Halfway through 2019

2019 has been a year of turbulence and exhaustion as opposed to the year of happiness and fun that I was hoping for. But I’m going to look at my worn-out, busted glass as half-full…

This year has been filled with:

Jazz music

Quality time with the ‘rents

Concerts

Trevor Noah

Quality time with my best friend and my Little Sister

Selfies with the pup

A sick honeymoon

Bark in the Park

Carolyn’s amazing bridal shower

I’m hoping that the rest of 2019 is full of weekend getaways, more quality time with loved ones and music!

And if not…

“Let’s raise our glasses and lower our expectations” – Geoffrey Zakarian – Cate Spader

Myrtle Beach (May 2018)

I realize I am very late to the party here, but better late than never 😉

Over Memorial Day weekend, my then-boyfriend of nearly six years proposed to me!  I knew it was coming, but the weekend was truly special and being in such a beautiful place with such a beautiful, loving man means the world to me.

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A few weeks prior, Juan asked my dad for my hand in marriage.  Although I knew we were taking a trip, I had NO idea where we were going until I boarded the plane!  My dad knew and apparently told Juan that I enjoyed Myrtle Beach in high school (true!), but I’m so impressed they both lasted so long without telling me.  More importantly, I’m (pleasantly) surprised that I didn’t guess our destination correctly!

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Feeling the sand in my toes, seeing sharks and dolphins swim around and enjoying the sunshine with my babe was the perfect way to spend a long weekend 🙂 I am truly blessed to have this man in my life, and I’m even more grateful that as of 11-16-18, Juan is now my HUSBAND!

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Juan has had this stone for me since I was 19, yet this whole journey still doesn’t seem real…

Five Favorite Foreign Cities

As the friend who is “always gone somewhere,” a lot of people ask me where my favorite place is (or what city I enjoyed the most).  The truth is that after visiting 20 countries abroad, I can’t pick “one favorite.” So instead, I have five!

I put this in chronological order, not in order of preference:

Aix-en-Provence, France (2014)

  • At this time, this was the longest period I’d been away from the United States.  I spent three weeks in Germany when I was 18 (two years prior) but this felt different, because it WAS!
  • I was truly immersed in the culture.  I lived with a host family as well as someone from New Jersey (who is now one of my closest friends) and learned more about how the French saw world issues, like the Holocaust for example.  Aix will never be Paris, but on the same note, Paris will never be Aix…think about it…
  • My mother’s side of the family is predominantly French.  Although they weren’t from Southern France, I felt close to my roots here.  The experience of living in Aix for two months was something I wouldn’t trade for the world, no matter how insane my host mother was!!

Amsterdam, Holland (2014)

  • My boyfriend and I visited Amsterdam together once my two months in Aix was over, and boy was I pleasantly surprised!  There is such a bad reputation of Amsterdam here in the United States (sleazy, dirty, etc.) and although some of that can be found here, Amsterdam was one of the greenest, cleanest, beautiful cities I’ve visited!
  • Amsterdam is such a melting pot of cultures, languages, and lifestyles.  Hearing Norwegian, Spanish, French, German, and British accents all on the same street is something you can’t experience in Michigan very often!
  • There is absolutely no judgement here!!

Kiruna, Sweden (2016)

  •  On a school trip during study abroad round two in Sweden, we visited Lapland (in the Arctic Circle).  As a third grader, I wanted to visit the ice hotel SO BADLY and my dreams finally came true in Sweden!  It was more breathtaking than I imagined…
  • Being in Lapland was one of the best weeks of my life.  Still is two years later.  I was in love with every aspect of the trip, from dog sledding to seeing the Northern Lights (twice!!) and everything in between – it was perfection.

Bergen, Norway (2016)

  • I visited my mom’s family’s foreign exchange student, Kjell, after studying in Sweden for one semester.  My mom and Kjell haven’t been able to physically see each other once he returned home in the 80s, but they have been able to talk on the phone and write each other letters ever since.  Meeting Kjell, his wife, children, and basically all of his immediate family was something I’d been wanting to do my whole life.  Bergen itself is beautiful, but the sentiment behind my visit made it even more memorable.
  • Um, well…Bergen is absolutely stunning!  I think the photos above speak for themselves…

Bangkok, Thailand (2017)

  • Although I volunteered in Chiang Rai for one month, Bangkok was the best possible way to end my Thai adventure!  I had previously booked a room for myself to explore Bangkok, but then my friends Kaila, Karl, and Hee Cheol decided to join.  I’m beyond thankful that they did because I know I wouldn’t have had as much fun without them!
  • On our first night together, we ate at one of the best restaurants I’ve been to!  And right after, we had drinks on a rooftop bar, which was the perfect way to end our volunteering and begin our weekend together!  I think Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai were places I’d rather be long-term; however, because of the people I was spending my weekend with, Bangkok (and its memories) make the list for me!
  • And aside from what I’ve just mentioned, WE HAD A ROOFTOP POOL!  People, it doesn’t get any better than this!  For a month, I was taking cold bucket showers, squatted down to pee, and had mosquito spray on me 24/7.  This 180 was exactly what I needed 🙂

Where are YOUR favorite places?!

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, Chiang Mai 

This weekend, I participated in something extremely spiritual and heartwarming. I visited an elephant sanctuary with my friends from the Mirror Foundation. Mind you, we didn’t ride the elephants, nor do we condone that behavior; however, we fed and bathed them! 
Riding elephants, no matter how “well cared for” they are, is awful. It’s an exploitation of Thai culture, as well as a form of animal cruelty that I won’t even get into. The bottom line is this: always educate yourself on animal treatment, as well as cultural acceptances, when researching zoos and animal sanctuaries!!! 
The experience was incredible. A songtaew picked us up from our hotel in Chiang Mai, where we met three Swedish girls. I recognized the Swedish instantly, and it turns out they lived in Kalmar, where I lived for five months! Small world! 
When we arrived, we immediately changed into matching shirts to wear over our clothes. We had an educational lesson about elephant sanctuaries, which ones are proper, and how to feed/behave around the elephants. 
Feeding them was beyond what I thought it could be. They didn’t even need the bananas to be peeled for them; the only one who did was the seven month-old male named Ronaldo! How cute!!! We held the bananas behind our backs and fed them one by one. I absolutely loved the experience, even if my hands became muddy from their thick tongues! 
Throwing mud at the elephants seemed like an odd task, but we all had so much fun getting messy and the elephants were enjoying themselves! Bathing them off with buckets of water was probably my favorite part, because we could really get up close and personal with the elephants. 
My words and photos don’t do the experience justice. Visit the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary if you’re ever in Chiang Mai! 

Volunteering Abroad: Life in Thailand

I’ve been here since April 17, and I can already tell you that my life has changed for the better.

I’m living in a camp/”commune” like setup.  I have been living in a room with a mosquito net above my bed, have been taking cold bucket showers, and have been eating a low-protein, high-carb diet (opposite from home given that I’m a celiac). 

This experience has been humbling, and to say that is an understatement. 

I am currently teaching English at a local orphanage. The children are so grateful to have us there, teaching them and playing with them of course. I have always wanted to adopt children, and my time here has shown me that I’m meant to do this one day. 

I will be volunteering until May 13, and I am beyond thankful that I have made this decision. I will aim to not take things for granted when I come home on May 21. I want to live like the villagers here: having less and making the most out of life (always having smiles on their faces)! 

Chiang Rai, Thailand 

I have been struggling these past few months, post-graduation. I had been through the ringer with job applications, interviews, and other miscellaneous drama that needs no further explanation. Rather than sulking and doing the same things day in and day out, I decided spur-of-the-moment to volunteer abroad.

I have been living in a “commune-like” setting in a village in northern Thailand. This experience is very much different than home: cold bucket showers, mosquito bites like no other, and copious amounts of sweat. 

When you think of Thailand, you think of beaches and tourist destinations, right? But take a moment to consider the poorer side of the nation; I have been teaching in an orphanage and playing with young village children, who barely know English at all. Thailand is more than tourism: it has personality and it truly is “the land of smiles.”

Thank you to all of my friends and family who supported, and continue to support, me through these major life decisions! 

Message of the day: always be grateful for what you have. There are others who have less than you, but may be more likely to give more because of it!