My Alaskan Adventure, Part 3: The Last Frontier

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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?

#SneauxRunLA: Louisiana Marathon 2018

#GeauxRunLA? More like #SneauxRunLA! Last weekend was the 7th Rendevous at the Louisiana Marathon, and it was by far the coldest. Although this was the 5th year I ran the Déjà Vu (5K + half marathon), it was the most challenging and memorable due to the historically cold South Louisiana temperatures. It takes a lot of heart to cross the start line in 25-degree weather, and even more to cross the finish.IMG_20180115_082716

Saturday morning, my mom and I bundled up for the 5K. My boyfriend Nick was going to be our cheerleader, as he was saving all his energy for the half marathon. I wasn’t sure I was mentally or physically prepared to run in sub-freezing temps, but I wasn’t about to back out. At 8am we crossed the start; 29 minutes later, I crossed the finish. It wasn’t my best time, but I was happy just to finish!

Mom, on the other hand, got a personal best 5K time. Nick met us at the finish line and we headed to the Rendezvous Finish Festival to celebrate. Even though we weren’t particularly hungry, we went straight to the Food Village to warm our bones with gumbo, tortilla soup, and crawfish ettoufee. Runners didn’t hang around too long, as everyone was anxious to get indoors. Likewise, we made our way to the expo at the River Center to pick up Nick’s race packet.

The expo was almost as fun as the race itself. We got free Community Coffee, samples of Honey Stinger products, and free stuff. Mom and I browsed running shoes, and she ended up buying a pair of Brooks for a better price than you can find anywhere online.

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Nick tried out “The Stick,” which is a stick strung with beads that you can roll over sore, tight, or injured muscles. It’s claimed to release muscle tension, roll out kinks, reduce injury healing time, and help with soreness. Nick decided to buy it to help with some IT band pain he’s been having. “The Stick” quickly became his prize possession, and he proceeded to carry it around all weekend.

Sunday morning, we arrived downtown early to go to the 26.2-minute mass led by Father Allelo, the marathon-running priest. It was so cool to see a church full of runners in all their race gear. After mass, we hurried to get our race bibs on, our gear checked in, and ourselves to the race corral.20180114_065736

It was 25 degrees outside. I never thought I’d run a half marathon dressed in two pairs of leggings, two pairs of socks, a fleece jacket, gloves, hat, and a scarf. Yet even with all those layers, I was still freezing. How am I going to do this? I thought. Running 13 miles is hard enough already!

As we began to move, the cold became more bearable. We lost Mom in the sea of thousands of runners. Nick and I started with the 2:30 pacer, but Nick kept speeding up. I managed to keep up with him, and in no time we found ourselves ahead of the 2:20 pacer.

The tortoise-and-hare analogy describes us perfectly: he’s a hare, speeding past me and always winning 5K races; I’m a tortoise, moving slow and steady, but always beating him in half marathons. And so was the case this weekend.

Determined to keep ahead of the pacer, I finished with a time of 2:18. Nick finished about 10 minutes later—and from what I hear he quite enjoyed the second half of the race, partaking in donuts and mimosas from spectators along the route.

This was an unforgettable race weekend for us Louisiana Marathon regulars. Never before have we run over a low spot on the course and realize that the crunching underfoot was ice; never before have we run through LSU and seen the edges of City Park lake frozen over. Kudos to everyone who was out there, especially the spectators, police, and volunteers—you’re amazing for braving the cold to support the runners! If you can take on that challenge, you can do anything.

Table for one

It takes a good amount of confidence to go to a movie or restaurant by yourself. Many people feel awkward going out by themselves, but I rather enjoy it. Being in a long-distance relationship, I don’t always have someone nearby to do things with. And at times, an outing with me, myself, and I is just as fun as a date night.

One benefit of eating alone at a restaurant is the silence. You can really focus on your food and your thoughts. Lately I’ve been having trouble finding peace and solitude during my day. On my lunch hour, I often walk campus to find a quiet spot to sit and eat. It’s an increasingly difficult task. Students are everywhere, talking on their phones, blasting rap music, holding conversations full of foul language. And then there’s the train, motorcycles, and cars with deafening mufflers.

Some days I spend way too much time walking and exploring, simply trying to find a place where I can enjoy nature and be alone in my thoughts. It’s a struggle only fellow introverts would understand. In a busy world, it’s hard to find opportunities to reflect. At times I’ll find myself having a profound thought when suddenly it’s interrupted by the startlingly loud blare of a car horn.

So no, restaurant hostess, I’m not here to pick up a to-go order. I need a table for one. Let me enjoy the quiet, serene atmosphere of this cozy, uncrowded, hole-in-the-wall place for an hour or so. I have a boyfriend. I have friends. But sometimes I just like to eat by myself, and that’s perfectly okay.

The Hallmark movie paradox

We’ve all seen at least one Hallmark Channel original movie that raises the theme of choosing between true love and following your dreams. You know the ones, where the female protagonist is living an ordinary day in married life–frustrated with juggling a husband, kids, and not-so-great job–when she bumps her head and wakes up the next morning in a parallel universe.

In said universe, she learns that she never got married, but instead left her hometown to pursue her dreams. She discovers she’s now a wealthy, important career woman whose biggest ambitions have been realized.

After accepting this new reality, she soaks up the fun and excitement of her newfound freedom. She goes out with the girls, enjoys being single, and lives out her dreams. It doesn’t take long to realize, however, that this  life is lonely. She finds herself longing for her past life. She wishes upon a star (or bumps her head again) and wakes up back in the real world, with a new appreciation for her husband and the life she chose with him.

Reflecting on La La Land, I realized it’s the opposite scenario.

*Spoiler alert–don’t read on if you haven’t seen it yet!*

La La Land is also about what you sacrifice in order to have your biggest dreams realized. But in this case, Mia gives up the perfect romance to pursue her dream job of being an actress. In the epilogue, she is wildly famous and successful, but has a vision of the life she could’ve had if she’d stayed with Seb, which to me was hauntingly sad.

What Hallmark and La La Land have in common is that they both pose the idea that somewhere in life there is a fork in the road where you choose between the perfect love and the perfect job. Which would you choose?

My Valentine and the Cupid Shuffle 5K

Happy belated Valentine’s Day! Whether single or in a relationship, this has always been my favorite holiday. I just love the idea of love…*sigh*

I love the heart-shaped balloons, the adorable teddy bears, the chocolate, and the flowers. But most of all, I love the fact that anything can happen on Valentine’s Day. It’s the perfect opportunity to express your love for someone–whether it’s a crush, a friend, or someone you’ve been married to for 50 years!

16665952_10155918203708228_5715648938234742358_oThis Valentine’s Day was extra special because I had a great person to share it with. A little over a year ago, my mom’s cousins out in Texas decided to play matchmaker. Little did they know, Nick happens to share my love of dogs, Sandra Bullock movies, sitcoms, running, and ice cream. More importantly, we share the same beliefs and values.

The weekend before Valentine’s Day, Nick’s work sponsored the Cupid Shuffle 5K in Lumberton, Texas. I drove in from Louisiana on Friday and stayed up late making a pink, red, and white tutu for the occasion.

The 5K was held at Lumberton City Park the next morning. That week, the flu had been going around my family, and I’d had fever, runny nose, and a cough myself. My plan was to walk the race, but once I got out there with the crowd of people, my competitive side kicked in. I ran the entire thing with a time of 28–a whole three minutes slower than Nick (and my previous 5K time), but not bad considering.16422649_1685139921783129_6774431180354357117_o

After the race, there were snacks, a DJ, and a video game truck. Nick and I played Super Smash Brothers, and I walked my chihuahua around to visit with everyone (Stu is a social butterfly). And then, of course, we did the Cupid Shuffle.

This year I got to enjoy Valentine’s weekend doing what I love with someone I love. It was the perfect way to celebrate my favorite holiday!

Louisiana Marathon 2017

3167129_img_2820-jpgThis weekend I participated in the Louisiana Marathon race weekend for the fourth consecutive year. My mom and I earned the Deja Vu Award by running both the 5K on Saturday and the half marathon on Sunday. We love the Louisiana Marathon, and this year was extra special because my cousin Vivi joined us for the 5K, and my boyfriend Nick and good friend Ben joined us for the half marathon.

Friday evening I headed to the Baton Rouge River Center–along with Mom and my cousins Vivi and G–for the race expo. After we grabbed our race packets, we discovered the plethora of free stuff being offered by vendors. We got headbands from Supreme Rice, coffee from Community Coffee, snack samples from Honey Stinger, sunglasses, chapstick, ice packs, and more!yoga

My cousins and I joined a group in the center of the expo for some pre-race stretching led by Yoga Rouge. One guy in the group was really enjoying himself at the expo–in fact, we saw him later taking a shirtless picture at the photo booth. (His antics continued to amuse us throughout the weekend). Mom and Vivi ended up finding a great deal on some lightweight Mizunos and each bought a pair. We had a blast at the expo and left with lots of treasures.

My boyfriend Nick drove in from Texas that night. Thanks to his generosity, I was able to stay with him in the Hilton downtown for the weekend. Saturday morning we met in the lobby at 6am. It was filled with runners, including several of Ainsley’s Angels, who were setting up as Nick and I ate breakfast in the restaurant hotel. We had the most delicious breakfast any runner could hope for–eggs, grits, fresh baked muffins, fluffy waffles, berries, yogurt, and more. I had to stop myself from eating too much before the 5K!

Nick and I walked through a very foggy downtown to the race start. It was so foggy, we couldn’t even see the State Capitol building looming only yards away from us. We met my mom and Vivi at the gear check. After a few minutes of stretching, us girls weaved our way to the front of the race corral. At eight o’clock, the cannon blew and we were off!

I managed to stay by Vivi until the one mile mark, at which point she disappeared in the crowd. I ended up finishing around 25 minutes, Vivi around 27, and Mom around 34. Pleased with our times, and joined by Nick and my aunt and uncle, we headed to the finish festival to celebrate.

The finish festival featured restaurant vendors and businesses from all over Baton Rouge. Nick (a Texas native but Cajun at heart) enjoyed the jambalaya, gumbo, and crawfish etouffee. Vivi liked the fact that people were handing out freebies galore. In fact, our phrase of the day was “Let’s go find more free stuff!” Mom enjoyed the live music. And me, I loved the experience of being around hundreds (er, make that thousands) of runners from all over the world. I never wanted it to end.

But alas, the crowd thinned and my family left. The fog had lifted and it was a beautiful afternoon, but because Nick wasn’t feeling well, we walked back to the hotel. Once he was settled in, I took a walk to the downtown grocery to get him some ibuprofen.

On my way back, a reporter stopped me on the sidewalk and asked if I was in town for the race. We chatted a bit and then she asked if she could interview me. Of course I happily agreed. Then she whipped out a video camera, to which I reacted “Oh, this is for TV…? Cool!!”

Here’s the news clip from that night, featuring yours truly.

The next morning Nick and I met in the lobby even earlier–at 5:45 am. We walked to St. Joseph’s Cathedral downtown for a very unique, 26.2 minute runners’ mass. Father Michael Alello, a marathon runner himself, does this mass especially for those running the Louisiana full and half marathon. It was interesting seeing the church filled with people in Nike shorts, compression socks, and racing shoes.

After mass, we met up with Mom and Ben. This was the first half marathon for Mom, Nick, and Ben, and I could sense their nervous excitement. When the race started, we were in the back of the pack, with nearly 3,000 people ahead of us. Ben, who can run a 45-minute 10K, sped ahead of us and ended up finishing in under two hours.

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Half marathon finishers in order: Ben, Mom, me, and Nick!

Nick and I stayed together for the first half of the race–high-fiving cops, waving to spectators, and enjoying the sights of City Park and LSU. Using a mile split tracker I tattooed to my forearm that morning, I paced myself for a 2:15 half marathon. However, Nick refused to keep that pace, nervous that he might burn out. So, I confess…I was a bad girlfriend and left him in the dust. I sped up in the second half of the race and ended up finishing in 2:12.

Some interesting things I saw along the route:

  • A spectator wearing nothing but a speedo and a unicorn mask
  • Guys handing out water and donuts wearing some sort of stripper cop outfit, including disturbingly tight short shorts
  • A runner in a shirt reading “This is a lot of work for a free banana”
  • Volunteers handing out mimosas and beer in the middle of the race
  • Signs reading “At least you’re not at work” and “If Trump can run and win, so can you”

I met up with Ben at the finish line, and we watched as Nick crossed the finish with a time of 2:21 and Mom with a time of 2:47. We headed to the finish festival for some more food and free stuff!

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Thanks to Conner and Vicki for their support and friendship –and tour of downtown!

We met up with my friend Vicki and her husband Conner, who had come out to cheer for us. It was great to see them! We were enjoying some jambalaya and Abita beer when I suggested we give Ben (a New Orleans native) and Nick a tour of downtown Baton Rouge.

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Nick bears a striking resemblance to the Walk-On’s mascot…

Vicki and Conner were up to the task, both of them quite knowledgeable of the area. They gave us a lesson in history and culture, walking us down the main streets and past the old state capitol. We ended our tour at the old governor’s mansion, where we sat on some benches and talked for a while. According to Nick’s Fitbit, we’d walked several miles in addition to our 13.1!

With my friends and family spread out in different cities and states, it was great to have this event bring us together. The Louisiana Marathon is fun, fast, and well-organized. It benefits many charities, including the Rett Syndrome Foundation, who my registration fee benefited (thanks to the generosity of my dad’s company Albemarle). I can’t wait to do it all over again in 2018!