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My Birthright Trip to Israel: Adventure of a Lifetime!

Where to even begin??? 

This summer my sister and I were lucky enough to be accepted on a Taglit Birthright trip to Israel for 10 days. It is open for young adults 18-26 with at least one Jewish parent to go on a free trip to Israel. We picked to go with the LA group (since we are originally from CA and there are no groups that leave from TX). There are many different themes for the trips such a culinary, LGBTQ, outdoor adventure, and yoga, but we chose to go with Israel with Israelis. The entire 10 days we had current IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) soldiers with us as well as former IDF soldiers and one security guard. Our Israelis were amazing and became like family to all of us over the course of the trip. Having them as guides through their own cities enriched the experience in a significant way that we would never have been able to attain on our own. They, along with our guide, Yossi, and our trip leaders, Natalie and Amy, truly made the trip an experience of a lifetime.

This is going to be a longgg post so bear with me. I am going to try to summarize as best I can but it was a JAM PACKED 10 days. There is a lot to tell!

Pre-Trip (Wednesday)

I had the day off from work and had to finish packing up my house because it had already sold and was closing RIGHT when I got back from Israel. Got my hair done (#travelbun) and then Tara and I flew to LA to meet our group. Our trip was going from LA to Toronto to Tel Aviv (I realize starting in LA was going in the wrong direction, I couldn’t help it!) We chilled in the American Airlines lounge in DFW for awhile and they had an open bar 🙂 Our flight to LA was a little delayed, but that was cool since it meant less wait time in LAX.

We finally got to the Air Canada desk in LAX and were the second group to arrive at check in. We waited for a few more hours for people to arrive and then we made the mass exodus to our gate.

The six hour flight to Toronto went well and I slept most of the time. We had about a two hour layover in Toronto to get snacks and stretch our legs before the 10 hour flight to Tel Aviv. Tara and I didn’t get to sit next to each other on either flight, but we both slept a good portion of the time and have movies to watch so we were ok. I like meeting new people, but once you’ve already been on two other fairly significant flights, the third one becomes a struggle. I’m very glad I slept though because apparently almost everyone around me was throwing up for most of the flight. I don’t handle throwing up well for either myself or others (reason #1 I should have never declared myself a nursing major) so sleeping through most of that was probably the best thing that could have happened.

Day One (Thursday)

We finally landed in Tel Aviv, went through a veryyyy long security line, collected our luggage, and met Yossi, our guide, and our Israelis! They greeted us with mini-falafel sandwiches and a group dance.

We then boarded a bus for a 2 hour ride north to the Sea of Galilee in the Golan Heights where we would stay for the next three days in our Kibbutz. Upon arrival we were given our room assignments and I was nervous because Tara and I were not rooming together. It wasn’t a big deal though since both of my new roommates were really cool (shoutout to Ali and Zoe!) and were also closer to my age. I had waited quite awhile to go on this trip since I wanted to go with Tara and both of our schedules for the last few years have been super crazy. I was about to age of the program so I was one of the oldest on the trip at 26.

We ended the first day by hanging out at the Kibbutz and enjoying the beautiful sunset over the Sea of Galilee. We were warned not to go down into the water since there is a very strong undercurrent. While we were there two people (not in our group) actually died from drowning in the sea! It looks calm above, but is very dangerous below the surface.

Day Two (Friday)

The next morning we ate what would become our normal breakfast buffet of salad, pastries, homemade bread, and fruit. Almost everywhere we stayed had a similar spread, but it was delicious at every single stop.

After breakfast we went on a water hike through the Zavitan stream. Yossi tried to tell me there was a shark in the water, but I was not fooled. It was extremely cold and an interesting start to the trip.

We then were told that we were going to see the boarder of Syria and then have another water adventure. Kind of the downside of not being the only Birthright trip is that you do actives in a very weird order. There are specific sites that Shorashim and Taglit want you to see, but you have to compete with other Birthright groups for the same locations so everyone sees the same things, but usually in a different order. It’s nice because then there aren’t 20 groups in the same place at the same time, but it’s weird because then you sometimes see things in a very strange order. It was weird to us that we couldn’t do the two water activities back-to-back, but there was a method to the madness.

The Syrian border was very surreal. We in America hear all of the time about the fighting that is constantly happening over in the Middle East and I actually got to experience it. Even though we were still in Israel, we could see and hear guns and bombs going off in a boarder city not that far away. While we were there we were told not to be concerned about the bombs hitting us since the Syrians were just fighting with each other. We later found out that about 45 minutes after we left a stray Syrian bomb fell on the Israel side of the boarder and we would have had to evacuate! It was not meant for Israel, but things like that happen often. There is always a military presence to keep watch over the fighting and ensure that it doesn’t get too close to Israel. The watch point we visited was an old IDF bunker on top of Mount Bental, complete with coffee shop.

After our sobering experience on the boarder, we went on a rafting ride down the Jordan River. It was very similar to going floating down the Brazos in Texas, but instead of hearing Spanish I heard Arabic and Hebrew.

It was a very fun afternoon and great start to Shabbat. I grew up mainly only celebrating random Jewish holidays, but never going through real Shabbat or attending Synagog. While on the trip we experienced two Shabbats and I plan to take some of those traditions into my own every day life.

Day Three (Saturday)

Shabbat starts at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday night. During Shabbos you are not supposed to use technology (if you’re really strict) and basically just rest and spend time with your family. We all hung out at the Kibbutz, listen to Yossi give some lectures on Jewish Identity, and some people made a slip-in-slide out of trash bags. My sister led a good portion of the group in yoga and everyone really seemed to enjoy the experience.

We visited the graves of some of Israel’s most famous poets since it was only a short walk away from our Kibbutz. Our Israelis (with soloist, Ann) sang us a lovely song and we learned the national anthem that one of the poets buried there wrote. We went back to the Kibbutz to end Shabbat with a ceremony called Havdallah

Day Four (Sunday)

We had breakfast, packed up our stuff, and drove to Tel Aviv! We got to pick where we all wanted to go for lunch so I went with Ann and a group of others to Aroma, which is basically the Starbucks of Israel (but with really good food). I got my first Israeli Iced Coffee and it has changed my life. Basically anytime I saw an Aroma after that I had to stop in for a coffee. Amazing.

Then we went to Independence Hall which is where David Ben-Gurion declared Israel an Independent Jewish State in a 30 minute ceremony. The curator of the hall was extremely well-spoken and knowledgeable which only added to our excitement of finally being in air-conditioning.

After the talk we went to the Taglit Birthright Entrepreneurship Center right next to the Stock Exchange. Israel’s nickname is the “Start-Up Nation” and there is a huge emphasis on technology and innovation. We listened to a young entrepreneur tell us about his fitness product that he is launching to major retailers and were able to ask him questions about his journey. Before the tour was over we got hang out in this room that showed some of the major advancements Israelis have made in the fields of technology with apps, water purifying inventions, and virtual reality. I learned that my favorite navigation app, Waze, is actually an Israeli invention!

Tel Aviv is home to Jerusalem Beach as well as a bunch of jellyfish. We made our way there next and were delighted to get the opportunity to swim in the warm, Mediterranean Sea. Most left the water not long after getting in due to the jellyfish stings. I was zapped a few times, but there were also little fish that liked to take nibbles on my legs so I was never sure if was being stung or bitten. I wish we could have stayed longer, but time was precious and we had a lot more to do that day.

We checked into our hotel, were assigned new roommates (shoutout to Danielle and Stephanie!), and got ready for dinner. Our restaurant, Dr. Shakshuka, was an experience. Shakshuka is a tomato dish with baked eggs; you eat it with bread and it is glorious. We sat outside (still very hot even at dark) at these communal tables and ate family-style with our new family.

After dinner we finally got to have a night out! Most of us made our way to a random bar, danced a little, drank a little, and had a group toast with Arak, this Lebanese liquor that taste like licorice/anise. The group mainly split up after that and I found myself with a group of the recent UC Davis grads going to a Hookah bar. It was right down the street from our hotel so we hung there for awhile and eventually most of the group caught up with us and we had to head back to the hotel. We continued the party back at the hotel and then I stayed up with my roommates having Girl Talk. It was a blast 🙂

Shorashim has gotten very strict over the past few years about drinking and going out, but several people had siblings/friends/cousins who had gone on the trip back in the day and had a crazyyyy time. Even with the “strict” rules, we still managed to have a good time; it was basically a party wherever we went. Our group got along so well, especially compared to the other groups that were there at the same time as us. I am so happy we picked the LA group instead of my first choice, New York. This would be a very different blog post if that happened.

Day Five (Monday)

The next morning came very early. The motto of the trip quickly became “Sleep when you’re dead”. We ate our usual breakfast in the hotel and then were split into two groups for tours of Tel Aviv. Tara got into the Graffiti Tour and I was assigned the Market Tour. We were very pleased with these decisions and made sure to fill each other in afterwards.

Markets in the Middle East are still very much a part of everyday life. They are also called “shuks” and sell literally anything you could ever want from fresh vegetables and fruit to tchotchkes to fake Kylie Jenner Lip Kits! I could spend all day in these markets and still never see everything.

You also get to do one of my favorite activities: Haggling! Not sure if I am the best at it, but it’s seriously so much fun. I was on the lookout for souvenirs since we actually didn’t have that much time to shop at any of our stops thus far. (At the end of the trip I managed to lose a bunch of stuff I bought, unfortunately). During the tour we talked our tour guide into stopped at THE BEST HUMMUS PLACE EVER! I took literally the best picture of this hummus (see below) and it was actually reblogged by a bunch of Israeli Instagram accounts, including the restaurant’s and the Official Shorashim account!

We were walking around the Shuk and I could have sworn the temperature was 115 degrees, but when I checked my phone said it was only 86…. THAT IS HOW HUMID IT IS. Britney Spears was there at the same time that we were and the newspaper said “Heat Me Baby”. Unfortunately we did not run into her, but we were very hopeful.

After our tours we accidentally ran into the Mayor of Tel Aviv! His office is right next to Rabin Square, which is also where an assassination had taken place in the 80’s.

Our activity was to go up to people and ask if they remembered what happened, what changed after the assassination, and how they feel about politics now. Not going to lie, I was not really feeling this activity. It was veryyy hot. I was wearing a Maxi-dress since we needed to dress modestly for the activities later in the day and I made the dumb decision to wear that allll day instead of just throwing it on later for a little bit. After the activity we got lunch and hung out at the Shuk for awhile before meeting back up with the group and heading to Jerusalem.

Our many bus rides mainly served us as extra nap time. There are way too many pictures of me circulating around napping while wearing my travel pillow. Also: that travel pillow is the real MVP. It was a total game changer in the nap arena. If you are going on a trip like this do yourself a favor and #treatyoself to this pillow. I got mine at Target and it is grey, comes with a carrying case, and can double as a real pillow if you are lying on the group. It has these little clips on either side that clip together and then you can tighten it so it stays on when you’re resting your head. I think it was about $40, which seems like a lot for what it is, but trust me it’s so worth it.

Once in Jerusalem we visited the Jewish quarter and finally got to go to the Western Wall. Literally everyday, multiple times a day, there was something that just made me go WOW and this was no exception. All my life hearing about this region, the history, the people, the conflicts, it all cumulated to this point.

Surreal doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling of being at the Wall. We learned that we were going to return at the end of the trip for Shabbat at the Wall! This day though, while crowded, was way less intense then Shabbat at the end of the trip. I was very over walking by the point (skirts, thick thighs, and hot weather do NOT mix. TMI?) so fortunately we were checking into our hotel/Kibbutz. It was not the original one were supposed to be in, but this was easily the nicest place we stayed the entire trip (also had the best food). I did not want to leave. Also: the only hotel with a hair dryer so guess who took advantage of that! 😉

That night we had a chat from a professor on a little bit of the history of the conflicts that are still happening today and then we regrouped afterwards to prepare for our visit to Yad Veshem, the Holocaust museum.

Day Six

We woke up, ate the best breakfast, and packed our stuff. We immediately went to Yad Veshem. Yossi told us that whenever a foreign dignitary visits Israel they immediately visit here first. When we got there the museum was preparing for the Indian Prime Minister to arrive so we took a different path than normal. We saw a specific memorial to the children lost in the Holocaust and it was super trippy. Our tour guide was very long winded so we all eventually just toured on our own through the museum (I might have been really tired and fell asleep whenever I sat down in any given exhibit, my bad).

This was a very large museum compared to the one in Dallas that I am used to, but the one in DC is also awesome and I think I enjoyed that one more. I ran into another Liberty grad in the museum, but I figured out that we weren’t at school at the same time. Still, really cool that we are all over the world! Yad Veshem had a lot of interesting things that I had not yet seen before in any of the other Holocaust museums I had visited in the past. I am hoping to return another time when I am not so tired and have a better guide. In the gift shop Adi showed me a book her grandfather had written!  She said it was his life story about living in Amsterdam during the Holocaust. It will soon be translated into English and it is called “Denouncing and Rescue; Dutch Society and the Holocaust“.

We then drove south to Sderot and visited a playground in a bomb shelter that the Jewish National Fund (JNF) built. They showed us a video about how when a bomb is coming near the city an alarm goes off and everyone has 15 SECONDS to get into a bomb shelter. It’s now a law in Israel that every single home has a bomb shelter. In other cities they may have longer to get into the shelter, but instead of 15 seconds maybe one minute. The video depicted a children’s birthday party being interrupted by the alarm and everyone having to scramble into the bomb shelter.

The director of the playground said that there have not been bombs for the past few months, but to live constantly in fear that you could get bombed at any time is incredibly scary. The playground is built so that anything is easy to jump off of so when the alarm sounds the kids can quickly get into the bomb shelter. We were able to play with some of the kids and hang out in the air conditioning for a little bit before heading to our next Kibbutz.

We got to the next Kibbutz and were assigned new roommates again. Tara and I finally got to room together along with Rachel. We got dinner and then Yossi taught us some traditional Israeli dances! It was extremely hot in our little meeting room, but we all had a blast learning the dances and putting our own twist on them. That night coincided with the 4th of July so after the dances the Kibbutz opened up their bar and almost everyone went down to party and celebrate. I unfortunately was not feeling well and was greatly in need of some alone time so I just went back to my room. I love being with other people, but sometimes I just need to be alone and recharge. I apparently missed quite a night so that is my main regret of the trip (besides losing like half of my souvenirs!

Day Seven (Wednesday)

We ate breakfast and started hiking in the Negev Desert. Every two seconds the leaders were reminding us to “Mickey Mickey!”. It’s a drinking game that Israeli’s play, but instead of alcohol we had water. Staying hydrated is crucial in Israel since the climate is so hot and humid.

After the hike we went to David Ben-Gurion and his wife’s graves. He could have been buried in another cemetery that we visited later, but he wanted to be different and be buried in the desert. Yossi told us that Ben-Gurion was really into headstands so we had our resident yogi, Tara, demonstrate a headstand.

There was a snake sighting at the graves, which was scary, but what was more exciting were the Ibex goats that we saw! They were super cute and skittish. We were all obsessed with them.

We got on the bus and headed deeper into the desert to the Bedouin tents where we would spend the night. We all shared a huge tent where we dropped our stuff and then finally got to go ride the camels! #humpday

I had been wayyy too excited about riding the camels ever since I first saw the itinerary before the trip started. Tara pulled the vegan card and refused to ride the camel so I shared Clarissa the Camel with Sarah.

I wish we could have ridden longer, but my 15 minutes with Clarissa were magical and will always be remembered fondly. After the camel rides we had a traditional tea and coffee ceremony with a real Bedouin. The IDF do not let them roam freely anymore so this campsite was more of a re-creation of one meant for visitors.

Some may have been upset that this was not the “real deal“, but this was about as close as you could get since the real thing no longer exists. My opinion was that this was a FREE trip and we should be grateful for the opportunity to be here so they can take me wherever they want to go.  I still had a great time and enjoyed seeing all of the other Birthright groups that were there at the same time. A few tents away was a musical group trip from Argentina. They played music allllll night, but were amazing so I didn’t care that I only got three hours of sleep.

Day Eight (Thursday)

We awoke before dawn to pack up and go hike Masada. There really wasn’t breakfast so Tara and I ate some snacks that we had brought along just in case. Tara, as previously mentioned, is a vegan and we were nervous about not having enough food options for her before we left so she bought a ton of snacks. However, Israel is suuuuuuper into veganism so finding something for her was never a challenge.

Masada is the ancient fortress of King Herod and is quite a hike! There are several ways to reach the top, but all of them are challenging (except the gondola that I found out about after the hike…). We hiked up before the sun had fully risen and were greeted with the most amazing view.

I also appreciated that we were there before the heat hit full impact. We hung out on the top for awhile, saw where the inhabitants used to collect the water, and then several people in our group put on a little play directed by Yossi. After the play we finally got to have our Bar and Bat Mitzvahs! Since Tara and I did not grow up going to Synagog we had never gotten the opportunity to participate in this aspect of Jewish culture.

It was very exciting to recite our Torah portions (that Roi had taught us the night before) and finally “become women“. I think Natalie has a promising future as a Rabbi and I’ve even commissioned her to perform a future Bris. 🙂 (google it at your own discretion)

We then hiked down Masada, which was almost worse than hiking up! At the bottom we enjoyed our lunches and then changed into our swimsuits to swim in the Dead Sea! There was a little gift shop in front of the beach that you had to enter to get to the beach and they sold the mud that you see so many people in pictures using. At least at this part of the Dead Sea there isn’t any mud on the actual beach so you buy a cheap, large bag of mud to slather on yourself.

You are not to put your head under the water or get the water in your eyes. There are freshwater showers right next to the beach to rinse yourself off from the salt. It was seriously SO SALTY. You hear that, but until you experience it it’s rather alarming. What I hadn’t heard before is that the water is also kind of oily from all of the minerals and the bottom of the sea is actually like rock salt. You must wear either flip flops or water shoes in or else your feet will get torn up. Of course the only cut on my body was this huge blister on my foot so that wasn’t very pleasant. Before we arrived at the beach, I was worried we wouldn’t have enough time there, but our two hours was plenty. My skin felt amazing afterwards though and I bought some more Dead Sea products at the gift shop for gifts. Those made it home!

After the Sea we got back on the bus and headed back to Jerusalem where we would be the rest of the trip. We ended up in the worst hotel of the trip for the next three days. We were back to the roommates from the night before the tents so Tara, Rachel, and I headed up to our room to unpack and shower. It was time for lunch and shopping so I grouped up with Ann, Lior, Stephanie, Cheyanne, and Jordan to get some food and explore more of Jerusalem. We had a lovely afternoon of chatting and shopping, but yet again we had to move on to our next activity.

This is the part where I took so long to write this that I totally don’t remember what we did, sorry!

Day Nine (Friday)

In the morning we visited Har Herzl, the military cemetery. There are also many former Prime Ministers buried in the cemetery, except Ben Gurion. There was a funeral going on while we were there and we also spoke with the family members of a solider who had died several years prior who were there visiting. Yossi showed us several specific graves and told us the stories of the people who were buried there. It was a very sobering visit and I think very important for our group to see.

After the cemetery we went to the shuk in Jerusalem to shop, get some lunch, and buy something to bring to Shabbat. An organization called OneTable gave us each a little bit of money to get a snack to share for Shabbat. Amy and I teamed up to bring tea and then I bought wine with the intention of bringing it back for my dad, buttttt it might have gotten drunk a few hours later… oops 🙂 Of course I had to many another stop at Aroma per usual to get my iced coffee fix.

We went back to hotel and got ready for Shabbat. We were going to go back to the Kotel and I really didn’t know what to expect. Honestly, it was incredible. To see so many people gathering for Shabbat at such a holy and ancient place is something I will remember the rest of my life. There was dancing, singing, praying, laughter, reunions, and of course our favorite “game” Sha-sha-shabbat-shalom! It reminded me of like a huge family reunion, which in it’s own way it sort of was.

We were trying to be as observant of Shabbat as possible for a group of non-religious Jewish millennials AKA we walked home instead of taking the bus (but we still used IG,snapchat, and WhatsApp). That walk home was fun at first, but someone failed to tell me how long that was going to be and my sandaled feet were not prepared.

It was really interesting to see NO cars on major roads and highways that night going into the next day. Apparently Jewish teenagers take pictures of themselves sitting on highways during this time since there are hardly any cars out and the ones that do show up you can see coming from really far away.

We got back to the hotel and ate dinner then had our Shabbat snack. Another memorable round of sha-sha-shabbat-Shalom and we were free to drink for the evening.

Day Ten (Saturday)

Shabbat was still happening so we walked to our morning activity of seeing some government buildings and other parts of the city. We had a lively political discussion, which I think was much needed to show some people that not everyone believes the same thing in Israel. Israel has many different political parties ranging from conservative to religious to liberal to secular. Even among our Israelis there were many differing views and it was refreshing to hear the conversation that took place. Now, it was probably a little late in the game for a few, but valuable nonetheless.

We got back to the hotel and were broken up into groups to do little skits about all of our days on the trip. The creativity was very apparent in some groups with songs, dances, and artistic interpretations of the activities we had gone through. The whole trip was a blur at this point and we all felt like we had known each other forever. After the skits we went around the room and said something we were grateful for on the trip and something that we would take back with us after it was over. I didn’t realize that we were literally going to go through allllll of us so I saved mine for one of the very lasts and was called out by my own sister (but I got her back later 😉 )

We ended Shabbat with Havdalah and were invited to dinner and swimming at Amit’s family’s house. We piled into the van and had a dance party on the way over. It was so much fun and her family made us sooooo much good food. They were so sweet to open their home to about 50 crazy strangers and we had the best time. We left and continued the hang out back at the hotel with the rest of the wine. Pretty sure I only got about 30 minutes of sleep before it was crunch time to get packed up and head to the airport.

Heading Home (Sunday)

Not going to lie: totally didn’t shower after swimming before a 16+ hour plane ride. Shame me as much as you want, I deserve it all. We headed to the airport and said our tearful goodbyes. Tara had decided the day before that she was going to extend her trip for another month and I was really sad that she wasn’t going to head back home with me. I am really glad she decided to stay though since it was such a great opportunity and she was with people I trusted. Ann and I cried multiple times. We all did our group dance that we did when we first joined the group at the beginning of the trip and then we headed through security. Ben was super nice and helped me out carrying my other carry-on that Tara was originally going to help with since I bought so many souvenirs. He was a life saver! We got on our first flight to head back to Toronto and I fortunately was able to sleep most of the way. We had our layover in Toronto and got some food. Amy was super nervous that we were all not going to make it onto the plane since some people enjoyed wandering off and she had to run to a business trip after Israel so she couldn’t stay to find us. Fortunately we all made it back to LA safe and sound. I still had some points leftover so I had gotten a room at the Renaissance Marriott. I immediately took a shower and slept for what felt like forever. I had gotten a later flight the next day so I chilled at the hotel pretty much the whole day and just enjoyed being along for the first time in like two weeks. I made it home and the rest as they say is history.

Post-Trip

This was without a doubt the most important trip I have taken in my whole life. Here we are several months later and we still have our group chat going in WhatsApp. Several people have traveled across the country AND back to Israel to see each other. The bonds created within this trip is everything that I read and dreamed about. I’ve talked to others who have gone on different birthright trips and they may have one or two people that they kinda keep in contact with afterwards, but nothing like our group’s connection. Next month Tara and I are going to meet up in NYC with a few people, one of the girls from the trip lives in Dallas and came to my house warming party. I still talk daily or weekly to several people from the trip and I hope to always continue to keep in contact with everyone. I am really trying to make a reunion trip happen with everyone who is available next year.

Tara and I are planning to eventually do Aliyah and hopefully Masa. Several people from our trip have already signed up for one or the other and I am so excited for the new experiences that they will have and hopefully share with our group. This is one of the most positive things I have ever done in my life and I am so glad that I didn’t let it pass me by before I turned 27.

If you are on the fence about going my advice to you is stop worrying and just GO! If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me in the comments or on my social media accounts and I will be happy to answer any questions you may have. If I can’t answer them then I can find someone who can. I am convinced that every Jewish kid NEEDS to go on either this trip or the equivalent trip through another organization. I can only speak for Shorashim, but I hope you can tell that I had an awesome experience and if I could do it all over again I totally would in a nanosecond. I’m already trying to figure out ways to get back there and get all of my friends there too. All of my coworkers and non-jewish friends are super jealous that they can’t get on this trip and I tell them even if you have to pay for it, go. It’s so worth it.

I think this post is now sufficiently long AND overdue (I got back in July and it’s now the middle of October…) so I will end it. Here’s to amazing adventures, good friends, and crazy dancing. Also Tubi60 is the best and Texas is a boss for importing it.

Also: Not all pictures are my own. Borrowed from other’s in my group. Credits: Natalie, Rachel, and Brandon

Happy Reading!

Savvy

Dallas Personal

Summer 2017!

Now that I have finallyyyy finished the Ireland posts (again, apologies for the delay) I can focus on the rest of my amazing summer!

Here are some highlights and pictures to tide you over until my next post: ISRAEL!

Celebrated my birthday (again!) with my Texas friends in Uptown (while jet-lagged). We went to dinner in Dallas at The Social House. I got my dress for free from Rent the Runway (you know I love them) #notanadvertisement and I got to wear my new Loubs! I missed my friends so much while I was gone and wish they all could have visited me. Having Melissa and Brian, even for a week, really saved my spirit. Having friends is one of the best things about life and I wouldn’t trade mine for the world. They all mean so much to me and it was really amazing that they all came out to help me celebrate my special day (belated as it was). 

Took my mom out for Mother’s Day to brunch in Denton at Barley and Board. We then went blackberry picking at this super cute farm, which didn’t have very many blackberries, but had AMAZING blackberry cobbler! If I can get the recipe I’ll post it on here. It was seriously soooo good! 

Got in a small fender bender on the way to work 🙁 I was literally totally fine driving for THREE MONTHS IN A FOREIGN COUNTRY, but I am home less than a week and run into the back of another, smaller car. #angst 

Had an afternoon of wine tasting at the Shops at Legacy with Melissa, Becca, and Scott. The Cru Wine Bar is now one of my favorite places to have a chill, but upscale afternoon. We tried so many different kinds of wine and snacked on two charcuterie boards. We of course had to also make a stop at Oil and Vinegar. I bought some amazing roasted garlic olive oil that I still need to pull out for a well-planned dinner. They always have great samples and the staff is very knowledgable about all of the products; how to pair them and how to use them creatively. If you’re ever near one of their outposts I highly recommend going in even if just for a small sample. 🙂 They also can do private parties and my friends have been talking about having one someday so maybe I’ll just have to make that happen this year!

Finally visited Magnolia Market in Waco with Julia! Unfortunately, we did not see Chip and Joanna, but I plan to return on a less busy day and hopefully catch a glimpse! #couplegoals 

We also got to see some of the other landmarks around Waco that are regularly featured on the show such as the store and workshop for Harp Design Company, some of the renovated houses, and the coffeeshop, Common Grounds. There are also some copy-cat design stores that are near the Silos, which are way less crowded and have similar items. Obviously, I had to check those out as well. Julia and I got lunch at this awesome Greek place called Alpha Omega. I highly recommend it if you are looking to get lunch near Downtown Waco and don’t feel like dealing with the lines at the Silos. There is also the last remaining Ninfa’s restaurant next to The Spice Market (another really cool shopping destination). I didn’t get to try this location, but if it is like any of the other Ninfa’s then I am sure it is awesome. I wish the one in Lewisville was still there. I have such fond memories of visiting there for dinner after elementary school so long ago. Next time I go to Waco, Ninfa’s it is!

Got a belated birthday present from my sister: a puppy carrier for Karma! It is seriously the cutest thing ever and I love dancing around the house with her in tow. She likes it sometimes, but other times struggle to break free from my loving embrace. I wish she could understand just how much I need to be holding her at any given time. She is too precious for words. 

I restarted Paleo and fell in love with it all over again. I kept it up for the entire time leading up to my trip to Israel. I have been falling off of the band wagon since returning, but this weekend I am going to do some SERIOUS meal planning to get back on track. I felt amazing and could immediately tell a difference in the way I felt. I’ve been on a new medication that makes me nauseous and fatigued so I’m praying that paleo can once again come to the rescue and save me from these side effects. I cannot keep falling asleep at work… #notgood 

I also managed to sell my house and find a new house right before I left for Israel. Let me tell you, house stuff is always: #1 more expensive and #2. stressful than you originally think. It had been a few years since my last experience and this time I was doing this without my dad’s help so I felt the full weight of responsibility. It’s totally do-able and hopefully you pick awesome people to work with, but it can be overwhelming at times. Just being honest.

I ended up with an awesome, new (to me) house in a much better area with a shorter commute to work, closer to friends, and closer to Dallas! I am still in the middle of fixing it up/organizing (it’s been almost two months at this point… don’t judge!), but once I get everything situated then I’ll take a home tour and give you guys some more details! I am 95% finished painting and my floors are being delivered on Saturday. My mom is getting my little, back patio fixed up so that may or may not make it into the house post. We will see how well everything progresses and if it’s not ready then we will just do another house post later 🙂 Karma is loving it so far, but she has quickly ruined the carpet, hence the new hardwood floors that are on their way. In all fairness, I was already planning to get the floors even before she had her many accidents, but this just makes it more necessary to get it sooner rather than later.

I’ve managed to pack a lot into a very short amount of time. This summer is one for the books and I am so excited to tell you allllll about my wonderful, life-changing trip to Israel!

Happy Reading!

-Savannah 

Ireland Travel

Dublin for 3 MONTHS!

Yes, you read that correctly.

My dream of living in another country (if only for a short while) has finally come true! I get to be in Dublin, Ireland for THREE WHOLE MONTHS! This time I have an apartment and a car like a real city dweller. I am incredibly nervous to drive! I got my car today, but my driving lesson got moved to tomorrow. I had to drive the car around the block to park it in my garage and I thought I was going to have a panic attack. The driver’s side is on the opposite side AND they drive on the left hand side of the road instead of the right. #firstworldproblems

 

This time I flew to London before getting on a short flight to Dublin. I made some nice friends in the DFW airport in the American Airlines lounge and one at the MAC makeup counter. Everyone was so nice and chatty that day! Since I left on Valentine’s Day there really weren’t that many people at the airport, which made getting through TSA a breeze. There are still no direct flights to Dublin directly from Dallas, but I think I prefer to fly to NYC and then to Dublin rather than London first. If I go to London first then I have to do customs there AND in Dublin. The Heathrow airport is HUGE too, so if you are ever using it for a connecting flight make sure that you allow plenty of time for your layover. I had three hours, which may have been a tad generous, but I could see where on a busier day (it was the 15th by then) where you would need all 3 hours. Also, remind me to not look like a total slob if I ever fly into London again. You should have seen the drastic difference from everyone in the lounge vs me after an 8 hour flight. I was frightening.

After I landed in Dublin I was greeted by Brian from the relocation company who was to collect me from the airport and help me get adjusted. He normally collects people who have never been here before, but I was super easy since I’ve already been here twice. If you’ve never had someone holding a sign for you at an airport, it’s fairly exciting. I’m sure you all know by now how much I like to feel like I’m famous so that only helped my ego, which is totally unnecessary according to some. Brian was super great and didn’t even act phased when I totally tried to get into the driver’s side because I forgot that it wasn’t the passenger side in my jet-lagged haze; not the first time I’ve done that and it probably won’t be the last. Brian had picked up some groceries for me prior to the collection and helped me take them up to my new apartment along with my luggage. He did question my need for 4 suitcases for a 3 month stay… and after unpacking I also have questioned my decisions. I asked for more hangers… I will still need more. #sorrynotsorry

Brian took me on a drive to the office since I generally don’t really pay attention when my cab drives me there at 6:30am. Coffee might have to start becoming part of my daily routine again… I normally don’t have to be at work until 8, but here they start at 7 since traffic can get so bad. We drove all around just getting acquainted with the route and then we walked around city centre getting used to this new location. His son works at Lush, which happens to be one of my major stops every time I’m in town. It’s way cheaper here than in the States and the dollar is almost flat with the Euro (aka I need to shop more). My skin is going to look ah-maze-ing after all of this salmon and skincare.

Every time I visit this city I learn new things. I will be here during several major holidays to include Easter. Back in the states we have Fat Tuesday before Lent, but here they have Pancake Tuesday! All day they eat pancakes! People have tried to pull jokes on me with things like this before (like feeding Leprechauns) so I totally didn’t believe my coworker when she told me about this wonderful day. It is in fact a thing and work is bringing a Crepe truck for lunch that day! (Also, they pronounce them creps, not like grapes with a c instead of a g)

I have just spent the past few days getting used to the time change, arranging my apartment, and getting back into the swing of the city. I still get American holidays so I don’t have to work on Monday for President’s Day, but obviously that’s not a normal holiday here in Ireland. I also have cable TV here, which is a very nice treat since I only use Amazon Prime or Netflix at home.

I do miss little Karma and my friends. I am hoping that people come to visit since I managed to bring a queen sized air mattress with me. Brian and Melissa are coming in mid-April and I am so thrilled to have them! Tara potentially will come for her Spring Break, but has lost her passport… so she’s got to straighten that out. I haven’t planned any weekend trips here yet, but my friends are all very exited to do some little road trips. I am fortunate that I’ve made friends in previous visits who are excited to hang out while I’m in town. Last night I went out with Marie and one of her friends. Last time I was here Marie posted a picture with me and all of her friends were like “Who is your new friend? Why don’t we know her?” which sounds to me like a slew of new friends to be made 🙂

Stay tuned for the rest of the adventures!

-Savvy

Travel

Leg Four of Europe 2016 – Berlin

Guten tag from Berlin!

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On Sunday I left Amsterdam for Berlin, Germany. The nice thing about my Air Bnb in Amsterdam was that it was fairly close to the airport. Schipol is apparently the fourth busiest airport in all of Europe. It was rather large, but everything was run very efficiently. I flew KLM, which is very popular here, but not as popular in Texas. My flight was only just over an hour, but they gave out free sandwiches! It was a full flight and I had the middle seat, but no one came for the window so I just scooted right on over 🙂 The flight was uneventful other than that, which is exactly what you want to hear; traveling with only a carry-on has greatly helped in that regard. I think I am a converted traveler after not checking a bag this entire trip (except for the very first leg to Dublin and on the way home in a few days).

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I took a taxi from the Berlin airport to my Air Bnb here in Berlin, which is in Marlene Dietrich‘s old apartment building! I thought that was pretty cool in itself, but my apartment is also super awesome. It’s really artsy and well thought out for a flat. It’s basically one medium-sized room broken up into sections. The bathroom is right next to kitchen, which is a little odd, but works for this space. The bed is on a platform with a closet and underneath the platform is another bed as well as a printer. I could totally see myself living in a place like this if I could bring myself to purge about 80% of my belongings 🙂 My host is also suuuuper awesome. Even though there is a printer it wasn’t working with my laptop and if you fly Ryanair you have to print your own boarding pass or pay a $50 fee… I asked him if he knew a internet cafe nearby so I could print my boarding pass back to Dublin and he just had me email the boarding pass PDF to him and brought it over to me! He is totally going to get a glowing recommendation for sure. 🙂

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I got here on a Sunday and fortunately the weather was very lovely. My Airbnb host also told me about this cool bar that is on top the 25 Hours Hotel near the Berlin Mall called The Monkey Bar. The bar overlooks the Berlin Zoo’s monkey enclosure. Due to the language barrier, my understanding was that you could drink with monkeys so I was off! I was sadly mistaken that you could only view the monkeys, not actually drink with them, so after a quick self-guided tour, I moved on down the block. I walked so much that first day and ended up seeing a few sights that were actually going to be on my tour the next day (that seems to be a theme with me). I’m glad I did a ton of walking to orient myself that day with the nice weather though since the next two days proved to be fairly miserable with rain.

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I was also very excited to get my hands on some authentic German food since I had such fond memories of being in Mannheim 10 years ago and eating so much good food. Apparently, Berlin German food is very different than Mannheim/Frankfurt/Heidelberg German food  AKA no spatzel! 🙁 You don’t even know my level of disappointment. I had to drown in in making up for it with schnitzel and strudel, which were both still very tasty, yet not spatzel…

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The next day I had booked a walking tour throughout many famous Berlin sites from World War II and The Cold War. Everyone always tells me how FUN Berlin is…. not going to lie, this portion of the trip was rather depressing. I totally have to come back and only do fun things because I definitely got all of the sad parts out of the way right off the bat. I do feel that I learned so much though in these past two days and from really knowledgable sources. My tour guide through the actual city was a lady named Merren from Australia, but is of German descent. She has her master’s in history and came to Berlin four years ago. She had some great insights and managed to walk us briskly through the cold all while being several months pregnant! Fortunately the rain stayed away until right after the tour was over, but it was significantly colder than the day prior.

Sights Seen in Berlin:

  1. A portion of the Berlin Wall

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2. The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe: a very controversial memorial since there is no set meaning to the art piece, there are no descriptions on the slabs identifying that this is for the Jewish people, and the company who produced the chemical that is coating the concrete slabs to protect them from graffiti is the same company that provided concentration camps with the chemicals for the gas chambers. Here is the wikipedia article to give you some more information. It was very erie to walk through and actually experience.

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  1. Checkpoint Charlie

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  1. Museum Island

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  1. The Brandenburg Gate (in the daytime and I had accidentally already visited the previous night)

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  1. The site of the Berlin German book burning in front of the Bebelplatz. There is a clear window into the ground into a room with enough blank bookcases to hold the amount of books burned that night.

  2. The statue of “Mother Holding Her Dead Son

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8. Topography of Terror: a museum where the SS offices used to be.

  1. The car parking lot over where Hitler’s bunker used to be. Only a small signs marks this spot so as not to make it a memorial for Nazi sympathizers. The sign is a recent addition from the last time the World Cup was held in Germany (2006).

  2. The hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his infant son, Blanket, out of the window. (not WW2 related, just interesting and happens to be right next to the Brandenburg gate)

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Germany has made many of these sites free to the public as part of their “penance” for so much of the wrong that was done to so many different people groups. They want everyone to be able to view these sites without having to worry about cost since it is such an important part of all of our histories.

After this very intense day of sight seeing I went back to a biergarden with some others from the tour. Although I do not like the taste of beer (they didn’t have cider) I had to take a picture with one of the traditional glasses.

As if one day of intense images wasn’t enough, the next day I went to a concentration camp just outside Berlin called Sachsenhausen. Ironically, it was also my half birthday; what a way to celebrate…. If you are a new reader to this blog let me just let you know now that I am Jewish.

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Fortunately, most of my relatives (to my knowledge) managed to escape the majority of WW2 terrors. My great-grandfather actually escaped from a concentration camp and made his way to America. It was incredibly sobering to be in a place that was dedicated to the cause of wiping out entire people groups: Jews, Slavs, Gypsies, Homosexuals, etc… Even though I am not full-blooded Jew, just being partial would have been enough for the Gestapo to arrest me and send me to die in a place like Sachsenhausen.

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My guide today also had his master’s in history: specifically in how Germany treated public school history textbooks post-WW2. Apparently, they initially basically cut out everything after the 1860s. Up until 1960 this was happening until the young adults realized what had happened and started the movement to add it back into the textbooks so future generations would know so it would not be repeated. During this time period that age group felt a tremendous amount of guilt for what had happened, even though they had not even been born during that time period. Now the country is trying to reach a medium where they are not racked with guilt for something they personally did not do, but are not having “amnesia” about the events since it did in fact happen in their country.

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The concentration camp was eventually taken over by the Red Army who tore down parts of the camp in an attempt to show this as a victory for the Soviets and a place to come revel in that victory. Portions of the buildings still exist and most have had to go through major restorations. In the 1990s a small group of Ne0-Nazis tried to burn down some of the buildings; you can still see their efforts in one of the barracks where the ceilings and walls are charred from the fire. Several buildings remain as well as part of the gas chambers and the crematoriums. There are several marked sites over the grounds to show where the ashes of the burned prisoners were dumped once the trays were full.

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It was a very serious day and sort of a sad way to basically end my trip. I am very glad I went and thankful I was afforded the opportunity to pay my respects in this way. I am not sure how many of my other family members have visited other concentration camps, if any. My mother came to Berlin back in the late 70s/early 80s when the Wall was still up. She was able to visit East Berlin on a bus, but was not allowed to get off of the bus to walk around and explore. The answer when people ask how old Berlin is is basically “26” since that’s when the Wall came down. Berlin is still in a huge state of change and will probably be totally different by the next time I visit. There are construction cranes everywhere you look trying to build more apartments and bring in more tourism so the city can continue to rebuild and have a positive future.

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Tomorrow I head back to Dublin for a night then it’s back to the good ol’ USA after being gone for almost an entire month. As much as I love traveling/being on vacation, I do enjoy my routines and am eager to see my sweet little puppy. I am getting back right in time for a birthday party, Halloween, and a wedding shower so there is still no slowing down for awhile, but that’s the way my life always goes and I enjoy it.

Stick around!

-Savvy

Personal Travel Uncategorized

Leg Three of Europe 2016 – Amsterdam

Hello from Amsterdam! 

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Leaving Paris was bittersweet for me since I never want to leave, but at the same time I was so excited to go into the unknown once again. Dublin, London, and Paris, while not quite home, are familiar. It’s been several years since I’ve truly been immersed in another totally foreign culture. I have never been to Amsterdam, I don’t speak the language, know the transit system, etc. so it was a new and exciting challenge.

This brings up a few tips for next time:

  1. Try to book your accommodations as close to the city centre as possible. This will generally save you transit money (and confusion) even if it costs a little bit more per night. Trust me, when you don’t remember if your train stop is Waterlooplein, Weesperplin, or Wilbaustrautt and it’s getting late you will thank me.
  2. Learn a few key phrases in the local language
  3. Have the address of your hotel/hostel/Air BnB saved into your phone where it doesn’t require wifi or data to access it
  4. Download/Screenshot a map of the area
  5. Try to rely on wifi/data as few times as possible. Even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that your data will transfer from one country to another. If you have a US data plan be prepared to pay a huge fee when you get home too…. #DreadingThatSprintBill

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The people in Amsterdam are very friendly, super chill (probably from the weed), and generally have a great grasp on English so this isn’t an incredible culture shock. The worst part was just remembering the train/bus stops. There are easily more bicycles here than cars (at least near the canals), but unless your GPS is working incredibly well I probably wouldn’t try to get in the fast lane with the more experienced cyclists. After breaking my tailbone in sixth grade, I generally avoid riding bicycles if at all possible so I was not eager to hop on for this trip. If I had a guide to show me where I was going then I would be more apt to rent one for the weekend. Side note: how they remember where they “parked” their bicycle is a mystery to me. There will be MASSIVE racks of bicycles that basically all look the same. There must be some trade secret that I am just not privy to to explain this situation.

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Marijuana and prostitutes are legal here and don’t have the same stigma as they do in the states. I did have to walk through the famous Red Light District just to see it for myself. It really is as easy as walking up to the door where the girl or guy is and hopping into the rented room. One prostitute thought I was there with someone else as a couple and I quickly managed to get myself out of that situation. There are tons of “cafes” where you can purchase all manner of weed varieties as well as edibles and mushrooms, but in most of them you cannot also get liquor, only beer or wine. However, Stoopwaffles are available everywhere and only contain fat and sugar 🙂 Illegal on my real life diet, but totally legal on my vacation diet!

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I also finally got to cross something off my bucket list: visiting the Anne Frank Museum. Unfortunately, they do not allow you to take pictures of the inside, but I got the see the actual red-checkered diary in which she started writing down her novel. If you do go, I suggest booking your tickets online in advance through the museum website. It’s around $12, but you also pick your time slot for the museum so you are guaranteed entrance. I am visiting in off-season and it was still packed. Make sure you do carve out at least an hour for it since there is a lot of reading involved and people in front of you may move slowly. Everything is in Dutch as well as English and you get to see the real rooms and the bookcase that covered the secret entrance to their annex.

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On Day 2 of the trip I went on another Viator tour to Zaanse Schans, which is about 30 minutes away from central Amsterdam. It is a historic town with a ton of old, restored windmills that are actually working to this day. Each windmill works for a specific purpose: one mills wood, another grinds the pigment for the paint used in the town, another made mustard! It was really cool to walk through them and see the people who are so dedicated to preserving their heritage. (again, not sponsored)

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After the windmills we were then transported to another village where we watched a cheese making demonstration. I have a great love of cheese and I was excited to find out that:

A.) They were making Gouda

B.) I CAN TAKE IT IN MY CARRY ON!!

I bought a regular wheel as well as an Italian herb one so invite me to ALL the cocktail parties! 🙂

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After the cheese demonstration we got lunch at a local restaurant. I got fried mussels, which were very tasty. I had previously mistakenly gotten the wrong type of waffle recommended to me by my friend Julia, but the correct type of waffle was being made right next door so I managed to snag one for dessert. True to form, they were tasty, but how can you go wrong with dough and nutella??

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Once the time in that village was complete we were herded onto this river cruise, which normally I would think would be delightful, but it was FREEZING. Of course by the time I got onto the boat all of the inside seats were taken so I froze outside about 80% of the time until I couldn’t handle it anymore and just stood inside to thaw out. Once the ice boat ride was complete we finally got to go to another little village that makes the traditional wooden shoes you always associate with Holland. Back in the day it would take 3 hours to make one shoe; now with “modern” machinery it takes 5 minutes per shoe. I succumbed to my inner tourist and bought a pair…. they are supposed to be water proof so maybe I’ll wear them around in the garden? Orrrrr just put them in a place of honor on my travel wall…..

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It was an action-packed day and a great way to end my time in Amsterdam. Next time I come I’m definitely staying closer to the city centre to take more advantage of the nightlife. Living so far away kinda put a damper on that idea for this go around. Not a problem though since I will most definitely be back and I really could use the down time in a very comfy bed 🙂

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I am now back in my Air BnB taking advantage of the fact that there is a washer and dryer available for my use since all I brought was a carry-on and we are now 7 days into the trip. I am fairly proud of the choices I made in my small carry-on, but I will make a mental note to bring fewer leggings, fewer shoes, and more shirts next time. I feel like traveling by carry-on would have been much easier in warmer weather. It is steadily getting colder and I know that I am going to probably need to buy a scarf in Berlin if this keeps up. #moresouvenirs 

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Tomorrow I head to Berlin for my last real stop on my European tour! After Berlin I’m back in Dublin for a night to pick up the rest of my luggage and then head on back to Dallas. There are still no direct flights to Dallas from Dublin (weird, I know) so I will have to make the journey back through… dun dun dunnnn CHICAGO. I swear to God, if I get stuck there again for another three days it will NOT be good. (if you are confused about to what I am referring, please read this post for context.)

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Leave me some love in the comments and stay posted for the rest of my trip!

Savvy

Personal Travel

Leg Two of Europe 2016 – Paris/Normandy

As sad as I was to leave London, the upcoming rest of the trip was still very exciting. Paris is a city I have visited twice previously. Once on that same London trip when I was 13 and once for a day on a Germany trip when I was 15. I’ve always have a love for Paris and even decorated my childhood bedroom in all of my souvenirs (i.e. useful postcards because I don’t do trinkets) from my first trip. I’ve never bothered to change it so when I visit my room at my parent’s house I get to relive that trip over and over again. Both of my previous trips were in July so it was really cool to see how the city changes in the autumn weather.

Instead of flying to Paris it was significantly easier to just take the train. Previously, on my first trip my family and I also took the train so this wasn’t my first rodeo. However again… that was 12 years ago and I wasn’t in charge that time. I managed to get from the train station to my Air BnB unscathed and was pleasantly surprised to find that the location was as close to the Eiffel Tower as previously described. I was literally across the bridge from the tower and could see it from around the corner of my apartment. This was super convenient especially giving that my grasp of the French language was way stronger in my head than in real life. My French Rosetta Stone computer program is still collecting dust on my bookshelf…. #goals

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I managed to avoid the Metro by being this close to all of the major sites, which from my memory, saved me from some smells I would rather not ever smell again if I can help it. I did notice that in the past 10-12 years Paris does seem a lot cleaner. Maybe that’s just my memory or maybe it was because both previous times were during the height of tourist season and the city just couldn’t keep up with the demands of the people. I really enjoyed exploring the city without the previous hustle and bustle that can occur during the summer months. Either way I wasn’t about to chance it for the smell and for the fact that I most likely was going to get myself lost. If I was here for a week or so, not a problem. Three days is not enough time to salvage time from being lost. I know, I know, “getting lost is part of the adventure“! I’ll save that adventure for my fourth trip to Paris, thank you very much.

The first day was basically just getting to my apartment and walking around the neighborhood a bit. I of course had to visit the Tower several times and Day 1 was no exception. Traveling as an adult who needs to actually be in charge in a new place is way more exhausting than I remember as a teenager who just needed to follow a group. Couple that with anxiety and just getting to my next destination is already enough struggle for most of the day. I managed to get to my destinations and that was basically all I could handle for that day. I have consistently been going to bed super early mainly due from exhaustion and from the paranoia of going out at night in a new city where I don’t know where things are. My love for adventure sometimes takes a back seat to my personal fears and capacities, but that is probably what has kept me safe many a time. If you’re reading this looking for wild stories, then this is probably not the trip for you (but stay posted for other trips with more people and when I’m not in charge). 😉

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The next day was some more low-key sightseeing, which totally needed to include a trip to the Champs-Élysées! Since I had already done my major purchase in Dublin for LV, I just needed a quick run-through of the flagship store in Paris. If I hadn’t already looked at my credit card statement I might have been tempted to buy another addition to my now growing collection. I reigned it in for a few more stores, but then I ran across Longchamp. In my extensive research of what to buy in Paris I discovered than not only LV, but also Longchamp bags were significantly cheaper. They are also a great travel bag since they fold up fairly small and are made from nylon which is more water resistant than the calf-hair MK crossover I had been carrying. Yet another useful souvenir was purchased 🙂 Between the two bags I have probably saved over $500 dollars that I would have spent at some point. I already have been wanting them for a long time so it just makes logical sense to buy them both now at the cheapest I’ll ever get them rather than waiting until I’m back in the states. If I ever get the opportunity, there is also a Burberry outlet in London I discovered for the next trip! I may like to shop, but I am not into paying more than I have to for anything.

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After Longchamp the Ladurée macaron store was calling my name. I would have brought back some for others, but as I am not checking a bag that would prove difficult and they do not travel well. Let me just tell you that they were every bit as delicious as I imagined. Dublin and Harrod’s in London actually have their stores as well, but I decided to wait until Paris to get some for the real experience. I only got 4 for a little snick-snack. Coconut, pistachio, coffee, and salted caramel; all of them delicious. This one also had a little cafe inside, which I probably should have visited, but alas, there were sights to see! Someday when I am rich and famous I will spend more time on this street and the cafe will be my headquarters.

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I walked down the entire district and ended up at the Louvre glass pyramids. I had been previously had spent the better part of four hours in there the last time so I decided to skip it for this trip. However, it did remind me of the time when I went with my parents and sister. My parents left me in charge of 10-year-old Tara (who looked 7) while they went to figure out tickets for our next attraction. All around the glass pyramids there are ponds with ducks. Anyone who has met or knows of my sister probably knows about her love of animals. There are ducks everywhere on the ponds so she was just minding her own business looking at the ducks when all of a sudden an Asian family swooped in a scooped her up and started walking away with my baby sister! Thirteen year old, gothic Savannah was not as assertive as you might think and I was stumped on what to do. I sort of followed them at a concerned pace until I realized they thought she was a cute, french child that would be perfect for their family portrait. They sat her in their family picture, put her down, and walked away without a word. I was never more scared/amused in my life. Fortunately, Marc and Sarah soon returned and I did not get into trouble (my main concern). Tara and I have laughed about that for years. I can just imagine a gigantic blow up of this picture on some random family’s wall hanging there for the past 12 years.

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I like to book tours especially when I’ve already seen most main sites and want a different perspective from an insider. They also take the pressure off of me trying to figure out where I am going for the day/driving. God knows I avoid driving in foreign countries at all costs. I just get flashbacks to watching my parent’s honeymoon video of my dad driving around the Arc de Triumph, videotaping with one of those gigantic 80’s film cameras, narrating, and my mom screaming bloody murder. You need dramamine just to watch the tape. I will not be a part of any driving accident abroad if I can help it. It also doesn’t help that my manual transmission driving skills leave a lot to be desired. Marc took it upon himself to teach me in his Z06 Corvette around the North Texas Motor Speedway a few years ago… let’s just say it didn’t end with flying colors on my part.

My tour for that random site-seeing day was dinner at the Eiffel Tower followed by a show at the Moulin Rouge! I was pretty hyped since this was my first “adult” thing to do in Paris since both previous trips I was barely in high school. Let me save you the trip: it’s basically a dated Vegas show with nothing you haven’t already seen. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to be really cool to say I went, actually going is a different story. Save your money. Dinner at the Eiffel Tower was also pretty cool, but I think I would rather book it on my own next time now that I’ve done it. I had read a lot of travel blogs who hyped it up a lot so I had one image in my mind, but it was actually very different. Because it was a tour and we are on a time schedule there was just a set menu that everyone got (which was good, don’t get me wrong), but probably wasn’t what I would order if I was there as just a normal patron. I will put it on my list to return next time, but it will most likely be for lunch and not on a tour.  The tour was fun though and it was nice being taken all of these places on a comfortable coach bus and skipping lines. You know how much I love living the VIP life.

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The next morning came very early for my Normandy tour. Fortunately, the meet-up spot was right down the street from my apartment, which made my early morning, anxiety-ridden walk that much easier. Our tour guide, Felix, was a very friendly and knowledgable former history teacher from Croatia. I enjoy having tour guides who aren’t from the actual city since they are most of the time not biased the way nationals would be. That being said nationals/locals should know the area really well in their own way and can offer different insights. I have been very fortunate to have really awesome tour guides most of the time so I could myself lucky. I usually book all of my tours through Viator. They have the best deals and always a wide selection to chose from. I’ve had issues with tours not being available on the dates that I want, but that’s usually my fault for looking last minute. (again: not sponsored)

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We left Paris for Normandy around 7am. I am pretty good about sleeping anywhere and everywhere so I slept the majority of the way to our first site, which was the farthest away. The bus was fairly small and didn’t have Wi-Fi (my major complaint) so sleeping was my best alternative. I do have data for some reason in all of these places, which I am sure my cell phone company is going to remind me about on my next bill even though I am on an international plan. I tried to get a portable Wi-Fi device, but even if a country is in the EU that doesn’t mean that their data plans transfer from country to country. That makes no sense to me and in this day and age with international travel being so prevalent this needs to change steps off soap box.

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Our first stop was a gas (petrol) station for breakfast and a leg stretch. We hopped back on and pretty soon were at our first site, Utah Beach. Not going to lie, I am not the biggest history buff. All of my family, that I know of, survived WW2 and no one was stationed in France so I have no personal ties to these historical sites in that way even though I did have several serve in other capacities. We did have one veteran on the trip (he hates Trump) so that was interesting especially since Felix was a history professor so he had his own personal questions, which made for a lively discussion on the bus during our “down time”. After Utah Beach we drove past a German cemetery where all of the graves were buried vertically to save space since it was such a small cemetery. After this we went to a Cidery (my favorite part) and learned about the history of the Cidery and the plans for the future. The owner just got FDA approval to sell in the US so I didn’t feel too bad that I couldn’t buy any at the moment #carryonproblems 

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After the Cidery we went to lunch in a nearby fishing village at a Michelin starred restaurant. I had probably the best Haddock I’ve ever had in my life and I am so glad I took a picture of the restaurant. I sat next to a father/son duo from Minnesota so we chatted about that for a bit since I had visited briefly in college at the Mall of America. I also discovered that there were two other Texan groups on the trip: one from Houston and the other from Forney (near Dallas)! Again, such a small world.

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After lunch we went to Pont du Hoc, which was not that far away, then to an American cemetery for their closing ceremonies where Teddy Roosevelt was buried, and then Omaha beach. We had a long drive back, but managed to stop back just in time for the Eiffel Tower to sparkle at 10pm. It was a great way to end the last night in Paris. 🙂

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Stay tuned for the rest of Europe!

-Savvy

Ireland Personal Travel

Leg One of Europe 2016 – London

After Dublin the plan is: London – Paris – Amsterdam – Berlin – Back to Dublin for a night – Texas. 

London: my parents took me here when I was 13, but that was 12 years ago. A lot can change in 12 years! I decided to do a highlights tour as well as hit up some of my favorites sites from last time. I had also never been to Buckingham Palace so this time I made up for it by accidentally going twice…

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Getting to London from Dublin COULD NOT BE EASIER. Ryanair is basically the European version of Spirit airlines (aka budget) and if you book your trip in advance (and on their app) the flight is 20 EURO…. Obviously I would be going EVERYWHERE if I lived here. That’s cheaper than a tank of gas just getting me around Dallas! The seats don’t go back, but the flight is 45 minutes; a small price to pay for such a deal! I will be using them later in the trip from Berlin to Dublin so stay posted on my feelings after a 3 hour flight…. The only issue is that Ryanair doesn’t fly into Heathrow, it flies into Gatwick. All you do is take a train from the airport into Victoria Station and then take either the Tube or a Taxi to wherever you need to go.

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I stayed in the Hampton Inn in Waterloo (thank you, Hilton points and Gold status!). Honestly, it was way nicer than I thought it was going to be. Also, the included breakfast was probably one of the best free breakfasts that I have ever had at a hotel, domestic or foreign. I would totally stay here again (not a sponsored post btw). It was really close to the Waterloo Tube station as well as most major sites. I totally did my fair share of walking, but I appreciated being so central to everything.

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I visited Harrods, Buckingham Palace (2x), the London Tower, London Bridge AND Tower Bridge (not the same thing!), a few cathedrals, saw some Roman ruins, had a wonderfully colorful British tour guide, and ended up getting to hang out with one of my friends from college! London was the shortest leg of the trip, but I made sure to pack in as much as I could.

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I had messaged my friend Alex about a month prior to the trip and asked for some recommendations. We met at Liberty in the HR cognant, both were in SHRM, and both worked at J. Crew. He has been living in London for the past few years and I caught him just in time since he is about to move back to the States! It worked out that he was free one of the nights I was going to be in town and asked me to go with him to the London outpost of Hillsong. I had actually never been to a Hillsong service even though they visit the Dallas area fairly often and I was actually in the Hillsong “neighborhood” back in the day on my Australian trip (never actually saw the campus though). It was such a great service and I was really happy I went. The guy speaking we are pretty sure spoke at Liberty our Sophomore year (I still need to verify the speaker schedule) and he also played the saxophone! He played “What a Wonderful World” and Justin Beiber’s song “Let Me Love You” (which my new little friend group and I continued to sing the rest of the night). After the service I was invited to tag along for dinner with Alex’s friends aka my new friends. We went to this Brazilian restaurant and stayed for a super long time just laughing and talking. Almost everyone wasn’t from London and I actually met someone who went to the same high school as my cousin! It truly is a small world. If I ever get to come back to Dublin/London I know who to call 🙂

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London was a great couple of days and, per usual, I wish I could stay longer. I could totally see myself living in London, especially once I figure out the Tube system!

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Stay tuned for the rest of Europe!

-Savvy

Ireland Travel

Solo Travel – Dublin Wrap Up

Hello again!

Last year when I came to Ireland I didn’t know a soul. I managed to make quite a few friends in my month here and develop a sort of routine. This time I am coming into these few weeks with a roster of ready-made friends, but these people all have lives too. I cannot solely depend on others to keep me entertained and that’s a bad habit to have anyway. Always be as self-sufficient as possible. #lifemotto

Tips for times like these:

  • Be flexible if possible – make a list prior to the trip of places that you would like to see, but don’t necessarily have to stick to a strict schedule.
  • Download some books (or bring some along if space/weight isn’t an issue)
  • Always have pen and paper (or the electronic equivalent)
  • Comfy shoes – exploring on your own might entail getting a tad “lost”.  Always count on walking more than initially intended
  • Bring cash/currency, but not too much at one time

Here are some pictures  places I’ve been in the past few days. I of course had to spend a leisurely afternoon in St. Stephen’s Green park, which is handily across the street from my hotel. I have had the good fortune of nice weather this trip and that day was the perfect day for a stroll in the park.

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I also checked an item off of my personal bucket list: buying my first Louis Vuitton Neverfull (on my own!). Please spare me your arguments on how these are overpriced la la la… I wanted one, did my research, and discovered that Europe is the cheapest place to buy them due to the imports and how well the US dollar is doing against the Euro. Ideally, I would have liked to buy this in Paris, but since I am not checking a bag all of the money I saved by buying it in Europe instead of in Dallas would have been diminished. I can get it hot stamped back in Dallas so that’s not a problem. I don’t like to get the normal souvenirs. I want mine to be useful and what could be more useful than a designer bag? 😉

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Solo travel is going to become more a part of my life as my friends start to pair off and my sister is still in college (aka broke) so it’s either deal with being alone or don’t go at all. Not going at all and missing out on all of the opportunities that come up is a sad way to live. That being said, even if a travel partner becomes available they may not be the best fit for your type of travel, so choose wisely. Sometimes being alone is better than being with the wrong person (true in travel life and real life).

Here is an actual picture of my hotel from the outside and my room. I was pretty pleased with my stay at The Shelbourne. I think there are some updates still being made to the hotel so if I ever get the opportunity to stay here again my next room might look a bit different. I loved the location and how close it was to Grafton. The food here was also great, which is incredibly convenient when it is a typical rainy Dublin night and you just don’t have the energy to find a new restaurant.

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I also FINALLY made it into Copper’s! For those of you who don’t know, Copper Face Jack’s is the #1 most profitable nightclub in all of Europe. I thought it was fairly packed, but apparently it wasn’t even the busiest evening since you were still able to move around a bit. They play “cheesy music” (aka 90’s and early 2000’s pop – Spice Girls, B*Witched, etc…) and it’s basically a great time. This is a place where you end the night, so you can’t get there too early (or too sober). The Dubs definitely have a different way of dancing than we do in the States; cue to me being the only one fist pumping….. The funny thing too is that if you passed it on the street you probably wouldn’t even know it was a club. This one as well as another called Dicey’s (which I went to last time) are both located next to business offices in historic Georgian buildings. I totally passed here in my cab probably 20 times before I even noticed the fairly non-descript sign outside the door.

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And with that, my posts about Dublin are over for the moment and the rest of my vacation can begin! I apologize about the posts being so spread apart, but I was pretty busy during my time in Dublin. I will be back for a night in a week so I may have some more to add later. Keep on the lookout for the rest of my posts from other parts of Europe!

-Savvy

Personal

2016 Goals!

Hey Everyone!

If you known me for at least several years you’ve probably seen my weight fluctuate anywhere within the range of 30 pounds. I have PCOS (PolyCystic Ovarian Syndrome), hypothyroidism, and adrenal fatigue. These factors together along with stress, bad eating habits, genetics, etc have resulted in my life-long struggle with my weight. I’ve always been that chubby kid even though I played every sport my small school offered as well as danced ballet/tap/hip hop outside of school for many years. I’ve tried a variety of diets with varying successes and failures ever since 8th grade.

Even though I’m only 25 I’ve definitely noticed my metabolism slowly dying and felt helpless against my own body.  It really makes you feel helpless when you’ve been with a personal trainer for 5 months while watching what you ate and at the end you’ve gained three pounds…. #notcool

When I was a freshman in college my dad (who has also had his own weight issues) went on Medifast and lost 40 pounds! He looked completely different when he came to pick me up at the end of Spring semester. Within the sphere of my community I started to see more and more people joining the Take Shape for Life movement (which uses Medifast) and having awesome results. Almost a year ago I decided to give it a shot. I had just had a terrible doctor’s appointment where they were basically telling me that I was on the brink of being pre-diabetic, which would then put me at risk for a multitude of other future health problems. I felt like I had nothing less to lose so what the heck, why not?

My friend Michelle became my health coach since she had already gone through the program and wanted to help other people with their health journeys. I reached out to her at first just with some general questions about the program since I had a small knowledge of it from my dad. It seemed pretty simple and would fit my lifestyle. I chose the 5 and 1 plan where I eat 5 of their meals a day and then one healthy meal on my own. That one is referred to as a “Lean and Green”. Each of their products is between 100-110 calories and comes complete with a ton of vitamins and minerals that your body has been needing.

I started it and immediately started losing weight. I had just seen some friends the weekend before I started the program for a pub crawl (healthy way to start, I know). I saw them three weeks later for a birthday party and had already lost 15 pounds. People didn’t even know that I had been starting something, but they were all like WOAH WHAT HAPPENED. After that initial weight loss it did slow a bit and then I had some life stuff happen so the weight loss slowed and stalled for a bit due entirely to my choices. I would be really good for a few weeks and then kinda fall back into some of my old ways.

However, within all of that I have lost 36 pounds in almost a year and feel the best I have in a long time. I’m off of caffeine (essential to people with thyroid problems and adrenal fatigue), which as a coffee-lover is really sad, but good for my body and my teeth. I’m drinking so much water it’s insane.  I PEE ALL OF THE TIME (tmi??), but I feel amazing. My skin looks better than ever #praise I aim to drink at least a gallon of water per day. I read that everyone needs to drink half their body weight in ounces per day. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds, then you should drink at least 100 ounces of water. That may sound like a lot, but if you have a reusable water bottle that you carry along with you all day then it’s really not that hard. I drink between 16-24 ounces on my commute to work every morning, around a gallon at work, and then an estimate 32 ounces at night. Tip: try to stop drinking an hour before bed or else you’ll have to get up in the middle of the night.

You may say to yourself that 36 pounds isn’t that much. I would argue that for someone with the weight loss issues I’ve had that 36 is better than nothing. 36 is less than what I weighed last year. The end goal right now is 80 and I am aiming for July. It’s scary to put that out there on the internet for whomever chooses to view it, but that is yet another thing to motivate me. On my old blog from college I wrote about trying Visalus, which my roommate had used to get amazing results. It didn’t do much for me, sadly, as did Plexus, which I also tried with no success.

In all honesty, it should have been more by now. It is entirely my fault for getting sidetracked once in awhile, but with the start of the new year I have rekindled my passion for changing my life. I’ve made a lot of changes and tried some new things these past two months. So far 2016 has been challenging, but totally awesome. I am really excited to document the rest of the year with some trips I have planned, changes I’m making, and my weight loss journey.

After I had lost around 20 pounds it was time to go back and get my blood work done again. I passed with flying colors and that was the first doctor’s visit where I didn’t leave crying that I had had in a long time. Best feeling ever. That is what we like to call a #nonscalevictory

I would also like to point out several things though that I don’t want people to misconstrue from my personal life. I am in no way ashamed of the way I looked 36 pounds ago. I did this because my health was starting to spiral out of control and I didn’t want to end up with diabetes and heart disease. I am very body positive and just because you are a larger person does not automatically mean that you are unhealthy. One of my inspirations is plus-size model Tess Holliday. She is nowhere near the “normal” model size, yet has been signed by an agency and is a leader for the body-acceptance movement. Ashley Graham has also recently made a big move by being one of the first plus sized models to be features in the latest Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine. I am proud to say the least. It has bothered me for a long time that the media only portrays one type of beauty when that’s not real life and that’s not even what a lot of people prefer. Beauty isn’t this one-size-fits all thing. It’s also more than skin-deep, which is also forgotten most of the time.

This is going to be an ongoing thing. I don’t know if I will reach the goal by July, but eventually I will reach the goal. I feel like putting this out there for the world will potentially help me stay on track with everything. Not gonna lie, sometimes it’s hard. I go to birthday parties and I can’t eat the food or drink the wine. Week days are way easier, but sometimes weekends kill me. I enjoy schedules and this diet works really well with that since you eat small meals every few hours. Weekends don’t always lend themselves to set schedules…. There are many pre-prepared snacks that are very portable and I usually keep a box of snack bars in my car just in case there is a change of plans. Always plan ahead!

If you have any questions about the diet or you’re thinking about about trying it out let me know! I would love to be your health coach even though I am still going through this journey. I can relate to your struggles and be someone for you to call/text when the struggle gets too real.

Thanks for listening and let me know if you wanna chat! 

-Savvy

 

Dallas Personal

2015 Recap

Happy New Year, Readers! 

I hope your 2015 was amazing and everything you wanted it to be.

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Here is a recap of a few exciting things that happened in 2015:

  • Went to IrelandIowa, San Francisco, and Austin
  • Bridesmaid in Lauren’s wedding in May
  • Took two cooking classes
  • Saw several of my friends get engaged
  • Created new friendships, let some old ones go
  • Ran a 5k
  • Lost 30 pounds
  • Explored more of Dallas, Denton, and Ft. Worth (plus surrounding areas)
  • Started this blog!
  • Had some professional victories
  • Saw Maroon 5 in concert
  • Celebrated Galentine’s!
  • Went to a Murder Mystery Dinner
  • Celebrated many friend’s birthdays as well as my 24th birthday

There were so many highs and lows to this year, but I can definitely say I learned a TON and hopefully will be taking some new habits into 2016.

Some goals for 2016:

  • Run another 5k (and potentially a half marathon)
  • Lose 50 more pounds
  • Pay off my couch and eliminate unnecessary spending
  • Spend more time with my dog and my friends
  • Focus more on my blog and professional goals
  • Travel to Ireland and Italy, hopefully Virginia and Colorado, potentially some other places
  • Celebrate my 25th Birthday!
  • Get back into reading at least one book a month
  • Start the MBA process
  • Take better care of my skin {even though that might mean no more tanning ;(}
  • Cook more (since I got new pots and pans for Hanukkah!)

I am sure there are other things that I would like to accomplish for 2016, but honestly I think this list will cover the whole year and then some. I am already trying to figure out how to prioritize my life for these next 12 months.

Holiday Recap

I had a great Hanukkah, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. There was so much going on in such a short time frame, so sorry for the lack of updates (because I know everyone cares so much lol). I blogged a little bit about Hanukkah already so I won’t bother your with more of that.

Christmas went well. My sister came back to town and will be here for a whole month so we’ve been hanging out. She made me these really cute little embroideries for my travel wall in my house so my best friend came over and helped me hang them along with some other house stuff. I will have to post a house tour on here in a few weeks when I FINALLY finish my Travel Wall in my living room/dining room. I’ve only lived there for almost a year and a half….. no big deal. 😉 We went to my Grandma’s house and I hung out with my little second cousin, Liesel. She is seriously the cutest/happiest baby ever. I’m in love.

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We have so many people in such a small house so my sister ended up getting the special chair in the Annexed part of the house next to an extra table.

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We were tired of having the same food for Thanksgiving and then just a few weeks later for Christmas so we decided to add some Mexican flair since a good portion of my family is Hispanic.

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For New Year’s Eve I was supposed to go out in Uptown with some of my friends. Unfortunately I got kinda sick the day before and it has lasted several days. So last night I ended up just going down the street to Julia’s house and playing games with her, her family, and some significant others, which was exactly what I needed. We had a really great time and I got to see some of her siblings that I don’t normally see. This morning my dad made New Year’s Day brunch since I decided to spend the night.

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Karma and I tried to get it together in time to make a Christmas card this year, but it’s going to end up being more like a New Year’s card (if I even hand them out) (probably not, let’s be honest).

We both wish all of you happiness for the New Year! Let’s make 2016 the best yet!

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