Castles in Europe

Before I start blogging about this year, I want to share my adventures from last year.

It was a pretty big travel year for me.  I have been dreaming about going to Europe for years, specifically to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany.  Last March, we made those dreams come true and I was able to cross #1 off my bucket list – tour castles in Europe.

And as always, along the way, we had many other adventures that weren’t on my list. I’ll start with Germany.  I did organize a fairly detailed itinerary for our trip to make things easier for us since we were traveling alone and don’t speak the language.  We also booked our airbnbs for all three cities (Munich, Venice, and Rome) before we left the States.  However, other than specific dates for each city, the rest of the itinerary was fairly flexible.

We started off our Eurotrip by flying into Munich on March 18, 2017 and arriving in the morning.  From the airport, we took a train to central station in Munich.  We had some difficulty figuring out how to buy a train ticket and then how to validate it, but luckily a local helped us out.

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We couldn’t check into our airbnb until later that afternoon, so we stored our hiking packs at the central train station.  They have lockable boxes you can rent for pretty cheap.

Then we took a train and bus to Dachau Concentration Camp.  On the train, we met a very nice man from Australia who was also heading to Dachau.  I was relieved that the directions I found online of which train and bus to take from Munich to Dachau were accurate.

Dachau Concentration Camp was surreal.  K referred to it as a “sobering experience”.  The museum was very informative and interesting from a historical perspective, but it was of course very sad.  Apart from the museum, you are free to wander around the camp.  We spent several hours here – there is a lot to see.  The weather was cold and rainy – luckily we brought some warm hats!

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After we got back to Munich, we grabbed our bags and then headed off to find some lunch.  Unfortunately, we walked for ages and couldn’t find a single place to eat.  By this time, I also really needed to find a toilet, which proved to be more elusive than a restaurant.  This was a low point of our trip.  We were cold, wet, jet-lagged, hungry, in desperate need of a bathroom, and in a country where we don’t speak the language.  By some stroke of luck, we finally stumbled upon an Italian place as we headed back in the direction of the train station.  Although we would be in Italy in a few days, we decided to stop here anyway because it was warm, it was food, and there was a bathroom.  After a few minutes, our stress faded away.  I think the drinks helped with that.

We checked into our airbnb flat after lunch, which happened to be right next to the Italian restaurant.  Our home for the next couple days was very nice and close to the train station.

That night, we went to a beer hall that K read about online, called Augustiner.  This place was my favorite thing about Munich.  When we arrived, it was all community seating at big long tables.  We found what looked like the only empty spots, two seats next to each other across from a couple older gentleman.  It turns out that they were from Sweden, but they spoke German too and some English.  It was definitely a humbling experience for me to see that most people we encountered in Europe spoke more than one language.  I don’t think that we do a very good job of that in America.

We actually never found out the names of the gentlemen we sat with at Augustiner, but they were very nice.  It was pretty loud in the beer hall.  Their English was limited and our German was reliant on a pocket translation guide, with our Swedish being non-existent.  But despite language barriers, we had a fun night with those guys, who we affectionately referred to as Pieter and Marten from that night on.  The food was amazing and the beer at Augustiner was actually the first beer that I have ever liked.

As we were leaving, we met a really funny (and very intoxicated) English man who had us rolling with laughter.  All in all, it was a great night.

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Unfortunately, K woke up sick the next day with a bit of a travel bug.  This was the day we planned to take a train to Neuschwanstein Castle, and it was the only day we would be able to go as we were leaving Munich the following day.  I offered to go on my own while K rested at our flat, but despite being sick, he did not want to spend our last full day in Munich in bed.

We grabbed croissants and coffee for breakfast at the train station.  The train took about 2 hours and then there was a short bus ride to Hohenschwangau, the small town where the castle is.  The view on the train was very scenic.  Also, I just love trains.

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We booked our tickets for both castles (Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau) in advance before our trip, but were able to upgrade to an earlier tour time once we arrived.  We toured Hohenschwangau Castle first, and then stopped for a quick lunch.  I had a delicious schnitzel sandwich and poor K, still sick, nibbled on a pretzel.

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We had a little bit of time in between the castle tours, so we went for a walk around the area.  There was a beautiful lake nearby.

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Can you imagine waking up to this view every day?!

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The lake water was so beautiful!

Finally, we made the trek up to Neuschwanstein.  I was pretty much bursting with excitement.  My ultimate travel goal was actually happening!  The sound is pretty soft on this video, but you can see the excitement on my face!

No photos were allowed inside the castle, but if you are ever in Munich, I would highly recommend that you take the day trip to Hohenschwangau.  The castles are amazing and the scenery in the area is absolutely beautiful.  This place was everything I hoped it would be and more.

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We were pretty tired by the time we got back to Munich and K was still feeling pretty bad, so we grabbed some food from the train station and took it back to our flat.  If he would have been feeling better, it would have been fun to have one last night out in Munich, but we decided to stay in so he could rest up for the rest of our trip.

The next morning, we took a bus to the airport.  We had some trouble finding the bus stop, and actually ended up running to make it on time.  Nothing like jogging with a heavy pack on your back in the early hours of the morning!

Once we got to the airport, our troubles were not over.  I had some difficulty getting through security because apparently I had too many liquids in my bag.  It was a little nerve-wracking to have problems at a foreign airport.  The security officer actually pulled my liquids out one by one to examine them, but most of them he referred to as “medicine”, such as my contact solution (“medicine for the eyes”), so these were excluded from the limit.  I ended up having to throw out one small container of dry shampoo that was almost empty anyway.

We departed Munich at 8:20 am on March 20th, 2017.  It was a quick trip, but we were able to see a lot in a couple days.

Next stop, Italia, but I’ll save that post for another day.

-A

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Rise Again

I was not my best self last year.  I lost someone very dear to me, my grandpa, on December 25th, 2016.  I struggled for the majority of 2017 to cope with this loss and all the secondary losses that came with it.

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Thankfully, I feel like I am in a much better place in 2018, thanks in large part to the fact that I finally accepted help.  As someone with an educational background in mental health, I find it ironic that I put off going to grief counseling for so long.  Through therapy, I not only found the light at the end of the tunnel, but I have been given the tools to get out of the tunnel completely.

“Your trauma is valid. Even if other people have experienced “worse”. Even if someone else who went through the same experience doesn’t feel debilitated by it. Even if it “could have been avoided”. Even if it happened a long time ago. Even if no one knows. Your trauma is real and valid and you deserve a space to talk about it. It isn’t desperate or pathetic or attention-seeking. It’s self-care. It’s inconceivably brave. And regardless of the magnitude of your struggle, you’re allowed to take care of yourself by processing and unloading some of the pain you carry. Your pain matters. Your experience matters. And your healing matters. Nothing and no one can take that away.” – Daniell Koepke

If you are having a hard time or feeling stuck, there is help out there.  Find a counselor here. 

As much as I struggled last year, 2017 wasn’t all bad.  In fact, it was a year with some incredible highs, including my first trip to Europe and a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, which was my ultimate travel goal and the inspiration behind my blog.  2017 was also a year of waterfalls, camping trips, weekend getaways, and concerts.

And yet, it was a year with incredible lows, with days when I couldn’t stop the tears at work, nights when I couldn’t sleep, mornings when I woke up and remembered the loss all over again.  It was a year when friends moved away, friendships were tested, a year that a friend was diagnosed with leukemia.  It was a year of anger, anguish, bitterness, guilt, confusion, and loneliness.

It was definitely not a year for blogging.  I wrote a handful of sporadic posts, but mostly, this blog collected dust.

That’s going to change this year.  It’s my last year in my 20’s (what?!) and I feel more like myself again.  I am trying to learn from the sudden loss of my grandpa to cherish every moment, to live life to the fullest.  Time is not guaranteed.  There are so many things that I want to do and I want to make every day count.  I’ve got lots of adventures planned for 2018.  Stay tuned.

“The sun is a daily reminder that we too can rise again from the darkness, that we too can shine our own light.” -Sara Ajna

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Whatever Sparks Joy

In January, I stumbled upon an audiobook of Marie Kondo’s “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” while searching for de-cluttering videos.  Once I started listening, I couldn’t stop.  I knew this experience needed to make it on my adventure list.  So here it is – Number 139 – Simplify My Life using the Konmari Method.  After I finished the book, I started my own tidying journey.

The Konmari Method divides tidying into several categories.  Rather than organizing one room at a time, you organize by type of item.  This does require a little more effort up front to sort everything, but it is an effective way to get the job done.  How many times have you started an organizing project only to never finish it, or to have the space become cluttered again within a few weeks or months?  If you complete Konmari from start to finish, this won’t happen.  It’s been about 3 months since I finished the last category, and my home is still organized and tidy.  It really works.

Category 1: Clothing

The first category is meant to be the easiest, to help give you a jump-start and more of an idea of what “sparks joy”, which is Kondo’s criteria for whether something stays or goes.  The process of tidying up according to the Konmari Method is simple.  You pick up each item and if it sparks joy, you keep it.  If it doesn’t, you thank the item and discard it.

I was shocked by how much clothing I had.  Yikes.  When you put every item into one giant pile, it really puts things into perspective.  I was able to check this category off in one day.

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Look how much I got rid of!  Three bags and one shoe organizer filled with shoes (cat not included).

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And here’s my closet and dresser drawers now…

Category 2: Books

I had A LOT of books.  I refer to the downstairs living area as the “library”.  Since moving into this house, I felt that I needed to fill the shelves with books.  To be honest, though, some of these books I knew I would never actually read.  I wanted to want to read them, but during Konmari I realized that there were some I just wasn’t ever going to pick up.

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I thought it would be hard to get rid my books – I have been collecting them for years!  But it actually felt very freeing to let go.  I was able to thank each item and pass it on to Goodwill where hopefully it will spark joy for someone else.

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Bye bye books

After finishing this category, I was left with the books that truly spark joy – my favorites that can be enjoyed again and again.  I also kept the books that I know I want to read, and then after I do I will either keep them if they still spark joy, or donate them.  The Konmari Method does not mean that you get rid of everything you own or things that you truly love.

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Went from three book shelves full of books to one

Category 3: Papers

I dreaded this category.  Papers, how boring!  But, it had to be done so I could move on to the next category.  I doggedly collected every paper I could find…bills, receipts, bank statements, warranties, manuals, etc.

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Almost all the papers.

I thought the collecting and sorting process would take longer than it actually did.  The Konmari method for paper is pretty simple – you get to throw away/shred almost everything.  You only keep what is truly essential.

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Shred and trash pile.

Whenever I need a document now, I know exactly where to find it.  There has not been anything that I have gotten rid of that I needed later on or wished I still had.

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I love the 3 folder system Marie Kondo has for organizing papers going forward.  One folder for “Needs Attention”, like bills or invitations.  One folder for “Save for Now”, for things you need in the near future and that you can then discard.  And one folder for “File”, for papers that you want to put away in your long-term file folders.

Category 4: Komono (Miscellaneous)

This one took the longest, because it is sub-divided into lots of smaller categories (DVDs, electronics, kitchen, office, cleaning, decor, personal care, etc).  It was during this category that I was able to really start seeing some differences in our home.  I tried to complete one category (or at least start it) each day when I got home from work.  Here are a few of the bigger komono categories I tackled.

Personal Care

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A good portion of it went to the trash.  Lots of expired items or just things I never use.

Kitchen

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From this…

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…to this.

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Trash and recycling now fit neatly under the sink, out of sight, which frees up more space in our kitchen.

Category 5: Sentimental Items

The last category was the hardest, of course.  If you know me at all, you know I am an extremely sentimental person.  I hang onto things.  Some may say I am a packrat.  Notes from a friend in high school?  You bet I still had some.  A picture my first grade boyfriend drew for me?  Yep, had that too.  My planners from every year of college?  Check.  An 8×10 group picture of me with the mean girls who bullied me at camp when I was a kid?  Still had that, too.  I had SO MUCH STUFF, and some of it didn’t even hold a positive memory for me.

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Sentimental stuff before tidying.  The trunk on the right was also full of more sentimental stuff.

An important lesson from Konmari is that you don’t need the physical item to have the memory.  There were so many things that I was able to finally let go of, and it felt good. Yes, I trashed the old planners because do I really need to know what I did or what projects I had due on October 20th, 2012?  No, obviously not.  And you bet I ripped up that group photo from camp…it was about time.  There were other things, like some letters or cards, that I chose to take a picture of before I discarded them.  Digital photos are a great way to reduce physical clutter while still hanging onto the item in some way.

I may have kept more sentimental items than Marie Kondo would have, but as they still “spark joy” for me, I am happy with my decision.  I kept my dolls from when I was a kid, and now they are packed away with a few other beloved toys in a wooden chest downstairs.  Someday I hope they will have a second life when my kids play with them.

I found that I was unable to part with nearly anything given to me by my Grandpa JB, even just old birthday cards in his handwriting, but I am okay with that right now.  The loss is still too fresh and I’m not ready to let go of those things.

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Childhood toys and some sentimental items of my grandpa’s

In addition to having some special items in this chest, I also have a shelf upstairs in my office for my photo/memory albums.

Post Konmari

Since finishing Konmari, I have added some things to my home that belonged to my grandpa.  My family has been cleaning out his house over the past few months, and there were several items that sparked joy for me.  But that is one great thing about Konmari.  It is not a limiting or punishing form of de-cluttering.  You don’t have to get rid of a certain number of things, or never get anything new.  You keep what brings you joy, and pass on what doesn’t.  It’s that simple.

It took about 2 months to completely finish the Konmari process, and it truly was life-changing, for several reasons.

  1. I feel at peace in my home.  The items that I have in my house have meaning and they “spark joy” for me, as Marie Kondo says.  Special treasures now have places of honor where I can enjoy them every day, instead of being hidden away in boxes or closets.

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    Quilts from my Grandma C are now displayed in an old trunk from my Grandpa JB.  The beautiful dresser also belonged to my Grandpa JB.

  2. I know where to find everything.  The Konmari Method states that all things in a category should be stored together.  All your shoes are in one place, all your electronics in one place, all your clothes in one place, etc.  Before Konmari, it sometimes took me forever to locate a missing item.  It could literally be anywhere in my house.  But now, I know exactly where to look, because everything has a place.

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    Need a bag?  Check in the travel closet!

  3. It is easier to clean.  With less clutter, of course it makes it easier to clean.  However, life does happen and the house still gets messy sometimes.  What is great about completing the Konmari process, though, is that it doesn’t take long at all to tidy up.  Once again, there is less stuff to move around, and since everything has a specific place to go, it is easy to just put that item where it belongs.  I don’t have to move things from one pile to another, or think about where I am going to store something.

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    Looks neat and tidy….that’s because it is!

  4. I appreciate what I have more.  By only keeping the things that I love, I now have a deeper appreciation for what is in my house.  Less stuff means that I can see what I have more clearly, which means that I use things I love more frequently.  And that makes me happy.

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    China cabinet from my Grandpa JB, filled with treasures that spark joy.

Have you ever heard of Konmari or thought about trying it?  What items do you need to get rid of?  What items in your home truly spark joy for you?

-A

Behind the Waterfall

Number 116 on my adventure list was to go swimming next to a waterfall.  I have always loved waterfalls (but really, who doesn’t?)  When I was a kid, one of my favorite movies was Behind the Waterfall.  I won’t spoil it for you, but there is something magical hidden behind the falls in this film.  When I think of waterfalls now, I still think of magic.  That’s probably why this one ended up on my list.

Living in the midwest, I don’t get the chance to see very many waterfalls.  But in January, I found myself at this enchanting little spot in New Zealand.

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This swimming hole is on my brother-in-law and his fiance’s property.  The privacy and seclusion of this spot just adds to the charm.

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Although the water was a little cold, and I was a little afraid of potential eels lurking about, it was definitely worth it to jump in.  This was one of the most beautiful spots I’ve ever seen.

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Also works as a water slide

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Top of the falls

GOPR0572.jpgWe didn’t find anything mysterious behind the waterfall.

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But there’s always next time.

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-A

When Someone You Love Loses Someone They Love

Tonight I’m writing about a topic that has been weighing on me for the past couple months.  As some of you may know from reading my recent posts, my grandpa passed away unexpectedly on Christmas morning.  This also happened to be my 28th birthday.  It was the worst day of my life.  My grandpa and I have always been close.  He was one of my very favorite people.  My world, and my family’s, stopped spinning that day, but everyone else’s lives continued on.

IMG_5846.JPGWhen people found out about my grandpa’s death, many friends expressed how sorry they were for my loss through texts and Facebook comments.  But why did some of these messages leave me feeling more empty than supported?  rain-1567616_960_720.jpg

Text messages and social media are great inventions, but I think some of us (my generation especially) have lost touch with the importance of real touch, real connections.

3344044448_55bbe6f420_b When someone you love loses someone they love, it’s hard to know what to do or what to say.  I’ve been the friend who did nothing, and I’ve been the friend who in hindsight didn’t do enough.  A few years ago, a friend of mine lost his dad.  I didn’t find out until later, and at the time, we weren’t as close as we used to be.  Now that I’m a little older, I really regret not reaching out to him.  Last year, another friend’s father died.  I went to the visitation and donated to the memorial fund, but looking back, I wish that I had done more.  I wanted to do more.  I just really didn’t know what to do.

After experiencing my grandpa’s death, I finally understand what I should have done when my friends lost their loved ones.  I wanted to share these tips with other people who don’t know what to do.

When someone you love loses someone they love, you should:

-Be present.  This is the most important thing you can do.  So how can you be present?

  • If you live within driving distance, go to the visitation or the funeral.  Even if you didn’t know the deceased person well, going to the visitation is a sign of support to your friend.  It will mean a lot to them to see you there.
  • General offers of assistance are fine, but being specific is better.  If you say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, your grieving friend likely isn’t going to take you up on it.  Instead, ask something like, “Would it be better for me to bring food by your house on Thursday or Friday?”
  • If you live too far away or can’t make it to the visitation for another reason, send flowers or a plant to the funeral home in memory of the deceased.  Or, give a monetary gift in memory of your friend’s loved one.  If you’re not financially able to send flowers or give money, then mail a card to your friend.  A handwritten note will mean a lot.
  • If you live far away, but still want to help out, consider sending your friend a gift card to a restaurant that has delivery or carry out available.  In the days and weeks to come, your friend is likely to have days where they can’t seem to make it to the grocery store and can’t bring themselves to cook.  A gift card would be much appreciated for times like this.
  • Call.  You may feel like you don’t want to bother your friend, but trust me, if your friend doesn’t want to talk, they won’t answer.  You should still call.  Ask how your friend is holding up, and then listen.  Really listen.
  • Offer to meet up for dinner whenever your friend is ready.  Ask your friend to share their favorite memories of the deceased person.

So what if your friend lost someone they love a few weeks or months ago and you didn’t do any of the above things?  It’s not too late.  You should:

-Be present.

  • Call or offer to meet up.  Apologize for not being there for your friend.  And start being there.  Ask how they’re holding up.  Ask about your friend’s favorite memories of the deceased person.  And listen.
  • Send a card to let your friend know you’re thinking about them and offer condolences.
  • Check in on your friend.  Don’t be afraid to ask about the deceased person.  Bringing up their name won’t remind your friend that they’ve lost someone they love.  Trust me, they already know and think about it all the time.  Bringing up the deceased person’s name means that you remember that that person lived and once played an integral role in your friend’s life.  Bringing up their name shows that you recognize that your friend’s loss is now part of who your friend is.

And what about if your friend lost someone they love quite awhile ago and you didn’t do any of the above?  It might not be too late.  You should:

-Again, be present.

  • Contact your friend, whether it’s by calling, or mailing a letter, or meeting up.  Apologize for not being there during that difficult time when your friend lost someone they loved.  Again, ask them to share their favorite memories.  Open up the floor and let them share as much or as little as they want.  The most important thing you can do is be there for your friend and listen.

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If you take away one thing from this post, it’s that it is never too late to try to be there for your friend.  Grief changes over time, but it never completely goes away.  Your friend may not have brought up their loved one’s name around you, but that doesn’t mean they don’t miss that person or want to talk about them.  Months or years may have passed, but you can still be present for your friend right now.  Be the person that asks, “How are you?” and then really, really listens.

-A

7 Tips for a Short Stay in Vegas

 

Four best friends in Vegas…

No, I’m not talking about The Hangover.  In November, I traveled to Las Vegas with my husband and our two friends.  We didn’t steal a tiger or throw a mattress off the roof, but we did have a great time.

We played the slots.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We played Blackjack.  And some of us won.  And then we all lost.

We ate at a classic Vegas buffet.  And some of us ate too much.  Okay, we all ate too much.

If you’re planning a trip (and you should), here are my recommendations:

  1. Stay in a central location on the Strip (or on Fremont street).  We rented an awesome condo on the Strip through Airbnb.  Our place was walking distance to almost everything.  The condo also had the added benefits of providing coffee (much needed after a late night) and a spa pool (great for relaxing after a long day of walking).  Have you tried Airbnb before?  We love using it.  We have gotten to stay at some great places for a cheaper price than a hotel, but with more space, a kitchen, and a local’s recommendations for things to do in the area.  Sign up here and get $40 off your first trip.  Just make sure the host you choose has positive reviews from other people, first.  🙂

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    The view from our room

  2. Try to see as many of the unique casinos as you can.  Even if you’re not a gambler, the architecture of the the buildings is worth seeing.  The Luxor, Excalibur, and The Paris were a few of my favorites.
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    The Paris

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    Excalibur

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    The Cosmo

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    The Luxor

  3. Make sure you check out Fremont Street.  It’s a different vibe from the Strip.  I would love to spend more time here on our next trip.IMG_3316.jpg
  4. Go to a lunch buffet.  It’s cheaper than dinner, but still has amazing food.  We went to The Golden Nugget – so good. IMG_3318.jpg
  5. Go see the sign.  You know the one.  The iconic Welcome to Las Vegas sign.  It’s touristy, packed with people, parking is terrible, but seeing the sign in person is worth it.  We did have to drive here from the Strip (but you could take an Uber or taxi if you don’t want to rent a car.)  15232299_10208394089912120_1892026850154465942_n.jpg
  6. If you have time, get away from the city and check out the Hoover Dam.  Truly an amazing sight. IMG_5517.jpg IMG_3336.jpg
  7. If you have lots of time (or in our case-one day), drive to the Grand Canyon.  You can make the trip in a day, which is what we did, but I wouldn’t recommend that.  It’s a long drive (~4 hours each way).  It would be better to stay the night (or a few nights) near the canyon (maybe in Flagstaff), so that you have more time to enjoy the park.  Oh, and make sure you check the weather before you go.  Because apparently, it does snow in Arizona in November.  IMG_5526.jpgIMG_3422.jpgIMG_3426.jpg

Las Vegas is an unforgettable experience.  Brightly decorated buildings as far as you can see; aggressive street solicitors loudly slapping cards at you; peppy slot machine music echoing through your head (even after you leave); the flicker of excitement running through your body as you push “spin again”; cloudy rooms full of smoke, hope, regret.  There’s no place quite like Vegas.

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Have you been?  Would you like to go?

-A

 

 

One Day at a Time

Number 45 on my adventure list was to complete the 52 books in 52 weeks reading challenge.  2016 was my third year attempting to reach this goal.  During my first year of this challenge, I read 31 books.  The second year, I only read 13 (eek).  But 2016 was finally my year to cross this goal off my list – I read exactly 52 books in 52 weeks.  Here’s a list and short description of the books I read this past year.

I initially set this goal back in 2013 when I first started my blog.  Reading 52 books in 52 weeks made the cut for my adventure list because I used to read all the time, but life happened and slowly I stopped being a reader.

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In undergrad and grad school, I did a lot of non-fiction reading for classes, so the last thing I wanted to do was read a book for fun.  After I graduated and started working, I had more time to read, but I didn’t.  It was easier to turn on the TV or spend hours browsing Pinterest or getting lost on Youtube.  But although that was the easier choice, those things did not leave me feeling fulfilled or happy.  Hence, I set a goal to read more.

Looking back on all of this gives me a little glow of satisfaction and pride.  I did it, one day at a time.  Today I am more the person I want to be than I was when I started this little blog three years ago.

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So how did I manage to read 52 books in one year?

By crossing Number 59 off my adventure list – become an early riser.  Just like with my goal of reading more, I have tried to become an early riser since my blog started.  And it took three years before I finally made it.  Somehow, pairing these two difficult goals was the magic solution to reaching them both.

My problem with achieving my reading goal during the first two years I attempted the challenge was that the only free time I felt like I had was after work.  But after work, I was tired and drained – reading a book was near impossible.

It was nearly midway through 2016 before I seriously started becoming an early riser.  I can’t really say what finally made this work for me.  Waking up early is something I’ve tried (and failed) to do for years.

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Perhaps it was a combination of several things perfectly aligning that finally made this happen.

First of all, a little over a year and a half ago, I started a new job.  This was my first job after graduation that had set hours, starting at 7:45 a.m. Monday-Friday.  My two previous jobs, on most days at least, did not require me to get up early as most of my appointments were in the afternoon or evenings.  So for the first time in many years (since probably high school), I had to be up and leaving the house at the same time 5 days a week.  Having a set schedule definitely helped set the tone for me becoming an early riser.

Second, I was tired of feeling rushed in the morning, drinking my coffee in the car and praying I wouldn’t be late to work.  Starting my day stressed and in a hurry was not in line with the life I wanted to live.

Third, I was determined to not fail my 52 books in 52 weeks goal a third year in a row.  Now or never was my motto.

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And finally, I realized that I was not going to reach my reading goal by trying to pick up a book after work (when I was tired) or on the weekends (when we often had plans).

And so I read many, many articles about how to wake up early.

And I tried many, many ideas from said articles, such as…

Set out your clothes the night before (this one didn’t work for me).

Move your alarm clock so you can’t turn it off without getting out of bed (this one definitely helped me get started in the beginning).

Go to bed earlier (so simple but so true).

Plan something exciting for breakfast (some days this helped).

And slowly, it happened.  I was getting up, every day, an hour before I needed to get ready for work.  I had a whole hour to myself, and it was beautiful.  I leisurely drank my coffee and read a book, and then read some more.  I drove to work, feeling peaceful because I had already had this wonderful time to myself.

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After several months of this, I realized – it’s happened.  I’m an early riser.  I did it.

And I read 52 books.

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Although I have officially crossed these goals off my list, both encompass qualities I want to continue having in my life.  I’ve still been reading this year (but at a more relaxed pace).

However, I have not been getting up early the past couple months, and that is something I want to get back to when I’m ready.  My grandpa passed away unexpectedly at the end of December, and I have been struggling with this loss.  He was one of my favorite people in the world.  I’m trying to be forgiving of myself because it has been such a difficult few months.

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Having goals and pushing yourself is great, but this loss has taught me that it’s okay to take a break when you need it.  There have been days lately when the only thing I’ve accomplished is going to work, days where I push the snooze button 5 times in a row, days where I cry the whole drive home, days where I curl up on the couch after work, and days where we eat fast food for dinner because I don’t have the energy to go to the store.  Right now, I’m taking things one day at a time.  I’m healing one day at a time.  And that is okay.

I’ll leave you with this.

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-A

Change Your Life

Number 125 on my adventure list – watch 1 documentary a month for an entire year – inspired me to make some big changes.

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There were a few busier months where I didn’t watch a documentary, but I am still counting this goal as complete since I watched a total of 13.  After I watched each one, I summed up one or two main points that I wanted to apply to my own life.  Looking back on this list, I’m happy to say that several changes I made really stuck.

From The Human Experiment I watched over a year ago, I decided to reduce my use of plastic kitchen containers, as well as make my own green cleaners.  Today, we have mostly glass food containers.  I also use my own green cleaners, made mainly from vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils.

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For the most part, we have been eating much healthier after watching Forks over Knives and Sugar Coated.  

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After watching Tiny and Minimalism, I was inspired to reduce clutter, and I did!  (However, I still wasn’t at the point I wanted to be until I completed Marie Kondo’s “Konmari method” this January and February, which I will be blogging about soon.)

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There are some other ideas from these documentaries that are still a work in progress.  After watching Life 2.0, I wanted to spend less time wasting time online or watching TV, and more time living.  This is something I am still working on.  I am also still trying to find my “exercise flow” after watching Happy.  My takeaway from watching GMO OMG was a renewed interest in starting my own garden.

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Watching these films probably wasn’t my sole reason for making changes since I chose documentaries about topics I was already interested in.  However, I did get some solid ideas on how to get started.  It was also a fun way to get some more information (but be sure to do your own research after watching.)

What’s the most life-changing documentary you’ve ever watched?

-A

Under the Town

Number 132 on my list is “Take a boat tour of Bonne Terre Mine in Bonne Terre, Missouri.”  I think I first found out about it when I came across a photo on Pinterest.  When I saw that the mine was in Missouri, I knew I needed to go.  We made the trip in October with my parents.

One of the major highlights of the Bonne Terre Mine is the billion gallon lake, which is 17 miles long.  It was amazing how big the mine is (and we only saw part of it on the tour!)

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The mine is kind of a big deal.  It has been featured in National Geographic and USA Today, among other publications.  It is best known for being a fantastic diving spot.  However, we skipped going underwater and went on the walking/boat tour instead.

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I thought it was fascinating that there are 3 levels of the mine that are completely submerged in water, including a “ghost town” where the miners lived.  If you are into diving (or want to be), this would be such a cool place to explore!  It made me (almost) want to conquer my claustrophobic fears and jump in.

The tour itself was interesting and informative, and the mine was eerily beautiful.  I would definitely recommend that you stop by if you’re in the area.  It felt a bit surreal after the tour as we drove through Bonne Terre, knowing there was a whole other world under the town.

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P.S.  My photos don’t really do the mine justice.  Check out this article by St. Louis Magazine for another look.

Over the Mountains and through the Woods

This year, I visited 7 state parks, 6 of which were parks that were new to me.  That means I can cross #126 – Visit 5 state parks that I haven’t been to before – off my list.

Earlier this year, I wrote a post about my love of state parks and detailed my visits to Watkins Mill State Park (June 2016) and Lewis and Clark State Park (July 2016).  You can read more here.

In August, I went with my parents to Katy Trail State Park, which is different than a traditional park in that it is comprised of a 240 mile trail on the former Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  I only walked a few miles of the park, but it is a really nice trail.

K and I went on our 3rd annual road trip to visit friends in North Dakota in September.  On our way back to Missouri, we stopped at Palisades State Park in South Dakota.  This park is absolutely beautiful.  I wish we could have spent all day there.  The only negative part was that we got a parking ticket because apparently parking is not free at South Dakota state parks.  Alas, it didn’t sour our experience too much.

In October, K and I spent a wonderful weekend in Southeast Missouri with my parents.  We went to Taum Sauk Mountain State Park and Elephant Rocks State Park.  Taum Sauk is the highest point in Missouri.  It was a great place to go hiking and there were some really pretty views.

But the highlight of the trip for me was Elephant Rocks.  I have never seen anything like it.  I was expecting just a few big boulders, but the park is covered with these elephant rocks.  Even better, it’s like a giant playground because you can climb and jump your way across the rocks.

I’m really glad I put this goal on my adventure list.  I would not have gone to any new parks this year if I hadn’t made this a goal.  It’s so much easier to do the same things every weekend, but it’s so much more fun to go to new places.

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When’s the last time you went somewhere for the first time?

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-A