could go out of style next week.
  5. Bring your lunch to work. I struggle with this one because my job is mostly fieldwork, which means I’m not around a fridge and microwave–making it hard to plan meals. But it’s crazy how much eating out can add up. That goes for any meal of the day–and coffee treats. Ask for gift cards to your favorite coffee shops and restaurants for birthday/Christmas, and use these throughout the year when you need a pick-me-up or feel like treating yourself. You can also choose a specific amount to budget for this and use the envelope system to avoid over-spending.

Remember, it’s not about how much you make, it’s about how much you save! By being weirdly stingy now, you’ll be weirdly rich in the future.

Your year to grow

As 2018 rolled in, I set some different types of New Year resolutions. They had nothing to do with weight loss or fitness, but more to do with growing as a person. I wasn’t happy in the company where I worked last year, and I was determined not to spend 2018 stuck at that office, not learning, not growing, not being appreciated. So I went to Books-a-Million the first week of January and used some Christmas money to buy the prettiest planner I could find. On the cover, in big cursive letters it read “Your Year to Grow.”

This became my mantra for 2018 (and beyond). After all, being Forever 22 means never settling, refusing to think you’re too old, and always seeking out adventures, big and small. So in my planner, I wrote down some goals.

First, I wanted a better job–something with a pleasant work environment, long-term potential, and positive impact on the world. Thankfully, that goal is already checked off the list. I have a wonderful job with wonderful people–not everyone is lucky enough to be able to say that. [Side note: now that the job search is over, I’ll have more free time for writing, so hopefully this blog will be less…neglected in the future.] 🙂

Second, I wanted to try to get published. This is, admittedly, much more difficult than my first goal. But I wouldn’t be much of a writer if I never at least tried. I noted in my planner which publishers I submitted to and what dates.

Third, I wanted adventure (er, as much as possible when you have a new job and no vacation time to speak of). I filled my planner with every event in my area I could find–road races, festivals, fundraisers. I found a running group through Facebook. Coordinating with my boyfriend in Texas, we planned something fun for almost every weekend until May.

So far 2018 has been a year of growth. Every day I try to read or listen to something to expand my mind, especially since my school days are over. I’ll try to start blogging more about whatever topics I happen to be learning about–whether it’s finances, faith, health, or the human condition.

How are your new years resolutions panning out?